Postseason Springboard Part 2

In part 2 of the series, Ryan McKee looks at breakout performances among wide receivers in previous playoff seasons to determine if a pattern emerges that can be applied to ...

| 3 years ago

In part 2 of the series, Ryan McKee looks at breakout performances among wide receivers in previous playoff seasons to determine if a pattern emerges that can be applied to this past year's playoffs.

Postseason Springboard Part 2

Lavon BrazillIn part 1 of this series, I looked at which lesser-known or backup running backs were most likely to parlay their strong postseason performance into a big 2014.  By looking at which RBs in the past were able to do the same, a pattern emerged that we could apply to this past season’s crop.

This time, let’s look at WRs.  In case you forget, here is a recap of the logic:

  • We know that playoffs are a small sample size which can be dangerous to read too much into. But don’t dismiss this body of work, as it may reveal some insight into a player’s future ability or a coach’s future intentions.  For example, if Jim Harbaugh is down six and faced with 4th and one with five seconds left and he elects for a jump ball to Michael Crabtree versus a Colin Kaepernick option or Frank Gore punch-in, that should tell us something,  no?  It wouldn’t be the whole story (maybe they were trying to catch the defense off guard or maybe Gore was banged up on the last play) but it would still lend insight.  In a similar vein, the playoffs are the most important time of the year, so how much a coach decides to feature a particular player can provide insight into how he values that player going forward.
  • We’re not concerned with the star WRs, but rather the lesser known commodities.  In order to qualify, a WR has to have an fppg of less than 8 during the season (last year around 30 WRs averaged 8+ fppg, so that covers most starting receivers in fantasy).
  • In order to have been deemed a ‘break out’ in the playoffs, the player has to have at least doubled their regular season fppg to their playoff fppg

Let’s start with performances from years past.

2004 Yrs in NFL Draft Rd FPPG FPPG Playoffs Playoff Gms/Playoff TDs FPPG Following Season
Kevin Curtis 2 3 4 14.8 2/1 7.8

Despite a decent showing in the 2004 playoffs, Curtis couldn’t emerge as a WR1 for St. Louis and eventually joined Philadelphia in 2007.  That first year in Philly was the best of his career (9.2) but he never sustained the production nor the playing time.

2006 Yrs in NFL Draft Rd FPPG FPPG Playoffs Playoff Gms/Playoff TDs FPPG Following Season
Jabar Gaffney 5 2 2 12.1 3/2 4.7
Patrick Crayton 3 7 4.7 10.2 1/1 7.4

Crayton played three more years, hovering around the 5-6 fppg range while Gaffney has played on four different teams and has never surpassed 7.8.

2007 Yrs in NFL Draft Rd FPPG FPPG Playoffs Playoff Gms/Playoff TDs FPPG Following Season
Antwaan Randle El 6 2 5.2 15.6 1/1 5.2
Vincent Jackson 3 2 5 14 3/2 9.9
Anthony Gonzalez 1 1 5.8 13.9 1/1 5.7

Randle El was never more than a third WR with a 3.3 fppg in 2009 and 1.6 in 2010.  Gonzalez had a lot of hype coming out of this 2007 playoff game and even posted a decent 2008.  But a knee injury in the 2009 season opener pretty much sealed his fate as an also-ran.

Jackson, on the other hand, used the 2007 playoffs as his breakout performance.  His 114 yards and a score in the opening round was followed by 93 yards in each of the next two games (scoring once).  He became one of the leagues elite long range threats, with an fppg between 8.8 and 11.7 over the next 6 years, but his release from Philly and subsequent signing by Washington makes him a question mark heading into 2014.

2009 Yrs in NFL Draft Rd FPPG FPPG Playoffs Playoff Gms/Playoff TDs FPPG Following Season
Jeremy Maclin 1 1 6.6 20.6 1/1 10
Julian Edelman 1 7 3.9 16.4 1/2 .7
Steve Breaston 3 5 6.2 13.3 2/1 6.3
Early Doucet 2 3 3 13.3 2/2 3.6
James Jones 3 3 4.6 11 1/1 6.1
Lavernues Coles 10 3 5.2 10.8 1/1 0

Maclin has proved to be a sure-handed receiver for Philly since his 146 yard/one TD game against Dallas in the 2009 Wild Card game.  He followed that up with seasons of 10, 8.9 and 8.5 while leading the team in targets in two of those three years.  Unfortunately he missed 2013 due to injury but should be a reliable addition to the Chip Kelly offense for 2014, particularly with Jackson now in Washington.

Edelman made the most of a season-ending injury to Wes Welker in Week 17 to produce 44 yards and two TDs against Baltimore.  His numbers don’t look great thereafter, as he continued to play behind Welker.  But he finally got his chance in 2013 with Welker in Denver, averaging 8.9 fppg and finishing 10th in the NFL in targets.

