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Targets, Target Size, and Wide Receiver Market Dynamics

Wide receiver height and arm length matter, but the tall wide receiver market has over-corrected and created a short wide receiver buying opportunity.

emmanuel sanders

My cliché dictionary tells me:
Size matters.
You can’t teach height.
The bigger the better.

Statistical data tells me:
37 out of 50 double-digit touchdowns seasons were achieved by wide receivers 6-foot-2 or taller.
In both 2012 and 2013, nine of the top 12 fantasy football (PPR) wide receivers were 6-foot-2 or taller.

Got it. Height is important, especially for NFL wide receivers. I know this, because the numbers tell me that it is so, and I know this, because it is self-evident. Isn’t it easier to throw a football through a big tire than a small tire? Do humans have a circumference? Leonardo da Vinci said yes.vitruvian-hi

 

Humans and tires both have radii. The football player’s body radius is a function of his height and arm length, and arm length compounds tall a wide receiver’s body radius advantage. Here are the average arm lengths for NFL wide receivers by height:

6-foot-5 – 33.60 inches
6-foot-4 – 33.50
6-foot-3 – 32.90
6-foot-2 – 33.70
6-foot-1 – 32.20
6-foot – 31.80
5-foot-11 – 31.40
5-foot-10 – 30.90
5-foot-9 – 30.90
5-foot-8- 30.50
5-foot-7 – 29.50

Keep these fractions of an inch in mind the next time an announcer reports that a pass to the back of the end zone went off the receiver’s fingertips.

Now, going back to elementary school, we know that the area of a circle = π × r2. Applied to a wide receiver, this is his body-target area. To calculate the r value, sum the height and arm length and then divide by 2.

Now, let’s examine two bodies on opposite ends of the body-target area spectrum. Mike Evans is 77 inches tall with 35 inch arms. His body length diameter is 112 and his body radius is 56, and his body target area is 3136 x 3.14 = 9847. Another rookie, who also happens to have a higher average draft position than Evans, is Brandin Cooks. His body target area is 8008. Mike Evans is a 23 percent larger target than Brandin Cooks. In a league where fractions of a second and fractions of an inch matter, 23 percent more surface area really matters.

Clearly, I have considered wide receiver height in terms of an academic exercise, but have I put my findings into practice with my fantasy teams? Do I have “tall receiver street cred” as the kids say? In my two most recent fantasy drafts, my early wide receivers selections featured:

RotoViz/Her Fantasy Football: Guys vs. Gals
Dez Bryant (6-foot-2)
Keenan Allen (6-foot-2)
Michael Floyd (6-foot-2)
Aaron Dobson (6-foot-3)

LevelUp: Industry Melee
Keenan Allen (6-foot-2)
Eric Decker (6-foot-3)
Rueben Randle (6-foot-3)
Justin Hunter (6-foot-4)
Aaron Dobson (6-foot-3)

Still not convinced that I like tall receivers? Serendipitously, a friend of mine texted me about Tavon Austin being undervalued while I was writing this piece. The conversation went like this:

tavonaustin

 

tavonaustin2

I LOVE tall receivers. Everyone should love tall receivers. Inexplicably, however, a significant portion of fantasy football enthusiasts continue to ignore facts and common sense by claiming “height is irrelevant.” Such blatantly inept remarks by well-published fantasy football analysts have inspired some of the more data-driven fantasy minds to scorch the earth with “big receivers are king” rhetoric. In a quest to burn out the last remaining “height agnostics,” the perception of small receivers has been degraded beyond reason. In a zeal to correct any and all misconceptions about receiver height, the market has over-corrected. Counterintuitively, a handful of short receivers have become undervalued.

Before we dive into the specific “small value receivers,” let’s zoom out and expand the context. While tall receivers have dominated the fantasy WR1 category the past two years, in 2010 and 2011, only five of the top 12 fantasy wide receivers were 6-foot-2 or taller.

The past 32 regular season games represent a tall receiver bubble. In 2010 and 2011, numerous short to medium height receivers were the undisputed No. 1 option on their respective teams. Possession receivers like Greg Jennings, Reggie Wayne, and Santana Moss enjoyed a significant high target share and WR1 fantasy output during that period. However, throughout the 2012 an 2013 seasons, Antonio Brown was the only short receiver target hog. This may be a trend as the NFL better appreciates body-target area, but whenever 42 percent jumps to 75 percent in one year, Mr. Randomness is pulling some levers behind the scenes.

