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Opportunity Scores: The Top Landing Spots For Rookie Wide Receivers

A few years ago, RotoViz OG Kevin Cole created a formula for determining which teams were the best landing spots for rookie wide receivers. In fantasy and real football, performance is a function of opportunity. Whether the opportunity was created through talent, draft position, or lack of competition, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is raw opportunity because targets are the lifeblood of fantasy scoring.

Kevin’s formula attempts to parse the relationship between quarterback and receiver average draft position (ADP). A higher drafted QB will presumably throw for more yards and touchdowns than one with a lower ADP. Receivers are the ones who will accumulate the catches, yards, touchdowns, and fantasy points. Theoretically, by analyzing the relationship between public ADP1 between a team’s QB and receivers, we can see which part of the equation is undervalued versus the other.

First, let’s look at that historical relationship between quarterback and receiver ADPs.

I’m using Kevin’s original formula for this exercise. The critical features of this formula are as follows:

  • The receiver value calculation is the inverse of ADP: the last pick in a 20-round, 12-team draft (240), minus ADP. You then add up all the values for WRs and tight ends to come up with the combined score.
  • The receiving stats accumulated by running backs in an offense are accounted for by discounting the receiver value calculation by the percentage of receiving fantasy points to running backs.
  • QB rushing production is also accounted for by discounting the receiver value calculation by the percentage of QB fantasy points from rushing, not throwing.

It’s fair to assume that QBs are more reasonably valued than receivers according to ADP, given that QB performance is more consistent year to year. Wide receivers on teams below the trendline are likely undervalued, and those teams could also represent great landing spots for rookie wide receivers.

Using the RotoViz Best Ball ADP App for Best Ball 10’s, we have the most accurate and up-to-date assessments by current drafters. Looking at the ADP from the app, here is the landscape of quarterback/receiver relationships before the 2019 NFL Draft. My data extends from the start of Bestball10s2 until the day before the NFL Draft.3 This article will look at which rookies landed in the best situations, while a future article will analyze which receiving groups are still being undervalued relative to their QB’s ADPs.

There are plenty of teams that are clustered around the trendline, but we’ve got a few outliers to analyze. Before we do that, let’s convert the data into a format that’s slightly easier to digest. Opportunity Score in the graph below is just a measure of how far below (positive score) or above (negative score) the trendline a team’s receiving corps falls.

Much better.

Key Takeaways

  • Given Rob Gronkowski’s retirement and lack of capable auxiliary options, the New England Patriots selected N’Keal Harry in the first round. Harry won our rookie wide receiver tournament and came in as the WR35 in our redraft rankings. I’d expect that Harry will be a productive fantasy asset in 2019.
  • The Baltimore Ravens snagged Marquise Brown and Myles Boykin in the first and third rounds of the NFL Draft, respectively. Given that there’s a significant chunk of opportunity up for grabs in Baltimore, it’s quite likely that either rookie WR steps in and produces as early as this season.
  • The Arizona Cardinals pulled off one of the more extreme overhauls to their offense this offseason. They drafted Kyler Murray first overall and drafted: Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler, and KeeSean Johnson. They appear to be committed to rebuilding their offense from the ground up and hopefully, will be more aggressive attacking downfield than they were last season. Note that the Cardinals’ opportunity score appears low because drafters were likely underrating the value of Arizona’s QB position. It was widely believed before the draft that Kyler Murray would be the No. 1 pick, and Josh Rosen’s ADP reflected this expectation. Still, it’s unlikely any rookie WR will be a reliable fantasy option this season, but I’d be looking to take shots on Isabella in the final rounds of best ball drafts.
  • Early drafters may have been far too aggressive targeting George Kittle and Dante Pettis before the NFL Draft. The team added Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd in the second and third round respectively. I’d expect that Kittle remains at the top of the target totem pole and that the San Francisco RBs will continue to eat into the available receiving opportunity4. Unless Jimmy Garoppolo’s return is the tide that lifts all boats, I’d expect that Pettis will underperform his pre-NFL Draft ADP.
  • Before the NFL Draft, early best ball drafters were drafting Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett within eight picks of each other. The Seahawks drafted D.K. Metcalf and Gary Jennings Jr. with their third- and fourth-round picks and released Baldwin with a failed physical shortly after the draft concluded. Although Lockett is locked in as the Seahawks’ WR1, Baldwin’s departure opens up a significant chunk of opportunity for both rookie WRs. I’d expect Metcalf will be poised to produce as a rookie, and our redraft rankers have him as the WR45 for this season.
  • Early best ball drafters are uncertain about the makeup of Washington’s receiver corps. Following Alex Smith’s awful injury, the team added Case Keenum in free agency and drafted Dwayne Haskins in the first round. The team selected Terry McLaurin and Kelvin Harmon in the NFL Draft, and Washington’s receiver room is relatively crowded. There’s potential for at least one of the rookie WR’s to step up and contribute this season. Hopefully, the picture gets a little clearer once pre-season starts.
  • Interestingly, early best-ball drafters are confident that there’s space left over for another receiver in the Kansas City Chiefs’ receiving corps. Both Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill had late first-round/early second-round ADP’s before the NFL Draft, and Sammy Watkins had a late-fifth/early-sixth round ADP. Considering that Hill is currently dealing with off-field issues that should result in a lengthy suspension, it makes sense that the Chiefs moved up to draft Mecole Hardman. If Hill gets suspended by the NFL, Hardman’s redraft ADP will skyrocket. Hopefully, he’s able to live up to the lofty expectations the Chiefs have placed on him.
  • The Indianapolis Colts may have brought in Devin Funchess via free agency, but are unsatisfied with their receiving corps. The team drafted Parris Campbell in the early second round of the NFL Draft, and I’d expect that he pushes for playing time right away.
  • None of the Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills nor the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted a WR in the 2019 NFL Draft.5 However, all three teams drafted tight ends with their third-round picks. Josh Oliver handily beats out Jace Sternberger and Dawson Knox in the tight end model and is the TE who is most likely to produce as a rookie. Given that Knox is currently running with the first team, he might produce this season, but I’d take my shots at TE elsewhere.

In later editions, we’ll look at how best ball drafters are valuing the various receiving corps post-NFL Draft and try to find some values to help your best ball teams.

Image Credit: Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: N’Keal Harry.

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  1. as a proxy for a wisdom-of-crowds assessment  (back)
  2. February 13, 2019.  (back)
  3. April 24, 2019.  (back)
  4. San Francisco RBs accounted for 20.8% of the team’s receiving output last season  (back)
  5. Neither did the Cincinnati Bengals or Houston Texans, but there isn’t much room left over for a rookie receiver to produce. Kahale Warring makes for a solid dynasty play.  (back)

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