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Introducing depth-adjusted yards per target over expectation

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22: Chris Hogan #15 of the New England Patriots celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

As established in our first article on wide receiver efficiency, efficiency matters when projecting fantasy points… but really only on the polar ends of the efficiency spectrum, and some efficiency statistics matter more than others. Yards per route run, which we covered Tuesday, was by far our most highly correlated efficiency metric. Behind yards and fantasy points on a per-route-run basis, yards per target had the next-highest correlation to targets in the following season.

Among all wide receivers with at least 50 targets since 2007, the correlation between yards per target average and targets the following season was (0.28). That’s not very high, so I attempted to improve upon this by creating a better statistic.

Looking at every wide receiver target since 2007 by how many yards each target traveled through the air (the depth of each target), I was able to build out what a player’s expected yards-per-target average should have been. This new statistic, “depth-adjusted yards per target over expectation,” had a 0.31 correlation to targets in the following season. This is a statistically significant improvement, though still not as strong as yards per route run on its own. When contrasting a player’s expected yards per target (based on depth of target) with his actual yards per target, we can rank players by their differential to see how efficient each player was.

Top 20

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Chris Hogan, New England Patriots – Hogan was our most-efficient wide receiver by this metric last season, and his 2016 season actually ranks fifth-best this past decade. Unfortunately for Hogan, he’s one of the players I’m guessing doesn’t see an uptick in targets next year despite the high efficiency. Hogan led all Patriots wide receivers in snaps per game last season (55.3), but still came away with 92 fewer targets than Julian Edelman and only nine more than Malcolm Mitchell in four more games. Now with Brandin Cooks in the mix, Hogan becomes a fantasy afterthought.

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons — Jones is the all-time leader in receiving yards per game (96.3), with more than 10.0 yards per game more than the next-closest qualifying wide receiver (Calvin Johnson.) This is his fourth straight season making this list. Surprisingly, neither of the two wide receivers currently being drafted ahead of him (Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr.) found their way onto the top-20 this year.

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