The clock strikes 45 seconds as you start to perspire, thinking about everything you learned this offseason. Hue Jackson took over as head coach of the Browns, Lovie Smith was fired, Tom Coughlin stepped down, Ken Whisenhunt went back to the Chargers ...
What does it all mean, and why do you feel more unprepared than ever? Because it’s hard to retain all the information thrown at you in the short time that is the lead-up to the NFL season.
But here we are, in the first round of your draft and you already feel the walls closing in as you try to decide between A.J. Green and DeAndre Hopkins. Know that you are not alone, but there are certain things that will make you feel better about the decision you’re about to make.
Throughout this offseason, I have done over a dozen head-to-head articles for Pro Football Focus Fantasy, just like the one you're about to read. These articles are non-subjective, and offer enough information that you are able to make an informed decision by the end of them. There have been situations where the closer I look, the more I lean the opposite way than what I initially thought. You can find the link to these articles on PFF Fantasy right here.
Today, we'll look at two polarizing players that fantasy owners have to decide between in the middle of the second round: third-year wide receiver Mike Evans and 2015 breakout star Keenan Allen. Take a journey with me, and let’s find out which player you should draft when you’re on the clock.
Editor's Note: For stat projections, rankings, cheatsheets, sleepers, and busts, check out the Rotoworld Draft Guide.
No matter which quarterback you were to match up against Philip Rivers, it’d be a tough task, as he has one of the best resumes in all of fantasy football. He’s finished as a top-12 quarterback in eight of his last 10 seasons, showing a consistency that most quarterbacks can only dream of.
Rivers hasn’t thrown fewer than 26 touchdown passes since way back in 2007, and he’s thrown for at least 4,000 yards in seven of his last eight seasons. Another important tidbit about Rivers is that he’s always healthy, failing to miss a single game since way back in 2004.
Jameis Winston, on the other hand, had a strong start to his career in 2015. He averaged 7.6 yards per attempt, which is a number Rivers didn’t reach until his fifth NFL season. Winston topped 4,000 passing yards, which is something that only two other rookies have ever done.
It’s impressive enough that Winston did reach the 4,000-yard milestone, but it should have been much more. Among NFL quarterbacks, Winston lost the second most yards in the air on dropped passes. There were 402 yards unaccounted for on drops alone, and that’s not including what the receiver would’ve done after the catch.
Winston showed a willingness to chuck the ball downfield, evidenced by his 10.3-yard average depth of target. That ranked fifth in the league, behind only Carson Palmer, Cam Newton, Tyrod Taylor, and Ben Roethlisberger. All four of those guys ranked in the top eight for fantasy points per game, while Winston finished right behind Rivers at No. 13. Allen gets the nod for quarterback strength, although it’s not as big of a gap as some may think.
This is the area where we typically spend the most time because it is what’s most important to almost all fantasy players. Sure, we can look at the disparity in last year’s numbers where Evans saw 146 targets, while Allen was on pace for 178 before his injury. But last year doesn’t exactly forecast this year.
The biggest difference between these two in the offseason had to do with coaching changes. The advantage here went to Evans, where the Bucs let go of run-first Lovie Smith and promoted offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. There are just a few things that can create a meaningful stir in projections, and one of them is a coaching change.
Of the 32 NFL teams, just four saw a 100-plus pass attempt increase last year. Each one of those teams had a change at head coach, offensive coordinator, or both. The Ravens got Marc Trestman, the Browns got John DeFilippo, the Texans got George Godsey, and the Jets got Chan Gailey. On the flip side, only two teams threw the ball 80 fewer times than they did in 2014: the Bears and Bills, who both had new head coaches.
Now that we’ve established how much of a difference a coach or coordinator can make, we must figure out who Dirk Koetter is. Before coming to the Bucs, Koetter ran a Falcons offense that finished top eight in pass attempts in each of Koetter's three seasons. They were also successful offenses, finishing top 12 for points scored in two of those three years.
So when projecting the Bucs' offense for 2016, you have to project Winston for an increase in attempts, and it could be a massive one. Under Smith, Winston threw the ball just 536 times, which ranked 22nd among the 32 NFL teams. Even going conservatively and projecting him at 590 attempts (which would rank around No. 16), it’s a big change to the Buccaneers' team target ceiling. Evans should see at least a 25 percent target share, considering he saw a 27.2 percent share in 2015, just a year after seeing a 21.9 percent share in his rookie season.
So even when dipping his target share to 25 percent, Evans is still projected to be among the elite at his position with 148 targets. Again, that is a low-end projection for Winston, with some regression included for Evans as Vincent Jackson returns to the starting lineup. It’s not out of the range of possibilities that Evans finishes with 160 targets.
It’s a different situation for Allen, whose coaching change negatively affects his projections. There’s no denying that Allen’s 89 targets through eight games in 2015 were a lot, but expecting them to keep up is a different story. In those games Allen played, the Chargers allowed a robust 28.4 points per game, forcing Rivers to throw the ball a massive 348 times, which would have put him on pace for almost 700 pass attempts. Prior to 2015, Rivers never threw the ball more than 582 times. He’s actually topped 544 attempts just twice, despite playing in every game for the last 11 years.
