Draft Prep: Four Wide Receiver Busts for 2019

For every guy with a silver lining, there’s another who has a dark and stormy future ahead. I wrote about four guys likely to break out in 2019 here, so now I’m moving on to four guys who I think will disappoint. With my sleepers, I imposed a rule that each guy had to be outside the top-75 in ADP. In the same vein, I’m putting a similar constraint on my busts. Each guy I’m selling on must be inside the top-48 picks in ADP. That’s a pick in the first four rounds, and someone you are likely counting on the be a cornerstone of your team. So who am I calling out? What names are ‘on notice’ that their future is looking bleak? Let’s dive in.

 

Juju Smith-Schuster (ADP 2.06)

 

And right off the bat I’m going after one of the most promising young receivers in the league. Juju Smith-Schuster had an ADP in the fourth round last year, and he proved to be a excellent selection. He went on to finish as the eighth best wide receiver in ppr leagues with eight 100-yard games and only one game with fewer than five targets. Juju was only three points per game behind Brown, and some are expecting another big step forward. I’m not so convinced though. Let’s take a look at some stats from Juju’s first two seasons in the league:

 

Season Team Games Targets Rec. Yds. Avg. TD F.Pts. F. ppg
2017 PIT 13 79 58 917 15.8 7 191.7 14.7
2018 PIT 16 166 111 1,426 12.8 7 296.9 18.6

 

There is certainly a lot of good here, and it’s propelled Juju to be the seventh receiver off the board–right after Tyreek Hill and Odell Beckham Jr. Juju put up a strong first year and then managed to surpass it in nearly every way his sophomore season. He has already laid claim to a season that most would be drooling over, and he isn’t even 23 yet. How could he possibly fail? Well, I should first clarify that I don’t expect Juju to disappear or to be a complete failure this season. I think he’ll play well and lead his team in just about all relevant receiver stats. I don’t see him surpassing 150 targets again, however, and there are some reasons to worry. First, let’s look at the six most targeted Steelers from last year:

 

Player Age Pos. Games Targets Receptions Yards TD Lng Ctch%
Antonio Brown 30 wr 15 168 104 1297 15 78 61.9%
JuJu Smith-Schuster 22 wr 16 166 111 1426 7 97 66.9%
Vance McDonald 28 te 15 72 50 610 4 75 69.4%
James Conner 23 rb 13 71 55 497 1 29 77.5%
Ryan Switzer 24 wr 16 44 36 253 1 24 81.8%
Jesse James 24 te 16 39 30 423 2 51 76.9%
Team Totals 676 459 5174 34

 

The first thing I notice is that a lot of targets are being vacated. Antonio Brown left in the offseason, and that’s 168 targets to spread out elsewhere–not to mention his 15 touchdowns. Is it really that simple though? In 2016, before Juju joined the team as a rookie, Brown saw 154 targets. In 2017, with Juju playing his first season, that number jumped to 163. In 2018, when Juju truly broke out, Brown saw another increase to 168 targets. I tend to doubt the narrative that one guys leaving means everyone else will neatly divvy up his stats. Sometimes a new player emerges, and other times the pie just shrinks. I personally expect Donte Moncrief and James Washington to be see a decent targetshare, along with tight end Vance McDonald and running back Jaylen Samuels.

Looking at stats from 2018, the Steelers saw 5-year highs in pass attempts, completions, yards, and passing touchdowns. The offensive pie was as big as it’s ever been. It’s almost certainly going to shrink this season, and it should impact each receiver on the team. The Steelers attempted 689 passes last season while their average since 2013 was only 610 pass attempts per season. If the Steelers were to regress back to last year’s numbers, they would literally lose 100 pass attempts. That’s some crazy variation, and I am sure not expecting the 2018 pace to continue after losing Brown. What do you think happens to an offense that loses an elite receiver?

There’s one more thing I feel worth mentioning, and that’s how Juju fairs against man and press coverages. He typically runs out of the slot, so he tends to face zone coverages most often. However, it’s possible he’s asked to do more this season with Brown’s departure. How does Juju face against man and press coverages? Out of the 51 receivers charted, Juju was second to last with a 50.3% success rate against man coverage. No other receiver with an ADP in the first four rounds was below 66% success rate, and every other receiver with an ADP in the first two rounds had at least a 72% success rate. That’s a little bit scary.

Against press coverages, the numbers were just as ugly. Juju had a 38.2% success rate, again 50th out of the 51 receivers charted, and this was well below everyone else in the fist two rounds. In fact, the closest receiver with an ADP in the first two rounds was Mike Evans–who was 68.4% successful against press coverages. Maybe the Steelers scheme Juju so that he can work exclusively from the slot. It’s possible the Donte Moncrief, James Washington, or both break out and keep the offense buzzing. There’s more than a little bit of reason to be worried, however, and I’d rather go elsewhere when looking for my WR1 this season.

