Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Teddy Bridgewater: NFC North beat writers views vs. Vikings fans

Ahoy, dear readers!

I realize I haven't blogged much the past month. Alas, June-July is always a time where playing and coaching baseball sucks up a lot of my time. But as the Vikings training camp get closer (and my baseball shit winds down somewhat), I'll be posting more regularly on here so you don't just have Pacifist Viking's excellent fantasy football ramblings to read.

Today, I'm posting because this Q & A on ESPN caught my attention with the worldwide leader's NFC North bloggers chiming in as to whether Vikings starting QB Teddy Bridgewater will "emerge" in 2015? 

It's interesting to read the comments coming from the Packer, Bear and Lion ESPN bloggers who cover those teams regularly. There's a lot of faint praise in there for Bridgewater, which kind of gets my back up as a Vikings fan. But then I have to realize as a Vikings fan, I'm not very objective in my observations regarding Bridgewater.  I want this guy to be the guy so badly (after watching a decade of mostly pitiful QB-ing in Minnesota), that I think I overlooked his warts during his rookie season and overvalued his beauty marks somewhat.

So, while I don't really agree with comments from guys like Green Bay blogger Rob Demovsky that if we're banking on Bridgewater becoming even "Matt Stafford" in 2015 that's "probably false hope" (I think Stafford is an overrated QB and Bridgewater will be a better pro QB), these guys are coming from a different place than I am. They also didn't watch Bridgewater play 13-plus games last year like Vikings fans did.

It's probably best to temper our enthusiasm about year two of Project Teddy. But rube or no rube, I still stand by what I saw in Bridgewater as a rookie. He works the pocket well. His arm strength isn't elite, but good enough to make the throws he needs to make in the NFL. He's a lot quicker and more mobile than we were led to be believe. And he's got a football IQ that will serve him very well in the NFL because I think being a successful NFL QB requires just as much mental ability as it does athletic ability, and Teddy's no slouch as an athlete. (Notice I haven't even mentioned Adrian Peterson's return yet ... ooops!)

What do you think, dear readers? Will Bridgewater emerge into a top 15 QB in 2015?

Thursday, July 9, 2015

National Friday League: Fantasy Summer (9): You cannot* overpay

Sometimes during a draft, other people may criticize your pick.  That's all well and good: that's part of the fun!  I flip my cup immediately during an auction because there are some players I dislike so much I don't even want them taking up a roster spot on my team.  Make all the good-natured fun you want.  Just don't accuse the person of "reaching" for a player in a snake draft or "overpaying" in an auction.

In a snake draft, you only reach if you select a player you could have gotten when you next picked.  Otherwise, it is not a reach.  If you identify a player you want more than other available players, and you know, expect, or predict that this player will not be available when your next pick comes, then you should take him.  You have evaluated the player's expected production to be better than others available.  You may be wrong!  It might be that other players you could have taken are better.  But in that case, the problem isn't that you reached: it's that you inaccurately evaluated the player.  You can be criticized for poorly judging a player's ability to produce fantasy points: you shouldn't be criticized for selecting him before other people thought he should go.  "Average Draft Position" is a consensus view of a player's value that could be wrong.

Sometimes this gets silly  Let's say you're drafting early in the third round in a 10 team league: say it's pick #23.  You select the player you want.  Somebody in your league says "Oh, that's a reach."  You blink and look: that player was projected to go in the late third round; his ADP is #29.  But you think the player is better than those that follow: that's the point of taking him.  And your next pick isn't until #38: you would be extremely unlikely to get the player if you waited until your next pick.  How is that a reach?  Because you evaluate the player to be better than how the consensus evaluates the player?  The consensus may be right, or you may be right, but either way you took the player you thought was the best player to take.

In an auction draft, as long as you only raise bids by one dollar, by it's very nature you cannot overpay.  If you identify a player you want, and another member of your league is willing to bid up to one dollar less than you pay for the player, you didn't overpay: you got that player's market price.  Of course you might pay $70 for a player early in a draft, and then see a player of similar quality go for $50 later in the draft and feel you overpaid.  Maybe if you waited, you would have gotten the $50 player.  But during an auction, the market constantly changes.  The total amount of money available to spend decreases, the number of teams with particular needs decreases, the number of teams flush with money decreases, and the number of desirable prospects decreases.  That means that the prices change too: the price paid for a player in the 9th round of an auction is basically not comparable to the price paid for a player in the 2nd round.  You can have regrets after the draft, but at that particular moment in the draft, you paid what the market said that player costs, because there was somebody else in the league willing to pay more, too.  Again, the two of you high-bidders could both be wrong about the quality of the player.  You may have been wiser to allot your resources elsewhere.  But if you targeted that player, you paid only the price he was worth according to the market of your draft.

