Everyone loves rookies when it comes to fantasy football. Let’s face it, owning a rookie player is fun for all the same reasons it’s fun for fans and owners of NFL teams: they’re young, they’re exciting, and the unknown tends to favor all of our daydreams of highlight-reel touchdowns and fantasy championships. While I think that oftentimes rookies can be a value in redraft formats, this is not the fate of many rookie selections. One of the biggest value traps this year is Kevin White at WR30.
Jay Cutler is Surrounded With Familiar Faces
One of the factors that keep most rookie WRs off the field is the presence of veterans, especially those with whom the quarterback is familiar. In addition to Alshon Jeffery, Jay Cutler has enjoyed success throwing to tight end Martellus Bennett and free agent acquisition Eddie Royal.
Jeffery, Bennett, and Royal represent three of the four most efficient targets Cutler has ever had in his career.1 Considering Cutler’s successful history with Jeffery, Bennett, Royal, and running back Matt Forte, targets may come much harder to come by for White than fantasy owners are currently pricing into his WR30 value. Kevin Cole’s research on projected targets and WR rank agree as White is way above the trend line he created.
Even with the familiarity Cutler has with other targets, if White is able to lock down the WR2 job for the Bears, one could expect him to produce considering the offense he will be playing in. Take a look at the combined receiving usage for both the Bears and the Broncos the last two seasons
Both Adam Gase’s offense in Denver and Marc Trestman’s offense in Chicago relied heavily on the top two WRs in the offense, as well as the TE1 and RB1. However, I’m not quite sure that this will hold true for Gase in Chicago. It is entirely possible that the WR3 usage in both offenses was held down due to extenuating circumstances.
In Chicago, Trestman rarely made substitutions on offense, relying on his stud WRs Jeffery and Brandon Marshall to shoulder the receiving load. Third WR Marquess Wilson also missed the first nine games of the season with a fractured clavicle. Trestman is obviously no longer there, and Royal is currently healthy, so the lack of subs probably won’t be as prominent.
In Denver, the issue was the decline of Wes Welker. In 2013, the target load was split up fairly evenly between Demaryius Thomas (21.2 percent), Eric Decker (20.3 percent), and Welker (16.3 percent). Leading up to the 2014 season, Welker battled a concussion and was handed a four game suspension (later reduced to two games). A shell of himself, he only recorded 10.5 percent of 2014 targets. I expect Royal to be much more viable this season than Welker. He was, after all, much better in 2014.
The point of all of this is to say that the WR usage in both offenses appear to be more of a matter of circumstance than of something I’d expect going forward. If Royal can contribute it puts a hard cap on White’s targets.
Recency Bias Has Inflated White’s Cost
While discussing my five killer draft strategies, I mentioned that the price tag of rookie WRs has become inflated due to the success they had last year. This year, White is the second rookie WR off the board, going at WR30 and pick 72.5 overall. Last season, Mike Evans was the second rookie WR off the board, and he could have been had as WR40, 96.78 overall. That is 10 WR spots and two full rounds of value. Evans was, of course, awesome, but history shows us that expecting that consistently from a top 10 draft pick at WR is probably a fool’s errand.
The above table contains all top 10 Draft selections at WR since 2000. As you can see, Evans’ rookie season was the best season for a top 10 WR in the last 15 years. The average top 10 rookie season? Not even in the top 60.2 Just four of the 23 players would have finished higher than White is currently being drafted, and 15 of them finished more than 20 spots worse (65 percent). It defies reason to pay such a premium for a player that historically will not live up to it, especially when Fox is not known as a player to get the most out of rookie talent.
I will not be owning any Kevin White in my re-draft leagues this year. Paying a WR30 price for a player in his position seems more like chasing hype than chasing opportunity and fantasy value. Is it possible that he defies the odds and has a season like Evans did last year? Yes, but I would say it is far from probable. Stay away from White this summer, you won’t regret it.