By The Numbers: Wide Receiver Edition
Eric Moody analyzes the top 20 wide receivers based on ADP to help you prepare for the 2016 fantasy football season.
Fantasy football is a game of numbers. The goal is to outscore your opponent every week. The game film tells one story, but innovative statistics and analytics tell another.
The only wide receiver to exceed 200 targets in 2015 was Julio Jones. Brandon Marshall, Allen Robinson, and Doug Baldwin had a three-way tie for the most touchdowns (14). Brown, Baldwin, Larry Fitzgerald, and Jeremy Maclin were the only wide receivers in the top 20 to catch over 70 percent of their targets. Julio Jones and Brown tied for the most receptions (136). Allen Robinson (80) and Odell Beckham (96) were the only wide receivers in the top six to not get 100 or more receptions.
The fantasy football draft season continues to be a rollercoaster filled with numerous twists and turns. The goal of this article is to share stats, provide clarity, and to help you understand the productivity of the top 20 wide receivers according to FantasyPros ADP (average draft position) consensus rankings.
With that in mind, it’s time to dive into the statistical analysis of these wide receivers.
1. Antonio Brown had a 0.39 Fantasy Points Per Opportunity (PPO) in standard formats.
This is a metric from Pro Football Focus that takes a player’s total fantasy points divided by the sum of carries and pass routes run. The only other wide receiver with a higher PPO was Sammy Watkins, but what makes Brown’s even more impressive is the high number of routes run. He provides owners with the safest floor in fantasy football. It would be shocking to see Brown not be drafted at the 1.01.
2. Odell Beckham produced 2.32 fantasy points per touch in standard formats.
Beckham produced double-digit fantasy points in 11 games last season. He has averaged 102.84 receiving yards and 0.93 touchdowns in 27 regular season games. Beckham received 10 or more targets in seven games last season. He played the sixth-most offensive snaps (1,015) among wide receivers and was targeted on 16 percent of them. Beckham is a lock to be the second or third receiver off the board in fantasy drafts.
3. Julio Jones was targeted by a pass attempt on 22 percent of his offensive snaps.
Jones leveraged the high target volume in Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s system to finish last season as the second best fantasy wide receiver. The only wide receiver with a higher Pro Football Focus PPO than Jones (0.38) in standard formats was Antonio Brown (0.39).
4. DeAndre Hopkins owned a target share of 31 percent.
Hopkins played 1,155 offensive snaps and was targeted on 17 percent of them. Brown (193) and Jones (190) were the only wide receivers who saw more targets. He along with Bryant or Green would likely be the fourth wide receiver taken in fantasy drafts. The Texans addition of Lamar Miller will impact Hopkins’ target volume in 2016. This development impacts his fantasy value this season. Hopkins can still finish as a WR1 in 2016, but he is a wide receiver you are drafting at this ceiling.
5. Dez Bryant has averaged a touchdown rate of 0.0825 over the last four seasons.
What will become of Bryant if his touchdown scoring efficiency were to take a step back? This is a fair question considering he has never been given more than 159 targets in the last four seasons. Bryant only had 136 targets in 2014 which was the same season DeMarco Murray was selected as the Associated Press’ Offensive Player of the Year. Success or failure comes down to touchdowns for him. Bryant has never finished lower than the sixth-best fantasy wide receiver in his last three healthy seasons.
6. A.J. Green only had seven games with 10 or more fantasy points in standard formats.
Beckham, Hopkins, Allen Robinson, Brandon Marshall, Jones, and Brown all produced double-digits games with 10 or more fantasy points. When Green went boom it was glorious (remember the 34.7 fantasy point performance in Week 3 of last season), but he hurt fantasy owners when busted. He should see an increase in target share in 2016 due to the losses of Marvin Jones and Mohammad Sanu. Green could easily see a 30 percent of higher target share this season as opposed to the 26 percent share from 2015. He is likely to be drafted late in the first round.
7. Allen Robinson had an aDOT of 16.3 according to Pro Football Focus.
Average depth of target (aDOT) was created by Mike Clay. It is superior to yards per reception or yards per target. Robinson scored 14 touchdowns last season and the passes traveling his way traveled 16.3 yards. When you combine those stats with a run-after-catch-per-reception of 4.4 yards he provided a lethal combination for fantasy owners. Robinson produced double-digit fantasy points in 11 games last season. He may not score 14 touchdowns this season, but 10 is in the realm of possibility. Robinson could also see an increase in receiving yards in 2016. He is a solid WR1 who I have no problem drafting at his current ADP.
