#TFA Throwdown: Michael Crabtree vs Martavis Bryant
We are back again with a juicy throwdown for you. The consistent Michael Crabtree versus the explosive yet risky Martavis Bryant. Their ADP based on 12-player, PPR league is very similar (according to FantasyFootballCalculator), so who should you choose for your fantasy roster? Let Kent Weyrauch and Jen Smith try to convince you. By the looks of it, the majority lean towards Bryant currently:
— Jen Smith (@FF_female920) July 1, 2017
Michael Crabtree [FFC ADP – 4.10]
By Kent Weyrauch
The hotness in Oakland will always be Amari Cooper. It’s no lie that he is a very good wide receiver in the NFL, but with that being said, there is an alternative. And the best part about that alternative? He’s typically around three rounds cheaper! Let me re-introduce you to Michael Crabtree, the guy who seems to be forgotten about every offseason. Crabtree is once again being drafted in the late 4th/early 5th rounds. Here are his last two years of stats as a Raider:
The WR2 for you! As you can see, these are two pretty similar seasons since joining the Raiders during Derek Carr’s sophomore season. There are some interesting bumps in the right direction once they had a whole season to mesh. Going from 2015 into 2016, Crabtree saw almost identical targets, but increased his receptions, receiving yards, and catch percentage. Sure, he went down to 8 touchdowns, but touchdowns as a predictive measure can be fluky. Seeing the increased rapport between Carr and Crabtree is a great sign for 2017.
Many wide receivers who play second fiddle in the NFL are subject to a lot of variance in their play. If the QB isn’t force feeding the ball to his top receiver, the targets usually end up more shared across several players including running backs and tight ends. Well, Michael Crabtree is immune to this variance. I know, that sounds too good to be true, but let’s have a look.
Using the Rotoviz splits tool, we first take a look at games were Amari Cooper has 9 or more targets (on the left in the above table). You would think that in games were Amari Cooper is getting lots of attention from Carr that Crabtree would get a little jealous, right? Nope. Michael Crabtree’s numbers are nearly identical whether or not Amari Cooper is getting fed the ball. That is to say, when the Raiders passing game gets turned up a notch, both Cooper and Crabtree get part of the Carr love. The main notable difference is a slight drop in TD rate, but even with 7 touchdowns on the year that would have landed him tied for 16th highest in receiving touchdowns last year. Let’s try doing another split to see if Crabtree is affected by top passing defenses…
On the left, we see how Crabtree fared against top half passing defenses, with the bottom half being on the right. Again, very minimal differences are shown here. Crabtree finally dipped slightly below 9 targets a game against top defenses, but still nabs about 11 fantasy points (0.5 PPR) per game. If he is playing a top defense, the yards will take a hit, but that’s common across the board with wide receivers. You have to love that identical 0.53 TD rate though. Regardless of how good the defense is, Carr still looks Crabtree’s way in the end zone.
The Endzone Upside
Now that you know that Michael Crabtree has one of the finest and most resilient floors in fantasy football, you want to know about his upside! Well, let me tell you that Crabtree tallied up 26 red zone targets for the Raiders last season (Amari Cooper only had 17). Derek Carr’s favorite target in the red zone is Michael Crabtree. Martavis Bryant has a lot of upside hype himself going into the 2017 season. Let’s take a look at the density curves for these two players. (Explanation below)
I created this graph using software called “R”. Basically think of the line height as how likely it is that each player scores a certain amount of fantasy points. On the far left, we can see that Martavis Bryant scores 0-3 fantasy points more often than Crabtree. In the 3-17 point range, Crabtree is the king. He shows a considerably high likelihood of scoring in the upper end of this range. The peak is at ~12.5 fantasy points, which shows his high floor. Martavis might score higher than Crabtree more often, but Crabtree’s huge floor is his saving grace and will save your week. Both players are capable of scoring 25+ fantasy points in a week as well, but Crabtree has upside to go with his great floor.
I’ll Order the Crab, Please
It should be clear that Michael Crabtree is the guy you want to grab in the 4th or 5th round this year. He will be an amazing WR2 and can still get you those top 5 weeks in a high powered offense. In an even better overall offense with the help of Marshawn Lynch, I think it’s very reasonable that Crabtree posts a 90+/1000+/8+ TD season once again. Personally, I think that the “Alien” should get back in his spaceship and get lost!
Martavis Bryant [FFC ADP – 4.10]
By Jen Smith
It’s pretty clear to me what argument we are making here: upside vs consistency. After missing the entire 2016 season due to suspension (2nd violation of substance abuse policy), Martavis Bryant surely represents a risk for fantasy owners. Can he reacclimate to the NFL and Steeler’s offense? Will he violate the policy again? Is he just boom or bust? Valid questions, but I’m here to reassure you that Bryant is worth the gamble in 2017. His ADP climbed from the 9th round earlier this year to the late 4th currently due to the NFL conditionally reinstating him in May. The positive news out of Pittsburgh on his commitment level, sobriety, and progress also helped. But, can we trust him?
