Spotlight: Terrell Owens

posted by Jason Wood on Jul 29th


Jason Wood's thoughts

Ocho Uno?

Yes, today Terrell Owens has dubbed himself "Ocho Uno" in honor of his new teammate, Chad Ochocinco. Forgiving what a terrible nickname that may be, I'm inclined to think Owens was rewarded for his patience this offseason. After a relatively mundane season in Buffalo, the Bills decided that a rebuilding team didn't need a 36-year old diva who wanted a ton of attention. For much of this offseason, it looked like Owens may have burned one too many bridges. In fact, he even said so himself in a recent interview. But if there's one thing NFL General Managers can't ignore for long, it's talent. That chance to fit a final piece into the puzzle. And that's exactly what Mike Brown, Head Coach Marvin Lewis, and the rest of the Bengals staff concluded: Terrell Owens was too talented to pass up at the right price.

I think that, barring an injury to Carson Palmer or Owens, T.O. will push for Top 20 fantasy numbers this year. I can assure you that expectations for Owens are going to vary greatly from here on out. Some will be optimistic, like me, while others will expect a solid yet unspectacular season, while others still doubt he'll make much of an impact whatsoever.

So what's driving my optimism?

1) His season in Buffalo wasn't indicative of his skill set

I keep hearing that Owens' is no longer the player he once was. Well, sure, how many WRs in their late 30s are? But the idea that his 2009 numbers are indicative of the need for caution just doesn't hold water to me. Owens had 55 receptions for 829 yards and 5 TDs last year, which made him the 26th best fantasy receiver. But those 55 catches came against only 109 targets. Owens averaged 144 targets in his three previous seasons in Dallas, by comparison. He also played with an awful collection of QBs, with suspect play-calling, and a porous offensive line. Consider that Lee Evans, in the same offense, had 44 receptions for 612 yards. Yet I don't see too many people saying that Evans has no skills, I see a lot more people saying Evans is being hamstrung by his supporting cast, right? Let's compare Owens and Evans numbers from a season ago just to illustrate my point:

Category LeeEvans TerrellOwens
Age 28 36
Targets 96 109
Receptions 44 55
Catch% 45.8% 50.5%
Yards 612 829
YdsPerRec 13.9 15.1
TDs 7 5
TD% 7.3% 4.6%

2) Carson Palmer is an elite quarterback

Palmer is a career 63% passer with two 4,000-yard seasons under his belt. The last two seasons have cast a shadow over what was once considered a perennial Top 5 fantay QB. Last year, even though Palmer wasn't as productive downfield, he was still highly accurate, and produced TDs at a healthy clip. We know that Owens has a tumultuous history with his starting QBs, but remember that usually there's a honeymoon period. Owens and Garcia were great together for awhile. Owens and McNabb were like blood brothers that first season in Philadelphia. And Owens was loving Tony Romo at the outset. So having a QB with Palmer's resume will work for Owens. He'll be mentally focused, and excited. We can argue all we want that NFL players shouldn't let their situation impact their effort, but the reality suggests it matters.

3) Antonio Bryant isn't a threat

When the Bengals signed Antonio Bryant to a 4-year, $28 million deal I was shocked. Here is a guy that looks the part, sure, but what has he actually done in his career? In 8 seasons in the league, Bryant has exactly ONE top 20 fantasy season to his credit. That's not a good hit rate. And yet he somehow got the Buccaneers to franchise him last offseason, and then the Bengals to open their checkbook this year. But putting aside what I think of Bryant's skill set, there are other reasons to argue that he's not a threat to Owens' targets. First of all, no one in their right mind would sign Terrell Owens to make him Antonio Bryant's backup. Second of all, Chad Ochocinco wouldn't lobby for his buddy to come aboard only to see him take a backseat to a modest talent like Bryant. It's not going to happen folks. Or let me say this. If it does? The Bengals will be an explosive, train wreck. As if that wasn't enough reason not to worry about Antonio Bryant, let's acknowledge the elephant in the room...Bryant's knee. Bryant had swelling in his knee at times last year, and suffered a flare up this spring. Why would the Bengals sign Terrell Owens on the eve of training camp if Antonio Bryant's knee wasn't troubling? They wouldn't.

