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Richard Rogers is Free and Plays With the Best Quarterback on the Planet

The Football Gods have spoken: July shall henceforth be known as the month of the lottery ticket tight end.

First, Ladarius Green had the jaws of life applied to his fantasy1 career with Antonio Gates now suspended for the first four games of 2015. And then, two days later, came news that Andrew Quarless discharged a firearm in public. While preliminary reports indicate that Quarless will not be cut, he is subject to discipline under the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

Which is good news for the Richard Rodgers fantasy fan-club.2 Last week, James Todd wrote that even if you remove Quarless from the equation altogether, Rodgers still probably isn’t worth all that much. But I decided to run Rodgers through a variety of apps here on the site, just to get an idea of exactly how valuable (or worthless) Rodgers may be with the Packers TE role to himself.

Señor Todd’s main concerns are as follows: 1. Rodgers is an average talent and 2. Despite what you might expect, the TE role in Green Bay is not very valuable. His most recent post noted that no Packers TEs accounted for more than 10 percent of the team’s targets in 2014.

Which is true…but only because Quarless and Rodgers constituted a serious timeshare. With the Fantasy Efficiency App, we can see that Packers TEs accounted for 85 of the team’s 566 targets in 2014, which comes out to 15 percent. That kind of market share isn’t a disaster; it’s in the same range that Heath Miller (15.4 percent), Larry Donnell (15.4 percent), and Antonio Gates (17.1 percent) enjoyed last year. Those players finished ninth, sixth, and fifth, respectively, in expected points.

What’s more, based on the recent past, it appears that 15 percent may be an anomaly for an Aaron Rodgers/Mike McCarthy led offense.

For the 2011 and 2012 seasons, with Jermichael Finley playing all 32 games, Packers TEs accounted for 20 percent of the team’s targets in both years, with Finley personally accounting for 16.2 percent. In terms of the raw total, Finley was the most targeted player on the Packers during that span. For the 2013 season, a combination of a broken down Finley3 and Quarless accounted for 19.1 percent of the team’s targets.

Perhaps anomaly isn’t the right word…it’s perfectly logical that the TE target share would dip in 2014, with the position manned by the exceedingly pedestrian Quarless and a 22 year old, third-round rookie. But with Rodgers now a sophomore and the position essentially to himself, he could make a fantasy impact if he’s good enough to capitalize.

That, of course, is the other main argument against Rodgers. It’s all well and good to look at Finley’s workload, but if Rodgers isn’t nearly as good as Finley then aren’t we just wasting our time?

Probably. And James is right that Rodgers was an underwhelming prospect, especially compared with the physical gifts of a player like Finley. His Phenom Index4 and weight-adjusted agility5 are average. But turning to the College Career Graphs App, we can see that Rodgers and Finley were surprisingly similar in other ways.

RichRodFinley

Rodgers’ and Finley’ targets and YPT were almost identical during their final collegiate seasons. Their market shares of yards were identical. The glaring difference is Rodgers alarming zero percent RZ conversion rate, but given that he put up 33 percent the year before, also identical to Finley’s second year total, even that isn’t as big a deal as it first appears.

I would also note, that while as a prospect Finley was taller, considerably faster, and more agile, Rodgers was heavier and more explosive.6

Luckily, we also have tools to evaluate Rodgers NFL action in 2014. First let’s turn back to the Fantasy Efficiency App, which measures how well a player performs against expectations. While Quarless posted a replacement level per-target efficiency number of -0.05, Rodgers produced a very respectable 0.17 during the regular season.7 Even better, his efficiency improved over the course of the season: through Weeks 1-10 it was a ho-hum 0.05, while through Weeks 11-17 it was a sparkling 0.28, better than Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen, and Martellus Bennett over that span (among many others). Rodgers’ target total and percentage (relative to Quarless) rose over that span as well.

Finally, let’s take a look at the AYA App to see how Rodgers stacks up to other Packers receivers. As you can see, the results are promising:

Rodgers2014AYA

 

According to the Dynasty ADP App, Rodgers is currently going in the 17th round of startups, behind the likes of (gulp) Tavon Austin. Among TEs he’s going 29th, which is four spots below Clive Walford and two spots ahead of Jared Cook.

It’s likely that Rodgers’ current ADP doesn’t fully reflect the Quarless news, as we can see the bump is already occurring.8

RodgersADP

Ultimately, it’s nearly as likely that the fantasy community in general will react the Quarless news with a shrug, but I would contend that Rodgers’ ADP should (rightfully) rise.

After all, we’re talking about a 23 year old starter, with plus efficiency, playing with Aaron Rodgers. And it’s not as if Richard Rodgers stumbled into this job by accident; the 2014 draft was the first opportunity for the Packers to draft a replacement for Finley, a former third round pick. And they decided to use their 2014 third round pick to plant a flag on Rodgers. The Packers surely didn’t expect Andrew Quarless to do what he did, but it’s not crazy to infer that they’ve been planning for Rodgers to take over as their starting TE all along.

This is a situation worth paying attention to. Given the information, it appears that Rodgers will be a solid TE2 with room to grow and with a chance to blossom into a low-end TE1. As of now, he therefore represents a value.

  1. and, uh, I guess real life  (back)
  2. All two members of it!  (back)
  3. he suffered a spinal cord injury in Week 7 and never returned  (back)
  4. tip of the hat to Jon Moore  (back)
  5. ditto  (back)
  6. Explosion score of 147.5 to Finley’s 144.5  (back)
  7. I’m using the regular season numbers because Rodgers produced an absurd reFPOEPT of 6.03 on one target against the Panthers in the playoffs. That performance skews his full season sample too much.  (back)
  8. That uptick looks severe, but keep it mind that there aren’t very many data points  (back)

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