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Reception Perception: Planting Flags for 2015, Part 1

Matt Harmon brings you several of the outlooks he is most confident in for many wide receivers profiled by Reception Perception.

The statistics used in this column are those acquired from the Reception Perception methodology for evaluating wide receivers. To see full results of the project’s first full offseason, check out the tables at Backyard Banter. Additionally, use the #ReceptionPerception tag on Twitter to follow all the analysis from the series.

If you believe in something, you should not hide your feelings. Being intentional, direct and upfront with conclusions are necessary to developing successful real life interactions and situations. Likewise, if you have confidence in your professional process, there’s no need to duck from your conclusions; confidently let your findings fly for the world to see. I believe in my process for evaluating wide receivers, Reception Perception, very strongly. As such, the conclusions I draw from the work are ideas we can all learn from, even if you disagree with them. So I decided to put together a “greatest hits” style two-part compilation of the findings from this offseason, and where they’ve led me to plant my flags for the upcoming fantasy season.

I have plenty of Reception Perception takes, and you can find them in my work here at Footballguys, Backyard Banter and NFL.com. However, the ones outlined in these two “planting flags” posts are the ones I stand by with unwavering conviction. The data collected indicates something so strongly that I have no choice but to follow down the path it leads. In parts one and two, the opinions provided are of the “take it to the bank” variety. Again, you may feel free to disagree, and please let me hear it if they turn out to be misses come season’s end. I’m open to being wrong, as always, and will gladly learn from any potential mistakes made in Reception Perceptions’ first full year in existence. Nevertheless, let’s dive into which players I am firmly planting a flag for their 2015 outlook.

Both Vikings wide receivers have value this year, but Charles Johnson is the player to own. Teddy Bridgewater should be excited heading into 2015. He has quite a few talented weapons at his disposal, including former 1,000-yard receiver Mike Wallace, and the emerging Charles Johnson. The duo often goes right near each other in fantasy drafts. Footballguys’ own Matt Waldman once said when you see either of Wallace or Johnson go off your board “that’s your cue to take the other”. Waldman is correct; both players could indeed finish with similar production in 2015. However, if you want to be the first to take one of these two pass catchers in the mid-rounds, Reception Perception says Charles Johnson is the slightly better bet. The methodology pinged Johnson as a legitimate emerging talent for his game against the Jets last year, and his season long sample validated that optimism.

Johnson out-paced Wallace in all relevant SRVC categories, outside of performance against double teams. Even as a deep threat, Johnson was the better receiver than the known speedster, recording a 70 percent SRVC on go-routes compared to 56.9 percent for Wallace. On the negative side, Johnson was one of the worst performers on contested catches, falling below the 20th percentile in the conversion rate. He’ll need to get better in traffic if he’s to reach the ceiling his measurable suggest he carries. Both of these pass catchers should thrive with Bridgewater ascending up the NFL quarterback rankings. Reception Perception just favors Johnson at this stage of their careers. It also helps that Teddy and Johnson already have a built in rapport, while his work with Wallace in the preseason has been scarily reminiscent of the struggles Ryan Tannehill went through with the veteran receiver.

 There is not much individual regression coming for Odell Beckham Jr Jr. The rookie phenom’s breakthrough inaugural NFL campaign took the world by storm. Naturally, as per usual when something great happens, now everyone wants to talk about regression. Reception Perception categorically shows that last year was no fluke, and this is who we should expect Odell Beckham Jr to be for the remainder of his career. Beckham posted the highest SRVC (Success Rate Vs. Coverage) score recorded among NFL receivers in 2014, with a sterling 80.1 percent. Producing at a league high rate in defeating cornerbacks, and several Pro Bowl caliber ones, encourages us in believing Beckham is exactly whom he showed us he was as a first year player. Worried that more defensive attention will bring him down? Don’t be. Beckham maintained a 67.9 percent SRVC against double coverage, so even that did not work last year. He was targeted on 32.7 percent of the routes he ran last season, best among rookies, and perhaps that is the one Reception Perception statistic that declines with a few new faces on the scene. But color me shocked if an NFL team plans to specifically take targets away from their generational young talent to funnel them to a rehabbing veteran (Victor Cruz) and a gadget running back (Shane Vereen).

Brian Quick is the best receiver on the Rams roster. This a throw back to the early days of Reception Perception, when Brian Quick posted 322 yards and three touchdowns in the first four games of 2014. The methodology quickly identified that those performances were legitimate. Quick took major strides in his third NFL season. His SRVC in that short glimpse against man and press were both above the NFL average recorded during the offseason, vindicating the positivity with more context. The Rams tone on Quick reflected an outfit grateful that potential career ending worries surrounding his shoulder surgery were not actualized, and could not wait to get him back in the fold. Quick should easily pass Kenny Britt and others on the depth chart and lead the team in targets this year. If Nick Foles, for all his flaws, proves to be even a slight quarterback upgrade, Quick is going to be a hot name in 2015 and years to come.

