I really hope you guys have been following with the Vincent Brown saga. It started with this piece, moved over to the Football Guys forum and then a piece published on Rotoviz about historical aberrations in relation to 40 times and fantasy production.
Sigmund Bloom of Football Guys made an interesting point worth addressing on twitter this morning:
— Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) July 24, 2013
That was a really good point that Sig raised. If a WR with a historically below average 40 time is drafted in the upper half of the draft, wouldn’t that suggest they have other skills that could make them relevant to fantasy players? The following table attempts to answer that question. These are players with 40 time’s slower than 4.56, drafted between rounds 1 and 3 from 1999 and on to the present.
|Year||Name||College||Height (in)||Weight (lbs)||40 Yard ▴||Vert Leap (in)||Broad Jump (in)||Shuttle||3Cone||Top 30 WR Seasons||Total Yards Receiving|
|2003||Anquan Boldin||Florida State||73||216||4.72||33.5||114||4.33||7.35||7||10165|
|2011||Vincent Brown||San Diego State||71||187||4.68||33.5||121||4.25||6.64||0||329|
|2004||Michael Clayton||Louisiana State||75||209||4.67||32.5||116||4.15||6.79||1||3448|
|2009||Derrick Williams||Penn State||73||194||4.65||33||0||82|
|2000||Dez White||Georgia Tech||73||218||*4.62||37.5||124||4.09||6.91||0||2194|
|2001||Koren Robinson||North Carolina State||74||211||4.61||38.5||123||1||4244|
|2000||Sylvester Morris||Jackson State||75||216||4.6||34.5||119||4.17||7.06||0||678|
|2000||Plaxico Burress||Michigan State||78||231||*4.59||33||115||6||8499|
|2000||Ron Dugans||Florida State||74||206||*4.58||117||0||797|
|2004||Bernard Berrian||Fresno State||73||183||4.58||38||128||4.21||7.34||2||4122|
|2010||Brandon LaFell||Louisiana State||75||211||4.58||36||115||4.23||6.81||0||1758|
|1999||Troy Edwards||Louisiana Tech||70||191||4.57||36.5||118||4.16||7.37||0||2404|
|2001||Snoop Minnis||Florida State||73||171||4.57||37.5||115||4.07||7.06||0||515|
|2001||Chad Johnson||Oregon State||73||192||4.57||33||108||4.14||7.51||7||11059|
|2006||Maurice Stovall||Notre Dame||77||217||4.57||35||122||4.16||6.81||0||668|
|2005||Mike Williams||Southern California||77||229||4.56||36.5||0||1526|
|2011||Austin Pettis||Boise State||75||209||4.56||33.5||120||3.88||6.68||0||517|
The 28 players on list combined for 31 top 30 WR seasons. A few things immediately jump out from table: Deandre Hopkins and Ryan Broyles’ inclusion. Perhaps it is simple recency bias, but I was not expecting either to show up here. Broyles’ poor 40 time is easily explained by the fact that he ran his 40 only several months after tearing his ACL, and speed isn’t really Hopkins’ game. He is big and has record-breaking, Hakeem Nicks-esque handsize (more on this later)
The list of wide receivers who put together top 30 seasons while running slower than 4.56 40 since 1999 is: Anquan Boldin, Mike Clayton, Koren Robinson, Plaxico Burres, Mario Manningham, Bernard Berrian, Chad ‘Ochocinco’ Johnson, Antonio Bryant and Darrell Jackson.
So what do these players have in common that makes them special compared to the other, slower wideouts? Well, they are all taller than 6″2′. The only ones who weighed less than 188 pounds were Mario Manningham and Bernard Berrian, and 15 of the 31 top-30 seasons came from players who weighed more than 209 pounds.
The list is organized by 40 times, descending from slowest to fastest and what you will notice is that the farther down the list you go, the more likely that you will find a top 30 season. Even for players who never reached top 30 status, it’s more likely that the faster the player was, the more likely it was that they gained more yards, i.e played longer, as evidenced by Troy Edwards and Jabar Gaffney.
A potential defense raised by those who believe Brown has fantasy potential was his elite scorings in the 3 cone drill. For running backs, the 3 cone and short shuttle drills are pretty important, but I’m not sure they are for wide receivers. Out of the 9 players who put up top-30 seasons, all of those who recorded a 3 cone time were slower than the average for the list (6.62) and 4 of the nine were slower than 7.34. Chad Johnson is tied with Anquan Boldin for most top-30 seasons on this list, and he posted the slowest 3 cone time out of all 29 players.
So What Did We Learn?
Again. It helps to be fast. You don’t have to be a burner by any strech of the imagination, but take a look at a quotation from Jon Bales‘ book “Fantasy Football For Smart People: What The Experts Don’t Want You To Know” : Thus, it isn’t that being fast doesn’t help receivers, but rather that the speed “cutoff” isn’t as stringent as it is for running backs. Receivers also need two things to maximize their chances of success in the NFL. The first is size (especially height). The second is at least a moderate amount of speed (ideally under 4.55). A bunch of big receivers with moderate speed have succeeded of late—Marshall (4.52), Kenny Britt (4.51), Jordy Nelson (4.51), Dwayne Bowe (4.51), Hakeem Nicks (4.50)—but they’re all very large.”
When looking at our list, this holds true. Anquan Boldin’s fantasy production appears to be a statistical aberration, a data point that can only be explained by his rock solid hands, heart, determination, and playing with Hall Of Fame-worthy Kurt Warner. However, other than Boldin and one-hit wonders Koren Robinson and Mike Clayton (who still had the requisite size), all of the other top-30 players on this were around that 4.55 40 sweet-spot and had either outstanding (Plaxico Burress) or preferred (Chad Johnson, Bryant, Darrell Jackson) size.