Terry McLaurin is one of the hottest names in dynasty. After starting his career at an Odell Beckham like pace, his trade value has skyrocketed.
McLaurin was an under-hyped third-round rookie, so I want to add some context to his production to help assess his dynasty value.
Below is a review of McLaurin’s fantasy performance, prospect profile, and finally, how to approach his dynasty value.
McLaurin burst onto the scene in Week 1 with 7 targets for 5 receptions, 125 yards and a TD, and hasn’t let up since.
He is now PPR WR14 and WR5 in points per game. He’s posted two 100-yard games in five outings and has a TD in four of five games. McLaurin’s only performance under 10 points came against New England’s dominant secondary. In short, he’s been a revelation.
Reasons for Optimism
Typically we’d expect a run like this to be driven by extreme efficiency. But McLaurin’s yardage efficiency is nowhere near league-leading.
His RACR of 0.66–which divides a WR’s receiving yards by their air yards–sticks out like a sore thumb in his profile and is well below the 2019 average 0.75 for NFL WRs.
Furthermore, McLaurin is dominating various opportunity metrics. He’s second only to Mike Evans in air yards per game with 123.8. And he’s third in the NFL in weighted opportunity rating (WOPR), which provides a sense of how his share of Washington’s passing offense compares to the roles of other receivers around the league.
McLaurin is leaving 34% of his air yards on the field, so there’s upside for even more production if McLaurin can start converting his opportunities at a higher rate.
aDOT Adjusted RACR
However, we probably shouldn’t expect McLaurin’s RACR to improve much–at least, not unless he starts being used differently within his offense.
This is because McLaurin’s below average RACR is largely a function of being deployed much further down the field than the average WR.
As you can see, McLaurin’s has the sixth-deepest aDot in the league.1 Within that context, he’s actually performing efficiently.
Fortunately, not so efficiently that he’s at major risk of negative regression. But he certainly doesn’t look like a candidate for positive regression either. And if I had to bet on his yardage efficiency swinging one way or the other at his current target depth, I’d be betting on it to fall.
FPOE and TD Rate
There’s a different area of McLaurin’s game where we should expect to see major regression however: TD rate. McLaurin has scored 5 TDs on 38 targets. His resulting 13% TD rate is tied with Adam Thielen for highest among the top 24 fantasy WRs.
TD rates can be higher for deep threats. And we have seen seasons from elite deep threats like Randy Moss with TD rates above 13%. However, it’s far more likely that McLaurin’s TD rate falls closer to the league average (just below 6%), than for it to hold steady.
This would be a big hit to his fantasy output. As you can see below, McLaurin is generating 5.6 fantasy points expected (FPOE) per game. This represents nearly 30% of his PPR production.
Without this FPOE boosting his production, McLaurin would be averaging just 13 points per game and would be outside the top 35 WRs in total points.
It may not just be simple regression that stands in the way of McLaurin’s future production. His schedule also gets much tougher over the next several weeks. Below is Washington’s schedule for QBs and WRs from the Strength of Schedule App:
By either measure, the upcoming stretch of Weeks 7-9 has the potential to cool off McLaurin’s current production pace. He could be far less trendy heading into his Week 10 bye.
That said, positive matchups in Weeks 11, 15 and 16 mean that he should re-emerge even if he hits a mid-season slump.
Play Calling and Pace
When Bill Callahan took over for Jay Gruden after Week 5, he seemed likely to run the ball more and play slower. He delivered on that unwanted promise in Week 6, with Washington logging their fewest passing attempts (25) and most rushing attempts (33). And despite getting their first win of the season against the winless Dolphins, Washinton ran just 59 plays (the 2019 league average is 63.2).
Moreover, Pace Guru Pat Thorman expects Week 7 to be a ponderous affair for the Washington offense:
Whereas the 49ers limit opponent plays, the Redskins limit themselves. They have the second-worst average play differential (-13.7), in addition to the second-worst average point differential (-12.8). Washington’s “successful” trip to Miami will only convince interim head caveman Bill Callahan that his ground-and-pound approach is correct. More likely it works best when the opponent is historically awful, and will fail spectacularly against a defensive front overstuffed with high-end talent. Of course, Callahan won’t see it that way, will repeatedly dial up Adrian Peterson dust clouds, and the game’s muted play volume will be felt by only one offense.
