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By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 34: Talent Evaluation Matters in FF

At rotoViz, I posted an article detailing my thoughts on player evaluation in fantasy football and when it’s most useful. Here’s an excerpt:

I’ve come up with seven situations in which player evaluation helps fantasy football owners.

TIEBREAKERS

Production = Workload x Efficiency

That’s the general formula we need to decipher to win in fantasy football. It follows that if two players have nearly comparable projected workloads, we want the one who is going to be the most efficient. Things like a player’s teammates and scheme factor into that equation, but so does his own talent.

It might seem like siding with the more talented player in “tiebreakers” will lead to a small advantage, but don’t forget that pretty much every pick is a tiebreaker; there are multiple considerations with each selection, so we need to use something to differentiate those players.

There are a lot worse methods of drafting than sorting players into tiers based on their workload, then organizing those tiers based on their projected efficiency/talent. So basically opportunities dictate draft range and talent determines which players you actually select (such that you’re always optimizing some combination of workload and talent).

TIMESHARE SITUATIONS/AMBIGUOUS ROLES

This is sort of related to “tiebreakers,” but any time two players are either in a timeshare situation or they have otherwise ambiguous roles, that’s a situation in which we should be emphasizing talent. Remember, all other things equal, we want really good football players.

The most obvious timeshare situations are at running back, but it doesn’t have to stop there. I ended up with Jimmy Graham in a lot of dynasty leagues years ago before he broke out because I emphasized his raw athleticism among other late-round tight ends with unclear roles. So we’re not just comparing teammates, either.

This sort of approach really helps hit on late-round players because 1) everyone either has an ambiguous role or simply isn’t slated to get much playing time and 2) we want upside anyway, which leads to the next point.

IDENTIFYING UPSIDE

One of the reasons that I think a value-based drafting system can fail is because it assigns a singular number to a player and that’s supposed to represent what he can do in a given year. But things aren’t that black and white.

When we start thinking more probabilistically, players start to differentiate themselves. Yeah, maybe this ultra-athletic tight end has a very low median projection just because he probably won’t get playing time, but what if he does? What can he do when he gets the looks? How much upside does he have?

I’m a proponent of comparing floor projections to cost early in drafts and then pretty quickly transitioning to an emphasis on ceiling projections. When you look at the players who post not just good seasons—not just seasons that return “value”—but great seasons, you see that they’re typically highly athletic (outside of the running back position at times, which is basically 90 percent workload-dependent).

Value isn’t binary. There’s a range of it, and accurate player evaluation can help identify the players with 1) high ceilings and 2) a high probability of realizing that potential.

Read the rest right here.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 33: My New Daily Fantasy Football Book Now on Sale!

I just published my latest daily fantasy football book – my third DFS-specific book and fifth Fantasy Football for Smart People book this year - Daily Fantasy Pros Reveal Their Money-Making Secrets.

The book is currently available on Amazon as an ebook, as well as right here at FFD as a PDF. The paperback will be available in a day or so.

 

BOOK DESCRIPTION

Fantasy Football for Smart People: Daily Fantasy Pros Reveal Their Money-Making Secrets is the first book to truly dig deep inside the minds of daily fantasy football’s most lucrative players—the ones raking in full-time salaries playing the game you love. With interviews from headchopper, Al_Smizzle, PrimeTime420, dinkpiece, naapstermaan, MrTuttle05, and others, you’ll learn exactly how the experts go about researching, projecting players, and creating their daily fantasy sports lineups each week.

In addition, Daily Fantasy Pros Reveal Their Money-Making Secrets contains chapter-by-chapter commentary and analysis from author Jonathan Bales and Top-10-ranked daily fantasy pro Peter Jennings, a.k.a. CSURAM88. With unprecedented access to the strategies used by the world’s top players, you’ll learn how professional daily fantasy footballers are really cashing in…and how you can too.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER 1: RESEARCH WITH HEADCHOPPER

  • Which sites are best for NFL research
  • How to predict touchdown receptions
  • Which stats matter most when projecting players

CHAPTER 2: UNDERSTANDING VARIANCE WITH C.D. CARTER

  • How daily fantasy football is like poker
  • How to utilize variance
  • How to take advantage of season-long dogma

CHAPTER 3: THE VEGAS LINES WITH MIRAGE88

  • Why studying the Vegas lines can help make you a better player
  • How to incorporate Vegas into your projections/lineups
  • Fantasy points broken down by Vegas totals

CHAPTER 4: PROJECTING PLAYERS WITH MRTUTTLE05 AND DINKPIECE

  • How to take advantage of the crowd when projecting players
  • Incorporating the weather into your decisions
  • What to look for at each position

CHAPTER 5: WINNING CASH GAMES WITH PRIMETIME420

  • How to pick players specifically to win cash games
  • How to handle defense/kicker
  • Stats on which positions work best in the flex

