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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 Pittsburgh Steelers WR Martavis Bryant to make the leap into the WR1 territory. The idea is to show just how much improvement it would require for a WR outside The Ballers Consensus Top 15 to finish as a WR1.

2016 Season Recap

2016 was supposed to be the magical 3rd-year breakout for Martavis Bryant. The 6’4”, 211 lb WR was going to be a highly coveted mid-round WR. With his 4.42 speed and prolific TD rate, many fantasy football owners were let down when the exciting WR was suspended for the entire 2016 season due to second failed drug test. To get an idea of his potential we need to look back on his 2014 & 2015 seasons.

2014-2015 Season Recaps

After being drafted in the 4th round of the 2014 season, Bryant was inactive for the first 6 games due to a combination of poor performance in training camp and an A/C sprain suffered during the final preseason game. He burst onto the scene and into fantasy owner’s hearts by scoring a 35-yard TD on his first career reception. He started just 3 games in 2014 but played a role in each of the final 10 games and the Steelers wildcard playoff loss. During those 11 games, he accumulated 32 receptions on 57 targets (13% target share in those games), 548 yards and an astounding 8 TDs, one every 4 receptions.

During the pre-season of 2015, Bryant was suspended for the first 4 games for a failed drug test. While training during his suspension, he suffered a knee sprain that held him out of an additional game. Returning to the Steelers in Week 6 with Mike Vick starting and Landry Jones finishing the game, Bryant exploded in his first game of the season, snagging 6 receptions on 8 targets for 137 yards and 2 TDs. Week 7 saw starter Landry Jones target Bryant 8 more times, hauling in another 6 receptions for 124 yards, but no TDs.

Getty Images Sport / Andy Lyons

Ben Roethlisberger returned in Week 8 and commanded the team to the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Still not a full-time starter in 2015, Bryant started just 5 games, but was a major contributor in 13 games (including the two playoff games). Bryant accumulated 67 receptions on 113 targets (22% target share in the games he played), 1,027 yards and 6 TDs.

One of the big concerns when projecting the Steelers is the Big Three B’s (Bell, Brown, Bryant) all playing together with Ben Roethlisberger at QB. Since 2014, Those 4 players have been on the field together for just 10 of 54 games (including 6 playoff games). However, during Le’Veon Bell’s missed time in 2015, the Steelers used DeAngelo Williams much the same as they did with Bell. That gives us a 21-game sample of statistics to view Bryant’s performance with Roethlisberger at QB, Brown at WR and a combo of Bell/Williams at RB. In those games, Bryant saw a 16% target share, a 56% catch rate and just under 15 yards per reception. Bryant’s TD rate is an impressive 15% of his receptions. All of this while rarely being listed as a “starter”.

Targets Tgt% Receptions Catch Rate Yards Yards/ Rec TD TD/ Rec
2014 - 11 Games 57 13% 32 56% 548 17.13 8 25%
2015 - 13 Games 113 22% 67 59% 1,027 15.33 6 9%
24 Career Games 170 18% 99 58% 1,575 15.33 14 14%
21 Career Games
*w/ Ben and Brown
139 16% 78 56% 1,160 14.87 12 15%
The Path for 2017

First and foremost, he must play! Of 54 possible games, Bryant has only played in 24, missing 23 to suspensions. If he can stay on the field for 16 games, can he ascend into WR1 territory while clearly being the 2nd WR target on the team behind Antonio Brown and sharing 2nd overall targets with Le’Veon Bell?

Target Share–In 2016, a typical top 12 WR saw a greater than 22% target share on their team. In 2015, Martavis Bryant received a 22% target share in his 13 games. However, 31 of his 113 targets came from Landry Jones and Mike Vick (16 targets in 2 games) and while filling in for the injured Antonio Brown (15 targets) in the 2015 Divisional Round game. In the 10 games with Roethlisberger and Brown on the field, Bryant’s target share dropped to 20%. The last time we saw Bryant on the field, targets were also being distributed to the now-retired TE Heath Miller on approximately 14% of passing attempts. The Steelers have consistently thrown the ball around 600 times per season since Bryant’s rookie year. Given a 20-22% target share of the 600 attempts, Bryant could approach 120-130 targets in 2017, which would be on the low end of WR1 finishers.

Catch Rate– As a rookie, Bryant caught 56% of his targets. He improved slightly to 59% in 2015, however, removing the non-Ben/non-Brown games drops him back to the same 56% catch rate. We have not seen Bryant catch a pass since the 2015-2016 NFL season. His last reception was the January 2016 Divisional Round game after the 2015 season. It will be 21 months since his last NFL reception when the 2017 season kicks off. It may be hard to project an increased catch rate after that long of a layoff.

Receptions– With approximately 125 targets from his 20-22% 2015 target share and Bryant’s career catch rate of 58%, he logs in just over 70 receptions. Last year WRs finishing WR8-WR17 in PPR leagues all exceeded 80 receptions, except Davante Adams’ with 75. To get into the 80-90 reception range, he would need an increase to approximately 23-25% target share and a slight catch rate improvement.

Yards– As with the reception threshold, the yardage for a low-end WR1 is approximately 1,100 yards. Of the top 17 PPR WRs, only Davante Adams 997 yards fell under the 1,000-yard mark. Across Martavis Bryant’s 24 game career, he’s averaged just over 15 yards per reception. Using that mark, 70 receptions puts him just over 1,000 yards. Bryant is well known for his 4.42 speed and gets plenty of deep targets. Bryant racked up 1,027 yards in his 13 games played in 2015. A 1,000+ yard season is clearly in his projectable outcomes.

TDs– To this point, Davante Adams has been the low water mark of statistical thresholds to have finished as a WR1 last season. He was a top 10 WR in fantasy points on the back of 12 TDs. Many of the other WRs to exceed the 80 catch, 1,000-yard threshold finished with 6-10 TDs. Martavis Bryant has already helped many fantasy owners win games with his big play TDs and red zone prowess, scoring 14 TDs in 24 games, converting over 14% of his career catches for TDs. Even with a slight regression in this category, 8-10 TDs is well within his range of outcomes. If he can maintain that career rate of 14%, he could be projected into the double digits.

WR1 Possibility: (55%)

The Fantasy Footballers writing staff is HIGHLY split on the possibility of Martavis Bryant finishing 2017 as a WR1. One writer went so low as 5%. Another said, 10% following it up with “I’ll need to see it first”. Others said it was highly depending on if Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, one writer went as high as 90%.

Conclusion

The consensus Baller Rank currently shows Martavis Bryant as WR21 in standard, WR29 in ½ pt PPR and all the way down at WR34 in full PPR. Part of the low ranking for Bryant is the fear of additional suspensions. However, as shown with his career stats, his expectations already fall on the low-end of the WR1 thresholds across the board with almost no improvements over his rookie and sophomore seasons. I believe that with just slight improvements in target share and catch rate Martavis Bryant has a very high probability of finishing as a WR1 and a great value in drafts for 2017.

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