Dynasty managers are quick to forget greatness and have long memories when it comes to heartbreaks. A.J. Green, wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, epitomizes this trend.
From 2011-2017 Green scored the second-most fantasy points, only trailing Antonio Brown. Green dominated fantasy football with two top-5, four top-12, and six top-24 finishes in seven seasons. Green averaged approximately 14 games, 76 receptions, 1138 receiving yards, and 8 touchdowns per season during his first seven seasons. For comparison, Julio Jones averaged 14 games, 79 receptions, 1220 receiving yards, and 6 touchdowns. Epic production across the board from Green.
Green’s dominance is demonstrated through his advanced metrics as well. Averaging a 29 percent target share, a 44 percent market share of team air yards, 0.70 RACR, and 0.73 WOPR.* A 29 percent target share is in the true target hog range. Only DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas, and Davante Adams commanded that level of target share on their teams last season. A career average 44 percent market share of air yards is truly impressive and no receivers were within three percent of this mark in 2019. Plus, Green’s Receiving Air Conversation Ratio (RACR) and Weighted Opportunity Rating (WOPR) are essential to understanding how extraordinary he has been. Too often analysts get caught up with metrics and stats that sound useful or are descriptive. RACR and WOPR are interesting and descriptive but they also predict future production at a high level. Traditional efficiency metrics are terrible at predicting future production. 72 – 80 percent of a receiver’s same-season production can be explained just by looking at target and air yards volume (WOPR). RACR excels at predicting the other 20-30 percent of a receiver’s future production by simply dividing receiving yards by air yards. When a receivers aDOT increases their catch rate and RACR decrease. Green’s career average RACR of 0.70 is elite paired with his 12.9 aDOT. For example, Julio Jones had a top-8 0.73 RACR at a 12.2 aDOT last season.
Before Green missed six games with a severe toe sprain back in 2018, he was on pace for 76 catches, 1200+ receiving yards, ten touchdowns, and 18.6 fantasy points per game (PPG). Green’s 2018 PPG would have been third-most among receivers with nine or more games played in 2019. To be clear, the extrapolation game is a losing proposition, as it doesn’t allow for variance (including injury). However, it illustrates when healthy Green is an alpha receiver in fantasy football.
A.J. Green vs. Tyler Boyd
A popular dichotomy this offseason has been Tyler Boyd and Green. Boyd posted two solid top-24 seasons over the last two years after an up and down start to his career. The only categories in which Boyd performed better than Green’s career averages were in receptions and yards after the catch. Otherwise, Green significantly surpasses Boyd across the board. Even in Green’s 2018 injury-shortened season (Boyd’s breakout season), Green outperformed Boyd in the games they both played.** Green had more targets, receptions, receiving yards, air yards, touchdowns, fantasy points, a better WOPR, and a higher aDOT than Boyd. Subsequently, it’s reasonable to project Green as the lead receiver in the Bengals’ offense going forward.
2020 will be Green’s tenth season in the NFL and his first full game action since Week 8 of 2018. This season will be the best supporting cast he has had in his entire NFL career. This offseason, the Bengals selected quarterback Joe Burrow from LSU with the first pick in the NFL Draft. Cincinnati also added second-rounder Tee Higgins to a deep receiving room of Boyd, John Ross, and Auden Tate. Joe Mixon, Giovanni Bernard, and C.J. Uzomah round out the rest of the Bengals’ offense.
This is great news for Green despite popular narratives citing increased target competition as possible detractors to his 2020 production. A rising tide lifts all boats. Offensive production, especially for alpha receivers, works similarly. More skill on offense leads to more first downs, targets, and red zone opportunities. Naturally, this filters down to Green and offsets any potential targets lost from increased competition.
How does all of this factor into Green’s 2020 projections?*** My projections rely heavily on league historical trends and averages, team and/or coaching trends, and the individual players themselves.
