Fantasy Football Equity Scores: Elite Wide Receivers
May 31, 2016 | C.D. Carter
Player value gets lost.
In all the analysis, all the breakdowns of how guys might be used, of how offensive coordinators use this position or that position, of how a player’s strengths and weaknesses may or may not impact him over the course of a season, we offer a polite pat on the head to value — the key to every fantasy football title belt ever won.
We fall in love with players 90 days before Opening Day kick off. We swear off players forever, even if that guy’s average draft position ticks down the board as September approaches. Sometimes these absolutist approaches work, sure, and you’ll remember when they do. Probably you’ll forget when they don’t. Our brains tend to do that. We like stories. We’ll do anything to turn events into a story that makes sense and we’ll do anything to maintain that narrative because reality is random and messy and we don’t like that.
Fantasy football has game elements because, well, it is a game. We’re not running NFL teams. We are not general managers. The goal is not to get the best and forget the rest. The rest matter, maybe more than the best. Remember that everyone is a value sometime and you’re one big step ahead of the fella who plays this game wearing general manager-colored glasses.
But back to value.
I started these fantasy equity scores in 2013, living in mother dearest’s basement and screaming for meatloaf like any well-adjusted college graduate. I found the scores useful in identifying players who were being over-drafted and under-drafted. Not just identifying said players, but quantifying just how much inefficiency was in the fantasy football marketplace. I created two sets of projections for every player, using the Rotoviz sim score app as a baseline and making necessary adjustments along the way.
The median scores reflect a conservative outcome for each player — one that looks at how a guy might fare if things turn up unlucky for him (touchdown rate, catch rate, pass attempts, etc.). The other set of scores, the high scores, are meant to show a player’s fantasy ceiling. I wanted to know players’ best case scenarios, which were sometimes not as great as I thought, and sometimes much better than I could’ve imagined. The stories I had created in my head were challenged. Sometimes they were decimated.
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The point of this exercise is to pinpoint players who are going too high or too low. We want guys whose median scores are slight below or slightly above their ADPs. We’re also interested in players — usually in the middle and late rounds — whose high scores are well beyond their ADP, even if the player’s median prospects are just so-so. Whatever you think of this summer’s median and high equity scores, remember that fantasy football is a week-to-week game. Don’t get bogged down with season-long prospects.
Only three of the below 12 receivers has a non-negative median equity score. While that is hardly shocking, it’s well worth keeping an eye on the ADPs of those receivers as we head into summer.
You can check out 2015’s equity score analysis here.
|Player||ADP||Median equity score||High equity score|
|Antonio Brown||WR1||-1 (WR2)||0 (WR1)|
|Odell Beckham, Jr.||WR2||-3 (WR5)||2 (WR1)|
|Julio Jones||WR3||-1 (WR4)||2 (WR1)|
|DeAndre Hopkins||WR4||-4 (WR8)||-1 (WR5)|
|Dez Bryant||WR5||-4 (WR9)||1 (WR4)|
|Allen Robinson||WR6||-7 (WR13)||-1 (WR7)|
|A.J. Green||WR7||-2 (WR9)||1 (WR6)|
|Jordy Nelson||WR8||0 (WR8)||3 (WR5)|
|Keenan Allen||WR9||2 (WR7)||5 (WR4)|
|Alshon Jeffery||WR10||-3 (WR13)||3 (WR7)|
|Mike Evans||WR11||-3 (WR14)||4 (WR7)|
|Julian Edelman||WR12||1 (WR11)||4 (WR8)|
- I’m not keen on spilling a bunch of digital ink on the first few receivers coming off the draft board. They’re very good, they get huge chunks of their team’s target share, and they all have the No. 1 receiver spot in their range of outcomes. You don’t need these equity scores to tell you so — it’s hardly a hot taek. I suppose OBJ, with the lowest median score of those top three guys, should take a back seat if you can nab Julio or Brown. But it’s worth noting that Beckham’s mind-bending 2.29 fantasy points per target in 2014 hardly dropped at all in his sophomore campaign, as he posted 2.08 points per target in 2015. He tormented opponents from the outside and in the slot in 2015. It’s not lost on me that Antonio Brown’s wildly successful 2015 campaign is among OBJ’s 2016 comps in the similarity score machine. There’s also the undeniable pass happiness of Ben McAdoo’s offense: Eli Manning threw the fourth most passes in 2015, and the sixth most in 2014. As of press time, there’s little indication that McAdoo and company are aiming to balance out the team’s offensive approach.