You can make all sorts of stupid picks.  In fact, you probably will.  Your choice of when to draft certain positions could be foolish.  You may pass on an elite player because you doubt him for some dubious reason.  You will probably draft a player at high cost who will suck.  All your reasoning for selecting that particular player, or that particular position, should be subject to scrutiny and ridicule.  But you didn't reach, and you didn't overpay.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

National Friday League: Fantasy Summer (8): Playing Pretend

A request for podcasters
Don't say things like "I said this on twitter the the day..."  If people want to follow you on Twitter and listen to your podcast, they will, and will have seen it.  If they don't follow you but listen to you, they're probably doing it on purpose.  And if you're going to talk on the podcast about the same things you say on Twitter, just do it: you're not really doing any good by calling explicit attention to it.  Just go ahead and say stuff.

Playing Pretend
Fantasy football is a game in which you make predictions on the future based on past information.  Some of this information is more relevant to future performance than other information.  And some  things are very difficult to predict.  So...don't.  Take the things that are the hardest to predict, and pretend they don't exist.  Instead, only focus on that information which is most meaningful to your projections for the future.  And that means:

Assume that touchdowns and injuries are random.

Touchdowns
Touchdown totals can fluctuate due to all sorts of circumstances and events.

Now of course TDs aren't entirely random, but in general, the RBs and WRs that are good yardage producers will, over time, also be good touchdown producers.  Just assume that's the case.  The elite RBs that get 1,500+ total yards, and the elite WRs that get 90+ catches and 1,200+ yards regularly, will likely score a lot of TDs.  In fact, if you draft elite players at those positions (say, the top 5-8 of each), you should expect roughly 10 TDs.  If you get significantly fewer than that it's a disappointment, and if you get far more than that it's a bonus.  But just expect 10, and hope for the best.  For everybody that's not elite, expect nothing.  Sometimes a WR will have a decent year and only have 3-4 TDs.  Sometimes a WR will have OK numbers overall but end up with 10+ TDs.  A RB might follow up a 20 TD season with single digits, and vice versa.

When you're looking at fantasy prospects, you can be attentive to both volume and efficiency.  Measure those things how you choose, but I recommend only looking at numbers like carries, targets, receptions, and yards.  Players who get a lot of usage will get scoring opportunities.  Don't worry about red zone usage.

Most members of your league are going to overrate last season's TD totals when they rank and draft players.  This means some high TD scorers from last year (who may be ready for a decline) will cost too much, and some low TD scorers (who had good numbers in other categories, and whose low TD numbers appear fluky) will be bargains.  You don't get points for 2014's touchdowns, but 2014's touchdowns will affect 2015's prices.  Target players with little attention to TDs, and you'll probably get more...ugh..."value" for your picks.

Injuries
Injuries will eventually happen to every player in the NFL.  Some players have greater injury history, or current injury concern, than others.  But one way to get a player whose seasonal production will exceed his draft cost is to ignore injuries.  Since anybody can get injured, don't avoid a player because he was injured in the past.

To identify potential elite production, do your analysis not by total points, but by points per game.  You win at fantasy football with elite production, and you play by the week, not by the season.  And ignoring injuries probably helps you more the deeper your league gets.  To win in a head-to-head league, you need to be one of the four best teams in the league, and then hope for the best in the playoffs.  That can call for playing it a little bit safe--a solid, balanced, reliable team might go 10-4 and make the playoffs--but you still have to be better than the  majority of the league.  In other formats (total points, cross-country scoring in which you compete against every other team each week) you have to be better than most of the rest of your league most of the time for 17 weeks.  Treat each season like a hand in Hearts, and you're not playing safe: you're trying to shoot the moon every season.  In any format, you have a 1-in-the-size-of-your-league chance of winning your league.  It's not a coin flip, and it does't call for playing it safe.  Be aggressive, don't be averse to risk, and chase ways to get elite production.  If the cost of a potentially elite player is lower because others fear an injury, that's an opportunity.

