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Top WRs that Should Climb Higher in 2005

Many of the top ranked wide receivers (WRs) from the 2004 fantasy football season are likely to remain at or near the top in 2005 also. Obviously, several will drop substantially down the rankings, but which top WRs from 2004 are likely to do some significant climbing in value in 2005? To examine this question, lets look at some of the typical statistics in evaluating the fantasy value of WRs along with the frequency in which top WRs are targeted in the passing game and the completion percentage of passes for which they were targeted. Perhaps the combination of this data will provide us a new and useful way to project which top WRs from 2004 are likely to improve their fantasy value in 2005.

A "target" is typically defined as a pass that the quarterback (QB) intended to throw to an eligible receiver of any position. A pass qualifies as a target for a given receiver when it is clear that it was the QB's intent to get this player the ball. It does not matter if the pass was caught, dropped, deflected, or simply thrown poorly.

Below (in Table A), you can see the top 30 ranked fantasy WRs from 2004 (based on fantasy points per game), along with the number of times each of them were thrown to per game (Targets/G), and the percentage of passes that were completed when they were targeted (Comp. %). A player must have played in a minimum of 12 games to be included in the top 30 fantasy WRs in this study.

Table A - Top 30 Fantasy WRs, 2004

Rk
Wide Receiver
Team
FPPG
Rec/Gm
Trgt/Gm
Comp%
1
Muhsin Muhammad
Car
17.7
5.8
10.0
58.1
2
Terrell Owens
Phi
17.3
5.5
9.1
60.6
3
Javon Walker
GB
15.9
5.6
9.0
61.8
4
Joe Horn
NO
15.8
5.9
9.6
61.4
5
Marvin Harrison
Ind
15.3
5.4
8.7
61.9
6
Torry Holt
StL
15.3
5.9
8.6
68.1
7
Reggie Wayne
Ind
14.5
4.8
7.2
67.0
8
Drew Bennett
Ten
14.4
5.0
9.0
55.6
9
Chad Johnson
Cin
14.3
5.9
10.6
55.9
10
Randy Moss
Min
13.8
3.8
6.6
57.0
11
Donald Driver
GB
13.6
5.3
8.6
61.3
12
Eddie Kennison
KC
13.4
4.4
7.6
58.5
13
Isaac Bruce
StL
13.1
5.6
9.2
60.5
14
Derrick Mason
Ten
12.9
6.0
9.9
60.8
15
Darrell Jackson
Sea
12.8
5.4
9.8
55.4
16
Brandon Stokley
Ind
12.6
4.3
6.4
66.7
17
Michael Clayton
TB
12.6
5.0
7.6
65.6
18
Rod Smith
Den
12.2
4.9
8.5
58.1
19
Jimmy Smith
Jac
11.9
4.6
8.6
54.0
20
Andre Johnson
Hou
11.9
4.9
8.6
57.2
21
Nate Burleson
Min
11.8
4.3
6.4
66.7
22
Jerry Porter
Oak
11.6
4.0
8.5
47.1
23
Roy Williams
Det
11.2
3.9
8.4
45.8
24
Eric Moulds
Buf
11.1
5.5
9.5
57.9
25
Ashley Lelie
Den
11.1
3.4
6.3
53.5
26
Chris Chambers
Mia
11.1
4.6
9.2
50.0
27
Ronald Curry
Oak
10.7
4.2
5.8
71.4
28
Keyshawn Johnson
Dal
10.6
4.4
7.8
56.5
29
Hines Ward
Pit
10.3
5.0
6.8
74.1
30
Lee Evans
Buf
10.1
3.0
4.7
64.0
Average
13.0
4.9
8.2
59.3

As you can see, the average WR on this list has a completion rate for his targets equal to 59.3%. Some see a much greater completion percentage for their targets, while others noticeably less.

"Why is this," you may ask?

Upon initial consideration, the obvious answer seems to be that some WRs have greater skills and abilities than others, and thus have higher completion percentages of their targets. Certain WRs have the ability to simply go and get just about any ball thrown in their vicinity. Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Marvin Harrison are three WRs that are often thought of in this manner. However, when you look at the completion percentage of passes targeted for them in 2004, you will see that Moss is below average among the top 30, Owens is narrowly above average, and Harrison is not much above Owens. Although the ability of a WR is clearly an important determinant of the completion percentage of his targets, there must be other factors also having an affect. In my opinion, some of the other key factors that must also be worked into the answer of the above question are things like: the skills and abilities of a WR's QB, the skills and abilities of other receivers on his team, the effectiveness of his offensive line, and perhaps the general offensive scheme for his team. Commonsense dictates that all of these factors have some affect upon the completion percentage of targets for a WR, as well as his ability.

Once again looking at Table A above, you will see that there are only 8 WRs that fall 3+ percentage points below the 59.3% completion percentage average of this list. They have definite room to improve in 2005. These WRs (highlighted in dark red text in Table A) are: Drew Bennett, Chad Johnson, Darrell Jackson, Jimmy Smith, Jerry Porter, Roy Williams, Ashley Lelie, and Chris Chambers. If these 8 WRs were to see an increase in the completion percentage of passes targeted for them in 2005, and still are targeted approximately as frequently as they were in 2004 (or more), their fantasy points per game (fppg) could significantly increase in 2005.

At this point, you may think to yourself, "How likely is it that these 8 WRs will be thrown to approximately as much in 2005 as they were in 2004 (if not more) along with seeing an increase in the completion percentage of passes targeted for them in 2005?"

