Its a strange world where sometimes you have to apologize for being too good at something, but that’s the nature of understanding regression when it comes to fantasy sports. There are simply situations where a player’s name or a player’s past give you pause about the chances that they’ll repeat their success across multiple seasons. Generally, these types of scenarios play out due to extreme efficiency. Football is like any other sport. It’s pretty hard to do it well. There are 11 opponents paid handsomely on the other side of the ball trying to prevent you from doing what you’re attempting to do. So, it would stand to reason that when an outlier statistic seems due for normalization, it’s going to normalize one way or another.
Let’s take a look at two receivers looking to fend off massive regression in 2019 fantasy football.
TYLER LOCKETT: 87.7% CATCH RATEMind-boggling statistical seasons like Lockett’s don’t come around often. There are so many things you have to factor when determining what went into the fourth-year wideout’s breakout campaign. The best place to begin is with Lockett’s catch rate. According to Pro Football Focus, Lockett hauled in 57 of the 65 targets he saw last year. That would already make him an outlier, as only he and Michael Thomas maintained a catch rate above even 80.0% while taking the field for at least 50.0% of their team’s offensive snaps. Still, we’re just getting started with Lockett’s numerical insanity. Lockett’s average depth on these targets was a whopping 14.5 yards – the 12th highest aDOT of the aforementioned 73 WRs to play half their squad’s snaps. Basic logic would tell us that being farther away from the quarterback would make converting a high percentage of one’s receiving opportunities very difficult, yet this was not the case with Lockett. In fact, if you were to combine the catch rates of the seven other wideouts who averaged more than 16 yards per reception, you’d be left with a 60.0% figure that looks hysterical in direct juxtaposition to Lockett’s level of efficiency.
Then, there’s Lockett’s innate ability to find his way into the end zone. Lockett was one of nine players to record double-digit receiving touchdowns in 2018 (10) – finding himself in a four-way tie for sixth-most in the league with Travis Kelce, Mike Williams, and Calvin Ridley. The issue here? Lockett finished the season with just six red-zone targets, easily the fewest among this grouping of nine. The other eight players to score more than 10 times averaged 20.8 red-zone opportunities with Ridley representing the lone other receiver who found his way into the end zone more often than he was targeted inside the 20. Still, if we’re talking about outliers, it’s probably not best to attempt to normalize a player’s performance by comparing them to a WR that turned a mere seven red-zone receptions in six touchdowns. You’re simply unable to come up with the volume to ever justify Lockett’s fantasy relevance. These are the sacrifices made when your team ranks dead last in pass ratio (47.6%) and Russell Wilson compiles the fewest drop backs of any QB to start all 16 of his team’s games (509). Sure, Wilson also possessed the highest aDOT of any pivot with at least 400 pass attempts (9.9) and he’s arguably the NFL’s best deep-ball arm; however, Lockett’s stat line from last season is almost the dictionary definition of unsustainable. I mean, Lockett posted 14.9 yards per target in 2018, a full three yards more than any other qualified receiver. It’s the type of detail that would be celebrated if it wasn’t so mind-numbingly crazy.
D.J. MOORE: 7.9 YARDS AFTER THE CATCHIt’s tough to make anything look out of the ordinary when the other regression candidate in this article is Lockett, but there are some areas of concern when it comes to Moore. The rookie wide receiver averaged 10.3 yards per target in 2018, making him one of seven WRs to post over 10 yards per opportunity while also hauling in at least 50 passes. The other six? The aforementioned Lockett, Tyreek Hill, Mike Evans, T.Y. Hilton, Brandin Cooks and Julio Jones. Yet, despite that welcomed company, Moore took a very different route to accumulating those yards. Where Jones and Evans were the only two WRs in 2018 to compile over 2,000 air yards; Moore’s 810 air yards were by far the lowest of the group. Instead, the first-round pick led all wideouts who played at least 50.0% of their team’s snaps in yards after the catch on a per reception basis. In fact, Moore’s average of 7.9 yards within these situations was 1.4 yards more than any other qualified player. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Moore actually exceeded his expected yards after the catch by a full three yards per reception – the highest differential of any wideout in the league.
Still, there are a couple of ways you can look at this level of outlier production. On the one hand, Moore was a rookie. There’s literally no prior baseline for his personal success in the NFL. Plus, if his 13.2 rushing yards per attempt are any indication, Moore can be quite the handful to bring down in space. Moore also ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at last year’s NFL Combine, so you know the Maryland product has speed to burn. However, air yards have been proven to correlate with a more consistent output of yards gained per reception. It makes sense. Why go through the trouble of breaking tackles and eluding defenders when you could just throw the ball over them? Moore’s 4.9 expected yards after catch is worrisome, too. While it should be accepted that anyone leading the league in any category could be set for regression, that specific figure is noteworthy for how underwhelming and average it is amongst the league’s leaders. Moore is a player who’s role changed drastically six weeks into last season. He went from playing under 50.0% of Carolina’s offensive snaps to never again being on the field for fewer than 70.0% of the squad’s plays. That workload should continue to grow with Devin Funchess now in Indianapolis and Greg Olsen’s career clearly in the decline. Just understand that this additional volume isn’t a bonus, its a necessary evolution needed to counteract the incoming normalization of 2019.
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