In this series, RotoViz writers identify their favorite 2018 bounceback candidates. These are players whose sub-ADP performance disappointed their fantasy owners last season. As a result, their fantasy football draft prices are deflated, representing an opportunity to profit when they return to form this year.
Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin has been called out by a head coach due to his weight fluctuating up and down. He has been criticized about lack of speed, lack of athleticism, and his route running. Benjamin tore his left ACL in a non-contact preseason drill and missed the 2015 season. He split time last season between the Carolina Panthers and the Buffalo Bills due to an in-season trade only to tear his right meniscus in Week 11. Benjamin did play through the injury to finish the season and had offseason surgery.
I am sure this is not the start of his career that the former No. 28 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft had hoped for. Some players deal with injuries while others seem to have an endless stream of bad luck. Other find themselves at a crossroads and need to revitalize their careers. Benjamin is one of those receivers. Would you be surprised to learn that he posted positive receiving fantasy points over expectation in two out of his three NFL seasons including last season while splitting time between the Panthers and the Buffalo Bills?
Benjamin has not been able to stay on the field enough to put his talent on full display. Here ‘s why he could dramatically outperform his ADP and bounce back this season.
BENJAMIN HAS NO COMPETITION FOR TARGETS IN 2018
The Bills face a number of questions at the WR position heading into the regular season. Benjamin is the only legitimate receiving weapon the Bills have considering the statistical bodies of work Zay Jones and Jeremy Kerley have been able to amass. The team is depending on Benjamin to be their No. 1 receiver and the stars are aligning for Benjamin to meet or exceed his target share percentage from his rookie season (27 percent).
Jones showed a few flashes last season, but disappointed fantasy players. His drop rate was too high which resulted in negative receiving fantasy points over expectation. Jones also had a bizarre offseason incident that had everyone talking about him for the wrong reasons. He also had knee and shoulder surgeries this offseason and was not cleared for the start of training camp. Bills general manager Brandon Beane told reporters back in June that Jones would have to “earn his way” following one of the least-efficient WR seasons for a rookie in NFL history.
Kerley signed with the Bills during the offseason and all the signs are pointing to him entering training camp as the No. 2 receiver. He would move to the slot in three WR sets. The Bills do not have any notable receivers behind Benjamin, Jones, and Kerley.
The Red Flags
But a couple of red flags remain. New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has had success as part of the Patriots’ staff, and as Alabama’s OC last year. But his history as an NFL OC up to this point in his career has left something to be desired. An offense he’s coordinated has never averaged even 30 pass attempts per game, despite the fact that his teams averaged only 4.5 wins per season.
Assuming Daboll’s Bills continue this trend and average around 30 pass attempts per game, and that Benjamin can get back to the 27 percent target share he saw in his rookie season, that would give him about 8.1 targets per game, or almost 130 total targets over a full 16-game season. This would not get him quite to his rookie-season target total, but it would be more targets than he saw in 2016, when he came about 60 yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark.
Daboll’s low-volume offense is not good for any of the Bills receiving options, but apart from Benjamin, Charles Clay, and LeSean McCoy (whose situation for 2018 comes with a decent amount of uncertainty), there are few weapons in Buffalo who will command targets. Benjamin will still have a large share of the total offensive production.
Of course, the other red flag to address is the quarterback play. Benjamin will be catching passes from one of A.J. McCarron, Nathan Peterman, or rookie Josh Allen. McCarron and Peterman have started a total of five NFL games between them, with a combined adjusted yards per attempt (AYA) of 4.2. The rookie’s collegiate profile suggests he may not be an immediate improvement over either of the veterans.
However, on an extremely small sample, Benjamin made Peterman look exceptional. There may be some hope that Benjamin can help to elevate the play of his QBs.
All four QBs who have thrown at least ten passes to Benjamin have posted AYA figures above their career averages when targeting him. Poor QB play may not matter as much to Benjamin. Ultimately his success may come down to his usage in the red zone.
If we assume 130 targets and efficiency numbers to match his most inefficient season, he would finish 2018 with about 204 PPR points, which is usually a low-WR2 finish. And if he can match the efficiency of his two most recent seasons, he could finish quite a bit higher. Benjamin is currently being drafted as the WR48 in MFL10s. In other words, he has a chance to blow his ADP out of the water in 2018.
Benjamin is in a position to see a high number of targets per game and is the best red-zone receiving weapon the Bills have. He should be able to transcend poor quarterback play, and to easily beat his ADP. You can target this bounceback candidate in the double-digit rounds of your fantasy draft and capture a ton of upside possibility while taking on very little risk.
Do you agree or disagree? What was most useful for you? Please leave a comment below or better yet reach out to me via Twitter @EricNMoody.