Football by the Numbers: Sizing up receivers

Justin Hunter has the makings to be a TD magnet for the Titans. (Getty)
Justin Hunter has the makings to be a TD magnet for the Titans. (Getty)

Let’s break down wide receivers like last year, using the same method of generally breaking ties in tiers and rounds in favor of the taller receiver.

But first, a word about last week’s column  and Johnny Manziel. It’s always good to get the first swing and a miss out of the way with something that doesn’t really matter. While I still do think Manziel will rank inside the top 12 at the QB position on a per-game basis, he was never a player who needed to be drafted in one-QB leagues. Clearly, the modern model is that these rookies should start right away. I don’t understand what the Browns are gaining here by benching him to start the season. So slide back that ETA to Week 5 after the Cleveland bye. Remember, Nick Foles didn’t start last year until Week 6. It’s a long season. Hoyer is a journeyman who sure seems like a total waste of time. He’s not a serious threat for extended playing time. And Cleveland should have released him when they signed Rex Grossman since Hoyer is a big distraction from what clearly is their future, one THEY chose I remind you. Why even sign Grossman, a total waste of a third QB spot, unless you were going to jettison Hoyer for a seventh-rounder?

With that housekeeping out of the way, I again remind you that last year around this time, we noted the point probability of tall wide receivers is significantly higher than short wide receivers, even in PPR formats.

It turned out that Wes Welker somehow became a red zone weapon (though an inefficient one on the Manning-scale, leading the team in targets and touchdowns but having the team’s lowest conversion rate). And I stipulate that, of course, Antonio Brown also was great. But the point about touchdowns remains. There were 10 receivers last year 5-foot-10 and under who started at least eight games and they totaled a TD every 13.4 receptions. Even Brown was 13.8. Kendall Wright, who I don’t understand drafting remotely at his ADP, had two TDs on 94 catches. Meanwhile Justin Hunter (6-foot-4, 4.44 40), who even with the summer breakout is going later, had four TDs last year on 18 catches.

Conversely, there were 22 receivers 6-foot-3 or taller who started at least 8 games and they averaged a TD every 9.9 catches. Yes, this seems so obvious. But few seem to emphasize it and use height as a basis for ADP. PPR is not going to be much help either, as the taller group averaged five more catches than the smaller group.

Taller receivers tend to carry higher ADPs and that’s obviously a factor in rostering players. I’m not saying to NEVER roster a small receiver. What I am saying is that when two receivers are in the same tier or carry an ADP that’s about the same round, always take the taller guy. So Alshon Jeffrey over Antonio Brown. Keenan Allen over Randall Cobb. Eric Decker over Wes Welker. Michael Floyd over Percy Harvin. Many people take Cobb over Jordy Nelson given their ADPs are right next to one another. That’s insane, even if you end up being right. Why bet against the higher point-probability player with a lower point-probability one?

I am a DeSean Jackson fan but this is business. While speed at his level can compensate for a lack of height, the tall guys I like are fast, too. And unless your league rewards distance scoring (I really think all should), home-run ability is overrated. You want the red zone weapons, the guys who also will get the fade or the back shoulder throw on first and goal from the five.

Last year, we threw a bunch of tall receivers into a bucket and said their ADPs were too low and recommended getting them. The hits included Josh Gordon, Michael Floyd and Alshon Jeffrey. The misses Mohamed Sanu (actually 6-foot-2, last year’s cutoff), Stephen Hill and Brian Quick. I’ll call Rueben Randle a push. But the point remains that this was cheap speculation at a price where there’s a good chance you will cut whoever you drafted there anyway.

So let’s use height as our guide in ranking this year’s wide receiver, where taller is preferred. These height-influenced rankings, which also consider age, environment (QB, pecking order) and speed; a space means that’s basically a tier (and fasten your seat belts, kids):

Thomas, Demaryius DEN  
Bryant, Dez DAL  
Johnson, Calvin DET
Jones, Julio ATL  
Green, A.J. CIN  
Marshall, Brandon CHI  
Nelson, Jordy GBP  
Jeffery, Alshon CHI
Allen, Keenan SDC  
Floyd, Michael ARI  
Patterson, Cordarrelle MIN  
Jackson, Vincent TBB
Cobb, Randall GBP  
Brown, Antonio PIT  
Crabtree, Michael SFO  
Garcon, Pierre WAS  
Decker, Eric NYJ  
Cruz, Victor NYG  
Johnson, Andre HOU  
Smith, Torrey BAL  
Wallace, Mike MIA  
Harvin, Percy SEA  
Randle, Rueben NYG  
Fitzgerald, Larry ARI  
Hopkins, DeAndre HOU  
Hunter, Justin TEN  
Williams, Terrance DAL  
White, Roddy ATL
Maclin, Jeremy PHI  
Jackson, DeSean WAS  
Welker, Wes DEN  
Hilton, T.Y. IND  
Edelman, Julian NEP  
Benjamin, Kelvin CAR  
Evans, Mike TBB  
Colston, Marques NOS  
Sanders, Emmanuel DEN  
Wright, Kendall TEN  
Shorts, Cecil JAC  
Wayne, Reggie IND  
Tate, Golden DET  
Lee, Marqise JAC  
Bowe, Dwayne KCC  
Stills, Kenny NOS  
Cooks, Brandin NOS  
Boykin, Jarrett GBP  
Dobson, Aaron NEP  

Note that the tiers are more important than the order, but the receivers are listed in my order. Have at it in the comments. But don’t be so tribal about guys you have already drafted. A pro tip is to always be more skeptical of guys you own than guys you don’t.

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