Justin Hunter Is Your Cheaper Version of Cordarrelle Patterson
Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson are more similar than you think. They both went to the University of Tennessee. They’re both 23 years old (Hunter is older by a little over two months). Hunter and Patterson are both in their second year in the National Football League, and only four picks separated the two players in the 2013 NFL Draft (Patterson went in Round 1, number 29 overall to Minnesota; Hunter went in Round 2, number 34 overall to Tennessee). Both are incredibly physically gifted athletes, too.
But there's one key difference that separates the two in fantasy football: their cost.
According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Cordarrelle Patterson is being drafted in the late-fourth round, while Justin Hunter is going in the 11th round. If the two players are so similar, then why is there such a massive difference in the cost to acquire the two commodities?
Well, not only is Justin Hunter a cheaper version of his ex-University of Tennessee teammate, he may actually be a better NFL wide receiver than Cordarrelle Patterson. Before we delve into our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics, let’s look at Hunter and Patterson from a sheer size and athleticism standpoint.
Comparing Their Combine Numbers
Not only is Justin Hunter taller than Cordarrelle Patterson, but he’s also pretty much just as fast. And he had a better broad jump by two-and-a-half inches.
Before I continue, let me say that both of these players are incredibly talented and absolute physical freaks relative to NFL standards. But they aren’t 100% similar athletes. Simply put: if you’re looking at their combine numbers on the surface, Hunter is a better athlete than Patterson. That’s one check in the “Justin Hunter is a better wide receiver than Cordarrelle Patterson” box.
Comparing Their Rookie Seasons
Now we’ll take a brief look at Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson’s 2013 statistics and see how they stack up side-by-side.
It’s important to keep in mind that, like most rookie receivers, both Hunter and Patterson didn't play a ton in their first season as pros. In fact, Justin Hunter was on the field for the Titans only 36.4% of the time last year. However, his snap count increased in the latter half of the season - from Weeks 9 to 17, Hunter played 50% of offensive snaps (he was inactive Week 15).
Meanwhile, Cordarrelle Patterson’s 2013 snap count was very similar, as he was only on the field 42.1% of the time. Like Hunter, Patterson saw an increased snap count in the second half of the season, seeing 55% of offensive snaps. Both wide receivers figure to be on the field a lot more this season.
So you’re probably thinking to yourself, “How is Justin Hunter *better* than Cordarrelle Patterson when Patterson clearly had more receptions, yards, and scored more total fantasy points?” You also may be thinking, “Well, statistically speaking, Cordarrelle Patterson had a better rookie season than Justin Hunter. That’s why he’s being drafted eight rounds ahead of him.” Both of those statements, at face value, are pretty true. But there’s a larger picture we need to look at before we can properly assess Hunter and Patterson’s 2013 and project who will break out this season. That’s where our Net Expected Points metric comes in.
Comparing Their Advanced Metrics
Our Net Expected Points metric prefers Justin Hunter over Cordarrelle Patterson, and it’s very interesting as to why. Let’s first compare the two:
|Name||Rec||Reception NEP||Targets||Target NEP||Rec NEP per Target|
It’s a bit surprising that Justin Hunter had a higher Reception NEP (39.34) than Cordarrelle Patterson (30.28) given that Reception NEP is a volume-driven metric. Patterson saw 35 more targets than Hunter last year, yet his Reception NEP is lower, which is interesting and noteworthy. But what’s even more notable is how awful Patterson’s Target NEP of -3.79 was. He’s a wide receiver with a negative Target NEP, which isn't something to write home about. It means that majority of the time Cordarrelle Patterson was targeted, something bad happened. Either he was tackled behind the line of scrimmage on a screen-play, or was tackled three yards short of a first down on 3rd down and 8. Or, perhaps, the ball was picked off.
A possible (and logical) conclusion may also be that Cordarrelle Patterson’s quarterback was mediocre, and therefore, he had a lower Target NEP. And yes, when Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder are your quarterbacking options, it’s less than optimal. The problem is, Cordarrelle Patterson was the only wide receiver on the 2013 Minnesota Vikings to post a negative Target NEP. In fact, Jarius-freaking-Wright had a positive Target NEP, albeit a paltry .01. (As a frame of reference, Greg Jennings was targeted 29 more times than Patterson and had a Target NEP of 15.54).
OK, I am done railing on Cordarrelle Patterson, I promise. Let’s focus on Justin Hunter. While his aforementioned stat line of 18 receptions, 354 yards, and 4 touchdown’s doesn’t jump out at you, his Reception NEP of 39.34 should. Because Hunter wasn't targeted heavily, his high Reception NEP total shows that he's a big-play receiver. And that's true - four of Hunter’s 18 total receptions went for touchdowns. But it also means that he's a highly explosive player capable of game-changing, Earth-shattering plays. What happens if the Titans decide to give him more volume? Justin Hunter himself has set a goal of 60 receptions. If he were to reach that reception total, a decline in efficiency will still make him one of the best play-makers in the NFL.
The “Big-Play Receiver” Fallacy
Don't get me wrong, Cordarrelle Patterson is definitely capable of being explosive. But last year, a good sum of his total fantasy points came from rushing (12 rushes, 158 yards, and 3 touchdowns). Those designed plays where Minnesota attempts to get him open in space are not only fairly volatile, but also tough to predict. What we want is some sort of consistency, and if given more volume, Justin Hunter will be more consistent than Cordarrelle Patterson given his prototypical skill set.
So I ask: why would you want to place your bets on a big-play wide receiver in the fourth round of your fantasy draft, when you can have a similar - perhaps even better - player in the 11th round? I’ll pass on Cordarrelle Patterson this year. Give me Justin Hunter every time.