Drinen rambles about something having to do with: Torry Holt

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Suppose you have two young WRs. One is a burner and one is a slower possession guy. The two have produced essentially equal fantasy numbers so far in their short careers. Which one has the brighter future?

Answer: the speed guy.

If you're like me, this seems a little counterintuitive to you. It won't hurt the slow guy to lose a step or two when he ages, you might reason, because he's not getting by on speed anyway. Whereas the fast guy is accustomed to beating people with his speed. When he can't do that anymore, he's in trouble. On the other hand, consider...

The two guys are posting essentially the same numbers. Now what happens as they age? Both of them lose a step, but the key is that the faster guy has a step to lose. When the faster guy loses a step, he can't get by on pure speed anymore, but if he's willing to make some adjustments he's still fast enough to have a chance of being a good receiver. When the slower guy loses a step, he's now too slow to be a legitimate NFL receiver. All the guile in the world won't help him.

That's pure theory. What happens in practice? First let me point out that this same phenomenon is displayed very clearly in baseball. Young fastball pitchers age much, much better in general than young junkballers of the same quality do. Why? Because if your heater slows down from 95 to 90, you can't blow people away anymore, but if you make some adjustments you still have a chance to be a viable major league pitcher. Whereas if your fastball slows down from 88 to 83, you're doomed -- no amount of smarts, control, or anything else can make a big league pitcher out of someone who can't throw harder than that.

It's a bit problematic to put together a good study on this because I don't have any data on exactly how fast all these guys are. So I'll do the best I can and use yards per reception as an estimate of speed. Now I'm going to do a matched-set study. To give you a feel for it, I'll start with examples.

  1. In the first three years of their respective careers, Al Toon and Wesley Walker were roughly equally good. Toon posted 114 VBD points in his first three years, Walker posted 106. Toon's yards per catch were much lower than average, while Walker's were much higher. Who aged better? Walker, by far. In the rest of his career, he amassed 225 VBD points, compared to Toon's 31. That's one tiny piece of evidence that supports the hypothesis that speed ages better than guile.
  2. In terms of fantasy production, the first three years of Eric Martin's career were very similar to the first three years of Andre Reed's. But Martin's yards per catch numbers were much higher than Reed's. As we all know, Reed's career turned out much better, so there's a data point in favor of guile over speed.

Now you've got the idea: look through recent NFL history to find pairs of receivers whose production in their first three years was similar. Then see if the guy with the higher YPC or the lower YPC eventually turned in the better career. Count up all the "votes" and see which way the evidence points. First, some fine print:

You'll find the complete list attached at the end.

The results? 414 "wins" for speed, and 357 "wins" for guile (and 137 ties). That may not seem like much, but the sample size here is large enough that there is very little chance that this split resulted from random chance. It's a tiny effect, but it's a real effect.

Which brings us (finally) to Torry Holt. In his first three years, his YPC has been way, way above average. That's just one more tiny reason to like his potential.

Complete data set