As I showed in the last article, I have developed a metric by which to rate wide receiver value and performance over the course of a season or career (WRT). So now, I've taken 10 notable rookie wide receivers from the 2016 NFL Draft, being Michael Thomas, Corey Coleman, Will Fuller, Tyreek Hill, Malcolm Mitchell, Sterling Shepard, Laquon Treadwell, Pharoh Cooper, Tajae Sharpe, and Tyler Boyde. With the exception of Michael Thomas, none had a great season, most ending up average or, in some cases, pretty disappointing. Again, a 90+ is a very good score in WRT and 50-60 is about average. By this, I mean that an average-to-good second receiver or a below-average first receiver should expect to score between 45-60. So, here's those ten rookies ranked by WRT. *Notice: WRT is a purely statistical metric. It does not account for any opinions or given factors such as "explosiveness." It is based on statistical performance and therefore may not reflect your ideals in a wide receiver, but it reflects what I think each stat is worth. This does not include punt returns, kick returns, or runs such as end-around plays. Each WRT is rounded up to the hundredths place except for Pharoh Cooper (for reasons you should be able to see).
10. Pharoh Cooper, Los Angeles Rams - 26.658 WRT
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9. Laquon Treadwell, Minnesota Vikings - 33.42 WRT - He's not here because his season was much better than Cooper's, he's just here because when he did something, it was more noticeable (though it was 1 catch).
Though disappointing in 2016, Treadwell still outdid one of the other "notable" receivers.
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8. Corey Coleman, Cleveland Browns - 55.70 WRT - I guess the quarterbacking situation doesn't really help much, but Coleman was an okay guy in terms of being the no. 2 receiver when he wasn't out with an injury.
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7. Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals - 56.35 WRT - Boyd was an average no. 2 receiver in the absence of A.J. Green, but nothing special. This is about an average score.
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6. Malcolm Mitchell, New England Patriots - 56.37 WRT - Mitchell is shaping up to be maybe the no. 2 or even no. 1 receiver in this class, but you're not going to see the bulk of the targets at any level in the New England system, so that's not helping your cause. Mitchell was a good player this year for a loaded team.
Patriots rookie Malcolm MItchell has a bright future in the NFL, and could become one of the league's top receivers. For now, he has to settle for 6th.
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5. Tajae Sharpe, Tennessee Titans - 57.68 WRT - Sharpe had a good season for the Titans, but didn't have the true no. 1 receiver stats required to boost a player's rating much higher than this.
UMass product Tajae Sharpe had a great season, but it wasn't good enough to get any farther in the top half of the list.
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4. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs - 63.26 WRT - A lot of people probably expected to see Hill closer to the top, but looking through his numbers, he didn't do his real damage in the receiving game and as a result, he falls to no. 4.
2016's most explosive rookie, Tyreek Hill, didn't do his damage receiving, but rather running, returning kicks, and returning punts in accumulation with receiving, so his score was only good enough for 4th.
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3. Will Fuller, Houston Texans - 65.78 WRT - Like most of these receivers, Fuller didn't play the entire season, but when he did play, he was a solid receiver that put up above-average numbers, and those numbers factored out to 3rd place.
Texans receiver Will Fuller exploded onto the scene in 2016, and though he slowed down slightly late in the year, he still earned the no. 3 spot on the list of rookies.
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2. Sterling Shepard, New York Giants - 72.72 WRT - Nobody really paid attention to this small slot receiver for the Giants throughout the year. From the perspective of a non-Giants fan, everything you hear about the Giants, like it or not, it Odell, Odell, Odell. Shepard might have gone under the radar, but the numbers tell a different story. Shepard had a good season, and that's what this measures.
Giants slot receiver Sterling Shepard went through the season flying, but didn't catch the attention of many. He lands the no. 2 spot on this list.
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1. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints - 96.04 WRT - Yes, working in the Saints heavily pass-based system helps any receiver, but Thomas really stepped into the role of the number 1 receiver for the Saints this season, and his numbers reflect the great job he really did.
Michael Thomas (right) earned his spot as the best rookie receiver this year by WRT (and 9th overall).
In 2016, I created an algorithm to use as a metric of rating wide receiver performance and value to their team. I called this statistic WRT, or Wide Receiver Total. It combines different receiving stats and weighs them on a scale of "importance" that reflects how each stat is valued in accordance to each other. For some frame of reference, 45-55 is a good estimate for an average season, or a good season for a 2nd receiver, and 90+ is a very good season for a wide receiver in general. The all-time NFL single-season WRT record is Randy Moss in 2007 with the New England Patriots, a season in which he amassed an amazing 131.92 WRT. Some more explanation will likely come in the future, but let's get into it: here are the NFL's top 10 wide receivers this season by WRT performance. Don't like it? That's fine, you might think some things are more important than I do. It's not just about receiving yards or touchdowns. This is purely statistical, it is not an opinion. Well, here's the list:
10. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks - 93.87 WRT - Baldwin is a consistent receiver and that's what his stats showed.
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9. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints - 96.04 WRT - Thomas had a great rookie season, and it helps to be in such a pass-heavy system like the typical 5,000-yard Saints and QB Drew Brees.
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8. The Surprise of the List: Tyrell Williams, San Diego Chargers - 96.34 WRT - Admittedly, I did not expect this, but Williams was a great player in a good offense, and a lot of wideouts had down seasons in 2016.
