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 San Francisco 49ers WR Pierre Garcon 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.
2013-2016 Season Recaps
Pierre Garcon has been a model of consistency over the past four seasons, never missing a game. Despite playing last season at 30 years of age, Garcon proved he still had some gas left in the tank, showing significant efficiency by posting the best catch rate (69%) of his career and going over 1,000 yards for just the second time.
This leaves us with warranted optimism heading into 2017, especially considering Garcon’s new landing spot. Garcon is now a 49er after signing a five-year, $47.5-million dollar contract. Essentially, it’s a two-year deal with options for the final three years. Still, that’s a decent chunk of change to give a WR Garcon’s age in free agency. Yet, it makes sense when you consider Garcon’s history with the 49ers new head coach, Kyle Shanahan.
In Garcon’s only healthy season under Shanahan, back in 2013, he tied for the league lead in targets after seeing 181 of them. Not surprisingly, since we know volume is king in fantasy football, Garcon had his best season as a pro posting 113 catches for 1,346 yards. Despite only scoring five times that year, Garcon still ended the year as a PPR WR1 finishing as the WR11 and just missing out on a WR1 finish in half-point finishing as the WR13.
With a track record of Garcon technicallllllly (work with me here people!) already finishing as a WR1 under Shanahan, it was especially promising to see Shanahan not hire an offensive coordinator and announce he is going to run the offense himself in 2017. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Garcon’s prospects for the 2017 season.
The Path for 2017
Target Share – Kyle Shanahan-led offenses have averaged 568 pass attempts per season over the past four years. That would’ve ranked just 18th last season, so we’re not off to a great start. However, in the lone season over that stretch where Shanahan’s team finished below seven wins, Washington only won three games in 2013 and they threw it 611 times. Coincidentally, this is the same season where Garcon smashed. Since San Francisco projects as one of the worst teams in the league, three wins and let’s say 600 pass attempts sound about right. I don’t think that’s unreasonable at all. That would’ve ranked the 49ers 8th in pass attempts last year so now we’re in business putting Garcon in a high-volume passing attack.
Taking a look at the weapons in the 49ers passing game, it’s easy to see Garcon as the locked in primary target when comparing him to lackluster talents Jeremy Kerley, Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, and Vance McDonald. This is extremely exciting because Shanahan has a long track record of feeding his #1 option in the passing game. In his nine years as an offensive coordinator, Shanahan’s WR1s have averaged 9.5 targets per game. That number would’ve tied for 7th in the league last year, yet still looks unimpressive compared to Garcon’s rate of 11.3 targets per game back in 2013 playing under Shanahan. To adjust for Garcon’s age, let’s go with Shanahan’s average of 9.5 targets per game. That gets us to 152 targets over a full season.
Circling back to target share, again looking back at Garcon’s phenomenal 2013 season, he saw an insane 30% target share that season under similar circumstances he finds himself in now. Using our benchmark of 600 pass attempts and rolling with a 25% target share to once again age-adjust, we end up with 150 targets, which correlates well with our targets per game findings above. Therefore, we’ll stick with exactly 150 targets, which puts us in business as that would’ve tied him for 9th in the league last season. Additionally, there were six WR1s last year that finished below that target benchmark in both PPR and half-point.
Catch Rate – Garcon’s last four-year average in this department is 65.35%. However, with added defensive attention this season as the clear favorite to be the 49ers WR1 and a downgrade at QB moving from Kirk Cousins to Brian Hoyer, we’ll drop him down to a projected 63% catch rate.
Receptions – If Garcon were to catch 63% of his 150 targets, he’s looking at 94.5 receptions. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt shall we!? 95 receptions it is! Only six players had more than that last season and only five WR1s had more in both PPR and half-point. We’re still in business.
Yards – In PPR, Davante Adams was the only receiver to finish in the top 20 with under 1,000 receiving yards. In half-point, Adams was the only one to do it in the top 17. Clearly, a minimum of 1,000 yards is going to be needed to crack the top 12. Luckily, Garcon has topped 1,000 yards twice in his past four seasons. Back in 2013 under Shanahan, he blew past this benchmark, finishing with 1,346 yards. Due to the volume Garcon should receive playing on a bad team and in plenty of favorable passing game scripts, let’s project him for 1,100 yards.
TDs – This is where the WR1 hype train for Garcon dramatically derails in twitter gif form. Even in Garcon’s illustrious 2013 season, he still couldn’t crack the top 12 in half-point because of a low TD total. Sadly, through nine years in the league, Garcon has proven this is just who he is. He’s never topped six TDs in a season and has averaged just 4.25 per season over the past four years. Playing on a bad team that doesn’t project to finish in the top half of the league in touchdowns, let’s conservatively project Garcon for four TDs.
WR1 Possibility: Low Chance (Below 15%)
These projections of 95 catches for 1,100 yards and 4 TDs would have Garcon finishing with 229 points in PPR and 181.5 points in half-point. Those fantasy point totals would’ve placed Garcon as WR16 in both PPR and half-point last season. Even after somewhat aggressively projecting Garcon at his advanced age, he still wouldn’t have finished as a WR1 last season in a down year at the position. However, he has a proven track record of success playing with Kyle Shanahan (albeit in a limited sample size) and there is always a chance he could see an outlier spike in TD production for just one year. For those reasons, although not a very realistic one, there is a path for Garcon to finish as a WR1 in 2017. And before you throw too much dirt on Brian Hoyer’s grave, remember that he played in 11 games in 2015 and helped DeAndre Hopkins finish as the WR6 that season.
Garcon’s low chance of finishing as a WR1 doesn’t matter when price is taken into account. Garcon has a current ADP of WR35 on both FantasyFootballCalculator.com and in MFL10s (Shoutout to @FantasyADHD for his phenomenal MFL10 best-ball ADP app). This means Garcon is being drafted as a low-end WR3, an area where I perceive to be his 2017 floor. Garcon has been one of my favorite targets all offseason and he has a chance to return significant value this season by blowing past his ADP.