Why Stedman Bailey Can Have a Big Season in 2015

We have to dig deep to find reasons to like Bailey, but the numbers indicate he could have a successful season.

I spend a lot of time rifling through spreadsheets.

Sometimes the flood of numbers is overwhelming, especially after repeatedly glancing back over to the name column to see whose metrics belong to whom. Sometimes I mistake certain rows for the wrong player, and that can be a funny thing.

But that also led me to an idea: to remove names entirely from the numbers. That led me to do 10 blind player comparisons from the 2014 season data. You don't have to read it -- though there are some interesting similarities between certain players that we'd never link based on name or situation.

One of those comparisons, though, has stuck with me since. Two players who have vastly different body sizes and perception (in the fantasy football world and the real world) had very similar marks according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which quantifies a player's performance relative to expectation level.

So while one of these guys -- the more hyped player -- converted on plenty of touchdowns last year, the other scored only one lone touchdown. Still, their actual impact on the team's expected point outcome was nearly identical, and the lone-touchdown scorer actually had better peripherals. Both are second options on their teams at best, but one is getting drafted as a top-30 receiver. The other is going outside the top 80 at the position.

That makes him the type of pick that could help you win a league, even if it's übercompetitive.

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I'm talking, of course, about Stedman Bailey and Martavis Bryant.

Check out their metrics side by side.

PlayerRecRec NEPTarTarget NEPRec NEP/TarCatch RateSuccess Rate
Martavis Bryant2645.824829.720.9554.17%80.77%
Stedman Bailey3042.704629.280.9365.22%96.67%

Neither player had more than 50 targets, but Bailey actually caught more passes on fewer targets, which is why his catch rate is noticeably higher than Bryant's. But despite the seven-touchdown discrepancy, Bailey added roughly just three fewer points to his offense than Bryant added and added points more consistently with his receptions, as seen in his Success Rate.

How can this be? Well, the way NEP works is that it hones down the importance of stats collected in garbage time and also rewards players for putting their teams in promising positions. Bryant, if we recall, had a few scores that were piled on, such as a two-yarder against the Colts with a 35-20 lead already and an 80-yard score in the final two minutes of a 20-6 game against the Jets.

Of course, they count in fantasy football same as anything, but they also indicate that not all of Bryant's production came from a place that helped the Steelers exponentially. That's not to knock Bryant's potential or production but rather to elaborate on how the two players -- with very different touchdown totals -- played similarly even if the box score says otherwise.

Of course, Bailey is much more in the mold of Antonio Brown than Martavis Bryant, and Brown is actually Bailey's top physical comparison, according to Player Profiler. Even though Brown doesn't project as an elite touchdown scorer, which is bad for Bailey, there are certainly exceptions to the rule -- like Brown proved in 2014.

St. Louis Isn't Pittsburgh

Of course, the Steelers offense was much more lethal than the Rams' last year. According to our schedule-adjusted NEP per play data, the Steelers had the fifth best offense in all of football. St. Louis ranked just 27th.

We can point out many reasons why, but one thing is certain: the quarterbacks were bad.

Among the 37 quarterbacks who attempted at least 200 drop backs last year, Shaun Hill (247 drop backs) ranked 29th in Passing NEP (3.00). Austin Davis (314 drop backs) ranked 33rd (-12.28).

Their per-drop back ranks were the same, as Hill mustered just 0.01 points above expectation with his drop backs. Davis lost 0.04 points per drop back, relative to expectation level.

Now, the team will be relying on Nick Foles, who ranked 26th in Passing NEP and 22nd in Passing NEP per drop back (0.05).

That's not great, but even with those quarterbacks last year, Bailey made the most of his 46 targets. And even though he may resemble Tavon Austin physically, their results on nearly identical usage numbers were vastly different.

PlayerRecRec NEPTarTarget NEPRec NEP/TarCatch RateSuccess Rate
Tavon Austin3217.0845-0.410.3871.11%75.00%
Stedman Bailey3042.704629.280.9365.22%96.67%

Austin caught a higher percentage of his targets but didn't move the sticks forward nearly as often, as evidenced by his Success Rate (the percentage of plays that add positively to a team's NEP). In fact, Austin's 75.00% mark ranked just 87th among the 96 receivers who saw at least 45 targets last year.

Bailey's was third behind Calvin Johnson (98.59%) and Terrance Williams (97.30%).

Bailey isn't a big name -- and certainly not a big body -- but he quietly put forth some of the most impressive analytics among receivers last year, albeit with a small sample of just 46 targets and 30 catches.

His touchdowns may not increase, and he might get buried on the depth chart, but if he is given a chance to play, then it's clear that he has the potential to be a big-time difference maker on an offense that certainly needs one.