This article is part of our East Coast Offense series.How To Evaluate Wide Receivers?
I got some pushback on Twitter last week after arguing Davante Adams was merely a good, but not great receiver. Before we get lost in the weeds, let me say unequivocally that Adams is in fact a great fantasy receiver, one I have ranked behind only Michael Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham and Julio Jones. And if you wanted to rank him ahead of everyone except Thomas and Hopkins, I wouldn't argue much. He's Aaron Rodgers No. 1 target by a mile, and he's tied for second with Thomas with 20 red-zone targets.
But where he ranks in fantasy was a separate point and obviously not the one I was making. My assertion was Adams isn't a great real-life receiver, and I stand by that. This raises the question of how to evaluate real-life receivers, and that's a lot less obvious than rating them for fantasy. I used to get into discussions with Andre Snellings, when he wrote for RotoWire, about how to evaluate NBA players in real life, and he drew the distinction between players who were able to direct a lot of the team's output through themselves, e.g., Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, vs. players who could by their presence grow the overall output for the team (his example was always Kevin Garnett who got a lot of his value by shrinking the output for the opposing team.) Measuring this in the NBA wasn't always easy. Dre' used a lot of advanced on-court/off-court plus minus and then the adjusted version, and probably some other stats of which I'm not aware. For the NFL it's similarly difficult, but the framing of the question, I believe, is apt - which receivers merely divert to themselves a large chunk of the offense's baseline output, and which in doing so grow that output?
Jarvis Landry was a great fantasy receiver last year (112 catches, nine TDs), but, to me, overrated in real-life. Landry siphoned away 161 of the team's 602 attempts at a meager 6.1 yards per target. Even for a bad passing team like the Dolphins (6.3 YPA, 28th), that was a below-average use of its resources, and typically receivers average more yards per play than backs out of the backfield or tight ends.
Now YPT isn't the only relevant stat. I expect the Dolphins didn't throw a lot of interceptions or take as many sacks on the short, slot routes designed for Landry as they would on throws with more air yards. And perhaps Landry was unusually successful at moving the sticks and keeping drives alive. That the chains move every 10 yards makes a simple "most yards per play" argument incomplete as consistency can trump efficiency if the success-rate is high enough. But 112 for 161 (69.6%) is good but not off the charts for a slot man, and it's hard to see Landry's 8.8 YPC causing defenses much lost sleep.
Of course, the offense was terrible as a whole, and that was not Landry's fault, but consider teammate Kenny Stills managed 8.1 YPT on 105 targets and 14.6 YPC playing on the outside, i.e., not everyone on the team was so far below average on a per-play basis.
Bottom line, I feel confident in saying Landry was much better from a fantasy than a real-life standpoint, and that's bolstered by his even worse per-play numbers (5.7 YPA) this year in Cleveland.
On the other end of the spectrum is Brandin Cooks. Cooks is averaging 11.5 YPT this year (behind only DeSean Jackson and Tyreek Hill), but has only three touchdowns. Last year, Cooks had 9.5 YPT (fourth among 100-target WR) and scored only seven TDs despite getting 1,082 yards in a high-scoring offense. Cooks had seven catches of 40-plus yards on 114 targets last year and has four on 72 this season, and that's not counting PI penalties down the field he draws. If Cooks is on the field, the defense is forced to cover more of it. If Landry is on the field, the defense has one fewer player it needs to worry about making the big play.
In the NBA, players who shoot threes from well beyond the three-point arc like Stephen Curry force the defense to extend and create more room for others to operate. It's not simply the points Curry scores, but the spacing he creates. Doesn't the NFL have to work the same way? Players who create more space for others by forcing the safeties away from the line of scrimmage should be expected to make it easier for the offense to operate.
Again, this isn't the only criterion - a player who can make catches in traffic or reels in passes along the sidelines with impossible footwork like Hopkins - is obviously quite valuable. Michael Thomas has corraled an absurd 82 or 91 targets, and while he's not exactly taking the top off the defense, his efficiency in catch percentage has him at 11.5 YPT, just behind Cooks.
