Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between Wide Receivers (2018 Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Aug 7, 2018

Adam Thielen may have finished as a top-10 wide receiver last year, but that doesn’t tell the whole story

It’s hard to believe it’s been a full year since the original Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between has been published, but here we are, just about a month from the start of the regular season. When I started this series, it was intended to put completely untarnished numbers out there that every fantasy football enthusiast could understand and put to use.

You might be someone who has taken the summer months off to spend time with friends and family, or you might be the type of diehard who craves information all year-round. Whatever your cup of tea is, I promise that this will be of great use to you during your fantasy drafts.

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When I hear someone say, “Player X recorded five RB1 performances last year,” it kind of drives me nuts. Why? It’s almost as bad as drawing year-end totals as a reason to rank a player as high as you do. That doesn’t give you the actual picture of a player’s performance because things change from week-to-week and we cannot control that variance.

To put this on display, the average top-12 running back performance in 2017 was 11.5 PPR points. For example, Wayne Gallman scored 13.0 PPR points in Week 4, but was not awarded an RB2 performance because it just happened to be a higher-scoring week among fantasy running backs. Should Gallman not be awarded an RB2 performance? The player’s performance should not be graded on a curve, because we have no control on predicting what that curve is for any particular week. Our goal as analysts is to predict who will have RB2 performances in any given week, which stood at 11.5 PPR points in 2017. Meanwhile, there are situations like that of Kareem Hunt, who finished with just 10.1 PPR points in Week 9, but was awarded an RB2 performance by most standards. That should not happen.

The numbers vary from year-to-year, which is where the research comes into play. While the RB2 number was 11.5 PPR points in 2017, it was just 11.3 PPR points back in 2015. Every position is different, but know that I’ve gone through each year, each position, and each player, charting how many top-12, top-24, top-36 performances they’ve had according to that year’s stats. Not just that, though, as I’ve added boom and bust categories, which showcases their ceiling and floor on a week-to-week basis. This research is done on PPR leagues because it’s the format that presents the most consistently, which makes it the most predictable.

The number to achieve boom or bust status varies per position, as some have it harder than others. With quarterback, the number to “boom” wound up on 26.0 because it would have amounted to roughly 350 passing yards and three touchdowns. That number can obviously be accomplished in a variety of different ways, but again, we just want them to reach that number. A “bust” on the other hand amounted to 13.9 fantasy points or less, which would mean they failed to throw for 250 yards and a touchdown, or somewhere in that region. Below, you can find the chart with the parameters for each position.

Position Boom Bust
QB 26.0 13.9 or less
RB 25.0 6.9 or less
WR 25.0 7.9 or less
TE 20.0 6.9 or less

 

Just to give you an idea as to some of the things you’ll find inside, here’s an example: Christian McCaffrey finished as an RB2 or better in 56.3 percent of his games and is being drafted as the No. 11 running back, while Duke Johnson finished as an RB2 or better in 62.5 percent of his games, but is being drafted as the No. 35 running back. Things change, sure, but did they change enough to make up for this gap? I’ll leave that up to you.

So, for the second time, welcome to Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between. We’ll be doing wide receivers today, with the other positions being released throughout the rest of the week. You’ll be able to find the links below once they go live.

Running Backs
Quarterbacks
Tight Ends

Wide Receivers

Top-10

ADP Player Games Tar+Car/gm WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
1 Antonio Brown 14 11.6 57.1% 64.3% 78.6% 50.0% 21.4%
2 DeAndre Hopkins 15 11.6 46.7% 93.3% 93.3% 26.7% 0.0%
3 Odell Beckham Jr. 4 10.5 50.0% 75.0% 75.0% 25.0% 25.0%
4 Julio Jones 16 9.3 18.8% 43.8% 75.0% 6.3% 12.5%
5 Michael Thomas 16 9.3 31.3% 75.0% 81.3% 6.3% 6.3%
6 Keenan Allen 16 10.1 37.5% 50.0% 68.8% 25.0% 6.3%
7 Davante Adams 14 8.4 42.9% 57.1% 64.3% 14.3% 14.3%
8 A.J. Green 16 9.0 25.0% 43.8% 68.8% 18.8% 25.0%
9 Mike Evans 15 9.1 26.7% 60.0% 73.3% 0.0% 20.0%
10 Tyreek Hill 15 8.1 33.3% 53.3% 73.3% 20.0% 13.3%

