News & Analysis

Midpoint lessons: Fantasy WR takeaways from the first half of the season

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 24: Jarvis Landry #14 of the Miami Dolphins runs with the ball between Zach Brown #53 and Marcell Dareus #99 of the Buffalo Bills during the fourth quarter at New Era Field on December 24, 2016 in Orchard Park, New York. The Miami Dolphins defeated the Buffalo Bills 34-31 in overtime. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

It's hard to believe we've already reached the half-season pole. It's dangerous to project from small samples, but the samples, and especially the usage behind the samples, can be helpful for knowing which players to target to win your leagues. Wide receiver production has diminished across the board in 2017. Let's review a few of the more noteworthy statistical paces and see what usage trends tell us. Who can you count on, and who’s raw production doesn’t tell the whole story?

(PPR projections exclude projected fumbles.)

Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins

Perhaps there is no player more squarely in the cross-hairs of popular efficiency analytics than Landry. Among 118 wide receivers sporting at least a 25 percent snap share, Landry ranks 113 in average depth of target at just 6.5 yards. Not surprisingly, he ranks 106 out of 118 with 5.2 yards per target. However, it isn’t greatly impacting his fantasy production. The fourth-year veteran is currently PPR WR5 overall, and WR4 in point per games.

16-game pace:
860 receiving yards
112 receptions
8 touchdowns

Landry has never scored more than five touchdowns in a season, but is just one shy of that mark with eight games remaining. It’s worth noting that DeVante Parker has missed time this year so Landry has had some games “to himself,” but it’s also fair to say that’s nothing new. Landry’s pace of 244 PPR points would have tied for WR11 in 2016 and represents a slight improvement over his 2016 final output of 232 PPR points. One thing people might not realize is Landry’s role is actually the third-most valuable of any wide receiver in the league, according to actual opportunity metrics. Only Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins average more Actual Opportunity on a per-game basis. This is a situation to leverage in redraft and dynasty leagues, as Landry is perpetually undervalued. Trading Alshon Jeffery for Landry is very doable, yet Jeffery has a bye remaining (this week) and Landry doesn’t.

Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

Thomas had a memorable debut season in 2016 when he posted the second-most receptions ever by a rookie wide receiver. He hasn’t cooled off in year two, but he’s not generating the same buzz as last year. The Saints have transitioned to a more run-focused attack, which is affecting Drew Brees and the secondary pass catching options, but it hasn’t really impacted the alpha receiver.

16-game pace:
1090 receiving yards
100 receptions
4 touchdowns

Thomas is pacing for eight more receptions and just 47 fewer receiving versus 2016, which is a negligible net difference. The change has been in touchdown production. Thomas posted nine touchdowns last season. He’s five off of that pace this year, thanks to his miniscule usage in what I call the “10-zone” (area from the 10-yard line to the end zone). Last season, Thomas had 11 10-zone targets, converting six of them for touchdowns. This season, Thomas has just two 10-zone targets this season, converting both for touchdowns. This reduced usage in the scoring area limits his weekly upside as compared to 2016, however his weekly floor remains as high as ever. He’s tied for WR10 this season despite only having a pair of touchdowns.

Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks

Baldwin has a way of sneaking up on you. He’s quietly the PPR WR6 this season and is only eight points behind the WR3 (Tyreek Hill). He ranks fourth among wide receivers with 72 targets and seventh with 49 receptions.

16-game pace:
1,076 receiving yards
98 receptions
6 touchdowns

Baldwin’s pace of 242 PPR points is just six points off of his 2016 output of 248 points. His per-game expected fantasy points rank eighth among wide receivers and 17th among all non-quarterbacks. Russell Wilson has been white-hot as of late, and Seattle’s lack of a rushing attack ensures that Baldwin should have little trouble maintaining his pace. A word of caution to those owners who have three-week fantasy playoffs: Seattle travels to Jacksonville in Week 14, which has been a nightmare for all wide receivers not named Antonio Brown. Baldwin is a great bet to help you get to the fantasy playoffs, but make sure you have a suitable alternative for week 14.

Marvin Jones Jr., Detroit Lions

In early 2016, the fantasy community became enamored with Jones when he was the PPR WR1 after three weeks, including a 205-yard, 2-touchdown outburst against Green Bay. He was fairly quiet from that point forward, finishing the season with just 55 receptions and four touchdowns.

16-game pace:
1,030 receiving yards
66 receptions
10 touchdowns

Jones caught fire in the season’s second quarter, posting four straight games of at least six receptions, including three games with more than 11 targets and 95 receiving yards. His current pace of 124 targets is 22 ahead of his 2016 output. While we’ve seen hot streaks from Jones before, his role has a safer floor in 2017. He ranks 19th among all non-quarterbacks in expected fantasy points per game and ninth among wide receivers. Although he’s scored five touchdowns this year, he has room for positive regression in that area, as evidenced by his 20 percent catch rate on 10-zone targets. Jones has been Matthew Stafford’s target of choice inside the 20 and inside the 10; he leads the Lions in targets inside both areas.

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