What Can We Expect from Anquan and DeSean?
David Wilson, Stevan Ridley, and Chip Kelly have dominated the fantasy news cycle for the past several days. It is too bad, because a lot of important questions have been overshadowed. For example: Which is worse, the Steelers offensive line, or getting stuck on the bus next to the heavy guy who smells of hot dogs and Tinactin? Or, who would have the higher yards per pass attempt: Real life Collin Kaepernick or Tecmo Super Bowl Jim Kelly? Fortunately for you, I have the answer to these two questions (the Steelers/Jim Kelly) and two others.
DeSean Jackson and Anquan Boldin were largely ranked in the high 20’s to low 30’s in the preseason. Many had written off Boldin as old and slow following three solid but unexciting campaigns in Baltimore. Jackson has long been known as a one trick pony; a guy who strictly runs fly patterns and seam routes. 2013 has brought change, and a red hot start, for each. And while neither is a Tecmo Super Bowl era Bo Jackson or Christian Okoye, they both still have their charms.
Can Anquan Boldin Finish the Year with 208 Receptions and 3,328 Yards?
I think we all know the answer to that: Only if Tecmo’s QB Eagles were involved. A more realistic question: Can Boldin be a reliable WR2? As usual, the answer starts with some numbers.
Of all the players I have studied, I can’t recall seeing somebody so utterly consistent from year to year. Since Boldin entered the league in 2003, he has had one season with less than 837 yards receiving and only two over 1038. Even more telling are his net expected points (NEP) per target and yards per reception figures.
These numbers strongly suggest that Boldin’s admittedly declining physical skills are more or less irrelevant where his fantasy results are concerned. Sure, he may have lost a step or three, but he also has an incredibly high football IQ, heaps of veteran savvy, and one of the most physical styles in the NFL. All this adds up to a player who is as effective on a per touch basis at 33 years old as he was when he was 25.
Ability is one thing, opportunity is another. The last three years in Baltimore, Boldin was sharing the ball with some combination of Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Torrey Smith, Ray Rice, and Dennis Pitta. Any one of those guys would be a candidate to either start or log significant snaps for this year’s 49ers. When it comes to the passing game, San Francisco has Boldin, Vernon Davis, and nobody. It is also worth noting that in Colin Kaepernick's short career, he has leaned on big possession types. He actually helped Michael Crabtree to not be mediocre for the first time in his NFL career. We saw an example of the Kaepernick Bump on Sunday as he looked to his veteran receiver early and often. Based on the way the offense has been run under coach Jim Harbaugh and his young quarterback, I see no reason why Boldin won't continue to be a focal point.
Add all this up and what do we get? Despite facing a stout Seahawks defense this week, numberFire has Boldin as the 18th-ranked wide receiver. While his start is unsustainable, a season stat line of 75-1100-7 isn’t just realistic, it could possibly be exceeded.
Can DeSean Jackson Play 1,200 Snaps This Season?
I can’t believe I am about to say this, but if Jackson can stay healthy, he will easily eclipse that number. In week one, he played 80 of 83 snaps. Simple math tells us that the Eagles are on pace for more than 1,300 offensive plays. And Chip Kelly (who looks like Jon Gruden’s buffet enhanced older brother) says he thinks the offense was slow!? To give you some perspective on how many plays that is, the most snaps Jackson has ever logged in a single season is 893. The game’s best receiver, Calvin Johnson, generally averages 1,000-1,200 in the Lions pass-heavy offense.
If he stays on the field, what exactly is his role in the offense? With Jeremy Maclin on the injured reserve list and Riley Cooper seemingly made from actual stone, Jackson is the Eagles possession guy, deep threat, number-one option, and perhaps the head of catering. When you look at the target distribution in the Week 1 game against Washington, Jackson was the target on 36% of Michael Vick's 25 passes. But due to the lack of other quality options, Jackson accounted for 47% of the quarterback's 15 completions. To put it succinctly, Cooper, who caught two of six targets for 14 yards, and the rest of the "weapons" in Philadelphia are a boon to DeSean's volume.
To find out what we can expect from Jackson in 2013, let’s do some extrapolation.
|Per Snap Average||N/A||.0657||1.147||.0055|
While I am very aware that a simple extrapolation isn’t exactly a full proof way to project a player’s numbers, I do think this gives us a general idea of what Jackson may be capable of given the workload in front of him. The one specific caveat I’d put to these numbers pertains to the overall yardage total. The Kelly offense calls for much shorter passes than Jackson is used to seeing. But even if you lop off, say, 300 yards, you still have a top-20 receiver. Coincidentally, that is exactly where numberFire has him ranked both this week and for the season.
Nobody knows where the madness will end with the Eagles offense. Michael Vick is always susceptible to injury and Jackson isn’t exactly known for durability himself. But if I own him I am starting him with confidence. And if I don’t, I am exploring whether the guy who does is a believer or not.