The Albert Wilson Breakout is Coming
One of the best ways to find breakout value WRs in fantasy football is to find the situations in the league that offer a large number of orphaned targets. In Dallas this year, the departed Dez Bryant and Jason Witten leave behind 219 targets, to be distributed between a mishmash of unproven tight ends, a mix of new and old receivers, and a couple RBs. Who emerges from the uncertain Cowboy depth chart is to be determined; other situations are easier to diagnose. With the Rams, it’s Sammy Watkins out, Brandin Cooks in in essentially a clean, 1-for-1 swap. In Green Bay, Davante Adams’ ADP as the 7th WR off the board (according to fantasypros.com) reflects his stepping into the WR1 targets that Jordy Nelson leaves behind. And with the Miami Dolphins, it’s Albert Wilson who likely inherits a large portion of the voided and voluminous Jarvis Landry role.
Albert Wilson has the profile of a premier NFL slot receiver, as he possesses solid athleticism, good route running skills, reliable hands, and elite playmaking ability with the ball in his hands. For the purposes of evaluating Wilson’s potential, because he is a relatively unproven player with an expanded role on a new team, it is necessary to both zoom in and zoom out on his overall profile. First, let us zoom in, and compare his 2018 production and efficiency to other similar players.
In the 2017 season, Albert Wilson was one of 25 receivers who played at least 20% of his snaps in the slot, had an average depth of target (aDOT) of less than 11 yards, and received at least 50 targets. Of these players, Wilson distributed largely above average ability in metrics related to overall efficiency, big play ability, route running, catching, and running with the ball.
While Albert Wilson finished 18th out of 25 slot receivers in fantasy points (.5 PPR, per fantasypros.com) in 2017, he was 5th in the same group in fantasy points per target with 1.53. As for real life ability, Wilson was also among the best in Passer Adjusted WR Rating (PaWRR), a metric that uses the difference between a QB’s passer rating when targeting a particular player and his passer rating overall to determine which receivers are making their QBs look better or worse. Despite already playing with the 2nd highest rated passer of all the 25 qualifying receivers, Albert Wilson posted a +11.10 PaWRR, good for 7th best of the group, and ahead of players like Keenan Allen, Adam Thielen, and Golden Tate.
In addition to overall efficiency on a per target basis, Wilson was solid at the two key aspects of playing wide receiver: running routes and catching passes. Wilson was 6th out of 25 in average target separation (the average distance, by yards, from the closest defensive back at target arrival, per playerprofiler.com) with 1.85 yards, showing top-level ability to get free from coverage. After separating, he displayed good hands, with an average score in Quality Adjusted Catch Rate (dividing a receiver’s receptions by just his catchable targets, per playerprofiler.com) of 82%, and elite ability to secure the ball in traffic, with a top-5 catch rate of 72% on 29 contested targets, 2nd most of any qualifying slot receiver.
Where Albert Wilson really stands out, though, is in his ability to make plays with the ball in his hands. Despite receiving the 6th fewest targets of the 25 qualifying receivers, Wilson gained the 10th most total YAC (yards after catch) on the season, with 318. He was especially effective on a per-catch basis, 2nd only to JuJu Smith-Schuster with a 5.79 Created YAC Average (CYA — a metric that measures a player’s YAC average independent of the average separation he creates running routes) per reception. This playmaking ability translated to a 0.02 Long TD Rate (20+ yard TDs per target outside the red zone), good for 10th among slot receivers despite Wilson having the 3rd lowest aDOT.
In limited work over his first four years, Albert Wilson has performed as one of the more efficient and dynamic slot receivers in the NFL. In order to evaluate his potential to take advantage of an opportunity at a larger role, however, it is necessary to zoom out and take a look at his larger profile.
Albert Wilson was an undrafted free agent out of Georgia State back in the legendary WR class of 2014. He must have gone unselected due to his size and level of competition at a small school, because the 5’9, 200 lb. Wilson’s college production and combine measurables are those of a top-flight WR prospect. According to playerprofiler.com, Wilson’s college yards per reception and share of his team’s targets and TDs were in the 76th and 98th percentiles, respectively, across all WR prospects in the database. His 4.43 second 40-time and 125.3 Burst Score (a metric combining the vertical and broad jumps to measure a player’s explosiveness) are in the 86th and 73rd percentiles, respectively, according to the website. This above-average athleticism and elite production at the college level serve to legitimize Wilson’s success so far in his professional career; he’s a player with the full profile of a bona fide weapon in the NFL.
Albert Wilson is in a great spot with the Dolphins to continue his stellar play and make good on his full potential.
This offseason, Miami traded 4-year target leader and Wilson’s 2014 draft classmate Jarvis Landry to the Browns and signed two slot receivers to fill the gap he leaves in the offense. Wilson is joined as a newcomer on the team by Danny Amendola, and it is Amendola that he will have to beat out in order to take the lead job in the slot. Fortunately for Albert Wilson, the longtime Patriot isn’t in his universe from an athletic standpoint (according to playerprofiler.com, the only one of Amendola’s athletic scores above the 9th percentile is his 68th percentile Agility Score, using his 20-yard short shuttle and 3-cone drill times) or from a production standpoint, as on an 85-target sample in 2017, Amendola was well below average among qualifying slot receivers in average target separation, CYA, Long TD Rate, and PaWRR. He was also unimpressive in contested catch rate. Add all of this to the fact that he is a soon-to-be 33-year old and Wilson is a 26-year old player entering his prime, and it seems the only way Amendola beats out Wilson is if the Miami coaching staff is in the business of misguided veteran deference when distributing playing time. If talent wins out, however, then Wilson will have the bulk of a role in the Dolphins offense that has averaged 142 targets the last four seasons. While he won’t see all of that, his versatile skillset exceeds that of the departed Jarvis Landry (Dolphins coaches have talked this offseason about the ability of Wilson to play outside and even in the backfield, while Landry lined up in the slot on 47% of his snaps in 2017), so it’s easy to project Wilson being much more dynamic and efficient with the targets he receives than Landry ever was. If he receives even 90 of those targets (based on Miami’s 602 pass attempts from 2017, a 14.9% target share, a conservative estimate compared to the target share of comparable slot receivers Jamison Crowder, Randall Cobb, and Golden Tate) and maintains his 2017 numbers in catch rate and yards after catch, Wilson would catch 61 balls for 804 yards. Those totals would put Wilson squarely in line with the 2017 year-end numbers of Cooper Kupp or Nelson Agholor.
When considering Albert Wilson’s current ADP of WR79 (.5 PPR, according to fantasypros.com), as well as the proof to this point of his NFL capabilities, a conservative estimate of his 2018 production makes him a likely massive value and a great arbitrage play in fantasy drafts when compared to other similar slot receivers, as Crowder, Cobb, Kupp, and Agholor are all being drafted in the top-43 WRs. Few other players selected among the very last kickers and defenses offer the floor and potential upside of Albert Wilson in an expanded role.