News & Analysis

Projecting rookie wide receiver fantasy performance with comparable players

Over the past couple weeks, I used statistically comparable historical players to project NFL value, as measured by our proprietary wins above replacement metric (WAR), for early– and mid-round wide receivers and running backs. In this article, I’m going to apply that matching analysis with the projections focused on fantasy value. 

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The matching methodology is largely similar to the prior articles, but now we have the actual NFL draft positions for all prospects, and I’m expanding the comparable players listed below to 10 from five. Above the individual player comps, I’ve included a plot with the receivers by round and the average number of top-6, top-12 and top-24 fantasy weeks for the player’s comps over the first three seasons of their career. These projections give us a broad perspective on fantasy production for each player, along with the ability to compare across the 2020 class.

METHODOLOGY

The comps below were derived from a two-step process. First, I used player age (as of Sept. 1, 2020) and draft position as filters, then used the rest of the matching features in principle component analysis (PCA). I found the closest statistically comparable players by euclidean distance between the players' principle components and then gave each a “Similarity” score based on percentile of distance. 

The filters for age and draft position are plus/minus one year and one round, respectively. The metrics for PCA are: weight, 40-yard dash, rushing attempts per game, max yards per reception season, career market share of team receiving yards, and yards per route run. The comparable player tables for each prospect also include the top-12 fantasy weeks for each over the first three years of his career.

For missing Combine 40-yard dash times, I filled the values with Pro Day times plus a 0.1-second penalty, or estimated using weight and other measurables. For years without route-run data (prior to 2016), I used yards per team attempt, with attempts adjusted down under the assumption receivers don’t run 100% of routes. The final values for projected top fantasy weeks are weighted by the similarity between the comparable player and prospect.

First Round

Henry Ruggs has a lower projection than you’d expect for the first wide receiver drafted, largely because of the lower college production profile of the comps you’ll see below. CeeDee Lamb, as the most productive college receiver, has the highest comp-based projections for top-6, top-12 and top-24 weeks among all first-round receivers.

PICK 12: HENRY RUGGS, LAS VEGAS RAIDERS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm Max YPR Car MS Yds YPRR Top-12
100% 2020 Henry Ruggs III Alabama 12 21.6 188 4.27 0.0 19.1 18.7% 2.4 N/A
97% 2008 Eddie Royal Virginia Tech 42 22.3 184 4.39 0.6 16.8 18.4% 1.4 6
95% 2011 Titus Young Boise State 44 22.0 174 4.49 1.1 17.1 24.7% 2.8 1
92% 2015 Nelson Agholor Southern California 20 22.3 198 4.42 0.3 18.9 24.0% 2.9 3
90% 2014 Brandin Cooks Oregon State 20 20.9 189 4.33 2.5 17.2 26.7% 2.8 11
87% 2014 Odell Beckham Jr. Louisiana State 12 21.8 198 4.43 0.4 19.5 29.2% 3.5 21
85% 2013 Cordarrelle Patterson Tennessee 29 22.5 216 4.42 2.1 16.9 15.5% 1.6 2
82% 2015 Breshad Perriman Central Florida 26 22.0 212 4.36 0.1 20.9 23.2% 2.5 0
80% 2007 Craig Davis Louisiana State 30 21.9 207 4.49 0.3 16.0 22.1% 2.5 0
77% 2006 Chad Jackson Florida 36 21.5 213 4.34 1.3 22.3 17.3% 2.3 0
74% 2009 Percy Harvin Florida 22 21.3 192 4.41 5.8 16.1 22.8% 2.3 9

PICK 15: JERRY JEUDY, DENVER BRONCOS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm Max YPR Car MS Yds YPRR Top-12
100% 2020 Jerry Jeudy Alabama 15 21.4 193 4.45 0.0 19.3 28.9% 3.3 N/A
97% 2007 Craig Davis Louisiana State 30 21.9 207 4.49 0.3 16.0 22.1% 2.5 0
94% 2015 Breshad Perriman Central Florida 26 22.0 212 4.36 0.1 20.9 23.2% 2.5 0
91% 2014 Sammy Watkins Clemson 4 21.2 211 4.43 0.5 14.9 30.2% 3.0 7
88% 2014 Odell Beckham Jr. Louisiana State 12 21.8 198 4.43 0.4 19.5 29.2% 3.5 21
85% 2014 Mike Evans Texas A&M 7 21.0 231 4.53 0.0 20.2 23.0% 2.9 15
82% 2013 DeAndre Hopkins Clemson 27 21.2 214 4.57 0.0 17.1 29.0% 3.0 12
79% 2011 Titus Young Boise State 44 22.0 174 4.49 1.1 17.1 24.7% 2.8 1
76% 2011 Jonathan Baldwin Pittsburgh 26 22.1 228 4.52 0.2 22.4 22.6% 2.3 1
73% 2009 Jeremy Maclin Missouri 19 21.0 198 4.48 2.9 13.2 20.5% 2.2 7
70% 2007 Sidney Rice South Carolina 44 21.0 200 4.53 0.1 16.3 31.5% 2.8 6

