How good can Robert Meachem be?

How good can Robert Meachem be?

By John Paulsen (Senior Editor), last updated Jun 1, 2012

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John was named the Most Accurate Fantasy Football Expert by FantasyPros for the 2010 and 2014 seasons, finished as runner-up in 2011 and 4th in both 2012 and 2015 for a total of five Top 5 seasons in the last six years. Cumulatively, John was the most accurate expert from 2010-15 while also winning the 2011 Fantasy Sports Trade Association award for the most accurate draft rankings. 

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One of the most interesting free agency moves is Robert Meachem's arrival in San Diego. He fills the sizable void left by Vincent Jackson, who joined the Buccaneers after a tumultuous seven-year career with the Chargers.

Meachem spent four years in New Orleans, catching 141 passes for 2,269 yards and 23 TDs. He was actually drafted in 2007, but underwent knee surgery prior to the season and was unable to play that year. As a result, he has a reputation for being injury-prone, but he only missed two games in the subsequent four seasons.
 
His best asset is his speed. His 40-yard time (4.39) was the 8th-fastest time by a WR at the 2007 combine. Playing in the prolific Saints offense, he finished in the top 10 in Fantasy Points / Target (FP/T) in each of the last three years (amongst WRs with at least 30 targets per season). He averaged a terrific 1.66 FP/T over that span. However, he never saw more than 66 targets in any given season, which explains why he hasn't cracked the 45-catch mark.
 
His Catch % -- the number of catches divided by the number of targets -- was 70.3% in 2009, 66.7% in 2010 and 65.6% in 2011; those numbers were well ahead of the league average, which is typically just over 57% for players with at least 30 targets. Drew Brees deserves some credit for this due to his terrific accuracy, but Meachem is no slouch in the hands department, especially considering his career YPC (16.1).
 
He has a reputation for being a one-trick pony that only (or mostly) runs the "go" route, but that was partly his role in the New Orleans offense, and he did it well.
 
Now that he's moving from a WR3 role into a WR1 or WR2 role in San Diego (assuming the Chargers didn't pay him the big bucks to play behind Vincent Brown), the question is whether he was limited by the Saints offense or by his own talent. The numbers point to the former, but his detractors question his ability to run routes and his work ethic. For what it's worth, Chargers head coach Norv Turner said, "He’s a No. 1 receiver. He’s a guy that has big-play ability. He can be a complete receiver. Obviously he’s been in an offense where they spread the ball around to a lot of people. I think he’s a guy along the line of players we’ve had that can be an 18 yards a catch guy and be a very, very productive player." It seems clear that Turner likes Meachem, and that he'll get every opportunity to succeed in San Diego.
 
In an effort to predict his upside, I compiled a list of relatively productive WRs who saw a big (40%+) jump in targets per game (T/G) year over year to see how they fared with an increase in targets. I narrowed the list to players who had an above average FP/T and saw between 50 and 80 targets in the year before the jump in T/G.
 
Take a look...
 

Player Year Same Team? Targets (Y-1) FP/Target (Y-1) FP Rank (Y-1) Targets  FP/Target  FP Rank  FP/Target DIFF
Malcom Floyd 2010 YES 76 1.10 53 77 1.40 35 27%
Santana Moss 2005 NO 75 1.52 33 134 1.51 2 -1%
Hakeem Nicks 2010 YES 74 1.55 25 128 1.34 8 -14%
Javon Walker 2004 YES 74 1.70 20 138 1.52 2 -10%
D.J Hackett 2007 YES 67 1.27 51 47 1.20 72 -5%
Jordy Nelson 2011 YES 64 1.10 64 95 2.28 2 108%
Plaxico Burress 2005 NO 59 1.69 42 166 0.98 11 -42%
Devery Henderson 2009 YES 57 1.71 37 83 1.11 42 -35%
Marcus Robinson 2006 YES 57 1.43 45 58 1.07 65 -25%
Brian Hartline 2010 YES 56 1.23 67 70 0.96 67 -21%
Kevin Curtis 2007 NO 56 1.28 59 135 1.09 16 -15%
Vincent Jackson 2007 YES 56 1.45 53 80 1.00 53 -31%
Nate Washington 2008 YES 55 1.36 62 77 1.05 48 -23%
Donte Stallworth 2004 YES 55 1.21 69 106 1.01 35 -17%
Josh Reed 2003 YES 55 1.15 68 98 0.72 60 -37%
Ashley Lelie 2003 YES 53 1.22 66 81 0.92 55 -24%
Bobby Engram 2005 YES 52 1.19 63 97 0.99 38 -17%
Santana Moss 2003 YES 52 1.29 63 117 1.46 8 13%
Nate Burleson 2004 YES 51 1.13 74 98 1.58 19 40%
Matt Jones 2008 YES 50 1.11 73 107 0.81 43 -27%
Chris Henry 2006 YES 50 1.56 49 75 1.53 31 -2%
Kevin Curtis 2005 YES 50 1.08 73 97 1.20 30 11%

 
A few things to note:
 
- This is a list of players with a 40%+ increase in T/G, so they wouldn't necessarily see a jump in total targets if they missed several games. 
 
