With a stud prospect like N’Keal Harry struggling as a rookie, I began to wonder how often we see inefficient rookie wide receivers become WR1s.
After researching how successful efficient rookie receivers have been, I wanted to test the other side of the spectrum and see how inefficient rookie receivers fared in the future.
We know from the outset that the hit rate for this study will likely be low so I’m curious to see what characteristics the successes share. By studying the successful players in this group, our process for evaluating inefficient receivers will improve.
Let’s dive in. We’ll start by looking at all the WR1 seasons since 2000 that took place after an inefficient rookie season of averaging under eight yards per target.
All WR1 Seasons with a Rookie YPT Under Eight
|PLAYER||Rookie YPT||Rookie Targets||WR1 Season||PPR||Year|
- There are 527 rookie seasons that fit the criteria, only these 32 players were able to produce a WR1 season in their career (6%)
- 17 of 527 players had multiple WR1 seasons (3%)
- Of the 32 players with a WR1 season, we see a very strong 74 WR1 seasons (2.3 per player)
- 17 of the 32 players had multiple WR1 seasons (53%)
- The 17 players combined for 59 WR1 seasons (3.5 per player)
While we see the hit rate is surely low for these players, six percent are able to overcome the odds. Once a player achieves a WR1 season, he is likely to do it again.
Filtering for Volume
The hit rate is potentially skewed by including players that were barely targeted. If we create a minimum target threshold of 20 targets this cuts our sample size to 221 rookie seasons. This removes four players from our list of hits but overall helps us gain a clearer lens to examine the successes.
- 28 of 221 players had a WR1 season (13%)
- 16 of 221 players had multiple WR1 seasons (7%)
Let’s start to find some commonalities that these players share. If we filter the list down to all players who were drafted in the top three rounds of the NFL draft, we whittle the sample size down to 121 players.
Filtering for Draft Capital
Here are the hits that fit the criteria.
|PLAYER||Rookie YPT||Rookie TGTs||Draft||WR1 Season|
- 24 of 121 players had a WR1 season (20%)
- 14 of 121 players had multiple WR1 seasons (12%)
- Of the 24 players, 14 had multiple WR1 seasons (58%)
- Of the 24 players, they accounted for 62 WR1 seasons (2.6 per player)
Filtering Out Extremely Inefficient Rookie Seasons
Our hit rate is getting better, but it can still be improved. It’s easy to recognize that the vast majority of the hits are above six yards per target. If we remove all players who had under six YPT in their rookie season, we are left with 75 players left in our sample.
The hits are listed below.
|PLAYER||Rookie YPT||Rookie TGTs||Draft||WR1 Season||Year|
- 21 of 75 players had at least one WR1 season (28%)
- 13 of the 75 players had multiple WR1 seasons (17%)
- Of the 21 players, 13 had multiple WR1 seasons (62%)
- The 21 players accounted for 55 WR1 seasons (2.6 per player)
This is an improvement and makes logical sense given the findings of how important rookie year efficiency is for wide receivers.
Filtering for Weight
What happens when we add weight as a variable and use 210 lbs. as a cutoff just like we did with the efficient receivers? The list is reduced to a sample of 31 players who meet all the criteria.
Below are the remaining hits.
|PLAYER||Rookie YPT||Draft||Weight||WR1 Season|
- 11 of 31 players hit for at least one WR1 season (35%)
- 7 of 31 players hit for multiple WR1 seasons (23%)
- 7 of 11 players had multiple WR1 seasons (64%)
- The 11 players combined for 29 WR1 seasons (2.6 per player)
Filtering for First or Second Round draft picks
If we look at similarities between these “hits” we see that every single one of them was drafted in either the first or second round. If we eliminate all players who weren’t drafted in the top two rounds, we’re left with a list of 24 players while keeping our list from above.
That means the following is true:
- 11 of 24 players hit at least one WR1 season (46%)
- 7 of 24 players hit multiple WR1 seasons (29%)
While our analysis has shown that we should probably stay away from inefficient rookie WRs, it isn’t a death sentence. It is interesting that over half of our hits in each of the lists went on to have multiple WR1 seasons.
Generally, after an inefficient rookie year, a wide receiver is unlikely to be successful. However, by filtering for important variables like volume, draft capital, and weight we can start to have better bets with these types of players.
Which Young Players Should We Target?
If we check to see which players in the last three draft classes (2017-2019) fit the criteria, we only see one name and it is an interesting one.
JJ Arcega-Whiteside is a name that has been pushed aside by many dynasty players after a rough rookie season. He wasn’t terrible but didn’t receive many opportunities on a team that needed wide receiver help.
He has the strong draft capital to his name, weighs 225 lbs., and is on a team that is still searching for receiver help. There are some positives in his profile that are not reflected in his current dynasty ADP.
His value right now is at an all-time low and he makes for an intriguing buy considering the price tag.
Let’s filter outward towards our cohort with a 28% WR1 hit rate, which has no requirement for weight and includes only players that were selected in the top three rounds. Here are the players that meet the criteria.
Anthony Miller improved in his second year but will be entering next season at age 26 and attached to Mitchell Trubisky. With Allen Robinson getting funneled a strong market share of targets in Chicago, it’s safe to say it’s unlikely that Anthony Miller becomes a fantasy WR1.
Michael Gallup vastly improved Year 2, scoring 212.7 PPR points in only 14 games while averaging 9.8 yards per target. He finished as the WR24 on the year and was WR18 in PPR points per game. Gallup will enter next season at only 24 years and by most standards, has already achieved his breakout. Out of everyone in this group, Gallup appears the most likely to make that jump into WR1 territory.
Diontae Johnson flashed as a rookie with some big games in his rookie season. He scored 160.3 PPR points as a rookie which is very impressive especially considering his quarterback situation most of the year. With a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, Johnson is an interesting name to keep an eye on next season and beyond.
Of the original 32 players on this list, only five of them broke out to become a WR1 in their second season. This is pretty astonishing considering we know that receivers most commonly break out in their second season. 12 of these players ended up breaking out in their third season in the league.
This may suggest that inefficient rookies tend to take a little longer to develop in the league. In my next article, I will start to break this down to see if we can better predict when these players will breakout into WR1 territory.
While our analysis has shown that we should probably stay away from inefficient rookie wide receivers, it is not a death sentence. It is interesting that over half of our hits in each of the lists went on to have multiple WR1 seasons. The takeaway is players who struggle as rookies can still become stars. By filtering for important variables like volume, draft capital, and weight we can start to have better bets as to who is likely to become a star.
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