With the 2016 NFL Draft in the books, we now have a glimpse of how the league views this class at the wide receiver position. The hit rate for receivers outside the top 100 picks is trivial, but you don’t want to miss out on players like Antonio Brown and Stefon Diggs. Contrary to what you often hear, it was easy to pick those players out from the crowd as having a chance. With that in mind, this is my look at the potential sleepers from the class of 2016.
For this exercise, I took the WRs drafted outside the top 100 picks and plugged their results into a simple model to project standard fantasy points.1 The following players are projected to average fewer than 10 fantasy points a season over their first three campaigns: Trevor Davis, Kolby Listenbee, Cody Core, Devin Lucien, Charone Peake, Devin Fuller, and Kenny Lawler.
Listenbee and Peake perhaps have some non-zero, Martavis Bryant-type appeal, but all of these players have less value than the roster spot.
Here’s a closer look at the remaining 13.
The Three to Target
- Pharoh Cooper
- Rashard Higgins
- Malcolm Mitchell
Jarvis Landry, Mohamed Sanu, and Antonio Brown are all players who come to mind when looking at Cooper. Even some of the disappointing players like Chris Givens, Rueben Randle, Stedman Bailey, and Jared Abbrederis aren’t terrible comps. You can squint a little and imagine ways they might have succeeded.
Here again, we see Brown2 and have the addition of Stefon Diggs.3 Diggs is actually the most similar player if you just look at market share and not the per game numbers. Another name that pops up in that analysis is Keenan Allen.4 Brown, Diggs, and Allen are also similar in that they performed extremely well from Day 1 and turned in great age-adjusted production.
This is a good time to reiterate that Higgins gained 1,750 yards and scored 17 TDs in 2014. You’ll notice that Higgins was drafted after a bunch of receivers who barely project as practice squadders and just before a run on long snappers. There are problems with Higgins’ resume as you can tell from the rest of his comps, but I’m still frustrated for him that he fell so far in the draft.
The best comp here is the other Steve Smith. The USC product posted a 107-1,220-7 line in 2009 before injuries wrecked his career. While Mitchell’s other comps aren’t terribly impressive, he was a freshman producer at Georgia and rebounded from an ACL tear with a strong final season. He also fits the Patriots template, which might be a bad thing.
- Ricardo Louis
- Mike Thomas
- Tajae Sharpe
- Chris Moore
- Jakeem Grant
Louis doesn’t generate a great projection due to his 14 percent career market share, but it’s no surprise the Browns selected a player with some positive comps. When I focused only on weight and production stats, Anquan Boldin also made the list. Jon Moore even foreshadowed the pick when he found a host of intriguing attributes for Louis.
When a player isn’t big, isn’t invited to the combine, and isn’t drafted in the first 200 picks, you’d like them to be freakishly productive. Well, he’s no Tyler Boyd, but his 1,391 yards and 14 TDs are pretty impressive. He also averaged a ridiculous 11.7 yards per target.
I don’t think too many fantasy owners would be surprised if he’s the 2017 Willie Snead.
Sharpe probably lacks the name recognition of Jamison Crowder and Justin Hardy, but he might be the discount Tyler Boyd. That may be a bit of hyperbole, but Sharpe shares a lot in common with Crowder. Before the Josh Doctson selection, we really liked Crowder for 2016, and he’s a player Greg Conejo nailed in his contest-winning article from a year ago, a piece that also picked Diggs as a tremendous bargain.
The UMass phenom posted one of the most precocious seasons in recent memory and lit up top competition.
I was pretty excited about the Chris Moore selection after our Moore argued for the Cinncinati prospect over Charone Peake. Moore is slow but explosive and agile. He also averaged a gaudy 11.6 yards per target. The comps are still generally poor, but he represents an excellent arbitrage play on Michael Thomas. You can spin that as good news for Moore or an extra word of caution about the Ohio State prospect.
Jakeem Grant may be a RotoViz sponsor and Matthew Freeman wants him for his hybrid run-and-shoot/ground-and-pound team.5 Travis Benjamin is the sexy name from this group, recently signing a solid free agent contract with the Chargers after a 966-yard season. We’ve also long been fans of the underutilized Jarius Wright.
- Jordan Payton
- Daniel Braverman
Of the three later round Cleveland selections, this was the most mainstream but also the most surprising. Payton owns solid athleticism for his size, but he doesn’t have any terribly encouraging players in his comp group. Steve Breaston did turn in a 1,000-yard season for the Kurt Warner Cardinals and followed that up with three 700-plus yard campaigns.
Braverman is often compared to the Wes Welkers of the world, and Matthew Freedman likes him as the next Julian Edelman. It makes more sense to draft your slot guy in Round 7 than try to force a pick at No. 8 overall, but the results for this type of player aren’t overly promising. Braverman’s pro day was supposedly a disaster, although that report has him faster and quicker than similar slot maven Sterling Shepard.6 I would try to add the Western Michigan star after rookie drafts are over.
- DeMarcus Robinson
- Aaron Burbridge
- DeMarcus Ayers
It looks like the best case scenario is that Andy Reid just drafted his new Jason Avant. This is not a fantasy-relevant selection, but I guess there are worse ways to spend a reality pick. You could draft a guy who got kicked off his college team for choking his pregnant girlfriend, just as an example.
Look at his final season 38 percent msYDs, and it’s easy to see why the age-agnostic crowd enjoyed a brief love affair with Burbridge. His career msYDs, poor athleticism, and lowly draft slot conspired to end the infatuation.
Ayers doesn’t stand out when we examine his results in this fashion, but Moore loves his special teams prowess. The Houston product is one of only 10 players in the last decade to score TDs on rushes, receptions, passes, kick returns, and punt returns.
- The model uses career market share yards, final market share yards, draft expectation, peak carries, and early declare. (back)
- who gets a similarity bump if you include SOS (back)
- Many sophisticated fantasy owners are still skeptical of Diggs, but frequent readers will know Diggs was actually just as productive in college as Kevin White on a per play basis. The trump card: Diggs was as productive as a freshman as White was as a senior. (back)
- Neither Allen nor Diggs put up great raw numbers because their offenses were so poor. Score one for market share. (back)
- When I visualize Freedman running RotoViz Radio, I imagine him as a wily mashup of Bruce Arians and Pete Carroll, but, you know, younger. (back)
- His jumping numbers were in the Jarvis Landry/Alex Collins range. Also, when I say “faster,” I mean by 0.01 in a world where stopwatch button pushing is extremely trustworthy. (back)