BMI or BS? The Real Truth
I have always heard it said that the speedy WR (defined as a sub 4.4 40 time) was more prone to miss games because of injury. This was something that was always presented as common knowledge. Certain players would then be avoided in fantasy because it was a given they were going to miss time. I set out to see if there was any truth to this claim. If not then it was a good place to find value working against the consensus.
Using combine data 40 times, I went back 15 years and was able to find 39 WRs that fell into this category. The findings revealed that WRs that fell into this category missed an average of 12.9% of their games. Now, without a comparison this number was meaningless. So I did the same process for WRs in the 4.5 40 time range. What I found was that these WRs missed an average of 17.8% of their games, almost 5% more games missed than the “speed guys”. (This data does not include the 2020 season.)
I found this somewhat counterintuitive so I thought I would break it down further to see if any trends emerged. This time I looked into BMI among each group.
When you look at the data for the sub-4.4-speed guys there is no clear trend that emerges. For the WRs that are in the 4.4 category, it appears that the higher the BMI, the less likely they are to be injured and miss games. The exception here is those WRs with a BMI in the 29s. This data was skewed by large percentages of missed games among 3 WRs in this Christian Kirk, Bruce Ellington, and Quincy Enunwa. Others in this category such as DJ Moore and Golden Tate were actually very healthy.
I have plans to go further and look at 4.5 and 4.6 WRs. With the data I was able to compile, it looks like the 4.3 guys are actually less injury-prone. This holds true even with outliers that have missed large percentages of games like Parris Campbell, DJax, John Ross, Percy Harvin, and Jacoby Ford.
The Entire Devonta Discussion
Now, I want to address the elephant in the room and why you’re here. What about Devonta Smith? In HS he ran a 4.49 40 yard dash. After spending time in Alabama’s program, weight training, and official 40-yard dash training with the specialists, I expect him to be right around 4.40. He absolutely plays like it as well.
(Photo Credit: SBNation/Student Sports)
But let’s look forward and see what happens. If he runs a sub 4.40 that actually, historically speaking, decreases the expected amount of missed games to 12.5 over his career. The average of guys who run a sub 4.40 is 11.58. If Smith runs a 4.40 or higher, which is quite possible too, then we’re looking at 18.1 with an average of 15.6. So, in both cases, the lower BMI is above the average but is never the peak of potential injury as seen above.
In the case of the sub 4.4 40 yard dashes injury count, players with below 25 BMI miss the 3rd most amount of games, and players with 29-29.99 miss the most amount of games. In the case of 4.4-yard dashes, players with below BMI miss the 2nd most amount of games, and yet again, players with 29-29.99 miss the most amount of games.
Now we need to look at his range of production outcomes. The 2 most popular comps are Marvin Harrison and Dede Westbrook. Analytics guys who want him to fail say he is Dede, but the NFL told us what they thought of Dede from day 1 when he fell to the late 4th round. Film guys want to say he is Marvin Harrison. It’s not fair comparing a guy to a HOF WR because of his height and weight.
Smith absolutely plays similar to Harrison, but is that his upside? Who knows. The reality is it could be. If you stamp those levels of expectations on a player and he ends up being just a “good” player you’re likely disappointed. Trust me, I love to shoot for the stars. Comparing him to Dede just tells us you’ve never even watched a second of tape. But, how did those 2 guys shake out in the injury and production world? After all, they are included in parts of all of the data above.
Harrison missed 18 games over a 13-year career. Slightly more than 1 game per year. But, 11 of those came from a major injury when he was 35 and missed 11 games in 2007. It’s Marvin, there’s nothing really to elaborate on.
Westbrook has missed 24 games over his 4-year career. 14 of those came from 2020. In 2018 and 2019 he played 31 of 32 possible games. His major injury in 2020 really escalated those numbers. It was on a kickoff return where he blew his knee out. If you need a refresher on what happened, go watch but it was pretty gruesome.
To keep this fair, let's say Smith falls in between these 2. He is a much better prospect than Westbrook was (I don’t care about stats) and he’s not on Harrison’s level. Dede’s best year, to this point, was 101 targets, 66 receptions, 717 yards, 5 TDs in 16 games with Blake Bortles. Harrison’s best year was 205 targets, 143 receptions, 1722 yards, and 11 TDs in 16 games with some guy named….. Peyton Manning? Do I think Smith reaches that level? No, like I said a second ago that's not fair to Harrison.
The biggest argument against Smith is that “guys his size never have top 24 WR seasons.” But, here’s the thing. In the past 20 years there have only been 2 WR’s under 6’0” and under 180 that were drafted were Tavon Austin and Ted Ginn Jr. Neither of those guys was nearly as polished as what Smith is as a WR. Austin, I just posted about last week, was argued to “suck at football and only be a good returner” and Ginn’s primary role was as a kick returner. The only 3 WRs in this millennium drafted that were over 6’0” and under 180 were Snoop Minnis (3rd), Dede Westbrook (4th), and Paul Richardson (5th). Before that, it was anemic. The dataset here is so small, 4 players over 20+ years, that there is no trend you can make. There is no WR in his height/weight range that will have been drafted in the 1st. Smith is literally a unicorn. He’s taller than Tavon and Tedd and unlike his predecessors, Minnis, Westbrook, and Richardson will have 1st round DC. Let me say that again so we’re on the same page. There is literally no WR in the past 20 years who fit what Smith is. If someone is telling you to fade him because guys like him don’t hit, they’re lying. No one has hit because when you add everything together, there is no one who fits. Disclaimer, players like Fuller, Beasley, etc, who weigh exactly 180 neither weigh more or less than 180 so they don’t fit the data. Obviously, if you weigh 180 pounds you don’t weigh more than 180 or less than 180.
If Smith busts, never again. If Smith magically falls to the 2nd round or later, abort the mission. But until then, fade the noise. What does all of this mean? The translation is pretty simple. Yet again, the “skinny guy who is gonna be hurt all the time” notion is blown way out of proportion. Smith is a unicorn. Chase him because it is always the outsiders and people who never fit the data that always shock the world.
“What sets you apart can sometimes feel like a burden and it's not. And a lot of the time, it's what makes you great.” — Emma Stone
Below are all of the charts tracking every WR who fits these categories, games missed, and what kind of injuries they dealt with up through the entire 2019 season.
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