To delve into play-calling and pace for all 32 teams and to see how every team plays in varied game situations – neutral, ahead, trailing – make sure to check out our new NFL Pace App.
Long Term Outlook
Luckily, Callahan will be out the door by this off-season at the latest.
However, there is some concern about the long-term situation in Washington at QB. McLaurin’s connection has been far stronger with Case Keenum than the other signal callers, and Keenum will likely be sent packing after 2019 as well. The silver lining is that McLaurin and Dwayne Haskins were teammates at Ohio State, so presumably they will have a connection when Haskins finally develops enough to earn starts.
Furthermore, there’s potential for Washington to deploy a Cardinals-style reboot and simply draft a better QB prospect to pair with an offensive-minded head coach in 2020. Either way, McLaurin has produced under extremely bad QB and coaching conditions, so it’s hard to imagine that a new QB and coaching staff won’t find ways to utilize McLaurin’s skill set.
But what exactly is that skill set?
Let’s quickly review his prospect profile, and see what signals most of us missed before his spectacular start.
Reasons for Optimism
There’s no doubt that not enough ink was spilled on McLaurin in the pre-season.
But let’s take a second to thank Cort Smith for identifying McLaurin as a deep sleeper back in July and for begging us to draft McLaurin at zero cost in August. Cort’s argument came down to opportunity. He identified early in camp that McLaurin was likely to see starter’s snaps, and then in August that he would be starting in 2-WR sets.
I’ve already covered that McLaurin isn’t just seeing a typical starter’s opportunity. He’s seeing elite volume in receiving market share. But let’s think about that through the lens of prospect evaluation.
The fact that McLaurin was able to come in as a third-round pick and immediately earn a huge share of his team’s passing offense is extremely bullish for his talent level. After all, much of RotoViz’s WR prospect evaluation focuses on Market Share–we believe that good WRs tend to dominate their college offenses, even if those offenses aren’t particularly good. The fact that McLaurin immediately stepped into an NFL offense–even one that’s particularly bad–and immediately dominated opportunities speaks very positively of his overall talent level.
If I had to guess as to how McLaurin was able to catch his coaches attention so quickly, I’d say it’s because he’s a freak. At 6 feet, 208 pounds, McLaurin ran a 4.35 40 time, giving him the sixth-best Freak Score in the 2019 class.
Freak Score, which is calibrated using size, weight and speed, is used to project NFL TD scoring. And raw speed is obviously useful for running deep routes.
As an over-sized deep threat, McLaurin quickly impressed and earned a major role.
McLaurin then efficiently capitalized on the opportunities he earned. Which is also something that his prospect profile indicated was a strong possibility.
Alex Kirshner of SB Nation penned another prescient piece this off-season, calling McLaurin one of the biggest steals of the draft and highlighting McLaurin’s collegiate efficiency and big play ability.:
He caught 71 percent of his targets, ninth-best in the class. He averaged 14.3 yards per target, No. 1 in the class. He caught 11 touchdowns, tied for sixth-most. It helped to play in an elite Ohio State offense quarterbacked by Dwayne Haskins, but there’s no statistical indicator that McLaurin’s anything other than a star.
Major Red Flags
However, I do have to quibble with Kirshner on his final point here, as there were actually quite a few statistical indicators that painted McLaurin as anything but a star. In fact, he looked like a non-prospect by several of our favorite evaluation metrics.
Age and Market Share
McLaurin’s score in this metric was well below lowest score of by a top-12 fantasy WR since 2014 (0.22), and worlds below the average score (2.2). As Jon Moore wrote in 2018, a negative score in this metric is a serious red flag:
There’s no threshold for being an NFL success, but the average Phenom score of the top-12 fantasy receivers in the NFL in 2017 was 2.09. It’s incredibly rare for a player to have a score below zero and turn into a premier fantasy option.
