The NFL is consistently changing and innovating, which means that the formulas we use to make successful predictions must be continuously checked, rechecked, and updated. For predicting wide receiver success from college to the NFL, weight has historically been a very important variable. But do some current weight thresholds need updating? Let’s find out.

Estimated Read Time: 12 Minutes

TL;DR:

  • Up until recently, ideally, highly-drafted wide receivers weighed 210+ lbs and had a BMI of 27+.
  • However, fewer and fewer of these types of players are entering the league, which means these thresholds may need to be revisited.
  • Wide receivers with a BMI under 27 are now scoring at elite levels, and the most recent draft classes are full of these kinds of players.

Are Elite Wide Receiver Prospects Getting Lighter?

On a purely anecdotal level, it appears as if the top wide receiver prospects are weighing in lighter than ever before. The days of the top wide receiver prospects weighing 210+ lbs with gigantic frames like Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans, and Mike Williams are becoming rarer.

We have previously used 210+ lbs. as a threshold for identifying elite wide receiver prospects. This previous study also included wide receivers drafted in the first three rounds. However, considering only about 10% of WR1 seasons since 2010 are from 3rd-round picks (and of those, only Keenan Allen weighed 210+ lbs with the appropriate BMI), we are reducing the sample size to the top two rounds.

Are the top wide receiver prospects actually coming into the league lighter, or is it our imagination?

Not only are top wide receivers coming in lighter, but they are coming in significantly lighter. This difference is clearly more noticeable at the extremes with the recent decline of 210+ lb. receivers being drafted in the first two rounds, and the explosion of smaller receivers who weigh under 195 lbs. In the 10 drafts between 2010 and 2019, a grand total of 22 receivers who weighed 195 lbs or under were drafted in the first two rounds. In the five drafts since then alone, that number is 27.

Accordingly, the amount of top 210+ lb. receivers drafted in the first two rounds (except for 2019) has been on a relatively downhill trend since 2016. This is likely for a myriad of reasons (possibilities include health/longevity, a preference for lighter/faster/more versatile players, rules forcing defensive backs to be less physical, etc.) that won’t be analyzed in this article.

This has crescendoed in the past four seasons, where we have only seen 7 of 42 receivers drafted in the top two rounds weigh over 210+ lbs. This is a recent change for NFL evaluation from the early-mid 2010’s considering that our previous threshold of 210+ lbs doesn’t seem to fit the recent trend in top prospect measurables.

Using BMI Instead of Weight

However, weight is not the only measurement of size. If we are going to consider adjusting the threshold, we need to make sure that wide receivers are coming in lighter while still adjusting for height. Luckily, we can use body mass index (BMI) to measure weight in relation to height. As well as a 210+ lb. weight threshold, we have also previously used a BMI threshold of 27+ to identify elite wide receiver prospects.

Are wide receivers coming in lighter relative to their weight or just smaller in general?

As the trendline shows, wide receivers are coming into the league smaller in relation to their height – not just in a vacuum.

As far as the 2024 rookie class is concerned, we need to continue to tread lightly when weighing BMI as a prospect variable. Only two out of 11 (1st rounders Malik Nabers and Xavier Legette) top-two-round rookies hit the “old” 27 BMI threshold and we likely need to focus more on age-adjusted production and efficiency than pure weight as we gain clarity into this trend. It’s possible that prospect evaluation should shift away from prioritizing weight entirely – Tank Dell (165 lbs) and Jordan Addison (175 lbs) are two of the latest “underweight” budding stars who have strengthened this possible argument.

For a more in-depth look at the newest rookie class, keep an eye out for our Mike Braude to soon release an article evaluating 2024 rookie wide receivers.

Are Lighter Prospects Still Producing?

So now, we’ve established that wide receivers are coming into the league far lighter than ever before and are weighing less in relation to their height, and they’ve established that they can produce at an elite level. We need to continue asking the question, however: is this trend still translating to the top-scoring wide receivers?

We’ll start in 2011 for this exercise to give those 2010 draftees the benefit of a sophomore breakout.

