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Reception Perception: Reviewing the flags planted for 2015

Matt Harmon takes a look back at his August Reception Perception: Planting flags series and judges whther the methodlogy produced good results in 2015.

After dedicating myself to the Reception Perception methodology and charting a wide array of wide receivers last season, I came away with many takes. I’m a passionate person, both in my work and my life, and I am far from afraid to stand by something I believe. While I learned a ton from many players, and made plenty of projections based on the Reception Perception 2014 results, there was a series of takes I felt the strongest conviction about. As such, in August I published a two-part “Planting Flags” series here at Footballguys. You can find both here:

Part one.

Part two.

In the spirt of transparency and accountability, as the season comes to close, I decided it was time to revisit those projections to see how Reception Perception stacked up in it’s first years in the public eye.  

Not only do I want to show the results of the process to sell Reception Perception as a viable tool to more readers and a wider audience, I also want to be accountable for the hits and misses the methodology provided. At the end of this article, please feel free to decide for yourself how you think Reception Perception held up this year, and please feel free to converse with me about it on Twitter or through email. 

I’m personally excited about the future of Reception Perception, and big things are in store this offseason that I absolutely cannot wait to share with you. However, for one last time this year, we look back to the 2014 results and the stories they foretold for the 2015 NFL season. Again, you be the judge for how it all turned out.  

Both Vikings wide receivers have value this year, but Charles Johnson is the player to own

Well, we start out poorly here. Truth be told, the 2015 Vikings were a poor soil to grow any sort of pass catching production. Minnesota ranks 31st in both pass attempts and yards heading into Week 17, checking in as one of the lowest volume aerial attacks of the season. Rookie Stefon Diggs managed some success early in the year, but even he fell off quickly with only two touchdowns and one game over 60 yards receiving from Weeks 9 to 16.

However, there’s not hiding here, Reception Perception missed on both wide receivers in the purple and gold. Frankly, there wasn’t much reason to get excited about Mike Wallace’s Reception Perception results, anyways. His 2014 SRVC (Success Rate Versus Coverage) against man and zone fell below the 40th percentile among charted receivers. With 451 yards on the season, and three games without a catch to his name, Wallace might not be long for the league. 

Charles Johnson was the bigger miss, however. His 2014 66.7 percent SRVC against man was a positive projection point for 2015. Johnson never got off the ground this season, with a high of 35 receiving yards, and is now utterly irrelevant without as much as a catch since Week 9. Johnson did have one major negative on his 2014 Reception Perception resume, with a contested catch conversion rating below the 20th percentile. Perhaps an inability to produce here led to coaching staff completely cutting out his role. 

Mining though Charles Johnson’s 2015 Reception Perception sample this offseason may reveal the true cause of his demise. Yet, there is not escaping reality; he was one of the methodology’s true big misses.

There is not much individual regression coming for Odell Beckham Jr, Jr.

It turns out Odell Beckham Jr is as legendarily good as his rookie year indicated. With one game left to play, and just losing one to suspension, Beckham has 91 catches for 1,396 yards and 13 touchdowns. His 12 game rookie stretch saw him amass 91-1,305-12. Beckham is every bit as good as his rookie season, and his league-leading 2014 80.1 percent SRVC against man foretold. 

Much of the fretting about a possible statistical drop-off had to do with Beckham losing targets. That turned out to be an unfounded concern, as Beckham averages 10.8 targets per game, an identical rate to last season. The Giants made it an even bigger priority to feature Beckham as the year wore on. While he was away in Week 16, Chris Colinsworth alluded on the broadcast that the Giants do all their film study during the week to identify which receiver position can best exploit their upcoming opponent, and then just put Odell Beckham Jr in that spot. That is the epitome of #JustThrowItToYourGoodPlayers, and it is marvelous. 

Brian Quick is the best receiver on the Rams roster

The most sensible answer to this dilemma is probably “none of the above”. The Rams were 32nd in both pass attempts and yards, playing the perfect rendition of Jeff Fisher Ball, so it was not an environment conducive to wideout success. Tavon Austin found more success than usual and enjoyed his best NFL season by far, but is still more gadget player than wide receiver with 46 rushing attempts to 47 receptions. Kenny Britt ranks first on the team in yards with a measly 600 headed into Week 17. 

The truther in me still wants to believe that Brian Quick has much more to offer the NFL. On the other hand, perhaps the shoulder injury that ended his 2014 season, and nearly cost him his career, halted the momentum he was building. Maybe he recaptures that on a new team in 2016, preferably one that operates an offense fit for this decade. However, his 79 yards receiving headed in to Week 17 make this prediction look like an all-out bust.

