Donkey Teeth is off at Ghostbusters Fantasy Camp, and he sent me this letter to read off to our regular readers.
Dear Ghouls and Girls,
Its my first day at Ghostbusters Fantasy Camp! So far it’s just Rick Moranis here with the 6 campers, but I hear that Ernie Hudson will be here by the end of the week. Today, we spent time fixing old infrared cameras for sale on something called the Dark Web. Spooky! I think I even had my first paranormal encounter while I was cleaning the camp’s septic tank. There were some supernatural smells down there! If you need me, here’s my mailing address: Donkey Teeth, 123 Elm Street, Amityville, NY 66642. Counselor Rick says you can send cash and it’ll go to my commissary account!
The Sophomore Slump?
A.J. Brown, D.K Metcalf, Marquise Brown. These are some of the rookie wide receivers in 2019 who fantasy managers lusted after going into 2020. Brown finished 2020 in the top 15 in all scoring formats, Metcalf in the top 6, and Brown in the top 40 (let’s remember — that’s a starting second wide-receiver in three WR formats, or a starting FLEX in 2WR formats). So, there’s a case to be made that fantasy managers should get excited for the younger receivers as upside picks. In 2021, the second-year wideout that you’re lusting after is none other than the Minnesota Vikings’ Justin Jefferson.
Jefferson grew up in Louisiana and attended LSU for three years, where he exploded in his junior year for 111 receptions, 1,540 yards, and a ridiculous 18 TDs. In the 2020 draft, Jefferson was the fifth WR off the board, behind Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Jalen Reagor. At the end of the season, Jefferson out-performed all of those wideouts in fantasy by a 30% margin, and finished as the overall WR6 in PPR formats. Jefferson also came off the bench for two games, and there was no pre-season, and, and, and. In other words, he could have had even better stats.
And because hindsight is 2020, if you had rostered the stack of Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, and Justin Jefferson in a best ball format, you would have had two top 10 receivers and the QB11, and Jefferson and Cousins were easily acquired at the end of all drafts. It’s entirely feasible you could have had a Dalvin Cook/ Adam Thielen start to the draft and finished up with Jefferson and Cousins. That stack would have been unsexy as hell to talk about on the interwebs, but you probably would have won your league. As I wrote before in an article about how to win an industry fantasy football league, it all goes back to believing in your system, listening to trusted sources, and not deviating from your plan.
What does all of this [waves hands around] mean? Well, my well-meaning friend! First, it means you’re not getting that Vikings stack in 2021, I can tell you that! But a Carr/Ruggs/Waller stack tho…ENYWHEY. I was getting too excited. This article is about moving on up with Justin Jefferson, so let’s take a look at some tangibles and intangibles that will make him a good keeper for 2021 or a draft target in your drafts later this year.
The Era of Jefferson
There are a couple of factors that indicate performance of wide receivers: target share percentage, and average depth of target (aDOT). Touchdowns are very inconsistent from year to year and are a poor way of measuring fantasy production. Case in point: Julio Jones finished as a top 8 WR from 2016-2019, and his touchdown totals were: 6, 3, 8, 6. In other words, he scored a touchdown every third game. But his target share in those years? He was targeted over 25% of the time every year, with 2 years nearing 30% of team passes. His aDOT was 14 yards per target in 2018, and about 12.5 in 2019. In other words, he was seeing a ton of targets, and he was taking those targets well beyond the first down marker. With those air yards already accounted for, he was able to tack on 448 yards after catch in 2018, and another 364 yards after catch in 2019.
So, despite Julio Jones’ lack of touchdowns, he had an incredibly high usage rate year-over-year, and the way in which he was used gave him a high fantasy ceiling. For fantasy purposes, his lack of touchdowns didn’t really matter: it was the yards and catches that built his points.
Justin Jefferson, meanwhile, put up a 26% target share in his first year, with an aDOT of 11.6 and an additional 456 yards after catch. Again, Jefferson was pretty quiet in the first two games of the season, playing in about 60% of the snaps and seeing only 6 targets. In the final 14 games, he saw 119 targets (that’s 8.5 targets per game, math majors!). There was a six-game period from Week 9-Week 14 where he averaged a 14.9 aDOT. After a dismal start to the season, the Minnesota Vikings ran out of steam at the end of 2021, and it seemed like Jefferson transitioned into a possession receiver in the final games, with his targets still high but his aDOT dropping.
|Target Share %||aDOT||YAC||Rec||Yards||TD|
Our own Fantasy Camper, Donkey Teeth, had Jefferson as the #12 player on his list of dynasty rankings for 2021 fantasy football and worried that Jefferson was too low. Forecasting the future in football is ridiculously hard, but I’m seeing huge upside in Jefferson’s game that will likely be missed by a lot of other fantasy managers.
There are some intangibles at play, of course. The Vikings seem likely to keep Mike Zimmer as their head coach, and it’s well-known that Zim was upset at the performance of his team’s defense, which finished in the bottom-5 in the NFL in both points allowed and yards allowed. So, the Vikings will likely seek defensive help in the draft rather than acquiring many more offensive pieces to compete with Jefferson. That’s good news. The bad news, of course, is that part of the Vikings’ ability to produce two top-10 fantasy receivers in 2021 came from that dismal defense. Because the Vikings were playing from behind so often, they needed to pass a ton. But the Vikings’ offense has produced successful WR1A/WR1B combos before — Thielen and Diggs, of course — so it’s quite believable that we could see another strong showing from Jefferson in 2021.
What are you thinking about Justin Jefferson? Let me know in the comments below!