Photo by Keith Allison
In my series on first-round WRs I showed that first-round third-year WRs yet to record top-30 finishes are unlikely to do so in the future. I’ll be honest—I haven’t done all the work to verify what I’m about to say: I think that most third-year WRs yet to have top-30 seasons never will, regardless of their original draft status.
Nevertheless, I have done the research to find a group of (under-the-radar) third-year WRs who are more likely than not to have top-30 success in future seasons: WRs who 1) had 1000 scrimmage yards and 10 all-purpose TDs in their last collegiate seasons, 2) meet certain speed requirements for their weight, and 3) were drafted (if at all) after the fourth round.
With this cohort of collegiately-productive and physically-capable under-drafted WRs entering their third year in the NFL, I have discovered a success rate similar to that of the third- and fourth-round WRs I target (who also have 1000-10 seasons and meet similar physical requirements)—just over 50%. In my WR system, I have a little over a 50% success rate for finding third- and fourth-round WRs who will have top-30 seasons within their first five years. Considering that the paltry overall success rate for WRs in these rounds, my system’s 50% hit rate is pretty good.
If you picked up one of these third-year under-drafted WRs off waivers in a dynasty league, and then treated that guy as you would treat a rookie, you would be slightly more likely than not to receive some top-30 seasons in the future. That’s pretty good for a dude you got for nothing.
As a rule, I don’t roster rookie WRs who don’t crack the top four rounds of the NFL draft. The odds are just too great that these guys won’t have success. (Only in the case of the WRs drafted by the Wide Receiver Whisperer have I allowed myself to transgress this dictum. Ryan Swope, say hello.) Indeed, even the good under-drafted WRs as a whole tend not to become successful. But the collegiately-productive and physically-capable under-drafted WRs who make it into their third NFL season? These guys tend to have success. And since they are usually easily acquirable, they can provide outstanding value.
I have to say that such guys don’t come along that often. Donald Driver was such a guy, and so was Miles Austin. Pierre Garcon was another. And depending on the 40 time you privilege (his combine v. pro day performances) Stevie Johnson was yet another. In general, these guys don’t come along that often. See some of our 2012 commentary on these receivers here.
Except this year. In 2011, four such collegiately-productive and physically-capable WRs were drafted after the fourth round. History suggests that perhaps two will have top-30 seasons in the future (assuming that all four of them make NFL rosters in 2013). If one of them turned into the next Driver and another the next Garcon, would those be guys you’d want on your roster, for free?
Who are these guys? Well, you’ve probably already guessed that Denarius Moore is one of them, and while I think he’s got a good chance of having future success he is not discounted to the extent that the others are. If Moore has success in the future, not many people will be surprised. A successful guy is useful, just not as useful as a successful guy that almost no one sees coming.
I plan on writing pieces on the other three, the first of whom has already been declared a RotoViz favorite, Aldrick Robinson, the sixth-round speedster out of SMU. Jon Moore recently busted the A-Rob bubble by comparing his situation with RG3 in Washington to Kendall Wright’s situation at Baylor. The Man Behind the RotoViz Curtain quickly followed up with an arbitrage piece favorably comparing Robinson to Mike Wallace and DeSean Jackson.
Here, I want to add to the growing sentiment that A-Rob is a player worth stashing in dynasty leagues. Why is he worth stashing exactly? Because 1) he is easy to acquire, 2) has the upside that renders him a great arbitrage play, and 3) is likely to have his future realized sooner than will a rookie. If you draft a rookie WR this year, you may convince yourself to wait anywhere from two to four years for him to develop into a worthwhile player. With A-Rob, you’ll likely know within two years (at the most) whether he’ll be a player who will fulfill his potential.
As it is, Robinson is within a small peer group of under-drafted players who are just as likely to have success as the third- and fourth-round rookie WRs my system would suggest to target. Who are those guys, and how does he compare to them? Let’s look at RotoViz’s (excellent) College WR Comparison App, which I encourage you to check out on your own. It’s one of the best dynasty tools around.
Let’s ignore the fact that A-Rob’s 4.35 40-time at the combine at 184 lbs. destroys the 40-times put up by the three incoming rookies. Let’s also ignore his elite combine Agility Score of 10.74, which suggests his ability to maneuver laterally in tight spaces. Let’s look only at his collegiate production.
In comparison to these three guys, he (at a minimum) holds his own. I’d argue that he’s the best. Despite being the smallest of the group, he exhibited excellent and consistent red zone production across his final three seasons. He is a TD scorer. His yards per target are superior to those put up by Markus Wheaton, who is heralded as a true deep threat capable of separating from defensive backs with speed alone, and Quinton Patton, who is thought of as an excellent deep route runner. A-Rob’s market share in his final season surpasses the market shares captured by the other guys in their final seasons. If he is not superior to these players, his lack lies in some other basis than his collegiate production. As a college WR, A-Rob was as good as (and had the physical attributes matching those of) the best WRs in the nation.
So, great, he compares well to some third- and fourth-round 2013 rookies. How does he compare to the 2013 WRs drafted in the first round? Let’s look.
Let me be clear: Robinson is not likely to have the opportunities immediately afforded to these first-round receivers, but if he can find the field Robinson is likely to have success. And I think he’ll find the field. In both the 2012 and 2013 NFL drafts, Shanahan opted not to draft a WR. The receivers on his roster are the guys he’s going to use. And with Santana Moss and Josh Morgan in the final years of their contracts and Pierre Garcon and Leonard Hankerson prone to various kinds of disappointments and injuries, A-Rob is not as far away from significant playing time as many fantasy players think.
What I’m about to say is speculative, I know that—but I think Shanahan likes Robinson enough to give him a legit chance to see the field. After drafting Hankerson in the third round and Niles Paul in the fifth, Shanahan went back a third time to the wide receiver well in order to draft A-Rob, whom the coach had to like in order to draft after already selecting two receivers. Additionally, Shanahan gave Robinson the “Brady treatment” as a rookie and, instead of sending him to the practice squad and risking his potential pilfering, he carried A-Rob on the active 53-man roster for what turned out to be a redshirt season. He didn’t play a game. He was so far off the radar in 2011 that for most of the 2012 season PFR listed him as a rookie. Shanahan had to like him in order to carry him on the 2011 roster as essentially dead weight.
True, A-Rob did not see action at the end of the season, after Pierre Garcon returned, but I believe that Shanny’s interest in A-Rob is shown not in his use of him in his second year but by his steadfastness in rostering him as he develops, which Shanahan also did in Denver years ago with Rod Smith, another receiver who was lightly regarded and barely productive early in his career. That Shanny willingly carried A-Rob in 2011 and then didn’t draft a receiver after the 2012 season I take to imply that the head coach believes at least one of his younger WRs will step up soon in the future. That could be Hankerson, but it could also be A-Rob.
In 2012, when given a chance to catch passes from RG3, A-Rob lit it up. He wasn’t targeted often, and he was sometimes inconsistent, but at his best he each achieved (in an albeit limited sample) notable success.
What did A-Rob look like at his best? In what could be thought of as his “redshirt rookie” season, he had three games of 1 TD and at least 49 receiving yards—his three best performances of the year in both TDs and yards. That’s pretty good. I like that upside. Out of the all the drastically under-the-radar WRs, A-Rob is the one I most want on my dynasty rosters starting in 2013. He just makes me want to stand up and say, “Veronica Corningstone and I had sex, and now we are in love!”
Who are the other two drastically under-the-radar WRs from the 2011 draft with about a 50% chance of having top-30 seasons in the future? Look for those articles soon.