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Opportunity Scores: Identifying the Top Destinations for Rookie Receivers

If you’ve seen some of my recent posts or are following me on Twitter, you’ll know that I’ve become somewhat obsessed with analyzing the relationship between quarterback and receiver ADPs. You can look at the previous articles to dig into the methodology, which includes adjustments for expected QB rushing production and running back usage in the passing game.

I eventually came to the conclusion that the relationship was most useful in identifying over/undervalued receivers, more than QBs. The biggest void in the analysis is that the receiver value calculations do not include yet-to-be drafted rookies. While that means receiver values are probably understated, it also means that you can use receiver valuations to judge the opportunities available to rookies in different destinations, i.e. a team with undervalued receivers = lots of opportunity for a rookie receiver. Let’s dig further into the opportunity concept as it relates to rookies, and take a look back to see if this analysis would have had value a year ago.

2015 Team Opportunity Scores

I made a few changes to the calculation and presentation of the 2015 data. First, I’m only using the 2015 data to calculate the regression line. I’ve noticed that current valuation relationships are quite different than the past, either due to shifting positional valuations or something particular about drafting behavior in the MFL10 leagues that provide current ADP data. Second, I lowered the times-drafted threshold for QBs and assigned Jameis Winston to Tampa Bay so that no teams are excluded from the analysis. Last, I changed the y-axis to “Receiver Value”1 since I’m now working under the assumption that receiver value should be dependent on QB ADP, not the other way around.

qb_rec_arb_2015

This chart gives you a good layout of current QB/receiver ADP relationships. Remember the theory is that teams below the regression line have undervalued receivers, and vice-versa. I also calculated the exact numbers for how much a team’s receiver value deviates from the regression estimate, and ranked teams by highest (most undervalued) to lowest (most overvalued). I’m calling the difference “Opportunity Score” because the number should relate to how much opportunity there is for a team’s current or yet-to-be-drafted receivers to exceed expectations this year.

os_preDraft_2015

Baltimore comes out on top, which is why I took a hard look at Joe Flacco’s QB17 and concluded that it would be a great destination for a rookie WR. Some of the other teams at the top obviously have lots of opportunity, but would you want to draft a WR taken by Oakland, Cleveland, or St. Louis considering their iffy QB situations? I think our guts say an emphatic “No!” Nonetheless, we don’t rely on guts or analyzing hip fluidity here at RotoViz. We need to look back and see what is truly more important for rookie year success: pure opportunity or a stable QB.

2014 Pre-Draft Opportunity Scores

Unfortunately, I only have one year to look back on since I need to focus on just pre-NFL draft ADPs, which I found by filtering 2014 MFL10 draft data. Here are team opportunity scores going into the 2014 NFL draft.

os_preDraft_2014

Forget Seattle since they only draft tiny rookie WRs with fragile knees. The next three highest opportunity scores (Carolina, Buffalo, and Tampa Bay) each drafted a first-round WR, and all those rookie WRs started producing right out of the box. It’s easy to say now that those teams were great destinations knowing the results, but were the QB situations in Buffalo or Tampa Bay much better last year than those in Oakland, Cleveland or St. Louis this year?

Odell Beckham and Allen Robinson had solid rookie years despite not landing in teams with very high opportunity scores. But, their actual opportunity rose dramatically during the season due to injuries to Victor Cruz and Cecil Shorts, plus the Justin Blackmon suspension. Without those unpredictable events, would Beckham and Robinson’s rookie years have been nearly as successful? I’m not so sure. You can see that rookies like Devante AdamsDonte Moncrief and Cody Latimer landed on teams with low or negative opportunity scores, and their teams ended up having the surrounding receiver talent to only use them sparingly.

Conclusion

Opportunity isn’t the only thing that leads to success for a rookie WR. You need to be talented and stay healthy. We often overestimate our ability to differentiate between rookies on the basis of talent; let’s face it, they’re all the 0.01 percent of athletes out there. We also likely under-emphasize how much of some rookies’ success was based on opportunity provided by inherently unpredictable injuries. What we can do, on the other hand, is determine the level of opportunity different teams provide to yet-to-be-drafted rookies based on the strength/weakness of their current WRs. The team opportunity score attempts to do that, and we should follow very closely which rookie WRs are drafted by Baltimore, Oakland, Cleveland, and St. Louis this year, because those rookies are going to have a ton of opportunity to produce in year one, even if their QBs are less than ideal.

  1. Receiver value is calculated by subtracting each team’s receiver ADPs from 240 (the last pick in a 20-round draft) and summing the differences. A high score indicates that the team’s receivers are valued by drafters and have strong ADPs.  (back)

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