97.39% of the time, rookie wide receivers do not score in the top 24 players at their position in their first year.
2020’s NFL draft saw many WR’s drafted in the first round. The fantasy football community is hyped up in anticipation for their production this season. Will those WR’s make a sizable splash on your roster on the way to a championship, or would you have been better off waiting to trade for them as they enter their second year? Let’s put the spotlight on the recent history of rookie WR’s in the NFL to find out some theories.
97.39% of the time rookie wide receivers do not score in the top 24 players at their position in their first year.
Here is a break down of the data.
Number of wide receivers drafted by year
2019 - 25
2018 - 32
2017 - 31
2016 - 31
Total 2016 - 2019: 119
Number of drafted wide receivers performing as WR2 or better in their first year
2019 - 1
2018 - 0
2017 - 1
2016 - 1
The rookie wide receiver bust rate shows how likely an owner is to draft a rookie wide receiver that doesn’t perform better than WR2 or better.
Rookie wide receiver bust rate by year.
2019 - 24 / 25 = 0.96 x 100 = 96%
In 2019, 96% of the rookie wide receivers were busts and did not score as a WR2 or better.
2018 - 32 / 32 = 1 x 100 = 100%
In 2018, 100% of rookie wide receivers were busts and none scored as a WR2 or better.
2017 - 30 / 31 = 0.9677 x 100 = 96.77%
In 2017, 96.77% of the rookie wide receivers were busts and did not score as a WR2 or better.
2016 - 30 / 31 = 0.9677 x 100 = 96.77%
In 2016, 96.77% of the rookie wide receivers were busts and did not score as a WR2 or better.
From 2016-2019 the average rookie wide receiver bust rate was
(96+100+96.77+96.77) / 4 = 97.39%
From the numbers, rookie wide receivers are not a safe bet for production in their first year. However, those that performed well in their first year carried WR2 production into their future years in most cases.
Wide receivers that scored as WR2 or better in their rookie year.
2016: Michael Thomas, 2nd round, 47th overall
WR7 - 255.7 PPR points
2017: JuJu Smith-Schuster, 2nd round, 62nd overall
WR23 - 191.7 PPR points
2018: No rookie WR’s were WR24 or better
2019: A.J. Brown, 2nd round, 51st overall
WR21 - 217.1 PPR points
It is interesting to note that all of the rookie wide receivers were drafted in the second round. It’s probably a coincidence, but extrapolating this to the 2020 class shows the following wide receivers drafted in the second round,
Tee Higgins, 2nd round, 33rd overall
Michael Pittman Jr, 2nd round, 34th overall
Laviska Shenault, 2nd round, 42nd overall
K.J. Hamler, 2nd round, 46th overall
Chase Claypool, 2nd round, 49th overall
Van Jefferson, 2nd round, 57th overall
Denzel Mims, 2nd round, 59th overall
One thing that links the three wide receivers that broke out in their rookie year on top of what round they were drafted in is that they all went to teams with veteran quarterbacks.
Drew Brees and Michael Thomas
Ben Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster
Ryan Tannehill and A.J. Brown
Additionally, they all had top ten running backs (PPR)
2016: Mark Ingram RB8, NO
2017: Le’Veon Bell RB2, PIT
2019: Derrick Henry RB5, TEN
Following this recipe, which of the 2020 rookie WR’s drafted in the 2nd round are most likely to break out?
None of them meet that specific criteria, but Michael Pittman Jr. would be the closest.
First round wide receivers gather a lot of hype in the offseason. Looking back at the first round WR’s from each year, the top picks were
2016: Corey Coleman
2017: Corey Davis
2018: D.J. Moore
2019: Marquise Brown
2020: Henry Ruggs III
Although 2018 had no WR2’s in the rookie classes there has been a lot of depth to the class that emerged in 2019. Four receivers from the 2018 class were in the top 24 wide receivers in 2019.
Many speculate that this wide receiver class could be spectacular and the bar seems low. If two receivers from this year perform in the top 24 it would double the production of any class since 2016.
In dynasty, wide receivers are sought after for their longevity and the stability they bring to a roster. It may be worthwhile to let someone else take that chance and then trade for a second year receiver with a much higher potential for a breakout. Second year wide receivers are three to four times more likely to score in the top 24 than rookies.
Fun facts gathered from researching for this article.
Every NFL draft does not have the same number of picks year to year.
Tyreek Hill was WR25 in his rookie year and was drafted in the 5th round with the 165th pick overall.
Two Michael Thomas’s were drafted in 2016 as wide receivers.
Aaron Jones was drafted after Jamaal Williams.
Chris Carson was drafted in the 7th round with the 249th pick out of 253 picks that year.