100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 23: Prototypical Players at Each Position
One of my recent posts at RotoWire is a look at using analytics in fantasy football to build “prototypical” players:
NFL teams could learn something from us fantasy football owners. While organizations are finally trending toward analytics to make data-driven decisions, fantasy owners have been crunching numbers for years. Many argue football is too complex a game to be fully encapsulated by stats, but that’s missing the point. We don’t need numbers to explain every little nuance of football – whether it be the real or fake variety – for them to work.
NFL GMs and fantasy owners alike are in the business of making predictions. We predict the future performance of players and determine how their cost – whether it be a $10 million salary or a second-round draft pick – matches with their expected production. When that expectation exceeds the cost, we get value, and that value ultimately leads to success.
Thus, whether running an NFL team or competing against your Uncle Bruce in a fantasy football league, the only requirement for a particular metric to be useful is that it’s predictive. If it can predict the future, it can be leveraged into value. The more accurately a stat can predict the future, and the more strongly it’s correlated with NFL success, the more heavily we can weight it in our projections.
Over the last few months at RotoWire, I’ve been searching for the most predictive stats for each position. Do mobile quarterbacks really perform better? How much does speed matter for running backs? Such questions are important, and they can strongly influence our preseason fantasy rankings. In answering them, I’ve been attempting to reveal the “prototypical” player at each position. All other things equal, which traits do we want a quarterback or running back to possess?
Fantasy football production comes in all shapes and sizes, but our job is to maximize the probability of hitting on a particular player. If you understand which characteristics typically lead to success – those that make up the ideal prototype – you’ll have a head start on the competition.
In the sections that follow, I’ll label the three traits I’ve found to be most foretelling of success for each position, providing you with two players whose numbers suggest they could offer value in fantasy drafts and one whose stats hint to a potential down year. Note I’m not arguing the ideal players are risk-free selections or that the players to avoid are incapable of elite production; it’s all about value, and I’m simply building an archetype for each position and using it to uncover that value.
A Wide Window of Opportunity
You’re going to read about age for every position because I think it’s absolutely vital in projecting players. While every player is different, it’s essential to know when players at each position typically break out and break down. That’s particularly true in keeper and dynasty leagues. And because most owners don’t factor age into their rankings too heavily, it can be leveraged into a competitive advantage.
Quarterbacks have the largest window of opportunity of any position. Historically, quarterback play has peaked between ages 25 and 30. After a small drop in productivity in the early-30s, most quarterbacks can sustain a high level of play until around age 37.
On the Move
Although pocket passers have outperformed mobile quarterbacks in the past, the new breed of truly mobile passers has been a totally different story. There’s no substitute for a quarterback who can throw the football – it’s an essential trait – but nowadays, we have a lot of passers who can both pass and run. They’ve proven safer fantasy options than pocket passers because they have more ways to beat defenses, meaning they’re relevant throughout games, regardless of the situation.
A Heavy Workload
If you want a productive fantasy quarterback, you absolutely have to emphasize a heavy workload. There’s such a small deviation in quarterback efficiency; the league’s top quarterbacks average just a yard or so more per attempt than mediocre ones. Meanwhile, some quarterbacks throw 300 more passes than others, and there’s no amount of efficiency that can overcome that difference.
Ideal Values: Cam Newton & Matthew Stafford
Heading into his third season, Newton is set to explode in 2013. He’ll be 24 when the season begins and has obvious mobility. And while Newton has averaged about 500 passes in his first two seasons in the league, don’t forget his workload has been bolstered by an extra 125-plus attempts on the ground.
Stafford’s 727 passing attempts in 2012 were the most in NFL history, but he failed to dominate the fantasy realm due to a 59.8 percent completion rate and only 6.8 YPA. Stafford can’t be counted on for 700 attempts, but he’s still good for 650-plus in Detroit’s pass-happy offense. Entering the prime of his career, Stafford’s efficiency metrics should improve enough to make up for any dip in workload.
Avoid: Robert Griffin III
Yes, RGIII is obviously mobile, but we really need to see how the Redskins plan to use him coming off of a knee tear. All signs point to a more conservative approach. Plus, Griffin was so efficient in 2012 that, barring a massive jump in attempts, he’s primed for some regression.
Read more about prototypical players in How to Dominate Your Draft.