Coming up
I've been working on analysis of RBs, WRs, and TEs for a PPR draft in which I account only for yardage and receptions, and I measure everybody on a per game basis.  I'll reveal some of that analysis, and some of the conclusions of that analysis, in August.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

National Friday League: Fantasy Summer (7): Wide Receivers

As with RBs, I'm leaving rookies out of my rankings because I'd only be guessing or relying on the opinions of others.  But you should draft a rookie WR, definitely: one or more will be fantasy useful and you may as well take your roll of the dice at getting the right one.  I've tried hard--HARD!--to list 36 WRs, but at  certain point there's a mess of guys that don't distinguish much from each other, so there's just a pile of players with commentary rather than ranking.


#1: DeMaryius Thomas
It may just be that in the last three seasons, I've seen Demaryius Thomas on competitors' fantasy teams just destroying me with 150+ yard games and multiple TD games.  He seems to have the combination of reliability and explosiveness that I'd be looking for with a top WR: high floor and high ceiling.

#2: Dez Bryant
You'll get 80 catches, 1,200 yards, and 10 TDs.  You might get 90 catches, 1,400 yards, and 14 TDs.  And there's a shot at something like 105 catches, 1,600 yards, and 18 TDs.  While we're here, let's establish a useful fantasy rule: pretend there is no such thing as a holdout.  Maybe you'll occasionally be burned by this rule--but you'll occasionally get burned any which way in fantasy football--but more often you'll get a player who will be playing, and maybe at a lower priced.

#3: Calvin Johnson
What if everybody is enthralled with younger players like Bryant and Beckham who shined last year?  And that means that maybe you get Calvin FREAKING Johnson--29 years old with 3-5 years of prime performance left, who averaged over 100 yards receiving per game each year from 2011-2013 before dealing with injuries last season, who is still physically as dominant or more than any WR in the league--for a slightly lower price?

#4: Odell Beckham, Jr.
Oh, do I want to rank him #1.  There seems to be no ceiling whatsoever on what he can do.  The only thing he's missing right now is a track record.

#5: Antonio Brown
How exciting is the WR position right now: I don't even think I'm disparaging Brown to rank him #5, even though his 2014 was spectacular and he's one of the most consistent week-to-week WRs ever.  He's going to get 160+ targets.

#6: Julio Jones
Jones averaged 116 yards per game in 2013 (in five games) and 106 yards per game in 2014 (in 15).  And that's what you should expect.

#7: A.J. Green
I think we saw Green's floor last season: miss a few games, end up averaging around 80 yards a game and less than a half a TD per game.  His ceiling?  The only ceiling we've seen on him is Andy Dalton.  Other than that, there's no ceiling.

#8: Jordy Nelson
I would draft him if he were the best available player available to me in a snake draft (he won't be), and then I'd immediately start trying to trade him.

#9: Randall Cobb
Also him.

#10: T.Y. Hilton
I don't trust short height deep threats in fantasy football.  As electric as a player like Hilton may be, he hasn't been a strong touchdown threat, and there's not clear indication he'll ever be a strong touchdown threat.  Touchdowns are unpredictable: in fantasy preparation I largely ignore TDs to focus on other stats, and hope for the best with TDs.  But Hilton's career high is 7 TDs, and every player ranked ahead of him here has had at least one 10+ TD season, most have done it several times, and several have had significantly over 10 TDs in a season.  There's a track record of expectation there: if Hilton scores significantly more than 7 TDs, it will be without that track record.  That makes him good enough to be a top 10 WR (though I'd be tempted to take Jeffery before him), but there's no obvious argument to take him ahead of the other nine.

#11: Alshon Jeffery
Though there is a new coaching staff (another thing that I think is mostly worth ignoring for fantasy prep), his last two seasons have featured 148 targets and 89 catches, and 145 targets and 85 catches.  If you can rely on those numbers again, you'll also be able to rely on 1,100-1,300 yards and 7-12 TDs.

#12: Mike Evans
Here's a theoretical approach to drafting second-year WRs: pretend they had no stats at all their rookie years.  Look at the talent, the team's investment in him, the talent around him, the system, etc., and make a guess with late-round picks.  That would mean missing out on players like Evans, who's 1,000 yard, 12 TD rookie season is going to push his price up.  But it may mean missing out on disappointment, and it may mean using draft picks on unheralded but potentially useful players.


#13 Jordan Matthews
 Matthews' role in this wild offense makes him appealing,

#12: DeAndre Hopkins


#13: Emmanuel Sanders
Sometimes mid-career a solid veteran can have a magical season where everything is right for him to explode.  And that's fun.  But I don't bank on it being repeated.

