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The DC Times
A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football
The top of the board is filled with receivers, and that trend continued down the board. I have Danario Alexander projected at the same number of points as Le’Veon Bell, for example, even though Alexander’s ADP is much lower.
Having said that, my goal wasn’t simply to fill up the wide receiver position at all costs to get one of them into the flex, because that would be leaving me bare at other positions. It’s not like you can just start whoever you want; that you must start a tight end, for example, is what makes a player like Jimmy Graham so valuable. And due to the opportunity cost of bypassing running backs early, I still wanted to make sure I was strong (and deep) there.`
So with the ninth overall pick, this is how I played it…
The above graph tracks fantasy points per opportunity (points per attempt for quarterbacks and points per touch for running backs, receivers, and tight ends) since 2000. That means we’re looking at efficiency, not overall production. The x-axis is age and the y-axis is the typical percentage of peak efficiency for each player. So the average age of peak efficiency for quarterbacks, for example, has been age 27.
It’s important to note that the peak years of bulk production have typically come later for each position. That’s because most players see more opportunities as they get older and gain the trust of their coaches. The peak age for overall fantasy production at the quarterback position is age 29, for example, even though players at the position peak in efficiency two years earlier. That would suggest that NFL coaches would be wise to utilize their quarterbacks more at a younger age. But for our purposes, it means that if we have a group of 27-year old quarterbacks and a group of 29-year olds with the same projected workload, the younger passers would typically outperform their elders.
I’ve already explained why the Cowboys will almost assuredly improve upon their -24 point differential from 2012, namely that they’ll secure more takeaways. With just seven interceptions last year, the ‘Boys ranked last in the league. That will change under Monte Kiffin, and it will have a double-barreled effect, limiting the opposition’s points and increasing the probability of points for the offense.
One of the cool things that we can do with the point differential is estimate the Cowboys’ projected recorded with great accuracy. Year in and year out, NFL teams’ actual records closely resemble their points scored and allowed. Using what’s known as the Pythagorean Expectation, we can 1) figure out how lucky a team was in the past and 2) predict their future record by accurately estimating points for and against.
The formula itself is kind of messy (you have to use an exponent of 2.37), but the results are incredibly accurate. Last season, the Cowboys had a Pythagorean Expectation of 7.4 wins, meaning they got lucky to win eight games given how they played. However, take a look at how their 2013 Pythagorean Expectation will change as their point differential does the same:
In projecting the Cowboys to improve their point differential in a big way in 2013, one of my primary assumptions is that they’ll have more interceptions. The Cowboys hauled in just seven picks in 2012—the fewest in the NFL—and forced a turnover of any kind at the third-lowest rate in the league. But there’s reason for hope. Below, I listed the top four reasons the Cowboys’ interceptions will triple—to 21—in 2013.
Interceptions are Fluky
Although interceptions obviously aren’t completely random, they’re more random than you think. There’s only a very weak correlation for interceptions per game thrown by quarterbacks from one year to the next. So using a quarterback’s picks in Year N to predict those in Year N+1 has nearly no value, and that’s for the person throwing the ball! No wonder defensive interception rates fluctuate so much from year to year.
There’s been a lot of rotoViz content written on Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, but I have him ranked so unimaginably low that I had to chime in on a running back who I think is the most overrated consensus first-rounder that I’ve ever seen. Shawn Siegele has already suggested that Lynch is a strong sell, citing his drop in yards after contact, while Frank DuPont notes that Lynch is overvalued due to a combination of his future contract situation and the underrated trio of talented backs behind him.
His ADP Is His Ceiling. . .Or Higher Than It
My primary issue with Lynch is that he’s being drafted as if his ceiling is his median projection. In both standard and PPR leagues, Lynch is currently the fifth running back off of the board. That rank is actually exactly where he ended up last year—you know, the one in which he posted a career-high in attempts, yards, and YPC. Lynch never saw more than 285 carries in a season prior to 2012, but he added 30 to that total last year. He also averaged 5.0 YPC, despite a previous career-high of just 4.2 YPC. Yes, Lynch was never even a league-average runner in terms of efficiency until last year. And just for good measure, Lynch’s 8.5 yards per reception is probably unsustainable.