CHAPTER 6: ADVANCED TOURNAMENT PLAY WITH AL_SMIZZLE

  • How to improve your chances of winning a GPP
  • Understanding when to be contrarian
  • How and when to stack

CHAPTER 7: LINEUP CREATION WITH NAAPSTERMAAN

  • How to alter your lineup based on your league
  • Scoring in Thursday-night games
  • Pairing players in the optimal way

CHAPTER 8: BUILDING A BANKROLL WITH KILLAB2482

  • How to easily manage your bankroll
  • Why there’s no one-size-fits-all plan
  • Understanding player exposure and risk

**BONUS MATERIAL: HOW TO WIN HEADS-UP LEAGUES AND 50/50S

  • The typical scores needed to win on DraftKings
  • How to properly allocate cap space
  • Understanding player types and why they matter

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 32: Small-School RBs Get My D*ck Hard

Today’s very inappropriate tip comes via my book Fantasy Football for Smart People: Lessons from RotoAcademy (Voume 2.0).

If you don’t develop small (large) man-crushes on multiple NFL rookies every season, you just aren’t living life. Is it creepy that I stay up late to watch highlight videos of 20-year olds playing a game, obsess over their arms lengths, get seriously disappointed if they don’t jump as high in the air as I’d like, then tweet at them to let them know we’re still friends? I don’t know, but I won 50 percent of my fantasy football leagues last year, so you tell me.*

The type of player who is very quickly moving up my list of man-crushes—it’s a physical list I keep under my pillow—is the late-round, small-school running back. I’ve already published some data on why I like both late-round and small-school running backs, with the reasoning being the same. Basically, because running backs are so dependent on their teammates for production, they’re really difficult to project.

NFL teams are horrific at identifying running back talent, as evidenced by the fact that mid and late-round rookies have had greater efficiency than first and second-rounders since 2000. That’s sad.

There are certain traits that I like in running backs—straight-line speed is a big one, as is the ability to catch passes—but I also want to pay as little as possible at a position with basically random results, hence buying into mid/late-round players. Many times, those guys are from non-BCS schools since scouts don’t trust their ability and would prefer to draft Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram in the first round over and over.

Read more of my new book Fantasy Football for Smart People: Lessons from RotoAcademy (Voume 2.0).

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 31: The Philosophy of Fantasy Football

Today’s excerpt comes via my new book Fantasy Football for Smart People: Lessons from RotoAcademy (Voume 2.0).

THE PHILOSOPHY OF FANTASY FOOTBALL

I majored in philosophy (and fantasy football) in college because I wanted the challenge of no one taking me seriously once I graduated, while also maintaining the smallest possible probability of getting a job. I succeeded magnificently on both accounts. And now here I am writing this for you, illegally copying Google images into my work, and playing fantasy sports on a semi-pro level. Thanks philosophy.

To me, philosophy is the most beneficial of all majors—one that will make you more capable in just about every aspect of your life—and it accomplishes that by focusing on the most random of shit. While philosophy deals with a lot of “big picture” stuff, it also becomes quite specific at times. But pretty much all of philosophy—especially the metaphysics and epistemology in which I had the most interest—is considered impractical and of little importance.

Like the process of creating fantasy football projections, philosophy’s benefits are indirect, but significant. In both areas, we’re in effect worried more about how to learn than what to learn. Both philosophy and fantasy football projections are kind of like practice—a deliberate attempt to sharpen your mind; the impractical—the “little” stuff—ironically becomes the most useful of all tools.

The take home point: worry less about acquiring the “right” information and more about perfecting the process of obtaining that information so you can ultimately make more accurate predictions. Don’t concern yourself with what others tell you is “practical” and instead focus on what’s going to make you the best long-term fantasy owner. The big picture is important, but the path to it is often indirect.

Read more of my new book Fantasy Football for Smart People: Lessons from RotoAcademy (Voume 2.0).

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 30: Get in Thursday-Night daily leagues.

Today’s tip comes with data via my book Fantasy Football (and Baseball) for Smart People.

Thanks to DraftKings, we can now actually dig into the data to see what’s going on in Thursday leagues versus those that start on Sunday. And this is really what daily fantasy is all about, too—testing theories in a scientific manner to see if what we “know” to be true is indeed the way we presume. So here’s a look at some actual DraftKings data from the 2013 NFL season.

Thurs

Although the effect seems small, keep in mind that these are the average scores over every single league. You can see there’s a larger deviation in points in Thursday night leagues; the average lineup scores one less point than those in normal Sunday leagues, but the winning score is one point better.

To give you an idea of why those numbers are actually significant, consider a 5,000-team GPP in which the average score is 129. How many lineups would need to tank (we’ll say that’s a score of just 100, which would have no chance at winning anything) to get that average to drop to 128?

