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WR’s to Avoid: DeVante Parker

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In the second edition of this series, we’ll be taking a look at Miami Dolphins’ WR DeVante Parker. Until the midway point of last season, many in the fantasy community had (correctly) labeled Parker a bust. Then all of sudden, from Week 9 onward he exploded. In the process, he was able to resurrect some of the hype that’s followed him through the draft process and into his early years. This rapid shift in sentiment caused Parker to rocket up draft boards and dynasty rankings alike. Currently, his ADP sits in the WR 24 area in redraft and WR 32 in dynasty formats.

As the title suggests, the purpose of this series is to identify receivers whose upside vs downside risk is unfavorable at their current valuation. We’ll begin by examining Parker’s NFL and fantasy careers to date. Afterwards, I’ll outline some of the bull cases for Parker moving forward. Finally, I’ll conclude by going in-depth on why I think Parker is being considerably overvalued and that fantasy owners would be wise to avoid him at his current price tag. The previous article in this series can be read here: https://fantasyfuru.com/2020/06/16/wrs-to-avoid-stefon-diggs/

NFL and Fantasy Career

After being selected 14th overall in the 2015 NFL draft, Parker failed to live up to the hype. Below, I’ve posted his receiving totals and fantasy production from each of his five NFL seasons.

YearGPTargetsReceptionsY/RYardsCatch %TDFP/GOverall
201514502619.049452.035.7WR 73
201616875613.374464.448.4WR 50
201713965711.867059.417.8WR 53
201811472412.930951.114.5WR 107
2019161287216.7120256.3913.1WR 7
Stats are from Weeks 1 through 17

A quick look at the numbers helps to illustrate the inconsistency Parker has struggled with for most of his career. Throughout his first four seasons, he proved to be a mediocre fantasy option, finishing his best season with an average of 8.4 fantasy points per game. Then, in 2019 he blew up for 1202 yards, 9 touchdowns and an average of 13.1 points per game. Will last year go down as the spark that ignited Parker’s path to fantasy stardom? Or will it turn out to be an outlier in a career that swiftly reverts to its averages? Let’s take a look.

The Case for Parker

There are a number of compelling arguments to support the notion that Parker will continue to provide immense value to fantasy owners. First, Parker was an exceptional receiving prospect whose lack of consistent success can be directly attributed to playing with a host of suspect quarterbacks. In 2019, he developed strong chemistry with Fitzmagic and is poised to carry that into 2020.

Second, Parker will enter 2020 as the Dolphins’ #1 receiver. As a byproduct of this, he’ll be the beneficiary of heavy volume and usage. Fantasy players know that there’s a strong correlation between volume and fantasy performance.

Third, the Dolphins will be a better football team in 2020 and as a result, Parker will spend more time on the field. In addition to that, the offense’s increase in success should translate into more scoring opportunities for a guy who proved he can be a scoring threat. 

Fourth, from Week’s 10-17 last season, Parker was the WR 2 overall and should have no problem carrying that momentum into 2020. During that stretch, he proved that he can be a matchup proof WR who’s capable of sustaining production as the focal point of an offense. 

I’m certain there are other arguments out there to support Parker’s case but these were the most prevalent ones I came across.

The Case Against Parker

Now, brace yourselves for some pessimism.

Throughout his career, Parker has failed to live up to the hype outside of that magical eight game stretch to end last season. There are many reasons not to buy the narrative that he’s finally turned the proverbial corner but I’m going to focus on three that are particularly glaring. First off, much of Parker’s success last season came in the wake of Preston Williams’ season ending injury. The splits with and without Williams are massive. Next, on a percentage basis Miami attempted the second most passing plays in the NFL last season at 65.85%. Consequently, they had the fewest rushing attempts of any team in the NFL at 21.8 per game and the second fewest as a percentage of plays ran at 34.15%. Probabilistically, these numbers are likely to revert against Parker in 2020. Third, Parker has been very inefficient in his career and will need to once again see significant volume to deliver at his current price. 

The Preston Williams Effect

As a precursor, it’s worth mentioning that the Dolphins’ receiving core as a whole dealt with numerous injuries last season. Most notably, was the Preston Williams injury. Prior to going down, Williams burst onto the scene and completely lived up to his pre-season hype. Here are Parker’s splits with and without Williams in the lineup.

