Antonio Brown – Buy the Boom, Skip the Bust
The first article of this series introduced the concept of using High Floor and Boom/Bust “prototypes” to better understand the week-to-week risk a player brings to your roster. The rest of the series will step through the wide receiver tiers, WR1 down to WR4. The following focuses on the WR1’s.
I almost skipped the WR1 tier entirely. Why split hairs? You don’t need me to tell you that Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant will be good this year. But that’s kind of the point. We all know these guys will score – but knowing how they score can give us a better understanding of our roster’s risk profile and inform decisions later in the draft. Here, I spotlight Antonio Brown and T.Y. Hilton, whose current ADP’s have them at the top and bottom of the WR1 tier. Their profiles are followed by a table summarizing my takes on the remainder of the top 12.
Best Fit: High Floor WR1
Best-Ball ADP: 5 Overall (WR1)
At 22 points per game in PPR leagues (14.5 standard), Antonio Brown has produced more for fantasy teams than any other receiver over the past two seasons. Even so, I could not help questioning Brown’s status as the first wide receiver off this year’s draft board. High averages are great, but I need to understand the volatility (i.e. week-to-week risk) that comes with it before I commit a first round pick. This is where Brown sets himself apart from the crowd. In fact, looking into Brown’s risk profile was when I had the “you have to be kidding me” moment that sold me on his draft day valuation.
The chart above, which plots the distribution of Brown’s weekly scores vs. that of my High Floor WR1 prototype, illustrates Brown’s unrivaled consistency over the past two seasons. The left side of the chart – where a player’s lowest scoring games are captured – is empty for Brown. He has not had a game of fewer than ten points since week 17 of 2012. To put that in context, exactly zero other wide receivers have that statistic on their resume. In fact, the only players with as few as two such games are Julio Jones and Randall Cobb, who both missed significant time over past two seasons due to injury (12 and 10 games, respectively).
If that ridiculously high floor is not enough to convince you, a look to the right side of the chart should close the deal. Brown is not just a high floor receiver – he has also exhibited an exceptionally high ceiling, with 22 percent of his games returning more than 30 points over the past two years. Here, once again, we find him in a category of his own. Since 2012, Brown is the only player to have played in more than 20 games and generated 30+ points more than 20 percent of the time. He really does not fit the mold of a High Floor receiver or of a Boom/Bust receiver – he has a profile all his own.
Brown’s unique combination of high floor and high ceiling has him firmly entrenched as my number one wide receiver this year. Ben Roethlisberger has peppered Brown with over 10 targets per game the past two seasons, and I expect him to start 2015 leaning on his favorite target even more while Le’Veon Bell serves out his three-game suspension. In conclusion: Big Ben loves Antonio Brown; I love Antonio Brown; and you should love Antonio Brown too.
Best Fit: High Floor WR1
Best-Ball ADP: 30 Overall (WR12)
T.Y. Hilton has transitioned from one extreme to the other in a relatively short period of time. Through his first two years in the league, Hilton was a classic Boom/Bust receiver, and many still view him that way. His owners enjoyed WR1 numbers nearly a quarter of the time in those first two years, as Hilton broke 21 points in seven out of 31 games, but chasing those performances each week meant taking on significant risk. He provided fantasy teams with fewer than six points – what I’d call a complete bust – just as often. The chart below captures Hilton’s 2012 and 2013 seasons, during which he averaged 13.2 fantasy points per game, and shows a weekly performance distribution which fits the Boom/Bust WR2 profile well.
However, if you look at Hilton’s 2014 performance distribution, which I have charted below, you now see all of the markers of a High Floor WR1: a low bust rate (less than 15 percent of games below nine points), concentration in the middle of the distribution (nearly half of his games between 12 and 21 points) and a enough big games to support WR1 numbers.
So who is he? Is he a Boom/Bust guy fresh off of an anomalous season, or did he transform his game in just one year?
When he entered the league in 2012, Hilton was catching passes from rookie phenom Andrew Luck and shared the field with Reggie Wayne, the veteran safety-net who Luck targeted an incredible 194 times (the second highest total in the past decade). As a deep ball specialist, Hilton reeled in 55 percent of his six targets per game, while posting 17.2 yards per catch in his rookie year. Then, in the first half of 2013, he started to collect a larger share of the targets, bumping his average to 7.7 per game while Wayne fell back to a more human 8.3. At the same time, however, Hilton’s catch rate dropped to 50 percent and his YPC fell to 15.3. To me, he appeared to have traded some efficiency for volume, and ultimately not a lot had changed. Then the fourth quarter of week 7, 2013, happened…
When Wayne went down with a torn ACL in week 7, Hilton was suddenly forced into the role of Luck’s go-to wide receiver. Over the remainder of the season, Hilton underwent an impressive transformation from deep-threat to all-around receiver. This crucial development into a reliable number one option was reflected by his 65 percent catch rate on over 9 targets per game. By the time Wayne returned in 2014, the torch had been passed and Hilton went on to improve upon his 2013 numbers by 282 yards and two touchdowns despite playing in one fewer game.
This year, Wayne is out of the picture entirely, but the Colts have replaced him with another veteran in Andre Johnson. Given the high-volume track record Johnson brings from Houston, his arrival is understandably viewed by some as a threat to Hilton’s numbers. If Hilton’s game were volume dependent, I might agree, but considering Hilton’s strides in both efficiency and versatility over the past two seasons, I’m not buying it. Look for another productive, High Floor season for the primary weapon in Andrew Luck’s arsenal.
The Rest of the WR1 Tier
The next article will shift the focus to this year’s WR2 tier.