Dynasty Lens: Analyzing Rookie Wide Receivers – Part II

In Part I of this series, we examined how draft capital, breakout age, and the history of early-declare vs senior-declare production have sharpened the lens when it comes to evaluating rookie wide receiver prospects coming out of college.

However, those indicators are only part of the puzzle that needs to be visualized in order to increase your chances of finding a keeper. In this article, we will dive into how college production, athletic testing, and even physical stature historically have determined prospect success at the next level.

Let’s begin with the most basic feature of a receiver coming out of college: anatomy.

 

Body Mass Index (BMI)

 

According to the NIH, body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women. Simply divide your weight in pounds by your height in inches to calculate your BMI.

 

Fair question.

In general, shorter receivers can still be elite wideouts if their frames are thicker, thus allowing them to remain elusive and withstand the rigors of a physical season. In contrast, taller receivers typically also need a requisite amount of mass to absorb punishment, but more importantly, because they are taller and usually not quite as shifty as smaller receivers, it’s harder for them to separate at the line of scrimmage unless they have the stature and physicality necessary to beat press coverage.

Much research has been done to articulate how important BMI is to a wide receiver’s success.

 

 

Typically speaking, you want a receiver to have a BMI over 26.0, with 27.0 or greater being ideal. Tom Burroughs over at DynastyLeagueFootball.com wrote about how there is a correlation in the relationship between BMI and production when he shared that only two wide receivers with a BMI under 26 in the last ten years scored more than 20 PPR points per game in a single season.

 

 

Yes, but what if we reduce the points per game number to just 15 instead of 20, thus accommodating a wider spectrum of quality fantasy production from wideouts since 2000? Surely, we would come closer to the average score of your top 15 or so fantasy WR in PPR leagues, no? Some draft strategies involve prioritizing running back, quarterback, and tight end early while riding with solid WR2-types to stabilize the position. After all, we can’t hope all these rookies taken out of college will have Marvin Harrison or Randy Moss upside.

Dropping the points per game expectation to 15 to include more WR2 talents will blow up this whole concept of BMI relevancy when it comes to evaluating rookie receivers for top-12 upside, right?

 

 

While 17% is better than a total of two receivers in all,  we can safely set 26 as our baseline for BMI when evaluating wide receiver prospects. Clearly, there are exceptions to the rule. Stefon Diggs has a BMI under 26, and A.J. Green posted numerous dominant WR1 seasons despite a BMI of just 25.6. As Burroughs pointed out in his article, Green, DeSean Jackson, Diggs, and Emmanuel Sanders are the only receivers to post a WR1 season in the last ten years with a BMI under 26.

How did some of last year’s breakout receivers stack up? Well, let’s take D.J. Chark, who finished his stellar second season with a promising 73 catches for 1,008 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Chark’s BMI: 24.1

 

 

I’m not saying 2019 was the best we’ll ever see out of DJ Chark, but history would suggest he’s a prime sell-high candidate in dynasty leagues right now. So is he?

Chark is certainly capable of bucking the trend, as we will examine shortly. Ideally, if a wide receiver has a BMI under 26, you want him to be a route running technician like Stefon Diggs or Emmanuel Sanders, capable of getting open and separating at will due to elite footwork and double moves. 2020 prospect Jerry Jeudy falls into this category (BMI 25.5).

If not, then he will need to be able to use his length to his advantage despite the low BMI, demonstrating refined (if not elite) route-running skills, strong hands, and big-play ability like A.J. Green. This is the hope of Calvin Ridley owners banking on a Year 3 breakout in 2020.  2020 prospect CeeDee Lamb falls into this bucket (BMI 25.4) as well.

Both Jeudy and Lamb possess the skillsets necessary to offset less than desirable BMIs, and each was drafted into an offense where they don’t have to carry to load and command the attention of the opposing team’s best defender on every snap. Scheme fit, offensive coaching, and landing spot still matter, too.

For added context, here are the BMIs for the top-24 receivers in PPR scoring last year.

 

 

How many of those receivers have a BMI over 26.0?

Diggs, DJ Chark, and John Brown. That’s it.

Ask yourself how those receivers win? Diggs is arguably the best route runner in football. Brown runs a 4.34 40-yard dash, so he possesses elite speed. D.J. Chark, coincidentally, also ran a 4.34 40-yard dash. If Chark overcomes the odds, it can partly be attributed to his elite speed and burst, allowing him to win downfield. However, like Brown, 2019 may go down as the best season Chark will ever produce as a pro.

