The Case For: Hunter Renfrow
The other day I offered an opinion on something that I thought would be universally received with agreement. I’m sure we’ve all been there when it comes to fantasy football, but when I said that I would take Hunter Renfrow over Bryan Edwards in Dynasty I found out quite quickly that this was a bit of a hot take. So now I present to you, the case for Hunter Renfrow…
The original discussion was this – someone, as a new member of the Dynasty community, had simply asked for the best advice people could give for new Dynasty managers. My piece of advice, which was well received and I think should be the Dynasty golden rule, was that managers often get too caught up in the value of age and that allows people to find significant value with veteran players. When you look at success with rookie players, you are seeing about a 42% hit rate and this is likely even lower at receiver where it becomes more important for players to get their routes and timing down. Where the commotion came in was when I offered the example of Bryan Edwards versus Hunter Renfrow.
Maybe my biggest mistake was not being clear with regards to the fact that I was talking value at ADP and not simply player attributes. When you look at both players you cannot deny the argument that Edwards has the advantage when it comes to things like physical attributes that are traditionally given value. For example, Edwards comes in at 6’ 03” versus Renfrow who is only 5’ 10”. Five inches may not seem like a lot, but the value of a receiver that is over 6 feet tall is commonly considered important for their ability to compete for the ball. However, one lesser known quality of receiver height is the longevity of players. Michael Salfino wrote an article comparing receivers based on height and found that shorter receivers were often able to play longer, likely because they would face less deterioration in joints and tissues by carrying less weight. Consider guys like Steve Smith who is only 5’ 09” and managed to play consistently for 16 years.
Additionally, you can consider speed which is less important for receivers in comparison to running backs. While there is importance in being able to get a fast start off the line, consider guys like Jerry Rice who wasn’t usually considered to be one of the faster receivers. When a receiver appears to be lacking on physical attributes there is room to make up for that through unmeasurable such as awareness, route running, and the ability to read coverage.
The position I cannot really argue against is the college production and draft value of these two players. A great predictor of NFL success has been college target share where Bryan Edwards demanded 25.5% against Hunter Renfrow’s 16.6% (likely due to his position on a core that featured standout Tee Higgins). Additionally, Renfrow was taken in the 5th round of last year’s draft when the pool of receiver candidates was shallow versus Edwards who was taken in the third round of this year’s receiver heavy draft. Draft capital is often a good indicator when it comes down to how much a team is willing to commit to a player. When you spend a high pick on a guy, you are going to be more patient with him then someone you chanced at the end of a draft.
While these are important factors when it comes to Dynasty play, I don’t think him producing less than a guy like Bryan Edwards will be a result of his own performance. Let’s look at some of his stats from last season, while keeping in mind that he only played 13 games due to injury.
Average Depth of Target: 7 Yards
Catchable Receiving%: 73.1
Yards After Catch: 6.4
This set of numbers represents the more basic statistical values that most fantasy players consider. While these aren’t amazing numbers, consider that most fantasy leagues will start a minimum of 2-3 receivers per team. This leads to a total of about 36 starters not including additional players based on the use of flex positions. So, for a player to be relevant in any category he needs to be within that number of players, which Renfrow was. This concept relates to two values that I call the Difference Maker Score and Quality Game Score. These calculate how often a player was in the top half of starters and rostered players respectively at their specific position. Over the last season Hunter Renfrow achieved these marks in a third of the games he played and when you break it down to fantasy points per snap, he ranked 6th overall with 0.31 using PPR scoring.
