Redshirt Junior WRs – Intriguing Sleepers Complement the Big Names
Since we began working on wide receivers with the birth of RotoViz in 2013, we’ve written hundreds of articles on the position. Most of them arrive at the same conclusion: Understanding age-adjusted market share production allows you to hack the NFL’s evaluation process and get tremendous bargains at the position.
This was the message of Jon Moore’s Phenom Index, RotoDoc’s rookie WR model, Kevin Cole’s regression tree analysis, and my research that led to the selection of Stefon Diggs as last year’s breakout star.
In Part 1, I mentioned some of the components likely to be included in the machine-learning model RotoDoc and Josh Hermsmeyer are currently building. Before we get to that point, it’s helpful to build a solid foundation. In this series, I will attempt to present the career raw and market share production of the 2017 class in an apples-to-apples format. Each experience sub-group will get their own article.
* Market share yards (msYD) and market share TDs (msTD) represent the percentage of the team’s receiving yardage accounted for by the prospect. Games missed due to injury are removed. Games without a catch due to coach’s decision are included.1 In cases where a player took a medical redshirt, that season has not been included in the stats.
* Recruit rankings are from 247 Sports unless otherwise stipulated.
* Age, when available, is taken from the Rookie Age Database.
Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M, 21.8
A decorated recruit, Seals-Jones was ranked as high as the No. 1 WR by Scout.com. He suffered a season-ending injury two games into his freshman season, which may offer a partial explanation for his struggles thereafter.
After a lackluster college career, he’ll likely try to revive his prospects on an NFL practice squad.
Damore’ea Stringfellow, Mississippi, 22.2
Stringfellow was the No. 10 WR prospect in 2013, a status that seems to have followed him from Washington to Mississippi to the NFL draft. Even in the face of minimal production, it has buoyed his perception at least to an extent.
Stringfellow’s final year, peak season, and career numbers all fall well outside the draftable range.
Chad Hansen, Cal, 22.0
Hansen spent the 2013 season with Idaho State before transferring to Cal and sitting out the 2014 season. In Sonny Dykes’ Air Raid, he got off to a torrid pace in 2016 only to see injuries slow him down the stretch.
Hansen’s 2016 compares favorably to that of bigger name players like John Ross and Mike Williams, but his career numbers are poor. He likely needs an earlier draft slot than expected in order to be fantasy relevant.
Carlos Henderson, Louisiana Tech, 22.0
Henderson redshirted as a freshman in 2013 before joining the Bulldogs’ blistering passing attack.
Even with 1,535 receiving yards in 2016, Henderson only accounted for 30 percent of Louisiana Tech’s passing yardage, but he did add 19 TDs and average 19.6 yards per catch for his career. Those TD and YPC numbers trump fast/small players like Ross and Dede Westbrook and help explain why knowledgeable experts like Matt Harmon and Josh Norris have him ranked as high as the No. 3 overall receiver.
Shelton Gibson, West Virginia, 22.7
Gibson was the No. 18 WR recruit for the 2013 class. He then flew under the radar for several years as he redshirted in 2013 and caught only four passes the next season.
When you consider Gibson is one of the most explosive players in the country and that his 2015 and 2016 seasons were solid from both a yardage and TD perspective, it was difficult to understand why he wasn’t getting more draft hype. The buzz now seems to be building, however, and Anthony Amico loves him as an inexpensive way to play the enthusiasm for John Ross.
Gibson might be the rare player with explosiveness that raises as many questions as it answers. If he can average 22.6 yards per catch for his career and score 17 TDs, why was he a peripheral piece for the Mountaineers? Draft websites have him anywhere from Round 2 to UDFA. The former would vault him into the fantasy conversation.
ArDarius Stewart, Alabama, 23.0
Stewart was a consensus top-five recruit out of Alabama before redshirting his freshman season with the Crimson Tide.
