5 Wide Receivers Who Outperformed Their Teammates in 2015
Few things were more apparent in 2014 than DeAndre Hopkins' superiority over his Houston Texans teammates.
No matter which metric you looked at, Hopkins was the obvious most efficient receiver on the team. Yet, he still finished 19 targets behind Andre Johnson for the team lead at the end of the season. Something had to change.
This year, the Texans were able to right that wrong. Hopkins had almost 100 more targets than any other player on the team, churning out 111 receptions for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns. That was a modest 1,018 yards more than Johnson with the Indianapolis Colts.
Who knew feeding a beast would work out so well?
Now with the 2015 season in the books, it's time to look for players similar to Hopkins who also might be deserving of extra looks next year. We'll try to find these gems using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP). This is the metric we use to track the efficiency of both teams and players, though we'll be focusing on the player side here.
For wide receivers, we'll mostly be using Target NEP and Reception NEP, both as a whole and on a per-target basis. Target NEP tracks the expected number of points a player added (or subtracted) on the passes on which he was targeted during the season. If he is able to pick up a first down on 3rd and 7, that's going to increase the number of points the team is expected to score on that drive, providing a boost to his NEP. If the pass is intercepted, that's going to have the opposite effect.
Comparing wide receivers to their own teammates will help take the quarterback out of it. Pitting A.J. Green up against Mike Evans isn't likely to be a fair comparison because their quarterbacks had different levels of success this year. However, comparing Evans to Vincent Jackson can give us a better idea of who deserves a higher market share moving forward.
All of these comparisons will be limited to only wide receivers. Tight ends -- because of their presence in the red zone -- tend to have higher per-target efficiency numbers than wide receivers, so comparing them to a wide receiver would be an apples-to-oranges look.
Now, this isn't to say these guys are the next Hopkins. It's more to say that the team's overall passing efficiency could increase if these players were to see more targets. Here are five guys for whom that could be the case.
Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
This appeared to be an area of efficiency the Buffalo Bills noticed and accounted for late in the season, but it still may not have been enough. Sammy Watkins was a dominant force in 2015, and he needs to be looked at as a major breakout candidate in 2016.
On the season, four Bills wide receivers saw at least 30 targets. Watkins finished the year with 0.69 Target NEP per target; the second best mark on the team was Chris Hogan at a mere 0.24. That separation blows Hopkins' marks from last year out of the water.
Part of this is just that the Bills' receiver group is mostly devoid of talent. However, Watkins' numbers hold up against the best in the league, as well.
There were 48 receivers this year who saw at least 80 targets; none of them had a higher Reception NEP per target than Watkins at 1.05. Doug Baldwin was the only other receiver to top 1.00 at 1.01. Robert Woods was the only other Buffalo receiver to qualify, and he finished in 42nd place.
To their credit, the Bills did begin to funnel targets Watkins' way after their bye week. From Week 9 on, Watkins saw 32.37 percent of the team's targets. If he had done that for the whole year, he would have finished third in market share behind only Antonio Brown and Julio Jones. Intrigued yet?
In the fantasy realm, there is a pretty obvious concern when it comes to Watkins: volume. The Bills had the lowest pass-to-run ratio in the entire league, coming in as the only team that ran the ball more than they threw it on the year. If they aren't chucking it, then there's no opportunity for Watkins to thrive.
This is definitely something for which you need to account when assessing Watkins. It doesn't matter what his market share is if the team is only going to throw it 12 times (which was the case in Week 9). Given Watkins' numbers over the stretch run of the season, though, I'd be willing to take a gamble on volume to get a piece of a potential efficiency freak going forward.
Dorial Green-Beckham, Tennessee Titans
Technically, Dorial Green-Beckham didn't outperform all of his Tennessee Titans compadres. That honor would belong to Justin Hunter. However, Hunter never saw more than six targets in a game this year (31 overall), and he has been hyped before only to disappoint. Green-Beckham doesn't carry that same baggage.
Unlike with Watkins, Green-Beckham's usage did not go up as the season went along. It went up, collapsed, slowly built, and then dissolved again. When he did get targets, though, the rookie appeared to make the most of it.
Outside of Hunter, the Titans had four wide receivers see at least 30 targets this year. Because Dexter McCluster is classified as a wide receiver, we'll include him in this discussion, though his usage probably is more similar to that of a running back.
The table below shows how those four wide receivers performed. It should be pretty clear which one deserves to be featured in 2016.
|Wide Receiver||Targets||Reception NEP per Target||Target NEP per Target|
Please suppress your vomit while peeping McCluster's numbers.
