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Slow Wide Receivers As Round 1-3 Draft Picks & Their Fantasy Prospects

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:

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
2012 Mohamed Sanu Rutgers 74 211 4.62 36 126 4.22 6.88 0 154
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
2009 Mohamed Massaquoi Georgia 74 210 4.6 36.5 127 0 1745
2010 Jordan Shipley Texas 71 193 4.6 36.5 116 0 858
1999 D’Wayne Bates Northwestern 74 215 4.59 37 117 4.24 7.25 0 1061
2000 Plaxico Burress Michigan State 78 231 *4.59 33 115 6 8499
2008 Mario Manningham Michigan 73 181 4.59 32 117 4.27 7.34 1 2764
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
2002 Antonio Bryant Pittsburgh 73 188 4.57 37 121 2 5685
2006 Maurice Stovall Notre Dame 77 217 4.57 35 122 4.16 6.81 0 668
2010 Arrelious Benn Illinois 73 219 4.57 37 118 0 862
2012 Ryan Broyles Oklahoma 70 192 *4.57   0 310
2013 DeAndre Hopkins Clemson 73 214 4.57 36 115 4.5 0 0
2000 Darrell Jackson Florida 73 197 4.56 4 7132
2002 Jabar Gaffney Florida 75 193 *4.56     4.06 6.87 0 5690
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.

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