We Know Even Less About Martavis Bryant Than We Think We Know
So, Martavis Bryant was awesome last year. I think we can all agree with that.
But it doesn't seem like everyone really agrees with how to approach him in 2015.
His average draft position (ADP) is in the late fourth-round, according to late-July numbers on FantasyFootballCalculator.com. It's not an absurd draft cost. It's not the second round or anything. But that's pretty high for a player who caught just 26 passes last season.
Then again, Amari Cooper is the next receiver off the board, and he didn't catch any NFL passes last year.
But the reception total isn't the number the fantasy football world is fixated on. It's the eight touchdowns.
Bryant was one of just 10 players in NFL history to see fewer than 50 targets yet record at least 500 receiving yards in a season. He also has more touchdowns than the rest of the nine. That's incredible efficiency.
Is it too good to be true?
Let's not forget this six-yard touchdown, showing that he can be a red-zone threat, too, which is a bit more obvious considering his 6'4", 211-pound frame. I could include his other five, but you get the idea.
These touchdowns -- including two multi-touchdown games in back-to-back weeks -- made him one of the league's most efficient targets, according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which compares a player's production to expectation level.
Last year, Bryant recorded a Reception NEP of 45.82, which isn't very high, but what do you expect with just 26 catches? The more important number is his Reception NEP per target of 0.95. That ranked third among all players who caught at least 25 passes last year.
Good stuff, right?
Promising stuff, correct?
Sustaining Big Plays
Last offseason, I did a study on big-play sustainability, based on Reception NEP per target scores. What I found was that players who finished in the top 15 in the league in Reception NEP per target among guys with at least 30 receptions were nearly as likely to finish worse than 60th in the metric as they were likely to finish in the top 30 again the next year.
To make that more concrete, there were 150 top-15 performers from the decade prior to 2014, naturally. 57 players followed up the big-play season with a top-30 score. 54 ranked 60th or failed to catch 30 passes the following season. 39 guys were between 31st and 60th.
So that's close to a 50/50 split between guys who do it and guys who don't, but remember -- we aren't talking repeating top-15 numbers. Those were just top 30. That's Kenny Britt territory from last year (or actually Demaryius Thomas territory, too, though the sample sizes are drastically different).
Basically what this boils down to is that only a select few guys have maintained elite per-target efficiency from year to year. Prior to last season, 100 unique players made up the 150 top-15 seasons in the past decade. 77 of them were one- or two-time entrants in the top-30.
What About 2014?
Good question. How did the top 15 from 2013 fare this past season? (I'll swap out Marvin Jones, who finished second, and Josh Gordon, who finished 15th in 2013, for Julius Thomas and Rob Gronkowski, who finished 16th and 17th, respectively.)
|Player||2013 Rank||2013 Rec NEP/Target||2014 Rank||2014 Rec NEP/Target|
So, we have seven of the 15 in the top 30 again, including four guys in the top 10. Five players finished worse than 60th or didn't catch 30 passes. Three more were wedged between 31st and 60th. That's pretty consistent with the past decade, especially if we just included Gordon and Jones.
It means, of course, that guys can be elite with efficiency in consecutive years. It also means that other guys don't put it together in back-to-back seasons.
But those guys are established names. Those with a lack of a track record don't always stick around, and I'm not saying that we should compare Bryant to Jerricho Cotchery or anything, but we also shouldn't pretend that Bryant is a lock to be a superb per-target player. Keenan Allen seemed a safe bet to be a solid fantasy performer last season, but his touchdown dependence from 2013 came back to bite him in 2014.
A Warning Sign
We know that plenty of Bryant's receptions led to touchdowns, but he had a lot of wasted catches, too, which makes his 26-reception sample even more worrisome than it already is.
Since 2000, 110 receivers have both posted a Reception NEP greater than 45 and a Reception NEP per target better than 0.90. Bryant's Reception Success Rate, the percentage of his receptions that actually led to positive NEP gains for the Steelers, was 80.77%. That ranked 109th in the group. Only he and Santana Moss in 2012 (80.49%) had a mark lower than 81%.
I get that with just 26 receptions, a catch or two can sway a percentage quite significantly. And to be transparent, Dez's Reception Success Rate of 84.09% from this year ranked 105th. Odell Beckham ranked 100th, and DeSean Jackson was 99th this year.
But each of those guys caught at least 56 passes.
I'm just saying that -- even though we know that Bryant's season was highlighted by his touchdowns -- when he wasn't hitting paydirt, he wasn't really doing much with his receptions.
That's not a good sign. A fourth-round ADP is putting a ton of stock into a handful of plays from a guy who didn't play many snaps and who didn't contribute on a good portion of his catches.
A Different Story?
Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying Bryant's efficiency will certainly plummet. He could be the next Jordy Nelson. That's a pretty tall order, but it's possible.
The other part of this is that he doesn't need to maintain such high efficiency to be a good fantasy receiver, though it wouldn't be good news if he falls outside the top 60 in per-target Reception NEP (cough, cough, Keenan Allen).
So what type of opportunity will he be seeing?
Well, our algorithms project him for 47 receptions, 773 yards, and 6 touchdowns, but that would rank just 33rd among fantasy receivers, according to the rest of our projections. That's low. Right?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Bryant played just 29.8 snaps per game last season, per FantasyData.com. That ranked 110th among receivers. His 34.9 points per 100 snaps, though, was tops in the league. (Dez Bryant was a distant second at 25.2 points per 100.)
Neither of those marks will stick around. His snaps will almost assuredly increase, and I'd bet the farm (I don't have a farm) that he doesn't maintain his points per snap pace.
I get that the sky appears to be the limit for Bryant in 2014, but we're putting a lot of stock into very few plays. We knew that already, yes, but based on his Success Rate, Bryant was even more touchdown-or-bust than we probably realize.
The truth is that we know even less about Bryant than we think, and it's a bit haughty to think that we know what to expect from him in 2015 -- good or bad.