Believing in Andrew Luck to continue his leap forward is easy. But what about Reggie Wayne?
Notable Additions: Ahmad Bradshaw, Matt Hasselbeck
Notable Draft Picks: None with a significant fantasy impact other than Bjoern Werner for you IDP leaguers
The Marquee Men (the elitest of the elite)
Reggie Wayne (ADP: 44.4): There are times — many times — when our effort to magnify certain splits and stretches throughout a season can distort the overall image of what a player is, and what level of production we can expect during any week or any year. We’re all guilty of this, myself included, because the search for trends and meaning within them inevitably makes certain numbers pop. With Reggie Wayne, a set from late last year is yelling at us, but an even larger set in the games prior is yelling louder.
So what’s it gonna be? Well, both.
A year ago at this time we assumed that even with the introduction of then current draft golden boy Andrew Luck, Wayne would continue is gradual descent into the dark wide receiver abyss. He was 33 and set to turn 34 late in the 2012 season, and although he’s had a fine career, we’ve seen this crappy movie before. In 2011 Wayne had only 960 receiving yards, a steep drop from his yearly average of 1,265.1 over the previous seven seasons. Of course, much of Wayne’s decline could be attributed to the absence of that Peyton guy, but there was still worry that he’d slowed. So then the silencer was his 1,355 yards during a rejuvenation alongside Luck, highlighted by 22 catches of 20 yards or more (he had only 12 in 2011). He sucked back Luck’s targets early, and was targeted 20 times in a Week 3 win over Green Bay.
Wayne’s visit to a blissful fountain filled with the joy of tomorrow’s youth was curious, though, because it came through two pronounced splits. The first one was much longer, as through Week 12 he averaged 100.5 yards per game. Had he maintained that pace, Wayne would have been one of only two receivers to average over 100 yards per game last year, with the other being some fellow in Detroit. But alas, his old, hollow bones crumbled, or so we assume.
Over the final five games his per week average dropped significantly. In fact, it was cut in half, with Wayne clipping along at only 50 yards per week. Fantasy owners were confused and angry, while the legend of T.Y. Hilton grew and he was given a larger presence. Looking back now, the confusion is furthered by Wayne’s playoff performance. Even while the Colts lost handily to Baltimore (24-9), he finished with 114 yards on nine catches, a week after his stretch of crappiness concluded.
So what’s it going to be this year? I’ll go with the middle ground, and throw my dart at a year that hovers around 1,000 yards and likely in the 1,100-yard territory. That’s a step down due to the continued emergence of Hilton and the west coast leanings of new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. But it’s far from a hurtful one, and it’s entirely tolerable at Wayne’s current price. You could do worse than having a guy who was targeted 195 times by Luck last year as your WR2, or low-end WR1.
Andrew Luck (ADP: 72.7): For our fantasy footballing purposes, Luck’s rookie season was…odd. Overall his point total of 269.5 ranked him as the eighth best player at his position, a noble feat for a rookie (he finished only a few points behind Tony Romo, and ahead of Matthew Stafford). But this game we leave our loved ones for every fall isn’t based on cumulative production. No sir, you need some degree of week-to-week consistency, and Luck was pretty meh.
He boomed over three weeks when he scored 20 or more fantasy points, and then bombed in three others with less than 10. In the other games he was mediocre, overall averaging 16.8 points per game. That’s fine and about what you should expect from someone residing strongly in the middle tier at his position. But it’s a solid three points per week behind the top tier.
Much of Luck’s wayward-ness was tied to his interceptions, a stat that’s bad (#analysis). His 18 were only one behind league leader Drew Brees, but what’s curious is that 13 of those came on the road.
If he could reduce that number to, say, seven while shedding his deep inner rookie road demons, that’s 12 more fantasy points, which will help that per week production inch closer to the top tier. Luck is poised for a fine season and an even better future, but at his current ADP in the sixth or seventh round, here’s the question you’re wrestling with: relative to his draft spot, is his ceiling that much higher this year than low-cost, late-round options like Michael Vick or Jay Cutler?
The Middle Men (middle-to-late round options)
T.Y. Hilton (ADP: 60.0): I want to jump aboard the Hilton hype train, hop into the caboose, and crack open every available beverage. Sadly, this is when we learn that life isn’t fair.
