Home Analysis Rookie Wide Receivers - sorting through the noise

Rookie Wide Receivers – sorting through the noise

Like many other amateur nerd burgers do over the NFL offseason, especially over a COVID-induced boredom filled offseason, I’ve put together a model for incoming rookies. It aims to predict successful NFL players based on their college resumes. It takes into account multiple different variables, applies a weighted multiplier to each variable then adds them together to give the final score. To more easily compare across draft classes I’ve also calculated the percentile rank of each player’s score compared to the whole database. We’ll start with WRs first and then move on to RBs next article.

The model includes:

⁃ Draft round

⁃ Rookie season age

⁃ Dominator rating (share of teams receiving yards and receiving TDs)

⁃ Breakout age (age at start of college season that they accounted for >20% dominator rating). The premise behind breakout age being a predictive metric is that if a player is able to dominate his college team mates at a young age, when they have more experience than him, know the playbook better, and are physically more mature than him, then he stands a better chance at earning opportunity once making it to the NFL level.

⁃ Early declare from college

⁃ Weight – or if less than 205lbs, their usage on punt returns

⁃ Power 5 conference

On a sample from 2010-2017 (too early to judge successes/busts of 2018-19 classes) the model has a post draft R correlation coefficient value of 0.586 to Season 1-3 fantasy points per game. 0.5 is considered a moderate relationship of two variables, 0.7 a strong relationship, so we’re in a decent range here.

Using thresholds though has been more helpful in identifying later drafted sleepers (would’ve found Stefon Diggs), but more importantly, avoiding early drafted busts (would’ve avoided Josh Doctson, John Ross, and Corey Coleman amongst others).

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To give an example of a later drafted success it would’ve identified, I’ve compared the score of Stefon Diggs who was drafted in round 5 to some 1st round busts. You can see Diggs exceeds the 7.95 score we’re looking for despite his 5th round draft capital which is a heavy factor, yet the others fall short of 7.95 despite the heavy influence of their 1st round draft capital.

You can see the main variables differentiating Diggs from his peers in this sample are: draft age, he was an early declare,and of course – he was the only one in this group that broke out at the age of 18.

For WRs (2010-2017) that scored >7.95 on the post draft model (n=28):

61% >1 WR1 season (top 12)

71% >1 WR2 season (top 24)

82% >1 WR3 season (top 36)

If we compare this to hit rates just looking at draft round:

WRs (2010-2017) drafted in round 1 n=30

30% >1 WR1 season

43% >1 WR2 season

60% >1 WR3 season

So we are already substantially beating round 1 hit rates, good signs.

WRs (2010-2017) drafted rounds 1-3 n=99

25% >1 WR1 season 

36% >1 WR2 season

47% >1 WR3 season

So again, substantially beating round 1-3 hit rates.

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Who does the model like most?

2020’s draft class has a total of 5 WRs that fit into the group of >7.95

Jalen Reagor and CeeDee Lamb lead our group, with Bryan Edwards not far behind despite his 3rd round draft capital. Laviska Shenault and KJ Hamler round out our group.

Some past players around the same area as Reagor and Lamb?

I acknowledge there are some less attractive names here in Stephen Hill, Devin Funchess and Rueben Randle, but Funchess did post a WR2 season in 2017, and Randle two WR3 seasons in 2014 and 2015. Apart from those three names though, how good do the rest look! (I still have high hopes for Christian Kirk).

The next lot

So where did the rest of the early (rounds 1-3) drafted players land?

Tee Higgins misses out by a whisker, whereas Justin Jefferson, Brandon Aiyuk, Denzel Mims, and Jerry Jeudy miss out by not much more. Certainly not a death knell, I just have less confidence in them compared to the >7.95 group.

Henry Ruggs checks in at 4.65, the 35th percentile. This is a red flag for me and someone I will be fading heavily despite his round 1 draft capital. The primary argument for Ruggs succeeding is he has blow the top off the defence speed. Unfortunately I’m not interested in speed if he wasn’t able to produce in college, when funnily enough, he also had speed! In fact, out of all 2020 drafted WRs, Ruggs had the lowest college dominator score.

The argument against Ruggs’ poor college statistical output was that at Alabama he was playing with 3 other NFL talents in Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle. Although that’s true, funnily enough when players come into the NFL, guess who they have to compete with for targets? You guessed it, NFL talents.

Devin Duverney and Van Jefferson are also heavy fades for me.

Refining the later drafted dart throws

In terms of lower drafted players, let’s look at the WRs with some lower draft capital, drafted between rounds 4-7. This draft capital range has a very very low hit rate so our expectations are minimal:

4% >1 WR1 season 

6% >1 WR2 season

15% >1 WR3 season

Only 3 players from 2010-2017 drafted from rounds 4-7 hit >7.95 (n=124 for <7.95), and only one of them has had any relevant fantasy success: Stefon Diggs. 

Despite round 6 draft capital, Isaiah Hodgins goes very close to reaching the >7.95 threshold. He has been drafted by the Bills so has current competition from the aforementioned Stefon Diggs, John Brown, and Cole Beasley. Brown and Beasley are getting a little older, so if Hodgins impresses as much as he did at Oregon State then his 6-3 frame could be a nice compliment to Diggs 6-0 frame. 

The next two highest scores in this group: Tyler Johnson went in round 5 to Tampa Bay, and Quintez Cephus went in round 5 to Detroit. 

I hope this helps you in your rookie drafts and as per usual, would love to hear your thoughts over at @TalbTree and @TheTFLPodcast. If you haven’t done so already, make sure you check out my other articles on finding the next Austin Ekeler here.

Keep an eye out for the Running Back model article in the next few weeks!


  1. “Tyler Johnson went in round 5 to Tampa Bay, and Quintez Cephus went in round 5 to Detroit. ”

    That’s left kinda hanging. There did they show well in the model or not? Do you have your full model published somewhere?

  2. Hi AC – thanks for the comment. We had some technical difficulties with the pictures of the model not showing – they’re now up! So things should make a bit more sense now. Hodgins hits 7.93 (87th %ile), Tyler Johnson 7.29 (76th %ile) and Cephus 7.09 (73rd %ile). Majority of the drafted WRs should be in the above article. If you hit me up on Twitter happy to share any model results from 2010-2020 though! Or even 2021 and 2022 devy players using their early college data 😃


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