Welcome to the nerdy column where we use analytics to provide you the edge you need to dominate your league!
D.J. Moore, WR (CAR) – Heading into last season, Moore had posted at reception rate of 65.4% on 217 targets, with a YPR of 13.8. Not too shabby; but in his third season (the oft-mentioned and almost always irrelevant milestone for NFL receivers) Moore numbers inverted a bit: his catch rate slipped to 55.9%, while his YPR rocketed to 18.1. This might not sound strange initially: it might just be that Matt Rhule views Moore as a big-play receiver instead of an intermediate route runner. It becomes really weird, however, when you consider that Robby Anderson‘s numbers also reversed last season– he went from being a big-play threat with the Jets (302/4155/23, 58.3% catch rate in four seasons) to a PPR possession guy in his first season in Carolina (95/1096/3, 69.9%). It’s the kind of double-swerve you’d expect from a WWE Summerslam event, not an NFL head coach.
Anyway, I think there might be an opportunity here to see both receivers revert back to their initial states; Moore with more of the high percentage reception rate and Anderson more the deep threat (which is how he was utilized in NY with Sam Darnold under center). If that turns out to be the case, Moore is undervalued in PPR leagues heading into Week 1. Oh… and who are the Panthers hosting in Week 1? The Jets. You can’t make this stuff up.
Jerry Jeudy, WR (DEN) – Jeudy is the type of receiver primed to make a big leap this season. As I predicted a few weeks ago, Jeudy’s stock went up thanks to the Broncos naming Teddy Bridgewater the starting QB; I fully expect Jeudy’s abysmal catch rate of 46.0% to increase substantially. If we assume that he maintains a steady target share (113 targets in 2020) and his hitting the average WR reception rate (66.4% in 2020), then we’re looking at an increase in his reception totals from 52 last season to 75 this season– and I’d argue that’s a conservative assumption, given the obvious rapport with Bridgewater displayed this preseason. Will his YPR of 16.5 go down? Probably, but I still think Jeudy ends up in solid WR2 territory when all is said and done.
Zach Ertz, TE (PHI) – wow, talk about a player complaining his way to irrelevance… Ertz went from arguably one of the finest TEs in the game to an afterthought in just one season, thanks to his contract disagreement with the Eagles. To the amazement of nearly every fan, Ertz heads into the 2021 season still a member of the Eagles. What we need to remember is that 2020 was a nightmarish season for Ertz, who between the contract dispute and injuries posted his worst campaign since his rookie season in 2013. Most appalling was his reception rate of 50.0%– his previous low was 63.2% during his rookie season.
I’ll keep this short and sweet: “regression to the mean” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For Ertz, a regression to the mean would be a catch rate of 68.6%– even a timeshare with presumed TE1 Dallas Goedert (they both averaged about six targets a game in 2020) would indicate roughly 65-66 receptions for Ertz in 2021.
Rob Gronkowski, TE (TB) – Gronkowski finds himself in a similar situation as Ertz in 2021. Returning from retirement and without a full preseason to get into football shape, Gronk posted a solid season that should have been better. While seven TDs was a pleasant surprise, his reception rate of 58.4% was not as pleasant a surprise (it was a career low). A regression to his career catch rate of 65.6% doesn’t represent as steep an improvement as Ertz, but it bears keeping an eye on as we head into Week 1.
Miles Sanders, RB (PHI) – as a rookie in 2019, Sanders averaged 3.9 targets per game (16 games, 11 starts); last season, he averaged 4.3 tpg (12 games, 11 starts). Not too great a difference in targets per game, but when I looked at his catch rate, I saw a huge drop– from 79.4% in 2019 to 53.8% last year. With just two data points, it’s impossible to determine which way his reception rate will break in 2021– so it’s not unreasonable to average the two rates. Doing so would indicate a reception rate of 67.8%, which at four targets a game over a 17 game season translates to 46/420/2 receiving line for Sanders in 2021. That’d be a nice floor to have in a PPR league for your RB2.