A.J. Green Is a Way Better Fantasy Football Asset Than You Realize

A.J. Green is currently being drafted as the ninth wide receiver in fantasy football, which seems criminally low considering his track record.

I'm a huge Marvel fan. Well, okay, I'm not a huge Marvel fan -- I don't have every comic book in my room or anything. I do, however, love the movies. The X-Men series was terrific, but I really became hooked when I saw Iron Man in 2008.

I could barely contain my excitement when each new release came out, whether it was Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America or, eventually, The Avengers.

The series never seemed to disappoint.

Marvel's Avengers series has been putting out dope movies for nearly 10 years now. It's awesome.

At a certain point, though, it almost becomes boring.

When Captain America: Civil War came out this spring, I didn't find myself giddy with excitement as I would have in the past. I knew it was going to be another terrific movie but, honestly, I've found myself more excited for several other movies recently -- Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Creed, The Revenant, to name a few. The Marvel movies have been so good for so long that it's hard for me to stay excited each time a new movie comes out.

You didn't come here to get my opinion on movies? Alright, I'll make my point.

Once one of the most exciting young playmakers in the NFL, A.J. Green has lost his luster. Since being drafted fourth overall by Cincinnati in 2011, Green has done nothing but dominate. He's been a model of consistency, topping 1,000 receiving yards in every season of his career. He's also caught double-digit touchdowns and finished as a top-10 fantasy receiver in every season he's played 16 games, finishing third in 2012, fourth in 2013, and ninth in 2015 according to PPR scoring.

Despite this, Green is currently ranked as the seventh wide receiver according to ESPN's Fantasy Football Rankings Summit and is being drafted as the ninth wide receiver, after the likes of Amari Cooper, Dez Bryant, and Mike Evans.

In the same way that myself and many others have lost our initial fervor for the movies in the Marvel series, it seems the fantasy football world has become bored with Green's consistent top-flight production. Instead, we find it more exciting to hope for Star Wars- or Creed-like bounce-back performances from Dez Bryant or Jordy Nelson. We'd rather take a flier on the Revenant-like upside of Amari Cooper or Mike Evans, both of whom had fewer fantasy points than Green last season and neither of whom have anywhere near the pedigree that Green has.

Despite having the most favorable outlook of his career entering 2016, Green currently has the lowest average draft position (ADP) among receivers that he has seen since his rookie season in 2011 according to ADP data. He has become a forgotten man among elite receivers, and I believe it's time to reconsider our evaluation of the top-ranked wideouts.

Green should be no lower than the fourth-ranked fantasy wide receiver, behind the likes of Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, and Julio Jones.

Don't agree? Hear me out -- I promise only fantasy football analysis from this point on, no more movies.

Increased Efficiency

The most exciting thing for Green entering 2016 is his workload. Before we get into that, though, let's take a look at what he was able to do last season despite seeing his lowest targets per game number since his rookie season.

Green turned his 132 targets last season into 1,297 receiving yards, which was good for eighth in the NFL. His 9.83 yards per target, however, was fourth among receivers with over 100 targets, trailing only Doug Baldwin (10.27), John Brown (9.93), and Allen Hurns (9.91). Each of those receivers barely reached the 100 target threshold, though, finishing with 104, 101, and 104 targets, respectively. The only receiver with a large workload who could rival Green's elite efficiency in 2015 was Antonio Brown, whose 9.41 yards per target ranked sixth among wideouts with at least 100 targets.

numberFire's in-house metrics such as Net Expected Points (NEP) and Success Rate display impressive efficiency from Green last season, too. For more on NEP, check out our glossary of terms.

Green's NEP per target of 0.88 was fourth among receivers with at least 100 targets, and his Success Rate -- the percentage of positive plays made -- of 91.86 percent ranked sixth among such receivers. Not only were those numbers impressive compared to the rest of the league, they show another step forward for Green relative to his career numbers.

The table below clearly shows that 2015 was Green's most efficient season yet.

