Can Low Volume Offenses Produce High-End Fantasy WRs?

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Can gold be mined in lower-volume offenses? Can efficiency win out?

What can the past tell us about these low-volume offenses and can a champion pass-catcher emerge victorious?

Before you stake your claim on your favorite sneaky WR, note that the bottom can drop out when you realize a WR without enough volume is simply playing against a stacked deck. As much as you might like someone like Juju Smith-Schuster as a value, it’s hard seeing him compete with true alphas in a New England offense that averaged just 32 pass attempts per game and ranked 31st in expected points added per play. Not when the Justin Jeffersons of the world are running 600+ routes and seeing insane volume on teams that pass first at a rate of nearly 40 attempts per game.

Let’s dive into pass rate over expectation and how to applies to five WR1s from some of the lowest projected volume NFL offenses in the Ultimate Draft Kit.

Pass Rate Over Expectation

The method for this was simple: look at low-volume offenses and see what their WRs accomplished. I used pass rate over expectation (PROE) as the key source as opposed to pure passing volume as PROE cuts through some of the noise. It is defined as the probability of a dropback (also known as called pass play) determined by game context – the down, the distance to the 1st down marker, the time remaining, score differential, etc.

A team’s PROE is calculated by looking at their actual called pass rate minus their expected pass rate. You could argue this is a better measurement than pure pass attempts or how often a team is passing on 1st and 2nd downs. For example, the Washington Commanders show up 20th in pass attempts per game in 2022, in the same neighborhood as teams like the Bills. When you consider game conditions, they rank 28th in PROE, a far cry from where the Bills (3rd) rank. The Colts are also an enigma ranking 8th in total pass attempts but 21st in PROE.

Using’s NFL Team Stat Explorer, I looked at the bottom-5 teams in PROE since 2019 and their corresponding WR1 (based on targets) and how they performed for fantasy football.

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Year Team PROE Top WR Tgts FPPG FF
2022 CHI -13.6% Darnell Mooney 61 7.4 75
2022 ATL -13.4% Drake London 117 8.6 30
2022 TEN -10.6% Robert Woods 91 5.4 62
2022 CAR -8.1% DJ Moore 118 9.9 23
2022 WAS -7.4% Terry McLaurin 120 11.2 15
2021 TEN -7.7% AJ Brown 105 11.5 31
2021 SF -6.6% Deebo Samuel 120 18.7 2
2021 NO -5.9% Marquez Callaway 84 7.6 42
2021 PHI -5.6% DeVonta Smith 103 9 29
2021 CLE -5.2% Jarvis Landry 85 9.3 52
2020 NE -11.0% Jakobi Meyers 81 8.6 60
2020 BAL -9.8% Marquise Brown 99 9.6 34
2020 TEN -8.7% AJ Brown 106 14.9 12
2020 DEN -5.3% Jerry Jeudy 113 8.1 45
2020 SF -5.0% Brandon Aiyuk 97 12.9 33
2019 MIN -8.1% Stefon Diggs 94 12.4 21
2019 BAL -7.6% Marquise Brown 71 8.8 45
2019 TEN -6.8% AJ Brown 84 11.9 15
2019 SF -5.1% Deebo Samuel 81 10.7 30
2019 IND -5.0% Zach Pascal 72 8.1 50
Average 95.1 10.2 35.2

Over the last five years, the WR1 produced averages that might a bit uninspiring when you see it at first glance. 95 targets? Meh. I mean Josh Palmer had 107 targets last year in a high-volume offense! How are 95 targets going to help us? Over the last decade, that was WR40 territory which gels nicely with the WR35 finish on average from our above chart.

In other words, if you knew before the season you were drafting a WR from a bottom-5 PROE offense, you need an outlier TD season to crack the top-24. A.J. Brown in Tennessee and Deebo Samuel‘s magical 2021 campaign (aided by 8(!) rushing TDs) are the lone true difference-makers on this list. Heck, even Stefon Diggs‘ 2019 season sticks out as a less than impactful year where his finish (WR21) was on the back of three monster games including 40 fantasy points in Week 6.

Applying for 2023

Let’s take this analysis a step further. I looked at our projections in the Ultimate Draft Kit and identified some of the lowest-volume teams for 2023. Based on this set, can their WR1s pay off at their current ADP for 2023?

DeAndre Hopkins, TEN (ADP: WR21/4.12)

We know what the Titans are: the Tennessee Derrick Henrys. In fact, last year he accounted for 39.6% of the team’s offensive yards and TDs, the highest mark of his career. Yes, despite his age the dude still is a force. The Titans have ranked bottom-5 in PROE each of the last four years with Ryan Tannehill at the helm. His calling card always was efficiency, something that likely won’t change despite DeAndre Hopkins coming to town. Hopkins averaged 10.7 targets per game last year in Arizona but he lived off of pure volume for fantasy. At WR21, he is seated next to other WRs in similar volume situations (Terry McLaurin, DJ Moore, Drake London) which makes his price justifiable. For reference, the WR21 saw 117 targets on average over the last decade which seems well within reach for Hopkins. Can Hopkins finish with 8+ TDs? Sure. If this offense rebounds to being top-15 in points scored as they were from 2019-2021, he has a chance to make some noise. Personally, I’m worried in full PPR leagues that he is being drafted near his ceiling.