4) There are plenty of targets to go around

Last year the Bengals won the AFC North on the back of a Top 5 defense (4th in yards and 6th in points) and a balanced attack. They ran the ball 505 times and threw it 477 times; making them one of the few NFL teams to run more than throw. It's entirely rational to think the Bengals will stick to what worked last year to an extent. I certainly don't expect the Bengals to suddenly throw 600 times this year at the expense of the ground game, but you also have to think they'll throw MORE than they did a season ago. You don't add Owens, Bryant, TE Gresham and Shipley without the need to throw the ball a bit more.

Chad Ochocinco has averaged 9 targets per game over his career. His #2 (usually T.J. Houshmandzadeh) has averaged 8 targets per game over the same span. Not much difference, and fairly consistent regardless of the run/pass ratio the Bengals happened to end up with in a given season.

5) Incentives tell the tale

Owens signed a 1-year, $2mm deal with incentives that could raise the contract to $4mm. Now the devil is in the details. There are six $333K incentives:

60 receptions 100 receptions 900 yards 1,300 yards 10 TDs 14 TDs

I'm no capologist, but I would say that two of those incentives fall under the "likely to be earned" category...the 60 receptions and 900 yards. 10 TDs would surprise me, only because Ochocinco is going to get looks and the Bengals will continue to run the ball. The 100 receptions, 1,300 yards and 14 TDs are hail mary long shots. Do you think that the Bengals would sign Owens to a contract like that and not feel he stood a good chance of meeting that bottom tier? I don't. And do you think Owens and his agent aren't acutely aware of where the breakpoints are? Of course they are.

The math works...

525 attempts (I could see Cincy throwing more, but that's a fair baseline for 2010)
125 targets for Owens (at the low end of Palmer's typical WR2 targets)
52.5% catch rate (Owens' average catch rate over last three seasons)
= 66 receptions

X 15.0 yards per reception (His career YPR = 14.9 and he's been 15.1 or better each of last three seasons)
= 990 yards

X 6.3% TD rate (Averaging Owens 3-year rate vs. Palmer's TD rate
= 7.9 TDs (round up to 8)

...and you have a baseline of 66 receptions for 990 yards and 8 TDs.

Now I think things could be SUBSTANTIALLY better than that depending on how explosive the Bengals passing game becomes, but I don't think you have to bet on any more than that to justify drafting Owens. 66/990/8 would be 147 fantasy points in non-PPR leagues, and that would make him a Top 20 fantasy WR in most seasons.

Here are the WR20 seasons over the last 10 years to illustrate the point:

2009 -- Greg Jennings (136 fantasy points)
2008 -- Eddie Royal (139 fantasy points)
2007 -- Derrick Mason (139 fantasy points)
2006 -- Terry Glenn (142 fantasy points)
2005 -- Donte Stallworth (137 fantasy points)
2004 -- Jerry Porter (153 fantasy points)
2003 -- Reggie Wayne (126 fantasy points)
2002 -- Quincy Morgan (139 fantasy points)
2001 -- Bill Schroeder (146 fantasy points)
2000 -- Terry Glenn (136 fantasy points)
Average -- 139.3 fantasy points

Positives

  • Owens gets a chance to play for a contender, alongside one of his best friends, and as the WR2 where defenses can't key on him as they usually would. The year one Honeymoon effect limits the chances for histrionics
  • Even at 36 years old, Owens keeps himself in phenomenal shape, and hasn't slowed down considerably, as evidenced by last year's 15.1 yards per catch in spite of awful quarterbacking
  • Carson Palmer is an excellent, accurate passer with the ability to get the ball to Owens anywhere on the field

Negatives

  • Owens will be 37 years old this season, and there are few receivers in history at his age to make a major impact
  • The Bengals also signed Antonio Bryant to a 4-year deal, drafted Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Shipley, and will remain committed to a balanced attack with lots of rushing attempts
  • If my thesis doesn't play out, and the Bengals try to make Owens a backup or part-time contributor, there's a very real chance the situation could devolve into something toxic

Final thoughts

In spite of my enthusiasm, it would be foolish to not acknowledge the potential for an absolute blow up in Cincinnati this year. Owens didn't sign to be a backup, and he didn't sign to be a part-time player. I believe the Bengals get that, but if they don't? Well then all bets are off and this could be a quick divorce by the second month of the season. So how do you handicap a baseline Top 20 opportunity against a smaller chance that he's a complete bust? Easy enough, make sure you don't draft him as an irreplaceable cog in your offense. As the preseason wears on, his ADP will vacillate. I would not draft Owens in the Top 20 at his position, because of the risks, but if he was there when I was looking for my 3rd or 4th receiver, he would be a PRIORITY. Don't over think things. The Bengals signed him expecting Owens to be a starter, and a productive one. That may not be how things ultimately wind up, but that's what they're going to try to make happen.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Ministry of Pain said:

TO is going to feel like he died and went to heaven after leaving Buffalo. A credible QB, a good WR lining up opposite him, and a ground game that is effective. Defenses will not be able to focus on TO and he will likely see the weaker of the 2 starting CBs most weeks, otherwise OchoCinco is going to have a field day. We've seen that 2 WRs can flourish in this offense and TO is a better WR than TJ Housh. Still he's 36 years old and his best days are behind him plus he drops balls. He catches about 50% of what is thrown his way these days. That could improve some with Carson Palmer who he has been working out with in SoCal recently.

8 targets a game would give him 128 for the season. Factor in a 55% reception ratio and you get close to 70 receptions. His yds per catch has always been pretty good and he has had totals of 16.7, 15.2, and 15.1 the last 3 years. Let's round down a bit and you come up with about 1,000 yds. Assume a dip in Tds and I think we can safely project about 8 Tds which is well below what he could do in an offense like this.

Iwannabeacowboybaby! said:

The signing of Terrell Owens is a good one for the Bengals. I'm not sold on Antonio Bryant being a healthy wide receiver this year and Terrell Owens is still good enough to actually be the WR1 on the Bengals. My fear is that Carson Palmer's struggles last year was that he is basically done as a big time passer. However, I'm more inclined to think he was a little dinged last year and that in the passing game, they lacked some talent last year with just NO. 85 as a receiving threat.

bigmiiiiike said:

The Bengals went from having minimal receiving weapons in '09 to having plenty in '10. I think TO can be a contributor to the team, but I'm not certain he'll be a productive member of any fantasy championship teams. The Bengals clear #1 is 85. I'm not sold that TO will step right in and start opposite him. Antonio Bryant was brought in to be the #2, and I see him and TO acting as a 2a and 2b tandem all year. I'm not buying the 85 and TO as Batman and Robin combo. Bryant is very talented and put up solid stats with an awful Tampa team the past few years, and is just not in the prime of his career. Add in Shipley, Briscoe, and Gresham, and the fact that the Bengals are still likely to be a strong defense/running team, and I see an ceiling for TO of 60 catches, 800 yards, and 6 TDs.

BigSeph said:

If Bryant was on track to be the #2 WR, I don't think Owens gets signed. Caldwell/Shipley/Simpson are all perfectly capable slot WRs, so why bring in Owens when neither his nor Bryant's skill set works as a slot WR?

The Bengals are cheap, they don't just dish out money for no good reason and there HAS to be something that really worries them about Bryant. T.O. isn't signing with the Bengals to play in the slot, he could have been the #1 WR in St. Louis over Avery if he wanted to. And sure the Bengals give lip service to Bryant playing in the slot because it's not a good PR move to come out and say "Hey this guy we just signed for 8.5 million guaranteed doesn't look like he's going to pan out." Palmer's been working out with Owens, Palmer hasn't been doing much with Bryant because his knee keeps acting up. The same knee that kept him out of multiple games last year and ruined his production. T.O. has no such injury and is always in great shape. Let's see how training camp pans out, but to me all these moves say that the Bengals need Owens for this year and Antonio Bryant to get himself put back together and be ready for late in the year and the rest of his contract.

Worst case, Owens causes Bryant to step up his game and post a huge year. I think the best bet is to get both Owens and Bryant if you're going to take one and then you're assured of having the guy in single coverage across from Ochocinco with a capable QB passing them the ball. That being said, Antonio Bryant has been bet on time and time again in his career and he frequently fails to deliver. Owens has been consistently excellent from a fantasy perspective.

I'll put my money on Owens, to the tune of 72/1094/9. 3 of those TDs will be 40+ yarders thanks to single coverage.

FantasyMan said:

From reading this thread I think it's time for me to sell Owens.

Owens is 36 and will turn 37 during the season. The Bengals plan to use him split out wide and put Bryant in the slot. Owens struggled to get separation last year, I doubt this year will be much different. Bryant is younger, quicker, faster and has better hands. He's also making a boatload more money than Owens.

Bryant is the play here.


Terrell Owens projections

RECRECYDRECTDRSHYDRSHTD
Jason Wood67970700
Message board consensus65948800