 

Who would’ve thought that Julio Jones and A.J. Green were the worst two among this group in 2017? We all know they had down years, but finishing as WR2’s less than 50 percent of the time is extremely shocking. In fact, Jones was the worst among the group in WR1 performances, too. He was essentially a high-floor wide receiver in 2017, but we have a resume of proven production, and we know that he’s not going to score three touchdowns again. Some have suggested that Jones has always been this way, but that’s not true. Here’s his Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between marks over his career:

Player YEAR WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
Julio Jones 2017 18.8% 43.8% 75.0% 6.3% 12.5%
Julio Jones 2016 50.0% 64.3% 64.3% 28.6% 28.6%
Julio Jones 2015 62.5% 87.5% 87.5% 43.8% 6.3%
Julio Jones 2014 33.3% 60.0% 73.3% 20.0% 0.0%
Julio Jones 2013 40.0% 100.0% 100.0% 20.0% 0.0%
Julio Jones 2012 31.3% 56.3% 62.5% 25.0% 18.8%
Julio Jones 2011 50.0% 58.3% 66.7% 16.7% 25.0%
Julio Jones Career 40.4% 63.8% 73.4% 23.4% 13.8%

 

After looking at that, you should be licking your chops that he falls to the start of the second-round, as his career marks are better than nearly every wide receiver. To those who tell you Jones is “boom or bust,” direct them to this chart, which is among the most impressive in football.

Outside of Jones, the chart looks somewhat like it should, though it’s extremely impressive that Davante Adams performed as a WR1 in 42.9 percent of his games despite being without Aaron Rodgers for a large portion of the year. If there’s one thing to take away from the top-10 wide receivers, it’s that consistent week-in, week-out wide receivers are hard to find, as just one player performed as a WR1 more than half the time – Antonio Brown. I tend to look at WR2 percentages, as it dictates just how consistent a player actually is.

On the historical front, there were just two wide receivers in all of football who didn’t have a single “bust” game all year. One of them was DeAndre Hopkins, while the other was Jarvis Landry, who you’ll find much later in the article. Landry was essentially the Christian McCaffrey of wide receivers in 2017. If you’d like to walk away with a tidbit on a wide receiver similar to the one on Le’Veon Bell in the running back article, here’s one on Odell Beckham Jr. Going back to 2001, there’s been just three players who have posted “boom” performances in more than 20 percent of their career games. Calvin Johnson (22.2 percent), Julio Jones (23.4 percent), Antonio Brown (24.8 percent) and Beckham (34.0 percent). It’s ridiculous that there’s nobody within 9.2 percent of him.

11-20 Range

ADP Player Games Tar+Car/gm WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
11 Adam Thielen 16 9.0 37.5% 50.0% 56.3% 6.3% 18.8%
12 T.Y. Hilton 16 6.8 18.8% 31.3% 31.3% 12.5% 56.3%
13 Doug Baldwin 16 7.4 25.0% 37.5% 62.5% 12.5% 18.8%
14 Stefon Diggs 14 7.4 14.3% 50.0% 64.3% 14.3% 35.7%
15 Larry Fitzgerald 16 10.1 37.5% 37.5% 75.0% 25.0% 18.8%
16 Amari Cooper 14 6.9 14.3% 28.6% 35.7% 7.1% 50.0%
17 Demaryius Thomas 16 8.8 18.8% 43.8% 68.8% 0.0% 25.0%
18 Allen Robinson DNP
19 Brandin Cooks 16 7.7 25.0% 43.8% 62.5% 12.5% 37.5%
20 Golden Tate 16 7.8 43.8% 56.3% 56.3% 6.3% 37.5%

 

This is where you can see the reason most drafters are avoiding Amari Cooper in drafts, as his lackluster 28.6 percent of WR2 games ranked 44th among wide receivers in 2017. His bust-rate of 50 percent is also second-highest in this tier, so even if you’re expecting a rebound from Cooper, he’s being drafted with that rebound being built-in to his price. I’m a fan of Cooper, but I warn you not to reach for him. This chart also shows just how much yearly totals can be skewed, as Demaryius Thomas finished behind Brandin Cooks at year’s end, but this shows he was a bit more stable as a WR3 or better and didn’t bust nearly as much as Cooks did.

