Devin Funchess stands 6 feet 4 inches and weighs 232 pounds. Dorial Green-Beckham can look down on his fellow monster from a height of 6 feet 5 inches. He weighs in at 237 pounds.
Size is one of those hot button topics, and most analysts are pretty quick to put themselves in the #TeamGoodWR camp. For most of us at RotoViz, that means #TeamProductiveWR. My three favorite receivers in this draft class were Corey Coleman, Will Fuller, and Tyler Boyd. All three have age-adjusted production that dwarfs bigger receivers like Laquon Treadwell and Michael Thomas.1
On the other hand, just because past production is easily the most valuable indicator of future production, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t endeavor to find other tiny advantages around the edges. Jim Kloet performed an excellent study last offseason that helped demonstrate some of the differences between big and small receivers.
After controlling for important variables like draft position, the overall increase of passing during the years studied, and even individual team tendencies, he found that heavier receivers were more productive than smaller receivers. He also found that taller receivers caught more TDs and averaged more yards per catch, while shorter receivers caught more passes.2 Because TDs are much harder to replace than yards, this suggests bigger receivers are undervalued in reality football as well.
The RotoViz Screener and Visualizing the Interaction of Size and Production
When testing models for the value of size, it can be tricky if the effects are not the same across various weight ranges. If an extra few pounds are unimportant in one range and actually worse in another, then we often get frustrating results. I recently looked at this for the RB position, and the results at least superficially confirmed my profile-based RB evaluation method. Essentially, size works in different ways for different types of backs and bigger isn’t necessarily better.
RB Production by Weight 2000-2015
Size plays a very small role in RB production, and the boost it gives to some backs is centered around a Goldilocks Zone that prefers players in the range of 215 to 220 pounds. Every extra pound after that point has historically had negative value, a trend we might expect to accelerate due to the increase in passing emphasis. As a result, if you’re targeting Jordan Howard because of his elite age-adjusted production, that makes perfect sense. But if you’re giving him a boost because of size, this might be a good time to buy a few Jeremy Langford shares.
Should We Prefer Huge WRs?
Fortunately for Funchess and Green-Beckham, size works very differently for WRs.
WR PPR Production by Weight 2000-2015
In a scoring format favorable to small WRs, production has been relatively flat for receivers weighing 190 to 215 pounds. Since a large percentage of receivers fall into this category, it’s no surprise that many argue against any sort of size effect at WR. On the other hand, plus-sized WRs have outperformed and done so by a wide margin.
It’s always encouraging when multiple ways of looking at a question yield similar, actionable results. Before the combine, Kevin Cole used a regression tree model to evaluate the WR position and found that the sexiest drill – the 40 yard dash – provided no predictive ability.3 The hit/miss splits were almost entirely weight-based with the first split coming at 208 pounds4 and a second at 218 pounds. The other finding suggested big WRs with elite agility had the highest success rate.
Both Funchess and DGB get under his 7.0 threshold despite lugging around their massive height/weight combinations.
This analysis certainly doesn’t guarantee a breakout by either player, but it does bolster 14TeamMocker’s argument for Funchess and Jacob Myers’ thesis for Green-Beckham. At their current ADPs, neither player is exactly free, but I love both as options for the All-In WR Approach to cover RB-RB starts.
- Their age-adjusted numbers also dwarf that of trendiest-small-receiver-of-all-time Sterling Shepard. (back)
- With teams shifting some of their run-game touches to the short passing game, it wouldn’t be surprising if we saw a future shift in value that favored smaller receivers with depth of target numbers closer to the line of scrimmage. (back)
- This is for combine invitees, most of whom have already been selected for production reasons (and those who were selected purely for athleticism are terrible prospects almost by definition, which helps explain the counterintuitive results). This fits with my WR Holy Grail findings, the work done by Nathan Forster for Playmaker Score, and Cole’s work on production versus athleticism. It appears that speed is only meaningful for sub-200-pound receivers. Once you factor in draft position, it’s actually slightly better for big receivers to be slower, which suggests the NFL is wildly overvaluing speed. (back)
- Keep in mind that some of what we see in my chart above is survivorship bias since proportionally fewer small receivers make the NFL. (back)