But where does Devante Adams fit into this picture? After a big game against the Seahawks, he's now up to 9.0 YPT (21st among 50-target WR), and he's second among wideouts with nine TD. He also has five 40-yard catches (one more than Cooks), but he's 11th in 20-yard catches despite being fifth in targets, i.e, I don't think Adams, who clocked a 4.56 40 at the NFL Combine and averages 13.2 YPC, is keeping safeties away the line of scrimmage.
Adams is also achieving this with Aaron Rodgers as his QB, and say what you want about Mike McCarthy's system and Rodgers' less-than-peak play this year, that's still a favorable environment. Rodgers himself is having a good year - 8.0 YPA, 19 TD, only one pick - and much of that flows through Adams - but it's a far cry from 2011-2014 Jordy Nelson and much closer to peak Greg Jennings if Jennings were also a consistent red-zone weapon.
Adams is also catching a high percentage of the passes thrown his way - 72 of 106 (68%) - and at 6-1, 215 has the frame to make plays even if he's not wide open. He's quite obviously a good player at the top of his game, but is he growing the pie for the team's offense beyond what Aaron Rodgers' typical No. 1 would provide? Is the game easy for the Marquez Valdes-Scantlings and Jimmy Grahams due to Adams' presence? It's not an easy thing to measure, but I don't see much evidence for it. Contrast the way the Falcons manage 8.5 YPA with a lesser QB, who's able to get Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley involved alongside Julio Jones (10.5 YPT), or how Odell Beckham (8.8 YPT) carries Eli Manning's carcass. But this is cherry-picking and without a rigorous on/off court plus-minus - and even that has its issues - there's no definitive way to answer the question.
For me, watching Adams struggle to get yards after the catch on short throws in the Seattle game - just not much wiggle - knowing he's not a game-breaking deep threat and realizing his very good, but not great numbers come with Aaron Rodgers attached has him in the top-15 or so, but not in the top-10 among NFL receivers. For what it's worth, here are a few I'd rank ahead of him *in real life*: Beckham, Jones, Thomas, Antonio Brown, Tyreek Hill, T.Y. Hilton, DeAndre Hopkins, Adam Thielen, A.J. Green and Cooks. Players roughly equal to him are, in my opinion, Stefon Diggs, Alshon Jeffery, Keenan Allen, Juju Smith-Schuster and a healthy Doug Baldwin.
Week 12 Trivia
Apropos of Lamar Jackson's record-setting 27 carries Sunday, can you name the QBs since 1975 who have cracked 13 carries in a game?
Guessing the Lines
|Game||My Line||Guessed Line||Actual Line||ML-AL|
|Bears at Lions||-5.5||-4.5||-4||-1.5|
|Redskins at Cowboys||7||9||7.5||-0.5|
|Falcons at Saints||9.5||10||13||-3.5|
|Browns at Bengals||1.5||3.5||3||-1.5|
|Jaguars at Bills||-1.5||-3.5||-3.5||2|
|Patriots at Jets||-10.5||-9||-9.5||-1|
|Giants at Eagles||4.5||6.5||6||-1.5|
|Raiders at Ravens||12.5||12||11||1.5|
|Seahawks at Panthers||3||3||3.5||-0.5|
|49ers at Buccaneers||3||3.5||3.5||-0.5|
|Cardinals at Chargers||13.5||13||12||1.5|
|Dolphins at Colts||11.5||10.5||9.5||2|
|Steelers at Broncos||-2.5||-3||-3.5||1|
|Packers at Vikings||3||3||3.5||-0.5|
|Titans at Texans||3||3||6||-3|
My biggest discrepancy is with the Falcons-Saints, so I'm back to fading New Orleans after having so much success with it last week. The other big one is the Titans-Texans, but I had presumed Marcus Mariota was starting. I'll have to follow up because if there's a decent chance it's Blaine Gabbert, I'm probably moving that line to at least six. Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind in Beating the Book.
Week 11 Observations
• Mitchell Trubisky (5.3 YPA, one TD, two picks) was overmatched against a stout Vikings defense, though he did help himself with 43 scramble yards and took only one sack.