Another alarming stat to pay attention to here is Adam Thielen‘s 56.3 percent WR3 rate. He totaled a massive 143 targets in 2017, which ranked as the ninth-most in the league, so to know that he finished 27th in WR3 or better performance is worrisome. With that many targets, he should’ve been up in the 75 percent range. Knowing that the Vikings are expecting a breakout from Stefon Diggs, you should back away from Thielen at his current cost. Some may look at T.Y. Hilton and think the same, but don’t forget that he is going from Jacoby Brissett to Andrew Luck. His career rates are still somewhat below most in his range (42.6 percent of the time he’s been a WR2 or better), as he’s more boom/bust than most high-end WR2’s are.

If there’s one player who appears to be severely undervalued as we head into 2018, it’s Golden Tate, who performed as a WR2 or better 56.3 percent of the time, which ranked eighth-best in the NFL last year, ahead of Tyreek Hill and Keenan Allen. There are times where Tate falls into the mid-20’s making him a steal in PPR formats. For those worried about Kenny Golladay, he affects Marvin Jones much more than he does Tate. Some might say that Larry Fitzgerald is underrated with his 75 percent WR3 or better rate, but he’s severely lacking in the WR2 department and is now a year older. He’s someone who won’t lose you your league, but he also won’t help you win it.

21-30 Range

ADP Player Games Tar+Car/gm WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
21 JuJu Smith-Schuster 14 5.6 30.8% 46.2% 61.5% 15.4% 23.1%
22 Josh Gordon 5 8.6 0.0% 40.0% 60.0% 0.0% 20.0%
23 Jarvis Landry 16 10.1 43.8% 68.8% 81.3% 0.0% 0.0%
24 Alshon Jeffery 16 7.5 18.8% 43.8% 56.3% 6.3% 25.0%
25 Marvin Jones 16 6.7 31.3% 37.5% 62.5% 12.5% 18.8%
26 Corey Davis 11 5.9 0.0% 9.1% 18.2% 0.0% 81.8%
27 Michael Crabtree 14 7.2 21.4% 42.9% 64.3% 7.1% 35.7%
28 Will Fuller 10 5.2 30.0% 40.0% 40.0% 10.0% 50.0%
29 Sammy Watkins 15 4.7 6.7% 20.0% 53.3% 6.7% 46.7%
30 Chris Hogan 9 6.9 33.3% 44.4% 66.7% 0.0% 33.3%

 

It’s quite impressive to look at what JuJu Smith-Schuster accomplished in 2017 while averaging just 5.6 targets per game, which ranked 55th among wide receivers, behind guys like Kendall Wright and Danny Amendola. It’s all but certain he regresses in efficiency, but opposite of Tyreek Hill, Smith-Schuster is going to be in for a bigger target share this year, which will help mask some of the lost efficiency. Jarvis Landry also looks mighty good here, but you have to remember that he switched teams, which will completely change his outlook. He and Josh Gordon cannot both continue to see eight-plus targets per game while on the same team. There were no two teammates who each totaled more than 107 targets in 2017.

If there’s a sore thumb from this range it’s Corey Davis, who posted WR3 or better numbers just 18.2 percent of the time, which ranked 81st among wide receivers. He’s another player who I appreciate his talent and expect a major step forward, but you shouldn’t have to pay full price for it. Just like Amari Cooper, don’t pay for something that hasn’t happened just yet. If you get them at a discount, I’m good with it.

