Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

02 Nov 2007

ESPN: Late First-Round WR Gems

This week's Monday Night Football matchup between the Steelers (Santonio Holmes) and the Ravens (Mark Clayton) gives Ned and myself a chance to revisit his research from the Detroit chapter of PFP 2006.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 02 Nov 2007

22 comments, Last at 07 Nov 2007, 4:12pm by joepinion


by The Boilermaster (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2007 - 6:59pm

Interesting Comparison... it's mentioned briefly that the variance in the late first-rounders is larger, but it's still worth it when you compare salaries and drama. Which, by the way, I would have liked to seen: dollars per fantasy points would tip the scales even more.

by sam (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2007 - 7:25pm

But Reggie Williams is an excellent blocker!

by Matt Saracen - QB1 - Dillon Panthers (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2007 - 7:26pm

I spent most of the article saying to myself - it's because they play for better, more productive teams Aaron you twit - and I thought you weren't going to mention it. But balance was restored in the end haha.

It would be interesting to see if the same trend applied to other positions - running backs in particular would be interesting.

However I don't think these findings would really change any team's drafting strategies. I mean as an extreme example, no one is going to wait until pick #17 to pick Calvin Johnson just because he is more likely to be productive. They will take him ASAP and try to fix their offense quickly to take advantage of his skills.

by inkakola (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2007 - 9:12pm

3# - i dont think the point is that you should wait until later to draft top prospects but that the talent gap between the top 2 receivers and the 3-5th receivers in any given draft is not as large as it may be for other positions.

by walter b (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2007 - 11:23pm

Very interesting... this serves to reinforce my belief that, more so than any other position, the success of wide receivers is a function of the talent of the rest of the offense, rather than the talent of the wide receiver himself.

by sam (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2007 - 11:50pm

5: Yeah, but the Jaguars receivers are still terrible.

by James, London (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2007 - 8:32am

I don't have them to hand right now, but isn't this a condensed version of an essay in either PFP '05 or '06?

by Jimmy (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2007 - 11:09am


I would disagree, but with the proviso that it depends on the wide receiver. A guy like Moss or Owens requires so much attention to stop them scoring (Moss because of his skill under the high ball, Owens because he is so difficult to tackle) that defenses have to keep their safeties back which allows an offense to run the ball and hit other players in the passing game. WRs effect on the running game (other than their blocking) is one of the most ignored factors on offense in the NFL.

by Rover (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2007 - 11:35am

My apologies if this is a rude question, but does anyone know the firefox extension to kill those vibrant rollover ads? They drive me nuts.

by db (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2007 - 3:07pm

#2 - Reggie Williams is an excellent example of why stats are not the only factor when assessing productivity by draft position. Dollars and cap hits are more important. As Reggie proves, even if you are not productive and your team mates basically hate you, the team can't afford to dump his sorry ass because of the cap hit. A 5th rounder is easier to cut, even though he may be the same or better skill wise because he cost the team nothing. There are many examples of first and second rounders that get to stay on the roster because of the dollars at every position.

by lionsbob (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2007 - 4:41pm

How can Reggie williams cost that much? The Lions dumped Mike Williams sorry butt 2 years into the deal. Charles Rogers was dumped as well, but he had to repay some of his bonus money.

by db (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2007 - 5:33pm

Wasn't there a trade involved with Mike Williams? I think that makes it a little more cap friendly. They haven't gotten any money back from Rogers yet but they are after it. If he keeps it he will have "earned" almost $390,000 per catch. The point is that players who have already cost the team a ton usually get to hang around over players that came cheap regardless of ability. Look at Marquis Hill (the late). The Pats took him in the second round, paid a good signing bonus and he didn't work out. He managed 4 tackles in three years playing mainly on special teams. If the Pats hadn't had the upfront money already paid, he would have been gone in season one.

by MarkB (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2007 - 6:27pm

#9 - Flashblock or Adblock Plus - I use both.

by MarkB (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2007 - 6:31pm

Picking a nit - Moss was an early 1st round talent who dropped due to attitude issues. i'm not sure he really belongs in the late-first category - he's more like an outlier.

by walter b (not verified) :: Sun, 11/04/2007 - 1:54am

#6 - i agree about the jaguars, there comes a point where a wide receiver is so crappy that not much can be done to make up for it.
#8 - i agree that big time receivers like moss and owens do open up the run, but conversely, a good running game opens up the pass, by drawing more men into the box

by blacksuit (not verified) :: Sun, 11/04/2007 - 4:24am

Isn't this sort of data biased due to the instutional commitment teams make to first round picks?

