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FANTASY FOOTBALL: THE XTRA POINT

Jonathan Bales Staff Writer July 9, 2012 12:20PM EDT

The Xtra Point: Eric Decker’s 2012 Fantasy Value

The wide receiver position is an interesting one in Fantasy Football circles of late, particularly in relation to the widespread use of three-plus receiver sets in the NFL. As passing rates increase seemingly exponentially, the importance of wide receiver depth is vital in the NFL.

Although the same is true in Fantasy Football, I think the growth of the NFL’s passing game has actually decreased the importance of the wide receiver position in Fantasy. There are more and more options available each year, with many teams’ third receivers putting up starter-caliber Fantasy numbers. The proliferation of the passing game has thus ironically curtailed the early selection of many receivers.

Or at least it should. A lot of owners are still stocking up on receivers early, and that’s not necessarily the best strategy in 2012. Although value should dictate your selections, many mid and late-round receivers are providing superior value as compared to the Andre Johnsons of the world.

One of the reasons for this is the lack of year-to-year consistency among wide receivers. In writing my book Fantasy Football for Smart People, I found that receivers are actually the least consistent skill players in Fantasy Football. You can see the great volatility inherent to receiving touchdowns in the graph below.

From my book:

I think one of the primary reasons wide receivers have such high volatility is the randomness inherent to their position. While all football players are dependent on teammates for their success, it is particularly true for receivers, who need a quality quarterback and a decent offensive line. 

Further, wide receivers have a small sample size of plays on which they can score Fantasy points.  Even No. 1 receiving options play in games where they see just three targets. Although these fluctuations even out a bit over the course of a season, it isn’t to the same degree of running backs.

On average, just 38 percent of receivers’ touchdowns carry over from one season to the next (with the other 62 percent regressing toward a league mean). Receiving yards are only slightly more stable. This means gambling on receivers early in Fantasy drafts is generally unwarranted. Mid and late-round receivers are providing far more value in 2012.

One such receiver who could generate a ton of Fantasy value this year is Eric Decker. With Peyton Manning in town, Decker’s potential is immense. Here’s what Decker has going for him this season:

 

  • A high ceiling

In the beginning of the draft, owners should be safe because players’ upside, relative to their draft spot, is naturally limited. In the middle and late rounds, however, it is prudent to maximize potential. Few mid-round receivers have as much potential as Decker.

Even with Demaryius Thomas likely drawing the majority of the targets, there will be plenty of looks to go around in Denver this season. The Broncos are no longer a running team, and Decker could play the “Reggie Wayne” to Thomas’s “Marvin Harrison.”

 

  • Increase in receptions

Decker caught 44 passes in 2011. If he doesn’t exceed that in 2012, I’ll be astounded. Decker figures to get a ton of quick looks from Manning, using his big frame to thrive on slants and other short in-breaking routes.

Decker garnered 92 targets in 2011, yet caught only 44 passes. A big reason for that was having the inaccurate Tim Tebow at quarterback. Decker is a lock to dramatically improve his 47.8 percent catch rate.

Even as the number two option in the passing game, you have to believe Decker will receive at least 100 targets from Manning (and probably closer to 120). With a catch rate that’s likely to check in around 60.0 percent, 60 receptions is a very conservative estimate for Decker in 2012.

 

  • Solid ADP

You can see below that Decker’s ADP, or Average Draft Position, is currently in the middle part of the sixth round—just behind similar players like Antonio Brown and Kenny Britt.

I think Decker offers superior value to the players going in his range. He possesses moderate risk but a very high ceiling. Whereas a player like Antonio Brown probably won’t see enough looks to provide No. 1 receiver value, Decker could potentially see the number of targets typically reserved for a team’s top wideout.

Yes, there’s risk with Decker’s lack of elite past production and the health of Manning (although that may not be as great of a risk as many believe), but every receiver in the middle and late rounds has some risk associated with them.

Ultimately, Decker is what you want in a mid-round draft pick—a player with an outstanding ceiling without excessive downside.

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