Why Jeremy Maclin and T.Y. Hilton Are Having Great Fantasy Seasons
If you look at the top fantasy WRs this year, you’ll see some familiar names at the top of the list. Antonio Brown and Demaryius Thomas are fantastic WRs who produced at a high level last year and lead the league this year. But at 3rd and 4th are surprise names, Jeremy Maclin and T.Y. Hilton, who both have nearly broken their career highs in every major category despite being only half way through the NFL season. Could we have seen these breakouts coming? Both were young players who had been good in previous years. But the real key to seeing the breakout was that Hilton and Maclin are on teams that lead the NFL in pass attempts per game, and that’s what has been buoying their production.
In 2014, the Colts lead the league in pass attempts per game with 44.1. A close second is the Eagles, who make a pass attempt nearly 42 times per game. But this was not the case last year. The Colts were only 12th in pass attempts per game, while the Eagles were all the way in 27th, which made the Eagles more of a running team. The team that led the league in pass attempts in 2013 was the Cleveland Browns, who had breakout star Josh Gordon post back to back 200 yard receiving games and nearly double his previous year season statistics. The Browns are 28th in pass attempts this season, and barely have any fantasy receiver worth playing.
It appears that there is a strong correlation by how much a team passes a game and how quality their receivers are in fantasy. This makes sense in a direct sense. More pass attempts per game means more possible receptions for receivers, which produce a full or half fantasy point depending on the format you are playing. But those receptions can also lead to yards and TDs, which makes the pass attempt effect much stronger. We see that effect hurt guys like Dez Bryant, who had a great season in 2013 in a heavy passing offense, only to see his production greatly decline in an offense that is 4th in the league in rush attempts per game.
Therefore, it seems that a team’s expected pass attempts per game is useful in predicting receiver fantasy performance, which is why we shouldn’t be surprised at T.Y. Hilton and Jeremy Maclin are having breakout seasons. I’m not saying these receivers owe all their production to their passing offenses, but it’s easy to see how much being in a prolific passing offense has helped their production.
Under the Tools section of our website, we have a spreadsheet called NFL Sportsbook Projections. In this spreadsheet you will find a column called EPPP, which stands for Estimated Pass Play Percentage. We get this number by looking at how inclined a team is to run or pass the ball and how much their opponent is run or passed on, as well as looking at scoring margin. You can read more here. The leader this week in EPPP is Oakland, who we expect to pass the ball a whopping 76% of the time. Oakland has not been very productive this year, evidenced by being 2nd to last in the league in points per game. But as huge home underdogs against one of the best run defenses in the league, we should see a lot of production out of their passing game, and guys like Andre Holmes, James Jones, and Mychal Rivera should have good fantasy days.
A players fantasy value has a lot to do with their own skill. A bad player in a good offense is still going to be bad. But good players in heavy passing offenses can become fantasy studs because of how often the ball is thrown, but moreso thrown in their direction. Guys like Hilton, Maclin, and Josh Gordon had breakout seasons because they were good players on teams that were at the top of the league in pass attempts. And guys like Dez Bryant and Andre Johnson have predictably faltered after finding themselves on teams that are committed to running the ball. You can use our NFL Sportsbook Point Projection tool to determine which teams will be prolific throwing the ball in any given week, which will help you find great fantasy plays at WR.
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