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

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Fantasy Football Links: Running Backs, Regression, and Consistency

Jonathan Bales

Fantasy Football for Smart People is flying off of the virtual shelves. You can buy the book in PDF form or paperback (as well as my rankings/projections). Let’s take a look at a few guest posts I’ve done of late:

My latest post at the New York Times was an interview with Michael Fabiano of NFL.com. I respect Michael’s fantasy analysis, and that’s coming from someone who trusts the views of almost no one in the fantasy football world. Here’s a snippet from the article:

What sort of draft strategy do you use? Do you take the best player available or use more of a value-based system?

Fabiano: I use a combination draft system. You can’t get stuck into using a single draft strategy or saying ‘I’m going to target this position in this round.’ Your draft strategy needs to be flexible. Still, I’m always looking for value, no matter where I’m picking.

I used to always draft running backs early, but those times have changed. I still think you should consider elite running backs in the first round, but I often take a quarterback there now. One of the main reasons for that is because quarterbacks are so safe. I know what I’m getting with Aaron Rodgers, and that consistency is valuable in the first round. You can’t be sure of what you’re getting with some of the running backs, even a guy like Ryan Mathews.

You listed Brady as the best choice at No. 5 if Rodgers is off of the board. What’s the reasoning behind him over Calvin Johnson or Ryan Mathews? Is it an attempt to minimize risk?

Fabiano: Yes, I want the safest players in that area. One thing I know is that I won’t be taking a wide receiver in the first round this year. The only option anywhere in the round is Calvin Johnson, but he’ll be gone by the time I’d take him in the back of the first round. He’s going around the fifth pick, and in that range I’d be looking for a quarterback.

The reason I’d take Brady there (or Rodgers, if he’s available) is, again, consistency. I know Brady is going to put up big numbers if he’s healthy. He’s done it for years, and he’s just a safe bet. There’s really no risk there. Even a great receiver like Johnson has some risk.

That’s the reason I have Rodgers ranked No. 2 over all on my board. Even though there are a few elite running backs, I just can’t pass up the sure thing in Rodgers. He’s unlikely to get hurt and I know he’ll be a top quarterback.

Last week, I posted a section from a chapter of my book over at Fantasy Knuckleheads. Here is Part II of the chapter:

Running backs who garner a large number of touches in a season are generally more likely to see a drop in production and health in the following year, but this information is both insignificant and irrelevant.

Think about what it takes to acquire nearly 400 touches in a season. For one, a running back needs to be healthy. Really healthy. Secondly, chances are he is running efficiently. Running backs who average 3.5 yards-per-carry over the first half of the season don’t generally continue to see the 24 carries a game needed to break the 370 threshold. Thus, our sample size of high-carry backs is skewed by those performing well.

This is where regression toward the mean comes in. By filtering out injured and underperforming backs, selecting those with a high number of carries means we are selecting the outliers in more areas than one. We aren’t isolating the numbers based on carries, but rather based on health and efficiency as well. So when we make conclusions concerning health and efficiency, all we’re really saying is players who have unusual health and a higher-than-normal YPC are likely to have worse health and a lower YPC the following year. Uh, yeah. . .no crap.

I recently did a post on Kendall Wright’s 2012 fantasy value for Music City Miracles:

  • Rookie wide receivers possess little value.

In my book, I talk about the risks of drafting rookie receivers. Take a look at the top rookie wide outs from the past five seasons. Even in today’s pass-happy NFL, rookie receivers simply don’t make much of an impact. Going into 2012, second-year receiver A.J. Green is getting selected as high as the third round in fantasy drafts. Still, Green-2011’s top rookie receiver-was just 14th in points among all receivers.

And Green is actually an outlier. In 2010, the top rookie receiver was Dez Bryant. He checked in 41st among all receivers in fantasy points, meaning he wasn’t even good enough to start in three-receiver leagues. In 2009,Percy Harvin led all rookie receivers, but still managed to total only the 25th-most fantasy points at the position.DeSean Jackson led rookie receivers in 2008 at 29th place, and Dwayne Bowe set the pace the previous season at 24th. Even the great Calvin Johnson was the 35th-ranked wide receiver in his rookie year.

Simply stated, you can’t rely on rookie receivers in the short-term. At best, the draft’s most elite rookie receivers can be counted on as low-end third options at the position.

A big part of my book is using season-to-season consistency ratings to generate accurate projections. I showed an example of how to do that at RotoWire, where I used the consistency of a few stats to show you how to make quarterback projections:

Volatility isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Let’s take a look at Joe Flacco, whose passing stats are as consistent as that of any player I’ve ever witnessed. Over the past three seasons, Flacco has thrown for 3,613 yards, 3,622 yards, and 3,610 yards. As Peter Griffin would say, “holy freakin’ crap.” Further, Flacco’s touchdown totals have been 21, 25, and 20, and his interceptions have added up to 12, 10, and 12. When I project Flacco for 3,600 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions in 2012, I can be pretty darn confident in that prediction.

In the stats world, Flacco’s projected fantasy output has a very low standard deviation. Simulate 1,000 seasons, and chances are Flacco would come close to 3,600/22/11 more often than not. As a late-round pick, however, that isn’t a good thing. When risk is low, we want to fill our rosters with guys whose play is more volatile, and thus possesses more upside. If our 14th-round pick is a bust, it doesn’t have the same negative impact as missing in the first round.