I might be less worried about Lynch if we could expect his workload to remain steady, but that’s an unreasonable assumption.Russell Wilson passed the ball only 393 times in 2012, and only 141 times when Seattle was leading. At the very least, Lynch is a long shot to again carry the ball 315 times, especially with Christine Michael, Robert Turbin, and Spencer Ware breathing down his neck.
Way back in the beginning of 2013, I did a fantasy football drafting video series for FantasyKnuckleheads.com. It’s a 12-part series, and I discuss everything from position consistency to projecting players to creating a big board. Here’s the first video. You can read the transcript right here.
The primary reason that Dallas will score more points is that their defense is bound to give them more help. Last season, the Cowboys’ defense hauled in only seven interceptions and forced a turnover at the third-lowest rate in the league. That would have improved in 2013 regardless of Rob Ryan’s departure, but it’s especially likely with Monte Kiffin. If the Cowboys can acquire more short fields, they’ll be able to put points on the board much faster. They ranked seventh in the NFL in yards per drive in 2012; if their point total matches that, they’ll score in the neighborhood of 425 points in 2013.
I want to add that no draft strategy is inherently “right.” I will typically wait on quarterbacks this year, but I also won’t be afraid to pull the trigger if a top passer drops. The value of any draft decision is inherently tied to the decisions of others. I think it’s generally advisable to go RB-RB to start drafts in 2013, but so do a lot of other people, so much so that running backs are starting to get overvalued a bit. Even with the scarcity of running backs, there might actually be value in bypassing them if their value becomes artificially inflated.
In each update of my 2013 fantasy football draft package, I post analysis of a draft I’ve completed. In the next update (Friday), I’ll analyze a recent high-stakes draft in which I actually passed on running backs in the first two rounds. Sitting with the 10th pick in the 12-team league, I selected Brandon Marshall and Dez Bryant (and got lucky enough to land Lamar Miller and Darren McFadden in Rounds 3 and 4). I did this because 1) I’m quite high on those players in PPR and 2) I feel like people are getting excessive with the running backs to the point that the best teams by year’s end could be those that didn’t reach due to the widespread notion that you “need to go RB-RB.”
In any event, it’s the same idea with quarterbacks; I don’t think they have inherent value, but the concept of “value” doesn’t even really exist outside of the perceptions of others.
I was wrong. Very, very wrong. At this time last season, I was advocating an early-quarterback draft strategy. You see, I had done a lot of research on position consistency, and quarterbacks came out on top. Quarterback is still the most consistent position in fantasy football, especially among the top-tier guys. There’s a reason we see Drew Brees,Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady & Co. among the league-leaders in fantasy points each season. And there’s value in that consistency, especially when you’re spending early-round draft picks.
That consistency alone wasn’t enough to catapult elite quarterbacks near the top of my board, though. The reason I was all over Rodgers and Cam Newton in 2012 was I mistakenly believed elite quarterbacks – true top-tier guys – were scarce. As is the case in any market, scarce commodities are valuable. If the top quarterbacks were as scarce as I had believed, the decision to take one early was a no-brainer given their consistency.
Check it out at RotoWire to see stats that show late-round quarterbacks are the way to go.
Witten saw 150 passes come his way in 2012. That’s the most he’s ever had, and 33 more than he saw in 2011. Even if Witten repeats them 6.93 yards per target he posted last year, he would record only 866 yards on 125 targets. To surpass 900 yards receiving, Witten would need 130 targets, which he’s seen only twice in his career.
His catch rate will regress.
Witten caught 73.3 percent of passes thrown his way in 2012. In comparison, it was 67.5 percent in 2011, although that was a down year. The only reason Witten’s catch rate was so high last year, though, was the short length of his targets. If he’s used downfield more often and doesn’t see so many quick out routes that defenses let him have late in games, his catch rate will drop a bit.