Most savvy fantasy football GMs would agree that rookies are overvalued, and 2nd year players undervalued. Brilliant College Football Metrics writer R.C. Fischer has coined this phenomenon of passing over last years obsession as “rookie derangement syndrome.”
Consider these rookies going higher in dynasty drafts than veterans with a long track record of consistent production: DeAndre Hopkins over Marques Colston, Montee Ball over Darren Sproles, and Tyler Eifert over Greg Olsen. Savvy owners let these rookies pass them by and snag the veterans and undervalued sophomores, like Alshon Jeffery of the Chicago Bears.
Using the excellent College WR Career Graphs app, we can see how Jeffery performed relative to A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Reuben Randle, and rotoViz favorite DeAndre Hopkins. Full disclosure: I’m using Jeffery’s sophomore season as the comparison. The Gamecocks offense shit the bed in 2011, with starting quarterback Stephen Garcia being kicked off the team, and Jeffery was reportedly playing 25~ pounds overweight. Those two things together seem to be the cause of his less than spectacular junior campaign. Jeffery’s 3rd year regression isn’t ideal, but fantasy owners received an appropriate discount in rookie drafts. If I used his junior season, the comps would obviously be less favorable, and then there would be no reason to write this article.
Alshon keeps pace easily with these fantasy studs. Jeffery doesn’t place lower than 3rd in any category except for red zone touchdown rate, and he’s 1st in yards per target, and right in the middle in Dominator Rating. It’s probably worth something that the 4 SEC players have the lowest RZTDRs, and speaks to the talent of those SEC cornerbacks. For some perspective on how amazing his 2010 season was, consider his real yards per target number. Tracked by Bill Connelly over at Football Study Hall, RYPT is an efficiency metric that takes into account how frequently the team passed, and how effectively they passed. Jeffery’s 2010 RYPT is 6th all time since they started tracking wide receiver statistics in 2005. A few players in the top 20: Marquise Lee (2nd), Justin Blackmon (7th), Julio Jones (13th), Dez Bryant (17th), and Hakeem Nicks (20th). (This data is freely available, and I encourage you to dive into it yourself).
Who would you rather have: Alshon Jeffery or DeAndre Hopkins? The answer is easy for me. One of those players is going into an offense that I can say is going to be pass heavy with 80% certainty. The other is going into an offense that I can say isn’t going to be pass heavy with 80% certainty. One has NFL experience, and one does not. Physically, the Chicago Bear is the most impressive specimen:
Jeffery is bigger, faster, more explosive, and more agile. At worst, they are similar athletes (his numbers are from the South Carolina Pro day), with Jeffery having the slight size advantage.
Knowing what you know now, doesn’t it seem crazy that Jeffery is being drafted 50 picks after Hopkins in dynasty leagues. That’s right – Jeffery is available 4 rounds later than Hopkins, despite being of similar talent and athletic ability. That’s value screaming you in the face.
Just another reason to love Jeffery: Marc Trestman. The former CFL coach and current ”offensive genius” is bringing his pass happy attack to the Windy City… and when I say pass happy, I mean pass happy. The last time Trestman was an NFL offensive coordinator, 3 players had 110+ targets. Read that again. One more time. The 2002 Raiders, led by Rich Gannon, threw a league leading 618 times. The Raiders 4th wide receiver in 2002 had 22 more targets than the Bears 2nd wide receiver in 2013. They produced 3 startable wide receivers that year:
This might be a leap of faith, but I’d bet than Alshon Jeffery could outperform the mummified corpse of 36 year old Tim Brown if he was give 127 targets. Brown’s 7.3 yards per target and 6% red zone touchdown rate speak to his inefficiency. Jeffery can give you Brandon Marshall-lite production for 1/10th the price.
Quickly on the matter of Jay Cutler: there are some who are feel that even Trestman can’t fix Cutler, which is a realistic fear. After all, we’ve been burned by Cutler the last 3 years. If the former CFL coach can keep Cutler upright, he’ll be okay. The Chicago Bear has been sacked a whopping 148 times the last 4 seasons, including 52 times in 2010. Look at how Trestman improved Rich Gannon, it’s easy to be optimistic on Cutler’s 2013 outlook:
|Gannon – Career||2,115||3,588||24,054||58.9||6.7||6.4||4.3||2.6|
|Gannon – Trestman||418||618||4,689||67.6||7.6||7.7||4.2||1.6|
Charlie Kleinheksel has already covered the Chicago Bears offense in great detail, so I won’t spend any more time prosthelytizing about Cutler in 2013 except to say this: I’m buying in.