I just did a guest post over at Gang Green Nation comparing Tim Tebow to Mark Sanchez as a backup fantasy quarterback. I actually think Tebow is a superior option. He’s set to get a ton of looks in the red zone, and he could win the starting job at some point during the season. Here’s a preview of the post:

At the time of this writing, Sanchez and Tebow are getting selected at almost the exact same spot in fantasy drafts (29th and 28th among quarterbacks, respectively). Even if you project Sanchez to score more points than Tebow, Sanchez shouldn’t be on your radar. In the late rounds, your goal as a fantasy owner is to maximize upside. Whereas you want to select safe players early, you should actually seek volatile players with high ceilings late in your draft.

If everything goes right for Sanchez in 2012, he might be a good No. 2 quarterback on your team. Since you’ll be drafting him as a backup anyway, there’s little chance that Sanchez outperforms his draft spot by a wide margin.

In comparison, Tebow has legitimate No. 1 quarterback potential. If he throws for only 75 yards, rushes for 70 yards and scores a touchdown on the ground, he’d score the same number of fantasy points as Sanchez passing for 250 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Simply put, Tebow has more ways to score. His average game is the same as Sanchez’s elite game from a fantasy perspective.

My last post at Pro Football Focus was a comparison between running backs’ average draft position and their 2011 efficiency. From the article:

To determine efficiency at the running back position, I created a measure called Efficiency Rating. Shown in the graph below, Efficiency Rating is calculated as follows: (Overall PFF Grade/Snaps)*100. By dividing a player’s overall production by his snaps, we can get a better sense of how efficient he was while on the field. I multiplied by 100 simply for the sake of obtaining more usable ratings. Below are the results of the top 30 running backs in terms of overall PFF grades. All ADP figures are courtesy of My Fantasy League.

Head over to PFF to check out the rankings. Some of them may surprise you.

Finally, I did a guest post over at Music City Miracles detailing Kendall Wright’s fantasy football value in 2012 and beyond. As I explained in my article on Justin Blackmon, I tend to avoid rookie receivers. Here’s my assessment of Wright’s dynasty value:

Dynasty/Keeper Leagues

There are monumental differences between redraft and dynasty draft strategy, and Wright’s value to dynasty owners is sensational. Here’s why. . .

  • Wright has a supporting cast.

One of the biggest mistakes made by fantasy owners is drafting wide receivers who play in weak offenses. Whereas running backs can benefit from an abundance of touches, receivers put up fantasy points through efficiency as opposed to bulk looks. Total carries are far more strongly correlated to running back fantasy points than targets are to wide receiver points.

Take a look at the premiere fantasy wide outs from 2011; Calvin Johnson, Jordy NelsonWes Welker, andVictor Cruz led the league in points. The Lions had a breakout season, the Packers racked up 15 wins, thePatriots are the Patriots, and the Giants won the Super Bowl.

With Jake Locker at the helm, Chris Johnson in the backfield, Kenny Britt outside, and Jared Cook patrolling the middle of the field, Wright will always have people to take off the pressure.

  • Wide receivers get selected too late in dynasty leagues.

Fantasy owners often don’t deviate too much from their redraft strategy in dynasty leagues. This means they wait on rookie receivers because the first-year value isn’t there. If you’re willing to draft a young gun and wait it out, you can acquire great career value with rookie receivers. You’ll lose a late-round pick in 2012, but Wright could begin producing starting-caliber fantasy points as soon as 2013.

BUY THE BOOK MO’FOs.

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Introducing Fantasy Football for Smart People

 

I’m literally not even kidding when I say that sh***y (shoddy?) image to the left is the best thing I could create. Despite my lack of Photoshop skills, I’m proud to introduce to you Fantasy Football for Smart People. I’ve been writing this book for the past few months and it is finally finished. I’ve set up a landing site to purchase the book for $8.99 at FantasyFootballDrafting.com. You can buy a PDF version of the book there, or you can buy it for Kindle at Amazon.

Here’s a bit more about the book:

“Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft is an in-depth analysis of fantasy football draft strategy.  In writing the book, my goal was to provide advanced material for experienced fantasy football owners and “bottom line” analysis for novices.  You can see that in the sample chapter I posted here.  The book is not a collection of player rankings or projections for 2012, but rather an assessment of various draft strategies and fantasy football tenants.  It is my hope it will provide a solid foundation from which you can improve as an owner to dominate your draft.”

If you play fantasy football, I really think you’ll enjoy the book. This isn’t another generic fantasy football guide for beginners. I use the same sort of stats and analysis as I do here to provide an overarching fantasy football draft strategy. It is the method I use each fantasy football season, and it should be useful to you as well.

Even if you don’t play fantasy football, you might want to check out the book anyway. I’m giving away a number of prizes to those who buy the book, including season tickets to the NFL team of your choice.

Support The DC Times

Purchasing the e-book is a great way to support this site. I haven’t sold much over the years and I try not to litter the site with ads because my primary concern is simply writing about the Cowboys and NFL. The more books I sell, the more time I will have free to publish unique content here (I’m really going to do it either way, but you can still show your support). Plus, I’m confident the book is worth the nine bucks, and you can win some cool stuff.

Again, Fantasy Football for Smart People is currently an e-book. It will come to you as a PDF unless you buy it on Amazon. I will have paperbacks available for sell within a week or so. If you buy the book and enjoy it, feel free to give it a review on Amazon.

Here’s what you’ll read about in the book. . .

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Most In-Depth Introduction You’ll Ever Read

This is an introduction, but I dive right into complex draft strategy, explaining how position scarcity, consistency, game theory, and league requirements are the four pillars of fantasy football draft strategy.

