If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been a bit obsessed with pass catchers recently. Yet even given this recent predilection, there’s always more work to be done. As such, I’m happy to present another venture centered around the art of catching the ball in the form of this three-part series which I’ve entitled “The Receiver Rundown.”
In this next-level foray into the NFL’s wide-outs, I hope to examine multiple aspects of receiver production. These studies will go beyond raw statistics, digging deeper into what specifically makes these players fantasy viable. Ultimately I hope to provide a new and unique perspective predicated upon thorough data mining.
Part One of this series focused on what I perceive to be the “myth” of volume dependency. While receiving a greater amount of targets certainly can’t hurt, I believe I was able to adequately debunk the canonical interpretation of the phrase. With that in hand, I want to switch gears in Part Two, narrowing my focus to the scoring ability of the receivers previously chronicled.
When it comes to the art of scoring at the receiver position, there are many schools of thought. Many, myself included, believe touchdowns represent football acts that cannot necessarily be predicted with a high level of accuracy. Others posit that there’s a linear relationship between height/weight and scoring and that quite simply “bigger is better.”
On a larger scale, talking about touchdowns is essentially the same as speaking to risk management. Some owners choose to chase touchdowns, seeking players with an ability to approach a higher scoring ceiling. Others are of the belief that a knack for racking up receptions and yards is more important – this ostensibly provides a higher floor and if the player in question can cross the goal line a few times, that’s all the better.
In a more direct sense, the question effectively being asked is whether or not a higher frequency of scoring directly correlates to fantasy success? With a base of seven points (six for the score and one for the reception), it’s impossible to argue against the boost provided by scoring plays and I certainly don’t intend to do so. Instead, I’ll simply seek to answer the following – does a larger proportion of touchdowns inherently make the receiver better in a fantasy setting?
To answer this question I’ll once again use the same subset of receivers from Part One. As 22 of the players finished as PPR Top-25 receivers, and only Jacksonville’s Cecil Shorts fell outside the top-28, we’re effectively looking at the cream of the fantasy crop. As such this provides a glimpse into the effect scoring has on fantasy’s elite pass catchers.
First though, we need to figure out a firm definition for touchdown percentage. As you can imagine, the variation amongst qualifiers (targets, receptions, etc.) can lead to a myriad of scoring statistics. However, the end game in fake football always boils down to fantasy points, and as such for the purpose of this study I’ll define touchdown percentage as the percentage of a player’s fantasy points that came from scoring the football.
Given that clarification, let’s dive into the data. The following are the touchdown percentages of the league’s 25-most heavily targeted receivers, shown in descending order. Also shown is a color code (see the legend below the table) that correlates each player to the AIR-tier he was sorted into in Part One.
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At first glance you can certainly make a case skewed towards a dependence on a higher touchdown percentage for fantasy’s best. All three of the Tier One players (Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson and Josh Gordon) reside in the top ten of the rankings, and eight of the first ten receivers listed are those who exist in the first three tiers. In fact, the first Tier Five player (Mike Wallace) doesn’t appear on the list until the slot #15
With that said, the above table lacks context. The raw touchdown percentages are certainly useful, but remain deficient without a point of comparison. Let’s see what happens when we contrast the touchdown percentage rankings above with the AIR rankings from Part One of the study:
Now the statistics begin to present themselves in a different light. Shown in the rightmost column are the subtractive values between each player’s touchdown percentage rank and AIR rank (Part One). A positive value signifies that, at least on a relative basis, the receiver in question didn’t rely heavily on scoring as a function of his AIR value. Conversely, a negative value suggests the opposite, that the player’s touchdown percentage effectively carried his AIR to a larger value.
With that in mind, let’s consider the first ten names on the list. Amongst them are nine receivers from the first three tiers, and as such nine of the Top-12 AIR values. With the exception of Megatron and Nelson, each of these names carries with it a touchdown percentage rank in the double digits – once again, this is significant because it shows that the players who were already functioning above expected levels were doing so without a huge reliance on scoring.
Understandably, the bottom of the list tells a different tale. Six of the final seven names listed include six of the top seven touchdown percentages, but apart from Demaryius Thomas (#6 AIR rank) every other player has an AIR ranking of ninth or worse. This subset serves as an effective supplement to the paragraph above – in other words, having a top-level touchdown percentage does not automatically elevate a player’s market share.
In an attempt to put the final nail in this statistical coffin, I’ll present one more tabular analysis. The table below looks at each tier as a whole, averaging out both the AIR ranks and touchdown percentage ranks of the players within. Consequently, a percent difference between the two can then be achieved.
As evidenced by the negative percent differences (rightmost column), on a relative level, the averaged AIR rankings of top two tiers easily surpassed those of their touchdown percentages. Once again, this signifies that, as it relates to how well these top-shelf receivers function within their respective offenses, touchdowns are of little consequence. On the other hand, the players with the highest touchdown percentages generally resided in Tier Three or below, suggesting that their respective scoring abilities weren’t innately enough to dictate an elevation in performance – this is manifested in the positive percent differences.
With that said, an argument can certainly be made for the general downward trend in touchdown percentages moving from Tier One to Tier Five. While on the surface this remains true, it ignores any and all relativity. Very few things in this world exist in a vacuum and fantasy football is in no way immune to that reasonably immutable law.
So given the totality of the above, you might be wondering what I’m getting at with this study. After all, as I mentioned above fantasy points win you championships, not AIR values and other such advanced metrics, right? To me, this isn’t a black and white issue and it now behooves us to view the fantasy landscape in shades of gray.
A player with an ability to transcend the scope of his offense (shown by a larger AIR value) is one who will benefit in nearly any scenario. If his offense gets worse, he should still thrive, if only on a relative level. If his offense improves, however, this is now a player who could reap the benefits of an advanced statistical output.
Putting a bow on this, if said player is able to accomplish the above without a reliance on touchdowns, his floor is already sky high. If the scoring opportunities increase, so too should his fantasy line and vice versa. Is there a way to gauge such a possibility? Stay tuned for the final installment…
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