Greg Jennings was “kind of” brainwashed in Green Bay, and now I think he’s out for revenge. Jennings is fooling us all.
The ex-Packer was a third-round fantasy draft choice a season ago, as fantasy owners selected him above all but six pass catchers. Now, a year later and an elite quarterback removed, Jennings is an eighth-round choice; a selection behind the likes of Tavon Austin and Anquan Boldin.
Call it the Christian Ponder effect. Jennings is going from the most prolific passer in the NFL to one who’s been anything but productive. But even so, there’s a chance that his Round 8 cost is a bargain come draft day.
Greg Jennings in Green Bay
There’s no doubt that Greg Jennings has been fortunate. He’s played with two quarterbacks – two probable Hall of Fame quarterbacks – over his seven-season career. During that time, Jennings has been one of the best wide receivers in the NFL.
|Year||Games||Rec.||Yards||TDs||Rec. NEP||Rec. NEP Rank|
|2006||14||45||632||3||51.67||55 of 83|
|2007||13||53||920||12||88.52||20 of 87|
|2008||16||80||1,292||9||115.32||5 of 80|
|2009||16||68||1,113||4||101.11||12 of 87|
|2010||16||76||1,265||12||111.37||8 of 85|
|2011||13||67||949||9||86.87||19 of 90|
|2012||8||36||366||4||35.62||76 of 85|
The receiving net expected points metric tells us how many real football points a player added to his team’s score throughout the duration of a the season. On each yard line on a football field, there’s a point total the offense would be expected to score. If a player contributes positively to that, he has a favorable score within the metric.
Clearly, receivers have a much easier time getting a high NEP value, as they’re often times gaining yards on third down and long passes. That’s why you’ll rarely see a negative score. And that’s also why I look at positional rank rather than raw output.
Since entering the league in 2006, you could make the argument that Greg Jennings has been a top-10 wideout. He’s ranked in the top 20 in receiving NEP in every season outside of his rookie year and 2012 campaign (minimum 50 targets), one that was hampered by injury. And it’s not just because he’s seen a ton of targets – on a per target basis, Jennings still is one of the most efficient pass catchers.
Has it been all him? No, definitely not. Like I said, he’s been privileged to have had a top passer throwing him the ball, so evaluating him to players that are less fortunate may not be fair. Compared to his teammates, however, Jennings has historically been the most efficient pass catcher. Aside from Jordy Nelson’s absurd 15-touchdown 2011 season and the two poor seasons (2006 and 2012) listed above, Jennings has far outperformed his teammates catching the football in terms of both receiving NEP and receiving NEP per target.
This is simply to say that the outspoken now-Viking is by no means a pushover at the position. Though he’s had great quarterbacks tossing him the rock throughout his career, he’s still been better than his teammates, and has been one of the best at the position in the league.
Can it continue with Christian Ponder though?
Christian Ponder’s Influence
Like receiving NEP data, we can look at passing expected points numbers to see which quarterbacks were most efficient for their teams throughout the league.
|Player||Year||Pass Attempts||Pass NEP/Attempt Rank|
|Brett Favre||2006||613||16 of 35|
|Brett Favre||2007||535||5 of 38|
|Aaron Rodgers||2008||536||8 of 34|
|Aaron Rodgers||2009||541||7 of 34|
|Aaron Rodgers||2010||475||3 of 34|
|Aaron Rodgers||2011||502||1 of 35|
|Aaron Rodgers||2012||552||4 of 38|
Since Jennings entered the picture, there’s only been one instance where his quarterback ranked lower than eighth in the NFL among 200-plus attempt passers in passing net expected points per attempt. In other words, his passers were adding more points for their team on a per attempt basis than at least two-thirds of all relevant quarterbacks each season.
Christian Ponder, on the other side of the spectrum, hasn’t been nearly as successful.
|Year||Games||Pass Attempts||Pass NEP/Attempt Rank|
|2011||11||321||30 of 35|
|2012||16||483||23 of 39|
It doesn’t – or shouldn’t, at least – take these rankings to show you that Christian Ponder is a less talented quarterback than Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. For some stark contrast, in 2011, Aaron Rodgers added 231.30 points to the Packers season total. Christian Ponder, in just 11 games and 10 starts, lost 33.49 for the Vikes.
