What Should We Expect from the Sophomore WR Class?

The 2019 rookie WR class was awesome. How awesome? Check this out …

Here are the number of rookie WRs that reached 130 PPR points — around the level required to finish top 50 — over the past 10 seasons:

Outside of the historic 2014 class — you know, Odell Beckham, Mike Evans, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, Brandin Cooks, etc. — last year’s crop produced more 130-point scorers than any other year over the past decade.

The guys who did it last year: A.J. Brown, Terry McLaurin, Deebo Samuel, D.K. Metcalf, Darius Slayton, Diontae Johnson, Marquise Brown and Hunter Renfrow.

So what should we project these guys to do in year 2?

Looking back

One way to set expectations is to look at what those previous 130-point rookie WRs did in their 2nd seasons. The table below lists the 44 WRs that hit 130 PPR points from 2010-2018. I omitted Kelvin Benjamin, who missed his entire 2nd season with a torn ACL. You’ll then find each player’s PPR point total in year 1, year 2 and the percent change from rookie to sophomore season.

Unfortunately, this is a mixed bag that doesn’t tell us a whole lot. 25 of the 44 WRs (57%) tallied more PPR points in year 2. But that leaves another 43% who went in the other direction. Similarly, 13 guys increased their production by 30+% — but another 10 saw their PPR total decline by 30+%.

It’s worth noting that of the 19 WRs who scored fewer total PPR points as sophomores, 5 of them (Ridley, Shepard, Kupp, Young, Blackmon) actually increased their per-game production.

Still, these results aren’t very instructive as we try to forecast what the 2019 WR class will do in year 2.

Draft capital matters

Let’s look at the data in a different way: by draft capital. I divvied the 44 WRs above into buckets based on the round in which they were drafted. Here’s what we get as far as percent change in fantasy production from rookie to sophomore year:

Now we’ve got something more actionable. Nine of the 14 first-rounders scored more PPR points in year 2. Seven of the 10 second-rounders increased their production. Beyond that, the results are sketchy.

Here’s what it looks like in terms of percentage of WRs who scored better in year 2 if we break it down into 1st- and 2nd-rounders, 3rd through 7th rounders and undrafted free agents:

Clearly, sophomore WRs who were selected in the first 2 rounds of the NFL Draft have been better fantasy bets than those drafted in Round 3 through 7. Undrafted guys have been especially poor bets in year 2. And that makes sense. Players picked earlier are generally better prospects, meaning they’re likely more talented and definitely get more opportunity early in their careers.

Fantasy value

Before we dig into what this means for this year’s sophomore WR class, let’s look back at 1 more thing: whether the previous group of 44 WRs were profitable picks in fantasy drafts.

Here’s the same group of WRs — minus Antonio Callaway, who didn’t register an ADP as a sophomore — with their August ADP and final PPR finish in their 2nd seasons:

This data paints a slightly bleaker picture of the group as a whole than the PPR point totals we looked at earlier. Here, only 18 of 43 WRs (42%) finished higher than they were drafted. Two guys finished at the same spot they were picked in fantasy drafts, while 20 (53%) ranked lower than ADP.

But again, the data paints a clearer picture if we break it down by draft round. Here are the percentage of WRs in each round that ranked higher in PPR points than ADP:

And here’s what it looks like in terms of 1st- and 2nd-rounders vs. the rest:

What’s it mean for 2020?

The successful rookie WRs from 2010-2018 have been all over the board as sophomores, both in terms of raw fantasy production and value in fantasy drafts. That should serve as a bit of a warning for the 2019 class.

But it’s clear that 1st- and 2nd-round picks have been better bets in year 2. Who falls into that bucket from last year’s class? That’d be Marquise Brown, Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf. Based on the previous 9 seasons, those 4 guys have a 67% chance to score more fantasy points this season than last and a 58% chance to finish higher in PPR points than ADP.

Here’s where we have those guys ranked vs. current best-ball ADP:

Samuel’s ADP isn’t done settling after the June 18 report that he has a Jones Fracture and might miss the start of the season.

But the other 3 are all checking in higher in ADP than our rankings right now. Perhaps we’re too low on these guys considering they were highly touted prospects who turned in strong debuts.

The other 4 sophomores who topped 130 PPR points last year — Diontae Johnson, Terry McLaurin, Hunter Renfrow and Darius Slayton — are shakier fantasy investments based on their profiles. All 4 were picked in the 3rd round or later, giving them a 53% chance to score better this season than last but just a 36% chance to return a profit at ADP.

Here’s where those guys sit in our rankings vs. ADP:

We’re generally avoiding this group at cost, with the exception of McLaurin. Based on recent history, that seems like the smart play.

Of course, past performance doesn’t guarantee future results. We shouldn’t use this study as the be-all-end-all when it comes to valuing these sophomore WRs. But it is another data point to consider when you’re on the clock in your draft.