What Is the Fantasy Football Impact of Ryan Grant and John Brown Signing With Baltimore?
Editor's Note: After this story was published, news broke that Ryan Grant failed his physical, which voids his contract with the Ravens.
In dire need of some help in their pass-catching corps, the Baltimore Ravens added two wide receivers in the early hours of free agency.
Former Arizona Cardinals wideout John Brown was brought in on a one-year, $5-million deal, and he was joined by Ryan Grant, formerly of Washington, who signed a $29-million ($14.5 million guaranteed) pact over four years.
What do these moves mean for the Ravens moving forward, and what are the fantasy implications?
Baltimore Needed Help
The Ravens' wideouts were pretty awful in 2017.
To assess just how bad they were, we'll turn to our in-house Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. NEP is a metric that describes the contribution a play (or player) makes to their team’s chances of scoring. By adding down-and-distance value to the box score production, we can see how each play influences the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.
To highlight the play of the Ravens' receivers, we can specifically focus on Target NEP per target, seeing how each receiver performed in comparison to his teammates. We'll also use Reception Success Rate, which is the percentage of catches that positively impacted NEP.
For context, the league average for Target NEP per target has been between 0.20 and 0.29 in each of the last 14 seasons, and the average Reception Success Rate across the past four years has been roughly 84.00%.
|Player||Targets||Receptions||Target NEP/Target||Successes||Success Rate|
Mike Wallace was the best of a bad bunch. In terms of Target NEP per target, his 0.34 clip was good for 23rd out of the 60 wide receivers to have seen at least 70 targets last season. That's not bad, but Wallace is currently a free agent.
Jeremy Maclin was the only other Baltimore receiver with a meaningful sample size last year, and he turned in a pretty woeful campaign. Only six qualifiers posted a lower Target-NEP-per-target mark than his 0.03 clip, and he is now a free agent after the Ravens released him earlier this week.
One also cannot overlook the historically bad performance of Breshad Perriman. It's not the largest sample size, but his -0.65 Target NEP per target was the second-worst single-season mark since 2000 from any wide receiver with at least 30 targets in a season.
So, yeah, the Ravens need receiver help as badly as anyone in the NFL.
It's not all on the wideouts, of course, as Joe Flacco wasn't very good last year. Among passers with at least 300 drop backs, the only ones who finished the season with a lower Passing NEP per drop back than Flacco were Mitchell Trubisky, Trevor Siemian, Brett Hundley, and DeShone Kizer. That's not great company.
The Calvary Is Coming
While one could be forgiven for thinking that just about anyone could be better than the wide receivers the Ravens had in 2017, expectations should be tempered with regards Brown and Grant -- especially with Brown.
In 2015, Brown had 65 receptions for 1,003 yards and 7 touchdowns and posted a well-above-average 0.84 Reception NEP per target. His 0.48 Target NEP per target that season was the seventh-highest mark among the 32 wide receivers targeted at least 100 times. He flashed big-time ability as a guy who could make splash plays.
Since then, he has been beset by soft-tissue injuries linked to his sickle cell trait. He has just 60 receptions in the last two seasons, totaling 816 yards and 5 touchdowns. In 2017, 85 wide receivers saw at least 50 targets (Brown had 55), and only 9 had a lower Target NEP per target mark than Brown’s rate of -0.04.
Grant, by contrast, experienced a very slow start to his NFL career, but he came on last season. He was a fifth-round pick in 2014, and despite playing in every game in his first three seasons, he started only eight. He had just 39 receptions for 412 yards and 2 touchdowns over those three campaigns.
His usage and production suddenly took a big step forward in 2017. Starting seven games, Grant hauled in 45 of his 65 targets for 573 yards and 4 touchdowns, posting a career-high 12.7 yards per reception. He was one of 69 wide receivers targeted at least 65 times, and among them, he had the 20th-best Target NEP per target at a clip 0.41. That is vastly better than what anyone on the Ravens did last season, but while Grant is likely Baltimore's top wideout as of now, at 6'0", 204 pounds, he's not a prototypical number-one receiver.
Both of these new Ravens carry a significant risk with them.
Brown, a player who is very reliant on his speed, has spent two seasons as a shadow of the player he once was. It will be hard for the Ravens to expect him to remain healthy for a full season, and his contract is one that indicates they are not totally sold on an impending bounceback. But in terms of real-world football, $5 million for one year is very much a worthwhile gamble for a receiver-needy squad.
Grant’s risk comes in the danger of recency bias and rewarding outlier seasons. Maybe Grant is a slow bloomer who is going to be a good producer in Baltimore. But it is just as likely that his numbers came about as a result of a perfect storm -- read: Terrelle Pryor's horrible year and another injury-filled season from Jordan Reed opened the door for increased opportunity -- and he will never come close to matching that kind of output. With that said, depending on what the Ravens do at receiver the rest of this offseason, the opportunity could be there for Grant to be a useful fantasy wideout.
Until we see -- or get good reports of -- sustained health from Brown, he's probably best suited as a late-round dart throw in best-ball leagues. If things are looking up in terms of his health as we approach the 2018 season, maybe he'll be worth a late-round pick in deep season-long leagues.
As for Grant, he's likely a low-ceiling option whose appeal is almost wholly based on Baltimore having so few other decent pass-game options. If the Ravens take a wideout early in the draft, something they may do, or continue adding receivers in free agency, it'll ding Grant's odds of seeing big-time volume, which is likely what he needs to be a useable fantasy player in 2018.