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Rookie Faceoff: James Washington vs. Calvin Ridley

Coffee or tea? Boxers or briefs? PPR or Standard? These are the age-old debates that define us. Over the coming weeks, our writers will add a few more to this list. That’s right — it’s rap-battle season.

In this Rookie Faceoff, Hasan Rahim and Matt Wispe square off over two wide receivers competing for picks at the turn of Rounds 1 and 2 in dynasty rookie drafts. Take a look at Matt’s rebuttal.

The field of wide receivers after D.J. Moore in this year’s rookie drafts appears to be fairly nebulous. In our rookie mock draft Calvin Ridley was drafted at the 1.12, whereas James Washington went at the 2.01. Additionally, Ridley was drafted ahead of Washington in HyperActive and best-ball rookie drafts. Despite being ranked in a lower tier by Shawn Siegele, I’m here to convince you to consider drafting Washington ahead of Ridley.1

Why Not Ridley?

Ridley was drafted 26th overall by the Atlanta Falcons and was the second wide receiver selected in the 2018 NFL Draft. He graded out well in Anthony Amico’s post draft rookie projection and lands on a team with ample available opportunity. However, there are several red flags on Ridley’s profile that makes him a risky first-round draft pick.

For starters, Ridley is among the oldest prospects in this draft class. We know that receivers who play their rookie years at age 21 have a huge edge in future fantasy production, and Ridley’s age diminishes his appeal. The list of WRs drafted at Ridley’s age contains more busts than NFL studs. Unlike the several successful older WR prospects2 Ridley is smaller and less athletic which might make for a difficult transition to the NFL. His floor could be lower than most think.

The Case For Washington

Name Recs ReYD ReTD MsYD MsTD DR Freak Phenom
Calvin Ridley 224 2,781 19 0.30 0.25 0.28 49 0.412
James Washington 226 4,472 39 0.26 0.33 0.29 51 1.364

Although he returned for his senior year,3 Washington is over a year younger than Ridley. WRs who play their rookie season at age 22 are less likely to experience success compared to younger players. However, Washington’s age indicates that he’s more likely to succeed than Ridley. Approximately thirty-five percent of the top-100 picks with Washington’s breakout age have reached the 200-point plateau in at least one of their first three seasons.

 

Additionally, Washington was far more productive than Ridley over this past season. Unlike Ridley, Washington finished the season No. 1 in raw receiving yards, and was one of the top deep threats in the nation averaging 20.9 yards per reception. Although their career Dominator Ratings and Freak Scores are almost identical, Washington has a significant edge in Jon Moore’s Phenom Index.

Washington’s production history indicates that he’s likely going to thrive as a deep-ball receiver in the NFL. Considering that the Pittsburgh Steelers traded away Martavis Bryant before drafting Washington 60th overall, it’s quite likely that Washington has a chance to produce right away. Bryant’s exit frees up approximately 1,220 air yards,4 meaning the Steelers trail only the Cardinals and Patriots in available 2018 air yards.

airyardopportunity

Unlike Ridley, Washington was drafted by a team that is notably more pass-happy.

 FalconsSteelers
2017530590
2016537596
2015621590

It’s fair to question whether the Falcons are capable of supporting Ridley as a viable WR3 candidate. The same can’t be said for Washington, since we’ve seen Bryant thrive in that role.

Considering that the WR depth chart behind Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster consists of Darrius Heyward-Bey and Justin Hunter, Washington should be able to earn the WR3 job by the end of training camp. Most importantly, Washington’s presence as a deep threat means he does not need to earn an outsize target share to be fantasy relevant. Ben Roethlisberger’s passer air conversion ratio (PACR) on deep throws (25 yards or more) is around league average.

Ben Roethlisberger PACR

Roethlisberger’s ability to connect on deep throws is good news for Washington’s fantasy outlook. Landing on a team that has historically ranked well above league average in pass attempts per game should also be a boost for Washington’s outlook.

Conclusion

When Washington and Ridley went head to head in the WR Prospect Sweet 16 Tournament, Washington scored a 5-3 victory. Although the writers viewed it largely as a toss-up, noting that Ridley’s earlier draft carries the most weight when predicting success for future prospects, Washington came out on top. Given that Washington has a significantly higher ceiling than Ridley,5 it’s a better bet to let someone else pay the first-round price tag.

  1. Or, maybe better, to trade down for him.  (back)
  2. Jordy NelsonA.J. Green, and Roddy White  (back)
  3. Also a major red flag.  (back)
  4. 25 percent of the Steelers’ 2017 air yards.  (back)
  5. Unless Ridley is able to successfully play on the outside, his NFL ceiling is capped.  (back)
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