Why Nelson Agholor Will Sustain His Fantasy Football Production in 2018
2017 was a glorious year for Philadelphia sports. In a rare event, all four teams made significant strides. While the 76ers and the Flyers became playoff teams, the Phillies (to this point) have rebounded from their losing ways, and in true underdog fashion, the Philadelphia Eagles won their franchise's first Super Bowl.
Among the Super Bowl champions' many successes, the revitalization of wide receiver Nelson Agholor was an underrated feat by head coach Doug Pederson. Known more by the public for his use of analytics to aid decision-making, Pederson's innovative offensive mind was a huge reason for Agholor's role in the team's offensive success.
In the lead-up to the 2017 season, Pederson realized Agholor wasn't being used properly on the outside and moved him to the slot position. In the slot, the former first-round pick was better able to use his quickness against the interior of defenses, which gave him better matchups against nickel cornerbacks, slower safeties and ill-equipped linebackers.
The impact of Pederson's decision paid dividends as Agholor posted career highs in almost every key statistic, with 62 receptions, 768 receiving yards, 8 touchdowns, and a 65.3% catch rate. His impressive performance was legitimate, as Evan Silva and Josh Hermsmeyer found Agholor to be the fastest Philly wideout by game speed as well as first among them in average yards of separation.
But was 2017 too good to be true, or should we expect more fantasy goodness in 2018?
Is Regression Coming?
As fantasy owners, one of the most important tasks before drafts are to properly evaluate whether a player's increased production is the real deal. In this particular case, it is reasonable to believe this young receiver's talents were finally being utilized properly, but it is pretty mind-boggling to see a 151.4% (using standard scoring) increase from a previous career-high in fantasy points.
Fantasy production is usually driven by touchdowns, which is often an volatile factor and hard to predict . With a drastic increase from two to eight touchdowns, let's take a closer look to see if Agholor's touchdowns were likely outcomes.
Using a study conducted by our own Brandon Gdula, Gdula used numbeFire's unique metric Net Expected Points (NEP) to help project a realistic expectation for touchdowns. NEP is a rating system given to each reception depending on the importance of the situation, such as field location and down-and-distance. By comparing the difference between actual touchdowns and NEP (around 100 NEP = 7.5 touchdowns), Gdula was able to find notable differences between actual touchdowns scored and expected touchdowns.
Using this system, Agholor's total NEP was 76.11 which is an expected touchdown projection of 5.53 compared to the actual production of 8.00. This difference of almost three touchdowns is especially important as touchdowns accounted for 38.18% of Agholor's 2017 fantasy production.
Given how efficient the Eagles' offense was at scoring touchdowns, it is also fair to wonder if this is another legitimate reason why there could be a dropoff in production this season. In 2017, Agholor played 72 less snaps compared to 2016 and still produced 75 more fantasy points, while the offense as a whole scored 14 more touchdowns at a touchdown rate of 26.7% per drive.
Can we expect regression? History would answer in the affirmative.
In a study done by Rich Hribar of Rotoworld, Hribar found that, since 2000, 79% (78 of 98) of teams with a 25% or better touchdown rate per drive saw an average decrease of 4.5% in their rate the next season. Further evidence of regression can be seen as 80% (79 of 98) of the previously mentioned teams scored an average of seven fewer combined receiving and rushing touchdowns the next year.
The bottom line is if the Eagles' offense is likely to score fewer touchdowns in 2018, and that Agholor basically overachieved last season, this will have a negative impact on this wide receiver's fantasy production.
What to Expect in 2018
All is not lost with Agholor's fantasy value, even in the face of touchdown regression. numberFire projects similar production for Agholor in 2018, at 54.15 receptions, 705.78 receiving yards, and 5.87 touchdowns, giving us some indication that the dropoff won't be severe.
At his current average draft position in the 10th round of 12-man leagues (according to Fantasy Football Calculator), Agholor's projected fantasy total of 106.94 represents underrated value. Among wide receivers and running backs expected to be drafted in this round, Agholor's projected total would rank second, representing a safe floor even as the likely third option in the passing offense.
Overall, Agholor's draft position is right where it should be in standard scoring leagues. Agholor may not be able to sustain his breakout performance in 2017, but his current cost still provides savvy fantasy owners with the potential for value.