Donte Moncrief over Larry Fitzgerald for fantasy in 2016
The old school, or the new school? Whatever side you choose, you’re likely leaning toward your preference on this next battle of the fantasy football ADPs. The two receivers we’ll be talking about today are a textbook example: Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald or Indianapolis’ Donte Moncrief?
While one of them has been a solid, steady producer for a long time, the other has shown glimpses of what could be a legit No. 1 target in one of the NFL’s premier passing offenses.
Before getting into the specifics, you should already know who has the upside built in (Moncrief). But the question is whether he has just as high of floor as Fitzgerald does for the conservative drafter. By the end of this, you’ll likely change your stance if you’re leaning Fitzgerald — Moncrief seems like the better choice for 2016.
Strength of quarterback
Before calling it a wash (because both Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer happen to be really good quarterbacks), we need to dive into what matters for us, and that is fantasy. We have a good enough sample size on both of these quarterbacks to properly evaluate them.
Starting with Luck, he’s been an elite option at the quarterback position over the last three years, finishing no worse than QB4 when he wasn’t sidelined. Most look at last year as a negative, but even so, Luck was the QB3 in the weeks that he played, which included Weeks 1-3 and Weeks 6-9.
Going through Luck’s game logs, he has thrown multiple touchdowns in 19 of his last 23 games, which is a big bonus for Moncrief, as he is their biggest threat in the red zone.
Palmer, on the other hand, has never finished better than QB5, which he did last year. While that is still a great finish, he lacked the upside you want, finishing with more than 26 fantasy points just once all season. As a matter of fact, Palmer has topped 26 fantasy points just twice over the last five years. Sure, he has better talent than he’s had in years, but guys like Blake Bortles and Marcus Mariota each did that three times last year alone.
This is a close debate, and you can’t go wrong with either quarterback considering their high floors, but give me the one who presents the highest potential to their receivers.
Share of targets
This is the area that has the biggest impact on each wide receiver’s fantasy prospects, so we’re going to spend some time on it. Trying to project how many targets one will see is one of the toughest things to do in football, but after looking at the numbers, we have a solid idea where these two will be.
Looking at the Cardinals’ roster, it’s loaded with talent at the wide receiver position. Starting with Michael Floyd, and then looking at John Brown and Fitzgerald, and even J.J. Nelson showed signs that he could play last year. While that’s typically a cluster when trying to divvy up the targets, it helps that the Cardinals targeted their wide receivers the third-most often in the entire league.
Of the 562 pass attempts, there were 371 of them directed at wide receivers, which amounts to 66 percent of the time. Even if we were to assume that Palmer’s attempts increase, it’s hard to project that percentage any higher, especially when you consider the emergence of David Johnson, the dual-threat running back.
So even upping the wide receiver targets to 380 in 2016 would be a stretch, but we’ll start there. The starting trio of Floyd, Brown and Fitzgerald totaled 326 targets last year, which is a huge chunk considering Floyd was banged up to start the year, and Brown also dealt with some injuries. That led to Fitzgerald seeing the lion’s share of targets, 139.
Looking forward to 2016, Floyd is entering a contract year at the age of 26, with Brown is entering his third NFL season, also at 26 years of age. Fitzgerald is going into his age-33 season, and while he will stay on the field due to his superior blocking, it’s difficult to see him even getting 33 percent of the wide receiver targets. If he does, then there is no real way to project anything more than WR3 numbers for both Floyd and Brown — again, a scenario that is unlikely. Fitzgerald should flirt with 110-115 targets, maxing out at 120.
Going back to Moncrief and the Colts, they have thrown the ball 2,106 times in Luck’s 55 career starts, which averages out to 38.3 times per game, and 613 times per season. By comparison, there were just five quarterbacks who hit that number in 2015, and just three who did in 2014.
But for Moncrief, the target share to wide receivers with the Colts isn’t 66 percent like it is with the Cardinals. Over the last two seasons, the Colts have targeted their wide receivers just 56 percent of the time, so even if we keep Luck’s attempts at 613 (his average), we have 343 targets to go around.
The caveat to this, though, is that the Colts just lost a lot of targets this offseason. The departures included tight end Coby Fleener, who saw 167 targets over the last two years, and wide receiver Andre Johnson, who commanded 76 targets last year. So looking at the targets that they need to replace, there is room to improve on the 56-percent target share for wide receivers. We’re going to estimate them at 355 (58 percent).
Moncrief also may very well be the most complete receiver on his team. I don’t expect him to out-target T.Y. Hilton, who has seen an average of 134 targets over the last three seasons. Keeping Hilton in that range, it leaves 221 targets available between Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett and the combination of Josh Boyce and Quan Bray. With the No. 3 option in this offense averaging 67 targets over the last three years, you should be comfortable knowing that Moncrief is going to see at least 115 targets in 2016, with a ceiling of closer to 125.
It’s not a huge edge, but it’s a slight one for Moncrief. Even if you argue that it’ll be close, that brings us to the next section — efficiency.
Moncrief is entering his third season, and although he didn’t log very many snaps in 2014, his rookie season, he has made the most of his targets when he gets them. With the 146 targets that Moncrief has seen, he’s turned them into 1,177 yards and nine touchdowns, or 1.18 fantasy points per target.
Those aren’t huge numbers, but you must remember that 49 of those targets came from Matt Hasselbeck. In the games played with Luck, Moncrief has totaled 97 targets, 795 yards, and eight touchdowns, or 1.31 fantasy points per target.
With Fitzgerald, you’re looking at a wide receiver who has been volume-dependent over the last four years, seeing at least 129 targets in three of them. Despite that volume, Fitzgerald hasn’t finished as a top-10 receiver in any of those seasons. Over the last four years combined, he has 524 fantasy points on 516 targets, 1.02 fantasy points per target. In just games he’s played with Palmer, that number is 1.27, so the best possible interpretation of Fitzgerald’s fantasy efficiency is still behind Moncrief’s numbers with Luck.
It’s not entirely his fault, considering the position he plays in that offense as the slot receiver. While he is an integral part of that offense, his efficiency will be down due to the type of targets he sees. For example, his aDOT was just 8.9 yards last year, whereas Moncrief’s was 11.1 yards.
Comparing the two in efficiency from a talent standpoint wouldn’t make sense, but we aren’t judging talent, we are judging who’ll score more points on your fantasy team. Fitzgerald would need to see roughly 145 targets to keep pace with Moncrief’s 115 targets, from an efficiency standpoint. That’s not going to happen.
Currently, Fitzgerald’s ADP is 6.04, while Moncrief’s is 7.06. Basically, Moncrief is going a round after Fitzgerald, but has a higher ceiling and, arguably, a higher floor.
Nothing ever goes exactly the way that we predict it, but if you know that you’ve gone through the correct process and given yourself the best chance to win, that’s all you can do. By drafting Donte Moncrief over Larry Fitzgerald, that is precisely what you are doing.