While tall receivers are indisputably better at scoring touchdowns, history has shown that smallish target hogs with good quarterbacks can make up for lesser touchdown totals with receptions and yards and climb to WR1 status. Here are three undervalued wide receivers among the top 50 who are well-positioned to climb into the top 25.

Golden Tate

Matthew Stafford was No. 4 in the NFL with 634 pass attempts in 2013. Calvin Johnson soaked up 156 of those targets, and to say that Detroit’s depth chart beyond Tate is sub-mediocre would be kind. Detroit’s No. 3 through No. 5 options, Kris Durham, Ryan Broyles, and Kevin Ogletree, have league-bottom efficiency.

That leaves the majority of the targets after Calvin Johnson‘s up for Golden Tate and the Lions’ trio of tight ends to grab. Assuming 100 percent health, Johnson’s target cap for 2014 is approximately 175. Even if Stafford passes less without former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan calling the plays, it is safe to assume 600 passing attempts. 600 minus 175 is 425 up-for-grabs targets!

Once Golden Tate gets his hands on a target, he makes it count. Indeed, Tate is a bonafide YAC monster, evidenced by his 520 yards after the catch, No. 8 in the NFL in 2013, on only 98 targets. From a pure efficiency perspective, his 1.90 fantasy points per target was No. 18 in the NFL, and his +19.6 Production Premium, PlayerProfiler.com‘s isolated efficiency metric, was NFL top-20.

Career years are made when efficient players experience a opportunity spike, and Golden Tate‘s targets should grow by at least 30% allowing him to greatly outperform his No. 87 ADP on MyFantasyLeague since August 1st.

Emmanuel Sanders

Emmanuel Sanders is not as straightforward case like Golden Tate, because his 2013 season was inefficient overall. The case for Sanders is based on opportunity and athleticism. A projected rise in targets combined with Peyton Manning‘s once-in-a-lifetime accuracy, will put Sanders in a position to translate his speed, burst, and agility into a WR2 season. How quick and fast is Emmanuel Sanders? Let’s look at Sanders’ key workout metrics on PlayerProfiler.com:

40-time: 4.41 (89th percentile)
Burst Score: 130.2 (86th percentile)
Agility Score: 10.74 (93rd percentile)

Peyton Manning is renowned for making below-average athletes such as Brandon Stokely fantasy relevant. With Wes Welker playing brain matter roulette, few receivers are better positioned to out-perform their ADP (No. 71 per MyFantasyLeague since August 1st) than Emmanuel Sanders.

Markus Wheaton

Markus Wheaton checks all the boxes. He is one of few NFL wide receivers who score at or around the 60th percentile on all meaningful workout metrics:

40-yard dash: 4.45 (76th percentile)
Burst Score: 122.9 (59th percentile)
Agility Score: 10.82 (87th percentile)

Wheaton’s college resume demonstrates his ability to translate workout measurable into on-field productivity. His 36.0 percent College Dominator Rating (Wheaton’s share of all Oregon State receiving production) was 65th percentile while his 19.6 Breakout Age was 69th percentile amongst NFL wide receivers.

At 5-foot-11 Markus Wheaton‘s height is below average, but his 32 3/4-inch arms are in the 70th percentile among NFL wide receivers. The Pittsburgh Steelers have determined that Wheaton has the physical tools and football instincts to play both inside and outside the numbers. With both Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders gone, 188 targets from 2013 have disappeared from the roster, and Wheaton projects to absorb the majority of these receiving opportunities. If he can demonstrate the same efficiency that he showed in college, he will be in position to ascend to fantasy WR2 status.

While Golden Tate, Emmanuel Sanders, and Markus Wheaton are some of the more recognizable short receivers, based on their projected target share, these late round “shortys” may also out-perform their average draft position:
Doug Baldwin
Jeremy Kerley
Stedman Bailey
Andrew Hawkins
John Brown

A recent, anomalous tall receiver production spike has brought long overdue attention to wide receiver height and body target area. To ensure that the adoption of these highly intuitive concepts become industry-wide, some overzealous fantasy analysts have staked claim to the “size is all that matters” hot sports take. The wide receiver market has since over-corrected, creating a short receiver buying opportunity. While height absolutely matters, small receivers in high target situations should not be dismissed.

I’m sorry, I like some small receivers. Please don’t hurt me.

Matt Kelley (@fantasy_mansion) is an XN Sports contributor and founder of RotoUnderworld (@rotounderworld) and PlayerProfiler.com, which distills a wide range of advanced metrics into a single player snapshot.

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