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DeVante Parker Fantasy Hype or Hero in 2017?

DeVante Parker
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DeVante Parker Fantasy 2017

The third-year is the year NFL wide receivers break out. I’ve heard this adage since I began playing fantasy football roughly a decade ago. No one knows where it first started, but it seems to be as ingrained in the minds of fantasy owners as the belief running back production drops off dramatically after age 30 or the belief anyone who drafts a defense in the single-digit rounds of their fantasy drafts will never win a championship (well, that second one is at least true). Heading into the 2017 season, the 2015 class is looking like it might be a letdown of sorts with only Amari Cooper having lived up to his first-round draft capital. Meanwhile, the rest of the first-round wide receivers from that 2015 class: Kevin White, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Breshad Perriman, and Phillip Dorsett are looking for that elusive breakout season. Can DeVante Parker break from this bunch of mediocrity and prove the third-year breakout is more than fantasy football folklore?

The Fantasy Wide Receiver Landscape

To accurately assess if Devante Parker is capable of living up to the hype of having a breakout 2017 season; we must define the parameters for what a breakout season for Parker would be. In 2016, Parker finished the season as WR50 in PPR scoring formats. He ended the season outside the top 50 in fantasy points per game with 10.3 FPPG. Heading into 2017, Parker’s average draft position has settled into the WR 35-40 range; with a current ADP on Fantasy Football Calculator of WR38 and on MyFantasyLeague of WR37 in the 7th to 8th round of drafts. Fantasy drafters are already expecting Parker to improve on his 2nd-year stats and are drafting him nearly 15 spots ahead of where he finished in 2016 as a result. For Parker to live up to the hype that fantasy owners have already thrust upon him, he’ll need to finish the season as a top 36 wide receiver. To truly break out in 2017, Parker will have to exceed expectations and finish the season in the top 24.

Graph Provided by Curtis Patrick (@dynastycommand)

Over the past four NFL seasons, the rate of reoccurrence amongst top 24 fantasy football wide receivers has been on the rise, making it increasingly harder to break into. From the 2012 to 2013 season the rate at which the top 24 wide receivers carried over was only 37.5%, but that has steadily increased in every season since. In the 2016 season, this rate of reoccurrence peaked with 62.5% of the top 24 WRs in 2015 repeating that performance a season later. Can Parker be one of the few to move inside this elusive top 24 group?

The Miami Dolphins Offense

In 2016, The Miami Dolphins offense produced three top 50 fantasy football wide receivers, but only one of those, Jarvis Landry, cracked the top 24. The other two, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills, both finished in the WR45-50 range. None of this should be all too surprising as the Miami Dolphins had the 5th lowest pass to rush ratio in the NFL. Over the course of the season, Miami passed the ball on average 56.3% of the time, which falls nearly a full 4% below the league average. This pass to run ratio became even more dramatically in favor of the run in games that Miami won and especially in games where they broke out to an early lead. In wins, Miami rushed the ball nearly 15% more often; an increase from 36.4% rushes to 51.1%! This played a large factor in Miami having the 2nd lowest amount of called pass plays in the entire NFL with only 515.

A change in offensive philosophy seemed to occur in week six coinciding with the emergence of Jay Ajayi and his breakout back to back 200-yard performances. This shift in offensive philosophy created a shift in play calling as well. Before week 6, Miami had lost four of five games while rushing the ball only 37.7% of the time. From week 6 onward, that frequency increased to a ridiculous 49.2%. If they maintained that pass to rush ratio over the course of the entire season, they would have rushed the ball more often than any other team!

Can DeVante Parker Overcome Jarvis Landry’s Presence?

Over the past 10 NFL seasons on average, only four teams per season have been able to produce two top 24 fantasy WRs. Last season only Green Bay, New Orleans, Oakland, and Denver were able to complete this feat. It doesn’t take advanced stats or projections to come to the conclusion that it will be challenging for Miami to become one of these teams this season. Therefore, for DeVante Parker to produce that breakout top 24 season, he’ll need to overcome a player who has finished as a top 30 WR in each season of his three-year career. Since entering the NFL, Jarvis Landry has been the single favorite target of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Landry has received over 110 targets in each of his first three seasons and has averaged a whopping 136 targets over that span. Targets are so important in predicting fantasy football production. So much so that not a single top 24 wide receiver in PPR leagues last season was able to accomplish that feat without receiving greater than 100 targets. Can Devante Parker get to that elusive 100 target marker?

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During the 2016 season, DeVante Parker amassed 87 targets over the course of 15 games. That is an average of 5.8 targets per game, a slight drop from his rookie season where he saw 6.25tpg over the 8 games he played. Parker will have to get back to that rookie year average in order to get to that 100 target marker. One sign of hope for Parker seeing an increase in targets comes off of the pass to run splits outlined above. Over the first five weeks of the season, Jarvis Landry saw greater than ten targets on four different occasions. Once Jay Ajayi became a fixture in the Dolphins offense, Landry saw a steep drop off in targets going from averaging 11.25tpg in the first four weeks to seeing only 7.1tpg in his final 12 games! This correlation between increase in rush to pass ratio and decrease in targets for Landry makes sense when we examine Landry’s role in the Dolphins offense. With an average depth of target of only 6.6 (lower than even Tavon Austin) Landry’s role is essentially an extension of the running game. As their rushing attack became more successful, targets began to shift away from Landry and to Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker instead. Both Parker and Stills posted an ADoT of greater than 12, nearly double that of Landry.

Chart provided by Mike Beers @Beerswater

DeVante Parker showed flashes in 2016 of the elite wide receiver that posted 855 yards over six games in his senior season at Louisville. However, those games were often just that, flashes. As the chart above outlines, Parker had five top 24 finishes in 2016 and a total of eight in the 23 NFL games he has played. However, Parker does possess the college profile and metrics that are often seen in the most elite X-receivers at the NFL level. In his junior season at Louisville, Parker was able to haul in 12 touchdowns in 12 games, and he had a spectacular six-game stretch in his senior season before missing the end of the season with a broken fifth metatarsal in his left foot. Which actually leads us to the question; can DeVante Parker overcome these nagging foot injuries? Ultimately, there is really no good way to know.

Conclusion

Devante Parker will face an uphill battle to be able to have a breakout top 24 performance in his third season. Parker’s talent is real, and his situation should improve with the shift to a rush heavy approach limiting the need for Jarvis Landry to receive as large of a target share. However, the Dolphins won more when they passed less last season and volume is everything for fantasy production. Adam Gase is going to look to replicate what worked most for them in 2016, and that is a great sign for Jay Ajayi, but a really bad sign for the Dolphin’s pass catchers. It’ll be difficult for Parker to get to that elusive 100 target marker that seems like a must to return a top 24 season. However, with Parker currently having an average draft position around WR37, it isn’t impossible for him to outproduce his draft cost. A finish in the WR30-40 range feels the most likely for Parker, but if Landry’s targets continue to trend down; Parker might be able to overtake Landry as the best fantasy producer on that offense. DeVante Parker is a high-risk wide receiver in a deficient volume pass offense that’ll need a lot of factors to break right for him to outperform where fantasy drafters are currently selecting him.

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Adam Cahill

Adam Cahill

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