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How to Avoid WR Busts: Another Perspective on Bounceback Opportunities – The Wrong Read, No. 48

Welcome to the 48th installment of the “The Wrong Read.” Finding bounceback wide receiver candidates can provide a nice boost to your fantasy team. But what if we could avoid 50-point declines in the first place? This one weird1 trick will help keep those busts far away from your dynasty roster.

As we saw previously, WR bouncebacks are relatively rare, and the rarity only increases with age. While there are some metrics that can help us to better identify potential bouncebacks, it might be even better for our dynasty rosters if our players never even have an opportunity to bounce back. Are there metrics that can help us avoid the 50-point declines altogether?2

As with bouncebacks, age plays a major role:

Bust Rate by AgeEven 23-year-old WRs bust — or suffer a decline of at least 50 points or more — at a 40 percent rate. By age 32 that rate is nearly 60 percent.3 Considering the lower rate of bouncebacks among older receivers, the chances that a WR on the wrong side of 30 will bust and never return to his previous form are disturbingly high. It might really be as simple as stocking your dynasty roster with young talent and trading away your veterans before their value collapses.

Is Age All That Matters?

But perhaps there’s more to discerning the players most likely to suffer a 50-point decline:

DECLINE? COUNT AGE DRAFT GMS PPR EP FPOE
YES 341 27.85 97.05 15.43 221.80 202.03 19.76
NO 388 26.91 84.61 15.20 212.75 195.84 16.91

Actually, not so much. Those who avoid 50-point declines tend to be about a year younger than those who suffer them. And they tend to be drafted about 12 picks earlier, though the reasons for this difference are unclear.

Interestingly, although successful bouncebacks tend to score more points in the season prior to a 50-point decline, WRs who score more points are more likely to suffer a decline in the first place. Most of this is due to simple regression to the mean: A higher level of play is simply harder to maintain over multiple seasons. So it’s no surprise to see that those who declined by at least 50 points had better production in the season prior to a decline — we would expect this.

It’s certainly possible to examine this question along dimensions I have not explored here.4 But based on a lot of the metrics we might expect to be important for predicting 50-point declines, the only one that really stands out is age.

The actionable takeaway is simple and obvious: Aging veterans are far more likely to suffer a major decline in 2018 — and to never bounce back — than younger stars. Sell your productive veterans while they still have an expectation of a productive season.

What Does This Mean for 2018?

Ten WRs who scored at least 150 points last year are entering their age 30 or older season:

  • Antonio Brown
  • Larry Fitzgerald
  • A.J. Green
  • Golden Tate
  • Doug Baldwin
  • Demaryius Thomas
  • Dez Bryant
  • Michael Crabtree
  • Ted Ginn
  • Mike Wallace

I noted previously that Crabtree was a potential bounceback candidate, but his age suggests he’s not in the best position to capitalize on that opportunity. I wrote up Green as dynasty sell earlier in the offseason. Antonio Brown is the best WR in the game and turning 30 probably doesn’t change that. All the rest of the names on this list may be worth taking a second look at before drafting or buying in dynasty.

  1. Not really  (back)
  2. A previous edition of the Wrong Read looked at failure rates, failure there was measured as a complete failure — a season in which a player scored zero fantasy points (or less — turns out John Ross’s negative-fantasy-point season is not a good thing). That article also did not set a requirement for 150 PPR points the year prior. Here I’m looking at busts which are far more likely to have an impact on your fantasy team — not only because they are more likely to happen, but specifically because they are more likely to happen to a player who is actually rostered.  (back)
  3. Among WRs who scored at least 150 PPR points the previous season.  (back)
  4. Though some things I did explore do not show up in the table, because they are insignificant. Height and weight make no discernible difference. Average draft age is nearly identical between the two groups (despite its apparent significance in making other predictions). Experience tracks age almost perfectly.  (back)
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