Amari Cooper is ready to be a number-one wide receiver for the Raiders and will finish in the top-24 for fantasy

Amari Cooper certainly didn’t make it though the season without his fair share of lumps. Some of his small issues from college that many glossed over in his evaluation crept into his inaugural NFL campaign. Cooper leads the NFL in drops with 16, per Pro Football Focus, and had some minor issues in contested situations just like he did at Alabama. Nevertheless, it was a widely successful rookie campaign for the fourth overall pick.

Cooper leads the Raiders in yards, and routinely drew top coverage from opposing defenses on a week-to-week basis this season. He torched Joe Haden early in the season, and took Jason Verrett to all he could handle in the first Raiders and Chargers game. Just as predicted in the August article, Cooper currently sits and the WR20 in standard fantasy leagues, and the WR19 in PPR formats. Just as his college Reception Perception foretold, Cooper is off to a tremendous start to his NFL career.

Allen Robinson breaks out this year

Yeah, so that worked out. Reception Perception’s most confident, take it to the bank take I beat you over the head with from April to September came true as Allen Robinson dazzled us with his ability this season. In the first Allen Robinson Reception Perception article, the future was painted with “Don’t be surprised if Robinson follows the likes of Odell Beckham Jr Jr. and Mike Evans down the path of early career breakouts. Even though he’d be a year later than those players, his potential explosion could rock the football world in a similar fashion.” Boy, did he ever deliver.  

Allen Robinson leads the NFL in touchdown receptions with 14 heading in to Week 17, and should crack 80 catches and 1,300 yards by the time Sunday’s game ends. He’s the WR4 overall in standard fantasy leagues. It was the greatest pleasures of my brief career sharing in Robinson’s 2015 season with you, and you made sure to make it incredibly fun. After making him the posterchild for the methodology, Reception Perception owes him a fruit basket, at least. 

Andre Johnson has a big year in store playing with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis

The Andre Johnson projection will rival Charles Johnson as the biggest miss of the 2015 season. Johnson did anything but have a big year, garnering just 70 targets heading in to Week 17 and catching only 53 percent of those. He caught three or fewer passes in all but four games this season.

From the moment this season started, and reports in the offseason warned of this, Andre Johnson looked finished as a starting NFL wide receiver. His 69.9 percent SRVC against man and 76.5 contested catch conversion rate in 2014 implied that Johnson could still separate and would be a maven in traffic. However, it was apparent from Week 1 that neither was true any more. If there is a weak point in Reception Perception, and something we will have to track going forward, it’s the inability to predict when an age-caused cliff is about to take place when a false positive shows up in their past year performance.  

Davante Adams will be a volatile asset, despite inheriting more targets in light of Jordy Nelson’s injury

The most confusing occurrence of the 2015 offseason was the inflation of Davante Adams’ fantasy stock at every step of the way. The pre-Jordy Nelson injury eighth round ADP made no sense because there were no available targets, and the post injury fourth to fifth round ADP just was completely unjustifiable given his poor performance on a route-to-route basis as a rookie. 

Adams’ SRVC against man (47 percent) was the second worst among 2014 rookies, his SRVC against zone (55.2) was the second worst and his SRVC against press (51.1) was the second worst. His poor performance did not get any better when the Packers asked more of him. He dropped 10 passes on 84 targets, scored just once and did not demonstrate the ability to be an asset to his offense in any way. 

No one should ever root for a player to fail, and Reception Perception does not condone that. It would have been nice for Adams to buck the methodology’s negative projections for his 2015 season, but the complete opposite occurred. While the system is of great use in identifying future breakout candidates like Allen Robinson who constantly perform well on a route-to-route basis, it may be of even more use to debunk hype trains that get out of control for players who don’t fit that bill but show flashes that the public extrapolates without the film evidenced needed.

Antonio Brown is the favorite, but Dez Bryant is more likely to finish as the WR1 over Demaryius Thomas

As it stands today, none of these players are the WR1 overall in fantasy. That title belongs to Julio Jones, although Antonio Brown could make up the mere 0.7 difference between the two with a big game on Sunday. 

Dez Bryant’s season started off with a foot injury in Week 1, and Dallas pretty clearly rushed him back from it in a hubris fashion typical of their organization. There’s no utility in allowing this season to creep into our minds when evaluating Dez Bryant as a player. We’ll call that part of this call a wash.

