There’s a yawning chasm in the fantasy football community, one that has those who cast their lot with big wide receivers on one side, and those who point to flaws in the burgeoning obsession with tall, heavy, fast wideouts on the other.
Fantasy football analysts, in short, have largely split into two camps: Team Big Wide Receiver and Team Small Wide Receiver. Maybe the latter should be called Team Consider All Wide Receivers. It’s hard to say.
It’s not that partisans to big pass catchers would advise fantasy owners never to take a shot on an undersized receiver, just as the other side would never concoct a fantasy squad made up exclusively of small wideouts. Smart analysts on each side of the receiver size divide know a value play when they see one, no matter a guy’s height and weight.
I’m more than a little partial to Team Big Wide Receiver, as you surely know if you follow me on the Twitter Machine. I find the evidence for big receiver dominance to be overwhelming, and anecdotally, I’ve had much more fake football success when targeting a slew of hulking, speedy pass catchers. Anecdotal evidence is the best, isn’t it? (It’s not)
Yards, as the tireless number crunchers at rotoViz have shown, are much more replaceable than touchdowns — something fantasy owners and NFL general managers would do well to note. Height and weight are two critical pieces of the Holy Grail of receiver success, and a simple visualization of wide receiver size shows that all-time NFL greats are taller, heavier, and boast a higher body mass index (BMI) than the average pro receiver.
Thirty-seven of the 50 double-digit touchdown seasons posted by pass catchers over the past five years have been courtesy of guys who are at least 6-foot-2, as rotoViz writer Davis Mattek noted. Perhaps most importantly, the outliers — guys like Wes Welker and Greg Jennings — had one thing in common: elite quarterbacks at the helm.
Probably this isn’t shocking to anyone who even casually watches football on Sunday afternoons. Big guys score touchdowns — it’s hardly a difficult concept to digest. They reach and leap over defenders and they use their weighty, big frames to box out cornerbacks and safeties.
There are exceptions to every rule, however, and every season, a few small-ish wide receivers sneak into elite fantasy territory, usually bolstered by high volume targets and a handful of lengthy touchdowns. It’s critically important to be able to spot those small pass catchers whose draft price isn’t too high, and who could feast on a boatload of passes his way.
I wanted to better understand what a high-end fantasy wide receiver looked like, to create a sort of composite sketch using data from the past five seasons. If you threw every top-12 fantasy receiver into a blender and hit the “on” button, what would come out, besides gore beyond human understanding?
I averaged the height and weight of every single top-12 receiver from 2009-2013, parsing out the average size of the elite of the elite: Top-5 receivers.
|Year||Average height of top-12 WRs||Average weight of top-12 WRs||Average height of top-5 WRs||Average weight of top-5 WRs|
|2009||73.5 inches||208.5 pounds||73.4 inches||206.9 pounds|
|2010||73.3 inches||210.7 pounds||72.4 inches||205.5 pounds|
|2011||72.9 inches||209 pounds||73.3 inches||212.4 pounds|
|2012||74.8 inches||220.6 pounds||75.6 inches||225.7 pounds|
|2013||74.4 inches||216 pounds||75.8 inches||226.5 pounds|
|AVERAGES||73.8 inches||212.9 pounds||74.1 inches||215.5 pounds|
There you have it. The top-12 wide receiver composite sketch shows us a 6-foot-2 guy who weighs about 213 pounds. (Broncos rookie receiver Cody Latimer fits this profile almost exactly, standing 74 inches and weighing in at 215 pounds, for whatever that’s worth)
The top-end receivers — players who posted top-5 fantasy numbers — stand slightly taller and weigh a few more pounds. The difference between the two averages isn’t nearly as dramatic as I thought it’d be, although it’s fairly easy to understand why.
The 2010 and 2011 NFL seasons saw a cavalcade of undersized receivers make their way into WR1 range. In 2010, it was Brandon Lloyd — fantasy’s top receiver, somehow — Jennings, Mike Wallace, and Jeremy Maclin. In 2011, Victor Cruz, Welker, Percy Harvin, Wallace, and Steve Smith sauntered into the WR1 party.
That all changed in 2012 and 2013, and though we’re years away from accurately labeling this a trend, I think the shift is well worth our attention.
The average top-12 receiver in 2012 came in at 74.8 inches and 220.6 pounds, while top-12 guys in 2013 were 74.5 inches tall and weighed 216 pounds. DeSean Jackson and Antonio Brown were the lone members of Team Small Wide Receiver who cracked the top-12.
That’s a lot of height and weight added to the averaged from 2010-2011. Probably the 2010 season stands out as the most fascinating outlier, for it was that season that saw the average top-5 wideout weigh in at a meager 205.4 pounds, standing just a smidgen over 6 feet.
Is this information immediately and unquestionably actionable for fantasy owners? Will it change the way you approach your 2014 fantasy drafts, opening your eyes to a Matrix-like reality in which stockpiling big receivers is key to manipulating the reality of our fantasy sport? I think you know the answers to these questions.
The above numbers tell me to err on the side of size, especially in standard scoring leagues that don’t reward a bushel of points for a 70-yard, nine-catch performance. Our little game, like poker, should be centered around the process of winning: making clear-headed choices that increase your likelihood of success over the long haul. Process is all we can control, and without knowing what separates good process from bad, we don’t stand a chance.
I think good process in fantasy football includes prioritizing receivers who are taller and weigh more than the average NFL wideout. The above table agrees with me.