Should You Give Up on WRs Who Disappoint as Rookies Such as Jahan Dotson, Jameson Williams?

What should fantasy managers do with WRs after disappointing rookie seasons? This simple analysis will lead you to the correct decision almost every time.

Every year, a new batch of young wide receivers enters the league. It would be awesome if all of them wound up being great. As any NFL fan or fantasy football manager knows, that’s never the case. In this study, I will illustrate why it’s OK to consider giving up on certain wide receivers after their rookie season.

Can We Completely Dismiss Underperforming WRs After Their Rookie Season?

Whenever a higher-drafted rookie performs poorly, we often hear the same refrain: “Give him time.” Well, I’m here to tell you that you should not give him time. In fact, you should do the complete opposite.

The purpose of this study is to highlight signals that indicate a wide receiver is unlikely to be a future fantasy asset. It is not to tell us who will be good. For that, there will be a follow-up article covering how we can utilize rookie receiving production to predict the level of greatness. Today, we’re focused on ruling out players from being productive fantasy assets.

Here is the theory in its simplest form: If a rookie wide receiver does not reach 525 receiving yards, he’s not going to be useful for fantasy football.

Before we get into this, I want to give credit where it is due. I did not come up with this concept. It is mentioned frequently in the dynasty subreddit, and there are some quality posts discussing it. However, I’ve never actually seen it really explained in a more formal article. That is what I hope to accomplish.

If you have seen something like this elsewhere, please share it with me on Twitter. I want to give credit to anyone who has done this research before me and will gladly link to it here.

The Parameters

Before we discuss specific players, let’s be clear about what we’re doing. I’m sure most of you know JJ Zachariason. He runs and is one of the most well-respected minds in fantasy.

When discussing his ZAP model, Zachariason utilizes data dating back to 2011. Why 2011? Those of us playing fantasy back then remember the great QB boom of 2011. It was a pivotal year in football when the game really started to shift to a passing league. So, like Zachariason, I will be using WR data dating back to 2011 as our sample size.

From 2011 through 2021, 140 wide receivers were selected in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. Why only the first three rounds? Day 3 picks are extremely unlikely to matter in fantasy anyway. They are already outliers. No one expects them to be good. We are focused on the players who should be good.

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Why am I stopping at 2021? The purpose of this part of the analysis is to see what rookie receiving production tells us about a player’s future performance. Players drafted in 2022 and 2023 have only two seasons of data.

Again, we have 140 wide receivers in our sample from 2011-2021. Of those 140 Day 1 or Day 2 wide receivers, 85 of them recorded fewer than 525 receiving yards as rookies. Now, we need a way to evaluate their future performance.

There are 12 WR1s every year. However, the cutoff for what constitutes a WR1 changes relative to the position’s overall performance. Generally speaking, I use the following thresholds for production.

WR1 = 16+ fantasy points per game
WR2 = 14-16 ppg
WR3 = 12-13 ppg

More Than 80% of Wide Receivers Never Posted a WR3 Season

Of our 85 wide receivers, a whopping 71 never produced a single season where they averaged at least 12 fantasy points per game. That’s an 83.5% bust rate for wide receivers who fail to reach 525 receiving yards in their rookie season. Furthermore, 61 never even got to 10 fantasy points per game in a season. That’s 71.7%.

We now have 14 wide receivers who were able to provide at least one season of 12 points per game. Now, we will analyze that specific group of players to prove that the bust rate is even higher than it looks on the surface.

Here are the 14 WRs who produced at least one season of 12 fantasy points per game after failing to reach 525 receiving yards as rookies. Their rookie receiving yards are in parenthesis:

  • Michael Gallup (507)
  • Michael Pittman Jr. (503)
  • DeVante Parker (494)
  • Kenny Golladay (477)
  • Cordarrelle Patterson (469)
  • Davante Adams (446)
  • Nico Collins (446)
  • Randall Cobb (375)
  • Corey Davis (375)
  • Alshon Jeffery (367)
  • Nelson Agholor (283)
  • DJ Chark Jr. (174)
  • Curtis Samuel (115)
  • Mike Williams (95)

How many of these guys were actual hits? Gallup, Agholor, and Chark did it once and were never useful fantasy assets any other year. Davis and Parker each did it once and not until their fourth and fifth years, respectively. Patterson did it once in his ninth season after he moved to running back. Golladay had two with the kingmaker, Matthew Stafford. We then learned Golladay was a product of Stafford when he left Detroit.

