Expected Fantasy Points: Which Wide Receivers Were Most Efficient With Opportunity?
Not every opportunity is created equal, and not every touch – reception, pass, or rush attempt – will generate the same amount of fantasy points. Therefore, a player’s involvement in their respective offense will ultimately dictate their upside for fantasy purposes. Are they involved in the deep game? How often is a player targeted in the red zone? By answering some of those questions, and leveraging four seasons worth of data, I calculated the expected fantasy points for every wide receiver based on their utilization on the field. Comparing that value against a player’s actual fantasy points will highlight those who were most and least efficient with their given opportunity.
Expected Wide Receiver Fantasy Points: The Process
If you are interested in my Expected Fantasy Points analysis for Running Backs, you can find that here! But for this article, we shift our focus onto the wide receiver position. As I mentioned in my RB analysis, the expected fantasy points will vary depending on where players receive their opportunity. To quantify that statement, I leveraged data from 2017 to 2020 to calculate the average number of fantasy points a wide receiver has generated per target.
- 1 WR Target (outside of the Red Zone): 1.66 PPR points
- 1 WR Red Zone Target: 2.52 PPR points
We see above that a target outside of the red zone is worth 34.1% less for fantasy than a target inside the 20. And while red zone targets are clearly very valuable, the depth of target is similarly important for receivers. The further a wide receiver is targeted downfield, the more opportunities they have to generate big plays.
Knowing this information, how do we translate this to an expected fantasy points metric? In short, I used four seasons worth of data (719 WR seasons from 2017 to 2020) to run a multiple regression analysis with the following metrics.
- Total Opportunity Share: A wide receiver’s share of opportunities (targets and/or rush attempts) relative to their team. Was this player a focal point of the offense?
- Targets per Game: While a high opportunity share is important, actual volume is dependent on the team’s passing rate. Ideally, we want to see a high opportunity share and a high target count for a receiver.
- Red Zone Opportunities per Game: The average number of targets and rush attempts inside the 20
- Air Yards per Game: The total yards that a target travels prior to the reception, also known as a wide receiver’s average depth of target.
Using the results of the regression analysis, I calculated the expected fantasy points per game for each wide receiver from this past season. The difference between that number and their seasonal PPR per game average is known as Fantasy Points Over (or Under) Expected, or FPOE. This metric can highlight a player’s efficiency relative to opportunity while identifying potential regression candidates for the following season.
FPOE and Wide Receiver Efficiency – 2020 Season
For my analysis, I wanted to focus on wide receivers that were consistently involved in their offense. Therefore, my graph below is filtered on receivers that played a minimum of eight games, averaging at least five targets per game. In doing so, I am highlighting players who had plenty of opportunity to regress to the mean, while remaining efficient (or inefficient) for the majority of the season.
Let’s dive into the data!
Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
FPOE: +84.9 (WR1) | FPOE/G: +6.1 (WR1)
Davante Adams had a season for the ages, averaging 25.74 PPR points per game. That is the 4th best WR fantasy season in NFL history per Pro Football Reference, ranking behind only Wes Chandler (1982) and two of Jerry Rice’s seasons (1987 & 1995). What is most impressive about Adams’ performance is that he remained efficient despite leading all wide receivers in nearly every volume metric. He was the WR1 in red zone opportunities (1.93 p/g), total opportunity share (18%), and targets per game (10.6), clearly operating as the focal point of the Packers offense. So while he set the bar extremely high with 19.7 expected fantasy points, he still exceeded that by 6.1 to lead all WRs in total FPOE (+84.97). Part of Adams’ fantasy success can be attributed to his absurd touchdown rate in the red zone, scoring on 51.9% of his opportunities. For reference, the league average WR touchdown rate inside the 20 over the last four years is 25.4%, which Adams doubled this past season. Unfortunately, this likely means that regression is due even if Aaron Rodgers is not traded. In fact, after their historic seasons, both Rice and Chandler regressed heavily, experiencing a 31.5% decline in yards and 51.9% dropoff in total touchdowns. Nevertheless, Adams remains in the conversation for a top-3 finish at his position due to the volume that will likely go his way. However, fantasy managers should expect a slight decline in efficiency this upcomig season.
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
FPOE: +49.9 (WR5) | FPOE/G: +3.1 (WR7)
Mike Evans has been nothing but productive in his seven seasons in the league. And while his efficiency did fluctuate earlier in his career, Evans has been consistently exceeding his expected value since 2018.
Even with the emergence of Godwin, Mike Evans remained productive and efficient relative to opportunity.
▫️WR25 in Wtd Opp Rating (0.53)
▫️WR8 in PPR/g (17.9)🔥
▫️Positive FPOE 3 years straight👇🏼 pic.twitter.com/65JMNXPcc2
— Marvin Elequin (@FF_MarvinE) May 20, 2021
Despite the ascension of Chris Godwin, Evans has remained productive for fantasy even with the slight decline in opportunity share. This past season, Evans ranked as the WR41 in opportunity share at 11%, but still managed to average top-24 numbers as the WR16 in PPR per game (15.5). It certainly helps that the Tampa Bay offense remains very pass-heavy, averaging the 6th most pass attempts per game at 39.1 and the 2nd highest pass rate at 64%. And while Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski are set to return this upcoming season, I fully expect Evans to remain heavily involved in this offense (especially in the red zone), which should lead to another efficient fantasy season.
