by Nick Ercolano
July 01, 2019
It's really easy to like D.J. Moore the player. It's a lot harder to fall in love with D.J. Moore's fantasy situation in 2019.
Almost all of that has to do with Cam Newton. Which is two-fold - his shoulder is cause for concern, and admittedly I'm not someone shying away from Cam because of the shoulder this year, but if his shoulder is okay, you're still dealing with a wildly inaccurate passing QB. His PFF Grade as a Passing QB is consistently terrible - he had that MVP season in 2015 where he had the 5th best grade, other than that, he's never had a passing grade inside the top 15. His average finish in his 8-year career is 22nd.
Last year, in a year where Cam Newton's adjusted completion percentage (78%) was by far and away the best of his career (has never hit 72.5%), D.J. Moore's catchable target rate ranked 40th among WRs and his target quality rating was 83rd per PlayerProfiler.com, while his average target distance was 86th, so it's not like he was getting shots downfield -- 86th in target distance and still getting shitty passes? That's Cam, and it's not like you feel confident saying yeah we're gonna see positive regression because I don't know if we are with Cam at QB.
Moore definitely had a really solid rookie season - 55 catches on 82 targets, 788 yards, adding another 172 yards on the ground, but only two touchdowns. Close to 1,000 total yards. If Moore was in a different offense with a different QB, I'd be all in on a sophomore breakout.
But there is good to be had here. He didn't play much over the 1H of the year. He didn't hit 50% of the teams snaps in a single game until Week 8. From then on he was a near every-snap player, playing on north of 87% of the team snaps. Over his final 7 games he saw 7+ targets in all but one, and was also getting at least one rush attempt in almost every game, which usually isn't a big deal, but when you average 13 YPC, it's a nice little boost to your overall fantasy line and it's clearly part of their game plan. Over those last 7 weeks, he was the WR23 in fantasy despite scoring just one touchdown in that span. If he had scored 2 instead of 1 TD in those 7 games, he's a top-20 fantasy WR. We know that WR TDs are super volatile so I'm expecting a big TD spike for Moore this year. Moore was not used in the RZ last year, he saw just8 RZ targets on the year, but guess what, 7-of-8 came over the last month of the season. 7 RZ targets in one month is very high volume.
There are definitely some questions as to who the true number one is. I'll preface with saying I have less than 0 confidence Greg Olsen will make an impact on Moore's bottom line, I'd be shocked if he played double-digit games in 2019. I think Moore will out-target CMac this year. As I mentioned, Cam's adjusted completion percentage (78%) was by far and away the best of his career, but that came at the cost of having by far and away the lowest aDOT of his career (7.6). Think that speaks to the shoulder, lack of shots downfield, leaning on dump offs. Think we'll definitely see those come back to the norm and see Moore used more downfield. He's fantastic after the catch, too. His 55 receptions were 42nd among NFL WRs, but he ranked 13th in yards after the catch, total yards.
I think Moore will have his big games, but he could be a nightmare in season-long leagues between erratic accuracy, and choosing between him, McCaffrey and Samuel who are all going to have their share of big games. I think Moore will finish as around WR20-22, which is great but I think people are going to start drafting him as if the breakout is here, you know, like top-15, top-12 and I think a lot that will stem from all of the love he gets from the dynasty community. You have to understand that when you're listening to dynasty analysis, people get a lot of leway because you can say someone is a great buy in dynasty, which is the case for Moore but might not be great for that particular year in redraft.
Calvin Ridley is just the fourth WR to catch double-digit TDs during his rookie season since 2000 (Randy Moss did it in 1998 and a few guys over the lastlike 50 years before him). The other three: Mike Evans & Odell Beckham Jr. - 12 (2014) and Mike Williams [TB] caught 11 in 2010. Ridley finished his impressive rookie year with 64 catches on 92 targets for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns. An all-around fantastic rookie year for a wideout by all accounts.
We know how fantastic Ridley is as a route-runner; you better be when you're a 23.5-year-old rookie.
The consistency, though, is a concern. He had that 3-game stretch in the beginning of 2018, from weeks 2-4, where he caught 6-of-his-10 touchdowns. Although three games make up obviously just 18% of a 16-game NFL schedule, those three games for Ridley accounted for 32% of his yards, 40% of his touchdowns and 41% of his fantasy production last year. From Week 5 through the rest of the season, Ridley failed to hit 48 receiving yards in 9 of the remaining 12 games. He scored a TD in just 1-of-9, so 8 games that were basically useless. Week 1, too.