 

Antonio Brown (2.09)

 

Antonio Brown has had an amazing career with the Steelers, but all good things must come to an end. Brown grew more and more unhappy in Pittsburgh, leading to him being benched for the final game last season after he was late to team meetings. He made it clear that he wanted out, and the Steelers obliged. So how should we expect things to go for Brown as he joins the Oakland Raiders? Let’s take a look at how Pro Football Focus graded the different position groups on each team:

 

Pittsburgh Steelers Oakland Raiders
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (78.2) Derek Carr (73.2)
Running back James Conner (73.0) Josh Jacobs (rookie)
Offensive line 3rd 26th
Pass blocking 1st 26th
Points scored 6th 28th

 

From an initial look, Antonio Brown will see a downgrade in almost every facet of his new offense. Derek Carr doesn’t have anywhere close to the chops that Big Ben does, Oakland’s running game is completely untested with rookie Josh Jacobs, and Pittsburgh has a much better offensive line. Oakland is likely to score more thanks to their offseason improvements (drafting Josh Jacobs, trading for Antonio Brown, signing Tyrell Williams), but I don’t think it will be enough to match what Pittsburgh did last year. A bad offensive line will still force quick throws from Carr, and I could see this group underwhelming in 2019. Let’s say that the offense doesn’t fail though. How do premium receivers fair when they changed teams during the offseason?

According to an article from NumberFire, there have been 16 receivers who had a top-16 ADP and were traded between seasons. Four of them improved in the next season, two guys came up just short of their previous season, and the remaining 10 dropped 1.8+ points per game. So, 12 of 16 or 75% of stud receivers under-performed on their new teams. For Brown, I’m worried that he could lose his cool if things start going wrong early. What if he only sees 5 targets in the first game and the Raiders get blown out? What if Carr can’t hit him accurately? I could see things blowing up. Brown is currently dealing with frostbite on his feet from a cryogenic machine (don’t google it) and is considered day to day.

Maybe things go right in Oakland for the guy with 100+ receptions in six straight seasons. The O-line could be better than expected and the offense could hum. I think it’s more likely, however, that things might just fall apart. I don’t trust the coaching staff after they sent Khalil Mack packing. I don’t completely trust Brown because of how he left things in Pittsburgh. I don’t trust Derek Carr and his only 30+ touchdown season that was now 4 years ago. I’m selling on the whole Oakland offense, and Antonio Brown. Mike Evans (the next WR by ADP) makes a great alternative pick and he has the production history to be trusted.

 

Amari Cooper (3.09)

 

I feel like every year we fall back into the Amari Cooper trap. We look back at the season numbers, along with the biggest games, and convince ourselves to jump back in again. The only people who won’t draft Cooper this season are the ones who had him last year. Let’s take a look at Cooper’s game log from last season:

 

G# Tm Opp Result Trgt Rec Yds TD F. Pts. (ppr) Grade
1 Oak LAR L 13-33 3 1 9 0 2.8 subpar
2 Oak DEN L 19-20 10 10 116 0 21.6 elite
3 Oak MIA L 20-28 5 2 17 0 3.7 subpar
4 Oak CLE W 45-42 11 8 128 1 26.8 elite
5 Oak LAC L 10-26 1 1 10 0 2.0 subpar
6 Oak SEA L 3-27 1 0 0 0 0.0 subpar
8 Dal TEN L 14-28 8 5 58 1 16.8 subpar
9 Dal PHI W 27-20 10 6 75 0 13.5 subpar
10 Dal ATL W 22-19 5 3 36 0 6.6 subpar
11 Dal WAS W 31-23 9 8 180 2 38.0 elite
12 Dal NOR W 13-10 8 8 76 0 15.6 subpar
13 Dal PHI W 29-23 13 10 217 3 49.7 elite
14 Dal IND L 0-23 7 4 32 0 8.3 subpar
15 Dal TAM W 27-20 5 4 20 0 6.0 subpar
16 Dal NYG W 36-35 11 5 31 0 8.1 subpar
Totals 107 75 1005 7

 

As I mentioned before, those are some solid season numbers. Cooper is obviously talented if he can put up 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns. His consistency is going to kill you though. In the last column of the table, I included a grade for consistency. What good is an elite receiver if he loses you as many games as he wins? A grade of elite was given if a receiver scored 21.6+ points, or the typical average of the top-3 scores at the position each week. He was graded “#1” if he scored between 17.3 and 21.6 points, which lines up with the typical standard of the 12th best receiver (ie the worst number one receiver). Anything below 17.3 was graded “subpar”. Cooper finished elite 25% of the time, he was a #1 or better the same percent, and he was subpar the remaining 75% of the time. This is awful. For perspective on those numbers, here are the consistency ratings for every other receiver with an ADP in the first four rounds:

