Can Wide Receivers on Losing Teams be Valuable Fantasy Assets?

If Charlize Theron was to knock on my door, I wouldn’t think twice about opening (when I saw her through the peephole), but I’d have no idea who she was. Yeah, I’ve seen her in a few movies, but I wasn’t necessarily a fan. I am, however, a fan of this quote from her: “You are only as great as the opportunities that are given to you.”

While I don’t completely agree with her use of the word “given”, the quote sounds like something you’d hear from a NFL receiver. I’m actually surprised I’ve never heard something along those lines (at least not that I recall off the top of my head) because… well… you can’t catch a pass, if you aren’t thrown any.

Sounds pretty Keyshawn Johnson-ish.

That said, logic would suggest that receivers on bad teams would receive more opportunities to catch passes; as losing teams are typically airing it out in 2nd half in an effort to come back. “Garbage time” as it’s called.

But, is that truly the case, and what (if any) impact does it have on fantasy football?

Mike Tagliere recently tested whether team scoring factors into individual fantasy performances, and found that “among the 120 wide receivers who’ve finished top-24 in points per game over the last five years, 91 of them (76 percent) were on top-18 scoring offenses.”

It’s a very interesting read, and he’s a great follow on Twitter (@miketagliereNFL), but the the top-18 scoring part got me to thinking. Sure, field goals factor into team scoring, but the bulk of points come in sixes. So, my initial thought was receivers on high-scoring offenses would put up more fantasy points per game because while 1 fantasy point is awarded for every 10 receiving yards, 6 are awarded for every touchdown (depending on your league settings, of course).

Putting the Finance degree to good use, 2 touchdowns would then be equivalent to 120 receiving yards, and in looking at last season’s data, I found that while 71 receivers put up at least one 100+ yard receiving game, those 71 receivers accounted for 342 TDs. More than double the number of individual 100 yard receiving games (154).

On the micro level, Davante Adams finished 10th among WR in fantasy points per game; he put up 997 yards. Adam Thielen finished tied for 36th in fantasy points per game; he put up 967 yards. Despite a difference of only 30 yards (3 fantasy points) there’s a huge gap in the rankings. What gives?! Well, Theilen caught only 5 TDs. Adams brought in 12.

Yet again, the logical assumption would be that TDs have a larger impact on fantasy performance… Yeah, but not really.

In 2016, nine of the top-25 fantasy receivers saw over 75% of their total fantasy points come from yards alone. 23 of the top-25 had at least 60% of their total fantasy production from yards, and only one (Tyreek Hill) fell under 50%. In fact, since 2012, 91% of the receivers who finished in the top-25 had at least 60% of their total fantasy points derived strictly from yards, and only 2 fell under the 50% mark.

Now don’t get me wrong, TDs are important. But, it’s pretty clear that the primary indicator of fantasy success at the receiver position is yardage.

The next thing which really grabbed my attention was that his findings were based on the top-18 scoring offenses. 18 teams represents a little over half of the league, so it’s a large pool of receivers, but the difference between the 18th ranked scoring offenses of Seattle/Tampa Bay (354), and the 24th, Cincy (325) was 1.8 points per game.

Not even a field goal.

Since we’re not talking about a massive gap, I decided that the data wouldn’t be overly skewed if it were based on the top-24, and I made my focal point the bottom-8 scoring offenses. Problem is, predicting where teams will finish in terms of total points isn’t an exact science.

Perfect example, the Chiefs finished last season 13th in points, while the Giants finished 26th. Who saw that coming?

I sure as hell didn’t.

Now, of course, there are some good bets. The Browns have been a bottom-8 scoring offense in 4 straight seasons, and missed going 5 for 5 by 3 points in 2012. The Rams have been in the cellar since Miley Cyrus began twerking, and everyone and their mom was saying “YOLO” –  two consecutive seasons, and three of five going back to 2012. The 49ers haven’t fared much better, finishing among the bottom-8 in three straight. The Jags? Bottom-8 in four of the last five. And last, everyone’s favorite, the J-E-T-S-Jets… It’s been four of the last five for them as well.

So, the next question became, how many 1,000 yard receivers have the bottom-8 offenses produced over the past 5 seasons? I chose the 1,000 yard mark because, well, we just determined the importance of yardage in terms of fantasy production, and since 2012 76% of the top-25 fantasy receivers put up at least 1,000 yards.

The results? There have been 109 1,000 yard receivers over the past five seasons – 14 played on bottom-8 offenses.

A measly 13%. Yikes.

