Brandon LaFell: The Forgotten Man in the New England Offense?
The Patriots offense has been a heavily discussed topic this offseason: Rob Gronkowski and his seemingly super-human talents, Julian Edelman staying relatively healthy and putting up big numbers, Tom Brady's suspension and his great year in 2014 despite the slow start, LeGarrette Blount and the hope that the Patriots finally have an identifiable lead back.
Lost in the shuffle has been Brandon LaFell and his breakout year in 2014.
LaFell had a solid first season in New England, recording 953 yards and 7 touchdowns on 74 receptions. These numbers were good enough to put him 22nd among wide receivers in both standard and point-per-reception (PPR) scoring in fantasy football last year.
Despite this success, LaFell is being drafted, according to average draft position (ADP) data courtesy of MyFantasyLeague.com, as the 38th wide receiver off the board. People may be fearing regression, clinging to the fact that he didn’t exactly inspire confidence with his numbers in Carolina, or may simply be forgetting about LaFell in a stacked offense.
Whatever the case may be, LaFell is poised for another big year, and is a great value pick right now.
LaFell's Role in the Offense
LaFell didn't earn a starting job in the Patriots' offense until Week 3 and wasn't on the field for more than 57% of the teams' snaps until Week 4, when he caught 6 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. From this week on through the Super Bowl, LaFell was on the field for 85% or more of the teams' offensive snaps for all but one week, and saw 20.1% of the offense's targets.
Even if we remove Weeks 16 and 17 (Julian Edelman missed Week 16 and both Gronkowski and Edelman missed Week 17), LaFell's target share in this span was 18.8%.
The new additions to the Patriots' offense this offseason aren't likely to see a lot of targets and cut into anyone else's either. The most notable signings have been former Dolphins wideout Brandon Gibson and former Bills' tight end Scott Chandler. Gibson was one of the least efficient receivers in the league last year, according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. NEP quantifies a player's production and compares it to league expectation level, ultimately indicating how many real life points a player added or subtracted to his team's point total during a season.
Gibson posted the sixth-lowest Reception NEP per target among receivers with 50-plus targets, and it would be no surprise if he didn't make the final 53-man roster. Chandler was around the middle of the pack in terms of tight end efficiency, but with only 33 targets going the way of highly efficient Tim Wright last year, I'm not expecting any Patriots' tight end not named Gronkowski to see a big share of targets in 2015.
LaFell's efficiency numbers in 2014 wasn't anything to write home about either, but they weren't horrible, and his numbers were very close to Edelman's, whose were the best among Patriots receivers.
|Player||Targets||Rec||Rec NEP||Rec NEP/Tar||Catch Rate||Success Rate|
This was also true in the world of fantasy football (numbers courtesy of ProFootballFocus).
|Fantasy Points||Standard||PPR||Per Snap (Std)||Per Snap (PPR)|
LaFell also has room to improve on these 2014 numbers. His efficiency in 2014 was actually a step back from what is was in Carolina, where he posted a Reception NEP per target of 0.72 over the course of his four seasons. 2014 was his second-worst year in that category. In contrast to this, Edelman has a career Reception NEP per target of 0.56, and his 2014 number was the highest of his career.
Though Edelman's efficiency is accompanied by more targets and he is still the clear cut number-one in New England, the numbers are far closer than the four-round difference in their ADP would suggest.
It's not likely LaFell sees fewer targets in 2015 than he did last year, and with what he did in a worse offense in Carolina, his 2014 efficiency numbers seem much closer to his floor than his ceiling.
Adding to his low-end WR2 finish last season, I find it hard to wrap my head around the fact that he's going off the board as a WR4 right now. LaFell is poised for another solid year, and he's a great value in fantasy football right now.