McLaurin scored poorly in the Phenom Index because he’s both old–he turned 24 over a month ago–and because he accounted for just 15% of Ohio State’s receiving yards as a senior.
Didn’t declare early
Speaking of his senior season, regardless of what McLaurin did at the collegiate level in 2018, it was a red flag that he was still there at all.
As Blair Andrews has shown, much of the signal that age provides is actually captured in simply knowing whether a WR declared early for the draft or not.
As you can see, McLaurin’s age would be far less of a concern if he had declared early, as almost all legitimate WR prospects do. Instead he redshirted in 2014 and then played four years before entering the draft in 2019.
Due in large part to his his spotty prospect profile, McLaurin was selected in the 24th round of the average 2019 startup. His price has increased just a bit since then…
It’s hard to definitively pin down his new price without any meaningful ADP to go off of. But we do have Dynasty Rankings. And when Shawn Siegele updated his rankings this week, he moved McLaurin all the way up to 49th overall.
So it’s safe to say that McLaurin won’t come cheap in trades.
To that point, this week I saw McLaurin traded straight up for Brandin Cooks in a high stakes dynasty league. And that type of price point shouldn’t be surprising. Remember the free money machine from Weeks 1-2: John Ross?
Ross is basically free points for his owner. And why would he part with Ross when he was incredibly cheap to acquire and is now spewing out money like a broken ATM? You’re not gonna sell your free money machine unless someone offers to overpay big. Until of course … the money stops flowing.
This is where we’re at with McLaurin. Except, the McLaurin owner probably has an even bigger emotional attachment to him.
Your 2019 Ross owner probably didn’t even draft him back in 2017. Ross was just as likely acquired via trade. And in shallower leagues he may have even been a waiver add. But the McLaurin owner just recently selected him in the face of an overwhelming consensus that he wasn’t special. And McLaurin immediately smashed.
If you’re looking to buy McLaurin right now, expect to pay up.
That said, even though you’d be buying into the hype on a rookie with a slew of red flags, trading for McLaurin isn’t as risky as it might appear.
That’s because McLaurin’s exceptionally productive rookie season is likely to buoy his ADP next year even if he produces far less from this point forward.
The 800 and 5 Club
With already 408 yards to his name, McLaurin is very likely to post at least 800 yards and 5 TDs. He would be just the fifth rookie since 2008 drafted outside of the NFL’s top two rounds to do so.
Two of the previous four, Mike Williams (TB) and Keenan Allen, were drafted in the first three rounds of startups the following year at picks 28 and 20 respectively. The other two, T.Y. Hilton and Cooper Kupp, were drafted in the late sixth round, at picks 70 and 71.
As rookies, only Williams had an ADP in the top 100 (99), and on average these fours WRs were drafted in the 14th round.
Moreover, when including first- and second-round NFL rookies, the following year startup ADP for the 800 and 5 club was 29th overall. And six of the 19 WRs were first-round startup picks the following season. In fact, only Justin Blackmon, facing a four-game suspension as a sophomore, went outside the top six rounds. He was selected on average as the 7.01.
Granted, McLaurin’s ADP could take a big hit if he suffers a season-ending injury in the near future. But assuming he can muster just 392 more yards in the next 10 games, it would be a mild shock if he’s drafted outside the top six rounds next season.
How To Play It
Personally, I’m waiting for McLaurin’s production to cool off a bit. He’s coming off multiple TDs and his best game of the season against the worst team in the league. I’d prefer to let TD regression, a tougher schedule, and reduced passing output work their magic before sending offers.
Ideally, I’d like to get McLaurin as close to a seventh-round startup value as possible, sometime in the next three to four weeks. This creates maximum potential to benefit from McLaurin’s high ADP floor in 2020 and leaves lots of room for upside if he finishes the season strong.
But honestly, I can’t blame anyone for sending offers now. Perhaps your McLaurin owner will even view this week as a sell-high window.
The bottom line is that McLaurin is an NFL caliber deep threat who is seeing elite volume. He’s a a safe bet to be worth at least a late first-round rookie pick in 2020 even if he cools off considerably. If he doesn’t, he could be a staple of 2020’s top 30 startup picks.