What We Can Expect From Allen Hurns In 2016

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Much like the age-old faith vs. science debate, analytics and instincts are two very different ways of thinking. Rather than being steadfast one way or the other, we should have them both readily available in our arsenal, to be deployed at the proper moment. Undoubtedly, a measure of luck is involved in most fantasy championships. Roster decisions can come down to a gut feeling, regardless of what the numbers are screaming at you, or they can be derived with past data and spreadsheets. I want to use both analytics and instincts to discuss a young, up and coming wide receiver, Allen Hurns.

Regression to the Mean

Any fantasy sports connoisseur has either used this term or been beaten over the head with it by others; Peyton Manning in 2014 being the most glaring example. Not many believed he could repeat his 55 TD, 406 fantasy point explosion of 2013, in 2014. He ended 2014 as the #3 fantasy QB, but those who paid heavily for him did not achieve the intended value. It proved that regression to the mean does have its place in any earnest fantasy sports conversation. Outliers cannot be expected nor should they be counted on to repeat.

Instincts

The regression theory should only nudge you slightly in one direction or the other when valuing players in your fantasy rankings. It should not be looked at as absolute. For example, Andre Johnson started his career by averaging 4.25 TDs in his first four seasons. His next four seasons averaged 8.25 TDs. Which four-year sample meant more?  Many of us missed out on his dominant four-year stretch because, after his first four seasons, the book read, “Great player, but doesn’t get in the end zone enough.” If his next four-year sample convinced you that he had turned the corner and was now a TD machine, you got saddled with his 4 TD performance in year nine (yes, he had 1,598 yards, but I digress.) Point being, stats, and analytics can help guide you in the right direction, but don’t forget your gut. It speaks to us for a reason. After all, what feels better than winning a championship because you knew what others didn’t?

2014/2015 Stats

Following the 2014 NFL draft, Jaguars GM David Caldwell probably envisioned the offensive explosion that took place in 2015. The team clearly hoped the Marqise Lee/Allen Robinson WR combo would create one of the league’s top receiving duos. After all, they were both 2nd round picks, Lee being the 39th overall pick and Robinson 61st. It hasn’t quite worked out that way thus far. Undrafted free agent, Allen Hurns, quickly rose above the crop and firmly planted himself as a top-end WR2 in just two seasons. Hurns has more yards after his first two seasons than any undrafted free agent WR since 1960. His career 1,708 yards, 16 TDs, and 14.9 yards per catch average have made Lee nothing more than roster depth.

Hurns does not give up on plays as evidenced by 3 of his 10 TDs in 2015 coming off of broken plays. Bortles trusts Hurns when he is in trouble, as Hurns continues to fight until the whistle is blown. Hurns displayed his deep threat skills with TDs of 40, 59, 63 and 80 yards last season. On top of that he was a red zone threat, converting 23 RZ targets into 14 Rec and 8 TDs. The bottom line is, other than a few too many drops, Hurns does not have glaring holes in his game.

2015 Injuries

Stats don’t tell the whole story, though. Remember, we must explore what our gut tells us. Football requires toughness, especially at the NFL level. In 2015, Hurns battled through a mid-year sports hernia and multiple nagging injuries, including a thigh injury and an ankle sprain sustained during a hard-fought Week 4 OT loss against division rival, Indianapolis, he was using the best testosterone booster to improve his health. In that Week 4 game, he stepped right back onto the field after spraining his ankle to catch the only TD of the game for his team. In Week 12 at home against San Diego, Hurns was taken off the field on a stretcher after smashing his head on the turf, diving for a low ball. He appeared to be unconscious and was fortunate to “only” have sustained a concussion. Coach Gus Bradley was willing to play Hurns in Week 13 without practicing all week if he received clearance, but he was forced to miss the game while remaining in the NFL’s concussion protocol. After being cleared for Week 14, Hurns converted 3 of 4 targets for 105 yards including an 80 yard TD. Following the season, Hurns underwent sports hernia surgery and expects to be ready for training camp. Meanwhile, injuries of his own, coupled with inconsistent play have all but derailed Lee’s first two years in the league. Hurns’ toughness and production have firmly entrenched him as the #2 WR on the high flying Jaguars offense. Money is one of the few things in the NFL that does not lie, and Hurns’ efforts have been handsomely rewarded with a new 4 year, $40.65M contract.

