Does Harry Douglas Have Any Fantasy Football Potential in 2014?

Douglas is firmly planted behind two star wide receivers, but can he find room for production of his own?

With their two big-time receivers - Julio Jones and Roddy White - back in action, the Atlanta Falcons should be able to reverse their 2013 misfortunes into some stellar play in 2014.

The hopefully healed-up squad in Atlanta ranks 12th in our power rankings and have a nERD of 1.64, which means they would be expected to beat an average team by, you guessed it, 1.64 points. More important for fantasy football implications are their offensive and defensive projections. We're pegging them as the sixth-best offense and the 26th-best defense.

That looks like a recipe for some high-scoring shootouts down in Atlanta.

That's why Jones is our seventh-rated wide receiver in our fantasy football draft kit, and why White is 16th. Jones appeared in just five games last season, and White was riddled with injuries all year. Healthy now, both should benefit from the absence of Tony Gonzalez.

But even with Jones and White back on the field, the targets left behind from Gonzalez have to go somewhere, right?

That's where Harry Douglas enters the equation, but just how big of a role could there be for a guy who doesn't even have an average draft position?

I'm glad you asked.

Early Harry

Last year, Douglas posted career highs in everything: receptions (85), yards, (1,067), yards per game (66.7), yards per catch (12.6), 100-yard games (3), and touchdowns (2).

In his four seasons prior since 2008 (he was on the injured reserve list in 2009), Douglas showed no real signs of improvement if you look at his raw production. Here are his statistics from those seasons, including 2013 for reference's sake.


His receptions increased incrementally, and his yardage total was, basically, within a 200-yard span in his first four seasons. His yards per reception declined each year, and he never was able to assert himself as a touchdown maker, which isn't necessarily shocking since he's only 5'11'' and 170 pounds.

His touchdown dearth becomes more apparent when contextualized. Since 2000, 28 receivers have caught between 110 and 130 passes in their first four years, including guys who have hit that mark this year and haven't played four full seasons yet. If you want to exclude them, 21 guys have done it, and Douglas' four touchdowns are tied for the fewest (with Greg Camarillo).

It's not surprising, as Douglas, at 5'11'', is taller than or as tall as just five of those players. At just 170 pounds, Douglas is the lightest of all those guys, too. Scoring touchdowns, it appears, will likely never be his forte.

But 85 receptions and 1,067 yards is a significant stat line. It's been done 85 times in the past decade, but all of the names on the list, except one or two, are pretty big names. With an ostensibly mediocre first four years with no progression and an immediate jump, it's only natural to assume it was just a jump in volume, which led to a jump in his counting stats.

But a closer look into the metrics suggests he was getting slightly better and better as the years progressed.

The Look Inside

Douglas didn't stray far from his production in his first four years, but looking at his metrics after the fact, the breakout seems less surprising than it would have if you just saw his traditional stats.

Here are his five seasons worth of Reception Net Expected Points (NEP).

DouglasRecRec NEPTargetsTarget NEPRec NEP/TargetCatch RateRec Success Rate

His first four seasons (especially 2010-2012) were relatively similar in Reception NEP and targets, but his efficiency ebbed and flowed. For instance, his Reception NEP Per target, which indicates how much he helped his team each time the ball was thrown his way, in his rookie season was the highest of his first four years. As the target totals slowly crept upward, his efficiency leveled off. However, his catch rate grew a bit in 2011 and 2012. He also had his highest Reception Success Rate, measuring the catches that actually improved his team's chance of scoring, since 2010.

But the key statistic for Douglas is his Reception NEP Per target. It was elevated by a small amount of targets in 2008, but when he gained more volume, the efficiency also grew (though it did decline some from 2011 to 2012). When he was given 132 targets, over double his 2012 volume, his Reception NEP Per target grew to its highest since that low-volume rookie year. This indicates that Douglas' most efficient year was last year despite being thrown into a high-volume situation.

He did rank only 18th in Reception NEP Per target out of the 22 receivers with 75 or more receptions, but this evidences that he didn't squander his opportunity, but rather improved on his prior seasons.

He didn't benefit merely from being force-fed. He was slowly improving even though it was not necessarily reflective in his stat line.

But Can He Do It This Year?

Whether he can repeat his performance, of course, is the big question. It's not a matter of if he's capable of doing it - he's shown that he can and it's there in the math - but rather if he'll have the chance in the 2014 Falcons offense.

Gonzalez is leaving 120 targets behind, but Julio and Roddy are coming back. Roddy White has averaged 131.0 targets in his career, and factoring out his shortened 2013 and his first two seasons, White averaged 158.3 targets over a six-year span. Yikes.

Since Jones missed a lot of time, it's tough to pin down a yearly target total, but he's averaged 8.3 targets per game in his career. Extrapolated over 16 games, that's 132.7 targets.

But Atlanta was the most pass-heavy team in the league last year, throwing the ball 2.19 times for every rush. And the Falcons have a pass-to-run ratio of 1.49 over the past three seasons, the highest of any franchise, for what it's worth. Passes should be available, and as our own Jordan Hoover suggested, no tight ends really seem able to take over the old Gonzalez role.

So if the team runs a lot of plays (they average 1,039.3 in the past three years, ranking 10th), and continue to throw the ball, there have to be some targets going Douglas' way. If the Falcons find themselves throwing roughly 1.5 times per every rush and run close to 1,040 plays (their three-year averages), then they'd be on pace for just under 700 pass plays (this includes sacks) this year (693 to be approximately exact).

There's still no answer for the team at tight end for Atlanta, who plan to use tight ends primarily for blocking this season. Levine Toilolo seems a good bet to be a red-zone target, but that's not where Douglas excels.

It's not common, but it's not unheard of for the third receiver on a team to be fantasy relevant, which is why teams like the Packers can have three fantasy-relevant guys (and even the Dolphins can do it). If the Falcons keep up their high-volume passing attack and are as successful an offense as our math thinks they will be, Douglas may not need an injury to one of the top guys to produce this year.

He doesn't cost you anything in the draft, and he's got 80-reception upside if anything were to happen to a starter. Not many guys going undrafted have that sort of ceiling, but Douglas has proven it and so have his metrics.