Stewart didn’t make much of an impact his first two seasons playing behind receivers like Amari Cooper and Calvin Ridley. Despite unappealing raw numbers, he emerged in 2016 with a Dominator Rating above 35 percent. Stewart claimed a second-round grade from the Draft Advisory Committee before declaring, and he continues to climb in media projections.
John Ross, Washington, 22.1
Ross was the No. 38 WR prospect in the 2013 class.2 He’s universally projected as a first-round reality selection.
I have to admit, I’m in love with Ross just like everyone else. What kind of person wouldn’t fixate on that speed or drool over those 17 TDs?
Unfortunately, the overall resume for Ross presents some risk of underperforming his draft slot. Ross was moved from WR to defensive back as a sophomore, an odd coaching choice that shifts his breakout age,3 but might be a mild red flag in its own right. His career market share of yards barely eclipses 20 percent. Once you adjust for the prolific nature of Washington’s passing attack, his 2016 campaign doesn’t reach the epic level that would pull up his entire projection.
I’ve included a heatmap showing some NFL speed demons, two recent first-round picks and two veteran mid-round picks. Ross is a better prospect than 2015 first-round reach Phillip Dorsett, but he trails Will Fuller, T.Y. Hilton, and DeSean Jackson in career trajectory.4
Mike Williams, Clemson, 22.2
Surprisingly, Williams was only the No. 35 receiver prospect in 2013, but he quickly caught the fancy of scouts and college football fans with a 1,000-yard sophomore season where he averaged a splashy 18.1 yards per catch.
Note: I’ve omitted the 2015 medical redshirt season entirely.
Any number of caveats apply to Williams’ career, given the quality of receiving threats with the Tigers. It’s still worth noting that his solid raw numbers pale when considered in the context of a Clemson offense that played 15 games and threw for 5,009 yards and 45 TDs. His career market share numbers are well below the level of an elite prospect and below that of almost every player on this list.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has said that Williams may be better than former Clemson stars DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins. I love that Swinney is promoting his players,5 but it’s worth taking a little closer look at that assertion.
- Watkins and Hopkins recorded 30 percent and 29 percent career yardage share respectively. Those numbers are in line with historical elite prospect status.
- Watkins’ freshman season msYD was above Williams’ best season, and that was despite overlapping with both Hopkins and Martavis Bryant.
- Even though they overlapped with each other in two out of three seasons – not to mention Bryant – Hopkins and Watkins never posted a yardage season below a 22 percent share. Williams’ career numbers stand at 21 percent.
None of this means that Williams can’t be a star. After all, Bryant’s numbers were undermined by Watkins and Hopkins, and he’s been an explosive pro when not suspended. But it does make it hard to see a scenario where Williams is a better prospect than Watkins and Hopkins. The presence of Artavis Scott, Deon Cain, and Jordan Leggett doesn’t explain away his lack of dominance in 2014 or 2016.
The Redshirt Juniors
|Player||Final msYD||Best msYD||Career msYD|
It’s surprising to see Stewart and Hansen with the best final season and peak numbers. It’s even more surprising to see Henderson with the top career numbers, although his draft stock appears to be on the rise. Five players from the true junior class posted better career market share numbers than Henderson.
While this may be the riskiest cohort from the perspective of production relative to perception, Williams and Ross will remain solid rookie selections if they’re drafted as early as currently expected.
Next: The True Seniors
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- Occasionally these can be difficult to differentiate. An effort has been made to represent these accurately. Please let me know if you see an error. (back)
- Three spots above last year’s first round speedster Will Fuller. (back)
- While elite smaller prospects tend to have lower market share numbers than their plus-sized brethren, they also tend to break out very early. Can we really consider a player to have broken out if his coaches decided he was a better fit somewhere else? That’s not rhetorical. Ross presents a really interesting case. (back)
- His final season numbers trump Jackson’s. (back)
- It’s one of the reasons the beloved Swinney is building a dynasty at Clemson. (back)