Before the NFL Draft I looked at the future NFL potential of the incoming rookie receivers based on their size/speed profiles (Height-adjusted Speed Score or HaSS*) and their dominance at the college level (Dominator Rating or DR). Contrary to popular belief, a receiver’s physical attributes and game results are better indicators of professional success than more esoteric scouting measures.
One player does not make or prove a rule, but perusing the numbers for Calvin Johnson gives a clearer picture of why HaSS and DR seem to be important. Megatron’s HaSS is 143. His Dominator Rating was .55. Those numbers are at the extreme high end of the scale and help to punctuate his on field physical dominance.
To give another sense of the way in which Height-adjusted Speed Score can be handy, we only need to look at Darrius Heyward-Bey. Al Davis was right to be criticized for taking an unaccomplished receiver so early in the draft, but he may get the last laugh from beyond the grave. DHB’s 129 is the fourth best HaSS ever. DHB finished as the No. 27 wideout a year ago and is a trendy pick in some circles this season.
The current crop of rookie receivers is quite impressive, and you’re likely to get very good values on them in fantasy drafts. Due to the depth of the class and rampant disagreement among fans and pundits as to which ones are primed to make initial year impacts, several players who should quickly qualify as WR4 candidates are going in the final rounds of drafts.
Even considering the exploits of rookie receivers in 2011, many fantasy players are more interested in young veterans. Thus we have the non-rookie Breakout Rankings.
1. Julio Jones: HaSS – 128, DR – .32
Jones struggled to impose his will on corners in the SEC, but he’s probably the second best physical specimen in the NFL behind Megatron. You could argue against Jones’ inclusion on this list because he was already successful as a rookie. An ADP that is continuously soaring toward the first round suggests a massive breakout is already priced in.
2. Dez Bryant: HaSS – 107, DR – .62
Bryant is another well known WR with an expensive ADP, but his off field antics and inability to avoid nagging injuries have pushed him into the fourth round of some drafts. If he capitalizes on the immense potential that is suggested by an otherworldly .62 DR, he could significantly outperform such a slot. Bryant’s HaSS is subject to some debate because he didn’t take part in the Combine, but he probably falls in the 103 to 110 range.
3. Demaryius Thomas: HaSS – 119, DR – .68
Thomas wasn’t able to work out at the Combine either, but if we use a conservative forty time of 4.45 (he’s supposedly run as fast as 4.38 in timed workouts) we are left with an awesome, yet believable, HaSS of 119. His .68 DR is the best I have on record but should be taken with a grain of salt since he played in an offense at Georgia Tech where he was often the only receiving option. Thomas could finish as the No. 1 overall fantasy receiver in 2012 or he could end up a distant second on his own team.
4. Leonard Hankerson: HaSS – 113, DR – .50
Hankerson tends to get lost in the shuffle because his Miami squad wasn’t particularly good and his case of the dropsies left him in the Washington doghouse for half of last season. Once he proved he was their best receiving option, the former Hurricane immediately got injured. Hankerson now faces an uphill battle for playing time in Washington, which has dropped his ADP to very palatable levels. It’s worth remembering that Hankerson is both bigger and faster than Torrey Smith and recorded a significantly higher market share of his college team’s yards.
5. Pierre Garcon: HaSS -109, DR .46
Garcon is a little old to be on a breakout list, but moving to Washington he becomes a No. 1 receiver for the first time. Garcon’s Dominator Rating may be a little suspect since it occurred against a lower level of competition and considering the gigantic fade he experienced in his final year (I give players the benefit of the doubt by using the highest DR of their final two seasons). His HaSS demonstrates the kind of athleticism necessary to be the top target for an NFL team.
6. Torrey Smith: HaSS – 107, DR .41
Smith went undrafted in 2011 fantasy drafts in part because he’s not quite as big and not quite as fast as you’d like for a No. 1 receiver. At 6’1” and 204, his 4.41 speed is just shy of the elite level. On the other hand, his on field performance suggests the ability to separate at will. Smith entered the NFL with questions about his route running and hands, but any DR above .40 casts such a scouting report in doubt. Or to look at it another way, once Smith corrects those errors, his ceiling is incredibly high.
