Chris Givens

I don’t want readers to misunderstand. You do not want to draft small receivers.

Small receivers simply cannot measure up in the red zone, which makes their ceilings lower. But it also makes their scoring less predictable. At the end of this article, I’m going to draw a counterintuitive and controversial conclusion about roster construction. I’d love RotoViz’s great readers to weigh in on whether you think it’s true.

In the interim, we’re going to examine which small, speed receiver to draft if you do feel the urge to take one. My hypothesis is that Chris Givens and T.Y. Hilton are identical players. Since the Colts’ rising star is coming off the board at WR33 and the Rams’ relatively obscure wideout at WR57, going with the cheaper option is far preferable.

Let’s examine that premise through the wide variety of lenses RotoViz has to offer.

T.Y. Hilton – Caveat Emptor

Hilton is being regaled as an elite vertical threat because he averaged 17.2 yards per reception and broke five scores of 40 yards or more last season. He only caught 57% of his targets, but vertical receivers are going to naturally have a lower catch rate.

Hilton’s rookie numbers suggest success is in his future, perhaps even stardom. Unfortunately, a couple of large caveats accompany his feat. First, he’s small. Even with sub-4.4 speed, his Height-adjusted Speed Score is below 90. Second, his rookie season was an extreme outlier in terms of positive luck.

Hilton’s ridiculous number of breakaway runs skews the data. Hilton actually saw the vast majority of his targets within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage (78%). Surprisingly, Hilton was even targeted 20 times behind the line of scrimmage. He went 20 for 20 on passes behind the line of scrimmage, which means his catch rate on other passes was only 47%.

While you should be skeptical of vertical receivers because of their extreme week-to-week and year-to-year inconsistency, it’s wise to be even more skeptical of such a fluky number of long scores. In light of Hilton’s actual target depth, his catch rate and high number of drops (10) are cast into even starker relief. Hilton struggled badly on his 59 targets between 0 and 20 yards down the field, an area where he must thrive under Pep Hamilton to have sustainable success.

T.Y. Hilton may have fantasy value this season, but, if he does, it will be because he improved as a receiver – and possibly because of Andrew Luck – not because his rookie campaign predicted it.

Chris Givens – The Same Player at a Huge Discount

If you absolutely must draft someone like T.Y. Hilton, consider his doppleganger over in St. Louis. In contrast to Hilton, the former Demon Deacon wideout was targeted much farther down the field. (Check out PFF Fantasy Stats for average depth of target information.)

This doesn’t necessarily make Givens better, but it makes his stats more reflective of the thesis applied to him as a player. Let’s compare the two receivers using the RotoViz QB-Receiver Efficiency Tool.

Passer Receiver ATTS RECS YDS TDS INTS AYA
Andrew Luck  Ty Hilton 90 50 861 7 3 9.62
Sam Bradford  Chris Givens 80 42 698 3 1 8.91

The efficiency numbers for both players are incredible. Their respective rookie performances are cause for enthusiasm, but Givens should find his easier to repeat. If you’ve read Mike Clay’s excellent piece on opportunity-adjusted touchdowns, you know Hilton and Givens were both expected to score three touchdowns last year based on where they were targeted. One player was lucky in a way that is almost certainly not sustainable.

But let’s go one step further and try to create a larger sample to evaluate. Since collegiate track record helps to project professional success, we can go back and use the RotoViz College WR Career Graphs to get a fuller picture.

Let’s look at the college heat maps. I’ve included DeSean Jackson and Tavon Austin in order to provide context.

Hilton heatmap

It becomes immediately obvious that both players were underrated coming out of college, at least by the measures that made Tavon Austin and DeSean Jackson high picks. You can also see that they both score far better than Austin and Jackson in the various market share numbers. (Austin has a collegiate market share, or Dominator Rating, around .30, which is why I think he compares more directly to players like Ted Ginn and Dexter McCluster.)

The big concern that comes up for our guys – and the one place Austin really excels – is Red Zone Touchdown Rate. The numbers paint a picture of players who must score from distance, a very difficult thing to do consistently in the NFL.

The Final Verdict: Chris Givens

Both of these players own excellent college resumes, and both posted shockingly efficient rookie seasons. Hilton’s success was built on a deceptive statistical profile and should be harder to repeat. Even if the case for Hilton were slightly stronger, you’d want to own Givens based on the sizable gap in ADP.

If You Must Draft a Small, Speed Receiver: Appendix A

It’s also probably worth noting one other diminutive second year receiver. Consider the heat map for A.J. Jenkins in relation to that of Hilton.

Jenkins heat map

Jenkins’ senior season is better than Hilton in every category, and that’s the most predictive season according to RotoViz College WR guru Jon Moore. Not surprisingly, Jon loves Jenkins.

Jenkins put together an utterly demoralizing rookie season, but his historical comps remain better than you’d think. Here’s a list of small 1st Round receivers who recorded fewer than 100 yards receiving as rookies (since 1990).

Ht & Wt Games Receiving
Player Year Draft Tm Ht Wt G GS Rec Yds TD
A.J. Jenkins 2012 1-30 SFO 6-0 192 3 0 0 0 0
Santana Moss 2001 1-16 NYJ 5-10 185 5 0 2 40 0
Ike Hilliard 1997 1-7 NYG 5-11 210 2 2 2 42 0
Johnnie Morton 1994 1-21 DET 6-0 190 14 0 3 39 1
Desmond Howard 1992 1-4 WAS 5-10 185 16 1 3 20 0

 

Santana Moss and Johnnie Morton went on to combine for eight 1,000-plus yard receiving seasons. Desmond Howard, on the other hand, becomes another one of my unappealing comps for Tavon Austin.

There are some excellent reasons to believe in Vernon Davis, but I’m not sold on him for a very simple reason. I certainly don’t buy Anquan Boldin.

But if Colin Kaepernick is an iconoclastic talent, you do want to own at least a small part of the 49ers passing game, and you want to own it cheaply. Consider buying the Jenkins lottery ticket instead of burning a premium pick on Hilton.

If You Must Draft A Small, Speed Receiver: Appendix B

Matthew Freedman has suggested that Bruce Arians has an almost mystical ability to generate plus performances from small, fast receivers. If that’s the case, you certainly don’t want Hilton, you want the hugely underrated new Arians receiver who fits the Hilton mold. This sleeper just happened to finish as WR34 last season and qualify as one of my 10 Wide Receiver Breakout Candidates.

Postscript: If You Must Draft A Small, Speed Receiver . . . Just Draft One of Them

Last season T.Y. Hilton scored 15 or more points four times. He scored 5.0 or fewer points eight times. He finished as WR31, but it’s highly unlikely any of his owners got that value out of him. Because the performances of small, fast receivers are inherently unpredictable, it’s important to have them in the lineup every week.

Here’s the conjecture I alluded to in the opening:

Let’s say you own Hilton, Givens, and Jenkins and plan to deploy one of them as your WR3 based on their matchups each week. In this hypothetical, they all finish with identical averages of 12 points per game.

While you may be protected against injury, if all three receivers stay healthy, you are virtually guaranteed to score fewer than 12 points per game from your WR3 spot. By owning these three similar receivers, you’re putting yourself in a position where you will score fewer points than you would by just owning one of them.

Toss your thoughts and the reasoning behind them in the comments. I’m interested to hear what you think.

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