News & Analysis

Searching for fantasy draft value in Miami

Nov 19, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills (10) is introduced before a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It’s clear fantasy football players have soured on the Miami Dolphins offense. The Dolphins have just one player being drafted in the top 150 of current drafts (Kenyan Drake at 50th overall). Kalen Ballage is being drafted in the RB5-range, DeVante Parker as a WR5, and Kenny Stills as a WR6. All other players (including both quarterbacks, WR Albert Wilson, and TE Mike Gesicki) are going undrafted.

The Dolphins are projected to win only 5.0 games next season by Vegas, lowest among all teams. That’s also two fewer games than they won last year, when they were one of only three teams to rank bottom-seven in both rushing and receiving fantasy points scored. Certainly, it’s easy to be pessimistic on Miami’s fantasy potential, but I think this is overdoing it a bit.

Replacing Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen doesn't look like a downgrade to me. Among all 37 quarterbacks with at least 200 dropbacks last season, Fitzpatrick ranked ninth-best, Osweiler fourth-worst, Rosen second-worst, and Tannehill dead-last in PFF grade. The departures of Frank Gore (age 36) and Danny Amendola (bottom-12 in yards per target and WR rating last year) don’t really move the needle for me either. And the loss of Adam Gase might actually be a positive for fantasy. Last season, Miami ranked last in plays per game (54.9). If they are perfectly average in this department next season, we should expect their offense to run 8.0 more plays per game. For fantasy, that adds up.

Clearly, based on our grades, we should be rooting for Fitzpatrick to be announced as the starter. Per Miami Herald beat writer Barry Jackson, that seems likely. He reported earlier this month that Fitzpatrick has significantly outplayed Rosen while also receiving the majority of the first-team snaps with the starters.

While I like Miami’s offense a bit better than current mock drafters, it’s still hard to get particularly excited about any of these names. However, if Fitzpatrick is named the starter, one player on this offense is going to shoot up my rankings to become one of my favorite late-round sleepers.

That player will be the team’s primary slot wide receiver, but, unfortunately, we don’t yet know which wide receiver that might be. Last month, Jackson reported head coach Brian Flores to be “non-committal” on this topic. Still, he narrowed down the list of suspects to either Stills or Wilson, and I agree.

Here’s why this is important:

Over the past decade, Fitzpatrick has targeted a wide receiver running a route from the slot on 26.4% of his total attempts. That leads all 65 quarterbacks with at least 600 pass attempts over this span and is well above the league-average rate (19.9%).

Okay, so, clearly one of these two wide receivers should benefit if Fitzpatrick is named the starter (and holds onto that job). So, which wide receiver should it be?

Here’s my case for both – why they’re strong values at ADP and why they’re deserving of starting slot duties:

Kenny Stills

Over the past three seasons, Stills ranks just 30th in targets from the slot (97) but leads all wide receivers in touchdowns from the slot (15). Over this span, he’s run just 42% of his routes and has seen just 41% of his targets from the slot. Yet, 54% of his fantasy points, 47% of his receiving yardage, and 68% of his touchdowns have come from the slot over this span.

However, it might not be the case that Stills has been amazing in the slot, but, rather, he’s been fairly ineffective from the outside. Among all 62 wide receivers to run at least 1,000 routes over this stretch, Stills ranks 28th in yards per route run from the slot (1.57) but 10th-worst from the outside (1.26).

However, if Stills does earn starting slot duties in 2019, the boost in volume (from Fitzpatrick) should go a long way. On a per-target (rather than per-route) basis, Stills has actually been one of the league’s most efficient wide receivers. Over the past three seasons, Stills has ranked 66th, 23rd, and 58th in targets but 52nd, 28th, and 46th in fantasy points. (Keep in mind, his current ADP of WR62 is well below any of these recent finishes.) Since entering the league in 2013, he ranks 18th of 168 qualifying wide receivers in fantasy points per target.

Albert Wilson

Over the past two seasons, Wilson ranks sixth of 94 qualifying wide receivers in yards per route run from the slot (2.21), behind only Michael Thomas, A.J. Green, Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown, and Davante Adams. He also ranks first in yards per target (13.2) and fantasy points per target (2.69) from the slot.

Slot receivers typically operate in the short and intermediate areas of the field, where what you can do once the ball is in your hands matters more than for wide receivers operating on the outside. Well, since entering the league in 2014, Wilson has probably been the league’s best wide receiver once the ball is in his hands.

Wilson totals 222 career targets; there have been 150 different wide receivers to see at least 150 targets over this span. Wilson leads all of them in both yards after the catch per reception (7.78) and missed tackles forced per reception (0.28).

For perspective, the next-closest receiver by yards after the catch per reception is still well behind him (Tyrell Williams, 6.77) but well above the league-average rate (4.42). The same is true for missed tackles, edging out Golden Tate‘s 0.26 and more than doubling the league-average rate (0.11).

These numbers become even more eye-opening when broken down by season to measure his consistency in each metric:

Wilson also popped in a number of other metrics I find particularly meaningful. Over the past two seasons, and of 78 qualifying receivers, Wilson ranks:

  • fifth in fantasy points per target (2.14);
  • eighth in passer rating when targeted (115.4);
  • 13th in fantasy points per route run (0.43);
  • 14th in first downs per target (0.43);
  • 20th in PFF grade

Conclusion

Both Stills (WR62) and Wilson (UDFA) are already glaring ADP values. Whichever one assumes starting slot duties will also receive a significant bump up my rankings. Keep an eye on reports out of camp to determine which of the two that be.

(As a final aside, and if you can’t already tell, I’m rooting for Wilson.)

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