Oh what a difference a year makes! One of the greatest things about NFL (and fantasy football) is the amount of parity and annual differentiation. We can use this to our advantage in multiple ways when it comes to fantasy, including attempting to prognosticate who is in for a relatively steep decline in production.
There are many players who the fantasy community has soured on for various reasons even though their previous seasons were quite impressive- these opinions are reflected in their ADP (courtesy of FantasyFootballCalculator.com). But there are a few players who, in my estimation, are due for regression that isn’t entirely reflected in their ADP. Let’s take a look at three of those players:
As a raw jump-ball specialist coming out of Florida State, the 6’5” Kelvin Benjamin probably had the best possible season he could’ve asked for as a rookie, posting a 73-1,008-9 season en route to a WR15 PPR finish. His ADP is now WR16 which may seem appropriate, but let me tell you why he’s overvalued at the end of the third round.
As detailed by Evan Silva in his Carolina Panthers Fantasy Preview, Benjamin had only five games over 80 yards receiving, and two of them came while Derek Anderson was quarterbacking the Panthers. Not only that, four of his nine scores came while they were down 24 or more points. While I realize garbage time points count the same on the scoreboard as any others, they are not easily predictable.
Secondly, Benjamin was unbelievably inefficient last year. Benjamin ranked 6th in the NFL in targets, but only 23rd in receptions. Among receivers playing at least 50% of their teams snaps, only Justin Hunter had a lower catch percentage.
Another statistic that isn’t exactly encouraging? Kelvin Benjamin ranked tied for 11th in aDOT (average depth of target, courtesy of ProFootballFocus.com), but every single receiver who had a higher aDOT besides Justin Hunter had a higher catch percentage than Benjamin. Let’s not leave out the fact that Benjamin was 2nd in the league in drops.
Lastly, an alarming amount of his fantasy points came from touchdowns in 2014- the most volatile variable of all. With the addition of massive rookie Devin Funchess and the goal-line presences of Cam Newton and Mike Tolbert, who’s to say that Benjamin is going to reach nine touchdowns again? What if he only scores four or five? That would mean Benjamin is at risk of falling from borderline WR1 to being 2015’s version Eric Decker (74-962-5 as WR26 in 2014), Rueben Randle (71-938-3 as WR32) or Vincent Jackson (72-1,002-2 as WR33).
With Brandin Cooks, DeAndre Hopkins, Jordan Matthews, and Julian Edelman all hovering around the same ADP, I’m taking the surefire targets and catches over betting on a massive jump in efficiency and matching fluky production of years past. It’s entirely possible we’ve seen the best of Kelvin Benjamin’s fantasy football performances. In all likelihood, an increase in targets isn’t happening (new weapons, improved defense to reduce garbage-time passing). If you are drafting Kelvin Benjamin at his ADP, you are banking on an absolutely massive jump in efficiency. Best of luck.
Last year, Apex’s own Mike Braude wrote a column about how Jeremy Maclin could be 2014’s version of 2013 DeSean Jackson under Chip Kelly…and completely nailed it. Indeed, Jeremy Maclin finished as WR9 with a stellar 86-1,329-10 statline while being a part of a number of fantasy championships. Monetarily he bet on himself and won, scoring a $55 million deal from old pal Andy Reid in Kansas City. But for fantasy football purposes, there aren’t many worse places he could’ve landed.
Peculiarly, his ADP is the exact same as it was last year going at the fourth pick of the sixth round. As Braude highlighted in his article, Maclin’s upside was sky-high going into 2014. But as I’m about to show you, the terms “Alex Smith” and “ceiling” don’t go together so well. Here is a table of the top WR on Alex Smith’s team when he played 9 or more games:
|Year||Player||Targets||Catches||Yards||TDs||PPR WR Finish|
*2006: RB Gore led team in targets (86) and catches (61)
*2009: TE Davis led team in targets (128), catches (78), yards (965) and touchdowns (13)
*2010: TE Davis led team in catches (56), yards (914) and touchdowns (7)
*2011: TE Davis led team in touchdowns (6)
*2013: RB Charles led team in targets (104), catches (70), yards (693) and touchdowns (7)
*2014: TE Kelce led team in catches (67), yards (862) and touchdowns (5)
As shown by the chart and notes above all of the juicy fantasy statistics go to tight ends and running backs on Alex Smith-quarterbacked teams. The wide receivers are basically fantasy afterthoughts, with the only remotely difference-making season coming in 2012 with Michael Crabtree. But that is also the year Colin Kaepernick took over mid-season…was Alex Smith starting to figure it out, or was all of Crabtree’s production under Kaepernick?
As the data unequivocally shows, Crabtree was having a fairly decent year until Kaepernick showed up… and turned him into a budding superstar. Crabtree’s 2012 with Alex Smith’s line extrapolated to 16 games would have been 110 targets, 78 catches, 880 yards and 6 touchdowns which would have been good for a WR26 finish in 2014. But his extrapolation under Kaepernick is stunning: 146 targets, 96 catches, 1,382 yards and 13 touchdowns. That would have been good for overall WR5 last season.
You could argue that Alex Smith hasn’t ever had as good of a receiver as Jeremy Maclin, which may have some merit. But Dwayne Bowe and Michael Crabtree (as shown above) are at least above average. It’s simply that Smith doesn’t utilize them on the perimeter or downfield. Chris Raybon pointed out that Jeremy Maclin scored five touchdowns that traveled 20+ yards in the air in 2014. Alex Smith has only thrown four such passes since the beginning of 2013.
All in all, you are paying the same price for Maclin as you did last year except without any of the upside. Alex Smith has shown time and time again he targets his running backs and tight ends while leaving his wide receivers in fantasy wasteland. We would rather gamble on Allen Robinson at that ADP.