While those stats are important; I think great fantasy football managers separate themselves by looking for other metrics that go beyond general performance and can help us understand player potential. Here are some other notable figures from last year:
Avoided Tackles After Reception: 10 (11th overall for WRs)
Passer Rating when Targeted: 114.3
Targeted Rating in the Red Zone: 129.3 (4th best)
Target Net Expected Points: 0.49 (15th best – 2nd highest in the second half of the season)
Consistency Variable: 0.75
PFF Receiving Grade: 76.5 (4th overall for rookie WRs)
Another great statistic that I’ve seen several people point to is the fact that Hunter Renfrow was 11th overall when it came to Yards per Route Run among all receivers. When you narrow that down to just rookies he was 2nd only to A.J. Brown, and finds himself in the company of vets such as Juju Smith-Schuster, Cooper Kupp, Chris Godwin, Tyreek Hill, and Michael Thomas who had similar averages during their rookie campaigns.
When you add those numbers to the idea that Renfrow already had a season to build trust in his relationship with Derek Carr, I think there’s no reason to be writing him off, especially when you’re looking at an unusual offseason where the normal training camps are disrupted and QBs won’t have the same time to work with new guys. Sometimes it is safer to find a known quantity with high consistency than an unknown with upside. This is especially important for redraft but can be valuable in Dynasty as well if for no other reason than a strong early season provides an opportunity to sell high.
Another big knock against Hunter Renfrow has been the fact that the Raiders used three of their first four picks in this year’s draft to fill out at wide receiver and running back. To me, them drafting those players wasn’t as much a comment on Renfrow’s ability as it was about the fact that they had a weaker core of offensive players and needed to give Derek Carr some weapons to work with outside of Darren Waller. If anything, this could be more detrimental to Tyrell Williams than Hunter Renfrow and Waller will be a prime candidate for target recession.
The biggest bias may originate from the fact that Hunter Renfrow got off to a slow start and didn’t stand out as much as was expected when Tyrell Williams was out due to a lingering foot injury early in the year. Most of the yards that Renfrow put up last season came in the second half. It isn’t unusual for rookie receivers to get off to a slow start, unlike running backs which historically can make an impact right from the start. If anything, I would have expected more hype for Renfrow based on recency bias since he was WR5 and WR7 in Weeks 16 and 17, respectively for PPR leagues. Once Renfrow hit his stride he found only more benefit from having Tyrell Williams back on the field. When the #1 receiver on a team is drawing coverage, we will usually see the #2 get an increase in production and Renfrow took that opportunity to show what he could do.
At the end of day, I’m not trying to sit here and say that Hunter Renfrow will be the #1 receiver on this team. The addition of Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards will clearly take targets away and that’s not including whatever they decide to do with hybrid player Lynn Bowden, but never underestimate the power of a sneaky slot pick. Last season Hunter Renfrow played 313 of his snaps (about 67%) in the slot. Slot receivers have always been a great place to find value, especially in PPR formats, since they won’t be drawing coverage from an opponent’s top corner and will likely be in a position to grab a safe dump-off from their quarterback. Its’ been calculated that in general, players in the slot tend to be worth about 11.5% more than those who line up on the outside.
While his current ADP tends to suggest that I’m in the minority in this scenario, when I see Bryan Edwards sitting at 100 (which is about round 8), I think there are a handful of other guys I’m likely to be considering instead. Receivers are no different from any other position when it comes to the impact that “rookie hype” has on their ADP, but it usually doesn’t match the actual value of the player since they have a lower initial ceiling. Other managers will likely chase rookie picks and be immediately disappointed when they don’t match the perceived upside. While this would have less impact on a player like Henry Ruggs (since the concept of draft capital in the NFL draft works the same way as it does in fantasy drafts) a guy like Bryan Edwards who would be taken much later would have cost someone less draft capital so they would be more willing to part with him after a slow start. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth draft, but in a Dynasty format they become targets you bypass until later in a draft and then look to buy low when they don’t initially match the pre-season hype levels. Instead I would much rather take a shot on a different player at Edwards’ current ADP range (likely a player younger than their position’s peak age with a history of production) and instead wait to grab Hunter Renfrow as a late steal around his current ADP of 179 (which is about round 14-15) especially in leagues that run a deeper roster of players. This allows you to get the high upside player in Renfrow that has a known production history without losing significant draft capital if he isn’t given the chance he deserves in year two.