Don't Overthink It: Marvin Jones is Priced Right - Footballguys

A detailed look at Marvin Jones' fantasy prospects for 2018

Point: Marvin Jones Jr is a value in fantasy football. He finished 2017 ahead of his draft position, and this year's ADP hasn't caught up. His volume in 2018 should meet or exceed the consistent volume he saw in 2016 and 2017.

Counterpoint: Jones is a questionable pick because his 2017 results were touchdown-dependent. And Detroit's passing volume has decreased in each of the last two seasons.

While there are reasons to be pessimistic about Jones, it would take many more if's coming true for his floor to be a reality. And there are easy ways to believe he can be as good or better than last season. Jones is being drafted at his floor, making him an excellent -- and safe -- value in fantasy football. Let's take a back-and-forth look at Jones' possibilities this season.


The Regression to the Mean Argument

Year
Targets
Receptions
Yards
TDs
FP/Game
Rank
2016
103
55
930
4
11.4
WR44
2017
107
61
1101
9
13.8
WR13

As the bold font indicates, the main difference in Jones' last two seasons is the number of touchdowns he scored. If you believe in touchdown regression, you may think that Jones is likely to fall from the nine he caught in 2017. Even if he does, though, he's still a safe investment due to... 

The Consistent Volume Argument

Despite varying fantasy finishes, target volume was consistent for Jones. In 2016, he saw 6.9 targets and caught 3.7 passes per game. In 2017, he saw 6.7 targets and 3.8 catches per game. While not overwhelming, it is consistent. And Jones' big-play ability means that four catches can still yield useable fantasy performances.

Touchdowns were the only part of Jones' fantasy profile that have varied in the past two seasons. An average of receptions, yards, and touchdowns in those two seasons, would have made Jones the WR17 in fantasy points per game in 2016 and the WR18 in 2017.

With no added volume over his 2017 totals, Jones has WR2 in his sights. Despite this, there are some who say that Jones' upside is capped due to the presence of a young player who oozes upside of his own.

The Emerging WR3 Argument

Another go-to observation for the anti-Jones camp is the emergence of second-year player Kenny Golladay. Those in the pro-Golladay camp treat this as though it's inevitable. Whether Golladay takes the next step or not, considering him is a valid point, given what Jones did last season with and without Golladay.

The following is also worth noting:

There's room for this split to correct, though. This year's Lions will be missing a large chunk of their 2017 targets.

The Available Targets Argument

This offseason, Detroit added Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount to their offense. In Johnson and Blount, Detroit gets two run-centric players who aren't known for their pass-catching skills. The most notable offensive departure was Eric Ebron, the team's third-most targeted player in 2017, when Matthew Stafford looked his way 86 times.

The re-distribution of Ebron's targets can be projected with confidence. Jones and Golden Tate are Stafford's preferred targets, with Golladay and Theo Riddick also expected to see double-digit shares. The percentages below are the average target shares of Detroit's main targets from the last two seasons. Those percentages multiplied by Ebron's 86 vacated targets result in an estimate of extra targets (shown in parentheses). Because Detroit doesn't force-feed any one receiver, the "others" group here is a rather large catch-all.

  • Tate: 22.4% (19)
  • Jones: 18.5% (16)
  • Riddick: 12.2% (10)
  • Golladay: 15.0%* (13)
  • All Others: 36.8% (28)

*Golladay's percentage was not an average of the last two seasons but rather an expected increase over his rookie season (8.6%).

As it pertains to Jones, at 1.6 fantasy points per target, 16 extra targets would yield 25.6 fantasy points. Using his low-efficiency season, if we add that to his 2016 totals, and he goes from WR44 to WR24 in fantasy points per game. Again, that assumes low efficiency (i.e. fewer touchdowns than last season).

The naysayers and devil's advocates, though, will point to Detroit's offensive philosophy as an objection to Jones. Detroit's passing volume has been decreasing by ~5% each season since Jim Bob Cooter's first year in 2015 (632 in 2015 to 594 in 2016 and 570 in 2017).