Perhaps call it the "Cedric Benson Effect?"

by fiddycentbeer (not verified) :: Sun, 11/04/2007 - 11:08am

On casual inspection, WR in R3 proves to be a good bet too. From 1993-2003, 39 were drafted in that frame. Those include:

Terrell Owens
Hines Ward
Antonio Freeman
Steve Smith
Lavern. Coles
Darrell Jackson
Marty Booker

It's a fair bet that list includes some prospects who proved to be the best WR drafted in any given year. Coles, for example, trumps Sly Morris (not to mention Warrick and T Taylor, per following). There is the matter of opportunity costs too: some positions, LT for example all but tap out past R2A.

Anyway, here are some other R3s with well over 150 receptions:

Andrew Hastings
D. Ward
Nate Burleson
Kevin Curtis
Dez White

We could make a top 10 of those two which may compare reasonably well to the R1A and R1B lists shown in the article.

Further: 150 career receptions is ok/not great for a R3, but absolutely unacceptable for a R1. Peter Warrick and Travis Taylor hit that number; this does not make them worth 1.04 and 1.10. Coles, and Jackson, outperformed both.

If i am giving a player a 6- year rook deal (now available only for the top 16 picks), i will not be delighted at the end of that to have received an average of 25 receptions per season. If I am giving a 5 year deal (now thru R1 only) i will not be delighted at the end of that to have received an average of 30 receptions per season. Both are auxiliary receiver marks, #3 guy or lower.

But, wth, here are some R3 near to the magic mark:

Chris Penn, 148
Lake Dawson, 103

Finally, here are some R3 that made an impact, if briefly, on teams:

Ron Dixon
Tamarick Vanover
Andrew Coleman

Without checking too closely, ~ 50% of all R3 have contributed something, in some cases something significant. This suggests, imo, no great dropoff in WR impact potential across Day 1. That comes later, in those Sunday rounds when 150+ of the 250+ prospects are picked.

by jetsgrumbler (not verified) :: Sun, 11/04/2007 - 1:20pm

5: Are there any positions where the player's performance isn't largely a factor of the quality of the rest of the unit? I'm speculating that perhaps CB and Safety are less dependant than other positions, but I'm not sure.

by db (not verified) :: Sun, 11/04/2007 - 1:55pm

16 - Well said. It isn't just the money, it is also the selector's reputation as a judge of talent that is on the line. Benson is a perfect example.

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Sun, 11/04/2007 - 3:38pm

I do think it's worth noting that of the top four second half guys in production per game, two have spent most or all of their careers catching passes from Peyton Manning, which just may have had a somewhat inflationary effect on their stats (not that they aren't both excellent players). Moreover, as rightly pointed out above, everyone knew that Randy Moss had the talent of a top 5 pick. He fell for reasons of attitude. My feeling is that Moss is a truly colossal anomaly: there may never be a comparable talent available so late again. He should probably be dropped from the study entirely. Harrison and Wayne are harder to deal with, as they clearly are excellent players who were "genuinely" seen as late first round talents, so to leave them out would bias the study against that group. Fortunately, the GSOT and Magic Potion Warner probably had a similarly inflationary effect for Holt, so the upshot may be pretty much a wash.

All that said, if we look at more recent drafts, the recently arrived and emerging superstars appear mainly to have come from the top of the first (Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Braylon Edwards) or from later rounds (Chad Johnson, Steve Smith, TJ Houshmandzadeh, Anquan Boldin). It's not inconceivable that Holmes belongs in that category, as may Wayne, but Clayton is definitely at least one notch down. Then again. the contract/cap issues, and opportunity cost at other positions, may still dictate that optimal strategy involves targeting WRs in the late first.

by JoshuaPerry (not verified) :: Mon, 11/05/2007 - 3:30am

12, WAY off on the cap ramifications of trade vs cut. The trade actually accelerates all monies into the trade year for signing bonus money, with a cut you can spread it over 2 yrs. The Jags are just stupid for keeping him, is all.

by joepinion (not verified) :: Wed, 11/07/2007 - 4:12pm

20: In other words, too small a sample size.