AJ Green NEP/Target Success Rate Catch Rate
2011 0.86 89.2% 56.5%
2012 0.69 86.6% 59.2%
2013 0.73 86.7% 55.1%
2014 0.70 89.9% 59.5%
2015 0.88 91.9% 65.2%

What really stands out is that Success Rate which, again, ranked sixth among high-volume receivers. Having such a high rate shows that Green was clearly not dependent on the big play last season. Understanding this helps validate that his 9.83 yards per target was not just a result of a higher average depth of target or a couple fluky big plays, but rather an all-around step forward in the efficiency of the Andy Dalton-to-A.J. Green connection.

Nobody Likes a Ball Hog

It's true -- nobody likes a ball hog. Unless you're a fantasy owner, that is.

With the way that Cincinnati's offseason is shaping up, Green is likely going to end up with one of the highest projectable target shares entering the 2016 season.

Word recently came out that Cincinnati tight end Tyler Eifert will require ankle surgery and will likely be out for three months. It's certainly possible that he could miss some regular season games, and at the very least he'll come into the year rusty. In case you don't remember Eifert, he's the man who paced the league in receiving scores last season before eventually finishing with 13 touchdowns in 13 games -- the most among tight ends.

However, Eifert has suited up in just 14 of Cincinnati's past 32 games, and the fact that he's entering 2016 with an injury certainly isn't promising for the injury-prone tight end.

Cincinnati also lost Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in free agency, a duo who accounted for 31 percent of their target share and 29 percent of their red zone target share in 2015.

The only notable moves the Bengals have made are bringing in Brandon LaFell in free agency and Tyler Boyd in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. LaFell finished last season as Pro Football Focus' 119th-ranked receiver with a grade of 47 out of 100. If you remember anything about LaFell's campaign, it's likely the fact that he dropped six passes (unofficially) in his season debut.

So, with Cincinnati heading into the season with only 69 percent of their 2015 targets and 71 percent of their 2015 red zone targets accounted for (those numbers drop to 54 percent and 48 percent if Eifert is out), one would have to assume that Green is going to see a fairly significant increase in volume.

In the three seasons Green has played a full 16 games, he's never demanded fewer than a 26 percent target share. In both 2012 and 2013, he was given over a 30 percent target share. In the five seasons that Andy Dalton has been the starting quarterback, Cincinnati has averaged 534 passing attempts per season.

To be fair, Cincinnati has been more run heavy since the arrival of Jeremy Hill, but they have still topped 500 passing attempts in each season under Dalton. We'll split the difference and go with a base projection of 515 passing attempts for Cincy in 2016. Even if Green sees the 26.67 percent target share he saw last season, he'd be in line for 137 targets. That could be considered his absolute floor projection, assuming he doesn't deal with injuries.

If Green sees the 30.94 percent target share he saw in 2012 -- certainly attainable considering Cincinnati's current depth at receiver -- he would be in line for 159 targets. He's topped that number twice already in his career, so that's not an outlandish amount to expect from him.

If Green were able to maintain his 9.83 yards and 2.09 fantasy points (PPR) per target from last season over a 159-target workload, the end result would be 1,566 yards and 332 fantasy points. Those numbers would have ranked third and fourth among receivers last season.

Don't think Green can maintain that type of efficiency when given a larger workload? That makes sense theoretically, but the numbers prove it inaccurate. When he was targeted at least 10 times in a game last season, Green averaged 8 catches, 127 yards and scored 3 touchdowns in four games.

Want a larger sample size? In 32 career games with at least 10 targets a game, Green has averaged 7.4 catches, 100.9 yards, and 0.69 touchdowns, which projects out to 347 fantasy points over a 16 game season.

What's even scarier about those numbers is that 88 percent of those games came outside of his 2015 season, in which he was clearly at his top form from an efficiency standpoint. It's not out of the question to believe that Green could post even stronger numbers this season when he receives 10-plus targets in a game, which could become a regular occurrence with the state of Cincy's pass catchers.

Elite Fantasy Receiver?

It's great fun to sit around and try to project how many targets a receiver will get three months before the season begins, but Green's case isn't reliant on just his projectable increase in volume.

