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

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100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 31: More on Public Perception

Yesterday, I published a sample from Fantasy Football for Smart People: What the Experts Don’t Want You to Know that discussed value. Here’s more from that chapter:

Understanding Public Perception

At the heart of the value determination process for both traders and fantasy owners is a keen knowledge of public perception. Traders seek to predict which stocks will become popular among the public prior to that stock’s share price rising. Similarly, fantasy owners must recognize which players have too low of a price tag (or Average Draft Position).

Both share price and ADP are set by the public. Traders and fantasy owners must understand how the public perceives stocks and football players to enhance value. For the latter group, the worth comes in not knowing which players to draft, but more importantly, when to draft them. Remember, neither stocks nor players have inherent value; value is a reflection of both actual worth and opportunity cost, the latter trait being influenced heavily by public perception.

Not only should you be concerned with the thoughts of others in your league, but their beliefs need to be an essential component of your draft strategy. You can buy What the Experts Don’t Want You to Know for Kindle, as a PDF, or in paperback.

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100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 30: Best Player Available, Game Theory, and Minimizing “Lost” Points

In my new book Fantasy Football for Smart People: What the Experts Don’t Want You to Know, I’ve dedicated a chapter to the concept of “value” in fantasy football.

Minimizing “Lost” Points

You may have noticed a different type of mindset developing here. Whereas most fantasy owners are concerned about acquiring the most possible projected points with each pick, your focus should be “losing” the least. If the perfect fantasy team represents the acquisition of the most possible total projected points, your job is to minimize the loss of projected points at each selection, and that minimization requires forward-thinking the more shortsighted BPA strategy does not.

A fantasy football draft is really no different than the stock market. Both stock traders and fantasy owners seek to leverage knowledge into value acquisition, and that value is the result of cost minimization. And just as game theory is a useful tool in the fantasy owner’s arsenal, a fundamental understanding of public perception is vital to traders.

You can buy What the Experts Don’t Want You to Know for Kindle, as a PDF, or in paperback.

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Star Magazine “On Air” Podcast, Episode 19: Tony Romo and the Top 100

In the latest episode of the “On Air” podcast, Jeff, Josh, and I discuss Tony Romo’s absence from the NFL’s Top 100 list. The guys also talk to team dietician Amy Goodson.

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Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick 2013 Projections

At NBC, I projected Morris Claiborne for the 2013 season:

In terms of yards-per-snap, Morris Claiborne actually ranked pretty highly in his rookie season, finishing in the top 36 in the league. He yielded 1.21 yards-per-snap—just below Carr’s 1.17 yards-per-snap. Claiborne was actually targeted just 69 times all year. That’s one of the primary reasons people believe his rookie campaign was worse than it was; he gave up a 69.6 percent completion rate, but he still allowed fewer receptions and yards than Carr.

There are all kinds of reasons to believe that Claiborne will improve in 2013. First, we tend to forget that this was the consensus top defensive player available in the 2012 NFL Draft. When we compare Claiborne to other second-year cornerbacks, it’s important to remember that he was graded ahead of all of them. Plus, Monte Kiffin’s scheme should benefit the cornerbacks, both of whom will play closer to the line and in more zones, giving them the ability to make plays.

Because of that, you’ll likely see superior bulk numbers from Claiborne this year. Barring injury, he should play in the neighborhood of 1,000 snaps. The cornerback will probably get targeted more often—we’ll say 75 times—because of Kiffin’s scheme. At a 66.7 percent completion rate allowed, Claiborne would give up 50 receptions.

I also did a projection for Orlando Scandrick:

This year, Scandrick will need to fend off rookie B.W. Webb. Webb is a talented player, but Scandrick should be able to retain third cornerback duties if he plays like he did in 2012. Last season was perhaps Scandrick’s best; in comparison, he allowed 1.36 yards per snap in 2011 and 1.32 yards per snap in 2010. Based on those numbers, we can effectively project Scandrick at around 1.20 yards per snap in 2013.

If Scandrick plays a full season, he’ll likely see around 400 coverage snaps, meaning he’d allow 480 receiving yards. Scandrick has historically been targeted on around 18 percent of his coverage snaps, which would equate to 72 targets in 2013. Scandrick allowed a completion on nearly 70 percent of passes his way in the two seasons prior to 2012. If we project a 65.3 percent completion rate, Scandrick would give up 47 completions on the 72 looks his way—6.67 yards per target.

Since 2010, Scandrick has made a tackle on 7.1 percent of his snaps. If that number remains steady in 2013, Scandrick should fall in the range of 43 tackles. Unfortunately, it will probably always be a challenge for Scandrick to haul in a lot of interceptions because, when he’s on the field, the Cowboys are usually in man coverage. With his back turned to the quarterback, it’s difficult for Scandrick to make plays on the ball.

