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Dynasty Trade Case Study: Dez Bryant for Keenan Allen

I inherited a dynasty fantasy football team in a PPR league a few weeks back, and was recently offered Dez Bryant for my Keenan Allen. Here is why I declined.

For starters, I think this was a really good trade offer. Most places you look, you’ll likely find Bryant ranked higher than Allen. He’s been an elite performer thus far in his career, but his future is now muddied a bit by questions surrounding both his health, and the age and health of his quarterback Tony Romo.

I had pretty much made up my mind, but I decided to throw this one-for-one trade offer up on Twitter to see what the wisdom of the crowd would say. I assumed the results would come back in Dez’s favor, but an interesting thing happened – it was actually quite close.

I think this suggests a couple of things. First, I think Dez Bryant is probably one of the most polarizing figures in fantasy football heading toward 2016. Second, I think a lot of people are as impressed with Keenan Allen as I am.

Keenan’s Career Thus Far

At the time of his injury, Keenan Allen had played eight games in 2015. Despite only playing 60 percent of the snaps in that eighth game — for reference, he had played 94 percent or more in six of the first seven — Allen’s half-season numbers produce some ridiculous paces. Let’s use one of the secondary functions of the Game Splits App to quickly check those 16-game paces.

KeenanAllenChart

That 134-catch, 1,450-yard season would have been worth 327 points in PPR scoring, which would have been good for the fifth most points among all non-QBs.1

If we open it up to Allen’s full three-year career, which includes a strong rookie season and a bit of a sophomore slump, we see his 16-game paces are still very impressive.

KeenanAllenChart2

Speaking of his great rookie season, the offensive coordinator that season was recently re-hired Ken Whisenhunt. There was some concern about Allen’s usage in 2015 — particularly that just six of his 89 targets came in the red zone, and zero came inside the 102 — so it’s a welcome note that the guy under whom Allen caught eight touchdowns on 105 targets3 is back in town.

Overall, what we have here is a 23-year-old WR with a very strong production record for a player his age. The Similarity Scores App — using the per-game inputs from this season — produces a list of comps that should make any Allen owner salivate. That list includes a young Anquan Boldin as his two most similar comps followed by Alshon JefferyRandy MossLarry FitzgeraldA.J. Green, Antonio Brown, a young Hakeem Nicks, two more A.J. Greens sandwiching another Larry Fitzgerald season, and on and on. A young Steve Smith shows up, as do Brandon Marshall and Roddy White (twice). It might be the most impressive comp list I’ve seen.

Here’s what those comps did in their N+1 seasons.

KeenanAllenChart

Remember, this graph represents year-over-year percent change in fantasy points per game, and we’re starting from a pretty high baseline. The natural reaction is to look at that and think it’s a negative, but the 16-game pace of the average of those N+1 seasons is 153 targets, 91 receptions, 1,221 yards, and 8.3 TDs. Here is the per-game projection summary it produces for Allen.

KeenanAllenChart2

At the median projection we’re looking at a PPR season over 300 points, not far off his 16-game pace in 2015. The low-end projection comes to 265.6 points over 16 games, which would have been good enough for WR12 in 2015.

And in terms of Allen’s injury, he’s expected to make a full recovery from his kidney laceration.

The State of Dez

On the flip side, Dez Bryant is either going to get back to being Dez Bryant, or the 27-year-old receiver may never recover his pre-injury form. I’m not saying that’s likely, but it’s certainly a possibility. What I will say is the chart Charles Kleinheksel presented in the article I linked above is not promising, particularly when again considering these graphs represent year-over-year percent change in fantasy points per game, and Bryant just finished the worst season of his career in that regard.

download (3)

Look through those names real quick. Beyond Moss — who, by the way, is Bryant’s least similar comp of the 25 seasons looked at — there aren’t a lot of promising names. There’s a caveat here that the inputs into this chart represent some career lows for Bryant, thereby potentially leading to some unrepresentative comps. That’s part of why he’s so polarizing – it’s difficult to adjust for what we saw from him in 2015 and figure out a good estimate of what he might produce in 2016 and beyond. Sure his QB play was terrible, but what happens when Tony Romo retires?

Plus, Bryant’s injury is the one — when comparing these two injured receivers — that has the potential to be a chronic thing. He’s also four years older than Allen.

Conclusion

I didn’t decline this trade because of Dez, and I’m not really trying to argue he doesn’t have any more great seasons in him. I declined this trade because while there might still be reason to believe he is the better player right now, my thinking is the worst-case scenario for Allen seems to be settling in a tier or two below Dez in the immediate future, with more long-term value.

That also seems to be the consensus most likely outcome, considering their respective market values. That said, if we consider the next couple most likely alternatives, the picture starts to point more clearly to Allen. For one, it isn’t crazy to think Allen could be among the league’s best receivers as soon as next season, which would immediately make him the more valuable asset because of his age. Alternatively, Dez could struggle to regain his elite ability, again rendering them similar in present value and making the younger asset more valuable because time is on his side.

There’s certainly merit to valuing the near future more heavily, but even if Allen never truly reaches the top tier of WRs, he’ll still be a very useful asset. The more I consider this deal, the stronger my conviction. I’m getting mighty excited to have Allen on my squad, and I think he’ll make for a great target in all formats this offseason.

  1. Behind only Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Brandon Marshall, and DeAndre Hopkins.  (back)
  2. per Pro Football Reference  (back)
  3. 19 of which came in the red zone for six TDs, with eight targets and three TDs coming from inside the 10  (back)

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