NEP Studs and Duds Through Week 14: A.J.Green, Road Warrior?
Every so often, I head to pro-football-reference.com and just feast on football stats. I generally have the goal of uncovering potentially useful information for fantasy purposes that I may not have otherwise picked up on during matchup analysis each week. For example, I found that there were three times as many 100-yard receiving games as rushing games this year. And that there have been 0.70 short-yardage (1-2 yard) rushing touchdowns per NFL game this season.
But perhaps the most interesting thing I uncovered was the stark contrast in A.J.Green's home/road splits. As far as I know, he is happy being a Bengal. But, it sure seems like he does not like playing in the city of Cincinnati much.
Note before you get started: For a definition of Net Expected Points (NEP), check out our glossary.
A.J.Green (102.90 Reception NEP, Ranked 4th of 79 Qualifying Wide Receivers)
Green is having another fantastic season, as evidenced by his fourth-ranked NEP total. Ranking sixth in standard scoring and seventh in PPR scoring, one would think Green is one of the safest plays in fantasy week-in and week-out, right? Wrong.
Check out Green's home/road splits for his career:
|Career||G||Rec/G||Rec Yds/G||Rec TD/G||Standard Fantasy Pts/G|
Looking at 2013 in isolation, it is no different:
|2013||G||Rec/G||Rec Yds/G||Rec TD/G||Standard Fantasy Pts/G|
Throughout his 44-game career, Green has astoundingly produced nearly double the amount of fantasy points on the road as he has at home. He's an absolute stud away from Cincinnati, but at home, he is more of a high-end WR3.
So what gives?
The truth is, it's not exactly clear. My first thought was that the Bengals were experiencing drastically different game flow issues on the road, routinely playing catch-up. However, the Bengals record at home and on the road in Green's career are identical at 14-8, so that does not look to be the case.
The next possibility that came to mind is maybe Andy Dalton is inexplicably much better on the road. I thought I was onto something there - Dalton averages 29 more passing yards per game on the road throughout his career. However, Green averages 45 more receiving yards per game on the road. It's inconclusive which is a product of which.
The bottom line is that Green is getting a 27 percent market share of Dalton's yardage and a 26 percent share of his touchdowns in home games, but a 42 percent market share of yardage and 46 percent share of touchdowns in road games.
So why should we take this trend seriously?
The NFL is inherently random, where most statistics tend to regress to the mean over time. Fantasy analysis is basically trying to figure out what that mean is for different players in different situations, but the relatively small sample sizes make it challenging. In Green's case, we have a relatively robust 44-game sample under many of the same conditions, including coach (Marvin Lewis), quarterback (Dalton), and offensive coordinator (Jay Gruden). This sample suggests that there is a huge disparity between Green's road mean and home mean. Just because we have not yet pinpointed exactly why this is the case does not mean that it is not reality.
Furthermore, keep in mind that a 44-game sample size is much larger than the usual 16 or 32 game sample size we usually use to make key fantasy decisions. It took only a 16 game sample in 2012 for many to spend a top-five pick on Doug Martin this season. Nick Foles has had seven good games, yet most observers agree that he is a surefire fantasy QB1 to be trusted at the most crucial juncture of the year. And let's not forget that Green himself had a top-10 average draft position amongst wide receivers the year after his 13-game rookie season.
I think this particular statistic of Green's is crucial in daily fantasy. His price is usually sitting somewhere in the top five in terms of most expensive salary for wide receivers. If you bought in early to the fact that he is much more effective on the road, you could have saved yourself a lot of salary cap space and received a better return on your investment elsewhere during his home games. And when he had a road game, you could have pounced despite the seemingly steep cost.
Paying more attention to major discrepancies in splits like this may also help fantasy analysts make more accurate projections. There has been many a time when Green has been ranked in the weekly top five because he was playing at home and didn't have an imposing matchup. Analysts were ranking him based on his overall mean, not taking into account that his home mean is significantly lower.
Green is a rare case of a player's home/road splits being drastically different. Most players tend to do slightly better at home, because most players tend to do better in wins, and most teams win slightly more at home. Many prognosticators tend to slightly bump players down on the road if they factor game location into their projections at all, but with Green that would be dead wrong.
Keep Green's home/road splits in mind when making decisions about which WR1 to pay for in daily. Obviously, Green is one of the league's most talented wide receivers, so I don't recommend ever benching him in redraft formats. You may want to temper your expectations a bit when he takes the field in Paul Brown Stadium, though.
Brandon Marshall (102.47 reception NEP, Ranked 5th of 79 Qualifying Wide Receivers)
Alshon Jeffery has been getting all the hype lately, and rightfully so. The kid is a monster. But Brandon Marshall is no slouch either, and I don't think Jeffery's emergence hurts Marshall nearly as much as some may think.
