In 2018, the dynasty community was abuzz with excitement about a running back class that undoubtedly needed to be recognized. However, there were a trio of wide receivers taken in the second round who cannot be ignored, either. This group includes Anthony Miller of the Bears, Christian Kirk of the Cardinals, and Dante Pettis of the 49ers. Each of these wideouts contributed to their teams during their rookie campaigns and according to March ADP, they are all being drafted very close to one another in startup drafts. Needless to say, this makes these young promising athletes perfect for ‘ADP Breakers.’
Let’s kick off by looking at how the general public views them. Doing a quick poll, we can see just how close these three players are in value.
Next ADP breakers Article.
Which of these inspiring young WR would you want on your #Dynasty team?
— Tyler Ghee (@TylerGheeNFL) March 3, 2019
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Before analyzing their performances on the field, let’s take a look at each player’s Scouting Combine numbers and physical traits.
Anthony Miller – Second Round, Memphis, 24 years old
Christian Kirk – Second Round, Texas A&M, 22 years old
Dante Pettis – Second Round, Washington, 23 years old
Unlucky for us, it’s hard to distinguish much of anything from those measurables. Each player had some areas they excelled in and plenty that seemed to be missing. Some of this lack of information can also be due to Miller and Pettis not having combine results on their agility tests as well. The most notable takeaway really is the sizes of all three. Each player is, although talented, a bit undersized compared to other players at the position – this is not meant to be a knock, but rather an interesting note as we move forward comparing their playing styles and production on the field.
Although a small sample, let’s look at the trio’s debut seasons in the NFL.
Table from Pro Football Reference.
The first noticeable statistic that jumps out is the reception totals. Christian Kirk led the way with a total of 43 – this total also allowed him to beat out all the competition in yardage as well as he posted 590 receiving yards on the season. When you look closer, this was a bit surprising since Kirk was injured and only played 12 games. However, we can see Kirk lacked the red zone presence compared to the rest of the group – this could be due to the injury, but also to do with the lack of offensive performance of the Cardinals in the 2018 season. Anthony Miller was solid last year with seven scores and Pettis used a late-season surge to find the end zone five times.
The final analysis of the graph is a bit odd in the fact each of these players finished with very similar yardage totals, despite the fact that they had a wider range of receptions. It’s clear each team is using these wideouts much differently and giving us additional factors in our case. On the season, Pettis led the way with 17.3 yards per reception, while Kirk (13.7) and Miller (12.8) followed. As we continue to examine this information, let’s look at per game averages to see if this gives us any more useful data to sway our opinion one way or another as none of them played a full season.
The table from Pro Football Reference.
Looking at the table, not much more can be obtained. This really further illustrates just how class these players were in production, and thus how similarly they are valued in dynasty leagues. In short, Kirk had more receptions and more yards, but struggled to get into the end zone. However, Pettis barely outdoes Miller in receptions on a per game basis, but also had many more yards per game – an aspect not clearly seen in the first table.
It is also important to remember this information, in particular, can be very skewed due to team performance. Teams like the Cardinals and 49ers had some disappointing games in 2018. Anthony Miller’s touchdown numbers could have been more of a product of Mitch Trubisky than the wideout himself. When projecting these prospects, it is important to consider projecting their franchise’s short and long-term plans as well and take into account their team’s future success.
One aspect not discussed in the tables above was targets. Any good fantasy football player knows when it comes to fantasy relevant wide receivers, you follow the targets. Opportunity is king and each time these young players get an opportunity, it is important. Below is a graph that illustrates the weekly targets for each of these three players:
Graph from airyards.com.
The Blue line seems to just jump off the page. From weeks two through eight, Pettis was seeing a maximum of just two targets per game – not exactly what dynasty owners were hoping for when they drafted him onto their fantasy team. However, what was more interesting about his graph is the incline. Pettis not only saw an incline, but a plateau that seems to be much higher and much more consistent than the other players.
So, what exactly happened? Nick Mullens happened. Mullens was the backup quarterback who surprised quite a few people. Although he was no Jimmy Garoppolo, he stepped into the position and provided consistency when few believed he would. Once he was the weekly starter for the 49ers, we saw Pettis gain major momentum. Could this frequency in targets just be an aspect of playing with Mullens? Absolutely. However, I do not think it is wise to just sum it up as a favorite target. Just as any wideout, Pettis flourished when a competitive quarterback was behind center. Moving forward, we need to consider Garoppolo, his ability and how that can translate to more production for Pettis?
One other stat lines of note is Miller’s drop in targets. I believe a great deal of these fluctuations could be due to defensive matchups and game script. This is also something to keep in mind as the Bears don’t exactly look to be playing “catch-up” in many games in the short-term based on their defensive prowess.
Continuing with opportunity, let’s examine offensive snaps – this stat often demonstrates the coach’s belief in a player. Targets come from the quarterback, but field time comes from the coaches and their play calling.
