Let’s face it, people overreact to small sample sizes. This is especially true when it comes to the world of fantasy football. We have a very strong tendency to let what happens in just 60 minutes completely overpower and sometimes erase what we studied for months or what we’ve seen for years. Every once in a while we need to step back from the ledge, take a deep breath, and remember that extremes happen. Sometimes a perfect storm comes along and a player is great for a brief period before never being heard from again (Bryce Brown, I’m looking at you!). The exact opposite is of course true as well. There have been a ton of players who hit a little slump before leading more fantasy teams to the playoffs than beers consumed at a game in Lambeau Field!
That’s where I come in. For the last few years, I’ve been doing my best to be an objective voice of reason each and every week. I try to pick one or two “breakout” or slumping players each week. I take some time to objectively look at the good news, the bad news, and then give you what I hope is the truth about what you can expect moving forward. I’m not always right (then again, no one is!), but I like to think I’m right way more than I am wrong. I’m not afraid to say something unpopular or against the hype if it is what I believe. I was one of the first to tell you it is time to bail on Trent Richardson when the Browns traded him what seems like decades ago. I always felt Bryce Brown was a splash in the pan who wouldn’t hold dynasty value, and I was one of the voices telling you Allen Hurns was good enough to stay the starter opposite Allen Robinson. All three of those were rather unpopular takes at the time, but they are exactly what all of the evidence point towards. People just needed to step back and take it all in, and I’m just here to help you do that.
Through the first three weeks of the season I spent some time talking about several different young receivers such as Willie Snead, Travis Benjamin and Terrelle Pryor. I’m going to stick to the receiver trend in week 4 because there seems to be so many receivers coming out of the woodwork to post top 10 games at the positon. This week I’m going to take a look at San Francisco’s Jeremy Kerley. Some of you might be wondering why, but even terrible teams throw the ball once in a while. In fact, sometimes the terrible teams need to throw it more because they are always behind.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I started this article earlier this week, but didn’t get around to finishing it until Thursday night. With Kerley playing in the Thursday night game, I decided to wait and put in a few more examples. The overall message didn’t change though.)
Jeremy Kerley, WR SF
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Week 4 Stats: Six receptions on nine targets for 88 yards and a touchdown. One punt return for 26 yards.
Week 5 Stats: Eight receptions on thirteen targets for 102 yards and a score.
Kerley is now in his sixth year in the NFL, joining San Francisco for the first time after spending his first five years with the J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets. He is an undersized receiver at 5’9” and about 188 pounds. He lacks top end speed but is very quick with fantastic acceleration and some nice moves in the open field. When you pair that with a nice set of hands you get a receiver who specializes in the slot receiver role. He has also been used as the primary punt returner so far in his career.
During his time with the Jets, he was seldom used as anything resembling an every down player. In fact, he only saw more than 75 targets in a season once, and that was 2012 with 96 targets. His production was often scattered from one week to the next, having double digit targets one week and three or less the next week. This has kept him off the fantasy radar for the first five years of his career even though he has flashed some talent at times. The question is if the change in scenery is going to be enough to make him worth paying attention to or if this is just more of the same.
Good: As we all know, opportunity is one of the biggest requirements for fantasy relevance. It doesn’t matter how talented a player is, if they can’t get on the field it doesn’t matter. The flip is also true, an average talent who is going to play pretty much every snap should be productive. I think Kerley definitely falls into the latter portion. With Bruce Ellington and Eric Rogers on IR, the 49ers really don’t have much at all at the wide receiver position. Quinton Patton has been a major disappointment, and Torrey Smith is a terrible fit for the type of game Blaine Gabbert plays. That leaves pretty much one guy who is on the field and fits with what the 49ers are doing so far. Good news for Kerley!
For the last few weeks, that is exactly how things have panned out. In week three, Kerley’s nine targets were nearly double any other 49er and triple any other receiver. They were also almost 40% of Gabbert’s total targets. In week four, that pattern continued. Kerley’s accounted for thirteen targets while no one else topped six and no other receiver had more than two. His target share was almost 42% that week. I don’t expect Kerley to continue to get almost 40% of Gabbert’s targets, but it is very clear he is the go to guy right now.
Bad: Unfortunately for Kerley, he has a history of being one of those guys who teases fantasy owners and then disappears for weeks on end. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen him picked up on waivers over the last few years only to see him dropped about a month later. He’s one of those guys. He has a tendency to have a five catch for 75 yards type of game, maybe even two in a row, then go back to two-three catches for a few weeks. He seldom ends up above that mark. In fact, Thursday’s game against Arizona was only the second time in his six year career he has topped 100 yards, and his eight receptions tied a career high (he has seven receptions three times as well). The ceiling hasn’t been very high for him, and he isn’t an explosive big play kind of player.
The other red flag for me is he seems to be producing because of the situation, not his superior talent level. Kerley isn’t a supreme talent, and I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who feels that way. Yes, he’s quick and has nice hands, but he isn’t Terrelle Pryor make you miss in the open field kind of quick. He gets some production after the catch, but he isn’t going to take many five yard slants 60 yards for a touchdown.
Ugly Truth: Kerley is one of those players where the situation definitely matters. He wasn’t a great fit with the Jets, but the fit with the 49ers seems to be better. His skill set is a great fit for what Gabbert wants to do, especially since the 49ers lack anything resembling a top flight tight end. Kerley can definitely pile up the targets and receptions in the get the ball out quick offense Gabbert prefers to play in. He should continue to be a decent WR3 play in PPR leagues because he has the trust of his quarterback and is going to get the targets.
The major problem with Kerley is that this production is only temporary. Kerley’s skills fit Gabbert, but if Colin Kaepernick takes over the starting role, I worry about the fit. In the past, Kaepernick has been much more willing to air it out and push the ball downfield in hopes of a big play. That kind of style would definitely favor Torrey Smith, but it isn’t Kerley’s game. In that case, I think we would see Kerley slip back to the eight targets or less per game and be more of a 4-5 catch for 50-70 yards kind of player once again. I’m not sure he could be started at that point in time.
Final Verdict: If you’re contending and need some help for bye weeks, it might be worth considering sending a middle to late round pick for Kerley. You should be able to get some decent production in the short term. Kerley is a very low cost, potential WR3 for your team as long as Gabbert is playing quarterback for the 49ers. However, I have major concerns about his long term outlook, both this year and in future years. He isn’t a great talent and his skill set isn’t as good of a fit with Kaepernick. If the 49ers make a QB switch, I think Kerley’s value and production take a bit of a hit. So buyer beware on this one. Make sure you are realistic about what you have here. He isn’t a long term asset.