• Kirk Cousins (262 yards, two TDs, two picks, two sacks, 5.7 YPA) was equally bad, and one of his interceptions was taken to the house. All his production – and that of Adam Thielen (12-7-66) and Stefon Diggs (18-13-126-1) – was in garbage time. In his defense, the Vikings couldn't run at all – (Dalvin Cook had nine carries for 12 yards, Latavius Murray four for five), and the pass rush was heavy for most of the game.
• The Vikings still might have covered but for the ticky-tack out-of-bounds personal foul on the Bears final drive that put Chicago into field goal range. The NFL needs to change its policy on fouls that don't affect the play – fine, imprison or electric-shock the offender if necessary – but do not unnecessarily determine game outcomes based on referee's whims.
• The Eagles simply did not show up and are not a playoff contender. In fact, they're one game ahead of the Giants now, and should the Giants win their rematch next week, Philadelphia would be tied with them for last place.
• What happened to the genius analytics team that took down the Patriots and Vikings en route to a Super Bowl win with Nick Foles at QB? Why was Doug Pederson punting the ball on 4th -and-short from midfield to a team that kept shredding his defense? My Twitter feed suggested the loss of last year's offensive coordinator Frank Reich (Colts) and QB coach John DiFilippo (Vikings) was a major factor. Whatever the case, Carson Wentz (4.7 YPA, three picks, three sacks, zero TDs) might as well have been Blake Bortles. Yet another data point for system being paramount, not the name on the back of the quarterback's jersey.
• Josh Adams was useful with 53 rushing yards and a TD, but 28 of the yards and the score came on one play. Golden Tate's 8-5-48 was the closest thing the Eagles had to a useful pass catcher, and this was a game where the other team scored 48 points.
• Drew Brees owned the Eagles depleted secondary – 363 yards (12.1 YPA), four TDs and no picks. At 39, he's still in his prime, so Tom Brady better play until he's 50 if he hopes to have any of the NFL's all-time passing records.
• Is anybody else sick of Taysom Hill? Why waste any snaps with a random scrub when you have so many good options in your standard offense?
• Mark Ingram (16-103-2) is all the way back to last year's role. It hurts Alvin Kamara (13-for-71, 1-1-37-1) a little, but Kamara's still a top-10 overall player. Michael Thomas (4-4-92-1) wasn't needed much as Tre'Quan Smith (13-10-157-1) torched the depleted Eagles secondary. More touches for Smith, fewer for Hill would be a good idea.
• Philip Rivers had another big game (401 yards, 9.3 YPA), but threw only two TDs, coughed up two picks and took three sacks. Keenan Allen (12-9-89-1) and the ancient Antonio Gates (7-5-80-1) led the way, while Melvin Gordon (6-6-87) chewed up yardage at will on screen passes and dump-offs. Gordon struggled on the ground, though with 18 carries for 69 yards.
• Case Keenum made the plays he had to and more importantly didn't turn the ball over. He had only 6.4 YPA, no TDs and no sacks. Phillip Lindsay was the game's offensive star with 11 carries for 79 yards and two TDs, as well as a 5-4-27 line as a receiver. Courtland Sutton (6-3-78) led the team in receiving, while Emmanuel Sanders went 6-4-56.
• If you're wondering how the Chargers could lose despite the massive disparity in production, consider the minus-two TO differential, falling for a fake punt (basically another turnover that led to a TD) and a missed PAT. Bring back Younghoe!
• David Johnson got his – 27 carries for 135 yards and one catch for 17 yards – but that doesn't include the ~60-yard game- and cover-sealing TD that was called back due to a hold. Josh Rosen completed only nine passes (6.8 YPA), though three of them were for scores, two to Larry Fitzgerald (3-2-23-2) and one to Christian Kirk (4-3-77-1.) He also threw two picks and took a sack against a bad Raiders defense.
• Derek Carr (6.2 YPA, 192 yards, two TDs, no picks, four sacks) did what he had to, connecting with Brandon LaFell (likely out for the year) and Jared Cook (6-3-31-1) for scores. Doug Martin and Jalen Richard were both modestly productive on the ground, while Richard also went 4-3-32 as a receiver.