PICK 17: CEEDEE LAMB, DALLAS COWBOYS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm Max YPR Car MS Yds YPRR Top-12
100% 2020 CeeDee Lamb Oklahoma 17 21.4 198 4.50 0.6 21.4 24.5% 4.0 N/A
97% 2014 Odell Beckham Jr. Louisiana State 12 21.8 198 4.43 0.4 19.5 29.2% 3.5 21
94% 2013 DeAndre Hopkins Clemson 27 21.2 214 4.57 0.0 17.1 29.0% 3.0 12
91% 2015 Breshad Perriman Central Florida 26 22.0 212 4.36 0.1 20.9 23.2% 2.5 0
88% 2008 Devin Thomas Michigan State 34 21.8 215 4.40 2.1 15.9 21.1% 3.2 1
85% 2014 Mike Evans Texas A&M 7 21.0 231 4.53 0.0 20.2 23.0% 2.9 15
82% 2015 Amari Cooper Alabama 4 21.2 211 4.42 0.4 16.9 35.8% 3.8 7
79% 2014 Sammy Watkins Clemson 4 21.2 211 4.43 0.5 14.9 30.2% 3.0 7
77% 2016 Corey Coleman Baylor 15 22.2 194 4.40 1.8 18.4 26.2% 3.8 1
74% 2006 Chad Jackson Florida 36 21.5 213 4.34 1.3 22.3 17.3% 2.3 0
71% 2007 Sidney Rice South Carolina 44 21.0 200 4.53 0.1 16.3 31.5% 2.8 6

PICK 21: JALEN REAGOR, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm Max YPR Car MS Yds YPRR Top-12
100% 2020 Jalen Reagor TCU 21 21.7 206 4.47 0.9 17.5 25.9% 1.5 N/A
98% 2018 Christian Kirk Texas A&M 47 21.8 201 4.47 0.2 12.9 28.9% 2.3 1
96% 2007 Steve Smith Southern California 51 22.3 197 4.45 0.0 18.8 22.9% 2.4 5
94% 2008 DeSean Jackson California 49 21.8 169 4.35 0.9 18.0 29.3% 1.9 15
92% 2009 Darrius Heyward-Bey Maryland 7 22.5 210 4.30 1.3 15.4 27.8% 1.6 3
89% 2008 Eddie Royal Virginia Tech 42 22.3 184 4.39 0.6 16.8 18.4% 1.4 6
87% 2014 Brandin Cooks Oregon State 20 20.9 189 4.33 2.5 17.2 26.7% 2.8 11
85% 2013 Robert Woods Southern California 41 21.4 201 4.51 0.1 12.2 28.3% 1.8 2
83% 2009 Michael Crabtree Texas Tech 10 22.0 215 4.65 0.2 14.6 21.8% 1.8 6
81% 2011 Titus Young Boise State 44 22.0 174 4.49 1.1 17.1 24.7% 2.8 1
79% 2007 Sidney Rice South Carolina 44 21.0 200 4.53 0.1 16.3 31.5% 2.8 6

