Defense may have its occasional merits, but it was hard to watch the Lions trade up for Kyle Van Noy1 instead of selecting RotoViz Reach stars like Allen Robinson, Davante Adams, or Jordan Matthews. Hitting on any of the trio would have cemented Detroit as the NFL’s best offense for the next decade. Using a late round pick on T.J. Jones pales in comparison. On the surface, Jones appears to be just another in the indistinguishable legion of waste pick wide receivers selected after Round 3. Surprisingly, that may not be the case.
Jones first caught my eye with his impressive finish in FD’s Games Dominated algorithm. I’ve given Detroit a hard time recently about their penchant for overdrafting mediocre talents, but it’s possible that by selecting Jones the Lions were valuing the input of former Broncos GM and supposed analytics guru Brian Xanders. It’s possible they’ve learned how to find their Ryan Broyles replacement at a fraction of the cost.
T.J. Jones – The Next Superstar Possession Receiver?
Before the draft we talked ad nauseum about collegiate market share (Dominator Rating or DR) and the value of breakout age (BOA). The games dominated approach uses Final Season DR, Age, BOA, and Games Dominated to project receiver fantasy scoring at the next level (weight is displayed but wasn’t significant). Take a look at Jones compared to a few of the other high profile, similarly-sized rookie receivers (I’ve also included Mike Evans for entertainment purposes, and perhaps to demonstrate why I believe he sports a production red flag).
|BRANDIN COOKS||Oregon State||0.39||18.97||14||186||20.26||8.65|
|JARVIS LANDRY||Louisiana State||0.39||19.77||10||195||21.11||7.94|
|TJ JONES||Notre Dame||0.36||20.13||12||194||21.46||7.54|
|MARQISE LEE||Southern California||0.28||19.79||18||195||22.09||7.02|
|ODELL BECKHAM||Louisiana State||0.28||18.84||6||194||21.08||6.02|
|MIKE EVANS||Texas A&M||0.25||19.06||6||225||20.38||5.96|
But teams are constantly trying to draft the next Antonio Brown or Wes Welker without targeting players who are actually like Brown or Welker. By way of contrast, consider the comp list for T.J. Jones.
While Jones was drafted later than the average, it’s encouraging that the later round picks on this list have been more successful. When you’re looking at the small-and-not-blazing-fast group of NFL prospects, the key factor appears to be games dominated – in other words, how good you were on the field.2
In what I would consider a pretty shocking development, the closest comp for T.J. Jones comes back as Antonio Brown.
Where Does T.J. Jones fit with the Lions?
Joe Lombardi wants to make Detroit into Saints North. While they undoubtedly have more overall talent, if the two key ingredients are Drew Brees and Sean Payton, it’s likely to be a failed enterprise. Regardless, the temptation is to draw direct parallels between players in the two offenses. The reality will probably be a bit more complicated.3 Jones and Golden Tate may or may not be competing for snaps and targets in the Lance Moore role. Corey Fuller could factor as something of a Devery Henderson-esque deep threat. Ryan Broyles is theoretically nearing 100% and could soak up a few of the possession reps.
But if we restrict ourselves to Jones and Tate, the comparison is more favorable for our rookie than it first appears.
Despite impressive efficiency numbers, Tate finished as WR32 last season. The usual explanation focuses on the run-heavy nature of the Seahawks offense, but the bigger problem may be Tate himself. In evaluating rookie prospects, Dominator Rating has been overwhelmingly successful. So perhaps we should revisit FD’s look at DR for NFL receivers.
Jumping down to the range that involves Tate …
|Rank||Player||msTRGS||msPYDS||msPTDS||DR||DR – msTRGS|
Among receivers with at least four games played, Tate ranked 53rd, sandwiched between Tim Wright and Brandon Gibson.
