In the lead up to the 2019 NFL draft, I’m breaking down past wide receiver draft classes looking for patterns in their production, starting with the 2012 class and finishing in 2017. Essentially we’re trying to follow the steps of a mathematical model one player at a time.
Welcome back time travelers. This time we find ourselves in 2013. I started out by breaking down the college production of wide receivers drafted in rounds one-three of the 2012 NFL draft.
Let’s take a look at what the next year’s class brought, and then compare it to what we saw from 2012.
Enter the 2013 Class
In 2013, the 2012 draft class boomed. First, Josh Gordon broke out for over 1,600 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. We now know that while his overall production number looked good, he was actually underproductive compared to successful NFL players.
Also in 2013. Alshon Jeffery produced his first of two seasons over 1,000 yards, and T.Y. Hilton had his first of five 1,000+ yard seasons. In fact, so far, having a rookie season over 800 receiving yards in itself has become a positive indicator. By the end of the 2013 season, dynasty teams were sitting pretty if they had invested in the position the year before.
True, there were a lot of busts who continued to bust, but hope sprung eternal.
How did the 2013 rookies compare?
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First, notice there were simply fewer wide receivers drafted in 2013 in rounds one-three. This could be for a lot of reasons. To start with, maybe there was less talent? We know that opportunity is necessary for talent to thrive, so could the 2013 class have produced less because the NFL had less need? Looking microscopically from class to class dilutes some of that context. However, outside of Robert woods, no 2013 wide receiver has proven to be more than they were after their first three years in the NFL. So maybe the NFL gets more right than we give it credit for sometimes.
2013 was, at the time, something of a letdown after 2012. True, its ceiling would turn out to be just as high if not even better. DeAndre Hopkins is a top-five wide receiver and the top player according to many (and had over 800 receiving yards in his rookie season). Keenan Allen has also been a phenomenal third round hit and remains a top-12 wide receiver (Allen had over 1,000 receiving yards in his rookie season). But the depth of potential and flashes from the 2012 class did seem muted comparatively in the early years.
The 2013 class has resulted in eight top-24 wide receiver seasons, six top 12 and four top five. Allen and Hopkins will continue to improve those numbers. Overall the “better” hits of the 2013 class have kept pace or even dwarfed 2012. Now that we’ve seen them play out a little further, it’s probably worth remembering that.
Also note – in both classes – there were hits from the third round, who definitely outpaced most first round picks. Numbers suggest it’s rare a first round pick is less valuable than a third. However, it’s interesting from our perspective so far.
In 2013, we had a lot of young wide receivers hitting over 800 or 1,000 yards from both the 2012 and 2013 classes. By the time 2014 comes along, it’s easy to see why it felt like a snowball, picking up talented phenoms as it went along and rolling them onto our dynasty rosters.
But we also know the crash was soon to come.
Context and signals
The best players in 2013 produced over 20% of their college team’s offense in receiving yards and touchdowns at the age of 18 in college. This was also true of Hilton in 2012. However, we also know that Michael Floyd and Kendall Wright met this mark and missed for fantasy.
While it’s probably fair to say that Woods was held back by Buffalo, Dobson remains a clear miss. Did he just struggle? Was he just not as good as his production looks compared to Woods in reality?
Dobson entered the NFL a year older than the other hits, which helps explain why many are worried over prospect age. It may also be significant that when you compare these players (Dobson, Woods, Hopkins, Allen) to what successful NFL players did in college, Dobson is the only age 18 breakout who averaged below successful NFL players for his entire college career.
In short, doing well at the age of 18 was very positive for the 2013 class and that connects to T.Y. Hilton and Alshon Jeffery the year before. But the Aaron Dobson example in 2013, as well as Michael Floyd and Kendall Wright in 2012, warns us not to overvalue it – especially if a player doesn’t keep that level of production up over their entire college career.
Not all great NFL players broke out at age 18, however. We still need to see more. So, what’s next?
It’s time to look at The 2014 wide receiver draft class. Try not to drool on your keyboard.
See you there, and thanks for checking this out again!