High school ranking is often used during the evaluation process to help determine the pedigree of a prospect. But does a wide receiver’s recruit ranking matter?
Using the current ranking criteria for 247Sports, a five-star ranking means that a recruit is seen as a future first-round NFL Draft selection. By this standard, five-star recruits should be gold in devy drafts, and this should be a major factor when evaluating incoming rookies.
Basis of Research
Before I dive into the analysis of receiver prospects, it’s important to identify the basis of the work. For the college production, I looked at every FBS receiver to record a box score stat in an NFL game, dating back to the 2009 draft class. Therefore, I only considered prospects back to 2006 and up to 2016.
From 2006 to 2016, 54 WRs have received a composite prospect score greater than or equal to 0.98, which resulted in a five-star ranking. Being a highly rated recruit traditionally affords a receiver the opportunity to see the field early during their career. However, of these players, only three recorded a breakout season prior to the age of 20. Only 14 managed to record a breakout season at any point in their college careers. During the same timeframe, seven four-stars and 12 three-stars broke out before age 20.
Based on the production of WR prospects since 2006, it appears that a five-star recruit is twice as likely to break out during their career as a four-star and 6.5 times more likely to break out than a three-star. And, likely because of their pedigree earning early playing time, they’re five times more likely to break out before the age of 20.
A potential result from the early opportunities afforded to top recruits is a delayed breakout and reduced playing time for four-star recruits at elite college programs. Keep an eye out for overloaded WR rooms that could hinder the success of a strong four-star receiver.
Both final season dominator rating and career market share of yards have been identified as meaningful metrics when projecting prospects as fantasy assets. And it’s clear that a five-star player is more likely to achieve both a strong final season dominator and to receive over 29% of his team’s share of yards over his career.
NFL Draft and Success
Of the 54 WRs who received a five-star ranking, only 21 were drafted in any round. Of those 21, only eight were taken in the first round. From draft capital projection alone, that equates to a 15% success rate.
However, while draft capital is one of the top indicators for future NFL success, players have become productive fantasy receivers despite being drafted later. Eight five-star recruits eclipsed 200 PPR points during their best season. Twelve four-star recruits and 20 three-star recruits have eclipsed 200 PPR points at least one time. What this shows is that while high pedigree is meaningful, actual college production and draft capital may be larger factors in determining NFL success.
How to Take Action
Rookie prospects have a large range of outcomes so it’s easy to point out that devy prospects are incredibly volatile. But for me, it comes down to three basic rules.
- Rule 1: If you’re going to draft an incoming freshman WR, only take a five-star.
- Rule 2: Identifying prior year production from a lower-ranked prospect with incoming opportunity could prove cheaper and has a higher chance at success.
The second rule boils down to identifying programs with a high percentage of outgoing production, looking for receivers next in line behind soon-to-be NFL rookies. Using this method, I wrote up a piece about Ole Miss WR, Elijah Moore, before last season due to the exits of D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, and Damarkus Lodge. Moore accounted for 37% of his team’s yards and a 46% Dominator Rating in 2019. He now looks like a legitimate NFL prospect.
There is one final rule, but it’s more about the avoidance of landmines.
- Rule 3: Don’t chase unproven talent.1
Production isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. If there’s no reason to believe a player will see an increased workload, then talent is moot. There have been elite high school prospects (See Green-Beckham, Dorial) to waste their opportunity. While the upside is tempting, the numbers indicate that the risk is too great.
Players to Target
I’ll separate this section into two pools, one for each positive rule.
Rule 1 Prospects:
- Julian Fleming – Fleming was the No. 1 WR prospect of 2020 and joins an Ohio State roster that loses three of its top five receivers, not including RB J.K. Dobbins. He should be among the top four receivers for the Buckeyes in 2020 and has a fourth-round ADP in DevyWatch mock drafts.
- Jaxon Smith-Njigba – I know this one looks to be showing my Ohio State biases, but let me hit you with some numbers. Smith-Njigba had 2,132 receiving yards and 34 TDs during his final high school year. He totaled 5,384 yards and 63 TDs for his career. As mentioned above, Ohio State has an opening at receiver. He’s currently available at 73 overall in mock drafts.
- Rakim Jarrett – Jarrett surprisingly chose to attend Maryland over LSU. Maryland’s top receiver in 2019 accounted for just 41 receptions. Jarrett should be the most talented WR on the team once he steps on campus. He’s drawn Stefon Diggs comparisons and can be drafted at 76 overall.
Rule 2 Prospects:
- Joseph Ngata – If you’re in a devy depleted league, there’s a chance that Ngata has already been taken, as he was a highly regarded four-star prospect, but if you’re starting from scratch, he represents a player without significant freshman season production. The exit of Tee Higgins has opened the door for him to see increased playing time. Ngata had 17 receptions for 240 yards and three TDs as a freshman.
- Mycah Pittman – There aren’t any major exits from the Oregon roster, but the graduation of both Juwan Johnson and Jacob Breeland opens up 56 receptions. Pittman ranked fifth on the team in receptions and receiving yards.
- Charleston Rambo – Most of the excitement around the Oklahoma WR group surrounds Jadon Haselwood. But the exit of CeeDee Lamb should also provide additional opportunity for Rambo, who ranked second on the team in receptions, yards and TDs in 2019. Haselwood is being drafted at 47 overall while Rambo can be had at 118.
- Chris Olave – See my rankings. It’s the same argument as for the incoming freshman except for the fact that Olave already accounted for a 24% market share of yards in 2019. It would also appear that he’s QB Justin Fields’ first target as demonstrated by his TD receptions and target on the final play during the College Football Playoff semi-final. Buy Chris Olave.
Image Credit: Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Chris Olave.
- Pour one out for Justin Shorter and Demetrius Robertson. (back)