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    What Rookie Receiving Yardage Means for a WR’s Dynasty Value

    What can rookie WR performance as tell us a lot about players' future prospects. How soon can we determine if a player is good?

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    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 showcase how rookie receiving yardage dictates how confident we should be about that player’s upside.

    Total Receiving Yards as a Rookie Matters a Lot

    Previously, we focused on the negative side of things. How do we know when to give up on young wide receivers? Today, we are looking at the positive. Rookie receiving yardage can tell us a lot about how good we can expect a wide receiver to be.

    As we established in that previous article, if a rookie wide receiver does not reach 525 receiving yards, it is extremely unlikely he will ever be a useful fantasy football asset.

    On the flip side, when a player does reach 525 receiving yards, that doesn’t necessarily mean he will be great. How far he exceeds the threshold matters. Today, we are going to explore this concept.

    Just like I did in my last article, before we get into things, 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 lateround.com and is one of the most well-respected minds in fantasy.

    When discussing his ZAP model, Zachariason utilizes data back until 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.

    In the first study, I limited the player pool to Day 1 and Day 2 wide receivers. That’s because Day 3 picks are extremely unlikely to matter in fantasy anyway. They are already outliers, and no one expects them to be good. We wanted to focus on the players who should be good.

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    In this study, the sample size is all wide receivers. If anything, it’s more impressive when a Day 3 or UDFA hits 525 receiving yards as a rookie. Plus, the list of wide receivers to reach 525 receiving yards is much smaller than the list of those that didn’t when we include literally every wide receiver to play a snap as a rookie.

    So, 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.

    From 2011 through 2021, 78 wide receivers amassed at least 525 receiving yards as rookies. Now, we need a way to evaluate their future performance.

    We are going to separate them into buckets. These are somewhat arbitrary cutoffs, but we have to distinguish them somehow.

    We are going to have three groups of receivers based on rookie yardage:

    • 525-699
    • 700-899
    • 900+

    Additionally, since this is ultimately a fantasy football article, we need to translate this to fantasy.

    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

    The Better the Rookie Year, the Better the Fantasy Asset

    Let’s start with the overall group of players. Of our 78 wide receivers to reach 525 receiving yards as rookies from 2011-2021, 48 of them went on to be mostly useful fantasy assets. That’s a 61.5% hit rate.

    That, alone, isn’t particularly useful, which is why 525 yards is more about disqualifying players than telling us which ones we want.

    Now we can break those 78 down into those buckets:

    • 525-699 (36)
    • 700-899 (21)
    • 900+ (21)

    There are some major hits in the 525-699 bucket. This group includes guys like Allen Robinson, Brandin Cooks, and Tyreek Hill. But overall, there are 11 guys in the sample of 36 that became at least somewhat usable fantasy assets. That is only a 30.6% success rate, which is better than the 90%+ bust rate under that 525 threshold, but it is not exactly exciting.

    The takeaway from this bucket is that anyone achieving between 525 and 699 receiving yards has a chance to be a usable fantasy asset going forward, but it’s very hit-or-miss.

    At 700 Yards, We Start To See Serious Fantasy Upside

    In our sample of wide receivers entering the league from 2011 to 2021, a total of 42 of them reached 700 receiving yards as rookies. Of those 42, a whopping 37 produced at least one WR3 season in fantasy. That’s an 88% hit rate.

    Of course, we don’t merely want WR3s.

    If we dig a little deeper, 32 produced at least one WR2 season or better, a 76.1% hit rate. Meanwhile, 23 gave us at least one WR1 season, a 54.7% hit rate.

    As you can see, wide receivers who reach 700 yards as rookies have a pretty good chance of giving fantasy managers something in the future, making any receiver who reaches this threshold worth keeping in dynasty. But we’re looking for sustained success.

    This is the part that is somewhat subjective, but only a bit. I am going to designate some players as long-term hits. While a couple will be debatable, most are pretty objective.

    I would categorize 27 of our group of 42 receivers as long-term successes, meaning 64.2% of wide receivers who reached 700 receiving yards as rookies were valuable fantasy assets for an extended period of time.

    Now if we narrow it down further, we have 21 receivers in the 700-899 yardage bracket. Among the biggest hits in that 700-899 yardage bracket were Cooper Kupp, T.Y. Hilton, Calvin Ridley, Deebo Samuel, DeAndre Hopkins, Doug Baldwin, DJ Moore, Jarvis Landry, Brandon Aiyuk, and Stefon Diggs. Aiyuk is the only member of this group to not produce at least one WR1 season.

    While these guys were major successes and examples of the best-case outcome for wide receivers in the bucket of 700-899 yards, there were still a bunch of misses.

    Of the 21 receivers who totaled between 700 and 899 receiving yards as rookies, 48% have proven to be very successful dynasty assets (the 10 players listed above). The clear busts were Chase Claypool, Jordan Matthews, Keelan Cole, Darius Slayton, Terrance Williams, and Greg Little. That is a 29% bust rate among players finishing their rookie season with 700-899 yards.

    Then, we have the guys who are debatable. How do we feel about Jerry Jeudy, Torrey Smith, and Courtland Sutton? They all gave us useful seasons but never really reached their potential. I lean more toward them being disappointing overall as fantasy assets in dynasty leagues.

    This bucket also includes Josh Gordon and Justin Blackmon. I was tempted to remove them because their lack of fantasy relevancy had nothing to do with their football talent. In fact, I am fairly convinced both would have given us multiple WR1 seasons had they not had their off-the-field concerns.

