We’re all just looking to score at the end of the day.
How we get there, though, is the most important part. It’s the recipe that we can follow, at times, and if it’s a good one, you can use it over and over.
But lets skip the bullstuff and get right to it: A.J. Green is going to be the top fantasy producer this year, using points above replacement methodology, and Allen Hurns will be the best value of anyone with an average draft position.
Target share is underrated somehow
The one thing outside of immense talent that is needed to produce a historic receiving season is an insane target share. Julio Jones took in 32.9% of his teams targets last season. Antonio Brown came in at 33%.
Jones is in Detroit, and Sanu is playing for Atlanta now, leaving 30% up in the air, and a pretty good chance that Green’s target share sees a dramatic increase. In week 1, Green saw 13 of Dalton’s 30 attempts, almost half of the team’s total, and caught 12.
That’s a pretty darned good indicator, especially considering that Green was being shadowed by Darrelle Revis most of the afternoon, and that didn’t scare anyone off.
Hurns, in 2015, only saw 17.5% of Jacksonville’s targets, Allen Robinson accounted for 25%, but what Hurns did with them is important.
Even with 64 receptions for Hurns, compared to 80 for Robinson, the number two wide out had 343 yards after the catch, to Robinson’s 341.
Hurns was also incredibly efficient: his 64 receptions came on 104 targets, a 61.5% catch rate, to Robinson’s 52.3%.
It’s certainly true that targets don’t equate to catchable balls, and that Robinson sees more coverage, but that only strengthens the case for Hurns — teams are still going to focus on Robinson more than Hurns.
Going long matters
It seems slightly obvious at first, but lets dive into something that might surprise: Andy Dalton‘s yards per attempt average of 8.42 was the second highest in the league, only to Carson Palmer, and Dalton still managed the league’s eighth highest completion percentage.
Dalton had one of the most efficient seasons of any quarterback, and nobody noticed because his total yardage and touchdown numbers weren’t out of this world, like those or Brady or Drew Brees.
Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles, on the other hand, was less accurate than Colin Kaepernick, Brian Hoyer, Brock Osweiler and Ryan Fitzpatrick, and only ahead of Jameis Winston, Nick Foles, and Andrew Luck — who was dead last in the NFL during his 2015 season.
Which is where the case for Hurns really comes into play.
If I’m a coach, wouldn’t I consider this and draw up more plays for Hurns? Absolutely. Would I temper my shots downfield to Robinson? Hell yes I would.
Would I still take shots? No question, and maybe even give Hurns some deep shots — though Hurns’ 19 receptions of 20 or more yards was good for seventh in the league last year and Robinson led all receivers with 31.
As an additional note on that, A.J. Green was tied with Hurns in catches of 20 yards or more.
Will defenses adjust?
This is the part that makes football fun.
Yes, there’s some credence to defenses being able to roll more coverage to Green, though the risk on Hurns is mitigated by the presence of Robinson.
The issue with Green, however, is that neither Sanu or Jones were ever particularly threatening, and so Green was matched up with the best on his opponent’s team anyway, and it wasn’t uncommon to see him double covered with additional help from a safety.
This is perhaps the juiciest part. The unknown. Even if we have a solid sample, which we do, it’s still something we can’t quantify ahead of time. But the sample says that there’s nothing to worry about for Green owners, or prospective owners.
If we take the number of receptions that Antonio Brown and Julio Jones had last season, 136, and multiply it by Green’s average yards per catch of 15.1 from 2015, we see that Green would have a 2,000 season coming.
If Green matches Jones’ number of targets, which isn’t unreasonable given the potential for an even greater target share than Jones, the equation produces the same result, modified to fit Green’s catch rate from 2015.
Keep in mind that Jones recorded 1,871 yards last season, and Brown hardly did worse with 1,834.
For Hurns, the case could be made that he was 2015’s most efficient receiver, and that makes him a candidate for a little regression.
Since he hasn’t dropped off in the epic sample size we have for 2016 (yes, that’s a little sarcasm, save your hate tweets for later), then we’ll presume that he is in line for around 80 catches on 100 targets — adjusting for the stingy Green Bay secondary, and the matchups he’ll get later in the year.
That’s 1,288 yards, and if he gets to 100 receptions, that becomes 1,600 yards, more than anyone from last season except for Jones and Brown.
An increase to 80 receptions is certainly more reasonable to expect as long as Robinson is healthy for Jacksonville, but should he miss any portion of the season, Hurns could become one of the top receivers in both efficiency and total statistics by year’s end.
For Green, though, it’s a near lock.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Raiders football.