Can A.J. Green Be Trusted in the Fantasy Football Playoffs?
I was 16 years old and running for SGA President and had the entire auditorium rolling on the floor in laughter after answering a simple question during an open forum: if you could be any candy bar, what would you be and why.
I'll leave it to your imagination to determine what I said, but know this: never was my popularity at a higher point. And unfortunately for me, never would it ever regain such status again.
Yet to this day, over a decade later, I still have people comment to me about that moment. It has become almost folk lore in certain circles, and I am happy to revel in the memory of my greatest high school moment with anyone who wants to reminisce. It was a defining moment for me, and one I am sure to take credit for whenever someone wants to throw it my way.
But at some point, people wake up and realize that something you did a decade ago can't continue to define who you are to this day. Resting on the success of one moment isn't possible with years of mediocrity surrounding that moment.
It's why Odell Beckham needed a strong year so he could be known for more than just his "catch". And while I'm sure David Tyree is glad he caught a pass against his helmet in the biggest game and moment of his career, I'm sure he wishes his career could have had a few more "moments" beyond that.
In fantasy football, it's easy to look at cumulative stats and define a player's performance based on their statistical totals, regardless of how that player achieved those numbers. A massive four-touchdown game can skew a player's value to a team, with one week of success artificially inflating their rest of season statistics.
For A.J. Green owners, this season has probably felt a little bit like that: a star player riding high off of one massive Week 3 performance where he totaled 10 receptions for 227 yards and 2 touchdowns. For those just looking at stats, he seems like a top-10 receiver. But for those attempting to rely on him as an every week starter (and an advantageous one at that), the disappointment is real.
But if Cincinnati is performing well on offense and continuing to win games, why hasn't Green been the dominant receiver we know that he can be? Is he struggling to win on the outside? Or is his ineffectiveness rooted in something else?
While those who have A.J. Green on their rosters are disappointed by his production and volatility, the fact is that he is on pace for over 85 receptions and 1,300 yards.
In addition, he is currently 10th in fantasy points in standard scoring and looks poised to finish once again as a top eight-or-so option at the receiver position.
In terms of Net Expected Points (NEP), Green is performing as well as some of the best receivers in the game. His Reception NEP of 70.31 is ninth overall, and on a per target basis, he is even more impressive. His Target NEP of 43.74 is sixth in the NFL, and just ahead of Odell Beckham Jr. (43.40).
The metrics reveal that Green is just as effective on the field as he has ever been, but anyone trotting him out there as a starter every week knows that is an extremely misleading picture of the star receiver's season.
So where have things gone wrong?
For starters, his target volume just isn't at a dominant level right now, with Green on pace for 147 targets through 16 games. In his most effective statistical season (2013), he had 180 targets. In his second most effective season (2012), he had 164 targets.
He has also only reached the end zone four times this season, putting him on pace for just 6.4 touchdowns, well below the 11 he averaged in 2012 and 2013. Tyler Eifert has seemingly supplanted Green as quarterback Andy Dalton's favorite target in the red zone, and through only 10 games, the young tight end has 11 touchdowns. In terms of NEP, Eifert is a top-four tight end in almost every receiving category.
Eifert's unreal production combined with Jeremy Hill's seven red zone touchdowns have significantly impact the Bengals need to rely on Green as a high volume target in this offense. Instead, the team is free to use a multitude of weapons to break down a defense, which has made Andy Dalton a more effective quarterback and Green a less involved piece of the puzzle.
With this new approach, Dalton is shattering his previous NEP scores across the board, with his Passing NEP already exceeding the combined totals of his prior four seasons:
|Year||Passes||Pass NEP||Pass NEP/P||Pass Successes||Success Rate|
That jump is unreal, especially considering Dalton finished as a top three quarterback in his 2013 season, which pales in comparison to what he is accomplishing this year in terms of efficiency.
As a result, Green has scored in only three games this season and only has two 100-yard games on the year. And while those two weeks were amazing for fantasy owners (40% of his yardage came in those two games), the rest of the season has been very underwhelming.
With lower targets, less use in the red zone, and the emergence of effective players at both the running back and tight end position, Green just isn't the target hog he used to be in this offense. Gone are the days where Dalton would just chuck it up to Green every other play, which has proven great for the Bengals' offensive consistency and Andy Dalton's reputation as a quarterback.
But with red zone targets being diverted to Eifert or touchdowns being run in by Hill, Green simply isn't the dominant receiver many expected him to be. And with the Bengals posting one of their best offensive seasons in years, it's hard to see that changing anytime soon. For this team, less has been more when it comes to targeting A.J. Green, and efficiency and balance are now the priorities moving forward.
The good news is that, based on his efficiency and metrics (and the eye test), Green is just as physically dominant as he has always been. Of course, that simply means that he is capable of having monster weeks when the targets and red zone looks align. Predicting when those will be is tricky, and most will have no choice but to keep on starting him in their lineups.
He may be resting of the laurels of his name and his amazing Week 3 performance, but Green simply hasn't one of the 10 most valuable receivers in fantasy. His ability to produce at that pace, however, is still in tact. But we are just living in a different reality right now in Cincinnati.