Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf Might Actually Be Undervalued in Fantasy Football

Let Russ Cook.

That's the mantra of a vocal segment of Twitter clamoring for Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to throw more passes in 2020. Wilson seems to be on board with the idea.

Wilson's been a productive passer in his eight years since 2012 -- but certainly not a voluminous one. Wilson, via our Net Expected Points (NEP) model, has led the Seahawks to a top-14 passing offense on a per-play basis in each of those eight seasons, and they've been top-nine in five of those seasons. They were sixth in 2019. He good.

So we know two things for certain: Wilson's passing efficiency has been great, and there is at least a clamoring that he may throw more than he has in the past.

It's no wonder that his top two receivers, Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, are going as top-24 wide receivers in consensus average draft position in fantasy football formats. The bigger questions are whether they proverbially cap one another's ceiling or whether Metcalf (WR24 in draft position) is actually the better pick than Lockett (WR19).

Let's see what we can uncover.

What 2019 Tells Us

Last season, Metcalf's rookie year, led to a pretty strong showing and a finish of WR34 in half-PPR scoring from Weeks 1 through 16. He played in all 15 of those possible games and had a minimum snap count of 63.5%. He was involved from the start.

Lockett, however, was even better. Finishing as the WR18 in that fantasy-relevant stretch, Lockett never fell below a 71.6% snap rate in any game in 2019.

The discrepancy in half-PPR points per game was rather significant: 12.0 to 9.4 in favor of Lockett. That's despite the fact that the 6'3", 229-pound Metcalf led the NFL in end zone targets (18, via ProFootballFocus). A fun twist to that stat? Lockett -- 5'10" and 182 pounds -- tied for fourth with 13 end zone targets of his own.

But let's look at the overall data for a second (including Week 17).

Player Rec Targ Rec
Reception NEP/
Tyler Lockett 82 110 1,057 8 1,364 92.28 1.13 0.84
DK Metcalf 59 100 900 7 1,296 65.68 1.11 0.64

On similar volume, Lockett outpaced Metcalf by 157 yards and was certainly more productive from a catch rate basis. Metcalf did thrive in the playoffs on 14 targets (1.85 Reception NEP per catch and 1.45 per target), but the larger sample shows a more efficient campaign from the veteran, Lockett.

Part of the issue there? In addition to Lockett's 82 catches, he had only 4 more catchable passes thrown his way, based on our data. Metcalf caught 59 passes and had 8 more catchable targets. This puts Metcalf's catchable target rate at 67.0% (67 of 100). Lockett could've reeled in 78.2% of his targets (86 of 110).

That partially explains Metcalf's worse per-target data.

To be fair, though, 24.0% of Metcalf's routes were go routes, and 29.9% of his yardage came on such routes. (Lockett's rates were 8.2% and 3.1%, respectively.) Only DeVante Parker and Mike Williams had a higher rate of targets coming from go routes than Metcalf did.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has said he wants to get Metcalf involved in other ways, but Lockett had a much more diverse route tree and should have the edge in target projections. Speaking of those...

Projecting 2020

numberFire is projecting Lockett for 109 targets and Metcalf for 107. ESPN's Mike Clay has it at 103 apiece. My projections have it about the same: 118 for Lockett and 108 for Metcalf. (I have Wilson pegged for more pass attempts overall.)

Despite the increase in targets in my projections compared to the other systems, from a sheer projections standpoint, Lockett is my WR21, and Metcalf is my WR30 (mostly due to a low catch rate projection based on his average target depth). So, I'm subjectively higher on Metcalf than my own projections imply because I have Lockett ranked as my WR21 and Metcalf as my WR25.

I'm definitely warming up to each of them more and more at their draft prices.

I'm not finding any reason to prefer Metcalf to Lockett outright, and a quick poll on our Slack channel preferred Lockett at his draft price 6-2. I'm of the same opinion. The best case to make is an increased rate in catchable targets due to fewer downfield targets. I still prefer Lockett at cost.

But the answer to the question of whether either caps the other's upside seems like a hard "no."

Hear me out. Since 2000, we've got 241 receivers posting a top-12 PPR season (there was a tie for WR12 in 2012). Only two of them fell shy of 100 targets (and none were below 96). Of course, the general consensus of the projections I provided for both of them is above 100 targets -- but only barely. So can both get enough volume to eke into the top-12? Yes. For sure.

But for as much as we all may want Russ to cook and to give each of them 130-plus targets, head coach Pete Carroll had this to say about the social media movement:

“We want [Wilson] to have more opportunity to be the factor in the game and control the game. But in football in general, that doesn’t mean that you throw the football all the time to do that. We need to be a really good functioning team that is hard to beat because we are so good at the things that we do. That means that you have to have balance in your game.”

Damnit, Pete.

Even with Carroll tamping down the fire rather than stoking it, should we bet on Lockett and Metcalf to hit triple digits in the target column? Yeah, I think so based on what we know. They did it last year, and Wilson still may throw a bit more even if it's not a massive shift. There's not much competition behind Lockett and Metcalf, either.

This means their volume floor -- barring injury, of course -- is good enough for a top-12 type of season.

The silver lining is this: the only question about upside for them isn't about their ability, their quarterback's ability, or even their target shares. It's literally just a matter of how much Wilson throws in 2020. That makes them rather enticing, safer gambles to outperform their average draft positions than receivers with those other question marks being drafted around the same range.

I won't be reaching for Lockett or Metcalf because there are real concerns about the volume, but I'm certainly not going to let them slide past me in fantasy drafts because they're both hyper-efficient players playing with one of the NFL's best quarterbacks.