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3 Candidates To Be This Year’s Andre Johnson

This is part of a series that identifies key traits of the best/worst picks of 2015, and finds three candidates to be this year’s version of those players. 

What was Andre Johnson last season?

We know now that he was the 12th worst wide receiver pick, and the 19th worst overall pick, in Myfantasyleague.com MFL10s, as determined by win rate.1

But what was he a year ago, before we knew that? What were the key descriptors one would have used to describe Johnson last June?

  • Aged, accomplished superstar, still producing despite showing declining efficiency
  • Large assumed role on a great offense, despite a crowded wide receiver depth chart
  • High average draft position (5.04, or 52nd overall, for all 2015 MFL10s)

Which old, (current or former) superstar wide receivers, expected to get a large role in a great offense, with high average draft positions, closely fit that description this year?

This is actually the most challenging one of the these articles to write. Johnson was so old, and so overvalued, in addition to showing such alarming declination, and being a free agent, that he was an easy, automatic fade. There are no wide receivers even close to that old, with even close to that high of an average draft position, this season. The only relevant wide receivers that old in free agency this year were Anquan Boldin and Roddy White, neither of which have found a team willing to employ them.

In light of that, instead of trying to pick out three guys (that don’t exist) who closely fit Johnson’s archetype, I’m going to look at the three receivers that are at least 32 years old, with the highest ADPs, and see how closely (if) they match any parts of Johnson’s archetype. None of these are flashing nearly the amount of red flags that Johnson was, but part of good process is exploring things you may not initially agree with, and seeing if the data confirms your thinking.

LARRY FITZGERALD

OLD, PRODUCTIVE, AND SHOWING DECLINE

All three of these wide receivers are part of Jacob Rickrode’s Elite 24, which shows how incredibly dominant they had been over time, headed into last season:

Elite 24 Dynasty Wide Receivers

Now, let’s add 2015 for the players that were still active:

Player2012201320142015
Calvin Johnson151612
Marques Colston12263656
Brandon Marshall26343
Greg Jennings763442113
Vincent Jackson13163364
Roddy White10432172
Larry Fitzgerald3317517
Andre Johnson6102858
Anquan Boldin30151940
Steve Smith19371853

Primacy bias makes us remember the three top twelve finishes, and makes us want to forget the 70 percent of the group that finished irrelevantly. Fear of regret leads us to drafting or starting players long after the music has stopped, and recency or outcome biases makes us chase the dragon. At some point, Larry Fitzgerald will be a toxic draft pick again, just like he was in 2012 and 2014, when his average draft position was WR3 (21st overall), and WR18 (42nd overall), respectively. Will that be this year? There isn’t always a gradual decline; sometimes there’s a cliff.

Fitzgerald’s Sim Scores show some gradual declines, but you also see some examples of the cliff. It’s important to note that with any player this old, there is an inherent issue of survivorship bias positively skewing the results, making negative outcomes even more problematic:

Larry Fitzgerald Sim Score Plots

Compared to the rest of his career, it’s difficult to say he declined at all last season:

YearTargetsReceptionsCatch RateReceiving YardsYards per TargetTouchdownsTouchdown RateFantasy PointsFPS per Target
20041155850.4%7806.7886.96%200.01.74
200516510362.4%1,4098.54106.06%303.91.84
20061116962.16%9468.5265.41%199.61.80
200716710059.88%1,4098.44105.99%300.91.80
20081549662.34%1,4319.29127.79%311.12.02
20091539763.40%1,0927.14138.50%284.21.86
20101749051.72%1,1376.5363.45%239.71.38
20111538052.29%1,4119.2285.23%269.11.76
20121537146.41%7985.2242.61%174.81.14
20131368260.29%9547.01107.35%237.41.75
20141036361.17%7847.6121.94%153.41.49
201514510975.17%1,2158.3896.21%284.51.96

Perception might have changed this over time, but Carson Palmer only missed ten games in the last three seasons, all in 2014. Beyond that, parsing out those games wouldn’t make Fitzgerald look better, as he was significantly more productive with the backups that season:

Larry Fitzgerald 2014 Game Splits

Fitzgerald may not be suffering from significant declination — he may have suffered that three years ago and been the same person ever since.

