What wide receiver stats really matter? If you scroll through Twitter on any given day you will see a plethora of numbers backing up sleepers, busts and “league winners” among other things. For WRs you’ve got YAC stans, yards/target pushers, market share aficionados and everywhere in between. It’s easy to get excited when you see that a certain player had 25 yards/reception and is in line for increased targets the next year!
If you can guarantee increased targets, efficiency stats are great but we’re usually too optimistic on this perceived increase in volume. In cases of very young players, it may make sense that a sophomore WR will see increased looks but for vets there is usually a reason why players have lacked targets. Kenny Stills is a great example who passes multiple efficiency tests but has only seen 100 targets once in seven seasons. I am finally done hoping he will miraculously earn more volume. The reasons may never be known to us as analysts, but sometimes we need to read the writing on the wall.
Volume Over Efficiency
Back to the initial question, what does matter for WRs? Well, as Scott Barrett has shown it’s not efficiency but volume, volume, volume. He looked at correlations of various stats in “year N” with PPR fantasy points in “year N+1.” This was meant to find what statistics predict future fantasy points. Is his study, he found that total yards, PPR points, and targets were the best 3 metrics that correlated with fantasy points in the next year.
Unfortunately, fun stuff like yards/target and PPR points/target were much less associated with future production. Yards, targets and obviously PPR points are things almost every fantasy player is well aware of! These are not hidden under-the-radar stats you can sneak by your league mates. This got me to thinking – are there any other stats that could provide an edge because no one is regularly looking at them?
I had previously released a thread on twitter with some initial results, but like any good research, it needed some more inspection.
We Got One!
I combed through stats like Barrett did, correlating 2018 the stat with 2019 PPR points for 67 qualifying WRs. Essentially, my findings followed a similar trend with yards/target or reception being unhelpful and volume stats/game showing more correlation. There was one promising new finding: first downs per game (1D/g).
While yards/g remained king, 1D/g performed better than targets/g in predicting PPR points/g the following year. As you’ll see below it’s only fractionally better, but that’s fine. Even if it was the same, it provides an edge because few are looking at it. If a player pops in 1D/g but not the typical stats, that could be your diamond in the rough.
|2018 stat||2019 stat||Correlation (r2)|
|receiving yards/g||PPR fantasy ppg||0.35|
|1D/g||PPR fantasy ppg||0.32|
|targets/g||PPR fantasy ppg||0.30|
|receptions/g||PPR fantasy ppg||0.29|
|yards/target||PPR fantasy ppg||0.14|
|yards/reception||PPR fantasy ppg||0.10|
Who is Revealed?
Barrett found that yards/g and targets/g were the best, but 1D/g slides right in between. More importantly, 1D/g highlights some players the other stats do not. Let’s apply this to the upcoming 2020 season. The following table shows the top 24 WRs for the top 3 metrics:
The following players show up in the top 24 1D/g but not in the other stats:
Alshon Jeffery – I have written Jeffery off completely due to health concerns, but this piques my interest should he get right.
Tyler Lockett – Despite the “wow” factor of DK Metcalf, Lockett is still the heart of the Seattle WR corps.
Marvin Jones – There are some pounding the table for Jones as a value, and this underscores his overlooked production.
The Triple Crown
Most WRs who landed in the top 24 for each metric are stalwarts at the top of fantasy drafts, and it should come as no surprise that Michael Thomas was ranked #1 for each stat. One WR scored in the top 12 for each metric but is being drafted as a low WR2. Five more WRs made the top 24 for each stat and yet are being drafted outside the top 24 PPR WRs for 2020 according to FantasyPros.
Robert Woods – The most underrated WR in football right now. Woods landed in the top 12 for all 3 stats in 2019 (and ahead of Cooper Kupp in each) which makes him a strong WR1/2 candidate for 2020. Not only that, but there is clear room for growth as the Rams lost a lot of targets with Gurley and Cooks moving on. His bugaboo is typically TDs, but we all know they can be fluky. If regression hits in the TD department, he will be a monster. If not, he’s still a value at WR19.
DeVante Parker – Some of his breakout was due to Preston Williams getting injured, but Parker still had a great season ranking 10th in 1D/g. I love Preston Williams, but he’ll be coming off an ACL injury in a coronavirus-shortened off season program. Parker is probably being overlooked at his current ADP of WR26.
Jarvis Landry – One of the most rock solid PPR WR2 values being drafted as WR29. That is all.
Michael Gallup – I understand the shade on Gallup after Dallas drafted phenom CeeDee Lamb in the first round. However, he was so good in every way as a sophomore and may just be an excellent receiver. Gallup is very affordable at WR33, fade at your own risk.
Julian Edelman – Edelman is a unique case as a system WR who just lost his all-time great system QB. I don’t mind him falling to WR35 with the uncertainty of the New England offense under Jarrett Stidham.
John Brown – Like Gallup, Brown saw his team add a star receiver on the heels of his breakout campaign. The Bills traded their 1st round pick to acquire Stefon Diggs before the 2020 draft. There’s no questioning Diggs’ talent, but he has never been a high volume receiver outside of 2018. The biggest issue for Brown is the lack of team passing volume, and Diggs’ presence almost certainly will push Brown outside the top 24 WRs in targets. His ADP of WR51 may be too pessimistic, though, and John Brown is shaping as for a nice best ball target if nothing else.
Head of the Class
If we order the 2019 rookies by 1D/g we get a much different order than their ADP:
Using 1D/g there are some players that pop out, and the ADPs are out of sync with this metric.
Terry McLaurin – Before the Deebo injury, he was going as the 4th sophomore WR off the board which was a complete debacle. I believe there’s a good argument he should be the top 2nd year WR, and if not, only be behind AJ Brown by an eyelash.
Preston Williams – The ACL injury is tamping him down in the short term but the long term outlook on him is about as good as any of the exciting class of 2019 rookies. Despite the UDFA status he showed legitimate star potential.
Marquise Brown – He probably will never be a 1st down stud in that offense because they will run for most of them. However, despite his flash on the field I remain concerned about his fantasy prospects.
This was a fun exercise, and it appears 1D/g is just as good at predicting future production as some other more commonly assessed metrics. Incorporating 1D/g may help identify breakouts others don’t see coming or bolster your thoughts on a player you are on the fence about.
It makes sense that 1D/g would be helpful. It is a volume stat and it implies efficiency since QBs and coaches would want to use their most successful player in key situations.
More should be done with this statistic, like finding correlation over multiple years with a larger sample size and determining whether 1D/g for RBs and TEs is similarly helpful.
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