There are three notable trends when projecting the Bengals. First, Las Vegas has an implied win total of 5.5 wins for the Bengals in 2020. Bad teams in catch up mode heavily influence game script and on average have a higher overall play volume. Next, the Bengals were a bottom-third defense in Football Outsiders 2019 Team Defense DVOA. Teams with bad defenses tend to throw the ball more because they are playing from behind more often. Lastly, Zac Taylor was one of the league’s most pass-happy coaches during his first season in Cincinnati. Taylor had the sixth fastest-paced offense and sixth-most pass friendly offense in 2019 according to Sharp Football Stats. More plays and more passes equal more opportunity for the Bengals’ offense. All of this suggests a high-volume passing attack in Cincinnatti and more targets for Green in 2020.
The elephant in the room is Green’s injury concerns. Green has missed 31 fantasy matchups during his career, all but one absence was due to lower-body injuries. Is this a red flag for a 32-year-old receiver? Yes. Does it mean we should predict Green will be injured again this season or in the future? No. It indicates he has a higher risk of sustaining an injury in the future according to historical injury trends. Nobody in the fantasy community has access to Green’s medical records or is his actual doctor. There is simply not enough data available to accurately determine who will be injured on the football field. To pretend differently illuminates our hubris.
Additionally, I have yet to find a successful and/or unbiased methodology factoring injuries into a projection system. Therefore, it’s a better process not to arbitrarily decide who will and won’t be injured in the future. Focus on what we know. Reports back in April stated Green was fully recovered from the injury he sustained over a year ago. Therefore, expect Green to be fully healthy heading into the season as he attempts to earn his last big-money contract.
Based on the inputs discussed above, I’m projecting Green for 135 targets, 80 catches, 1175 receiving yards, and 7 touchdowns. Green’s 25.7 percent projected target share is 2.3 percent less than his career average. 7 touchdowns felt low in comparison to his career numbers but logically makes sense when put in the context of the offense and the Bengals as a whole.
These projections would make Green a top-20 WR in 2020 with 242.4 fantasy points.
According to FFPC ADP, Green is being selected at the 12/13 turn in Superflex drafts as the WR48. Green is going after Darius Slayton, Brandon Aiyuk, and Tee Higgins. My projections have Green finishing slightly ahead of or around receivers like Calvin Ridley, Amari Cooper, and Mike Evans in 2020. How does acquiring Calvin Ridley level production for WR48 prices sound to you?
I’m aware of the reasons suppressing Green’s value, but let’s not pretend every player isn’t at some risk for injuries. The difference is Green has his injury risk already baked into his price. Green is a top priority if I’m a contending team or trying to quickly turn around a struggling roster. I have him ranked confidently at WR38 and 93rd overall, and I'm targeting him in the ninth or tenth round in startups. I’d happily trade away any non-tier one rookie receiver, any potential second-year breakout receiver, or players with similar values (check out my DHH Dynast Superflex rankings for FREE here).
I strongly recommend dynasty managers to go out and acquire Green. If healthy, Green is a top-20 receiver with top-12 upside. Let other people play Twitter doctor while you take advantage of his near-term production and upside. Green’s production, 2020 projections, and dynasty value make him one of my top targets across all formats.
Follow me to the moon and back, @ff_spaceman on Twitter, in my quest into unexplored spreadsheets and dynasty football analysis. Find other advanced metrics similar to the ones discussed in this article in my college prospect database. Also, tune into my podcast @ATaleofTwoRivals for more insightful dynasty analysis and the best banter in fantasy football. Until next time, be well and be safe.
Information found in this article was gathered from AirYards.com, PlayerProfiler.com, Pro-Football-Reference.com, sharpfootballstats.com, Rotoviz.com, and footballoutsiders.com. All seasonal stats and percentages are only tallied from Weeks 1-16 because those are the weeks fantasy football is played.
* “RACR stands for Receiver Air Conversion Ratio. The formula is (Receiving Yards/Air Yards). RACR is an efficiency metric that rolls up catch rate and yards after the catch into one number. It can also be thought of as the number of receiving yards a player creates for every air yard thrown at him.” - Josh Hermsmeyer on AirYards.com. Learn more about RACR here.
* “WOPR stands for Weighted Opportunity Rating. WOPR is a weighted combination of the share of team targets a player receives and the share of team air yards.”-Josh Hermsmeyer on AirYards.com.
**Week 13 was excluded from this sample because Green left the game early with an injury.
***Contact Peter Howard, Rich Hribar, Josh Hermsmeyer, and JJ Zachariason for more information on projections.