It is a familiar type of analysis that you’ve probably heard before or done for yourself: If I think this is going to happen, what else can I capitalize on as a consequence of it?
While I’m normally working on dives into stats and numbers and offering graphs and charts arguing for a player or strategy, I also, you know, play fantasy football. So it’s an exercise I go through pretty often. While working on my projections model and other data this off-season, I noticed a few areas in which we may be skipping this process, however. I think this could provide some value to us in 2018. So I thought I’d write some of these thought experiments up. This is the first article in that series.
But remember, I’m mostly interested in working the question, and thinking about how to explore a situation with this type of analysis. My conclusions might be different than yours, but don’t forget to ask the question: if this, then what?
Assumption: Jameis Winston is going to do better in 2018
Consequence: DeSean Jackson is a potential value
This may be a moot point now since Winston is likely to be suspended for three games to start the season, but I think it’s still worth exploring. Partly because there is still a chance the performances are good – or dare I say… better – in 2018? Also while Winston’s value for the 2018 season has to decline, that doesn’t mean it’s the same for the team’s receiving options, necessarily. This is partly because when and if he does get back on the field, they can still benefit from any improvement, and partly because it’s a good exercise so it’s worth practicing.
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While I didn’t – and especially don’t now – expect Tampa Bay to produce two top-24 wide receivers, the fact is that Mike Evans is already priced as a top-12 dynasty player, and we’ve been paying top-five wide receiver prices for him for the last few years. Right now he is a player drafted in the top 12 overall who hasn’t finished in the top 12 at his position for three out of the four years he’s been in the league.
*Chart from DLF’s own player page
Any excitement about his potential in 2018 has to be taken lightly. The only way we can really expect to get value for Evans is if he is a top-five wide receiver in fantasy football in 2018. That’s just a very high bar to reach, and I he’s already valued there.
Is that possible? Sure, he’s done it before, that one year he wasn’t outside the top twelve in positional finishes he was actually number one. So, it’s in his range of outcomes. But Evans has been consistently good, at a consistently high price.
Now if he’s trading in your league for less than his ADP right, then sure, get him. But if you need to be told that if a player is valued below consensus in your league “you should trade for that guy” we have a lot more ground to cover. Like the basics of fantasy football.
Smart players might be able to find value on the roster elsewhere. This leads me to DeSean Jackson. We know who he is: we know he won’t be a week-to-week consistent player. But we also know he is #goodatfootball and can #winyourweek at any given time.
*Chart from DLF’s own Player Page
Both Jackson and Evans have been up and down in position finishes the last few years, but as they did last year I expect their fates to be connected based on how well the team does. If Tampa Bay is to improve, so should Jackson.
*Chart from ffstatistics.com
You could also value Chris Godwin, a promising rookie entering his sophomore year. In dynasty, he’s certainly a good target. But as long as Evans is on the team, and we don’t expect Tampa to produce two top-24 wide receivers, then Godwin’s 91.83 ADP is probably close to his current ceiling.
It’s easy to see how he could again be crowded out in 2018, between the quarterback problems and Jackson still being on the team, and that falling come this time next season. If you have him, by all means, don’t panic. But two years of not being a starting-level option is going to be difficult to stomach for some.
So, if this, then what?
You might favor the sophomore tight end O.J. Howard, or Cameron Brate who has been a favored target of Winston’s. Maybe even the incoming rookie rusher Ronald Jones, but I’ll take the older guy who’s been a great fantasy weapon before, and who had 50 targets for 668 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games last year and who could see a bump in opportunity with an ADP of 197.6 right now (otherwise known as below his floor). Especially with three games of Ryan Fitzpatrick.
But first, the warning.
There are also some fair concerns about the way a downfield player like Jackson will age. While there is no definite pattern of what a players efficiency looks like before he stops producing, efficiency is by and large a good rule of thumb for wide receivers. Looking at Jackson’s efficiency in Receiver Air Conversion Ratio (RACR) by depth for his career (on left) compared to 2017 (on right) confirms there is a reason to be concerned.
*Graph from Airyards.com
But at the same time, efficiency is a spikey pet to hold too close. It can drop and come back even at this stage of a career. Andre Johnson‘s efficiency was still okay the year before he went to the Colts. Brandon Marshall’s 2014 numbers were a lot lower than his career numbers before he bounced back for 2015 with Ryan Fitzpatrick. If Jackson concerns you, there are other passing targets who could see a rise behind him. But at his current value, and with his past production, he’s just the one that interests me more for 2018 specifically.
The Loss of Winston
Now, Winston’s gone for the first three games, doesn’t that change? We are looking for spotty WR2 numbers, to begin with anyway, right?
The loss of Winston through the first three game isn’t as terrible for Jackson as it is for dynasty owners. Ryan Fitzpatrick has proven more than capable of feeding players the ball for fantasy through the years. While Winston will now have to drop out of the higher realms of 2018 projections, the Tampa Bay players will still be catching the ball and scoring points without him and then with him if and when he returns.
The history of Ryan Fitzpatrick supporting wide receiver ones or twos isn’t great. But the one time he had two skilled players at the position, in 2015, both Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall finished in the top 36 at the end of the year.
*Data from ffstatistics.com
What’s more, he seems to fit both Evans and Jackson’s tendencies a little better. If we look at the newly released heat maps on ffstatistics.com, we see that Fitzpatrick has targeted players to the deep right at a significantly above average rate. While Winston – throwing less deep targets in general – has mostly focused on the middle and right.
What’s more, Jackson – as the player most often targeted to the right – fits Fitzpatrick’s history of targets a little better. Especially since he is more often focused on the right side of the field in general compared to Evans.
I’m not suggesting that Jackson is a better player in 2018, only that the shift through the first four games could provide Jackson more of the high variance big play opportunities that he is used to. In any case, I don’t think Fitzpatrick is a terrible stand-in for either player through weeks one-three.
Who and how you process the depth chart isn’t the question here. It’s that buying into the player who’s already priced (and has been for years) as if he’s going to see an increase isn’t a great value move. In fact, it’s the definition of a bad one. If you want to make that bet, that’s fine. It can work out and Evans has a great floor with Fitzpatrick, Winston or whoever else is throwing the ball in 2018. Of course, he’s #good.
But I don’t think it’s the best way to take advantage when, and if, you think a team’s passing game is going to improve, or change.
If there’s a team who you think is going to do better in 2018, the main pass catcher is, of course, the best target. But if that pass catcher is already valued as a top-flight option, it doesn’t hurt to seek out other values on the depth chart.
UDFA's matter | British ex-pat | Writer of things