GREAT OFFENSE WITH CROWDED DEPTH CHART

Fitzgerald exploded in the Cardinals divisional playoff game against Green Bay with eight catches on twelve targets for 176 yards and a touchdown. Splitting out the games before David Johnson was featured, however, which also were when Michael Floyd was recovering from a nasty hand injury and the time missed from it, you see very similar production to the two years prior:

Fitzgerald 2013 2015 splits

While 33 year old Fitzgerald is fighting Father Time like Tyson fought Douglas, 26 year olds Michael Floyd and John Brown can be expected to be peaking.2

wrscoring

Fitzgerald’s Sim Scores, again, aided by survivorship bias, suggest he doesn’t have a much higher floor or ceiling than Floyd or Brown:

PlayerHigh Sim ScoreMedian Sim ScoreLow Sim Score
Larry Fitzgerald 17.814.012.0
Michael Floyd10.38.56.9
John Brown13.711.79.0
Fitzgerald Last 5 Games12.510.17.5
Floyd Last 5 Games16.713.810.6
Brown Last 5 Games13.811.19.7

It’s pretty concerning that Fitzgerald’s worst outcome becomes very similar to his best outcome when Floyd and Johnson had full roles. Charles Kleinheksel explained recently why when he projects this offense, Floyd is the wide receiver he is targeting in fantasy.  Scott Smith also explained earlier in the year why Floyd was his favorite Dynasty buy low.

AGGRESSIVE ADP

Fitzgerald’s ADP of WR28, 4.12, or 48th overall, implies an expectation of 175 fantasy points, which is perfectly reasonable, and why saying he may be as toxic this year as Johnson was last year, is a stretch. I believe Floyd will be the most productive fantasy asset, and there are several realistic outcomes where both Floyd and Brown outscore Fitzgerald, but he’s difficult to fade at that price. The one thing I think is fair to question is how high his realistic upside is compared to the other wide receivers around that ADP, as his WR7 finish from last year seems highly unlikely to repeat.

BRANDON MARSHALL

OLD, PRODUCTIVE, AND SHOWING DECLINE

Nine months younger than Fitzgerald, and showing virtually no indications of declination, it’s very difficult to knock Brandon Marshall from this perspective. His WR3 finish last year was the most fantasy points anyone 31 or older had in a season, this century (Fitzgerald’s WR7 finish was 16th best):

PlayerYearAgeTargetsCatchesReceiving YdsTouchdownsPPR FPS
Brandon Marshall201531173109150214343.2
Muhsin Muhammad20043116093140516329.5
Rod Smith200131172113134311313.3
Terrell Owens20073414181135515306.5
Marvin Harrison20063414895136612303.6
Joe Horn20043215394139911299.9
Jimmy Smith20013217611213738297.3
Andre Johnson20123116211215984295.8
Cris Carter19993413790124113292.1
Wes Welker20123117411813546289.4
Randy Moss20093213783126413287.4
Marvin Harrison20043213986111315287.3
Ed McCaffrey20003214910113179286.7
Reggie Wayne200931149100126410286.4
Tony Martin19963116785117114286.1
Larry Fitzgerald20153214510912159284.5

Even if Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t the quarterback, or Eric Decker takes a larger red zone share, or Matt Forte takes a large market share of yards and touchdowns, it’s difficult to predict anything dire for Marshall if he remains healthy.

GREAT OFFENSE WITH CROWDED DEPTH CHART

This one also doesn’t apply to Marshall, either, as Decker is the only proven pass catcher on this team that doesn’t play running back. The third and fourth likely receiving options both being running backs, in terms of targets, speaks to how sparse this depth chart really is.

Rookie Devin Smith saw only 28.1 percent of all offensive snaps last season, with 28 targets, and nine catches spread over ten games. He’s also still yet to be medically cleared. Quincy Enunwa saw a surprisingly high 47.0 percent of offensive snaps (Marshall had 95.3 percent, Decker 81.5 percent, to contextualize), totaling 46 targets and 22 catches over 12 games. Enunwa was a fascinating prospect that Jon Moore and Douche both noticed in the scouting process. Charles Kleinheksel also projected Enunwa as the WR3, not Smith, which implies his potential upside if Marshall or Decker were to get injured is fairly high. The Jets’ WR3, however, was a completely irrelevant role last year with both healthy.

