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The Dissenting Costanzan #4: Greg Jennings, T.Y. Hilton, and John Brown

gregjennings

Seinfeld, Season 2, Episode 7, “The Revenge.”

Jerry: So what are you gonna do now? Are you gonna look for something else in real estate?

George: [Scoffs.] Nobody’s hiring now. The market’s terrible.

Jerry: So what are you gonna do?

[George shifts his head and ponders. Scene changes from laundromat to Jerry’s apartment.]

George: I like sports. I could do something in sports. . . . You know, like the general manager of a baseball team—something like that.

The Dissenting Costanzan is a new semi-regular series in which I as RotoViz’s (un)official ombudsman will examine or call into question some of the arguments, assumptions, evidence, logic, methodologies, and pop culture references made recently on our site. In general, we at RotoViz desire for our posts to be as Costanza-proof as possible—for them to be able to withstand the (dare I say) bald pessimistic, caustic, and probingly meta-concerned deconstructionist post-postmodern inspection of the most Costanza-like reader imaginable. Why “The Dissenting Costanzan”?—why not???

What is the Historical Success Rate of Old Used-to-be-Productive WRs like Greg Jennings?
Justin Winn recently posted a piece in which he argues that Greg Jennings should be drafted everywhere, given that his ADP is WR63 a year after finishing as a flexible-ish player. Specifically, Winn compares Jennings’ current situation to that of Reggie Wayne’s in 2012 and notes that last year when Matt Cassel was his QB Jennings was fairly competent. Winn concludes that, with Cassel and/or Teddy Bridgewater throwing to him, Jennings can be expected to finish 2014 as a WR2 or high-end WR2 with around 150 targets.

The Brothers Kerrane have also recently weighed in on Jennings, with Mike arguing that Jennings’ ADP makes him a bargain and Pat arguing that Jennings, unlike Steve Smith in 2011 and Reggie Wayne in 2012, isn’t a bargain because Cordarrelle Patterson will steal substantial targets, ultimately suggesting that one should target boom-or-bust potentially difference-making WRs at that point in the draft, not bye-week fill-ins. For what it’s worth, in our recent Composite Redraft WR Rankings, we collectively ranked Jennings #54—but evidently the Douche buys the ancient sleeper hype, as he gave Jennings a high ranking of #33.

Look, there’s no denying (as Jacob Rickrode has pointed out) that Jennings has been one of the elite WRs of the past 7 years, but let’s not forget that last year Jennings was predictably arbitragable with Denarius Moore—and if Jennings in 2013 was basically as good/bad as a cheaper WR whom the receiver-needy Raiders aren’t sure they want this year—and it’s not as if Jennings’ QB situation last year was worse than Moore’s—then is anyone really justified in mustering enthusiasm for this guy?

Do any micro-situational reasons exist for believing that Jennings will improve in 2014? Well, the addition of Bridgewater is promising. Also new Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner has always had a knack for turning his #2 WRs into marginally useful fantasy assets1, but when I say “marginally useful fantasy assets” I mean that these guys collectively were top-45-ish producers as WR2s, which in theory suggests that Jennings at his ADP is a value—but does the idea of a top-45-ish WR really excite you?—especially when, as James Todd points out in his recent post on Norv Turner and the Vikings, Jennings’ yardage per target has been trending down for years.

More importantly, aside from any circumstances particular to Jennings, this question seems relevant: What is the historical success rate of receivers who 1) were repeat top-20 producers in their 20s, 2) are at least 30 years old and 3) haven’t been top-30 producers in at least two years? In other words, if a guy used to be productive, has gotten old, and hasn’t been very productive for a while, what are the macro-level historical chances that he’ll ever be productive again?

Or maybe we could even look at this another way: Out of all the WRs who have been productive as young and old players, have any of them ever suffered from late-career periods of multi-year non-productivity from which they have recovered?

I’ve combed through the last ten years of fantasy results at PFR, and of all the great receivers to have multiple top-20 finishes in their 20s and post at least one top-30 season in their 30s—and this list basically comprises the greatest WRs of the last decade to experience sustained success2—only three of these guys managed to achieve top-30 production in their 30s after facing late-career multi-year periods of non-top-30 production:

  1. Joey Galloway, an ancient repeat top-30 WR from 2005 to 2007 after forgettable seasons in 2003 and 04.
  2. Muhsin Muhammad, the #1 WR overall in 2004 after 3 non-top-30 seasons—and once again a top-30 WR in 2008 after another 3 non-top-30 seasons.
  3. Marty Booker, the #30 WR in 2006 after 3 mediocre non-top-30 seasons.

