It’s Almost Impossible to Avoid DeVante Parker, But You Probably Should

The 7 Breakout WRs You Must Own in 2016 featured a couple of surprising inclusions and two shocking omissions. One of those players I desperately wanted to add but could not.

DeVante Parker.

All receiver prospects have a production-based background from which their range of outcomes can then be assessed. Some receivers will hit the extreme high end of the range (Odell Beckham) and some the extreme low end (Charles Rodgers), but we can calibrate our expectations by looking at their draft status and the quality of their production.

Unfortunately, Parker has crafted a production resume that is exceedingly difficult to evaluate.

The Roadmap

The difficulty in assessing Parker’s status as a prospect stems from a variety of issues:

Why Playing Four Years In College Is Not a Great Sign

At RotoViz, we talk a lot about the importance of age-adjusted production. Nate Forster from Football Outsiders also talks about the importance of declaring early, and there’s a big penalty in his model for seniors. I have found this to be significant for both first and second year production, and the penalty is quite large.

We can see why this would matter logically. Kevin Cole has written a lot about career market share yards, and that metric is easily the most useful in evaluating players in a wide range of situations. But when we look at CmsYDs, it’s easy to see how a senior – who also has the benefit of playing against younger and less experienced players – will really pad his numbers by playing an extra season.

Forster writes:

The appropriate question might not be why Parker’s Playmaker is so low, but why Parker is even considered a first-round candidate in the first place. … Parker has been playing college football for a full four years and has never topped 1,000 yards once in those four years.

He explains more in a follow-up article:

Parker has a goofy history of production that includes three years of less than NFL-caliber play and one half-year of amazing play. Playmaker comes out low on Parker, however, because it is not designed to scale the production of a wide receiver to account for games missed. … This design is purposeful, because projections based on production scaled to games played would have been less accurate historically.

We can look at this from another perspective to try to get a picture that isn’t as contaminated by the strange resume. Parker’s CmsYDs of 0.24 falls well below the 0.29 threshold separating hits from misses in Cole’s regression tree analysis. Even after staying for his senior season and putting up ridiculous numbers in that partial season, Parker is a long way from being the kind of no-brainer prospect we might expect to see in the first 15 picks. To put that in context, fellow second-year players Amari Cooper (0.35) and Stefon Diggs (0.37) easily eclipsed that number without the benefit of a piling-on season.

The Strange Rookie Year

Parker becomes incredibly difficult to evaluate because his rookie year is in many ways identical to his senior year in college. He was active in 15 games but only drew a target in eight of them. This complicates matters in the Armchair Analysis dataset which only draws from games where a player received a target. If you evaluate his performance based on the 15 games, he averaged 33 yards per game. If you use only the eight, it jumps to 62. Since rookie year performance is the leading indicator of second year production, that choice makes a big difference.

The argument for using only the eight games is pretty straight forward. The model is trained on games using the “at least one target” criterion, so other WRs in similar circumstance receive the same benefit. In Parker’s particular case, we know that he was recovering from an injury. He may have been active on an emergency basis when the coaching staff had no intention of putting him in the game. The argument for using 15 games is also clear. A receiver actually benefits from being so peripheral that he doesn’t even earn a target.

Two More Complicating Factors

Injuries

Parker missed much of his senior year with a foot injury and underwent surgery last summer to have the screw replaced. That offers a partial explanation for his rookie struggles, but also a potential warning about future concerns. Parker sat out a large portion of OTAs as the team tried to keep him healthy for training camp, but he immediately missed the first week with a hamstring injury. It’s far too early to consider him the second coming of the Albino Tiger, but his injury history must factor into our thinking when determining his risk versus the potential reward.

Target Risk

Much of the focus during the offseason has been the target pressure that Parker and Leonte Carroo will put on Jarvis Landry. We may be thinking about this from the wrong direction. Landry is currently on a streak of three consecutive impressive seasons and continues to draw raves in training camp. You can almost lock in his workload.

Carroo was reportedly the No. 2 receiver on Miami’s board. RotoViz does not necessarily disagree. Corey Coleman is the only receiver we had clearly ahead of the Rutgers product, and many of us had Carroo ahead of Laquon Treadwell and Josh Doctson pre-draft.

Carroo Parker Doctson Treadwell

The key number to look at here is the career market share yards. (Treadwell is the only WR from this group who didn’t benefit from a senior year.) From a draft-agnostic perspective, Carroo is not only a better prospect than Parker, he’s a far better prospect.1

Carroo also flashed during the offseason and spent time working out on his own with Landry. While we should probably give very little weight to OTAs, the buzz for Carroo is much more positive than negative.

Parker’s Risk Isn’t Fully Priced Into His ADP

For Parker to provide value at his ADP, he needs to be the player signaled by his draft status and the brief flashes we saw in 2014 and 2015. It’s possible he is that player, and I’ve selected him in some MFL10s as a result.

But the risk is very high. There are multiple problems with our samples in creating his projection. He has injury concerns and target pressure. Even as his ADP flounders, safer and higher upside players exist where he’s going off the board.

Check out where Parker’s projection fits compared to the other breakout candidates. He still comes in higher than the trendiest breakout player of 2016.

  1. Parker has a different CmsYDs here because of a slightly different method of weighting, per season instead of per game.  (back)