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100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 29: Ranking Running Backs in PPR

At RotoWire, I examined how standard ADP compares to PPR ADP for running backs. My hunch was that pass-catching backs would actually be overvalued in PPR leagues, but that’s not the case:

By subtracting the projected standard points from the PPR projection, we can determine the consensus receptions for each running back. Below, I charted this information, along with how that number compares to the running back’s 2012 reception total.

Player ADP (Standard) Points (Standard) ADP (PPR) Points (PPR) Receptions Projection – 2012 Receptions
Jamaal Charles 5 235 4 278 43 8
C.J. Spiller 6 222 6 255 33 -10
Ray Rice 7 212 7 251 39 -21
Trent Richardson 9 205 9 240 35 -16
Alfred Morris 10 203 10 225 22 11
Steven Jackson 11 197 12 216 19 -19
Darren McFadden 19 156 20 179 23 -19
Reggie Bush 17 145 14 207 62 27
Darren Sproles 23 130 18 186 56 -19

This confirms pass-catching running backs are still undervalued in PPR leagues. There are only three backs whose ADP suggests more receptions than they had in 2012: Charles,Alfred Morris and Reggie Bush. Charles and Bush are both in situations in which they should actually see more targets, so their ADPs are probably accurate. Meanwhile, Morris isn’t dropping a single spot in PPR leagues as compared to standard formats, suggesting he’s overvalued as a back who doesn’t catch many passes.

Don’t worry. I didn’t undervalue pass-catching backs in my 2013 Draft Package.

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100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 28: Mistaking Noise for a Signal

From my newest book Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Cash in on the Future of the Game:

Human beings are predisposed to finding patterns in nature, even when no such pattern actually exists. If you think about it, that makes sense; from an evolutionary standpoint, the downside to identifying a pattern or trend that doesn’t exist isn’t nearly as costly as overlooking a pattern that actually exists.

As it relates to the NFL, people are constantly searching for patterns in data, but in almost all cases, it’s just “noise”, i.e. random. When a mid-tier running back puts together two top 10 performances, all of a sudden he’s labeled as “hot” and forced into lineups around the country. But there are lots of reasons that a running back might have strung together two quality games, the most likely of which is simply that he had two favorable matchups.

When you’re formulating your projections and creating lineups, you have to be aware of your innate tendency to recognize trends, even if they have no basis in reality.

You can buy the book for Kindle, as a PDF, or in paperback.

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100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 27: Problems With Value Based Drafting

In my first book Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft, I propose a version of Value Based Drafting (VBD) as my preferred draft strategy. The concept isn’t without its problems, however, as pointed out by Chris Liss at RotoWire:

(1) It’s hard to determine the real baseline for a given position.

It’s easy to use RGIII as the baseline QB, but given his injury and playing style, most people probably have him projected for only 13-15 games. As such, if you were to draft him, you’d likely get 14 games of RGIII plus two other games of the No. 20 QB, or whomever you managed to pick up that week. Michael Vick presents a similar problem. Moreover, what about the owner who drafts Eli Manning and Philip Rivers and plays only optimal matchups? Or the one who hits the waiver wire and mixes and matches every week? On the downside, some owners will get burned playing matchups, and others will see their signal callers injured in the first quarter in some games. In sum, the baseline is a moving target and so the No. 12 QB’s projected line might not be a good stand-in for it.

(2) It’s unclear whether No. 12 QB/No. 24 RB is really the right level in any event.

For the No. 12 QB to be the real baseline in a 12-team league, you’d have to have a rule that you draft your entire starting lineup before filling out your bench. That way, if you pass on Rodgers early, you’d know the No. 12 QB (Griffin) will be there for your last pick. If you pass on Peterson or some other RB for Rodgers, you know Bradshaw will be there with your last pick. Of course, it doesn’t work that way. People double up on QBs all the time, or take five RBs. By passing on a player at a given position, you’re by no means guaranteed the No. 12 or No. 24 player there. While the last-ranked starter is a rough approximation of positional depth, it’s far from perfect. For example, if RB really drops off terribly after pick No. 30, and people triple up on backs early in the draft, the price for taking Rodgers over Peterson early is certainly steeper than 17 points, so long as good QBs are around.

So what is replacement value, i.e., the baseline player, in a given league? That depends on bench size, roster requirements and owner management styles among other things. The most accurate way to get a sense of it would be to look over the league results the last five years and see what each owner got from each *slot*. The worst starting RB slot on average might be considered the baseline. Same with QB slot. Not individual players but what the owner got from his slot. This isn’t easy to do because most commish services don’t track individual RB slots, and most owners randomly move their players around between eligible slots. Finally, the FLEX spot(s) complicate this kind of calculation enormously.

