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06 Sep 2010

Wisdom of Crowds 2010: WR Part II

by Bill Barnwell

With the season approaching, we finish the second year of our Wisdom of Crowds series with four more wideouts. (Even Twitter needs a travel day.) With a lot of interesting wideouts still left in the till, I wanted to look at four players who I think have various issues distorting the public perception of their value.

As always, please remember that these projections come from Twitter followers asked to predict three statistics for a player per day, given an expectation of a full 16-game season. If you've missed any previous installments, check out the previous editions of this series:

Monday: Randy Moss
Average: 84 catches, 1,272 receiving yards, 13 TD
Maximum: 104 catches, 1,490 receiving yards, 16 TD
Minimum: 70 catches, 1,067 receiving yards, 9 TD

The effects of Tom Brady's difficult schedule from a year ago also affected Moss, who had a 21.9% DVOA versus a 17.7% VOA, suggesting that his raw performance was underrated by the quality of the pass defenses he faced. As an example, consider the game that Moss reportedly loafed through, the Week 14 victory over the Panthers. Moss had one catch for 16 yards and walked his way through a number of routes ... against the league's second-best pass defense. While they blanketed him with bracket coverage.

The idea, then, is that an easier schedule and a healthier Brady will counteract the effects of age, Wes Welker's knee, and the presence of two rookie tight ends. The projection is a virtual match for his 2009 figures -- 83 catches, 1,264 receiving yards, and 13 TD -- and I think it might be understating his upside. I believe he has the potential to be the best wideout in football -- even at age 33.

Tuesday: Hines Ward
Average: 80 catches, 997 receiving yards, 7 TD
Maximum: 90 catches, 1,200 receiving yards, 10 TD
Minimum: 55 catches, 861 receiving yards, 5 TD

The number of projections we had for Ward was well below our average panel size, which I think provides a good clue as to why Ward is underrated relative to his KUBIAK forecast: He's boring. He's not a deep threat, he doesn't catch 100 passes, and his reputation is as much about his blocking as his actual work as a pass-catcher. And yet, he's been remarkably consistent as a player on a seasonal level, averaging 9.8, 8.9, 9.2, and then 9.5 fantasy points per game over the past four years.

Take his average of 9.4 points per game and a full year would get him to 150 fantasy points, higher than the average projection above (roughly 142 fantasy points). I think it's reasonable to suggest some decline without Ben Roethlisberger for at least four games, and the average line above would be his worst season (adjusting for the number of games he played) since 2005, when Roethlisberger also missed four games.

Thursday: Braylon Edwards
Average: 58 catches, 819 receiving yards, 6 TD
Maximum: 73 catches, 1,076 receiving yards, 11 TD
Minimum: 45 catches, 600 receiving yards, 4 TD

I guess it all depends on how much you believe in Edwards' 2007 season, which is a remarkable outlier. Otherwise, Edwards has been a consistently mediocre player. After tearing his ACL as a rookie, he's put up full seasons of 61-884-6, 55-873-3, and 45-680-4. That's a complimentary target masquerading as a star because he can jump really high. Throw in the huge number of passes he requires to generate those numbers, and there's reason to believe that he's overvalued in the marketplace.

Having a full season with the Jets should help, but even if we take his line in green and project it to 16 games, he was at 47-721-5, which is below that average projection. People remember the long touchdown against the Colts, but that's pretty much Edwards' only way to pick up fantasy points, and he gets only one of them every three weeks. Edwards had one game with no fantasy points, five games with one fantasy point, two games with three fantasy points, and two games with four fantasy points. That's 10 games where he's pushing you away from a win.

Friday: Calvin Johnson
Average: 85 catches, 1,239 receiving yards, 10 TD
Maximum: 104 catches, 1,520 receiving yards, 17 TD
Minimum: 71 catches, 1,050 receiving yards, 6 TD

Ah, Megatron. My issues with his high ADP are built around Johnson's propensity for injury and the presence of Matthew Stafford at quarterback. No injuries in this prediction, so easy-come, easy-go.

Let's run a quick study. Is it possible for a wide receiver to have an elite year while his starting quarterback simultaneously has a mediocre-or-worse year? Edwards' season with Derek Anderson comes to mind, but even Anderson had a 12.3% DVOA during that 2007 season.

I know that passer rating is far from the ideal stat, but let's just use it as a quick-and-dirty measure of quarterback performance. I made a list of every top 10 (in fantasy points) performance by a wide receiver since 1990, and then grabbed the passer rating for each of those receivers' starting quarterback.

As you might expect, it's really hard to have a great season as a wideout if your quarterback doesn't put up an impressive passer rating. The lowest rating of the group was a dismal 59.6, put up by Heath Shuler in 1994, when he was throwing to Henry Ellard. That's the only instance of a quarterback putting up a figure worse than Matthew Stafford's 61.0 from a year ago. Only five players had a quarterback with a rating under 70.0, and the only recent players in the list were Anquan Boldin (2003) and Javon Walker (2006). Both their starting quarterbacks also lost their jobs during the season, something that won't happen to Stafford (barring injury).

Of course, I think everyone reasonably expects Stafford to improve this year. For me, the question is, How much? For Johnson to be a top 10 guy -- let alone a receiver in the top two or three -- Stafford's going to have to step up his play. I wouldn't want to risk a high second-round pick on that possibility.

Thanks to everyone who participated in this year's series. Response rate was well up from last year's inaugural edition, and I really appreciate people taking the time to contribute to this concept. I'll be revisiting the series in March to see how accurate the predictions were.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 06 Sep 2010

5 comments, Last at 07 Sep 2010, 10:07am by Led

Comments

1
by zlionsfan :: Mon, 09/06/2010 - 11:46am

And if Stafford is injured, his backups are not even replacement level (insert joke about 2009 performance here), so Johnson's fantasy numbers will probably drop. His targets may stay about the same, but some of them will be of the ACK PASS RUSH PANIC PANIC THROW BALL TO 81 variety.

2
by Techguy (not verified) :: Mon, 09/06/2010 - 2:24pm

As someone who attended Georgia Tech during the Reggie Ball era, I think Megatron has seen more of that type of pass than any other wideout in the league.

3
by bubqr :: Mon, 09/06/2010 - 6:14pm

Megatron is one of the reason I really want Detroit to do well. He might be the most impressive WR I've ever seen (even mroe than Moss and TO yeah), and I just wish I knew what kind of player he would be on a team with a top QB.

4
by Theo :: Mon, 09/06/2010 - 6:35pm

What do you think Max Hall will cost in terms of draft picks?

5
by Led :: Tue, 09/07/2010 - 10:07am

Braylon Edwards has gone into the so overrated he's underrated category now. He's never played with a decent QB. I think think big receivers like Edwards suffer under FO stats unless the QB is very good because mediocre/bad QBs target them way too much. Sanchez notoriously used Edwards as a bailout target last year (roughly half of the 20 picks were targeted at Edwards), which dragged down his catch percentage. He didn't actually drop that many balls. He's not a top tier WR but he blocks like an animal and definitely helps more than he hurts. Unfortunately, he won't get 70 catches even if he plays as well as I think he can because the team will run at least 50% of the time and Cotchery, Holmes, Keller and Tomlinson will get a lot of the passes.