Marvin Jones Might Be the Most Undervalued Wide Receiver in Fantasy Football

The fantasy football world is in love with Golden Tate, but Marvin Jones is the real Lions' wide receiving bargain this year.

Anytime my wife and I sit down to watch a romantic comedy, I feel the same way.


But I'll be honest: once a romcom gets going, it's not all that bad. Sure, the storylines are corny and we always know the woman ends up with the friend after being blindsided by the douchey boyfriend, but most romantic comedies are...well, they're enjoyable. In fact, some of them -- I'm looking at you, He's Just Not That Into You -- are really enjoyable.

After signing with the Lions this offseason, my thought process surrounding Marvin Jones was pretty similar to what I experience with these romcoms. I felt indifferent, and I assumed fantasy football owners would overdraft him because he was a new commodity in what's always a pass-heavy Matthew Stafford-led offense.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Jones' Career

Before we get into Marvin Jones' new situation, it seems worthwhile to take a look back at his time with the Bengals. And to help us do that, we'll look at numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric.

For more detail on NEP, you can visit our glossary. But know this: it's a way of showing how effective a player has been versus expectation. Rather than looking at things like yards and touchdowns, NEP takes the context of down-and-distance into consideration to spit out a nice, clean above-or-below expectation number.

Back to Jones. He's played three years in the NFL, despite being a rookie back in 2012. If you recall, he missed all of 2014 with ankle and foot injuries.

He's had two significant seasons in the league -- 2013 and 2015 -- where he's seen 80 and 103 targets, respectively. Here's a look at how he fared in the Reception Net Expected Points per target department versus the league average:

Year Targets Reception NEP per Target League Average
2013 80 1.02 0.66
2015 103 0.67 0.67

The numbers above aren't meant to be the end-all to any sort of argument. Instead, it's to show at a high level that Marvin Jones has been an above-average wideout in his two years of relevant play.

You probably noticed his crazy 1.02 Reception NEP per target in 2013, which was the second-best efficiency average among all wideouts with 50 or more targets. A big reason for that was because of his ability to find the end zone, as he scored -- this isn't a typo -- 10 times on his 80 targets. Perhaps you remember his mathematically-ridiculous four-touchdown game that year, which helped boost that total.

But, for obvious reasons, that notion of being a touchdown scorer is really important here. You need touchdowns to be relevant in fantasy football. There's no getting around that fact.

Since 2013,'s database says there've been 118 wideouts who've seen 100 or more total targets. Among this group of players, Marvin Jones' touchdown per target rate ranks 12th-best.

Meanwhile, check out the best touchdown per target rates in the red zone over the last three seasons among players with 20 or more red zone targets.

Player Targets Touchdowns Touchdowns per Target Rate
Tyler Eifert 23 12 52.17%
Julius Thomas 43 20 46.51%
Allen Robinson 27 12 44.44%
Rob Gronkowski 44 19 43.18%
Dez Bryant 49 21 42.86%
Marvin Jones 26 11 42.31%

I'd say that's pretty good company.

OK, OK -- I get it. Some of these numbers are skewed because of that 10-touchdown, probable-outlier season. There are a lot of ways you can look at this, to be clear. At the very least, though, we have to recognize that, in a relatively decent sample size, Marvin Jones has kind of balled out in the red zone.

And that's huge considering who he'll be playing for in 2016.

A Dream in Detroit

In the post-Matthew-Stafford-is-injury-prone years (2011 up until now), the Lions have consistently been one of the most pass-heavy teams in football. Some of that has to do with their defense and game script, some has to do with wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and some can be attributed to pass-friendly coordinators.

Since 2011, the Lions haven't had a drop-back-to-run ratio less than 1.48, while three of the last five years have seen them approach 2.00 (1.97, 1.97, 1.91). For some context, only three teams have had a 2.00 drop-back-to-run ratio since the turn of the century. And the Lions seem to approach that mark almost every year.

Assuming the Lions will be in the top half in pass attempts this year is a pretty safe thing to think, and that means Jones should have plenty of opportunity considering the rest of the Lions' offensive depth chart, which consists of Golden Tate, a tight end that has really yet to break through in Eric Ebron, and a hybrid running back-wide receiver in Theo Riddick.

And, guys, that's really the extent of the target gobblers in the Lions' offense.

Last season, Detroit threw the ball 632 times. Let's just assume a dip -- for argument's sake -- to 600, which would be a five-year low for the team.

In order for Jones to hit 100 targets in an offense that throws the ball 600 times, he'd have to see 16.67% of the team's targets. Meanwhile, Tate and Megatron combined for 277 targets in Detroit last year, which equated to 43.83% of the team's total targets. If that number -- 43.83% -- was our baseline for Jones and Tate in 2016 and if Jones saw 16.67% of the targets, then Tate would have to see 27.16% of Stafford's looks this season.

That's a hell of a lot when you consider Tate's market share without Megatron (or with a banged-up version) in 2014 -- our only sample, which is five games worth -- sat at 31.9%. Meaning, without any other second receiver, Tate's percentage of team targets wasn't that much higher.

I mean, just to give you some perspective, Odell Beckham's share in the Giants' offense last year was 25.36%.

In other words, Jones should easily eclipse the 100-target mark. Easily. It should almost be expected for him to be closer to 120.

There's also the idea that Jones -- not Tate -- will end up being Detroit's number-one receiver this year.

We all know the kind of receiver Golden Tate is. He'll get you yards after the catch, but the depth of each one of his targets won't be very high. In fact, last year, Golden Tate's receiving yards at the catch (receiving yards minus yards after catch) was running back-esque, and he was bottom-seven in the league in yards per target.

Because that's his role. He'll stick close to the line of scrimmage and get yards after the catch. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's the reason many don't believe he's a number-one wide receiver.

This isn't to say Marvin Jones will step in and be Calvin Johnson, but he's already been praised by the Lions for being able to do it all, the expectation is that he'll be able to take on intermediate and deep routes, and ESPN's Michael Rothstein -- who covers the Lions -- even told me he expects the Lions to have a "1A and 1B deal with the two of them, and it's not clear which guy will be which."

Oh, and remember the touchdown talk above? There's that, too.

You could argue that Tate's had better quarterback play than Jones throughout his career, but his touchdown per target rate of 4.7% is far less than Jones' 7.0%. And among the 112 receivers who have seen 20 or more red zone targets over the last three seasons, Tate ranks 42nd in per-target scoring. Remember, Jones is 6th.

And while we noted that those numbers could be a little skewed for Jones, they kind of are for Tate, too. Last year, four of Tate's six touchdowns were from two yards or fewer out (another was five yards), thanks to play designs that didn't even see him targeted in the end zone.

Here's one of those plays that came against the Saints:

And then there was this one versus the Rams:

There was also this short score on Thanksgiving:

Tate isn't your typical receiver, let alone your typical red-zone receiver. Sure, we should expect these same type of play calls -- calls that often came after the hiring of offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter -- next season, but the Lions need a more traditional outside threat.

And that's where Jones could shine.

Drafting for Value

Last year in PPR leagues, targets and receptions both correlated stronger to weekly fantasy output at the wide receiver position than touchdowns did. That's a reason to like Tate -- he's going to more than likely outproduce all Lions' receivers in targets and receptions, giving him a nice weekly floor.

But if Jones can continue his success in the red zone, the lack of volume he'll see in relation to Tate (which might not even be much) may not matter -- the potential touchdowns could make up for it.

And that's why, according to, Tate's 12-team PPR league draft position of 4.04 is crazy when you realize Marvin Jones is dropping off boards at 9.03. It's not that Tate shouldn't produce each week for your fantasy team, and I wouldn't even say his average draft position is all that bad.

Marvin Jones' cost is just really, really good.