It could take another dip this season if the personnel changes are a sign of offensive plans. What if Ebron's targets are not distributed via the passing game, and Detroit runs the ball more often instead? If they decrease 5% once again, the team would attempt 541 passes.

Assuming Jones saw his typical target share (~18%) of those, he would see right around 100 targets. That's only a slight decrease from the average of his last two seasons. As stated above, an average of Jones' 2016 and 2017 would yield a middling WR2.

Projections

Let's take a look at what our world-class projectors think.

Projector
Games
Receptions
Yards
TDs
FPs
WR Rk
David Dodds
15
61
927
6.3
191.5
25
Bob Henry
16
60
995
7.0
202.5
23
Jason Wood
16
60
930
7.0
195.0
26
Maurile Tremblay
16
56
901
6.6
185.5
23

Conclusion

Jones' range of possibilities is primarily tied to efficiency and added volume. There are four combinations of possibilities with those two factors.

Low Efficiency, No More Volume

This yields results similar to 2016. In this scenario, you draft a fringe WR2, and he disappoints but doesn't submarine your team. Of the four possibilities, this one seems like the biggest leap. No bump in targets for Jones would require a dramatic decrease in the team's total passing attempts and/or a tiny share of Ebron's vacated targets

Low Efficiency, Increased Volume

Jones sees his low-end efficiency come back but gets around 15 more targets. Even at low per-target efficiency levels, those targets would yield 1.5 more fantasy points per game and push Jones' 2016 fantasy point totals to a fringe WR2 - right around his draft price.

High Efficiency, No More Volume

Scenario 3 yields a high-end WR2, making Jones a net gain on his ADP price. And two different stories can be told to get him there. The more likely story is volume-driven. Jones' efficiency decreases, but he sees an uptick in volume due to Ebron's departure. The other is efficiency-driven. The team's attempts decrease, leaving Jones with minimal extra targets, but Jones maintains his 2017 clip.

High Efficiency, Increased Volume

But the high-end scenario captures both the efficiency and increased volume. If we take Jones' 2017 numbers and add 16 extra targets at the same efficiency, Jones would have registered 239 fantasy points. At 15.9 per game, that would have made him last season's WR8. One extra target per game is realistic; remember, Ebron left behind 86 total.

The Takeaway

In one of these situations, Jones fails to pay off his draft price. In another, he meets it. In the third, he exceeds it. And in the fourth, he looks like one of the better bargains in fantasy football. Each fantasy owner must judge the likelihood of each to assess Jones' value.

Other Thoughts

Let's see what some folks in the Shark Pool section of the Footballguys message boards have to say:

Veteran Shark Pooler travdogg makes a valid point about the potential emergence of Golladay in his second year.

Jones' numbers also spiked when Kenny Golladay got injured. Jones averaged 4 more targets and 24 more yards in games Golladay didn't play in.

That said, Jones is a top-2 WR (probably #1) on a pass-first team, with a very good QB.

My Projection: 110 targets, 60 catches, 1,000 yards, and 5 TD's closer to 2016 than 2017. Probably somewhere in the 20's at WR for me.

TheDirtyWord made a good point about Jones showing WR1 potential after his slow start.

1) He started off at a snails pace. Only thing that saved his owners the first 5 games of the season were 2TDs. But he put up a 14/184 line during that stretch. And then for the remainder of the season he was a legit WR1 (47/917/7).

2) Using ESPN.com numbers, his depth of reception was 14.8. I don't watch a ton of Lions games, but I feel like one of Jones' strengths is making the contested catch. Those type of qualities resonate with QBs.

3) He has been streaky though and I think a lot of owners still remember his 2016 where he started out gangbusters for his first 3 games (18/408/2) and then pretty much disappeared.


Questions, comments, suggestions, and other feedback on this piece are always welcome via e-mail hester@footballguys.com