Part of the skepticism surrounding his breakout can be tied to Chark’s 22.6% college target share (51st percentile) and 25.3% college dominator rating (36th percentile), both of which reveal a highly underwhelming college production profile. This, of course, brings us to our next metric to use as a signal when forecasting prospect success.

 

Dominator Rating

 

College dominated rating can be defined as a player’s total team percentage of receiving yards and touchdowns. PlayerProfiler.com defines their metric as the number that “Represents the age when a wide receiver first achieved a 20+% dominator rating.” Essentially, we’re evaluating whether the prospect was ever actually a dominant presence on his team’s offense and to what degree. If a player could not dominate the offensive production of his team in college, it’s statistically unlikely to assume he will do so once he reaches the NFL.

Let’s take a look at how some of the more notable prospects from the 2020 class stack up.

* all DR percentages from PlayerProfiler.com

Well, then.

It’s rather telling that the first wide receiver selected in the NFL Draft this April had the lowest market share and dominator rating of any receiver taken. It’s also worth noting that Jerry Jeudy played on the same team as Henry Ruggs, as well as development talents Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith. Given the proliferation of talent at wideout for the Crimson Tide, it’s unreasonable to expect Jeudy to have garnered the same yardage and touchdown share for his team than someone like Jalen Reagor, who had far less competition for targets.

Nonetheless, dominant receivers dominate games. The dominator ratings for Branon Aiyuk, Denzel Mims, Bryan Edwards, Antonio Gandy-Golden, and Tyler Johnson stand out from the pack. As mentioned in Part I of this series, Aiyuk’s breakout age and dominator rating encompass his JUCO career. Mims can’t shake the dreaded “Senior Declare,” or the Baylor WR bust curse, but at least he enters the league with a history of dominating at the collegiate level that might give him a chance to be more Josh Gordon (on the field) than Corey Coleman or Kendall Wright.

Bryan Edwards might be a unicorn with the youngest breakout age ever and the second-highest dominator rating in this class. If he can stay healthy, he looks like a perfect scheme fit in Jon Gruden’s West Coast system predicated on the shorter passing game. Edwards, like Michael Thomas, is perfectly suited to serve as a big slot who should rack up plenty of receptions, yards, and touchdowns underneath. In fact, Ruggs’ speed on the outside should open the offense up, an element missing last year, thus allowing Edwards to be perhaps the biggest beneficiary. Don’t be surprised if Edwards ascends to the role of WR1 on the team by his second season.

Gabriel Davis, Antonio Gandy-Golden, and Tyler Johnson are premiere dart throws at the end of rookie drafts or dynasty startups based on their dominator ratings. Johnson, in particular, might be the most curious case of them all given he had the largest dominator rating in this prolific and historic class. He lacks elite speed or size, and reports of character concerns, which may or may not be unfounded, contributed to Johnson sliding all the way to the fifth round. However, a 57.2% College Dominator Rating coupled with a 27.2 BMI and 19-year-old breakout age make Tyler Johnson an enigma worth gambling on as well.

If history tells us anything, it’s that no receiver other than Julian Edelman (who also played QB in college) has ever recorded multiple 1,000-plus yard seasons with a college dominator rating under 25%. In 2017, Tyreek Hill became the first wideout since Percy Harvin to post a College Dominator Rating under 20% (19.4%) and still go on to record more than 800 yards receiving in one season. His role in college wasn’t as consistent as it is in the NFL (and having Patrick Mahomes for a quarterback helps), but relying on outliers to guide prospect projection isn’t sound process.

All of this makes a player like Henry Ruggs a highly volatile asset. Ruggs does have draft capital on his side as the first receiver taken in a prolific class, but his 17.4% College Dominator Rating makes the likelihood of sustained, elite NFL production rather unlikely. This is not to say acquiring Ruggs via trade or in rookie drafts is a fool’s errand, but it’s worth noting that if he does succeed in a way that justifies his draft slot, he will be an extreme outlier that required a leap of faith rather than an expectation supported by an abundance of statistical evidence.

After all, not all receptions are created equal. To illustrate this, we have the lesson of Zay Jones at PlayerProfiler.

