DeVante Parker has been overdrafted for years now, and his underperformance has made him completely toxic to some owners. “Ugh, I drafted him last year and he killed my team. Never again!” is a common refrain from recovering Parkerites. Whether you’ve cursed his name in the past or not though, now is the time to buy, as the price finally matches the potential.
Remember how Todd Gurley was one of the least efficient backs in the league in 2016? How about the first two disastrous seasons of Nelson Agholor’s and Davante Adams’ careers?
If there’s one thing we preach here at RotoViz when it comes to PPR leagues, it’s that targets are the lifeblood of fantasy scoring. There’s really no way to overstate this. We, and that includes everyone projecting seasonal outcomes for individual players, are much worse at projecting efficiency than we are at projecting volume.
These are cherry-picked examples, but they illustrate the larger trends illustrated in the links above. Agholor and Adams were two of the least efficient wide receivers in the league in their first two seasons, but both made spectacular turnarounds in year three. Parker on the other hand, was actually reasonably efficient in his first two seasons, his main issue was injury and a lack or targets.
Parker Hasn’t Been Bad … When Healthy
Let’s go back to 2015. Drafters were riding high off the success of the 2014 rookie WR class and looking to get the next big thing that would win them their league. Jarvis Landry was still viewed by many1 as an unathletic slot WR who was just living off of undeserved volume and destined to be passed on the depth chart by Parker. As a rookie, Parker was being taken in the single-digit rounds.
Then Parker’s rookie year started off on the wrong foot. Literally. He had foot surgery before the season and wasn’t fully recovered for the start of the year. The team tried to ease him into action, but he barely saw any snaps for the first 11 Weeks of the season, missed multiple games, and suffered a setback in Week 8. That all changed in Week 12 when a fully recovered Parker stepped in for an injured Rishard Matthews.
Those final six weeks had him riding high into the 2016 offseason which saw him getting selected as early as the fourth round in some drafts. Drafters were ready for the inevitable Year 2 breakout. So what happened?
Parker actually had a fairly efficient season, but the target volume just wasn’t there. Every Dolphins WR suffered as the team turned to the running game to grind out a 10-6 record as they vastly outperformed their point differential. The Dolphins were second to last in the NFL in pass attempts with 477, just three ahead of the woeful Bills and a full 100 attempts below the median.2 Despite sharing the field with target-hog Landry, Parker’s market share ranked 30th among WRs. There just weren’t enough targets to go around.
Which brings us to the only year in which he was actually bad, which also happens to be the most recent one. There were a few things working against Parker though.
Just one month before the start of the season, the Dolphins were forced to replace their starting quarterback with a guy who had already retired. Jay Cutler stumbled through 2017 with the Dolphins, putting up an abysmal 5.6 Adjusted Yards per Attempt,3 and then re-retiring so he could be a reality TV star.
Parker also exited the fourth game of the year early with an ankle injury that would keep him out of the following three games and limit him for the remainder of the season.4 It’s a vanishingly small sample, but in the three healthy games he played, it looked like the long-awaited breakout was finally starting.Finally, while Parker has not been a prolific touchdown scorer thus far in his career, his 2017 rate was undeniably fluky. Parker was almost dead last in TD rate for the season, and we know that TD rate is highly variable. Unsurprisingly, Parker is one of Michael Dubner’s top candidates to benefit from regression to his TD rate in 2018.
Here Come The Targets
Would it surprise you to learn that in the 12 full games Parker played last year, despite being limited by injury and competing with Landry, he was on pace for 127 targets, which would have been 13th best among all WRs? A large part of that is thanks to the Dolphins attempting 125 more passes than the previous season. While they were fourth in the league in pass attempts, it was a down year for passing in general, and their 604 attempts would have ranked just 15th overall as recently as 2015, so it wouldn’t require an outlier performance to repeat.
There’s not much reason to expect them to pass a lot less in 2018. Vegas books have set the line for the Dolphins at around 6 wins, towards the bottom of the league. There should be suffcient negative game scripts to keep the Dolphins in attack mode.
More importantly though, there are plenty of targets up for grabs. Landry’s departure frees up a massive 161 targets which are unlikely to be fully absorbed by his presumptive replacements, Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola. Even if the Dolphins spread the ball more to their running backs, or the ultra-efficient Kenny Stills, it’s difficult to envision a scenario where Parker’s share of targets doesn’t increase if he’s able to stay on the field just due to the sheer number of targets vacated by Landry.
On top of that, the absence of Landry and Julius Thomas leaves plenty of targets near the end zone available, and Parker’s usage suggests he could be the player most likely to benefit.Just a modest bump in Parker’s market share could easily have him seeing somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 targets, with a solid share of looks near the goal line. If we take his career efficiency, including his down 2017, he has the potential to be a high-end WR2. If he can repeat his efficiency from 2016 with an increased target volume, he could put up WR1 type numbers.
Summing It Up
Parker is a guy I’ve avoided in previous years, but the hate on him has finally gone too far. Just as he’s entering the most favorable target situation of his career, his price is at its lowest since he was a rookie coming into the league fresh off foot surgery. It’s hard to make a case for the WRs being drafted around him in the eighth and ninth rounds to have the same target upside as Parker.
There are risks, as fourth year breakouts aren’t very common for WRs, but there are still examples of success stories, including some of the best WRs in the game. Parker has spent a lot of time on the trainer’s table, however the injuries have not been recurring and it’s way too soon to say he’s definitively injury prone.5
The Miami front office showed enough confidence in him to pick up his fifth-year option and did not bring in any WRs via the draft or free agency that are candidates to challenge his role on the team. While we’ve all wearied of hearing the offseason hype for Parker year after year only to be let down, it shouldn’t blind us to the fact that he’s a 25-year-old former first-round pick projected to be the most targeted WR on a team that’s coming off a season where they attempted the fourth most passes in the league.
Everyone else’s fatigue with his breakout hype is your advantage. The upside is finally worth the price.
- I won’t name names, but it was widespread. (back)
- Also of note, Matt Moore was responsible for 87 of those attempts. (back)
- Among QBs who started at least 10 games, the only worse players were Trevor Siemian, Joe Flacco, Brett Hundley, and DeShone Kizer. (back)
- Parker was held out of practice as late as Week 16 as it continued to bother him. (back)
- People said the same thing about Keenan Allen heading into 2017. (back)