Green-Beckham likely isn't at the point yet where he should be controlling more than 25 percent of the team's targets, especially given that Delanie Walker will still be there in 2016. He has shown, though, that he is a piece on whom the team can depend for the future. Giving him increased usage with a healthy Marcus Mariota could lead to positive things down the road in Tennessee.
Torrey Smith, San Francisco 49ers
This one is a bit puzzling to me. You'd think that on an offense as inept as the San Francisco 49ers', they'd be trying anything to feature a player with even the smallest amount of efficiency. Torrey Smith had that, yet he still only saw 62 targets. Bold strategy.
Because of Smith's repertoire (run deep and pray), it wouldn't be fair to look at him on a pure per-reception basis. This is why Target NEP is important here, as it can take into account when things go awry. That just didn't seem to happen often this year when the team went to Smith.
The three 49ers receivers this year who saw the most volume were Smith, Anquan Boldin, and Quinton Patton. Smith had the best Target NEP per target at 0.47. Boldin's mark was 0.14, and Patton was 0.13. Smith is an outlier in the majorly positive sense.
Why, then, did the 49ers not use him more? Posting a number that high when your quarterbacks are Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert should indicate that something needs to change, yet Smith was only targeted more than five times in a game on three occasions. That number probably should have been higher.
It's entirely possible that Smith simply wasn't open on the other plays, forcing the team to inflate Boldin's targets. When a player is as much better than his counterparts as Smith was, though, it warrants a question of whether or not the team should start to feature him.
Smith will just be entering his age-27 season with four more years on his contract, so we'll see how things adjust with possibly a new signal caller in 2016.
DeVante Parker, Miami Dolphins
DeVante Parker falls under the same category as Green-Beckham in that he wasn't really the team's top receiver. That honor belonged to Rishard Matthews, who actually had a really solid season when he was healthy. However, Matthews is an unrestricted free agent, so it would seem more prudent to focus on Parker with regard to the Miami Dolphins.
The passing game is likely not a fun discussion for Dolphins fans after this season. Ryan Tannehill failed to take a step forward, finishing 32nd in Passing NEP per drop back of the 46 quarterbacks who had at least 100 drop backs. Parker served as a minor bright spot in an otherwise murky corps.
The rookie turned his 50 targets into 26.36 Target NEP, equating to 0.53 Target NEP per target. The next best receiver (outside of Matthews) was Jarvis Landry all the way down at 0.12, while Kenny Stills sat at 0.07. Greg Jennings was just a wee bit worse at -0.08. If the ball didn't go to Matthews or Parker, bad things happened.
The positive aspect of Parker's success is that it came despite heavy volume. If he's only seeing two targets a game, it makes sense that the defense wouldn't focus on him. Over the last six games, though, he saw at least five targets each week, averaging seven per game. That's enough to warrant additional coverage, but he was still a potent threat.
You'll likely read plenty about Parker this offseason, so he's not going to come cheap in 2016 fantasy drafts. That's a concern given Landry's 28.74 percent market share. Even when Parker was featured, he only saw 18.75 percent of the targets over the final six games. Unless he can cut into Landry's targets, his fantasy ceiling is going to have a cap on it.
Because of this, you'll need to monitor Parker's cost throughout the offseason. If it starts to get too high, it may be time to pump the brakes and divest. However, if he can even fly just a little bit under the radar, the prospect of his efficiency and potential for an expanded role in the offense is too juicy to pass up.
Kenny Britt St. Louis Rams
If you are squeamish or don't handle blood well, I don't suggest looking at the receiving metrics of anybody on the St. Louis Rams. It's as if the "Red Wedding" and Django Unchained birthed a baby in the elevator from The Shining. Stuff's nasty, fam. Kenny Britt came out a bit more unscathed than the rest of the crew.
Against my better judgement, I've decided to present to you the full metrics of each member from the Rams' receiver group who saw at least 30 targets. This isn't because I hate you or anything; it just seems necessary to prove my point. Look at it if you dare.
|Wide Receiver||Targets||Reception NEP per Target||Target NEP per Target|
This could just be another instance where the rest of the crop was abominable, but Britt really did stand out compared to his peers. He had four of the seven games this year in which a Rams receiver topped 70 receiving yards, and he only saw more than five targets in one of those games.
Even with this, it's hard to find reasons to be excited about Britt in fantasy next year. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher may actually hate passing more than he hates winning records, which is saying something. If the team were to upgrade at quarterback, that could provide a mild spark of optimism given the team's solid offensive line. I don't mind taking a flier on Britt because of his efficiency, but it really shouldn't be anything more than that.