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27 Aug 2012

Wisdom of Crowds 2012: WRs

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.

Posted by: Danny Tuccitto on 27 Aug 2012

21 comments, Last at 15 Apr 2013, 7:15am by johnpeterson

Comments

1
by LarryLouie (not verified) :: Mon, 08/27/2012 - 4:31pm

I absolutely love the work you guys do at FO, but I think the WoC feature needs to be dropped permanently. The reason i love your work is the expertise. I frankly don't care what the 'crowds' think. Not to mention, clogging up my twitter feed all preseason asking for opinions is annoying.

6
by bingo762 :: Mon, 08/27/2012 - 5:15pm
8
by Danny Tuccitto :: Mon, 08/27/2012 - 10:06pm
10
by The Ninjalectual :: Tue, 08/28/2012 - 2:46am

WOC "needs to be dropped permanently?" Wow, why such a strong opinion? Really, your complaint boils down to: "this isn't exactly what I was in the mood to read right now." I'm sorry to call you a baby, but that was quite the tantrum.

13
by Podge (not verified) :: Tue, 08/28/2012 - 7:13am

I kind of agree, in that the column in the preseason isn't that interesting. But I think the reviews after the season are always pretty interesting.

Was it my imagination, or last year did you also compare the crowd projections with KUBIAK? I think it would be a more interesting column if you did that, and possibly compared them with a number of projections from fantasy sites - it would just make it a bit more interesting to write about I think.

2
by Mr Shush :: Mon, 08/27/2012 - 4:40pm

The problem with Thomas is that it seems very much like Peyton would rather throw the ball to Eric Decker. Conversely, the low end is too low on Amendola, because Bradford trusts him, whereas Quick may not even get significant time on the field.

The interesting case is Wayne. Sure, the opportunity's there for him to have a big season, but has he actually got enough left to do it in the year when he'll turn 34?

4
by Shattenjager :: Mon, 08/27/2012 - 4:50pm

"It seems very much like Peyton would rather throw the ball to Eric Decker."

Guess I was right that I wasn't the only person who thought so. I like that we both said that with the same time stamp on our posts.

19
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 08/29/2012 - 8:47am

Decker certainly went for more in my auction draft. The pre-season seems to bear that out, too.

3
by Shattenjager :: Mon, 08/27/2012 - 4:40pm

It may go some distance toward explaining the crowd's feelings about Demaryius Thomas to ask about Eric Decker as well. I, for one, expect Decker to vastly outproduce Thomas. I can't imagine I'm really the only one who expects Peyton Manning to show a severe preference for precise route-running and sure hands over size and speed.

5
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 08/27/2012 - 4:56pm

It's going back more than 10 years, but there are other comparisons for Garcon. None are good. Alvin Harper (DAL/TB), Johnny Morton (DET/KC), and (easily the worst case) Billy Schroeder (GB/DET).

7
by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 08/27/2012 - 7:53pm

Nate Burleson went from Minnesota to Seattle to be a #1, although he was never actually the #1 receiver there.

Laurent Robinson was a good example until the Jags went and drafted Justin Blackmon.

Does Wes Welker count?

9
by armchair journe... :: Tue, 08/28/2012 - 2:00am

As I recall, Burleson was pegged to be the #1 for his own team when Moss left, but couldn't step up. Was Seattle really expecting him to be a #1 for them after already failing in a better situation?

//AJMQB

12
by Podge (not verified) :: Tue, 08/28/2012 - 7:09am

I thought he only went to Seattle out of petty payback for the Steve Hutchinson poison pill?

I suspect Garcon is along the lines of someone like Burleson - a good number 2 WR, but not really good enough to be a #1.

18
by Shattenjager :: Tue, 08/28/2012 - 12:25pm

I don't know how anyone could know for sure what the front office thought, but they did sign him to a similar poison pill contract immediately after Hutchinson went to Minnesota. They also then spent the rest of the offseason trying to trade for Deion Branch, eventually getting him after the season began.

It also seems to me that it's rather unfair to count both Branch and Burleson when they joined the same team the same season.

There actually is a success that everyone is going to ignore because they're going to pretend he was the number one receiver on his old team: Jerry Rice for the Raiders. Terrell Owens had become the number one in San Francisco. It's really tough to say whether Rice or Brown was the number one in '01, but Rice had a pretty wide edge in targets in '02 and '03, so I would lean toward saying he was the number one the entire time, if you have to choose one.

(I will point out myself before someone else does it that Pierre Garcon is not anywhere near the same species as Jerry Rice and I'm not claiming him to be.)

11
by The Ninjalectual :: Tue, 08/28/2012 - 2:54am

Your criticism of Pierre Garcon is baseless. First, IIRC, he actually spent a good amount of time as the #1 receiver in Indy thanks to injuries.

Then, you wrote "Is it telling that success stories are extremely rare? I think so" IN THE SAME PARAGRAPH in which you explained that there was only one story, successful or otherwise. Therefore, it is not "telling that success stories are extremely rare."

14
by Whatev :: Tue, 08/28/2012 - 8:42am

It's telling in the sense that WR2s are very rarely tapped by other teams to become WR1s. It could just be a lack of creativity on the part of management in the league, but it indicates that people rarely have confidence in that change.

15
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Tue, 08/28/2012 - 9:01am

I think it's valid. If signing another team's #2 to be your #1 was a viable strategy, you'd think more teams would have done it. Granted, in many cases where a team has a promising young #2 WR who seems like he could become a #1, the team keeps him. So why didn't Indy keep Garcon?

16
by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Tue, 08/28/2012 - 11:47am

"First, IIRC, he actually spent a good amount of time as the #1 receiver in Indy thanks to injuries."

Excellent use of IIRC, as you are not recalling correctly. He did become the #2 receiver thanks to injuries, to Dallas Clark and Austin Collie. But Garcon has never challenged Wayne as the WR1. Last year was the first time their production was even similar, and that took a complete train wreck of a team, and Wayne's worst season in 8 years.

17
by Jeff M. (not verified) :: Tue, 08/28/2012 - 11:59am

We could even supplement the IIRC with a IIHRTWA (if I had read the whole article), as it explicitly states that Indy's #1 (Wayne) hasn't missed a game since 2001, which would make it pretty hard for injury to force Garcon into the #1 role.

20
by JonFrum :: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 1:56pm

A guy who becomes the #1 receiver for his team because someone else is injured is not a #1. By definition, kind of.

21
by johnpeterson (not verified) :: Mon, 04/15/2013 - 7:15am

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