Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon is coming off his best season as a pro. But now, entering his 2014 campaign, he's got a new offense, a new head coach and a new teammate at wide receiver.
Two things seem to be working against Garcon's fantasy value in 2014. The Shanahans are gone, and new head coach Jay Gruden has plans for newly acquired Desean Jackson to play the AJ Green role in Gruden's Bengals' offense in his offense.
At first glance, the chips are stacked against Garcon repeating his 2013 success again this year. So how should you value Garcon heading into your fantasy drafts? Let's take a look through the lens of our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics and find out where you should target the talented Washington receiver.
Garcon By the Numbers
Garcon's career as a whole has been somewhat erratic. He started his rookie campaign with just four catches, and he only tallied 45 catches in 10 games during the 2012 season, where he was hampered by a nagging foot injury. From 2009 to 2011, he played with a pretty good quarterback (that Peyton Manning guy) in Indianapolis, but his highest reception total in a single season prior to last year came in 2011, when Manning was sidelined.
But in 2013, Garcon put up a career-best stat line while playing on a pretty poor team. He led the NFL in targets (182) and receptions (113) while playing on the Redskins 26th-ranked passing offense according to our Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points metric, which looks at an offense's passing efficiency when adjusted for strength of schedule. The Redskins -31.93 mark was their worst production in the category since 2004.
Garcon ranked 13th in the NFL in Reception NEP last year, a measure of the number of points a player adds for his team on catches only. His 109.62 score ranked just fractions behind teammate Desean Jackson's 109.75 total while in Philadelphia. Because Reception NEP is a cumulative metric, you would hope Garcon ranked higher given he led the league in targets. In essence, he was pretty inefficient as a pass-catcher, clearly making noise due to volume. Among the top-25 wide receivers in Reception NEP last year, only Andre Johnson was worse on a per target basis.
Volume was a major factor for Garcon last year. Historically, wide receivers playing his role in Shanahan offenses have received a high volume of targets, too. Broncos' great Rod Smith had a 113 reception season in 2001 under Shanahan. More recently, Brandon Marshall and even Andre Johnson in the Kyle Shanahan-led Texans offense have put up huge seasons.
Now with Jay Gruden leading the charge, what should we expect?
Garcon in Gruden's Offense
On paper, things looks to be different for the Redskins in 2014. DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts and Jordan Reed form a very impressive core group of receiving options to pair with Garcon. While that's a good thing for the Redskins on the field, all three of those players will take targets and receptions away from Garcon in 2014, limiting his fantasy upside.
New Redskins head coach Jay Gruden is known for his offensive expertise, especially in the passing game. Over the past three seasons as Bengals offensive coordinator, he was able to squeeze a top five fantasy season out of Andy Dalton and help make AJ Green a star in the NFL.
Gruden clearly has a vision for his offense in Washington, too. The Washington Post anticipates that Desean Jackson would be the top target in the offense as the 'Z' receiver. Looking at the target distribution for wide receivers playing under Gruden in Cincinnati is valuable when assessing Garcon's value for 2014.
If you're not familiar with X's and O's in the NFL, the 'X' wide receiver is the split end. He is the widest receiver away from the tight end. The X receiver typically lines up on the line of scrimmage, and can't go in motion. The X receiver better have the speed to get down the sideline, have the quickness to get away from the corner and better be good at getting off press coverage. Although Garcon played the 'X' role under the Shanahan's and will likely continue to do so this season, the target distribution is vastly different in the Gruden offense.
The 'Z' receiver, or 'flanker', typically lines up on the opposite side of the split end. In most formations, he lines up off the line of scrimmage a few yards. This enables the tight end to be eligible. The Z receiver can be moved all over the field to create mismatches and get a free release at the line of scrimmage. For our purposes and fantasy purposes, the 'Z' is typically the first option in quarterback read progression in Gruden's offense.
Looking at the production of the 'Z' (AJ Green) compared to the second-leading receiver (Andrew Hawkins, Marvin Jones, Jerome Simpson) over the past three seasons in Cincinnati may give us some insight at how the receivers will be used in Washington this season.
In Green's rookie year, he played 15 games and received only 10 more targets than Jerome Simpson. This could be very similar to the type of split we see between Garcon and Jackson this year.
In 2012, there was a much more lopsided target distribution between the 'Z' and everyone else. Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu combined to play the 'X' in 2012, and only combined for 34 receptions. Green more than doubled slot receiver Andrew Hawkins in targets and receptions. Not likely at all that this is the type of split we see in Washington this year.
Finally, 2013 saw a very similar pattern to 2012 where Green far outpaced Jones in targets (100 more), receptions and yardage. Surely Gruden will spread the targets more evenly between Garcon and Jackson, but the pattern should be noted as you sort out who to draft in the Washington receiving corps.
Garcon's Value in 2014
All of the stats and metrics can only give us clues into the target distribution and expected production for Garcon in the new Washington offense this season.
According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Pierre Garcon is being selected as the 13th receiver off the board at pick 4.02. Being drafted just outside of WR1 territory, Garcon is being valued heavily (I say, too heavily) based on his production last season - production that was mostly gained through volume. Our projections here at numberFire peg Garcon as the 18th-ranked receiver for the 2014 season.
If you snag Garcon as your WR1, be aware that he may not do what he did a season ago.