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Brian Hartline: The Cost of Known Value, Cumulative Data and Goldilocks

brianhartline

Depending on who you talk to this offseason, either Brian Hartline is the most overrated or underrated receiver coming into 2014. In situations like this, we’d like for there to be an absolute answer to the question, but the truth frequently lies in the middle.  Taking a Harvey Dent-like approach, let’s explore each side of the coin.

Price Point, Production and Equity

The basic point about Hartline is that he doesn’t cost anything. Per My Fantasy League ADP data in MFL10’s since May 15, he’s coming off the board on average at WR56 and 136.5 overall. In my 12 most recent drafts (don’t judge), he’s coming off slightly later inside the position, at WR59, and a touch earlier overall at pick 130.5. That’s using an 11th round pick on a player that has posted back to back 70 catch, 1,000 yard seasons.

The Dolphins are also invested in him for at least this season as well. Hartline is in the second season of a five year, $30.8M contract that he inked a season ago that came along with $12.5M guaranteed. Miami can get out of that deal after the season if they wish to recoup a solid amount of cap space, but his job is safe for 2014 and likely 2015. If they Dolphins are going to dump salary at the receiver position after the season, it will almost very likely be in the form of the other receiver they signed last season.

hartlinewallace

Using the NFL Career Graphs App, we can look at the production of both Hartline and his team mate, Mike Wallace over their first five seasons. They were both taken in the 2009 draft, Wallace in the third round at pick 84 to the Steelers and Hartline in the fourth at pick 108. At the point of entering the NFL, the league as a whole didn’t have a large gap in their valuation of the two players.

Wallace has been declining for three years running, and the entirety of his decline can’t be based on the performance of Ryan Tannehill since he had pretty lateral production in his final season in Pittsburgh. Hartline’s yards per target have been steadily dropping, but that also coincides with his volume increasing heavily. In 2013, he was equal or better than Wallace across the board, even seeing a larger share of the Miami passing targets when their offense was on script.

All of this is why Hartline has already been pegged as a great 2014 value here on the site. I can’t say I disagree with anything above. So, if he’s cheap, reliably productive and the team is invested in him, we can just close this down now, right?

Using Caution With Cumulative Data

Hartline’s overall fantasy output can be a bit misleading. Bottom line is he’s a “sum of parts” type guy, similar to scrounging up all the change in your couch cushions. The most popular part of the majority of offseason analysis is making comments along the lines of “He was PPR WR23 last year.”

That part is fact, and what is also fact is that Wallace himself ended up at WR26 in overall scoring. But Hartline had only two weeks in which he finished above that 23rd ranking, while Wallace did it in six weeks. While Hartline wasn’t supposedly losing you games (which is debatable), he wasn’t winning you any either, except for those two weeks. This came in a season when Miami ranked third in the NFL in terms of passing volume.

Team

All Pass %

Leading %

Tied %

Trailing %

MIA

67%

62%

62%

72%

NFL Avg.

61%

52%

58%

68%

New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has been associated with extremely run heavy offenses so far in his career. Working with Joe Gibbs, Jim Mora and Chip Kelly can have that effect on you, and there’s some more really good nuggets on Lazor in the Miami team notes just recently done by Evan Silva at Rotoworld.  Losing volume can really hurt a guy like Hartline, who isn’t exactly the most talented guy on their team.

One of my favorite aspects of the WR Sim Score App is that it doesn’t try to hoodwink you; it shows all of its work. You have tangible seasons to compare and a range of outcomes to sort through. As someone who likes to peel back the onion (yes, even on players going in the 11th round) as much as possible, we can check out some of his closest positive 2014 comps.

hartlineplot

Immediately, Ward, Brown and Houshmanzadeh stick out because they were primarily slot receivers in the NFL. Per Pro Football Focus, Hartline has only caught 26 passes from the slot in his career, and the most targets he’s had inside in any given season is only 15.  You aren’t getting much volume that is tied to high success rate types of targets, like those three were consistently getting.

Jennings and Wayne were part of high volume offenses led by Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. We already discussed the possibility of volume decreasing, and Tannehill is far from that QB weight class. That leaves us with a still solid group of comparable players that match up really well with Hartline’s involvement in his team’s passing game. Schroeder converted 17 percent of his receptions in 2001 for scores and Jackson converted 13 percent in 2003. Even if Hartline improves on his lowly four percent career touchdown rate on receptions, reaching either of those totals seem out of reach. Narrowing down the best comps still gives a really good outlook, and both players fit like a glove in terms of anticipated median and high end ceiling projections.

NAME

SEAS

TRGS

RECS

YDS

YPR

YPT

TDS

Amani Toomer

2002

8.38

5.12

83.94

16.38

10.02

0.5

Santana Moss

2008

8.62

4.94

65.25

13.22

7.57

0.38

Toomer’s 2002 season would be the pantheon for Hartline’s 2014 outcomes for yardage and touchdown totals. While I find it unlikely, I really can’t dismiss what went into that season and the types of players involved. The 2008 version of Moss is fairly similar production in terms of Hartline maintaining his current level of play with slight improvement. This is pretty much the best case scenario of him being the same player he already has been.

Heads or Tails?

Both the defense and prosecution of Hartline have very sound cases, which is why he’s the perfect example of what I refer to as a “Porridge Player”, a player that has a specific type of owner. It also reminds me of one the biggest twitter beefs last offseason, which was taking  Cordarrelle Patterson or Brandon LaFell in the late rounds.

Patterson represented the type of home run swing that came on a 3-0 fastball already up in the game. High ceilings win fantasy championships when reached, and Patterson was a top 24 receiver every week of the fantasy playoffs. Problem is it’s very likely that his reached potential came on another owner’s team after he was discarded based on early returns and minimal draft investment from the original owner. High ceiling, late round options generally come with a leap of faith. Fear of missing out on that payday can have the adverse effect, chewing a hole in your roster.

LaFell exemplified a safety net of opportunity, even if the ceiling was low. Safe floor players of his late round level almost inevitably force you to hang on to them too long, with their overall output looking solid enough to warrant a roster spot. There’s also a definitive difference between a high floor and a safe floor, which why that player is available in the first place at that juncture of the draft. All of this masks their weekly significance.

There’s anecdotal evidence of both sides being correct  and this all ties into the Goldilocks factor of knowing what type of owner you are and what you want out of your roster. If you desire an absolute from me, at this point of the draft I’m taking cuts at players that can win me weeks.In the end, I want my opponents to have to rely on Hartline types of players when I am facing them. Their limited range of weekly outcomes allows me to navigate my own weekly lineup decisions swimmingly. I’m not claiming to be right, but that’s how I like my porridge served.

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