D.J. Moore, CHI (ADP: WR22/5.05)

It’s been a wild ride with DJ Moore this off-season because when he got traded to the Bears, I was O-U-T at his early Bestball ADP. These are different times as he plummeted more than a round in ADP. This is more palatable with his new location. His projectable volume from the Footballers is immense and we know that he can handle that type of workload. Everything in camp between Justin Fields and DJ Moore screams that these two can be a dynamic duo. Keep in mind that Bears WRs had a combined two(!) games of 12+ fantasy points last year. Yes, you read that correctly: Dante Pettis & Darnell Mooney. That should change but also we also can’t write off Moore’s TD efficiencies through five years in his career. I’m definitely fine buying Moore at this price tag especially when he slips into the late 5th round. His floor might be 95 targets but the ceiling is somewhere north of 130.

Drake London, ATL (ADP: WR25/5.07)

As a rookie, London put up some impressive per-route metrics including the highest target share among rookie WRs with 50+ targets since 2014.

However, that figure needs context because as you’ll see, his 419 routes run puts him in the 59th percentile of that group. Not terrible but also limiting when you considered Atlanta ranking 31st in PROE and totaling just six TDs as a team outside the red zone the last two years! That is historically bad when you connect the dots on London being a big-play receiver. If you watched any Atlanta Falcons football last year, you understand just how bad Marcus Mariota was throwing deep. Desmond Ridder‘s competency certainly is a question mark heading forward but even if London maintains similar volume, he looks like a solid pick in the 5th round especially as a WR3. Jason did a deep study in 2021 on The Sophomore Bump & Breaking Down the Door of ADP for WRs and we found the sweet spot for drafting these players. “Of the sophomore WRs with an ADP of Rounds 4-8, ALL of them beat their rookie fantasy points per game… and 85 % outperformed their ADP expectation.” Boom! London’s rookie metrics, draft capital, and draft price say he is one of the WRs on low PROE offenses worth taking at their cost.

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Michael Pittman Jr., IND (ADP: WR32/6.12)

At this point, I feel like this statistic lives with me as I eat and sleep: rookie QBs fail to sustain a top-36 WR 70 percent of the time since 2004. I wrote about it a few years back and every year I update my research to find that number still holds true. Michael Pittman‘s 2022 ADP and his historic inefficiencies are still screaming at us. What can we expect from presumably a low-volume Colts offense built on running the ball, their offensive line, and a rushing rookie QB. If we adjust for Anthony Richardson‘s rushing prowess and give him a mere 60 total attempts on the year, here are the ten other rookie QBs since 2004 and their corresponding WR1s.

Granted, 60 rush attempts in 12 games feel like no big deal for Richardson. If I set the bar at 80+ attempts, the list drops to just five guys: Vince Young, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, and Kyler Murray. Those comps probably give us a fairer expectation of Richardson in Year 1 albeit all five of those had major success. Four of them were Offensive Rookie of the Year while Wilson only missed out thanks to RG3. Michael Pittman‘s volume probably is capped at 120 targets and the efficiency might not be able to get him north of 90 receptions. Outside of 6-7 TDs, it will be hard for him to finish near the top-24. Consider him a low-ceiling WR3 which doesn’t exactly excite anyone.

Nico Collins, HOU (ADP: WR62/13.10)

One of these is not like the others…Nico Collins is probably chilling out on your dynasty roster and you might be asking yourself the question, “Will this 3rd Year WR be anything?” He certainly has a chance to assert himself in the midst of a nebulous pass-catching group. The draft price is so cheap that you probably forgot he still exists in our fantasy football multiverse. A 19 % target share last year is nothing to shy away from but when we look at the system in place with new OC Bobby Slowik coming over from San Francisco, his skillset doesn’t exactly translate. WRs who can block and create as YAC specialists are the staple of the Kyle Shanahan system giving a signal to the multi-year signing of veteran Robert Woods. Collins always profiled as a big-body receiver with the ability to blot out the sun in the red zone. His one trump card is 50/50 balls as he ranked 2nd among all WRs (75%) in contested catch rate. It sounds great but realize those 12 contested catch receptions didn’t exactly translate to fantasy goodness as he had just one finish inside the top-24 on the season before it was cut short due to a foot injury. It’s a shame as he started cooking being targeted on 26.7 % of his routes over the final month of the season. With added competition with Woods, John Metchie III, and rookie Tank Dell, there are multiple factors stacked against Collins from a pure volume standpoint. Oh, and it all comes back to our aforementioned rookie QB statistic. Can he beat his ADP? Sure. But if Collins ends the year as the WR52, does it really matter for fantasy football apart from a few spike Best Ball weeks?

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