 

 

A 99th percentile College Market Share. Every workout metric in the 80th percentile or above. A College Dominator Rating of 37.1% (74th percentile).  The all-time NCAA Division I career receptions leader (399) as well as the all-time NCAA Division I single-season receptions leader (158). Even the breakout age (20), while less than ideal, is still a healthy indicator of future NFL success.

In short, Jones was seemingly a near “can’t-miss” prospect, except for one thing… context.

Jones was a small school success. That in itself is hardly a death sentence for future success, but there is one number in the profile above that flies under the radar: YPR.

 

YPR

 

Zay Jones’ College Yards Per Reception (11.1%) sits in the 7th percentile. This means that even in a conference with smaller schools comprised of lesser talent, Jones was only able to “dominate” his team’s percentage of receiving yards and touchdowns if he was forced targets closer to the line of scrimmage.

Basically, he was a big fish in a little pond, and even then, his size was largely an illusion (pun intended). There is no discounting his athleticism, but his historic college production was substantially propped up by high-percentage targets and scheme. It’s also worth noting that Jones’ BMI (25.8) supported the idea that he could struggle against more physical corners, and to date, he has looked anything but physical on the field.

The 2020 rookie class features a wide range of YPR when it comes to the wide receiver position.

 

A few things stand out here.

First, CeeDee Lamb, Brandon Aiyuk, and Tee Higgins really look attractive through this lens. They’re the types of players who should excel when targetted downfield, but Lamb and Aiyuk look especially explosive when given the ball underneath where they can do damage after the catch. This bodes well for early success, especially if the targets aren’t always there during their rookie seasons playing for loaded offenses where they might command a smaller market share.

However, we’re more concerned with our red flags here. We’ve been touting Bryan Edwards’ talents in both parts of this series, but we’ve finally identified a metric where he does not grade well. That being said, Edwards has the superior size and plays with the physicality that Zay Jones can only dream of. Additionally, more than 50% o Edwards’ receptions in 2019 were on screens. While that might highlight how dangerous he can be with the ball in his hands, it definitely suppresses YPR. Contrast that with Jones, who ran more speed outs, slants, and stops to feed him targets. More than anything, the injury history might be the biggest concern when it comes to projecting Edwards’ sustained success in the NFL.

Much of the same can be said of Laviska Shenault, an equally physical receiver who turns into a running back with the ball in his hands. If the Jaguars feature him in the slot to get him the ball in space underneath, or they design plays like quick outs and bubble screens to take advantage of his prowess in the open field, then he has a chance to be really dynamic at the next level despite the low YPR in college.

Next up, we have Devin Duvernay, who ran almost exclusively in the slot during college. Duvernay has great speed and hands, and he’s dynamic with the ball in his hands, much like Edwards and Shenault. However, he isn’t much of a route-runner, and he doesn’t win at the contested catch point the way the other two bigger-bodied receivers do. Plays were designed to get Duvernay the ball early and in space, but he may possess the physicality and speed to avoid ending up like Zay Jones. Plus, could the fit be any better?

 

 

The player, perhaps, most likely hurt in value projection based on low YPR is probably Van Jefferson. Jefferson, like Duvernay, ran most of his routes in the slot, but he isn’t quite as physical, nor does he possess great speed. He will need to rely on route-running ability to separate at the next level, and his lack of production in college suggests that he may be a try-hard athlete who might lack the explosive traits necessary to dominate at the next level. Some said the same thing about Cooper Kupp, but Kupp produced in college and was a more consistent playmaker with YAC and contested-catch skills. It seems unlikely that Van Jefferson will justify his Day 2 draft capital.

 

Final Note

 

The data explored within this article, as well as the conclusions from in Part I of this series, can help you make more informed decisions when trying to project college wide receiver success to the NFL. However, we’re still talking about people playing a game with other people. There will always be outliers, unique circumstances, off-field concerns, and unforeseen context that may never show up in the numbers.

A prime example of this would be Corey Davis, from PlayerProfiler.

 

 

Davis entered the league with a strong 16.8 YPR, a 96th-percentile+ College Dominator Rating and College Market Share, an age-18 breakout, and a BMI over 26. He also had the best draft capital you could ask for in a wide receiver (top-5 pick).

To date, Corey Davis has yet to finish with a top-24 PPR finish through his first three years in the NFL. He seemed to regress in Year-3, a popular breakout year for many young receivers, as he took a backseat to A.J. Brown, a receiver the metrics said had a better Speed Score and 40-yard dash time but nothing else.

