Projecting breakout and regression candidates is big business in August, both in expert circles and among all fantasy leaguers. From an owner perspective, finding value is what will win you your league; from an analyst perspective, we want to show you we’re smarter than the next guy… and, the subject makes for an easy popular article.
With that said, it’s not simply enough to decide on a couple of sleepers, state their names, and move on. Sure, a player like Rueben Randle who finds himself in for a significant uptick in targets for the New York Giants is a good candidate to improve upon his 2012 production, but we need to concern ourselves with what he is likely to do with those additional targets rather than the targets themselves, and that’s where the logical application of statistics comes in as a predictor of performance. For example, catch rate is an important consideration when determining the value of targets (i.e. 20 extra targets is likely worth more in terms of production for a guy who catches 80% of the balls thrown his way than a guy who catches 40%). Beyond that – one of my Pro Football Focus favorites – yards per route run. Snap counts have value, but if a fantasy WR or TE saw the field largely as a blocker last year and played 60 snaps a game and projects to play 60 again this season but in a role more conducive to catching the football, snap counts won’t tell you the whole story. Assessing yards per route run gives a better sense in this player’s case.
Don’t think of this then as a typical boom/bust piece, but as an introduction (and yes “stat heads” the introduction of the topic will be fairly rudimentary) to some deeper means of analysis that can be useful when assessing the relative value of players through the lens of a few specific receivers.
Randle, by the way, does fit the mould for a breakout campaign. In limited snaps he posted a 1.91 yards per route run mark to go with a not unimpressive 59.4% catch rate. Assuming he nets out around (or perhaps above) Domenik Hixon’s 58 targets in New York last year (and his TD ratio – another topic for another day) then he’ll pay a solid return on his late round draft price.
[We look at more strategies to help you maximize return on investment in our 2013 Fantasy Football Draft Guide]
Candidates to Over/Under Deliver Based on Catch Rate and Yards Per Route
Underachiever: Robert Meachem – San Diego Chargers
As soon as the Twitterverse and the fantasy community in general heard of Malcom Floyd‘s injury (which may not be as dire as first thought) gamers were scrambling to get ahead of the curve on who his replacement may be, and for many the barometer on Robert Meachem started rising. In many regards Meachem is a strong candidate for a nice return on investment: he is coming off a vastly disappointing year, comes cheaply at the draft table (or on the waiver wire), and may find increased playing time due to this injury or any other that may strike the Chargers WR corps. After all while he was never a fantasy monster in New Orleans he certainly flashed potential having arrived in San Diego last year coming off a 620 yard, six score season with the Saints.
Last year, though, he was the second worst (qualified) receiver in the league in terms of catching balls thrown his way with a 43.8% catch rate, and while the coaching staff has changed, neither Meachem or his QB have. It would be reasonable to assume that that number comes up slightly this year as his career average is around 64%; the dip seems to be indicative of a bit of a regression and the fact that his numbers were bolstered previously by playing with Drew Brees. Couple that with an underwhelming 0.85 yards per route run (160th among all receivers), and it just doesn’t make sense to be excited about any additional snaps coming Meachem’s way.
Underachiever: Denarius Moore – Oakland Raiders
Many fantasy analysts are suggesting that Denarius Moore is in for a big step forward this season – after all, he’s entering his third season, a point in his career where receivers exhibit well documented growth. Consider this though: he’s a receiver built on the speed game. While he’ll have utility on slants and screens new Raiders QB Matt Flynn is not viewed as a strong deep ball thrower; the players’ two styles simply may not mesh well. Beyond that, Moore was targeted 110 times in 2012 and caught just 46.4% of those passes after a rookie campaign where he netted 45.2%. He’s still a young receiver but catching fewer than 50% of his targets in back to back seasons is a disturbing trend for Moore. Although he delivered a much more palatable 1.49 yards per route run while running 497 routes, swapping out Carson Palmer (and his willingness to go over the top) for Matt Flynn suggests that that number may come down as well. Coupled with that low catch rate it’s reason for concern with Moore given his relatively costly ADP (WR42). Moore was the 27th most targeted receiver last year yet he caught just the 45th most passes in the league.
Speaking of Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals Receiver Andre Roberts received a similar number of targets last season (107) but caught 59.8% of balls thrown in his direction; as another popular sleeper candidate, catch rate favours Roberts for a breakout year. Again, while this is a cursory look (and there are certainly a number of other factors that must go into player valuation), all things being equal I want the guy catching the balls thrown his way on the happy side of 50%.
Overachiever: Golden Tate – Seattle Seahawks
Since new addition Percy Harvin went down with an injury in late July Golden Tate has been stumping for an increased role in the Seahawks offense, and I’ve been right behind him. While it is worth noting that Harvin wasn’t on the roster last year, and Seattle returns with most of their 2012 receiving group just as they left them, it is still reasonable to assume at least a modest increase in workload for Tate – particularly because he is the player on the roster most well suited to mirror Harvin.
Consider this: targeted just 65 times last year Tate caught 45 balls (for those keeping score that is 10 fewer than Moore reeled in on 45 fewer targets) for a 69.2% catch rate – good for 14th best in the NFL per Pro Football Focus’ leader board (it should be noted, though, that the man he is aiming to replace caught an impressive 76.5% of the balls Christian Ponder hurled in his general direction in 2012). Tate was on the field for 860 snaps last year for the Seahawks but ran just 378 routes, gaining 1.80 YPRR. Assuming that he does yield some benefit from Harvin missing time and moves from 66th in total routes run to somewhere higher - even modestly around 40th spot (the Kevin Walter/Brandon LaFell/DeSean Jackson in 11 games range) – then Tate could be looking at adding around 80 routes and 150 yards just by maintaining his current level of production. Throw in Tate’s 16 opponent missed tackles on just 45 receptions and things get even more enticing.
Thoughts? Insights? Questions? What type of stats do you use to help you measure performance… Share your feelings in the comments.