You’re drafting in a 12-team Half-PPR league, sitting in the seventh position. There are a lot of different avenues that you could go, but you know that whomever you select with your first-round pick will largely dictate the way the rest of your draft will take shape. Names start peeling off the board… Taylor, McCaffrey, Kupp, Jefferson, Ekeler, Henry … The consensus third-overall wide receiver is there staring you in the face, just as you hoped. An electric playmaker, and one of the most fun-to-watch talents in the NFL, Ja’Marr Chase is calling you.
Before you hit the DRAFT button, let me bend your ear. What if I told you that you could get nearly identical production, perhaps even more efficient, consistent numbers, two rounds later? Hear me out.
Chase was one of the most explosive receiving talents in the league last season, proving to be a draft day steal for managers who likely scooped him up as a mid-round pick. In half-PPR leagues, Chase tallied double-digit points in all but five weeks, scoring more than 20 points four times, highlighted by a 50-burger in a 266-yard, three-score performance against the Chiefs deep in the fantasy football playoffs (Week 17).
Chase drastically outperformed his draft price in 2021, but does that justify a first-round pick this year? Chase is the only wide receiver going in the first round of 2022 drafts who lines up alongside a pass catcher going within the first three rounds of drafts. So why not take a look at the other side of the Bengals’ offensive formation?
Behold, Tee Higgins
Going in the mid-to-late third round in most drafts, Higgins is set up to have just as good of a season as his teammate in 2022, and he won’t cost you a first-round pick. Believe it or not, Higgins finished the 2021 season with more targets per game and more receptions per game than his rookie counterpart. Over the course of the season, Chase finished with a 23.1% target share, but guess what… Higgins owned an identical 23.1% target share in the 14 games he appeared in.
Last season, Chase scored more than half of his touchdowns on plays of 30 yards or more, scoring eight times from at least 30 yards out. He broke loose from opposing defenses for touchdowns of 50 yards or greater five times in his rookie campaign. That feels unsustainable. Meanwhile, Higgins caught a total of six touchdowns, with two from 32 and 29 yards out and the rest from inside the 10-yard line.
According to a study written by TJ Hernandez, receiving touchdowns and touchdown rate (TD/Target) are two of the least predictable wide receiver statistics from year to year. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. It’s been incredibly difficult to project touchdown totals for wide receivers based on past performance. In 2021, only six of the league’s top 15 in receiving touchdowns ranked within the top 15 in 2020. Of those in the top 15 in 2020, just four ranked in the top 15 in 2019. Historically, there’s been lots of variance from year to year.
In the same study, Hernandez found that air yards and target depth are the most stable year-to-year statistics for wideouts that can help predict performance. A receiver’s aDOT (average depth of target) is most likely to be sustained from year to year, which is helpful in predicting yardage totals.
In 2021, Chase registered an aDOT of 12.63 yards while Tee Higgins finished just behind him at 12.01 yards. Assuming the health of both receivers, we can conclude that Higgins and Chase will likely finish relatively close in receiving yards in 2022.
Touchdowns are unpredictable. Receiving yardage is less unpredictable. Comparing both receivers’ stats from last year makes it easier to imagine a 2022 where touchdown variance sways in Higgins’ favor and he outproduces his teammate from a fantasy standpoint.
All this is not to say that Chase will not be a first-round talent, it’s just that his risk of regression combined with Higgins’ opportunity to be just as good, if not better, makes it more lucrative to draft Higgins two rounds later. If you’re bullish on both, by all means, STACK the two Bengals receivers. Just beware of the potential of a complete and utter collapse game (Week 15 2021 at Denver) and the ever-lurking Tyler Boyd.
(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)