- There are 141 targets missing from the Bengals’ offense this season after the departure of Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu. Tyler Eifert, he of 66 2015 targets, is suddenly iffy to start the season in uniform after ankle surgery. The pigskin has to go somewhere, and there’s little reason to doubt it will be in Green’s direction. It’s unlikely — given Cincy threw the ball on a bottom-dwelling 54.2 percent of their snaps in 2015 — that Green can emerge as a wideout who sees 180 targets, but it shouldn’t shock anyone for the team’s N0. 1 receiver to go well beyond his 123 targets from last season. It was only three years ago that Green eclipsed 170 targets and finished as a top-4 fantasy receiver. Green’s 2015 touchdown rate (a score on 11.6 percent of his receptions) isn’t far removed from his career 10.9 percent touchdown rate, so we’re not looking down the barrel of a petrifying regression candidate. Jordy Nelson’s 2014 season, in which he was the WR2 with more than 1,500 yards and 13 scores, tops the list of Green’s 2016 comps. Remove 2015 games in which Andy Dalton didn’t play and Green’s median projection moves to WR7. I see him as an eminently safe pick with a touch of volume-driven upside.
- Equity score analysis was kind to Mike Evans in the run-up to the 2015 season. The giant wideout had a high score that put win in the top-6 receivers, with a median projection of WR15. If you would’ve told me that Evans would see 146 targets in 2015 and finish outside the top-20 receivers, I would’ve spat my club soda all over my keyboard. Then dry heaved. Alas, Evans was disastrously inefficient in his sophomore campaign. Fifteen dropped passes hardly helped his cause, but the woeful play of one Jameis Winston had an outsized impact on the team’s No. 1 wideout. Only Johnny Manziel and Nick Foles were less accurate on aimed throws in 2015. Winston was fourth in interceptions. Winston was miserable as a rookie by almost any measure. Hopefully his progression means Evans won’t need 230 targets to finish as a top-12 receiver. It’s hard to dismiss anyone seeing the sort of percentage of team targets that Evans has seen — and will see — in Tampa Bay. He saw 25.1 percent of team targets in 2014 and an eye-popping 30.1 percent in 2015. The problem, of course, was that his fantasy point production per target plunged from 2.11 fantasy points per target in 2014 to 1.45 in 2015. If that number ticks back up toward two — and it should, with some positive touchdown regression — Evans could (should) meet his draft day cost. Speaking of positive regression: Evans reeled in just four of the 19 red zone balls thrown his way in 2015 — a bafflingly low number for a guy of his profile (6’5″ and 232 pounds). A measly 4 percent of Evans’ 2015 receptions went for touchdowns last season — a far cry from the 17.6 percent touchdown rate during his rookie season. His high-end projection is contingent on that touchdown rate falling somewhere in between, and far higher than the 2015 rate. The upper end of Evans’ 2016 player comps include some mouthwatering seasons, including Brandon Marshall’s 2012 (1,508 yards and 11 scores) and Calvin Johnson’s 2008 (1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns).
- What we see in Allen Robinson’s ADP, in short, is little or no room for error in taking him at the top of his range of outcomes. Robinson was a beast in 2015, and equity score analysis loved him dearly. I named an entire tier of wideouts after Robinson last summer, as the Jacksonville stud had never-before-seen value. People were drafting ARob as a WR3 when equity scores said he could prove a top-10 fantasy receiver. And he did. But like almost everyone in Jacksonville’s offense, Robinson is due for regression. He turned 21 red zone looks into 14 grabs and 12 touchdowns last season. Blake Bortles had more pass attempts inside the 10-yard line than any quarterback in the league. Only three signal callers had more attempts inside the 20-yard line. Bortles could very easily see a massive backslide in production in 2016, as my Living The Stream co-host JJ Zachariason has pointed out. Touchdowns matter a lot in fantasy — this may not be breaking news — and Robinson appears to be staring scoring regression directly in its ugly face. Could Robinson’s prospects see a boost from regression (the good kind) in his frighteningly low 56 percent catch rate (80 receptions on 146 targets)? Well, sure. Could he still serve as the team’s primary touchdown scorer and dominate opponents in the red zone and near the goal line? Absolutely. That’s why ARob’s high projection puts him at WR7. His median score can’t be ignored though. Robinson’s 2016 comps include Mike Evans’ 2015 season — a nightmarishly inefficient campaign that stands in stark contrast to Robinson’s 2015. Given ADP, I would prefer every one of the above wideouts over Robinson.
- Julian Edelman, over his past 39 games, has notched 16.53 fantasy points per contest. That’s thanks in large part to 6.62 receptions on 9.5 targets. His fantasy production over that not-insignificant span would put him on the edge of WR1 (top-12) fantasy receiver status. His broken foot is something to monitor — and possibly fret about — but he’s a perfectly sensible pick at his current ADP. Tom Brady’s potential four-game absence will change Edelman’s equity scores, but not by a whole lot. I’m working under the assumption that the Golden Boy will not be martyred for committing high crimes against the game or doing nothing at all, depending on your allegiance.