PICK 22: JUSTIN JEFFERSON, MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm Max YPR Car MS Yds YPRR Top-12
100% 2020 Justin Jefferson Louisiana State 22 21.2 202 4.43 0.0 16.2 25.9% 2.6 N/A
97% 2014 Sammy Watkins Clemson 4 21.2 211 4.43 0.5 14.9 30.2% 3.0 7
94% 2013 Robert Woods Southern California 41 21.4 201 4.51 0.1 12.2 28.3% 1.8 2
91% 2013 DeAndre Hopkins Clemson 27 21.2 214 4.57 0.0 17.1 29.0% 3.0 12
88% 2015 Breshad Perriman Central Florida 26 22.0 212 4.36 0.1 20.9 23.2% 2.5 0
85% 2007 Sidney Rice South Carolina 44 21.0 200 4.53 0.1 16.3 31.5% 2.8 6
82% 2009 Brian Robiskie Ohio State 36 21.7 209 4.59 0.0 17.0 18.5% 2.0 0
79% 2007 Craig Davis Louisiana State 30 21.9 207 4.49 0.3 16.0 22.1% 2.5 0
76% 2014 Davante Adams Fresno State 53 21.7 212 4.56 0.0 13.1 25.9% 2.6 3
73% 2009 Jeremy Maclin Missouri 19 21.0 198 4.48 2.9 13.2 20.5% 2.2 7
70% 2014 Mike Evans Texas A&M 7 21.0 231 4.53 0.0 20.2 23.0% 2.9 15

PICK 25: BRANDON AIYUK, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm Max YPR Car MS Yds YPRR Top-12
100% 2020 Brandon Aiyuk Arizona State 25 22.5 205 4.50 0.1 18.3 23.8% 3.0 N/A
98% 2014 Odell Beckham Jr. Louisiana State 12 21.8 198 4.43 0.4 19.5 29.2% 3.5 21
96% 2007 Steve Smith Southern California 51 22.3 197 4.45 0.0 18.8 22.9% 2.4 5
95% 2015 Nelson Agholor Southern California 20 22.3 198 4.42 0.3 18.9 24.0% 2.9 3
93% 2014 Paul Richardson Jr. Colorado 45 22.4 175 4.40 0.1 16.2 26.4% 3.3 0
91% 2012 Kendall Wright Baylor 20 22.8 196 4.61 0.8 15.4 29.7% 3.9 5
89% 2007 Robert Meachem Tennessee 27 22.9 214 4.42 0.3 18.4 25.2% 3.1 3
87% 2011 Titus Young Boise State 44 22.0 174 4.49 1.1 17.1 24.7% 2.8 1
86% 2006 Greg Jennings Western Michigan 52 22.9 197 4.46 0.9 18.8 31.2% 2.6 13
84% 2016 Corey Coleman Baylor 15 22.2 194 4.40 1.8 18.4 26.2% 3.8 1
82% 2014 Marqise Lee Southern California 39 22.8 192 4.52 0.6 15.7 38.1% 2.6 0

Second Round

In a somewhat shocking development, K.J. Hamler has the highest projections among the seven second-round receivers, with top comps like Brandin Cooks, DeSean Jackson and Randall Cobb.

PICK 33: TEE HIGGINS, CINCINNATI BENGALS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm Max YPR Car MS Yds YPRR Top-12
100% 2020 Tee Higgins Clemson 33 21.6 216 4.65 0.1 20.3 21.1% 3.7 N/A
98% 2014 Mike Evans Texas A&M 7 21.0 231 4.53 0.0 20.2 23.0% 2.9 15
97% 2013 DeAndre Hopkins Clemson 27 21.2 214 4.57 0.0 17.1 29.0% 3.0 12
95% 2012 Rueben Randle Louisiana State 63 21.3 210 4.55 0.0 17.3 22.5% 3.3 2
93% 2018 James Washington Oklahoma State 60 22.4 213 4.54 0.2 20.9 20.6% 3.5 2
91% 2011 Jonathan Baldwin Pittsburgh 26 22.1 228 4.52 0.2 22.4 22.6% 2.3 1
90% 2014 Cody Latimer Indiana 56 21.9 215 4.54 0.0 15.8 22.0% 2.3 0
88% 2015 Devin Funchess Michigan 41 21.3 232 4.70 0.2 15.6 22.4% 2.5 4
86% 2009 Brian Robiskie Ohio State 36 21.7 209 4.59 0.0 17.0 18.5% 2.0 0
84% 2016 Laquon Treadwell Mississippi 23 21.2 221 4.74 0.1 14.1 23.3% 2.4 0
83% 2015 Nelson Agholor Southern California 20 22.3 198 4.42 0.3 18.9 24.0% 2.9 3