On the other side of things, Chris Hogan appears to be coming at a major discount, especially when you factor in Julian Edelman‘s four-game suspension. Prior to suffering his injury in Week 8, Hogan was the No. 10 wide receiver in PPR leagues. Knowing that the Patriots don’t have a clear-cut No. 2 wide receiver until Edelman returns should mean good things for Hogan. He might just be a better fantasy pick than Marvin Jones this year, who had similar percentages in 2017.

31-40 Range

ADP Player Games Tar+Car/gm WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
31 Julian Edelman DNP
32 Devin Funchess 16 6.9 18.8% 43.8% 56.3% 12.5% 31.3%
33 Robert Woods 12 7.3 16.7% 41.7% 58.3% 8.3% 25.0%
34 Pierre Garcon 8 8.4 12.5% 37.5% 50.0% 0.0% 37.5%
35 Emmanuel Sanders 12 7.7 16.7% 33.3% 41.7% 0.0% 58.3%
36 Cooper Kupp 15 6.3 13.3% 40.0% 53.3% 0.0% 33.3%
37 DeVante Parker 13 7.4 7.7% 15.4% 61.5% 0.0% 30.8%
38 Jamison Crowder 15 7.3 13.3% 33.3% 40.0% 6.7% 40.0%
39 Randall Cobb 14 7.2 7.1% 35.7% 57.1% 0.0% 35.7%
40 Robby Anderson 16 7.3 31.3% 37.5% 50.0% 6.3% 31.3%

 

Looking at this range, you can likely find someone to suit your fantasy team, depending on what you need. Robby Anderson finished as a WR1 31.3 percent of the time, which was tied for 12th best in the NFL, ahead of guys like Mike Evans, A.J. Green, Doug Baldwin, and Julio Jones. Is it possible that we’re undervaluing the third-year player who started to break-out towards the end of the 2016 season? There is a potential suspension looming, but if he avoids suspension, he appears to be a great value for those looking for WR1 upside in the later rounds.

There were also three wide receivers in this range who posted WR2 or better numbers at least 40 percent of the time, though all of their situations got a bit cloudier in 2018. Devin Funchess now has to deal with D.J. Moore, as well as a returning Greg Olsen. Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp now have Brandin Cooks welcomed to the offense, though they did lose Sammy Watkins. Still, it’s somewhat of a downgrade for them.

Someone who scored extremely low in the WR2 department was DeVante Parker, hitting that threshold just 15.4 percent of the time. Still, he posted WR3 numbers 61.5 percent of the time, which was the highest of this group and was actually the same percentage posted by JuJu Smith-Schuster, Robert Woods, and Golden Tate. When you score just one touchdown like Parker did, you aren’t going to get into the WR1 or WR2 conversation very often. Just ask the 2017 version of Julio Jones. To know that he posted WR3 numbers as much as he did with Jarvis Landry on the team, it’s fair to expect his numbers to go up across the board.

For those expecting Emmanuel Sanders to bounce-back, this is not the greatest of signs, as he busted 58.3 percent of the time while seeing 7.7 targets per game. Guys, Corey Coleman busted less often. Knowing Sanders is 31 years old, it’s not as if father-time is on his side. His quarterback situation has improved, but so has the talent around him. You can like a potential bounce-back, but don’t pay for it.

41-50 Range

ADP Player Games Tar+Car/gm WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
41 Jordy Nelson 14 6.3 21.4% 21.4% 28.6% 0.0% 64.3%
42 Marquise Goodwin 16 6.8 6.3% 31.3% 50.0% 0.0% 37.5%
43 Nelson Agholor 16 6.0 25.0% 50.0% 50.0% 6.3% 43.8%
44 Sterling Shepard 11 8.0 27.3% 27.3% 45.5% 27.3% 27.3%
45 Kelvin Benjamin 14 5.6 7.1% 28.6% 50.0% 0.0% 42.9%
46 Allen Hurns 10 5.6 10.0% 30.0% 40.0% 0.0% 50.0%
47 Calvin Ridley DNP
48 D.J. Moore DNP
49 Dez Bryant 16 8.3 12.5% 43.8% 50.0% 0.0% 43.8%
50 Marqise Lee 13 7.5 23.1% 38.5% 61.5% 0.0% 30.8%