#14: Kelvin Benjamin
Be wary of of the explosive rookie WR that drops off in his second year (hey there, Keenan Allen).  But the opportunity is still there.  Is there any reason he shouldn't still be forced the ball in 2015?  Who is taking targets away from him?

#15: Andre Johnson
What if he's still the same player he's always been, and now, for the first time, he's playing with an elite quarterback?  That's a shot worth taking, right?  But temper expectations a bit: he hasn't had more than 5 TDs in a season since 2010, and he's never had more than 9.

Jeremy Maclin

Steve Smith
There are rookies you could draft.

Anquan Boldin
Really, there are rookies you could draft.  What's the upside here?

Vincent Jackson  
I can't tell you much about them, but really, go look at some rookies. I've played multiple leagues of fantasy football for years, and I don't think Jackson has ever been on my team.  Is that weird?  That's sort of weird.

Julian Edelman
I would only draft Edelman in a PPR league (where his value is high).  Take away the PPR, and is his upside really any different than Doug Baldwin's?  In other words, wouldn't you be able to find that sort of production in waivers, and can use the draft pick on a player with more potential for yards and touchdowns?

Doug Baldwin
I had a long conversation with a friend about Baldwin: is he a useful fantasy player, or somebody who shouldn't really be on your roster?  I tried to argue that he's exactly the sort of 4th WR you want in a PPR league: a 66 catch, reliable starter that you'll be able to plug in on bye weeks for WRs and flex positions 3-4 weeks of the year.  But my friend convinced me that this is the sort of production you can pick up on waivers when you need it, and you're better off using your bench positions on players with real upside--the fliers who could take off and have top-15 fantasy seasons.  What's Baldwin's upside?  His team desperately needed a WR to emerge last season, and he did what is apparently the best he could do.  Would you ever draft him expecting more?  Then why plant him on your roster, when you could take a shot at a player who could actually become a regular starter?

Keenan Allen
Players like...Keenan Allen!  In a crappy year, he caught 77 passes last season.  And was the second half of his rookie season a mirage, a level of production he can't ever reach again?  If you draft Allen as a 4th WR, you might end up with a regular, reliable starter.

Brandon LaFell

Kenny Stills
Stills had a superb catch percentage last season, and while his targets will go up, it's hard to see him sustaining that catch rate with Ryan Tannehill.

Roddy White
Maybe it's now that two of my three leagues are now PPR, but I've become intrigued with these guys that have seemingly unimpressive years but still catch 80 passes.  White is Atlanta's #2 WR, but what's encouraging if you draft him is that they don't really have a #3.  A high percentage of Matt Ryan's passing yards should get split between Julio Jones and Roddy White, without much left for anybody else.  That should still give White plenty of targets.

Marques Colston
Colston shouldn't be finished, and he plays for a team that just jettisoned key players who would take targets from him (especially red zone targets).  Why shouldn't he have double figure touchdown production this year?

Jarvin Landry
It appears the Dolphins have figured out that Ryan Tannehill is not strong with the deep pass, but he is accurate with short passing.  They may be adjusting their offensive strategy and personnel around his specific skills.  And if that's the case, Landry could catch 100 passes.

Brandon Marshall
6'4" wide receivers with a history of absolutely dominating aren't finished until they're finished, and 31 years old is too old to be finished.  Even having a cruddy quarterback throwing to him doesn't scare me at the price you can get Marshall for.  One year ago he was considered an elite fantasy receiver.  That's not worth taking with a cheap pick?

DeSean Jackson
Jackson does not get enough targets to merit being a regular starter, but people in your league will think that he is a regular starter, and so I might draft him in leagues with a solid trading tradition.

Pierre Garcon
Garcon has played seven seasons, and he's had one good fantasy year and one OK fantasy year.

Sammy Watkins
Buffalo has amassed quite the team of skill position players, and just maybe they'll end up benefiting each other.  It's still a little scary to look at Buffalo's quarterbacks and then spend too much on Watkins.

Eric Decker
Decker averaged 64.1 yards per game on the Jets last year.

Torrey Smith
I don't really think I'd draft him, but you never know.  Sometimes you do.  But here you don't.

