Don't Be Afraid Of Drafting Tyler Boyd
After the Cincinnati Bengals spent the ninth overall pick on John Ross in the 2017 draft, it seemed like they carved out a role for him to be the team’s clear number two target. It looked like Tyler Boyd, their former second-round pick, was heading for a reduced role. Maybe that was the plan, but that plan never materialized. Quite the contrary. In 2018 Boyd burst onto the scene, posting excellent third-year breakout numbers. The 24-year-old amassed over 100 targets and 1,000 receiving yards in just 14 games. The Bengals’ receiver finished as the WR17 in 0.5 PPR leagues despite missing two games. Entering 2019 however, it seems as if the public is a little down on Boyd who is currently being drafted as the WR35. It is possible to infer that this is a combination of the lack of history with Boyd, as well as offseason question marks. Regardless, being drafted as one of the last WR3s seems a little unjust. Boyd is being overlooked.
Boyd Performs Better With A Healthy A.J. Green
A popular reason for Boyd to potentially underperform in 2019 is A.J. Green returning to full health. Many think that Green would take too much of the volume from an already limited passing offense. This is a feeling though, and not backed by any real statistics. It just so happens that Boyd performed better with Green on the field. In the nine games Green played in 2018, Boyd averaged 8.2 targets per game and about 80 receiving yards per game. Without Green, Boyd actually had lower averages with 6.8 targets per game and 62.2 receiving yards per game. Note that the averages without Green are also skewed since second-string quarterback Jeff Driskel was the passer for most of those games.
Below shows Green’s and Boyd’s total Expected Points Added (EPA) per game in 2018. As you can see, Boyd was consistent throughout the whole season and set season highs while A.J. Green was on the field. But why choose to compare the two receivers by EPA?
As we know, fantasy points are a metric encompassed by other variables such as yards, touchdowns, etc. These points tell us how much a player is worth. It just so happens that EPA is very similar. Much like fantasy points, EPA factors in yards and touchdowns into its calculation but it also includes situations on the field such as down and distance. And with this calculation, EPA makes it possible to evaluate a players performance in more real football terms instead of fantasy. This is because much like fantasy points, each player's EPA essentially tells us how much they are worth. Those with higher EPAs generated more expected points on the field for their teams. But how does EPA directly relate to fantasy points?
Below shows the relationship between fantasy points per game and EPA per target, with an R-Square value of about 0.13. What this means is EPA per Target is able to explain about 13% of the variation in fantasy points per game. In other words, EPA per target has some positive correlation with fantasy points per game.
Now that we know how EPA relates to fantasy points, let's see where Tyler Boyd ranked among the league in EPA terms. Boyd actually led the NFL in EPA per target (min. 100 targets) in 2018. Names two through five on that list—Tyreek Hill, T.Y. Hilton, Michael Thomas, Davante Adams—are fantasy studs. But perhaps you are one who is fading Boyd because you believe he won't repeat what he did in 2018. You may think him leading this metric was, for the most part, a fluke. Well, here are the leaders in EPA per target the last few seasons: Doug Baldwin - 2015, Julio Jones - 2016, Michael Thomas - 2017. Once again some pretty good company to be a part of and I can assure you they weren't being drafted in the WR35 range the following season.
Boyd's 2019 Range of Outcomes
When analyzing a player's ADP, there are generally three possible outcomes. They can either outperform, underperform, or perform exactly to their ADP. With an ADP of WR35, Boyd has a very solid chance at outperforming his ADP. In order for Boyd to underperform in regards to his ADP, he would have to finish as a WR4. That is a pretty sizeable drop for someone who was as productive as they were in 2018. What this means is due to his ADP, Boyd is becoming a very low-risk pick with a very high ceiling. 4for4 has Boyd ranked as the WR24, virtually a whole wide receiver tier above his current ADP. Yes, there is limited successful history with Boyd, but that still doesn’t explain him being drafted in the late WR3 range. The third-year breakout receiver has been a common phenomenon for years and that is what Boyd did in 2018 despite being almost useless the years prior. It didn’t matter if Boyd was playing alongside A.J. Green or catching passes from Jeff Driskel, he was awesome in 2018. Perhaps new head coach Zac Taylor can improve this offense even more overall from what it has been in the past. Boyd may not match his pace from last season but one thing is for sure—he is far too cheap and is a great low-risk value given his current ADP.
Data obtained from nflscrapR