Due to the short season, football statistics for any given season tend to vary more than basketball or baseball, where over time streaks will normalize. In football a few good or bad games can easily swing the averages over a season. In fantasy baseball, advanced stats help identify anomalies that indicate a likely bust or a potential breakout. With fantasy football, players have to look at a much smaller sample size which means we need to decide if we believe in what we saw last year or if it was the result of unrepeatable circumstances.
Every fantasy football player and analyst has been wrong in the past. After his rookie season Trent Richardson looked like he could be a fantasy stud. Every year people thing Frank Gore is done, then every year he comes out and produces. In this article I decided to take a look at some surprises from last season and try to determine if they are repeatable or if I expect regression in 2017. I am diving into the statistics to provide a better picture of how to approach these players come your draft.
2016 Surprise: Terrelle Pryor breaks out at WR
Last year Terrelle Pryor had an impressive season becoming the top target in the Cleveland passing game. He was targeted 140 times and finished with 1,007 yards and four touchdowns. Putting up numbers like that so soon after converting to wide receiver at the NFL level was definitely a surprise. Doing it with various below average quarterbacks made it even more impressive. Now with the move to Washington he will be catching passes from Kirk Cousins, a big upgrade. As a team in 2016 Cleveland completed 59.6 percent of its passes, totaling 15 touchdown and averaging 6.5 yards per attempt. Meanwhile Cousins completed 67 percent of his passes for 25 touchdowns and averages 8.1 yards per attempt. He also will be better suited to take advantage of Pryor’s downfield speed, being a more accurate downfield passer than anyone in Cleveland last year. Even if Pryor is targeted less with more options in Washington, each target will be more valuable. Pryor has a great combination of size and speed. At 6-foot-6 he should develop into a reliable red zone option for Washington The fear with Pryor is he is a one-year wonder on a team where he was the only option in town.
2017 Verdict: Pryor’s 2016 is not only repeatable, I expect his numbers to improve.
2016 Surprise: Atlanta’s efficiency on offense: Matt Ryan/Tevin Coleman/Taylor Gabriel
Last year the Atlanta offense as a whole was great of fantasy. For Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, they were drafted to be at the top of their respective positions and they delivered. Since they are connected it is easiest to look at the other members of the Atlanta offense together.
Matt Ryan deservedly won the MVP award in 2016. He set career highs in touchdowns, completion percentage, yards per attempt and total yards while having the least pass attempts since 2009. He also had a career-low number of interceptions. His efficiency screams regression. He threw a touchdown on 7.1 percent of his attempts (his career average is 4.7 percent). He averaged almost 2 more yards per attempt more than his career average. He completed just less than 70 percent of his passes, 5 percent above his career average. If Ryan was a younger player some of the uptick could be attributed to progression. Ryan, however, is already 32 years old. The only way he returns similar value is if he attempts significantly more passes to make up for the regression in his efficiency.
2017 Matt Ryan Verdict: Matt Ryan’s efficiency is not repeatable. If people are expecting a similar year to 2016 he will be over-drafted this year.
Tevin Coleman was part of one of the best running back tandems in recent memory. Both he and Devonta Freeman were great players to own in 2016. Coleman’s value, however, was tied to efficient numbers that made up for having a lower workload. He scored a touchdown on 7.4 percent of his touches compared to 4.6 percent for Freeman. He also averaged 13.6 yards per reception. That was a significantly higher than running backs known for catching the ball. Le’Veon Bell averaged 8.2 yards, Theo Riddick 7 yards. These numbers and his role as the second option in the Atlanta backfield make Coleman a risky option to rely on in fantasy.
2017 Tevin Coleman Verdict: Similar to Ryan, Coleman was very efficient and is prime for a regression in 2017. However if Freeman was to get hurt he would be an RB1, but I would not draft him counting on that.
Taylor Gabriel was the biggest surprise for Atlanta in 2016. A big play threat who scored seven total touchdowns. Gabriel scored a touchdown on 17.9 percent of his touches. His role increased over the season with all of his touchdowns coming over his last nine games. Gabriel will be very reliant on big plays to return any fantasy value being targeted only 50 times in 13 games. He will have big weeks, but trying to predict when they come will be extremely frustrating. He is the most likely candidate to be negatively affected by the regression of Matt Ryan efficiency. I also expect Atlanta to involved Austin Hooper more in his second year, which will add more mouths to feed in this offense.
2017 Taylor Gabriel Verdict: Gabriel is too boom-or-bust to be relied upon. Other than a best ball league owning him will not be very valuable since you will never know when to play him.