Blind Résumés: Using Math to Compare Fantasy Football Pass-Catchers

Let's take a look behind the numbers at just how similar some fantasy football receivers and tight ends are, and consider the value of each player.

Here at numberFire, we base most of what we do in regards to the NFL on our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. Even our fantasy football projections and advice stem from this all-encompassing metric for players.

But NEP is ultimately a "real football" statistic, and requires context and logic to be useful in fantasy football. Unless you're in a point-per-NEP league (and if you are, contact me), you need more than just a measure of a player's efficiency and production to make fantasy football decisions.

But production and efficiency are two elements of a good football player, and good football players often see the field more often than bad ones (in most cases...). Being on the field more often leads to opportunity and reliability week-to-week, two other key elements of fantasy football success.

With that in mind, let's take a look at some blind resumes and consider if any players should be valued differently based on their statistical profile when considering their situation as a whole. All of the data in the tables in this article are based on 2013 performance.

We conclude our series with a look at some more pass catchers with similar statistics. Click here for the quarterback blind resumes, here for the running backs, and here for the first set of pass-catchers.

Situation Matters

NameRecRec NEPTargetsRec NEP/TargetRec Success Rate
WR A6475.21990.7684.38%
WR B6073.82990.7590.00%

In the example above, WR A is being drafted in the seventh round, while WR B isn't being drafted at all (according to average draft position data). How could two players with such ridiculously similar statistical profiles be so far apart in fantasy football value?

This is an instance where coaches and quarterback play count against WR B, while WR A is seeing a fantasy-relevant upgrade by changing teams this season and playing for a more pass-happy offense.

WR A is Golden Tate, the new Lions wideout who spent last season as the top receiver for the Seahawks. He'll be joining a team with more targets to go around (Seattle was one of the most run-heavy teams in the league last year), but he'll also be fighting for looks with a bunch of other capable pass-catchers.

WR B is Rod Streater, who is one of the handful of wideouts in Oakland competing for the chance to chase down passes from Matt Schaub. According to our data, he was pretty good last year.

Streater finished ninth among pass catchers with 75 to 100 targets in Reception NEP per target a season ago, just a couple of spots below teammate Denarius Moore. The problem with relying on Streater (or Moore) in fantasy football is that neither seems to be in favor with their coaching staff.

Keep an eye on the Oakland receiver situation, because both Streater and Moore did well last season, and could surprise this year as solid waiver wire pickups.

This Is Why You Wait On Tight Ends

NameRecRec NEPTargetsRec NEP/TargetRec Success Rate
TE A8080.461180.6876.25%
TE B6966.541020.6582.61%

There are a million reasons why investing heavily in a tight end is a bad idea in a standard fantasy football league, and this example might be yet another piece of evidence to convince you to wait on the position.

TE A is being taken in the fifth round of drafts, and plays for an offense that has been nothing short of a train wreck in the preseason. The other tight end is being taken in the 13th round, despite having the sixth-most points among tight ends in 2013 who haven't retired over the offseason (a fancy way of saying "not including Tony Gonzalez").

Both the fantasy statistics and NEP data say there's not a huge gap between these players, so why is Jordan Cameron (TE A) going so much higher in drafts than Charles Clay (TE B)? Both players burst onto the scene last season, proving to be more than worth whatever was invested in them, but why is Cameron's value so inflated, while Clay is barely being drafted?

Let this be a lesson to wait at tight end in your drafts this year. Whatever upside Cameron has isn't worth his inflated cost, especially with the poor play at quarterback his team should expect with Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel both struggling with the offense in Cleveland.

Which One is Megatron?

NameRecRec NEPTargetsRec NEP/TargetRec Success Rate
WR A85120.571290.9391.76%
WR B84143.561560.9295.24%

There may be no greater proof that NEP is a "real life" football statistic and not a fantasy statistic in its raw form than this comparison. One of these players is a consensus first-round pick, and the other is being drafted in the 11th round.

The first-round pick is WR B, Calvin Johnson. Johnson's per-target NEP is deflated because he's so heavily targeted in the Detroit offense that the Lions are actually hurting their overall efficiency to get him involved. That doesn't matter to fantasy players, however, as they still benefit from the catches, but don't suffer from the incompletions or interceptions on throws intended for Megatron.

WR A is Anquan Boldin, who finished better on a per-target basis, and had similar overall production, but is in a much less fantasy-friendly situation. Boldin sees the return of Michael Crabtree as a threat to his volume, and the general run-heavy nature of the San Francisco offense as a drain on his upside to gain yards and score touchdowns.

Boldin is (and has been) a fantastic football player, which means he's well worth your pick in fantasy football. As long as he's healthy, he's going to see the field, because he's as consistent of a receiver as you'll find. But his situation and his opportunity limit his upside, which is why he's not on the same tier as Megatron despite similar metrics.

Injuries Take a Toll

NameRecRec NEPTargetsRec NEP/TargetRec Success Rate
WR A5963.64930.6888.14%
WR B6365.68970.6892.06%

These two players are being drafted 10 rounds apart, and yet again, it seems as though the "Oakland factor" is limiting the value of a fantasy football receiver with respectable metrics according to our numbers.

That's because WR A, James Jones, is moving to Oakland from Green Bay, where he was a boom-or-bust touchdown creator who provided more headaches than victories for his fantasy owners. His situation doesn't seem like it's improving due to this change, especially when you consider the depth chart stacked with similar players for the Raiders.

But there's another misleading element about this combination, and that's the health of WR B, Roddy White. White was banged up almost all of last season, and posted his lowest NEP numbers across the board since 2007. His health was an obvious enemy to both his efficiency and fantasy relevance, so he's bound to bounce back, right?

Almost everyone is assuming that, as White is being drafted in the fourth round of fantasy drafts at the moment. But what if he's hit the late stages of his career and has simply slowed down? What if nagging injuries are just going to be a part of Roddy White's life in the NFL until he retires?

The data above says if that's the case, we have a player resembling James Jones with the Packers, which would be an obvious disappointment for those drafting White with an early pick in drafts. So while you shouldn't stop taking Roddy White in drafts, consider that if his health issues continue to drag him down, you're taking a barely flex-worthy receiver with a pick often used on a WR1 or WR2.