Kendall Wright
If Wright played for one of the league's better passing teams, he'd have already proven himself a top-15 fantasy WR.  But he's played for one of the league's least impressive passing teams, with lousy quarterbacks and lousy offenses overall.  He's not a dynamic playmaker, but he's a good receiver (you sort of have to be to have a 94 catch season).  So draft Wright late (especially target him in PPR leagues) on the hope that Marcus Mariotta is competent, and/or relies on the short, easy passes he can complete to Wright.  I drafted Wright in a PPR dynasty league last year, and I'm still optimistic.

Golden Tate
The same commentary for Emmanuel Sanders applies to Tate, but he's probably not as good and not in as good a situation.

Mike Wallace
Was the problem in Miami simply Ryan Tannehill's problems connecting on deep passes?  Is it possible the Vikes now have the dynamic downfield threat that we saw in Pittsburgh?  That's my inclination.

Charles Johnson
At least he has one of the world's most forgettable names.

Cordarrelle Patterson
Patterson should have been considered a talented project when he was drafted: an electric return man who should be integrated into the offense but needs time to develop the skills.  But he made enough big touchdown plays as a rookie to make people think he had already reached the point he needed to get to...even though scattered between those big touchdown plays was not much (we were hyping up a player who had 45 catches for 469  yards).  And so maybe last year's collapse could be expected.  Patterson's resurgence is probably a story of where his head's at: the combination of confidence, effort, and self-awareness can allow him to emerge as a productive NFL player.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

National Friday League: Fantasy Summer (6): RB Ranking (and more)

"He ate the head and gave it a bad review.  True story."
This week I went to a bookstore to take a look at CBSSports.com/Beckett Sports Fantasy Football 2015 Draft Guide.  Because I like the CBSSports.com podcast, I heard it came out this week and I was considering buying it.  Instead, it had such a bizarre editing/formatting choice, that I kept looking at it again and again to see if I was seeing it right.

The key feature of a fantasy magazine is the positional ranking with the stats/profiles of each player listed.  This is the real heart of a fantasy magazine: it's useful in preparing for a draft and during the draft.  Having a basic ordering of quality allows you to assess the players clearly (and to focus depending on the depth of your draft), and during the draft it helps you to find quick information about the best available players.  It's better than a cheat sheet because it includes relevant statistics (often stats for the previous three seasons) and a paragraph overview about the player.  It's the main thing I'm looking for in a magazine: if this feature isn't well-done, I'm not bothering with the magazine.

In the CBSSports.com magazine, the player "outlooks" are still grouped by position, but they are listed alphabetically.

I've been wracking my brain to figure out how this is useful.  I can't see where in either preparation or mid-draft you'd need a dictionary-style order to be able to look up a particular player.  In either case, you'd always want some sort of grouping by quality.  I mean, in what Bizarro magazine do quarterback outlooks start with Blake Bortles?  Why are superstar players--or worse, the mid-range players for whom these profiles can be most useful--mixed in with players that you really don't even need to much about (except in very deep leagues), and won't be looking at until late in the draft?  How is this useful? Why would people use it this way?  Who is this helping?  Where do these "outlooks" help?  If another person drafts a player, you can look him up to learn about the player you didn't get?

This editorial/formatting decision seems so profoundly stupid, I doubted myself.  Was I dehydrated, lightheaded, and having some sort of hallucination?  Did I look too quickly?  I actually drove back to the bookstore to confirm that indeed, they were alphabetically listed.  Even kickers and defense!  You need kicker data in a fantasy magazine--I actually think kicker and defense data in a mag is extremely useful--but the benefit of an alphabetical, unranked list of profiles is so unusable I...I don't even know.

Perhaps next year, CBSSports.com could list the player profiles by uniform number.  Heck, why even separate them by position?  Just order them in one big dictionary of all the NFL's position players.  Maybe order them alphabetically by Alma mater?

Kick Ass Links
"Why Superstitions Help Athletes Perform Better" at New York. I think of athletic superstitions like religious rituals.  As participants or observers of religious ritual, you might notice it doesn't matter precisely what the ritual is, but that the process of it can focus your mind, make you attentive to what you want to be attentive to.

"Twin Cities is America's 6th Worst Sports Metropolis, Says New York Times" at City Pages.  Somebody, people, we won't be coming up on lists like this.  But I feel like we've been coming up on lists like this for 15 years.

"An Illicit Tour of The New Viking Stadium" (Deadspin).  These photos make me marvel at human civilization.

