After six straight seasons with more than 1,150 receiving yards, Roddy White crashed back to Earth in 2013.
Injuries played a major role in this off year for White. He entered the season with a severe high ankle sprain that hobbled him for the first month, and just when he began to get healthy, teammate Julio Jones went down for the season with a foot injury. Defenses were then able to key on White, and sure enough, he suffered a hamstring injury. For the first time in his incredible career, he missed two games due to injury.
The Falcons miserable season can be partially attributed to their superstar wide receivers not being themselves. But now, all of that is behind White and the Falcons as they look to regain the top spot in the NFC South.
Numbers Tell the Story
Our analysis here at numberFire typically centers around our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. NEP is a quantified look at how much a player like Roddy White contributed to his team's scoring output throughout the season. You can click the link above to read more about it.
In examining why Roddy White experienced such a drop in production in 2013, the numbers look eerily similar to Denver's Wes Welker, who our very own Brandon Gdula wrote about earlier this week.
Obviously injuries played a huge part in White's struggles in 2013, but the difference between he and Welker, to me, is that Welker has dealt with more serious injuries like concussions; while White is already recovered from the common leg injuries he incurred last season.
Not surprising at all, White's metrics dropped drastically across the board last season. Here's a look at his production since 2007 according to the numberFire metrics.
|Season||Receptions||Rec. NEP||Targets||Target NEP||Rec. NEP/Target|
What do all of these numbers mean? When we look at the top receivers over the past seven NFL seasons, Roddy White has four of the top 30 seasons in terms of Reception NEP (accounts for the points he added to the Falcons with his receptions). Those four seasons happen to come in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Injuries plummeted that success in 2013.
Further examining the numbers in the chart above show just how consistent and impressive White has been in recent years. Aside from last season, Roddy White has arguably been a top five wide receiver in the NFL over the past half decade. Just three seasons ago, White posted a ridiculous 115-catch, 1,389-yard and 10-touchdown season. In 2012, he had 1,351 yards on 92 receptions with 7 touchdowns.
While it may appear that White may no longer post those types of numbers with Julio Jones now as the number one threat, we have to consider that veteran staple Tony Gonzalez is no longer in the fold for the Falcons. While Gonzalez did draw coverage in some situations, his departure also frees up 120 targets and 83 receptions in the Atlanta passing game.
Sure, White is going to be 33 years old this season, but I see no reason why he can't regain his elite form this season. Let's not forget that, when White was healthy at the end of last year, his final five games saw 43 catches for 502 receiving yards, good for an 8.6 catch, 100.4 yards per game average. Over this time, he increased his Reception NEP by 48.24 points. For some perspective, the rate at which he was adding points for his team over the course of the season (9.65 Reception NEP per game) was by far better than any other receiver in the game - Calvin Johnson's season-long average was about 7.25 Reception NEP per contest.
Getting Back to Business
Although Tony Gonzalez is gone, the Falcons have an opportunity to return to their high-octane passing game in 2014. Part of that improvement will come because of the concerted effort to improve the offensive line during the off-season.
Offensive line coach Mike Tice was quoted last month saying, "The offensive line has to be the engine that lets the fancy rims and the paint job look good. If the engine's not working, the paint job looks like (expletive). ...We're the engine, and we have to fuel all those great players we have in the skill positions because we have a bunch."
In addition to getting back left tackle Sam Baker back from knee surgery, Tice and the Falcons have added a young stud at right tackle in Jake Matthews, the sixth-overall pick of the 2014 draft. Aside from improving both tackle positions, Atlanta also added veteran Jon Asamoah at right guard and new center, Joe Hawley.
The improvement in the offensive line is important when talking about Roddy White because it should will directly help to improve the passing game in 2014. Matt Ryan was continually under siege last season, making finding White on the edges more difficult than in years past. This season, White will get back to his ways as a PPR monster, as Matt Ryan will be able to stand in the pocket and find him more often.
What to Expect in 2014
According to numberFire's brand new fantasy football cheat sheet (which you need to check out if you want to dominate your leagues this year), White is projected to be the 13th-best wide receiver in PPR formats and 18th in non-PPR leagues.
We're projecting White for 99.11 receptions, 1,256.69 yards and 6.23 touchdowns. History shows us that White is a dangerous threat to score, and so he could certainly beat our touchdown projection if he emerges as Matt Ryan's top red-zone target with Gonzalez retired.
With White healthy, it's tough to understand how his average draft position sits in the early fifth round at pick 5.03 according to Fantasy Football Calculator. For reference, Cordarelle Patterson and Percy Harvin are going ahead of White at this point.
If White's ADP holds steady in the early fifth, owners who get him at that spot will no doubt be getting a huge draft day value. Draft consistent, proven Roddy White over trendy young receivers in run-first offenses. Don't be that guy. Do the right thing.