- The columns labeled with (Y-1) represent the data from the previous season, so for Malcom Floyd the data in the (Y-1) columns is from 2009.
 
- Players can appear more than once on the list if they have multiple seasons that qualify (i.e. Santana Moss).
 
As you can see, most of the players on this list saw a jump in targets while staying with the same team, which is not the case for Meachem. While he is changing teams, he's going to a good offense with a good quarterback, so he shouldn't see a huge drop-off in the quality of his targets.
 
On average, these WRs saw a 6.8% drop in FP/T, but Jordy Nelson's 108% increase looks like an outlier. When that's removed, the average drop in FP/T for the remaining 21 WRs is 12.1%. (By the way, it's not unprecedented for a player to keep his FP/T steady even though he changes teams and sees a big increase in targets -- just look at Santana Moss in 2005.)
 
Even assuming a 12% drop, Meachem's FP/T would still be a very healthy 1.46. Now it's just a matter of accurately predicting his targets.
 
Excluding 2010, where Jackson held out for most of the season, the WR1 in the Chargers' offense saw an average of 107 targets in 2008, 2009 and 2011. The WR2 in San Diego saw 70 targets during the same span.
 

  Projected Targets
Drop in FP/T 70 79 89 98 107
0% 116 (WR30) 132 (WR22) 147 (WR19) 162 (WR11) 178 (WR7)
5% 110 (WR35) 125 (WR26) 140 (WR22) 154 (WR14) 169 (WR11)
10% 105 (WR39) 118 (WR30) 132 (WR22) 146 (WR20) 160 (WR11)
15% 99 (WR45) 112 (WR33) 125 (WR26) 138 (WR22) 151 (WR16)
20% 93 (WR49) 105 (WR39) 118 (WR30) 130 (WR22) 142 (WR21)
25% 87 (WR52) 99 (WR45) 110 (WR35) 122 (WR27) 133 (WR22)
30% 81 (WR55) 92 (WR50) 103 (WR40) 114 (WR31) 124 (WR26)
35% 76 (WR58) 86 (WR52) 95 (WR49) 105 (WR39) 115 (WR31)
40% 70 (WR62) 79 (WR57) 88 (WR52) 97 (WR47) 107 (WR36)

 
The above table provides several different projections (in fantasy points) depending on the number of targets and the % drop in FP/T. For example, if Meachem splits WR1 and WR2 targets with Malcom Floyd (giving him approximately 89 targets on the season), and doesn't experience a drop in FP/T, then we can expect him to score around 147 fantasy points, which equates to WR19 numbers in 2011.
 
With the way that Turner is talking about Meachem, I'm expecting the Chargers to use him enough so that his targets to fall in the 89 to 98 range. I don't think he is a risk for a major drop-off in FP/T, but even with a 20% decrease, Meachem is looking at approximately 118-130 fantasy points if he finishes in that 89-98 target range. In that case, he's likely to finish WR30 or better, with significant upside if he were to get bona fide WR1 targets.
 
The Chargers offense is predicated on big plays in the passing game, and he certainly fits the bill. As long as he gets consistent targets, Meachem should be productive. Here's a look at all the games over the past three years in which Meachem saw at least five targets.
 

Year Week Targets Rec Yards TDs FP
2011 1 8 5 70 1 13.0
2011 3 8 5 51 1 11.1
2011 4 6 4 59 - 5.9
2011 5 5 4 38 - 3.8
2011 13 7 3 119 1 17.9
2011 16 5 3 75 1 13.5
2010 6 5 4 71 1 13.1
2010 7 5 2 31 - 3.1
2010 8 6 6 76 - 7.6
2010 9 5 2 15 - 1.5
2010 15 6 2 17 - 1.7
2010 16 13 10 101 - 10.1
2009 9 6 5 98 1 15.8
2009 12 6 5 69 1 12.9
2009 13 10 8 142 1 20.2
2009 14 5 4 57 - 5.7
2009 15 6 5 43 - 4.3
2009 16 5 5 66 1 12.6
2009 17 9 2 12 - 1.2
Average - 6.6 4.4 63.7 0.47 9.2

 
In these games, he caught an average of 4.4 passes for 63.7 yards and 0.47 TDs on 6.6 targets. That projects to 106 targets (real world WR1 numbers) and 147 fantasy points (which equate to WR19 numbers), or 1.39 FP/T. So when Meachem did see real-world WR1 targets, he managed to produce real-world WR1 numbers (and fantasy WR2 numbers).
 
He has a good chance to be a fantasy WR3, so he should go in the 7th/8th round or earlier. Meachem has been around long enough to disappoint plenty of fantasy owners who were expecting his targets to ramp up in New Orleans, so his value may be a bit depressed. I'll be targeting him in the 7th/8th range and I'm betting he'll be there more often than not. Depending on the situation, I may be willing to reach for him as early as the 6th round.
Filed Under: Preseason, 2012

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