PICK 34: MICHAEL PITTMAN JR., INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm Max YPR Car MS Yds YPRR Top-12
100% 2020 Michael Pittman Jr. USC 34 22.9 223 4.52 0.0 18.4 22.3% 2.3 N/A
98% 2007 Dwayne Bowe Louisiana State 23 22.9 221 4.57 0.0 17.3 22.9% 2.7 5
96% 2011 Jonathan Baldwin Pittsburgh 26 22.1 228 4.52 0.2 22.4 22.6% 2.3 1
94% 2009 Mohamed Massaquoi Georgia 50 22.8 210 4.66 0.0 15.9 20.1% 2.3 2
93% 2016 Michael Thomas Ohio State 47 23.5 212 4.57 0.0 14.8 19.7% 2.4 20
91% 2014 Kelvin Benjamin Florida State 28 23.6 240 4.61 0.0 18.7 14.5% 2.3 8
89% 2008 Limas Sweed Texas 53 23.7 215 4.55 0.1 17.4 19.5% 1.3 0
87% 2015 Breshad Perriman Central Florida 26 22.0 212 4.36 0.1 20.9 23.2% 2.5 0
85% 2015 Nelson Agholor Southern California 20 22.3 198 4.42 0.3 18.9 24.0% 2.9 3
83% 2018 Dante Pettis Washington 44 22.9 186 4.58 0.2 15.5 18.4% 2.5 1
81% 2012 Michael Floyd Notre Dame 13 22.8 220 4.47 0.2 15.0 30.5% 2.4 2

PICK 42: LAVISKA SHENAULT, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm Max YPR Car MS Yds YPRR Top-12
100% 2020 Laviska Shenault Jr. Colorado 42 21.9 227 4.58 2.1 24.0 28.8% 3.0 N/A
98% 2011 Jonathan Baldwin Pittsburgh 26 22.1 228 4.52 0.2 22.4 22.6% 2.3 1
97% 2009 Kenny Britt Rutgers 30 21.0 218 4.56 0.6 19.9 39.1% 3.5 4
95% 2013 DeAndre Hopkins Clemson 27 21.2 214 4.57 0.0 17.1 29.0% 3.0 12
93% 2015 Breshad Perriman Central Florida 26 22.0 212 4.36 0.1 20.9 23.2% 2.5 0
92% 2014 Cody Latimer Indiana 56 21.9 215 4.54 0.0 15.8 22.0% 2.3 0
90% 2018 James Washington Oklahoma State 60 22.4 213 4.54 0.2 20.9 20.6% 3.5 2
88% 2012 DeVier Posey Ohio State 68 22.5 211 4.50 0.3 16.0 27.4% 2.2 0
86% 2015 Nelson Agholor Southern California 20 22.3 198 4.42 0.3 18.9 24.0% 2.9 3
85% 2012 Rueben Randle Louisiana State 63 21.3 210 4.55 0.0 17.3 22.5% 3.3 2
83% 2015 Jaelen Strong Arizona State 70 21.6 217 4.44 0.0 15.0 26.1% 2.7 1

PICK 46: K.J. HAMLER, DENVER BRONCOS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm Max YPR Car MS Yds YPRR Top-12
100% 2020 K.J. Hamler Penn State 46 21.2 178 4.35 0.9 17.1 22.6% 2.5 N/A
97% 2011 Titus Young Boise State 44 22.0 174 4.49 1.1 17.1 24.7% 2.8 1
95% 2018 Christian Kirk Texas A&M 47 21.8 201 4.47 0.2 12.9 28.9% 2.3 1
92% 2011 Randall Cobb Kentucky 64 21.0 191 4.55 4.2 12.1 23.8% 2.2 4
89% 2014 Brandin Cooks Oregon State 20 20.9 189 4.33 2.5 17.2 26.7% 2.8 11
87% 2008 DeSean Jackson California 49 21.8 169 4.35 0.9 18.0 29.3% 1.9 15
84% 2014 Jarvis Landry Louisiana State 63 21.8 205 4.77 0.0 15.5 22.6% 3.7 10
81% 2009 Jeremy Maclin Missouri 19 21.0 198 4.48 2.9 13.2 20.5% 2.2 7
78% 2008 Earl Bennett Vanderbilt 70 21.4 209 4.48 0.8 14.0 37.4% 2.0 2
76% 2014 Cody Latimer Indiana 56 21.9 215 4.54 0.0 15.8 22.0% 2.3 0
73% 2009 Brian Robiskie Ohio State 36 21.7 209 4.59 0.0 17.0 18.5% 2.0 0

