Antonio Brown is a late-round steal, but which active WR has beaten the odds of the draft and his QB? We studied the breakout seasons of the 20 all-time leading receivers and recent hidden gems. How important is QB play in developing a WR?
27 Aug 2012
by Danny Tuccitto
Welcome back for our latest batch of Wisdom of Crowds (WoC) group projections. We finished up running backs in Week 2, with a promise to report the verdict on a potential "Curse of WoC." Well, what seemed like a curse during the first week appears to have just been random variation. Among the five wideouts this week, none suffered an injury simultaneous with our Twitter post. However, as someone who is desperately clinging to this minutae for my opening, I will point out that we originally scheduled Kenny Britt figuring he'd be healthy by now. Not only is he still on the PUP list, but Britt also went ahead and picked up a suspension-enticing DUI arrest that -- regardless of health -- renders our 16-game assumption obsolete.
Just to review for WoC newcomers, we use our Football Outsiders Twitter account each weekday to solicit player-specific fantasy projections from our followers. Projections for most players typically coalesce very early, so we try to focus on those with more uncertain outlooks. For wide receivers, we ask for receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. At the end of each week, I compile the responses, and write a column about them the following week. After the season, I write another series of columns looking back at how the crowd did. Here's the link to previous installments from 2012:
For each wide receiver below, I've listed the average projection (with margin of error), the best-case scenario, and the worst-case scenario. The scenario projections just combine into one stat line the player's best (or worst) projections for each specific stat.
Monday: Justin Blackmon
Average: 53 ± 4 catches, 791 ± 88 yards, 5 ± 1 TDs
Best-case scenario: 65 catches, 1,200 yards, 7 TDs
Worst-case scenario: 42 catches, 512 yards, 2 TDs
By now, it's received wisdom that rookie quarterbacks, even those with minimal starting experience in college, aren't the train wrecks they once were. This weekend, Pete Carroll cemented that wisdom by opting for Russell Wilson as his Week 1 starter. With the addition of Wilson, there will be five rookie quarterbacks beginning this season as their team's starter, which is something that hasn't happened since at least 1950.
Flying under the radar, though, is the increasing success of high-profile rookie wide receivers in recent years. From 1997 to 2001, first-round wideouts averaged 32.3 catches, 439.4 yards, and 2.9 touchdowns during their rookie seasons, with Randy Moss' rising tide in 1998 lifting the other boats. (The average drops to 30.5 catches, 395.8 yards, and 2.2 touchdowns without Moss' absurd numbers.) This group of 20 players includes epic busts like Marcus Nash, R. Jay Soward, and David Terrell, as well as another 10 to 15 who underachieved their draft status less drastically. From 2002 to 2006, the average rookie year for a first-round wideout rose to 37.4 catches, 534.1 yards, and 3.6 touchdowns. But again, there's some serious bust-worthiness in this group of 20 players.
Over the past five years, however, first-round wideouts have averaged 40.5 catches, 595.9 yards, and 3.8 touchdowns. Furthermore, the only bona fide bust in the group was San Diego's aptly-named 2007 selection Craig "Buster" Davis. (Ted Ginn busted as a wideout, but few people question his contributions as a returner. Anthony Gonzalez gets a pass for having his promising career effectively ended by a knee injury in Week 1 of his third year.) The last five wide receivers taken in the first round were A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Jon Baldwin, Demaryius Thomas, and Dez Bryant. The 2009 draft, which already featured productive first-rounders Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt, Jeremy Maclin, and Percy Harvin, is beginning to look even better with last year's breakout season from Darrius Heyward-Bey.
All of this is just to say that Justin Blackmon shouldn't be avoided because of some outdated theory about rookie wide receivers. He's already Jacksonville's No. 1, and he had the fifth-best Playmaker score of this year's class. Also, let's not forget that the Jaguars figure to be playing catch-up a lot this year. Barring injury, there's only one thing that could derail him from reaching the crowd's projection, let alone the most recent five-year average: Blaine Gabbert continuing to play like a boy among men.
Tuesday: Demaryius Thomas
Average: 69 ± 4 catches, 988 ± 72 yards, 8 ± 1 TDs
Best-case scenario: 90 catches, 1,200 yards, 11 TDs
Worst-case scenario: 55 catches, 800 yards, 6 TDs
Thomas has averaged only 27 catches for 417 yards and three touchdowns while battling injuries in his first two seasons, but I have a hard time coming up with a more obvious breakout candidate over the past decade. In Year 2 to Year 4? Check. Great quarterback? Check. Strong college pedigree per Playmaker Score? Check. A schedule full of underwhelming secondaries? Outside of a few games, check. On a team that's going to throw the ball frequently? Check.