I will say, though, Ridley is probably my favorite WR of these young ones on this list right now because of the situation. Yes, Julio is there, but Ridley was able to put these numbers up as a rookie and while Julio led the NFL in targets. We can expect the 50/50 target split between Ridley and Sanu to lean more in favor of the sophomore wideout in 2019 so I love his chances to easily top 100 targets. Last year he saw 92 targets, and had a 16% target share. Let's keep it reasonable, say he goes from 16% to 18% of the targets, a small but not negligible jump. Dirk Koetter coming in as OC means a lot of passing. His three years in ATL as OC we saw 632, 660 and 615 pass attempts for the Falcons. 626 in TB last year, 605 the year before. We're going north of 600 pass attempts in Atlanta for sure. If we put them at 600 attempts, Ridley seeing 18% of the targets, he's hovering around 110 targets, and it's only going up from there depending on pass volume and his share of the targets. Combine the good volume with his big-play threat (top-10 in 40+ yard receptions in 2018). Koetter's NFL Rank in terms of team deep ball attempts over the last 5 seasons: 4th, 3rd, 8th, 13th, 6th. This Falcons team is going to pass a lot. RIdley's 16 deep targets last year ranked 37th in the NFL, but he caught all 7 of his catchable deep targets, ranked 20th in yards on deep balls and his 4 deep touchdowns were 6th most in the NFL - I'm loving the Koetter Calvin connection about to happen. Why can't Ridley be the DeSean Jackson here?
They brought in two 1st round offensive lineman, both very good at pass-blocking, look for Matty Ice to continue dropping dimes to Ridley and Julio. His overall upside is obviously capped, it's hard to imagine him having a top-10 finish in 2019, but I think top 15-18 is certainly within his range of outcomes. He was WR19 last year overall, WR23 in PPG so a small step up would get him there.
I've never been a fan of Mike Williams, but admittedly, his range of outcomes is extremely wide, which means I could be very wrong if I'm telling you to fade him. After doing next to nothing in his rookie season because of his back, Williams broke out to the tune of 10 touchdowns, on 43 receptions for 664 yards last year. You can't ignore ten touchdowns. But just 43 receptions and 664 yards to go along with that make the 10 touchdown total so... Idk what the correct word is, intriguing?
Since the year 2000, there have been 159 instances of a player catching 10+ receiving TDs in a year. - Mike Williams' 2018 catch total of 43 ranks 4th lowest among those 159. His yardage total (664) ranks 9th lowest. So, what's going to happen in 2019? Of them, 15.6% of them increased their TD totals in the next year, which is honestly higher than I expected. The average decrease was over 4 touchdowns in the following season though. Of the ones that caught 10 touchdowns, and similar to Williams, finished with fewer than 800 yards, those players saw their TD totals fall by an average of almost 8 touchdowns, only 10% of them stayed within 5 touchdowns - and this is discluding any WR that played in fewer than 12 games the following year, so all bias is taken out.
Of course, you take each situation into context. Mike Williams is 24 years old, turning 25 in October. He has top-10 draft capital. Those things matter. Tyrell Williams is gone (64 and 69 targets over L2 years), but they get Hunter Henry back. Tyrell developed pretty much exclusively into a speedy, downfield playmaker for the Chargers. Mike Williams doesn't have the speed (4.59) that Tyrell offered (4.48), but he's a solid possession receiver on the outside. He actually bested Tyrell in aDOT last year (15.6 vs 13.3) while having a better catch rate (67.2% vs. 65.1%) which is impressive, so he might not fit the typical mold of a deep threat, but he caught all 4 of the catchable deep targets he saw last year (saw 11 total but 7 were deemed uncatchable per PFF).
The question, in my mind, becomes, does the departure of Tyrell Williams help Mike Williams more than the return of Hunter Henry hurt him? Williams ranked 3rd in the NFL among WRs in fantasy points per target, but that was almost exclusively due to the 10 touchdowns. Would I bet he matches that number? No way. Not with Hunter Henry coming back who will be very involved down by the endzone. Get this, Mike Williams in 2018, his 10 TDs, that was the first time ever under Philip Rivers, who took over as the starting QB for the Chargers back in 2006, first time ever a WR caught double-digit TDs with Rivers under center. Vincent Jackson came close a couple of times, but it was always Antonio Gates.
