Can We Use Efficiency to Evaluate WR Prospects with Low Market Share?

One of the most frequent questions I get asked about my work, especially market share,1 is “what if Player X had really good teammates that prevented him from dominating his team’s market share?” I think this is a really great question, and I intend to answer it eventually, but today we’re going to look at a related issue: can high efficiency trump low market share for highly-drafted wide receiver prospects?

Over the past two seasons, guys like Kelvin Benjamin, Martavis Bryant and Travis Benjamin have enjoyed fantastic fantasy performances despite fairly underwhelming college résumés. Never wanting to miss on any prospect, I spent some time thinking about these players and what about their profiles should have given me more reason for optimism. Ultimately, I landed on efficiency, in the form of yards-per-target, as a potential indicator.

To be clear, I understand that creating caveats is a risky proposition,2 but yards-per-target has showed up as a significant variable in certain tests I’ve run, so I think this is more than taking a shot in the dark.

To attempt to learn from history, I’ve wrangled up about 90 receivers drafted in the first four rounds between 2010 and 2014. I say “about 90” because guys like Denard Robinson, Armanti Edwards and Dri Archer blur the lines, but you get the idea.

Of these players, the average final season market share of yards was just above 30 percent. For the sake of round-numbers, I’ve limited the following exercise to all players who were under 30 percent market share in their final season yards.

Note that 9.8 yards per target was the average of all receivers drafted in the first round rounds between 2010 and 2014, so I’m defining high-efficiency as players who surpassed this threshold in their final season, while also having below 30 percent of yards.

Let’s work through the focus group, starting with the players who had the lowest final season market share of yards.

WRDraftOverallF YPTF msYDS
Greg Childs20121347.77.8
Marquise Goodwin2013787.59.8
Joe Adams20121048.616.7
Aaron Dobson2013597.517.9
Ace Sanders20131017.318.1
Martavis Bryant201411812.719.0
Kevin Norwood201412312.919.0
Dri Archer2014977.119.0
Josh Gordon20123910.219.6
Cordarrelle Patterson2013299.320.5
Jerrel Jernigan2011837.220.9

Martavis Bryant, Kevin Norwood and Josh Gordon are the focus players here. Bryant’s career at Clemson was somewhat underwhelming thanks to the presence of DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins, but he was ultra-efficient with his opportunities and an athletic marvel. Josh Gordon experienced somewhat of a similar situation with plenty of NFL talent, but was great with his targets, athletic for his size and tremendously young3 in what would become his final season, thanks to a suspension. Kevin Norwood has done nothing of note in his NFL career, but I think it’s pretty critical that he was 24 years old in his final college season and an average athlete.

Of the others, Cordarrelle Patterson‘s profile is curious, and he still might become something in the NFL, but his career has been a tremendous disappointment to this point. Same, maybe, for Aaron Dobson.

WRDraftOverallF YPTF msYDS
Arrelious Benn2010397.521.1
Devon Wylie20121079.121.6
Tandon Doss20111236.221.8
Shaquelle Evans20141158.822.0
Austin Pettis2011789.322.8
Kelvin Benjamin20142811.623.0
Robert Woods2013417.223.1
Bruce Ellington201410611.123.5
Travis Benjamin201210011.523.5
Keshawn Martin20121217.923.9
TJ Graham20126910.224.3

Kelvin Benjamin was one of the most hotly contested prospects in 2014 thanks to his intriguing size, good raw numbers, but subpar age-market share profile. He was outstandingly efficient though and his NFL career got off to a promising start before an injury-lost 2015. Travis Benjamin came out of nowhere in 2015 to post a top 30 fantasy season. In retrospect, his overall college profile and early-career NFL production are much better than I ever realized.

On the uglier side of things, T.J. Graham has been a colossal flop. Meanwhile, I think Bruce Ellington might still be a thing. He’s been a good return man for the 49ers while also contributing sporadically on offense in both the pass and run games. New 49ers coach Chip Kelly prioritized receivers with run-catch-return ability while in Philadelphia and I think Ellington could find a role in his offense.

