Kelvin Benjamin's Fantasy Football Average Draft Position Makes Very Little Sense
You have to stock the beer fridge when you've got friends and family coming over.
At the beginning of the night -- when guests are arriving -- the refrigerator looks heavenly. (At least in the Zachariason household.) Want something easy to drink? We've got it. Something hoppy? Done. Maybe just some water? We've got you.
But towards the end of a night of hanging out, that beer fridge starts to look a little less ideal. There are fewer options to choose from, making that Corona seem a lot more desirable than it actually is. (No, the Zachariason household doesn't buy Corona.)
Kelvin Benjamin's rookie season can best be described as the end-of-the-night refrigerator. He was there without anything else. And as a result, he might have seemed a lot better than he actually was.
Banking on Volume
We live in a fantasy football-driven NFL (world?) where volume is central to the way we view the game. That's not always a bad thing -- good players deserve and warrant higher volume. But at the same time, if there's little competition, volume can come when it's not fully deserved.
Take Benjamin's rookie season, for example. Benjamin's first year resulted in 145 targets from Cam Newton, good for the third-highest target total from a rookie in NFL history. In turn, Benjamin finished as the 16th-best fantasy football wideout after 37 wide receivers were drafted, on average, ahead of him in August fantasy drafts on MyFantasyLeague.com.
Was the volume a necessity, or did it come because Benjamin was a superior receiver?
Well, according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric -- which you can and should read about more in our glossary -- it looks more like the former. Among the 40 receivers in 2014 with 100 or more targets, Benjamin ranked 23rd in Reception NEP per target, a measure of overall efficiency. He was middle of the pack, too, within our Success Rate metric, which measures the percentage of positive plays made by a wideout.
No, that's not awful, especially for a rookie. A target breakdown of that offense, though, shows us that there weren't many other places for Newton to throw to in 2014.
Ah, yes -- the great triumvirate of Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, and Corey (Philly) Brown. Math doesn't need to tell you that these options are awful, especially considering Cotchery was effectively demoted in 2015, Avant moved teams, and Brown finished with a worse efficiency mark than Cotchery and teammate Ted Ginn Jr. in 2015.
Unfortunately for potential Benjamin owners, the target distribution won't be so clean in 2016.
The Upcoming Season
So what's changed? Three things, really: Benjamin's competition, the fact that Carolina's offense changed quite a bit from 2014 to 2015, and Benjamin's cost.
Let's start with the competition. During his rookie year, Greg Olsen was the only other player who warranted targets in the Panthers' offense. He ended up seeing almost 22% of the team's looks, a number that shifted to 25% without Benjamin in the offense last year. He's got a role, and it'd be hard to envision him seeing fewer than that 22% mark. He's seen at least 21.4% over the last four seasons, after all.
Now, rather than diving too deep into this exercise, take a look at the target distribution from 2015. If you believe Benjamin will continue to see that same share, then Funchess won't take a single step forward as the team's number-two receiver despite the fact that he was already praised as the "star of OTAs" this offseason. And you'd also have to believe that Ted Ginn -- who saw nearly 20% of the team's targets last year -- will have a Jason Avant-type role in terms of volume. That means he'll end up with half the number of targets he saw this past year. It's possible and potentially probable, but that's in unison with a second-round, 22-year-old Funchess not becoming something bigger in the offense.
Due to positive game scripts and one of the best defenses in the league, the Panthers weren't forced to throw the ball a whole lot in 2015. They finished with 535 drop backs (not attempts), 53 fewer than what they saw in 2014.
And speaking of 2014, that season actually saw the Panthers drop back to pass more than they have in any year since 2001. Since Cam took over under center, the Panthers have averaged 542 drop backs per season, meaning the 588 they had during Benjamin's rookie season is assuredly going to be lower in 2016.
Here comes the math.
When a team has fewer drop backs (or attempts), and a wide receiver is taking a percentage of those, even if that percentage remains constant from one year to the next, the wide receiver isn't going to see as much sheer volume. And given the competition is fiercer in the Panthers' offense than it was two years ago, that share more than likely won't be as high, too.
Cliff notes: Benjamin's not only going to see a smaller target market share in the Carolina offense, but there's a very good chance the Panthers' offense doesn't throw as many passes as it did during his rookie year. His volume number won't look nearly as good in 2016 as it did in 2014.
This isn't to say Kelvin Benjamin won't be a valuable fantasy asset -- in fact, our projections have him at WR26.
Here's the problem: he's not being drafted as the 26th wide receiver in fantasy. According to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, Benjamin's being selected at WR16, 10 spots ahead of our projections and the exact spot he finished during his rookie campaign.
With Cam Newton due for some touchdown regression, the competition, and the fact that the Panthers' offense probably won't be as pass-happy as it was in 2014, I don't get it.
I don't get it at all.