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10 Red Flag Rookie WRs to Acquire (Part 1): Warren Buffett Loves Jarvis Landry

jarvislandry

You know how someone like Alfred Morris slips to the sixth round of the NFL Draft and out of rookie drafts entirely? Red flags. Morris was old for a rookie (24), he played at a small school (Florida Atlantic), his team sucked for the three years he was a lead back (10-26), he didn’t catch the ball much in college (only 30 receptions in 4 years), he had a slow 40 time at the combine (4.67 sec), and he was selected by a team that already had a crowded RB depth chart (Roy Helu, Evan Royster, and Tim Hightower). See what I mean?—red flags everywhere.

The result? In 2012, Alfred Morris led me to maybe the greatest fantasy season I’ve ever had. I made it to the playoffs in all of my leagues—in part because Morris was on all of my teams—and I made it to the championship game in every league but one.

You know who I bet likes red flags? Warren F*cking Buffett, that’s who. Except I wouldn’t bet on it—because I bet that Warren Buffett doesn’t bet. Anyway, red flags create situations in which assets are mispriced because the market as a whole assigns too much significance to those red flags. Yes, sometimes red flags are useful in highlighting horrid investments, but just as often (in my opinion) red flags, especially in fantasy, point to opportunities to acquire potentially useful assets at discounts to their inherent values.

Look at it this way: Not every fantastic prospect looks like a fantastic prospect, and even more importantly not every fantastic (or even mediocre) prospect comes at a value. For me, a primary team-building goal is to acquire as many non-obvious good prospects as possible, because those guys 1) are cheap and 2) thus often have the greatest potential to outperform their draft positions and see their market values increase.

All of this means that I tend to target red flag players, and to do this successfully I need to sort through the red flags that matter for individual prospects and the red flags that might be red herrings—and then I need to sort through the red flag players that (I think) the market has incorrectly discounted and the red flag players that are too expensive for my value-seeking tendencies.

With all that said, here’s Part 1 of a three-part series in which I present 10 red flag rookie WRs who I think 1) have the potential to overcome their red flags and 2) are discounted relative to their inherent values. Granted, it’s early in the draft season, so my opinions of these guys and their valuations could change as new information surfaces—but right now these are guys I’m targeting in rookie drafts and on waivers. (By the way, how stupid am I to post this right as the RotoViz Dynasty League’s rookie draft is starting?)

These guys are presented in no certain order—sort of:

#1 Jarvis Landry – Dolphins

I admit that the number of WRs to succeed in the NFL in the last 20 years with a 40 time in the 4.7s is really small. But the slow WRs who have had NFL success have all looked quite a bit like Landry: Marty Booker, Anquan Boldin, and Keenan Allen all had decent draft position, entered the NFL over 200 lbs, had strong production in college, and were selected by teams with nothing special ahead of them on the depth charts. The only thing really wrong with Landry is his 40 time—but that’s the only thing that people seem to focus on when looking at him. I’m not saying that he’ll be a top-10 WR, because he probably won’t be, but I could see a top-20 positional finish and a couple more top-30 finishes within his first five years. For a guy who supposedly sucks, that’s great.

By the way, the slow WRs to make it to the NFL and then fail?—they don’t look all that much like Landry. He’s got a decent prospect report card, he’s a great red zone target, he passed the Eric Decker Test, and he’s a sleeper to win your draft with. He could be a lesser version of Keenan Allen—and a draft day steal. One of my projection models gives Landry just over a 70% chance of having at least one top-30 season in his career—and 60% of the time my model is never wrong. Or something like that.

#2 Josh Huff – Eagles

A few red flags exist for Josh Huff, the biggest of which is that few people expected him to be drafted before the late rounds—but that’s what happened, so people should adjust their perceptions. He’s a third-round pick with sufficient size, speed, and college production. That Chip Kelly—his former college coach—thought highly enough of him to grab him with a top-100 pick, even after drafting Jordan Matthews in the second round, should tell us a lot. If Kelly didn’t think Huff were capable of contributing within a couple of years, I doubt he would’ve used a quality pick on him.

If before the draft I were to tell you, “Kelly’s going to draft a 1000-10 WR in the third round,” wouldn’t you have been inclined to want that WR? Well, that’s what Kelly did—and the guy he got is someone who knows his offense, who worked underneath him for years, and with whom he has a level of trust and comfort. You might look at that and say, “Huff only got drafted that early because he’s one of Kelly’s guys.” I look at that and say, “Huff has a chance to contribute early because he’s already proven to Kelly that he deserves to be one of his guys.” For Huff, the transition to a pro team should be as seamless as possible for a third-round rookie WR.

