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Fantasy Football: Six Matchup-Proof Wide Receivers

C.D. Carter takes a look at which top-12 receivers have the smallest production gaps in games against top-half and bottom-half coverage units.

Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas





There seems to be a common misunderstanding of the foundational principles of streaming positions in fantasy football — one that says all points are replaceable and every position should be streamed without apology.

That’s quite the opposite of the streaming philosophy — as discussed every week on “Living The Stream” — that only seeks to de-emphasize the “onesie” positions: Quarterback, tight ends, and defense. The goal is decidedly not to stream positions in which you need to start two, three, or even four players.

That would be running back and wide receiver, if you’re taking notes.

And no, streamers are not going to be able to match Peyton Manning or Jimmy Graham-type production with late rounders and waiver wire options, but viewing streaming through that lens ignores the importance of opportunity cost in fantasy football. The difference between an elite runner or receiver and a middling option is a greater than that of top-end quarterbacks and tight ends and borderline options.

Shirking on quarterback, tight end, and defense allows us to go all in on the game’s best, most productive, most consistent receivers and running backs. The goal is to not stream these players. They are our foundation. Onesie positions are the moveable parts.

We’ve already identified the NFL’s matchup-proof running backs, so I thought it’d be helpful to take a look at which top-12 receivers have the smallest production gaps in games against top-half and bottom-half coverage units.

Below are 2014′s top-12 wideouts, according to average draft position (ADP). The “in split” column shows how many fantasy points the player averages against top-16 pass defenses. The “out of split” column lists their average production against bottom-half pass defenses. Context, as always, is provided below the table.

As always, I used the RotoViz Game Split app to generate the below numbers.

Player ADP Fantasy points in split Fantasy points out of split
Calvin Johnson WR1 15.67 17.46
Demaryius Thomas WR2 14.17 17.50
Dez Bryant WR3 11.9 14.45
A.J. Green WR4 12.45 17.46
Brandon Marshall WR5 13.36 15.39
Julio Jones WR6 12.37 17.15
Jordy Nelson WR7 10.91 12.33
Antonio Brown WR8 11.72 13.14
Alshon Jeffery WR9 13.64 15.54
Randall Cobb WR10 12.75 14.70
Keenan Allen WR11 10.47 14
Vincent Jackson WR12 10.31 14.88

 

  • Thomas’ splits were taken from the Peyton Era in Denver. I didn’t think including DT’s splits with Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton would be all that instructive. But in case you were wondering, Thomas has averaged 9.95 fantasy points per game against top-16 coverage units and 15.05 points against the NFL’s worst pass defenses over his career. Add target volume to the mix with Eric Decker departed to the Big Apple and Thomas could very easily be fantasy’s top receiver in 2014. Thomas saw 138 targets in 2013 — one more than Mike Wallace, 10 more than Brian Hartline, and 38 fewer than league leader Andre Johnson.
  • Allen, a staple of my Red Flag Equity Score squad, has game splits that should make you at least mildly nauseous. The fantasy points per game don’t tell the whole story: Allen actually averaged .67 touchdowns per game against top-16 pass defenses and .44 touchdowns against bottom secondaries. That’s the difference of four touchdowns over the course of a season. Allen averaged 85.6 yards out of the split and a meager 47.2 yards in the split. What does this mean? Allen roasted top-16 secondaries in the red zone and still averaged 3.5 fantasy points less than he did against middling coverage units. I’ve seen Allen drop to the WR14-15 range of late, so I’m not writing him off completely. San Diego also has plans to speed up their prehistoric offense from a year ago — a development that could boost Allen’s prospects. These splits should be a slap in your pretty little face though.
  • Marshall, the face of my Equity Score All-Star Team, makes hay against any sort of pass defense, especially with Jay Cutler at the helm. He’s a target hog, and the ascendance of Jeffery won’t change that. BMarsh was far more efficient than Jeffery with Cutler throwing passes during Marc Trestman’s first season in Chicago, nothing a hearty 1.9 fantasy points per target and 3.1 points per reception. Marshall gets almost identical targets per game and posts similar catchers per game in and out of the split. He’s the living definition of matchup proof. I would draft Marshall over every receiver but Megatron, Thomas, and Bryant.
  • Alshon’s splits are only from 2013. His career splits against top and bottom defenses are stark: He’s scored 8.97 fantasy points per game against top-half pass defenses and 13.81 points against bottom-half secondaries. I think he’s being slightly overdrafted, though his ceiling is among the top-6 receivers.
  • The splits for Nelson and Cobb are taken from games in which Aaron Rodgers was under center. Let’s just say that both sides of their splits are ugly when someone not named Rodgers is taking snaps for Green Bay. Jordy is more matchup proof in all games — with or without Rodgers — because, well, he scores more consistent touchdowns. Nelson is a big-bodied receiver, and big-bodied receivers catch touchdowns. It’s worth noting that Cobb has averaged more targets and yardage against the league’s top pass defenses. It’s not as if he’s unusable against solid secondaries.
  • Julio’s splits are not fantastic any way you cut it. I played around with the Game Split app and checked out Julio’s splits with and without Roddy White in the lineup. That didn’t change much. I tried removing his rookie season. The splits were still wide. It’s not only that Julio’s median equity score is quite scary, but his injury history is certainly not factored into his current draft day price. You’re buying something close to his ceiling and hoping he hits it.

 Stat’s generated by the RotoViz Game Split app were used with permission. 

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