by Nick Ercolano
July 30, 2018
Two WRs that get an unbelievable amount of hype each season despite neither of them having ever eclipsed 70 catches or 850 yards in a season. But, as long as one piece of the equation changes for their outlook, people will unsurprisingly adopt hope for the elusive breakout season. Nonetheless, the breakout tag is there, given the flashes we've seen, and/or the draft capital invested into these players, they're worth picks in 2018 fantasy football, albeit, in later rounds, they should still be on your radar.
Drop a comment down below, which of the two do you want!
Parker is somewhat of an enigma in fantasy football. People assume, since he's built like and can get up like A.J. Green, he should produce the same type of numbers. That hasn't been the case. Dating back to his rookie year in 2015, when Parker was Miami's 14th overall pick in the first round, he has yet to catch more than 57 passes for 744 yards and four touchdowns. He's dealt with a lot of injuries, which is what originally slowed him down.
In 2015, Parker played in 8 games, he posted 26 receptions, 494 yards and three scores. Among the 97 WRs that year that saw at least 40 targets, Parker ranked 2nd in the NFL racking up 19.0 yards per reception, 4th in yards per target (11.2) and had the 9th highest aDOT (15.9). When you pace those numbers out to a full 16 games, you're looking at a 52-988-6 rookie year, which is really good by all accounts. People write it off because it was only half the year and you look at the box score and aren't impressed but it was good when he was on the field, statistically speaking.
In 2016, he played in 15-of-16 games, catching 56 passes for a career-high 744 yards and 4 tugs. He and Tannehill had a connection, and we saw flashes but the inconsistency from Parker in terms of separation and beating press coverage still lingered. Tannehill would tear his ACL in Week 14 of that year after being on pace to set career highs with a 67.1% completion rate, 4.9% TD rate (which would've tied Philip Rivers and been right below Kirk, Big Ben, Alex Smith & Stafford in 2017). He didn't get surgery, re-tore it in August and missed all of 2017.
So, Parker dealt with a blend of Jay Cutler, Matt Moore and David Fales last year on his way to a 57-670-1 campaign, in 13 games. There are a few positives to take away from a general point of view: Parker started off really hot last year. In Miami's first three games, Parker went: 4-85, 8-76-1, 6-69, seeing at least 8 targets in all three, and those were against good pass defenses, LAC, NYJ and NO. He would suffer a high-ankle sprain in the following game which caused him to miss that game, Week 5, before returning in Week 9. Those three games had Parker on schedule to catch 96 passes on 144 targets for 1,227 yards and 5.3 TDs. Obviously, it's extremely naive to project a player to pace out on a such a small sample, but it's noteworthy because who knows how the year would've gone had Parker not sprained his ankle. Those are the type of injuries that can absolutely ruin the entirety of the year, lingering, and even if you do get back on the field, there's a very good chance it's at less than 100%. The middle of their schedule, once returning was disappointing to see the least for Parker, failing to top 80 yards or score a single TD from weeks 9-14. He would finish the year strong, however, going 6-89, 5-63, 6-64 on 29 targets from Week 15 through 17.
Heading into 2018, the big storyline here is that Jarvis Landry is now gone, who has seen at least 27% of the team's targets since Parker has arrived, that's a huge void, and according to Evan Silva's team outlook, the Dolphins have 290 team targets up for grabs, the 2nd highest total in the NFL entering 2018. It's ludicrous to assume those go to Parker, as they brought in Albert Wilson for the Chiefs on 3-year, $24M deal, as well as Danny Amendola for 2-years and $12M, while using their second-round pick on athletic freak Mike Gesicki, the TE out of Penn State.
So, we're at the point where if the Parker breakout is coming, it's 2018. He has the clear path to take over as the WR1 in this offense. Getting rid of Jay Ajayi and Jarvis Landry says they will be opening up the offense more under Adam Gase. However, I think the biggest question mark to be answered is, is DeVante Parker actually any good?
We know he has the size and the speed:
6'3" - 210 lbs, a 4.45 40-yard dash puts his weight-adjusted speed score in the 89th percentile. But, if you're going to be the true #1 wideout in an offense, you need more than just that to succeed. You need to be able to beat man coverage, and press coverage, because you're going to be facing opposing team's #1 outside CB.
Per PlayerProfiler, Parker 1.05 yards of separation per target ranked 98th among NFL WRs last year. I wanted to look at Matt Harmon's Reception Perception on Parker. Parker's success rates have gone up in each of his three seasons, but he's yet to finish higher than the 11th percentile in success vs. man or press coverage, he lacks technique on his routes. He ran 90% of his routes from the X-receiver position on the LOS seeing man coverage on nearly 68% of his routes. He's going to need to improve that part of his game if he's going to be their #1.
There's a little bit of good news. First, supposedly per the Miami beat reporters who are the best hype men I've ever seen, say he's putting in a ton of extra work this year, first one in, last one out type of stuff, which is good if he's going to improve. Second, he's been an excellent receiver in contested situations which is an absolute must if you're a receiver that has trouble separating. Last year he caught over 59% of the contested targets thrown his way, 10th highest % in the NFL. Lastly, bringing in Albert Wilson, reports have Wilson as a standout as OTAs because of his versatility, playing him on the outside, as the X as well as the slot. I think it's good news for Parker, if the offense is more diverse in 2018, which I expect it to be with Tannehill back under center and this is now Gase's 3rd year running the show, but second with Tannehill (2nd year with the QB is usually when things start clicking), if Wilson does take more snaps outside as the X, Parker will be moved around more and should have a much easier time finding separation.
