Oakland Wide Receiver Andre Holmes Is Already in Elite Company

The Raiders have been one of the worst teams in football so far this season, but they feature a rising star at wide receiver.

Were you one of those people who always wound up as the "group leader" for projects in school? I was somehow always the person tasked with leading a group of apathetic college students in a journey to do just enough to complete a project, and it helped me relate to others who have to suffer on bad teams.

Like the time when I asked a group member to submit five pages of written work about a particular event we were researching, and he e-mailed me - a couple of hours later than I'd asked - a PowerPoint presentation with about 200 total words. These words were taken directly from the Wikipedia page of the event yet, somehow, half of them were spelled wrong.

But on the rare occasion that a good team of students would be "under my command," it was amazing how much better things went. Not having to stay up until 2:00 A.M. writing five pages of someone else's work is a nice perk for a college student looking to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on a Friday night rather than write someone else's portion of a project.

I can't even imagine the plight of the wide receivers currently stuck on awful football teams, wasting all of their talent running routes to be thrown awful passes they have no chance of catching. But when the pass is catchable, great receivers are able to make something happen with the ball, and create big plays on an offense seemingly predisposed to inefficiency and ineffectiveness.

That has been the case with Andre Holmes so far this season, as the Hillsdale College product has finally got his chance on the big stage, and is performing well despite less-than-ideal surroundings. Can he keep it up over the remainder of the season, and is he a player to keep an eye on moving forward in his career?

Started From the Bottom

Andre Holmes went undrafted out of Hillsdale, and failed to catch on in the NFL right away. He bounced around on practice squads and at the bottom of rosters for a few years, spending time in Minnesota, Dallas and New England before catching on with the Raiders last season. He was a dominant force at his Division II school, but obviously had issues adjusting to life in the NFL after his spell at a small college.

It's incredible to think that an athlete of Holmes' caliber spent so much time off the NFL's radar, as everything about his physical profile screams out to be lined up wide on an NFL offense. Holmes is 6'4", weighs 210 pounds, and has very long arms. His hands aren't all that big, and he doesn't have the biggest vertical leap (only 35 inches), but for a player his size, his speed/explosion measurables are nuts.

According to Player Profiler, Holmes has an "Athleticism Score" in the 95th percentile among wideouts, and has an "extraordinary" Height-Adjusted Speed Score. And according to MockDraftable, Holmes' most similar players from a physical standpoint include A.J. Green, Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Blackmon.

But it's Player Profiler's top comparable player for Holmes that I believe makes the most sense: Larry Fitzgerald. The Arizona wide receiver has made a career as a player too big and strong to be as quick as he is, and that's led to years of production on some of the worst passing offenses in the NFL.

Keeping Good Company

Holmes is just now getting his first real chance in the NFL, which makes him slightly older than your average breakout candidate. At 26, he doesn't have a long, productive NFL career ahead of him, but rather a couple more years worth of athletic prime before he starts to slow down.

But from a production standpoint, this is his first chance to show what he can do, despite playing on one of the worst offenses in football. Yet his on-field product looks a lot like other young stars in their early seasons in bad passing offenses. Take a look at the Net Expected Points (NEP) data for Holmes and two other superstars who were stuck on bad passing teams early in their careers.

YearPlayerRecRec NEPTargetsRec NEP/TargetPassing Offense
2012J. Gordon5064.99950.6828th
2013J. Gordon87138.641590.8723rd
2004L. Fitzgerald5869.641150.6129th
2005L. Fitzgerald103120.131650.7321st
2014A. Holmes2332.75410.8028th
2014 PaceA. Holmes5374.86940.8028th

There's Fitzgerald again, and you'll notice a strong similarity in his rookie numbers and Holmes' statistics this season. Holmes is actually better on a per-target basis than Fitzgerald despite playing on similarly inefficient passing offenses.

Josh Gordon is one of the best examples of elite wide receiver play on a bad offense, and Holmes' numbers look very similar to Gordon's, as well. Even his volume and catch rate are strikingly close to Gordon's in his first year in the league.

Right now, Holmes ranks 14th in the NFL among wideouts with 40 or more targets in our Reception NEP per target metric, and ranks 11th in NEP per reception. He has earned more NEP per catch than Dez Bryant, Julio Jones and even a slightly older Larry Fitzgerald so far this year. And he's done all this on a bottom-five passing offense and without featuring in the offense until a couple of weeks into the season (only 9 targets through three games, but 32 in the four games since).

Looking Ahead

So what does the future hold for Holmes? His age is a slight concern, as his years wasted as a backup or practice squadder have cut into his upside moving forward, as he's currently at his physical peak. But even with that in mind, he's performing at the same level as two of the league's best receivers when they got their first chance on the big stage, and that's highly encouraging.

And he's growing alongside a young quarterback in Derek Carr, who should continue to get better as the year goes on, and who has shown moments of brilliance in good matchups so far this season. But ultimately it's that quarterback who will limit his fantasy football upside as the year goes on.

Holmes is a fantastic talent, and someone to target in both redraft and dynasty leagues. But he'll suffer from inconsistent performances based on his offense's competence on a week-to-week basis. That's a curse for those who own him, but a blessing for anyone looking to buy-low after the Raiders' offense stumbles on any given week, frustrating those who roster Holmes.

The physical and statistical comparables are really strong for the Raiders wideout, and there's no sign of slowing down despite playing for an offense that has failed to score more than 14 points in six of their seven contests. As the Raiders improve, so will Holmes, and that's a scary thought for those who have to face him in the NFL and in fantasy football.