8. Jordy Nelson is classified as a medium risk (44 percent) according to Sports Injury Predictor.
I have some concerns drafting Nelson at his current ADP. Sports Injury Predictor sums it up perfectly:
A 31-year-old coming off a torn ACL certainly presents some risk. This guy has been a top 9 PPR WR when playing with QB Aaron Rodgers over the past 4 seasons and has a pair of top-4 finishes on his resume. Considering he’ll be over a year removed from the knee injury when the 2016 season kicks off, he’s certainly capable of returning to WR1 territory. That makes him a solid target at that WR11 ADP. If his price climbs much higher, though, the risk might start to outweigh the reward.
Nelson is likely to have returned to the practice field when this article is published. I am on board with drafting him if he falls in fantasy drafts. However, I would rather select another wide receiver around Nelson’s ADP.
9. Brandon Marshall was given 10 targets or more in 11 games.
Marshall was never given less than seven targets in the remaining five games. He should continue where he left off last season in Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s aerial attack. You can read my FantasyPros player profile on Marshall here. He has never finished lower than the fifth best fantasy wide receiver in his last three healthy seasons.
10. Alshon Jeffery is classified as a high risk (83 percent) according to Sports Injury Predictor.
Sports Injury Predictor summed up the 2016 outlook for Jeffery perfectly:
A rash of injuries last year hid how productive Jeffery was when healthy. His pace stats in 7 full games would have made him the #1 WR in non-PPR and #3 in PPR. That should help us get him at a discount in 2016 fantasy drafts. He was going as the 11th WR off the board as of mid-May. If healthy — and he played all 16 games in 2013 and 2014 — Jeffery is a strong bet for WR1 production and has top-5 upside.
Jeffery averaged 89.67 receiving yards per game and 0.44 receiving touchdowns per game with a 32 percent target share in 2015. He is the epitome of a risk versus reward player. I am on board with drafting him at his ADP, but make sure you have enough wide receiver depth as a contingency plan in the scenario Jeffery misses games.
11. Mike Evans produced a touchdown rate of 0.02.
Evans is a candidate to see some positive regression in the areas of touchdowns. He has lost weight heading into training camp this summer. Evans dealt with a hamstring injury suffered during the preseason heading into last season. He had the 10th-most targets (148) and played 863 offensive snaps last season. Evans lacked efficiency in 2015 and committed 15 drops. He said it is “fair” to say he suffered a sophomore slump, according to NBCSports.com. Evans even had three games where he was given 17 or more targets. I like his chances to bounce back as a strong WR1, but, unfortunately, the upside is already priced into his current ADP.
12. Amari Cooper played the most offensive snaps (977) of any Raiders wide receiver.
Michael Crabtree (143) finished with 20 more targets than Cooper (123). The fantasy point totals were eerily similar, but the draft capital was what truly separated the two wide receivers. Crabtree was essentially free while Cooper cost you a middle-round pick. Cooper apparently managed plantar fasciitis the second half of last season, according to an article from Chris Wesseling of NFL.com. He has the talent to be a difference-maker this season, but at what cost do you want to select him? Cooper’s upside is already built into his ADP. I would rather select other wide receivers that are going around him.
13. Brandin Cooks only had 129 targets.
Quarterback Drew Brees has always spread the football around. Many of the offensive weapons will receive targets in the Saints’ offense. The last Saints’ wide receiver to total more than 140 targets was Marques Colston (143) back in 2007. Why draft Cooks at his current ADP when you wait and draft Willie Snead later in fantasy drafts?
14. Keenan Allen received a target on 16 percent of his offensive snaps (560).
Allen provides one of the higher floors of any wide receiver, especially in PPR (points-per-reception) formats. He produced 2.45 fantasy points per reception in PPR formats. Allen is in a position to pick up where he left off last season. Imagine what production could be generated if he played all 16 games?
15. Sammy Watkins had an aDOT of 18.3 according to Pro Football Focus.
Watkins second half of the 2015 season helped fantasy owners who held him throughout the season or picked him up on the waiver wire. The last nine games of the season he had 900 receiving yards and scored seven touchdowns. Watkins is fully recovered from offseason foot surgery, but he still remains a high injury risk. He is also the No. 1 wide receiver in an offense with low passing volume. Watkins has the ability to win weeks for you, but I prefer to draft him if he happens to slip a round or two from his current ADP.
