by Danny Tuccitto
This week, Wisdom of Crowds makes the first of two wide receiver stops on its journey. Compared to other fantasy skill positions, wide receiver exhibits the most volatility among its top 12. Indeed, every year since 2003 has seen at least 6 new members of the top 12. Last season, only Roddy White, Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, and Larry Fitzgerald were repeat members, with previously unheralded players like Brandon Lloyd, Hakeem Nicks, and Steve Johnson joining the club.
Again, we tweet a new player every weekday using Football Outsiders' Twitter account, and our followers reply with their predictions for each player's season stats assuming that player won't miss any games. The following week, I present the average, best-case, and worst-case prediction for each player, a.k.a. the wisdom of the crowd. Just to see how wise the crowd really was, I'll come back after the season's over, and review our followers' soothsaying abilities. So, if you want to participate, get a Twitter account, and follow us once you do.
If you've missed any of the tour stops thus far, or want a detailed explanation of what the summary stats mean, you can read it here:
Monday: Percy Harvin
Average: 73 ± 6 receptions, 953 ± 68 yards, 7 ± 1 TD
Best-case scenario: 85 receptions, 1200 yards, 11 TDs
Worst-case scenario: 55 receptions, 740 yards, 4 TDs
Given their propensity for lower-body injuries, it's hard to find wide receivers who actually play 16 games. Over the past couple of seasons, Harvin's been the rare case of a receiver who can't stay healthy because of above-neck injuries -- Austin Collie also comes to mind. Apparently, the Vikings' training staff has found a way to manage Harvin's migraines. Unfortunately, the Vikings' front office found another over-the-hill quarterback with a penchant for the big interception to throw the ball to Harvin. That must be why readers' average projection is basically the same as Harvin's prorated 2010 stat line: 81 receptions for 992 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Harvin's best- and worst-case projections are pretty much in the middle of the pack for this week's group. However, we should note that 11 wasn't just the highest of his touchdown projections; it was also the only double-digit one.
Tuesday: Brandon Lloyd
Average: 69 ± 6 receptions, 991 ± 84 yards, 8 ± 2 TDs
Best-case scenario: 95 receptions, 1560 yards, 15 TDs
Worst-case scenario: 34 receptions, 660 yards, 4 TDs
Among last year's top 12 wide receivers, Lloyd feels like the best candidate to be out of the group this season. From a statistical perspective, Lloyd's 2010 fantasy production was equivalent to half of his previous seven seasons combined. That screams "one-hit wonder" more than a 30-something Toni Basil belting out "Mickey" after languishing in the music business for over a decade. I guess that means we can call Lloyd's worst-case scenario projection, "Shoppin' from A to Z."
On the other end of the spectrum, Lloyd's best-case scenario was rare in its optimism. Forget 90 or more catches; only a handful of responses predicted at least 80. Similarly, only about 10 percent predicted double-digit touchdowns, let alone 15. It's hard to fathom that Lloyd would actually improve on his 2010 stats, but that is what this best-case scenario is suggesting.
The spread between the two extremes was easily the largest of the week, which probably reflects the cognitive dissonance surrounding Lloyd's 2011 season. Except for Randy Moss, no receiver can be that good one year, but horrible the next, right? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Denver's offense will rely more heavily on the run this season, and that could hurt Lloyd's prospects, right? Well, Steve Smith did make a nice career for himself as the deep receiver in that style of attack. Lloyd really is in a situation that begs for a wait-and-see approach.
Wednesday: Chad Ochocinco
Average: 67 ± 6 receptions, 897 ± 70 yards, 6 ± 1 TDs
Best-case scenario: 85 receptions, 1158 yards, 9 TDs
Worst-case scenario: 35 receptions, 500 yards, 3 TDs
Last season, Pepe had prorated stats of 77 catches, 950 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Given that this is essentially within the margin of error for readers' average projection, it looks like you guys don't foresee much of a bump in fantasy production. The average projection also isn't that far off from what could be expected given Ochocinco's role in the Patriots offense. In 2010, New England wide receivers not named Wes Welker combined for a 79-1,225-8 stat line. With Brandon Tate becoming increasingly marginalized, it appears as though non-Welker targets will be split between Ochocinco and Deion Branch. If they're split 75-25 in Ochocinco's favor, our readership will look like geniuses.
As was the case with Lloyd's best-case projection, Ochocinco's worst-case projection was pretty far from the norm. Only about 10 percent of respondents predicted less than 50 receptions, so that 35 value is out in the Kuiper Belt somewhere -- presumably orbiting alongside Lloyd's low-end 34.
Thursday: Dez Bryant
Average: 73 ± 4 receptions, 980 ± 52 yards, 8 ± 1 TDs
Best-case scenario: 95 receptions, 1350 yards, 11 TDs
Worst-case scenario: 55 receptions, 720 yards, 4 TDs
Lloyd-gushing aside, Bryant has the highest upside of this week's group in terms of catches and yards, which reinforces his status as one of the league's emerging wide receivers. Lots of things are shaking out in his favor this season: he's healthy, Tony Romo's healthy (at least for now), he'll be doing less returning, he has no competition for his job (not that Roy Williams was much competition last year), and he'll benefit from having one of the league's best receivers rolling coverage away from him. After posting 45 catches for 561 yards and 6 touchdowns in only two starts last season -- mostly as the No. 3 receiver in a two-receiver offense no less -- it's likely that Bryant will approach the upper margin of the crowd's average expectation: 77 for 1,032 and 9.
Friday: Mike Williams (TB)
Average: 76 ± 4 receptions, 1101 ± 60 yards, 10 ± 2 TDs
Best-case scenario: 85 receptions, 1300 yards, 16 TDs
Worst-case scenario: 62 receptions, 897 yards, 6 TDs
Apparently, the crowd really loves Tampa Bay's passing game. After touting Josh Freeman a few weeks ago, readers gave Williams far and away the best average projection of last week's wide receivers. To wit, he has the highest catch projection, is the only one expected to break the 1,000-yard mark, and is the only one expected to score double-digit touchdowns.
As a rookie, Williams caught 65 passes for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns while starting all 16 games. Given the track record of rookie wide receivers -- especially ones selected as low as he was -- that was quite a performance. Unless he's the second coming of Michael Clayton, the crowd's projection for 2011 seems reasonable enough. It certainly helps that Williams' quarterback in his second season will be Freeman rather than the two-headed mediocre monster of Chris Simms and Brian Griese.