Fantasy Running Back Ranking

I haven't worked the rookies into my rankings yet, because I'm still trying to learn about them.  I'm also trying to make these rankings independent, and inserting rookes would mean largely relying on what I've learned from experts on podcasts like ESPN Fantasy Focus, CBSSports.com Fantasy Football Today, and Footballguys: On the Couch.  There's also no doubt PPR is creeping into much of my thinking at this point.

My rankings to to #13 because that's how far I got on non-rookie RBs I'd pay any kind of price for.  There will be more productive RBs, of course: in fact I'll be targeting a lot of cheap RBs this season to fill out my roster, banking on one or two of them emerging as productive fantasy starters.  I'm just not confident about which ones will emerge, and I'm not bothering to rank them because I'm going to take them as they come to me rather than targeting them.

If anybody you expect to see is omitted, it's probably on purpose and not an oversight.  I've developed a few rules about this.  Justin Forsett?  I'm not sure there's a strong track record for players having their first major fantasy-relevant season in their seventh seasons, at age 29,and following it up.  C.J. Anderson?  If I hadn't thought of a player (at all) until I start hearing experts talk him up in May/June, they may be right, but I'm sticking to my original WTF?

When drafting an expensive RB, don't look for reasons to pick a player: look for reasons not to pick a player.  I can't think of a single reason not to draft Charles.  Lack of talent?  Of course not: he's never averaged fewer than 5.0 yards per carry in a season.  Age or overuse?  No, he's 28 with a career high of 285 carries in a single season.  Bad situation?  No, he's in an offense designed to use his skills to run and catch.  Injury history?  No: one serious injury, and three full seasons have passed since then.  He may be the best RB in the league right now.  If I hold the #1 pick, I'm drafting Charles.

You're looking at a feature back who is going to get a lot of rushes, a fair number of catches, and a ton of touchdown opportunities in an elite offense.  He probably has a better chance of being the #1 fantasy RB than Charles--but I feel, just a bit, that Charles is more likely to be top five.

Bell is suspended for the first three weeks of the season.  When week 4 starts, you'll look back on the past three weeks and say "It will shock you how much it never happened."  And then you'll spend the rest of the season with an elite fantasy RB.  There are a lot of RBs that will miss some games this season, and some of them will still be valuable fantasy producers on the whole.  And you know ahead of time what games Bell is missing for sure, so you're not taking a zero at the position those weeks.  At worst, you're getting replacement level fantasy RB production.  At worst.  So no, I don't lowering Bell's price significantly over three missed games.  If he weren't suspended, I'd probably rank him #2, possibly #1 (though Charles is safer).

If you're looking for reasons not to draft a player, consider that in the past four seasons, Marshawn Lynch has carried the ball 1,345 times in the regular season and playoffs.  And yet I expected a dropoff that never came last season on basically the same principle.  Do you want to avoid Lynch waiting for an inevitable dropoff that may not come for a long time?  It may be that the all-time greats don't suffer the same decline from overuse, that in fact that's what makes them all-time greats.  A lot of good RBs can have one great season, or two to three good ones, before dropping off.  But look at Emmitt Smith's 9th and 10th seasons of production ('98-'99), after a career of very heavy regular season and post-season usage.  The all-time greats are great because they could keep bringing it year after year, and just maybe that includes Lynch.  There are probably six WRs I'd draft before Lynch, but only three other RBs.

Are you leery of drafting a player who was away from football from mid-September through early-June?  If so, don't draft him.  If not, draft him and expect top-five fantasy RB production.

Last year the Bills ranked low in rushing yards, rushing TDs, and rushing yards per attempt.  It's easy enough to believe that McCoy is going from a good situation to a bad one that I'm avoiding him.  And that illustrates what, before the season, appears to be a giant dropoff between the top five RBs and the rest.  That's why I'd be targeting WRs in the first round or with big auction dollars (Odell Beckham, Jr., DeMaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Antonio Brown, Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones for sure, maybe Jordy Nelson, and A.J. Green).

Age, usage, and injury concern are the only worries: if he plays, he's productive.

Forte will turn 30 this season, and he has over 1,800 career carries.  It's all going to fall apart, and soon.  But...maybe not just yet.  While Forte has had over 200 carries every year of his career, he hasn't topped 300 since his rookie year.  He's also always gotten a ton of work as a receiver (he's remarkably efficient with the targets he gets), and there doesn't seem to be an obvious reason that should fall apart immediately.  His collapse could happen this year, but in the second round I wouldn't be worried about banking on it coming next year.

