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2019 Rookies and Redraft Leagues: Don’t Let Wide Receivers Sink Your Team

In part 1 of this series, we concluded that rookies drafted outside of Round 3 of the NFL draft have very low odds of being “usable” in redraft leagues. In the overwhelming majority of cases, they should be avoided on draft day. As a reminder, a usable player is one who scored 160 or more PPR points over the course of their rookie season.

Even those drafted in the high-leverage rounds have trouble surpassing this threshold. Between 2008 and 2018, 302 players at the quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end positions were drafted prior to pick 64 of the NFL Draft. Of these 302 players, only 71 mustered 160 points.

So far, we’ve identified just one QB and two RBs that make for viable redraft targets in 2019.  Let’s turn our attention toward WR.

The Usability of Rookie WRs

Draft Picks Total Players Above 160 Threshold %
1 – 32 37 12 32%
33 – 64 47 8 17%
65 – 96 49 3 6%
97 – 128 44 2 5%
129 -161 20 0 0%
162 – 193 17 1 6%
194 + 204 0 0%
Total 418 26 6%

Targeting rookie WRs in redraft leagues is a risky proposition. Just one-third of first rounders and less than one-fifth of second rounders will eclipse 160 PPR points. Since 2010, only six players drafted after pick 64 have scored more than 160 points in their first NFL season. This severely limits the pool of rookie wideouts that redraft owners should target to start the season. For context, 36 WRs reach this total in an average season.

The historic 2014 rookie class boasts four WRs that managed to eclipse 200 points. This is impressive as just eight others did so between 2008 and 2018.

 
seas Player HT Weight Targets Recs Yards TDs PPR
2014 Odell Beckham Jr. 5’11” 198 130 91 1305 12 295
2016 Michael Thomas 6’3″ 2012 121 92 1137 9 256
2014 Mike Evans 6’5″ 231 123 68 1051 12 245
2014 Kelvin Benjamin 6’5″ 240 145 73 1008 9 228
2010 Mike Williams (TB) 6’2″ 221 129 65 964 11 225
2013 Keenan Allen 6’2″ 211 104 71 1046 8 220
2011 A.J. Green 6’4 211 115 65 1057 7 218
2016 Tyreek Hill 5’10” 185 83 61 593 6 217
2015 Amari Cooper 6’1″ 211 130 72 1070 6 213
2018 Calvin Ridley 6’1″ 190 92 64 821 10 207
2014 Jordan Matthews 6’3″ 212 103 67 872 8 202
2011 Julio Jones 6’3″ 220 95 54 959 8 202

Given the above grouping of WRs, if I were trying to identify a rookie with the chance of crushing his first season, I’d go after a tall, big bodied wideout in a situation where there is massive touchdown potential. While that’s in no way a revolutionary set of characteristics to target, it places our evaluation of 2019 candidates into context.

2019 Implications

Twenty-eight WRs were selected in the 2019 NFL Draft, with nine being selected in the first two rounds. These are the only players that redraft owners should consider targeting in 2019. Of course, given the historical probabilities noted in this series, even targeting these nine WRs should be done cautiously.

