Fantasy Football: Pierre Garçon Is a Wide Receiver Steal for 2017

The veteran wide receiver had a career year in 2016, but he is still flying under the radar.

Remember the Tickle-Me-Elmo craze of 1996? For a brief span of time, everyone in North America with a child lost their minds as the newest hot toy fad gripped the Black Friday market in an absolute fit.

A plush doll that laughed when it was squeezed was the reason a New Brunswick man was trampled, two Chicago women were arrested for fighting, and a New York delivery truck was chased on foot by people hoping to get the jump on the next batch of toys.

Ever heard of gift cards, people?

These fads come and go, but people act crazy to get their hands on the “next big thing”. While other NFL teams get embroiled in a monetary fistfight over some of the hotter names in the 2017 wide receiver free agent pool, you should be hoping yours looks at Washington Redskins impending free agent Pierre Garcon. Garçon had an incredible year in 2016, but the soon-to-be 31-year-old may fly under the radar this offseason.

Here’s why you should pay attention to him.

Let’s Have Fun

The entire Washington offense had a big-time breakout in 2016, with quarterback Kirk Cousins leading the fifth-best aerial attack in the NFL by numberFire’s opponent-adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP).

NEP is a metric that describes the contribution a play (or player) makes to their team’s chances of scoring. By adding down-and-distance value to standard box score information, we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.

NEP is also a big reason why we should appreciate Garçon’s 2016 season.

For wide receivers, we are most concerned with Reception NEP -- the value earned on all receptions by a player. When we look at the players with the most in 2016, we find a few interesting names. The table below shows the top-10 wide receivers in this particular category.

Player Team Reception NEP
Mike Evans TB 144.22
T.Y. Hilton IND 129.84
Jordy Nelson GB 123.15
Julio Jones ATL 115.11
Odell Beckham NYG 111.68
Antonio Brown PIT 109.70
Brandin Cooks NO 98.86
Michael Crabtree OAK 96.25
Terrelle Pryor CLE 95.88
Pierre Garcon WAS 95.23

The Oakland Raiders’ Michael Crabtree is an interesting name for sure, and Cleveland Browns’ wideout Terrelle Pryor is also exciting, but Garçon is definitely the odd man out in a sea of young sensations and veteran superstars.

Garçon has barely even sniffed the Reception NEP top-10 in his nine-year career, outside of a 13th-best placing in 2013. He has averaged just 71.85 Reception NEP per season since 2009, all seasons in which he saw 50 targets or more, which would’ve been the 41st wide receiver in 2016. Doesn’t seem great, does it?

However, since arriving in Washington, Garçon has averaged 82.65 Reception NEP, or Willie Snead's 26th-best ranking by Reception NEP in 2016. Bear in mind that Garçon's quarterback with the Indianapolis Colts was future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning; this improvement is impressive.

His production this year really cemented his value as a strong high-volume possession receiver, and might have revealed his real value in a good offense.

The table below shows Garçon’s rankings in Reception NEP per target (a value rate stat), catch rate, and Reception Success Rate -- the percent of receptions resulting in positive NEP gains -- among the 41 other receivers with at least 100 targets last year.

Player Rec NEP/Target Catch Rate Rec Success
Pierre Garçon 5th 6th 5th

On a per-target basis, Garçon generated as much value as Brandin Cooks, T.Y. Hilton, and Mike Evans, and just a bit less than Julio Jones.

Cooks had a low Reception Success Rate, indicating he mostly relied on short routes that he broke big plays out of. Garçon seemed to have a healthy mix of production: short crossers, medium outs, deep bombs -- the whole schmear.

Despite generating just as much value as Garçon per play, Hilton and Evans had much lower Catch Rates, meaning their production profile was more reliant on the deep ball or long touchdowns. Garçon generated most of his value outside the end zone, however, with just three scores on the year. He was a workhorse between the goal lines, however, racking up catch after catch.

High overall value added to his incredible consistency in catch rate and in generating value, and you have a dangerous all-around threat any team would be drooling over themselves to sign.

While Alshon Jeffery and Pryor could get double-digit million dollar offers per year, some team should be able to sign Garçon for a reasonable deal to help them win in the near future.

He’d be well worth it.

Your Emoto-Tronic Friend

What does this mean for fantasy football owners ogling Garçon in their leagues this year?

Over the last three years, Garçon has averaged 110 targets, a feat that 21 other wide receivers have achieved, players like the elite company by Reception NEP Garçon kept earlier. He’s also topped 100 targets in 6 of his last 7 years. We know volume of opportunity leads to fantasy success, and Garçon has it in droves.

With Garçon a free agent, though, we have to hope he goes to a team as willing to hurl the ball as the Redskins this year. What is heartening is that he was targeted on just 18.10 percent of Washington’s 630 total team drop backs this year -- not minuscule by any means, but also not an unsustainable amount. Even if the team he goes to passes slightly less, that target share won’t hurt him too much.

Pierre Garçon may be closer to filing for the NFL AARP than most wide receivers, and while he has some flaws, he is a compelling free agent for any NFL team to consider.

Perhaps his past season will turn out to be more of a timeless classic than a passing fad.