Odell Beckham, Mean Regression, and the Largest Margin of Safety You’ll Ever Find
Odell Beckham Jr was nothing short of a sensation his rookie year. His debut season was arguably the greatest in history for a wide receiver. Now, according to the Best Ball ADP App Beckham is being drafted as the number two WR and the sixth player off the board overall. According to dynasty startup ADP he is being drafted as the very first player overall.
This all begs one question: Can Beckham repeat his incredible rookie season? I aimed to find out just that.
The first thing I wanted to do was prorate Beckham’s 2014 stat line. While prorating isn’t an accurate projection method, it does tell us what Beckham would need to do to repeat his 2014 success over a 16 game season.
Above you see all your basic counting stats, as well as PPR fantasy points1 and fantasy points per game. Additionally you see “Expected Points” and “Efficiency” which are numbers I pulled from the Fantasy Efficiency App. Let’s go through each of these stats one by one and see if Beckham can keep up the pace.
Can Beckham command 173 targets in 2015? I turned to the Fantasy Efficiency App to see how many receivers have met or exceeded that number in a single season since 2005.
Over the last 10 seasons there has been an average of 2.8 WRs to reach 173 targets. Even more promising, over the last five seasons an average of four WRs have reached 173 targets. Nine WRs in this cohort have done it at least twice. And this doesn’t include WRs, like Beckham, who were on pace to reach that total but did not play enough games to reach it. Beckham’s target total seems sustainable.
Targets are nice, but receptions are what get you fantasy points, especially in PPR. This one’s a bit harder. According to Pro Football Reference’s leader board, there have only been nine WR seasons with more than 121 receptions. Working in Beckham’s favor is that four of those seasons have come since 2009, and Antonio Brown had the second highest reception total in a season just last year. This is doable, but seems unlikely.
This may be an even harder benchmark to the reach than receptions. Only four WR seasons have topped 1,740 receiving yards. Working in Beckham’s favor: 10 of the top 26 receiving yardage seasons have been since 2008. Receiving yardage is unsurprisingly trending upward.
On first glance, this may not seem terribly hard for Beckham to accomplish. There have been 20 seasons where players have met or exceeded 16 receiving touchdowns, which makes it seem more attainable than receptions or yards. Of those 20 seasons, two belong to tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, and generally speaking TEs are better at scoring TDs. A combined five seasons belong to Randy Moss and Jerry Rice, arguably the two greatest WRs of all time.2 The only active WRs to reach that total are Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson. To think Beckham can reach this total you have to feel that either he truly is a great among greats, or that these high TD seasons are becoming significantly more common.
This may be the one thing you’ve been waiting for. Here is a table of all the WRs to score 391 PPR fantasy points in a season over the last 10 seasons:
Yeah that table doesn’t exist. Nobody’s done it. In fact, the only WRs to even score 340 points in a season are Antonio Brown in 2014 (378.1), Calvin Johnson in 2012 (348.4) and 2011 (361.2), and Randy Moss in 2007 (385.3).
Fantasy Points Per Game
It may be the case that no one’s exceeded Beckham’s scoring pace over a full season, but maybe they’ve done it over a partial season like Beckham did? Normally I would set a lower limit for games played, but it turns out there was no need. Over the last 10 seasons, no one outperformed Beckham in fantasy points per game, not even over just a handful of games. The closest WR is 2007 Randy Moss with 24.1 points per game… in a season where he set the all-time receiving TD record. Again, Beckham doesn’t seem likely to meet or exceed his rookie fantasy scoring.
The Fantasy Efficiency App has a measure called “reEP” that signifies the expected number of fantasy points an average receiver should score given the targets directed their way- not just the quantity, but the quality of those targets as well.3 Here are all the seasons since 2005 that exceeded Beckham’s prorated total of 207.52. There really is a table this time, I swear:
19 WR seasons meet this criteria. Dare I say it, but may Beckham have room for growth in this area? Three of these WRs had more than 240 expected points, more than a 13 percent increase from what Beckham had as a rookie.
The Fantasy Efficiency App also has a measure called “reFPOEPT” which is a fancy way of saying per target efficiency. Here are all of the receiving seasons over the past 10 years to meet Beckham’s efficiency number of 0.71, for receivers with at least 100 targets:
It’s a shortlist, and with the exception of James Jones, I’d say all of these receivers have been considered among the best in the game at one point or another.4 However, Dez Bryant is the only WR to make the table twice, which suggests that this is an incredibly hard benchmark to reach. Beckham probably won’t accomplish it again next year.
Beckham seems primed to regress, at least in some of these measures. As Justin Howe points out, no receiver has ever had a season of 121 receptions, 1,730 yards, and 16 TDs. That’s the key here I think. Some of the the measures are pretty sustainable for Beckham, and he might even have room for improvement in some. But the odds that he sustains all of them simultaneously over 16 games are incredibly low. The measures that matter most to us- those that reflect fantasy scoring- are where he seems to stand the lowest chance of repeating his rookie success. Beckham is likely no flash in the pan, but there is a very real chance he never tops his rookie year. However he was so great that he can regress significantly and still be a WR1 in fantasy. 2014’s WR13 was Alshon Jeffery, who scored 16.4 PPR PPG. Beckham outscored him by almost 150 percent. The cushion is large, so you should feel comfortable drafting Beckham.
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- Beckham had minimal rushing production that I’ve chosen to ignore for the sake of simplicity (back)
- They combined for an additional four seasons of 15 TDs. (back)
- The Fantasy Efficiency App bases these numbers off of half PPR scoring (back)
- That may be a bit tautological: If you have 100 targets and are really efficient people will think you’re great (back)