Death, Taxes and Marques Colston's Fantasy Production

Marques Colston is a value pick in 2013, and we can determine that through comparison.

Value can only be determined through comparison. How would you decide who made the best computers if there was only one computer manufacturer? How would you know that a particular car drove well if you’d only driven that single car?

Most importantly, how would you know that Nickelback was bad at making music if they played the only music ever heard by man?

(OK, I guess that’s one you can determine without comparison.)

We’re constantly evaluating; we’re comparing and contrasting things in order to make rational decisions. And that’s no different in fantasy football. When it’s our turn to pick in a snake draft, the first question that pops into our head is, “Do I want Dude X or Bro Y?" After a quick – usually just 30 to 45 seconds – assessment, we make our decision.

Quick evaluation is a stressful process, but really, preparation can make things easier. And that’s where we come in.

Marques Colston and Jordy Nelson have been ADP battling since the season ended in February. They’re both the top wide receivers in high-powered offenses, and each of them catch passes from the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

Their situations, at a high-level, appear similar. Yet, according to the numbers, there’s a clear-cut choice as to which wideout you should value higher.

Jordy Nelson’s Optimism

It seemed like every time I turned on the Red Zone Channel last season, Jordy Nelson was limping off the field. The Packers wideout caught passes in just 11 games in 2012, and was consistently watched by fantasy owners as each Sunday approached. Would he play? Would he finally reach his potential given his 2012 average draft position? Would he ever be fantasy relevant?

Nelson’s fantasy season ended with just 745 receiving yards and seven scores, a stat line good for a receiver who missed significant time, but a line not so good for a third-round fantasy selection.

Entering 2013, Jordy’s back and healthy, and has managed to grab a fourth-round average draft position. Much of this is due to optimism; if Nelson plays – if he’s healthy – he should be a top fantasy option.

No? Then perhaps you’ve forgotten what Jordy Nelson did in 2011. If so, that’s fine: I’ve got you covered.

That season, which was dominated by quarterback play, Jordy finished sixth in receiving net expected points. In essence, this means that Jordy Nelson was contributing towards his team’s score (real score, not fantasy score) more than all but five wideouts. The guys ranked ahead of him weren’t scrubs either: Wes Welker, Calvin Johnson, Victor Cruz, Larry Fitzgerald and Roddy White.

Much of Jordy’s success had to do with Aaron Rodgers’ play that season. Of the players with 50 or more targets in 2011, Nelson ranked first in receiving net expected points per target. He was targeted 96 times, and on each target, Nelson was adding 1.22 points to his team’s output. Insanity.

This net expected points data is important because it factors in true team value. Sure, you could’ve seen this through Nelson’s 15 scores, but that’s just a portion of the equation. Was Jordy effective before the Packers entered the red zone? Did he help Rodgers move the ball downfield? Yes, in fact he did. That’s why his Rec NEP was so incredible.

And that’s also why fantasy owners have hope for Nelson in 2013. If he can bring back that effectiveness, he should once again be a top fantasy asset.

However, there’s room for negativity: Jordy Nelson is risky. If you take a look at numberFire’s risk profiles, you’ll find that of all the relevant fantasy wideouts, Jordy Nelson is one of three who fall into the “high risk” category. Yes, Jordy’s risk outlook in 2013 is associated with Kenny Britt and Danny Amendola, two pass catchers that have struggled to stay on the field.

Do you want that out of a fourth rounder?

As of now, who knows? As I mentioned, the only way to determine value is through comparison. So let’s view Nelson against Marques Colston, a player being selected in the same range during fantasy drafts.

Colston’s Consistency

There’s a possibility that Marques Colston is the most underrated receiver of this era. I suppose he’s used to that, having played college for a now non-existent football program and being selected as a nearly irrelevant seventh rounder in the NFL draft. He’s never been to a Pro Bowl either.

But if you look at his numbers, you could - and probably should - argue that the only receivers who have outperformed him since his 2006 rookie season are considered elite in today's NFL. Over the course of Colston’s career, he’s had at least 1,000 yards in every 14-plus game season, and has scored eight or more touchdowns in all but one of them.

He’s a model for consistency, and his NEP numbers prove it, too:

YearGames PlayedReceptionsTouchdownsRec NEP / Target Rank
2006147083rd of 83
200716981124th of 86
20081147513th of 79
20091670911th of 87
20101584719th of 74
2011148087th of 90
201216831010th of 83

Not only has Colston been reliable in terms of raw data, but the advanced numbers show even better stability. Since his rookie season, Colston has ranked in the top-20 wide receivers (minimum 50 targets) in receiving net expected points per target in every campaign except one. And in that one season, Colston ranked 24th.

In other words, if we’re counting all 50-plus target pass catchers, we should nearly assume (it’s no longer potential) that Colston will rank in the top-quarter in terms of efficiency.

Are you kidding me?

That’s why we have him confidently ranked as our 11th-best fantasy wideout entering 2013. His high receiving NEP numbers correlate nicely to fantasy success, amongst other factors. And clearly, Colston’s risk category is low, as he’s been one of the most steady wide receivers we’ve seen over the last seven seasons. Why would you want to pass that up?

Draft Colston Over Nelson With Confidence

You need reliability from your fantasy wide receivers. And when you’re investing a 4th-round draft selection, you need to ensure that player performs.

Jordy Nelson has a ton of upside - we saw what he’s capable of doing back in 2011. But with that upside comes risk, which you may not be able to afford so early on in your fantasy drafts. Especially if someone like Marques Colston is available

At numberFire, we have Marques Colston finishing the season with 87 receptions, 1,258 yards and 9 to 10 touchdowns. Conversely, Nelson is slotted for 77 catches, 1,083 yards and 9 to 10 scores. Colston may not be the kind of player that forces you to boast, but he’s as predictable as they come.

As they say, the only certainties in life are death, taxes and Marques Colston’s fantasy production. Or something like that.