Is Brandon Marshall Done?

Mar 28, 2017
Is Brandon Marshall Done?


Brandon Marshall is 33 years old. Over the last five seasons, only six WRs aged 33 or higher have finished in the top 36 at the position in PPR points. No matter what aging curve you look at, you’ll see a precipitous drop in production for a WR his age.

Ominously, Marshall turned in the most inefficient season of his career last year:

Brandon Marshall Career Fantasy Efficiency

Year

Team

Targets

PPR FP

PPR FP/Target

2006

DEN

37

64.1

1.73

2007

DEN

170

282.2

1.66

2008

DEN

182

266.1

1.46

2009

DEN

154

276.9

1.80

2010

MIA

146

205.7

1.41

2011

MIA

141

239.7

1.70

2012

CHI

192

334.6

1.74

2013

CHI

163

301.5

1.85

2014

CHI

106

181.1

1.71

2015

NYJ

173

343.2

1.98

2016

NYJ

129

156.7

1.21

Career

1593

2651.8

1.66

After Marshall finished as the PPR WR49 despite being 17th in targets, it's fair to question whether he's done.

Will Marshall Rebound in 2017?

Marshall’s efficiency fell off a cliff last season, but a lot of that can be attributed to poor QB play, which should improve with the Giants:

Tm Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD TD% Int Int% Y/A AY/A Y/C Y/G Rate PPR Rec FP/Att
'16 Giants 377 598 63.0 3879 26 4.3 16 2.7 6.7 6.4 10.7 242.4 86 1.54
'16 Jets 311 550 56.5 3466 16 2.9 25 4.5 6.6 5.2 11.7 216.6 67.6 1.37

Separating WR play from QB play is a daunting task, but last year’s career-worst year in terms of efficiency correlates with abysmal QB play, while Marshall was at his peak just a year earlier, so it’s likely that Marshall’s decline had more to do with QB play than age-based decline. While his age places him squarely in the crosshairs of a decline phase, he should still be able to post better efficiency numbers from last season merely from getting competent QB play.

The Giants don’t throw deep as much as the Jets, which should help Marshall from an efficiency standpoint. Last season, he produced only 1.16 PPR points per target on targets 15 or more yards downfield, compared to 1.42 on those under 15. This discrepancy was evident on game tape -- Marshall failed to gain much separation downfield, and was at his best when using his big body to get into position to secure high-percentage throws.

Yet despite his downfield struggles, Marshall was targeted 15+ yards downfield 34.9% of the time last season with the Jets, while the Giants targeted Victor Cruz on those types of throws only 26.4% of the time. Overall, the Jets threw 15+ yards downfield 23.3% of the time last season, while the Giants did so only 16.8% of the time.

Marshall’s efficiency should also increase because the cornerbacks he faces will be No. 2s, not No. 1s — for the first time since his rookie year in 2006, Marshall won’t be viewed as his team’s No. 1 WR by opposing defenses.

So is Marshall done to the point where he couldn't produce if given the opportunity? It’s possible. But it’s more likely that he’s merely declining, and an outlying season of extremely poor QB play made his decline look more steep than it really was.

Quantifying Marshall's Opportunity with the Giants

Even if Marshall does rebound in terms of efficiency, his targets will almost certainly decrease with the Giants. He was targeted on 24.8% of pass attempts as the Jets’ No. 1 WR last season, but will now play second-fiddle to Odell Beckham. Beckham has commanded between 27.1% and 28.3% of the team’s targets in each of the last three seasons, and given that he’s a generational talent, that’s unlikely to change no matter who is lining up across from him.

With Beckham commanding 28.3% share of the offense’s targets a season ago, Sterling Shepard’s share was only 17.6%, while Victor Cruz — who Marshall will directly replace — drew only 12.1% of the looks. The Giants have between 597-615 targets in each of Ben McAdoo’s three seasons, for an average of 603.6. Apply Cruz’s target share from last season to 603.6 and you get only 72.8 targets.

Marshall will need more than 73 targets to be fantasy-relevant — only one WR to finish in the top-36 over the last five seasons did so with fewer than 80 targets, and 87.2% needed 100 or more. Even if you assume the Giants will throw to Odell Beckham at his three-year-low rate under McAdoo (27.1% in ‘14) instead of his 28.3% rate in ‘16, and RB and TEs also combine for a three-year-low share (36.5% in ‘14) instead of their 38.0% 2016 share, and all those extra targets go to Marshall, he would only gain an extra 2.5%, for an increase to 87.2 targets.

So what Marshall really needs to do is to take targets away from Sterling Shepard, which is possible. Shepard averaged the fourth-fewest yards per target among 42 WRs in the last 10 seasons who gained between 500-800 yards in their rookie year. Of the 11 WRs in that group that averaged less than 12.0 yards per reception, Shepard’s 61.9% catch rate ranked 10th. Shepard could very well make a sophomore leap, in 2017, but the bottom line is his 8 TD catches mask the fact that he was one of the more inefficient rookie WRs of the past 10 seasons on a play-to-play basis.

Speaking of Shepard’s eight TDs, six occurred in the red zone. A 50% red zone TD rate is unsustainable for any receiver, especially a 5-foot-10, 194-pound one like Shepard, so Marshall has an opportunity to become a highly-targeted red zone WR on the Giants:

Even though Marshall will likely see a decrease in targets, his TDs are due for some positive regression from last season’s three. Ample red zone opportunity and some positive TD variance are likely a prerequisite for a Marshall fantasy rebound in 2017.

Marshall's 2017 Fantasy Value

The problem is even if we assume Marshall becomes the Giants' No. 2 option and commands the 105 targets Shepard did last season, all while bumping his per-target efficiency back up to his career rate by means of competent QB play and a good amount of scoring opportunities, he’d still only net 175.4 PPR points, which would have been good for only a WR41 finish last year.

If a somewhat optimistic projection leaves Marshall outside the top 36 WRs, it means he would need to combine age-defying efficiency with an unexpectedly high amount of targets to be anything more than a flex option in leagues that start three WRs.

And I haven't even touched on some of the other possibilities that would work against Marshall, which include Eli Manning continuing last year's decline, or the Giants adding another playmaker in the draft.

As I mentioned at the outset, only six WRs aged 33 or higher have cracked the top-36 in PPR points over the last five seasons. All six led their team in targets, something Marshall is unlikely to do barring an injury to Beckham. Sure, it won't take much for Marshall to outdo Victor Cruz's 39-586-1 line last season, and his stature upgrades the Giants red zone passing game. In the end, Marhsall will likely end up as one of those signings whose real-life value outweighs his fantasy value.

Marshall is currently being drafted as the WR24 at FantasyFootballCalculator.com and WR32 in MFL10s. Everything could go right and Marshall is still unlikely to return that kind of value. Unless he drops into the WR40 range by August, Marshall will likely be one of the most overvalued WRs of 2017.

Update 5/24/17: Since this article was written, the Giants drafted TE Evan Engram in the first round of the NFL Draft, giving Marshall one more legitimate receiving threat to compete with for targets. First-round TEs have averaged 64.7 targets in their rookie season since 2007. For a more in-depth breakdown of the draft's fantasy ramifications on the Giants, as well as the other 31 teams, read my post-draft fantasy stock article.

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