I’m not sure there was a better rookie draft value in 2015 than Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs. He was drafted as the 36th rookie on average and then was second only to Amari Cooper in rookie receiving yardage. There happens to be a rookie wide receiver in the 2016 class that looks an awful lot like Diggs: new Rams WR Pharoh Cooper.
The Underrated Production Profile
I believe there are a number of key similarities between Diggs and Cooper, but let’s start with the most basic and probably the most important: their incredible production profiles.
Diggs had a Phenom Index score of 2.42, showing that he had great age-adjusted production. If you had run Diggs’ production through Kevin Cole’s regression tree analysis, you would have seen that he ended up in a cohort that has historically had a 30 percent success rate, a strong result. His career collegiate production compared favorably to Amari Cooper, Dez Bryant, and Calvin Johnson. Diggs’ special teams production gave him other favorable comps like Antonio Brown, Jeremy Maclin, and Golden Tate. Despite this, he was a fifth round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Pharoh Cooper has an even better Phenom Index score of 3.10. If you run Cooper’s production through Kevin Cole’s regression tree analysis, you’ll see that Cooper ends up in a cohort that has historically had a 32 percent success rate, the same cohort that top rookie WRs Laquon Treadwell and Corey Coleman are in. His versatile production, including rushing and special teams, puts him in a cohort that contains Brown, Maclin, Tate, Diggs, Keenan Allen, and Randall Cobb, as well as coveted rookie Tyler Boyd and 2015 rookie success Jamison Crowder. Despite this, he was a fourth round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
I’m not saying there aren’t differences between the two. But in some key qualitative and quantitative respects, they look very similar.
There Is No Competition
While fantasy drafters were targeting both Vikings WR Charles Johnson and WR Mike Wallace last season, there’s no questioning that they were resounding disappointments. The two players combined for 85 targets, 48 receptions, 600 yards, and two TDs. Despite playing in just 13 games and being just one man, Diggs outperformed them in every measure but targets, where he fell one short.
People are even less enthused about the Rams receivers. Kenny Britt has been their lead receiver the last two seasons and he doesn’t even have an ADP in the Best Ball ADP App. Per Kevin Cole, the Rams had the second most opportunity for WRs prior to the draft. That probably understates things for two reasons. First, we now know that the Rams quarterback is Jared Goff, and those opportunity scores treat higher QB ADPs as a good thing. Goff will almost certainly have a higher ADP than what Kevin’s model has been assuming up to this point. The second reason is that the one Rams WR that people have been drafting is Tavon Austin. Austin only had 473 receiving yards last season, and gets a large part of his value from his rushing contributions. So his ADP is not necessarily a great representation of expected receiving output.
Brief tangent: I’ve seen people suggest that Cooper is the poor man’s Tavon Austin or that he’s redundant because the Rams already have Austin. That doesn’t seem accurate to me. From the Box Score Scout:
Austin is a tiny speed demon whereas Cooper reportedly ran a 4.61 forty at his pro day and is considerably larger. Cooper also played a much bigger part in a less prolific passing offense. Rushing is also a much smaller part of his game, as you can see that almost a third of Austin’s final season yards were rushing yards. The two players are similar in that they are versatile producers, but they are fundamentally different players and it doesn’t make sense to spin the way they are similar as a negative. Tangent over.
Diggs was able to take advantage of a lack of meaningful competition. It’s not a guarantee that Cooper will be able to do the same, but it is key that he at least has the opportunity to do.
The Smell Keeps People Away
Last season, the Vikings were not an appealing passing team for fantasy purposes. They had a young sophomore QB in Teddy Bridgewater, who people think of as more of a game manager than a gunslinger. More critically, they had a solid defense and Adrian Peterson, so they were clearly built to run the ball a lot.
This season, the Rams are not an appealing passing team for fantasy purposes. They have a rookie QB in Jared Goff, and the 2015 team ran the least plays in the league and had the least passing yards in the league. The Rams also have a solid defense, highlighted by Aaron Donald, and just spent a top ten pick on Todd Gurley, who compiled 1,294 yards from scrimmage as a rookie in just 13 games.
These are not the kind of situations that people look to for receiving value. But that can push the prices of good prospects down further than they should go.
Hindsight is 20/20, but foresight is not. There is no guarantee that Cooper will have a similar rookie season to Diggs. But if he does, it will likely be for very similar reasons, and there will be no excuse to say we didn’t see it coming when the same thing had happened just the year before.
I personally have Cooper ranked as the 10th best rookie in this class, and he ended up as the 15th ranked rookie in our post-draft composite rookie rankings. Cooper was the 17th WR or RB1 drafted in the 2016 NFL Draft, so that’s probably a good starting point for trying to figure out where he’ll go in rookie drafts. I think because of his unappealing situation and other factors he may fall to the late second or early third round. If that happens then there’s no excuse not to draft him.
- The two positions people tend to value most. (back)