Cameron Meredith Could Be a Huge Bargain in Fantasy Football
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.
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.
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.
New Look Receiving Corps
The other offensive change for the Bears is that Meredith will start the season as the club's top wideout. He will likely move out from the slot, replacing Jeffrey, who is now on the Philadelphia Eagles. The addition of veterans Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, and Victor Cruz, probably won't affect Meredith's targets too much as the new arrivals should be battling it out for Meredith's old role in the slot.
After averaging 6.9 targets per game through 14 outings last year -- which equates to 110.4 looks over 16 games -- Meredith appears to be locked into a role in which he could see 100-plus targets in 2017.
Meredith should easily see his target numbers rise into the triple-digits, even with a deeper pass catching crew. How high that number goes depends on the health of White (who has played just four games in two seasons), and the rapport he can build with Glennon or, potentially, Trubisky.
Let's face it, in 2017 the Bears will be bad. The 28th-ranked team in our power rankings, we project Chicago to rack up less than seven wins thanks to what we see as the worst run defense in the NFL.
But for Meredith and the Bears' passing game, the inferior defense will have the team trailing on the scoreboard more often than not, which could lead to a whole lot of airing it out. Last season, the team passed 60.7% of the time, the 13th-highest percentage of all 32 clubs. That number should, at worst, be similar in 2017.
With pass plays being dialed up on the regular, there is a concern that White, who averaged 9.0 targets in his 4 games played last season, will eat into the target distribution. The former West Virginia Mountaineer has the talent and draft pedigree to usurp Meredith's standing as top dog in Chicago, but as the last two years have shown, White has trouble staying healthy. Even if White comes back healthy and balls out, Meredith should still have a significant role in a passing game which lacks a plethora of weapons.
What We Project
Our models project Meredith for 63 catches, 753 yards, and 3.8 touchdowns on 100 targets in 2017. Those numbers would place him as solid WR4 in PPR (45th overall) leagues, which is a reasonable return for a guy going outside the top-100 picks.
But we may be a little low on him given his potential target volume and all the unknowns surrounding the Bears' offense. If things break a certain way -- like Glennon is better than expected, Meredith builds on last season's red-hot finish or White again struggles to stay on the field -- Meredith could outperform those numbers.
At worst, Meredith should live up to his draft cost, and as he showed us late in 2016, he has some enticing upside, too.