Instead of looking at the talent, lets look at the conditions for top-12 fantasy receiver production.
Imagine the prototypical fantasy receiver. Fast enough to pull away from defenders deep and, more important, quick enough to earn separation within the first 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He’s technically savvy with his eyes, hands, and feet. He maintains his line during his release so he breaks at the exact spot and time that his quarterback expects.
When the ball arrives, he’s attacks it with his hands in the correct position and he has the awareness, focus, and toughness to make the reception and withstand punishment. If given room to roam, he has the athleticism and vision to earn chunks of yards after the catch. If need be, he makes his quarterback’s throws look better than they are.
While you’re imagining the prototypical fantasy receiver–the guy you envision as your top receiver in a starting lineup, a top-12 option–do you see a player earning a lopsided majority of the passing game’s workload? Or, do you see him as a leader in a balanced passing attack?
In a 2009 Gut Check column on consistency–a nice concept in theory, but one I’ve abandoned because there are no statistically valid predictive capabilities (“Crank” was an apt name for it)–I noted that between 2006-2008, 58 percent of the top-12 fantasy receivers played in offenses where there was at least one teammate with fantasy starter production: A receiver ranked between 13th and 36th or a top-12 tight end.
Matt Harmon, who–was graduating high school when I wrote this note–is both a Footballguy staffer and NFL.com fantasy writer, reminded me of this possible correlation between balanced offenses and fantasy WR1s this week on Twitter. No, he didn’t read it back then–he just got weaned off Gerber peaches weeks before. Don’t let the beard fool you (by the way if you’re not reading Harmon, you need an intervention).
He posted this little ditty:
I noticed that eight of these receivers had a teammate with fantasy starter production as a second or third tier receivers and/or a top tier tight end. I realized that I never looked at more than three years of data to see if there might be a correlation where top-12 fantasy receivers have a quality starter to force opposing defenses to account for offensive balance.
Time to make it happen. I examined 10 years of top-36 wide receiver rankings and 10 years of top-12 tight end rankings. I tallied the number of top-12 receivers that had a teammate ranked 13-36 at wide receiver and/or the top-12 at tight end. Then I tallied the number of teams represented in the 13-36 tiers (No.2 and No.3 fantasy receivers) and top-12 tight end tier. If the percentage of the team representation as WR2s, WR3s, and TE1s during that 10-year period is lower than the percentage of WR1s that have at least one fantasy-worthy cohort, then there’s a sign of positive correlation.