With the 2018 NFL draft just 10 days away, I thought I should come out of retirement and deliver some value to the fantasy football community. Thanks to everyone who encouraged me to come back and write another edition of the Phenom Index, which has been posted at RotoViz every year since 2014.
WHAT IS THE PHENOM INDEX?
Simply put, the Phenom Index is my way of incorporating a player’s age into their evaluation.
It all started in 2013 when we were writing articles about the top prospects and noticed that DeAndre Hopkins was three years younger than fellow top-100 wide receiver Terrance Williams. From there, I ran a number of tests on predictive variables and concluded that, besides draft position, which is most important, not much else matters other than age. Most of the rest is “baked into” draft position.
Why is this important? Consider that in the 2018 wide receiver class, the youngest prospect is 20.2 and the oldest is 24.5. Don’t you think four years — or even two years — is worth accounting for? Case in point: Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley was born just six months after his fellow Crimson Tide receiver Amari Cooper. Think about it, Cooper could have played two college careers — six years — at Alabama and been the same age as Calvin Ridley entering the 2018 Draft.
To be clear, being an older prospect doesn’t mean you can’t be good, it just means the expectations are different. Keyshawn Johnson and Marvin Harrison are great examples. Keep reading to see if Calvin Ridley can join their ranks of oldies-but-goodies.
I sometimes hear, “Yeah, but these guys are only going to be in the league for a few years. Who cares how old they are?” The point here has nothing to do with career longevity. The matter at hand is figuring out how talented a player actually is. A 20-year-old dominating defensive backs who are 21 or 22 is much more impressive than a 23- or 24-year-old doing the same.
The Phenom Index is calculated by looking at player’s age and final season market share of receiving yards (msYD) and combining them together using z-scores. Typically, I like to think about this as a filter for finding young, talented players who could emerge to be among the game’s best within three seasons – it’s a tool, not a magic bullet, and not the entirety of my evaluation.
There’s no threshold for being an NFL success, but the average Phenom score of the top-12 fantasy receivers in the NFL in 2017 was 2.09. It’s incredibly rare for a player to have a score below zero and turn into a premier fantasy option. Here is a look at how the last few years of top-12 fantasy wide receivers fared in the Phenom Index.
You’ll notice that the average and median of top-12 fantasy receivers hovers right around 2.0. A back-of-the-napkin way to think about what that means is that a player is one standard deviation younger than the average prospect and their final season market share of yards is one standard deviation better than the average prospect. That would give them a score of 2.0.
2018 PHENOM INDEX SCORES FOR WIDE RECEIVER PROSPECTS
I’ve sorted the table to display the top 15 scores for the 2018 class. Because combine invites seem to be tremendously important, I’ve only calculated them for the guys who were at the combine. If you have a favorite prospect who is not on this list, leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter and I will add them in for you. If you want to check out historical scores, you can find more than 800 scores in the 2015 addition and another 250 between the 2016 and 2017 editions.
|WR||School||F Age||F MS yds||Phenom Index|
|Deontay Burnett||Southern Cal||20.24||26.6%||2.664|
|Keke Coutee||Texas Tech||20.96||32.9%||2.447|
|D.J. Chark||Louisiana State||21.27||33.0%||2.114|
|Cedrick Wilson||Boise State||22.11||41.6%||1.975|
|Michael Gallup||Colorado State||21.83||37.3%||1.894|
|Christian Kirk||Texas A&M||21.12||%28.1||1.83|
|Auden Tate||Florida State||20.91||22.7%||1.556|
|James Washington||Oklahoma State||21.75||30.6%||1.364|
|Cam Phillips||Virginia Tech||22.04||33.9%||1.342|
|Trey Quinn||Southern Methodist||22.07||32.6%||1.195|
|Equanimeous St. Brown||Notre Dame||21.26||22.1%||1.123|
|Korey Robertson||Southern Mississippi||22.53||35.4%||0.948|
|Tre'Quan Smith||Central Florida||21.98||27.2%||0.78|
|Allen Lazard||Iowa State||22.06||26.5%||0.642|
|Courtland Sutton||Southern Methodist||22.23||28.4%||0.626|
|Davon Grayson||East Carolina||22.32||26.4%||0.339|
|Richie James||Middle Tennessee St.||22.32||26.3%||0.328|
|Simmie Cobbs Jr.||Indiana||22.35||26.4%||0.303|
|Tavares Martin Jr.||Washington State||21.91||19.4%||0.145|
|Braxton Berrios||Miami (FL)||22.24||21.7%||-0.009|
|Darren Carrington II||Utah||23.22||33.4%||-0.017|
|Jaleel Scott||New Mexico State||22.86||26.5%||-0.243|
|Marquez Valdes-Scantling||South Florida||23.23||29.4%||-0.385|
|Daesean Hamilton||Penn State||22.81||22.7%||-0.544|
|Jake Wieneke||South Dakota State||23.32||26.3%||-0.782|
|Byron Pringle||Kansas State||24.12||35.0%||-0.866|
|Marcell Ateman||Oklahoma State||23.32||22.9%||-1.099|
|Chris Lacy||Oklahoma State||21.93||5.7%||-1.145|
|Dylan Cantrell||Texas Tech||23.51||18.8%||-1.679|
|Steven Mitchell Jr.||Southern Cal||23.66||17.0%||-2.027|
|Ka'Raun White||West Virginia||24.49||25.0%||-2.202|
*suspended for final season so his second-to-last season was used
^not invited to the NFL Combine
It’s common to wonder how a wide receiver class compares to previous years. To gain some perspective on that, here are the numbers of players from recent drafts who achieved certain thresholds in the Phenom Index. To be clear, the thresholds are arbitrary, but the perspective is useful.
