Next Gen Stats for Draft Day (2019 Fantasy Football)
A new wave of analysis is flooding the NFL fantasy circuit and owners who aren’t on board will be left in the dust in their leagues. Fortunately, I will be here every Wednesday during the football season to provide fresh updates on which players to target and avoid based on cutting edge Next Gen Stats.
Let’s get things kicked off by analyzing some Next Gen Stats from 2018 to see which players are potential steals or busts at their respective ADPs.
Steal: Duke Johnson Jr. (HOU) – 32nd RB | 75th ADP
Houston’s early August acquisition of Duke Johnson Jr. proved prescient after Lamar Miller recently went down for the season with an ACL tear. Johnson, an efficient yet volume starved back on his old team in Cleveland, will now get his first chance at earning 200+ touches in 2019. Given increased usage, the prospects for Johnson finishing as a high-end RB2/low-end RB1 are extremely promising. He was football’s most efficient RB over the last three years, accruing 88th, 94th, and 97th percentile showings in fantasy points per touch (half PPR) from 2016 to 2018. Johnson is a lock to return value over his current draft position as the 32nd RB off the board. Go for him in the fifth or sixth round and reap the rewards.
Duke Johnson Jr. has been arguably the most efficient back in the NFL since his debut.
— Nick Gerli (@nickgerli1) August 29, 2019
Bust: Josh Jacobs (OAK) 19th RB | 36th ADP
With veteran Doug Martin going on IR, first-round pick Josh Jacobs is a good bet to receive a heavy dose of volume to start the year in Oakland. But there are some concerns about Jacobs’ ability to shoulder the load at the pro level. Jacobs’ college dominator (percentage of collegiate teams’ yards and TDs) and target share ranks were in the 15th and 18th percentiles for drafted running backs, a sign that he might not be equipped to be a bell-cow at the NFL level. Given that Jacobs never touched the ball more than 140 times in a season in college it’s difficult to see him putting up the 200+ productive touches needed to justify his status a mid-tier RB2 in the third/fourth round.
Steal: Tyler Lockett (SEA) 20th WR | 49th ADP
Some might scratch their heads about how a receiver who has never received more than 70 targets in a season could be a fifth-round selection in 2019 fantasy drafts. The answer: elite efficiency. Normally catch rate and depth are inversely correlated – the further downfield a receiver is, the more likely the ball falls for an incompletion. But not if you’re Lockett. Last year, Lockett led NFL WRs with an 87 percent catch rate while posting an aDOT (average depth of target) of 14.5 yards. That combination is historically unprecedented and means that Lockett is a very special talent. While his efficiency will probably dip in 2019, his target share should increase substantially with the departure of Doug Baldwin. Be prepared for a 75-catch, 1,110-yard, 10 TD season from Seattle’s number one wideout.
How good was Tyler Lockett in 2018?
Beyond being the NFL leader in catch rate, he did so while averaging an ADOT of 14.5. That combination is historically unprecedented.
Lockett is legit and fully deserving of his ~50th ADP. pic.twitter.com/sXNP4N83y0
— Nick Gerli (@nickgerli1) August 29, 2019
Bust: Sammy Watkins (KC) 35th WR | 89th ADP
It’s difficult to understand how Watkins is currently being selected before names like Marvin Jones, Curtis Samuel, and Sterling Shepard. While Watkins plays in a high-powered Chiefs offense, his 16-game prorated stats last year were a pedestrian 65 rec/830 Yds/5 TDs. That was in a season where Kansas City scored 565 points and Patrick Mahomes threw for over 5,000 yards and 50 TDs.
With those figures likely to regress a bit in 2019, and with Watkins playing a clear fourth fiddle to Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and the team running backs, it’s difficult to reason how he returns value at his current ADP. A point of additional concern is Kansas City’s conservative usage of Watkins in 2018, with an 8.9 aDOT that ranked last among Chiefs wideouts last year. Injury-prone and no longer the home run threat he once was, steer clear of Watkins this season.
Steal: OJ Howard (TB) 4th TE | 53rd ADP
Howard’s name has been thrown around by nearly every periodical as a potential steal in 2019. With his ADP rising all the way to the early sixth-round, is this still the case? The answer is an unequivocal yes. Howard, standing at 6’6″, 250 lbs and running a 4.51-dash, is a physical beast, with his size-adjusted speed and agility scores ranking in the 97th percentile among tight ends.
Howard converted his underlying talent into elite production last year, posting a league-leading 3.04 fantasy points/touch among tight ends. For context, Travis Kelce (18th ADP) and George Kittle (26th ADP) were at 2.40. Unfortunately, Howard’s counting stats were suppressed by injury and target competition. But with a clean bill of health and nearly 180 targets freeing up with the departures of Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson the sky is the limit for Howard in 2019. I’m expecting over 1,000 yards and nearly double-digit TDs by season’s end.
Steal: Kirk Cousins (MIN) 18th QB | 133rd ADP
Cousins was the QB11 last season, finishing with 30 TDs and over 4,200 passing yards, yet is being drafted as the 18th QB off the board currently. That in and of itself presents massive value. But digging further into the numbers makes Cousins even more compelling. His 70.4 completion percentage significantly exceeded his 64.9 xComp%, a stat which tracks completion probabilities based on the depth of target, receiver separation, and pass rush. Cousins’ +5.5% completion overperformance was fourth-best among NFL QBs. Cousins presents terrific value at pick 133 and has the big-arm upside (63-yard longest completed air distance in 2018, third in the NFL) to heavily outperform his draft position.
Bust: Tom Brady (NE) 12th QB | 104th ADP
Thrust into an increasingly conservative role in the Patriots offense, Brady’s longest completed pass traveled only 49.9 yards in the air last season. That, along with his 5.6 air yards/completion, were in the bottom half of NFL QBs last year. The Patriots have clearly noticed that their 42-year old quarterback isn’t the long-ball hurler he once was, continuing to add running back talent to an already crowded backfield. Brady has had arguably the greatest career of any QB in NFL history. That distinction is leading to an ADP about 40 picks too high. Don’t be duped into taking him.