Can Alshon Jeffery Outperform His Fantasy Football Draft Cost in 2016?
I'm not sure you'll find many people who actually have an opinion on Alshon Jeffery who have a negative opinion on him.
That is to say that I'm pretty sure people realize that Jeffery is good at football. The same is true for his fantasy football perception.
Jeffery, who finished 42nd among fantasy receivers in PPR scoring last year, is currently being drafted as the 10th receiver off the board in PPR formats, per FantasyFootballCalculator.com. He played in just nine games last season, but owners are trusting that he'll return to form. After all, Jeffery finished 2014 as the WR10 and 2013 as the WR8 in PPR formats.
But is paying top-dollar for Jeffery, the 10th receiver off the board and 19th overall, a smart strategy this season?
Among 54 receivers with at least 75 targets in 2015 (Jeffery saw 94), he ranked 31st in Reception Net Expected Points (NEP), the amount of points he added to the Bears' offense relative to an expectation-level performer, with a score of 74.44.
On a per-target basis, Jeffery (0.79) ranked 14th, a much more promising sign for his efficiency last season while he dealt with injuries. Jeffery ranked 17th in Reception Success Rate, as 88.89% of his 54 catches actually led to NEP gains for the Bears' offense. This shows that he wasn't just a garbage-time performer and that his production wasn't necessarily empty while the offense played from behind.
Jeffery's on-field performance holds up to other receivers around the league, but it fares even better when examining what other Bears receivers did in this same offense. The other Chicago receivers owned a collective Success Rate of 78.61%, which was significantly below the league average for receivers of 84.06%. They combined for a Reception NEP per target of 0.65, below the league average of 0.67, and this 0.14-point-per-target difference between Jeffery and his teammates was the seventh-highest discrepancy among the 54 wideouts with at least 75 targets and their teammates.
It's clear that Jeffery can outclass his teammates by a significant margin, but can he really challenge the league's elite in this offense?
In 2015, the Bears owned a pass-to-run ratio of 1.19, which ranked 25th in the NFL. Their 556 drop backs also ranked 25th.
In games that he played, Jeffery was targeted on 94 of the Bears' 321 drop backs (attempts plus sacks), which equates to a 29.3% market share. For reference, that tied DeAndre Hopkins' season-long mark, and only Julio Jones' 31.1% and Antonio Brown's 31.0% topped it.
If that rate maintained over the Bears' 556 drop backs, he would have seen roughly 163 targets, which would have ranked seventh last season among receivers.
The problem with relying on that market share number is that he did it over just nine games, and it was pretty dang elite. That's not to say that he can't or won't replicate it. However, the problem with relying on his market share from 2013 and 2014, which were 16-game seasons, is that he played second fiddle to Brandon Marshall.
Still, that market share of 23.37% (again, we're talking all drop backs and not just pass attempts), at the same 556 drop backs would equate to 130 targets. Even if we were to lop off those 56 drop backs (based on nothing -- it's just a thought experiment) and the Bears challenged for a league-low in drop backs (491 last year by the Rams) and if Jeffery went back to his second-fiddle market share, he'd still be seeing about 115 targets over a full season.
The takeaway here is that unless the combination of Zach Miller, Kevin White, and the other receiving options steal as many targets as Brandon Marshall used to Jeffery will see top-10 volume even in a run-heavy offense.
You really have to look for ways to doubt his opportunity in 2016.
But Is It Enough at His Cost?
That's the question, really. Is buying Jeffery with a mid- to late-second-round pick worth it? Yeah, most likely.
Our initial projections peg Jeffery for 82.35 catches, 1,205.16 yards, and 8.13 touchdowns, good enough to place him in the top-10 projected receivers for this season. And we already know that only injury or some very strange target distribution will keep him from challenging for a top-tier target number.
A true breakout could help Jeffery wind up outperforming his ADP, which isn't easy as a top-10-or-so pick at a position, and even if the Bears aren't a top-half passing offense in terms of efficiency -- we project them to finish as the 21st-ranked passing offense this year -- Jeffery is all but assured to get his work.
As for the secondary options such as Miller and White, the run-heavy, inefficient offense might be a bane. But for Jeffery, nothing seems to be able to hold him back but his health.