Over the last few years, the wide receiver position has seemed to take over running back as the dominant selection through the first two rounds of fantasy drafts. Last year, the first round probably included David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott, and maybe Le’Veon Bell, depending on if you drafted before or after his suspension, plus that Todd Gurley guy, but I didn't want to upset you off the bat.
Aside from that, Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, A.J. Green, and the rest of the lot probably filled out the rest of your first round. Unfortunately for many fantasy owners, like myself, their early round receivers under-performed.
When a player under-performs the season before, their Average Draft Position (ADP) tends to drop the following year.
That’s okay, it’s logical.
Why should we trust someone who didn’t do as well as we hoped? After all, Fantasy Football seems to be a “what have you done for me lately” sport. Yeah, I said it: sport.
I’m here to tell you that these four receivers who disappointed their owners last season (immensely) will bounce back in 2017 In addition, they'll finish better than last year and prove to be great draft values.
Note: focus is on Point Per Reception (PPR) leagues.
I’m going to say what we all already know: Brock Osweiler was the cause of Hopkins's shortcomings last season. After all, it is usually the QB’s fault whenever there’s a problem, right? Whether it be amount of targets or accuracy, the blame usually goes to whoever is throwing the ball.
Is Tom Savage or Deshaun Watson an upgrade? I think so, especially because I think Watson will end up being the starter, whether it be immediately or within the first few games. The kid has proven that he’s good, and Houston will look to replicate what Dallas did with Dak last year: run the ball a lot and throw high percentage passes.
“But he (Watson) is still a rookie!”
Yeah, true. But let’s look at the numbers of the starting QB rookies from 2016 and compare it to Osweiler’s numbers in relation to Hopkins’ production.
Quarterback (Team) - Completion % - Total QBR (out of 100)
Jared Goff (STL) - 54.6% - 22.2
Carson Wentz (PHI) - 62.4% - 52.8
Dak Prescott (DAL) - 67.8%- 81.5
Cody Kessler (CLE) - 65.8% - 49.6
Paxton Lynch (DEN) - 59.0% - 28.8
Brock Osweiler (HOU) - 59.0% - 55.3
If we compare Osweiler’s production to the 2016 rookie class, he stacks up pretty well (probably because...he wasn’t a rookie). He did tie for the 2nd lowest in completion percentage but also had the 2nd highest QBR. The way I see this, Osweiler was a better game-manager than a thrower. Now let’s consider the stat that tends to be VERY unappreciated: receiver catch rate. Basically, catch rate shows the impact a quarterback’s skill has on his receivers, assuming the receivers can actually catch the ball. In this case, because Hopkins is a sure #1, we’ll consider only the #1 receivers’ catch rate for each rookie QB in 2016.
Quarterback - Receiver - Catch Rate %
Jared Goff (STL) - Kenny Britt (STL) - 61.3%
Carson Wentz (PHI) - Jordan Matthews (PHI) - 62.4%
Dak Prescott (DAL) - Dez Bryant (DAL) - 52.1%
Cody Kessler (CLE) - Terrelle Pryor (CLE) - 55.0%
Paxton Lynch (DEN) - Demaryius Thomas (DEN) - 62.5%
Brock Osweiler (HOU) - DeAndre Hopkins - 51.7%
Well would you look at that, Osweiler just can’t complete passes to Hopkins, hence the poor performance in 2016. If I have to spell it out for you, a “veteran” quarterback did a worse job at completing passes to his star receiver than any rookie starter in 2016. If Watson is able to have just the average of the 2016 QB’s-WR catch rate above, Hopkins will be producing bigger numbers in 2017. Hopkins’ 2017 Projection: 90 receptions, 1160 yards, 8 Touchdowns.
I had a baaaaad year in my home league last year, mostly because I believed in Marshall so much. While there were a few quality/good performances out of Marshall in 2016, he didn’t return value for his ADP. This, of course, was due to the shuffling of QBs due to HORRENDOUS play by Fitzmagic, Bryce Petty, and Geno Smith before he died (RIP). Marshall is trading a bucket of shit for a Ferrari by going to the Giants. Is he expecting to be the premier receiver on the team? I hope not, there’s a guy named Odell there. What I do expect out of Marshall is a much higher finish than his 49th ranked receiver performance from last season.
Marshall finished 2016 with a career low in receptions (59) and catch rate (46.1%) last season. While I don’t expect to see Marshall put up new career highs (or even his average numbers), I do expect the Giants game-plan to keep him heavily involved, even with Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard (who recently left practice with a pesky ankle sprain, but is supposedly “fine”) commanding targets.