 

We’re now outside starter territory, though some of these players will likely end up being top-30 guys. Nelson Agholor and Sterling Shepard jump off the page as boom-or-bust options, as they offered you plenty of upside, though Agholor’s 43.8 percent bust rate is far from ideal for someone who scored eight touchdowns. Shepard’s 27.3 percent boom rate was second in the NFL behind only Antonio Brown, yet you’re able to get him outside the top-40 wide receivers drafted? Okay. Going back to his rookie season in 2016 (with Odell Beckham on the field), Shepard posted WR3 or better numbers 56.3 percent of the time. He’s being undervalued, especially in Pat Shurmur’s offense that features the slot receiver.

Another player who is being overlooked in fantasy drafts is Marqise Lee, who posted WR3 or better numbers 61.5 percent of the time. It wasn’t just that, though, as his 23.1 percent of WR1 games ranked 23rd, ahead of guys like Devin Funchess and Emmanuel Sanders who are going well ahead of him. Sure, they snagged Donte Moncrief, but he’s in a new offense and posted WR1 numbers in just 3-of-51 games with the Colts and Andrew Luck. You shouldn’t be worried.

Top-80 (The Rest)

ADP Player Games Tar+Car/gm WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
51 Kenny Stills 16 6.6 18.8% 25.0% 43.8% 12.5% 50.0%
52 Cameron Meredith DNP
53 Mike Williams 9 2.6 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 88.9%
54 Josh Doctson 15 5.3 0.0% 6.7% 33.3% 0.0% 53.3%
55 Rishard Matthews 14 6.3 21.4% 28.6% 42.9% 0.0% 50.0%
56 Martavis Bryant 15 6.0 6.7% 20.0% 26.7% 0.0% 40.0%
57 Kenny Golladay 11 4.5 9.1% 18.2% 18.2% 0.0% 63.6%
58 DeSean Jackson 14 6.6 7.1% 28.6% 50.0% 0.0% 42.9%
59 Michael Gallup DNP
60 Paul Richardson 16 5.0 6.3% 18.8% 37.5% 6.3% 43.8%
61 Christian Kirk DNP
62 Mohamed Sanu 15 6.7 20.0% 26.7% 66.7% 0.0% 33.3%
63 Ted Ginn 15 5.3 13.3% 40.0% 46.7% 0.0% 40.0%
64 Anthony Miller DNP
65 Courtland Sutton DNP
66 Geronimo Allison 8 4.9 0.0% 12.5% 12.5% 0.0% 87.5%
67 Dede Westbrook 7 7.3 14.3% 28.6% 42.9% 0.0% 42.9%
68 Tyler Lockett 16 5.1 6.3% 12.5% 25.0% 0.0% 62.5%
69 Keelan Cole 16 5.2 12.5% 25.0% 25.0% 6.3% 62.5%
70 Chris Godwin 15 3.7 6.7% 6.7% 26.7% 0.0% 73.3%
71 Tyrell Williams 16 4.3 12.5% 25.0% 25.0% 0.0% 56.3%
72 Danny Amendola 15 5.8 6.7% 33.3% 33.3% 0.0% 60.0%
73 Donte Moncrief 12 3.9 0.0% 0.0% 25.0% 0.0% 66.7%
74 Quincy Enunwa DNP
75 John Ross 2 1.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 100.0%
76 Corey Coleman 9 6.3 0.0% 33.3% 33.3% 0.0% 55.6%
77 Albert Wilson 13 5.0 7.7% 7.7% 38.5% 0.0% 46.2%
78 Jeremy Maclin 12 6.0 0.0% 25.0% 33.3% 0.0% 50.0%
79 James Washington DNP
80 Tre’Quan Smith DNP

 

Take a gander down the WR3 column of this group and then say his name out loud. Mohamed Sanu should be drafted much higher than he currently is. His 66.7 percent of games as a WR3 or better ranked as the 14th-best in the NFL, ahead of Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, Doug Baldwin, and company. While he didn’t offer the upside that they did, he was a stable starter who you can get with your final pick. The addition of Calvin Ridley surely won’t help matters, but they play completely different positions in the offense, and Matt Ryan is due for some positive touchdown regression. I’m not saying he’ll win you your league, but he offers a floor much higher than any other player in this range.

