What Can We Expect From Martavis Bryant in Fantasy Football?
It's common for people to take certain things in life for granted, and only fully appreciating them when they're gone. Unfortunately, some don't appreciate what they've missed, even after it returns.
The Incredible Rookie Year
The historic 2014 rookie wide receiver class is no secret -- while rookie pass catchers notoriously struggle, this particular group had no such issues. Just look at the 8 touchdowns Jordan Matthews scored that year, or the 12-touchdown campaign from Mike Evans. If that's not enough, let's not forget about the ridiculous stretch of games put together by Odell Beckham.
With so many talented receivers in a loaded draft class, Bryant -- a fourth-round pick -- was probably ineffective compared to his peers, right? Maybe he barely played and was largely inefficient when he did see the field.
Bryant managed to post the highest Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target of any first-year receiver (0.94). If you're unfamiliar with NEP, it's a numberFire metric that shows how many expected points are lost or gained on a play. Since a nine-yard completion on 3rd and 10 is different from that same play happening on 3rd and 8, NEP quantifies the difference. You can read more about NEP in our glossary.
Bryant's Reception NEP per target mark led one of the best rookie receiver classes in recent memory, which just so happened to feature quite possibly the single greatest stretch of dominance by a first-year receiver thanks to Beckham. But wait, it gets better.
That 0.94 mark was the fifth highest among all wide receivers -- not just rookies -- with at least 20 receptions. So, Bryant posted a better Reception NEP per target than perennial studs like Jordy Nelson, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, and Antonio Brown. As a rookie.
His traditional stats weren't too shabby, either -- after all, he scored a ridiculous 8 touchdowns on just 49 targets. And it wasn't like he was just catching one-yard screens for easy scores. He posted an equally jaw-dropping 11.20 yards per target.
Translating Efficiency Into Fantasy Points
We've already seen how efficient Bryant can be with his targets, but when it comes to fantasy football, catches, yards, and touchdowns matter the most. However, the great thing is that he doesn't need to see much more volume than he already has in order to produce a solid floor.
Including the playoffs, Bryant has 69 receptions, 1,044 yards, and 8 touchdowns in his last 16 games played. If we add in his production on the ground (he accumulated 10 rushing attempts during this span), he has 1,174 total yards from scrimmage and 9 touchdowns, which would translate to 240.54 PPR (points per reception) fantasy points. That would've been good for WR12 status last year had he played.
So, Bryant has already shown the ability to be a WR1.
It's not like he coasted off an easy schedule over this stretch, either. This sample size included two games against the Denver Broncos, four against the Cincinnati Bengals, two against the Kansas City Chiefs, and one on the road against the Seattle Seahawks.
If we want to single out his performance in the playoffs against the Broncos, his 194 yards from scrimmage (154 receiving and 40 rushing) was the most Denver allowed to a wide receiver during the entire 2015 season. Considering how dominant this unit was -- they had the best defense in football, per our metrics -- that's awfully impressive.
Value Moving Forward
Despite how good he's been in limited playing time, there are still concerns with regard to Bryant. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is confident his young receiver can catch back up quickly, but he did miss all of the 2016 season because of suspension. And while he's been partially reinstated, he's still not able to participate in team practices or games until he's fully reinstated.
That's part of the reason why he's only the 43rd wide receiver off the board in 12-team PPR leagues and not finding a home until the middle of the fourth round, according to FantasyFootballCalculator.
The one thing missing from Bryant's career to this point is opportunity, and as long as he can keep himself out of trouble, he should see plenty of that with the Steelers this year. Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell will each get their fair share of targets, but there should be little competition outside of that on this offense.
Sammie Coates showed flashes last year, but struggled with consistency and staying healthy. Juju Smith-Schuster is another exciting prospect, but as a 20-year-old rookie that's lower on the depth chart, it could be difficult for him to get on the field a lot if everyone ahead of him doesn't go anywhere. Even without Bryant in the fold last year, Eli Rogers only collected 66 targets, and with Ladarius Green no longer around, Jesse James is left at tight end.
So, the opportunity for Bryant to collect a ton of targets on a solid passing offense is there. Pittsburgh's 596 passing attempts last year was one of the 10 highest numbers in the league, and their 2017 schedule appears to play to their strengths -- they have one of the easiest schedules in terms of opposing pass defenses they'll face. That's already encouraging, and when they can add in an impact player of Bryant's caliber back into the fold, it can only help their confidence moving forward.
Our metrics currently project him to pull in 56 passes for 799 yards and 5.21 touchdowns. He has a chance to outperform those numbers if he can push 120 targets -- in that 16-game sample we discussed above, Bryant collected a total of 123 targets. So, it's not out of his range of possibilities, and now that he's entering his age-25 season, he's still ascending as a player.
He may have been lost to us in 2016 because of that suspension, but just because Martavis Bryant is due to return doesn't mean we can't start appreciating his potential now.