Eddie Royal Could Be a Fantasy Football Draft Day Steal
Reunited and it feels so good.
Back in 2008, in his first year in the league, Eddie Royal lit the league up, reeling in 91 of his 129 targets for 980 yards and 5 touchdowns.
His quarterback that year? A young, strong-armed gunslingin' quarterback named Jay Cutler. And his wide receivers coach? Adam Gase.
The next year, Jay Cutler was sent packing to the Chicago Bears and things were never the same for Royal. After his spectacular rookie year, Royal would fail to hit either 70 receptions or 800 yards receiving in any season without Cutler.
Fast forward now to 2015. Eddie Royal once again finds himself catching passes from an older -- perhaps not wiser -- strong-armed gunslingin' Jay Cutler and being coached by newly hired Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
So the question on all our minds is, can Royal rekindle the magic that he shared with Cutler and Gase in Denver all those years ago?
Protecting Cutler from Himself
Jay Cutler's 2014 season was an unmitigated disaster.
Cutler tallied the second worst totals for interceptions (18) and yards per attempt (6.8) in his entire career and his Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back of -0.02 ranked him as the 32nd quarterback in the league with at least 100 pass attempts. That number was actually worse than that put up by Geno Smith, Shaun Hill, and Charlie Whitehurst.
For those unfamiliar, NEP is our signature metric here at numberFire. If you contribute to your team's chances of scoring above expectation you receive a positive NEP, and a negative score when you do the opposite. So last season, on average, every time Cutler dropped back to pass he was taking points off the board from his team.
This led to the benching of Cutler for backup Jimmy Clausen, the subsequent firing of "quarterback whisperer" Marc Trestman, and the eventual hiring of conservative head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase in a last ditch effort to salvage Cutler's career in Chicago.
And this is exactly where Eddie Royal comes in.
Adam Gase's offense is characterized by short passes and quick decisions. This was evident in his first season as an offensive coordinator, with 61.0% of Peyton Manning's pass attempts traveling less than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. From this it's clear that time and again, Gase's system will forego the flashy big play in favor of the easy, high-percentage one.
And this game plan is exactly what Cutler needs to succeed.
Indeed, when looking at where Cutler struggled last season, 14 of his 18 interceptions came on throws greater than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, and beyond this Cutler accrued a terrible 41.8% completion rate in this area of the field.
It therefore makes sense that this season the coaching staff and front office have gone all in on this plan. To maximize Cutler's chances at success in this scheme, the front office chose to bring in a player that could win in this portion of the field in Royal.
Recognizing that perhaps it's not a coincidence that the only season in which Cutler was able to throw for more than 4,000 yards (4,526 to be exact) was back in 2008, Royal's rookie season, the front office is depending on Royal to be that dump-off receiver Cutler needs to keep the chains moving.
With all this being said, it's no surprise that many are expecting a big season out of Royal this year.
Slotted For A Big Role in Chicago
Reports out of Bears training camp suggest that the coaching staff have big plans for Royal this season. As mentioned previously, much of this is thanks in large part to his track record of success in the short game, the exact area that Gase will ask Cutler to operate in his system.
Royal has done very well manning this exact role in San Diego the past two seasons. Between the 2013 and 2014 seasons, Royal caught an impressive 158 receptions and 15 touchdowns while playing on just 67.0% of the offensive snaps.
His efficiency in this role is best demonstrated by his remarkable Reception NEP per target, amassing a 0.91 and 0.75 mark in 2013 and 2014, respectively, which placed him in the top 10% and 20% of all receivers with at least 30 targets in those seasons.
Therefore, when you combine Gase's likely game plan to work the short to intermediate area of the field with Royal's skill set, you can see that Royal is in store for a heavy dose of targets next to primary outside receiver Alshon Jeffery in this new look Bears offense.
And those concerned about Royal losing snaps and targets to rookie Kevin White can rest easy for now. Not only has John Fox developed a reputation for not playing his rookies, but recent reports suggest that Kevin White's injury keeping him out of camp is jeopardizing his chances of being ready for Week 1 of this season.
With all this being said, it wouldn't surprise me to see Royal end the season as one of the team leaders in targets for 2015 and put up some big numbers as a result of it.
What This All Means for Fantasy Football
As we've just discussed, everything is pointing to Eddie Royal having a big role in Chicago this upcoming season. And few in the fantasy football community seem to have noticed. With an ADP of 180, Royal is nearly going undrafted in most leagues.
But as someone that will have a fairly moderate floor given his role catching short passes from Cutler, and his upside given his ability to score touchdowns from the slot and the high volume of passes likely coming his way in Gase's system, Royal is definitely one player worth stashing at the end of your drafts this season.