 

Elite Finish #1 Finish Subpar Finish
DeAndre Hopkins 43.8% 50% 50%
Davante Adams 40% 86.7% 13.3%
Michael Thomas 37.5% 56.2% 43.8%
Julio Jones 56.3% 68.8% 31.2%
Tyreek Hill 37.5% 50.0% 50.0%
Odell Beckham Jr 41.7% 58.3% 41.7%
Juju Smith-Schuster 25.0% 50.0% 50.0%
Antonio Brown 46.7% 53.3% 46.7%
Mike Evans 37.5% 56.3% 43.7%
T.Y. Hilton 14.3% 42.9% 57.1%
Keenan Allen 20.0% 53.3% 46.7%
Adam Thielen 50.0% 50.0% 50.0%
Stefon Diggs 40.0% 46.7% 53.3%
Brandin Cooks 33.3% 40.0% 60.0%
Julian Edelman 8.3% 50% 50%
Robert Woods 12.5% 37.5% 62.5%
Kenny Golladay 13.3% 40.0% 60.0%

 

Looking at this table, no receiver being drafted in the first four rounds busted as often as Cooper. In fact, no one was even within 12% of his bust rate. Even Cooper’s elite rate (25%) only bested five guys on this list. For a guy who’s hot and cold, he needs to be hot much closer to half the time if he wants to be a viable option on fantasy teams. Maybe the move to Dallas will help. Many people thought that Dallas would be a better situation for Cooper as he would be playing with a better QB (Dak Prescott) and a better offense. The numbers from last year don’t show it, and I’m not buying it. I’m easily passing on Cooper for more consistent options. (Think Adam Thielen or Stefon Diggs who go one spot before and after Cooper.)

 

Julian Edelman (4.08)

 

For this last receiver we are going to play a little game. I want you to mentally guess each of the following answers before I reveal the answers. Here we go:

  1. How many 1,000 yard seasons has Julian Edelman had in his 9-year career?
  2. How many times has he had 75+ receptions in a season?
  3. How many times has he caught eight or more touchdowns in a season?
  4. How many times has he played all 16 games in a season?
  5. And finally, how old is Julian Edelman?

Take a second and think about your responses before I reveal the answers. Julian Edelman is an interesting case, because he plays on a high profile team, and he’s won a Super Bowl MVP award; that’s more than it would take for me to consider myself successful. Still, his season numbers don’t bear the mark of a top-tier talent. Ready for those answers? Edelman has two 1,000-yd seasons, he has three seasons with 75+ receptions, he’s never caught eight touchdowns in a season, he played in all 16 games twice, and he is currently 33 years old.

If I offered you 905 yards, 81 receptions, and 5 touchdowns from your WR2 right now, would you take it or try your luck with the field? Those numbers would have been good for 201.5 points in ppr and 23rd place last season. Those numbers are the average of Julian Edelman’s last 4 seasons. They certainly aren’t bad marks. As we saw in the consistency rankings with Amari Cooper, Edelman hits #1 territory 50% of the time, so he’s not going to sink us. I think we can do better though. We can find guys around this range who are relatively as safe, but have the upside for much more. So why am I passing on Edelman? Here are some final reasons in no particular order:

  • Edelman is 33, which is typically past the prime of most receivers
  • He has almost zero chance at double digit touchdowns this year seeing as it’s never happened.
  • He’s currently dealing with a broken thumb–not a great sign for someone who is often injured.
  • Tom Brady is 42 and has only thrown for 30 touchdowns once in the last three years.
  • That same quarterback has also only thrown for 4,500 yards once in his last three seasons.
  • There is another player on the roster (James White) who largely fills the same role as Edelman, is six years younger, and can be drafted two rounds later (ADP 6.09).
  • From 2015-2018, the Patriots rushing yards have gone up each season. This shows me a team that’s trying to protect their aging quarterback and won’t go crazy with the pass attempts.

If I was a betting man, I’d wager that the Patriots finish with more than 10 wins, they easily take the AFC East yet again, and they are a favorite for the Super Bowl. I’d also wager that Brady takes on even more of a game manager role as the team ensures his season-long health. He can still win a game or two for New England when he has to, but why risk his health otherwise? I’m sure the Pats would rather go 10-6 with a healthy Brady than 12-4 and with him banged up. I think the whole New England passing game continues to shrink, and I expect Edelman to be somewhere around 800 yards and 5 touchdowns as a result. I’ll pass on the 33-year old receiver in favor of upside–Kenny Golladay, Tyler Lockett, Chris Godwin, Mike Williams, and Tyler Boyd are all going after Edelman right now, and I’d take all of them over him.

(Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire)

Michael Miklius

Mike is a lifelong Bears fan and unapologetic Mitch Trubisky homer. Twitter: @SIRL0INofBEEF

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