Expected Points Assessment: Wide Receivers + Tight Ends

Justin Dunbar creates an expected points metric to assess wide receivers and tight ends.

What should we use to project future fantasy production? It’s one thing to create projections in the offseason, but to adjust in season is incredibly difficult. We wish we could just use previous fantasy production to guide us, but with how fluky touchdown production and other stats can be in such a small sample, it’s something we cannot afford to do.

That’s where expected points come into play. You’ve probably seen some form of expected points before, but the basis is that it judges players based on the opportunities they receive, in order to illustrate how many points they should score. Since it strips a lot of the “flukiness” that can come from individual games, it’s a terrific way to create the foundation for a weekly projection.

Today, let’s utilize expected points to our advantage. However, I want to do it in a different way than you may be used to seeing. Rather, I want to utilize simple variables to create a very easy-to-use metric. Thus, for every position in this series, we will be using only one statistic that correlates strongly with fantasy football production to create this metric.

For wide receivers and tight ends, that variable is targets. Touchdowns and big plays ultimately move the needle yet they’re quite unstable, while targets are a much more reliable metric from one game to the next.

Using weighted yardage, the coefficient of determination between expected fantasy points and actual points was 0.65. In other words, 65% of a wide receiver or tight end’s fantasy points per game could be explained by their weighted touches per game. That indicates a pretty strong relationship, and the type of reliability we’re looking for. There will be players that consistently score more or fewer touchdowns than others, which will allow them to overachieve or underachieve their expected fantasy output.

With that, let’s take a look at how every notable wide receiver rates in terms of expected fantasy points:

Hey, look another way to say that Davante Adams is amazing! Also, Cooper Kupp and Deebo Samuel each have earned their higher-than-anticipated fantasy production through targets, rather than touchdowns. Thus, you should feel pretty comfortable about them being able to perform at a very high level moving forward. The same goes for DJ Moore, Diontae Johnson, and Mike Williams.
As for tight ends:
Darren Waller’s targets are skewed slightly by a 19-target outing in Week 1, but he’s still continued to be the focal point in the passing game for the Raiders. Even if he remains behind Travis Kelce, I still believe he’s the second-best fantasy tight end, regardless of matchups. Also, in spite of not playing more than 70% of the snaps in all but one game this year, Dalton Schultz continues to earn a lot of targets. Will he remain that efficient? Who knows, but he’s rightfully been a Top 10 tight end up to this point.

Buy Low

By looking at players who are underachieving their expected points total, we can find some players to potentially buy-low on. Let’s start with wide receivers:

Sell High

Conversely, by looking at players who have overachieved their expected fantasy production, we can find players to sell high on. Let’s start with wide receivers:

  • It’s common for vertical threats to consistently overachieve their expected production based on targets. However, Ja’Marr Chase will need more passing volume from the Bengals offense to continue to be a fantasy star, while Marquise Brown probably won’t continue to average 20 fantasy points per game.
  • Of the three Buccaneer wide receivers, Antonio Brown is clearly the one to sell high on.
  • Don’t sell high on Mike Williams or Cooper Kupp, whose expected points are still at an exceptionally high level.
  • With tight end Zach Ertz coming to Arizona via trade and Rondale Moore in the picture, sell Christian Kirk while you can.
  • The same goes for DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. In an offense with limited play volume, they were relying a lot on explosive plays to produce strong fantasy numbers, which will be tougher to do with Geno Smith under center.
  • Emmanuel Sanders has seen 6 end-zone targets over the past three weeks, per PFF, so his four touchdowns in that span make more sense. However, I wouldn’t count on him being featured in the red zone at such a high level consistently.

Now, the tight ends:

  • Rob Gronkowski will likely return from his rib injury next week, making now the perfect time to sell high on him. His snaps were already trending down, and his production is mainly reliant on touchdowns.
  • Dawson Knox and Dalton Schultz have been the surprises at the tight end position, though you can consider selling him on them. Knox plays in a crowded offense where his production in the red zone could falter eventually, while Schultz’s high target rate per route run seems a bit unstable, especially once receiver Michael Gallup comes back into the picture.

Overview

There are a lot of flaws with using actual fantasy production to project future production, thanks to all the instabilities that can take place in any given game. That’s where expected points come into play. By utilizing this metric, we’ve been able to find players to buy low on and sell high on, in addition to some players who might be interesting off the waiver wire. At the end of the day, it’s all a crapshoot, but it’s up to us to try our best to do the impossible, right? Hopefully, that’s what this version of expected points can do for us.

 

(Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire)

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