DeVante Parker's Fantasy Football Ceiling Is Probably Lower Than You'd Like
After all, the franchise drafted the Louisville product 14th overall that year, and Parker's collegiate production was elite.
Parker secured 156 catches in his four-year collegiate career (42 games) and churned out 2,775 yards (17.79 yards per catch) and 33 touchdowns. That type of production put him in the 91st percentile by PlayerProfiler's College Dominator rating.
Oh, and his closest player comps, per our combine database, include Michael Floyd (94.82%), A.J. Green (94.65%), and Sammy Watkins (93.29%). That'll work. New Dolphins' quarterback Jay Cutler recently called Parker a faster version of Alshon Jeffery. That also will work.
The buzz around Parker has ebbed and flowed through his foot and hamstring injuries, but entering 2017, his average draft position (ADP) puts him firmly in the seventh round (7.07) in 12-team PPR leagues, his highest draft cost ever, as the WR35.
Is this the year Parker puts it all together? If so, does it really matter in fantasy football?
How Good Has Parker Been?
Through two years, Parker has played in 30 games for Miami and produced 82 catches on 137 targets for 1,238 yards and 7 touchdowns.
By our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which indicates how many points a player added to his team's expected output, Parker has already shown us what he can do at the NFL level.
In his rookie year of 2015, Parker hauled in 26 of 50 targets for 494 yards and 3 touchdowns. In terms of Reception NEP, Parker added 1.89 expected points on a per-catch basis. That ranked first among the 96 wide receivers who caught at least 25 passes that year.
Even with nearly half of his targets falling incomplete, Parker was efficient enough that his 0.98 Reception NEP per target ranked fourth among 86 receivers with at least 50 targets. Only Watkins (1.05), Doug Baldwin (1.01), and Tyler Lockett (1.00) finished ahead of him.
In 2016, things took a step back as his role grew and he saw 88 targets. Parker posted 1.01 Reception NEP per catch, ranking 49th among 68 players with at least 75 targets in 2016. Per target, Parker's 0.64 Reception NEP ranked 44th.
Can He Stay Healthy?
Though Parker has missed only two of 32 possible games in his career to date, he has been listed as questionable on the injury report quite a bit. In 2016, his name was on the list for either a hamstring or back injury in 6 of his 15 games.
His efficiency improved in the weeks he wasn't on the injury report, but the lack of touchdowns made the fantasy impact minimal.
Even at 11.01 PPR points per game, Parker would've ranked as the WR45 in PPR points per game in 2016. But, hey, you aren't drafting him with the hope that he clings to six targets per game, right?
So will the volume be there?
Or Will Miami Be Too Slow?
Last year, the Los Angeles Rams 960 offensive plays ranked 31st in the NFL. I'm sure you can guess which team ran fewer plays. It was the Dolphins, way down at 911. Eek.
If that seems significantly low and outlier-ish, that's because it is. Since 2000, only six teams ran fewer offensive plays than Miami did last year. That was by design, too. The Dolphins ranked 31st in FootballOutsiders' situation-neutral pace and 32nd in seconds per play.
In 2015, the Bears, for whom Miami head coach Adam Gase was the offensive coordinator, did run 1,025 plays (18th-most on the season), but they ranked 27th in situation-neutral pace that season.
What does all this mean? Well, we project Parker to see 109 targets in 2017, about 20.50% of the team's expected attempts. That's in line with what he saw last year (19.68%). Since and including 2009, 24 receivers finished as the WR24 or better in PPR formats on 109 or fewer targets, 12.50% of the 192 receivers to do it.
Of those 24, 18 scored at least 8 touchdowns, and more than half (13) scored at least 9 times. Parker has maxed out at four touchdowns in his career so far.
Cutler has never thrown more than 28 touchdowns in a season, yet he has supported double-digit touchdown scorers from 2012 through 2014 (Brandon Marshall caught 11 and 12 of Cutler's 19 touchdowns in 2012 and 2013, respectively, and Jeffery caught 10 of his 28 in 2014).
It's not reasonable Parker hits 8-plus scores, but history suggests he'll need to be the go-to option for Cutler and convert on what could be limited chances relative to other wideouts.
Plus, it's entirely understandable to think that Parker gets a bigger piece of the pie that we project, especially if Cutler really does make him his new Jeffery. Jeffery drew nearly 32% of Cutler's targets in 2015. That would've led the league in 2016, however, and that's pretty optimistic for a third-year player with injury concerns who plays on 2016's sixth-most run-heavy team (by pass-to-run ratio).
For what it's worth, Jarvis Landry also commanded a 27.46% market share in 2016, a top-five rate, and drew 131 targets last season. Amari Cooper of the Oakland Raiders also garnered 131 targets in 2016, just a hair above 22% of Oakland's attempts.
Despite the talent and potential rapport with Cutler, you can really see the impact of Miami's low-volume offense creeping into Parker's chance at legitimate, weekly, consistent fantasy relevance.
Can He Live Up to the Hype?
It's a fair -- and important -- question. Parker's ADP puts him as the WR35, amidst a long list of hard-to-peg wideouts. If you're looking for a low-end WR3 or flex, Parker certainly fits that bill. He's our WR40 in PPR formats and the WR44 in standard setups.
Of course, you can get a low-end third receiver or flex option later than the seventh round, and Parker's hype might catapult him up the draft boards by the time you actually draft. The real question is what Parker's ceiling can be.
According to our confidence intervals, which show a range of outcomes rather than a static fantasy projection, Parker is expected to max out at around 131 standard fantasy points, around the WR26 when compared to the median projections for all other receivers.
Parker is a great athlete, and he's already developing chemistry with Cutler, but unless the Dolphins up the passing volume significantly, his fantasy upside is going to be significantly capped, given his offense and competition for touches.