Saturday, June 06, 2009

Fantasy Crimson Banners: Wide Receivers

In fantasy football, you look at previous statistics to try and make reasonable projections about a player's future performance. Of course at any position, there will be players who were good fantasy producers in one year that produced little the next year. At Wide Receiver, there are a few numbers I look at to guess which WRs will disappoint.

I am not offering a statistical model: I am well aware that I am cherry-picking examples to support my conclusions. I'm not offering any empirical proof. I'm merely telling you what statistics make me shy away from drafting a fantasy wide receiver.

Very Low Yards Per Reception
If a possession receiver is in a good offense, he may be a productive fantasy receiver. Take away the good offense, and you're left with an underwhelming fantasy producer. A possession wide receiver also requires the rest of the offense to produce in order to get touchdown opportunities.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh: Houshmandzadeh was a good fantasy producer in 2006 (90-1,081-9) and 2007 (112-1143-12) with Carson Palmer guiding the offense, despite low yards per reception (12.0, 10.2). Take away Palmer, and Houshmandzadeh still had 92 catches, but for only 904 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Wes Welker: Welker's 2007 and 2008 reception and yardage numbers were nearly identical (112-1,175, 10.5 average, 111, 1,165, 10.5 average), but his touchdown production dropped from 8 to 3.

Disproportionate Touchdown Receptions
If a player's touchdown numbers far exceed his reception and yardage numbers, I stay away from him.

Braylon Edwards: In 2007 Edwards had an outstanding fantasy season, with 80 receptions, 1,289 yards, and 16 touchdowns. But 80-1,200 seasons are not that uncommon; 16 TD seasons are. 1 out of every 5 of Edwards' receptions went for a touchdown. In 2008 his total production declined significantly, and the TDs dropped from 16 to 3.

Reggie Williams: Always stay away from a WR who has mediocre reception and yardage totals with a bunch of touchdowns: chances are he's a mediocre player that was in a lot of good situations, and is unlikely to repeat. Williams had a 38-629-10 season in '07, a 37-364-3 season in '08. Granted, that's a lot like Cris Carter's 1989 season (45-605-11), but Carter actually followed that up with a dud 1990 season (27-413-3), and required a change in teams and a few years to pass before he became a dynamite fantasy football producer.

Up-and-down Game Logs
I'm not trying to fetishize consistency. But if a player's total numbers are boosted by a couple of monster games, all it takes is a few small things to go wrong for the monster games to disappear, and the player's total numbers become much less impressive.

Lee Evans: his '06 season was a corker: 82-1,292-8. But he only went over 100 yards in three games, and in one of those games he went for 11-265-2. In '07, Evans only went over 70 yards 5 times, and he dropped down to a 55-849-5 season. I would like to note, however, that I think Evans is a terrific receiver, and his numbers probably reflect the shaky quarterbacks he's had throwing to him. In '08 his production was more consistent, and I'm very curious to see how the Terrell Owens/Lee Evans experience takes off.

Santana Moss: '05 was a gargantuan season for Moss: 84-1,483-9. Moss was actually pretty consistent (50+ yards in 15/16 games, 70+ yards in 11/16 games), but his total numbers included a 5-159-2, a 10-173-2, and a 5-160-3. Put it another way, Moss failed to score a TD in 11 of 16 games. In '06, Moss had 55-790-6. But this doesn't mean such a player can never be consistent: in '03 Moss scored TDs in 7 straight games. It just makes me leery of paying the high price such a player might command in a fantasy draft.

And here are some crimson banners I've abandoned: these things used to sway me, but now don't.

Very High Yards Per Reception
Since my days of playing Tecmo Super Bowl, I've loved big play wide receivers with high yards per catch. But I've feared that big play wide receivers get their fantasy production on few receptions, meaning fewer opportunities to get fantasy points. It also means if things go a little bit wrong, that WR might end up with very inconsistent production. For example, in '04 Ashley Lelie had 54 catches for 1,084 yards and 7 touchdowns. He led the league with 20.1 yards per reception. In '05 he once again led the league in yards per reception (with 18.3), but the numbers fell off to 42-770-1.

But I also noticed that the league's leaders in yards per reception are rarely among the league's top fantasy producers anyway; they aren't players people were going to overpay for in a fantasy draft. I also observed a lot of examples of WRs following a very high yards-per-reception season with a very good overall season (Javon Walker, Greg Jennings, Plaxico Burress). There doesn't seem to be a reason to hold a bias against players with high yards per reception.

WRs on New Teams
I used to have a bias against a WR in his first year on a new team. But Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Plaxico Burress, and Santana Moss had outstanding seasons in a first year with a new team. Laveranues Coles and Bernard Berrian had similar production in a year-to-year change of teams. Javon Walker, Keenan McCardell, Derrick Mason, Keyshawn Johnson were decent in their first year with a new team.

There are too many successful WRs switching teams for me to suspect a WR will have a poor year just because he switches teams. One rule still applies, of course: if a productive #2 WR leaves a good #1 WR to become another team's #1 WR, do not draft this player under any circumstances. I call this the Alvin Harper Rule; others may know it as the Peerless Price Principle.

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