“Rosencrantz: We might as well be dead. Do you think death could possibly be a boat?
Guildenstern: No, no, no… Death is…not. Death isn’t. Death is the ultimate negative. You can’t not-be on a boat.
Rosencrantz: I’ve frequently not been on boats.
Guildenstern: No, no, no–what you’ve been is not on boats.”
― Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
With the veteran portion of the RotoViz Dynasty startup just completed, it was time to move on to the rookie draft. I owned the No. 16 pick and some highly ranked players fell to me at that spot. Unfortunately, they weren’t highly ranked players that I liked. My pick came down to Marcus Lattimore (ranked 9th in the PFF rookie rankings), Markus Wheaton (11), and Justin Hunter (14). All of these guys theoretically represent good value, but I tried to trade down because, like the rest of the RotoViz staff apparently, I think they’re all overrated.
A Quick Glimpse at the Candidates
1) Marcus Lattimore – The dynasty world has fallen in love with picking Lattimore and stashing him for 2014, but once you calculate the present value of Lattimore’s future worth, you basically have to believe one of two ideas. A) Everybody else available is gawd-awful. B) Lattimore is a superstar. (Also that Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James are worthless.)
I’ve already suggested proposition A as a real possibility and maybe that’s where everybody else is too. Unfortunately, Lattimore is probably overrated regardless. Bill Connelly’s Adj. POE numbers over at Football Study Hall suggest the former Gamecock struggled badly in both 2011 and 2012. If you pick Lattimore, your optimistic scenario is getting Willis McGahee circa 2003. (For a fuller discussion of why Lattimore makes an awful rookie pick, check out Coleman Kelly’s The Myth of Marcus Lattimore.)
2) Markus Wheaton – Landing with the Steelers was the perfect spot for Wheaton’s fantasy value but that probably pushes him merely to WR3 upside. Wheaton is often compared to guys like Mike Wallace or T.Y. Hilton, but he lacks that kind of timed speed. (Of course, football speed is more important than timed speed, but when guys lack timed speed I worry about their ability to transition to the NFL where almost everyone has football speed. Essentially, you need both timed speed and football speed to be a vertical receiver at the NFL level.) Wheaton is the type of player who will fill an important reality niche without delivering enough fantasy value to burn a roster spot on.
3) Justin Hunter – I’ve been all over the place on Hunter, and I always try to avoid guys when I can’t get a good read. On the other hand, one thing you can do to figure out the potential trade value tied up in a player is to imagine that what it would be like if they have a decent season. If both Wheaton and Hunter post identical 50-catch, 700-yard, and 5-TD seasons, then Hunter will be valued in 2014 a lot like Josh Gordon is now. Wheaton will be valued a lot like Kendall Wright.
A Closer Look at Justin Hunter’s NFL Projection
I’ve written a couple of Dominator Rating and Height-adjusted Speed Score articles in reference to this rookie class, and Hunter actually did better before being selected by the moribund Titans. There are two big issues with Hunter. First, while he’s the best athlete in the rookie class when you look at height (6’4”), speed (4.44), and vertical (39 inches), his weight (196) is a big red flag. That lowers his HaSS to 106, which isn’t elite.
Second, he hasn’t been nearly as productive as you want. Take a look at his heat map. I’ve included DeAndre Hopkins, the underrated star of this rookie class, A.J. Green, a guy Hunter has drawn comparisons to, and Hakeem Nicks, a guy whose collegiate resume predicted his early career per play dominance.
Although he’s not as bad as Cordarrelle Patterson, Hunter doesn’t measure up to what you want in a future No. 1 receiver. He’s weak in every category: yards per target, red zone touchdown rate, market share yards, market share touchdowns. (For the best visualizations of football info on the internet, visit RotoViz and click on the College WR Career Graphs tool.)
Of course, the ACL tear complicates things. If we decide to include Hunter’s first two games in 2011 – not cherry-picking but simply adding on his last two completed games – then in his last 14 games Hunter has recorded 1385 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. Not Stedman Bailey numbers to be sure, but more encouraging.
The discouraging note is that while Hunter has flashed in Titans workouts, he’s already drawn the ire of position coach Shawn Jefferson.
Justin Hunter, Markus Wheaton, and Marginal Value
I predict Markus Wheaton will score more fantasy points over the next five years than Justin Hunter, but his upside is probably in the range that you might oxymoronically label ‘elite replacement level.’ (It’s important to be aware of how you’re calculating marginal value relative to your league requirements. One thing the professional teams in Kansas City have proven relentlessly is how easy it is to end up with multiple starters who are below the theoretical replacement level. In 14-team leagues it’s easy for talent to become very unevenly distributed by position. Essentially, I could end up with zero replacement level WRs, and then the value to me of an otherwise replacement level talent would skyrocket.)
Keeping that in mind, Hunter has a much broader range of potential future outcomes, one of which is becoming a WR1 for your fantasy team. Replacement level talent should never be taken for granted. Grinding the FA pool is an essential part of making sure you have replacement level players at your disposal. It’s important to be willing to do that work later so that when you have a premium pick in a rookie (or regular) draft you can afford to swing for the fences.