The Anatomy of a Difference Making Fantasy Wide Receiver
The Wide Receiver position is one that has been dissected repeatedly.
What matters most to predict fantasy success?
Is it Breakout Age? College Dominator? Speed? Draft Capital?
Just like with quarterbacks, I am going to outline which of the major parameters for evaluating wide receivers has been the most predictive.
Creating a road map or a framework to outline the boxes that every receiver in this draft either checks or doesn’t check.
In this article, I am going to outline which traits and commonalities the best fantasy WRs of the last 6 seasons all shared (2015-2020). I have already conducted this exercise for QBs and I will be doing this for all four fantasy positions in a four-part series. The parameters I set are as follows:
To qualify, a WR finished top 12 in fantasy points per game in any one of those 6 seasons (2015-2020).
Play a minimum of 10 games in that season.
Once again, the reason I chose wide receivers who ACTUALLY FINISHED top 12 in PPG is due to the unpredictability of fantasy football. Sure, I could’ve looked at the consensus top 15 dynasty wide receivers and used that as my sample, but chances are, half of those guys will bust and never have a top 12 finish. I set the parameter as top 12 to separate between great and good fantasy assets at the position. For quarterbacks, the great options were much shallower (top 8).
Before we get into this, I always want to remind you that BOTH film and stats/analytics need to be considered when evaluating any position, so this is only ½ the equation.
Of the 38 qualified wide receivers, I chose to measure them based on what is considered the most accurate measures of fantasy success around the industry. My goal was to test conventional wisdom and see which of these measures proved to be the most accurate. The following are ranked from most common to least common below:
1. College Dominator above 30% (35/38 or 92%)
This one is common sense, it’s very hard for a player to become an elite fantasy option unless they are the number one target for their offense in the NFL. The easiest way to determine if a player can do that is to see it in college. If a player struggled to command targets and become the focal point of their passing offense in college, it’s exponentially more difficult in the NFL. College dominator is a percentage market share of the total receiving yardage and touchdowns for a collegiate offense, the better this number is, the larger the share of the receiving production they produced.
2. 40-time faster than 4.6 (35/38 or 92%)
I wanted to establish a benchmark for the position and determine whether it matters if a player runs 4.3 or 4.4, 4.4 or 4.5, etc. It turns out that there were only 16/38 players that ran faster than 4.45 (not predictive), but there were 35/38 receivers that ran faster than a 4.60 40-yard dash. So, the easiest way to approach speed at the wide receiver position is as a qualifier or a benchmark. Just don’t be slower than 4.6 and that box is checked, a 4.4 vs a 4.5 is not a big deal.
3. Top 3 Round Draft Capital (31/38 or 82%)
As a rule, for all positions, the higher the draft capital, the more faith the front office instills in a player. Being a high draft pick results in a longer leash for mistakes and advantage of the opportunity. Additionally, highly drafted players usually mean that they are more talented. Especially at wide receiver, where there are plenty of talented options across the league, the opportunity is everything.
4. Weight above 190 LBs (29/38 or 76%)
A bit of a drop-off to 76%, but it is worth noting there are 3 receivers (Baldwin, Ridley & Cooks) that have listed weights of 189 so they just missed the cut. Nonetheless, size matters at the receiver position to a decent degree. Receivers under 190 pounds are facing an uphill climb to become a WR1 in fantasy.
5. Height above 6’0 (29/38 or 76%)
Much like weight, height is just another box that a WR can check. Obviously, Tyreek/AB/OBJ has proven that being above 6’0 isn’t required to be a truly elite option, but it definitely is one less concern to worry about when a receiver meets the 6’0+ threshold.
6. Breakout age 20.0 or less (28/38 or 74%)
Here was the big shocker, to the traditional dynasty player, it is said that breakout age is the most predictive analytics metric that a receiver can hit. The problem is that it is volume-based and requires context. If a receiver fails to meet the threshold for a “breakout”, which is the age that they achieve a 20+% dominator rating, they are shrugged off by the dynasty community. The opposite also occurs when an early breakout age carries an otherwise lackluster prospect through their entire career. Very interesting knowing that breakout age was the LEAST predictive of all 6 metrics I tested.
Much like Quarterbacks, I wanted to see if the results changed for repeat top 12 receivers (WRs who finished top 12 in PPG more than once from 2015-2020) and this yielded 14 players.
These are the true dynasty assets, with every incoming rookie wide receiver, we’re looking trying to spot a guy with this potential. Here’s how the traits stacked up.
1. 40-time under 4.6 (13/14 or 93%)
Again, top speed wasn’t important just don’t be slower than 4.6.
2. College Dominator over 30% (12/14 or 86%)
The ability to produce in college stayed important, only Tyreek (late pick) and Baldwin (UDFA) were able to overcome that, making them outliers.
3. Breakout age under 20.0 (11/14 or 79%)
Breakout age proved to be more impactful for the potential of sustainable long-term assets at wide receiver. Aside from Tyreek, you’ll notice that the other two (Michael Thomas and AJ Green) went to big colleges (OSU & UGA) and likely had plenty of competition for targets ahead of them before they were able to breakout.
Size mattered at 10/14 and 9/14 but it wasn’t significant.
The last interesting thing was draft capital mattering significantly less for sustainable fantasy production compared to the first dataset at only 8/14 players being selected in the top 3 rounds. Lots of late-round gems and UDFA’s were surprisingly great long-term.
Now that we’ve determined what was most important, we can examine the current wide receiver class and see how they stack up.
Since everyone has yet to test, the 40 time is an estimate on my part, as is the draft capital. As always, use these benchmarks as well as film to form the full pre-draft evaluation of the player but it is worth noting a few things.
Ja’Marr Chase, Rashod Bateman, and Terrace Marshall Jr. are the only players that check every box.
A lot of small receivers, especially at the top of the class between Smith, Waddle, R. Moore, E. Moore & Toney.
Rondale Moore vs Elijah Moore is eerily similar.
Tylan Wallace and Amon-Ra St. Brown just need to be faster than 4.6 to be clean prospects.
Kadarius Toney has red flags all over the place.
Some deeper names that check 4 or more boxes include Nico Collins, Dyami Brown, Seth Williams, Tamorrion Terry, Ihmir Smith-Marsette
Those deeper names will likely be heavily influenced by draft capital but are still good bets regardless.
Check out the “anatomy of a fantasy quarterback” article if you haven’t already and stay tuned for the next two (RBs & TEs), although I will need testing numbers for the current prospects before those articles can be released.