The last thing that I thought was interesting was Parker's usage in the 10z in 2016. That was Tannehill's last healthy season, Parker led the team in 10z targets and % of team targets at that part of the field. Tannehill liked throwing it to his big target down there. In 2017, when it wasn't Tannehill, the targets shifted heavily in favor of Jarvis Landry, who saw the 2nd most (14) 10Z targets among all NFL WRs, which means with him gone, those will be up for grabs, with a QB who's shown he likes Parker down there. Parker is a huge target, that typically towers of the CBs and has great leaping and high-pointing ability, so this makes sense.
Really, there's a lot of volume to be had here in Miami, but in order for Parker to really take advantage of it, he's going to need to improve. The signs are pointing in the right direction though.
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Crowder is exactly the same, but completely different from Parker. Crowder, 5-8, 185lbs, is a small slot receiver, that runs good routes and excels against zone coverage, off the line of scrimmage. They're similar in the sense that Crowder was also pegged for a 3rd-year breakout in 2018, dealt with leg injuries that slowed him down and has a new outlook given the QB change in Washington. After a mini-breakout in 2016, catching 67 passes for 847 yards and 7 scores, Crowder regressed in all three categories, reeling in 66 for 789 and just 3 touchdowns.
He injured his hip right before the first game of the season last year, then he pulled a hammy in Week 4. The beginning of the szn was just awful for Crowder. In those first 6 games, we see this:
Not a single touchdown, less than 25 receiving yards a game. The tough part about the situation is figuring out whether or not this was injury related or..... Check this chart out that I put together:
Now I know they have Josh Doctson playing a major role as well as signing Paul Richardson, and we'll get into those guys in a little bit, but the guys who really impact Crowder are Chris Thompson and Jordan Reed, the ones who generally play in the same part of the field and see a lot of the same short targets. The grey highlighted rows are the weeks in which both Reed and Thompson played in 40% or more of the teams snaps last year. You can see Crowder didn't fare so well in those games, averaging just 3.95 fppg. Just looking at the actual splits in these games:
These are Crowder's splits over the last two seasons with and without Reed, as well as splits with and without Chris Thompson, it's a hit when either guy is on the field.
So, the major concern here is just how involved can Crowder really get when they have Jordan Reed, Chris Thompson, Paul Richardson, Josh Doctson, and a likely renewed running game with Derrius Guice? He has seen an increase in targets and targets per game in three straight seasons, but it wasn't a big increase from 2016 to 2017 and he played a large majority of the year while Thompson, Reed and Terrelle Pryor were sidelined.
There are three good positives I see when I think about Crowder's 2018 fantasy football outlook:
1. One, he's healthy right now entering a contract year. Quoted from OTA's Crowder said, "I feel great now. It was frustrating. When you go out there with a lingering injury, you’re already setting yourself behind." You guys know I don't buy into the whole contract year theory about someone being a better player, but they are at least more likely to fight to stay on the field during a contract year.
2. Alex Smith is the QB in Washington now. Smith was awesome last year in KC. But it was a complete outlier of a year for him. Which is actually probably good for Crowder, because Smith is a short thrower if we've ever seen one, possibly the premier example of one in the history of the NFL. Last year he transitioned into a beast through the air, but only because he had Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Per PlayerProfiler the Chiefs led the NFL in receiver target separation in 2017, no surprise there. You look back historically at Alex Smith:
His aDOT has never ranked higher than 32nd in the NFL. That's insane. And was dead last in 2013, 2014, 2015. Obviously, this plays well into Crowder's hand who is a slot receiver, he has the 9th lowest aDOT of all WRs in the NFL in 2016, and the 6th lowest last year.
And, "NBC Washington's Rich Tandler reports Jamison Crowder and Alex Smith displayed a very good rapport during Redskins OTAs. Tandler adds that "Smith was very comfortable firing the ball into Crowder during goal-line work."
"According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Smith ranked 20th in average completed pass yards (6.3 yards per pass), and Smith was the second lowest out of all qualified quarterbacks in throwing into aggressive and tight windows. When you consider that Crowder ranked eighth among all wide receivers in separation yards last season (3.2 average yards of separation), it is likely that Smith will lean heavily on Crowder in 2018."
Again, though, Crowder is not the only short-area target on this team.
3. The last piece of this puzzle may help us understand why 2017 was a down year for Crowder. Per Matt Harmon's Reception Perception, Crowder is awful lining up against press coverage on the outside, he ranks in the 3rd percentile, and we saw him do so on 23.5% of his routes, almost a quarter of his routes, compared to doing so on only 12.5% in 2016, his breakout year. Last year the Skins really didn't have any outside weapons, Pryor was there, but then he got hurt which forced Crowder to move to the outside more than he typically would, translating into more press and man coverage. Now they have Doctson who should be a starter outside across from Paul Richardson, which should mean Crowder will work inside full-time. Ryan Grant is also gone which believe it or not is a very good thing. Grant was getting a lot of snaps in this offense in 2017. He played 50% or more of the team's snaps in 12-of-16 games, and quietly accounted for 13% of Kirk's targets and completions, 14% of his passing yards and 15% of his TDs.
After breaking all of that down, it's still a really tough choice for me. I made this chart to help me out:
Crowder comes up money for me on most things. This is kind of a head vs. heart thing, or should I see this head vs. that head *pointing down*, because Crowder just never did get me hard. And he doesn't in 2018. Parker has two wins in the rows that I value highly, however, upside and opportunity. I like that Crowder's efficient for the most part, and I like that the reports are good, but I don't think I see him getting much more than the 96 targets he saw in 2017, with all those people out. No telling if Reed is going to suit up or for how many games, but there are a lot of weapons there. And, in redraft, the name of the game is volume. Plus I'm a guy that loves upside, which is what I think Parker brings to the table in 2018.
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