  • How to use scarcity at a position to acquire maximum value
  • How to use your opponents’ beliefs to get the best players
  • Why predictability is more important than projected points

Chapter 2: Why Week-to-Week Consistency is (Almost) Worthless

An explanation of why weekly projections are of little value, why season-to-season consistency is invaluable, and how to implement risk

  • Why you should start a nearly identical lineup each week
  • How to create tiered rankings that implement players’ risk
  • When and how to take gambles during your draft

Chapter 3: Season-to-Season Consistency: Why It Matters and How to Use it

The strength of correlation of fantasy football statistics from one year to the next

  • How stats like rushing, receiving, and passing yards/touchdowns translate  from one season to another
  • Why defenses and kickers are almost entirely unpredictable
  • Why a quarterback or top-tier running back should be your first-round selection
  • Why tight ends are the most consistent players in fantasy football and drafting one early in 2012 might not be a poor idea
  • How to use “hidden” stats like quarterback rushing yards to gain a draft advantage

Chapter 4: Tier-ing Up: How to Create Basic Projections and Tiered Rankings

Basic projection philosophy, including how to use consistency, risk, and average draft position to create rankings

  • A basic formula to create projections
  • How to make tiers in your rankings
  • Why you should almost never take the best player available on your board (for real)
  • Why drafting near the end of a round is advantageous

Chapter 5:  More on Position Scarcity

A short chapter on scarcity and VORP draft strategy

  • Why Aaron Rodgers and Rob Gronkowski might be the perfect 1-2 combination in 2012
  • Why you can grab quality wide receivers late

Chapter 6: Identifying Value: Regression, Randomness, and Running Backs

Using stats to identify breakout players and dispel fantasy football “trusisms”

  • How to identify undervalued players
  • Why running backs with lots of carries aren’t really being overworked or overvalued
  • How to predict running backs’ yards-per-carry

Chapter 7: Getting Bullish: What the Stock Market Can Teach Us About Fantasy Football

How fantasy football is incredibly similar to the stock market (and what we can learn from the latter)

  • Why a player’s value can be different for different teams
  • How to “buy low” and “sell high” during your draft
  • How to utilize public perception
  • Why your focus shouldn’t be securing the most projected points with each pick, but rather “losing” the least

Chapter 8: The Ultimate Draft Plan: From Projections to Selections

Creating an overarching draft plan to dominate your draft

  • Specific formulas to project player stats
  • How to factor league requirements into your rankings
  • Sample breakdowns of Matt Ryan and Steve Smith
  • How to create player power ratings and turn them into the ultimate big board

Chapter 9: Don’t Mock Me: Oh, now wait. Go ahead.

Taking you through three mock drafts I completed in May

  • Notes on all 60 draft picks
  • Tips on strategy from specific draft slots

 

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Fantasy Football Awards Through Week 6

Jonathan Bales

Note:  These All-Fantasy teams are based on a point-per-reception scoring format.

First-Team All-Fantasy

  • Quarterback:  Peyton Manning

No surprise here.  The guy is so good that we just forget about him.  He’s the safest pick in fantasy football year in and year out and averaging a cool 20.8 points-per-game.

  • Running Back:  Arian Foster

This is a no-brainer.  In my PPR league, Foster has 13 points more than any other running back. . .and I have him on almost all my teams.

  • Wide Receiver:  Reggie Wayne

Wayne takes this spot over his teammate Austin Collie because he’s more likely to sustain the numbers (19.0 points-per-game).

  • Tight End:  Antonio Gates

This one’s not even close. . .Gates has scored an incredible 31 points more than the second tight end and more points than all but one wide receiver.

Second-Team All-Fantasy

  • Quarterback:  Aaron Rodgers

I personally believe he’ll be at the top of the quarterback spot by season’s end.  He’s as consistent as they get from game to game with practically no formidable running back on his team.

  • Running Back:  LeSean McCoy

He isn’t as valuable in standard scoring leagues, but in PPR, he’s gold.  His 20.7 points-per-game ranks second.

  • Wide Receiver:  Roddy White

I listed White as a top three wide receiver in my preseason rankings due to the Falcons’ running game and the growth of Matt Ryan.

  • Tight End:  Dustin Keller

Keller is finally coming into his own with 14.2 points-per-game this year.  Let’s see if he can keep it up now that Santonio Holmes has returned.

Third-Team All-Fantasy

  • Quarterback:  Philip Rivers

The guy throws like a girl, but he’s averaging just 0.6 points less per game than Peyton.

  • Running Back:  Frank Gore

Gore may not be as talented as backs like Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson, but he’s been perhaps the most consistent in the NFL over the last five years.  His 122 fantasy points ranks third.

  • Wide Receiver:  Hakeem Nicks

It sucks for Cowboys fans that Nicks is so young and talented.  He’s just four points from being the second-leading scorer among fantasy wideouts.

  • Tight End:  Zach Miller

I thought Miller would take a big jump this year with Jason Campbell’s arrival in Oakland.  He has, but it isn’t because of JC.

First- Team All-Shockers

  • Quarterback:  Kyle Orton

Orton isn’t a huge surprise, but it is surprising that he’s averaging 18.8 points-per-game despite losing Brandon Marshall.

  • Running Back:  Peyton Hillis

Who in the world saw this one coming?  In my league, Hillis is seventh in points, ahead of Rashard Mendenhall, Ray Rice, and Steven Jackson.

  • Wide Receiver:  Austin Collie

Collie could have easily been on my All-Fantasy teams but I saved him for this spot.  He’s absolutely dominating right now, scoring a full two more points per game than the second-leading scorer at receiver.

  • Tight End:  Marcedes Lewis

Lewis is averaging nearly 12 points-per-game in one of the league’s least-dangerous offenses.  That’s better than Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten.