A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans
FPOE: +66.0 (WR3) | FPOE/G: +4.7 (WR3)
After a slower start in 2019, Ryan Tannehill ignited the Titans’ offense to truly unlock A.J. Brown’s potential as a fantasy receiver. That season, Brown finished as the WR2 in my FPOE model, exceeding his expected value by 64.7 PPR points. And while many were screaming regression entering the 2020 campaign, Brown maintained his efficiency. Despite ranking outside of the top 20 in opportunity share (12%) and targets per game (7.6), he finished as the WR6 in PPR points per game with 17.8 this past season. Similar to Adams, Brown’s fantasy efficiency was partially due to his success in the red zone, scoring a touchdown on 58.3% (!!) of his opportunities. The slight concern, however, is Brown’s minimal volume inside the 20, with Derrick Henry (who had 66 opportunities) operating as the clear-cut number one option for the Titans in the red zone. So when projecting out his 2021 season, we have to expect some form of regression for Brown. In fact, in their AFC win totals breakdown, our DFS podcast hosts Kyle Borgognoni and Matthew Betz are both predicting a slight decline in offensive production for the Titans. Keep in mind though that they do have 150 vacated WR targets. If even a fraction of those goes Brown’s way, it could slightly offset the inevitable regression coming his way.
CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
FPOE: +34.3 (WR12) | FPOE/G: +2.1 (WR14)
While Justin Jefferson stole the show with one of the best rookie WR seasons in recent history, CeeDee Lamb’s production should not be ignored. This past season, Lamb averaged only 11% of the team’s total opportunities (WR41) and 6.8 targets per game (WR36), which is not surprising considering the quality of competition in the Cowboys’ offense. However, as you can see below, Lamb was by far the most efficient receiver on this team. Despite averaging fewer opportunities per game than Amari Cooper, both outside and inside the 20, Lamb only trailed him by 1.1 PPR points per game. What is most impressive is that Lamb was at an even more productive and efficient pace when Dak Prescott was healthy. In four games, albeit a small sample size, Lamb averaged 16.3 PPR points per game and a positive 4.2 FPOE per game with Prescott under center. With the team set to return fully healthy in 2021, I expect Lamb to once again be an efficient piece to this explosive offense.
While Cooper led all #Cowboys WRs in PPR/g with 14.8, CeeDee Lamb was the most efficient with his opportunity:
▫️Expected PPR/g: 11.6 (WR41)
▫️Actual PPR/g: 13.7 (WR33)
▫️FPOE/g: +2.14 (WR14)🔥
Lamb would lead all Cowboys WRs in total FPs Over Expected (FPOE)👇🏼 pic.twitter.com/hZTyPxtQbB
— Marvin Elequin (@FF_MarvinE) May 21, 2021
Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos
FPOE: -40.7 (WR62) | FPOE/G: -2.5 (WR61)
The initial concern heading into Jerry Jeudy’s rookie year was the unavailability of volume in a Drew Lock-led offense. However, an injury to Courtland Sutton paved a path to opportunity as Jeudy finished as the WR31 in targets (7.1) and the WR8 in air yards (95) on a per-game basis. However, the ample opportunity did not translate into fantasy production, with Jeudy ranking as only the WR59 in PPR per game at 9.8. His inefficiencies were likely driven by the inaccurate quarterback play. Lock finished the season as the QB39 in completion percentage over expected (-3.9) despite averaging the 6th highest air yards per attempt (8.6). Simply put, Lock targeted his receivers downfield frequently but was extremely inaccurate on his attempts. As a result, Jeudy, who operated as the primary deep threat, finished 2nd in the league in unrealized air yards (965) and as the WR105 – not a typo – in catchable target rate (62.8%). Unfortunately, I do not see his situation improving this season, especially with Sutton set to return from his injury. And unless Lock improves significantly, Jeudy could be looking at a season with fewer targets and plenty of missed opportunities.
D.J. Chark, Jacksonville Jaguars
FPOE: -21.6 (WR59) | FPOE/G: -1.7 (WR59)
After D.J. Chark broke onto the scene with his first 1,000-yard season, he took a significant hit in efficiency as he finished 21.6 PPR points below his expected value in 2020. Interestingly, he generated only 33 less air yards compared to his 2019 campaign; however, his yardage total declined by 29.9%. Jacksonville’s unwillingness to commit to their best quarterback (Gardner Minshew) led to an uneven performance on the offensive side of the ball, which clearly affected the entire offense. Fortunately for Chark, he should see a sizable improvement at the quarterback position with Trevor Lawrence set to lead this Jaguars offense. Especially in the deep game, he should be a significant improvement over both Minshew and Mike Glennon. In fact, per Kyle Rodemann from Sports Info Solutions, Lawrence had the second highest on-target rate (70% – 40 attempts) among the 2021 class when targeting his receivers downfield. And considering Chark finished this past season as the WR5 in deep targets (29), but only as the WR91 in catchable target rate (70.2%), Lawrence should provide a significant boost to his production floor. This makes Chark a prime regression candidate who could be a value at his current redraft ADP of WR31.
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
FPOE: -70.6 (WR63) | FPOE/G: -4.7 (WR63)
I had to end this article by highlighting A.J. Green, who finished roughly 31 PPR points below the second-worst receiver in my FPOE metric. If you had him on your fantasy teams, you know exactly how frustrating it was to see the significant targets numbers lead to very little fantasy production. Shockingly, Green finished the 2020 campaign with 1,405 total air yards (WR12), converting only 31.1% of those into actual receiving production. This is also likely a product of their poor offensive line play as the Bengals ranked 24th in adjusted sack rate (7.6%), leaving Joe Burrow and Brandon Allen very little time to accurately target Green downfield. In short, despite receiving plenty of volume, he was one of the most inconsistent and inefficient receivers in the league. Green is now set to join an improving Cardinals offense; however, it seems his efficient and fantasy productive days are likely well behind him.
Expected Fantasy Points and FPOE – Full Results
Below are the results for all 63 wide receivers that qualified for my FPOE analysis. If you have any specific questions, do not hesitate to reach out on Twitter @FF_MarvinE.
William Fuller V
Laviska Shenault Jr.