Here’s the conundrum: Ideally, we’d all draft receivers from the Saints, Colts, and Packers – it’s just not possible. So, who do you draft when those options aren’t available? Not to mention, there are some very interesting receivers from these potential bottom-8 offenses: DeAndre Hopkins, Allen Robinson, Corey Coleman, Quincy Enunwa

Do we just avoid them altogether, and settle for lesser options due to their offenses?

It depends.

It’d be foolish to just avoid drafting these guys under the assumption that they’ll be on a bottom-8 offense (depending on who the other available options are), so I couldn’t help but wonder if there was any truth to the garbage time = additional passing ideology?

For that, I took a look at a combination of team scoring/passing stats with regard to their overall record, and applied it to the individual wide receivers of these teams, and their targets/fantasy performances.

Since 2012, 87% of the receivers who finished the season in the top-25 with regard to targets also finished in the top-25 in fantasy points. There seems to be a pretty good, Will and Jada-ish relationship between targets and yards.

Taking it a step further, just 38% of the receivers who found themselves among the top-25 target recipients played on teams with a losing record. Not exactly a large percentage, so we’ll call that strike one on the outside corner for the garbage time ideology. But, these receivers did finish in the top-25 of fantasy WRs 75% of the time.

That’s about ten receivers per year on average who finish in the top-25 in targets from losing teams, with 7-8 of them finishing in the top-25 in fantasy points. We’re not exactly looking at a large pool of players (don’t go drafting as many Rams wideouts as possible) but clearly, there is value to be had on losing teams.

Here’s where it gets tricky, though… Can’t forget about the bottom-8 scoring factor.

Of the 48 receivers (top-25 targets & losing record), less than half of them – 22 – played on a team that finished the season among the bottom-8 in total points scored. And, of those 22 who played on one of these offensively inept teams, just 13 finished as a top-25 fantasy receiver.

The pool has shrunken significantly – we’re now looking at an average of between 2 and 3 players per season.

Played the lottery lately?

While receivers on losing teams can be effective fantasy assets, the odds of them finishing among the top-25 decrease significantly when they play for losing teams who also don’t score many points. And since I have now have an Excel spreadsheet that’s occupying half of my disk space, might as well take a look at how often those two factors aligned.

Over the same five year span, just 28% of the top-24 scoring teams had a losing record, and 43% of the top-20 offenses (passing attempts) had losing records. If the garbage time ideology truly had an impact, I’d expect to see some higher percentages here.

There does not appear to be a correlation between losing teams and passing attempts, and while I didn’t look at yards, I think it’s safe to conclude that being on a losing team doesn’t automatically boost a receiver’s targets, and/or fantasy value.

However, since a losing record isn’t exactly a death wish, but playing for a low scoring team is a dance with the devil, we should probably shift the focus.

The Rams finished 2016 last in points, have the biggest gap to overcome, and haven’t gotten much better (barring a 2nd year Goff explosion) so you can basically lock them in the bottom-8. Even super fans shouldn’t be looking at Robert Woods or Tavon Austin anyway.

The Giants had a +26 point differential last season (largely due to their stifling defense), but given their talent, I expect them to exit the bottom-8. You’re drafting OBJ regardless.

The Jags are interesting, as the Pythagorean Win Theorem suggests they should’ve won 6 games last season. Based on that alone, you can expect an improvement in their record, but will that translate to more points scored? Not sure, but I’m going down with the Allen Robinson ship (I think what should be an improved run game will help).

What will Shanahan do in San Fran? Is Deshaun Watson the future? Can Corey Coleman be the Calvin Johnson-like exception to the rules?

We’ll soon find out.

But, in order for teams to move up, someone has to drop, and if I had to pick 3 teams who finished in the top-24 with the potential to wind up in the bottom 8 in 2017, I’d go: Chiefs, Vikings, and Broncos. With the Chiefs being the only team I’d put my money on, but I wouldn’t feel good about it… there are concerns with drafting Tyreek Hill regardless.

Putting it all together, I’d rank the #1 receivers from last year’s bottom-8 offenses:

  1. Odell Beckham Jr. – NYG
  2. Allen Robinson – JAX
  3. DeAndre Hopkins – HOU
  4. Quincy Enunwa – NYJ
  5. Corey Coleman – CLE
  6. Cameron Meredith – CHI
  7. Pierre Garcon – SF
  8. Robert Woods – LAR

But, truth be told, I’d take my chances on them all, if the price is right.

As always, thanks for reading! Be sure to subscribe, and check me out on Twitter: @maxingyourodds to stay up to date with the latest fantasy advice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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