When it comes to dynasty football, we are inundated with data points for incoming rookies, and are left to consider which ones really matter. As the 2020 NFL Combine results are now official, we can begin to consider which may help us predict future fantasy success. Rest assured, I have done some of this work for you in hopes of raising red flags on some popular 2020 rookie prospects, and narrow down those various factors to focus on the necessary thresholds to consider.
Note: if you missed the running back version published earlier, you can check it out here.
The Data Set
2020 NFL Combine Results, College Data, and Draft Capital
In order to obtain a useful data set, I looked at all of the top-12 fantasy wide receivers from 2014 – 2019, which resulted in 37 unique players. From there, I looked at the following factors:
- 40-yard dash times
- Burst Score
- Speed Score
- Breakout Age
- College Dominator percentage
- Total Career Receptions in College
- Draft Capital
Through this research, I narrowed down what thresholds must be met to encompass a meaningful percentage of the top-12 wide receivers each season since 2014, which I defined as at least 80%. Better said, what were the minimum thresholds against each factor that at least 80% of the data set reached?
(Keep in mind, the percentiles displayed in the charts below refer to my data set of fantasy WR1’s, NOT all wide receivers overall)
40-Yard Dash Times
While this data point for running backs seemed less impactful, it was interesting that for wide receivers we have a few more players that fell below our defined threshold. Since 2014, 78% of the fantasy WR1’s have run a 4.56 or faster in the 40-yard dash. Yes, I realize that falls below my pre-defined 80% threshold, but it was as close as I could get without that number jumping to nearly 90% (i.e., a lot of dudes ran a 4.57 it seems). While you don’t have to be a burner to be a solid fantasy wide receiver, not meeting that threshold means you need to win in other ways such as route running, as we see some of those outliers achieve (Michael Thomas and Deandre Hopkins, 4.57; Cooper Kupp, 4.62; Keenan Allen, 4.71). If any of the four in red below struggle as route runners, it very well may spell trouble for fantasy production. Based on what I saw on tape, Laviska Shenault’s route running is less than polished, which raises my level of concern with his 4.58.
It could be argued that the Burst Score is more important for running backs than for wide receivers, as the explosiveness in the legs may benefit a back hitting a small crease more so than a receiver running a nuanced route. As such, I am not too concerned about the results here as headliners Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb just narrowly surpassed the 115 burst score that 82% of fantasy WR1’s were able to hit in the past six seasons.
Similar to the 40-yard dash results, I am less concerned about Speed Scores IF that wide receiver can win in other ways. While guys like Tyreek Hill and T.Y. Hilton in his prime rely mainly on their speed, and the threat of their speed, you see players with slower clocked ‘speed’ become extremely productive fantasy receivers. Only one player failed to meet the 93.1 Speed Score that 81% of top fantasy performers met (K.J. Hill), but there were a handful of well-known prospects that fell in between the 19th – 50th percentiles. Again, if Lamb/Jeudy/Hodgins/Reagor/Aiyuk can be smart, crisp route runners, then falling below the 50th percentile is hardly a concern in and of itself.
A wide receivers breakout age is defined as the age at which the receiver first accounts for 20% of their teams total receiving yards and touchdowns. The younger the age, the earlier in their careers that the player began to dominate and become a top option in their team’s offense. Those in red below had a BOA that was older than 20.0 years old, which 83% of the data set achieved. On the bright side, those players at least eventually ‘broke out,’ whereas the exclusion of Henry Ruggs and K.J. Hill is due to the fact that neither ever achieved breakout status. On the flip side, Bryan Edwards has an absolutely insane BOA of 17.8!
Closely related to the aforementioned Breakout Age is College Dominator, which is the key factor in determining BOA. As such, you again see Bryan Edwards towards the top of this class in this category, while Ruggs and Hill bring up the rear. The dominator percentage can be explained away by some, as can most of the factors we look at when evaluating prospects. The main argument against CD is that the player in question may have had extremely talented teammates which cut into his dominator rating, or been the Big Man on Campus at a small school and thus soaked up all of the production due to a lack of other viable weapons. Both points can be valid and considered on a player by player basis, but I do think in general the College Dominator is an interesting factor to consider. For our data set, exactly 80% had a College Dominator of 31.9%, with the average being closer to 40%.
Total College Career Receptions
In perhaps my favorite chart when evaluating the incoming rookie wide receivers, there was a rather large gap between the necessary threshold to meet the minimum requirements, and the 50th percentile of the data set. While 81% of the receivers analyzed accumulated at least 143 career catches in college, with the average sitting at 184. Again, various factors can be at play here: how many years they played, how pass heavy was their offense, any injuries that caused the player to miss significant time, etc. As such, it isn’t a perfect predictor of future fantasy success. However, looking at the seven total receivers that achieved top-12 fantasy status since 2014, there are some serious outliers that lead me to tend to trust this threshold a bit more. For example, Doug Baldwin had 92 career catches in college, and as such was an undrafted free agent in the NFL. Julian Edelman was a quarterback in college, converted to receiver at the next level. Yes, Jarvis Landry and Michael Thomas went on to be NFL stars without doing so in college necessarily, but again, those are outliers and tough to bank on. Yet again, Henry Ruggs stands out to me, as well as recent mock-draft riser Brandon Aiyuk, who both failed to reel in 100 career catches.
Similar to running backs (and most skill positions), NFL Draft capital is a major consideration as to whether a player is set up to be a fantasy contributor or not. In our data set of 37 wide receivers, nearly 80% were drafted in the third round or higher. Some recent mocks have as many as six wide receivers coming off the board in Round 1 alone, which immediately gives some boost to the players overall profile. Seeing a player like Ruggs drafted very early would help to cover some of his warts (low College Dominator, no Breakout Age, low career receptions) and rookie rankings would adjust accordingly.
Stock Up, Stock Down Post-Combine
The biggest wide receiver riser from the 2020 NFL Combine from a fantasy perspective may be Denzel Mims. Already possessing a high College Dominator rating, 186 career receptions, and a Breakout Age under 20 years old, Mims added to his profile with a strong showing in the combine drills, and was the only rookie wide receiver that met at least the 50th percentile threshold on all six of the factors. CeeDee Lamb and Jalen Reagor were the two that never finished below the 20th percentile threshold.
K.J. Hill was an obvious faller, but may not have been very fantasy relevant to begin with. My biggest disappointment may be in that we did not get to see Tyler Johnson or Bryan Edwards complete any drills, as they otherwise have very strong profiles. It sounds like Edwards’ broken foot will prevent him from participating in his Pro Day, but Johnson will have a chance to perform various drills at his Pro Day on March 25th, with an opportunity to soar his stock.
I will be updating this article in April after the NFL Draft to include draft capital, as well as adding some prospects after Pro Days.