Fantasy Football: Corey Davis Is an Intriguing Buy-Low Option for 2018
For those of you playing in dynasty fantasy football leagues, the offseason isn't exactly a break -- it's a great time for trades and other transactions. This allows owners the chance to jump on players that can be perceived as buy-low opportunities. One player that could fall into that category is Tennessee Titans wide receiver Corey Davis.
Based off Average Draft Position (ADP) data from Fantasy Football Calculator, Davis was being taken as the third player overall behind Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey in 2017 rookie drafts. He also had an ADP of 24.2 in startup dynasty drafts, meaning he was being taken at the end of the second round before even playing a snap in the NFL. There was reason to be excited about his ability after looking at his college production, though.
Coming out of a small school like Western Michigan, Davis was a bit of an enigma. Was this a player who feasted on lesser talent by posting big-time production or was he a legit blue chip prospect?
Using two metrics such as Breakout Age and College Dominator from PlayerProfiler.com; we get a good glimpse of the young wideout's elite talent. Breakout Age represents the age when a wide receiver first achieved a Dominator Rating over 20 percent, which is the percentage of a receiver's total team receiving yards and receiving touchdowns while in college.
A Tough Rookie Season
Davis' unfortunate first NFL campaign was difficult from the beginning. An ankle injury limited his pre-combine and offseason camp work, and once he finally showed up to camp, he was hampered by a hamstring strain that he'd eventually re-injure during the year, causing him to miss multiple games.
The actual on-field production wasn't that great, either -- Davis finished with 34 receptions on 65 targets for 375 yards. It didn't look much better when we dig into the advanced stats, as he was one of the least efficient wide receivers in football. We can see how bad he was based off numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP), which uses historical down-and-distance data to determine what is expected of a player on each individual play.
NEP isn't a fantasy football metric, but it does tell us whether or not a player is #GoodAtFootball. Davis posted a -0.21 Target NEP per target in 2017, making him disappointingly inefficient on a per-target basis.
AirYards -- the total number of yards thrown toward a receiver on a play in which the receiver is targeted -- shows Tennessee had a fairly healthy game plan for Davis. His Average Depth of Target (aDOT) was also respectable and showed he wasn't simply a line-of-scrimmage option. PlayerProfiler tracked Target Separation, which is the average yards of separation distance from the closest defensive back when the pass target arrives. Davis posted a healthy 1.37-yard separation, good for 68th overall in the league.
The below table shows Davis' weekly production in various metrics, such as AirYards, aDOT, and Target NEP per target.
|Week||Opponent||AirYards||RecYards||Targets||Rec Yards||aDOT||Target NEP/T|
If all or most of the Titans' wide receivers posted a negative Target NEP per target, we could then focus on who was throwing them the ball as a source to this problem. Even with Marcus Mariota underperforming in 2017, Eric Decker (0.27 Target NEP per target) and Rishard Matthews (0.34 Target NEP per target) were efficient with the volume they received.
What kind of Target NEP per target number should we be looking for from a top fantasy wide receiver? After looking at how the top-24 finishers at wide receiver in PPR leagues last year, their average Target NEP per target was 0.35. So, Matthews and Decker were both within striking distance of that number.
If Davis can use his offseason to fully heal that hamstring and get some work with Mariota under his belt, he could eventually receive more volume and increase his efficiency.
The Titans were one of the NFL's worst teams last season with regard to pass attempts, while also ranking 25th in pass play percentage. That led to a low volume of opportunities for all receivers, and when we couple that with Mariota's disappointing performance, there was very little chance for Davis to shine. But change is definitely on the horizon -- Tennessee's offense will look very different than the previous regime's "Exotic Smashmouth" style. And since Decker only signed a one-year deal, he may not return, potentially opening up more targets for Davis.
Matt LaFleur, who learned under great offensive minds like Mike Shanahan, Gary Kubiak, and Kyle Shanahan as quarterback coach on the Washington Redskins and Atlanta Falcons, will take over the offensive play-calling as part of new head coach Mike Vrabel's coaching staff. His most recent experience should also paint a more optimistic picture, spending this past season as the offensive coordinator under Sean McVay on the Los Angeles Rams.
Dynasty owners likely spent high draft capital on Davis heading into 2017. He's not going to be a bargain, but those who expect performance out of their rookies more along the lines of the 2014 NFL Draft class might be persuaded to move on. With a new offense, along with potentially more volume and opportunity headed his way in 2018 (and hopefully, some health), Davis could be in line for a solid bounce-back performance.