Murray had 392 regular season carries last season, plus 44 in the playoffs, in his first ever 16 game season, and he just switched teams.  You don't have to look hard to find a reason to avoid drafting him.  At this ranking, I'm drafting him in the late second round or early third round (meaning I won't be drafting him, sure), and then I'm targeting Ryan Mathews.

There's a decent chance Hill is a stud who will be a top-five fantasy RB for the next three to five seasons.  There's a decent chance Giovanni Bernard still gets more touches than he does.

#11: Alfred Morris
Meh.  If you use early picks on WRs, then Morris is the RB you take as a solid guy you're not excited about.

This is a nutty high ranking probably, but a) I remember what Darren Sproles did in New Orleans in his prime, and b) I've spent years drafting Pierre Thomas, and Spiller is a more talented version of Pierre Thomas in this offense.  I see him forcing his way onto the field.

Worst 16 game scenario: he's a timeshare RB who gets a ton of catches.  Best 16 game scenario: Jeremy Hill suffers a second-year dropoff for some reason (common for RBs)and Bernard is the most productive RB on the team.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Would the Minnesota Vikings be happy with a Joe Flacco clone?

Guest post by Jason Winter

Take the following two rookie quarterbacks:

QB1: 2,919 yards, 14 TD, 12 Int., rating 85.2, adjusted net yards/attempt 5.46
QB2: 2,971 yards, 14 TD, 12 Int., rating 80.3, adjusted net yards/attempt 5.29

Pretty close, no? The first, as you might have figured out, is Teddy Bridgewater. The second is Joe Flacco's rookie season of 2008. One season's worth of comparisons is obviously too soon to draw any real conclusions, but let me pose this question: If Teddy Bridgewater turns out to be Joe Flacco 2.0, with all the good and bad that comes with that – including, say, a Super Bowl win – would that be enough?

Certainly, you might think that delivering a Super Bowl to Minnesota would automatically enshrine Bridgewater in the Viking Ring of Honor, but consider how Flacco's career has gone. I'd say most people, even Ravens fans, consider him decent, but not great, a game-manager type who benefited from a strong defense and above-average running game. Pacifist Viking doesn't even list him in his top 15. (His coach thinks otherwise, of course.) Many people criticized his six-year, $120 million contract that made him the highest-paid quarterback in football, and early returns on that investment are decidedly mixed.

If Bridgewater “pulls a Flacco” and puts up similar numbers while winning the ultimate prize, how would Vikings fans feel about giving him a similar second deal? The running game is in flux, and Adrian Peterson will assuredly be gone by the time Bridgewater's rookie contract plays out, but with Mike Zimmer in charge, it's plausible that the Vikings will be very much a defense-first team that only needs a quarterback who doesn't screw up much – which sounds a lot like Baltimore and Joe Flacco.

(Interesting bit of numbers-related trivia: In his six years in the NFL, Flacco's interception total in any given season has always been 10, 12, or 10+12. OK, I thought it was interesting ...)

You can easily say, “Yes, we'd still take Teddy, but not for that kind of money,” but what if that's the money Teddy wants? Or more? And if he doesn't get it, then will some other team give it to him? And then the Vikings have to start over at quarterback... again?

For a team like Minnesota – or Baltimore or, while we're talking bad quarterback contracts, Chicago with Jay Cutler – that has had mediocre-to-poor QB play for so long, getting someone who's at least reasonably competent and locking him down long-term is very hard to pass up, regardless of the price. That'll be doubly true if he's coming off a Super Bowl victory, regardless of whether he's a “game manager” or not. I'm really not sure how I would feel in that situation.

As a footnote, compare Teddy Bridgewater's stats in his rookie year:

64.4% completion %, 14 TD, 12 Int., 7.3 yards per attempt

With another first-year quarterback:

64.5% completion %, 14 TD, 12 Int., 7.2 yards per attempt

It probably doesn't mean anything, but the second quarterback is... Teddy Bridgewater. Those are his numbers as a freshman at Louisville. His next two seasons?

Sophomore: 68.5 comp%, 27 TD, 8 Int., 8.9 Y/A
Junior: 71.0 comp%, 31 TD, 4 Int., 9.3 Y/A

He probably won't see that dramatic of an improvement in the pros, but seeing where he started and where he went in college ... yeah, that's nice.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

National Friday League: Fantasy Summer (5): Opportunity Cost

Kick-Ass Links
"Scientists dismissed 'hot streaks' in sports for decades. They were wrong," by Joseph Stromberg in Vox.

