Does DeVante Parker Have Elite Fantasy Football Upside in 2016?

Parker showed flashes at the end of his 2015 rookie season. Can we expect more in Year 2?

One fateful Friday night when I was about 14, a few of us staying over at my friends' house decided to have a contest to chug as much of the (probably now illegal) soda, Surge, as possible.

Young and living the dream, with our contest neck-and-neck, the last remaining participant and I cracked open our fourth Surge in a span of no more than eight minutes when our friend's Mom opened the door to the back yard and opened up a can of "WTF are you idiots doing?" on us.

After being reamed by our friends' mom, we stayed up for hours, wide awake with achy stomachs. After a brief period of time of getting way more soda than we were ever accustomed to, the comedown was predictably awful.

Kind of like the comedown the 2015 rookie wide receiver market felt after an outrageously productive class of 2014 rookies.

But one of the highly touted 2015 rookies who didn't get a complete season to shine was the Dolphins’ wide receiver, DeVante Parker. After suffering a foot injury in training camp and nursing that through most of the first half of the season, Parker didn't really get a chance to show off his skills until the final third of the season.

When he did finally get on the field on a more consistent basis, the intrigue was justified. But with a new coaching staff in Miami, along with a few different faces on the receiver depth chart, what might we be able to expect from a fully healthy Parker in season two?

A Dynamic Playmaker

So why the intrigue in Parker headed into 2016? Because dude was money when he got the rock in those last six games of 2015. And the numbers back it up.

You see, here at numberFire, we like to dig deeper than basic stats like total receiving yards and touchdowns to get a clearer picture of player impact with our signature metric, Net Expected Points (NEP), which quantifies player production based on performance above expectation.

After all, an eight-yard reception means something different on 3rd-and-13 and 3rd-and-6. One advances your team's probability of scoring by extending the drive; the other very likely results in a punt. So, those eight receiving yards should carry different meaning, and NEP accounts for that. You can learn more about NEP here in our glossary.

Targets Receptions Reception NEP Reception NEP Per Target
50 26 49.19 0.98

In his last six games, Parker put together an impressive stat line of 22 catches, 445 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Even more impressive was that Parker finished fourth out of the 86 receivers with at least 50 targets in 2015 with a 0.98 Reception NEP per target. Perhaps his efficiency and big-play ability shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

Player Profiler currently has Parker's closest comparable NFL player as the ever-prolific A.J. Green. In college, 75% of his career catches went for a first down, and 21% resulted in an end zone spike.

How did those numbers end up translating? In his first NFL season, with an admittedly small sample size, 77% of his receptions resulted in first downs and 12% resulted in touchdowns. Not bad for a rookie who didn't get time to build chemistry with his quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, in training camp.

The Arm

Parker's fate will be tied in many ways to Tannehill and first-time head coach Adam Gase. Fortunately, we have some good data that can help us develop an idea for how we might reasonably expect Parker to perform for your fantasy team in 2016.

First, Tannehill. Tannehill was bad last year, posting a paltry 0.05 Passing NEP per drop back (the league-average for quarterbacks was 0.11). And he's never really been all that good in terms of efficiency. Even in his "breakout" 2014 season he finished as the 15th-most efficient quarterback out of the 26 who dropped back at least 350 times, so his stellar fantasy production that season was largely volume-driven.

But when Parker and Tannehill began connecting in Week 12 last season, things really turned around for Tannehill's effectiveness.

Tannehill Splits Passing NEP Passing NEP per drop back Passing Success Rate
Week 1-11 5.23 0.01 43.96%
Weeks 12-17 28.76 0.12 44.44%

Tannehill compiled more than five times more Passing NEP in the final six weeks of the season than he was able to do in nearly twice the amount of games between Weeks 1 and 11 when Parker was mostly sidelined. With a full offseason to develop a real connection, it's promising to see what this duo can accomplish.

The Brain

The brain behind the Dolphins’ new offensive operation, Adam Gase, fortunately has experience taking over offenses directed by inefficient quarterbacks with bad decision-making skills in pass-happy offenses. He had a near identical situation in 2015 in Chicago, taking over play calling from fired head coach Marc Trestman with Jay Cutler under center.

Trestman's QB Season(s) Pass NEP Pass NEP/P Success Rate
Jay Cutler 2006-2014 179.93 0.04 46.36%
Jay Cutler 2015 66.96 0.13 48.24%
Ryan Tannehill 2012-2015 55.64 0.02 45.95%

As you can see, Cutler put up a respectable 0.13 Passing NEP per drop back in 2015, a mark he had only surpassed once in his career up to that point. The drawback for fantasy purposes is that this efficiency came at the expense of a 21% decrease in drop backs for the Bears' offense from the previous season, and this is one of the reasons people are skeptical of drafting Parker this season.

But keep in mind that the Bears' receiving corps was an absolute mess last year, with Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal, and Martellus Bennett each missing significant chunks of time. So while we can expect Gase to balance out the run and the pass next year in Miami, a decrease in passing of 21% from the previous year is probably not in the cards.

Another reason folks are skeptical of drafting Parker is the crowded depth chart the Dolphins sport. But does Parker have any reason to worry about his spot on the pecking order?

Not really.

First things first, Jarvis Landry will likely continue to be a target hog as he and Tannehill have developed a good chemistry and Tannehill is much better at executing the short underneath routes that Landry specializes in than the deep ball. But 24.3% of the total team target share has been vacated with Greg Jennings, Lamar Miller, and Rishard Matthews each having parted ways with the team.

The non-Landry, non-running back targets returning from last year don't worry me either. Jordan Cameron was targeted 70 times last year, 36 of which came in the first five games. After that, Tannehill wasn’t looking his way often at all.

Kenny Stills had shown remarkable efficiency in New Orleans, posting a gaudy 1.05 Reception NEP per target in 2014, but proved wholly inadequate without Drew Brees delivering him strikes in 2015, posting a below-league average 0.60 Reception NEP per target.

And the other two receivers on the depth chart, Leonte Carroo and Jakeem Grant are rookies who don't have Parker's first-round draft pedigree.

Predicting Targets

So assuming Parker holds onto the role as the second-most targeted receiver in Gase's offense, what has that looked like in the past?

Pretty good actually.

Year Team WR1 Market Share WR2 Market Share
2013 Denver 21.20% 20.30%
2014 Denver 30.50% 23.40%
2015* Chicago 31.30% 7.60%
Averages 26.70% 19.10%

*There's a reason for the asterisk. While 2015 was a dumpster fire for the number-two role in Chicago, I'll refer you back to the fact that the whole receiving corps was unstable. Thus, the figure cited in the charts above only reflects the games in which Alshon Jeffery played in 2015, even though there were a host of number-two receivers in those nine games. And in 2013-14, Denver's cadre of weapons resulted in a big role for the number-two targeted receiver.

So, for the purpose of this exercise, let's average Gase's history as a play caller and the results in team target percentage for the second-leading targeted receiver on his offense, which ends up being 19.1%.

If we assume Tannehill drops back at a rate 15% less than he did in 2015, he'd accumulate 537 drop backs. And if we assume Devante Parker ends up being the second leading targeted receiver on the Dolphins, this would result in 103 targets.

Extrapolating numbers from last year, Parker would have have put up 54 catches for 1,017 yards and 6 touchdowns on those 103 targets. And this isn't even accounting for Tannehill's probable increased efficiency or Gase's affinity for his X-receiver in 2014 and 2015 in which Demaryius Thomas and Jeffery each eclipsed a 30% team target share.

If Gase has his way based on previous trends, Parker might even eclipse that 19.1% target share and generate even more production.

But the key takeaway isn't that he's a locked-in 1,000-yard receiver or a 100-target shoo-in but rather that, even though he isn't the number-one option in this offense, he's got plenty of opportunity under Gase.

Parker's Value

With a run of stellar performances at the end of 2015 and entering the 2016 season fully healthy, Parker is a near-lock to solidify himself as the number-two targeted receiver on an offense that will look a lot different than last year.

With Gase's history of giving a nice workload to his number-two targeted receiver, his recent history in improving a once inefficient quarterback's performance in Jay Cutler, and his affinity for the X-receiver role in his offense, Parker may have the tools in place to really show the world what he's made of.

As such, his current ADP of 6.11 may be underselling the possibility that he could end up putting up mid- to high-end WR2 numbers if things go the right way in 2016.