The 2018 WR class looks like the weakest since 2013, while the 2014 class is validated as the best in recent memory. One one hand, that might seem like a reason to avoid drafting guys in this class, but if you think in terms of tiers and positional scarcity, I think it means that you should grab your favorite receivers early and get out of Dodge (perhaps scooping other less-coveted, high-Phenom guys in Round 4 of your rookie drafts and later).
There’s a lot of meat to pull of this bone, but I’ll offer a few quick thoughts here. Hopefully some of the other writers can link back in follow-up pieces.
Not only is D.J. Moore’s score the highest in this year’s class, it is the highest score ever achieved by a receiver invited to the combine. For perspective, the next few names on the list are: Allen Robinson, Demaryius Thomas, Larry Fitzgerald, Dez Bryant, Kenny Britt and Amari Cooper. And, no, that list wasn’t edited — that’s the list. It’s also worth noting that Moore played one of the toughest schedules of any receiver in this year’s class and contributed substantially in the run game and return game (which has under-appreciated importance). Heck, he even threw a pass in five different games. A plus-athlete across the board, Moore easily slots in as my WR1 in this year’s class.1
Between 2008 and 2015, there were only 14 Power-5 receivers2 who managed 20 percent msYD in an age-18 season. Eight of them (57 percent) went on to post a top-24 fantasy season within the first three years of their career. It’s easy to get upset about Antonio Callaway’s off-field issues, but his early collegiate performance was rare. It will be interesting to see where he gets drafted, as all eight of the 18-year-old “successes” were also selected in the first three rounds of the draft, which seems unlikely for Callaway. Similar to Josh Gordon, Greg Little, and Dorial Green-Beckham before him, missing his final season skews his score high, but I absolutely believe the talent is there.
Along with posting the sixth-best Phenom Score in the class, Chark also owns the second-best Freak Score. His athleticism shows up on the field too, where he accounted for 26.7 percent of LSU’s receiving yards during his career on only 18.9 percent of the receptions — revealing a unique ability to turn his opportunities into chunk plays. Further to that point, Chark accumulated .99 yards for every offensive snap LSU ran during his career, fifth most of any Power-5 receiver in this year’s draft, but a remarkable feat when you consider that he played along dominant talents like Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice and shared the field in previous seasons with 2017 draftee Malachi Dupre. Chark is flirting with the top five of my rookie WR rankings.
Despite his notoriously old age, the Crimson Tide receiver manages to fall in the upper half of this year’s receiver class. Working in his favor, he broke out at age 21 — which isn’t good, but also isn’t a death sentence. We’ve seen this kind of career trajectory before. A.J. Green and Marqise Lee were also big-time prospects who entered college in their twenties, broke out right away, and have gone on to differing degrees of fantasy success. Pictured below are the college careers of the three plotted against the trend line of what historical top-12 fantasy WRs did in college. Lee and Green both have two years above the trend line. Ridley has two years close to the line and a very poor age-22 season.
In closing, it’s important to remember that this is just a tool. When you see guys like Deontay Burnett or Jordan Lasley near the top, you shouldn’t go out and draft them with a top-25 pick in your rookie draft. Instead, think about this as a sort of cheat code for high-upside players to target late in your drafts and lower-upside guys to avoid in the early going. Receivers who play their rookie years at age 21 have a huge edge in future fantasy production, and the Phenom Index will help you find the most productive of the group to select on rookie draft day.
Again, if you have a favorite prospect who is not on this list, leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter and I will add them in for you.
Jon Moore is one of the original RotoViz studisticians.. Feel free to reach out to him on Twitter @HelloJonMoore.