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How to Think About Percy Harvin to SEA (Part II): Target Distribution

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One of the assumptions that I think is being made about Percy Harvin is that the Seahawks are just going to force a bunch of targets Harvin’s way because he’s such an electric player. Yesterday I made the case that increasing targets is a proposition that has diminishing returns. Because we can see an inverse relationship between targets and fantasy points/target among the top 25 fantasy receivers (includes TE) it’s probably the case that things work how we might expect them to work. It would be logical to assume that as usage increases, it requires more energy from the player which drives down efficiency on its own, and it probably also makes defenses better able to prepare for targets to that player.

Today I’m going to make the case that whatever targets you assume for Percy Harvin will also imply targets for Sidney Rice and Golden Tate. Harvin’s usage will in all likelihood be correlated to passing plays for the SEA offense, which will also drive usage for Rice and Tate. Below I have a graph that breaks out targets by receiver number. So in the upper left are the targets for the leading receivers for teams going back to the 200 season. There’s a “1” labeled on that graph. In the upper right are the targets for a team’s #2 WR, and so on. On the x axis is team pass attempts. You can see that all of the targets for each ranking of receiver are highly correlated with team pass attempts. That makes sense.

Rplot53

My point in offering this graph is to just visualize the idea that as Harvin’s targets go up (assuming he’s the #1 WR) then it’s likely that Rice and Tate’s targets will also increase (although Harvin’s increase in targets will likely not be met by a 1:1 increase for Rice/Tate).

This might be a good time to note that in 2012, the Seahawks actually spread the ball around more than you would typically expect. Based on the trend line above, you would expect that the #1 option in a passing game would see about 100 targets based on SEA’s attempts. But Sid Rice only saw about 80 targets. The Seahawks had 4 players with 50 or more targets though. By contrast, the Bears only had one receiver with greater than 50 targets (Marshall) on a similar number of total attempts as SEA.

I could think of a few reasons for the pass distribution that SEA had last year, including that they didn’t think they had a true #1 option on the team. But I think the pass distribution also spells trouble for the idea that Russell Wilson is just going to lock onto Harvin, or that SEA is going to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get the ball in Harvin’s hands. If they scored points last year by spreading the ball around and their QB has the ability to find the open guy, is it logical to expect that they’ll go overboard in adjusting to Harvin’s arrival?

For the purpose of this exercise, I’m just going to be assuming that SEA will now distribute targets in a manner more consistent with the average. But I’ll also assume that Harvin will take the targets of the WR1 while Rice will be in the WR2 role as far as targets go. I’ve generated the following table using the data from the graph above based on a range of assumptions for how many attempts SEA will put up this year.

Team Attempts WR1 Targets WR2 Targets
375 94.0 63.5
400 100.2 69.0
425 106.4 74.4
450 112.5 79.9
475 118.7 85.4
500 124.9 90.8
525 131.0 96.3
550 137.2 101.8
575 143.4 107.2
600 149.5 112.7
625 155.7 118.2
650 161.9 123.6
675 168.0 129.1
700 174.2 134.6
725 180.4 140.1

I’m not going to get into estimating a fantasy point total for Harvin because I’m saving that for later installments in this series, but there is a point to be made with this table. If SEA passes the same amount this year (about 400 attempts) that they did last year, and if Harvin sees 100 or so targets, that’s not going to get it done for fantasy owners. Note that would be an increase over their target rate for their #1WR last year, so it would even fit the narrative that SEA is going to prioritize getting Harvin the ball… but again it would not be good for Harvin owners.

There’s more wood to chop on this issue and when I’m done my hope is not to say “don’t draft Percy Harvin” but rather to give you some sense of the range of possibilities so that you can make up your own mind. I’m also going to try to give you the case for doing something that will lock in some of Harvin’s upside but without the top10 WR price.

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