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Curtis Samuel is Either Really Bad or About to Explode

If you checked out my article on Terry McLaurin a few weeks ago (and by the way, this is the perfect time to be sending offers for the breakout deep threat), you’ll remember I discussed the idea of aDOT adjusted RACR as part of my profile on McLaurin.

If not, here’s a brief refresher. Receiver air conversion rate (RACR), a metric created by Josh Hermsmeyer, measures the percentage of air yards that a WR converts into receiving yards. RACR is partially driven by player skill, rewarding players with high catch rates and/or YAC ability, but as you can see below, RACR is also dependent on where a player is targeted on the field.

Among WRs with at least 50 targets, no WR with an average depth of target (aDOT) under 8.0 has a RACR under 0.8. And no WR with an aDOT under 10.0 has a RACR under 0.7.

By the same token, WRs with RACRs under 0.7 can be performing efficiently, provided they’re being targeted deep downfield.

For example, Kenny Golladay has converted 67% of his air yards into receiving yards for a RACR of 0.67. He did this while being targeted 15.5 yards downfield on average.

Allen Robinson has converted 68% of his air yards into receiving yards. But Robinson is seeing his targets at an average depth of 11.1 yards downfield. WRs at his shallower depth typically have a higher catch rate and more YAC. So Golladay’s performance is actually much stronger than Robinson’s once you factor in where they’re seeing targets.

Underperforming Deep Threat

Now that we’ve covered RACR and aDOT, lets turn our attention to the name at the bottom right of the chart: Curtis Samuel.

Samuel, like Golladay, has an aDOT of 15.5, which puts him in a three-way tie with Golladay and Stefon Diggs for the highest aDOT in the NFL.1 But Samuel is a far cry from Diggs’ phenomenal RACR of 0.86, or even Golladay’s respectable 0.67. No, Samuel is posting Nelson Agholor level ineptitude with a RACR of 0.44.2

To give you an idea of how much better Diggs’ efficiency is than Samuel’s, let’s say (hypothetically) that each player has seen 1,000 air yards this season. On those 1000 air yards, Diggs would produce 860 receiving yards at his current efficiency. Samuel, on the other hand, would turn those same air yards into just 440 receiving yards.

And here’s the thing, for Samuel … this isn’t really a hypothetical. Through eight games, Samuel has seen 932 Air Yards, converting for just 30 receptions, 407 yards and three TDs.

On the season, he’s fourth in the NFL in air yards per game, but just 49th in receiving yards per game.

Immense Upside

It’s obviously unfair to compare Samuel to Diggs. Diggs is an outlier in his own right, over-performing at roughly the same level that Samuel is under-performing. But if we look at the larger group of WRs with aDOTs similar to Samuel’s, it’s still clear that Samuel is performing well below expectations.

WRs with similar aDOTs to Samuel are averaging a RACR of 0.63 this season. This is evident on the chart above, with Samuel and Diggs jumping out as outliers and then a cluster of WRs right around 0.63.

What would Samuel’s stat line look like with a 0.63 RACR? Thirty-eight receptions for 587 yards and four TDs.3 In other words, if Samuel was playing as expected, he’d have the equivalent of an extra 22-yard reception in every game he’s played this season.

This is obviously extremely disappointing for his fantasy owners. But it also presents an opportunity for immense upside going forward, assuming Samuel continues to be deployed as a deep threat with elite volume.

aDOT Comps

To illustrate this, let’s look at the other four WRs with an aDOT of 14 or higher who were seeing at least 100 air yards per game through Week 9: Mike Evans, John Brown, Mike Williams and Golladay.

Obviously Evans and Golladay are absolute studs, producing a combined seven games of 23-plus PPR points and four total 30-plus point outings. However, in terms of RACR, Brown and Williams are just as impressive. Brown actually leads the group with a RACR of 0.7, and counting last night’s game, Williams is now tied with Golladay with a RACR of 0.67. Surprisingly, Evans is the least efficient of the group at 0.66. (This is a testament to his absurd volume. He’s seeing 10.4 targets and 158.5 air yards per game.)

These four WRs have also been more efficient than Samuel on a week-to-week basis. As a group, Evans, Golladay, Brown and Williams have produced 16 games with a RACR of 0.7 or higher (48% of their combined games) and 23 games with a RACR of 0.5 or higher (70%).

Samuel meanwhile has produced a RACR above 0.7 in just two of his eight games (25%) and has gone above 0.5 in just three (38%). And as you can see below, Samuel hasn’t produced an above-average RACR since Week 3.

So again, the volume is here for Samuel to produce week winning fantasy output. His extremely inefficient play is masking this upside, but it is there.

Maybe Samuel is Just Bad

Can we really expect Samuel to start delivering at a much more efficient rate though? There’s a case to be made that he’s simply not very good.

Last season, Samuel was deployed differently in the Panthers offense with a much lower aDOT of 11.9. This year we’re seeing Samuel in a Mike Evans role, but last year he was in a Chris Godwin role. However, Samuel was also inefficient in this alternate role, with a RACR of just 0.64.

Considering his aDOT, his 2018 was similar in efficiency to what we’re currently seeing from Allen Robinson (a.k.a. not great). And 2017 was even worse. In nine games, Samuel recorded an abysmal RACR of 0.45 on targets that were just 9.8 yards downfield on average.