• For a team that just hurt its chances for the No. 1 overall pick, Jon Gruden and the Raiders sure seemed happy about the win. Maybe he's considering keeping Carr, a massive mistake, after all.
• Lamar Jackson got his first NFL start and delivered a win, breaking the record for QB rushing attempts in the process with 27. While he made some nice runs, it wasn't an efficient use of his skills – 4.3 YPC is low for a QB, and he threw for only 150 yards (7.9 YPA), zero TDs and one pick. He also took two sacks. We'll see whether Joe Flacco is ready for Week 12, and if not, whether they unleash Jackson as a passer more against the Raiders.
• Speaking of which, after Jackson's interception the broadcast cut to Flacco as if to say, "That wouldn't have happened if their Super Bowl winning starting QB were playing." Except that Flacco has been dead last in YPA since he signed his then record-highest contract, i.e., he's been terrible since 2012 while crushing the team cap-wise. Virtually any cheap QB other than Nathan Peterman would have been a greater net positive than Flacco over that span.
• Despite facing the league's worst run defense, Alex Collins (7-18-1) not only did not produce, but might have lost his job to bruising undrafted free-agent rookie Gus Edwards (17-115-1.) At 6-1, 235, Edwards might be a better fit for the power-running style the Ravens prefer. With the Raiders up next, Edwards will be this week's most coveted waiver pick up. Willie Snead (8-5-51) was the only receiver of note for the Ravens.
• Justin Tucker nailed a 56-yard field goal through the center of the uprights with room to spare. If the NFL narrowed the uprights from 18.5 feet to 10, Tucker might be the league MVP.
• Andy Dalton (5.9 YPA, two TDs, no picks, one sack) didn't do much without A.J. Green on the road against a tough defense. He did rush for 29 yards, however. Tyler Boyd (11-4-71) led the team in receiving, while Joe Mixon (12 carries for 14 yards) got stuffed but contributed a 3-3-38 line as a receiver.
• The Steelers rallied from a 16-0 deficit and a bad game from Ben Roethlisberger (6.7 YPA, two TDs, three picks, two sacks) to beat the Jaguars on the road. Roethlisberger also ran for a short score.
• James Conner got stuffed – nine carries for 25 yards – and went only 9-6-24 as a receiver, dropping two seemingly crucial passes, including a fourth-down try and a easy would-be 27-yard TD late. It was by far his worst game of the year, though with Le'Veon Bell out Conner's status is secure.
• Antonio Brown (3-5-117-1) was shut down for most of the game, but scored a 78-yard TD on a blown coverage late. Juju Smith-Schuster (10-8-104) was the other receiver of note, while Vance McDonald (6-3-27-1) scored a TD.
• Blake Bortles did less than nothing – 5.8 YPA, 104 passing yards, no TDs, no picks and six sacks. He also lost a fumble. Most of the Jaguars' inept offense was run through Leonard Fournette – 28 carries for 95 yards and a score and two catches for 46 yards. He led the team in rushing and receiving, and no other player on the team got half as many yards in either category. He carries arguably the heaviest workload in the league.
• Alex Smith broke his tibia and fibula a la Joe Theismann in 1985 with the leg sticking out at the wrong angle after a sack. Either from shock or because he's the toughest person on the planet, Smith didn't sport even a grimace on his face as he stoically sat on the cart that took him off the field. He's quite obviously done for the year.
There are some eerie parallels between the Smith and Theismann injuries. For starters, they were both Redskins QBs, both happened on November 18th, both QBs ended the season with 301 passing attempts, both injuries happened at the 40-yard line, and the final score of both games was 23-21. And Theismann happened to be at Sunday's game. Oddly, I recently finished a Netflix series called "Dark" (recommended), the premise of which is that history repeats itself every 33 years.
• Colt McCoy took over for Smith and got tight end Jordan Reed (11-7-71-1) involved at long last. Expect McCoy to start on Thanksgiving Day against the Cowboys. Adrian Peterson struggled for most of the game but scored twice, to go along with 51 yards.
