Let the post-reinstatement hype settle on Martavis Bryant

The Pittsburgh WR will return from suspension, but his draft capital has risen too high the last couple weeks.

| 3 weeks ago
(AP Foto/Don Wright)

(AP Foto/Don Wright)

Let the post-reinstatement hype settle on Martavis Bryant

(“Today’s Crazy Fantasy Stat” is an occasional offseason offering from PFF that highlights something that catches our eye and aids in our preparation for the 2017 fantasy season.)

Parsing the Steelers offense once you get past Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell is one heck of a guessing game. Among guys who played last year, there’s Sammie Coates, Eli Rogers, Ladarius Green, Jesse James. The team drafted JuJu Smith-Schuster and James-Conner. Any of those guys has a shot at big fantasy numbers if things break just right.

And then there’s Martavis Bryant. Bryant didn’t play in 2016 and isn’t a rookie, so he doesn’t fit into either of the above categories. Still, on the Steelers’ current roster, it’s easy to argue there’s no higher ceiling outside of Brown and Bell.

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Bryant’s career has been spotty so far when it comes to actually being on the field. He only played 10 games as a rookie in 2014 and then 11 in 2015, between injury and suspension, before being suspended for all of 2016. But when he’s seen the field, he’s been productive. Per Pro Football Reference, he ranks 16th all-time in fantasy points per game at wide receiver (who have played in at least two seasons):

WR fantasy points per game leaders, all time (min. 2 seasons played)
Rank Player Years active Games played Fantasy ppg
1 Odell Beckham Jr. 2014-present 43 14.49
2 Don Hutson 1935-1945 116 13.9
3 Julio Jones 2011-present 79 12.7
4 Calvin Johnson 2007-2015 135 12.35
5 Jerry Rice 1985-2004 303 11.82
6 A.J. Green 2011-present 86 11.72
7 Marvin Harrison 1996-2008 190 11.72
8 Terrell Owens 1996-2010 219 11.64
9 Randy Moss 1998-2012 218 11.4
10 Lance Alworth 1962-1972 137 11.37
11 Antonio Brown 2010-present 101 11.35
12 Mike Evans 2014-present 46 11.34
13 Art Powell 1959-1968 117 11.01
14 Dez Bryant 2010-present 97 10.9
15 Sterling Sharpe 1988-1994 112 10.73
16 Martavis Bryant 2014-present 21 10.68
17 Demaryius Thomas 2010-present 101 10.59
18 Josh Gordon 2012-2014 35 10.46
19 Gino Cappelletti 1960-1970 153 10.42
20 Charley Hennigan 1960-1966 95 10.37

(To be fair, the list does skew to active players who haven’t yet had a late-career slide to bring down the numbers.)

In 21 career regular-season games, Bryant has caught 76 of his 136 targets for 1,314 yards and 14 touchdowns, and added eight carries for 49 yards and another score. On top of that, in three career playoff games, he has 334 total yards and two more touchdowns. So his 16-game career average is 1,131 yards from scrimmage and 7.3 touchdowns, and 157 fantasy points … or production that would have been the No. 10 fantasy receiver in 2016.

I was writing this all set to hype up Bryant as a sleeper play, a la Mike Wallace on Tuesday. And if Bryant were going in the 40-50 range among wide receivers in drafts, it would be clear. Even in the 30s, there would be value. A few weeks ago, when there was some uncertainty about Bryant’s possible reinstatement from his 2016 suspension, his ADP (per Fantasy Football Calculator) was in the mid-to-law sixth round, smack in the area where drafting him would make sense.

But then Bryant was reinstated. And his ADP has skyrocketed as a result. As it stands, he’s now going near the start of the fifth round, and in the mid-20s among receivers.

The key to drafting isn’t finding a bunch of guys who will all be top-10 at their position. That’d be great, but it’s impractical and unlikely. The key is finding guys whose outcome exceeds their draft capital. A guy taken at 3.05 who returns value of 1.01 is great, but value of 2.10 is still worthwhile. And with that in mind … what’s the ceiling of Bryant?

(Eric Lutzens/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Yes, he’s 16th all-time in WR fantasy scoring per game. Bryant scored a touchdown on 16.67 percent of his targets, 30.77 percent of his receptions in 2014. Both numbers tower ahead of any other receivers with more than 30 targets the last three years. If you assume that slides (and both numbers were cut by more than half in 2015), that 16-game rate immediately comes down.

On top of that, Bryant does have the aforementioned competition for touches in Pittsburgh. Smith-Schuster is almost certain to be relevant after being a second-round selection. If he can stay healthy, Green’s efficiency numbers could lead to a strong tight end season.

Bryant’s ADP spike was a reaction to his reinstatement. With Smith-Schuster, Green, Conner, et al, in the fold, it will level off. If it falls back to the range where it was a few weeks ago, Bryant suddenly becomes a guy worth the risk.

Right now, Martavis Bryant, incredible points per game and all, is a guy to pass on. But most fantasy drafts aren’t taking place right now. Check in on him in August. If he’s still going where he is now, let someone else take that risk. But if he falls outside the top 30, 35 receivers off the board, then that’s a risk that makes the possible reward worth it.

| Fantasy Editor

Daniel Kelley is the fantasy editor for Pro Football Focus. He has previously appeared at SB Nation.

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