Pre-injury

GamesTargetsReceptionsYardsY/GFP/GFP/G Overall
85228400509.8WR 41
FP/G Overall includes receivers who played a minimum of 4 games from Weeks 1 – 9

Post-injury

GamesTargetsReceptionsYardsY/GFP/GFP/G Overall
87644802100.2516.5WR 3
FP/G Overall includes receivers who played a minimum of 4 games from Weeks 10 – 17

Simply put, the difference is staggering. In games without Williams, Parker saw his targets per game increase 46% from 6.5 to 9.5, his receptions per game increase 57% from 3.5 to 5.5 and his yards per game double.

There’s no such thing as certainties in fantasy football however it’s hard to not anticipate a substantial decrease across those categories upon Williams’ return. What’s more worrisome for Parker owners is that in games they played together, Williams averaged more targets, receptions and yards. If he’s able to pick up where he left off, Williams could seize the #1 receiver role at any point next season. This is doubly true if Parker’s inconsistency or history of missing games emerges once again.

Aside from Williams, Parker owners also need to understand that the entire receiving core enters this year healthy. The impact of this on Parker may be minor but nevertheless, it’s likely to be negative. Moreover, the continued development of Gesicki and addition of Breida should provide whoever’s under center with more reliable options to throw to.

Dolphins’ Offense in 2020

I’m in the camp that thinks the Dolphins’ offense as a whole will be a better, more balanced unit than they were in 2019. As mentioned earlier, the Dolphins were the second most pass-heavy team in the NFL last season and as a result, the second least run-heavy. There are several indications that suggest this will change in 2020.

This offseason, the Dolphins prioritized improving their porous offensive line. In free agency, they inked Ereck Flowers and Ted Karras who are projected to step in as immediate starters. Additionally, they went on to draft Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt and Solomon Kindley at 18, 39 and 111 overall. Theoretically, these additions should give a boost to the passing and running games, respectively.

Speaking of the running game, the Dolphins acquired running backs Jordan Howard and Matt Breida this offseason. These additions should be seen as direct actions taken to improve, and increase focus on running the ball. Understanding that an increase in rushing attempts will be followed by a decrease in passing attempts should give us pause.

Last season, the Dolphins attempted a total of 615 passes. If we conservatively reduce that by 7%, we end up with 572 pass attempts in 2020. Assuming that Williams remains healthy and targets revert towards (not to) their pre-injury distribution, it’s a bearish development for Parker’s outlook. 

As a final point, I don’t consider the uncertainty surrounding who will be under center for the Dolphins next year as a positive for Parker. Tentatively, I expect Fitz to begin the season as starter and be on a short leash from then on. If Tua emerges as the starter, we should expect the Dolphins to lean even more on the running game which obviously does not bode well for any receiver.

Inefficiency

Efficiency is a polarizing topic when it comes to Parker. Through his first four NFL seasons, he epitomized inefficient. Then, as one might expect, his efficiency ramped up at the same time Williams went out. I don’t want to spend any more time on the Williams effect, so let’s take a broader approach to examining his efficiency.

From 2015 – 2018, Parker finished outside the top 36 receivers in both DVOA and DYAR. In short, DVOA measures a receivers value per play and DYAR measures their value on plays where they caught the ball. To his credit, he did significantly better in those categories last year so it’s fair to wonder if that will be his new normal. I’ll side with history for now.

Across other efficiency metrics, we see a very similar trend. Another metric I like to look at for wide receivers is their QB rating when targeted. Last season, Parker turned in his best finish in this category with a rating of 98.5 which was good for 40th overall. In 2018, he posted a 70.3 (99th overall) and 2017 saw him finish with a 58.7 which was good for last among all receivers with at least 75 targets. 

Closing Thoughts

At the end of the day, Parker ultimately becomes one of those players where you decide to buy or sell the breakout. Unlike with younger receivers, Parker is 27 so we shouldn’t have to wait very long to see how this situation shakes out. For the reasons I mentioned above (and a few more), I’m a seller of Parker at his current valuation and will happily let others take the plunge on him there.

Some viable, younger alternatives in the same price range for dynasty players are: Gallup (WR33), Brown (WR36) and Kirk (WR35). For redraft players, I would prefer to take my chances on Chark (WR25), McLaurin (WR29) or Landry (WR31), to name a few. If I could leave you with a closing thought, it would be that the WR position is very deep this year and owners shouldn’t feel the need to gamble on a receiver who has never consistently delivered outside of a very circumstantial eight game stretch. 

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