The way I see it, Wiliams will have to see a big increase in targets and be very good on the deep ball. What I don't hear being talked about enough is the offense overall. They're still good, but they're lowkey taking a super similar approach to the Saints. Which is protect their old-ass QB. Rivers is 37 going on 38. Less time dropping back, fewer shots downfield, trying to keep Rivers upright, tons of carries for their running backs and tons of targets for their running backs. It's what drops Michael Thomas down a tier for me in his respective offense. For the 4th consecutive year, we've seen Rivers' pass attempts drop, hitting his lowest total (508) since 2009 (486). He attempted a deep ball on just 10.6% of his throws, tied for 26th among starting QBs.
Williams' role in terms of snaps should expand in 2019 for sure, (although it was a little concerning we didn't see it expand over the 2H of 2019, he never supplanted Tyrell Williams for the WR2 role:
Williams had a couple of good games in 2018, all completely TD-fueled. There was that monster 3-TD game against KC, BUT Keenan Allen wasn't on the field, Hunter Henry wasn't on the field, Melvin Gordon wasn't on the field, Austin Ekeler wasn't on the field. Like, he better go tf off in a game they need to score 30 points to catch up with the Chiefs in.
I'm not a fan of Williams, I might try to get him in one of my leagues this year, but probably not at a 5th round price.
Landry seems like a tough evaluation. I don't think it really is. I think what makes the Browns slot wideout a seemingly difficult evaluation on the surface is what we've come to expect from Landry as a fantasy asset given the ridiculous volume he saw in his first few seasons in Miami, finishing as high as WR4 in PPR leagues in 2017. We will never see those types of numbers from Landry again.
Doesn't mean he can't be a good fantasy producer. Look at the situation objectively. He's a proven, 26-year old NFL wide receiver with multiple 1000-yard seasons on his resume. He's playing in an offense that projects to be one of the higher scoring teams in the NFL, with a QB who is soon to be considered elite, and he plays the slot, we love that for fantasy.
Last year they miscast Landry, maybe not miscast, but they had no choice. He was forced to play outside and running deep routes more than he's had in his career, about a 5% higher clip. The big takeaway, however, is his aDOT, starting in 2014:
It's not a surprise that he struggled to separate and to make plays downfield given his athletic profile, looking like speed bumps on a dirt road:
Landry was the clear #1 receiver in Cleveland in 2018, he saw a 26% target share, but finished with a career-low 81 catches, and his 976 yards were his lowest since his rookie season, 4 touchdowns tied his career-low too. It wasn't good. But this is an entirely new offense. OBJ will obviously step right into the #1 role, so Landry can go back to operating as the full-time slot wide receiver.
It's a very small split, but Landry's numbers before Baker was the full-time starter vs. after. Big dip. More concerning was after Todd Haley and Hue Jackson left:
Those splits under the new coaches come out to a 110-64-896-4 line. He was the WR26 ppg last year, with 148 targets. And that pace I just mentioned will get him to the low 40's.
Baker is already one of the more accurate, voluminous and attacking deep throwers at the position. 6th in the NFL, throwing deep on 14.8% of his passes, but also the 3rd most accurate. Good QBs, think of Aaron Rodgers, are not afraid to throw outside the hashes and down the field - that's not where Jarvis is. Baker is not going to force the ball to Jarvis, he's going to throw to whoever is open. They will also have a lot of mouths to feed. This might just be in theory. OBJ will deservedly lead CLV in targets, probably 150-160. We have David Njoku, who sure, is getting a lot of breakout hype, but really never commanded a big share of targets his way and might end up being a 2-down player cause he sucks at blocking. Behind that, I'm not actually about to make an argument against Jarvis Landry that has the names Antonio Calloway or Rishard Higgins in it. But, a bigger concern is the run game. Nowhere Landry has played, has there been a high-volume run game, which as always let him see a high-volume and that's what he needs to be successful in fantasy. Nick Chubbs seems poised to get 20+ carries a game or this team which is going to chew up a ton of clock and limit the upside of the passing offense's volume.
I think it, again, goes back to expectations. Landry is a WR3 in fantasy. He almost feels like a scat-back to me, a receiving back in that at the end of the year, the numbers will be good enough where you'll see, "wow he was undervalued again" - I mean, he just set a career-low in receptions in 2018.... with 81 - that's a nice floor - but according to the Big Dog Consistency Chart in the Draft Guide (which dropped today), he busted (25%) or finished with an extra medium (6/10) game in 10-of-16 games (< 12.5 half ppr) - he's not a WR2 - he doesn't have the weekly upside that other guys getting drafted around him do, either. Landry will have to drop another round for me to start thinking about him in fantasy this year.
by Nick Ercolano
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