Is Brandon Marshall Finished?
It's no mystery that wide receiver Brandon Marshall disappointed in a major way last season -- and he's now doing the same through the first three games of 2017. Following a lackluster 2016 with the New York Jets, Marshall signed with the New York Giants this offseason, in hopes of resurrecting his career with the help of quarterback Eli Manning.
But through three weeks, Marshall has only reeled in 10 of his 20 targets for 93 yards receiving. Total. Showing little to no chemistry with Manning, it's fair to wonder if the 33-year-old Marshall is simply far beyond his prime at this point.
It would be easy to blame Marshall's struggles in 2016 on the Jets' quarterback, journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had a six-interception game at one point last year. And, according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, this popular narrative may have been correct.
Looking at Reception NEP per target, Marshall ranked near the bottom of the league. Among 23 wide receivers to earn at least 115 targets, Marshall ranked 19th, with a Reception NEP per target of 0.58 (league average in 2016 was 0.66). That mark is cringeworthy, but Marshall ranked significantly higher in our Reception Success Rate (percentage of receptions that contribute to a positive NEP) metric, finishing 7th among that same group of receivers, with a 91.67% Success Rate (league average was 83.91%). That kind of discrepancy could point to uncatchable targets from Fitzpatrick.
But through the first three weeks of 2017, Marshall has experienced similar struggles. Among the 28 wide receivers with at least 20 targets this season, Marshall ranks 25th in Reception NEP per target. To compound this inefficiency, Marshall ranks a mere 20th of those 28 in terms of Reception Success Rate, at 80%.
While the data from 2016 appeared to be inconclusive, Marshall has again looked bad to begin 2017.
Brandon Marshall with an unacceptable drop. #NYG pic.twitter.com/m3qngwjl2j
— Top10PickSZN Ethan (@EthanGSN) September 19, 2017
Is Eli Manning to Blame?
Quarterback play, logically, influences receiver production. So, a common narrative this offseason for Marshall was that he'd simply suffered from incompetent quarterback play in 2016, and that joining the G-Men would link him up with a better quarterback, alleviating his issues from last year.
Manning hasn't been sharp to start 2017, but he hasn't been nearly as bad as Fitzpatrick was in 2016. Among the 19 NFL quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs so far in 2017, Manning ranks 12th in Passing NEP per drop back with 0.07, which is actually league average among all passers through three weeks. Likewise, Manning has shown to be competent, at least, from a Passing Success Rate standpoint -- he ranks fifth among qualified passers with a Passing Success Rate of 48.80%.
For the second straight season, Marshall has struggled -- both based on our in-house metrics and from a box score standpoint. First thought to be the result of poor quarterback play, Eli's average performance tilts the cause of Marshall's inefficiencies more towards, well, Marshall himself.
While there is some slight optimism brewing after an 8-catch, 66-yard performance in Week 3, Marshall appears to be well past his prime, when he was turning in seasons of 100-plus receptions, 1,000-plus yards and 10-plus touchdowns -- as recently as 2015 with the Jets he put together a 109-catch, 1,502-yard, 14-score campaign.
Now, Marshall ranks in the bottom half of the league in Reception NEP per target and Reception Success Rate, among qualified receivers. Here are our rest-of-the-season projections for Marshall, for Weeks 4 through 17:
If you're looking for a fantasy football angle here, the timing is ripe for a sell-high trade coming off his season-best performance, if you can somehow convince another owner to take him based on his name brand reputation. Facing some of the league's more formidable pass defenses per our schedule-adjusted per-play metrics -- the Los Angeles Rams, Denver Broncos, and Seattle Seahawks -- this small trade window may close in the following weeks, by which time Marshall will have found a home in your league's free agency pool, if he hasn't already.