Editor’s Note: This article is part of a continuing series from our Fantasy Footballers writing staff highlighting the possibility of potential WR1 seasons for 2017.
In this edition of Path to a WR1, I’m going to look at what it would take for Baltimore Ravens WR Jeremy Maclin to make the leap into the WR1 territory. The idea is to show just how much improvement it would require for a receiver outside The Ballers Consensus Top 15 to finish as a WR1.
The tale of Maclin’s last three seasons is less than inspiring, as he has trended down in nearly every major category.
We saw Maclin’s full potential in 2014, when he exploded into the No. 9 WR in fantasy. In that final season with the Philadelphia Eagles, Maclin produced 1,318 yards on 85 receptions with 10 touchdowns. More on this later.
Obviously, his 2016 season was more disappointing, and has left a poor taste in fantasy owners’ mouths — a taste strangely reminiscent of dirty cake. Maclin missed four games and posted career lows in catches, touchdowns, and yards per reception, en route to a useless WR75 finish. Clearly the path to WR1 status is a steep one, but let’s break down how it could happen.
The 2014 Breakout + aDOT
I promised to get back to Maclin’s 2014 season, and an Okada always keeps his promises. Pays his debts? Winter is coming? Too many Game of Thrones reference? Right, sorry.
A cursory overview of Maclin’s best fantasy year doesn’t unveil any obvious cause. His quarterbacks — Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez — were far from elite. While he led the team in targets, Philly wasn’t a Maclin-centered offense: Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz also had solid seasons receiving and LeSean McCoy had 312 rushing attempts for more than 1,300 yards.
So what’s the secret ingredient that makes this cake worth eating in 2017? Four letters: aDOT. No, not a Dash Of Thyme. Average Depth Of Target.
Briefly, aDOT is a statistic tracked by Pro Football Focus that analyzes the average distance down field at which a player is targeted. Typical aDOT for a WR falls around 12.0 yards, and Maclin’s seasonal average with 2014 removed is exactly that. His 2014 aDOT, however, was 14.2 — a number more in line with 2016 big play guys like Chris Hogan and Ted Ginn, Jr.
In simplified terms, give Maclin a deep-ball QB and you’ve got a real shot at excellence. In his eight games in 2014, Foles had the 6th highest aDOT among QBs (same as receiving aDOT, but from a passing perspective). In those games, Maclin averaged a whopping 21.5 fantasy points in PPR leagues, 15.9 in non-PPR. At that pace, had Foles played the whole season, Maclin would have been the No. 2 WR in PPR … and the No. 1 in non-PPR scoring.
*Drops mic …
The Path for 2017
*Picks mic back up …
Why does all this matter for 2017? Because Maclin has escaped the reigning king of aDOT suppression, Alex Smith, and come running to the outstretched throwing arm of Joe Flacco. Here’s where each QB has ranked in aDOT among QBs since 2009.
Since 2009, Smith has never finished above the 14th percentile and has an “impressive” 5-year streak of bottom two in the league. Meanwhile, Flacco consistently finished in the upper half of the NFL before ex-Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman destroyed his stats in ’15 and ’16. Now, Baltimore OC Marty Mornhinweg — formerly of the Steve Young 49ers and Donovan McNabb Eagles — is entering his first full season with the team. If he can return Flacco to his former deep-ball glory, Maclin would be a massive beneficiary.
Target Share – This is another key to Maclin’s WR1 potential. Following an exodus of pass-catchers from 2016, Baltimore is short an unbelievable 390 targets. While the hope is that the Mornhinweg effect will lead to improved efficiency, the Ravens have led the NFL in pass attempts two straight years and are down to Terrance West at the top of the RB depth chart. They will throw a lot. Even baking in a small drop in pass attempts in BAL, Maclin could see a target volume consistent with pre-Trestman WR1’s, which would be around 135 targets.
Catch Rate – Maclin’s career catch rate sits at 61.8%, and his catch rate in 2014 was 59.4%. He’s able to sustain a high efficiency even when chasing the deep ball often, thanks in part to an excellent success rate downfield. Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception profile on Maclin (found in the UDK) reveals he had better success on the nine route in 2016 than A.J. Green and Michael Thomas, while also excelling on outs, flats, and curls.
Receptions – Given the somewhat average 135 targets we’ve projected, and a catch rate around 60%, Maclin could be just north of 80 catches. Considering he had 85 in 2014 and a career-high of 87 in 2015, this would be on the upper-end of possible outcomes. He will likely need every ounce of this volume to be a WR1, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility.
Yards – With a career average of 13.5 yards per reception, you might be tempted to slot Maclin in for under 1,100 yards on 80 catches. But consider that his 15.5 Y/R from 2014 may be more indicative of his potential away from Alex Smith. If he can reach around 14.5 Y/R, that would bump his yardage up to 1,160 in total — good for 8th in the NFL last year.
Touchdowns – This will be the make or break for Maclin’s shot at WR1 territory in 2017. The last Baltimore receiver to top five TDs was Torrey Smith in 2014 (11) and Maclin will need to approach that number to be a WR1. Considering the Ravens’ lack of weapons elsewhere, he may be their best option in the red zone, so eight or nine scores is not insane.
WR1 Possibility: Low Chance (Under 10%)
Despite the numerous favorable factors supporting a rise to WR1-dom, the Ballers writing staff is down on Maclin, giving him a less than 10% chance of breaking that top echelon. The reason is pretty clear: everything would have to fall into place for the Dirty Cake to be clean once again. Flacco’s arm, new system, target fallout — there are a lot of iffy-potholes on Maclin’s path to the top. And, sadly, Flacco has never produced a WR1 in nine NFL seasons.
The good news is Maclin’s low likelihood of returning to the WR1 class is more than offset by his basement-level ADP. The 29-year-old sits at WR37 (89th overall), per FantasyFootballCalculator.com. That’s in the range of DeSean Jackson, DeVante Parker, and Pierre Garcon — whose Path to a WR1 Season was paved by @BenCumminsFF. The current price probably doesn’t even cover his floor, as Andy, Mike, and Jason’s consensus rankings have him at WR25. All things considered, Maclin may be the least risky fantasy player with a plausible path to a WR1 season. Take him in the 8th round and you may just get the steal of the draft.