Fantasy Football Equity Scores: The ‘What If’ Wide Receiver Tier
June 21, 2016 | C.D. Carter
Predicting our collective fantasy football futures is difficult for anyone who has not sold his eternal soul to a fella with big, black wings and sharp, red horns who says he has the insider’s track on this season’s sleeper wideout.
Probably the below wide receivers have the largest range of outcomes — and the most tantalizing — of any average draft position (ADP) group we’ll examine in 2016. There are wideouts here who may not play a single, solitary snap in 2016. There are major injury and suspension questions that loom over this equity score tier. Yet we should pay close attention to these guys. I think a few of them have league-winning potential if things break right over the next couple months.
It’s clear that this tier is riddled with questionable assumptions of roles and opportunity. One example: Is Laquon Treadwell the Vikings’ No. 1 receiver? Maybe, but maybe not. Stefon Diggs performed admirably last season in one of the NFL’s most pitiful passing games. Diggs, who didn’t catch a pass until Week 4, posted a phenomenal 1.93 fantasy points per target in 2015 — elite territory he shared with the likes of Brandon Marshall and Odell Beckham, Jr.
I’m aware that Minnesota spent a Viking-ship full of NFL Draft capital on Treadwell, so there remains a chance he’ll emerge as the team’s unquestioned top receiving option in his rookie campaign. The below equity scores, however, show that Treadwell’s fantasy ceiling is similar to Diggs’ floor this season, as the latter option has Rotoviz Sim Score comps that should hold our attention throughout the summer.
Jeremy Maclin’s 2010 season is among Diggs’ closest comps for 2016. Maclin turned 106 targets into 70 receptions, including 10 touchdowns. He finished the season just outside the top-12 wideouts. There’s little reason to believe the Vikings’ top receiver will see much more volume than that, seeing how Norv Turner’s almost comically conservative approach led to a league-low 28.1 pass attempts per game last year.
Diggs saw 22.7 percent of the team’s targets a season ago. It would denote quite a change in direction for Diggs to lose a chunk of that target share in 2016, and his 2015 efficiency shows that he maintains some semblance of upside, even in a woeful offense with a severely limited signal caller.
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** Willie Snead appears to be an absurdly safe investment at his current ADP. Last season’s WR33 is going late enough to offer a bulky median score, while sporting a high score deserving of the eyeballs-looking-to-the-side emoji. Snead drew 16.4 percent of the Saints’ target share last season (96 targets). An uptick may seem unlikely with the addition of Michael Thomas and Coby Fleener — although the Jesus-haired one will likely just inherit Benjamin Watson’s targets — but give Snead a small target share boost and he’s up to almost 120 looks. That would be 120 passes from Drew Brees, who has made something out of lesser receivers. And Snead would be one Brandin Cooks injury away from having stupid upside in the New Orleans offense. Greg Jennings’ 2010 is Snead’s most hopeful Sim Score comp. Jennings, who is the same height as Snead and three pounds heavier (an important aspect in examining these comparables), converted 120 targets into a WR4 campaign that year. Jennings scored 12 times in 2010, so that’s where the comp ends. Snead had no role in New Orleans’ red zone attack in 2015, and the addition of a couple big bodied pass catchers doesn’t bode well for his chances of becoming a part of the team’s inside-the-20 plans in 2016. But that’s OK. Neither his median nor his high equity scores hinge on a jaw-dropping number of scores. If your draft day plans include cheap investments in high-scoring offenses, Snead makes far too much sense to pass on at WR46.
** Josh Gordon’s “what if” equity scores are the stuff of the most ardent and wistful truther meetings. It’s almost hard to think of Gordon as anything beyond the perpetually suspended guy who gives his dynasty owners life-altering heartburn every time he’s seen partying with future Republican Texas Governor Johnny Manziel. Forget that A.J. Green finished as a top-8 receiver in his only full season with Hue Jackson as offensive coordinator. Darrius Heyward-Bay in 2011 managed a top-30 campaign as the top-targeted wideout on Jackson’s Raiders team. It’s hardly far fetched to believe Gordon can approach top-12 fantasy numbers even if the Browns — like previous Jackson-coached offenses — are in the bottom half of the league in pass attempts. Gordon’s most stubborn and traumatized truthers would admit that there’s a good chance their guy won’t see the field in 2016. At that WR42 price, I’m hard pressed not to roll the proverbial dice, if only to feel alive for thirty seconds or so. Please don’t pass on Gordon because you have little/no confidence in Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown. Do you remember the crop of #elite quarterbacks who threw to Gordon in 2013? Right.
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** Steve Smith’s equity scores seem downright fanciful. An ancient receiver coming off a horrific achilles injury doesn’t inspire much confidence in fantasy footballers, but that’s reflected in Smith’s ADP. The tremendous uncertainty is reflected in that price, though I’d say that Smith’s 2016 range of outcomes includes standing on the sideline for 16 games, promising to play next week. No team passed more than Baltimore in 2015. This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who has tracked Marc Trestman’s tendencies during his mostly terrible run in the NFL. There’s little reason to believe the Ravens will deploy a balanced attack in 2016, making all of their pass catchers appealing to anyone who (correctly) chases wide receiver volume. I don’t think we should pretend that Kamar Aiken’s emergence won’t play a factor in Smith’s previous role as a total target hog in this Baltimore offense. Probably Smith’s days of a 25 percent target share are over. Still, a little tinkering with Smith’s sim scores gets him well within the top-10. I do my best to stay out of the business of predicting how guys will come back from major injuries, so these equity scores remain based on 16 healthy games.
** DeSean Jackson was on the edge of posting top-20 receiver numbers during Kirk Cousins’ seven-week statistical tear to close out the 2016 season. Jackson saw a healthy 19.1 percent of Washington’s targets over that span, which would translate to somewhere between 105-115 targets over the course of a season (if Washington throws as much or slightly more than they did in 2015). Jackson’s ADP in a potential (very) fantasy friendly offense means I’ll scoop him up in more than a couple spots this summer. Kirk Cousins’ adjusted yards per attempt (AYA) when throwing DJax’s way is 11.5 yards — way higher than anyone else, including Jordan Reed, and almost double the quarterback’s AYA when throwing to Pierre Garcon.