Second-Team All-Shockers

  • Quarterback:  Josh Freeman

Freeman is 11th in my league in points-per-game among all quarterbacks–ahead of Carson Palmer, Joe Flacco, Donovan McNabb, Jay Cutler, and Brett Favre.

  • Running Back:  LaDainian Tomlinson

I liked L.T. as a bounce-back candidate this year, but certainly not to this extent (and mainly just because I hate Shonn Greene, who I predicted wouldn’t be a top-30 running back in my bold preseason fantasy predictions).

  • Wide Receiver:  Brandon Lloyd

Like Collie, I could have put Lloyd on one of my All-Fantasy teams.  He’s always had talent, but his ability to put it together like this after years of mediocrity is stunning.

  • Tight End:  Ben Watson

The old vet has totaled the eighth-most fantasy points among tight ends while in Cleveland.

First-Team All-Duds

  • Quarterback:  Jason Campbell

I had high hopes for Campbell this year, but he’s scored only 29 fantasy points all season.  Derek Anderson and Seneca Wallace both have more.

  • Running Back:  Maurice Jones-Drew

There are so many guys to choose from here, but MJD was a consensus top-four pick this season.  He’s currently 19th in points among running backs in my league.

  • Wide Receiver:  Marques Colston

Colston never has incredible upside because of the nature of the Saints’ offense, but he’s currently 35th in points among wide receivers.

  • Tight End:  Owen Daniels

We knew Daniels might start off slow after returning from re-constructive knee surgery, but he’s put up only 30 points all year–less than Evan Moore, Daniel Fells, and Bo Scaife.

Second-Team All-Duds

  • Quarterback:  Brett Favre

There isn’t a player in the league I hate more than Favre right now, so I’m glad he’s totaling less than 11 points-per-game–fewer than Ryan Fitzpatrick and Sam Bradford.

  • Running Back:  DeAngelo Williams

Other options here include Knowshon Moreno, Shonn Greene, Jonathan Stewart, and Ryan Mathews.

  • Wide Receiver:  Michael Crabtree

This was supposed to be a breakout season for Crabtree, but he’s currently averaging less points than Danny Amendola, Deion Branch, Lance Moore, and Mike Thomas.

  • Tight End:  Brent Celek

Greg Olsen was an option here, but most people knew his value would plummet with Mike Martz in Chicago.  Celek was supposed to be a top tight end, but he’s 20th in points-per-game among tight ends.

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Fantasy Football Mailbag 6/29/10: Wide Receivers in Rounds One AND Two?

Q:  You said 2010 is the year to draft a quarterback in the first round.  Which players would you select ahead of the No. 1 QB?  Would you still pick a quarterback that high in leagues that reward a point per reception?

Mark Clancy, Warren, MI

A: There are currently only four players I would select ahead of my top-rated quarterback (Aaron Rodgers)–Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, and Maurice Jones-Drew (in that order).

Incredibly, the numbers work out in this way whether the league is PPR (point-per-reception) or not.  Also, this is only for leagues that start one quarterback.  In two quarterback leagues, I might think about taking Rodgers as high as the second overall selection.

You can read more about why I will be selecting quarterbacks so high in 2010.

Q:  I have the last selection in a 12-man redraft league that rewards a point for receptions (standard starting requirements).  I am expecting the top running backs, a few of the top receivers, and one or two quarterbacks to be off the board.  Who would you suggest taking?

Bruce Pelligrini, Doylestown, PA

A: It really depends on which direction you see the other owners going in rounds two and three.  If you expect there to be a run on quarterbacks, you may want to be sure to grab a top signal-caller early (either Rodgers, Brees, or Manning should be available).

If you think the other owners will select primarily running backs and wide receivers in rounds two and three, I would bypass the quarterback position and select two stud wide receivers.  Two players out of this group should be available: Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald, Reggie Wayne, Miles Austin.

I had a ton of success going WR/WR with a late draft pick last year.  The VORP (explained here) adds up in your favor, and with the nature of the running backs position changing and the stud RBs off the board, it makes sense.  Wide receivers, while inconsistent from week to week, are generally fairly consistent over the course of a season.

Plus, you can get a quarterback of comparable value to Brees or Manning at the end of the third/start of the fourth.  I currently have Matt Schaub, Tony Romo, and Jay Cutler all in that same tier.  Here’s a post on how to use tiers to gain maximum value.

Again, you must use game theory to determine what will be available for you later (here is an excellent article on how to use your opponents’ beliefs in your favor), but I would most likely go WR-WR-QB-RB.  Be sure to stack up on running backs in the middle rounds, of  course.

Q:  I am in a 12-man dynasty league (standard scoring/starters) and have been offered Reggie Wayne for Jamaal Charles.  I know Charles has a lot of upside, but Wayne is a sure thing.  Should I pull the trigger?

Troy Barnett, Dallas, TX

A: It really depends on the rest of your roster.  Are you loaded at the running back position?  If you have a replacement player of comparable value to Charles, then it might be in your best interest to make the trade.

Ultimately, the math has to work out in your favor.  Here’s how to use mathematics to ensure you are receiving good value in a fantasy football trade.

Of course, the fact that you are in a dynasty league complicates matters.  Charles is obviously the better long-term player, so the numbers really have to work out for you to make the deal.

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Be sure to check out our 2010 Fantasy Football Subscription!  You’ll receive my personal projections/rankings, cheat sheets, players to target/avoid, mock drafts, and more.

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Cowboys News and Notes, 6/22/10: Are Cowboys Uncertain About Doug Free?