However, I do want to point out that Christian Ponder may not have been as bad as we think from an efficiency standpoint last year. Sure, he threw for just 2,935 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. But he did rank ahead of Andy Dalton, Sam Bradford, Jay Cutler and Ryan Tannehill in terms of passing net expected points per throw.
Again, the net expected points data and rankings aren’t the end-all to fantasy football or real football success. It does give us a better idea than raw numbers do, though. Instead of looking at the end result, NEP numbers look at each situation – each scenario – on a football field, and associate a number to how well a player did under those circumstances. On a per attempt basis, Christian Ponder wasn't dreadful, like many believe.
Ponder’s Receivers and the Percy Harvin Impact
Aaron Rodgers’ receivers don’t see a high volume of targets. Since becoming the starter in 2008, the highest number of looks a receiver saw in a single season with Rodgers was 140 (Greg Jennings in 2008). Typically, Rodgers’ top receiver has seen about 120 targets, which would have ranked 25th among receivers a season ago. You wouldn’t expect one of his receivers to see more than 25 percent of team targets over the course of a season either.
Clearly Rodgers’ efficiency has allowed for fantasy receiver success on low volume. Christian Ponder, as shown above, isn’t close to Aaron Rodgers as a quarterback, so a low volume receiver in a Christian Ponder-led offense is about as worthless as the movie “Baby Geniuses”.
Therefore, in order for Greg Jennings to be fantasy worthy in Minnesota, he’ll have to see at least the same number of targets as he did in Green Bay. Keep in mind, we’re not talking about a WR1 anymore – he’s an eighth-round draft choice; a WR3. In order to be a WR1, Jennings may have to see upwards of 200 targets, which probably won’t happen.
I think the goal with Jennings is to get WR2 production at WR3 price. Is that possible? Well, Christian Ponder’s receivers saw a total of 278 targets last year. For some context, this number was 338 for Andy Dalton, and 291 for Ryan Tannehill. An astounding 85 targets went to Percy Harvin, Ponder’s lead wideout, who played in just half of the 2012 season.
You do the math: In a full season with the Vikings, Percy Harvin may have seen about 190 targets. And Jennings, like Harvin, can play effectively in the slot.
As I mentioned, Jennings won’t see that high of a volume in 2013. Not only is Percy Harvin more dynamic, but the Vikings drafted athletic rookie wideout Cordarrelle Patterson in April.
But 170? 160? 150? Aren’t any of these possibilities?
Heck, let’s assume he sees 140 targets this year. That would more than likely rank him in the top 12 amongst receivers in the category. Last year, the only receiver who had 140 targets who didn’t finish in the top 20 at wide receiver was Stevie Johnson. He finished as the 23rd-ranked wideout. And guess what? His quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, finished almost identically to Christian Ponder in terms of passing net expected points per attempt.
Not only is 140 achievable, but if the Vikings try to throw the ball a bit more this year, there's even better chance that Jennings sees a high number of targets, helping his fantasy cause.
What to Expect in 2013
Look, guys - I know the wide receiver position is deep, and Jennings’ ADP competition is incredibly attractive. If you’ve built a nice base of receivers, drafting an upside player like Kenny Britt instead of Greg Jennings makes total sense.
Just don’t overlook Greg Jennings. Is he on a run-heavy team? Of course. Is his quarterback play mediocre? Certainly. Will his season look ugly? I can almost guarantee it.
But that doesn’t mean you stay away. Fantasy football is sometimes about volume, and that’s what Jennings offers in 2013. We have him listed as our 25th-best receiver in standard league formats, eight wide receiver spots better than his ADP. Our current projections have him listed at 75 receptions, 971 yards and five to six scores.
Is he a sexy pick? Definitely not. But Greg Jennings could be the high floor receiver that makes your lineup a little more consistent each week.