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Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Recency Bias, and the Importance of a Balanced Breakfast

michaelcrabtreeThe year of Michael Crabtree was imminent. He finished 2012 with 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns, most of that coming with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. Then Crabtree tore his Achilles in late May of last year and we all gave up on that dream.

Now it seems like drafters may have done so for more than just 2013. According to MFL ADP, Crabtree is being drafted as WR19 this year. That’s pretty cheap for a guy who was a popular candidate to break out as a WR1 last year.

If you run him through the WR Similarity Score App, you will certainly be disappointed. His high-end PPR projection is only 10.5 points per game. If you compare Crabtree to the averages of his comparables, he’s almost an exact match. Accordingly, the app uses a multiplier of exactly one for his 2014 projections. Unsurprisingly, Crabtree himself shows up twice in his own comps. All very gloomy.

You can always make a case for why the app’s projections for a given player are wrong, or based on incomplete information. That’s true, but it doesn’t mean you should be in the habit of doing so. If you wanted to do that for Crabtree though, you would point out that he only played five games against a tough slate of defenses and was coming off of an injury. There’s also this:

crabtreesplit

From the Game Splits App, this shows Crabtree’s splits from the game Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith against St. Louis in 2012 through the end of the season.1 The Game Splits App is working off an eight-game sample with a healthy Crabtree, while the WR Similarity Score App is working off a five-game sample with a recovering Crabtree. This is one of those times when you should probably ignore the WR Similarity Score App.

I’m sure you noticed that 15.69 is a larger number than 10.5. That’s an apples and oranges comparison that is actually even more favorable to Crabtree, as the 10.5 is based on full PPR scoring and the Game Splits App utilizes .5 PPR scoring. If Crabtree had scored at that rate for all of 2012, his 296 PPR points would have made him WR6 in 2012 and tied him with Dez Bryant for WR7 in 2013. Of course, that’s assuming a full 16-game season for him, while not giving the same benefit to the rest of the wide receivers. On a points-per-game basis, he scored 18.57 PPR PPG which would have been good for WR6 and WR8 in 2012 and 2013 respectively. That’s an insignificant difference. There is a strong case to be made that he will finish the 2014 season as a WR1, which would make him a bargain at his current price of WR19. Recency bias is driving his price down. Target him in 2014.

But what of future Hall of Famer Anquan Boldin? Boldin finished last year as PPR’s WR15 overall, and WR19 on a points per game basis.2 Boldin is currently being drafted as WR49, after three rookies, Cecil Shorts, and the even older Reggie Wayne. He was drafted as WR34 in 2013. That plummet in ADP suggests people expect his production to drop with the addition of a healthy Crabtree. Well:

boldinsplit

It seems clear that Boldin was more productive when Crabtree played, and I mentioned earlier that was actually against a pretty tough stretch of defenses.3 Intuitively, it would make sense that people are moving Boldin down the board because Crabtree will be back to gobble up the targets. This is definitely a small sample size, but it’s the most pertinent piece of evidence we have and it suggests the opposite of what people seem to be assuming. Doesn’t it also intuitively make sense that Crabtree’s return drew attention away from Boldin and allowed the 49ers to pass more in general?

kaepernicksplit

Kaepernick’s numbers were better across the board when Crabtree played last year, even if he wasn’t at 100 percent. It only makes sense that Boldin would benefit from that, especially when you consider that fullback Bruce Miller was third in targets for the 49ers last year. The WR Sim Score App happens to like Boldin for a high-end PPR projection of 15.7 PPG, and a low-end projection of 11.2 PPG. That low-end projection would have tied him for WR42 on a PPG basis last year, which suggests Boldin would likely be a value even in a worst-case scenario. The high-end projection would have made him WR19 on a PPG basis, supplanting himself.

It’s possible the additions of Stevie Johnson and Bruce Ellington significantly hurt Crabtree and Boldin’s production, but it seems very unlikely. They are, at best, the team’s fourth and fifth receiving options. Crabtree and Boldin aren’t exactly chopped liver. Using the AYA App, Kaepernick has averaged 10.22 and 9.53 adjusted yards per attempt when targeting Boldin and Crabtree respectively.4 Those are tremendous numbers. If Kaepernick finishes 2014 as a top five QB, Crabtree and Boldin are the prime candidates to benefit. A rising tide lifts all boats.

While both are bargains in redraft, I believe Boldin is the better value. Crabtree has more upside, but there’s always the possibility he doesn’t produce to his draft position, especially considering he’s coming off an injury. Meanwhile, Boldin actually seems to benefit from Crabtree’s success. If you draft Boldin and Crabtree has a huge year, you’ll likely still benefit from it, while minimizing the damage you would take from a Crabtree injury. Their ADPs are far enough apart that you can easily draft both, which seems like an especially potent strategy in best-ball formats like MFL10s. I don’t really think you can go wrong with how you choose to approach drafting these two guys.

Both are undervalued in dynasty. Boldin is undervalued because he’s old, even though old WRs win dynasty championships. You might be able to get him for something like a third-round pick or as a throw-in to a bigger trade if his owner isn’t particularly attached. Crabtree is treated as a middling WR2 type, but our most representative sample tells us he’s more of a WR1. You could probably trade a more highly regarded WR for Crabtree plus a whole lot more. Unsurprisingly, I would trade Antonio Brown for him in a heartbeat.

When it comes down to it, Crabtree is a solid value pick with all that sexy upside and Boldin is the old fart who just represents plain great value. I like having a pretty team, but I love winning, even if it means winning ugly. It’s fine to buy a shiny new car when it makes sense, but it’s always a good decision to eat generic oatmeal. Regular bowel movements are better than buyer’s remorse.

  1. This seemed like the simplest way to split it. Kaepernick made appearances in several of Smith’s starts, and Smith popped up briefly in one of Kaepernick’s starts as well.  (back)
  2. It’s an interesting coincidence that Boldin finished at Crabtree’s current price.  (back)
  3. St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Arizona  (back)
  4. 10.33 for Crabtree in 2012.  (back)

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