Can Larry Donnell Emerge as a Touchdown Threat Again in 2015?
For those of us fantasy football players who employ the streaming strategy, that is to find waiver wire talent with promising matchups and plug them in as starters, finding tight ends and quarterbacks who look like surefire weekly options is the dream, the goal.
But when a guy like Travis Kelce comes along, we win. So, when Larry Donnell did his thing last year and had an impressive four-game stretch to start the season, we thought we won, those of us who were in the position to pick him up at the time, of course.
Through Week 4, including his 7-catch, 54-yard, and 3-touchdown romp against Washington in Week 4, Donnell ranked as the third-best fantasy football wide receiver in PPR formats.
After that four-game stretch, Donnell scored just one more touchdown all year and finished as the 19th-best PPR tight end from Week 5 through the end of the season.
Still, Donnell was on the field for 58.3 snaps per game last year, 10th-most among tight ends, and he's now working on his blocking in order to stay on the field even more in 2015.
Of course, Donnell tied with Martellus Bennett at the top of the tight end position with 22 red zone targets. However, nine of those targets came in two games: Week 4 against Washington and Week 13 against Tennessee.
So is Donnell here to stay, or was his production inflated by a few good games?
Volume Without Efficiency
According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which quantifies a player's production above or below expectation level, Donnell wasn't an efficient option for the Giants last year.
Despite seeing 92 targets, 10th most among tight ends last year, Donnell ranked just 19th among the 27 tight ends who saw at least 50 targets in Reception NEP with a score of 32.77. His per-target Reception NEP (0.40) ranked 23rd.
Donnell, who finished 11th in fantasy points overall at tight end, relied on his volume and touchdowns to generate those points. He scored just 9.6 points per 100 snaps, which ranked 19th at the position.
Donnell does stand 6'6" and weigh 256 pounds, but athleticism does not accompany that size, based on his measurables. He ran a 4.96-second 40-yard dash, which is in about the third percentile among tight ends, according to PlayerProfiler.com. Even when adjusting his 40 time for his exceptional height and weight, he ranked in the 16th percentile. Donnell has not evidenced the raw athleticism to overcome inefficient play, and if his volume dips as more receivers are dressed on game day, then odds are, he will be touchdown-dependent yet again.
Draft Him or Leave Him?
All that being said, Eli Manning could experience an uptick in efficiency this year, which would likely help Donnell, but right our initial projections anticipate just 58 receptions and roughly 541 yards and 3 touchdowns for Donnell this year. That's expected to result in the 20th-best season from a tight end.
Right now, Donnell is getting drafted as the 20th tight end off the board, so he is being drafted at what is likely his ceiling -- even though he has enough red zone prowess to exceed the expectations.
Put simply, Donnell's dip in production coincided with Odell Beckham's arrival, and Beckham saw 26 red zone targets despite missing four games. With the return of Victor Cruz looming, Donnell is likely going to be touchdown-dependent in 2015 yet again, and there may not be enough scores to go around, as we project Manning for 22.5 touchdown passes in 2015.
To make matters worse, Donnell appears to be dealing with an Achilles injury that dates back to college. If he does stay healthy, if he does see more snaps because of his blocking, and if he does cash in on his red zone targets, then he will be a viable tight end option in 2015.
But that's a lot of "if."