Would you want anyone else from this group? Maybe Robert Woods?

WRDraftOverallF YPTF msYDS
Kris Durham201110712.724.8
Donte Moncrief2014908.425.0
Jalen Saunders20141046.928.0
Taylor Price2010907.128.3
Justin Hunter2013348.228.6
Jacoby Ford2010108829.0
Titus Young20114412.329.1
Randall Cobb2011648.429.2
Mardy Gilyard2010999.229.7
Josh Boyce20131028.829.8

A.J. Green‘s college running mate Kris Durham was highly efficient and a size-speed freak, which he parlayed into being the highest-drafted receiver without a combine invitation. Ultimately, he’s been a bust though. As for Titus Young, who knows what he could have been. He’s been arrested numerous times and, reportedly, been checked into psychiatric facilities on several occasions.

Randall Cobb has been a tremendous success story, despite being less efficient in college. He’s so close to the 30 percent total though, and was so young and diversely productive in college, that I kind of don’t care. As for Donte Moncrief, we’ll have to wait and see which way his career goes from here.

Ultimately, this is just a thought experiment and not all low-market share, high-efficiency receivers have worked out. But, let me ask you this: after seeing the list of low-market share, low-efficiency guys, would you really want to bet on that profile?

2016 class

Looking at 2016 receivers who were invited to the combine, here’s a full list of players who were under 30 percent of their team’s yards in their final college season, sorted by yards per target.

WRSchoolYPTMS YDS
Johnny HoltonCincinnati12.815.4
Kolby ListenbeeTCU12.217.9
Chris MooreCincinnati11.620.8
Trevor DavisCalifornia11.613.7
Cody CoreOle Miss10.615.7
Cayleb JonesArizona10.525.5
Thomas DuarteUCLA1023.3
De'Runnya WilsonMississippi State9.722.3
Laquon TreadwellOle Miss9.626.5
Charone PeakeClemson9.316.7
Braxton MillerOhio State913.9
Devon CajusteStanford8.914.3
Bralon AddisonOregon8.823.9
Mekale McKayCincinnati8.613.7
Byron MarshallOregon8.612.6
Jalin MarshallOhio State8.221.3
Kenny LawlerCalifornia8.214.6
Jordan PaytonUCLA829.5
Rashawn ScottMiami (Fla.)7.821
Chris BrownNotre Dame7.717.8
Stephen AndersonCalifornia7.410.5
Alonzo RussellToledo7.120.4
Demarcus RobinsonFlorida6.819.8
D'haquille WilliamsAuburn6.119.1
D.J. FosterArizona State5.115
Marquez NorthTennessee3.48

Observations:

The Cincinnati receiving core is tricky to figure out. Three of them got combine invites, and two more seniors were meaningful contributors this year, so maybe all were doomed to low market share. It’s interesting, though, that Chris Moore and Johnny Holton were so efficient.

Kolby Listenbee from TCU could be an intriguing name to monitor. Listed at 6 feet 2 inches, 183 pounds, he ran a 10.04 100-meter dash at the NCAA Championships. Sure, he was second fiddle to Josh Doctson in that offense, but he’s been respectable in a complementary role the last two years.

Cal’s receiving corps is similar to Cincinnati’s in that they have three combine invitees. It’s interesting that Trevor Davis was notably more efficient than his teammates, while also having some special teams juju.

It’s interesting that Ole Miss’ Cody Core was actually more efficient than teammate Laquon Treadwell

UCLA’s Thomas Duarte is somewhere between a tight end and a receiver, but his size, age and efficiency have me fascinated by the possibilities.

Jon Moore is a contributor at RotoViz and a cohost of Rotoviz Radio – A Fantasy Football Podcast. Continue this conversation with him on Google+Facebook or Twitter.

  1. percentage of team receptions, receiving yards, or receiving touchdowns  (back)
  2. i.e. small quarterbacks can’t succeed in the NFL –> Russell Wilson is small and succeeds, but has big hands, so small-but-big-handed QBs are okay –> drafting Johnny Manziel is okay  (back)
  3. 19 years old  (back)
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