The NFL's Most and Least Cost-Effective Wide Receivers of 2016

Which squads got strong seasons from inexpensive wide receivers, and did the players with huge cap hits pay off?

The NFL is becoming more reliant on passing than ever before. That shouldn't be news to anyone.

We found out already that the most cost-effective running backs in 2016 were those who added stellar receiving production to their offenses. When it comes to receivers, well, the same is going to be true.

The NFL has handed out a few massive deals to receivers in recent years, and some young players on early contracts have been producing like studs. But who was the most cost-effective wideout in 2016?

To find out, we'll be combining our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric with a player's salary cap hit (via Spotrac). Doing so will show us which players added the most (and fewest) points per dollar this season.

2016 Wide Receivers

When we studied the most cost-effective quarterbacks and running backs, we had to adjust for the fact that NEP scores at those positions often fall below zero. In some cases, scores go well below zero.

We'll still adjust for Pharoh Cooper's position-worst -2.94 Total NEP, but it won't have nearly the impact that adjusting for Jared Goff's -63.43 and Doug Martin's -24.43 had at quarterback and running back, respectively.

And to narrow things down some, we'll only look at the 89 receivers with at least 30 combined touches.

Here are the bottom 24 of the 89 (because there's a natural break) in terms of expected points per $10,000 of salary cap hit (to make the values more aesthetic).

PlayerTeamCap HitNEP+ per $10,000
Jeremy MaclinKC$12,400,0000.04
Allen HurnsJAC$9,001,6680.04
Tavon AustinLA$7,811,2480.05
Larry FitzgeraldARI$15,850,0000.05
Kendall WrightTEN$7,320,0000.06
Eddie RoyalCHI$4,500,0000.06
Demaryius ThomasDEN$15,200,0000.06
A.J. GreenCIN$13,000,0000.06
Randall CobbGB$9,150,0000.06
Dez BryantDAL$13,000,0000.06
Alshon JefferyCHI$11,163,9400.07
Julio JonesATL$15,900,0000.07
Brandon MarshallNYJ$9,500,0000.08
DeSean JacksonWAS$9,250,0000.09
Michael CrabtreeOAK$11,000,0000.09
Antonio BrownPIT$11,883,3330.09
Pierre GarconWAS$10,200,0000.10
Chris HoganNE$5,500,0000.10
Golden TateDET$7,101,2500.10
Victor CruzNYG$4,400,0000.11
T.Y. HiltonIND$11,000,0000.12
Doug BaldwinSEA$8,000,0000.12
Marvin JonesDET$6,600,0000.13
Travis BenjaminSD$4,000,0000.13

This list certainly is full of big names and big contracts. Jeremy Maclin was 6th in this sample in cap hit but 75th in Total NEP. Allen Hurns was 15th in cap hit but 81st in production in his shortened season.

However, six players on this list finished top-10 in Total NEP even if their contracts were big enough to get them planted here: T.Y. Hilton, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Michael Crabtree, Pierre Garcon, and Doug Baldwin.

Here are the next 24.

PlayerTeamCap HitNEP+ per $10,000
Emmanuel SandersDEN$6,187,5000.15
Nelson AgholorPHI$2,131,2210.15
Jordy NelsonGB$8,300,0000.15
Cordarrelle PattersonMIN$2,297,6070.16
Jermaine KearseSEA$2,633,3330.18
Amari CooperOAK$5,150,7080.18
Steve SmithBAL$4,166,6680.18
Kenny BrittLA$4,850,0000.19
Corey ColemanCLE$2,119,0900.19
Julian EdelmanNE$4,421,8750.21
Breshad PerrimanBAL$1,978,4810.22
Mike WallaceBAL$3,500,0000.24
Ted Ginn Jr.CAR$2,775,0000.24
DeVante ParkerMIA$2,471,9420.24
Mohamed SanuATL$2,400,0000.24
Cole BeasleyDAL$3,356,0000.25
Phillip DorsettIND$1,848,9580.26
Anquan BoldinDET$2,693,7500.26
Terrance WilliamsDAL$1,825,8680.26
Rishard MatthewsTEN$3,333,3330.27
Will FullerHOU$1,848,0570.28
Brian QuickLA$1,703,1250.28
Brandon LaFellCIN$2,437,5000.32
Andrew HawkinsCLE$1,000,0000.34

Jordy Nelson finished third in Total NEP at the position this year, making him the only player inside the top 21 in terms of cap hit to escape the bottom 24 in Total NEP per dollar.