7. Jonathan Baldwin: HaSS – 119, DR – .37
After a disappointing college season in 2010, Baldwin got off on the wrong foot by injuring himself in a 2011 training camp scuffle. That tends to hide ridiculous athleticism and what was a strong 2009 campaign at Pittsburgh. The Chiefs may not throw enough to make him a fantasy weapon in 2012, but the idea that he could lose out to Steve Breaston on the depth chart is kind of silly.
8. Eric Decker: HaSS – 105, DR. – .41
If there’s a reason for optimism about Peyton Manning, it’s that both of his main receivers would qualify as breakout candidates even if he weren’t coming to the team. Decker is a better athlete than commonly perceived, and he was a much better college receiver than most remember. He’s moved into the 5th round of high stakes formats, which leaves him with a little less fantasy upside than you might hope.
9. Greg Little: HaSS – 116, DR. – .33
Little’s collegiate resume isn’t particularly impressive, but it looks better when you adjust for context. A .33 DR isn’t anything to be ashamed of. The Browns drafted Little because of his elite athleticism, and he should see an avalanche of targets again in 2012. Prior to their recent sale, the Browns were the worst run franchise in the NFL but change could be on the horizon. Little should emerge with double the targets and double the fantasy points of any other Cleveland player.
10. (tie) Andre Roberts: HaSS – 98 , DR – .51
The Cardinals have suggested Roberts is well ahead of Michael Floyd in the battle to be the No. 2 receiver in Arizona, and Kevin Kolb has raved about his fit in the slot. (It now appears that John Skelton will be the quarterback, and he, unlike Kolb, was actually able to find Roberts in 2011.) Roberts’ HaSS is below the mythical demarcation line of 100, but his size (5’11”, 195) and speed (4.4) are superior to many of this year’s purported sleepers. Any Dominator Rating above .50 gives a superstar level projection, but it’s important to remember that his numbers were accumulated against the lesser corners faced by the Citadel.
10. (tie) Brandon LaFell: HaSS – 97, DR – .45
LaFell has good size (6’2”, 211), but he ran a disturbing 4.59 at the Combine. Newspaper reports at the time suggest he was running on a bad knee, and if the former LSU Tiger is a healthy 4.52 runner, then he has some big time breakout potential. In order for Cam Newton to live up to his fantasy draft status, LaFell will need to put up big numbers as the Panthers’ new No. 2.
And a few deep sleepers . . .
Armon Binns – HaSS – 106, DR – .36
Most people aren’t taking Binns seriously in the battle to be Cincinnati’s No. 2 receiver, but he has the credentials to win out over Mohammed Sanu and Marvin Jones (both of whom might actually be inferior prospects). Binns excelled on the practice squad a year ago and would see strictly single coverage opposite A.J. Green if he wins the job.
Donald Jones: HaSS – 107, DR – .33
Considering how much value the Bills have gotten out of undrafted players, they’re quickly climbing my list of the more sophisticated organizations out there. Jones wasn’t exactly dominant at Youngstown State, but he’s a good athlete. The presence of Jones to go along with Stevie Johnson, David Nelson, and T.J. Graham is one of the reasons I like Ryan Fitzpatrick as a dark horse QB1 in 2012. (Fitzpatrick finished as the No. 11 fantasy QB last season despite playing with broken ribs and a decimated receiving corps.)
Greg Salas: HaSS – 99, DR – .34
Most people are disregarding Salas’ epic senior season with 1889 yards and 14 touchdowns because it happened out of Hawaii’s run-and-shoot, but that still equates to a very solid 34% market share. Salas is both bigger and faster than most realize. While his athleticism is not of the star variety, there are plenty of successful receivers with less in the way of physical tools. Salas was the only player to fit my Possession Receiver Breakout model this year, but early reports also suggest he’s in the running to win one of the starting roles in the Rams offense.
Golden Tate: HaSS – 97, DR – .44
Tate has really struggled so far as a pro, and it may be that he’s just not big enough to survive with merely 4.42 speed. Or it may mean that he hasn’t yet learned to run routes, a skill his less physically gifted teammate Doug Baldwin was able to demonstrate right from the jump. Tate put up impressive collegiate numbers despite being the focal point of the opposing defense, and he should get one more good shot to emerge with the Seahawks.
In a follow-up column I’ll look at some trendy breakout receivers that sport red flags according to HaSS and DR.
* Commenter Clay has asked how the Height-adjusted Speed Score is calculated. HaSS uses a similar method as the RB Speed Score but makes 40 time adjustments based on WR height.