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Fantasy Football: Elite Receivers Looked Much Different in 2014

Top fantasy football wide receivers tend to be big and tall. That wasn’t the case in 2014.

The 2014 NFL season was, in no small way, a banner year for skeptics of Team Big Wide Receiver.

The cream of the fantasy football receiving crop was flooded with short guys who don’t exactly break the scale, as the heavy, towering giants of 2012 and 2013 accounted for just half of fantasy’s elite pass catchers.

A zoomed-in view of the fantasy football landscape would show that there was no particular reason to prioritize the drafting of big receivers who account for the vast majority of double-digit touchdown seasons.

You may ask: What is Team Big Wide Receiver? My best answer: It’s a cadre of fantasy analysts who have uncovered veritable mountains of data showing that receivers who are heavier and taller should be a focus of fantasy owners seeking a sensible drafting process.

After all, the top-12 composite receiver from 2009 to 2013 would have been about 6’2″ and 213 pounds, and fantasy’s best receivers have become steadily heavier and taller.

Those who hesitate to pay premium prices for smallish receivers in favor of larger guys know that yards are highly replaceable, and touchdowns largely are not. 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.

There were a lot of words spilled about the importance of investing in big receivers headed into the 2014 fantasy season, and despite the emergence of six small receivers among fantasy’s top-12, I would hesitate to dispatch that analysis in 2015.

There was a marked shift, however, in the height and weight of a top-12 fantasy receiver in 2014.

 

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 73.4 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 226.6 pounds
2014 72.9 inches 206.2 pounds 73 inches 210.9 pounds

 

With Odell Beckham, Jr., Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton, Randall Cobb, Jeremy Maclin, and Emmanuel Sanders emerging as top-12 options, the average weight of a WR1 dropped by an astounding 10 pounds from 2013 to 2014. The average height dropped by a not-insignificant 1.5 inches.

The height and weight averages of last season’s top-5 receivers can be seen as a demoralizing deathblow to Team Big Wide Receiver. We saw a 15.7-pound drop in top-5 guys, along with an incredible 2.8-inch decrease, on average. The 2009 seasons was a year of widespread small receiver success, but was nowhere close to the triumph of smallness that 2014 was.

What happened? First, and I realize this might be taken as the backpedaling apologist ramblings of an unapologetic partisan, but we had a slew of elite giant receivers who, for various reasons, did not crack the WR1 threshold in 2014. A.J. Green missed four games, Brandon Marshall missed three games, Calvin Johnson missed three and a half games, and Josh Gordon was suspended for the season’s first three months.

That, dear reader, is the Team Big Wide Receiver nightmare scenario.

Beyond apologizing for big receiver enthusiasts, I think there’s a crystal clear lesson to be learned in a survey of small wideouts who excelled in 2014. They were mostly, except for Maclin and OBJ, catching passes from top-end quarterbacks: Brown from Ben Roethlisberger, Hilton from Andrew Luck, Cobb from Aaron Rodgers, and Sanders from Peyton Manning.

Sanders is a particular thorn in the side of Team Big Wide Receiver, as he had sucked – to use a technical term – heading into his first year in Denver. But here he is, a top-7 receiver, with Peyton peppering him with 140 targets. Welp, as they say.

Savvy fantasy owners will always focus on filling their rosters with players whose offenses are captained by the game’s best signal callers. If you’re not going to reap the benefit of an elite quarterback – and you shouldn’t, ever – you can lap up the sweet yardage and touchdowns that come from those quarterbacks’ dominance.

You’re going to have to pay an absolute iron price for most of the small receivers who finished among 2014’s top-12. There will be no discounts. And that will create a choice, one that we’ll face time and again in the run-up to the 2015 campaign.

Are you going Dez or OBJ at the end of the first? Are you taking Hilton or Green at the end of the second round? Are you taking Alshon or Sanders in the third? Mike Evans or Maclin? Cobb or Julio? All of these guys have similar average draft positions.

I’ll continue to prioritize weightier, taller receivers. I believe it to be good process, even if said process had one hellish year in 2014.

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