Rookie Wide Receivers
By Jeff Tefertiller
August 24th, 2010

Fantasy owners are always on the look out to see which first year player might make an impact in fantasy leagues. The wide receiver position is one that is difficult for rookies to transition to in year one. This series is examining every draft pick since 1990 for the four skill positions and is looking for trends that may develop. Half of the article will look back at the historical data and the other half will use that data to predict the success of the 2010 NFL rookie draft class. This particular article is focused on the running back position.

Historical Success

The methodology for determining a successful draft pick will be based on the following metrics:

  • The number of seasons in the NFL. The longer the career span, the better chance the player was an asset to fantasy owners.
  • The number of seasons the player finished as a fantasy starter (using 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE as the starting lineup) in a 12-team league.
  • The number of seasons as an elite fantasy starter (finishing in top six quarterback or tight end, or top twelve running back or wide receiver).
  • In addition, a ratio was used for the two metrics above. The ratio divides the number of seasons finishing at the metric level by the number of seasons in the NFL. It is included to help distinguish players of varying career lengths.

The above metrics will be a constant for all of the skill positions. The picks are broken down by the following picks: Top 5 Pick, Picks 6-10 Overall, 1st Round picks outside of Top 10, 2nd Round, 3rd Round, 4th Round, 5th Round, 6th Round, and 7th Round and later. Will the early picks dominate as much as the other positions? If so, where are the major dropoffs in rates of success? How did the wideouts taken in the Top 5 fare?

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
Top Five
6.67
2.44
0.37
1.22
0.20

For a position known for longevity, it is surprising that the receivers taken this high in the NFL Draft offered no longer of a career span than did the running backs. There have been only nine receivers taken in the Top 5 picks since 1990. All but three of them have had at least one elite fantasy season. These three flopped big time. Fantasy owners still remember the carnage left by Charles Rogers, Peter Warrick, and even Desmond Howard. They were big-time disappointments for the teams drafting them, both in fantasy and the NFL. The averages above will increase with the three best young receivers in football included in this group. Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Andre Johnson will help these numbers offset those that washed out. How did Picks 6-10 compare?

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
Picks 6-10
7.53
2.16
0.20
1.21
0.12

This group has almost twice as many players (seventeen) as the one before. It is noticeable that the career span is much longer than the Top 5 picks. This is primarily due to a pair of factors: fewer big misses and several players enjoying long careers. All of the players drafted in this group played five years or more, except Mike Williams and Ted Ginn and last year's two rookies (Darrius Heyward-Bey and Michael Crabtree). Ginn should play five seasons, but he could be toast depending on how things go in Seattle. Receivers like Torry Holt, Joey Galloway, Plaxico Burress, and Herman Moore enjoyed long, productive careers. These numbers look to be on the decline with no good young receivers to carry the mantle. How far will the averages drop for the rest of round one?

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
Rest of 1st
5.86
1.57
0.19
0.80
0.09

This is where we see the numbers tailing off. The chances of getting one elite fantasy season drop considerably. Reggie Wayne, Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison are the three stalwarts that have propped up these numbers. There have been many washouts like Craig Davis, Rashaun Woods, and Rod Gardner, just to name a few. But, just like the running back position, there has been a trend of good young receivers emerging from this part of the first round. Dwayne Bowe, Santonio Holmes, and Roddy White should all aid these numbers higher going forward. The 2009 receiver draft class will also help. Wideouts like Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin, Hakeem Nicks, and Kenny Britt could all make a big impact for several seasons. How far will the second round pass catchers drop in comparison?

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
2nd Round
5.56
0.91
0.12
0.42
0.06

WOW! Who would have though that the chances of having a fantasy relevant or fantasy elite season drop roughly in half when going from the latter parts of the first round to the second round? Have there really been that many failed picks? Well, the answer is yes. Just in the last few years, there have been several pass receivers drafted in the second round with high expectations ... that flopped. Remember James Hardy, Dexter Jackson, Dwayne Jarrett, Chad Jackson, Terrence Murphy and the list goes on and on. The good news is that there are some very good young receivers currently in the NFL who are good bets to have long prolific careers. Sidney Rice, DeSean Jackson, Steve Smith (NYG), Anquan Boldin, Vincent Jackson, Greg Jennings, Eddie Royal, and Donnie Avery all look to be productive for many seasons to come. With these good, young wideouts, the averages above will continue to rise in the next few years. Will the third round pass receivers be any better?

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
3rd Round
4.31
0.64
0.07
0.29
0.03

A continuation of the steady decline. The third round has not been fertile for wide receivers of late. While the past "hits" include Steve Smith (CAR), Laveranues Coles, Terrell Owens, and Hines Ward, the last few years have been void of many good picks. There have been several that played only one meager season. What a waste of a good pick where the team could have addressed another position. One player selected in the last five drafts (28 players) has enjoyed a fantasy starter season. Other than Mike Sims-Walker, there are no young receivers knocking on the door of fantasy relevance to make us think these averages might increase after the veterans are retired.

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
4th Round
3.83
0.32
0.04
0.11
0.02

The averages are not good for wideouts take in the fourth round. While Brandon Marshall was certainly a great selection, no pick since has made a considerable difference. These are young players so there is time, but the odds are not great. Marshall is the only fourth round pick taken since Brandon Stokely in the 1999 NFL Draft to an elite fantasy season. Other than Marshall, Derrick Mason is the only other receiver taken in the fourth round with more than one elite season. Mike Thomas has a chance to break the streaks, but might need some luck along the way.

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
5th Round
2.91
0.12
0.02
0.08
0.01

How bad is the success rate for fifth round receivers? Until Steve Breaston's productive 2008 season, not one pass catcher drafted since Joe Horn in 1996 had finished even one season as a fantasy starter. Breaston and Johnny Knox have the best chance to become viable of the fifth round receivers. Can the sixth round be any worse?

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
6th Round
2.20
0.10
0.01
0.04
0

Yes, the receivers taken in the sixth round performed even worse than those drafted in the fifth. The sixth round receivers have a streak similar to those in the fifth round ... but even longer. It has been since Bill Shroeder (drafted in 1994) that a sixth rounder has been fantasy relevant and the prospects of ending the streak do not look good. Pierre Garcon is the only player capable of breaking the streak.

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
7th Round
2.27
0.18
0.02
0.05
0.01

The seventh round numbers include many long shots that have "hit". Players like Marques Colston, Kevin Walter, Patrick Crayton, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Donald Driver beat the odds. All are productive starters for their respective teams. With all of these players still going strong, these averages could actually increase dramatically.

So, what does all of this mean? These numbers do illustrate that the earlier a player is selected in the NFL Draft, the better the chance for a longer, more productive career ... both as a fantasy player and as a NFL wide receiver. The next article in this series will examine the wide receivers taken in the 2010 NFL Draft. We will look at the chances for each rookie drafted in April's draft. Below are the above charts grouped together for easier viewing:

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
Top Five
6.67
2.44
0.37
1.22
0.20
Picks 6-10
7.53
2.16
0.20
1.21
0.12
Rest of 1st
5.86
1.57
0.19
0.80
0.09
2nd Round
5.56
0.91
0.12
0.42
0.06
3rd Round
4.31
0.64
0.07
0.29
0.03
4th Round
3.83
0.32
0.04
0.11
0.02
5th Round
2.91
0.12
0.02
0.08
0.01
6th Round
2.20
0.10
0.01
0.04
0
7th Round
2.27
0.18
0.02
0.05
0.01

The 2010 Rookie Class

Now, we will look at this year's rookie class of wide receivers separated in the same manner as those in the historical data. The first chart will be the historical data and the second the rookies. Let's take a look at this year's rookies.

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
Rest of 1st
5.86
1.57
0.19
0.80
0.09

Rnd
2010 Pick
Player
Team
College
1
22
Demaryius Thomas
Den
Georgia Tech
1
24
Dez Bryant
Dal
Oklahoma State

Both of these receivers are poised to make a huge impact, even though it may be 2011 before becoming a fantasy starter. Thomas was beginning to turn the corner before re-injuring his foot. Bryant makes big plays for the Cowboy offense. Both Thomas and Bryant have the upside to have multiple elite fantasy seasons. They are much better dynasty prospects than in redraft for this season.

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
2nd Round
5.56
0.91
0.12
0.42
0.06

Rnd
2010 Pick
Player
Team
College
2
39
Arrelious Benn
TB
Illinois
2
60
Golden Tate
Sea
Notre Dame

Benn was drafted with high expectations for the Buccaneers. He was slowed by an injury early in camp but is starting to emerge. His lack of productivity in college is concerning but the upside is certainly present. Tate is interesting just because he does so many things well. Expect him to contribute on special teams as a returner as well as a play-making wide receiver. He has a definite chance to make an impact this season.

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
3rd Round
4.31
0.64
0.07
0.29
0.03

Rnd
2010 Pick
Player
Team
College
3
77
Damian Williams
Ten
USC
3
78
Brandon LaFell
Car
LSU
3
82
Emmanuel Sanders
Pit
SMU
3
84
Jordan Shipley
Cin
Texas
3
87
Eric Decker
Den
Minnesota
3
88
Andre Roberts
Ari
Citadel
3
89
Armanti Edwards
Car
Appalachian State
3
90
Taylor Price
NE
Ohio

The historical data illustrates how difficult it is to find a fantasy starter outside of the top two rounds, but there are a few who might see considerable playing time in year one. Williams seems to buried on the depth chart in Tennessee so it might take a couple of years before we see what he has to offer. It appears as though LaFell has a shot to unseat Dwayne Jarrett as the starter in Carolina opposite Steve Smith. He is more of a possession receiver, but could see some targets with defenses keyed on stopping Smith. Shipley is hoping to start in the slot for the Bengals. This might be his upside, but the former Texas star will also help on returns. Decker has had durability issues the last couple of seasons but could give the Broncos a sure-handed possession receiver. Edwards is VERY raw after transitioning from the quarterback position. This leaves three prospects with very high ceilings. Sanders should start in the slot for the Steelers this season. He has a chance to start on the outside after Hines Ward retires. Roberts and Price are very athletic and may need a couple of years before making a fantasy difference. Of this group, Sanders and Price have the best chance to have a fantasy elite season.

