Fantasy Football: How Much Do Coaches Impact Wide Receiver Usage?
Every year, whether it's the coaching carousal, free agency, or the draft, we are left figuring out how players will fare with new coaches.
This frequently leads to the debate of just how important coaches are to fantasy football production. Where coaches should have their biggest impact is in volume. Efficiency can vary wildly from season to season, but volume is the main predictor of fantasy scoring.
With that in mind, I set out to see just how much coaches impact volume at the wide receiver position.
The main source of volume for receivers comes in the form of targets. Since 2000, roughly 93.5 percent of all full-season PPR production for wide receivers can be explained by targets.
Because of this, I took a look at every wideout since 2000 to see a target change in back to back years. I separated these players into three groups. The first includes players who had the same coach as the year before. The second includes players who stayed on the same team but experienced a coaching change. The third includes players who changed teams and coaches.
In total, there were 1,385 players observed. For each of these players, I tracked their targets per game in each year, as well as their Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per game.
Every situation on the football field has an expected point value, and we can find it for every down, distance, yard line, etc. The difference in expected points from one play to the next is what we call Net Expected Points. You can read more about NEP in our glossary. Reception NEP is simply NEP gained through receptions.
Tracking Reception NEP per game helps us to see not only how a player's volume has changed but also how valuable that volume was with respect to offensive production.
First, I recorded the year-over-year results for each group in both stats based on a linear regression. The first set of numbers represents the r-squared values for each stat, while the second represents the percent of the r-squared maintained from the group of players keeping the same team and coach. Because their coach and team environments remained unchanged, I am using them as the control group for this study.
|Same Team and Coach||0.5381||0.4668||100%||100%|
|Same Team, New Coach||0.4685||0.3657||87%||78%|
|New Team and Coach||0.2568||0.2144||48%||46%|
As you can see, targets per game were overall fairly sticky for the first group, and close to 90 percent of that consistency was maintained for wideouts changing coaches but staying on the same team.
Where we saw massive loss in signal is for players who changed teams. When a receiver changed both teams and coaches, about half of the signal was lost. The results were roughly the same for Reception NEP. This gives me the impression that team construct is more valuable than the coach when predicting volume and, therefore, fantasy production.
Of course, we would be best served not merely looking at all of the receivers together in each group.
Splitting them up by their initial volume allows us to to see if the results accurately depict a trend or if they are skewed by large clumps of players receiving little volume year in and year out. Below is is the change in targets per game and Reception NEP per game taken as a percent of the average for each group (same team, different coach = ST, different team and coach = DT) in Year N.
|Year N Targets/G||Tar/G %|
|Fewer Than 3||80%||97%||79%||74%||135%||90%|
|3 to 5.99||1%||-2%||-13%||1%||7%||-15%|
|6 to 8.99||-5%||-9%||-25%||-8%||-9%||-23%|
|9 or More||-9%||-11%||-21%||-12%||-17%||-22%|
Players who saw fewer than three targets in Year N were completely unpredictable the following year. They don't tell us anything at all about how receiver volume is determined.
However, when we look at the next three groups of players, it is easy to see just how similar volume stability is for players staying on the same team, regardless of a coaching change. Players changing teams saw over double the percent change in volume from the control group at every level. This relationship was slightly weaker -- but still present -- for Reception NEP.
Through the data, it is easy to see that coaches are not the preeminent variable in determining how consistent a receiver's volume is. It appears as though the construction of a given team is what creates paths for volume -- not the desire of the coaches.
This makes sense because the pecking order in talent for a given team should remain unchanged under different regimes. If you are counting on a coaching change to result in big volume boosts for receivers, there is a good chance you will be disappointed.
You'll note that this study did not take a look at how coaching effects player efficiency. While it is certainly possible that better coaches can create more efficient offenses (and, therefore, have more efficient players), it is important to remember that efficiency fluctuates greatly year over year.
Furthermore, volume is a much larger factor in determining fantasy production. As a result, I would recommend fading any coach-based narratives you may see at the wide receiver position.