So it’s possible that a former stud could find fantasy success again—it happens occasionally—but it doesn’t seem likely based on recent history.

Then again, plenty of old guys who weren’t repeat top-20 studs in their 20s3 have also had top-30 seasons in the last decade, so if they can do it with their backgrounds then why wouldn’t Jennings be able to do it with his?

Clearly, this particular macro-historical perspective through which I’ve looked at Jennings isn’t the only lens of inspection—and since it was off-the-cuff I doubt that it provides anything more than anecdotal support for a thesis we already know—“Old WRs in decline are problematic”—but I do think it illuminates the value of this question: What do the various historical numbers suggest about formerly-productive-but-now-old-and-recently-underproductive WRs such as Jennings? These historical numbers we may want to consider further.

Am I Crazy about T.Y. Hilton?—or are You Crazy?
I’m crazy about T.Y. Hilton. My objectivity has been compromised. He was an integral part of many championship teams for me as a rookie in 2012 and was the subject of my first two RotoViz pieces, which argued first that Hilton will have a long, productive, and perhaps elite career and second that he is ideally positioned to become the Marvin Harrison to Andrew Luck’s Peyton Manning as soon as his third season—and with Hilton entering his third NFL campaign I’m sticking with my argument: I think Hilton is poised to be a borderline WR1 in 2013.

But I’m crazy. In our recent Composite Redraft WR Rankings, we collectively ranked Hilton the #23 WR for 2014—not at all close to a WR1—but a #23 ranking is reasonable considering that Hilton has finished the last two years #24 and #19 at his position. In fact, every ranker gave him a top-30 grade. In general, we respect him.

And yet only one ranker4 predicted that Hilton would do better in 2014 than he did in 2013. In fact every other ranker except for me predicted that he would do worse, with the highest ranking (other than mine) being #21. What’s the logic behind the widespread Hilton downgrade? Did he show us enough in improving from year one to two to convince us that he won’t improve from year two to three? Yes, Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen are returning from injuries, Hakeem Nicks and Donte Moncrief are joining the team, and Coby Fleener, LaVon Brazill, Da’Rick Rogers, and Griff Whalen are “benefitting” (relatively speaking) from an extra year in Pep Hamilton’s offense, but . . .

Is it possible that none of these receivers are currently the caliber of NFL player Hilton has been the last two years? Can you see an old-and-slow Wayne, an aging-and-ineffective Nicks, two not-there-yet TEs, and four inconsistent-but-intriguing WRs keeping a two-time top-30 third-year pro from improving his production? And, to be fair, if you actually believe that these other receivers are better than I’ve represented, isn’t it possible that they could help Hilton make the leap by preventing opposing defenses from focusing exclusively on him. Couldn’t these players help Hilton make up for his 2013 short-range inefficiency? Even the pass-averse Hamilton seems intent on enabling Hilton to thrive, saying this during OTAs:

He’s played all four spots, both outside positions (and) both slots.  We feel like that’s important so that teams can’t scheme to take him away.

If Hamilton is playing Hilton at all four receiver spots so that he can operate freely as often as possible, does it sound like Hilton is going to be kept off the field or prevented by his teammates from becoming his team’s clear #1 option? Are Wayne and Nicks also lining up all over the field? Is Hamilton worried about opponents scheming to take them away?

But I’m crazy. Know that all of this is coming from a guy who had Hilton at #11 in our rankings—10 spots ahead of the second-highest ranking. That’s insane.

But here’s where I’m coming from. Hilton’s first two NFL seasons were top-30 WR campaigns. He was solidly usable. Since 1978 (when the league switched to a 16-game season) that’s happened less than once per year. Here are all of the WRs since 1978 to achieve consecutive top-30 positional finishes in their first two years (with data provided by PFR):

Name

Rookie Year

Y1 PR

Y2 PR

Y3 PR

John Jefferson

1978

1

4

1

James Lofton

1978

12

21

4

Jerry Butler

1979

26

22

16

Cris Collinsworth

1981

8

12

11

Charlie Brown

1982

3

5

68

Daryl Turner

1984

15

9

48

Louis Lipps

1984

10

1

46

Eddie Brown

1985

7

19

38

Jerry Rice

1985

22

1

1

Ernest Givins

1986

13

9

16

Bill Brooks

1986

9

28

29

Brian Blades

1988

24

21

50

Andre Rison

1989

30

2

7

Fred Barnett

1990

18

22

7

Joey Galloway

1995

14

15

5

Keyshawn Johnson

1996

20

24

5

Marvin Harrison

1996

22

25

31

Randy Moss

1998

1

2

1

Andre Johnson

2003

23

22

47

Roy E. Williams

2004

29

30

10

Lee Evans

2004

24

29

7

Larry Fitzgerald

2004

30

2

24

Marques Colston

2006

14

8

36

Dwayne Bowe

2007

24

16

52

DeSean Jackson

2008

30

4

14

Percy Harvin

2009

25

20

7

Hakeem Nicks

2009

29

8

12

Mike Wallace

2009

28

5

9

A.J. Green

2011

14

4

4

Julio Jones

2011

17

9

66

Torrey Smith

2011

23

23

20

Median

NA

20

12

14

T.Y. Hilton

2012

24

19

??

