PPO Laggards: Five Current ADP Reaches
Perusing PFF Fantasy’s Points Per Opportunity (PPO) metric is a great way to identify potential breakouts. It stands to reason that players who were highly efficient during limited involvement will be productive with a greater chance to strut their stuff. However, the other side of that coin can be just as valuable.
Volume-dependent players typically teeter at the edge of a steep cliff. When their inevitable plunge occurs, they’re usually dragging fantasy investors, kicking and screaming, down into the abyss along with them.
Staying an arm’s length from these tenuous balancing acts is usually advisable, mainly because a slight shift in opportunity can have a major effect. However, there is no magic PPO baseline, and the specifics of each situation need to be examined.
For instance, Julian Edelman was the 18th-highest scoring wideout in standard leagues last season. He had the lowest PPO of anyone in the top 20 at his position, and fifth-worst mark of all top 30 receivers. To replicate his production, he will require the same high target volume (146; 10th most), and for that to happen will require a similar offensive environment.
While Edelman’s situation was favorable last season and is unlikely to be as accommodating again, the four top 30 fantasy wideouts who had a lower PPO are not necessarily staring at decreased production. Marques Colston (0.23) dealt with an injury and bounced back healthier after New Orleans’ bye week to post a 0.29 PPO from Week 10 on. He was the 11th best wide receiver in fantasy over that same period. Mike Wallace (0.19) and Brian Hartline (0.20) should be used more effectively in Bill Lazor’s offense (it can’t get much worse). And Torrey Smith (0.20) is set to pop while playing the “Andre Johnson role” in Gary Kubiak’s scheme.
Keeping in mind that not all low PPO figures foretell the same story, here are several volume-dependent performers that are best given a wide berth at their current average draft positions (ADP*).
Chris Johnson (ADP – 61; RB23; early 6th round, PPO – 0.30)
The fact that he was the ninth-highest scoring running back in fantasy and is being picked 26th at his position indicates that expectations have correctly been lowered for the Ghost of CJ2K. His 0.30 PPO tied for the second-lowest of any top 20 back, and all of his peers in the top 12 have significantly higher marks. Johnson tied for the sixth-most carries and added 51 targets. That won’t happen again.
Johnson is a well-known liability in the passing game (-3.4 PFF Pass grade; 48th of 55 qualified backs) and will share snaps with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. He hasn’t had more than a single rushing touchdown from inside the five yard line since 2011 (when he had three) and will lose cheap scores to Geno Smith and his “backup” Ivory. Johnson may lose more than just touchdowns to Ivory, who has had a higher yards per carry all four years he’s been in the league.
Draft Instead: Joique Bell (ADP – 69), Rashad Jennings (77), Pierre Thomas (89)
Ray Rice (ADP – 63; RB25; early 6th round; PPO – 0.22)
We know how abysmal Rice was last year, and his 0.22 PPO mark drives home the point. That tied Lamar Miller for opportunity-adjusted futility, and we have to dig all the way to the RB50 to find a worse mark. Miller, who has his own set of issues, is being drafted in a more appropriate range two rounds later. Rice’s 3.1 yards per carry ranked 52nd at his position, but even that pathetic showing is misleading. He rolled up 131 yards against the league’s worst (by far) rushing defense in Chicago. Without that game, Rice averaged 2.8 yards per carry.
All indications are Rice will be suspended for September, at least. Considering the fantasy football season is 11 weeks long, he may only be available to help a team reach the playoffs for half of those qualifying weeks. That assumes he will be any help at all and will hit the ground running when he’s active. Bernard Pierce, just 24 years old, showed promise before the Ravens’ line descended into a tire fire. It’s conceivable he (or unheralded super-sleeper Cierre Wood) does not relinquish the job when Rice returns. Betting on the veteran is basically spending legitimate draft capital on a wing and a prayer. While his ADP will fall once the suspension is announced, it will need to plunge a long way before he approaches attractive flier status – because selecting him anywhere near the RB25 is pure insanity.
Draft Instead: Bernard Pierce (125), among many others with lower ADPs than Rice’s
Julian Edelman (ADP – 64; WR27; early 6th round; PPO – 0.24)
His situation was touched on above, and the linked write up goes into greater detail. The cliff notes version is the stars aligned for him last year – from injury luck (bad for others, good for him), to relative inexperience around him, to an elite quarterback with serious trust issues. A duplication of circumstances is a bad bet at his current cost, even in PPR leagues (WR26; 56th overall). Run screaming from his ADP in standard formats.
Draft Instead: Kendall Wright (71), Eric Decker (73), Jeremy Maclin (83)
Jason Witten (ADP – 79; TE7; mid 7th round; PPO – 0.25)
Witten has always been relatively volume-dependent and made it work anyway. Since 2008, he hasn’t finished above 23rd at his position in yards per reception or above 30th in yards after catch per reception. Last year, he managed a sixth place finish among fantasy tight ends and was aided greatly by his eight touchdowns. It was his second-highest total as a pro, and he also tied for the most red zone targets of his 11-year career.
Witten is becoming more touchdown reliant as he begins his decline, and we know how unpredictably that stat can fluctuate. He will be in an offense with Scott Linehan calling plays, but that is not automatically a stat booster for the 32-year old veteran of 180 games. Just once in his last two coaching stops, which covered eight seasons, has Linehan directed more red zone targets at a tight end than the 15.3 Witten averaged over the last four years. Gavin Escobar is a 6’6 burgeoning beacon near the goal line. Dez Bryant will add to his team-leading 21 red zone looks from last year and is a jump-ball beast. Witten is a warrior and is not going away completely, but his inflated ADP is backwards-looking.
Draft Instead: Greg Olsen (88), Dennis Pitta (99)
Kenny Stills (ADP – 141; WR55; late 12th round; PPO – 0.14)
Stills is an interesting case and the main argument for him is that he performed well with a limited opportunity and should take a leap forward now that he is New Orleans’ nominal number two wideout. Stills did lead the league with a 139.3 Wide Receiver Rating and 20.0 yards per reception mark, tie for the fourth most touchdowns on deep balls (five), post a slick 2.07 fantasy points per target, and finish as fantasy’s WR47 on just over 61 percent of snaps played. However, upon closer inspection, Stills was still a bit of a small-sample-size mirage. His 68th place 0.19 PPO mark hints at as much.
In 2013, the rookie Stills tied for the 88th-most targets for a reason and it had nothing to do with his skills. He followed Jimmy Graham, Colston, Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, and Lance Moore on the targets totem pole. Of course, Sproles and Moore are gone and their 123 combined targets with them. Admittedly, all of those will not go to 2014 rookie Brandin Cooks, and Stills is all but guaranteed to eclipse his 46 targets from last year. How many more targets he’ll see is the question, and he has Joe Morgan and Nick Toon back healthy to contend with. Stills will be no better than the fourth option on a team theoretically more committed to the run. He also remains primarily a field stretcher (30.4 percent targets on deep balls), and Drew Brees has seen his deep ball accuracy percentage decrease annually, from 58.7 percent in 2009, to 40.3 percent last year (23rd). A 12th round cost is not prohibitive, but guessing when Stills will post usable fantasy weeks will be maddening. For best results, target him in ‘best ball’ formats.
Draft Instead: Aaron Dobson (156); Brian Hartline (160), Greg Jennings (194)
Coby Fleener (ADP – 248; TE30; Undrafted)
Nice work, everyone.
*- ADP data courtesy of My Fantasy League post-June 15th non-PPR leagues.
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy and was named 2013 Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman