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2019 Yardage Regression Candidates - Wide Receivers


While touchdowns are the most coveted play outcome for wide receivers in fantasy football (they award six points to the scorer), total receiving yards must be taken into serious consideration when deciding who to draft for the position. It is true that receivers have to work harder to rack up yards, and that they don't have an overly great value at only one point per 10 receiving yards, but the volume of yards per game WRs gain is much higher than the number of touchdowns they score.

It comes down to simple math. Consider Julio Jones. He finished 2018 with 104.8 yards per game. He scored 8 TD in 16 games. So he averaged 10.48 fantasy points per game thanks to receiving yards, and 3 fantasy points per game thanks to his TDs. At the end of the season, he had a total 167.7 points due to receiving yardage, and 48 points due to his touchdowns. So yes, yards account for more than touchdowns in the long run. And that's why we're always on the look for highly-targeted receivers awarded the most possible chances to catch passes and put up as many yards as possible.

Here, I'm taking a look at some of the best wide receivers from the 2018 season due to regress in 2019 in terms of their receiving yards. Don't be fooled by the high numbers they put up last year because a few slumps could be coming!

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Mike Evans (TB) - 1,524 Yds in 2018

To say Evans had a good season in 2018 would be falling short of praises. Playing for a bombing pair of quarterbacks in Tampa Bay, Evans was able to put on his best year since he entered the league. Not only did he finish with a career-best mark in receiving yards, but he also improved his Catch%, raised his Yards After Catch, and dropped fewer passes than he ever had.

The 1,524 yards logged by Evans are the ninth-most by a receiver in a season during the past five years. Although he could very well reach the same number this season, there are a few signs pointing in the opposite direction. While it is true that Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson won't be part of Tampa Bay's offense this season, Chris Godwin already showed flashes of a great receiver in his two years as a pro. He fell just short of 100 targets and amassed 816 yards in 2018. Expect him to be the clear-cut WR2 in that offense and take some more targets from Evans.

To that, it must be added that Evans had a season in which he bested some of his career-marks. He's always been a 1,000+ yards player, but his 1,524 yards this past season were 523 more than those he put up in 2017. His career catch rate of 53.4% got all the way up to 62.4% in 2018. Evan's yards per target also moved from 7.4 in 2017 to 11.0 in 2018.

I'm not saying Evans' season was all luck. Far from it. He's one of the top wideouts in the league, but that doesn't mean he will be able to have back-to-back career seasons. Expect some regression here.

 

Michael Thomas (NO) - 1,405 Yds in 2018

If you think Mike Evans' yardage was ridiculous, don't look at Thomas production because you may pass out. As if he wasn't talented enough, Thomas also found himself in one of the best scenarios opportunity-wise in New Orleans, forming a triangle offense along Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara that featured him as the linchpin of the receiving side of the attack.

The first thing that jumps out of the page when looking at Thomas' numbers from last season is his Catch%. He caught a ridiculously high 85% of the passes thrown his way and finished with 11.2 yards per reception on 125 receptions. No receiver has ever reached such a high catch rate while being thrown 100 or more passes, let alone Thomas' 147 targets in 2018.

That, to me, is reason enough to expect a bump down in his yardage numbers. Drew Brees is passing less than ever and while it is still possible for Thomas to get targeted around 135-150 times this year, it will be very unlikely for him to sustain his Catch%. Even if he maintains his targets and just gets his Catch% down to around 80% he could fall short of 1,300 yards. Not a huge bump down, but regression is about to get him in 2019.

Put that next to the addition of Jared Cook to the tight end position, the comeback of Ted Ginn, the rising importance of Tre'Quan Smith, and the steady improvement of Kamara in both the rushing and receiving sides of the game and Thomas will undoubtedly lose some yards along the way.

 

Antonio Brown (OAK) - 1,297 Yds in 2018

There is little doubt Antonio Brown is one of the (if not the) best wide receivers the NFL has ever seen. He has bested the 1,000 yards mark in each and every season he has played 14 or more games. Brown leads the league in total receiving yards since 2010 (and he only logged 167 in his first season!). Brown has one of the highest career catch rates at 65.6% and averages north of 86 Y/G.

There will be something different in 2019's Antonio Brown, though. He won't don Pittsburgh-black, but rather Oakland's. Yes, talented players thrive anywhere they're put in, but it is not the same to catch Ben Roethlisberger passes than Derek Carr's, and the players he will share the field with are at least a couple of steps behind those he played next to in Pittsburgh.

Per Football Outsiders, not a single receiver playing under Jon Gruden has ever seen more than 153 targets in a season. Brown has bested that number for six consecutive years, helping his total yardage. In 2016 he was targeted 154 times and posted his career-best Catch% at 69% to finish the year with 1,284 yards. If he finishes next season with those same targets on his 2018 Catch% of 62% he would be getting around 1,100 yards at most.

Off-field issues aside and supposing he plays all 16 games, it is more than possible that Brown puts on another great season. But knowing his attitude, the change of scenery (he's been mostly out of pre-season training so he still has to build a fluid rapport with the system and the rest of the Raiders), the coach he will be playing for and the quarterback tasked with getting the ball to him, I'm expecting his yards regressing in 2019.

 

T.Y. Hilton (IND) - 1,270 Yds in 2018

First of all, bear in mind that this was initially written before Andrew Luck's shocking retirement... Hilton bounced back from a "down" season in 2017 by racking up more than 300 yards in 2018 over those he amassed in 2017. He finished 2018 with 1,270 yards in 14 games while he only got to 966 in 16 games in 2017. That should be enough reason to believe he's on an upward trend, right? I have my doubts.

For one, Hilton raised his Catch% to a career-best 63.3% in 2018. From 2012 to 2017 he had averaged a 56.9% rate. Moreover, his total yards last season came from being targeted 120 times in comparison to 109 times in 2017, increasing his volume of chances. On top of that, Indianapolis is bringing back now-somehow-great Eric Ebron (expect a huge regression from him though), fielding a healthy Jack Doyle again, getting another interesting receiver in Devin Funchess and most of all, dealing with Jacoby Brissett as their new starting QB.

Same as with the other three players in this list, we're talking about a world-talent in Hilton. Even if his yards are reduced, they won't probably fall down the 1,000 mark, but there are a bunch of reasons to think regression could be around the corner, either by having fewer opportunities, lowering his productivity or just seeing the leading quarterback of the team (and one of the league's best) missing time to injury.

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