Every year there are late round WRs who take the fantasy world by storm, and in hindsight, they always seem apparent. Adam Thielen and Marvin Jones were in fantastic situations this time last year, yet their average draft positions (ADPs) were very late:
Thielen had an MFL10 ADP of 10.01 and a dynasty ADP of 9.09 per Dynasty League Football (June) and 11.06 per Dynasty Football Factory (March); Jones had an MFL10 ADP of 10.05 and a dynasty ADP of 10.01 per DLF (June) and 12.01 per DFF (March). Both destroyed their ADPs as they went on to have WR1 seasons, with Thielen finishing as the WR9 and Jones finishing as the WR12.
Which mid-round wide receiver profiles similarly this year and is destined to finish as a surprise WR1 in 2018? I feel confident that the answer is the elite deep threat and perennially underrated Kenny Stills.
Sneaky level of production
Stills gets no respect for how productive he has been throughout his career. Early in the offseason, Evan Silva (@EvanSilva) of Rotoworld posted something eye-opening that went completely under the radar:
Found this interesting company:
Since 1990, these are the only WRs to have accumulated 3500+ receiving yards and 25+ TDs while averaging over 15 yards per catch by the age of 25: pic.twitter.com/p82RVHy2EU
— Evan Silva (@evansilva) February 3, 2018
You need to pay attention any time you see a player on the same list as future Hall of Fame players like Julio Jones, Calvin Johnson, and Randy Moss. Stills has outproduced Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson in yards per target up to this point in their respective careers, which is indeed an incredible feat over a 382 target sample size.
Furthermore, Stills has vastly outproduced his best ball and dynasty ADP over the past two years. JJ Zachariason of NumberFire (LateRoundQB) recently posted this and illuminating table highlighting PPR points scored over expected points based on ADP, and once again Stills finished on par with or above many big-name players:
Had this chart in my "how to spot a breakout wide receiver" article, representing ADP (x-axis) vs PPR points scored (y) since 2011. The other image here is a list of the players who've exceeded expectation most over the last two seasons. (@MyFantasyLeague drafted players only.) pic.twitter.com/MgwoxUvNuT
— JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB) May 31, 2018
Guys like Adams, Fitzgerald, Thomas, and Hill have received considerable hype after massively out producing their ADPs, yet Stills has received nothing.
While Stills has been a great best ball pick over the past 2 years, he has also proven to be an incredible value in dynasty leagues. Per DFF ADP:
2016 Dynasty Positional ADP: WR 80 (184 Overall)
2016 Positional Finish: WR 46
2017 Dynasty Positional ADP: WR64 (134 Overall)
2017 Positional Finish: WR27
Every year he continues to destroy his ADP, and nobody seems to care. Last year his production was particularly impressive, as he finished just outside the top 24 WRs while posting 3-WR1 weeks. Per FFstatistics.com, this was the same amount of WR1 weeks as widely adored fantasy producers like Julio Jones, Stefon Diggs, and Amari Cooper.
This year Stills has an MFL10 ADP of WR47 (109 overall), a DFF dynasty ADP of WR53 (119 overall), and a DLF dynasty ADP of WR61 (133 overall). He will once again smash those ADPs, as he does every single year.
Last seasons opportunity
Stills was among the busiest WRs in the league last year. Per playerprofiler.com, the Dolphins had the 5th most pass plays in the NFL and Stills ran a route on 98.3% of them. The Dolphins believed that Stills was essential to their offense, as he was on the field for 942 offensive plays, good for 6th in the NFL.
While Stills only had a moderate 105 targets last year (tied for 27th in the NFL), he amassed a very high air yards total. Per Josh Hermsmeyer’s airyards.com, Stills had 1,574 air yards last year, which ranked 9th in the NFL. While Stills was unfortunately often unable to capitalize on these air yards due to Jay Cutler’s abysmal play, the opportunity for significant production is there if competent QB play can help him improve on his 55.24% catch rate.
While traditionally viewed as an outside/deep threat WR, Stills was heavily utilized in the slot last year. Per Rich Hribar (@LordReebs) of Rotoworld:
Stills' slot use in NO was 16.5%, 18.1% and 21.1%. Went up to 40.8% and 47% in MIA and he leads the NFL with 11 reTD from the slot over the past two years. Get your speed guys free releases, what a concept.
