Booms, Busts and Emmanuel Sanders
This series started by introducing a new way of looking at weekly risk and then focused on WR1s. Now the spotlight is on the WR2s. Within the WR2 tier, there are only three players who have played more than one season with their current team, and Julian Edelman is the only player who has been with his team for more than two years. For more than half of these receivers, this is because they haven’t even been in the league for more than two years. The median age of the group is 24. What does this mean? Perhaps nothing, but inexperience may help explain what I am about to show you.
As I compiled the stats for this analysis, I expected to find a fairly random mix of High Floor and Boom/Bust receivers within each tier, especially the earlier ones. Why shouldn’t there be? Maybe when you get down to WRs 60-80 you would expect to see a tilt toward Boom/Bust players, as drafters reach for their high upside sleepers, but I don’t have a reason to expect a pattern before those late round flyers.
To The Charts
My expectations held true with the WR1s and (spoiler) among the WR3s, as I found a good mix of profiles in both tiers. Below are charts that show the distribution of weekly performances when aggregating 2013 and 2014 data for an entire tier of players, along with the tier’s High Floor and Boom/Bust prototype distributions. The first adds up the WR1s and the second looks at the WR3s. The bars for each point range are colored green or red, matching the closest prototype line (striped bars indicate equal distance to both lines). The outcome is a hodgepodge of green and red, with no distinct pattern, and no clear fit with either a High Floor or Boom/Bust prototype. This is what I expected from a mix of over ten unique players.
I left out the WR2 tier for a reason: it’s different. The chart below reflects the scoring distribution of the entire WR2 tier. Again, each bar is colored based on the closest prototype.
I see a lot more red than green. Basically, what I have found is an entire tier of Boom/Bust receivers patrolling rounds three, four and five of your drafts.
Why This Matters
This is where knowing your own risk preferences comes into play. If you are the risk averse type, you may plan, based on this information, to skip this swath of wide receivers entirely – maybe looking to start with a wide receiver, or even two, in the first two rounds, knowing that you’re not likely to miss out on your preferred High Floor type of player by taking multiple running backs in rounds three through five. On the flipside, if you like to shoot for upside, you might plan to grab two of these volatile game breakers and use the first two rounds to build a strong running back foundation.
While I generally do not think of myself as risk averse, I have found myself leaning away from this predominately volatile group. I think it stems from my preference for a little more experience, and a longer track record to evaluate. I don’t mean to imply that every receiver between WR13 and WR24 is the same – they aren’t – but it doesn’t always hurt to make a generalization when you have data to back it up. Knowing that most of the wide receivers being taken in rounds 3-5 offer a similar return profile has made me more comfortable passing on one to lock in a tight end like Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce or Greg Olsen and catch another, similar WR2 on the way back.
No matter how you use it, new information, especially when it is a pattern that the rest of your league hasn’t identified, can help you plan your draft to meet your preferred strategy, and knowing what you can expect from the next few rounds makes those first two picks a lot easier.
The Exception to the Rule
It would be remise of me not to point out that not every member of the WR2 class profiles like a Boom/Bust player. There is one guy who provided owners a nice floor last year. That guy is Emmanuel Sanders, and based on his mid-summer ADP, he is not getting enough respect.
Best Fit: High Floor WR1
Best-ball ADP: 38 Overall (WR15)
All Sanders was asked to do last year was fill the void that Eric Decker left behind when he moved to New York. Over the previous two years, Decker averaged 86 receptions, 1,176 yards and 12 touchdowns – about 17 points per game in fantasy terms (PPR). In other words, 19 receptions, 436 yards and 6 touchdowns (99 fantasy points) more than Sanders mustered in 2013, his most productive season ever. Making up 50 to 75 percent of that difference in his first year with the Broncos would have been a tremendous leap. So what did he do? He made it up and then some.
You may have noticed that the “Best Fit” in the header of this section says High Floor WR1. Between 2013 and 2014, Sanders made an absurd leap from 11.2 fantasy points per game to 18.7. He finished 2014 as WR5 in PPR leagues. Just to be clear, that means only four receivers scored more points than Sanders in 2014. FOUR! And his current ADP puts him in the fourth round as WR15, right after Brandin Cooks in the wide receiver pecking order. Brandin Cooks! The same Brandin Cooks who has played ten games in his entire career and scored fewer than 11 points in half of them…
As for Sanders’ risk profile, while his 2014 distribution does not look exactly like the High Floor prototype in the chart above, it shares all of the most important characteristics. Sanders had only two games of fewer than nine points last year, and zero sub-six point (or disaster) results. Meanwhile, half of his games fell between 12 and 24 points, and he exhibited a nice skew to the upside by scoring 24+ in five out of sixteen games. Sanders felt like a pretty safe bet each week.
Now, I’m not saying that this year will be just like last year. This year is never just like last year. There are some important things to note before you run out and grab all the Sanders you can fit in your cart. The most glaring is sample size. Sanders had a great year in 2014, but it was still only one great year. I don’t think anyone had really been wowed by Sanders before he came to the Broncos, and I am wary of any charts or tables – including my own – which don’t have at least a couple of years of data behind them. There are also concerns about Peyton Manning taking a step back and speculation that the Broncos will run a lot more this year, meaning fewer targets to go around. These are valid concerns; valid enough for me to temper expectations below a top-5 finish, but I don’t see why top 7-8 can’t happen.
Julius Thomas is now in Jacksonville, and Wes Welker is a distant memory. With the 104 targets they collected in their limited action last year now unaccounted for, and their replacements being journeyman Owen Daniels and neophyte Cody Latimer (aka the 2014 sleeper who never was), I’m not terribly worried about Sanders’ volume, even in a more run-oriented offense. We have already seen Sanders produce a top-5 year and he has what looks like a pretty high floor based on the relatively harmless competition for his Hall of Fame QB’s attention outside of Demaryius Thomas. I think Sanders is by far the safest play in the WR2 tier and even offers more upside than the Boom/Bust crowd coming off the board around him.
The Rest of the WR2 Tier
This series focuses on a novel way of using historical data to identify High Floor and Boom/Bust players. Many of the WR2s do not have much historical data because they have only been in the league for a couple of years, or less. It would not surprise me at all to see several of these players develop into High Floor receivers over time. In particular, I think DeAndre Hopkins has the best shot to do it as soon as this year, given he should see a material increase in targets with Andre Johnson out of the picture, among other factors. Here are my brief observations on all of the WR2s not named Sanders.
Amari Cooper currently has a best ball ADP of WR21. It’s hard to comment on the historical performance of a player with no historical data. Fortunately, James Todd has you covered in his recent post on the first wide receiver taken in this year’s NFL draft.
The next article will shift the focus to this year’s WR3 tier.