To help answer this question, please look at Table B (below). This table indicates the kind of change, if any, I believe the selected WRs are likely to see in 2005 in both targets per game and the completion percentage of passes targeted for them. And please remember, other factors than simply a WR's ability can affect the completion percentage of passes targeted for him.

Table B - Select WR Outlook, 2005

Wide Receiver
Trgt/Gm in '05
Comp% in '05
Comments
Drew Bennett
+
-
With Derrick Mason in Baltimore, Bennett should see plenty of targets in 2005. However, he will often be keyed by opposing defenses and does not have superb playmaking abilities, so is likely to be on the tail end of many incomplete passes.
Chad Johnson
=
+
Johnson led the league in targets per game in 2004. He is likely to see about the same number in 2005, as he is clearly the primary receiving threat in Cincinnati. In 2004, Johnson started to develop a good rapport with his young and talented QB, Carson Palmer. Add to that Johnson's immense abilities, and he should see an increase in the completion percentage of passes thrown to him in 2005.
Darrell Jackson
=
+
Jackson was oft targeted in the Seattle passing game in 2004. I look for this to continue in 2005. Sure, his hands are a bit of an issue, but with a little better play from Matt Hasselbeck and only a couple less dropped passes in 2005, the completion percentage of targets to Jackson should increase.
Jimmy Smith
-
=
Smith is getting a bit older and is likely to see a small drop in targets in 2005. However, if Leftwich can continue to improve his game, the completion percentage of passes thrown to Smith seems likely to remain the same, at the very least.
Jerry Porter
-
+
Porter is a physically talented WR. However, with Randy Moss now in Oakland, Porter should see noticeably less targets in 2005. That said, Moss should draw plenty of double teams which should allow the completion percentage of passes thrown to most other Raider receivers, including Porter, to increase at least a little.
Roy Williams
=
+
Williams has the physical tools to be an elite WR. If he can stay healthy in 2005 and get more consistent QB play, the completion percentage of passes thrown to him should increase substantially while his Targets/G should be similar to 2004.
Ashley Lelie
+
=
Lelie should see more passes thrown his way in 2005 as Rod Smith is getting older and slower every year. However, the sometimes sporadic play of QB Jake Plummer added to the fact that Lelie runs many difficult to complete deep routes should make it tough for the completion percentage of passes thrown to Lelie to increase very much, if at all in 2005.
Chris Chambers
+
+
Chambers is a very talented WR that often has his fantasy value overlooked. With a new coaching staff in Miami that is likely to better utilize him and improvements to the offensive line (which should buy him more time to get open), look for Chambers to see even more targets in 2005 and a better completion percentage of passes thrown his way.

Note: A plus sign indicates a likely increase, a minus sign indicates a likely decrease, and
an equal sign indicates that minimal or no change is expected in 2005.

After viewing Table B, you should notice that 6 of the 8 WRs included are shown as being likely to see an equal or greater rate (= or +) of targets per game in 2005. These players being: Drew Bennett, Chad Johnson, Darrell Jackson, Roy Williams, Ashley Lelie, and Chris Chambers. Of these 6 players, only 4 seem apparent to benefit from an increase (+) in the percentage of passes for which they are targeted in 2005. These 4 WRs (highlighted with blue text in the Table B) are: Chad Johnson, Darrell Jackson, Roy Williams and Chris Chambers. These 4 WRs are likely to see as many or more targets in 2005 along with a noticeably higher completion percentage of passes targeted for them. The combination of these two factors points toward an increase in fppg for all 4 players in 2005.

Now you may start to wonder, "Even if these 4 WRs are targeted as often in 2005 as they were in 2004, and also see an increase in the completion percentage of passes that they are targeted for, how much of a difference will this really make in terms their fantasy value?"

If all other factors and rates were to have remained the same for the 4 WRs in blue text above along with each of them having the completion percentage of their targets simply equal to that of the average of the top 30 WRs (59.3%), then all 4 WRs would have seen marked increases in their fppg. The increased completion percentage of passes targeted for them would result in greater receptions, greater yardage, and greater TD totals for these 4 players. In 2004, with a completion percentage of passes targeted for them equaling 59.3%:

  1. Chad Johnson would have scored 15.2 fppg and would have climbed to #7 in the above ranking. That's an increase of 0.9 fppg and a 2 spot jump in the WR rankings.
  2. Roy Williams would have scored 14.5 fppg and would have climbed to a tie for the #8 position in the above ranking. That's an incredible increase of 3.3 fppg and a 15 spot jump in the WR rankings.
  3. Darrell Jackson would have scored 13.7 fppg and would have climbed to #12. That's a 0.9 increase in fppg and a 3 spot jump in the WR rankings.
  4. Chris Chambers would have scored 13.1 fppg and would have climbed to #15. That's a 2.0 fppg increase and an 11 spot jump in the WR rankings.

It is clear to see that an increase in the completion percentage of passes targeted for these WRs in 2004 would likely have improved their fantasy value by a significant margin in that season. Although it is not extremely likely that all of them will see such a large increase in the completion percentage of their targets in 2005, even a moderate increase would probably result in a substantial rise in their fantasy value.

Whether it was poor or inconsistent QB play, a few dropped passes, or some health related issues in 2004 that limited the completion percentage of passes targeted for Chad Johnson, Roy Williams, Darrell Jackson, and Chris Chambers; all 4 players seem poised to improve in this area in 2005. With this improvement, and their continuation of being frequently targeted for passes by their respective QBs, the fantasy value of these 4 WRs seems destined to climb even further in 2005.

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