Chris Givens VS. T.Y. Hilton: I Don’t Always Draft Small, Speed Receivers, But When I Do . . .

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.

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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By Shawn Siegele | @ff_contrarian | Archive


  1. 19>18
    June 29, 2013 at 7:12 pm —

    this is what comes of just looking at stats. You ignore what is obvious watching the game. There is a reason he makes big plays on short passes and from behind the los. He has the knack for making the first guy miss and then using his speed to outrun the angle. Just saying “small” doesnt say much about a receiver. Just being straight line fast makes you a vertical receiver. But if you have the knack for making the first guy miss AND the speed to outrun the DBs angle, you are a big play threat on short passes. Add in that you have Luck and a new OC who will be geared to a horizontal passing tree with picks and opportunities to take a short pass long and you have a guy who fits the scheme. Comparing two receivers just because they are small is silly. Cheap is not always a bargain. I would pay the premium for the guy with the superior production in the league and the better QB. If he can improve his catch percentage, that alone moves him up a tier

    • Shawn Siegele
      June 29, 2013 at 7:47 pm —

      19>18Hey man, thanks for commenting. I think your thoughts reflect the general consensus on Hilton. The stats don’t completely exclude the possibility that he can repeat his performance, but they do make it seem much more unlikely. DeSean Jackson scored 10 combined touchdowns in 2009. He’s put up 13 in the three years since simply because it’s very difficult to consistently make those types of plays. I also agree that cheap isn’t necessarily a bargain. But Chris Givens isn’t just another small receiver. He’s a similarly electric player with a very strong profile. The strongest argument is that Luck will make Hilton more valuable than Givens, but it’s also possible that he resurrects DHB’s career instead.

      • mefreedman
        June 29, 2013 at 8:54 pm —

        Shawn Siegele 19>18 Hey guys, just to add something to this thread. Before writing my articles on Hilton, I noted that Givens was VERY similar to Hilton in how they scored. Whenever Givens scored TDs last year, they always came in the games in which he accumulated at least more than 50 yards, which is normally what Hilton did — except he did it more often. So I generally agree with Shawn’s premise that the two WRs are similar to each other, not just because they are small, but also because they generate their points in similar outbursts. I think the question in considering Hilton and Givens is whether Givens will see an increase in his opportunities to score TDs in 2013 and whether Hilton’s opportunities will decrease or whether he’ll be able to perform as well as he did last year with the same number of opportunities. And as much as I love Hilton — luckily, I played him at the right times last year and so I actually did win a championship with him as my WR3 — if people who know more about football than I do start projecting improvement in Givens’ situation and a decline in Hilton’s (and I consider Shawn and lots of the RotoViz guys to know more than I), then I would be tempted to pass on Hilton in redraft leagues (depending on his ADP) and maybe even consider Givens much later in the draft. It’s all at least worth thinking about.

  2. July 1, 2013 at 6:39 pm —

    Indy has an old Reggie Wayne and a butterfingers in Heybey thus leaving TY with a great opportunity to become the #1 receiver or at least tied for second with Luck trowing him the ball. Or I can have Givens on a team that drafted its new toy in Tavon Austin not mention a guy named Bailey and Bradford trowing him the ball. I would draft TY first then take a later round pick and get Quick because he is a bigger guy and their production could be roughly the same the way I see it. (I would not really get Quick but was just sayin’)

    • 19>18
      July 1, 2013 at 7:41 pm —

      apsmacart TY had the second most drops in the whole league last season but DHB is a butterfingers? Interesting logic. Going back to Md, DHB’s hands were more inconsistent than bad, much like Garcon. He will make a tough catch in traffic and then drop one wide open.

  3. Shawn Siegele
    July 1, 2013 at 9:04 pm —

    I would agree with 19>18 on this. We’re split at RotoViz on the impact of DHB on Hilton, but I think people are going to be surprised at how many targets he siphons from both players. I’d also be worried that the offense will be much more TE-oriented. I obviously could be wrong, but I’m in the minority in that I expect Hilton to only be a part-time player in 2013. 
    As for Givens, if he’s the best Rams receiver – and I think he will be, at least in 2013 – then he shouldn’t starve for targets in an offense that will probably throw 600-plus times.

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