    To summarize, it’s great to see rookie WRs reach 700 yards in terms of their fantasy value. The numbers over our 10-year sample size tell us that a receiver falling in the 700-899 yard bracket will have the following outcomes (We have removed Blackmon and Gordon in these calculations to leave a sample size of 19):

    • 52.6% went on to be very valuable dynasty assets
    • 31.6% have been considered busts
    • 15.8% have been usable but not exciting dynasty options

    At 900 Yards, We See Truly Elite Upside

    From 2011-2021, 21 wide receivers reached 900 yards as rookies. Since the purpose of this study is to showcase how elite the elite are, I think it’s worth listing them all.

    • Ja’Marr Chase (1,455)
    • Justin Jefferson (1,400)
    • Odell Beckham Jr. (1,305)
    • Michael Thomas (1,137)
    • Amari Cooper (1,070)
    • A.J. Green (1,057)
    • Mike Evans (1,051)
    • A.J. Brown (1,051)
    • Keenan Allen (1,046)
    • Jaylen Waddle (1,051)
    • Kelvin Benjamin (1,008)
    • Willie Snead (984)
    • Sammy Watkins (982)
    • Julio Jones (959)
    • CeeDee Lamb (935)
    • Terry McLaurin (919)
    • JuJu Smith-Schuster (917)
    • DeVonta Smith (916)
    • Amon-Ra St. Brown (912)
    • Tee Higgins (908)
    • DK Metcalf (900)

    Of this group, we’ve gotten a WR1 season from 14 of them, a 66.7% hit rate. We’ve gotten at least a WR2 season from another five, making it 90% of this group that went on to produce at least one fantasy WR2 season.

    There are only three true busts from this bucket: Benjamin, Snead, and Watkins. Snead was a UDFA, so his giving us anything at all is a win.

    Smith-Schuster and McLaurin haven’t been as good as expected, but it would be unfair to classify either as busts. Smith-Schuster was a WR1 in 2018, a WR2 in 2020, and a WR3 in 2022. If you rode with him in dynasty, you are certainly disappointed now, but not quite a bust. Similarly, McLaurin has been a WR2 or WR3 every year of his career. Not the ceiling we hoped for, but still, pretty good.

    The real story here is the hits. This list has at least 11 perennial WR1s (52.4%) and five more strong WR2s with WR1 upside (76.2% WR2 or better).

    It’s incredibly rare for a rookie WR to reach 1,000 yards, but when he does, recent data tells us there is a greater than 90% chance that he’s going to be elite or close to it. Benjamin is the only complete miss among the 1,000-yard rookie receivers. You at least got two WR2 years out of him to start his career, but nothing since then.

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

    There are 17 wide receivers who reached at least 525 receiving yards as rookies over the past two seasons.

    Of these 17 players, Alec Pierce is the furthest from being fantasy-relevant, having finished outside the top 50 at the position in each of his first two seasons. Things aren’t looking great for Michael Wilson, while Christian Watson struggled with injuries and inconsistency in his second season. As for the rest of these players, it’s varying degrees of good.

    Nacua is likely in a class of players with a 100% elite WR1 hit rate. Simply put, rookies do not do what Nacua did unless they are supremely talented. Even though he was a Day 3 pick, fantasy managers should treat him like an elite dynasty asset.

    Garrett Wilson has yet to really produce at the level his rookie performance suggested, but he’s been a victim of circumstance. There’s a reason he’s still being viewed as a top dynasty WR2. It would be very surprising if he didn’t produce a WR1 season within the next two years.

    I don’t think anyone doubts that Olave is very good. The only question is whether he will be great. As we’ve seen from the historical analysis, it’s possible that he could fall into the same bucket as Cooper, where he oscillates between low-to-high WR2 but never really breaks that WR1 threshold. Even if that ends up being the case, Olave is set to be an impact fantasy asset for a decade.

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    Rice and Addison are not viewed nearly as highly as the other three. However, they both eclipsed 900 yards as rookies. We may get a sophomore-year lull for each (although Rice’s situation has more to do with off-the-field stuff), but the long-term outlook on both is promising.

    I’m going to lump all the 700-900 guys together. With London, although he’s leading that group, his inability to reach 900 yards does create a little bit of concern that he may not become a fantasy WR1. However, much like Wilson, it’s very easy to blame his circumstances. I am buying.

    Flowers, Reed, and Dell are all viewed pretty favorably. We should certainly err on the side of optimism with them.

    The more interesting names are Pickens and Downs. I’m not sure fantasy managers realize how good Pickens’ rookie year was. As the clear top target, he could be in for a breakout.

    Downs is behind Michael Pittman Jr. and has little hope of surpassing him, barring injury. Additionally, there are likely concerns regarding the Colts drafting Adonai Mitchell. I would use that as a buying opportunity. Downs was really good last year and falls into a bucket far more likely to hit than not. I don’t see a WR1 upside, but Downs could absolutely become a WR2 soon.

    The trickiest names on this list are Smith-Njigba and Wicks, for opposite reasons. Smith-Njigba undoubtedly underperformed expectations based on his NFL draft capital. He has similarly extenuating circumstances playing behind Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. However, it’s fair to question whether it’s a mild indictment of his ability that he couldn’t earn more targets as a rookie.

    Wicks, on the other hand, far exceeded expectations. For a fifth-round rookie to step into a crowded WR room and earn enough work to surpass 525 receiving yards is more encouraging than not. Fantasy managers should feel more optimistic about Wicks now than they did at this time last year.

    In conclusion, there’s a lot to like about most of these 17 receivers from the past two rookie classes. Take advantage of this information as we go through the 2024 season. Use how this year’s rookie wide receivers perform to gauge how you should proceed going forward.

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