Which 2020 Wide Receiver Prospects Have the Best Odds for Success?
Last year at RotoExperts, I released the model that I use to evaluate wide receiver prospects. I’ll be doing the same thing again this year, with updates every so often as we lead up to the Draft. The objective of all of my prospect models (I have one for running backs as well) is to predict the odds of a player reaching 200 or more PPR points in one of his first three seasons.
For dynasty fantasy players, this is an important window, as it is likely that a late breakout would not occur while on that player’s original roster. It also coincides well with rookie contracts, which can max out from three to five years depending on when a player was drafted (or if they went undrafted).
For those who do not recall, the inputs to last year’s model were as follows:
- Log of NFL Draft Scout rank
- Adjusted age
- Final season receiving yards per team pass attempt
These terms are explained in the WR statistic glossary.
Wide Receiver Model Updates
No model is perfect, and there are always ways to improve. This year’s model has two major updates worth mentioning and explaining.
The final season production metric now accounts for strength of schedule based on yards per attempt pass defense. I looked at the total passing yards and attempts faced by the opponents of each prospect for the given year, then divided them to get YPA (as opposed to just averaging the opponent YPAs). I then took each prospect’s receiving yards per team pass attempt and divided it by our strength of schedule metric. When modeled together, this rendered receiving yards per team pass attempt insignificant on its own, keeping our total terms at three.
The second update is one I am rather excited about. The model is trained on nearly 400 WR prospects since 2003, but they all have one thing in common: appearing in an NFL game. The obvious issue is that not all prospects make it onto the field. For instance, last year’s projections were high on deeper names such as Scott Miller, Greg Dortch, and Emanuel Hall. But it was too high! These players ended up being drafted in the sixth round, undrafted, and undrafted. This should have an impact on their chances to succeed, but this was not accounted for in the model.
So for each prospect, there will now be a second probability that reflects how likely it is that they see the field in their first three years. This is based on a simple loess model that utilizes integer NFL Draft Scout rank and the binary outcome of playing or not playing in three years. Adding this context will be critical in developing more accurate success probabilities.
The Initial Wide Receiver 2020 Model
Now that you understand the background of this year’s model, here are the results so far this winter.
*Note that if a prospect is not listed, he is either sub-FBS level or has no listed birthday at the current time[table “2814” not found /]
CeeDee Lamb sits atop the initial model in a tier of his own. He had at least 800 yards and seven touchdowns in each of his three seasons at Oklahoma. Lamb was also the team’s main punt returner during his career, which I always like to see. He grades out as a better prospect than Marquise Brown did a year ago.
The second tier is also fairly clear: Jerry Jeudy, Tyler Johnson, and Justin Jefferson. Jeudy should be a hotly debated wideout this off-season, as he never broke out at Alabama, but was part of the most talented WR group in college football. Johnson is a good example of the improvements of the model. He would have been the top-rated prospect without the play-time probability. If he moves up in the Draft Scout ranks in the coming weeks, Johnson is certainly a candidate to be the model’s top WR. Jefferson broke out last year, but gained most of his notoriety this season as a part of LSU’s explosive offense.
While Jeudy will have his fair share of debates surrounding him, he will be part of a larger conversation around Alabama WRs. Jeudy’s teammate, Henry Ruggs, is the third-rated prospect on Draft Scout, but has a pretty terrible statistical profile. How much of that though came from playing with Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle, and Devonta Smith, who led the Crimson Tide in receiving this year, but decided to return to school? It is a difficult puzzle to solve, but one that should likely have you manually bumping Ruggs up the rankings.
A similar argument can be made for Tee Higgins, who is the fourth-rated Draft Scout prospect. Clemson’s WR group was not quite as loaded as Alabama’s, but Higgins still had to compete with Justyn Ross, a projected top pick for 2021. Being ranked ninth by the model puts him in a much closer range than Ruggs versus his scout ranking.
One of the more intriguing prospects to me is Lynn Bowden out of Kentucky. He broke out in 2018 for the Wildcats, but then made a transition to running back ahead of the 2019 campaign. As a result, the model has him in the 20’s. However, if we just inputted last year’s receiving numbers, he would be inside of the top-15. Had he stayed at the position and progressed, Bowden could be a legitimate top-10 prospect! The film-watchers still seem to like him, so he will certainly be someone I’m keeping my eye on.
I’ll also be tracking Geraud Sanders to see if he gains any traction this spring. The academy players routinely have high receiving yards per team pass attempt statistics due to the nature of their offenses (triple-option and deep passing), but Sanders seems like a legitimate prospect. His receiving numbers are outrageous for someone with only 30 catches this year, and Sanders technically broke out two years ago in a season he only played five games in. His profile intrigues me greatly.