People talk about Kenny Stills like he had a much better season than DeVante Parker, as his WR28 finish to Parker’s WR50 finish seem to indicate, but as you can see, he finished as a WR3 or better just 43.8 percent of the time, despite scoring six touchdowns to Parker’s one. He’s definitely got a place in fantasy, but to think he’s the better draft pick of the two would be a mistake, in my opinion.

Ted Ginn is another player who appears to be getting little love for the way he performed in 2017, though there have been a lot of changes on the Saints roster. They added Cameron Meredith, Tre’Quan Smith, and Ben Watson to the offense, but if you’re like me and projecting an increase in pass attempts, it should help him remain relevant. His 40 percent WR2 rate will not continue (tied for 25th), but if Michael Thomas is slated to see a top-tier cornerback, Ginn could definitely be a plug-and-play option. Another speedy wide receiver who has seemingly been forgotten is DeSean Jackson, who despite a “down” year, posted WR3 or better numbers in 50 percent of his games, which tied guys like Nelson Agholor, Robby Anderson, and Marquise Goodwin. The suspension of Jameis Winston hurts, but don’t leave Jackson undrafted.

TAKEAWAYS

There’s a lot of things to learn from this chart when it comes to wide receivers, like DeVante Parker wasn’t nearly as bad as you think in 2017, or that Amari Cooper‘s ADP already has built-in risk, even if you like him as a player. This is supposed to take the emotion out of how you felt about a player and put it into action. Those who said Julio Jones was too boom-or-bust are wrong; he just simply didn’t offer the upside that he usually does. His floor is somewhat ridiculous considering how few touchdowns he scored in 2017.

Here’s a few of my personal favorite takeaways from this chart: Adam Thielen is being extremely overvalued based on what his target share was last year and how he produced with it. Here’s him versus Golden Tate, who are going two rounds apart:

Player Games Tar/gm WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
Adam Thielen 16 9.0 37.5% 50.0% 56.3% 6.3% 18.8%
Golden Tate 16 7.8 43.8% 56.3% 56.3% 6.3% 37.5%

 

JuJu Smith-Schuster was ridiculously consistent considering how few of targets he had in his rookie year. Increased volume should help make up for some of his regression in efficiency. Recently, we had a listener mailbag question on the podcast asking why people were drafting Brandin Cooks over Smith-Schuster. Looking over this chart and knowing that Cooks is going from Tom Brady to Jared Goff, he might have a great point:

Player Games Tar/gm WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
JuJu Smith-Schuster 14 5.6 30.8% 46.2% 61.5% 15.4% 23.1%
Brandin Cooks 16 7.7 25.0% 43.8% 62.5% 12.5% 37.5%

 

Lastly, it’s that Marqise Lee and Mohamed Sanu should be getting more love from drafters. Let’s stack these wide receivers up against a few wide receivers being drafted inside the top-30:

Player Games Tar/gm WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % BOOM % BUST %
Marqise Lee 13 7.5 23.1% 38.5% 61.5% 0.0% 30.8%
Mohamed Sanu 15 6.7 20.0% 26.7% 66.7% 0.0% 33.3%
Michael Crabtree 14 7.2 21.4% 42.9% 64.3% 7.1% 35.7%
Alshon Jeffery 16 7.5 18.8% 43.8% 56.3% 6.3% 25.0%

 

Oh, and don’t forget to draft Sterling Shepard as a player who might just have more upside that you think. If there’s any players you have questions about in regards to their career numbers, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @MikeTagliereNFL.


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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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24Kyle Lowry (TOR)PG
25Donovan Mitchell (UTH)PG,SG
26Khris Middleton (MIL)SG,SF
27Bradley Beal (WAS)SG
28Kevin Love (CLE)PF,C
29Draymond Green (GSW)PF,C
30LaMarcus Aldridge (SAS)PF,C
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