Beyond Smith and Enunwa, Kenbrell Thompkins is still around, while Jeremy Kerley and Chris Owusu have both moved on. Tight end Jace Amaro is finally healthy, yet projecting someone with his (in)experience, which is currently 53 targets over 14 games in 2014, to take work away from someone of Marshall’s pedigree doesn’t seem wise.

AGGRESSIVE ADP

This is the part that is up for debate, though it’s also kind of difficult to declare. Marshall’s ADP of WR14, 2.11 or 23rd overall, implies an expectation of 216 fantasy points. That’s not anywhere close to what he did last season, and it’s below his Sim Score floor of 240, and way, way below the ceiling of a just stratospheric 344. Arguing that age, quarterback enigmity, possibility of injury, and/or team competition makes that a dangerously aggressive draft pick, seems farfetched.

VINCENT JACKSON

OLD, PRODUCTIVE, AND SHOWING DECLINE

Vincent Jackson is old. Like, seven months older than Fitzgerald, old. He’s also only one season removed from having 142 targets and one thousand receiving yards. Battling through a knee injury last year that caused him to leave games in Week 7 and Week 14 very early, his year end numbers declined to a pace of 99 targets and 869 receiving yards. Even if you remove those two games, his pace is still only 118 targets, but an eye-raising 1,050 receiving yards.

Looking at just those eight complete games, you see his efficiency with 21-year-old Jameis Winston was actually better than the two years prior with the combination of Josh McCown, Josh Freeman, and Mike Glennon:

YearTargetsCatchesCatch RateYardsYards per TargetTouchdownsTD RateFPS per Target
20131607849.0%1,2247.6574.38%1.52
20141427049.3%1,0027.0621.41%1.28
2015 (8 games)593152.5%5258.9035.10%1.72

That jump across the board in every efficiency stat makes the claim Jackson has fallen off the age cliff highly dubious. His Adjusted Yards per Attempt with Winston shows the same thing:

VJax AYA

His knee also seems completely healed, as he has looked like his old self in minicamp.

GREAT OFFENSE WITH CROWDED DEPTH CHART

The Mike Evans ascendancy still hasn’t happened, but it certainly could this season. Between age, quarterback inexperience, a new offensive scheme, and a team decimated by injuries to pass catchers, there are plenty of ways to spin last year’s events into a narrative about why this year is the explosion. Rotoworld’s Graham Barfield recently made that case:

I’m really not sold that Evans out-targets Jackson. Over the last two years, which admittedly is mostly using games where Evans was a 21 year old rookie, if you remove Jackson’s two injury-shortened and six missed games in 2015, he out-targets Evans 8.38 to 8.17 per game. To adjust that gap significantly based on their careers headed in opposite directions is probably prematurely ambitious. Granted, once it becomes obvious Evans has overtaken him, it will be too late to invest appropriately, and Jackson owners will be left burnt.

Let’s assume that it’s this year, though, for the sake of argument, because it’s certainly in the range of outcomes — who else do they have? Adam Humphries saw the most work in Jackson’s absence, Donteea Dye was a major liability, and Kenny Bell has never played a snap. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is some kind of asshole, allowing Cameron Brate to threaten his workload. The idea Jackson won’t have a significant role in the offense this year doesn’t seem reality-based.

AGGRESSIVE ADP

At WR52, 10.08 or 116th overall, I am infatuated with drafting Jackson. That is so far below his WR13, WR16, and WR33 finishes from 2012 through 2014 that there appears to be undeniable safety, and an incredibly high likelihood of capturing significant profit. That ADP has an implied expectation of only 123 points; in his eight complete games, Jackson scored 101.5 last season. Ty Miller is also all over Jackson at his current price, using several arguments that I haven’t touched on here.

There really doesn’t appear to be anyone likely to be this year’s version of Johnson. I think, at least on this one, people may have learned their lesson.

>

The other installments in this series can be found at the following links:

3 Candidates To Be This Year’s DeAngelo Williams

3 Candidates To Be This Year’s Allen Hurns

3 Candidates To Be This Year’s Jordan Reed

3 Candidates To Be This Year’s Knile Davis

  1. Among all players taken it at least half of drafts last season. Win rate is the percentage of teams rostering any one player that won an MFL10 league.  (back)
  2. If you don’t get that reference, I recommend the 30 for 30 called “Chasing Tyson“  (back)

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