We reported before the Cowboys wouldn’t give Buehler much competition, but this is a huge vote of confidence for him as Hughes was his only semi-legitimate competition on the roster.  Dallas clearly wants to boost Buehler’s confidence, and why not?  History has shown kickers tends to be rather fluky (although that doesn’t negate the importance of a kicker’s performance to his team’s win total).

ESPN’s Matt Mosley claims the Eagles, Giants, and Redskins all believe Alex Barron will win the left tackle job.  While we don’t think that is necessarily the case, Free is certainly a question mark for Dallas.  However, the combination of Free and Barron should be enough to produce (at least) as much as Flozell Adams did last season (and is one of the primary reasons we believe the team’s “interest” in Jammal Brown was a bluff).  We gave Adams a “C-” overall grade for his 2009 play, Free a “B-,” and Barron a “C+.”

We couldn’t disagree more (although in fairness, we can’t totally disagree with “50 percent blocker” because we have no idea what it means).  The offense averaged 5.6 yards-per-carry with Anderson in the game last season.  That is particularly impressive when you consider defenses would almost never be in a nickel package with Anderson in the game.  Thus, he was blocking the big boys.  We are confident he will be on the roster in 2010.

Everyone is interested in watching Alan Ball perform at free safety, but we think he’ll be fine (as long as he isn’t asked to do too much tackling).  He will be an above-average cover guy.  More interesting to us is the play of Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, a player we believe has a ton of upside.

This will change by 2010.  Marcus Spears will likely be playing for another team, Igor Olshansky may or may not still be a starter, and Jay Ratliff could be a much, much richer man.  Still, their play is a major reason for the defense’s success.  Check out our 2009 defensive line grades.

Fantasy football is much like the stock market–success comes through maximized value and limited downside. The majority of the information which we use to formulate our rankings comes through film study, statistical analyses, and a unique application of both game theory and risk management.

Sample Fantasy Football Articles

The Myth of Overworked Running Backs

Is it Time to Draft a Quarterback Early?

Learn How to Predict Running Backs’ Yards-Per-Carry

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Fantasy Football: Learn How to Predict Running Backs’ Yards-Per-Carry

– Jonathan Bales

If you missed it (which is likely since we have yet to talk about it), we recently launched our 2010 Fantasy Football Package.  It is a collection of everything I use to dominate fantasy football leagues each year, including my personal projections, rankings, draft plans, players to target, and so on.  You can read more about the service by following the link above.

I understand it is a risk to take another person’s advice on a subject as serious (<— is that a joke?) as fantasy football, so I think it is important to detail the methodologies I implement to arrive at my final projections.

In my bio on this site, I wrote:

I have always been fascinated by the way mathematics and statistics, if used properly, can thoroughly explain seemingly complex phenomena.  Like the motion of the planets or the path of an ant, I truly believe football can be perfectly represented by numbers (the difficult part is determining which numbers are significant and why). . .I implemented the same sort of approach to playing (and winning) fantasy football.  Fantasy football is nothing more than risk analysis; like playing the stock market, a sound use of game theory can work wonders for your team.

This particular article is a sample of how I implement statistical analysis to determine future performance.

Running Backs’ Yards-Per-Carry

I recently visited New York City and passed a “psychic” in Times Square.  She told me she could tell me anything about the future that I wanted to know (for $99, of course).  I asked her if she could tell me how likely it is that Chris Johnson will repeat his stellar 2009 yards-per-carry (YPC).  She walked away, and I never got my answer.

Nonetheless, I think statistical analysis and film study will give me a far more accurate prediction of Chris Johnson’s YPC than any psychic.  Predicting the future isn’t about knowing conclusively what will happen, but rather deciphering the chances that a particular event will occur.  Not to get too philosophical (hey, it’s what I do), but if the universe runs not through deterministic events, but rather random happenings, then it is impossible to “know” the future.

Stats gathered from Pro-Football-Reference.com

That doesn’t mean accurate predictions cannot be made, however.  Weathermen often get a bad rap, but they are generally very good at what they do.  Weather systems don’t function in a deterministic manner, such as balls on a pool table, but through random occurrences.  Likewise, the 2010 YPC for each running back in the NFL is not somehow “determined” beforehand–but the probabilities of certain averages for particular players, I believe, are already written in stone.

So how are we to determine these probabilities?  While they may “just come” to the New York psychic, I, unfortunately, have to do a lot more work.  My methodology includes statistical analysis, so let’s take a look at some numbers.

First, we must note that the league-wide yards-per-carry average has skyrocketed in the past 13 years.  After remaining relatively steady from 1974 to 1996, the yards-per-carry average has increased .2 yards since–a 5.11% increase.  That number might not appear large, but it is rather staggering for a sample size of carries as large as the entirety of NFL running backs over an extended period of time.

Thus, there is a difference in YPC among eras, meaning if we are going to use the statistics from prior eras to broaden our sample size, we must account for this disparity.  After correcting the YPC of “the old-timers” to more appropriately relate to the league-wide averages during their eras, we see that there is a rather significant correlation between a player’s YPC in year N and his YPC in year N+1 (the next season).

To see this formula and continue reading, please visit page 2 of 2.

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2009 Bold Preseason Predictions Revisited (Fantasy and “Real” Football–whatever that is)


It is a bit of a slow day and I just came across my preseason list of bold predictions (related to both real and fantasy football), so I thought I’d share.  Although same make me shake my head, I think I did fairly well overall, particularly on the overall standings (I predicted 10 of 12 playoff teams correctly and was within one game of the final record for 19 of the 32 teams).

When you combine this with my pre-draft predictions, I have had a decent eight months or so in terms of my forecasts.

