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June, 2014 | The DC Times

The DC Times

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

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100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 25: What’s the “best” draft slot?

The follow is an excerpt from my new book Fantasy Football for Smart People: How Fantasy Football Pros Game Plan to Win.

THE NUMBERS ON DRAFT SLOTS

I imported league draft and season results from the NFFC (National Fantasy Football Championship). I chose their results because, as a high-stakes fantasy service, the types of owners who compete know what the hell they’re doing. Drafts aren’t completely efficient, but they’re about as close as you’ll find. Who would have thought that people with $10,000 riding on a single fantasy league would know more about what they’re doing than my Uncle Bruce playing in a free ESPN league with strangers?

Now here’s the unique thing about the NFFC: they use a third-round reversal draft. So instead of a 1-12, 12-1, 1-12 format, it goes 1-12, 12-1, 12-1, 1-12…

That idea is to increase the value of late picks. Normally, the owner selecting 12th would get two of the top 13 players and three of the top 36, while the owners drafting from the top spot would get two of the top 24 players, but three of the top 25.

In the NFFC, the owner picking last gets two of the top 13 players, but also three of the top 25. Meanwhile, the owner in the No. 1 slot gets the top player, but only two of the top 24 and three of the top 36. That seems like an advantage for owners picking late in the round.

When I ran the numbers, though, that’s not what I found. Taking three years of data from the top 500 teams in the NFFC, here’s the frequency of top teams in each draft slot.

nffc3

There’s a pretty distinct rise in the middle area. Here’s how the results shape up if we split the draft slots into four quarters.

nffc2

Again, pretty clear that the middle draft slots have been the most fruitful over the past few years in the NFFC. While top half vs. bottom half hasn’t mattered much, it’s been highly advantageous to pick away from the perimeter.

Overall, the chances that a random top 500 team selected in the middle of their draft (4 through 9) are 57 percent, compared to 43 percent for the six draft slots near the edges (1 through 3 or 10 through 12).

nffc1

You can read more similar analysis in Fantasy Football for Smart People: How Fantasy Football Pros Game Plan to Win.

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The Cowboys’ Most Underrated Players

At BR, I examined the four most underrated players on the Cowboys. Here’s a peek:

WR Dez Bryant

Everyone knows wide receiver Dez Bryant is a great wide receiver, yet there’s still talk about whether or not he’s elite. Further, Bryant was ranked just 25th on the NFL’s Top 100 List, behind Antonio Brown. Antonio Brown!

People don’t realize how effective Bryant has been during his NFL career, and you could make an argument he’s already the second-best wide receiver in the NFL. Here’s a look at quarterback Tony Romo’s passer rating when targeting Bryant during their four seasons together, along with Bryant’s rank among all receivers.

The fact that the number decreased in 2013 isn’t really cause for concern since Bryant saw all kinds of defensive attention. Actually, the fact that Romo’s passer rating when throwing to Bryant was still 104.9 (according to Pro Football Focus) despite so much double-coverage is pretty scary.

Bryant’s biggest plus is his ability to score touchdowns.

Simply put, he’s the game’s top red zone receiver—better than Megatron, better than Demaryius Thomas, better than everyone.

DE/DT Tyrone Crawford

The reason defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford is underrated is that we just don’t know very much about him right now. Crawford didn’t play in 2013 and received just 303 total snaps in his rookie year of 2012.

What we do know is that Crawford is big and long with 33.75-inch arms, according to NFL.com—long for his size. He was also productive at Boise State with 27 tackles-for-loss in two seasons. We normally wouldn’t weight college stats so heavily for a third-year player, but it’s suitable in the case of Crawford since we haven’t seen him play much in the pros.

And in his rookie year when we saw glimpses of his potential, Crawford was highly effective. He recorded a tackle on 6.3 percent of his snaps, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That same year, defensive tackle Jason Hatcher checked in at 4.6 percent and DeMarcus Ware at 3.3 percent.

TE James Hanna

We know that weight matters a lot for receivers. We know that speed is perhaps overrated for receivers, but still important.

So what if I told you the Cowboys could get a 6’4”, 252-pound receiver with 4.49 speed—one of the greatest weight/speed combination players ever? Gotta give him a shot, right? Well, they already have that player in James Hanna, who plays tight end, and they don’t use him.

Is there more that goes into being a tight end than being big and fast? Obviously. But we really don’t know if Hanna has what it takes to translate his athleticism into production because he doesn’t get the opportunities to do it.

You could argue that Hanna doesn’t play because he hasn’t “flashed” in practice, but I’d counter that NFL teams make humongous assessment errors all the time. That’s why we see a player like Tavon Austin drafted in the top 10; he looks awesome in practice and on film—better than, say, Alshon Jeffery, who appears kind of sluggish due to his size—but who would you rather have on your team? It doesn’t seem like all that much of a stretch to assume that the Cowboys are underrating Hanna’s ability to play at a high level without, you know, ever giving him a chance to do it.

And then there’s the fact that he can’t block well. Well, let’s think of Hanna as a wide receiver who can be lined up in the slot or out wide instead of as an in-line tight end. If our perception of his position changes his apparent worth, maybe it’s time to stop artificially limiting what he can do with a label.

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100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 24: Buy Fantasy Football for Smart People on iTunes

Finally, the Fantasy Football for Smart People series is now available on iTunes. You can search for the series or my name to find the available books. A couple of the titles are still registering, so they will be available in the coming days. Here’s what’s currently in the store…

Fantasy Football (and Baseball) for Smart People

25 Mysteries Solved to Help You Draft a Better Team

What the Experts Don’t Want You to Know

Lessons from RotoAcademy (Volume 2.0)

How to Dominate Your Draft

More to come.

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100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 23: The Key to Winning Fantasy Football Over the Long Run

Today’s tip comes from a RotoAcademy lesson. You can still enroll in RotoAcademy, my fantasy football school through which you receive a book-length PDF of fantasy football lessons every month, for $3.49 per month.

BUILDING UP INTELLECTUAL EQUITY

In a sense, science if very much akin to buying a house, whereas traditional faith-based scouting (or any approach to fantasy football that bypasses analytics) is like renting. When you buy a house, you build up equity in it. Science is similar; you’re building equity in the form of process-oriented knowledge that you can call upon at a later date.

A “Rookie Quarterbacks to Value” article is like paying rent in that you’re trading in something of value to you (your time or your money) in exchange for something that has immediate use, but zero long-term value. When you stop paying your rent, you leave your apartment with nothing to show for it; when you read a waiver wire article, it might have use to you in the immediate future, but it’s not going to help you with the timeless, big-picture concepts that create the foundation of true understanding.

The point isn’t to forgo reading time-sensitive content or seeking out waiver wire advice, because both have a place in fantasy football, but rather to be aware that the path to dominance is through “building equity” in developing your process. Focus on understanding the why over the what.

Enroll in RotoAcademy now.

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100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 22: Speed is more important than weight for RBs.

Tonight’s fantasy football tip is to value speed in RBs (and if you already do, then do it more). From my new book Fantasy Football for Smart People: How Fantasy Football Pros Game Plan to Win:

The NFL has been getting it wrong for a long time, emphasizing size in running backs and speed in wide receivers. Can you believe all those teams would fail to test what works for so many years? Well, if you consider that every organization lines up scouts with a stopwatch at the combine to record their own 40 times—subject to human error—instead of trusting electronic timing, then yes, you’d believe they could not know what sorts of players they should be searching for at each position.

RB weight

Although we know that bigger backs tend to be worse than smaller ones, I concluded that the effect was mainly due to smaller running backs being faster. We know speed kills at the position, so it’s not like extra weight is worse; it’s just correlated with being slower, which is detrimental.

Check out Fantasy Football for Smart People: How Fantasy Football Pros Game Plan to Win for the full analysis.

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100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 21: Download Free Fantasy Football Lessons

LogoBusinessI made the move down I-95 this weekend, relocating to Philly from NYC, hence the skipped days in this series. We’re back at it today with Tip #21: Download RotoAcademy lessons from free.

RotoAcademy is a fantasy football training course. It’s a newsletter. It’s a book club. It’s a university. Whatever you want to call it, I’m excited about the content.

Each month, you’ll receive a book-length PDF containing fantasy football “lessons”—articles, videos, and podcasts developed by the world’s top fantasy football owners with the specific goal of helping you become a dominant fantasy football player. The content at RotoAcademy is timeless in nature. The goal is to give you the foundation you need to make the best decisions you can make, on your own, for years to come.

