Dynasty League Football


Inside the Numbers: Draft History – WRs

Every year, I like to take a look back at draft history as it relates to specific positions.  Through this exercise, I’m able to better assess risk when it comes to draft day decisions.  Through the years, I always start with the WR position because history has shown no greater risk when it comes to using a high draft position in this area.

It seems that every year during my draft analysis articles, I’m regularly called out for not ranking rookie WRs higher and suggesting that high picks not be used on the position unless there is an extreme talent available or you are in a state of extreme desperation.  The fact remains that receivers are just too risky in general to risk a very high pick on.  But that is not to say that there aren’t situations or players that that can pay off handsomely should the stars align.  And more than any other position, gems can be found beyond round two.  One of my strengths has always been locating those difference-making WRs beyond pick 25; after this pick is where things get fun and your due diligence can really pay off.

It’s true that I have a relatively complex rating system that takes into account many factors, weightings and scores towards the goal of ending up with a final score that ultimately ranks each receiver on my list.  But like Colonel Sanders, I’m not about to give up my secret recipe.  But I am here to help assist you cut through the noise towards ranking this year’s crop of receivers.  As we move closer to the draft, I’ll be focusing on this group much closer.  Until then, let’s jump into my annual review of the past ten years of draft history as it relates to WRs.  Staying true to my normal process, I will not be including last year’s (2010) receivers in the analysis because one year of production is not sufficient to properly label or categorize a player.  You could argue that two year’s of experience are not much better but for consistency, I’m sticking with this methodology.

Let me start by giving props to the 2009 receiving group. 5 of 6 (Crabtree, Maclin, Harvin, Nicks and Britt) 2009 first round receivers have become viable fantasy producers.  This makes the first round of 2009 the best year, hands down, of any first round in the prior 10 years.

As a refresher, I only analyze the first round and use four categories for the players:  Stud, Starter, Bench and Bust.  Understand that there is no hard-fast rule for what defines a player in one of the four categories.  A “Stud” player is one that should or should have been started every week, regardless of match-up.  A “Starter” is a player that would be started in about 75% of situations and was a stable producer during his time.  A “Bench” player is a player that would not have been started unless as a last resort and a “Bust” player is one that is or has been just that, a bust.  Not everyone will/may share my views as to which category a player exists.  As for only analyzing the first round, the reason for this is because 2nd+ receivers will rarely, if ever, grace the first round of a 10 team league draft.  What we are assessing here is the likelihood of your first round selection of a NFL first round receiver paying off.

Let’s get to the analysis.

In the years from 2000-2009, there have been 43 WRs taken in the first round.  Note that in 2008, no WRs were taken in the first round.  Given my current category assessments, these 43 receivers are broken down as follows:

Stud:  6/43 or 14%
Starter:  9/43 or 21%
Bench:  6/43 or 13.9%
Bust:  22/43 or 51.1%

Just because I know many of you will want to know, I’ll tell you who I have in each of the Stud and Starter categories.  Listed after his name is the pick at which he was selected in the first round on the NFL draft.

Stud:  Nicks (29), Calvin Johnson (2), Roddy White (27), Fitzgerald (3), Andre Johnson (3) and Reggie Wayne (30).
Starter:  Maclin (19), Harvin (22), Britt (30), Bowe (23), Holmes (25), Mike Williams (SEA) (10), Lee Evans (13), S. Moss, Burress (8)

As a note to these assessments, Britt and Bowe are on the cusp of being upgraded.  Mike Williams (SEA) has risen like a phoenix to a Starter and Santonio Holmes is still listed as a starter but his position is very tenuous.  Note also that there has never been a year that has produced two “Stud” category receivers – 2009 may change this next year.

Let’s break this down further to give you some additional perspective.

In the years from 2000-2009:

Chance of getting a Stud or Starter from a NFL first round receiver:  35%

Average number of receivers taken in the first round of the NFL draft? – 4.3
(6) Receivers have been taken within the first 5 picks of the NFL Draft.  Stud: 3.  Bench: 1  Bust:  2.
Of the first WR off the board  –  Stud: 2  Starter: 1  Bench 1  Bust:  6
Of the second   WR off the board – Stud: 1  Starter: 1  Bench: 2  Bust: 6
Of the last WR off the board in the first round – Stud: 2  Starter: 2  Bench: 0  Bust: 4
* Recall that 2008 had no receiver selected in the first round.  2006 had no second receiver selected in the first round.

What does it all mean?

It really depends on how you wish to slice it.  In short, the wide receiver position is the the hardest to draft, especially highly, in your fantasy draft.  As you can see, you have a 35% chance of getting a difference maker when you select any receiver that has been drafted in the first round.  Even if you are to select the first receiver off the board in the NFL draft, your odds of getting a stud or starter are only 30%.  Your odds increase to 50% if you select a receiver that has been drafted within the top five picks in the NFL draft – this remains your best bet.  But as you can tell, selecting the first or second receiver off the board in the NFL draft has a bust or bench rating of 70-80%.

In fact, when considering the last receiver selected in the first round over the past ten years, you could make the argument that outside of the receivers selected within the first five picks of the NFL draft, draft position is not a major indicator of eventual fantasy success.

Unless you are desperate for the position and play in a WR-friendly PPR system, highly drafting a NFL first-round receiver is like playing roulette in Las Vegas in that every once in a while, you’ll win big but over the long run, you’ll go broke.  But is this true for other positions as well or unique to receivers only?

In my future articles, you’ll see how the receiver position stacks up to the both the Quarterback and Running Back positions.