PICK 49: CHASE CLAYPOOL, PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm Max YPR Car MS Yds YPRR Top-12
100% 2020 Chase Claypool Notre Dame 49 22.2 238 4.42 0.0 15.7 21.9% 2.5 N/A
99% 2015 Dorial Green-Beckham Missouri 40 21.4 237 4.49 0.1 15.0 17.3% 1.9 1
97% 2007 Dwayne Bowe Louisiana State 23 22.9 221 4.57 0.0 17.3 22.9% 2.7 5
96% 2009 Brian Robiskie Ohio State 36 21.7 209 4.59 0.0 17.0 18.5% 2.0 0
94% 2015 Jaelen Strong Arizona State 70 21.6 217 4.44 0.0 15.0 26.1% 2.7 1
93% 2014 Cody Latimer Indiana 56 21.9 215 4.54 0.0 15.8 22.0% 2.3 0
91% 2012 DeVier Posey Ohio State 68 22.5 211 4.50 0.3 16.0 27.4% 2.2 0
90% 2007 Robert Meachem Tennessee 27 22.9 214 4.42 0.3 18.4 25.2% 3.1 3
88% 2015 Chris Conley Georgia 76 22.9 213 4.35 0.0 18.3 14.9% 2.0 0
87% 2015 Breshad Perriman Central Florida 26 22.0 212 4.36 0.1 20.9 23.2% 2.5 0
85% 2009 Mohamed Massaquoi Georgia 50 22.8 210 4.66 0.0 15.9 20.1% 2.3 2

PICK 57: VAN JEFFERSON, LOS ANGELES RAMS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm Max YPR Car MS Yds YPRR Top-12
100% 2020 Van Jefferson Florida 57 24.1 200 4.63 0.1 14.4 15.4% 2.0 N/A
96% 2011 Austin Pettis Boise State 78 23.3 209 4.62 0.0 13.6 18.9% 2.2 1
91% 2007 Paul Williams Fresno State 80 23.7 205 4.53 0.9 17.0 13.5% 1.2 0
87% 2008 Limas Sweed Texas 53 23.7 215 4.55 0.1 17.4 19.5% 1.3 0
83% 2016 Michael Thomas Ohio State 47 23.5 212 4.57 0.0 14.8 19.7% 2.4 20
78% 2014 Kelvin Benjamin Florida State 28 23.6 240 4.61 0.0 18.7 14.5% 2.3 8
74% 2007 James Jones San Jose State 78 23.4 207 4.60 0.9 12.8 15.1% 3.1 2
70% 2017 Cooper Kupp Eastern Washington 69 24.2 204 4.62 0.9 14.6 26.0% 3.3 11
65% 2016 Sterling Shepard Oklahoma 40 23.6 194 4.48 0.1 19.0 24.1% 2.9 6
61% 2010 Jordan Shipley Texas 84 24.7 193 4.60 0.1 15.4 22.6% 2.8 1
57% 2018 Calvin Ridley Alabama 26 23.7 189 4.43 0.1 15.3 30.6% 2.8 6

PICK 59: DENZEL MIMS, NEW YORK JETS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm Max YPR Car MS Yds YPRR Top-12
100% 2020 Denzel Mims Baylor 59 22.9 207 4.38 0.0 17.8 25.8% 2.4 N/A
98% 2007 Robert Meachem Tennessee 27 22.9 214 4.42 0.3 18.4 25.2% 3.1 3
97% 2011 Torrey Smith Maryland 58 22.6 204 4.44 0.7 15.7 27.7% 2.7 8
95% 2012 DeVier Posey Ohio State 68 22.5 211 4.50 0.3 16.0 27.4% 2.2 0
94% 2011 Leonard Hankerson Miami (FL) 79 23.3 209 4.53 0.0 17.8 23.6% 2.6 3
92% 2007 Jason Hill Washington State 76 22.5 204 4.38 0.2 22.4 23.9% 1.7 1
90% 2018 Tre'Quan Smith UCF 91 22.6 203 4.49 0.4 19.8 29.9% 2.8 2
89% 2007 Mike Sims-Walker Central Florida 79 22.8 209 4.45 0.0 21.2 25.1% 3.1 4
87% 2009 Mike Wallace Mississippi 84 23.1 199 4.33 0.8 20.1 26.7% 2.3 12
86% 2012 Alshon Jeffery South Carolina 45 22.5 216 4.58 0.0 17.2 35.2% 2.4 9
84% 2018 Courtland Sutton SMU 40 22.9 218 4.54 0.1 17.6 33.8% 2.2 4

 

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