My Man Love For Anthony Gonzalez

EDITOR'S NOTE: Don't understand some of the advanced stats used in the post like DVOA and DYAR? click here

I admit that what I'm going to say is a BOLD prediction. But hear me out.

Right before all of my fantasy drafts, I was going to write a post entitled "R.I.P. Anthony Gonzalez" about how my one time sleeper was now fantasy dead. But in the middle of writing it, I noticed that Gonzalez was #2 on the Colts wide receiver depth chart behind Reggie Wayne and ahead of media darlings Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. This fact alone made him my number one guy to target in ALL my leagues and my number one fantasy zombie (copyright ESPN Fantasy Focus 2010)

A-Gon has always had talent, was a first round draft pick, and and was drafted by probably the smartest man in football right now- Bill Polian (not only is he responsible for drafting Peyton Manning and engineering this Colts dominance but he's also responsible for the great Bills teams of the early 90's that went to four straight Superbowls). Polian is the #1 guy whom I trust to spot talent when he sees it and to let his talented players play. And I trust, barring another crazy injury, that Anthony Gonzalez will play.

When Gonzalez first got drafted in 2007, all time great and trigger happy Marvin Harrison was on his way out. I'm sure the Colts planned for and what seemed to occur was that Reggie Wayne would take Harrison's place and Gonzalez would take Wayne's. In 2009, the Colts finally got their wish and released Marvin Harrison. 2009 was the year of Anthony Gonzalez!

And then A-Gon goes and gets injured in Week One.

In 2007, Gonzalez's rookie season, he was 1st in the NFL in DVOA (essentially value per play weighted against defense played) and 13th in the league in DYAR (essentially total value weighted against defense played). Considering there are 32 teams, each who start two receivers (and most give a decent amount of looks to it's third), Gonzalez was putting up some pretty impressive numbers- as the teams' #3 wide out. In 2008 Anthony put up similar numbers ranking 3rd in DVOA and 13th in DYAR. A-Gon also had great hands posting no less than a 72% catch rate in his first two seasons. To put that in perspective, out of 89 players with at least 50 targets in 2009, only six wide receivers had a catch rate above 70%- and one of those guys was Wes Welker. In the past three years, neither Larry Fitzgerald, Randy Moss, nor Reggie Wayne has had a catch rate above 69%.

Anthony Gonzalez looked prime to step up and become not only awesome in fantasy, but also for the Colts. Instead, with Harrison out and Gonzalez injured, two nobody's named Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon stepped up and become offensive threats for the Colts.

But now let's take a ride in the DeLorean and see what would have happened if A-Gon had stayed healthy for all 16 games in 2009. Now admittedly, one, this entire premise is pure conjecture. What if Anthony Gonzalez had stayed healthy? What if a meteor came down to Earth and killed Peyton Manning? What if, what if, what if. Second, it's extremely hard to predict things like YPR (yards per reception) year in and year out. I can give you an player's average but what if that player performed worse than average in that individual year? Or better? What if in 2009 A-Gon had an anomaly year that was Troy Tulowitski-esque (maybe Brett Favre-esque would be a better analogy for you football guys that don't follow baseball)? Third, a lot of Gonzalez's value and good numbers came from him playing the slot and playing as a 3rd receiver. Playing on the edges as a legit #2 would decrease his numbers like catch rate, however there's no scientific formula (Yet! Get on it Football Outsiders!) of how a catch rate correlates with playing the slot versus playing the edge.

But that being said, let's try to predict what Gonzalez would have done anyway.

Last year, Peyton Manning threw 571 passes: 149 went to Reggie Wayne, 132 went to Dallas Clark, 91 went to Pierre Garcon, 90 went to Austin Collie, 63 went to Joseph Addai, and 46 went to other receivers. Last year, about 31.7% of Manning's passes went to Collie and Garcon. But how Peyton Manning distributed the ball last year has been atpyical of how he has done it the previous years because during Gonzalez's tenure, Manning has had a clear cut #1, #2, and #3 receiver (something he didn't seem to have in 2009). In 2008 (when Harrison played in 15 games), Wayne (#1) received 23.6%, Harrison (#2) received 19.3% and Gonzalez (#3) received 14.2% of Manning's attempts. While the breakdown between 2008 and 2009 is obviously not identical, and here's where I have to do some educated guessing, how many targets Gonzalez probably would have received should be analogous to what Harrison saw the year before.

Manning attempted 16 more passes in '09 than he did in '08 and Reggie Wayne saw 18 more attempts last year than he did the year before. Based upon how Manning threw when he had a clear cut #2 and #3 receiver in 2008 and the statistical difference in how Manning threw to Reggie Wayne in 2009, I will say that Gonzalez would have gotten 111 attempts leaving about 70 if either Collie or Garcon had stepped up as the clear cut #3 (as opposed to essentially the 50/50 split that occurred between Collie and Garcon).

