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Already Trendy and Expensive, The Next JuJu Smith-Schuster Could Still Be a Bargain at His Lofty Price

In Best Ball Workshop No. 11, we discovered a key insight for constructing our BestBall10s lineups. As Shawn Siegele began to put together his list of 5 Players the Roster Construction Explorer Wants You to Target, he realized that one of these receivers deserved a slightly deeper dive.

Last year at this time I was writing about JuJu Smith-Schuster and Cooper Kupp, pointing out how much the advanced metrics loved them, and that they should end up being values even at their already pricey ADPs.

Kupp went on to average 16.9 PPG, putting him right at the WR1/2 border before a season-ending injury, while Smith-Schuster scored 297 points on the back of 1,426 receiving yards. Both players emerged as fantasy forces without operating as the clear-cut WR1 in their own offenses.

You’ve missed your chance for huge profits on Smith-Schuster, but 2019 provides another opportunity to capitalize on an ascending star’s secondary breakout.

Joining An Elite Group as a Rookie

By scoring 209 points last season, Calvin Ridley became only the 18th rookie WR to reach the 200-point threshold since 2000. He joins names like Odell Beckham, Mike Evans, Anquan Boldin, Keenan Allen, A.J. Green, and Julio Jones. Nine of the 16 previous receivers then scored 225 points or more in their second seasons.1 That includes recent second-year encores from Michael Thomas (258) and Tyreek Hill (239).

This fits Blair Andrews’ research, where he uses a more permissive definition of WR breakout but confirms that those who break out early go on to form the elite tier.

Just How Good Is Calvin Ridley?

In encouraging you to buy Smith-Schuster and Kupp last year – along with Chris Godwin and Kenny Golladay – I pointed out that collegiate performance is still a strong influence when projecting a WR’s second NFL season. This is good news for Ridley who was an undervalued college player.

Seas Rec RecYds RecYPR RecTD RecYdsMS RecTDMS
2015 89 1045 11.7 7 0.31 0.32
2016 72 769 10.7 7 0.24 0.27
2017 63 967 15.4 5 0.36 0.18
Career 224 2781 12.4 19 0.30 0.25

Ridley broke out immediately as a freshman with a 31% Dominator Rating and finished strong as a junior with 36% of his team’s receiving yards. Three years of rock solid performance gave him a 30% average in msYD for his career, a result above the threshold that has historically picked out players with NFL star potential.

I grabbed these results from the Box Score Scout, a tool you can use to dive into his advanced metrics in more detail or peruse his top comps as a prospect. The No. 1 comp for Ridley? None other than the most prolific of the rookie breakouts, Odell Beckham.

What About the Advanced Age?

It’s likely that Ridley had some advantage against his college peers as a player who was old relative to experience level. We know that younger players have an overwhelming advantage in transitioning to the NFL, and we know that age was likely one reason Smith-Schuster was undervalued both as a prospect and as a second-year breakout player a season ago.

Despite this, the news is actually still very positive for Ridley. Players who declare early outperform seniors by a wide margin and are significantly undervalued in the NFL draft.

Blair shows us the importance of an experience adjustment, even when those players are older. Considering Ridley’s rock solid college career, his instant collegiate breakout, and his early declaration, he entered the league as an almost unblemished prospect.

What Does Ridley’s Rookie Season Tell Us? – The Comps

In his excellent series using the RotoViz Screener to provide second-year comps for the 2018 rookie receivers, Cort Smith found encouraging results for Ridley. Lee Evans, T.Y. Hilton, Cooper Kupp, and Tyler Lockett all appear on the list. Several more big names join the group when we specifically emphasize production.

Ridley’s breakdown of expected receiving points (reEP) and points over expectation (reFPOE) is almost identical to what his superstar teammate achieved as a rookie back in 2011. This is especially interesting as it relates to another one of Blair’s key findings in The Wrong Read, No. 49.

What Does Ridley’s Rookie Season Tell Us? – The Efficiency

A lot of analysts will tell you to sell efficiency and buy volume. While that makes sense in many cases, it can also cause you to miss a young player who may be trendy but still undervalued. Ridley was more than doubled-up by Jones in yardage last year, but he held a 10-8 edge in touchdowns. This makes him look like a risk relative to 2018 finish, but we should probably be buying instead.

Does Rookie Year Efficiency Matter_

Blair demonstrates that rookie year efficiency has been a very positive sign for WRs, and that it leads to both an increase in volume and a continuation of efficiency.

When we look at Jones versus Ridley, it’s probable that the risk is greater for the veteran. While Jones could use Ridley’s presence to finally generate that missing 15-TD season, the youngster has far more room to improve on his yardage numbers. Of course, you may want to just buy both this season. With ADPs of 12.9 and 58.7, both players are easy values.

How to Play It

I selected Ridley at 5.04 in the 2019 MFL10 of Death and WR19 in the RDL Startup/Reboot. In both cases, that’s still well below my ranking in the respective formats.

A year ago, there was some legitimate concern that Smith-Schuster and Kupp didn’t have the room to provide upside at their ADPs, blocked, as they were, by other options. Owners continued to draft them relatively early, trusting that talent and high-powered offenses would at least make them safe options.

While D.J. Moore hits many of the same criteria and has an even better breakout projection by my model, he doesn’t necessarily have the safety to go with the upside. Ridley plays in a high-volume passing offense, with an above-average QB, in a dome. He has a superstar teammate who will be the defensive focal point. I’m targeting both players, but with Ridley going at a slight discount, you get a safe option at ADP with the explosive upside thrown in for free.

Image Credit: Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: JuJu Smith-Schuster.

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  1. Kelvin Benjamin missed his with injury.  (back)

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