Kirk Snap Share: 542 for 79% of offensive snaps
Miller Snap Share: 519 for 61% of offensive snaps
Pettis Snap Share: 378 for 57% of offensive snaps.
*241 of Pettis snaps came between the weeks nine and 14 with Mullens under center. During that time he was in for 71% of San Francisco’s offensive snaps.
Statistics from airyards.com.
The last line added to the chart above was not to have a bias toward Pettis but more to show a skew in information. I think this was interesting to see the lack of use Pettis had early in the season. Moving forward, I hope he jumps back up to 71%. It is of importance that even with Mullens, he still did not eclipse the 79% Kirk was involved in.
Still, with all these things considered, I think it is important to look at this data and players as a whole. One way to evaluate this is to look at each players’ WOPR score (Weighted Opportunity Rating). This rating gives a score for each week that a wideout plays. This score basically determines what production a player has with the opportunity given to them. Below are each of those players’ results:
Graph from airyards.com.
We can see once again the rise in production from Pettis beginning in week nine. Let’s look at the surprises from Miller as well. After week ten, we see a huge drop in production. One would think this would be correlated with a drought in touchdowns. With further research, I came to find that from week ten (start of the decline) to week 16, he had four out of his seven touchdowns. In short, this drop in production came from his lack of yards. From week 11 to week 16, Miller only posted 91 of his 423 total yards. Again, much of this could be due to the game script as Chicago played some much more disciplined defense, but this is still is a concerning note to end on. Finally, I would like to note the consistency of Kirk followed by a sharp spike at the end, further making Kirk feel like a much safer pick of the three.
When it boils down to it though, all we care about is fantasy production. If these players could play rock, paper, scissors for fantasy points, we would root them on. Thus, the next phase for evaluation is the all-important fantasy production from a PPR standpoint.
Below is the fantasy points per week for all three wideouts.
Graph from FFstatistics.
As expected, there seem to be the same trends evaluated from above. There’s a big increase for Pettis, mild consistency from Kirk, and a slight decline for Miller. However, one thing that is impossible to miss is the performance of Pettis in week 13 against Seattle. After all, 32.70 points can certainly grab anyone’s attention. However, when it comes to rookies, we often have trouble starting them due to their boom and bust potential. Below is a graph depicting each one of these three’s weekly fantasy finishes.
Graph from FFstatistics.
Keep in mind when looking at this data, some of it can be a bit misleading due to the limited amount of games these players have laced up their cleats for, as is the sorrow of evaluating newer talent. Still, some interesting developments can be seen here.
First, we need to look at the green bar representing Pettis. Although he started off slowly, he got it rolling and had a strong finish for fantasy teams. Additionally, we see evidence of the perception of Miller being a boom-or-bust type of player. The “Boom” from Miller was not nearly what I expected, and actually gets a bit overshadowed by Pettis. The “Bust” was a great deal higher than I expected as well. Finally, we see the lack of a blue bar anywhere else besides the right – this once again could be due to a limited amount of data and injury playing a major role in our evaluation of Kirk.
The final bit of analysis will involve these players and their fantasy Opportunity Ratio. This statistic is calculated by taking the total fantasy points the player receives, divided by the number of targets and/or carries they had – this allows for injury and missed games to become a non-factor. Simply put, what did this player do with the opportunity given to them? Below is the Opportunity Ratio (in PPR formats) our three wideouts.
Graph from FFstatistics.
Much to my surprise, the late-emerging Pettis actually leads the pack with 2.25 fantasy points per opportunity. This could be due to the targets Pettis receives being deeper or could be due to the one outlier (the monster game in week 13). Whatever the cause, I think it cannot be discounted or overlooked. Moreover, I think the lack of production from Kirk is due to the Cardinals’ lack of finding the end zone in general last season.
After gathering all this information and data, my rankings would be as follows:
- Dante Pettis
- Christian Kirk
- Anthony Miller
I am aware this is against the grain. However, it comes down to risk and projections for these teams moving forward. I think Kirk is a much safer pick (assuming Josh Rosen continues to develop or the Cardinals take Kyler Murray), but I am looking forward to seeing Pettis with Jimmy Garoppolo in a Kyle Shanahan-led offense. If the 49ers make some other receiver moves or add weapons in the NFL Draft, Pettis still stays decently valuable and has a role carved out already.
Additionally, note the rounds in which these players are being selected. In the sixth or seventh rounds of most dynasty startups, I am looking for young upside. Pettis offers more of that for me. This doesn’t mean Kirk or Miller aren’t valuable as I would happily have either on any of my dynasty rosters. However, when looking over the data, the late surge of Pettis just can’t be overlooked.
I hope this series can aid you in future startup drafts and better prepare you for expectations and values moving forward.
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