(3) VBD doesn’t take into account market perceptions

Even if we were able to figure out the proper baselines with some precision and therefore had a good idea of how players should be valued based on their projected production, we also have to account for the perception of players’ value – no matter how erroneous – by the rest of our league. For example, if you’re in a league where owners overvalue quarterbacks, there might be better running backs available in the later rounds than there should be. In that case, you pay a steeper price in QB quality for passing on Rodgers in Round 1 and a less severe one for passing on Peterson than you would in a normal league. If David Wilson is available in Round 6 and Lamar Miller in Round 8, waiting on running backs suddenly makes a lot more sense. While that might sound like an extreme case, leagues do vary widely in the way they value quarterbacks and running backs even with identical scoring systems.

I think the first point is the most damning to VBD, as noted by the guys at rotoViz:

The problem is that we’re now at something of a ceiling with VBD-based thought because there’s only so far you can go with theory and eventually someone needs to design a simulation framework that will solve the VBD puzzle. It’s one thing to say that you just subtract a player’s projection from the projection of the baseline player. It’s another to know what the baseline should be. I could argue that the baseline should be based on some kind of data as to how many games each position give you, but then I’ve opened another can of worms because when we’re talking about how many games each position gives you, do we mean starter level fantasy points? If you’re talking starter level fantasy points, that’s very league size dependent. You can see how difficult this becomes and my suggestion above that only a simulation framework will work is an admission that VBD is a difficult problem.

The choice of a baseline can be arbitrary, but that doesn’t mean that VBD isn’t useful. In my view, VBD has “truth” if we look at it through a pragmatic lens.

Pragmatism is a rejection of the idea that the function of thought is to describe, represent, or mirror reality. Instead, pragmatists develop their philosophy around the idea that the function of thought is as an instrument or tool for prediction, action, and problem solving.

For our purposes, the “truth” of VBD comes in its usefulness. If it’s practical, it doesn’t necessarily matter if the terms are arbitrary.

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4 Reasons Tony Romo Is a Top 100 NFL Player

At DallasCowboys.com, I explained why Tony Romo shouldn’t have been left off of the NFL’s Top 100 list:

In case you missed it, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was snubbed from the NFL’s list of theleague’s top 100 players. Supposedly voted on by the players, we can pretty much discredit the value of the list with one very simple sentence: Joe Flacco is ranked No. 19. His fluky Super Bowl victory aside, I would need to see a near-flawless argument to convince me that Flacco even deserves to be on the list at all. Other insanities among the list include Marshawn Lynch in the top 25, Eli Manning in the top 50 and Alfred Morris in the top 65.

Even temporarily dismissing the fact that NFL players are anything but “highly qualified” to rank their peers, such lists are typically misguided. That’s why I’m going to propose four reasons that Romo’s exclusion from the list is an atrocity.

1. Romo produces at an elite rate.

We can talk about playoff wins all day, but the one thing everyone seems to forget is that quality stats are (usually) reflective of quality play, and quality play leads to wins. There’s a reason that the playoffs are dominated by quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and other passers with elite numbers, while the Flacco-esque late-season runs are aberrations. Let’s examine Flacco and Romo head-to-head:

Joe Flacco Tony Romo
Completion % 60.5 64.1
TD % 4.1 5.5
INT % 2.2 2.8
YPA 7.1 7.9
Passer Rating 86.3 95.6
Sack % 6.5 5.2
Super Bowl Wins 1 0

Outside of interception rate, a number you can live with from Romo because of the big plays he generates, Flacco doesn’t even compare to the Cowboys’ quarterback in just about every stat that predicts team success. If we’re going to praise Flacco for his Super Bowl win, we should also mention that, based on their past play, Romo is far, far more likely to win the next championship of the two, even if he has a weaker supporting cast.

2. Romo plays well in pressure situations.

I know this isn’t what we’re all conditioned to believe, but Romo isn’t actually worse in late-game or late-season situations. But that perception exists, and it affects how people view Romo’s legacy.

But let’s look at the numbers. On 464 career passes in the fourth quarter of one-score games, Romo has generated a gaudy 99.9 passer rating. Don’t like passer rating as a metric? You might like Romo’s 8.69 yards per attempt (YPA). Or his 6.0 percent touchdown rate. Or his 2.6 percent interception rate. All of those numbers surpass Romo’s overall stats, suggesting he’s not really worse in crunch time, but better.

Romo has made a few costly mistakes at bad times – the dropped field goal try in the playoffs and, most recently, the late-game interception in Washington – but it’s highly unlikely that a quarterback who really folds under pressure would be able to post some of the most impressive stats in the NFL in conditions that most deem as “high pressure situations.”