— Rich Hribar (@LordReebs) February 21, 2018
What is interesting about this slot usage, however, is that his TDs are not coming from the typical low average depth of target (aDOT) slot targets. While all 6 of his TDs came from the slot last year, only two came from targets lower than his average aDOT (data per fantasyadhd.com):
Stills’ speed in the slot is helping him dominate slot corners and catch deep TDs consistently. Per Chris Mangano (@ChrisMangano) of Roto Baller, Stills’ has combined heavy slot usage with enhanced effectiveness:
While I’m at it…here’s a guy @DHH_Adam and I both love as a dynasty buy low, and one I’ll be targeting late in best ball/redraft. Landry will be vacating 389 slot routes and 87 slot targets. If Kenny Stills gets his hands on those watch out pic.twitter.com/Lf4BT5Etd2
— Chris Mangano (@ChrisMangano) March 10, 2018
Brand new opportunity
Stills finds himself with an incredible opportunity in front of him this year. After already receiving 105 targets last year, there are now 161 targets available from Jarvis Landry’s departure. While the Dolphins added Danny Amendola, Devante Parker, and Albert Wilson (who I also love) this offseason, none have produced near the level that Stills has over the course of their careers. While Wilson and Amendola can both occupy slot roles, I do not anticipate Stills’ slot usage diminishing from last year considering his effectiveness.
But how many targets can a deep threat like Stills (who does not profile as a traditional alpha WR1) honestly amass? And how many targets would someone with his production and usage profile need to have to ascend to low-end WR1/high-end WR2 status?
Assuming Stills can gain just 15-25 targets from Landry’s vacated 161, that puts him squarely in the target threshold needed to finish as a top 24 WR at a minimum. Since 2013, 35% of top 24 WRs have had 130 targets or less. This number reached a five year high in 2017, as 50% of the top 24 had 130 targets or less.
When looking at a path to a top 12 season, however, the two most relevant players from 2017 for comparison are Tyreek Hill and Marvin Jones. Per airyards.com:
All three had very similar volume, but both Hill and Jones outperformed Stills significantly in Receiver Air Conversion Ratio (RACR). It makes sense, as Stills’ had a poor catch rate and offered very little after the catch with only 151 yards (61st in the NFL per playerprofiler.com).
RACR is an efficiency metric, however, meaning that it likely won’t be sticky year-to-year.
What I care most about here is that Stills’ Weighted Opportunity Rating (WOPR) is very close to Jones and Hills’ WOPR. It is significant as it indicates that he received a similar opportunity to Hill and Jones, but, primarily due to QB play, underperformed this opportunity. An increase in QB quality on similar volume or a 15-25 target increase on similar efficiency could very well bring Stills on par with what Tyreek Hill and Marvin Jones produced last season as deep threats for their respective teams.
Note: If you are unfamiliar with WOPR and RACR as they relate to fantasy football and why they are important, I encourage you to check out this article from Josh Hermsmeyer that explains it all in detail.
Stills should also be the main beneficiary of an incredibly easy Dolphins pass game schedule. Per sharpefootballstats.com, the Dolphins face far and away the easiest pass game schedule from Weeks 1-12:
Furthermore, they are likely to be trailing in the majority of the games, as they are the Vegas underdogs in 10 games this year (per sharpefootballstats.com):
It is fantastic news for the passing volume of the offense, as the Dolphins were the #1 pass heavy team in the NFL last year when trailing per Scott Barrett of PFF (@ScottBarrettDFB):
Pass% when trailing or leading in 2017 pic.twitter.com/WTXLucJXTs
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) May 12, 2018
The stars are aligning for Kenny Stills to explode this season. While a WR1 season is not his most likely outcome, I firmly believe he has the best chance of any mid-round WR to be this year’s Marvin Jones or Adam Thielen. Even if he does not reach WR1 levels, I believe it is improbable he finishes outside of the top 24 if he stays healthy all season.
Don’t miss out on this year’s surprise WR1 and go draft or trade for Kenny Stills in best ball and dynasty leagues today.