Punch Drunk Wonderland

Cameron Meredith Could Be a Huge Bargain in Fantasy Football

Via our friends at numberFire.

Everybody loves bargains.

We spend our weekends trekking to the outlet malls to scour the clearance racks for value. This past week, many of us waited with baited breath for Amazon’s Prime Day, hoping (disappointingly) to find an absolute steal. We love finding deals, and it’s no different in fantasy football.

After we pass the sixth round or so, we all become bargain hunters, looking for those players who have slipped through the cracks but have the potential to exceed the expectations of their draft slot. With an average draft position of 108th overall and WR41, according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, Cameron Meredith has all the shine and sparkle of a draft day deal.

Let’s break it down.

2016 Emergence

At the start of the 2016 season, even the Chicago Bears weren’t expecting much from Meredith. The second-year wideout was fifth on their depth chart behind Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White, Eddie Royal, and Josh Bellamy. For the first two weeks of the season, Meredith didn’t even see the field. In Weeks 3 and 4, he was limited to just 40 total snaps.

After White suffered (another) leg injury in Week 4, Meredith got his shot. His breakout game in Week 5 versus the woeful defense of the Indianapolis Colts — 9 catches, 130 yards and 1 touchdown — put him on fantasy radars. That game would be the first of four in which he had at least 9 catches and 100 yards in 2016.

Overall, he racked up an impressive 66 catches, 883 yards, and 4 touchdowns, making him a respectable WR40 in PPR leagues (WR41 in standard). Take out the first four weeks of the season, and we can really see the potential Meredith brings to the table.

From Week 5 to Week 17, a stretch in which he played a minimum of 77.8% of the snaps in each game, the 6’3″ receiver was the PPR WR17 (WR16 in standard). His 170.2 PPR points were more than well-known receivers like Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, and Tyreek Hill — who, by the way, are being selected four to five full rounds earlier than Meredith in 2017.

Meredith’s rise from a waiver wire pickup to WR2 status was buoyed by his impressive close to the year. He recorded 37 catches for 507 yards and 2 touchdowns over the last six games, making him the fifth-best WR in PPR leagues during that stretch. Only Jordy Nelson, Odell Beckham, Julian Edelman, and Golden Tate outscored Da Bears’ pass catcher.

If we extrapolate his average of 8.7 targets, 5.5 receptions, 76.3 yards, and 0.3 touchdowns from the final five weeks into a 16-game season, we get 88 receptions, 1,220 yards, and 5 touchdowns — or 238 PPR points. That would have put Meredith as a borderline WR1 (13th overall) in 2016.

While he had 0.68 Reception Net Expected Points per target — Net Expected Points, or NEP, is the metric we use to determine a player’s or team’s overall efficiency — which was barely above the league average (0.66), he did post a solid catch rate. Of his 97 targets, the former Illinois State Redbird hauled in 68.0% of them, placing him 13th among the 51 receivers who accumulated at least 90 targets last season. It’s a testament to Meredith and Chicago’s quarterbacks last season (more on them in a second), none of whom was actually as terrible as you might think.

All in all, it was a great season for Meredith, a player who was still a relative newbie to the wideout position (he played quarterback in high school and the first two years of college before making the switch to wideout his junior season at Illinois State) and was dealing with an unenviable quarterback situation in Chicago.

Quarterback Carousel

The fact Meredith finished the 2016 season as a top 30 wideout in PPR points per game (12.8) is made all that much more impressive when you factor in the instability under center for Chicago in 2016.

During the year, the Bears utilized three different signal callers — Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer, and Matt Barkley. While the lack of consistency in terms of who was throwing the passes was a big hurdle to overcome, Hoyer and Barkley, in particular, fared pretty well by our metrics, with Hoyer checking in 8th in Passing NEP per drop back while Barkley was 23rd.

With Barkley behind center during the final six games, Meredith blossomed. Even with target monster Jeffery (7.8 looks per game) on the field for the final three games of the campaign, Meredith was able to remain a go-to option, piling up 22 catches for 300 yards.

Change Behind Center

To improve the 28th-ranked scoring offense in 2016 (17.4 points per game), the Bears’ offseason focused on finding a long-term quarterback situation. All three passers from 2016 were shown the door after the season as the Bears invested heavily in former Tampa Bay Buccaneers passer Mike Glennon and moved up in the 2017 NFL Draft to select North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky with the second overall pick.

Glennon is expected to start, but here’s the question for the 24-year-old Meredith — will Glennon be an upgrade over who was throwing him the rock last season? The table below compares Glennon’s Passing NEP and Passing Success Rate, the percentage of drop backs which resulted in a positive NEP gain, to the Bears’ signal callers from 2016. For Glennon, we’re taking the numbers from 2014, his lone season as the starter. It’s not a perfect comparison, of course, but it’s something.

Quarterback Pass Attempts Completion Percentage Passing NEP/Drop Back Success Rate
Mike Glennon (2014) 203 57.6% 0.03 44.3%
Brian Hoyer (2016) 203 67.0% 0.22 50.7%
Jay Cutler (2016) 154 59.1% -0.07 41.6%
Matt Barkley (2016) 222 59.7% 0.09 52.5%

In 2015, Glennon started five games, posting an 0.03 Passing NEP per drop back, ranking him 31st among the 37 quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs. Compared to the Bears’ signal callers in 2016, Glennon doesn’t seem like much of an upgrade, although Glennon’s resume is pretty sparse. There’s certainly a chance he’s improved from 2014.

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