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How Much Does Draft Age Matter for Wide Receivers? Redux – The Wrong Read, No. 32

Welcome to the 32nd installment of the “The Wrong Read,” an article series that reflects on recent podcast episodes, pushing the ideas discussed on the podcasts to their logical conclusions and offering some further thoughts on the topics broached by the guests and hosts. Brandin Cooks was recently traded to the Rams. My initial reaction is that this figures to hurt his fantasy outlook, not least because of what a team change usually means for wide receivers.

My first look at the effects of draft age for “The Wrong Read” focused on the wide receiver position. However, that article was written midseason, which meant full 2017 data wasn’t available. I also did not look at the data from all the angles I have been using over the last few weeks in my examinations of tight ends, running backs, and quarterbacks.

In particular, I didn’t ask what would happen if we count each player only once. In other words, what is the likelihood that a WR will have a top-24 season based on his draft age? Additionally, I estimated a top-24 season by using 200 PPR points as a threshold. Although this gets us pretty close, we can do better by using actual rankings. So this article updates the WR findings by adding a little more data and a few more charts. But the point remains the same: draft age matters a lot.

Updated Findings

I’m not going to bother updating the chart showing average PPR points by draft age, because the new chart looks basically identical to the old one. I will update the chart that approximated WR2 seasons, because using the actual rankings does change the rates somewhat:

More than 20 percent of seasons played by WRs who were 21-year-old rookies have finished in the top 24.1 No other draft-age group was able to reach WR2 status in even 15 percent of their seasons.

Draft Age and WR Success

As with all other positions, this way of looking at the numbers tends to overweight the results of a few standout players. For example, 22 different wide receivers who were 21-year-old rookies have had at least one WR2 season since 2000, producing 57 top-24 seasons in total over that time. Of those 57, just two players — Larry Fitzgerald and Randy Moss — accounted for 19 of them. No other WR who played his rookie season at age 21 has more than four WR2 seasons.

If we only give credit for whether or not a player ever produced a top-24 season, rather than how many they produced, the results are somewhat different, and even more dramatic:

A WR who played his rookie year at age 21 has historically gone on to have at least one WR2 season more than 40 percent of the time. A WR who played his rookie season at age 22? Only 20 percent. As with all offensive skill positions,2 WRs who enter the league at an older age are at a distinct disadvantage compared to their younger peers.

The 2018 Class

Compared to previous seasons, and especially compared to the current class of RB prospects, the 2018 class of WR prospects is widely regarded as being rather weak. Whereas 2017 saw three WRs go in the first nine picks, in 2018 it probably would surprise no one if there weren’t even three WRs selected in first round. This class does have several exceptionally young prospects, however, according to the RotoViz Draft Age Database:

WR

College

Birthday

Rookie Age

F Age

Notes

Deontay Burnett

USC

10/4/1997

21.2

20.2

Early Declare

D.J. Moore

Maryland

4/14/1997

21.7

20.7

Early Declare

Auden Tate

Florida State

2/3/1997

21.8

20.8

Early Declare

Antonio Callaway

Florida

1/9/1997

21.9

20.9

Early Declare, Suspended 2017

Keke Coutee

Texas Tech

1/14/1997

21.9

20.9

Early Declare

D.J. Moore’s stock has risen dramatically since the Combine, and he’s now firmly in the discussion for the first round of the NFL Draft. He looks poised to take down the entire WR Sweet Sixteen bracket. The other prospects here are most likely Day 3 picks in April’s draft, but each has some interesting upside, depending on landing spot.

How Do We Use This Information?

Draft age appears to be an extremely important consideration at every offensive skill position. If the articles I’ve written over the last few weeks have shown anything, it’s that we might want to pay closer attention to a prospect’s age upon entering the NFL. Younger prospects tend to have a higher likelihood of success.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t explicitly account for any other variables. What it indicates is that, all things being equal, younger players are more likely to succeed. But this doesn’t mean that all other things are equal. It’s possible that age is a factor in NFL teams’ assessments of prospects, and that younger players tend to be drafted earlier. Draft slot is probably the most important predictor of NFL success, in part because it is the most important predictor of NFL opportunity. So if draft age and draft slot tend to correlate, it might mean that a player’s draft age does not really add that much to our fantasy evaluations. However, my initial tests reveal a relatively weak correlation between draft age and draft position — the r-squared is only 0.08. More investigation is required.

That said, draft age was included as a predictor3 in Anthony Amico’s WR model, which also includes a proxy for draft position in the form of NFL Draft Scout’s rankings. This suggest that even if NFL teams are weighing draft age in their evaluations of prospects, they are still not weighing it enough. Shawn Siegele previously found that draft age was a significant factor in distinguishing hits from misses even within a single round of the NFL draft. Draft age is clearly in important factor, and is probably not being given enough weight in player evaluations, within either the NFL or the fantasy community.

  1. Yet just under 20 percent of those seasons went for over 200 PPR points—it was only an approximation after all.  (back)
  2. With the possible exception of QB when viewed from a certain angle.  (back)
  3. Or, at least, as part of a predictor in the form of adjusted breakout age.  (back)

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