 

 

Why has Corey Davis seen his dynasty value slip while A.J. Brown finds himself after one year already a  top-40 pick or better?

Perhaps it’s the coaching, offensive scheme (who remembers “exotic smashmouth”?), and team context he was drafted into. Maybe it’s the pressure that comes with being a top-5 pick. Moreover, it could be injury-related, as Davis lost five games to a hamstring injury during his rookie year, and after a top-27 finish in 2018, Taylor Lewan reported Davis had battled turf toe throughout the season despite that designation never appearing on the injury report.

What we do know is that the Tennessee Titans did not exercise Corey Davis’ fifth-year option, signaling the team may be prepared to part ways with their high draft pick after the 2020 season.

It’s entirely possible that Davis plays with more urgency and consistency, convincing the Titans to resign him to a long-term deal, just as it’s possible he thrives with a change of scenery. Alternatively, it’s also possible Davis never delivers the type of production the analytics suggested he could, and he goes down as a “bust.”

There can be no promises that, even with all the statistical precedence and analytical projections, CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, Jalen Reagor, Justin Jefferson, Brandon Aiyuk, Bryan Edwards, Laviska Shenault or any other highly touted receiver from this class won’t end up disappointing owners the way Corey Davis has done.

All we can do is employ every tool we have to increase our odds of hitting on the prospects we draft, much in the same way actual NFL teams do every year. If you do this, it’s a lot easier to say, “Corey Davis checked every box, and I still missed. No process yields a 100% return, so I can live with that” …

… than it is to say,

“Zay Jones broke records in college, but if I had just looked at the right numbers and not just the shiny ones, I could have known better and seen what was the most likely outcome.”

There still other metrics to consider when trying to find hidden gems from this draft class. For example, the top three receivers in this class base don contested catch rate are Justin Jefferson (92.3%!!!), Tyler Johnson (66.7%), and… Quintez Cephus? Yep. You read that right. Cephus also heads to Detroit where Matthew Stafford has traditionally favored receivers who win at the catch point, and Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola are both in the last year of their contracts.

It’s also worth considering that the top-5 Speed Scores for this wide receiver class, a metric which places a premium on faster 40-times run by bigger receivers, go to Chase Claypool (99th percentile), Denzel Mims (96th percentile), Joe Reed (94th percentile), Michael Pittman (93rd percentile), and Henry Ruggs (90th percentile), according to PlayerProfiler.com. We knew Ruggs was fast and Claypool blew up the combine, but you may not have known that Joe Reed and Michael Pittman are extraordinarily fast for their size, expanding their potential opportunities at the next level.

Looking for late-round sleepers? Jauan Jennings, taken in the 7th round by the 49ers, was a monster with the ball in his hands and joins former teammate Jalen Hurd in San Francisco. He’s slow as molasses, but with a head coach capable of scheming him wide open, that may not matter as much.

 

 

Or how about Gabriel Davis, taken by the Bills in Round 4. He’s nowhere near as heralded a name as the ones we’ve been mentioning, but his profile might be the most well-rounded of any of the receivers taken after Day 2:

27.7 BMI, 19.4 BOA, Junior Declare, 34.4% College Dominator Rating, 17.2 YPR, and a 78th percentile Speed Score.

The only knocks against Davis are his less than stellar draft capital and a poor 36.7% contested catch rate. For the sake of comparison, though, CeeDee Lamb posted a 38.5% contested catch rate. Davis heads to Buffalo where he will be buried beneath Stefon Diggs, John Brown, and Cole Beasley, but the Bills are clearly trying to surround Josh Allen with bigger receivers outside, and Davis appears to be a perfect match with Allen already.

 

 

Draft capital, early declare, breakout age, BMI, College Dominator Rating, YPR… these are just some of the tools at your disposal. Use them to build as complete a picture of a prospect that you can, and then fill in the rest with whatever anecdotal evidence or contextual factors you can find that might explain or foretell what the numbers do not.

A good process will always lead to better results in the long run. It becomes a lot easier to trust a prospect when you trust the process that led you to him.

 

(Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire)

Paul Ghiglieri

Avid 49er fan from the Bay who now lives in LA and has way too much fun watching the No Fun League. A bit jealous the Seahawks have Pearl Jam. Screenwriter and Educator who loves to moonlight as a fantasy analyst. Broke into the league in '94 with Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, and Kurt Warner. Drafted as a fantasy armchair quarterback. Been playing ever since.

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