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The Points Per Target Danger Zone: Wide Receivers Due for Regression

Points per target (PPT) is not a sticky stat. The relationship between a wide receiver’s PPT in year N has little correlation with his PPT in year N+1. Simply put, we can’t count on a player’s efficiency in terms of PPT carrying from season to season.

Compare the stickiness of points per target to that of raw targets in the scatter plots below. Every wide receiver season pair in which a WR had at least 35 targets in both seasons is included. As you can see, points per target has almost no year-over-year predictiveness. Therefore, players who excel in PPT in one season often regress to the mean in the following season. We can use this knowledge to identify the WRs most likely to regress in 2018.

PPT 1PPT 2

There are some exceptions to the rule above, but they are rare: in the last five seasons, only Kenny Stills and DeSean Jackson have recorded three seasons with PPT marks higher than 2.07. Doug Baldwin, Tyreek HillSammy Watkins, Jordy Nelson, Marvin Jones, Randall Cobb, and Jermaine Kearse managed to eclipse this level in two seasons. It’s not surprising that this list is small. As you can see from the histogram, only 12 percent of WR seasons achieved this feat — falling into the “PPT Danger Zone.”1

PPT 3

The PPT Danger Zone includes the six red bars on the right side of the histogram. Of the 32 players in this region, only 19 percent made multiple appearances. While that’s a higher percentage than I anticipated, it means that players who finished in this range in 2017 have only about a one in five chance of being so efficient again. Sure, their efficiency could drop and they could still have excellent seasons. However, what often happens is that players who were extremely efficient in one season are drafted at ADPs that imply no expected regression in efficiency, or a significant increase in volume.

2017 Danger Zone Finishers

Player Gms Targets Rec Yds TD PPG Fantasy Points PPT Targets per TD
JuJu Smith-Schuster 14 79 58 917 7 13.7 192 2.43 11
Ted Ginn 15 70 53 787 4 10.6 160 2.28 18
Tyreek Hill 15 105 75 1183 7 15.9 239 2.28 15
Will Fuller 10 50 28 423 7 11.3 113 2.26 7
Marvin Jones 16 107 61 1101 9 14.1 225 2.10 12
Sammy Watkins 15 70 39 593 8 9.8 146 2.09 9
Stefon Diggs 14 95 64 849 8 14.2 198 2.09 12

Let’s take a closer look at these seven WRs and evaluate their odds of beating or finishing the 2018 season with points per game totals that are in the ballpark of those implied by their ADP. This post will focus on the three most efficient WRs of the seven and we’ll catch up on the rest next week.

JuJu Smith-Schuster – 2017 PPT: 2.43, ADP – 45

With a 2017 PPT of 2.43, JuJu Smith-Schuster landed in the 99th percentile of all WRs recording 35 or more targets between 2013 and 2017. As such, regression in his efficiency is nearly guaranteed. As a rookie, he scored a touchdown every 11 targets. This placed him in the 90th percentile of the WRs included in our sample. If Smith-Schuster is to outperform his production from last season, he’ll more than likely need to see an increase in volume.

With Martavis Bryant now in Oakland and Smith-Schuster slotting in as Pittsburgh’s clear WR2, this increase is expected. Bryant was targeted 84 times in 2017. Since 2013, Steelers WR2s have averaged a target share of 15 percent of the team’s 595 targets per season, or about 90 targets per season. As such, it would be fair to expect the sophomore WR to see a target increase of 14 percent, getting to somewhere around 90 in 2018.2 This works out to approximately five and a half targets per game.

It’s definitely possible that I’m not giving Smith-Schuster enough credit. I recently discussed him with Blair Andrews, who was more optimistic than I, on the Fantasy Football Report. Andrews places his ceiling at over 120 targets and views 100 as well within reach. Reviewing his game splits for last season supports this stance. He didn’t become a full-time starter until Week 8 and enjoyed a significant bump in targets from Week 8 on. If he were able to maintain this pace of seven and a half targets per game, he’d easily be able to surpass 100 targets on the season.

JuJu Split

Smith-Schuster is currently being drafted as WR21. If he were able to carry his other-worldly 2017 PPT forward, he’d average just under 14 points per game and could crack the top-20 on just 90 targets. However, if we build in modest regression and place him at the beginning of the Danger Zone with 2.07 PPT and 5.5 targets per game, he projects for under 12 points per game. In 2017, this would have placed him somewhere around WR30 on a point per game basis. Of course, if his second-half pace from last season carries over, and 7.5 targets per game is a better estimate, the sophomore receiver could go for more than 15.5 points per game and easily crack the top-20, even with the expected regression.

While there are reasons for enthusiasm for a young WR playing in a great offense opposite one of the best receivers in the game, I’d still encourage you to resist over-drafting him.

Ted Ginn – 2017 PPT: 2.28, ADP: 141

Since 2013, Ted Ginn has averaged 1.8 PPT. While this places him on the desirable side of the histogram, he doesn’t have a track record of being supremely efficient. It’s interesting that Ginn recorded his PPT spike in the first season he played with an elite passer. I haven’t performed a deep enough analysis to draw any conclusions. However, it certainly seems that playing with a Hall-of-Fame QB helps.

PPT5

In the case of 2017 Ginn, it’s fair to assume that Drew Brees played a role in his success. Nonetheless, a 2018 PPT of 2.28 shouldn’t be expected. Ginn was New Orleans’ second most-targeted WR, seeing nearly five targets per game. Despite the team’s signing of Cameron Meredith, Ginn’s target share could remain flat, as he only saw 13 percent of targets. This was the lowest share recorded by a New Orleans WR since 2014 and it seems unlikely that the team will substantially decrease passing attempts below the 536 recorded last season.

Ginn, who finished as WR41 based on points per game in 2017, is being drafted as the WR60. His efficiency will surely drop, but with average efficiency, a similar workload, and closer to nine points per game, he should be able to safely beat his ADP.

Tyreek Hill – 2017 PPT: 2.28, ADP: 29

Drafters are expecting Hill to slow down in 2018. He is being drafted as WR11 despite finishing as WR8 on a points per game basis last season. The decreased expectations likely emanate from the anticipated regression in efficiency, the addition of Sammy Watkins to the Kansas City offense, and the time it could take for Patrick Mahomes to settle into his role as the team’s starting QB.

As noted above, Hill finished in the Danger Zone in his two seasons in the NFL. It’s possible that he remains an efficiency unicorn, but given the factors outlined above, it’s hard to imagine him seeing the same level of success in 2018. On the flip side, Hill and Watkins should be able to coexist well. It’s possible that Watkins takes away some of Hill’s targets, but this could increase the quality of the targets Hill does see.

With elite speed, Hill is a burner. Yet, more than two two-thirds of his targets last season came on passes where the ball traveled fewer than 10 yards; he’s great at taking a little and making a lot. In the past, Watkins has been used at intermediate distances at a much higher rate. If the Chiefs employ this juxtaposition, Hill could continue to rely on his athleticism rather than volume. The Stat Explorer provides some nice visuals supporting this idea.

Here’s Hill:

TH Stat Explorer

And Watkins:

SW Stat Explorer

There are a lot of “ifs” in the above scenario, and history is against Hill repeating his supreme efficiency for a third season. As a result, it’s more than fair to question his ADP given the entire context of his situation. He’d be a much more reasonable buy with an ADP of WR15.

  1. Remember, our population only includes seasons in which the WR was targeted 35 or more times.  (back)
  2. This assumes that the Steelers operate in a similar fashion in 2018. The team passed 590, 596, 590, 612, and 586 times in the last five seasons.  (back)

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