underutilized and overlooked
If you’re not familiar with Kenny Stills, you probably don’t know that he was one of the league’s most efficient wideouts as a rookie in 2013. You’ll probably by further stunned to learn that second-year Stills was quite possibly the most efficient in 2014. The reason these facts baffle you is simple: the Saints rarely took the leash off of Stills. Examine his league-wide rankings over 2013-14 in the following categories, and ponder which one sticks out:
Kenny Stills' League-Wide Rankings (2013-2014)
|Year||Targets||Yds/Tgt||Catch Rate||Deep Catch Rate|
That’s right: Stills, who caught balls at the second-best rate in football and generated the most yards per target among qualifiers, saw fewer targets than the likes of Riley Cooper and Markus Wheaton. You could argue that Stills was merely a low-impact role player, a product of Drew Brees’ accuracy, but note that Stills was not some high-percentage dump-off target. He was the team’s primary deep threat, with an exceptionally high average depth of target (12.8 yards). Staying so efficient while operating so far downfield is rarely seen.
So it’s easy to understand the enthusiasm for Stills throughout the fantasy community. He looks like an unopened present – a big, fast downfield mismatch capable of catching whatever you’re forced to throw to him, but criminally underused through his first two years.
That’s a fair projection to make, but sadly, Stills did not wind up in an ideal situation to reach that potential. Ryan Tannehill has made definite leaps as an NFL QB, but he remains cosmically inept at the deep ball. Speed demon Mike Wallace posted career-worst yardage numbers per target and reception with Tannehill, who greatly prefers the quick slants and crosses to airing the ball out. That puts an ugly kink into Stills’ statistical upside/downside projections. As a heavily used intermediate weapon, he could flirt with real WR2 value all season. If he winds up relegated to a deep threat role, he may struggle just to catch 50 balls.
The other factor that throws ice water on Stills’ appeal is the crowded state of this passing game. Stills and his hype were acquired in March, but much of it was hushed in April, when the Dolphins added free agent Greg Jennings, and again in May, when the team cashed in their first-round pick for Louisville’s DeVante Parker. Added to second-year slot receiver Jarvis Landry, this heap is bigger than you’d like to sift through to uncover a WR2 option.
Make no mistake about Landry: he’s the lynchpin of this passing game. Tannehill’s refusal to dial downfield gives Landry monstrous PPR value as the reliable underneath threat. From Weeks 9-17, Landry drew a hefty 23% of Dolphins targets. There’s a wide physical gap between the hyper-athletic Stills and the relatively slow, limited Landry, but that likely won’t matter anytime soon. Regardless of Stills’ progress, Landry will dominate the wideout targets.
But the rest of the depth chart doesn’t look like a major obstacle to Stills’ productivity. Struggling to gain separation at 31, Jennings’ upside doesn’t project far beyond 40-50 catches, and there’s a chance he’s phased out entirely for younger blood. Parker is an intriguing prospect, boasting great size and a semi-dominant college career (33 TDs on 156 catches). But as a rookie losing most or all of his first offseason, it’s hard to project a major impact in 2015. Maybe 25-35 catches in a likely abbreviated season. And tight end addition Jordan Cameron’s contribution potential is fuzzy; he’s got a notable concussion history and is more of a downfield guy than one known for efficiency.
Besides, much of this hand-wringing over the number of Dolphins wideouts could be moot anyway. As Mike Clay points out, only three teams sent 3+ wideouts onto the field more often in 2014 than the Dolphins.
- Efficiency. A burner with great hands, Stills has maximized all of his scant opportunities to this point. Even a disappointingly limited role should still result in usable fantasy production.
- Massive yardage potential. Stills’ studly 16.5 career YPR hints at huge yardage totals if he grabs the #1 role. Give him 80 catches at that rate, and you’re looking at a 1,320-yard season that would’ve tied Dez Bryant for ninth in the league in 2014.
- Experience. He’s only entering his third season, but has still dressed for more NFL games than Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker combined. And Parker likely won’t suit up for the first time until just before Week One. Stills’ experience with Sean Payton and Drew Brees gives him at least a theoretical leg up here.
- Competition. It’s concerning the Dolphins brought Stills aboard, then added veteran Greg Jennings and rookie DeVante Parker down the road. Neither looks like a devastating threat, but Stills is not highly paid, didn’t cost tons of assets to acquire, and is promised nothing in terms of a ball-dominant role.
- Fit into Ryan Tannehill’s offense. Tannehill is one of the league’s worst downfield passers, a small-ball specialist that could waste much of Stills’ talent set and hamper his upside. Stills is great on short and intermediate routes, but Jarvis Landry and Jennings likely have those roles largely locked down.
- Is he actually this good? Stills’ rate stats are astounding, but were certainly inflated to a degree by a fairly small sample size and the Drew Brees/Sean Payton system. Stills is very talented, but he’s probably not the best receiver in football, so take those ratios with a grain of salt. It’s safer to call him an immensely talented, efficient youngster and wait to see how his game translates to Miami.
It’s hard not to like the guy. He brings numerous chunks of upside to the table – an athletic profile strikingly similar to that of Odell Beckham, Jr., and a remarkable run of overall efficiency to open his career. Had he stayed in New Orleans or joined a less dense WR corps, his 2015 potential would be monstrous. Then again, so would be his hype, and wouldn’t be drafting him late in the 11th round or later.
All told, Stills’ road to a WR3-relevant target total is crowded, but manageable. As the strongest physical talent and most NFL-productive of the group, he’s a solid bet to lead all outside wideouts in opportunity. What production the inconsistent Tannehill allows him is anyone’s guess – Stills could fill several roles in this offense or none at all – but 100 targets are within reach. Apply that to his sterling catch rates and yardage efficiency, and you could see a 65-1,000 campaign. You’re advised to pay the ultra-reasonable ADP cost, as there’s ample chance of that upside coming to life. Just don’t lose sight of the WR5 floor he carries in this offense.
In other words: bet on Stills’ talent. It’s enormous, it’s productive, and it will cost you very, very little.
Footballguys' own Matt Harmon, who charted Stills for his excellent Reception Perception series, is on board with Stills as a WR3 or better:
“Reception Perception illustrates that Kenny Stills should provide the Dolphins with a fine replacement for the departed Mike Wallace... If Stills manages to impress this summer, and Parker takes a little longer to get off the ground, the veteran could approach, or pass, Wallace’s 2014 target level. Should that end up being the case, Stills will hold solid WR3 value; with the possibility of major scoring weeks, due to his big play ability.”
“It's very possible that Stills had the ideal role in New Orleans and that he's now moving into a less desirable one in Miami, but his per-target efficiency has been unprecedented during the last two NFL seasons.”
“As the number two wide out opposite of Jarvis Landry, and with many mouths to feed in the passing game, Stills will do well to finish as a high-end number three wideout in standard 12-team leagues.”