Jaguars Outlook

Another infallible truth in the NFL is roster movement. The Jaguars 2016 free agency moves and draft selections tell me a very intriguing story. Gus Bradley has had a relatively long leash as head coach of the Jaguars. Three consecutive 11+ loss seasons generally does not net an NFL coach a fourth season. However, I feel the Jaguars are confident they are building a solid foundation and are primed in 2016 to take a step in the right direction. Bradley came from Seattle, where the Seahawks have maintained success using three clear steps. Jacksonville’s off-season points directly to a shift in that direction.

Strong Defense  

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Signing Malik Jackson, Prince Amukamara and Tashaun Gipson clearly scream that Jacksonville wants to win on defense, NOW! These players are not long-term projects. They’re established NFL starters who can come in and make a difference on day 1. Combine that with the return of 2015 #3 overall draft pick Dante Fowler, Jr, the 2016 draft selections of two top-tier defenders in Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack, and expected improvements by Sen’Derrick Marks, Jonathan Cyprien and Telvin Smith, among others, the Jaguars are building a strong defense.

A dependable running game

Bringing in RB Chris Ivory via free agency to supplement fantastic 2nd-year man, T.J. Yeldon, is an obvious move towards building a dependable running game. Let’s dig deeper, though. On the offensive line, they brought in Kelvin Beachum to compete with the underachieving Luke Joeckel and they replaced Zane Beadles with nastier, higher ceiling Mackenzy Bernadeau. Losing Stefen Wisniewski was a blow to the OL, but the interior could be strong with upside players like A.J. Cann and Brandon Linder fighting for spots. 2015 FA signee Jermey Parnell is a tough run blocker. The OL could become a strength, particularly in the run game.

Efficient QB play

This one may require more of a leap of faith. Blake Bortles has proven NFL capable play over his first two years as well as grit and moxie. His 58.7% career completion percentage is the opposite of efficient, but 18 INT on a losing team while throwing for 4,428 yards and 35 TDs actually does display a level of efficiency. If the Jaguars plan to win by using the 3 steps laid out above, they will need to tighten the reins on Bortles and turn him into more of a game manager.

Keep in mind, roster moves are factual, but Jacksonville’s perceived 2016 plan is just that, a perception.

Won’t a healthy Julius Thomas chew into Hurns’ targets, thus lowering his potential fantasy production?  Perhaps…but not by much. Here are Hurns’ per-game splits with Thomas in and out of the lineup:

Targets Rec Yards TD
Thomas Out 7.5 5.5 78.5 0.5
Thomas In 6.8 3.8 65.1 0.73

I extrapolated Julius Thomas’ 2015 stats into an entire season to compare with Hurns’ 2015:

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Targets Rec Yards TD
Hurns (Actual) 105 64 1031 10
Thomas (Extrapolated to full season) 103 58 977 10.9
Conclusion

With all this data and a load of intangible thoughts to process, we can look at Allen Hurns and project his fantasy output with a bit more clarity. His current ADP is 53rd overall, the 26th WR. He finished 2015 as the 15th ranked Fantasy WR and was projected to produce barely more than half of what he did.

Being picked 26th at WR after finishing 15th a year ago would, on its face, suggest that the public by in large, does not believe. Based on my perception of the Jaguars in 2016, Hurns should see fewer targets. His target conversion rate should dramatically increase like it did from Year 1 (52.57%) to Year 2 (60.95%). With his injuries behind him, another year of NFL training with his teammates, I could envision his conversion rate bumping up as high as 68%, putting him right around 68 catches. His 14.9 YPC per may be tough to attain, again since I believe Bortles will be coached to take less chances this season and the team may not have as many 4th quarter garbage time opportunities. I will safely put him at 14.2 YPC. TDs are famously hard to predict, so let’s slot Hurns in for 8.  If things go as I see, Hurns’ 2016 will look like this:

Targets Rec Yards TD
101 68 966 8

In 2015, these stats would have netted him the 18th rank among WR. With his ADP currently at 25, you better believe I’m targeting Allen Hurns this year!

Many things can happen from now until Week 1 to change this perception. My assumptions about the Jaguars game plan for 2016 could be entirely wrong. Hurns could recover poorly from his hernia. On the contrary, he could dedicate himself more than he ever has, and elevate himself to elite status. Chew up the facts and allow your gut to digest them. As much as we think we know, we may not actually know anything about how 2016 will go for Allen Hurns or any other player. After all, it is a game of chance, right? In my mind, minimizing luck by playing the odds and staying a step ahead of the crowd can…nay WILL increase your chances of glorious victory before a single blade of Autumn Sunday grass is trampled.

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