The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season: Christian Kirk
Christian Kirk had a massively productive college career at Texas A&M, catching 234 passes for 2,856 yards and 26 touchdowns in just three seasons. He also showed his explosiveness by returning six kicks for touchdowns with the Aggies. He was drafted in the second round of the NFL by the Arizona Cardinals, who, to put it nicely, struggled offensively as a team throughout his rookie campaign.
The Cardinals coaching staff and offensive philosophy have completely changed since the end of 2018, as Kliff Kingsbury, Kyler Murray, and the air raid offense has arrived in Arizona. Exactly how Kirk fits in with the new style is yet to be seen, although it is similar to the system he thrived in at Texas A&M.
Kirk is the perfect candidate for The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season article series. The Ballers currently have Kirk ranked as WR45 in their consensus rankings, just one spot behind his teammate Larry Fitzgerald. Despite that ranking putting him in the WR4 category, there’s a narrative that ends with him breaking out and cracking the top 12 WRs in 2019.
2018 Season Recap
Kirk’s numbers in 2018 weren’t great, but they don’t tell the whole story. His rookie season began with three games featuring a dreadful Sam Bradford under center. The rest of his games were started by a rookie QB running a prehistoric offense that only managed to run 902 plays on the season, the second fewest in the NFL. A broken foot finally ended his season after just 12 games.
Despite these setbacks, Kirk finished with a respectable 590 yards and three touchdowns. He caught passes in every game of the season and never saw fewer than four targets in a game after week one. All things considered, it was an admirable showing for a rookie receiver.
The Path for 2019
Out with the old, in with the new. The entire coaching staff has been turned over and is now led by air raid specialist Kliff Kingsbury. Josh Rosen has been shipped out for Kyler Murray, the rookie hand-picked to lead Kingsbury’s high octane offense.
Receivers typically take longer to develop and make bigger impacts in their second seasons. Here’s how it could add up to a WR1 season for Kirk in 2019
Target Share – Kirk posted a target share of 13.8% in 2018. While that may seem low, keep in mind that includes the games that he missed due to injury when he wasn’t able to receive any targets. Kirk only played 12 games last season due to injury. For some perspective, Josh Gordon also played just 12 games last season and saw 12.4% of his teams targets.
Larry Fitzgerald led the Cardinals with a 22.7% share, but Larry Legend saw his overall numbers decline last season and shouldn’t be counted on to bounce back in a big way entering his 16th NFL season. Despite drafting wideouts Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler this spring, a healthy Christian Kirk should overtake the Hall-of-Famer as the Cardinals top target in 2019. There’s already been offseason hype touting him as the best looking receiver at Cardinals camp.
Even if Kirk’s target share doesn’t drastically increase, he won’t need to be among the league leaders that climb near 25% to reach WR1 status. There’s a strong chance that Arizona’s air raid offense passes the ball more than any other team in the NFL. A 20% target share with the Cardinals will be more valuable than a 25% target share with the Titans or Lions.
Catch Rate – Kirk caught an impressive 65.3% off all targets thrown his way in 2018, a higher number than JuJu Smith-Schuster (61%), Antonio Brown (62.3%), and Davante Adams (64.5%). What’s more impressive is his success rate on contested targets, which is 85.7% according to wide receiver guru Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception (featured in the Ultimate Draft Kit). The takeaway here is that if a ball is thrown towards Kirk, there’s an awfully good chance he’s going to catch it.
Receptions – Given all the change in Arizona, it’s tough to predict how many receptions he’ll end up with in 2019. It’s very possible that he surpasses Fitzgerald in receptions while the rookies take time to adjust to the NFL. We know Kliff Kingsbury will be pass happy with his offense, so Kyler Murray could easily put up north of 500 pass attempts in 2019. If Kirk comes away with over 20% of those targets it will equate to at least 100 passes thrown his way, likely more.
aDOT – Arizona’s offense will be drastically different this season, but it’s still worth looking at Kirk’s interesting average depth of target (aDOT) data from 2018. He finished with an aDOT of 9.6 yards. Other notable receivers in that range include Adam Thielen at 9.5 yards, Sammy Watkins and 9.6 yards, and Amari Cooper at 9.8 yards. All are versatile players that move around the field and run a variety of routes. They have the ability to score whenever the ball is in their hands. Case in point for Kirk, this quick screen he took to the house in Week 11 against Oakland.
This rook’s got SPEED
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) November 18, 2018
TDs – If you’ve been following this series, you know I’m about to tell you that touchdowns are the most unpredictable stat in fantasy football. It’s practically impossible with a player like Kirk, headed into his second season on a team that has undergone a massive offensive overhaul in the offseason. He only caught three TDs in 2018, but he did them impressively. You already saw the big YAC score above, but he can also score on deep balls like this 75-yard bomb from Week 5 against the 49ers.
Josh Rosen to Christian Kirk. The future in Arizona?
— PFF (@PFF) October 7, 2018
While it’s hard to predict the number of touchdowns he’ll finish with, double-digit trips to the end-zone are within his range of outcomes for 2019.
WR1 Possibility for 2019: Low (Under 25%)
I took to Twitter to get a feel for Kirk’s chances to break into the WR1 tier in 2019. The majority of voters put his chances under 25%. This makes sense since he is still relatively unproven in the league and Arizona’s offense is such an unknown at the moment. I personally would put the odds around 35%, giving him a solid “maybe” to breakout this season.
There are a few things we can be pretty sure about headed into 2019 for the Cardinals. They’ll throw the ball a lot more and Kirk’s target share should increase. This will give him a sizeable piece of the potentially massive pie that will be Arizona’s air raid offense. Whether or not a WR1 season materializes for Kirk will depend on just how big that slice of the pie is, and how many times he can find the end zone.