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Irrational Exuberance and is Cody Latimer a Bust?

I’m sure that before clicking on this article some people were saying, “it’s too soon to say if Cody Latimer’s a bust.” To some extent, that’s true. We’re not soothsayers, clairvoyants, prophets, or anything else of that ilk. We won’t know if he’s a bust until his career is over. But in a very real sense he has also already been a bust, returning no value to the Broncos or fantasy owners last year.

I’m also sure some people were saying, “It’s not fair to say he’s a bust, he wasn’t supposed to play much last year anyway. We won’t know whether or not he’s a bust until we see him play.” I think that’s a more interesting mindset and one I’m going to address later in more depth. So, is Cody Latimer a bust?

I think the easiest way to evaluate Latimer’s future prospects is to form a simple group of comparable players. I decided to use two variables to do so; draft position and receiving yards. Here’s a table of all 18 wide receivers drafted in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft since 2000 with fewer than 100 receiving yards as a rookie:

WR Year Age Pick Rec Yds TD
James Hardy 2008 23 41 9 87 2
Dwayne Jarrett 2007 21 45 6 73 0
Limas Sweed 2008 24 53 6 64 0
Steve Smith 2007 22 51 8 63 0
Vincent Jackson 2005 22 61 3 59 0
Santana Moss 2001 22 16 2 40 0
Tim Carter 2002 23 46 2 37 0
Taylor Jacobs 2003 22 44 3 37 1
Terrence Murphy 2005 23 58 5 36 0
Sinorice Moss 2006 23 44 5 25 0
Cody Latimer 2014 22 56 2 23 0
Malcolm Kelly 2008 22 51 3 18 0
Jerry Porter 2000 22 47 1 6 0
Jerome Simpson 2008 22 46 1 2 0
Robert Ferguson 2001 22 41 0 0 0
Devery Henderson 2004 22 50 0 0 0
Dexter Jackson 2008 22 58 0 0 0
A.J. Jenkins 2012 23 30 0 0 0

Kinda-Sorta Favorable Comps

Depending on whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, certain names in particular might jump out at you. I’m going to focus on the five “positive” names, positive meaning the ones who ever  posted a WR3 season or better.1 That’s right, out of the 17 non-Latimer WRs meeting these criteria 12 were objective busts. Spoiler Alert: The odds only get worse.

Let’s start off with the minor successes. To be clear, the Steve Smith in the table is the one who played for the Giants, not the diminutive Steve Smith of Carolina and Baltimore fame. Smith finished the 2009 season as the WR12. Aside from that one borderline WR1 season, Smith never even finished as a WR3. He was a one-hit wonder. Jerry Porter has a low-end WR2 season and two WR3 seasons to his name. Devery Henderson barely even meets these criteria as he only has a WR34 finish to his name. You could easily argue all three of these players were busts, so let’s move on to the definitive successes.

Believe it or not, Santana Moss actually has more WR3 or better seasons than Vincent Jackson. Moss has two WR1 seasons, two WR2 seasons, and three WR3 seasons to his credit. I don’t want to focus on his last three seasons as Moss has been old and not really expected to contribute. Of the 11 prior seasons, three failed to reach at least a WR3 level. Still, his career was definitely a success overall. But is he a good comp for Latimer? Moss is actually the highest drafted WR of this entire cohort, being drafted with the 16th overall pick which puts him in the first half of the first round. Latimer was drafted towards the end of the second round, and draft position is a valuable predictor of NFL success.

So let’s move on to the comp we’re really hoping is realized for Latimer, Vincent Jackson. On the surface, this seems like a better comp than Moss. Both Latimer and Jackson are huge and highly athletic, though Jackson frankly trumps Latimer in those regards. Jackson is three inches taller, 15 pounds heavier, and ran a 4.46 forty yard dash compared to a 4.44 for Latimer. But there is one huge difference between the two as prospects, and it is unfavorable for Latimer. Latimer played his college ball at Indiana, an FBS school. Jackson played at Northern Colorado, an FCS school. That gives Jackson an excuse for a slow NFL transition that Latimer frankly doesn’t have.

Warning Signs

So, out of 17 players only two represent truly positive comps for Latimer and there are reasons to think they’re problematic. So this brings me to the reasons people will invoke to suggest we should expect Latimer to succeed in 2015. People will say things like, “he was never meant to play as a rookie,” “Peyton Manning doesn’t trust rookies,” or, “he needed a year of development.” And all of those things are reasonable to think. But looking at the table above, do you really think that people didn’t make similar justifications for many, if not all, of the WRs listed? Of course they did. People who are skeptical of the application of analytics to fantasy football might suggest that you shouldn’t always do what the numbers seem to suggest, that you need to be looking for the outliers. And to some extent that’s true. But ultimately you make a profit by consistently making decisions with positive expected value, rather than trying to always be right and find the exceptions. Do you want to know the most damning thing about Latimer’s 2015 prospects? None of the WRs in the above table managed even a WR3 season as sophomores, including Jackson and Moss.

For what it’s worth, I also think the justifications for Latimer ignore other, very practical concerns. Historically, Gary Kubiak led offenses have only really featured two WRs. Demaryius Thomas is locked in as the number one. So for 2015 you’re hoping that Latimer either surpasses Emmanuel Sanders or that Kubiak alters his offense to feature three WRs because of either Latimer or Manning. That seems overly hopeful to me. As far as dynasty is concerned, Manning is officially in year-to-year mode now. So while a huge part of Latimer’s value has been the idea that he’ll play with Peyton Manning, the truth is going forward you’ll never be able to get face value for Latimer because of QB uncertainty. In short, this is the only season he’s ever guaranteed to play with Manning and he may not be heavily utilized at all.

So how do you apply this data? Well in redraft, you should avoid Latimer altogether. He’s fool’s gold. In dynasty, if you don’t own him, keep it up! But what if you do? Well then the clear move is to sell him. Given what I’ve said above, and given Latimer’s nonexistent rookie production, you’re probably thinking that you’ll have to take a loss to sell him. But that may not be true. According to Dynasty League Football startup ADP from last August, Latimer was being drafted as the 96th overall pick. According to current March ADP? 65th overall. Latimer has seemingly appreciated in value despite doing nothing. Truthfully, for the reasons listed above, that’s absurd. We have more information now and that information is negative for his outlook. But it also makes a kind of sense. If you buy in to the justifications I listed above, then you actually think he’s closer to producing now. From that perspective, he actually may appear to be a buy-low. But the data is overwhelming, and it suggests that if Latimer does ever return value, it won’t be in 2015.

  1. Standard scoring.  (back)

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