Fantasy Equity Scores: Top Receivers With Scary (Good) Fantasy Floors
June 16, 2017 | C.D. Carter
Creating a range of outcomes for the game’s top receivers might have more importance today — with the proliferation of Zero RB and variations of the strategy — than it’s ever had in fantasy football.
Or maybe it’s always been important not to blow it when picking from among the first dozen wideouts off the draft board. We’re largely ignoring high equity scores in this part of the proceedings and focused on whether the below 12 receivers can return draft day value. Median scores should be the focus. Slobbering over wide receiver upside comes later, whether or not you have overactive salivary glands. Don’t laugh, you monster. It’s a real problem.
For the sake of transparency, here are last year’s equity scores for #elite receivers. The median scores, on reflection, were not conservative enough. They didn’t account for the level of drop off facing some of the previous year’s best — and least regression proof — pass catchers. I’ve tried to correct that slip up in 2017. Enjoy. My wife did, before she left.
Here’s a quick refresher on fantasy equity scores.
You might notice that we have four wide receivers with WR1 in their range of outcomes, with Jordy Nelson being the cheapest among them. Not by much, but I think it’s worth noting. Nelson, who has very casually finished as a top-3 receiver in his past two 16-game campaigns, sports a median equity score that makes him a far safer play than wideouts drafted around him. Anyone locked in as a 150-target guy in an Aaron Rodgers-led offense has my attention, even if he’s getting old — assuming time is real in this computer simulation — and there are sparkly objects floating around his average draft position. Nelson’s 2016 touchdown rate of 14.4 percent isn’t all that much higher than his career touchdown rate of 12.7 percent. I was hardpressed to build a whole lot of regression into his median and high-end projections, especially since he’s the primary red zone weapon (54 targets inside the 20 over his past two full seasons) for the game’s most lethal signal caller. Nelson’s top Rotoviz sim score comp, by the bye, is Terrell Owens in 2004, when the then-Eagles receiver went for 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns. I’m not thinking twice about scooping up Nelson over Michael Thomas, Dez Bryant, and T.Y. Hilton, none of whom bring the rare safety-with-upside mix of Green Bay’s top target. I wouldn’t quibble with taking Nelson over Mike Evans, though I should note I’ve been anti-quibble since my college days and come from a proud non-quibbling tradition.
DeAndre Hopkins’ equity scores, for the second year running, are a total waking nightmare. A long, stat-laden story told shorter: Hopkins is being drafted based on early-2015 production fueled by wild game flow that put him on pace to eclipse 200 targets in what has otherwise been a run-first offense. Hopkins has broken the admittedly arbitrary 100-yard barrier four times since Week 7 in 2015. He posted a grand total of six top-24 performances in 2016. He barely beat out Cole Beasley last season in PPR. Hopkins’ best-case scenario — the one that puts him on the cusp of WR1 territory — would be to inch closer to this 2015 touchdown rate of 9.9 percent (which dropped to 5.1 percent in 2016). Only six teams last season had a higher percentage of running plays than Houston (43.4 percent), and the Texans were fourth in percentage of total yards gained on the ground. Could Hopkins’ quarterback situation get any more apocalyptic than it was in 2016? Probably not. Will he garner the sort of opportunity in a conservative offense to be an anchor for your wide receiver corps in 2017? Probably not. I would consider taking Hopkins in the WR20 range, which, of course, would never happen.
Amari Cooper notched a top-15 season in 2016 with five touchdowns, also known as a 6 percent touchdown rate, also known as a blaring positive regression alarm for 2017. Cooper saw 13 red zone targets all season, or one less than the great Nelson Agholor. Cooper’s median score reflects this continued usage, with his high equity score showing what could happen if that regression comes to fruition without Cooper losing any target share. Vegas’ expectation for the Raiders to be much worse in 2017 — three games worse, to be exact — could serve as a boon for Cooper’s fantasy usefulness, as he saw ten targets in losses last season compared to 7.5 targets in Raider wins. That’s a season-long difference of 40 targets. I’m considering Cooper in the rare circumstance where he falls outside the first 12 receivers off the board. At WR9, I’m bearish bordering on nope. Progression for the young receiver is baked into his ADP.
We finally, at long last, get something of a price break on Dez Bryant in re-draft leagues. For years we’ve been forced to buy Bryant as one of the first five or six wide receivers off the board. It was clear to all but the most committed truther that we were drafting the Dallas receiver at his fantasy ceiling, or very close to it. Nothing says we’re going to see the mythical 170-target Dez season in 2017, but that doesn’t necessarily cap his upside. Yes, his 16 percent touchdown rate in Dak Prescott’s rookie season was ludicrous, but so is his career touchdown rate of 14.6 percent. There will be touchdowns. We know that. The only questions are health and volume. From Week 10-16, when Prescott and Bryant hit their collective stride, Bryant saw 7.9 targets per game and racked up more fantasy points than all but three wideouts. While he has a wider range of outcomes than one might like for a second-round pick, Bryant’s best-case scenario should prove tantalizing for Zero-RB advocates and traditional drafters alike.
My Living The Stream co-host, fellow dad runner, and shameless Mighty Ducks apologist JJ Zachariason issued a warning in the dead of winter that Mike Evans’ 2016 campaign looked a hell of a lot like DeAndre Hopkins’ 2015. He’s not wrong. He’s also right. Both guys saw an inordinate target share — Evans got 31 percent of Tampa targets in 2016 — and rode that tide of volume to elite fantasy seasons. The Bucs stunk for the first nine weeks of 2016, creating unrivaled volume of opportunity for Evans (12.7 targets per game over the stretch). When the Bucs decided to stop being a shitty team, Evans became an inconsistent fantasy producer — one that created medically dangerous tilt for his fantasy owners. Evans’ targets per game fell to a modest 8.4 and his production took a hit. Vegas has Tampa pegged for 8.5 wins in 2017, or half a game worse than they were in 2016. Evans’ median prospects won’t give you diarrhea, and his high score would make him a top-3 fantasy wideout. Just keep your expectations in check. I wouldn’t think of taking Evans over any of the top three receivers off the draft board. It might qualify as thoughtcrime.