Hilton has looked terrific throughout the preseason, with several diving, deep catches. The deep part is most important there, because he’s often been lined up out wide and asked to stretch the secondary. The result has been seven receptions for 114 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown catch. That’s built on Hilton’s four 100-yard games during his rookie year even while Wayne was nearly leading the league in targets.
But since we can’t have nice things, Darrius Heyward-Bey and his stone hands are still existing ahead of Hilton on the Colts’ WR depth chart, and the sophomore is being limited to use primarily in three-wideout sets. That won’t be crushing, but it will be limiting.
Again, Hilton produced just fine last year despite being in a similar situation and competing for footballs with Wayne and Donnie Avery. But predictably, he came to define the volatility of the wide receiver position, and especially that of a pass catcher who’s on a lower rung. Those four 100-yard games were swell, but Hilton also had eight games with less than 40 yards. Without an ascension up the depth chart, the Hilton kaboom will wait, especially with Hamilton set to use two tight end formations more frequently.
Ahmad Bradshaw (ADP: 53.5): You’re petrified of Bradshaw because of his chronic foot issues. Get over yourself, weak man.
Like any player at any position who’s perceived to be brittle (from Rob Gronkowski to Darren McFadden), just embrace both the risk, and the opportunity to purchase a player at a position that falls off quickly beyond the top tier at minimal cost.
Bradshaw is a starting running back on a team with passing support coming out of its backside. So he has that, and if you can accept the fact that he’ll likely miss a few games while being limited and hobbled in a few others, you can also warmly accept the fact that when healthy he’s consistently effective. Bradshaw missed two games last year, yet he still rushed for 1,015 yards and six touchdowns during his final season in New York. You’re getting that ceiling halfway through the fourth round or later, and then you can handcuff Vick Ballard.
Darrius Heyward-Bey (ADP: 142.4): The difficult thing for Heyward-Bey is that to catch a ball, rapid hand movements are required. Typically, your hands come together in a sort of claw-like motion, which is where the problem starts.
During Heyward-Bey’s rookie season in 2009, his drop rate was 35.9 percent, according to Pro Football Focus. Ughhhh. But he’s improved greatly since, with his ball turfing rate declining to a more manageable 12.8 percent. Still troubling, though, is his drop rate on deep balls, which should be his thing since his legs can carry him at high speeds down a field. On 75 targets with the ball traveling at least 20 yards, Heyward-Bey’s drop rate is 14.6 percent.
There’s hope for greater consistency, especially with DHB’s improved ability after the catch (PFF also charts missed tackles forced, and Heyward-Bey had a career high 10 in 2012) which will fit well with Hamilton’s scheme. Last year in this same position on the Colts’ depth chart, Avery was targeted 124 times for 781 yards. His slippery hands may be limiting, but with similar volume this is a receiver who could compensate for his drops with speed and push for the 1,000-yard plateau.
The Menial Peons (sleepers, flex plays, and matchup plays)
Coby Fleener (ADP: 152.0): The preseason hasn’t been kind of Luck’s former Stanford bro. It started with a fumble, then a drop in the second game, and it ended with a knee injury that will keep him out until games matter. But even with that repeated facepalming, keep in mind the minimal and almost non-existent price here, and the increased targets with Hamilton often trotting two tight ends onto the field.
Hamilton should run a much more balanced offense than Arians. Last year at Stanford, Hamilton’s play-calling favored the run 57.1 percent of the time to 42.8 percent for pass plays, according to Davis Mattek at Rotoviz. That’s bad for every pass-catcher who doesn’t play tight end. Zach Ertz — who’s paid to play tight end in Philadelphia now — had 28.7 percent of Stanford’s receptions last year, and the next guy (running back Stefon Taylor) had 17 percent.
Dwayne Allen (ADP: undrafted): See above. In fact, the line directly above, though Allen may be slightly behind Fleener in targets and receptions. The end game here is two flex play caliber tight ends, but also two fine late-round, low-cost options to couple with, say, a Martellus Bennett.
The Mop-Up Men (deeeep sleepers and handcuffs)
Vick Ballard (ADP: 113.2): Your mandatory Bradshaw handcuff, though Ballard is a little pricey for cuffing status. That’s the cost of doing business in these parts, cowboy.