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

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Fantasy Football: Aaron Rodgers, Josh Gordon, and a New Draft Value Chart

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I’ve posted a few fantasy football articles in the last couple days. The first, published at rotoViz, is a look at why I much prefer Aaron Rodgers over Drew Brees.

I’m addicted to the Similarity Score Apps. There, I said it. If I had a set game plan detailing things I wanted to accomplish prior to fooling around with the apps for 60 minutes every day, I probably would have written way more than five articles so far. I feel like when someone says “Peyton Manning is such a risky pick” and you respond with “Well the difference between his high and low comps is just 2.7 points per game” despite the fact that you’re nowhere near a computer, it might be time to reassess your timemanagement.

So yeah, I like these things. The greatest contribution the apps can and will provide for me this season is a more fundamental understanding of risk and reward on an individual basis. I’ve long been a proponent of determining the potential distribution of outcomes for players because, aside from a median projection, it allows us to factor uncertainty into rankings. If you’re deciding between two second-round quarterbacks, both of whom you have projected at 18.0 points per game, it’s probably wise to go with the safest option due to the price of the pick.

That’s not always the case, though. Outside of the first few rounds, owners should seek more and more volatility as the cost of picks—and their expected return—declines. Why in the world would you draft Eli Manning in the ninth round when you can have Michael Vick a full round later? Think about it. In that range, you’re starting to get into backup quarterback territory; Manning and Vick are currently the 13th and 14th passers getting selected. If the hope is that you won’t need to start those players anyway, why not draft the one who has elite potential?

And what if you draft a backup quarterback as an insurance policy against a risky option? Let’s say it’s Russell Wilson. If Wilson goes down, the overall philosophy of your team should shift to take on more risk. When you’re an underdog seeking volatility, the last thing you want to see is Joe Flacco in your starting lineup.

Check out the quarterback volatility rankings right here. I also published two articles at RotoWire. The first proposes a new draft trade value chart.

For the purposes of creating the chart, I’ll use Pro Football Reference’s VBD calculations. VBD is a form of “value over replacement player” in which you subtract the points for a “baseline” player from each player’s total points. The baselines are the No. 12 quarterback, No. 24 running back, No. 30 wide receiver, and No. 12 tight end. There are probably issues with VBD like any other value metric, but it does a better job of capturing “usable” value for fantasy owners; the VBD for the No. 12 quarterback or No. 30 wide receiver would be 0. That seems about right considering those players – or the guys ranked behind them – really offer little worth to fantasy owners.

The Numbers

I graphed the VBD for all players chosen in the top 24 from 2008 to 2012.


The value of the top two overall selections has been higher than for any other picks. That fits well with my previous research and suggests that in most drafts, there are a handful of elite prospects and then a big drop to the second tier.

Still, the graph is a bit scattered and there doesn’t appear to be a major drop over the first two rounds. Below, I sorted the results into four-selection increments.


Here, you can see that the VBD drop is pretty linear. The average VBD for the top four picks has been close to 80 – around twice that for picks 21 through 24. As I mentioned, however, that doesn’t mean that two picks at the end of the second round are equivalent to one at the top of the first. Actually, we now have a foundation from which to begin to build our chart since we know that the No. 1 overall selection is worth more than the No. 23 and No. 24 picks combined.

More to come.

And the other article includes some of my 2013 breakout candidates. Here are the wide receivers:

Darrius Heyward-Bey, Colts
Heyward-Bey is considered a bust because of his high draft slot, but he’s gotten better each year he’s been in the league. On a per-target basis, DHB has also shown great improvement in his fantasy numbers. He has some competition in Indianapolis, but he also has a quarterback who can propel him to WR2 status.

Justin Blackmon, Jaguars
Blackmon’s suspension should be viewed as a blessing in disguise for fantasy owners. Instead of docking Blackmon four games worth of points when creating his projection, you should subtract four games of points and then add the points you’ll receive from a replacement receiver. Since his ADP has already dropped four rounds since getting suspended, that makes Blackmon perhaps the best value in the entire draft at this point. And the receiver’s 64/865/5 line from 2012 is actually really good for a rookie.

Josh Gordon, Browns
Wide receivers who stand 6-3, 225 pounds and possess sub-4.5 speed aren’t easy to find. Gordon showed flashes in his rookie year with numbers comparable to Blackmon’s – 50 receptions, 805 yards and five scores. Most important, the big-play threat just turned 22, meaning there’s a ton of room for development.


Gordon may or may not break out this year, but there’s little doubt that he’s a volcano waiting to erupt. The fact that he looked so polished at such a young age suggests 2013 could be the season, and I can’t think of a wide receiver who offers better value in dynasty leagues.

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