MORE: 2024 Consensus Dynasty Rankings

It is fair to say only Pittman, Adams, and Jeffery have been massive hits. Collins broke out last season and sure looks legit after dealing with a bad situation as a rookie. Samuel has been on the border of fantasy-relevant for most of his career, with one very good season.

Even granting Collins and Samuel as part of this group gives us a total of five WRs we would want on our fantasy teams for multiple seasons. Five out of 85. That’s an incredible 94.1% bust rate for Day 1/2 WRs who do not reach 525 receiving yards as rookies.

Things Get Even Worse When We Lower the Threshold

It’s clear we want rookie wide receivers to reach 525 yards. But of the 14 outliers in the group, nearly all of them were toward the upper end. At the very least, they got kind of close.

When we drop the threshold to 250 receiving yards, we are left with only Chark, Samuel, and Williams. Out of 47 players who failed to reach 250 yards as rookies, we saw a 93.6% bust rate.

What Does This Tell Us About the 2022 and 2023 Rookie Classes?

Now that we’ve established the parameters let’s apply them. There were 41 wide receivers selected over the first two days of the 2022 and 2023 NFL Drafts. Impressively, 24 of them exceeded 525 receiving yards as rookies. That gives us 17 who did not.

We’ll start with the ones who would generate little debate. It’s fair to say no one would argue against the following players being busts based on what we have seen so far.

  • Skyy Moore (250)
  • Tyquan Thornton (247)
  • David Bell (227)
  • John Metchie III (158)
  • Velus Jones (107)
  • Jalen Tolbert (12)
  • Danny Gray (10)

These players were all drafted in 2022 and have come nowhere close to being relevant fantasy assets in either of their two NFL seasons.

Now, for the guys who, if you bring up in a debate, would get someone to defend them.

It was not planned this way, but it worked out that all the guys we can completely write off failed to exceed 250 yards. Of the receivers who still have some fantasy managers holding out hope, they are mostly on the higher end, getting closer to the threshold.

Dotson is easily the one with the best shot of being an outlier. He also just barely missed. Johnston has first-round draft capital and only had one season. Burks has been hurt a lot and has dealt with poor QB play. Mims was trapped behind Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy last season. Robinson tore his ACL midway through his rookie year. Williams missed more than half of his rookie season recovering from an ACL tear.

As you can see, it’s very easy to make excuses for players. However, history has shown that we shouldn’t. On a macro level, it is a good process to completely rule out every wide receiver who fails to reach 525 receiving yards as a rookie. Of course, you will miss some outliers. But recent data shows that you’d be correct 94.1% of the time.

If you’re in a dynasty league and still roster any of the players listed above, I would heavily encourage you to trade them away for whatever you can get. Yes, that includes the most polarizing player on this list: Williams.

History has shown that the reason a WR fails to reach 525 yards does not matter, including injuries. If he doesn’t get there, he’s extremely unlikely to give us even a single season of 12+ fantasy points per game.

Even if we wanted to excuse Williams for his rookie year, there’s no defending his inability to produce as a sophomore. Does that mean his odds of breaking out are 0%? Of course not. We know outliers exist in any data set.

KEEP READING: 2024 Superflex Dynasty Rookie Mock Draft

Sometimes, strange things happen. Davante Adams looked out of place in the NFL over his first two seasons. He garnered a lot of criticism and was viewed by many as a player the Packers should give up on. Then, something clicked. He made improvements and is now a future Hall of Famer.

The mistake that fantasy managers make is overweighting a career arc like Adams’. Players like him are extremely rare and not worth chasing. For every one Adams, there will be 100 Stephen Hills and Corey Colemans. Trust the data, and do not be afraid to cash out on a rookie WR who fails to reach 525 receiving yards.

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