By: Tyler Ghee (Twitter: @TheMrGhee)
Updated: 6/12/2017

The Big Name Showdown

In the past I wrote an article discussing the fact that I would be willing to sell Mike Evans. The polarity could not be more real. A collected group of people that read the article and then took it to heart. Some enjoyed the insightful read. Others started to sharpen their pitchforks and lighting their torches. However, what ever side you stood on the biggest question that many people began to conjure up was “Well Evans stats are fine, but how does that compare to other big name wide receivers in the league.” This is that article.

Anyone that has taken the time to read my articles in the past knows my love for numbers and the impact that I believe targets have on a wide receiver. We often see carries for a running back as his opportunity, but fail to connect opportunity for wide receiver as targets. As we move forward all the stats you will see are based off targets. Targets are opportunity and receptions are the ability to capitalize on that opportunity. Knowing this statistics were done over nine talented wide receivers that we know and love. This article is going to look at each one of these top wide receivers and rank them statistically on these four categories:

Average Number of Targets
Average Percentage of Receptions per Target
Average Yards Per Target
Average Fantasy Points Per Target

(The data will show the last 3 previous years and only include players that have played at least 3 years in the NFL.)

In order to better understand the methodology, let us look at a concrete example of Antonio Brown and derive how we came up with the numbers that are to follow.


Let’s get down to what we are looking at with the data. In white we can see that data for Brown for the last three years. In blue, we can see that data used to make ratios based off targets for each of the years. So in 2016 (in blue) Brown had a 68.83% reception rate per target, he also averaged 8.33 yards a target, and 1.99 PPR fantasy points per target. Additional to this (in white) we can see exactly how many targets he saw each of those years in the data. One thing that seems to stand out about this player is the underlying consistency. So taking the average of these years we get Browns numbers of:

This same method then was used on each of the following elite wide receivers to check for consistency and rank each player in the statistic they best excel at. The following table then was constructed.

Keep in mind that these are all average over the last three years. Some players that would be considered “elite” did not make this chart as there is fewer than three years of play. (ruling out Nelson’s year of inactivity)

Average Number of Targets

Looking at the green column of targets we can directly see what I call “The Big 3”, this of course being Brown, Jones, and Beckham. They are target machines. Just plain and simple. This is the main reason that they are targeted so high in dynasty, as well as, redraft leagues and rightfully so. However there is more to consider in this chart and that is injury. Injury can play a part in the number of targets and opportunity a player averages. Looking at Bryant, we can see a huge fall of targets as Dez’s health has been a concern in the past. Additional to this what surprises me is the low amount of targets that Cooks averages (105) despite having little health issues.
It is also important to recognize that injury should not directly impact the reception percent, yards, or points as those are based off of the opportunity that they did receive. The next sections I consider to be dramatically more important as it shows how efficient a player is despite health concerns or their opportunity.

Average Percentage of Receptions Per Target
When looking at the table the first thing that jumps off is Brown’s ability to catch the ball. Not only is the man unbelievable target monster, but he is almost always going to snag the ball down. Following him I found Cooks, which was a bit more surprising. Knowing that Cooks receives lower amounts of targets, this made it ever so clear that Cooks just makes the best of the targets that he does find coming his way. I also recognizing that the change in location for Cooks leads to the idea that these numbers are bound to change. This partly due to the fact that these numbers are a bit of a two way street. Better quarterbacks, put up better targets. Sometimes the lack of reception is not solely based off the wide receiver’s inability to catch the ball, but the inability for the quarterback to give them a catchable ball. This plays an important role as we look at the bottom two.
Mike Evans and Dez Bryant both find themselves with an average percent catch rate of about 53%. This could be due to the ever growing Jameis Winston or Dak Prescott still finding their way as an elite quarterback, but whatever the reason it is a cause for concern. I would also like to point out that Dez targets in the last three years have not all came from Dak Prescott. I do believe each can improve, however most top rated players seem to be grabbing at least up to 7% more, which can be a large leap.

Average Yards Per Target
Catching the ball is well and great, but how far out you’re catching the rock is just as vitally important. So who makes the top of the list? No other than Julio Jones himself. This came as no surprise to me as an analyst, one can just watch this man play and see the balls he catches. These passes almost seem like they came from a different time zone. Not only is Jones the best, but by a large margin. Although having the 4th best reception percentage, Jones more than makes up for it in the air.
More concerning is the fact that Evans and Bryant find their way to the bottom again. Once again this can be due to quarterback play, but I think that it should be recognized as a stuttering statistic and should be taken for what they are. Yes there can be improvement, but we have yet to see it in the last three years.

Average Fantasy Points Per Target

This by far is the most important stat to me as a fantasy owner. All the others are side dishes to the main event, points. Touchdowns are to hard to predict, but with average points we can see their influence on a player’s production. Coming in as the main man was Jordy Nelson. A little bit of a shocker, great player, but I assumed he would take a second role to Antonio Brown. Regardless Jordy throws up a staggering 2.09 ppr points per target! Well above most of the rest. This lets me know that I will almost definitely be drafting Nelson at his current ADP in the second round of a redraft league. The next aspect that jumps off the page is the next four players and closely their numbers are. Brown, Cooks, and OBJ all hover around the 2.03 ppr points per target. I projected this for Brown and Beckham, but not for Cook which provides some insight. Additional to this I see A.J. Greens production surprisingly high. Lots of debate about the value of Green, but the statistics show that when healthy he is a force to be reckoned with.

The final point I am sure you have guessed is the plummet of Evans once again. Although still throwing up great amount of points, there are concerns when being compared to the people around his same talent level. These types of stats show me that in a redraft league I would much rather have Jordy Nelson than Mike Evans. Although a bold statement as Evan ADP is higher, I think the stats speak for themselves. In order to be clear, in dynasty I am never buying into a 31 year old wide receiver over Mike Evans.

Summing It All Up
Numbers don’t lie. In saying that they also can be interpreted differently. Regardless of how you feel about my opinions on the data, I would encourage you to take a moment and determine what you think these numbers all mean as you draft in the future and trade in your dynasty league. All of this data has added to my perspective and has made me start drafting different and trading. I hope it does the same for you.

Tyler Ghee is a husband, father, teacher, disc golf lover, and fantasy football enthusiast. Host of the FFD260 Podcast and writer. Follow @TheMrGhee