As the season went on, San Diego's defense got a bit better, lowering Rivers’ attempts to 313 over the final eight games. While that’s still a large number, it was a dip of over 10 percent. The Chargers obviously felt the need for change, so they re-hired Ken Whisenhunt as their offensive coordinator. Whisenhunt coordinated San Diego's offense in 2013.
Rivers totaled 544 attempts that year, which is a huge dip from the 661 he had in 2015. But the best part is that was Allen’s rookie year, so we got some perspective on how Whisenhunt will use him. Allen's target share was 19.6 percent in 2013 under Whisenhunt, it remained at 19.6 in 2014, and then it saw a massive spike to 24.7 percent last year. When looking at that number, you have to keep in mind that Malcom Floyd was literally on the last legs of his career, Stevie Johnson was playing hurt, and Rivers' go-to-guy Antonio Gates missed five games.
With the emergence of shutdown cornerback Jason Verrett and acquisition of DE Joey Bosa in the draft, you have to assume the Chargers' defense will get better. Add in the re-acquisition of Whisenhunt, and it’s hard to imagine Rivers eclipsing 600 attempts. The Chargers also signed arguably the top free agent wide receiver in Travis Benjamin. None of the above are positive signs for Allen.
So if we were to keep Rivers at 600 pass attempts -- which I believe is high -- and give Allen a slight bump from 2013 to around 20-22 percent target share, that would put him into the 120-132 target range. Even if you wanted to forget about the fact that Gates was suspended, then injured last year and believe Benjamin will make no difference to Allen’s target share, his 24.7 percent would max him out at 148 targets, which was Evans’ floor we discussed.
Now that we’ve determined Evans should garner more targets, we must determine whether or not Allen can do more with what he is given, which is the trickiest part. As you can see below, the two have been nearly identical to this point in their careers, with Allen having about 50 percent more “bust” games than Evans. To achieve a “boom,” the player has to score 25 or more PPR points, while a “bust” is 7.9 PPR points or fewer.
|PLAYER||GAMES||WR1 %||WR2 %||WR3 %||BOOM %||BUST %|
The reason for Allen’s bust percentage is that he’s had 17 career games with seven or fewer targets, and in those games he really struggles, averaging just 9.26 PPR points. That's compared to the 20.48 PPR points Allen scores with eight or more targets.
Evans has produced much more when seeing seven or fewer targets, averaging 10.83 PPR points in those 11 games. Evans has lacked the upside of Allen in the others, averaging 17.85 PPR points in games with eight targets or more.
The reason for optimism with Evans is that he kept pace with Allen in the WR1 category despite scoring just three touchdowns all of last season, which came one year after hauling in 12 touchdowns as a rookie (tied for fourth among NFL receivers). Evans' touchdown shortage in his sophomore season killed his fantasy output. By comparison, Sammy Watkins finished the season with 55 fewer targets, but six more touchdowns than the 6-5, 230-pound Evans.
One of the biggest differences under Whisenhunt was that Allen saw a much higher average depth of target (aDOT) than he has in the last two years. The difference of 10.7 yards compared to 8.8 and 8.0 yards may not seem like a large gap, but it has a domino effect into other stats, like Allen's yards per reception. Allen averaged 14.8 yards per catch in 2013, but he’s been at just 10.5 since.
Evans again outshines Allen and has averaged a massive 15.7 yards per reception over his first two seasons, including in 2015, when Evans averaged 16.4 yards per reception due to Winston’s willingness to target him downfield.
Both receivers have had touchdowns account for roughly 28 percent of their career fantasy points, but Evans still has the edge in fantasy points per target -- 1.15 to 1.10. While it’s not much of a difference, combine it with the fact that Evans will see more targets and we have a clear-cut winner.
When I started this piece, I assumed Allen would come out on top. We saw a glimpse of what volume can mean for him in 2015, but you also now know that the volume will be cut down due to the way Whisenhunt runs his offense.
Allen's efficiency should rise closer to what he averaged back in 2013, but he doesn’t offer the consistency that Evans does on a week to week basis, especially with a healthy Gates on the field, as well as newly acquired Benjamin, who should see more targets than Malcom Floyd did the past few seasons.
Evans flashed as a top-10 wide receiver in his rookie year, while Allen has failed to crack the top 16 in any of his three seasons. I’ve often been referred to as an Evans hater, but this article has changed my stance on him. There is a lot of untapped potential inside of him that Koetter can bring out, similar to the way he did for Julio Jones in Atlanta.
The only shame here is that you have to pay a premium price for Evans, despite his lack of overall production in 2015. But who knows, your league might be closer to Evans’ Fantasy Football Calculator ADP of 2.09 than his My Fantasy League ADP of 2.04. While it’s a slight difference, you may be able to steal him in the third round of your draft, depending on how short of a memory your leaguemates have.