Does Mychal Rivera Have Real Fantasy Football Value?
Mychal Rivera never seemed destined for fantasy relevance.
A good-not-great high school career made him a middling college football prospect. Oregon, with a propensity for scooping up players out of Rivera’s native California, offered him a scholarship. However, upon his arrival the team made it clear they wanted him to switch to a position along the offensive line. Unwilling to make the leap, Rivera was able to get out of his scholarship and proceeded to play a season at College of the Canyons.
After his season of junior college ball, he transferred to Tennessee where they let him play his preferred position of tight end. His numbers, though, were uninspiring. He posted a total of 76 catches, 1,018 yards, and 6 touchdowns in his three seasons for the Vols.
He went on to post solid - but far from flashy - combine numbers. He was labelled as a faster runner than his 4.81 40-yard dash would have you believe, and his hands were known to be strong. He was Oakland’s sixth-round pick in 2013, and despite having the likes of Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin throwing him the ball, he finished with respectable rookie numbers of 38 receptions, 407 yards, and 4 touchdowns.
Still, Rivera’s path to the NFL hardly feels like one that would end up in his being a highly-productive receiving tight end. Despite this, Rivera has been a top performer over the past three weeks, and this is a fact that has not gone unnoticed in fantasy circles. His ownership percentage has leapt to just under 40% in ESPN leagues.
What begs asking is whether Rivera’s production is a flash-in-the-pan or if he could be a solid option in a season devoid of strong tight end play.
Raiding the Numbers
To look at Rivera’s production thus far, I’ll first dive into his Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics. For those newer to numberFire, NEP is a measure of the number of expected points a player is adding to his team’s total through his on-field performance. In Rivera’s case, he does not stack up all too well.
In 2014, there have been 17 tight ends that have seen between 40 and 65 targets (Rivera has 52). Among those, here is how Rivera ranks in the various receiving NEP metrics:
|Ranks||Reception NEP||Target NEP||Reception NEP/Target|
Clearly, Rivera grades-out very poorly looking at the numberFire metrics. Some of his lack of production can be blamed on the dumpster-fire that has been the Raiders’ offense. As a team, they rank 31st in Adjusted NEP per play. Still, among tight ends with a similar number of targets to him, he falls almost dead last in each category.
He has a negative Target NEP meaning that, on average, pass plays that have been directed Rivera’s way hurt the Raiders’ chance of scoring. While this again is tied to the fact that he’s playing with a rookie quarterback, Derek Carr has not fared too poorly this year and shows that Rivera was not exactly a weapon-in-waiting for the Raiders offense. While all of this is to suggest that Rivera may not actually be as good as his recent numbers indicate, getting targets can still make you fantasy-relevant, regardless of skill. To get a better sense of the direction Rivera’s targets are trending, let’s take a look at his snap counts.
Route-Running and Rivera
On the season, Rivera has 52 targets. Of those targets, 28 of them have come in the past three games alone. I wanted to see whether there was a connection between the number of routes he was running and the number of targets he was seeing, and there appears to be a bit of a correlation.
Over the past three weeks, Rivera has averaged 41 routes-run-per-game. Over his previous six contests, that figure was just under 25. Clearly, the Raiders are making an effort to get Rivera more involved in the passing game, and his opportunities on passing downs have increased as a result. Through Week 7, he had yet to run more than 28 routes in a contest. Over the past three weeks, he has not run fewer than 38.
I would find it hard to believe that this three-game boost in playing time is a fluke. That being said, it does not mean Rivera’s production will be as consistently solid as it has been from Week 8 through Week 10. Despite finishing with a solid 6 grabs for 68 yards and a touchdown in Week 10, the majority of his production came well into garbage time. While the Raiders certainly have to fling the ball late in games more than they would like, it is not fair to call Rivera a consistent fantasy tool as of yet.
Overall, it looks like Rivera is a unexciting talent who finds himself in a position where he could provide some fantasy value. If you are looking to strike gold on the waiver wire in advance of your playoff run, I would look elsewhere. Though, in a season without much tight end talent to be had, you could do worse than scooping up Rivera and hoping his increased role in the offense leads to continued production.