The following 24 contained some of the league's best producers on early-career deals.

PlayerTeamCap HitNEP+ per $10,000
Robert WoodsBUF$1,548,5180.35
Mike EvansTB$3,990,4100.37
Quinton PattonSF$772,8750.38
DeAndre HopkinsHOU$2,426,6780.39
Odell BeckhamNYG$2,838,0540.40
Kenny StillsMIA$1,671,0000.43
Albert WilsonKC$603,3340.43
Kelvin BenjaminCAR$2,090,2500.44
Brandin CooksNO$2,286,3960.45
Donte MoncriefIND$750,8800.49
Jordan MatthewsPHI$1,349,8010.54
Marqise LeeJAC$1,411,0970.55
Terrelle PryorCLE$1,671,0000.56
Chris ConleyKC$738,1080.66
Tyler BoydCIN$774,3580.67
Dorial Green-BeckhamPHI$689,7090.67
Malcolm MitchellNE$594,4980.68
John BrownARI$747,7250.71
Sterling ShepardNYG$1,080,8310.71
Jeremy KerleySF$760,0000.73
Tyler LockettSEA$776,6870.75
Seth RobertsOAK$525,0000.80
Davante AdamsGB$1,072,7460.87
Tajae SharpeTEN$518,7210.87

Odell Beckham finished 5th in Total NEP, Brandin Cooks was 7th, Terrelle Pryor was 12th, DeAndre Hopkins was 13th, and Davante Adams was 14th.

The most cost-effective options were almost entirely made up of the cheapest contracts. Of the following 17 players, 14 had one of the 18 lowest cap hits in the 89-player sample, going to show that wide receiver production can be found even on early deals.

We'll flip the table so that the most cost-effective options are at the top this time around.

PlayerTeamCap HitNEP+ per $10,000
Tyrell WilliamsSD$525,0001.82
Willie SneadNO$525,0001.73
Adam ThielenMIN$600,0001.52
Stefon DiggsMIN$581,9281.39
Quincy EnunwaNYJ$525,0001.38
Cameron MeredithCHI$527,0001.33
Tyreek HillKC$497,5001.30
Dontrelle InmanSD$600,0001.19
Robby AndersonNYJ$450,0001.18
Eli RogersPIT$451,6661.18
Jamison CrowderWAS$661,4061.13
J.J. NelsonARI$577,4501.07
Adam HumphriesTB$525,0001.02
Taylor GabrielATL$600,0001.00
Michael ThomasNO$930,7220.99
Allen RobinsonJAC$957,5100.93
Jarvis LandryMIA$947,7030.90

Tyrell Williams was 11th in Total NEP despite the 81st-highest cap hit ($525,000). Willie Snead had the same cap hit this season and finished 20th in Total NEP. Teammate Michael Thomas finished 17th in Total NEP behind the 63rd-highest cap hit in the group.

The Minnesota Vikings had some big-time production on cheap deals, as Adam Thielen was 21st in Total NEP and Stefon Diggs was 32nd on the 74th- and 80th-highest cap hits, respectively.

The New York Jets, for all their issues, had two players produce well on small deals. Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson had two of the seven lowest cap hits but gave strong enough production to post two of the nine best NEP per dollar seasons at the position.

In all, effective wide receivers were found at all types of cap hits, spanning from $500,000 to $15 million.

But the most productive crop in terms of cumulative Total NEP almost all carried big contracts: only three of the top 20 receivers by Total NEP had a cap hit below $1 million (Tyrell Williams, Michael Thomas, and Willie Snead).