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Chase Volume at WR

I have written a lot about wide receivers this offseason. In fact, I dedicated an entire column this summer to track every team’s available targets, team share of targets, and air yards heading into the new league year. Back in late July, I scribed a look into why wide receivers are undervalued relative to their running back counterparts and found that because backs are being selected at a rate in drafts not seen since 2007, it’s time to go wide receiver shopping in your fantasy drafts.

But it’s time to take step back from all of the available targets and theory articles and get down to basics.

What actually matters when it comes to scoring fantasy points for wide receivers?

Numerous studies from various great writers have shown that targets are the receivers’ engines that drive the proverbial car. It’s true in theory, too. Without requisite volume in an offense, how much “talent” a receiver owns really doesn’t matter all that much for fantasy. Targets may actually be a direct representation of talent, in fact.

But, instead of repeating studies of old, I took advantage of some new, fresh data and put it to the test. In my examination of wide receiver fantasy scoring (PPR) over the last five years, I found some undeniable truths.

For the context of this article and all of the data you will view below, I ran correlation coefficients to determine how closely connected various statistics are to scoring fantasy points. With simple correlation, a value returned of 0.70 or higher indicates that the two variables are strongly correlated or “connected”. Any variable below 0.40 is fairly weak correlation.

If we find durable correlation between a single statistic and PPR points scored, we can use it in practice to make broad assumptions about various wide receivers in the fantasy landscape.

Simple enough, right? Let’s hit the data.

Variable

Correlation

Yards

0.942

Receptions

0.916

Targets

0.875

Air Yards

0.747

Team Share of Targets

0.735

Red-zone Targets

0.715

Inside-10 Targets (RZ)

0.648

Team Share of RZ Targets

0.628

Team Share of Air Yards

0.610

Fantasy Points per Target

0.570

Team Share of In-10 Targets

0.553

Yards per Target

0.457

Catch Rate

0.353

YAC/Tgt

0.270

Yards/Reception

0.177

Average Depth of Target

0.027

If you need more of a visual aid to understand correlation values, visit this image.

Targets Over Everything

Unsurprisingly, receiving yards, receptions, and total targets are, by far, the three strongest values for PPR output at receiver. That shouldn’t shock anyone. Targets lead to receptions, which lead to receiving yards. Of course, football in general is not that simple, but I do think that it’s nice to have a reminder that yards and receptions – things that actually drive fantasy scoring – matter the most.

I want to reiterate that this idea is definitely not new, but targets and PPR points have a near perfect linear relationship:

The best way to find yards and receptions for your fantasy receivers is to chase targets and never look back.

Air Yards Earn Their Seat at The Table

Wait a second. Over the past five years, total Air Yards has done a better job at explaining wide receiver PPR output than red-zone targets?

I know - I was surprised, too.

It turns out that Air Yards have definitely earned a place in the fantasy statistics community for good reason. Only receiving yards, receptions, and targets are better values for PPR output than Air Yards. That’s a strong vote of confidence.

For those who are new and/or haven’t heard about what Air Yards actually are, it’s rather simple. Air yards are the total distance (in yardage) that the ball is thrown beyond the line of scrimmage to the point of receivers catch point.

We do need to note that team share of Air Yards – calculated as the percentage of Air Yards a receiver sees on his team – is less powerful that cumulative Air Yards.

Still, for the upcoming 2017 season, I will make sure to track Air Yards for each team incredibly closely. Air Yards alone is powerful data that needs to be leveraged properly.

Getting Down in the Red-Zone

Air Yards went ahead and stole the show, but my correlation study originally centered on red-zone usage. For years, I had been curious just how useful red-zone targets and passes thrown inside of the opponents’ 10-yard line actually are for fantasy football.

I was a little disappointed.

Red-zone targets definitely matter, but there is some context that needs to be broken down. Team share of red-zone targets (the percentage of targets a receiver sees on his team) just slightly does a better job of explaining PPR output than looking into the percentage of Air Yards a receiver saw.

Moreover, a receiver’s team share of targets inside of the opponents’ 10-yard line returns a 0.553 correlation coefficient to PPR points. That still means there’s a moderate relationship between a player’s percentage of targets inside of the 10-yard line, but it pails in comparison to Air Yards (0.747), team share of targets (0.735), or total red-zone targets (0.715).

When it’s all said and done, red-zone targets – both total and inside of the 10-yard line – certainly matter. However, I do think the extent to which a receiver is involved in his team’s red-zone target tree is perhaps a little overstated. Simply looking into receivers share of team targets is exceedingly powerful (0.735 correlation to PPR Points) compared to team share of targets inside of the opponents’ 10-yard line (0.553).

Fade Efficiency

Efficiency has a small place in describing events, but it is no match compared to volume stats (yards, receptions, and targets), Air Yards, or red-zone targets (total inside-10 targets included) for actually understanding the thing we care so much about: Scoring fantasy points.

There is an irreversible truth that not only is efficiency mostly terrible at describing PPR Points scored – it’s also vastly unpredictable outside of the far extremes.

Statistics like catch rate (0.353 correlation to PPR points), yards after the catch per target (0.270), and yards per reception (0.177) do not hold a candle to the staying power of targets. In some areas of analysis, I think some fantasy players mistake catch rate or fantasy points per target for overall player ability. That’s a catastrophic error in judgment. In fact, I’d argue you’re going to be better off 95% of the time surmising a player’s “talent” by viewing simple volume metrics.

Any time you catch rate or see a statistic followed by the phrase “per target” (i.e. fantasy points per target, yards per target, etc.) attempting to describe fantasy points, just go back to square one. Chase targets.

Leveraging This Data

Here at Fantasy Guru, we use a blend of different ideas and thought processes to come up with the most accurate projections over the last two seasons. When we’re debating receivers in our projections as a staff, we ultimately draw a circle back to the endgame: Targets.

Look, as much as I love to come up with new statistics and find new ways to describe the game – the most simple of answers is often the best. Football is inherently a violent game with swings of variance and hard-luck aplenty. It’s tough enough to predict one game, let alone an entire season.

While it’s important to use various data points and include as much predictive information as you can into your fantasy football research, a simple approach is often most warranted. Follow the trail of targets (that leads to receptions, yards), Air Yards, and red-zone usage on your path to fantasy victory.

Graham Barfield
Senior Analyst

Graham is a senior analyst for Fantasy Guru and works closely with statistics to produce quanitative analysis for complementary weekly content. He will be appearing before the season and during the season on The Fantasy Guru Podcast with John Hansen and Joe Dolan. Be sure to follow Graham on Twitter at @GrahamBarfield.

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