The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Fantasy Football Links: Running Backs, Consistency, and Torrey Smith

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Jonathan Bales

Over at RotoWire, I took a look at how to draft running backs:

Draft slot in the first half of Round 1

Choosing in the first six picks, you will be able to acquire an elite running back. Unless your league starts more than one quarterback or rewards six points for a passing touchdown, running back should almost certainly be your choice here. It’s difficult to bypass a “sure thing” like Aaron Rodgers, but it may be even more difficult to forgo a player like Ray Rice, miss out on a running back in the second round, then be left with a guy like Frank Gore as your top runner.
I have Arian FosterLeSean McCoyRay RiceRyan Mathews and Chris Johnson listed as elite options in my rankings. There is a significant drop after those five running backs, so if you bypass one in the first half of the first round, you probably won’t be able to make up for it down the road.

Coming back in the second round, you can look at elite quarterback options like Drew BreesCam Newtonand even Matthew Stafford. I’m a little low on Stafford, but all three players are reliable options. Tight end, the most consistent position in fantasy football, is also an option here if you can grab Jimmy Graham orRob Gronkowski.

In rounds three through five, the value at wide receiver is outstanding. You can jump on a running back if one falls (I like Doug MartinReggie Bush and Roy Helu in PPR leagues), but wide receiver is consistently providing the most bang for your buck.

At Pro Football Focus, Austin Lee posted a two-part series looking at the age of running back decline:

No one should be surprised that quarterbacks and running backs have highly contrasting rates of decline, but the divide in their productivity is even wider than I would have guessed. I’m not seeing the infamous 30-year-old wall that many people think running backs hit. Instead, their decline is pretty dramatic and consistent after 26.

Also at PFF, I took a look at how to use wide receiver efficiency in your draft:

  • The top receiver on this list is no surprise, as Jordy Nelson’s 2011 efficiency was unprecedented. Despite a probable decline in 2012, I still think his ADP of 14 among receivers is a bit too low.
  • With the way the Saints spread around the ball, Marques Colston has always been a very low-risk receiver without incredible upside. With Robert Meachem out of town, perhaps Colston will see a slight jump in targets that could propel him into stable WR1 territory.
  • The efficiency of Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald is remarkable. Notice that the majority of the receivers around them (Nelson, Antonio Brown, Percy Harvin, Jerricho Cotchery) didn’t play nearly as many snaps in 2011.
  • Currently getting selected as the 57th receiver, perhaps Doug Baldwin is worth the risk. He had a highly-efficient rookie campaign, has a path to increased targets, and possesses a potentially legitimate quarterback in Matt Flynn.
  • Perhaps most surprising on this list is Michael Crabtree, who totaled the 17th-highest PFF grade in 2011 despite playing only 693 snaps. With free agent acquisitions Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, rookies A.J. Jenkins and Chris Owusu, and a necessarily limited offense, however, it’s tough to like Crabtree’s long-term potential.
  • Even in Denver and St. Louis, Brandon Lloyd garnered a top 20 receiving grade from PFF. He has serious WR1 upside in 2012.
  • Vincent Jackson was already a bigger name than fantasy producer in San Diego, and I think that trend will continue in Tampa Bay. With the 30th-worst efficiency as the Chargers’ No. 1 option last year, Jackson’s production figures to decrease with the Bucs.

Like Torrey Smith this year? Frank DuPont takes a look at Smith at Fantasy Douche:

I’m interested in Smith again this year because I think his rookie stats are in the range of stats that you would look for from a player would could break out.  Smith was targeted quite a bit for a rookie, did enough with those targets to warrant more usage, and he’s playing opposite Anquan Boldin, who I think is basically keeping things together with smoke and mirrors at this point.

But a review of Torrey Smith’s comparable players does further cement the idea that there are always a range of outcomes.  Similarity does not equal destiny.  My quick takeaway from looking at the list of Smith comparables is that I could see things going either way.

Robert Littal at Black Sports Online was kind enough to let me post a sample chapter (the intro) from my book Fantasy Football for Smart People:

The reason temporarily bypassing maximum “value” can be beneficial deals with position scarcity and starting lineup requirements. Let’s starts with the latter. In fantasy football, you are obviously required to start a specific number of players at different positions. If you could simply start your highest-scoring players, quarterbacks would fill the first few rounds of drafts.

Since fantasy football requires you to start players at positions that naturally score fewer points than other positions (think kickers), at some point in your draft, it is necessary to bypass a high-scoring position for a lower-scoring one. The best fantasy football owners understand how to balance that delicate task.

Of course, the “best” time to take a quarterback, or a running back, or any other position changes based on a number of factors, including the season, your league, your previous draft picks, and so on. One of the factors that can help us determine which position to take at each spot is standard deviation. Standard deviation is the measure of diversity in a group of statistics.

For fantasy football owners, standard deviation means identifying “outliers” within each position. For example, assume the top quarterback in the NFL scored around 1,000 fantasy points each season. Gotta grab him in the first, right? Not necessarily, even if you know with 100 percent confidence which player will be the top quarterback in such a hypothetical league. If quarterbacks 2-12 scored about 990 points each year, the value of the top quarterback is miniscule. In that example, there is no outlier; the top signal-caller’s projected total is almost identical to the 11 quarterbacks behind him.

I’ve been playing a lot of poker because I think there are a ton of similarities between the game and fantasy football. The implementations of game theory and the notions of risk/reward are strikingly similar. Anyone ever play poker at www.partybingo.com?

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