Marshall was already a fantasy beast last season, before Mark Trestman uttered a single whisper in Chicago. Marshall still ranks within the top seven in both standard and PPR scoring this season as well, along with Jeffery. The main reason both are able to put up WR1 production is because the Bears run a very concentrated offense, with most plays targeted at Marshall, Jeffery, or Matt Forte.
Why is the Bears' ball distribution so concentrated? That is where Trestman comes in. His offense calls for six- or seven-man protection schemes on nearly every play. This naturally means there are only three or four receivers at most running routes at any given time, rather than the usual four our five that most teams employ. Marshall has ample time to come open and is the primary target or at worst the secondary target on the majority of plays.
Jeffery's emergence helps Marshall because now coverage won't focus strictly on him. Now that Alshon can hold his own on the outside, Marshall has been able to move to the slot, where he runs around 40 percent of his routes and poses serious matchup issues.
This week, Marshall faces the Browns defense and their talented cornerback, Joe Haden. Whereas in the past, Marshall would have probably seen a good dose of Haden's coverage, it is likely that Jeffery will actually command most of the attention from the stud corner. Marshall will get to do battle with the diminutive Buster Skrine and Leon McFadden, who are no match for him in size nor skill.
Jeffery's emergence especially helps Marshall in the red zone. Since it's now arguable who poses more of a threat, Marshall will not always see a team's primary cornerback down in close, where teams usually play single coverage.
Another factor working in Marshall's favor is that it looks like Jay Cutler will reclaim his starting job. It's no secret that the two have a chemistry, and their efficiency may be at an all-time high with a Jeffery commanding more attention than ever on the opposite side.
Continue to treat Marshall as an elite WR1 this week and in his next two mouth-watering tilts with the Eagles and Packers.
Brandon Myers (0.59 Reception NEP/Target, Ranked 15th of 22 Qualifying Tight Ends)
I know there are some desperate tight end streamers (or former Rob Gronkowski owners) out there who saw that Brandon Myers has a touchdown in three straight games, plugging him into their Week 15 lineups. In the words of Drake: don't do it, please don't do it.
Myers has been less effective in terms of NEP than guys like the lumbering Scott Chandler and senior citizen Dallas Clark. I understand that Myers has caught touchdowns in three straight games, but keep in mind the Giants only average 1.23 touchdown passes per game this year. Those aren't great odds.
Myers recent streak may be a product of matchups. He has faced the Cowboys, Redskins, and Chargers in his past three games, and they all rank in the bottom-half of the NFL in terms of fantasy points allowed to tight ends, adjusted for strength of schedule (SOS).
This week, Myers faces the Seahawks defense, who rank first in the NFL in Defensive Passing NEP, and fourth in the NFL in fantasy points allowed to tight ends (SOS adjusted). Next week, he squares off against the Lions, who rank 22nd in the NFL in Defensive Passing NEP, but are the sixth stingiest in fantasy points allowed to tight ends and mostly struggle on the perimeter with wide receivers.
Myers has had a recent hot stretch, but do not forget that be basically disappeared from the offense for two months and frequently draws the ire of coach Tom Coughlin due to his subpar blocking. We have him pegged as the 22nd-best tight end for the rest of the season. Aim higher during the fantasy playoffs.
EJ Manuel (-0.15 Passing NEP/Attempt, Ranked 41st of 44 Qualifying Quarterbacks)
E.J. Manuel always seems to be a tempting quarterback streamer because of his supposed built-in rushing upside, but that is not really the case. In nine games, he's only averaged 16.6 rushing yards per game, and has only scored once on the ground all season. He's only gone above 20 rushing yards three times and averages 3.5 yards per rush. His NEP/Rush is only 21st among quarterbacks, which leaves much to be desired.
Since Manuel has not been very effective as rusher, his dismal passing effectiveness becomes magnified. Manuel has thrown for under 200 yards five times in nine games, and has only two games with more than one touchdown.
Most young quarterbacks struggle against the blitz, but are able to have success when they get time in the pocket. Not Manuel. He has thrown seven of his nine picks and taken 20 of his 24 sacks when facing normal pressure. Defenses can sit back and let Manuel make mistakes. He struggles both with progressions and with ball placement alike.
Manuel also has lacked big-play upside in the passing game. He has struggled with taking advantage of the Bills speedy receiving threats Marquise Goodwin, T.J.Graham, and Robert Woods, with his long pass on the season going for only 45 yards.
Perhaps Manuel will improve with another offseason, but right now, his upside seems very low, even in a good matchup with the Jaguars. We have him ranked as the 25th-best quarterback for the rest of the season.