Breaston actually broke out the year before with his one and only 1000 yard season.  He signed with KC in 2011 but could never replicate the production, ultimately being released in 2013.

Doucet never emerged as more than a third option in Arizona.  Same goes for Jones in Green Bay, but such a role in a Packers offense has proven to have occassional value for fantasy owners.

Coles never played another game in the NFL, but at least went out with a nice performance.

2010 YrsL Draft Rd FPPG FPPG Playoffs Playoff Gms/Playoff TDs FPPG Following Season
Jason Avant 5 4 4 15.3 1/1 4.6
Brandon Stokley 11 4 3.2 13.9 2/2 .4
Devery Henderson 7 2 3.3 13.7 1/1 4
Jordy Nelson 3 2 4.4 10.2 4/2 13.5

Avant has been a backup WR his entire career in Philly and now joins a Carolina squad that has lost Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. to free agency. He’ll compete with fellow incomers Jerricho Cotchery, Tiquan Underwood and first round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin.

Stokley manages to hang around due to his professionalism and decent hands, but he never had the athleticism or size to become anything more than a depth wideout.

Henderson had the athleticism (4.36s in the 40) but small size and questionable hands has made him a boom and (mostly) bust type of receiver.

Nelson had a great playoff run capped by a Super Bowl win in 2010.  Just one target in the opening round, Nelson had 286 yards and two TDs over the remaining three games.  Since then he’s been a key part of the Packers offense with seasons of 13.5, 9.7 and 11.2 fppg.

2011 Yrs in NFL Draft Rd FPPG FPPG Playoffs Playoff Gms/Playoff TDs FPPG Following Season
DeMaryius Thomas 2 1 7.2 17.9 2/1 12.7
Donald Driver 12 7 5 10.5 1/1 2.2

Thomas broke out in a big way in the Wild Card round against the Steelers, with 204 yards and a score.  The following week – a loss to the Pats – he recorded just 93 yards but it was clear that he was a stud receiver in the making.  All he’s done since then is average 12.7 and 14.2 fppg and is a legitimate top five NFL WR.

2012 was Driver’s last season in the league as he was surpassed by younger and faster receivers in Green Bay, but he had a nice steady career with seven 1000+ yard seasons over an 8 year span (2002-2009).

2012 Yrs in NFL Draft Rd FPPG FPPG Playoffs Playoff Gms/Playoff TDs FPPG Following Season
Michael Jenkins 9 1 3.6 15.6 1/1 0
DeVier Posey 1 3 1.4 10.7 1/1 1.7

Jenkins caught three balls for 96 yards and a TD in the Vikings only playoff game.  That game had him filling in for an injured Percy Harvin, but he has yet to play another NFL game.

Posey was starting to put things together late in 2012 but ruptured his achilles and missed the opening few weeks of 2013.  With the Texans drafting DeAndre Hopkins, it appears Posey is a WR3 at best on a run-oriented team.

So looking at this crop of past performances, are there any patterns?  It would appear at first glance that there are many more fluke or ‘one-and-done’ performances with WRs than with RBs.  This is in line with how inconsistent the position can be from year to year or game to game.

Interestingly, of those players that were able to surpass the 8 fppg threshold the season following their playoff breakout, they all managed to sustain that level of excellence going forward. Jackson, Maclin, Nelson and Thomas are among the top 20 receivers in the game and all have positive outlooks for 2014 (though Jackson comes with a little more risk).

Unfortunately, I could find no patterns in their advanced stats during the season of their playoff breakout.  Jackson and Thomas placed in the top 25 in their respective years for yards per reception, but Maclin finished 58th and Nelson 90th.  Nelson did finish 20th in WR Rating, but the other three finished 49th or higher.

The similarities I did find were more draft and team-based. All four were drafted in the first two rounds of their draft and had played less than three years in the league at the time of their breakout playoff game.  All four played on top 10 passing offenses the following year, and three of the four players (Thomas, Maclin, Jackson) led their team in targets that next year (Nelson came in 2nd) ranging from 12th to 40th in the entire league.

Bringing it all together, we can posit that a highly drafted WR currently in his first few years, playing for a likely top 10 passing offense that he will lead in targets will be a fantasy contributor. Not exactly earth shattering news, but it’s something.

If we expand the list to include WRs that surpassed the 8 fppg in a future season other than the immediate next season, we have three additions to the list.

