“Draft capital” is a term used to describe the value of the draft pick spent on a player — it’s also a valuable predictive indicator of that player’s career.
Last year, Jon Moore wrote about how many of each skill position we can expect to be drafted in any given year, and where in the draft we can expect them to go. While weighing how to evaluate a player’s chance of sustained NFL relevance, I have found myself wondering about the followup question to Moore’s article: how many of those players ever become productive? More specifically, I wanted to expand on something Jacob Rickrode and Ty Miller have written about, and try to find a straightforward way to contextualize reasonable expectations for a player being successful.
For this article, I focused on wide receivers. Below are tables that detail the production of every wide receiver drafted in the last ten years, by what round they were drafted in. Because so many of these players have still ongoing careers, I broke out a per game basis to try and normalize the variables that come into play over different career lengths and stages.
DRAFTED WIDE RECEIVERS
There were 321 wide receivers drafted from the years 2006 through 2015. These are the averages of all those players, by round:
|Round Drafted||Number of WRs Drafted||Age||Career Receptions per game||Career Yards per game||Career TDs per game||Career PPR FPS per game||Career 16 game PPR pace|
1st Calvin Johnson 2,390.90 PPR fantasy points, 135 games played
2nd Dwayne Bowe 1,521.80 points, 125 games
BEST PER GAME:
1st Odell Beckham 22.69 PPG, 27 games played
2nd Julio Jones 19.05 PPG, 65 games
While it’s no surprise wide receivers drafted in the first round are more productive than any other round, the gap here is surprisingly significant, at least to me. That 16 game pace average of 181.57 FPS would have been overall WR35 last season (Marvin Jones), while the next closest average, in the second round, would have been WR50 (Rishard Matthews), and it obviously gets increasingly abysmal from there.
Twenty-one of the 36 (58.3 percent) first round wide receivers drafted in the last ten years have career averages higher than ten PPR PPG. That’s also probably a little low because both Kevin White and Breshad Perriman‘s zero PPG are being included, so the number is more realistically 21 out of 34 (61.8 percent) that ever had the chance to do it. Compare that to the second round, where only ten of the 42 (23.81 percent) wide receivers drafted in the last ten years have career averages over ten PPG.
No wide receiver drafted in the first round, prior to 2014, has appeared in fewer than 20 games in their career. Other than Justin Blackmon, Craig Davis, A.J. Jenkins, and Jonathan Baldwin, none have appeared in fewer than 40 games.
The thing that sticks out other than production, is the age column. It’s clear that NFL teams are heavily factoring in age to their draft decisions, at least as it relates to wide receivers. If you’ve ever read pretty much any article on this website, you can probably guess that this not only doesn’t surprise us, but it makes us very happy.
1st Greg Jennings 1,784.10 PPR fantasy points, 143 games played
2nd DeSean Jackson 1,475.40 points, 112 games
BEST PER GAME:
1st Allen Robinson 16.11 PPG, 26 games played
2nd Alshon Jeffery 15.07 PPG, 51 games
You could probably win a lot of bar bets with that Jennings stat, but I digress.
In addition to a much smaller group at the relevant end of the spectrum, the second round has a lot more horrifically irrelevant misses than the first. Dexter Jackson, the 58th overall pick in 2008, appeared in only seven games and never recorded a catch. Other than players who were rookies in 2015, no first round wide receiver has fewer than 50 career catches, other than the aforementioned Baldwin and Jenkins. Similarly, other than Jenkins, none of the 36 first round wide receivers, other than 2015 rookies, has fewer than 500 career receiving yards. Comparatively, 12 of the 42 wide receivers drafted in the second round have failed to reach that number, and also were not rookies in 2015.
Essentially, the odds a second round wide receiver will be relevant is far below that of first round receivers; additionally, the odds they are going to be disastrously irrelevant is significantly higher, at least based on the past ten years.
ROUNDS 3 THROUGH 7
1st Brandon Marshall 2,483.30 PPR fantasy points, 152 games played
2nd Marques Colston 2,118.90 points, 146 games
BEST PER GAME:
1st Antonio Brown 17.02 PPG, 86 games played
2nd Brandon Marshall 16.34 PPG, 152 games
While there is another significant dip from the second round to the third, the numbers for both age and production are fairly consistent from the third through seventh round. The fifth round seems to be suffering from a bit of bad fortune coupled with few chances, and probably isn’t some sort of Valyrian passage where wide receivers are doomed. Every other round just happens to have major hits that the fifth somehow misses, with Marshall being drafted in the fourth round, Colston in the seventh, and Brown in the sixth, providing giant boosts to those averages as the obvious exceptions to the rules. Brown is third in career fantasy points for the group behind Marshall and Colston, with three of the next four (Mike Wallace, James Jones, and Eric Decker) at the top of the list having been drafted in the third round, strongly boosting that round’s overall production.
On a per game basis, the third round also offers more consistency, with Keenan Allen, T.Y. Hilton, and John Brown all being in the top ten for wide receivers in this group. Stefon Diggs also shows a glimmer of hope for the fifth round, finding himself 10th on the per game list after his immense rookie season.
And that’s about it for the good news. On the other hand…
There were 243 wide receivers drafted in rounds three through seven from 2006 through 2015. Of those 243, there are only 14 (5.67 percent) with a career average of at least 10 PPR PPG. In contrast, 54 of the 243 (22.2 percent) have never recorded a catch.
To phrase that another way: around one in 20 wide receivers drafted in the third through seventh round will be fantasy relevant on a per game basis over their career, while around one in five will never catch a pass in an NFL game. It’s a little less bleak if you consider only 15 of those 54 that never recorded a reception were drafted higher than the sixth round, with only two of the 54 having been drafted in the third round, but saying that is basically like trying to be happy the garage wasn’t hit by the tornado that destroyed your house.
The 243 wide receivers, as a group, have averaged 5.63 PPR PPG, for a 16 game pace of 90.0, which would have been WR80 (Brandon LaFell) last season. If you remove Marshall, Colston, and Brown, those numbers become 5.10 PPG, for a 16 game pace of 81.62, or WR86 last season (Marquess Wilson). That is the kind of per game production you can reasonably expect from a wide receiver drafted in this range, something along the lines of 2015 LaFell and Wilson.
I know, you’re a film and metric whiz, way smarter than your average NFL General Manager, and make only the shrewdest rookie picks in all your drafts, so you will only pick the guys who have wildly successful careers. Let’s assume that’s true: a wildly successful career from this group is the likes of Wallace, Jones, Pierre Garcon, and Stevie Johnson. Hell, Brian Hartline is in the top 10 for career fantasy points of this group. Some names in the top twenty for PPG in this group include Canton-bound luminaries like Cecil Shorts, Austin Collie, Johnny Knox, and Terrance Williams.
Throw your darts. Take your shots. Do it with confidence. Just understand that the likelihood of prospects becoming even relevant, nevermind superstars, is not high.