Amari Cooper is ready to be a number-one wide receiver for the Raiders and will finish in the top-24 for fantasy. Charting some college prospects here for Footballguys was a great privilege this offseason. One of the players profiled was Amari Cooper, now of the Oakland Raiders. Reception Perception illuminated some concerns about Cooper’s long-term ceiling as a potential elite NFL receiver. However, for this season, that is less important. The methodology also showed Cooper is a pristine route runner, as tape analysts suggest, and he gets open on a variety of different routes.

 

His SRVC data certainly looks much better with the benefit of hindsight, after full data was complied on NFL receivers. Through five games (not a full RP sample size), Cooper’s SRVC against press, man, double and zone coverage were all above NFL averages. The competition level is obviously different, but such positive scoring at the college level over multiple games is a positive indicator of his immediate translation. His success rate on those short and intermediate routes, and ability to earn a quick release, will make him an early favorite of Derek Carr. The second-year quarterback does not like to hold the ball for long, and when Cooper is beating NFL defenders and flashing open in a hurry, Carr will look his way. Reports out of camp indicate he’s already the established top receiver in Oakland, and should get over 120 targets. Cooper will return major value to the Raiders right away.

Allen Robinson breaks out this year. Anyone who’s followed Reception Perception for any length of time knows what the methodology thinks about the Jaguars second year receiver. Robinson scored extremely well against press, man and zone coverage. He did his best on short to intermediate routes, posting between 80 to 89.5 percent SRVC on slants, curls, digs, outs and flat routes. His polish and efficient route running was surprising for a 21-year old rookie in a moribund offense, and it’s a big reason why I’m so taken with him. Robinson might not have the ceiling of a Mike Evans or some other 2014 rookies; given his quarterback and low 45.3 percent SRVC on nine routes, but his floor is so safe a statistical breakout is a near lock. He’s clearly the best receiver on that Jacksonville roster, and was on a 130 target pace before going down in Week 10 of his rookie year. Of course, this is a story you’ve likely heard before.

Andre Johnson has a big year in store playing with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. Believers in catch-per-target efficiency as an end-all-be-all will tell you Andre Johnson is nearly finished. This stat paints an inaccurate and unfair picture of what Johnson has left to offer. While not the physical specimen he used to be, the veteran receiver still knows how to get open. He beat man coverage at a 69.9 percent success rate last season, and did battle with number-one corners throughout the year despite DeAndre Hopkins’ stellar performance on the other side. He just never played with a quarterback last season who fit him, which is why he caught so few of his targets. Johnson also brings something to the Colts offense Andrew Luck has yet to play with, a dominant receiver in traffic. The former Texan posted a 76.5 percent contested catch conversion rate on 17 attempts, which was one of the strongest efforts charted in 2014. Even if he does fall off a physical cliff, that ability will keep his value afloat, a la Anquan Boldin. Johnson never seemed settled with how his final year played out in Houston, or his release by the only NFL team he’s known. His Reception Perception data indicates he’ll be making them pay for that decision two times a year now. Expect a big season from this player, as the Colts look to make Super Bowl run in 2015.

Davante Adams will be a volatile asset, despite inheriting more targets in light of Jordy Nelson’s injury. My biggest issue with taking Adams at his former eighth round ADP was that there were no targets available for him to take over in the Green Bay offense. With Jordy Nelson now out for the season with a torn ACL that is no longer a concern. Of course, this also raises Adams’ asking price once again. However, do not go penciling him in for greatness right way, despite his pristine situation, because his Reception Perception from 2014 was disastrous.

 

His SRVC against zones was nearly five-percentage points behind the next lowest charted rookie, and neither his scores against man nor zone provides much optimism. Many remember the fine game he played against the Cowboys in the playoffs, but his Reception Perception scores showed that performance was an outlier Adams failed to show he could master regularly beating third and nickel corners as a rookie. Of course, saying he’s incapable of improvement is dangerous, but assuming he will do so without a convincing amount of real evidence is dangerous. Adams did not prove himself ready to inherit a major share of an NFL best passing offense as a rookie, but he’ll need to now. His newly assumed target volume makes him an intriguing asset, and will couple with being attached to an elite passer to present him a safe floor. However, his SRVC scores from 2014 hint that he may be a frustrating player in 2015, with wide variation in his production. Be careful with being overly optimistic in your projections, even with the Nelson injury dramatically changing the picture.