• Deshaun Watson was efficient (8.7 YPA), but threw two picks, took three sacks and rushed for only seven yards. Lamar Miller went 20-for-86, while Alfred Blue went eight for 46. Keke Coutee (9-5-77) led the team in receiving, while DeAndre Hopkins (6-5-56-1) never gets denied.
• Jameis Winston got his job back after Ryan Fitzpatrick characteristically threw three picks. The two, of course, combined for 366 passing yards, two TDs and four picks on the day. Winston himself managed 12.4 YPA, 199 yards, two TDs, one pick and rushed for 16 more yards. He also fumbled at the goal line, but it was recovered by Mike Evans for a TD.
• Speaking of which Evans (7-6-120-1) led the team in receiving and had two TDs total. O.J. Howard (6-5-178) had a big game before hurting his ankle in the fourth quarter. Always appreciate when a player has the courtesy to produce before getting injured.
• Peyton Barber went 18-106-1 and caught two passes for four yards. For God knows what reason the booth (Thom Brennaman and Chris Spielman) were lathering the praise on Barber like he were the second-coming of Terrell Davis. That said, Barber ran hard and is the team's unquestioned starter. The booth also said nothing when Pat Shurmur shockingly punted on 4th-and-2 from the Bucs 37-yard line in the first half.
• Eli Manning (12.8 YPA), completed 17 of 18 passes for 231 yards and two scores. He didn't throw a pick, but took four sacks. Before you get excited about his performance, a few caveats: (1) The Bucs rank 31st in YPA with 8.9; (2) His incompletion was a badly thrown ball to a wide open Saquon Barkley who probably would have run down the sideline for a long TD; (3) His TD to Odell Beckham was so late the defender caught up with it, but Beckham was able to muscle it away from him with his hands; (4) The 54-yard completion to Evan Engram, their longest play of the game, might have gone for a TD had Eli not made Engram slow down to catch it; and (5) Eli was helpless in the face of the rush on each sack, crumbling straight to the ground. But he did play his best game of the year.
• Saquon Barkley is 21 years old, faster than Tarik Cohen and heavier than Le'Veon Bell. He also had 142 yards, two rushing TDs and caught two passes for 10 yards and another score. Had Manning not missed him on the sideline throw, Barkley might have had a game for the ages. I'm looking forward to those who mocked the Giants for taking him over Sam Darnoldciting their "process" two years from now in defense of the indefensible.
• Beckham went 4-4-74-1, Engram 2-2-66 and Sterling Shepard 2-2-22. A pick-six by the defense and playing the game with a lead cut into the passing-game opportunities.
• Andrew Luck shredded the Titans defense for 297 yards (10.2 YPA), three TDs, no picks and no sacks, the fifth straight game he hasn't been dropped. Some of that is due to the offensive line and scheme, but Luck deserves a lot of the credit, too. How many QBs would get taken ahead of luck if the NFL were drafting from scratch right now?
• T.Y. Hilton (9-9-155-2) led the team in receiving, while Jack Doyle (4-4-43) and Dontrelle Inman (6-4-34-1) chipped in. Eric Ebron, who had three TDs last week, didn't see a single target, though he did attempt a pass to Luck in the end zone. Marlon Mack (16-61-1) led the way on the ground, and Jordan Wilkins (4-30-1) scored his first NFL TD.
• "Riverboat" Ron Rivera had a chance to kick the PAT for a tie at the end of the game, but gambled on a two-point conversion and lost. While it's more defensible when you have Cam Newton to go for it there, that only applies if Newton runs it (rather than takes a shotgun snap.) Moreover, there was still a minute left in the game, and the Lions had timeouts, i.e., even had the Panthers succeeded, the game was far from sealed. Instead of tying the game, and encouraging the Lions to play conservatively, Rivera, had the try succeeded, would have forced the Lions to use all four downs and aggressively try to win the game with a FG. It wasn't the worst call a coach has made, but as the favored (and presumably better) team, taking his chances in overtime was a better bet than snapping it to Newton in the shotgun and treating him like any pocket passer.
• Newton threw for 357 yards and three scores, but also had a pick, took three sacks and ran for only two yards.