Kevin Curtis averaged 9.2 in 2007, Julian Edelman averaged 8.9 in 2013 and James Jones averaged 10.8 in 2012.  In terms of how they match up with the previously mentioned foursome, they were all in a more veteran stage when they had their one season above 8 fppg: Curtis and Edelman in their 5th season and Jones in his 6th.  This is mostly due to playing behind top producing wideouts: Curtis played behind Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce in St. Louis before signing with Philly; Edelman was behind Welker; and Jones played behind Greg Jennings and Donald Driver (and then Nelson and Randall Cobb).

In terms of the draft, Curtis and Jones were in round 3, while Edelman was round 7.

Looking at passing offenses and targets, Philly was 10th in passing yards per game in the season that Curtis averaged 9.2 fppg and led the Eagles in targets (15th overall).  New England were 10th as well in 2013 and Edelman led the Pats in targets (10th overall).  And in 2012, Green Bay finished 9th in passing yards per game and Jones finished 2nd on the team in targets, just 6 off the leader Cobb.

So it appears that passing offense and targets are the best indicator of future success, while age and draft position give us a greater liklihood of the player breaking out the immediate next season, as opposed to later on in his career.  Again, not exactly earth-shattering news, but we’re getting somewhere.

So without further ado, let’s look at this year’s playoff breakouts.

2013 Yrs in NFL Draft Rd FPPG FPPG Playoffs Playoff Gms/Playoff TDs FPPG Following Season
Dwayne Bowe 7 1 6.5 21 1/1  ?
Donnie Avery 5 2 4.8 13.9 1/1  ?
Steve Smith 13 3 6.6 13.4 1/1  ?
LaVon Brazill 2 6 3.5 12.4 2/2  ?

Bowe and Avery don’t fit the mold that we’re looking for. The Chiefs finished 24th in passing offense last season and that’s not likely to improve much with Alex Smith at the helm and Jamaal Charles leading the offense. Bowe actually finished second to Charles in receiving targets (who led the NFL among RBs) and Avery was a distant third. Avery is unownable for 2014 and at this stage of his career, Bowe is no better than a WR4 in fantasy.

By moving from Carolina to Baltimore, Smith moves to a more pass-happy situation – though still not a top 10 unit. The Ravens have been a league average passing offense the last three years, though with Ray Rice likely to miss time in 2014 due to his off-field transgressions, there may be more reliance on Joe Flacco’s arm. With such a prolific history of production, Smith doesn’t entirely fall into the ‘breakout’ category anyway, but I’d expect the prideful wideout to return to 2012 levels. He’s getting up there in age and Torrey Smith will remain the leader in targets, but Smith will be relevant again in 2014.

That leaves us LaVon Brazill, and the prognosis doesn’t look promising. While Indy was a top passing team in 2012, they became much more balanced last season. The talent of Andrew Luck begs for the Colts to lean more on the pass, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Brazill will reap the rewards.  TY Hilton has emerged as one of the up and coming WR talents in the game and the return of Reggie Wayne will only help the Colts offense. They also signed free agent Hakeem Nicks to a one-year deal and draft Dante Moncrief in the 3rd round of the draft, so the WR3 spot and requisite deep threat will be up for grabs in camp. I think Brazill wins out long term and may carve out a larger role down the road, but it probably won’t happen in 2014, barring another injury to Wayne.

So unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the next Demaryius Thomas, Jordy Nelson or Jeremy Maclin will emerge from this year’s playoffs. Sometimes all the analysis in the world can only uncover things that aren’t likely to happen instead of things that are.

But rather than leave you empty handed, I will throw one name out there that may fit the mold: Riley Cooper. Philly were the ninth ranked passing offense in 2013 but both DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant are out of the picture. Jeremy Maclin returns from an injury that had him miss 2013, but more tellingly, he’s only on a one year deal. Contrast that to the five year $25 million deal Philly signed Cooper to in February, and it would appear that he’s more likely to be in the Eagles long term plans. He averaged a productive 8.3 fppg in the regular season last year, but that was inflated by a two-week midseason stretch where he totaled 55.9 points. Take those two games away and he averaged only 5.5 fppg the rest of the season. Suddenly his 68 yard, one TD performance in a Wild Card loss to the Saints starts to fit the mold of our 2014 breakout candidate. So while your other league mates are likely to have Maclin pencilled in as the WR1 in Philly’s prolific offense, the signs point to Cooper emerging as the top option.

  • Eric

    Maybe it would make more sense to control for quality of defense faced. In a 1-4 game sample size I would guess that it would be significant.

  • sampson

    What’s going on here? 2007 lists Vincent Jackson and then goes on to talk about Desean Jackson and his release from Philly. Desean wasn’t drafted until the 2008 draft…What gives?

  • chillermonster

    Could you please link part 1? I don’t remember reading it and don’t see it anywhere. Thanks.