Download your free RotoAcademy lessons now!

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100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 20: Watch out for QBs in cold weather.

Today’s tip comes from my book Fantasy Football (and Baseball) for Smart People:

I’ve mentioned the importance of checking the weather in baseball on numerous occasions. Checking the weather is important in the NFL, especially late in the season.

To show why this is the case, I charted the effect that temperature (at kickoff) has on passing production.

QB Temp

There’s a pretty linear relationship here, with a very obvious drop when the temperature dips to around 20 degrees or below. That doesn’t mean that a quarterback is fine if it’s 21 degrees and doomed at 20 degrees, obviously—there’s more of a range of efficiency—but the point is that very cold temperatures can have a significant effect on passing totals.

You can buy the book on Amazon.

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100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 19: Look long and hard at certain No. 2 WRs.

Today’s tip is to consider No. 2 wide receivers on explosive offenses. From my new book Fantasy Football for Smart People: 25 Mysteries Solved to Help You Draft a Better Team:

Prior to the 2013 season, I (and a lot of other stat geeks) were unusually high on Eric Decker. Much of the reasoning was based around Decker’s size and ability to find the end zone. Dating back to his time at the University of Minnesota, Decker has been one of the most underrated red zone threats in football.

Plus his wife is hot, and I’ve long been a proponent of drafting wide receivers based on their wife or girlfriend’s physical appearance. It’s a can’t-go-wrong strategy.

EJ

Side note: did you guys know Decker and his wife Jessie have a reality show? It’s on E!. My girlfriend got me to start watching it, and by that, I mean I found out about it, forced her to watch the first few episodes with me, and now we’re hooked. Literally cannot get enough E&J. Granted, I also still watch Real World, so take my TV show recommendations with an entire shaker of salt.

Another reason I liked Decker—as if his wife’s looks weren’t enough—was that I’m typically pretty bullish on wide receivers who are No. 2 options on their team. When a wide receiver isn’t his team’s top receiving threat, he drops in fantasy drafts. It’s not inherently beneficial to target a No. 2 wide receiver, obviously, but it could potentially be a value situation if such a player falls too far due to a perceived lack of attention in the passing game.

If we study No. 2 wide receivers on teams with a top 10 wide receiver—N2WROTWT10WR, if you will—we see that they produce at a higher rate than the typical No. 2 wide receiver.

EJ2

Decker is no longer a No. 2 WR, but the idea still applies elsewhere.

Check out more on this topic in Fantasy Football for Smart People: 25 Mysteries Solved to Help You Draft a Better Team.

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100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 18: A Look at WR Aging By Size

From a recent RotoAcademy lesson:

The point of this lesson is to allow you to quickly visualize the difference in production between the biggest and smallest wide receivers. I charted fantasy production by age for two extremes—one group of receivers weighing in at 220 pounds or more, and the other at sub-190 pounds.

However, the results were collected from solely the top 100 fantasy wide receivers of the past decade. So we’re not looking at all players at the position, but rather the best of the best.

WR Size

The big group dominates the small group, even though we’re looking only at the top receivers in the game, producing more average fantasy points at every single age from 22 to 35. The average difference per season is 45 points, while the average difference during the peak years—24 to 30—is 46 points. You can think of that as 220 extra yards and four extra touchdowns, which is pretty amazing.

Read more in Fantasy Football for Smart People: Lessons from RotoAcademy (Volume 2.0), or just enroll in RotoAcademy for the best value.

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100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 17: Enroll in RotoAcademy

Today’s tip is to enroll in my fantasy football training school RotoAcademy.

WHAT IS ROTOACADEMY?

It’s a training course. It’s a newsletter. It’s a book club. It’s a fantasy football university.

Each month, you’ll receive a book-length (yes, book-length) PDF containing fantasy football “lessons”—articles, videos, and podcasts developed by the world’s top fantasy football owners with the specific goal of helping you become a dominant fantasy football player. The content at RotoAcademy is timeless in nature. The goal is to give you the foundation you need to make the best decisions you can make, on your own, for years to come.

RotoAcademy is a must-have educational tool for any serious fantasy football owner. Based around a scientific, mathematical approach to fantasy football, RotoAcademy will fundamentally change the way you approach the game.

Also check out “Lessons from RotoAcademy” as part of the Fantasy Football for Smart People series.