The Gut Check No. 250: The Insanity Series - Robert Meachem
By Matt Waldman
June 28th, 2012

The Insanity Series: Players That Will Drive You Mad in 2012

Every season there are players with appeal so strong that fantasy owners can't resist drafting them despite evidence that suggests otherwise. Likewise, there are also players with proven skill in great situations that fantasy owners still underestimate. This series is devoted to dispelling the illusions fantasy owners, football media, and fantasy analysts may have about them. My goal is to break through the wall of denial that exists regarding these players. While I'm aware that I might be the one who is ultimately deluded, these are players that I'm telling readers to be the naysayers or a strong advocate when it comes to fantasy drafts.

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Robert Meachem: If Brees didn't have the elixir, how will Rivers?

Let's get this out of the way right now. I have never been a fan of Robert Meachem's game. I see a tall, strong, and fast athlete that has worked hard to become a better pass catcher. I also see a player that did not elevate his game to match his elite physical skills while playing for one of the five most explosive offenses in the league and arguably the best quarterback in the league.

A lot of people think it's logical that Meachem's move to San Diego is going to make him a far more productive fantasy option potentially twice as good as he's been in New Orleans. Mull that one over again: Robert Meachem couldn't produce even an 800-yard season on a team with the most accurate deep thrower in the league but an offense that lacked a deep threat that can consistently catch the football yet he's going to earn 1,000-1,200 yards in a less explosive offense? That's some pretzel logic if I've ever heard it.

It's this reason that of the players I'm considering this summer the idea of spending a draft pick on Meachem could drive me insane.

Meachem by the Numbers

Meachem caught 67% of the passes thrown to him, which is a good percentage compared to many receivers in the league. Still, it's the second-lowest rate with the Saints receivers compared to Marques Colston (75%), Lance Moore (71%), and Devery Henderson (64%). In this context, Meachem is involved with too many incompletions. Anecdotally, I believe he still has too many drops in critical situations, and two years after his 45-catch, 722-yard, 9-touchdown season in 2009, he never turned the corner and became a reliable starter that needed a reliable big-play threat on the outside.

In comparison to the Saints receiver corps, the Chargers receivers had a much lower catch percentage among its starters. Vincent Jackson (52%) and Malcolm Floyd (61%) were the receivers with at least 50 passes that had a lower rate than Meachem and both Patrick Crayton (68%) and Vincent Brown (48%) had fewer than 50 passes thrown in their direction, making it a less balanced comparison. Another reason to suggest this comparison lacks balance is that the Chargers and Saints have different passing offenses and the methods to getting to the red zone may place a lower or higher threshold on the percentage of passes caught.

If the Chargers take more chances down field, the risks will be higher and likely yield a lower catch percentage compared to a team that bides its time and takes more controlled shots. In the Saints offense, Vincent Jackson's rate might be in the 70 percent range and Meachem's rate might dip to the 40s or 50s in San Diego. However, one could argue that despite a flip-flop in catch percentage Meachem could hypothetically have a more Vincent Jackson-like year in San Diego and Jackson, if he were in New Orleans, produce along the lines of Meachem. I don't believe that would happen, but it is and idea worthwhile enough to entertain for a moment.

Replacing Vincent Jackson

What we're going to learn about Meachem in 2012 is whether his strengths will transition well to the Chargers offensive system and mesh with the style of quarterback Philip Rivers. Vincent Jackson's game is built on his height, muscular frame, and physical play. He has build-up speed and his skills force defenses to play off the line of scrimmage because he can overpower defenders in press coverage. The result is more free releases down field paired with play action.

However, this also yields a fair share of jump-ball situations and a majority of his big plays are targets where he turns back to the quarterback and uses his big frame to box-out defenders. Jackson certainly makes plays where he's behind a defense and catching the ball with his back to the defense, but it is not the aspect of his game that makes him special.

Watch Meachem's highlights with Drew Brees, and the vast majority of his receptions are on routes where he's running by the defensive backs and catching the ball with his back to the quarterback. The plays where I've seen Meachem struggle most are the exact plays where Jackson thrives. Meachem wasn't consistently skilled enough in tight coverage to make back shoulder plays with Drew Brees in New Orleans.

Even with Vincent Brown, a smaller receiver than Jackson and a rookie no less, Rivers liked the back shoulder play as a downfield throw of choice. Here are two plays that illustrate this tendency. Here's a third in double coverage, which has never been Meachem's forte. This isn't to say Rivers only throws fades or jump balls down field. He hits his share of verticals with receivers behind the defense. However, I'm not sold that Meachem can reach his fantasy potential without a more well-rounded game than he's displayed thus far.

While Meachem has more speed than Jackson and physically, he has the potential to become a more physical force with the ball in the air, Meachem's greatest weakness has always been his ability to catch the ball with his arms extended from his frame and with coverage bearing down. This is what will need to become a much-improved aspect of his game to convince me that he's capable of filling Jackson's shoes. Frankly, I'm concerned about investing in him to find out if it happens.

I know that Meachem's price seems reasonable in the seventh round, but Vincent Brown several rounds later seems like a better risk. Not sure I have a definitive answer to the question that plagues me, but you can see where I'm leaning at this point.

As always, feel free to provide comments or suggestions to waldman@footballguys.com.

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