Football by the Numbers: Sizing up receivers

Michael Salfino
Yahoo! SportsAugust 20, 2013

Receivers come in all shapes and sizes but taller seems to be significantly better. While it seems so simple and perhaps obvious, size often seems to be ignored in ranking receivers.

The difficulty is determining what the cutoff is while not being arbitrary. You also don’t want to be separating receivers by an inch or even less when you are putting them into different sample buckets. So I don’t want to make the cutoff say 6-foot-0 and have everyone under that size in one bucket and everyone that size or over in another.
So my solution was to just look at really short receivers (5-foot-10 and under) and really tall ones (6-foot-2 and over). This way they’re separated by at least four inches, which I think we’ll all agree is significant. The "really tall" sample is a little bigger, even when we limit receivers to 40-plus catches in 2011 or 2012.
I wanted to know the averages for each group so we can know what kind of tailwind, if any, the taller receivers get when it comes to Yahoo! fantasy points.

We have 28 “really tall” receivers (6-2 and over) who had at least 40 receptions in either 2011 and 2012. Here’s the average stat line for these tall receivers: 67 catches, 974 yards, 6.7 touchdowns. Added up in a standard Yahoo! point-per-reception league and you get 204.6 total points and 12.8 points per week.
We have 23 “really short” receivers (5-10 and under) with 40-plus receptions in either season. Their average season is 63 catches for 817 yards and 4.7 touchdowns. That’s 173.1 fantasy point in PPR scoring, or 10.8 per week.

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That difference equals about eight wide receivers in the 2013 rankings (based on the projections that go with those rankings). And eight wide receivers are usually separated by about 18 picks on average. So the difference is quite significant.
Of course, individual mileage may vary. You can argue that Short Receiver X is going to to much better than the baseline and Tall Receiver Y much worse. But then understand that you are arguing against what’s most likely to happen generally. So you better have a very good reason. The simple approach is to just cross the 5-10 and under guys off your list and star all the 6-2 and over guys. That’s what I do. (The other receivers I’m neutral about.) Remember, the 5-10 or under guy could just as likely do worse and the taller guy you are weighing drafting instead better than our group rates.
So, no, I won’t be drafting Wes Welker and Randall Cobb at their ADPs. Antonio Brown for me is not even a No. 2 fantasy football receiver because the historical data says his upside is very limited when it comes to touchdowns (Brown also isn’t fast for a wide receiver, limiting his ability to generate scores from outside the red zone). And Steve Smith, who I love to watch and respect greatly as a talent, is also someone I will pass on unless the value is just phenomenal (won't happen).
This also has huge implications for rookie Rams wide receiver/slash player Tavon Austin (5-foot-8), who I will pass on not only for his lack of size, but because drafting him forces me to believe that Brian Schottenheimer will figure out an inventive way to use him and Schottenheimer has never been inventive anywhere with anyone.
Among the tall receivers, Josh Gordon, Darrius Heyward-Bay, Brandon LaFell, Greg Little, Michael Floyd and Miles Austin seem like they are being drafted well below what our model suggests is reasonable to expect. For example, I’d much rather have LaFell at his price (undrafted in many leagues) than Smith. I even think there’s a reasonable chance LaFell could actually outperform Smith this year, especially when you factor in Smith’s age.
Then, of course, there are the 6-2 or taller receivers who have not yet emerged. Historically, wide receivers break out between years two and four. So we greatly increase odds of landing difference-making bargains when we target tall receivers entering years two to four who were higher draft picks.
This group, in no particular order, includes Floyd, Mohamed Sanu, Stephen Hill (who also has off-the-chart speed and leaping ability, though his hands are a huge question mark), Jonathan Baldwin, Alshon Jeffery, Little, Rueben Randle (who should see a lot of time in three-receiver sets given that Victor Cruz is really only productive in the slot) and Brian Quick among receivers selected in the first or second round of the NFL draft.
Remember, Quick and Randle are not starting, though I expect 60 catches from Randle anyway. Randle has been the star of the Giants’ camp. And also note that Baldwin now toils in San Francisco after a trade from the Chiefs and is currently listed as starter opposite Anquan Boldin.

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