The new and improved Bryant stands 6’4″ tall, has 4.42 speed and gained 10 pounds of muscle during his suspension (225 lbs now). He boasts that he’s a changed, sober, new father that wants to do right by his team and take advantage of his last shot in the NFL. I believe him. He asserts that he spent his suspension getting treatment and working out, in order to make his transition back as seamless as possible and be in the right mindset to avoid setbacks. Martavis stands to lose a lot, as he is one mistake away from permanent ineligibility and the NFL even required that he set up treatment in Pittsburgh as part of his conditional reinstatement. So, he’s trying to get out of his own way and surrounding himself with people with that same goal.
Ben Roethlisberger stated recently that he “looks like a stud… as usual” which is saying something since this QB once called Bryant out in the media as needing to “toughen up” and was visibly frustrated with him on the field at times in the past. We’ve been here before, I know. Hype and high expectations, only to be followed by disappointment and frustration. Stay with me.
He’s Got Skillz
Let’s look at what we know about Bryant and what you’d be spending a 4th round pick to obtain. It’s an understatement to say he had a rocky start to his NFL career. Poor performance in the preseason, shoulder issues and “illness” contributed to inactive status until week seven of his 2014 rookie season. Then, he exploded. In his first four games, Bryant caught 14 passes netting 310 yards and six TDs. Yes, six touchdowns in four games. He cooled after that, scoring only two more TDs, one of which was during a monster performance against Cincinnati when he caught four passes for 109 yards and a TD.
Expectations were high heading into his sophomore NFL season and he gained muscle (sound familiar?) and momentum in the off-season, only to be derailed by his first violation of the substance abuse policy. After serving a four-game suspension and nursing a tweaked knee, Bryant returned in playmaker-fashion. In his first nine games back in 2015, Bryant received an average of 9 targets per game, scored seven touchdowns and caught 48 passes for 759 yards (40+ yards or TD in every game in that span). He cooled severely in Weeks 16-17 when a neck sprain hampered his play, but surged again in the playoffs once healthy. If you remember, Bryant had one of the most memorable and athletic end zone catches of 2015 during the Wild Card matchup, pinning the ball to his leg while flipping to secure the catch. Need a reminder? Give it another look here just for fun.
This is what he brings to the field. Athleticism, speed, and ability to beat his defenders in the air and after the catch. He’s elusive. Just watch his highlights. In 2015 (11 games played), he finished #42 overall for yards-after-the-catch—almost half of his yards came after the catch (335 out of 765). Bryant is a playmaker and every time he catches the ball, there’s a chance it will turn into a significant gain.
In the 21 games of his career, Bryant scored 14 times and has a 17.3 yards-per-catch average. Though he participated in just 11 games in 2015, he received the 2nd most targets (15%) behind Antonio Brown and snagged 16% of the red zone target share. When he’s on the field, they involve him and know what he brings to the offense. All of us were disappointed with his year-long suspension, but we can’t deny his talent and the high-powered offense that he will be rejoining. Have I convinced you yet?
B Confident (Yes, I meant to do that)
Fantasy owners who invest in Ben, Brown, Bell, and Bryant in 2017 won’t be disappointed. We are focusing on just one piece of the puzzle in this throwdown, but context is important. The Steelers’ offense is one to be reckoned with and if there’s a year that they have a chance to win it all, it’s this year. Bryant plays a significant role in that success. Last season, we watched in frustration as defenses double and triple teamed Antonio Brown because they did not fear the rest of the receiving corp. I’d like to see them try that with Bryant on the outside, either Eli Rogers or rookie Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster in the slot, and Le’Veon Bell ready to receive out of the backfield. Martavis can handle one-on-one match-ups easily and beat any defender with his speed.
Short of me driving to Pittsburgh and smacking the weed out of Bryant’s hand (if necessary), I can’t guarantee he won’t slip up, cost himself his NFL career and waste a pick for you. However, I dare to say that Bryant is a double threat compared to Michael Crabtree. What I said before was incomplete. On the surface, yes, it is a consistency versus upside throwdown, but Bryant could give owners both this season if they take the chance. As they say, no risk… no reward, folks.
In 11 games (sitting partially for at least one of those), he ended as the #39 fantasy WR in 2015. He is currently being drafted as the #24 fantasy wide receiver according to FFC with an ADP at the end of the 4th round (Crabtree is listed at #23). Imagine what Bryant can do with 16 games! I’ll have plenty of Martavis Bryant shares in 2017. Join me. Leave the Crab for the fishes.
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