9 Under-the-Radar Wide Receivers Ready for NFL Stardom

We’ve built an updated regression tree for wide receiver prospects – incorporating collegiate production, combine measurables and age – and figured out which branches and leaves are occupied by the 2016 class members. Next, it’s time to take a look back at recent draft classes to see if there are any prospects who profile for NFL success, but just might not have had the opportunity to fulfill their promise.

When you’re building a model to predict NFL success, one of the more enlightening parts of the process is testing. It’s fun to see who of the 2016 prospects look like they’ll be successful, but it’s equally thought-provoking to see names from the recent past who produced in college like future NFL stars, but haven’t yet broken through.

I looked through the last four draft class (2012-2015) and identified four different wide receivers who:

  1. Profiled for NFL success according to our regression tree
  2. Are still in the NFL
  3. Haven’t had the opportunity to breakout, either due to injury or depth chart struggles

You’ll recognize some of these names, but most readers will only faintly recall others. Early in the dynasty offseason is the time to acquire these receivers on the cheap, and profit mightily if they can finally translate elite collegiate production into NFL success.

First, let’s look back at the update regression tree:

wr_tree_prod_meas

I’ve spilled a lot of ink talking about how the different branches break down and why career market share of receiving yards is the most important number for predicting wide receiver prospect success.

Another way to visualize the actual prospects and if they fall into the top-two success leaves, is to plot career market share against final year market share of receiving yards. I also added color to the data point to indicate if that receiver averaged more than 16 yards per reception, which is a requirement of the second highest success leaf.

tree_wr_2012_2015

There aren’t a whole lot of names in the top success leaf, or the green area on the plot (career share >= 0.29, final year share >= 0.42). But, there are quite a few who fell into either the blue or yellow regions, which means they hit one-of-two thresholds. Plus, the yellow region contains five prospects with final at least 16 final-year yards per reception, qualifying them for the second leaf.

Here are the names in those shaded boxes:

tree_wr_2012_2015_top

Those new to RotoViz might not understand how loved some of these names are to long-time contributors. While I enjoy rehashing our past love-letters, there are also some names that only received slight attention here.

Starting with the green area, the top performers, you’ll see second-year breakouts Jordan Matthews and Allen Robinson, rookie sensation Amari Cooper and past RotoViz flame, Marvin McNutt.1

The Elite Prospects

Name College Draft Year Draft Age Career MS Yds MS Yds Career MS TDs Yds/Rec
Rishard Matthews Nevada 2012 23 0.36 0.44 0.32 15.0
Jared Abbrederis Wisconsin 2014 24 0.30 0.42 0.27 13.9

While McNutt is out of the league, there are another name in the green area who is about to potentially find a new home and opportunity to shine, Rishard Matthews. I was shocked to see that Matthews’ receiving shares match those of No. 4-overall-pick Cooper’s exactly.2 We’ve already called Matthews this year’s best free agent receiver, but other sites barely have him in the top five. Now is the time to invest in Matthews with the peace of mind that his mini-breakout last year was more a pattern of past performance than a fluke.

Jared Abbrederis also barely makes it into the green area, and his opporunity in Green Bay might be larger than you think. With Jordy Nelson sidelined last year, Randall CobbDavante Adams and the rest of the Packers’ receiver corps looked completely out of sorts, and even the soon-to-be 31-year-old Nelson could be on the tail-end of a great career. Unfortunately, Abbrederis hasn’t been able to get much going in the NFL after an ACL tear during training camp in 2014, then suffering a concussion and rib injuries that kept him out for multiple weeks in 2015.

The Field-Stretchers

Name College Draft Year Draft Age Career MS Yds MS Yds Career MS TDs Yds/Rec
Chris Givens Wake Forest 2012 23 0.31 0.40 0.38 16.0
Albert Wilson Georgia State 2014 22 0.39 0.39 0.44 16.6

Chris Givens and Albert Wilson didn’t make it into the top regression tree leaf, but had the field-stretching ability and career share to make it into the second leaf, which had an only slightly lower success rate of 57 percent. Givens made noise as a rookie, with almost 700 yards receiving and three touchdowns in 15 games. But his numbers have declined since. I don’t think there’s a high likelihood that Givens breaks out with the Ravens, but as a free agent he could get a fresh start.

Wilson has already outperformed his UDFA status, playing in 14 games last year and accumulating 451 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Could he take the next step to NFL stardom this year? There is a real possibility that Wilson continues to hold off the more-highly-drafted Chris Conley and remains the Chiefs’ No. 2 receiver, and another successful offseason could provide the assurance coaches need to elevate the undrafted collegiate stud to primary offensive weapon.

One-Out-Of-Two Ain’t Bad

Name College Draft Year Draft Age Career MS Yds MS Yds Career MS TDs Yds/Rec
Marqise Lee USC 2014 23 0.38 0.32 0.38 13.9
Paul Richardson Colorado 2014 22 0.26 0.45 0.31 16.2
Quinton Patton Louisana Tech 2013 23 0.33 0.30 0.42 13.4
Stephen Hill Georgia Tech 2012 21 0.27 0.44 0.29 24.2
Ryan Grant Tulane 2014 24 0.26 0.46 0.32 13.5

These former top prospects didn’t hit all the marks to make it into the top two leafs for NFL success. But, we don’t want to use the regression tree – or any other analysis for that matter – rigidly and miss out on players that don’t quite fit the formula.

Marqise Lee and Paul Richardson are the most intriguing names on this list for multiple reasons: They were both second-round draft picks (39th and 45th overall, respectively), haven’t really had the chance to break out due to injuries, and will cost you almost nothing in dynasty (WR97 and WR107 according to our Dynasty ADP App). Even if healthy, Lee will likely play behind Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, but his draft pedigree means he could see a value uptick in even limited action. Richardson is also behind a couple receivers on the depth chart (Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett), but if Jermaine Kearse leaves for free agency, he’ll also have the chance to contribute.

Quinton Patton did virtually nothing his first two years in the league (total 78 yards receiving), but the fourth-round pick worked his up the depth chart to the 49ers’ WR3, and is now the de facto WR2 with Anquan Boldin hitting free agency after the team voided the last three years of his contract. The 49ers are likely to address the position in the draft or free agency, but Patton will have a chance to compete for playing time in Chip Kelly’s offense, and that alone is worth his lowly dynasty price tag.

What else can we say about Stephen Hill? Even the smallest sliver of positive news that the Panthers tendered restricted-free-agent Hill brings out semi-mocking calls3 from the Twittersphere.

https://twitter.com/JoshNorris/status/706962555781173248

We’ve been fooled by Hill many times before, but at least this time you’ll be heart-broken without anything to lose. Plus, you can’t talk about Hill without mentioning that his young draft age means he’s still only 24 years old — younger than Kelvin Benjamin4 –despite being in the league for three years.

We’ll see what happens with potential salary cap casualties DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, but Jay Gruden is already singing Ryan Grant’s praises early this offseason:

“I feel really strongly about Ryan Grant,” Gruden said at the combine. “I think he’s an excellent receiver just waiting for his opportunity to be a starter.”

The fifth-round pick has shown some progression over his career, and his opportunity could explode in 2016. PapaViz is taking a flier on Jamison Crowder with the understanding that Jackson and Garcon might not be around in 2016, so why not do the same on Grant at no cost?

  1. I think PapaViz still has a Google alert for Marvin McNutt, even though he’s been out of the league for multiple years.  (back)
  2. We might want to discount Matthews’ career share somewhat for the fact he was a Juco transfer.  (back)
  3. Perhaps fully mocking  (back)
  4. Benjamin is the new A.D. for age-based arguments  (back)
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