What Should We Really Expect From Allen Hurns?

Allen Hurns had a monster Week 1 in his NFL debut, but is his top performance sustainable?

There's a saying in fantasy football: despite its name, fantasy football is a math game with football implications, not a football game with math implications.

While those of us at numberFire clearly agree with that sentiment, in another way, I like to think that fantasy football is a game about mathematical expectation with football implications. Think about it - the entire premise of fantasy football is not necessarily math per se, but maximizing your team's potential mathematically by applying reasonable expectations to each player.

From day one, your fantasy football team is about using your expectations against the status quo. That's how you find value in drafts, how you make savvy trades, and how you know who to add and who to pass on when waivers come into play. The entire game is about finding value, and the key to finding value is finding where your expectations are out of line with the consensus.

It's no wonder, then, that there appears to be a feeding frenzy every time some player undrafted in pretty much every league breaks out in Week 1. After all, if you can get a monster player off the waiver wire, you're suddenly much more flexible; that guy will either start for you, be used as trade bait to fill a need, or, just as importantly, stay out of the hands of your competition.

Unfortunately, a lot of these guys with big Week 1's wind up with just one big week - desperate players looking for any edge use an extremely small sample size to justify blowing a huge amount of free agent auction budget money or a good waiver slot to get a guy that ultimately winds up wasting away on a bench. Or perhaps he's on the free agent market a couple of weeks later.

This year, Allen Hurns appears to be one of fantasy football's major targets. I'm here to tell you: temper your expectations.

Chad Henne Is Still the Quarterback

There's obviously an inextricable link between a quarterback and his wide receivers. As a result, if we're going to assess Hurns' value, it's important to look at his quarterback.

Chad Henne has been basically the poster boy of the replacement-level quarterback since he came into the league. I took a look at every time Chad Henne has had meaningful seasons (at least 12 games started), and how the most-used wide receiver or tight end faired in both Reception NEP and Reception NEP per target (briefly explained in our glossary) to get a sense of not only how effective a player was cumulatively (concerning the former), but also on a per target basis (concerning the latter).

YearTeamReceiverReception NEPReception NEP/Target
2009DolphinsDavone Bess68.730.61
2010DolphinsBrandon Marshall81.160.56
2013JaguarsCecil Shorts62.430.51

In comparison, Allen Hurns in Week 1 had an 11.12 Reception NEP, and a 1.12 Reception NEP per target. At that pace, Hurns over 16 games would be more than twice as effective both cumulatively and per target than Chad Henne's best receiver on the year, ever. Put another way, if Hurns even had just three more games equivalent to what he did in Week 1 the rest of the way, and had games half as effective the remaining 12, he'd still be 25% better than any of Chad Henne's best receivers in his entire career.

In fact, at that pace, Hurns' 2014 would be better per target than any player, wide receiver or otherwise, with at least three targets last year. Call me a pessimist, but I don't see Chad Henne, who finished in the bottom-three among quarterbacks in Passing NEP last year, turning a receiver into the most effective receiving target in the league.

Cecil Shorts Is Still on the Team

You also have to consider context in any situation. And the fact is, last years' top target in Jacksonville, Cecil Shorts, didn't play in this Week 1 contest.

Now, I want to be fair to Hurns here - it's probably not that likely that Hurns-to-Shorts is a one-to-one replacement. Hurns, after all, is three inches taller than Shorts is. Is it likely that Hurns took Shorts' plays and role in the offense for Week 1? Probably not, but Hurns definitely saw a role because Shorts was sidelined.

In just 13 games last season, Shorts had 123 targets - nearly 9.5 targets per game played. Presuming Shorts gets around that volume this season (from the same quarterback, I want to note), those targets have to come from somewhere. Hurns' volume probably won't be the only ones to drop, as Marqise Lee had 10 targets of his own in Week 1, and Marcedes Lewis had 9, the same as Hurns. I suspect each party will see a slight drop in targets to give Shorts opportunity on a weekly basis, and that will include Hurns' targets.

At the end of the day, it's tough to foresee Hurns having a ton of value the rest of the way outside of unpredictable, monster games.