In May 2017, these names represented hope and potential. It was just the fourth time since 2000 that three wide receivers were selected in the top ten of the NFL Draft. Dynasty owners followed suit, as the trio sported rookie draft ADPs of 1.01 (Davis), 1.06 (Williams), and 1.08 (Ross) throughout the summer. In traditional startup drafts, all three pass-catchers achieved and maintained top-80 status up until week one of the regular season.
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It would be a severe understatement to say the former college phenoms have disappointed. All three players have battled injuries. Through week 16 of the NFL season, only Davis has managed to appear in double-digit games. Even when on the field, there has been very little to cheer about.
Davis has seen the most work of the three, but for most of the season was one of the lowest-rated wideouts in the NFL in ‘wide receiver rating’, a Pro Football Focus metric which accounts for passer rating when a specific player is targeted. Williams didn’t appear in a game until week six and has only seen more than three targets in a game once. Ross officially played in only three games and was harshly criticized by the coaching staff, publicly. His season ended on the injured reserve due to a shoulder problem he was apparently hiding from the team.
Most seasoned dynasty owners weren’t expecting much from their rookie wide receivers in 2017 anyway, but the events that unfolded represented near worst-case scenarios for all three players. Considering this, the degree to which their startup ADPs have remained insulated is quite impressive.
As I began to plan my off-season strategy for 2018, I knew I needed some historical context for the miserable seasons each of these players endured. Clearly, we are going to have to adjust for situational factors with Davis, Williams, and Ross. But statistically speaking, is there precedent for what this group did (or maybe more appropriately, didn’t do) on the field?
I decided to examine the rookie seasons of all wide receivers selected in the top ten of the NFL Draft over the past ten years (2008-2017). The results are not for the faint of heart. Keep in mind, as I’m writing this there is one week left in the NFL regular season, so small changes in player ranks could occur as a result of week 17 performances. However, I think the we have plenty to go on to make some judgments about how this group stacks up.
Since 2008, 13 wide receivers have been selected in the top ten of the NFL Draft. There were no wide receivers selected in the top ten in 2008, 2010, or 2016.
John Ross is one of only two rookie wide receivers drafted in the top ten since 2008 to fail to register a single reception. The other was Kevin White. White was placed on injured reserve prior to his season beginning. Mike Williams’ 10 receptions rank tenth out of 13 players. Corey Davis’ 34 receptions rank ninth.
The trio didn’t fare any better from a receiving yards perspective. As you have no doubt figured out, Ross posted zero receiving yards, which tied him for 13th out of 13 with White. Williams’ 87 receiving yards ranked 11th, and Davis’ 375 yards ranked ninth.
None of the 2017 top-ten cohort has scored a receiving touchdown. White is the only other player to fail to score a touchdown in his rookie campaign.
Let’s look at all of this in visual form, in case the descriptive language wasn’t enough to make you vomit already.
There’s no way around it; statistically speaking, the 2017 top-ten trio has been atrocious. What really stood out to me in this research was the general quality of the rookie season performances by the other players with elite draft pedigree. Prior to the 2017 class ruining things, 60 percent of the group (since 2008) had eclipsed 800 receiving yards in year one. Another observation: seven of the 13 players averaged double-digit PPR receiving points in their rookie seasons, which means they were generally usable from a fantasy perspective despite being rookies.
As a draft-pedigree disciple, my original plan had been to buy up all three of the 2017 rookies in as many spots as possible early this off-season. Now armed with a decade of context, I’m not sure I’ll be buying any of these players unless I can find a discount from a dissatisfied owner. In start-ups, I’ll be staying away unless Davis and Williams each fall another round. Ross would have to fall several rounds.
A healthcare executive by day, Curtis is also a husband, father to three kids, and coach to many.
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