I get it. There is something inherently exciting about drafting a wide receiver late that you “scouted” and having him break out. You get the bragging rights because you KNEW that player would be good. You singlehandedly beat the industrial scouting complex. You mastered the NFL draft. You should probably be a professional scout or you should at least be on TV next to Adam Schefter at the 2022 NFL Draft, showing everyone how you can beat the odds with late breakout draft picks. It’s a good feeling.
But what if I told you that your darling Darnell Mooney finishing WR23 in PPR last year might be one of the worst things that could happen to you? That you hitting on that $1 scratch ticket might set you on the path of “late-round gambling addiction”? It’s a slippery slope for many that think they alone know the secrets of beating the rankings and the consensus. So we’re here to examine these late-round wide receivers to help figure out what truly makes them tick and what your odds of successfully picking them really are.
First, let’s look at the top five wide receivers in career PPR points drafted in the 4th, 5th, 6th, or 7th round over the last 15 years and their paths to the NFL. Namely, some of the reasons they might have been available in the late rounds of the NFL draft.
1. Antonio Brown - AB is the shining example of a late-round guy who went on to do big things. A sixth-round pick in fact. But folks might not realize that he initially couldn’t even get into college because of his terrible grades. And his tendency to blow off meetings with scouts. For instance, the regional scout that eventually got him onto a college field said that Antonio Brown met him on the corner and talked to him without even getting off of his bike. In order to get to college, Brown ended up going to a prep school called North Carolina Tech which notoriously had allegations that the school was a “pay for grades” set up for athletes. The school had no full-time classes that you physically attend. With his improved grades at prep school, Brown got into Florida International where he was promptly kicked out before even playing a snap. All this is part of why former NFL scout Greg Gabriel implied that Antonio Brown slid to the sixth round because everyone knew he was a problem.
2. Pierre Garcon - Garcon didn’t have off-field issues as far as we know but he fell in the draft because he didn’t play Division I football. In fact, he didn’t even play Division II. He started his college career at Norwich University in Northfield Vermont which was a member of the illustrious Empire 8 Athletic Conference at the time which is Division III. He then transferred to another Division III team, Mount Union, in the Ohio Athletic Conference.
- “Immature tendencies with bad on-field body language at times, allowing himself to be easily frustrated” - Dane Brugler, CBSSports.com
- Lack of focus which led coaches, like Maryland WR coach Keenan McCardell, to imply that he’s not a good student of the game.
- He was suspended for an altercation before a game vs. Penn State where he made contact with an official.
- His best season was his freshman season with 850 yards because he suffered major injuries in subsequent years like a broken leg and lacerated kidney
All this combined with the fact that Maryland itself isn’t a powerhouse football school is what caused Diggs to slide - not a lack of on-field talent.
4. Tyreek Hill - We don’t really need to get too deep into this one as everyone knows it but Tyreek Hill pled guilty to choking his pregnant girlfriend while in college and was kicked out of Oklahoma State. Otherwise, he would not have been a 5th round pick.
5. Julian Edelman - Julian Edelman played quarterback in college, not wide receiver. He recorded one catch for eleven yards while at Kent State as a senior. He did not play wide receiver until reaching the NFL and did not record more than 359 yards in a season until his fifth season in the NFL at the age of 27.
And here are the wide receivers that round out the top 15, courtesy of ProFootballReference.com
6. Marvin Jones Jr.
7. Steve Johnson
9. Kenny Stills (suspended for DUI)
10. Brian Hartline
11. Mike Williams (suspended for academic issues)
12. Travis Benjamin
13. Jeremy Kerley
14. Steve Breaston
Not a lot of megastars on that list. The list of names is so shallow in fact that Hunter Renfrow, after only three seasons in the NFL, actually ranks 20th. Yes, of day three wide receivers over the last 15 years, Hunter Renfrow is already top 20 in career stats.
Let’s take a second to really dissect this here. Over that 15-year span, there were 247 wide receivers drafted on day three of the NFL Draft. Let’s say you consider all 15 of these players above to be successful assets in fantasy football (which I do not because we are talking about guys like Jeremy Kerley). That’s still only a 6% hit rate.
Now let’s say you take all 247 players and you consider a “hit” to be any player that at any one point had a single top 24 WR season in fantasy football. Just one season at any point so that includes recent picks like Amon-Ra St. Brown and Darnell Mooney as well as some one-hit wonders like Rishard Matthews. That would be 13 players, a hit rate of 5.26%. Oh, it’s not fair to lump the late rounds together? Take just the fourth round, the earliest round of the group. You have three top 24 seasons out of 65 players, which is 4.6%. Doesn’t really matter the round, we are essentially talking 1-In-20 odds here.
Now, 5% is already terrible and that’s with all these guys included. Just imagine what that hit rate looks like if you were to take out any player that was suspended or kicked out of college like Brown, Hill, Diggs, Stills, Mike Williams (this is the Mike Williams drafted by the Buccaneers in 2010, not the Mike Williams drafted by the Chargers, mind you). Or let’s say you take out the Division III guys (both Pierre Garcon and Cecil Shorts oddly went to Mount Union at the same time so maybe it was a secret D3 football powerhouse). Or let’s say you take out the quarterback who didn’t even play wide receiver or break out until he was 27. What does that do to the already abysmal ~5% hit rate?
And folks might want to argue that undrafted free agents should be included in this. Let’s forget all the undrafted players that signed and got cut before the season even started as that’s nearly impossible to track. There are over 250 undrafted free agents that signed and actually played during the last 15 years. And on that list, guys like Cole Beasley and Robby Anderson are within the top five in terms of career numbers. For every Danny Amendola or Adam Thielen that actually has a good career, there are a couple hundred that did nothing. You are actually diluting the percentages by putting those players in there. Plus, it’s not like you drafted Adam Thielen in your dynasty league and held onto him until he broke out at 26 years old anyway. You added him off waivers like everyone else.
The reality here is that we already knew that breakout late-round wide receivers were incredibly rare, even when you include the guys who slid due to red flags or character issues. In fact, once you really boil down the names and numbers, you should probably be LOOKING for guys who slide due to character issues. That honestly might be the best indicator of success for late-round wide receivers as the vast majority of players picked in those rounds fell there because they simply aren’t that good at football. Just think about how many players 247 is; if we went back in time, the odds are bad that you could actually pick out the Brian Hartline that’s in the top 10 vs. the Ace Sanders or Hakeem Butler.
At the end of the day, the smartest way to deal with these players is to not draft them in your dynasty league. If anything, if one actually flashes at any point, maybe you add them off waivers and then trade them as soon as possible. You are much more likely to hold onto Preston Williams for way too long than you are to find the next Marvin Jones Jr. So cash out that scratch ticket while you can and go put your money on Blackjack or Roulette in the first three rounds where the odds are a little more on your side.
- 2022 Dynasty Fantasy Football Rankings: Wide Receiver Tier Breakdown
- 2022 Dynasty Fantasy Football Rankings: Quarterback Tier Breakdown
- Dynasty Player Rankings
- Dynasty League Strategies
- 2022 Fantasy Football ADP