4 Wide Receivers to Target Using YPRR
Josh Shepardson uses YPRR to identify a quartet of highly intriguing WR draft day targets.
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Everyone loves identifying a breakout player or player who outproduces their draft position by a wide margin. These are the guys who often carry teams to fantasy titles. As drafts approach, more and more sleeper style articles will pop up, and that makes it hard to keep certain players under wraps. Once a player has been called a sleeper enough, he stops being a sleeper. With that in mind, I’m going to highlight four wide receivers I expect to either breakout or perform at a level well above their draft slot so that if one of these players gains enough helium and shoots up draft boards, then you’ll still have a trio of other wide outs who can still be deemed bargains when your fantasy draft rolls around.
The primary motivation for touting the following receivers is their yards per route run (YPRR). This is a stat found at Pro Football Focus, and it’s one of my favorites for evaluating wide receivers. A player with a high YPRR is efficiently making the most of the routes they run, and a bump in the number of routes they run can essentially result in a huge bump in production. As you’ve probably deduced, the forthcoming quartet of wide receivers posted a strong YPRR in 2014 and could be in line for more prominent roles in their respective offenses.
Martavis Bryant is the highest ranked wide receiver of this group checking in 27th in the standard league expert consensus ranks. He’s not a sleeper anymore, but he remains a breakout candidate. Bryant missed six games as a rookie, but he was explosive when he did play totaling 26 receptions for 549 yards receiving and a whopping eight touchdowns. Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 211 pounds, he makes for an appealing red-zone target for Ben Roethlisberger. Staying true to the theme of the article, though, it’s his exceptional YPRR that first caught my attention. Bryant’s 2.75 YPRR bested Odell Beckham Jr’s mark of 2.74 and ranked as the third highest mark among wide receivers who received 25% or more of their team’s targets. Let others worry about a sophomore slump, even a modest bump in usage would do wonders for Bryant. Simply playing in 16 games as opposed to 10 should provide that. Bryant has the size and speed, and if his early returns are an indication of what to expect going forward, it’s a matter of when, not if, he’ll become a top flight pass catcher at the NFL level. By this time next year, we could be talking about a top-10 wide receiver.
The oddball of the four wide receivers I’m highlighting is Steve Johnson. The former Bill was buried in the pecking order in San Francisco behind Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin. As a result, Johnson was targeted just 49 times and ran only 204 routes, per Pro Football Focus. He was incredibly efficient, though, posting a 2.13 YPRR (tied for 16th among wide receivers who received 25% or more of their team’s targets). Johnson is no stranger to posting a solid YPRR. In 2013, he ranked just tied for 52nd (1.56 YPRR) out of 94 qualified wide receivers, but in 2012, he ranked tied for 25th (1.90 YPRR) out of 82 wide outs, and in 2011, he ranked tied for 31st (1.83 YPRR) out of 95 wide outs. Phillip Rivers will represent the best quarterback he’s ever played with in his career, and it’s easy to envision Johnson emerging as the second most targeted Charger behind only Keenan Allen and edging out veteran tight end Antonio Gates. Johnson checks in 64th among wide receivers in the standard league expert rankings and is one of my favorite late-round targets.
Returning to the youth, Charles Johnson emerged last year as a reliable target for rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Johnson played in only 12 games and didn’t play in his first until October 2. He was incredibly quiet through his first five games totaling six receptions on 12 targets for 60 yards and zero touchdowns. In his last seven games, Johnson reeled in 25 receptions on 46 targets for 415 yards and two touchdowns. He received fewer than seven targets just two times in his last seven contests, and the addition of Mike Wallace in free agency doesn’t necessarily preclude Johnson from being the most targeted pass catcher for Bridgewater. Johnson was very efficient last year tallying 1.72 YPRR, a mark that resulted in him tying for 35th with Vincent Jackson and his new teammate, Mike Wallace. The expert consensus has him ranked 40th in standard leagues, but he could easily emerge as a WR2.
The last receiver who generates intrigue by his 2014 YPRR is in a much more crowded situation. Second-year wide receiver Donte Moncrief has a ton of players to compete with for touches. Leading receiver T.Y. Hilton hasn’t gone anywhere, the club added Andre Johnson in free agency and spent a first-round pick on Phillip Dorsett. To a lesser extent, free-agent addition Duron Carter also represents competition for targets, as do tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen and running back Frank Gore. Hilton should remain the apple of Andrew Luck’s eye, but it’s not out of the question that soon-to-be 34-year-old Andre Johnson’s production could slide. Both Dorsett and Carter are NFL rookies, and they wouldn’t be the first to struggle in their first season in the league. Moncrief enters his second season in the NFL having flashed brilliance in his rookie year. He ranked tied for 33rd in YPRR (1.74) and is part of an offense that runs a ton of plays. The Colts ran the second most offensive plays last year, trailing only the Eagles, and they trailed no one in pass attempts. It’s likely that Gore helps ease the burden on Luck and the result is more run attempts this year, but saddling up to a player in the offense that ran the second most plays last year is wise. Ancillary pieces in a high-octane offense can have value, even if it isn’t consistent, and should injury or poor performance from any of the players ahead of Moncrief result in extra work, the sky is the limit. Moncrief ranks 60th by the experts in standard leagues, but he’s likely the most volatile option of the quartet of wide outs touted in this article. He’s a nice late-round target for gamers chasing upside at wide receiver.