In that context, it's actually surprising to see the crowd's average yardage projection equal only 1,060 yards at the top end of its error margin. It's also surprising to see that KUBIAK agrees. Projections be damned! If I'm sitting in the fourth round of my draft looking for a fantasy WR2 with massive WR1 upside, I'll be taking Thomas without reservations. The crowd's best-case scenario seems well within reach.
Wednesday: Pierre Garcon
Average: 65 ± 4 catches, 875 ± 76 yards, 6 ± 1 TDs
Best-case scenario: 81 catches, 1,100 yards, 8 TDs
Worst-case scenario: 50 catches, 650 yards, 5 TDs
Prorating his 2010 stats to 16 games, Garcon has averaged about 73 catches for 921 yards and six touchdowns the past two seasons. That's squarely within the crowd's margin of error for 2012. Whether or not he reaches the best-case scenario depends on the growth trajectory of Robert Griffin III, some extra time on the JUGS machine, and how well he's able to transition from the No. 2 receiver in Indianapolis to the No. 1 receiver in Washington. If the preseason is any indication, things are looking up. Too bad it isn't.
So what is an indication? Well, from a stat perspective, history doesn't help. Looking back over the past 10 years, there just aren't many examples of No. 2 wideouts in their mid-20s leaving their original team after a 900-yards-or-better season to become the No. 1 somewhere else. Candidates like Deion Branch, Roy Williams (who moved via an in-season trade), Santonio Holmes, Laveranues Coles, and Donte' Stallworth were already established as primary targets by the time they departed. Others like Kevin Johnson remained No. 2 wide receivers after they arrived.
Really, we're only talking about one relevant example in the past decade. In 2002, 26-year-old Peerless Price posted a 94/1,252/9 stat line while serving as sidekick to Eric Moulds. Needing a No. 1 receiver to pair with Michael Vick, the Falcons traded for Price the following March. Infamously, Price's total production during what was ultimately a two-year stint in Atlanta (109 catches for 1,413 yards and six touchdowns) barely surpassed that of his final year in Buffalo. Are we hanging our hats on this sample size of one? Of course not. Is it telling that success stories are extremely rare? I think so.
Thursday: Reggie Wayne
Average: 84 ± 6 catches, 1,069 ± 52 yards, 8 ± 1 TD
Best-case scenario: 109 catches, 1,257 yards, 11 TDs
Worst-case scenario: 70 catches, 855 yards, 5 TDs
With the highest average, best-case, and worst-case projection, Wayne is the darling of this week's WoC wideouts. After a down year at age 33, we can presume that optimism is primarily due to the arrival of Andrew Luck. Austin Collie's latest concussion also probably has something to do with it, albeit to a much lesser extent. Coincidentally, the highest yardage total by a 34-year-old wide receiver since the merger was posted by Wayne's former teammate Marvin Harrison, who had 95 catches for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2006.
With a 6.0-win mean projection, Indianapolis is going to be throwing the ball a lot in 2012. With improved quarterback play, and a dearth of competition for targets, Wayne seems destined for a year closer to the crowd's best-case scenario if he's able to stay healthy. He hasn't missed a game since his rookie season in 2001, so that shouldn't be a problem.
Friday: Danny Amendola
Average: 80 ± 4 catches, 876 ± 72 yards, 5 ± 1 TD
Best-case scenario: 90 catches, 1,085 yards, 6 TDs
Worst-case scenario: 70 catches, 600 yards, 2 TDs
Of this week's WoC wideouts, Amendola is arguably the most difficult to project. At 27 years old, he's by no means a young wide receiver, but he's yet to have a breakout season thanks to four years of practice squad and return duties. True, he had 85 catches in 2010, but his 8.1 yards per reception was the lowest for any wide receiver with more than 10 catches. With Josh McDaniels ready to make him the Wes Welker of St. Louis, 2011 was supposed to be his breakout season, but Amendola lost nearly the entire season to injury -- and now McDaniels is gone. I'd venture to guess that he's not a fan of the saying, "luck is where preparation meets opportunity."
This year, Amendola is listed as the Rams No. 1 wide receiver, but he's more useful in the slot than on the outside, and Brian Schottenheimer's offenses have ranked near the bottom of the league in their frequency of three-wide sets. Furthermore, even if Amendola finds a home on the outside early on, St. Louis drafted prototypical outside receiver Brian Quick, who could eat into his playing time as the season progresses. Taken together, it seems to me like the bottom of the crowd's error range is about where Amendola will end up.
That's all for now. Next week, we'll finish up WoC 2012 with five more wide receivers. Make sure to follow @fboutsiders on Twitter so you can participate in WoC. If you miss a day or two, don't worry. We have a running list of players in this Extra Point, which we'll keep on the front page for the duration.
21 comments, Last at 15 Apr 2013, 7:15am by johnpeterson