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Aaron Dobson: One Foot From Glory

aarondobson

Aaron Dobson has had a very strange, very short career. He was considered a reach when the Patriots drafted him in the 2nd round… but because they did, and because he went to Marshall, people started talking about him like the second coming of Randy Moss. Highlights from college and practice exacerbated matters. In a manner of weeks, he went from being a popular sleeper pick to just being a popular pick, period. Then something even weirder happened: Undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins became the Patriots rookie WR that everybody clamored for, and it looked like he might even start over Dobson. By the end of the season, both had their moments, but Dobson outproduced Thompkins. Now, nobody cares about Thompkins at all, but they don’t seem to care a whole lot about Dobson either.

I told you, he’s a strange dude. Even as a prospect, he was something of a Rorschach Test. Since it’s a weird story, and our knowledge of WR evaluation has improved since Dobson was drafted, I think it’s best if I start at the beginning.

Back in January, Shawn Siegele discovered that age, weight, and Dominator Rating1 form a Holy Grail for WR evaluation, and breakout age was a skeleton key.2 The average age of a hit was younger than that of a miss, at 22.8- That’s basically how old Dobson is now. The average hit was heavier than the average miss, and weighed 206.3 lbs.- Dobson weighed in at 210 lbs. at the combine. Hits had a DR of .395 compared to that of a .29 for misses. Here is Dobson’s chart from the College Career Graphs App:

dobson

So… his final season was atrocious across the board, and makes no sense in the context of the rest of his college career. He did miss two games due to injury, so maybe he was playing hurt. Given his other production and his strong rookie season in the NFL, I’m inclined to discount it. That’s how I view this particular Rorschach. His final DR was .135, which is terrible even when compared to misses. His junior season DR was .395… exactly the average for hits. With an open mind, you can pretty comfortably say he meets all three thresholds.

You want some more Rorschach goodness? Try to determine his breakout age. Was it his age 20 season, or his age 18 season? It’s easy to discount his age 18 production, because he only played in five games. Marshall only passed for 14 TDs all year, and Dobson caught 4 of those in less than half of a season. I suspect he would have posted a DR of .30 or higher if he had played the full season. The average breakout age for a 2nd round hit is 19.9, compared to 20.9 for misses. He either falls right between those averages (if you go with his age 20 season), or is comfortably younger than both. Jon Moore examined the issue of breakout age further, and based on his findings, Dobson’s chances of posting a top 30 fantasy season are somewhere between 30% and 60%, while his chance of posting a top 15 fantasy season is somewhere between 16% and 20%. I like those odds.

It’s worth pointing out that physically, Dobson is just what we’re looking for in a WR. He’s 6’3″, 210 lbs., and he runs a 4.40 forty. That gives him a Freak Score of 72, comparable to Larry Fitzgerald.

Let’s transition to the NFL. James Todd examined how 2nd round rookie WRs have performed in the NFL historically, and found that Dobson’s rookie year suggests he’ll be a success in the NFL.

Now that we’ve reexamined him, I think you can quite easily make the case that Dobson has been consistently underrated. So obviously now that we know he profiles as a success, based on his performance at both levels, you should target him in dynasty. The one catch with him is that you’re probably not going to be able to get him particularly cheap, since he’s catching passes from Tom Brady. There’s an optimistic way to look at this though: His price probably hasn’t increased since he was a rookie, but the amount of evidence that suggests he’ll be a success has. You could probably make a consistent profit targeting players who match that description. I recommend that if you target him in a trade, you make it seem like he’s the add-on for another player. If another owner sees how bullish you are, they’re likely to overcharge you or decide he must be worth keeping.

Of course, even dynasty players want to know what guys are going to do in the short-term, and that’s all redraft players care about. The WR Similarity Score App happens to list Michael Crabtree, Dez Bryant, Justin Blackmon, Alshon Jeffery, and Larry Fitzgerald as comps. His median and high PPR projections are 11.9 and 14.5 points per game, respectively. His median projection would have made him WR34 in points per game last year, just after Cecil Shorts and before Marvin Jones. The high projection would have tied him for WR24 with Victor Cruz.

Of course, both of those finishes would have put him behind Julian Edelman, WR18. That being said, Edelman is no impediment to his success. The two play completely different roles and Dobson is a far more effective scoring threat. More importantly, Edelman has never really been a part of the Patriots’ plans. He only emerged last year because Dobson, Thompkins, Rob Gronkowski, and Danny Amendola (who was supposed to play Edelman’s part) got injured. Tellingly, the Patriots were completely willing to let Edelman walk in free agency. It was only after he couldn’t find a better deal that they re-signed him. That seems to suggest the Patriots were comfortable with their receivers, chiefly Dobson.

Of course, there is a “but” to all this. In this case the “but” is a foot. Dobson suffered a stress fracture in his left foot in the week 12 game against Denver last year. He was able to play again at the end of the season and during the postseason, so that’s good, but he may have just done more damage that way, which would be bad. Rorschach’d. The foot was still bothering him earlier this year, so he underwent surgery on March 10th. The timetable for recovery was 2-3 months, which means he should be feeling better right… about… now. Unfortunately, he’s reportedly not participating in organized team activities. I’m not overly concerned by that, as the Patriots have no reason to rush his recovery, and the start of the season is not for several months. Unless he injures it again somehow, he should be fine.

There’s another “but”, and this one’s not a foot. This “but” is his price. Currently, Dobson is being drafted as WR57. You may recognize that as being significantly later than his projections of WR24 and WR34. You may also recognize that’s late enough that you’re not really assuming any risk related to his foot.

You may recognize that I’m telling you to draft Aaron Dobson.

  1. The average of a prospect’s market share of yards and market share of TDs in a given year. It’s much simpler than it sounds.  (back)
  2. Mixed metaphors are a key component of fantasy football analysis. I kid because I love.  (back)

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