Clearly, this trend is carrying over into top-end fantasy production. While 2011 appears to be a bit of an outlier season in favor of heavy wide receivers, the trendline is still pointing toward the top-end wide receivers getting smaller. Considering that the wide receivers peak around the ages of 25-27 and the explosion of lower BMI wide receivers at the top-end of recent NFL drafts, the trend of smaller wideouts being able to score fantasy points at elite levels is likely not going away anytime soon.

What Does This Mean For 2024 Fantasy Drafts?

As the 2016 and 2017 rookie classes exit their primes, the stage is only further set for recent lighter wide receivers to be some of the top-scoring fantasy options for multiple years to come. What does this mean for the current young and “underweight” receivers with top-two-round draft capital?

Unsurprisingly, there has been an explosion in recent sub-27 BMI studs. Young players with high draft capital like Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Ja’Marr Chase, Garrett Wilson, and Nico Collins are already being drafted as top wide receiver selections in upcoming 2024 fantasy drafts. Tyreek Hill and Stefon Diggs are still performing and are being drafted as valuable assets, despite their rising age. However, there are still several young players with top-two-round draft capital that may need to be moved slightly up draft boards when accounting for this new trend.

Last year, we suggested being higher than the market on a few young sophomore receivers because of this phenomenon. We missed on Jahan Dotson while Christian Watson was a big injury bust, but were higher on lower-BMI guys like Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave (Olave and Wilson both produced despite bad QB play), and George Pickens. We know Puka Nacua (26.3 BMI) and Tank Dell (23.7 BMI) are solidified studs, so here are some notes on a few other lower-BMI sophomores for 2024:

Jaxon-Smith Njigba (26.6 BMI) was one of our favorite draft targets last year but did not oust DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett to the level that was expected. With their passing game taking a major step backward last year and both Metcalf and Lockett returning, JSN will likely be one of the most polarizing players this offseason. However, his still-fantastic college profile and measurable ability to get open make it tough to write him off:

Quentin Johnston (26 BMI), on the other hand, had about as poor of a rookie year as possible. With run-heavy, ball-control Jim Harbaugh running the show and Mike Williams and Keenan Allen off the greener pastures, they may not pass enough to have any difference-making receiver. The return of Josh Palmer, selections of Ladd McConkey and Brendan Rice along with the D.J. Chark signing don’t bode well considering Johnston’s 2023 performance:

Zay Flowers (26.9 BMI) had a very successful rookie season despite declaring for the 2023 draft after his senior year. The Ravens made zero notable receiver transactions besides “replacing” Odell Beckham with 4th-round rookie Devontez Walker. Flowers is likely to take the next step as an exciting sophomore wide receiver target, and he’s hit some rarified air already:

Jordan Addison (24.1 BMI) continued to prove that his 175 lb weight was not an issue, scoring 10 touchdowns and bringing in 70 catches for 911 yards on 108 targets. Don’t forget that from 2019-2023, only Ja’Marr Chase and Malik Nabers (34) had more 20+ yard receptions than Addison (33) among all FCS collegiate receivers. Be aware that much of his production came with an injured Justin Jefferson and J.J. McCarthy is a significant downgrade at QB from Kirk Cousins, though T.J. Hockenson’s (knee) looming extended 2024 absence raises Addison’s floor.

Regardless, there’s no doubt the guy can flat-out play:

Jayden Reed (26.6 BMI), compared to expectation, was nothing short of a revelation for the 2023 Packers. With Christian Watson battling hamstring injuries all year, it was Reed who stepped up as a fantasy asset on a very crowded Packers depth chart. Reed caught 64 of 94 targets for 793 yards and 8 touchdowns while adding 119 yards and 2 more touchdowns on the ground – the first rookie in NFL history to record such numbers. Watson has apparently made a breakthrough in preventing his hamstring injuries, but we still need to take Reed seriously after rookie year production of that caliber:

It’s time to lessen the importance of weight and BMI when evaluating wide receivers – especially ones drafted in the top few rounds by NFL teams. While it cannot be thrown out entirely it needs to be almost completely contextualized with draft capital and college/rookie year production (this older RotoViz article may be worth revisiting).