Jeff Haverlack
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11 years ago

Great article Jeff. I’ve read some of this insight from you before, but it was nice to have you break it down in one place. With that said, if you didn’t have a need at RB or WR going into the rookie draft, who do you take at 1.1? (I acquired the pick by trade early last season)

I’m assuming your choice would normally be Ingram, but what if AJ Green were to be drafted top 5? Would that change your mind?

Reply to  Eric Dickens
11 years ago

The first RB off the board has a historically good chance of being a good player in fantasy, so yes, I’d probably go Ingram. But, if I really needed a WR I do like Green quite a bit. I don’t think he’s Calvin Johnson but he’s got a chance to be great. I have him on par, perhaps even a bit higher than Dez Bryant on talent/ability and a fair amount higher in the area of maturity.

Though, even if Green were drafted in the top 5, I’d probably still go with Ingram unless I was really in a bind at WR.

Kris Kapsner
11 years ago

For a WR to be drafted in the top 5 they have to be a supreme talent at the position. WR just isn’t that high on team wish lists. Most teams want a stud QB first and are typically willing to reach for them. After that they want players to protect him, offensive tackle. And, after that, they want the guys to go get the QB on the other team, defensive line. So, the top 5 every year is typically littered with those positions.

Because of that, to break into the top 5 picks as an offensive player who will be lucky to touch the ball 5-6 times a football game (80-96 catches per year) is a big investment for a team to take. So, that player has to be a REALLY top end talent in order to do so. That’s why we see such a success rate on those WRs who are drafted there. After that, team need tends to dictate where the other WRs may fall. And, a lot of times there isn’t much that separates a WR drafted at #12 and a WR drafted at #30 as far as their talent. Perhaps that #12 pick is a bit more talented. But, the #30 pick is going to a team who just missed the Super Bowl and probably has a much better QB throwing to them as well as a better coaching staff. That explains part of why it’s pretty much a coin flip on which WR to take after any WR who goes in the top 5 is gone. WRs outside the top 5 of NFL drafts are risky. Even guys like DHB or Troy Williamson, both taken at #7, are huge risks and have bust potential, as we’ve seen.

I’m very interested to see your RB article Jeff, that takes a look at that position in the same manner. Thanks for the information.

The Vich
11 years ago

Hi Jeff,

I always look forward to your articles – especially these on WRs. I believe one year you did divluge some of your system? I really value your WR rankings and most years grab a sleeper that you reccommend in round 2 or 3 that really pans out for me! Some years, as in 2002? I believe ALL of the skill players chosen in the first rounds were busts? A few good years and not much else -Maybe Shockey was the best…. The stats on the first WR off the board might look more attractive if Al Davis wasn’t the only person on the planet who thougth DHB was the number one WR, and the argument could me made the same way about Charles Rogers over Andre Johnson – wasn’t that Matt Millen’s doing? I know you can’t do your figures on who most people thought should have been drafted, but that would certaintly change things on the first WR taken to 3 stud, 1 starter, 2 bench, 4 bust. While Crabtree will probably move to a starter this year with better QB play. Love the articles – Keep that coming. It’s the best Dynasty info on the web!

Reply to  The Vich
11 years ago

Thanks Vich. The first WR off the board has been a sketchy, at best, strategy for WRs but recently it has gotten even moreso. As you pointed out, receivers like DHB (2009), Avery (2009 2nd. Rd.), Santonio Holmes (2006) and Braylon Edwards (2005) have made it a risky proposition. Some of those players are still producers but you probably aren’t happy if you drafted them to be an every week starter for your team.

Really, when you look at draft history with respect to WRs taken in the first round, it’s a seas of under-performance and disappointment.

I considered doing a recap of the first 3 rounds of WRs in each draft but the numbers get really ugly and most don’t care. At least not enough for me to really pull together all the figures. I usually try to keep my material as impactful as possible.

And just as a refresher – Detroit took a WR first in 2003, 2004 and 2005 with respective picks #2 (Charles Rogers), #7 (Roy Williams) and the one that ultimately starter Millen on his path to termination, #19 (Mike Williams). They then took a year off and returned to their receiver-drafting ways with #2 in 2007 (Calvin Johnson) – Finally getting it right.

Sensei John Kreese
11 years ago

this is scary, considering the depth of the wr position in this years draft…i suspect that 7 of the top 12 picks will be recievers…i have 1.1, 1.6, 1.8, and 1.9 and its a ppr league

i still have no idea who i will take, but i suspect that i will go for the best player available at all picks, and its looking more and more likely that those players are going to be wrs…no depth at rb, mediocre qbs prospects and no legit idps, quite a weak class

Reply to  Sensei John Kreese
11 years ago

I was a lot higher on the WRs before all the early declarations were in, losing a couple of big names really hurt. But it’s still a pretty good crop if you need a WR. If you need a QB or RB, you may be in trouble this year.

Sensei John Kreese
Reply to  DLF_Jeff
11 years ago

i agree 100%…im definitely going ingram 1, and im hoping titus young can slip to 6, ive just got a feeling about that guy..nothing scientific

11 years ago

Good stuff!

One angle I’ve been thinking about is that even though your chances may be less in drafting WRs, the potential payoff can be as high as double the return on investment of the ‘safer’ RB choice due to the shelf-life of the respective positions.

Take a 35% chance at a WR that helps your team for the next 10 years or a higher chance at the RB who typically helps you for closer to 5 years?

Makes for some interesting strategies among Dynasty owners…

11 years ago

Also, it’s too bad true Dynasty rookie-draft ADPs are inaccurate or unavailable short of building your own database and soliciting the info from ‘qualifying’, like leagues. All rookie drafts from all Dynasty 12-team PPR leagues the past 10 years would be an awesome set of data to explore!

/waves magic wand


10 years ago

Highly absorbing blog post. I think your blog post was very fascinating. Thank you again – I will return.

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