So we’re getting to the point here where it’s reasonable to wonder if Samuel just isn’t an NFL caliber WR. Moreover, even if Samuel’s problems this season are instead due to Kyle Allen‘s subpar play, we now know that Allen will be finishing out the season at QB. So Samuel will have to improve his efficiency under the same conditions we’ve seen to this point in the season.

Still a Miss Small, Hit Big Player

I’ve been a believer in Samuel since he entered the NFL. Despite being thought of as a hybrid player, he jumped off the page in our college WR metrics, notably besting JuJu Smith-Schuster to lead the 2017 class in the Phenom Index. And it’s hard not to get excited about a player with 4.31 speed who can also be deployed as rushing threat.

Samuel does need to start delivering on his potential — from both a talent and volume perspective — or his dynasty value will suffer. But the case of Devin Funchess is probably instructive here.

Funchess was another second-round Panthers pick who didn’t top 11 PPR points per game until his third season. In that third season, Funchess posted 12.2 points per game (Samuel currently has 12.4). Afterward, heading into the final year of his rookie deal, Funchess was drafted on average as the 7.01 in startups.

Likewise, if Samuel maintains his current pace, it would be a surprise to see him fall out of the 7th-8th round of 2020 startups. Which means, unless you bought at the top of the market in August, you’ll likely be able to sell Samuel for at least as much as you paid.

Granted, if Samuel’s volume decreases and his efficiency remains poor, things could get ugly. But WR volume tends to be pretty sticky in-season, and a drastic decrease in his role seems unlikely given the team’s other options.

On the other hand, if Samuel closes the season with a RACR around 0.63, and continues to get a small boost from his rushing production, he should be able to achieve points per game output of 14-plus.

Given that he’ll have achieved this with a backup QB, Samuel’s ADP will likely push up into the late fourth round of 2020 startup drafts (assuming there’s optimism for a healthy Newton return).

So, despite his struggles, Samuel still profiles as a player whose outcomes are weighted towards the upside for the remainder of the season.

How To Play It

With Samuel coming off of one of his better games of the season, I actually do think it makes sense to see if you can swap him now for a WR that allows you to reset the clock a bit.

For example, try adding to Samuel to move up to D.K. Metcalf or flipping Samuel for Marquise Brown-plus. (Given his recent injuries and production I would start with Brown-plus but would ultimately do the deal straight up.)

These WRs are posting similar PPR points per game — but as rookies who have carved out meaningful roles, their dynasty value is highly protected even if they fall off to finish the year. Furthermore, their trade value ceilings are also quite a bit higher if they begin to produce above their current rate.

That said, Samuel’s value is fairly unlikely to crater in the off-season, so I’m still happy to hold him and bet on upcoming spike weeks if needed. And he’s a strong buy at a seventh or eighth round startup pick price.

In the meantime, I’m still starting Samuel everywhere I own him and will continue to dial him up in DFS (particularly on FanDuel where you can better take advantage of his target profile).

Quick Tangents on D.K. Metcalf and Marquise Brown

Metcalf and Brown have been on my mind this week beyond their potential as Curtis Samuel swaps. Here are some quick thoughts on both.

D.K. Metcalf

Metcalf is about to get extremely expensive. As a 21-year-old rookie with over 12 points per game, sharp players are starting to swoop in and snap him up. If he continues at his current pace, it’s hard to see him making it out of the fourth round of 2020 startups. A true breakout to close the season would likely push him into the early third round. And at worst, he should be a staple of the fifth-sixth round where we saw Christian Kirk and Courtland Sutton this summer.

Yesterday I traded Metcalf and Kirk for Sutton and Calvin Ridley (ironically I had traded away Sutton to get Kirk from the same owner a few months ago).

I made the deal because I believe that even if he continues to struggle, Ridley’s breakout 2018 rookie season should at least keep in his value in the fourth round of 2020 startups. And also because I believe Sutton could be one of the hottest names on the trade market this off-season.

But make no mistake, Metcalf has the highest trade value upside of the four players in this deal.

If you don’t own Metcalf, check in with his owner ASAP before his price climbs further. If you do own him, it’s worth shopping him around to see if you can move to another young, but slightly safer WR.

Marquise Brown

Brown was typically drafted in the late first or early second of rookie drafts and was valued even lower in summer startups due to his injury-riddled training camp — frequently going in the 10th round or later. Nine weeks into the season that has unveiled Lamar Jackson as a game-changing force at QB, and it’s not clear to me that Brown’s price has gone up nearly enough.

Certainly, his owner won’t be accepting a generic second-round rookie pick for him. But maybe he’ll take two seconds? I sent that exact offer today and will update this article with the final trade if I can pull one off.

My hope is that Brown’s owner may view him as a flash in the pan. Brown has been banged up this season and is coming off a bizarre game where he had an aDOT of 2.5 with just 10 air yards (his prior aDOT was 13.8 with 108 air yards per game).

But Brown feasted against the Dolphins and Cardinals to start the season, and he could be in for another spike week against the hapless Bengals this week.

Brown was the first WR taken in the NFL draft, has shown an enormous weekly ceiling and is tied to an exciting young QB. This could be one of the last weeks to add him at a somewhat reasonable cost.

Image Credit: Steven King/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Curtis Samuel.

  1. Among WRs with at least 50 targets.  (back)
  2. Agholor’s name isn’t labeled on the chart but he’s the dot in the low middle. His RACR of 0.43 is the lowest in the NFL among WRs with 50-plus targets.  (back)
  3. I’m assuming his TD/reception rate of 0.1 remained constant.  (back)

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