With the season right around the corner, it’s about that time to drop some hot takes based on advanced stats.
I’ll explain why the numbers tell me Saquon Barkley and Tyler Lockett could be extreme disappointments and why Mike Evans and Josh Allen — yes, for real, a Buffalo Bill — could exceed expectations.
Let’s start with Saquon.
SAQUON FINISHES OUTSIDE THE TOP 10 RBS
Love the player, hate the offense.
I think Saquon is a phenomenal player, one that is perfectly suited to excel in today’s game. He can run inside or outside and is a special talent as a pass-catcher as well.
That being said, this is football — he can’t do it alone.
Given the quarterback situation and the fact that the Giants have essentially zero downfield threats, defensive game plans will inevitably be geared towards stopping Saquon. Expect safeties to creep down and load the box.
According to Next Gen Stats, Barkley saw loaded boxes on about 23 percent of his carries last year, ranking around league average. I would expect that number to creep up, most likely north of 30%.
And over the last three years, there have been 43 different times RBs saw eight-man boxes on at least 30% of their runs.
Of those 43 instances, only one produced a top-5 RB finish in fantasy. If you’re counting at home, that’s about a 2% rate. Put another way, the numbers say there’s about a 98% chance Saquon doesn’t finish as a top-5 fantasy back.
In fact, only five out of those 43 times did a runner finish as a top 10 fantasy back, good for just an 11% clip.
Now, I give you that Saquon is more talented. And maybe he somehow bucks this trend. But I’ll gladly let someone else see if that is the case. I think he ends up just outside the top 10 at his position, much to the dismay of all the managers who took him with a top-2 pick.
MIKE EVANS FINISHES AS A TOP-2 WR
As I go through all the numbers, the one player near the top of the draft that continues to stick out to me is Mike Evans.
Currently drafted in the late portions of the second round, it’s time to give Big Mike some big props.
Last year, Evans racked up 138 targets and the second-most air yards en route to a WR9 finish.
With DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries gone, 179 targets and 2,046 air yards have been cleared from the books. Now, obviously a bulk of that will go Chris Godwin’s way but still, I can easily see a scenario where Evans tops 160 targets and once again pushes past 2,000 air yards.
If we apply a 60% catch rate (career 55.1%, but caught 62.3% last season) and his career average 15.5 yards per reception, we’re looking at a 95-ish catch season with about 1,500 yards. Touchdowns are always fickle but if he’s on the positive side of chance, 10-12 touchdowns is a feasible goal.
TYLER LOCKETT WILL BE A MASSIVE DISAPPOINTMENT
Turn away, Matt Harmon, but all the numbers tell us Lockett will almost assuredly be a bust at his current price in the middle of the fourth round.
According to Pro Football Reference, Lockett caught 75% of his deep pass targets. It was the highest percentage among all pass-catchers who saw at least 10 such targets. The league average catch rate on deep passes is just 42.2%. Other notable players like Julio Jones (47.5), Tyreek Hill (44.9), Antonio Brown (38.8), Odell Beckham (45.7) saw catch rates well below Lockett’s when it came to the deep ball.
Bottom line: The deep pass catch rate is utterly unsustainable.
The reason this matters? Well, 63% of his receiving yardage and 80% of his touchdowns came on these deep passes. If he comes back to around league average, a huge chunk of his production goes bye-bye.
And I know what you’re thinking: “Doug Baldwin is gone, Lockett is going to see more volume!” But is he though? How much meat is really on this bone?
Lockett saw just 70 targets last year, good for second on the team. The aforementioned Baldwin saw 73 targets, leading the team. As you can tell, this is a low-volume passing attack. The Seahawks threw the fewest pass attempts last year (just 427 attempts) and as you can deduce, they ran the ball a ton. As a matter of fact, as a percentage of their plays, Seattle ran the ball the most of any club.
Of course, it is indeed likely that Lockett will improve on his target totals, but expect David Moore and second-round specimen DK Metcalf to eat into the 73 targets left behind by Baldwin as well.
Even if Lockett pushes 90-100 targets, with his catch rate coming back to Earth this season, it’s hard to see him return top-25 receiver production.
JOSH ALLEN FINISHES AS A TOP-10 FANTASY QB
At a position that is absolutely loaded, I’ll predict that Josh Allen somehow, someway, finishes as a top 10 signal-caller. I know, I know. It’s the Bills. I get it, but just hear me out.
Last year, Allen was on pace to rush for about 850 yards, providing him with an excellent floor.
The team also added speed merchant John Brown to the outside. His pairing with Robert Foster will help Allen do what he likes to do and that is chuck it deep.
Per Next Gen Stats, his 11.0 air yards per pass attempt led the entire NFL last year. And similar to how air yards work for receivers, intended air yards for quarterbacks is part of the quarterback volume calculation. Instead of using targets and air yards, we use pass attempts and intended air yards.
Over 11 starts, Allen threw 305 pass attempts, meaning throughout a 16-game slate, that’s roughly 445 pass attempts. Not a ton, but given that he is looking to bomb out at every turn, some of those passes will connect for big yardage and long touchdowns.
He’s not nearly as accurate, but from a pure volume standpoint, Allen compares favorably to Russell Wilson, who threw 427 pass attempts last year.
When you figure in the rushing totals, Allen scored 18.4 fantasy points per game as a starter last year. That was as a rookie and without the services of John Brown, whom I believe will help him greatly.
Guess what … if he could maintain 18.4 points per game over a 16-game slate, it would have been good enough to have been the QB10 last year.