2009 Bold Fantasy Football Predictions

QB

1.  Aaron Rodgers will lead all quarterbacks in points.

TRUE. Rodgers finished with 317 fantasy points–13 more than Brees and 31 more than P. Manning.

2. If Matt Schaub stays healthy, he will be a top 3 fantasy QB in all formats

TRUE/FALSE. Schaub finished fifth in my league, but the top three in some which reward more points for passing yards–all despite not being in top 10 of most preseason boards.

3. Chad Henne will be starting by week 8.

TRUE

4. Philip Rivers will have more points than Peyton Manning.

FALSE. Rivers had 20 less points than Manning.

5. David Garrard will have more fantasy points as Matt Hasselbeck.

TRUE. Garrard never puts up huge numbers, but gets undervalued year after year.

RB

1. Steven Jackson will lead the league in points.

FALSE. Jackson finished 7th in points in my league.

2. None of the three following backs will be in the top 15 at their position:  Michael Turner, Clinton Portis, Brian Westbrook.

TRUE. This was probably my most specific and bold prediction, and I nailed it.  Turner finished 28th, and Portis and Westbrook didn’t crack the top 50.

3. Kevin Smith and Ronnie Brown will be top 10 running backs.

NOT EVEN CLOSE.  Both guys got injured.  Brown would have had a great shot, but Smith was probably more of a top 15 running back before going down.

4. Ray Rice will score more points than Brandon Jacobs, who will not even be in the top 20.

TRUE. This may look obvious now, but it wasn’t at the time.  Jacobs finished 31st among running backs.  Rice finished fourth.

5. Leon Washington will score more points than teammate Thomas Jones.

NOT EVEN CLOSE. Looking back, it was my worst prediction of the year.

6. Knowshon Moreno will score more points than Brian Westbrook.

TRUE, even though Knowshon wasn’t great.

7. Despite the presence of Marion Barber, Felix Jones will score double-digit TDs.

FALSE. Hey, even I get Cowboys-related predictions wrong.  Jones only scored three TDs.

WR

1. Greg Jennings will score more fantasy points than all but three wide receivers.

NOT EVEN CLOSE. I was right on Rodgers–I just thought his passes would go elsewhere.

2. Vincent Jackson will have more points than T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Anquan Boldin.

TRUE. Again, another prediction which may seem obvious now, but was fairly bold at the time.

3. Three super-sleepers who could surprise people are Laurent Robinson, Louis Murphy, and Sammie Stroughter.

IFFY. Robinson was a stud before an early season-ending injury.  Murphy and Strougther both exceeded expectations for 4th and 7th rd picks, but were not really fantasy factors (except in my Keeper league, where I have both of them).

TE

1. Jason Witten will catch nearly 100 balls.

TRUE. Despite a slow start, Witten ended the regular season with 94 catches.

2. Greg Olsen and Dustin Keller will score more points than Dallas Clark and Chris Cooley.

HALF RIGHT, HALF TOTALLY WRONG.

3. Vernon Davis will have a breakout year with over 70 receptions.

TRUE. Davis actually had 78 grabs and 13 TDs.

FINAL SEASON STANDINGS PREDICTIONS

I correctly predicted all six NFC playoff teams and had each division almost exactly correct.  In the AFC, I predicted four of the six playoff teams. With the exception of being down on Indianapolis (woops!), I did not miss any team’s final record by more than three games.  I predicted six exactly (not much of an accomplishment), but I was within one game on 19  of the 32 teams.

NFL Predictions

NFC

East
1. Philadelphia 12-4 (off 1 game)
2. Dallas 11-5 (correct)
3. New York 9-7 (off 1 game)
4. Washington 6-10 (off 2 games)

North
1. Green Bay 11-5 (correct)
2. Minnesota 10-6 (off 2 games)
3. Chicago 9-7 (off 2 games)
4. Detroit 5-11 (off 3 games)

South
1. New Orleans 10-6 (off 3 games)
2. Atlanta 10-6 (off 1 game)
3. Carolina 7-9 (off 1 game)
4. Tampa Bay 3-13 (correct)

West
1. Arizona 9-7 (off 1 game)
2. Seattle 8-8 (off 3 games)
3. San Fran 7-9 (off 1 game)
4. St. Louis 4-12 (off 3 games)

AFC

East
1. New England 13-3 (off by 3 games)
2. New York 9-7 (correct)
3. Miami 7-9 (correct)
4. Buffalo 5-11 (off by 1 game)

1. Pittsburgh 12-4 (off by 3 games)
2. Baltimore 9-7 (correct)
3. Cincinnati 8-8 (off by 2 games)
4. Cleveland 4-12 (off by 1 game)

South
1. Houston 10-6 (off by 1 game)
2. Indianapolis 10-6 (off by 4 games)
3. Tennessee 9-7 (off by 1 game)
4. Jacksonville 5-11 (off by 2 games)

West
1. San Diego 10-6 (off by 3 games)
2. Denver 7-9 (off by 1 game)
3. Oakland 4-12 (off by 1 game)
4. Kansas City 3-13  (off by 1 game)

Playoffs

NFC
1. Philadelphia
2. Green Bay
3. New Orleans
4. Arizona
5. Dallas
6. Minnesota

New Olreans over Minnesota
Dallas over Arizona

Dallas over Philadelphia
New Orleans over Green Bay

New Orleans over Dallas

AFC
1. New England
2. Pittsburgh
3. Houston
4. San Diego
5. Indianapolis
6. New York

Houston over New York
San Diego over Indianapolis

New England over San Diego
Pittsburgh over Houston

New England over Pittsburgh

Super Bowl: New Orleans over New England

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Fantasy Football: Using Tiers to Garner Maximum Value on Draft Day

Frequently forgotten or dismissed, the act of creating tiers on your fantasy football draft board is essential to your success.  Many fantasy football owners simply rank players according to their positions, possibly intertwining these positional rankings into an all-inclusive big board.  While this is the strategy we recommend, the additional implementation of tiers within each position is an absolute must.