First, you might notice that Hilton is in some good company. Based on this list, if he doesn’t get top-10 production in 2014, don’t worry—it’ll probably still happen at some point. Additionally, look at what the middle-of-the-road guy in this group did in his third year: #14 WR—borderline WR1 production. Hilton’s hasn’t been quite as productive as the cohort median in years one and two, so expecting the #14 finish from Hilton this season would be optimistic, but Hilton belongs in this group. A #14 finish isn’t out of the question.

My #11 ranking of Hilton is almost certainly too high—but our collective #23 could easily be too low. Hilton’s a guy we (especially I) need to think about some more.

Is John Brown Worth Thinking About in Redraft Leagues?
In our recent Composite Redraft WR Rankings, I didn’t rank third-round WR John Brown. This wasn’t an oversight; I simply chose not to rank him—after saying that I thought Brown is the best small WR prospect Bruce Arians has ever had a hand in drafting.

Let’s see what Arians’ small non-late-round WRs have done as rookies:

Name

Tm

Rookie Year

Rnd

Pick

Ht

Wt

40 Time

Final DR

Rookie Position Finish

Andre’ Davis

CLE

2002

2

47

74

194

4.43

37.66

56

Mike Wallace

PIT

2009

3

84

72

199

4.33

26.62

28

Emmanuel Sanders

PIT

2010

3

82

71

186

4.41

34.18

83

T.Y. Hilton

IND

2012

3

92

70

179

4.37

41.91

24

Mean

NA

NA

2.75

76.25

71.75

189.5

4.39

35.09

47.75

Median

NA

NA

3

83

71.5

190

4.39

35.92

42

John Brown

ARZ

2014

3

91

70

179

4.34

42.44

??

Two of these guys were top-30 players, and it might be reasonable (based on these numbers) to think that Brown could finish the season as at least a top-60 receiver. That’s not sexy—but that’s worthy of being ranked, and now that I’ve seen this I think a #60 finish is on the lowish end in Brown’s range of outcomes.

The issue of my decision not to rank Brown highlights a problem that I think I have (and maybe other RV writers too?): I’m unsure about how best to project rookie production in redraft leagues.

How do I determine how many points a rookie can reasonably score in year one? Do I look at how comparable players (based on draft position, college production, size, etc.) have done in the past? Do I look at how players have done who have played under the rookie’s new head coach?—offensive coordinator?—offensive coordinators with similar offensive systems?—and what if those previous players aren’t especially similar to the rookie? Do I look at how the veteran WR a rookie might replace or compete with has done in previous seasons and what the rookie’s odds are of replicating that veteran’s success or of actually overtaking him on the depth chart? SO. MANY. FACTORS.

I have ideas about the answers to these questions, but I think the best practices will always vary on a case-by-case basis with rookies, and right now I know I have more questions than answers. That’s not very satisfying, but that’s where I am.

Want to see the previous issue of the Dissenting Costanzan? Click here.
Want to see the next issue of the Dissenting Costanzan? Build a time machine, idiot.

  1. From Alvin Harper in Dallas and Desmond Howard, Michael Westbrook, Albert Connell, and Irving Fryar in Washington in the 1990s to Ronald Curry and Jerry Porter in Oakland, Arnaz Battle in San Francisco, and Vincent Jackson, Chris Chambers, and Malcom Floyd in San Diego in the 2000s.  (back)
  2. Andre Johnson, Vincent Jackson, Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, Wes Welker, Marques Colston, Roddy White, Reggie Wayne, Steve Smith, Terrell Owens, Santana Moss, Derrick Mason, Randy Moss, Chad Johnson, Hines Ward, Donald Driver, Lavernues Coles, Isaac Bruce, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Plaxico Burress, Torry Holt, Marvin Harrison, Terry Glenn, Rod Smith, Jimmy Smith, Keyshawn Johnson, Joe Horn, and Eric Moulds  (back)
  3. Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, Deion Branch, Bobby Engram, Eddie Kennison, Keenan McCardell, and Joe Jurevicius  (back)
  4. “It is I, Hamlet the Dane.”  (back)

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