NEP Studs and Duds Through Week 11: Upper Decker
"People judge too much by results. I’m just the opposite. I care about more than results. I’d rather make a good pitch and give up a bloop single than make a bad pitch and get an out." - Greg Maddux
To sustain long-term success in fantasy football (or any other endeavor), you need to have a rock-solid, proven process that works. Most importantly, you need to trust this process even if the results don't always turn out favorably. In the short term, results can be highly variable. However, over the long term, a superior process will yield superior results.
In fantasy football, our process involves assessing two key components: effectiveness and opportunity. In any given week, this process may or may not give us optimal results.
For instance, who thought Antone Smith (three touches) would outscore Jamaal Charles (18 touches) last week? Our process would still suggest we start Charles 100 times out of 100 going forward, and it would be correct.
Wide receivers' results are more volatile on a weekly basis than any of the other fantasy skill positions, so come playoff time it is often difficult for owners to know who to trust. Let's take a look at some of them below.
Note before you get started: For a description of Net Expected Points (NEP), check out our glossary.
Eric Decker (0.76 Reception NEP/Target, Ranked T-17th of 65 Qualifying Wide Receivers)
Over his past three games, Eric Decker has been held to 165 receiving yards and zero touchdowns despite playing in a high-powered Broncos offense that paces the entire NFL in Net Expected Points. His daily fantasy football prices continue to plummet, and I've seen him getting benched for borderline WR3s in redraft leagues.
The common perception is that Decker is the fourth-best option in Denver, behind Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, and now the emerging Julius Thomas. Does Decker really lack opportunity? Let's take a look.
As you can see, Decker's target numbers are on par with Demaryius and Welker, and he gets nearly two more looks a game than Orange Julius.
Decker is a top-17 receiver in the league's top offense and getting ample opportunity to produce. He has only three touchdowns this year, but it is not as if he is not a threat to score every week. In fact, he was second in the NFL with 13 receiving touchdowns in 2012.
At 6'3", 218, Decker has the size necessary to do damage in scoring position. Touchdowns are hard to predict, but the fact that he has been a Net Expected Points stud despite the lack of scores only shows how great his upside truly is.
Need more convincing? Decker's 10.9 Average Depth of Target (aDOT, courtesy of Pro Football Focus) is nearly a yard and a half more than Demaryius' 9.5, and over three yards more than Julius's (7.8) and Welker's (7.7). Consider that Decker gets most of his down-field opportunities in single coverage versus a team's second or third-best corner, and his upside is even more apparent.
Decker's opponent this week is the Patriots, who rank number five in Adjusted Net Expected Points Per Pass. However, the Patriots secondary is banged up and the Panthers' underwhelming receiving corps had success against them last week. There is shootout potential this week in New England.
After that, Decker will face the Chiefs (1st), Titans (16th), Chargers (27th), Texans (29th), and Raiders (21th). The Chiefs are seemingly his only challenging opponent remaining, but remember that he posted a respectable 5-catch, 71-yard outing in their first meeting last week.
Don't let recent results cloud what the process is saying. Decker is a high-end WR2 with WR1 upside every single week.
Rueben Randle (0.89 Reception NEP/Target, Ranked T-8th of 65 Qualifying Wide Receivers)
There are a bunch of red flags surrounding Randle, however. Check out the following table below that details his usage in recent weeks.
|Week||Targets||Snaps Played/Total Team Snaps|
This is a disturbing trend. Randle exploded for 96 yards and two touchdowns in Week 5, but has not played more than 50 percent of the snaps since. He also has not drawn more than three targets since week 6. Why are the Giants limiting their most effective receiver on a per-target-basis?Through six games Randle was targeted on an astounding six of quarterback Eli Manning's interceptions. When looking back at the tape, most of these seemed to be Randle's fault, as the young receiver has not yet fine-tuned the details of route running and adjustments.
From Week 7 on, Randle has averaged 2.5 targets per game, and guess what? Zero interceptions on his targets. The Giants offense has gotten more conservative, which does not exactly help a part-time wide receiver's fantasy prospects.
