Patriots WRs: Wholesale or Retail?
Pat Thorman takes a look at the Patriots wide receiver corps to see if there's any value to be had in New England.
Patriots WRs: Wholesale or Retail?
Julian Edelman has a little buzz about him as of late and it’s definitely not because of his acting chops. He finished 2013 as the 14th-highest scoring fantasy receiver in PPR leagues and has a current average draft position (ADP; post-June 1st MFL10 PPR data) that is 25th at his position. Is this an opportunity to snatch some draft equity in the mid-to-late fifth round? It’s possible. Is he likely to match his WR14 finish from last season? It’s doubtful.
Easily forgotten is the fact that Edelman’s catch-filled season was aided greatly by Danny Amendola tearing his groin in the second quarter of the Patriots’ opening game. Despite a reputation as a football-playing Glass Joe, Amendola persevered and posted his most games played (12) since logging a full season in 2010. In fact, he returned for the second half of that Week 1 game and limped his way to eight targets after halftime, including four catches, three first downs, and 26-yards on the game-winning drive. It represented a continuation of a hope-filled preseason for Amendola, but it was Edelman who took off during the next three weeks while his teammate sat.
Amendola ran 77.4 percent of his pass routes from the slot last year. While he was sidelined, Edelman had a 76.6 slot percentage. Those games buoyed his 49.5 percent seasonal mark. Edelman’s target, catch, and touchdown rates were all slightly higher while he was in the slot. From Week 2 through Week 4, with Rob Gronkowski was sidelined in addition to Amendola, Edelman posted numbers that would translate into full season totals of 181 targets, 144 catches, and 1280 yards (pipe-tip to the incredible RotoViz Game Splits Crack App). That’s five more targets and 31 more catches than the league’s leaders had in those respective categories.
Gronkowski, who is tentatively scheduled to be ready for Week 1, ran more than half of his routes from the slot last year (56.3). The Patriots imported former Panther Brandon LaFell, who ran 63 percent of his routes from the slot in 2013. Josh Boyce, a favorite of many draft pundits, ran 25.2 percent of his limited pass routes from the slot as a fourth-round rookie and is showing signs of coming into his own.
Of course Gronk is not guaranteed to avoid the PUP-list to start the season, LaFell hasn’t proven himself more than a league-average receiver at this point of his career, and Boyce has barely begun his. But there is a significant chance that Edelman will see markedly fewer slot snaps in 2014, and that’s no bueno.
Then there is the matter of Aaron Dobson. No, he won’t factor into the slot very much (15.9 Slot %), but if his foot heals as expected he will make for a very inviting outside target in his anticipated “X” role. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound sophomore second-rounder is a great bet to improve on his quietly strong 2013 numbers. He was fantasy’s 10th-highest scoring wideout from Week 6 through Week 9, but was hurt soon after and that was essentially the end of his season. He saw 7.5 targets per game during that stretch and if the pace holds for a full season there will be nearly 50 fewer looks to go around than in 2013.
Add in Gronkowski’s target monster tendencies and Edelman’s opportunities begin to dry up. Gronk saw over 9.8 targets per game last year, not counting the Week 14 game in which he was injured early. Amendola averaged more than 6.8 per game, including two contests with 14 looks, during a season he spent mostly hobbled. It remains to be seen, but many analysts predict the Patriots will be running more often in 2014. They already had the second-most plays in the NFL last season. Edelman is nearly assured of not seeing the 10th-most targets in the league again.
Edelman tied for 36th in fantasy points per snap, behind both Amendola and Dobson. He tied for 59th in yards after catch per reception, and ranked 100th in yards per catch. Because he saw a ton of short passes (8.4 aDOT; 97th) it’s tough to kill him for those meager rankings, or his 13 dropped balls (3rd most). However it illustrates just how volume dependent he is.
At his current ADP, Edelman would need to post roughly 200 points in PPR leagues to earn his price tag, in terms of 2013 fantasy scoring. Sure, he posted 247.7 last year, but in absolutely perfect conditions. How likely are they to be the same? With fewer targets and slot snaps likely, it’s tougher to predict a high statistical ceiling than to see his totals plunging through the floor. That’s a dicey proposition when a fifth round pick lies in the balance.
Wagering on Edelman is essentially a bet against the health of Amendola, Gronkowski, and to a lesser degree, Dobson. Of course if Vegas offered that action it’d look something like a Russian food riot at the betting windows. In reality, however, most people would starve trying to predict football injuries.
Combine the fact that any human who steps on a football field is prone to being injured, with small data samples from which we reflexively attempt to find patterns, and it results in correlation too often being mistaken for causation. In other words, our arrogant brains convince us we can predict random occurrences, to our own detriment.
Would Gronkowski’s widely perceived fragility exist if T.J. Ward connected six inches higher, causing a mere thigh bruise? Does a “durable” player exist who would not have had their knee shredded on that play? Is Amendola, who has played just as many 16-game seasons as the previously perceived as “injury-prone” Edelman, more likely to get hurt in the future? Is he twice as likely to get hurt this year?
That’s what their respective ADPs tell us. Amendola is being taken in the mid-to-late 10th round, five rounds later than his teammate. Edelman is the 25th wideout off the board and Amendola the 50th. Now that’s a price worth paying when you consider Amendola posted a 1.58 fantasy points per target (FP/T) while playing his entire season hobbled, minus a handful of series in Week 1. Edelman put up a 1.70 FP/T while existing in ideal conditions for him to produce, and costs twice as much.
Sure, Edelman might scratch out enough catches to earn his price tag. But I’m buying Amendola with the spare change from one of my pockets, using what’s in the other one to buy Dobson (ADP: WR52) …and I’ll probably even have enough left over for a burger.
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