    • N’Keal Harry was selected at pick 32 by New England as the second WR drafted in 2019. Given the landing spot, he quickly ascended draft boards and now checks in as the first rookie WR selected in redraft leagues. With an ADP of 128, Harry is being selected as the WR41. He should quickly find opportunity in the Patriots’ passing game with Rob Gronkowski retired and Chris Hogan now a Panther. However, it’s easy to overstate how robust this opportunity may be.
      • New England has already signed two TEs, Ben Watson and Matt LaCosse and attempted to bring on Michael Roberts.
      • The team also added WRs Demaryius Thomas and Dontrelle Inman. While it’s possible that one or both veterans are cut prior to the start of the season, Philip Dorsett returns.
      • Don’t forget, Julian Edelman drew nearly 12 targets per game in the 2018 playoffs averaging 112 yards. While he may be 33, all signs indicate that he’s still got it.
      • If Harry’s ADP holds, he’s draftable. However, he shouldn’t be drafted as an anchoring piece of any fantasy team’s receiving corps.
    • Mecole Hardman’s ADP skyrocketed after being drafted by the Chiefs at pick 56 given his comparisons to Tyreek Hill. The problem, however, is that he’s not a one-for-one replacement.
      • Hardman is blazing fast with 4.33 speed, stands 5 feet 10 inches, and weighs 187 pounds. Hill stands 5 feet 10 inches, weighs 185 pounds, and is also really fast. Correction, he’s nearly superhuman fast. With 4.25 speed, Hill is an entirely different tier of speed than Hardman. Even if Hill were to get suspended for the entire season, it’s risky to assume that Hardman would for sure be three-fourths as productive.
    • D.K. Metcalf is being drafted as the WR49 at pick 144. He certainly has the size but it’s hard to imagine him having a wildly successful rookie campaign without 10 or more touchdowns. In a run-first offense like Seattle’s this is a tall ask.
      • To be fair, Jimmy Graham did so in 2017, and Tyler Lockett did in 2018. Still, this is a dangerous expectation. David Moore was second on the team in receiving touchdowns last season with just five.
    • Drafters were excited to see Parris Campbell land in Indianapolis as a member of the Colts’ passing attack as reflected by his pre and post Draft ADP. While he is an exciting prospect his chances of reaching the 160 point threshold are slim.
      • Eric Ebron’s production will likely decrease but significant portions could revert back to Jack Doyle.
      • Campbell will be playing behind T.Y. Hilton, and possibly Devin Funchess. 
      • He doesn’t profile as a volume touchdown scorer and it’s hard to imagine that he’ll see enough targets to offset this. Keep in mind, Campbell’s game is predicated on short-yardage passes.
    • Even after correcting for NFL Draft position the RotoViz Dynasty Team ranks Deebo Samuel as the WR9 and was surprised to see him drafted in the second round. There is room for Samuel to assert himself and ascend up the 49ers depth chart. Still, the RotoViz Redraft team ranks Samuel as the WR75. His odds of being one of the few rookies that manage to be usable the whole season are exceptionally slim.
    • Andy Isabella, a RotoViz darling, is being selected in the 16th round of 2019 fantasy drafts. He’ll be receiving passes from the single rookie passer identified in this series as a current year target, Kyler Murray. This can fairly be considered a cause for concern, as can playing for a first-year NFL Head Coach.
    • Isabella will compete with Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk for targets, as well as fellow rookie Hakeem Butler. RotoViz is much higher on Isabella than Butler, as are the Cardinals who selected Isabella at pick 62 and Butler at 103, but it’s possible that Butler steals a portion of Isabella’s expected workload.
    • Despite weighing just 166 pounds, Marquise Brown was the first WR selected in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Ravens drafted Brown with pick 25. While this selection did raise his ADP, he’s being drafted in the 17th round as WR69. Baltimore’s WR depth chart is sparse, which could allow for Brown to make an immediate impact. However, two things will need to hold true for the former Sooner to be successful:
      • His speed and athletic ability need to translate at the next level to a degree that allows him to overcome his smaller stature.
      • Lamar Jackson needs to improve. He completed just 58% of his 150 rookie attempts and threw just six touchdown passes.
    • A.J. Brown lost to Harry in the finals of the RotoViz Rookie WR Tournament. While his long-term prospects are strong, 2019 drafters aren’t expecting instant success given his ADP of 235. Brown will need to contend with the flaws of the Titan’s offense as well as former Round 1 selection Corey Davis, the recently acquired Adam Humphries, and Delanie Walker for opportunity and production.
    • J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is essentially free. He’s being selected at pick 298 as the WR88. Given the low opportunity cost of selecting him, he may be the easiest player to argue for as a 2019 target.
      • He’ll presumably start 2019 behind Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, and Nelson Agholor on the Eagles’ WR depth Chart. And of course, Zach Ertz will control major portions of the teams passing opportunity.
      • However, supporters of Arcega-Whiteside would be quick to point out that Jackson is nearly 33 and like Jeffery has dealt with injury over the course of his career. The former Cardinal is a strong prospect and could be better than Agholor. As a result, if an opportunity presents early, he could be a dark-horse candidate for a usable rookie WR.

Final Thoughts

Since 2008, just 23% of Round 1 and 2 rookie WRs have scored 160 or more points. If this rate held in 2019, two of the above players would achieve this feat. The strongest case can be made for Harry. Unless Hill faces discipline and misses more than half of the season, Hardman should be crossed off the list. Perhaps this leaves Metcalf and Marquise Brown as the next best bets. While it may be tempting to chase these players and revel in their rookie excitement, strongly consider other options when on the clock.

Image Credit: John Cordes/Icon Sportswire Pictured: Mecole Hardman.

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