And even though Randle has found the end zone with regularity over his past six games, we also have another four game sample where he played much more yet did not find the end zone at all.
The point being, Randle is touchdown-dependent, and it's hard to rely on him to score a touchdown when he is barely seeing any targets. Given his usage, his touchdown numbers are very likely to regress to the mean. Odds are that will he cost you dearly when he does not score.
Because of this, we have Randle pegged as the 56th-best wide receiver for the rest of the season. Although he has shown scoring prowess during the past six games, his upside is not as high you might think. He has been held to 50 yards or less four times during that span, and has not cleared 100 yards since Week 1.
Right now, my advice is start Randle at your own risk. He is far from ideal. However, do pay attention to his target and snap numbers in the coming weeks, especially as they relate to Hakeem Nicks'. Nicks was seen sulking on the sideline last week and missed practice time this week. If the Giants decide to put forth more concerted effort to develop Randle with eyes toward next year, his numbers may pick up. If he can get starter's usage, his efficiency makes him dangerous.
Greg Jennings (0.61 Reception NEP/Target, Ranked 41st of 65 Qualifying Wide Receivers)
We have all done it before. Faced with a difficult start/sit decision or waiver wire choice, we rationalize "At least this guy is his team's number one receiver, I'll go with him." Do not get caught in that trap with Greg Jennings.
Jennings' salary is the only number he can hang his hat on in 2013. Despite being the Vikings primary receiving option, he has failed to clear 100 yards this season. In fact, he has been held under 50 yards in 66 percent of his games. He has not yet reached the end zone in the United States in 2013, as his only two touchdowns came in a game versus the Steelers in London.
Even as the Vikings most targeted wideout, Jennings is not a safe PPR bet, having been held under five receptions in six of nine games.
Jennings is not a prototypical number-one receiver at only 5'11", 197. He plays quite of few of his snaps in the slot and is not a good bet to score a touchdown unless he breaks a big play. Big plays are seeming more and more unlikely for him these days, as he is now hampered with an Achilles injury that may linger for the rest of the season.
Throw in the fact that Minnesota ranks 26th in the league in Passing Net Expected Points due to a carousel of substandard quarterbacks, and it becomes clear that Jennings' fantasy value should be on the back on a milk carton.
We have Jennings has the 53rd-best wide receiver for the rest of the season. I would rather start boom-or-bust role players with higher upside like Kenny Stills or Ted Ginn over him, especially in standard leagues. With Jennings, the boom appears absent. It's more like bust-or-bust.
Hakeem Nicks (0.57 Reception NEP/Target, Ranked T-46th of 65 Qualifying Wide Receivers)
Nicks has been the opposite of Randle this season. While being largely ineffective, he has been seeing a decent 7.3 targets per game. Despite hauling in 42 of those targets for 620 yards, NIcks has failed to reach the end zone all season. Is he worth starting going forward?
First, let's be clear: Nicks is not the same player he was from 2009 through 2011. All the injuries have finally caught up to him, and he lacks the explosion and separation ability that he once had. He now has to rely on his size and huge hands to make catches that are nearly always contested.
The lack of separation ability has hurt Nicks in the red zone. He has drawn 10 targets inside the 20, but converted only one into a catch for two yards. The Giants still run goal line fade routes for Nicks, but because he cannot separate, Manning has no place to put the ball.
Remember, touchdowns are hard to predict, but high usage gives a player a better shot at scoring. While Nicks' talent on effectiveness have surely taken a hit, his usage suggests that he should at least have ample chances to score going forward. After all, his 10 red zone targets are still tied for the team lead.
If things stay the way they are, Nicks is a low-end WR3 in 12-team leagues because he is getting just enough volume to make up for his lack of effectiveness. We have him ranked 34th for the rest of the season. As I previously mentioned, there is a possibility that Giants begin to phase out Nicks in favor of Randle, especially if they get eliminated from playoff contention. If Nicks' snaps and targets begin to drop, he should be immediately be relegated to your bench.