Elite Fantasy Football Receivers Are Not Who You Expect
It’s easy to see why from a pure football standpoint Scouts Inc. would evaluate these receivers as elite - each is at least 6-foot-3-inches tall, immensely athletic, strong and a polished route runner.
But fantasy football isn’t scored using abstract evaluations of play tape, past performance, and perceived skill. It’s a game based purely on the present. So when awesome, elite, best-receiver-in-the-NFL Calvin Johnson catches three passes for 34 yards like he did this week, you know what that makes him? This guy. It doesn’t matter that Calvin Johnson has 6,406 more yards and 50 more touchdowns in his career than Ryan Whalen. Last week, they both scored three fantasy points in standard leagues and ipso facto are the same.
And what about Fitzgerald? Well he rumbled along for 29 yards last week on his way to two fantasy points. So yeah unfortunately his career 10,016-yard and 78-touchdown advantage wasn’t enough to outscore a fairly terrible Bengals wide receiver. If you had Whalen in your lineup (you didn't), you were better off.
And while I’ve focused on Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald for most of this diatribe, let it be known that Andre Johnson is worse than both. Although he did decently well last week (and by decently well I mean he had eight fantasy points, or one fewer than former Rutgers superstar and current Charles Oakley impersonator Tiquan Underwood, he has the 27th-most fantasy points among wide receivers this year. That puts him behind the likes of Brian Hartline and Jeremy Kerley in terms of fantasy production so far this season.
Calvin and Fitzgerald are not much better, at 16th and 18th respectively. So this all begins to mount to the larger point: if these "elite" receivers are not elite fantasy receivers, then who is? These are not just the top scoring players on the year - anyone can look that up - but the players who have positioned themselves with the best chance of maintaining elite status going forward.
Harvin overcomes these limitations because he does not produce stats like normal receivers. Of Harvin’s 577 receiving yards this year (before the Thursday night game), 438 have come after the catch. Harvin averages a ridiculous 8.3 yards after each catch. Combine this with his 10.9 yards per reception, and you get an average target of just 2.4 yards down field. Normally a shallow depth of target is a bad thing, but this case is so extreme that it is clear that the Vikings recognize the importance of getting the ball in Harvin’s hands as quickly as possible. And here's why...
According to Pro Football Focus, Harvin has forced 20 missed tackles on 53 receptions. Combine this with the five missed tackles forced on Harvin’s 17 carries this year, and Harvin has forced a missed tackle for every 2.8 touches this year - by far the best in the NFL. To put this in perspective - Harvin has more than twice as many missed tackles forced as any receiver and would be 5th among running backs. Even when evaluated against running backs, Harvin is behind only Marshawn Lynch, Adrian Peterson, C.J. Spiller and Doug Martin. That's some pretty good company, and Harvin has forced more missed tackles per touch than anyone in the league.
Victor Cruz is the best slot receiver in the NFL. Unfortunately, he usually does not play in the slot unless the Giants use three receivers. Most teams shift to three receiver sets when losing, at the end of the first half, or to run a hurry up offense for strategic reasons. Although the Giants are one of the best teams in the NFL, they actually find themselves losing quite a bit as they play one of the most difficult schedules in the NFL. This is when Cruz does his elite work.
Cruz has recorded 389 of his 627 yards when the Giants are trailing. He also averages 15 yards per catch, and has scored five of his seven touchdowns when playing from behind. Want to know who the Giants play from weeks 12-16 (Fantasy playoffs alert!)? Green Bay, Washington, New Orleans, Atlanta and Baltimore. The Giants may win some of those games, but the Giants will need too keep pace with some serious offenses. Cruz is going to have some big numbers and win a lot of championships.
Next Week: Why Andrew Luck, Doug Martin, and Daryl Richardson are going to be three of the most important players in the second half of the fantasy season.