16. T.Y. Hilton has averaged a target share 0.22 over the last three seasons.
Hilton has averaged 8.6 targets per game, 5.05 receptions, 75.8 receiving yards, and 0.36 touchdowns per game over the last three seasons. He profiles more as a WR2 than a WR1 due to the lower target share. Moncrief has the physical profile of a red zone wide receiver. I see Hilton and the entire Colts offense bouncing back this season, but he is not a player I would reach for.
17. Demaryius Thomas received 76 percent of his 176 targets on passes traveling less than 15 yards.
Thomas is a wide receiver I plan on targeting in many of my fantasy drafts. He dealt with contract negotiations leading up to the season, numerous injuries during the season, a lack of focus due to some personal issues off the field, and the physical breakdown of a future Hall of Fame quarterback. Thomas also uncharacteristically committed 12 drops. He is focused and looking forward to a “bounce back” from a 105-catch, 1,304 receiving yards, and six-touchdown season. For a more detailed breakdown of Thomas and his situation heading into 2016, you can read a piece I wrote over at RotoViz.
18. Kelvin Benjamin will look to build on his nine receiving touchdowns from back in 2014.
Cam Newton had the seventh most pass attempts (15) inside the five-yard line. This is worth mentioning because Benjamin excels at running the fade route. What impact will up and coming second-year wide receiver Devin Funchess have on his target volume? Benjamin is unlikely to see the same target volume he saw as a rookie, but he can make up for that with production for fantasy owners in the red zone. I prefer to draft him a round or two outside of his ADP as my WR3 or WR4.
19. Julian Edelman is classified as a high risk (68 percent) according to Sports Injury Predictor.
Edelman has been a fantasy force to be reckoned with, especially in PPR formats. He averaged 9.59 targets per game, 7.03 receptions per game, 70.7 receiving yards per game, and 0.48 touchdowns per game over the last three seasons. Edelman has had two foot surgeries since November. Here is what Sports Injury Predictor had to say about him heading into 2016:
Any time Edelman takes the field, he’ll have the appeal of a PPR WR1. The problem is that he’s a clear candidate to miss games. Edelman appeared in just 9 contests last year, and now he’s coming off 2 foot surgeries. It’s always tough to get accurate info out of New England, so we likely won’t have reliable intel as Edelman rehabs. Ultimately, we expect him to be ready for Week 1. But despite huge PPR upside, his risk factor has us passing at a Round 3-4 ADP.
It is important to me to draft players in the first three to four rounds that have a high probability of meeting expectations. I prefer to draft for upside in the later rounds. The only scenario I can see myself selecting Edelman is if he is available in the fifth or sixth round.
20. Randall Cobb ran 83.5 percent of his routes from the slot.
Cobb has consistently run a high percentage of his routes lined up in the slot every season. What made last season different was the absence of Jordy Nelson or the ability of any other wide receiver on the roster to attack opposing defenses vertically. It was concerning to see the Packers’ coaching staff not have an offensive contingency plan to pivot to with Nelson lost for the season. Cobb was thrust into the role of the Packers’ No. 1 wide receiver and performed admirably with 79 receptions and 829 receiving yards while managing a shoulder injury he suffered during the preseason. Now fully healthy heading into 2016, he is candidate to return to form and lead the Packers in receiving if Nelson struggles to return from his ACL injury. Cobb can be drafted as a WR2 or WR3 at his current ADP.
Many wide receivers are being selected early in fantasy drafts as a high percentage of NFL offenses continue to prioritize the passing game. Many fantasy owners are constantly searching for wide receivers that receive a high number of targets. It is important to analyze how productive a wide receiver can be if given the volume. This is where that statistic from the wonderful team at Football Outsiders DVOA or Defense-adjusted Value Over Average comes in handy. This number represents value, per play, over an average wide receiver in the same game situations. The more positive the DVOA rating, the better the player’s performance. Wide receivers can also be ranked according to DYAR, or Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. DYAR means a wide receiver with more total value.
Here is a visual of how this group of wide receivers fared in 2015 using those statistics:
DVOA and DYAR provides us with another statistical tool to measure wide receiver efficiency.
The simple version: DYAR means a wide receiver with more total value. DVOA means a wide receiver with more value per play.
I will provide insight into the tight end position in the next part of this series. If you missed my previous article evaluating the running back position click here. By The Numbers will be a weekly column at FantasyPros starting in Week 1 of the regular season.
What statistics stood out to you? Please leave a comment below or reach out to me on Twitter. You can find me @EricNMoody and I am always open to answering questions or discussing football. Until next time!