So, why is he available at such a steep discount if he’s so talented? From the beginning, Jeffery was undervalued. He was slapped with the all-inclusive “character concerns” label for playing overweight his final year at South Carolina. Nevermind that the consensus top 2 wide receivers Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd were busted for DUIs while in college. Couple the character concerns with the lack of improvement his final year, and people removed him from their draft boards altogether. His first year in the NFL wasn’t exactly inspiring, as he missed 7 games due to injury and spent 9 weeks on the injury report. We can gauge his value by looking at wide receivers who’ve posted similar numbers in their rookie year. Below are 18 wide receivers above 215 pounds who caught less than 50 passes for less than 450 yards with under 5 touchdowns. Note: Jonathan Baldwin, Brian Quick, and Stephen Hill all showed up as comps, but they were drafted in the last 2 years so it seems prudent to remove them. Matt Jones was also removed. The T30/T15 columns refer to the number of top 30 and top 15 seasons that receiver posted.
Sharp-eyed reader you are, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that Jeffery’s weight has changed from 216 pounds to 230. This list of comparables was generated by ProFootballReference using their NFL stats, and thus their NFL weight.
Jeffery matches up with the average very well. He was drafted 10 spots later than the composite player, but he’s of similar size. He caught 5 more passes, over 100 more yards, and roughly 2 more touchdowns than the average of his peers.
28% of the receivers went on to have at least 1 top 30 season, and 17% had multiple top 30 seasons. If you look closely, you’ll notice that 5 receivers posted 13 total top 30 seasons, 85% of which were top 15 seasons. When these receivers hit, they hit in a big way. There would have been more production from this group, but they’ve been afflicted with strange circumstance. Plaxico Burress notoriously shot himself in a nightclub, Vincent Jackson held out for 2/3’s of the season in 2010, and Javon Walker tore his ACL in 2005 after breaking out in 2004. He was traded to Denver the following season and was never quite the same. The book concerning Demaryius Thomas and Jordy Nelson has yet to be penned, however their careers are certainly promising.
You may look at the 28% hit rate of similar receivers and think that the chances of him succeeding are very low, but it’s important to remember that a significant portion of college players fail in the NFL. Whenever I start thinking that I know what I’m talking about, I head over and look at all the players who went before Aaron Rodgers in the 2010 NFL draft. Just having 4 superstars show up on the list is extremely positive for Jeffery.
Looking at this table, and their physical measurables, it’s easy to see why Phil Emory drafted Jeffery. He’s a 90% accurate clone of Brandon Marshall; a big physical receiver who can go up and get the ball.
Marshall has the size advantage, but Jeffery has better YPT and msYDs numbers despite playing in a much tougher conference. Dominator Rating is a wash. If both receivers were in next year’s NFL Draft, you’d have a tough time choosing who to pick. Marshall had a relatively innocuous rookie year as well, catching 20 passes for 309 yards and 2 touchdowns. Over the next 3 seasons, he averaged over 100 passes and 1,100 yards yards in Denver. That’s not to say that Alshon Jeffery is going to catch 1,100 yards next year, but that’s it’s definitely in the realm of possibilty. The 3rd year wide receiver breakout rule has been debunked, and we now know that receivers develop at different times. It wouldn’t surprise me if Jeffery balls out this season and catches 100 balls. It also wouldn’t surprise me if he only catches 400 yards this season, I just think the odds are against that happening. Some receivers, like A.J. Green, come in and take the league by storm. Some receivers, like Vincent Jackson, catch 1,100 yards in their first 3 seasons combined.
We’ve established Jeffery’s talent level, and determined that he’ll likely be seeing a large volume of targets in Marc Trestman’s pass heavy offense. Now let’s take a look at 2 wide receivers going before him through the lense of the excellent Similarity Score app:
|PPR Projection||Alshon Jeffery||Kendall Wright||Michael Floyd|
For purposes of this comparison, I removed all games where the receivers were targeted less than 5 times. Jeffery’s all-around projections are better than both Wright and Floyd’s (although I think Floyd is another player who could be in-store for a major increase in targets). These players are being selected within 9 picks of each other, so you’ll have to choose between the 3 of them. I’ll be taking the 230 pound physical monster who dominated the SEC in 2010.
Even his plot gives us optimism regarding his 2013 prospects:
For those savvy owners who’d like to buy into DeAndre Hopkins without spending a 7th round pick, Alshon Jeffery is readily available in the 9th round, and he comes with 1 bonus years of NFL experience and a new head coach who loves to pass the football. Jeffery is the best kind of buy in dynasty: a rising star on a pass-first offense who’s available for dirt cheap. Don’t sleep on Jeffery in redraft either; he’s easily worth the 11th round pick required to secure his services. Reports out of Bears training camp are extremely positive, and he has reportedly toughened up after showing up “soft” last year. For the sake of your fantasy team, draft Alshon Jeffery this year.