The answer is 174! It would take 174 lineups of just 100 points to drop the average from 129 to 128. That’s 3.5 percent of lineups, which is very significant in a GPP.

Read more Fantasy Football (and Baseball) for Smart People.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 29: Pay the cheapest possible price.

Fantasy football is all about value, so it follows that cheaper is usually better. From my new book Fantasy Football for Smart People: 25 Mysteries Solved to Help You Draft a Better Team:

In daily fantasy football, my strategy is more or less to locate production at its cheapest possible point. So if I like wide receiver X at $8,000, I’ll see how easily I can replace that production with a cheaper player, normally by targeting those who have underachieved lately, thus offering long-term production at a price that represents faux short-term struggles. In almost every case, cheaper equals better because it allows for flexibility elsewhere.

Well, the same is true in season-long fantasy football. When possible, you want to identify the cheapest possible price you can pay for certain levels of production. You could argue that Zac Stacy circa his 2013 rookie year was a very close approximation of Doug Martin, for example. Martin was a top three pick in every draft, however, while Stacy was drafted after the 10th round. Much of that had to do with projected workload, but take a look at their measurables and college stats:

Zac Stacy: 5-9, 216 pounds, 3,143 yards, 5.4 YPC, 4.55 40-yard dash, 6.70 three-cone drill, 4.17 short shuttle, 27 reps

Doug Martin: 5-9, 215 pounds, 3,431 yards, 5.6 YPC, 4.55 40-yard dash, 6.79 three-cone drill, 4.16 short shuttle, 28 reps

Stacy is Finkle! Finkle is Martin! Martin is Einhorn! Wait, what?

Read more in 25 Mysteries Solved to Help You Draft a Better Team.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 28: Knowing What You Don’t Know

Today’s tip comes via my new book Fantasy Football for Smart People: 25 Mysteries Solved to Help You Draft a Better Team.

Winning fantasy football leagues used to be like shooting fish in a barrel (and by that I mean it was easy, although that idiom seems like it might be quite difficult in practice). You used to be able to inflict damage on opponents solely with superior player knowledge.

The biggest change in fantasy football that I’ve seen in the past few years is that, whereas it used to be about what you know, now it’s about understanding what you don’t know and acting accordingly. I truly believe that the biggest step you can take in fantasy football is realizing that you probably aren’t as good as you think you are.

It’s not just you, though. By and large, we aren’t very good at making season-long or weekly fantasy football projections. It’s just really difficult.

But you can acquire an advantage by knowing that you don’t know. Accounting for your own fallibility as an owner is vital.

Read more in 25 Mysteries Solved to Help You Draft a Better Team.

By Jonathan Bales

TE Jason Witten Is No Longer Elite

At Bleacher Report, I posted an analysis of Jason Witten, explaining why he’s no longer an elite tight end. It’s not a popular stance, but the truth is that Witten has morphed into a very average player over the last couple years.

If you look at NFL futures odds, you’ll see that the Cowboys are currently +275 to win the NFC East. That’s the same as the Giants, but significantly worse than the Eagles. One of the reasons Dallas is a team moving in a different direction than Philly is that they ignore the numbers, handing out “bad money” contracts like Witten’s five-year, $37 million deal that doesn’t expire until 2018.

So why is Witten no longer elite? From my B/R article:

Yards Per Target

The first way that we can measure Witten’s efficiency is by looking at what he does with his targets. Here’s a look at the progression of his yards per target. I marked the NFL league average for tight ends with white dash marks.

You can see that Witten was continually around the league average (8.0) in efficiency prior to 2012. That’s not horrible, considering that he always saw more targets than most tight ends and as workload increases, efficiency naturally decreases.

The fact that Witten was around average in efficiency prior to 2012 shows he was an above-average tight end, but probably not as efficient as you might have expected. The truth is that Witten has always been a really good player, but one who’s really been aided by bulk attempts.

Would we have considered Witten a monster receiving tight end if he had played on an offense that didn’t focus on him so heavily? Doubtful.

Again, that’s pre-2012. Look at what happened two seasons ago. In the year in which Witten broke the record for receptions by a tight end, he also turned in a career low in yards per target. And the drop wasn’t a small one; it was magnificent.

In his “career year” of 2012, Witten produced more than one yard less per target than an average NFL tight end. Is it now easier to see why predicting him to disappoint in 2013 was so easy?

Witten’s yards per target improved in 2013 with fewer looks, but his average was still the second-worst and below-average for a tight end. It’s difficult to label a player who is below-average in efficiency as “elite,” especially when they receive the fewest targets they’ve gotten in seven seasons.

 

Yards Per Route

Of all stats to analyze for receivers, my favorite is yards per route. That’s because it penalizes for not getting open (and thus failing to receive a target).

It’s also good for tight ends because it doesn’t penalize them when they stay in to block. One of the oft-overlooked aspects of Witten’s game is that he doesn’t stay in to block on very many passes.