Many naive football fans believe that, in the real NFL draft, teams have a big board of player rankings and always stick to that board.  This is simply not the case.  While teams often stray from their board because of positional needs, there are other reasons that these digressions may take place.  The most important of these, and the one which can greatly help you succeed as a fantasy football owner, involves positional value.

The best way to illustrate this point is to use an example.  Suppose you are entering round five of your fantasy draft, and you have already picked up two running backs and two wide receivers.  The top players left on your draft board are Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, and Darren Sproles.  You have all three quarterbacks rated ahead of Sproles, projecting each with right around 100 more fantasy points than the San Diego running back.  However, after Sproles, there is a large drop-off at the running back position.  You have the next running back after Sproles with 50 less projected points.

In this situation, a lack of tiers would lead you to pick your top-rated player–Matt Ryan.  This decision, however, would be a huge mistake.  The fact that Sproles is so far ahead of your next running back makes him the last running back left in his tier.

Meanwhile, Flacco and Cutler are of comparable value to Ryan.  The fact that you can probably get one of these two quarterbacks a round or two later means that Sproles is the correct selection, even though he is listed lower on your draft board and projects to 100 less points than the QBs.

The math of the situation supports this decision. Suppose you have Ryan at 270 projected points, Flacco at 265, Cutler at 255, and Sproles at 155.  This means that your next running back is projected at just 105 fantasy points.  If you did not have your players ranked into tiers, you would end up with Ryan and, at least eventually, a running back who projects to around 105 fantasy points.  This would leave you with 385 total points.

If you had your players ranked into tiers, however, you would end up with Sproles and, at worst, Jay Cutler in round six.  This would give you 410 total points, a 25 point increase over the other combination and approximately a 5-10% better chance of making the playoffs.  Combine a few of these sly maneuvers in one draft, and all of a sudden you’ve increased your chance of making the playoffs by 50% even before the season starts.

Whether it is a trade or draft strategy, winning in fantasy football is all about maximizing value.

This situation is actually eerily similar to one we previously discussed involving trades, found here.  In that post, we featured a chart displaying how to obtain maximum value during a trade (shown to the right).  Drafting through tiers is similar in that you are simply trying to maximize value.

In the trade, you maximize value by yielding a few projected points at one position in order to gain a lot more at another.  During the draft, you are temporarily passing on maximum points in round five, knowing it will allow you to ultimately attain the highest projected points later.

Thus, before your fantasy draft, be sure to project players’ points (according to your scoring system) and then rank the players within each position into tiers. In a way, you can imagine all the players within the same tier as equal, i.e. don’t worry about names–simply acquire as many players in as high of tiers as possible, and you will have maximized the value of your fantasy team.

This strategy will allow you to, in a way, “buy low and sell high”–the same methodology which maximizes value in the stock market, business transaction, and, yes, even fantasy football.

Sample Running Back Board With Tiers

Note:  This is not our actual board and is simply for explanatory purposes.

Tier 1

1.  Chris Johnson- 280 projected points

2.  Adrian Peterson- 275 projected points

Tier 2

3.  Ray Rice- 250 projected points

4.  Steven Jackson- 245 projected points

5.  Maurice Jones-Drew- 243 projected points

Tier 3

6.  Jonathan Stewart- 218 projected points

7.  Michael Turner- 216 projected points

8.  Rashard Mendenhall- 214 projected points

9.  DeAngelo Williams- 210 projected points

10.  Jamaal Charles- 208 projected points

By

Top 25 Running Backs in the NFL: Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson #1?

We previously posted NFL starting quarterback power rankings, 32 to 1.  Today, we are rating the top 25 running backs in the NFL.  Before reading, note that it is not a collection of pure runners, but the best football players who are listed as running backs (you’re welcome, Reggie Bush).  Also, we did not list any rookies due to difficulties in comparing them to current RBs.

1.  Chris Johnson: Undoubtedly the league’s fastest RB, Johnson edges out A.P. due to his home-run ability.

2.  Adrian Peterson: “All Day” Peterson may be a more complete back than Johnson, but he is also more likely to break down.

3.  Steven Jackson: In terms of pure talent, S-Jax is a beast.  Think of what this guy would do on another squad.

4.  Maurice Jones-Drew: MJD is quietly becoming the most consistent running back in the league.  He literally does it all.

5.  Ray Rice: Rice isn’t flashy, but he does everything really, really well.

6.  DeAngelo Williams: Under-appreciated due to the presence of Jonathan Stewart, Williams can run inside and take it the distance.

7.  Reggie Bush: We know we will get tons of flack for this selection, but this list is the top football players who are listed as a ‘running back.’  Bush has been labeled a bust, but that is more due to a mistake in perception about his role on offense than a lack of talent.

8.  Jamaal Charles: Football is a young man’s game, and although Charles has little experience, he has shown big-time play-making ability.

9.  Jonathan Stewart: The second half of the Carolina rushing attack is nearly as lethal as the first.

10.  Ronnie Brown: Brown is constantly plagued by injuries, but when he does get on the field, he displays an incredible combination of speed and power.

11.  Felix Jones: A “homer” pick?  Perhaps, but Jones has done everything asked of him thus far in Dallas.  He is poised for a breakout season.

