What Donte Moncrief's Efficient Season Means for the Colts
Thanks in large part to a historic 2014 rookie class, the NFL is littered with supremely talented and ultra-productive young receivers.
The 2014 class alone gave us Odell Beckham, Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks, Allen Robinson, Kelvin Benjamin, Martavis Bryant and Jarvis Landry -- all of whom have gone varying degrees of HAM over the last two years while garnering well-deserved acclaim in fantasy football circles.
With the star power of his classmates in the 2014 group casting a large shadow, Indianapolis Colts’ receiver Donte Moncrief has flown under the radar.
After relatively quiet rookie campaign, the second-year wideout has been held back by things out of his control, most notably the Colts’ catastrophe at quarterback in 2015. But his 2015 season has been more productive than traditional box score statistics would have you believe, and once Andrew Luck returns, Moncrief could be in store for a big 2016 campaign.
After finishing sixth on the team in targets as a rookie, Moncrief seized the Colts’ number-two receiver job this year ahead of free agent signing Andre Johnson, who starred in the fall blockbuster Zero Separation.
As a starting wideout on one of the league’s best offenses, Moncrief was supposed to have a breakout season, but despite starting all 15 games, his stats -- 63 receptions for 735 yards and 6 scores -- have been mediocre.
As we know now, however, the Colts weren’t one of the league’s top offenses in 2015.
Hindered by shoddy play from Luck early on, things went from bad to worse when Luck went down with a significant kidney injury, forcing 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck into action. The only positive has been that we've been reminded there is a grown man who is a professional football player with the nickname Clipboard Jesus.
In fact, Indy has been one of the league’s worst offenses, ranking 24th in Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) per play.
For those unfamiliar with NEP, it’s our in-house metric which quantifies the number of points a player adds to his team versus how he's expected to perform. When a player runs for four yards on a 3rd-and-3, keeping the drive and potential for scoring points alive, he'll add more to his team's expected point total than when a player rushes for four yards on a 3rd-and-5 and forces his team to punt. You can learn more about NEP in our glossary.
It's NEP which allows us to see Moncrief's 2015 in a different light. While his conventional stats have been ordinary, those superficial box score numbers don't paint a complete portrait.
Among the 47 receivers with at least 80 targets this season, Moncrief ranks 11th with 0.81 Reception NEP per target. On its face, that’s impressive, but that per-target efficiency is especially noteworthy when you consider the play of Hasselbeck and Luck this season.
Among quarterbacks with 100 drop backs in 2015, Luck ranks 24th in Passing NEP per drop back while Hasselbeck checks in 31st.
Despite pedestrian numbers -- 32 grabs for 444 yards and 3 touchdowns -- as a rookie, Moncrief again rated well in his per-target NEP. Among the 89 wideouts with at least 40 looks in 2014, he ranked a respectable 34th with 0.73 Reception NEP per target.
Moncrief has clearly taken a step forward in his second year.
Getting targeted over twice as many times this year (103) compared to his rookie season (49), Moncrief hasn't just maintained his efficiency -- he's improved it. The former Ole Miss star has been one of the game’s most efficient receivers this season even though he’s been catching passes from a pair of subpar quarterbacks -- or in Luck's case, a guy who has played at a substandard level this year.
Speaking of Luck, he is the key ingredient to Moncrief’s future fantasy football stardom. Luck’s woes this year have been well documented, but it seems unlikely he’ll play this badly again in 2016. After finishing 2014 with 0.17 Passing NEP per drop back, that number plummeted to 0.07 this year. Even if Luck doesn’t match his 2014 numbers, though, Moncrief could have a nice year provided Luck can just stay on the field.
In his six games with Luck this season, Moncrief averaged 9 targets and 52.6 yards per game while scoring 4 touchdowns. One-third of those games came against the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, the top two teams in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play.
Moncrief predictably struggled against those elite pass defenses, registering just 5 catches for 48 yards in those two games. If you remove Denver and Carolina, Moncrief’s yards-per-game clip in his other four outings with Luck jumps to 67.75, and he found the end zone once in each game.
With Moncrief showing meaningful progress this year and the probable improvement in the Colts’ quarterback situation next season, 2016 looks awfully promising for Moncrief.