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
4th Round
3.83
0.32
0.04
0.11
0.02

Rnd
2010 Pick
Player
Team
College
4
99
Mardy Gilyard
StL
Cincinnati
4
101
Mike Williams
TB
Syracuse
4
107
Marcus Easley
Buf
Connecticut
4
108
Jacoby Ford
Oak
Clemson

While the chances are not strong of finding a good fantasy receiver in the fourth round as we discovered in the last article, Mike Williams has a legitimate chance to be fantasy elite very soon. He is very athletic and polished as a receiver. His off the field problems which led to the fall at the NFL Draft have not surfaced, leaving him as an underappreciated prospect with a high upside. The other three are on the outside looking in for fantasy stardom.

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
5th Round
2.91
0.12
0.02
0.08
0.01

Rnd
2010 Pick
Player
Team
College
5
158
David Reid
Bal
Utah
5
159
Riley Cooper
Phi
Florida
5
165
Kerry Meier
Atl
Kansas

The odds are stacked high against this group of receivers having even one fantasy starter season. There is a chance that only Cooper will be active on Sundays this season. Reid is gifted with good speed but is raw as a prospect. Cooper is polished, but with limited upside. He looks like a slot receiver, possession pass catcher. Meier is a heady player who may struggle to see the field.

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
6th Round
2.20
0.10
0.01
0.04
0

Rnd
2010 Pick
Player
Team
College
6
177
Carlton Mitchell
Cle
South Florida
6
191
Dezmon Briscoe
Cin
Kansas
6
195
Antonio Brown
Pit
Central Michigan
6
198
David Gettis
Car
Baylor
6
206
Kyle Williams
SF
Arizona State

Talk about some long odds. Of the group, Mitchell has a chance to play in Cleveland due to their weak receiving corps. He has a good size:speed ratio and might make be a productive pro if he can develop. Briscoe, Gettis, and Williams do not have much of a chance to see many passes. Brown is intriguing as a returner and as a speedy, slot receiver. He is a guy to watch this season as he transitions from Central Michigan to the NFL.

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
7th Round
2.27
0.18
0.02
0.05
0.01

Rnd
2010 Pick
Player
Team
College
7
219
Terrence Austin
Was
UCLA
7
222
Marc Mariani
Ten
Montana
7
245
Jameson Konz
Sea
Kent State
7
255
Tim Toone
Det
Weber State

The longest of odds just to make the team. Konz has already been released from Seattle. Of the group, Toone might have the best shot to see the field considering the lack of depth in Detroit. Austin and Mariani appear to be practice squad material.

The historical data tells us that Thomas and Bryant have the best chance at NFL and fantasy success. But, Mike Williams has a very good shot as well. After this three, Tate, Sanders, and Price are the three to roster and watch.

Below are all of the wideouts in the 2010 NFL Draft rookie class:

Rnd
2010 Pick
Player
Team
College
1
22
Demaryius Thomas
Den
Georgia Tech
1
24
Dez Bryant
Dal
Oklahoma State
2
39
Arrelious Benn
TB
Illinois
2
60
Golden Tate
Sea
Notre Dame
3
77
Damian Williams
Ten
USC
3
78
Brandon LaFell
Car
LSU
3
82
Emmanuel Sanders
Pit
SMU
3
84
Jordan Shipley
Cin
Texas
3
87
Eric Decker
Den
Minnesota
3
88
Andre Roberts
Ari
Citadel
3
89
Armanti Edwards
Car
Appalachian State
3
90
Taylor Price
NE
Ohio
4
99
Mardy Gilyard
StL
Cincinnati
4
101
Mike Williams
TB
Syracuse
4
107
Marcus Easley
Buf
Connecticut
4
108
Jacoby Ford
Oak
Clemson
5
158
David Reid
Bal
Utah
5
159
Riley Cooper
Phi
Florida
5
165
Kerry Meier
Atl
Kansas
6
177
Carlton Mitchell
Cle
South Florida
6
191
Dezmon Briscoe
Cin
Kansas
6
195
Antonio Brown
Pit
Central Michigan
6
198
David Gettis
Car
Baylor
6
206
Kyle Williams
SF
Arizona State
7
219
Terrence Austin
Was
UCLA
7
222
Marc Mariani
Ten
Montana
7
245
Jameson Konz
Sea
Kent State
7
255
Tim Toone
Det
Weber State

Please feel free to email me at tefertiller@footballguys.com with any questions or comments. Also, I am on Twitter, so feel free to ask me questions there.

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