12.  Beanie Wells: In terms of pure running, Wells is one of the most talented running backs in the NFL.  Devastating stiff arm.

13.  Rashard Mendenhall: Mendenhall could very easily be in Dallas, but Cowboys fans are probably happy the team selected Jones.

14.  Thomas Jones: Despite his age, Jones keeps himself in such good condition that he is able to produce year in and year out.

15.  Darren Sproles: He is never given a legitimate opportunity due to his height, but the little man has produced in a big way everywhere he has been (high school, college, and pros).

16.  LeSean McCoy: Unfortunately for ‘Boys fans, Shady McCoy is the real deal.

17.  Steve Slaton: Slaton may not be able to single-handedly carry the load, but how many running backs really can?

18.  Fred Jackson: If you haven’t seen Jackson play (which is likely), tune in to a Bills game.  He’s more talented than you think.

19.  Justin Forsett: Forsett is a poor man’s Brian Westbrook.  Or is Westbrook now a poor man’s Justin Forsett?

20.  Frank Gore: A LOT of people (as in everyone) have Gore rated higher than us, but production isn’t always the result of talent.

21.  Michael Bush: Bush was named the starter at Oakland’s OTAs, and he is probably a better fit for early-down work than Darren McFadden.

22.  Jerome Harrison: Harrison could actually put up some big numbers this season if he can hold off rookie Montario Hardesty.

23.  Michael Turner: Turner is another player on which we are incredibly low.  He reminds us of a less-talented Gore (yikes!).

24.  Kevin Smith: Coming off knee surgery, Smith may not be able to regain what he once possessed.  Only time will tell.

25.  Shonn Greene: Greene may be poised for a huge season, but the New York backfield has suddenly become quite crowded.

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Fantasy Football: The Anatomy of a Trade

Jonathan Bales

Trades are an extremely important part of fantasy football and, next to the draft, are the easiest way to make improve your team. But what method is the most efficient way to conduct a trade in fantasy football?  There are a ton of trading strategies out there. Some like to come in with an offer nowhere near their potential best in the off-chance that they can fool another owner, while others give their best offer from the beginning and don’t budge.

In my opinion, a combination of these two strategies works best: coming in with a strong offer that is not quite your most extravagant.   That way, you can reasonably expect an immediate trade acceptance while also allowing yourself room to maneuver should that first request be denied.

Before any trade is proposed, it is imperative to know your team goals.  Are you in a redraft or keeper league?   What are the positional requirements and what is the scoring system?   One of my leagues, for example, recently altered the starting requirements from one quarterback to two.   I correctly predicted that owners would not originally realize the importance of the quarterback position, and so trading for QB’s became an easily-attained goal of mine.

Once you know your own strengths and weaknesses, analyze the other teams in your league.  Which teams are weak at the positions at which you are strongest?  These owners should be your targets.  Suppose you have four very talented WR’s, for example, in a league that only starts two.  Seek out the teams with the weakest wide receivers, as they will be most likely to deal.

Perhaps the most crucial part of a deal is what to offer.   It is at this point, I believe, where the majority of owners go wrong, as they try to trade a player for another at the same position.  Unless you are in a beginner league, executing this task will be nearly impossible, as there is a general consensus about which players are better than others at each position.   No one is going to trade you MJD for Steve Slaton, no matter how hard you try.

The key to obtaining value in a trade is to seek out those teams most desperate at a certain position, fill that hole, and obtain a player of greater value at another position (preferably one that is their strength). In this way, a Slaton for Chad Ochocinco (I still cannot believe he has gotten people to call him “Ochocinco”) deal is a real possibility if the owner is needy enough.  Hint:   look for owners who are very weak at a position because of injuries or byes.

As stated before, do not come in with your best offer, as you want room to negotiate, but do not come in too low either, as your potential trade partner could very well simply ignore your offer altogether.   If you are willing to offer Slaton and a WR2 for Ochocinco and Jason Witten, for example, propose Slaton and a WR3 first.   The offer is a respectable one and, at the very least, a foundation on which to build.

Next, do not explain to the other owner why your players are so spectacular and there’s are no good.   They know they have something you covet or you would not have approached them, so instead of ridiculing their team, try to convince them why your player makes sense for their team as well.  Take this trade for example:

Suppose Team A has RB1 with 250 projected points, RB2 with 225 projected points, RB3 with 220 projected points, WR1 with 225 projected points, and WR2 with 140 projected points.  Suppose Team B has RB1 with 270 projected points, RB2 with 170 projected points, WR1 with 220 projected points, WR2 with 210 projected points, and WR3 with 200 projected points.

If Team A were to trade his RB2 to Team B for his WR2, Team A’s projected point total among his top two players at each position would increase by 65 points (-5 at RB, +70 at WR).   It would be a superb trade for Team A, meaning it must be a poor trade for Team B, right?  Not at all, as Team B’s projected starter total at RB/WR would increase by 45 points (+55 at RB, -10 at WR). Both teams are winners because of the strengths and weaknesses of each squad and the fact that they traded a RB for a WR.

While projecting points is not as black-and-white as I just made it, this sort of formula should be your foundation for making a successful trade.

Again, make sure your player is the object of desire, almost creating a sense that the other owner came to you, and securing a trade will become a much easier task.

Once you have completed a trade, it is important not to brag about how much you ripped the other owner off, even if you believe you got a great deal.   First, as I have just shown, there really are trades that can make both teams better, particularly when you are not trading players at the same position.

Second, and most importantly, you are trying to create connections for future trades.   Winning the battle means nothing if you lose the war, and individually isolating the other owners via post-trade antics is a surefire way to lose the war.