Is Kendall Wright a Massive Fantasy Football Value Pick?
What constitutes a breakout?
Kendall Wright has a 1,000-yard season to his name and is entering only his fourth pro season, but I don't think we've seen the best he can do for the Titans and your fantasy football team.
Wright has been a relevant name in fantasy football in all three of his NFL seasons, but has never had his true value pegged well. Sometimes he's been overlooked, and other times he's been primed to fall short of his draft day valuation. This year, as the 47th wide receiver off the board in MyFantasyLeague.com redraft leagues, Wright has a reasonable cost.
But what should one expect?
By the Years
In three years in the professional ranks, Wright has had his ups and downs, sandwiching a solid PPR year in between two less-than-stellar ones. Let’s take a look at his performances through the lens of Net Expected Points (NEP).
For those unfamiliar with NEP, it's our in-house metric which measures a player's contributions to his team's chances of scoring above or below expectation given the situation. You can read more about NEP in our glossary.
For wide receivers, we have a few iterations of NEP. We have Reception NEP, which looks solely at receptions and not incomplete passes. Target NEP factors in all targets, so incompletions and interceptions matter. And for efficiency, we use Reception NEP per target.
|Year||Catches||Targets||Reception NEP||Target NEP||NEP/Target||Rank|
Thanks to an increase in average depth of target (aDOT) to 9.3 yards in 2014 as opposed to his 2012-2013 average of 7.1 (per Pro Football Focus), Wright was able to mitigate the loss of his efficiency last year. And given that Wright finished as the 20th best wideout in PPR formats in 2013 and in the 40s the other two years, he'll need either more targets or a bump in efficiency to be a worthwhile fantasy football pick.
Wide Receivers in Whisenhunt Offenses
After catching from Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III at Baylor, Wright transitioned to the NFL’s finest in his 2012 rookie year, an over-the-hill Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker. Now it's 2015, and the fourth-year pro has not completed a season with an above-average quarterback.
Let’s see how the most-targeted wide receivers in a Whisenhunt offense have performed.
|Year||Team||# Rush||# Pass||Primary QB/Top Receiver||YPR||Rec NEP/Target||Targets||
|2004||PIT||618||358||B. Roethlisberger/H. Ward||12.6||0.76||108|
|2005||PIT||549||379||B. Roethlisberger/H. Ward||14.1||0.87||114|
|2006||PIT||469||523||B. Roethlisberger/H. Ward||13.2||0.68||126|
|2007||ARI||402||590||K. Warner/L. Fitzgerald||14.1||0.69||167|
|2008||ARI||340||630||K. Warner/L. Fitzgerald||14.9||0.87||154|
|2009||ARI||365||594||K. Warner/L. Fitzgerald||11.3||0.67||153|
|2010||ARI||320||561||D. Anderson/L. Fitzgerald||12.6||0.58||173|
|2011||ARI||389||550||J. Skelton/L. Fitzgerald||17.6||0.79||154|
|2012||ARI||352||608||J. Skelton/L. Fitzgerald||11.2||0.43||156|
|2013||SD||486||544||P. Rivers/K. Allen||14.7||0.93||105|
|2014||TEN||356||513||C. Whitehurst/K. Wright||12.5||0.56||93|
Whisenhunt's Pittsburgh offenses steadily decreased rushing attempts, and the run game was almost an afterthought while he was in Arizona. And while peppering his top receiver with targets, those receivers were able to stay efficient on a per-target basis. While Kendall Wright not on the same level as future Hall of Famers Hines Ward and Larry Fitzgerald, he has one season down as the top target in Whisenhunt's tenure with the Titans and is the best bet to hold down that role this season.
If you look at the number of rushing and passing attempts, you’ll see even though there was no (or not likely) Hall of Fame receiver on the Titans, Whisenhunt aired it out. I will acknowledge this is partially due to game script, but the Titans are once again likely to lose more games than they win in 2015.
