Don’t Sleep on Kenny Stills’ Upside (2019 Fantasy Football)
Entering his age-27 season, Stills is a veteran of six seasons in the NFL since the Saints popped him in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. As a player who’s hovering in the top-200 picks as opposed to a top-shelf talent, he might seem like an odd inclusion among players profiled. Having said that, there’s a large disparity between his ADP across fantasy football providers. While this is fluid and constantly changing, there’s more than a 50-pick ADP difference between his lowest ADP and highest ADP across providers. The variance in his ADP makes him a prime candidate for a closer look.
Stills has never bested 1,000 receiving yards in a season, and he’s eclipsed 60 receptions only one time. That hardly sounds like the profile of a player who’s more than roster filler, but Stills had stiff competition for targets and touches in New Orleans during his first two seasons in the NFL (2013 and 2014). Furthermore, he’s been tied to poorly quarterbacked, stale offenses in four seasons with the Dolphins. Despite the roadblocks, Stills has been a big-play option with a nose for the end zone. He was underwhelming in his first season with the club in 2015, starting only eight of 16 games, according to Pro-Football-Reference. He’s started all 47 games out of a possible 48 the last three years, and he’s flashed with his field-stretching ability.
According to the play index feature at Pro-Football-Reference, among receivers who were targeted a minimum of 150 times from 2016-2018, Stills ranked ninth with 15.52 yards per reception. During that same three-year stretch, his 21 touchdown receptions are tied for the eighth most among receivers with former teammate and fellow burner Brandin Cooks. His chunk receptions and ability to reach pay dirt put him in elite company. As you can see here, Stills joins Cooks and Mike Evans as the only three receivers to average more than 15.0 yards per reception with 20 or more touchdowns from 2016-2018. Of course, I’m not saying he’s in the same class of fantasy option at receiver as Cooks and Evans, but that’s a good list to be on.
Last year was Stills’ worst since his first with the Dolphins. In 2018, he was targeted only 64 times and parlayed the low volume into a ho-hum 37-553-6 line. Despite the underwhelming overall line, he still showcased the ability to gain yardage in chunks. His 14.95 yards per reception were 20th among receivers who were targeted a minimum of 50 times. Additionally, Football Outsiders (FO) graded out his work favorably. Among the 84 receivers with a minimum of 50 targets, Stills’ 127 Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) ranked 33rd and his 12.6% Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) ranked even better at 22nd.
This year will offer Stills a fresh slate. The coaching staff and quarterback room have been completely overhauled. The Dolphins hired Brian Flores to be their head coach, and his specialty is on the other side of the ball. Joining first-time head coach Flores on the staff is first-time offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea. O’Shea joins Flores from New England’s coaching tree, and the former spent the past 10 seasons as New England’s wide receivers coach. Another noteworthy member of the coaching staff is Jim Caldwell. Caldwell is the assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach. O’Shea and Caldwell will be tasked with upgrading an offense that was putrid under “offensive guru” Adam Gase’s tutelage. With a first-time head coach and first-time OC leading the way, it’s almost total guesswork as to what Miami’s offense will look like. Having said that, Miami is likely to be forced to play catch up often this year. According to the win totals posted at Pinnacle, Miami’s total of 4.5 is the lowest.
Stills should get a big lift from the changes at quarterback. The field-stretcher’s speed and downfield ability were stifled by dink-and-dunkers Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler. Tannehill’s 7.9 Average Intended Air Yards (IAY) and Osweiler’s 7.7 IAY in 2018 were tied for 18th and tied for 22nd out of 39 qualified quarterbacks, respectively, per NFL’s Next Gen Stats. Conversely, Fitz’s 10.2 IAY was third highest and Rosen’s 8.4 IAY was tied for 13th highest. Stills was tied for fourth with 16.4 Average Targeted Air Yards (TAY). One of the receivers who ranked ahead of him was DeSean Jackson with a 19.1 TAY. D-Jax was at his best last year when Tampa Bay’s quarterback carousel landed on Fitz.
Fitz and Rosen are competing for Miami’s starting quarterback job. The journeyman has reportedly outplayed the second-year signal-caller in the early stages of the offseason. Still, even if Fitz earns the starting nod to open the year, unless Rosen is completely unable to gain the trust of the coaching staff, logic would suggest a rebuilding team would want to get a look at the 10th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft who the club acquired with a second-round pick (62nd overall in this year’s draft) and a fifth-round pick in 2020. Stills is likely to be at his best when gunslinger Fitz is playing. Regardless, if Rosen is able to earn the starting job and overtake the veteran, he likely represents an upgrade over the quarterbacks Stills has caught passes from in four years with the Dolphins.
Miami’s receiving corps didn’t get much of a facelift in the offseason with the team bypassing adding a big free-agent or using a high pick in the draft on the position. DeVante Parker is back after re-signing with the Dolphins, and his annual offseason hype is in full swing. Albert Wilson dazzled in seven games in his first season with the Dolphins before suffering a season-ending hip injury. Undrafted rookie Preston Williams has garnered some headlines as well, but the Dolphins lack a target hog. Since 2016 (and using whole numbers), Stills has per-season averages of 83 targets, 46 receptions, 709 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns. Hitting those marks would make for a solid bounce back from last year’s down campaign, but there’s upside for more in a potentially improved situation.
My 2019 Projection: 98 targets, 59 receptions, 917 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns