Now that you know the conclusion of my article, I’m going to take you on a journey to explain myself. When considering the events that could plague fantasy football’s likely top pick this season, I pondered if Jamaal Charles’ spectacular 2013 receiving season was a fluke. To evaluate this possibility, I needed to research the following:
- Is Alex Smith a check-down machine to the point that he has favorably benefited his tailback?
- Is Charles a special receiving talent?
- How significant is Andy Reid’s impact on his running backs?
1. Does Smith really check-down so much that he helps his RBs?
To see how Smith previously benefited his RBs, I looked back at Frank Gore’s numbers. Jim Harbaugh’s system does not heavily utilize the RB position as a pass catcher and it did not do so when Smith was quarterback.
Using the Game Splits App from RotoViz, I can research how Gore performed as a receiver when Smith was his quarterback in the pre-Harbaugh era (2006-2010). Here are my findings.
It is evident that Gore was better with Smith in terms of almost every statistic. In Smith-led games, Gore had more carries, targets, yards, and rushing production. The only category that saw a decrease was receiving touchdowns – and even in that category, the difference is negligible.
If we extrapolate this data to a full season, Gore averaged 61 receptions on 90 targets, 504 receiving yards, and 1.92 TDs, which is 123.2 additional fantasy points for the season. That would have placed him eighth in that category last season. (Charles finished first with 181.3.)
At this point it is fair to conclude that Smith does provide a small boost to his RB. Perhaps he is a good game manager for a RB1? Even though the data supports this conclusion, this cannot be the only reason for Charles’ 2013 explosion.
2. Is Charles a special receiving talent?
It is difficult to define “special receiving talent” but considering the receiving years of recent studs such as Marshall Faulk, Brian Westbrook, Reggie Bush, Ray Rice, and others, I wouldn’t define Charles as special.
I am amazed at Charles’ efficiency on the ground. He has never rushed for less than 5.0 yards per carry in his professional career and during one season, he rushed 230 times for 1,467 yards (6.4 yards per carry!!). I know . . . unbelievable. (Even crazier is that Thomas Jones led the Chiefs in carries during that particular season.)
Considering that before this season Charles had never exceeded 45 receptions, it’s hard to consider him special. But it is worth noting that Charles did average more than 10 yards per reception in two of his first three seasons.
Last year, however, he was phenomenal and looked like a perfect fit for a Reid offense. Speaking of Reid’s offense, an examination of Reid’s history can shed some light on how good Charles is as a receiver.
3. How significant is Reid’s impact on his RBs?
When considering pass catching RBs and Reid’s offense, Westbrook quickly comes to mind. Perhaps no RB has looked like a better fit for Reid’s offense, and with Charles and LeSean McCoy on the list, it’s a pretty exclusive club.
How can I conclude that Westbrook was a better fit for Reid’s offense than Charles and McCoy? From 2004 to 2008, during his time as the Eagles starter, Westbrook averaged 82 receptions on 112 targets for 740 yards and 5.6 TDs (you can close your jaw now). That is 189.8 additional fantasy points from receiving and looks strikingly similar to Charles’ 181.3 last season.
Ready to be even more impressed? If you remove Westbrook’s 29-year-old season–when his decline began and prompted the Eagles to draft McCoy–his stats are even more incredible. From 2004 to 2007 Westbrook averaged 88 receptions on 120 targets for 811 yards and 5.6 TDs. That’s 202.26 additional fantasy points from receiving. Perhaps this explains how his cousin Russell Westbrook has so much athletic ability.
During McCoy’s time as the starter (2010-2012) for Reid’s offense, McCoy averaged 69 receptions on 86 targets for 482 yards and three TDs. That amounts to 135.07 fantasy points. While fairly impressive, this production is almost disappointing in context of his predecessor.
A further question is whether Donovan McNabb was beneficial for these RBs? Perhaps Westbrook was much better because he had McNabb instead of Michael Vick?
McCoy only played two games with McNabb during that three-year stint. Let’s examine how effective he was as a receiver during that time.
While this is a small sample size, McCoy was receiving 10.5 targets per game with McNabb at QB. That’s not sustainable in the long run but it indicates that McNabb loved throwing to his tailback. Did he have the same impact on Westbrook?
When you remove McNabb from the analysis, it appears that the Eagles relied more on a run-heavy attack for Westbrook, rushing 1.35 more times per game for 0.23 more TDs. What stands out is how his receiving TDs change so drastically when McNabb was playing. When McNabb was not playing, Westbrook was more likely to score on the ground. Conceptually, this could be attributable to the inferiority of the QB attempting to execute Reid’s offense.
Either way, these are numbers to marvel at–and it is not the result of a small sample size. During his peak years (2004-2007) with McNabb, Westbrook averaged 91 receptions for 866 yards and 6.56 TDs. That’s 216.86 additional fantasy points from receiving, improving significantly on Charles’ 181.3 last season.
To the extent that it is possible, Charles may have underachieved, in terms of receiving, during his first season with Reid. During his four-year prime with Reid, Westbrook caught fewer than 73 passes once and topped Charles’ 693 receiving yards in three out of four seasons. Although he never fell below four receiving TDs with Reid, Westbrook never topped six receiving TDs. While his other receiving statistics appear likely to repeat, Charles’ TDs are likely to regress.
This begs the following question: Were McNabb and Westbrook a better fit for Reid’s offense? Probably. Charles was better on the ground than Westbrook while Westbrook was more proficient through the air. Nevertheless, based upon the foregoing, it appears that Charles’ receiving numbers were not an anomaly–we should expect similar numbers for the upcoming season.
Let me leave with you with the following: Westbrook’s best season with the Eagles (and Reid) was 2007. He gained over 2,100 yards from scrimmage and finished as fantasy’s No. 1 player. He was 28 years old. Charles turns 28 this season.When he’s not searching for ways to defeat his opponents, Mike Braude spends his time finding ways to remove the randomness of fantasy football and reward the most skilled fantasy owners. He has remedied this issue by creating Apex Fantasy Football Money Leagues.