Last season, Sterling Shepard was lined up as the 3rd receiver beside Victor Cruz and Beckham. Shepard eventually pried the WR2 spot away from Cruz with an overall grade of 73.7 per Pro Football Focus and ended the season with 65 receptions and a catch rate of 61.9%.
Eli was able to establish a catch rate with his WR2/3 almost 16% higher than any Jets QB could with their #1 receiver in Marshall. That’s how much Eli is better than what Marshall had on that terrible Jets offense. I think Marshall will have one “big” year with the Giants before he begins his descending into fantasy irrelevance in 2018. My projection: 63 Receptions, 915 yards, 6 TDs. Certainly not record-breaking, but he'll return more value than his ADP in the mid-7th round.
Robinson seems to be on everyone’s list as a “bounce-back” candidate for 2017. In 2016, Jacksonville ranked 4th in the league in passing plays, usually because they were playing from behind. This is similar to 2015, when Robinson and Bortles padded their stats quite a bit, scoring the majority of their points when the team was already losing.
While this isn’t expected to change much in 2017, the main focus will be on Bortles and how he can progress. Last season, Bortles seemed to regress in his accuracy, especially with passes over 20 yards. Robinson’s catch rate diminished from a 53% to a 48.3%, not a huge number, but still statistically notable.
This lack of accuracy from Bortles attributed significantly to the stat regression of fellow wide-out in Allen Hurns, but also Robinson's as well. Robinson saw the exact same number of targets as in 2015 (151) and had only 7 less receptions (2015: 80, 2016: 73), but saw his average reception dip from 17.5 in 2015 to 12.1 in 2016. While 17.5 yards per reception is pretty high, especially for a receiver with such a high amount of targets, it isn’t unrealistic to expect an increase from the 12.1 yards per reception from 2016.
Like I said initially, the Jaguars will be playing from behind frequently because, well, they stink. Defenses will be able to play looser coverage, which should help Robinson get the numbers we expect from him. I can realistically see numbers similar to 2015 for Robinson, except for the touchdowns. While I do believe Jacksonville will continue to sling the ball, even on the goal line (see previous article on why Fournette’s ADP is too high), I don’t think Robinson will be able to accrue the 14 touchdowns he snagged in 2015. I expect to see about the same volume of targets, receptions, and touchdowns as 2016, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a jump in yards. My projection: 80 receptions, 1,070 yards, 7 TDs.
Maybe I’m being a little bit of a homer, as this site is Baltimore-based, but I expect to see a significant improvement from Maclin this season. It can’t be that hard, you may say.
Maclin was injured the majority of the year and completely missed 4 games, not including games he was taken off the field after initially playing. When a player is slated to start a game and then stops playing, it ruins the trust you have in the player as a fantasy owner. It may cause you to have a grudge against him, but I think you should give him one more chance this upcoming season.
Maclin’s current PPR ADP of WR36, 82nd overall per FantasyPros PPR, which seems to be a little low for me. I certainly don’t expect a top 20 finish for Maclin this season, but I do expect a top 30. Maybe that isn’t much of a jump to move the needle for you, but I can tell you that I’ll be focusing on Maclin a lot this season as a value pick.
In addition to the injuries he suffered from in 2016, Maclin was also in an offense that seems to spread the ball almost too much. Kansas City was throwing the ball to back up receivers, back up full backs, tight ends no one knows about, and pretty much anyone else, which significantly lowered Maclin’s targets and, in turn, production.
Did you know Joe Flacco led the league in pass attempts last season and finished second in completions? Because he did.
In his first year in Kansas City, Maclin demonstrated how valuable he was as a possession receiver as well as a receiver who can run the deep route. Maclin saw at least 124 targets and caught 87 of those for a catch rate of 70.2%. While this 70% catch rate demonstrates how cautious Alex Smith is/was throwing the ball, it also indicates how valuable Maclin can be in an offense that actually relies on passing.
This versatility will allow Flacco, who will probably still be chucking the ball around (although hopefully not as much), to connect frequently with his new weapon at wide receiver. I honestly expect to see Maclin quietly finish 2017 with a stat record of 70 receptions for 890 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Questions, concerns, or comments? Feel free to reach out to me on my Twitter @FFMilkman or leave a comment! Nobody ever comments. Someone comment.