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The Gut Check No. 397: WRs In Fantasy-Rich Offenses

Matt Waldman builds a profile of wide receivers in fantasy-rich passing offenses.

The phrase "too many mouths to feed" sums up a common concern among fantasy footballers. When they see the addition of a free agent like DeSean Jackson to a Tampa Bay roster that subsequently drafted O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin, there's a worry that Jackson won't deliver fantasy starter production because of the other options robbing him of potential targets.

Whether or not Jackson delivers fantasy starter production in Tampa will have more to do with reasons other than the "too many mouths to feed" worry. I've studied 12 years of passing game data and an average of 8.75 offenses per year field at least 2 options that are starting-caliber fantasy options (top-36 for receivers and top 12 for tight ends). And 3 offenses per year field with at least 3 starter-caliber options. 

Simple math from the statement above indicates that, on average, 21 fantasy-starter pass catchers come from these teams each year. That's about two rounds of talent, but we know that not everyone in your league will properly identify that talent within the first 2-4 rounds of a fantasy draft. 

Instead of concerning yourself with "too many mouths to feed," focus on which dining rooms have the layout and personnel to serve a high volume of tasty dishes and incorporate those insights into your summer draft strategies.

Last week, the Gut Check profiled quarterbacks that support these fantasy-rich environments in a passing game and which players are most likely to deliver this fall. This week's article will do the same with receivers.

THE OVERVIEW

Let's begin with the broad strokes from the data collected between 2005-2016: 

  • 103 passing offenses fielded at least 2 starting-caliber fantasy receiving options. 
    • 2005: 9 teams.
    • 2006: 7 teams.
    • 2007: 10 teams.
    • 2008: 8 teams.
    • 2009: 10 teams.
    • 2010: 6 teams.
    • 2011: 8 teams.
    • 2012: 8 teams.
    • 2013: 8 teams.
    • 2014: 10 teams.
    • 2015: 9 teams.
    • 2016: 10 teams.
  • 71 passing offenses fielded 2 fantasy options.
  • 31 passing offenses fielded 3 fantasy options.
  • 1 passing offense fielded 4 fantasy options (Denver's 2013 offense with Peyton ManningDemaryius ThomasEmmanuel Sanders and Julius Thomas). 

Using this data for the 2017 season, we can estimate that 8-10 teams will have passing offenses that deliver at least 2 starting-caliber receiving options and 2-3 of those teams have 3 options. As I mentioned last week, the odds of a team producing four options is better than the odds of the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions facing each other in Super Bowl LII, but you're not betting with your kid's college fund on either proposition. 

THE PROFILE OF Wide Receivers in Fantasy-Rich Offenses (Schemes WITH MULTIPLE FANTASY STARTERS)

Let's begin with the receivers of these offenses and assign labels to classify the style of their games. There are five types listed below. The primary types usually have at least three of the secondary skills listed after it in strong supply. The next five types are skills of secondary options who may possess 2-3 of the classifications below with varying degrees of competency but don't need a complete game to produce at a high level. 

  • Primary: These receivers are the go-to guys—receivers possess enough athletic ability, technical skill, and big-play reliability to fit in multiple classifications (speedster, rebounder, route technician, and slot). Julio Jones, Jordy Nelson, and A.J. Green are excellent examples of primary options. The rest of the options below are generally secondary roles.
  • Speedsters: Big-play specialists who can beat many first-team cornerbacks one-on-one with their speed and open-field skill after the catch. For those that aren't the primary guy, their route trees may only consist of a few branches in an offense (screens, crosses, hitches, streaks corners, posts, and all interrelated double moves), but those branches are strong and support a lot of fruit. Brandin Cooks and John Ross epitomize the speedster type who may not have a complete game to be a true primary but can perform well enough to earn production that's in that range. 
  • Rebounder: Options that possess great leaping ability, size, and/or skill to win position against a defender with the ball in the air. These players are paired well with quarterbacks that either lacks great pinpoint accuracy on vertical routes or have great anticipation and placement on routes that allow the passer to "throw the receiver open". Although a primary option, Steve Smith was a great example of a short rebounder. The classic rebounder who was often a primary option during his career, but better as a secondary was Vincent Jackson.
  • Route Technician: Pass catchers who may lack great speed and/or size, but they can run every route with precision and they have a library of effective techniques to beat press-man, off-man, and zone coverage. Reggie Wayne was the consummate route technician who earned a primary role with Peyton Manning later in his career after serving as a secondary option under Marvin Harrison but might not have had that role with a different quarterback and scheme. 
  • Slot: These receivers spend most of their time working inside the hash. They're usually skilled route runners but may have difficulty beating press-man. Some of them also lack the speed to earn extensive playing time on the perimeter. Jarvis Landry is a prototypical slot receiver. 
  • YAC: They may not be fast or great route options, but they can earn yards after the catch with a combination of quickness, strength, and physicality.Hines Ward is a good past example of a player who never was a classic primary option, but could approach that production thanks to his YAC. Steve Smith and Terrell Owens were great YAC producers with primary skills.

As with the quarterbacks, I applied these labels with the mindset of keeping the assignments obvious. They are not always permanent career labels. Chad Johnson began his career as a route technician and slot player who evolved into a primary option. Roddy White was a speedster who evolved into a primary with great route technique. Anquan Boldin was rebounder with primary skills who has evolved into a big, physical slot option with age. 

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