Identifying Upside: Anquan Boldin, Danario Alexander & Josh Gordon
There are times when a player's season-long statistics don't tell the whole story. For instance, if a player sees a jump in snaps (and touches/targets) midway through the season, and figures to keep those snaps heading into the upcoming season, then there isn't much value in looking at his first few games before the usage increase.
Below I examine the game logs of three wide receivers who are currently being drafted in the middle rounds. These are players who performed very well in spurts in 2012, but for one reason or another didn't put together a complete season.
Boldin finished #31 in standard formats and #30 in PPR in 2012 and on the surface he looks like a 32 year-old wideout who is changing teams late in his career. This is not usually a good sign for fantasy production. However, Boldin's postseason game logs reveal some considerable upside given his current ADP (9.01).
Here's how Boldin performed in his final 16 games of the season, including four playoff games:
After getting just 5.3 targets per game in the first three weeks, Boldin saw 8.3 targets per game in his next 16 outings. The 77 catches for 1,183 yards and seven TDs he posted over that span would have equated to #17 WR numbers in 2012.
Yes, he's changing teams. That's usually a red flag, but in this case it could benefit Boldin, who will be the primary WR on a team that has lost Michael Crabtree (Achilles) for the season. Targets shouldn't be an issue, so as long as Colin Kaepernick is willing to throw the ball to Boldin in tight coverage and let his wideout fight for the ball -- something Joe Flacco did time and time again during Baltimore's Super Bowl run -- Boldin should have no problem outproducing his current ADP which has him as the #41 WR off the board.
Alexander first played for the Chargers in Week 8, but he only played one snap in that game and didn't catch a pass. So here's a look at his game logs starting in Week 9:
Over his final nine games, he averaged 4.1-73-.78, which equate to #6 WR numbers in 2012. Is he likely to score 12+ TDs in 2013? Probably not, but Antonio Gates is not the threat he once was and Alexander has obviously proven that he has a good rapport with Philip Rivers. Yes, his knees are a concern, but they were a non-issue last season, so it's hard to pass up WR1 upside in the 7th or 8th round. (Alexander posted the #1 FP/T in 2012.)
Gordon has been a popular sleeper for most of the offseason, though his ADP has dropped a bit since news of his two-game suspension broke a few weeks ago. Gordon's usage wasn't consistent throughout the 2012 season, but I think that will change now that he's the established #1 weapon in the passing game. Here are the 12 games from last season where Gordon saw at least four targets:
His numbers in these games (3.8-62-.42) equate to #22 WR numbers last season, though obviously the two-game suspension puts a dent in his value. Despite this, we have him as our #37 WR in standard formats. He's a good player to target as a WR4 since teams with that type of depth at receiver can weather his suspension.
The Bottom Line
In order to filter out the noise, it is sometimes better to look at certain segments of the season (like Boldin's final 16 games) or only at games that meet a certain criteria (such as Gordon's games with 4+ targets) in order to gain a clearer picture of the quality of the player in question. Note that by doing this, we're reducing our sample size, which can be a dangerous thing to do. As long as we don't take the resulting numbers as gospel (such at Alexander's #6 WR ranking in a nine-game stretch) and simply use the results as an indicator -- that he's a value play in the middle round -- then game logs can be a useful way to identify upside in players that have otherwise been unable to put together a full season.
In Boldin, Alexander and Gordon we have three WRs that have performed well in spurts, and if that play can translate to a full season in 2013, these three wideouts will be terrific values in the middle rounds.