The summer is here, meaning we're getting closer to the start of fantasy football drafts. Success in those drafts will come from landing terrific bargains in the middle to late rounds while avoiding players who could see their numbers decline compared to 2020. However, that latter exercise isn't easy, especially in the case of players who are among the elite, coming off breakout seasons in the stat sheets or those on new teams.
Case in point. In 2019, Odell Beckham Jr. was traded from the New York Giants to the Cleveland Browns. He had been one of the elite wide receivers in fantasy football in the Big Apple, so few folks worried the same wouldn’t be true in Cleveland. Unfortunately, those who sunk a prominent pick into the former LSU product ended up with a bust.
OBJ went on to see a huge decrease of 6.6 fantasy points per game.
And no one saw it coming.
That leads me to this series, aptly named “The Fantasy Case Against…” where I’ll do my due diligence in looking at players who everyone in fantasy land seems to think is a sure bet to remain uber-productive after finding a high level of success in past seasons.
This isn't me trying to sway you from picking these players; it's just something for you to think about when thinking of the larger conversation around each guy. The only thing predictable about the NFL and fantasy football is that it's often unpredictable (see Thomas last season), so do with this factual information what you will.
I've already broken down Justin Herbert, Alvin Kamara, Derrick Henry, Saquon Barkley, Michael Carter, Justin Jefferson, and Julio Jones in my "The Fantasy Case Against" series. Let's look at the new No. 1 wideout in the Big Apple, Kenny Golladay.
Golladay was a hot fantasy asset heading into 2020 drafts, as he finished the previous season ranked as the WR9 after posting a career-high 1,190 yards and 11 touchdowns. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to a mere five games, and he failed to see a single snap after the Lions' Week 8 loss to the Colts. He averaged 13.2 fantasy points a game, which was 2.4 fewer fantasy points than he averaged during his previous campaign.
Did You Know?
Golladay caught a touchdown pass for every six receptions he had in 2019. In his other three NFL seasons (31 games) combined, Golladay averaged a far less impressive one touchdown for every 11.8 receptions. With a little over three seasons of stats on his resume, I wonder if that 2019 touchdown-per-catch ratio was an outlier.
Golladay is a playmaker who thrives on success downfield, which is evident in his high yards-per-reception average during the last two seasons. He ranked 10th (16.9) in that category last season among wideouts with at least 20 catches, and he was fourth (18.9) the prior season. To the surprise of no one, Matthew Stafford was 12th in attempts of 20-plus air yards and was tied for ninth in pass plays of 20-plus yards last season.
In 2019, Stafford started eight games, during which time he ranked second among field generals in attempts of 20-plus air yards. He was also on pace to lead the league in pass plays of 20-plus air yards (he had 41 in eight games; the league leader Jameis Winston had 75 such pass plays in 16 games). Stafford's willingness and success in throwing the football downfield was a huge benefit to Golladay's numbers.
On the flip side, Daniel Jones has ranked 16th and 25th in attempts of 20-plus air yards (among quarterbacks with at least eight starts) in his first two NFL seasons. In terms of pass plays of 20-plus yards, Jones has ranked 25th and tied for 22nd at the position.
Since 2010, there have been 47 fantasy-relevant wideouts who have changed teams. I defined “fantasy relevant” as players who were either coming off a year that made them valuable (at some level) in PPR formats or became fantasy relevant on their new team. Each player had to play in at least eight games in a given season to be counted. If a player missed more than eight games, I looked at his previous season's data.
Of course, there are differing levels of player values in this research exercise. For example, Odell Beckham Jr. has had far more value than Brandon LaFell. Some players changed teams earlier or later in their careers than others. But for the sake of this article, let's look at the group as a whole and see if we find any trends among wideouts having more or less success in their first year with a new team.
Among the 47 players, there have been 66 instances of team changes. That’s because players like Brandon Marshall, Brandin Cooks, and DeSean Jackson, for example, have changed teams multiple times in the last decade. Overall, in 33 of the 66 instances (50 percent), the points per game average of a wide receiver changing teams declined in the first year with his new team. In 24 of those instances (73 percent), the decline was at least 2.1 points. The decrease was four or more points 15 times (45 percent). In the other nine instances, the decline was 1.3 points or less (seven were less than a point). If we consider a change of two or more points significant, that means around seven out of every 10 wide receivers who had a decrease saw a significant one.
Now let’s take a look at the wideouts who saw an increase in points-per-game average in their first year with a new team. Overall, there were 32 such instances. In 19 of those instances (59 percent), the player experienced an increase of two or more points. The other 13 instances saw less significant increases, at 1.8 points or fewer. That includes one player (Alshon Jeffery) who saw no increase or decrease in his average.
As we look at his research, we don’t see a significant trend … 50 percent of wideouts saw a decrease, 48 percent saw an increase. The real issue here is that a huge number of the wideouts in this research exercise (73 percent) who saw a decline in points saw a significant decline. As you continue to read on in this article, you’ll find out why there’s even more reason to think that Golladay will be on the negative side of this trend.
The Giants will bring back Jason Garrett as their offensive coordinator, but this is a new system and coaching staff for Golladay to absorb. During his time in Dallas, Garrett saw a combined 13 top-24 finishes among wide receivers. Six of those were top-10s, including Owens (1), Dez Bryant (3), Miles Austin (1), and Amari Cooper (1). However, the best finish among Giants receivers last season was Sterling Shepard (WR43).
Under Garrett's guidance, the G-Men ranked tied for fourth-worst in terms of "big plays" (rushes of 10-plus yards or receptions of 20-plus yards) last season. Their offense also ranked 28th in pass attempts of 20-plus air yards. That will have to change in a significant fashion if Golladay is going to come anywhere near his 2019 value.
The move from Detroit to New York was nothing but bad news for Golladay's value. He is in the prime of his career at 27, but how do you look past the facts? He will see a downgrade from Stafford to Jones, and the stats tell us the Giants didn't throw the ball downfield all that much. While that should change with Golladay in the mix, it won't matter much if Jones doesn’t improve on a disappointing 2020 season. If there’s one positive, it’s that he did complete 44 percent of his pass attempts of 20-plus air yards a season ago. That ranked seventh among quarterbacks with at least eight games.
That’s good news for Golladay, but this isn’t. The Giants have a lot of mouths to feed in the offense. Golladay, John Ross, Kadarius Toney, and Kyle Rudolph were all added to the roster, joining Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, and Evan Engram in the passing game. Oh, and did I mention the return of stud Saquon Barkley to the backfield mix?
This is all positive for Jones, but it's not going to help Golladay's target share. Also, keep in mind that he's never seen more than 119 targets in a single season, so his stock is going to be dependent on big plays downfield and scoring touchdowns. As the data has shown, that's not something Jones and the Giants attempted (or succeeded at) very much a season ago. An argument can also be made that Golladay's 11-TD season in 2019 is out of the norm for him based on his other two-plus seasons' worth of games.
As I look at the current average draft position (ADP) stats from the Fantasy Football World Championships, Golladay is the 27th wide receiver coming off the board. That's about right to me. Many things have to improve in the Giants offense for Golladay to reach the same level of production he had in Detroit two seasons ago, and I don't think the cards are going to fall into place. It's a far cry from where he was being selected at this time last season, but I'd be far more comfortable with Golladay as a No. 3 wideout.
The Fantasy Case Against ...
- RUNNING BACKS
- WIDE RECEIVERS
- TIGHT ENDS
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for your late-breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!