When writers extol Tate’s positive qualities, you often hear catch rate mentioned. In 2013 Stafford suffered through a season where his moribund receiving corps finished with the worst drop rate in the NFL. You can use the NFL Drive Scoring app to see the impact of this drop epidemic. Detroit finished sixth in converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns but in a five-way tie for 16th in reaching the red zone. Since many of the aforementioned drops occurred on third down, an inability to catch the ball rescued Detroit fans from another year of Jim Schwartz (albeit costing them a playoff berth in the process).
Tate’s ability to simply catch the ball will be a welcome change, if an overrated one. Catch rate tends to be among the most overvalued receiver attributes. Meanwhile, the ability to command targets tends to be the most undervalued. Tate didn’t separate from the rest of the Seahawks receiving corps in this area, nor did he outperform his teammates on the targets he did receive. Tate represented a relatively low 29% of Seattle’s target market share and turned that into only 25% of the team’s receiving value.
Using the AYA app, we can examine Tate’s numbers in a little more detail.
|Russell Wilson||Golden Tate||97||63||884||5||2||9.22|
|Russell Wilson||Doug Baldwin||72||49||743||4||2||10.18|
|Russell Wilson||Zach Miller||56||33||387||5||1||7.89|
|Russell Wilson||Marshawn Lynch||44||36||316||2||0||8.09|
|Russell Wilson||Jermaine Kearse||38||22||346||4||2||8.84|
|Russell Wilson||Sidney Rice||34||15||231||3||1||7.24|
|Russell Wilson||Luke Willson||24||16||208||1||0||9.5|
Although very efficient, Tate was less valuable per target than Doug Baldwin and failed to separate from the combination of a situational deep threat (Jermaine Kearse), a plodding, bell cow runner (Marshawn Lynch), and a raw, second-string tight end (Luke Willson). This helps explain why Seattle purportedly made Tate a low ball offer in free agency before quickly replacing him with Paul Richardson (a Keenan Allen 2.0 prospect).
How to Play This in Fantasy
Receivers selected in Round 6 are almost always irrelevant, and that’s the most likely outcome for T.J. Jones as well. However, there is another possibility, and it represents the type of bet you should be consistently making in dynasty formats.
Detroit is poised to emerge as an offense capable of creating fantasy stars out of mediocre talents. Many believe Matthew Stafford lacks the ability to run this type of offense, but Stafford is underrated for the same reason Andy Dalton’s abilities remain unappreciated. When you think of T.J. Jones, it might be useful to think Randall Cobb without the fanfare or dual threat ability.4
You can play the T.J. Jones situation by buying Jones and selling Markus Wheaton (an equally unproven comp who would seem to have 2013 Emmanuel Sanders as a ceiling), or by buying Jones and selling Odell Beckham (a small-not-blazing-fast prospect with inferior production and a worse situation), or by buying Jones and simply selling the 2014 version of Sanders. The moral to the story is basically this: If you own any small receivers not named Brandin Cooks, sell them and buy Jones.5
If someone told you the Lions signed Antonio Brown and Golden Tate in the offseason, who would you draft for your fantasy squad? Of course, that distorts the question. The real Antonio Brown has reached his best case projection. Fortunately, like many of the bets we encourage at RotoViz, you don’t have to pay much to find out if Jones also bucks the odds. He’ll go undrafted in all but the deepest of dynasty leagues. You can select him with your final pick – as I did last week in the PFF dynasty league – or simply add him this summer when he starts making noise in camp.
- Was it unlikely Van Noy would last to 45? Did they really have no other similarly rated players? (back)
- Sometimes the phrase, “he looks better on a spreadsheet than on tape” can be interpreted to suggest analysts don’t want to give credit for what happened on the field. In most cases, we want to give more credit. (back)
- Just as one confounding example, Colston, Graham, and Moore were all used in the slot on at least 49% of their snaps last season. (back)
- In three seasons, Cobb has scored 21 points as a rusher and 18 points as a return man. You’ll definitely take those points if you own Cobb, but you’re probably overpaying for unlikely to be repeated stats. (back)
- Or sell them and don’t buy Jones. Either way, you’re going to be improving your squad. (back)