Should You Be Scared of Kenny Golladay in Fantasy Football?
Talent is very rarely sufficient in of itself to ensure a player is productive in fantasy football. While it certainly helps if a player can play the game at an adequately high level, more often than not, a marriage between talent and opportunity is required for a player to get on our radar.
As a result of this, pass catchers on run-first offenses are often seen as somewhat unattractive options.
However, in the case of Kenny Golladay of the Detroit Lions, his expected low number of opportunities (in comparison with other NFL wide receivers) is not reason enough for people to write him off heading into 2019. In fact, his current cost of WR18 -- per average draft position (ADP) info from MFL -- could make him something of a steal.
Good But Not Great
Golladay posted his first 1,000-yard season in 2018, totaling 70 receptions and 1,063 yards along with five touchdowns. The Lions attempted the 10th-most pass plays in the NFL last year, and Golladay's 7.9 targets per game were the 16th-most among all wide receivers.
He managed to finish as the WR22 in PPR scoring thanks to something of a late-season surge. Between Week 1 and Week 9, Golladay commanded a 17% share of the Lions' targets and posted the 29th-most PPR points at his position. From Week 10 on, his share of the looks went up to a whopping 26%, and Golladay was the WR18 in that span.
Why are these periods significant? Well, in the first stage, Golladay was competing for targets with Marvin Jones and Golden Tate. Tate was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles prior to Week 10, and Jones played his last game of the campaign in Week 10. As a result Golladay began to catch the eye of Matthew Stafford more frequently. While his opportunity increased without Tate and Jones in the lineup -- as you'd expect -- his output remained fairly consistent.
|Stat||Weeks 1-9||Weeks 10-17|
|Targets Per Game||6.3||9.2|
|Receptions Per Game||4.3||5|
|Receiving Yards Per Game||68.1||73.2|
|Receiving TDs Per Game||0.4||0.25|
|PPR Points Per Game||13.67||13.93|
Ideally, Golladay's bottom-line production would've risen as his target count grew. That didn't happen. However, the 2019 season promises to be quite different.
Establishing the Run
The Lions have made it abundantly clear that they want to be a running team in 2019. After all, running and stopping the run are two of the three most important factors in head coach's Matt Patricia's far-from-forward-thinking mentality in 2019. However, this is what they want to be, and to assist them in this regard, they hired former Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to run their offense after letting go of Jim-Bob Cooter.
In 12 seasons as an NFL play-caller, Bevell's offenses have operated at a pass-to-run ratio in excess of 1.50 only once while finishing with a mark under 1.00 five times. Even back in 2009, with the legendary Brett Favre in his final productive season, the Vikings pass-to-run ratio was a mere 1.27.
Bevell has been somewhat blessed in the fact that for large periods of his career, he has been able to call upon running backs like Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch. But there is no hiding from the fact that if you want to pound the rock as an organization, Bevell's name is near the top of your wishlist to be running your offense.
Spreading It Around
Further reasons to be downcast regarding Golladay is Bevell's reluctance to fully feature one dominant pass catcher in his offenses over the years. Only one wide receiver has commanded a target share in excess of 21% on a team run by Bevell, and ironically, that was the aforementioned Tate back in 2013.
Doug Baldwin led the Seahawks in terms of target share five times between 2011 and 2017, but he never saw more than a 20.5% share of the team targets in any season. Baldwin made more than 80 catches in a season just once, and that came in 2016, when he recorded 94 catches as the Seahawks went positively bonkers in filling the air with footballs, with a pass-to-run ratio of 1.51.
Golladay is the likely favorite to lead the Lions in terms of targets and target share this fall (we project him to have roughly 20 more catches than Jones). This is especially likely to occur if Jones is moved on, which a recent report suggested might happen sooner rather than later. But even if we assume Jones is in the fold and Golladay sees the same 22.3% share of the targets he commanded in the games in which he played last season, that slice of the pie might not be the same size if the pie itself is smaller as a result of a run-based attack.
There is also the not-so-slight issue of the Lions strength of schedule in 2019. According to Sharp Football, the Lions will face the sixth-hardest schedule in terms of pass defenses in the coming season. You could be forgiven for thinking all hope was lost when it comes to Golladay.
But here is the upside -- despite finishing outside the upper-echelons of wide receivers in terms of counting stats last season, Golladay was quietly one of the more efficient on a per-play basis, according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric.
Of the 28 wide receivers to see at least 100 targets last season, Golladay was 12th in Target NEP per target, at a mark of 0.48. He was even more efficient when he got the ball in his hands, with a Reception NEP per target of 0.84. This was fifth-best at the position, putting Golladay in some nice company and showing off his big-play ability.
|Name||Reception NEP per target|
There is hope that Golladay may be able to better this efficiency in 2019 thanks to the health of his quarterback. Targeting Golladay last season brought Stafford a quarterback rating of just 96.1, "good" for the 54th-most productive partnership, according to PlayerProfiler.
It has been revealed, however, that Stafford played through much of the 2018 campaign with a broken back. If Stafford is able to return to full health, then the quality of targets heading the way of Golladay is likely to improve.
It will be exceedingly difficult for Golladay to post consistent WR1 (top-12) production in such a restrictive environment, but at present, it doesn't appear that anyone really expects him to. This is why he is currently going off draft boards after 17 other wide receivers.
However, I firmly believe that his elite efficiency will be able to make up for the relative lack of volume other players at his position will no doubt be commanding in the coming year. And if for some reason the Lions do move on from Jones -- although that admittedly seems unlikely given Jones' modest salary -- Golladay's stock would no doubt see a boost.
While opportunity will always be king, true talent just needs a sniff. Golladay should be a WR2 option in 2019, and if he can remain among the best in terms of contested catch rate -- he was ninth last year, per PlayerProfiler -- his skills as a red-zone weapon should help him meet his current draft cost.