8 Reasons to Avoid A.J. Green in Fantasy Football in 2015
I have been playing fantasy football long before A.J. Green entered the league, yet I have never once owned him on a single team.
I think so at least. Don't quote me, but I don't recall ever having him.
He's just been one of those players who always was getting drafted earlier than I really like to choose receivers. The same is pretty much true this year, as Green is getting drafted as the 20th player in best-ball formats since the calendar flipped to June. He's being taken as the eighth receiver, too.
That's a pretty significant investment for a player coming off a disappointing season. To make matters worse, there are plenty of reasons to expect that Green will have a limited ceiling in 2015. Here are eight of them.
According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which quantifies a player's performance above or below expectation level, Green was fairly inefficient during his playing time last season.
Among the 40 receivers who saw at least 100 targets last year, Green's cumulative Reception NEP of 80.25 ranked 23rd. His per-target Reception NEP of 0.69 ranked 20th. Those aren't very promising. (And before we say that he was just injured, even during his 2013 season, he managed a Reception NEP per target of just 0.72. And in 2012, it was just 0.67.)
His Catch Rate (59.84%) ranked 25th, which is fairly understandable given his average depth of target of 13.8 yards (eighth among all 100-plus target receivers). But his Target NEP was significantly low (16.52) and ranked just 33rd. A lot of that has to do with the next reason on the list.
It's funny to pick on Andy Dalton to an extent, but the facts are the facts. Dalton accounted for all 504 drop backs in 2014, all but 24 of the drop backs on the Bengals' squad.
Somehow, though, Jason Campbell mustered a Passing NEP of -12.78 on just 20 drop backs, which means that the Bengals basically lost 13 points in 20 plays with Campbell at the helm.
That should make Dalton's Passing NEP of 24.54 look super impressive, but it's not. Much like Green, Dalton's metrics were pretty middling-at-best. Dalton ranked 18th in Passing NEP among the 30 quarterbacks who attempted at least 300 drop backs in 2014. He was 19th on a per-drop back basis (0.05). Just 47.02% of his drop backs led to positive NEP gains for Cincinnati last year, ranking 17th in the subset.
Then again, Green mustered 1,000 yards yet again, so why pump the brakes on the fantasy train?
Green's Red Zone Success
Green scored just six touchdowns last year, the lowest total of his career. In his defense, he played just 13 games, also a career low. But his red zone targets dipped from 21 in 2013 to 13 in 2014.
So, yeah, that's the difference between 1.3 per game to just 1.0, and we can't really say that's a significant difference based on such small samples. A more glaring worry is his target number from inside the 10.
Green had just 2 last year but 10 in 2013. He also saw just a single target inside the five last year (and four in 2013).
Red Zone Opportunity
The underlying issue here could be the sheer red zone opportunity that awaits Green.
Last year, in a new offense with a new coordinator (Hue Jackson), the Bengals ran the ball a lot, especially in the red zone. That's bad news bears for Green's touchdown upside. Only the Cleveland Browns threw on a smaller percentage of their red zone plays from scrimmage (33.81%) than the Bengals (36.65%).
Further, the Bengals were the only team in the league last year to throw on fewer than 30% of their scrimmage plays inside the 10 (just 25.76%). Just 21.05% of their scrimmage plays from inside the five were passes, lowest in the NFL.
Sure, Green's personal opportunities were down, but we can't assume they'll spike back up to his pre-2014 numbers either because this might be a run-first and run-second team near the goal line.
Jeremy Hill's Red Zone Prowess
Hill saw 36 red zone carries last year, and Bernard saw 31 of his own. If we roll that all up into one running back, that amalgamation would have seen nine more carries than the three backs tied for first in red zone carries with 58 (Marshawn Lynch, DeMarco Murray, and LeSean McCoy).
Hill scored seven times from inside the 20, tied for fifth in the league, and Bernard contributed four scores of his own. Only Murray and Lynch would have scored more than the Franken-back, as both scored 12 times inside the red zone.
Tyler Eifert's Potential
He probably won't be pushing for double-digit scores on his own or anything -- last year, Jermaine Gresham scored five on 13 red zone targets -- but if Dalton tosses only 19 touchdowns like he did last year (our projections think he'll throw 21 this season) then there's little room for Green to flourish.
Marvin Jones' Return
Jones converted 14 red zone targets in 2013 into nine touchdowns. He's going to have plenty of issues on his own given the Bengals' penchant for running the ball inside the 20, but Green has one more threat for scores than he did last year.
The Asking Price
Of course, these risks would be less important if Green was getting drafted as a fourth- or fifth-rounder, but he's not. And because of his name recognition, he won't be come August when the entire world has their fantasy football drafts. (The whole world plays this game, right?)
The fact of the matter is that Green isn't a guaranteed "bust" by any means. That's not what this is about. It's just that there are plenty of reasons that Green may not live up to his name even with the discount from his historical draft cost.
Our projections expect just three receivers to hit the 100-catch plateau (plenty are pegged with 90-plus), but Green is one of the three. However, our algorithms expect him to score just 7.11 touchdowns, which makes him just the 11th-most valuable standard-league receiver, per our math.