Last year, he stayed in to block 13.6 percent of the time, according toPro Football Focus (subscription required), which ranked 28th of 35 qualifying tight ends. When the Cowboys pass, Witten is almost always an option for Romo, which will naturally inflate his stats. Yards per route adjusts for that.

Plus, yards per route does a better job than yards per target of displaying Witten’s value.

Even though Witten’s yards per route has declined every year since 2008, he was still well above the league average up until 2013. Part of that is due to receiving a high percentage of the Cowboys’ targets—again, the bulk opportunities obviously help—but Witten was also producing at a higher level a few years ago.

The fact that Witten’s yards per route declined in 2012, when he saw an unfathomable 150 targets, is a really strong sign that his play has been regressing. To produce just above league-average efficiency on a per-route basis despite seeing a target on 23.8 percent of his routes (a high rate) is a good indicator that Witten wasn’t actually playing at a level that his raw totals suggested.

 

Blocking Ability

The go-to rebuttal for Witten apologists is “but he’s an elite blocker, too.” That’s probably the case because it’s difficult to quantify blocking ability, and thus difficult to refute. Those who use Witten’s blocking to claim he’s still an elite tight end will tell you to “just turn on the tape.”

Well, Pro Football Focus does turn on the tape, but unlike traditional scouts, it quantifies what it sees. We can use its numbers on tight end blocking efficiency, at least in pass protection, to determine Witten’s value as a pass-blocker.

Here’s a look at Witten’s pass-blocking efficiency since 2007 versus the average NFL tight end.

 

Witten has adequately blocked his man on 95.1 percent of pass snaps. That’s better than the league average, although the effect perhapsisn’t as great as it appears; the average NFL tight end has pass-blocking efficiency just one percentage point lower at 94.1 percent.

That means we can expect Witten to allow one less pressure on Romo for every 100 pass snaps that he stays in to block as compared to a typical tight end.

But remember, Witten doesn’t remain in to block all that much—an average of just over 61 snaps per year over the past eight seasons. That’s it. So on average, Witten has “saved” 0.61 quarterback pressures per season for Dallas.

Now, can he really overcome a precipitous drop in receiving efficiency to remain an “elite” tight end because of 0.61 pressures per year?

 

Conclusion

Witten is a good tight end. He’s a great guy, a hard worker, and the type of player you want on your team.

He’s not an elite tight end.

If you’re going to continue to label the future Hall of Famer in that way, you need to somehow show that, despite being below-average in yards per target and yards per route in 2013, Witten still somehow offers enough value to overcome his lackluster efficiency. Presumably, those traits will need to be unquantifiable, like “he plays with such heart” or “he’s a good leader.”

OK, Witten is a good leader. He’s a good leader who produces like an average NFL tight end and is by no means an elite option for the Cowboys anymore.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 27: Projecting Defenses

In my new book Fantasy Football for Smart People: How Fantasy Football Pros Game Plan to Win, I looked at the consistency of defenses from year to year.

I looked at the year-to-year correlation for each team’s pass defense, run defense, and interceptions.

D

These numbers are pretty shocking. First, we see that there’s been just a tiny correlation in a team’s interception rank since 2010 (an average of just 0.139). On a scale of -1 to 1, that’s good evidence that defensive interceptions are pretty unstable, which was to be expected.

Surprisingly, the same goes for pass defense. The correlation between pass rank in 2010 and 2011 was actually -0.295. A negative correlation indicates that the worst pass defenses from 2010 actually became the best in 2011, and vice versa. That alone suggests that pass defense isn’t predictable (and thus not useful when projecting strength of schedule).

However, take a look at run defense. The average correlation coefficient since 2010 is 0.430 (and 0.529 since 2007), meaning there’s a good chance that good run defenses remain good and bad ones stay bad.

Read more on defenses in How Fantasy Football Pros Game Plan to Win.

By Jonathan Bales

100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 26: How to Approach the Flex

Today’s tip is to really examine projected points and ADP for different positions in leagues that require a flex starter. From my new book Fantasy Football for Smart People: How Fantasy Football Pros Game Plan to Win:

Draft values change, but recently, fantasy owners have placed too much emphasis on backs in PPR leagues with a flex. To help you visualize this, I charted the number of running backs and wide receivers drafted after each of the first eight rounds in 2013 expert flex PPR leagues. Yes, experts drafting, but in a totally sub-optimal way.

flex

You can see the number of running backs drafted was higher than the number of wide receivers until the end of the sixth round, which is traditionally where the positions have leveled out, i.e. these numbers aren’t unique to 2013.

To understand why this is important, take a look at historic VBD (or even just bulk points) for wide receivers versus running backs in PPR leagues. Backs are still overvalued in leagues that award a point for each catch and also require at least one flex starter.

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