Who do you love? Mining QB/WR connections for fantasy opportunity

How often a receiver is targeted when he runs a route can show how much his QB trusts him. Jon Moore looks at some notable ratios.

| 3 months ago
(Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

(Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Who do you love? Mining QB/WR connections for fantasy opportunity

One of my favorite things about the fantasy football community is our collective desire to quantify narratives and use that information to identify market inefficiencies. In the wake of free agency, I’ve been digging through PFF’s data to attempt to understand the dynamics of NFL passing attacks. Specifically, where do unclaimed opportunities exist, who are each team’s most efficient options, and, for the purposes of today’s exercise, who do quarterbacks trust most?

You’ve likely heard the narrative “Eli Manning leans on Odell Beckham Jr. in the passing game.” Well, we’ve got target and reception data to back that up. But if you wanted to compare Manning’s reliance on Beckham to Matt Ryan’s reliance on Julio Jones, how would you do that?

Tapping into PFF’s snaps-in-route data, I’ve assembled the following leaderboard, which shows the most-targeted players as a percentage of their snaps in route. After that, we’ll get into some team-specific situations where I think the fantasy market is misunderstanding the relationship of established QBs and their receivers.

NameTeamTargetsRec. YardsSnaps in Route% targets / route
 Tyreek HillKC8159926031.2
 Mike EvansTB168132157929.0
 A.J. GreenCIN9596433728.2
 Julio JonesATL125140945227.7
 Odell Beckham Jr.NYG161136760126.8
 Antonio BrownPIT151128456826.6
 Michael CrabtreeOAK142100354126.3
 Julian EdelmanNE146110655926.1
 Demaryius ThomasDEN141108354925.7
 Kevin WhiteCHI3418713325.6
 Emmanuel SandersDEN131103253924.3
 Jarvis LandryMIA122113650524.2
 Kelvin BenjaminCAR11294147223.7
 Rishard MatthewsTEN10494544523.4
 T.Y. HiltonIND143144861523.3
 Sammie CoatesPIT4943521223.1
 Stefon DiggsMIN10990347423.0
 Cole BeasleyDAL9284040322.8
 Larry FitzgeraldARZ147102864522.8
 Sammy WatkinsBUF5043022222.5
 DeAndre HopkinsHST13895461522.4
 Terrelle PryorCLV132100759222.3
 Jordan MatthewsPHI10980449022.2
 Cameron MeredithCHI9589442822.2
 Steve L. SmithBLT10279946122.1

Unsurprisingly, PFF’s four highest-graded receivers of the 2016 land among the top six most-targeted receivers on a per-route basis. The point here is to illustrate that the best receivers get thrown the ball on a high percentage of their routes, which provides baseline context for the team-by-team analysis to follow.

Oakland Raiders

Name Team Targets Rec. Yards Snaps in Route YPRR targets / route
 Michael Crabtree OAK 142 1003 541 1.85 26.2%
 Amari Cooper OAK 127 1154 593 1.95 21.4%
 Andre Holmes OAK 23 126 120 1.05 19.2%
 Seth Roberts OAK 75 397 495 0.8 15.2%

According to MyFantasyLeague, Amari Cooper is currently the fifth wide receiver off the board in PPR leagues, compared to Michael Crabtree’s ADP as WR29. This seems misguided when you consider that the Derek Carr targets Crabtree at the seventh-highest rate in the league and clearly more often than Cooper. Then there’s the fact that Crabtree has outscored Cooper in each of the past two seasons. Yes, Cooper seems destined to be one of the league’s top receivers for a while, but the reality is that any third-year breakout for Cooper is already baked into his ADP, while the market seems to be under-appreciating the data that point to Crabtree remaining Oakland’s top threat.

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