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Jason Hatcher, Brandon Carr 2013 Projections

At NBC, I continued my projections with defensive tackle Jason Hatcher:

As a pass-rusher, Hatcher’s sack total dropped from 4.5 in 2011 to 4.0 in 2012. He did pressure the quarterback at a higher rate than ever before, but his total pressure were inflated due to more snaps to get after the quarterback. In reality, Hatcher’s pressure rate jumped just a little—from 5.2 percent to 6.4 percent. So on a per-play basis, Hatcher was about as good in 2011 as he was last season.

The key to projecting Hatcher in 2013 is predicting his snap count. We pretty much know what Hatcher will give the Cowboys, but we don’t know how Monte Kiffin will utilize him. My guess is that Hatcher will probably participate in around the same number of snaps as in 2012. The Cowboys didn’t upgrade the defensive tackle position and second-year man Tyrone Crawford is playing more defensive end. There just aren’t a lot of players to eat up snaps.

Hatcher will be playing a different position in Kiffin’s 4-3 defense, although I don’t think you’ll see it affect his efficiency much. However, we should probably expect Hatcher’s pressure and tackles rates to drop some in 2013. For one, he is coming off of a career season and likely to regress anyway. Second, Hatcher will be 31 years old when the season begins. He sure looked youthful in 2012, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s at an age when most defensive tackles are wearing down.

And I also projected Brandon Carr’s 2013 season:

One of my favorite stats to analyze cornerback play is yards per snap. Yards per snap measures the amount of receiving yards a cornerback gives up for each snap that he’s in coverage. It’s better than YPA as a predictive stat because it doesn’t penalize for poor coverage. If Carr has perfect coverage and doesn’t get targeted, his yards per snap is superior. He ranked 25th in the NFL in 2012 with 1.16 yards per snap allowed.

Carr was on the field for 1,043 snaps in 2012, and that number should remain pretty steady in 2013. A lot of Carr’s numbers could change quite a bit, however, since he’s going to be playing more zone coverage. Because of that, I think you’ll see Carr get targeted even more—say 90 times—and allow a higher completion percentage of around 63.3 percent. At that rate, he would give up 57 receptions.

Since the attempts thrown at Carr could be shorter than in 2012, however, Carr can still improve his efficiency. At 7.0 YPA, Carr would yield 630 yards on the year. If he plays just as many snaps in coverage as he did in 2012, he would allow 1.08 yards per snap. Such a number would probably rank Carr in the top 20 in the league this year.

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100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 26: How to Value Quarterbacks in 2-QB Leagues

At RotoWire, I discussed how to value quarterbacks in leagues that require two starters.

In my first book Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft, I advocate using the number of total starters in the league at a specific position as the baseline number. In a one-quarterback league, using the points scored by the No. 12-ranked quarterback from the prior season is a fine baseline.

But in leagues in which you’re forced to start two quarterbacks, you need to refine your baseline because there’s a major difference between starting the No. 24-ranked quarterback versus starting Aaron Rodgers. Last year’s No. 24-ranked quarterback was Ryan Tannehill, whose 183 fantasy points were 163 fewer than No. 1 quarterback Drew Brees‘.

Using the No. 24 quarterback as the new baseline, I re-charted 2012 VBD to account for two-quarterback leagues. The results are pretty awesome.


The VBD for the quarterbacks in two-quarterback leagues (orange) is almost a mirror image of that for the running backs (purple). The steep drop at the running back position was due to Peterson’s outlier season, so we can pretty much throw it out. That means that the value of quarterbacks is effectively the same as their running back counterparts. But what does that look like? Pretty surprising. Check out the quarterbacks and running backs below, listed by ADP.

ADP QB RB
1 Aaron Rodgers Adrian Peterson
2 Drew Brees Arian Foster
3 Peyton Manning Doug Martin
4 Matt Ryan Marshawn Lynch
5 Tom Brady Jamaal Charles
6 Cam Newton C.J. Spiller
7 Colin Kaepernick Trent Richardson
8 Russell Wilson Ray Rice
9 Matthew Stafford Alfred Morris
10 Tony Romo LeSean McCoy
11 Robert Griffin III Steven Jackson
12 Andrew Luck Maurice Jones-Drew
13 Eli Manning Matt Forte
14 Andy Dalton Stevan Ridley
15 Joe Flacco Chris Johnson
16 Ben Roethlisberger Frank Gore
17 Philip Rivers Montee Ball
18 Carson Palmer DeMarco Murray
19 Michael Vick David Wilson
20 Josh Freeman Lamar Miller
21 Jay Cutler Darren McFadden
22 Ryan Tannehill Reggie Bush
23 Matt Schaub Le’Veon Bell
24 Sam Bradford Ryan Mathews

If 2013 VBD looks anything like that in 2012, the value of quarterbacks in leagues that require two starters is startling. Colin Kaepernick the same as Trent RichardsonAndrew Luck as valuable as Maurice Jones-DrewMichael Vick in the same round as David Wilson? It might seem outrageous, but there’s really value to be had on quarterbacks in two-quarterback leagues.