Corey Davis: The Path to WR1 Fantasy Season

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Editor’s Note: Check out The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season: Series Guide to see how our writers compile their projections and the methodology behind this series.

To begin this Path to WR1 series, we commence with someone ranked wayyyy outside the top 12. Recently highlighted in the “Explain Yourself!” podcast based upon Andy’s initial ranking, Titans WR Corey Davis has the draft pedigree and organizational backing to ascend into a reliable target during his sophomore year. However, it’s hard to boldly envision him jumping several tiers into the elites of fantasy pass catchers. He’s currently the consensus WR32 in the Ballers WR rankings propped up by Andy’s 20 and plummeted by Jason’s ranking of 41.

The task for projecting Davis’ ceiling is finding the right combination and collision of a new offensive system, his likely sophomore improvement and his usage in the first 2 rounds of the AFC playoffs. New OC Matt LaFleur is from the Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay coaching tree so there’s some innovative juice in his veins especially with a versatile QB like Marcus Mariota.

Let’s recap Davis’ rookie season, project what a WR1 season would look like this year, and finally give the percentage likelihood of a WR1 campaign in 2018.

2017 Season Recap
Targets Catches Yards TDs PPR Finish
2017 65 34 375 0 WR85

Well… I guess there’s nowhere but up?!?

Davis’ 2017 campaign had a number of hiccups after he came out firing in Week 1 catching 6 of 10 targets for 69 yards against the Raiders. The main issue was a lingering hamstring injury which kept him out for 6 weeks until Week 9. In terms of snap percentage, he saw 74.7% of the snaps when he suited up so he was definitely on the field. Overall, for fantasy Davis was a non-factor and basically unstartable apart from as a FLEX in deep PPR leagues. His coming out party came in the Divisional Round of the AFC playoffs as he gave the Titans an early lead with a red zone TD. He book-ended the game with another red zone TD as he showcased the highly touted skills the Titans drooled over when they drafted him 5th overall.

The Path for 2018

In order for Davis to ascend to the WR1 territory in 2018, there are a number of statistical benchmarks he must meet to become truly an elite fantasy option.

Target Share– In Marcus Mariota’s 3 seasons, the highest market share he’s supported for a Titans WR was Rishard Matthews in 2016, who saw 108 targets at 21.4%.  In terms of competition, Davis definitely has another legitimate threat for top dog with TE Delanie Walker, who has commanded 21.9% of the targets himself over that 3-year span. For this exercise, let’s speculate what the target share would look like if Davis saw the most targets on the team. At 496 passing attempts in 2017, the Titans had the 5th-lowest mark in the league. If the Titans offense saw an uptick near the middle of the pack, Davis and the rest of the team would see their “pie” grow by almost 70 targets. 560 PAs is not asking too much when we consider how run-heavy Mike Mularkey went in his “exotic-smashmouth” approach and how progressive LaFleur can be as an offensive mind.

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In the playoffs, Davis averaged 7.5 targets, something I believe is more in range of his ceiling. That average would have aligned him with other red zone monsters, Davante Adams and Alshon Jeffrey, who ended with 118 and 120 targets respectively. Their 2017 seasons are valuable comps for us to see a template where Davis could enter near WR1 territory even in an offense without the history of “airing it out”. The highest I could see Davis go would be 24%, which would likely need to be aided by an injury to his other teammates.

Catch Rate– Last year’s 52.3% catch rate is hard to use as a baseline given the relatively small sample size (65 targets) that we have in front of us. Here are some other recent highly drafted WRs and their year-to-year to comparisons:

Player (Draft Pick) 1st Year Targets 1st Year Catch Rate 2nd Year Targets 2nd Year Catch Rate
Sammy Watkins (4th) 128 50.8% 96 62.5%
Mike Evans (7th) 122 55.7% 148 50.0%
Odell Beckham Jr. (12th) 130 70.0% 158 60.8%
Kelvin Benjamin (28th) 145 50.3% 118 53.4%
Amari Cooper (4th) 130 55.4% 132 62.9%
Corey Davis (5th) 65 52.3% ? ?

Apart from ODB’s follow-up from an otherworldly rookie campaign and Mike Evans‘ nightmare 2015 with a rookie Jameis Winston, there was a natural progression from these talented 1st-round WRs to increase their efficiency. I can see Davis’ catch rate range from a low of 50%, a median projection of 56% and the high-end of 63%. Mariota’s efficiency could also improve with this new system.

Receptions– If we are to take the higher end of Davis’ projections somewhere above a 60% catch rate, he is capable of seeing close to 80 receptions. A jump from 34 to 80 seems like an enormous step but if his usage stays at 75% of the snaps and he sees a full 16-game season, it’s definitely in the realm of possibilities. That mark would’ve ranked top 15 among pass catchers in 2017. While the WR position as a whole took a major production dip last year, you could expect Davis to be able to enter into top 20 territory.

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Yards– Davis’ 375 yards last year were obviously a major letdown considering the draft capital spent by the Titans. In his 11 games, he averaged 11.0 per reception, a more than respectable number. However, in the playoffs against the Chiefs and the Patriots, he totaled 98 yards his 2 games. As detailed by Matt Harmon in his Reception Perception profile found in the Ultimate Draft Kit,  “Davis showed extremely well on the slant and nine routes, with pristine success rates on those patterns.” He’s a Demaryius Thomas clone in the making. It’s not hard to see a 1,000-yard season to add to his resume given a full body of work. Before just plugging and playing with a wild guess, let’s look at a few metrics to determine Davis’ projected yards.

aDOT & Air Yards– According to AirYards.com, Davis’ average depth of targets was 11.8 yards, roughly the same marks as Amari Cooper and Tyreek Hill in 2017. In 11 games, he had 764 Air Yards, which is calculated by taking the total number of yards thrown toward Davis on a play in which he was targeted, both complete and incomplete. Both of these marks should be encouraging given the type of routes he was asked to run in 2017. Projected over a full 16-game season and given the high-end ceiling, Davis could end up with a yardage total as high as 1180.

TDs– As stated in the series primer, this is the one part of his fantasy forecast which is hard to project. The Titans especially are due for some positive regression in the passing TD column as they saw more rushing TDs (18) than passing (14), one of the lowest ratios in the last 10 years. Davis saw only 5 red zone targets in 2017 including one in which he fumbled out of the back of the end zone after trying to dive in. However, he was money against the Patriots in the playoffs with those 2 RZ TDs. With a median WR TD rate being 4.1%, Davis could end up easily with near 4-to-5 TDs given 100+ targets. However, if we’re projecting his ceiling in this case, I could see him potentially with 8 or 9 if he’s utilized in the red zone like he was in the playoffs.

WR1 Possibility: Low Chance (Below 15%)

This percentage is based upon the combined average of the Fantasy Footballers writing staff. 15% is essentially saying Davis would hit WR1 PPR numbers 1.5 out of 10 times if we were to simulate 2018. In other words, he’s a risky bet to bank on a WR1 season. To put this in perspective, Antonio Brown would probably something be more like 95% given his consistency, team, and a mostly scratch-free medical record. Terrance Williams looks more like 2%.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, there are a lot of things that need to break right for Davis in 2018. He needs to supplant Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker as the main target for Marcus Mariota. This new Titans offense must not only increase it’s overall passing volume but also see 25+ TDs through the air. Davis must improve his efficiency while taking advantage of his red zone prowess to creep near double-digit TD territory. Overall, it’s a tall order despite his immense talent. There is optimism and room to view him as a draft day steal at his current price of 7.01 and the WR30 in PPR drafts according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com