Last year Xavier Rhodes was one of the best leading role cornerbacks; Captain Munnerlyn was one of the worst supporting role cornerbacks (Football Outsiders).

Opportunity Costs in Fantasy Football
For a couple of summers I worked as a custodian at a school, and my main job was mowing the grass. But one time I took the afternoon of work off to try and sell sports cards with my optimistic friend. His mom was having a garage sale, and we had a lot of sports cards, including plenty we didn't want. So we spent hours going through the cards and pricing them (not regrettable: this was fun). And then I left work at lunchtime on a Friday afternoon to go sell the cards.

I think I sold two dollars worth of cards that day.

If I had worked that afternoon, I would have made around $20 (minimum wage!). That money was my opportunity cost: by taking the afternoon off to try and sell sports cards, I gave up the opportunity to make $20.  I don't really regret this (it was fun, and it was $20 16 or 17 years ago). But it's a nice illustration of an economic concept that is important when constructing a fantasy football roster: opportunity cost.

If you've played fantasy football before, you already understand the principle: if you draft an elite WR in the first round, you're giving up the opportunity to draft an elite RB: it's not that you simply gain the WR's value and production, but have chosen to forego a RB's value and and production. So too in an auction: if you choose to spend a lot of money on a QB, you can't use that money on RBs or WRs. Your opportunity cost to draft, say, Aaron Rodgers, is to not be able to draft, say, Julio Jones. There's no way to avoid this concept in fantasy football.

But considering opportunity cost may also lead to certain decisions in roster construction. You have a fixed number of resources: your roster spots. If your league has 15 roster spots, then you have 15 opportunities to put useful fantasy producers on your roster. And yet in any given year, there are certain players or situations that would require you to, in essence, use two roster spots to secure one player. That means such a player comes with a high opportunity cost: because you must use two roster spots for that player, you are foregoing the opportunity to use that additional roster spot on a useful player.

This year, if you draft Tom Brady, you need to draft (or at least acquire before the season begins) an additional QB to start the season, because Brady is suspended for the first four games. There's just no way around that (except leaving your QB slot in the lineup empty, which is stupid). Instead of spending a later pick on a flier (drafting, say, a rookie WR or RB), you're drafting a QB by necessity, and missing out on the chance for a flier that takes off.

One might say the same about Le'veon Bell, who is suspended for the first three games, but I wouldn't. You are going to draft more RBs than your league's lineup allows you to start, anyway: if you can start two RBs, there's a good chance you're drafting 5-6 RBs. You may focus more on drafting a RB that will play week one, yes. But in this case your opportunity cost is not a roster spot: you draft Bell knowing you lose three games of his production, with that factored into the cost (though take note: losing three weeks of his production doesn't mean taking a zero those weeks, but rather taking, at worst, replacement level those weeks. The three lost weeks should not affect his cost that greatly).

Another type of opportunity cost is the handcuff RB. Sometimes you might draft a handcuff RB for insurance, which is fine, but there is an opportunity cost for that insurance. If you want to maximize your roster's scoring potential, you don't want a handcuff: you want to use the roster spots on players that will be useful even if your starting RB doesn't get injured. And sometimes people draft two RBs on the same team when there is a timeshare situation, or a position battle, or it's simply unclear who will get the most touches (and fantasy points) out of the backfield. It can be worth it to invest two roster spots in such a situation: the uncertainty can make the prices on both RBs lower, with the potential of one RB taking control and outproducing the total price of the two. But if you use two roster spots to do so, you are foregoing opportunities to draft another player that might be useful in any situation.

Now you might say, reasonably, this isn't a big deal. You're going to be cutting some of your draft picks anyway as you pick up free agents, either for need, or for bye weeks, or because those free agent players outperform the players on your roster. But if that's the case, why bother filling out your roster at the draft? Why not just leave the last couple of roster spots blank, knowing you'll need to cut some players eventually anyway? That's nutty: of course you want to use the draft to lay your claim to players that have the potential to break out. If you're drafting fliers (aka lottery tickets), you want to pick up as many as you can, because you just don't know which ones could break out. So yes, one of your late draft picks will probably get cut when your TE is on bye. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't care about that late pick, or see the potential in using that late pick.

See also: Maximize RB/WR (why I don't want to draft more than one QB and one TE).