Is Jarvis Landry Good? Does it Really Matter?

One of the ideas that’s most difficult to pin down when talking football is the idea of talent. Stephen Gostkowski is a very good kicker and I’ve seen arguments that say his impact on a game could be equal to a running back’s impact on a game. But how many conversations about the top players in the game would you have to have before Gostkowski’s name would be mentioned? I suspect the answer is “infinite.”

But it’s not at all uncommon to hear someone say that Adrian Peterson is the best player in the NFL, despite the fact that even at AP’s own position there are more complete backs who contribute in more aspects of the game. So where does this idea that Peterson is the best player in the game come from? Shouldn’t he be disqualified based on the same filter that Gostkowski gets disqualified by (unable to influence enough of the factors that go into winning a football game)? It seems to me that an argument that Peterson is the best player in the league is one in which aesthetics are valued above quantifiable contributions on the field.

This all leads me to: Is Jarvis Landry good?

This is a complicated question for the reasons I discussed regarding Peterson and Gostkowski, but the following is my view:

  • Landry has not been good in the past.
  • That doesn’t mean that Landry couldn’t be good in the future.
  • It also doesn’t mean that Landry couldn’t be part of a winning fantasy team. He finished 2015 as the PPR WR9 and now he’s being drafted as the WR18.
  • It only means that the Dolphins either need to get more production per target out of Landry, or they need to feature other WRs more, or they need to get used to having a bad offense. Something’s gotta give.

So is Jarvis Landry good? Not the way the last coaching staff used him he wasn’t. His targets were low value and made it such that the range of outcomes when the team threw the ball to Landry were asymmetrical against them. Lots of times he had small gains and then those targets were intercepted at a rate that was close to the number of times he scored. But it’s also the case that if you wanted to zero in on the reasons for Miami’s struggles in 2015, it’s tough to end up anywhere but the large number of plays that went to Landry. Consider that Miami was actually a good rushing team on a per attempt basis. Also, targets to Rishard Matthews and Devante Parker were relatively efficient on a per attempt basis. But the team got very little out of the 167 targets to Landry.

But Adam Gase could easily change the way that Landry is used. In fact, between the potential improvements that could come from Gase, and natural mean reversion that could benefit Landry, he might be a screaming value. Note that a good number of Landry’s comps from the Sim Score app improved in Year N+1. Also, of the players that saw the biggest dropoff there were often understandable excuses for their poor play. To put it another way, Landry has nowhere to go but up.download

The key question in Landry’s case is probably not whether he is good at football. Even though I framed this post in that way, it really doesn’t matter. All that really matters is whether the Dolphins throw the ball to him. That’s the tougher thing to know. It seems like they have good reason to throw to DeVante Parker more in 2016, but he was already in-and-out of OTAs. The other player competing for targets is probably Leonte Carroo, although he’s a rookie and expectations should be held in check. So imagine a scenario where the Dolphins increase their pace due to Adam Gase’s influence and where Parker and Carroo aren’t able to shoulder more of the load… then imagine having a conversation about whether Landry is good. I can assure you it will seem extremely irrelevant at that time. You literally will not care if the Dolphins have a bottom five offense because they threw to Landry 180 times at a seven yard per target clip. You will be sick that you ever cared if he was good.

For more reading on Landry’s chances see Aaron Butler’s excellent article.

One note I should add is that while from a fantasy standpoint we really don’t care if Landry is good, that doesn’t mean that our ability to quantify his poor efficiency is totally useless. The Dolphins for instance could still use Landry’s efficiency as a diagnostic measure. This is the underreported use of analytics. Sometimes you could use that information to determine how a player could be good for your team. An analogous situation in the NBA might be a player who has a poor effective field goal percentage because they shoot too many long 2-pointers. Guess what happens when you get the player to stop shooting those long 2-pointers? Their effective field goal percentage is going to go up. So while for fantasy purposes we really don’t care if Landry is good, that information isn’t totally useless in the grand scheme of things.

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