If you take a look at the Titans’ 2014 row and the Cardinals’ 2010 row, you’ll see some similarities in pass/rush balance, quarterback skill level, and wide receiver efficiency. As you'll see, Fitzgerald rebounded in 2011 with a monster season despite John Skelton leading the Cardinals in pass attempts.
With the exception of Fitzgerald’s 2011 season with Skelton and Kevin Kolb as the Cardinals’ quarterbacks, the least efficient of the top wide receiver seasons all came during the years where Whisenhunt’s offenses trotted out lesser quarterbacks such as the two mentioned immediately above as well as Derek Anderson, Charlie Whitehurst, Zach Mettenberger, and Jake Locker.
Another bit to note is the target numbers for the 2013 San Diego Chargers. In both the Chargers’ and Titans’ cases, tight ends led the team in targets, and the leading wide receiver didn't play all 16 games. Keenan Allen came on in the middle of the year, and Wright had a hand injury, so their target numbers are lower than the other two lead receivers in the table. However, this could be a change in philosophy, where Whisenhunt will not blindly throw targets to a wide receiver unless he is dealing with an elite talent.
With Bishop Sankey and David Cobb unproven at running back, Whisenhunt seems unlikely to revert back to the run-heavy offenses he ran with recently-inducted Hall-of-Famer, Jerome Bettis. Even if Wright doesn’t see Fitzgerald-level targets, 120-130 is certainly within range.
Tennessee Quarterback Play Since 2012
You didn’t need me to tell you in the above section that Whitehurst is not close to the abilities of Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner. As for the other Titans passers, you can see below that of the quarterbacks who threw at least 100 passes in a year for the Titans, in only one year were the passers actually serviceable.
|Year||Quarterback||Passes||Pass NEP||Rank||Pass NEP/P||Rank||Success Rate||Rank|
I don’t think it's a coincidence that Wright’s best season came in 2013, when Ryan Fitzpatrick and Locker were actually halfway decent. With Fitzmagic gone in 2014, the Titans’ quarterback play fell off a cliff, and Wright isn’t the type of player that can typically post the numbers we’d like without a competent passer (he's not a big wide receiver).
Super Mariota Time
Marcus Mariota, whom the Titans drafted second overall in this year’s NFL Draft, has already been named the starting quarterback, so we won’t have to see the selfie-aficionado Mettenberger or Whitehurst struggle to connect with Tennessee’s young receivers. But what should we expect from Mariota in his first year, and how will this benefit Wright?
Brandon Gdula outlined why Mariota is a boom-or-bust quarterback for fantasy football this year based on our READ algorithm, which takes into account both a player’s physical profile as well as team situation. His top five comparables were, in order, Jake Locker, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Christian Ponder, and Russell Wilson, so you can see there should be cautious optimism about Mariota’s prospects this year.
Our site projections peg the former Oregon Duck at 539.08 pass attempts and 3,700.95 passing yards, which means if Wright ends up leading the team in targets -- even as a possession receiver -- he can surpass last year’s numbers if his efficiency improves.
Other notable Titans receivers are Justin Hunter, Dorial Green-Beckham, Harry Douglas, and Hakeem Nicks (who is somehow only 27). Douglas should command a fair share of targets, but I doubt he will be a team’s most targeted receiver. Hunter and Green-Beckham are deep threats, and while Green-Beckham is intriguing as the shiny new thing, Lance Zierlien’s scouting report should at least get you to pump the brakes a little.
In the report, Zierlien points out Green-Beckham is not a polished route runner, something Wright is, has a questionable work ethic, and his NFL comparison is … you guessed it, Justin Hunter. This writer’s best guess is Hunter and Green-Beckham will be fighting each other for deep looks from Mariota instead of Wright’s shorter routes.
It really comes down to the quality of quarterback play. If Mariota hits, Wright will have his floor, will be a reliable WR3, and he'll also be a bargain on draft day.