Even in the unforeseen situation in which Green were to not receive a huge boost in volume, he has still shown the ability to be just as valuable as the three receivers most rankers are currently putting ahead of him -- DeAndre Hopkins, Dez Bryant, and Allen Robinson.

Below is a chart highlighting the best two-year stretch any of the four receivers have had. Last season was Robinson's first full season, so his numbers are just a one year sample size.

Player Season(s) Rec Yards TD Fantasy Points (PPR)
A.J. Green 2012-13 97.5 1,388 11 304
DeAndre Hopkins 2014-2015 93.5 1,366 8.5 281
Dez Bryant 2013-2014 90.5 1,277 14.5 310
Allen Robinson 2015 80 1,400 14 304

To be fair, Green and Bryant have had more seasons to pick and choose seasons from than younger receivers like Hopkins and Robinson, who are in the middle of their breakouts. So, to provide a more objective approach, let's just look at Green's best season compared to Hopkins and Robinson's best seasons.

PlayerSeasonRecYardsTDRec NEPFantasy Points (PPR)
A.J. Green2013981,42611130.5307
DeAndre Hopkins20151111,52111143.9331
Dez Bryant2014881,32016127.9316
Allen Robinson2015801,40014123.8304

Hopkins' 2015 slightly edges out the other receivers, but overall, there's not much difference between them.

So, when looking at the absolute best production that these receivers have offered, Green's upside is nearly identical to that of Hopkins, Bryant, and Robinson. Can someone please remind me, then, why Green is definitively ranked below these receivers across the industry?

Is it that Green dealt with some minor injuries in 2014? That wouldn't make sense considering the injury history of Bryant and Robinson.

It certainly can't be their projected situations in 2016, right? In addition to dealing with his own injury concerns, Bryant will be catching passes from the 36-year-old Tony Romo, who -- while still talented -- was only able to suit up four games last season due to injury. The potential is obviously there for a bounce-back season from Bryant, but is it really worth risking your first-round pick, when Green has shown a similar ceiling and a far higher floor?

DeAndre Hopkins is coming off of a major breakout season, but as our own JJ Zachariason pointed out, Hopkins is almost certainly going to see a decrease in volume from last year. So, once again, I ask: How is Green a less valuable commodity in redraft formats?

One receiver's volume is on the rise, while the other's on the decline. Green has proven twice already that he can be as good as Hopkins was last season, and he has several other solid seasons to compliment those especially beastly seasons. Hopkins, on the other hand, has one top-five fantasy season under his belt. How can we justify drafting him (5.27 ADP) an entire round earlier than Green (15.55 ADP)?

Speaking of one-hit wonders, let's talk about Jacksonville's offense -- specifically Blake Bortles and Allen Robinson. Bortles is a near lock to regress from his 35 passing touchdowns last season. Before you get the torches and pitchforks, please read this. It's just math -- the probability of Bortles repeating that season is highly unlikely.

Well, if Bortles is likely to throw fewer touchdowns, that will almost certainly have a negative effect on Allen Robinson, right? Well, JJ did some digging on that, too, and discovered that our NEP metric suggests that Robinson is the second-most likely receiver to see their touchdown total drop in 2016, behind only Doug Baldwin. If he catches just nine touchdowns next season (what his Reception NEP suggests he should have caught based on his performance), that would be 36 fewer fantasy points, which would have been almost identical to Green's 2015 output.

So, we're going to justify drafting Robinson over Green based off of one season in which he put up a touchdown total that was potentially an outlier?

As it stands right now, the only receivers you can make a justifiable case for over Green in the first round are Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, and Julio Jones. Green's upside might not be quite as high as some of the receivers being taken before him, but in the first round, we're drafting for security. Take your fliers on high-upside guys in the later rounds.

Green's ADP will likely rise as we get closer to the season, especially since Rotoworld's Evan Silva, one of the most well-known fantasy football analysts out there, recently released his rankings with Green as the fourth overall player. Even if he's going at the end of the first round, instead of the beginning of the second-round like he is currently, Green is a terrific value.

Let everyone else buy into the hype and forget about Green this season. He's as safe of a bet for first-round production as there is out there, and he's ready to anchor your team this season.