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7. Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints - 100.59 WRT - Cooks is very possibly the NFL's most dangerous deep threat with the elite speed and catching ability he possesses, and again, he's got a great quarterback with him.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
6. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers - 111.18 WRT - Yes. Antonio Brown might on tape be the NFL's best receiver, or second best, or whatever you want to say, but statistically, his season was both sub par by his standards and worse than some other receivers.
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
5. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants - 111.77 WRT - Odell Beckham Jr. is one of the NFL's finest young receivers and he's always a threat for Eli Manning. Whether it's deep down the field, on a screen, or a slant-and-go, OBJ is a tough receiver to stop and that launched him up these rankings.
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4. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers - 113.21 WRT - Being the top target in a great system like this is well earned, and Jordy Nelson sure produced like a number 1 receiver. He amassed an NFL-best 14 receiving touchdowns and, like every other player on this list, over 1,000 receiving yards.
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3. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts - 113.37 WRT - Hilton led the league in yards and came close to it in touchdowns, and he definitely deserves what the metric rates him as. However, the overall rating of the metric is based on a player's efficiency, and two guys did it better than T.Y.
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2. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons - 113.72 WRT - Julio Jones was probably the preseason favorite, maybe second to Antonio Brown, and he comes up just short here. Julio's magnificent season, which could have been far and away the NFL's best without his missing 2 games with a foot injury, was good enough for number 2 and he's looking like one of the NFL's top heading into the playoffs and the 2017-18 season.
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1. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 115.12 WRT - Congratulations, Mike Evans. The NFL's best receiver this year by WRT had his best season, notching high figures in every statistic (except fumbles and drops). In a season that required Evans to be incredibly productive for his team to go anywhere in 2016, he went above and beyond as the most valuable and efficient wide receiver in the NFL. Celebrate it now, Mike, the challenge will begin again this fall.
Except for maybe Broncos-Raiders on Sunday night, this is going to be the considered game of the week in the NFL for Week 9. The Lions have struggled at various points during the season, but are looking to pick up steam against the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings are coming off a disappointing loss and the resignation of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and things aren't looking like they are going to get much better. How can each team make an effort to win this game? Let's find out.
Minnesota Game Keys: Keep Stafford's passing lanes narrow and concentrated in near range. Stafford has arguably the NFL's best arm at the quarterback position, and can hit a target on point down the field. If the Vikings let receivers like Marvin Jones and Golden Tate get behind them, Stafford's Lions will rip them to shreds. To win, the Vikings will need to stick their top corners in man-to-man schemes up against the Lions receivers. It will be important to keep the receivers in front of you. A four or five yard bailout catch is okay, but stopping to watch the blitz and letting a guy run thirty yards down field would not be in Minnesota's preferred agenda. If you do slip up, Stafford isn't going to miss. Also, the Vikings will have to force Stafford to get uncomfortable. They need to shut down the best way for the Lions to go about attacking the pass rush, which is running the football. This way, you can eliminate the threat of play action passes that would allow receivers to get down field and loosen up on their coverage. You need to diagnose each play at the line of scrimmage and make the stop. If the ground game isn't a problem, neither will the deep ball be. If the Vikings can put pressure on Matt Stafford and force him to look for a third or fourth option, you can stop the Lions from gaining ground. Offensively, running the ball needs to be an asset to this team. The Lions will be able to stop a one-dimensional offense, and you can't let Bradford have to try to ad-lib. That didn't go well in the two weeks prior, and it won't if it happens this week. The ground game needs to open up opportunities off tackle that will keep defensive ends and edge rushers suspended at the line on play action passes. This will give Bradford a bigger pocket to work with if the threat of a running back slipping off tackle is there, and we've definitively seen that Bradford can work better with more time and space.
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Detroit Game Keys: These are essentially the opposite of the Minnesota game keys. As the Detroit offense, you need to be able to find a way to utilize the run game as a strength of this team. Then, you can get receivers time to get down field and strike. The secondary needs to help bring the pressure on Sam Bradford. With little time, Bradford is not an elite quarterback and can get uncomfortable easily. You need to open up the wounds formed by two games of torture for the Vikings. Use what you saw on tape, rush Bradford, and don't let up to the offensive line. Pressure is your top asset in this game, both to throw off Bradford and to stop the ground game from taking effect. If Bradford can't work straight, he can't execute on throws to his receivers, and the Vikings will be forced into two or three yard plays at a time, a system that is a model of inefficiency. The Minnesota defense is not an easy one to defeat, but the Lions will have to do just that to have any success in this game. You need to find a way to bail yourselves out if the Vikings found out what you're doing, and make adjustments throughout the game. Everyone has to find a balance and chip in what they can, throwing different looks at the Vikings, making them work to stop short gains - everything will count in the final score.
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Score Prediction: Detroit Lions 24-21 - This won't be the prettiest game of the week. Offenses won't be lighting up the game with big play after big play. The one factor that will matter most in this game is the ability of one team's offense to use everything they can, be it formations, adaptations, or just playing their game, to get down the field slowly and put some points on the scoreboard. This game won't be a shootout, but I expect the Detroit Lions to come out on top by out gaining the Vikings slowly but surely and taking away their time.