Next, to see how many catches A-Gon would have had, we have to take his targets and multiply it by his catch rate (considering no receiver catches 100 percent of the balls thrown his way with 50+ attempts). As I mentioned earlier, Gonzalez has never had a catch rate below 72%. But Gonzalez rarely started/played on the edge which is where he would have lined up had he replaced Harrison. This means an expected decrease in his catch rate (I'm not going to get into why, but think about why Randy Moss's CR, never been above 61% in the past three years, and Wes Welker's CR, never been below 75% in the past three years, is so different and you'll understand why moving from the slot to the edge decreases your catch rate).

Last year, the elite wide outs had a catch rate between about 63 and 68%. Again, I'll use my best judgment but we'll say Gonzalez had a 65% CR (I'm being very conservative and 'realistic'). So catching 65% of 111 balls thrown his way is good for: 72 catches.

In 2007 Gonzalez had a 15.6 YPR. In 2008 he had a 11.6 YPR. If you can tell me with a straight face and claim you weren't lying and tell me what Gonzalez's YPR would be in 2009, then I'd slap you in the face (OK, I'm not THAT mean so I won't, but don't get me angry. You're not going to like me when I'm angry). But if we were to use logic and rationality we could make an educated guess. During Gonzalez's rookie season, Marvin Harrison only played in 5 games. In 2008 he (unsuccessfully) played in 15 games. So if we had to guess what number Gonzalez's YPR would be, I would say it's closer to his 2007 campaign than his 2008. Plus, guys like Marques Colston, Roddy White, Miles Austin, Vincent Jackson, Roy E. Williams, and T.O. all had YPR of 15.0+ in 2009 so to give Gonzalez a 15.0 YPR seems reasonable (Again, I'm trying to be very conservative).

An average of 15.0 YPC with 72 catches equals 1080 yards.

Lastly, we have TDs. In 2007 and 2008, Gonzalez had 8 receiving TDs in 11 games started. That extrapolated over a full 16 season equals about 11 TDs. Last year Collie and Garcon combined for 11 TDs so maybe Gonzalez would have had 8-9. But TDs vary every year and are extremely random (Hell, Greg Jennings only had four in 2009 when Aaron Rodgers had the best season of his career, was the best QB in the league last year, and virtually every one of Jennings other numbers looked identical). I can make reasonable inferences about a players YPR and targets based upon history and statistical data, but no amount of evidence can be gathered (short of grabbing that sports almanac that's the basis of Back To The Future II) to predict TDs.

Before I get into what I think Gonzalez would have done in 2009, I want to talk a bit more about what I think he'll do in 2010 (this will make sense in a moment your honor, I promise).

I think Gonzalez is going to do something very similar this year as he would had he been healthy in 2009. If I had to predict Gonzalez's 2010 numbers, I would still use the same catch rate and YPR, but recently, AOL Fanhouse created a projection list of how many targets each receiver on each team will get. Like everybody else, they predict Wayne and Dallas Clark will get the most (130) and Pierre Garcon will get the third most (110). But I truly believe that Gonzalez will get those 'Garcon' targets and be the second best wide receiver on the Colts. (Likewise, with this rationale, I am VERY down on Pierre Garcon. You can get him in free agency or as a late pick or for a dollar, then I like his value. But short of that, I do not recommend drafting Pierre Garcon just because of his decreased targets). Considering the only difference between Gonzalez' 2009 predictions and in his 2010 projection is the one less target in 2010....

So without further ado, here is what I project for Anthony Gonzalez to do in 2010 as well as what I thought he would have done (essentially) last year had he played all 16 games (conservatively):
110 targets/ 72 receptions/ 1080 yards/ 8 TD/ 1 fmbl

From a fantasy perspective, that would have been good for 154 points- good for the 13th best wide out right behind Wes Welker and right ahead of Marques Colston.

Listen, if I'm wrong, then what did you really lose? A dollar flyer in your auction draft. A free agency pick up. Your very last pick in your snake draft. However, I truly believe in Gonzalez and drafted him in my 10 team and 14 team leagues and will draft him in my 12 team league tonight and I hope I've convinced you to take a flyer on him as well.


Anonymous said...

How'd that work out for you?

Sexy Rexy said...

Yes, Anthony Gonzalez sucks donkey balls and never should have been drafted, but that being said, I have absolutely no regrets at all about this post and I'll do it again.

I paid one dollar for him in all my leagues (and if I had to do a draft league he'd be my last pick). There was absolutely no risk in drafting A-Gon so when there ended up being no reward, it didn't matter because I took no risk.

I regret drafting Felix Jones more than I do Anthony Gonzalez.

Plus, I admit when I'm wrong and I fully admitted to being wrong. And I also prefaced this entire post saying this was an extremely bold prediction.

if it worked out, great. If it didn't (like what actually happened) then oh well. No skin off of my back