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Draft Capital: Production of Every Wide Receiver Taken In The Last Ten Years

Draft capital is a term used to describe the value of the draft pick spent on any player — it’s also a valuable predictive indicator of that player’s career production. 

This article focuses on wide receivers; the same exercise for running backs will be posted prior to the NFL draft. 

I often find myself wondering: how many players ever become productive? While weighing how to evaluate a player’s chance of sustained NFL relevance,  I wanted a straightforward way to establish reasonable expectations.

As it relates to fantasy, particularly the dynasty format, I wanted to expand upon the thesis that rookie picks are incorrectly overvalued and that expectations of relevancy, never mind stardom, are entirely too high.

Prior to last season, I detailed the production of every wide receiver drafted in the last ten years by what round they were drafted in. Below are the same tables, but updated through the 2016 season. Because so many of these players are still active, the numbers are broken out on a per-game basis in an effort to normalize the results.

DRAFTED WIDE RECEIVERS

There were 322 WRs drafted from the years 2007 through 2016. These are the averages for all those players, by round:

RoundWRs DraftedAgeCareer Catches/gameCareer Yards/gameCareer TD/gameCareer PPR/game16 game PPR pace
13921.643.8453.660.3511.33181.35
24221.813.0540.280.258.61137.76
35222.422.4031.580.206.75107.93
44622.521.9224.860.125.1282.00
53822.451.5720.930.114.3469.51
64822.492.0325.870.155.5087.93
75722.751.3816.560.093.5857.30

Note: This is for receiving only. There are no rushing, passing, or special teams points included, apologies to Tyreek Hill.

The major trends stay intact from last year’s chart, with first-round WRs being by far the youngest and most productive.

  • Generational outliers Brandon Marshall and Marques Colston both aged out of the 10-year window, and the averages for WRs drafted in the fourth and seventh rounds fell hard as a result.
  • Antonio Brown is still single-handedly inflating the sixth-round average to make it appear better than it otherwise would be.

As with a lot of what RotoViz does, these numbers are meant to contextualize probabilities and likelihoods.

The human brain causes us react to data like this with the counterpoint “but Stefon Diggs was a fifth round pick, so this information should be thrown out completely.” We have to train our brains to instead process the information along the lines of: “Diggs performance is an exception to the rule; draft capital is an extremely strong indicator of future success.”

After only two seasons in the league, Diggs already has the eighth-most receiving yards out of 38 WRs drafted in the fifth round over the last 10 years. He represents someone whose draft capital did not align with his pre-draft profile, or rookie season production, and thus identified as a possible outlier.

There is certainly value in being able to identify the exceptions to the rule, and numbers like Dominator Rating and Breakout Age can help point to guys whose draft capital appears too low.

See: The 2017 Phenom Index 

That value has to be contextualized with the level of risk though. Overconfidence in your ability to beat the trends can be disastrous. Don’t overpay. For example, even if someone confidently identified Diggs as way under-drafted, the value is diminished by however much they overpaid for him in fantasy drafts.

There is also a propensity to identify a basket of players as under-drafted, and when Diggs hits, we scrub the rest of the players from our memory, and convince ourselves over time that we were far more prophetic than we really were. More than likely, we aggressively projected several lottery-ticket types and had just one hit, thus wasting our value (hitting on Diggs) by reaching on several others.

There will always be exceptions to a rule. Some people and methods are better at identifying who those exceptions will be, but it’s a very difficult and inexact science. Based on how difficult it is to be accurate, especially in a profitable way, the practice has rapidly diminishing returns.

If you play like I do, you don’t try to identify the exceptions; and, if you do, you don’t aggressively invest in those predictions. Instead, you follow the trends, and try to maintain a pragmatism that begets optimality.

Give yourself the chance to benefit from the chaos of outliers, but don’t sacrifice antifragility to a point of overexposure.

Without further ado, here is what the data says:

ROUND 1

BEST CAREER:

1st – Calvin Johnson 2,390.9 PPR fantasy points, 135 games played

2nd – Demaryius Thomas 1,628.4 points, 101 games

BEST PER GAME:

1st Odell Beckham 21.17 PPG, 43 games played

2nd Julio Jones 18.96 PPG, 75 games

  • Johnson maintains his spot as having the best career, and no one will be within striking distance for a very long time.
  • Thomas jumped Dwayne Bowe last season for the No. 2 spot, and barring something unforeseen, A.J. GreenDez BryantJeremy Maclin, and Michael Crabtree will all also pass Bowe this season.
  • Both Johnson and Bowe will age out of the 10-year window next season, and Thomas has a more than 100-point advantage on Bryant to move into the top spot after this year.
  • Of the 39 WRs drafted in the first round over the last ten years, seven average five-plus catches and 15-plus fantasy points per game.
  • Two of the 39 average 90-plus receiving yards and 18-plus fantasy points per game.
  • Three of the 39 average 0.6-plus TDs per game.
  • Beckham is the only one who does all three.
  • Other than Johnson and Jones, the only other players to average at least 75 yards and 16 fantasy PPG are Thomas, Green, and Mike Evans.
  • On the opposite end, there are some recent picks that are potentially historic busts. Kevin WhiteJosh Doctson, and Laquon Treadwell currently have 268 yards in four combined seasons. To put that in perspective, Julio Jones had 300 yards last year… in Week 4.

While it’s far too premature to put any of those three out to pasture, not all careers are destined to bounce back as a result of the repeated opportunity first round picks are afforded. We see plenty of examples in Justin BlackmonDarrius Heyward-Bey, Jonathan BaldwinCraig Davis, and A.J. Jenkins, who are all still in the 10-year window.

Other recent picks like DeVante ParkerPhillip DorsettCordarrelle Patterson, and Nelson Agholor average between five and nine PPG, well below the career average of first rounders. All find themselves buried on depth charts and in situations where breaking out at this stage in their careers is increasingly unlikely.

All of this is to say that recent misfortune of first-round WRs is not normal and shouldn’t be expected to continue at such a miserable rate. Even despite that recent unpleasantness, first-round WRs maintain their massive average production gap versus all other rounds.

ROUND 2

BEST CAREER:

1st – DeSean Jackson 1,655.9 PPR fantasy points, 127 games played

2nd – Jordy Nelson 1,611.6 points, 121 games

BEST PER GAME:

1st – Michael Thomas 17.30 PPG, 16 games

2nd – Allen Robinson 14.67 PPG, 42 games played 

  • Greg Jennings aged out of the top spot, and with no one within 450 career points of Jackson, he and Nelson have a real stranglehold as the top two performers.
  • It’s good to be a Packers WR drafted in the second round. Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Davante Adams are three of only 12 (out of 42) that average 10-plus fantasy points per game in their careers.
  • Thomas’ small sample size is keeping him from skewing the whole group.
  • Sterling Shepard is also a positive early outlier, but, for both Shepard and Thomas, age when entering the league is a red flag.
  • They are two of four (out of 42) second-round WRs who average 0.5-plus TDs per game in their career, suggesting their production was reliant on bizarrely high TD rates.

Top-end production and overall averages aren’t the only thing that plummets from the first to second round and beyond.

ROUNDS 3 THROUGH 7

BEST CAREER:

1st – Antonio Brown 1,769.7 PPR fantasy points, 101 games played

2nd – Mike Wallace 1,536.4 points, 127 games

BEST PER GAME:

1st – Antonio Brown 17.52 PPG, 101 games played

2nd – Keenan Allen 15.23 PPG, 38 games

RoundFirstSecondThirdFourth - Seventh
# with >15 PPG7/39 (18.0%)1/42 (2.4%)1/52 (1.9%)1/189 (0.5%)
# with >10 PPG19/39 (48.8%)12/42 (28.6%)5/52 (9.6%)7/189 (3.7%)
# with <5 PPG6/39 (15.4%)13/42 (30.1%)28/52 (53.9%)129/189 (68.3%)
# with 0 PPG0/39 (0.0%)1/42 (2.4%)1/52 (1.9%)49/189 (25.9%)
  • There’s less than half the number of WRs with career averages of 15-plus PPG in rounds two through seven as there are in just the first round.
  • There were 58 fourth-round WRs drafted in the last ten years, three of which average 10-plus PPG (Martavis Bryant, Mike Williams, and Jamison Crowder). By contrast, ten have recorded just zero or one catch.
  • There were 38 fifth-round WRs drafted in the last ten years, one of which averages 10-plus PPG (Diggs). Compare that to four named Kenny. In other words, fifth-round WRs were four times as likely to be named Kenny than they were to average 10.0 fantasy PPG.
  • While one of the 189 WRs drafted after Round 3 averages a startling 15-plus PPG (Brown), there were 143 WRs drafted after Round 4, and only four averaged even 10.0 PPG (Brown, Diggs, Pierre Garcon, and Stevie Johnson).

Good luck scouting WRs taken after the first round as you search for the next Brown or Diggs in your dynasty rookie draft this year.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

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