• D.J. Moore (8-7-157-1) is living up to his billing as the top receiver chosen in the draft. Last year's top-two-round picks, Christian McCaffrey (8-6-57) and Curtis Samuel (7-5-55-1) also contributed. Devin Funchess (8-2-39) had a poor game. McCaffrey also had 13 carries for 53 yards.
• Graham Gano missed a PAT and a short FG, ultimately costing his team the game. He beat the Giants with a 61-yarder earlier in the year, and it was his first missed FG of the year, so his job is probably safe even though he's now missed three PATs.
• Matthew Stafford backed into a win, despite 5.9 YPA, 220 yards and only one TD pass. He didn't throw a pick, however, and took only one sack for five yards.
• Kerryon Johnson (15-87-1) led the team in rushing and caught two passes for 10 yards before leaving with a sprained knee, the severity of which remains to be determined. Theo Riddick (7-5-30) and LeGarrette Blount (seven carries, one yard) would see more work should Johnson miss time.
• It's odd that when Matt Ryan was throwing five TDs per game, Julio Jones (9-6-118-1) couldn't find the end zone with a Thomas Guide, but in games where Ryan throws just one, Jones is suddenly DeAndre Hopkins. Ryan went for 291 yards (8.6) YPA, one TD, one pick and three sacks.
• Dak Prescott did his caretaking – 6.5 YPA, 202 yards, no TDs, no picks and two sacks – but also ran in a TD. Ezekiel Elliott had another monster game – 23-122-1 and 8-7-79. Cole Beasley (7-5-51) led the receivers while Amari Cooper (5-3-36) was quiet. The Cowboys should be heavy favorites to win the NFC East.
• Sean McVay made an ill-advised punt on 4th-and-1 from his own 25 with 6:44 left in the game. The Chiefs got the ball back and drove down the field for the go-ahead TD. In a game with 100-plus points, you don't punt on 4th-and-1, no matter what the field position.
• Jared Goff missed a couple throws, lost a fumble that was returned for a score and took five sacks. In between, he also passed for 413 yards (8.4 YPA), four TDs, no picks and ran in a score himself, despite missing one of his top targets in Cooper Kupp. Goff's in a great system, but his weapons are merely good, not Chiefs-level, and he's delivered all year.
• Who would have thought that in a game where his team scored 54 points, Todd Gurley's 13-game TD streak would come to an end? Even Julio Jones scored this weekend! (To be fair, Jones is a TD-machine now.) It almost seemed as though Gurley were nursing an injury, as Malcolm Brown was on the field a decent amount, and the team failed to use Gurley to close out the game before punting the ball back to the Chiefs for the final drive. In any event, he got 94 YFS at least.
• Goff spread the ball around to his various receivers fairly evenly. Brandin Cooks (12-8-107) led the way, Josh Reynolds (8-6-80-1) filled in nicely for Kupp and Robert Woods (11-4-72-1) wasn't efficient but cracked 70 yards and scored. Tight ends Tyler Higbee (7-6-63) and Gerald Everett (4-3-49-2) also got theirs.
• Pat Mahomes turned the ball over five times, two of which were taken for TDs, but he padded his historic statistical season with six TDs, 478 yards (10.4 YPA) and 28 rushing yards.
• Like Gurley, Kareem Hunt was used sparingly – only 14 carries and four targets, but Hunt got into the end zone on one of his catches and totaled 111 YFS.
• Tyreek Hill (14-10-215-2) showed what happens when he gets No. 1 WR volume. He caught a wide open 73-yard TD after the defender slipped, but his best catch was on the Chiefs final scoring drive where he tipped the ball to himself near the sidelines and kept it away from a defender. Travis Kelce went 15-10-127-1 with a couple drops, Chris Conley (8-7-74-2) played a big role and Sammy Watkins (foot) caught a short pass early then disappeared for the night.
• It's ironic that in a game where 105 points were scored, its MVP might have been defensive end Aaron Donald who had two sacks, two forced fumbles, four tackles and disrupted the Chiefs the entire game. Samson Ebukam also had a sack and scored two defensive TDs, but Donald made the first one happen and is the player typically seeing double teams.