No, Huff isn’t as tall or as heavy as the typical RotoViz-endorsed receiver—but he’s much taller and heavier than DeSean Jackson, who had success last year for Kelly. In fact, as a prospect he looks a lot like Jeremy Maclin, who’s a free agent in 2015.

Here are 1) the receiving stats from Maclin and Huff’s final college seasons and 2) their combine measurements and 40 times:

Name

ReYds/G

ReTDs/G

Ht

Wt

40 Time

Jeremy Maclin

90

0.93

72

198

4.48

Josh Huff

87.7

0.92

71

206

4.51

Replacement much? I don’t know if even Maclin’s mother could tell them apart on the field.

Some people don’t like Huff because he has a Dominator Rating of “only” 33.80. Here’s what I think about that. 1) You know who thinks that final-season DR is good? Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. Neither of those guys got higher than 30% in their final years. 2) You could maybe say that perhaps Huff’s stats were inflated because he played in Oregon’s offense—but now that he’ll be in Kelly’s pro offense . . . do I really need to finish that sentence? 3) Huff achieved his 33.80 DR while receiving only 24.22% of his team’s receptions. That efficiency is pretty good. 4) He turned 50% of his 2013 red zone targets into scores. #BEAST 5) His 12.87 yards/target in 2013 best anything Maclin and Jackson did in their best collegiate seasons.

Here’s the heat map from RotoViz’s College Career Graph App:

Does Huff look like a guy who doesn’t belong in this group? After all, he’s a likely deep receiver, and of his ten closest comparables six have had top-30 seasons—and Markus Wheaton and Chris Givens could still become top-30 receivers.

Finally, you could look at Philadelphia’s depth chart and think that there’s no space for Huff to contribute. That might be true—but Maclin could be gone in a year, and Riley Cooper doesn’t seem like someone to keep anyone competent from becoming a top-30 WR.

Red flags? More like Tamburlaine’s red flag—know what I’m saying?

#3 Chandler Jones – Browns

Yes, I want a guy who didn’t get drafted in the NFL draft and isn’t getting drafted in fantasy rookie drafts. Why? Because finding the next Danny Amendola or Andrew Hawkins before he gets hyped still provides value—maybe that guy will actually have a top-30 season at some point, or maybe you can trade him once his market value improves. Either way, even unimpressive players can add value to your team. As it is I’m not sure that Jones is actually unimpressive.

Here are the red flags: He’s 5’9” and 183 lbs., he’ll turn 23 in his rookie season, he played at San Jose State—and, let’s not forget, he was undrafted. The odds of him having any sort of NFL success are very low.

But here’s why he’s worth a flyer: At his pro day—he wasn’t invited to the combine—he ran the 40 in anywhere from 4.34 to 4.38 secs. He was one of the best collegiate red zone receivers in 2012. He has a Phenom Index Score over 1.4, despite his “advanced age.” He averaged a 1000-13 receiving season across his final two years. And in 2013 he achieved a 37.94 DR on only 24.92% of his team’s receptions, making him one of the most efficient high-DR receivers in the country. And despite his size, Jones still captured 44.12% of his team’s 2013 receiving TDs. He might be small, but dude can ball.

Basically, Jones is a discount version of the sub-190-lb. FBS WRs to be drafted in Rounds 1-3 during the last few years:

Bigger than Austin, just as fast as Hilton, more productive than Wheaton, and more explosive than Cooks on a per-target basis, Chandler Jones is the non-John Brown small WR arbitrage play of 2014.

Most importantly, he’s on the Browns. Here is Cleveland’s WR depth chart:

  • Josh Gordon (talented but suspended)
  • Miles Austin (old and always injured)
  • Andrew Hawkins (older than you think and a jitterbug overachiever)
  • Travis Benjamin (small and returning from an ACL injury)
  • Nate Burleson (old and always fracturing his brittle bones)
  • Charles Johnson (talented but returning from an ACL injury)
  • Earl Bennett (oldish and a professional underachiever)
  • Anthony Armstrong (old and basically a kick returner)

On the one hand, UDFAs typically have little chance of becoming fantasy contributors. On the other hand, Jones is not a typical UDFA, and if he finished 2014 as one of Cleveland’s starting WRs would you actually be surprised?

I’ve had my eye on this guy for a while. He’s a guy people never talk about—but they should.

Want to know about other red flag rookie WRs to target? Look for Parts 2 and 3 soon.

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