However, the Demaryius Thomas part of the prediction seemed to comes to fruition. Thomas sits as the WR16 in standard fantasy leagues. He has 11 drops on the season, and came up painfully small in several big primetime games. The New England contest being the most noticeable of that variety, with one catch on 13 targets. Thomas struggled to get separation, or display much nuanced route running, and appeared to take that feared dreaded step back without Peyton Manning under center. Thomas averaged under 10 yards per catch in two of his last four games. 

Thomas is an excellent receiver, but it looks like 2015 confirmed, for now, some of the trepidation I had in grouping him among the league’s elite group. While Thomas is simply outstanding in several aspects of playing the position, he is far from a complete craftsmen. 

John Brown will be the best receiver in Arizona this season

If you judge in terms of their fantasy points per game in standard leagues, the Cardinals receivers rank as follows: Larry Fitzgerald WR18, John Brown WR23, Michael Floyd WR33. However, if you look from Weeks 11 to 16, when all three were fully healthy and playing in Bruce Arians’ preferred role, they rank: John Brown WR6, Michael Floyd WR31, Larry Fitzgerald WR45.  

 The quietly amazing part about that stretch for John Brown was his ability to be the most reliable receiver on the team, while also maintaining his status as the deep threat. From Weeks 11 to 16, Brown caught 69 percent of his targets, but maintained a 16.7 average depth of target, which was the highest among the three. Floyd had three 100 yard games, but was not relied upon in the same fashion, especially in the red zone. Fitzgerald took a back seat to both in terms of downfield usage, as his average depth of target plummeted to 6.3. 

Of course, just like at the beginning of the season, I still have great appreciation for what Larry Fitzgerald brings to the table, and the inconsistent but overwhelming talent of Michael Floyd. But this season, especially the latter portion when he got healthy, only confirmed my strong preference for Brown of the three. Brown’s status as the best receiver on the team is currently debatable, but it’s an assertion that looks far less wild than those who laughed it off back in August believed.

Steve Johnson and Michael Crabtree revive their careers away from the shadow of the 49ers

The Chargers got great reliable slot receiver production form Steve Johnson this season. In a Golden Tate like role, Johnson caught 74 percent of his targets on a low 6.4 aDot. He was a big asset early in the season, recording 173 yards and two scores in the first three weeks, before getting injured in Week 4. Johnson came back to a big role after Keenan Allen went to IR, and caught seven passes in three straight games. Unfortunately, he once again fell victim to injury, going down early in a Week 13 loss to the Broncos, and never returned this season. 

When Johnson was on the field for the Chargers, he was a positive force and reliable chain mover. He certainly played well enough to revive his career as a good slot receiver, but injuries kept him from sustaining the performance. 

Michael Crabtree was the big winner here, as his stunning (to anyone that didn’t read Reception Perception) career turnaround netted him a contract extension with the Raiders already. Crabtree was a solid No. 2 receiver for both Oakland and his fantasy owners. He leads the team in targets and touchdowns heading into Week 17, and sits as the WR17 in PPR leagues. Crabtree’s statical pace fell off a bit recently as Derek Carr seems in a bit of a regression mode to close out 2015. However, there is not doubting that he put his NFL career back on track as Reception Perception foretold in March.

The solid route-running that Michael Crabtree showed in a seemingly poor 2014 with the 49ers led to 70 percent SRVC again man and 78.7 percent against zone. Those same traits made him the most reliable target for Derek Carr this season, and one of the better comeback stories around. 

If Dorial Green-Beckham gets on the field for Tennessee, big things will happen

The 6-5, 230 rookie showed plenty of rawness this season in his first full football action since 2013. The Titans did indeed bring Dorial Green-Beckham along slowly, even after he caught two dazzling red zone touchdowns in Weeks 2 and 3. He did not become a true 75 percent snap player until around Week 11, when Kendall Wright missed multiple stretches with injury. 

Since then, Green-Beckham has two 100-yard games, and completely eviscerated the entire Jaguars secondary on his Week 13 touchdown. From Weeks 12 to 15, his target total steadily grew with five, six, seven and then nine in succession during that span. His climb came to an abrupt halt with a zero catch game in Week 16, but with Zach Mettenberger and his woeful 2.6 yards per attempt in the first half navigating the ship, that blame may not need lie at the rookie receiver’s feet. 

Dorial Green-Beckham did not begin an assault on the NFL as one may have hoped. He certainly showed why he is a work in progress, and on more than one occasion (Week 11 in Jacksonville) he showed the traits that scared off some evaluators. However, there were more than enough positives to like what he can offer going forward, especially with a healthy Marcus Mariota. As Reception Perception searches the offseason for something close to “the next Allen Robinson” we’ll keep a close eye on Green-Beckham’s results.