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Nigel Eccles, Co-Founder, FanDuel
Footballguys continues to advance the world of fantasy football. With several additions to their offerings last year, the much heralded Best Online Content Site for 2009 joined the world of High Stakes Fantasy contests and made an instant splash. Joe Bryant and David Dodds teamed with David Gerczak and Alex Kaganovsky of the Fantasy Football Players Championship (myffpc.com) to create the first annual Footballguys Players Championship contest in 2010 and by all measures it was a huge success. Now the FPC and FFPC are back again for another season, ready to knock it out of the park once again in 2017.
By studying the rules of both the FFPC and the FPC along with some of the history and previous performances by FPC players, insights can be found that will help many players to not only compete well in both contests but also to be in a position to win their league and be in the running for a top prize in the championship round.
As the summer rolls on, I will continue analyzing many aspects of the Footballguys Players Championship and the Fantasy Football Players Championship. Through these articles I hope to provide extra help with fully understanding how to best build a top notch fantasy team within the contest. As someone who has competed against the best players in the world and in several contests much like the FPC and the FFPC, I fully understand how every possible advantage and extra edge can make all the difference in the world.
Under the microscope this time around is the special Action Scoring Rule for position players. According the rules of the Footballguys Players Championship, the scoring rules for Action Scoring are implemented as follows:
- Action scoring is implemented for all TDs: any TD scored by a player is scored as 6 points to that individual player, in addition to any D/ST scoring that may apply.
So how do you analyze the impact of this additional scoring rule to the current crop of potential fantasy players? We need to dig into some numbers.
First, let's take a look at the 2016 production for kick returners (kickoffs and punts). Listed in Table 1 are all the NFL players who had at least seven kick returns of either type last year (with a special thanks to Doug Drinen's Pro-Football-Reference.com for the data):
|Player||Team||Age||Pos||G||GS||Punt Returns||Kick Returns||Total Returns|
|Ted Ginn Jr||CAR||31||WR||16||8||29||202||0||18||391||0||47|
|Rashad Greene Sr||JAX||24||8||0||21||131||0||21|
|Duke Johnson Jr||CLE||23||rb||16||1||17||112||0||1||19||0||18|
Table 1: 2016 NFL Kick Returners (Minimum Nine Returns)
Note - normally, I limit it to 10 returns, but given that Wendell Smallwood ran back a punt for a touchdown, I went down to nine to include his numbers. Now, a few things can be observed from this list. First, there are plenty of return men that are being utilized across the NFL. Just like in the past three seasons, at least 65 players had 10 or more returns (65 in 2014 and 2015, 70 last season) and 30 had 20 or more (that number is actually much smaller than the prior two seasons, with 42 in 2015 and 43 in 2014). Another important fact is that several of these specialists are not only non-starters for several teams, but they are also non-offensive players. That really will not help fantasy teams.
The other item to pick up on here is that roughly 20 of these players are draftable fantasy players (highlighted in Table 1). That's the good news here - these are the players that might benefit from Action Scoring this season. Unfortunately, there is also a bit of bad news.
The first downside to this list is that several of these players are moving up the depth charts of their teams this year. Why is that a bad thing? Well, take Tyreek Hill for example. Few franchises will ever want to risk a high upside starting wide receiver (or running back) as a kick returner. The added workload and the increased risk of injury are both too great a price to pay for potential yardage gains. Teams take a more conservative approach over 90% of the time and put a lesser talent back there, especially for kickoffs.
The other piece of bad news is that yardage does not matter in Action Scoring - only touchdowns make any impact to the fantasy scores. Table 2 shows that only 17 total returns (10 kickoffs, seven punts) were taken all the way for the score last year – or barely one per NFL week. That number was the lowest since I started tracking this total back in 2009, but not too far off of the last three seasons (20 in both 2013 and 2015, and 18 in 2014). That speaks to the continued trend in the NFL to minimize the return game, especially on kickoffs. The NFL moved the kickoff line to the 35-yard line prior to the 2011 season, and since that season only 52 touchdowns have been scored on a kickoff return - or about 8-9 a year. That is more than a 50% cut of the numbers in the prior two seasons (2009 had 18, 2010 had 23) before the rule change.
Speaking of rule changes, 2016 has another kickoff rule change, and it turned out to be significant. Kickoff touchbacks (not punts) are now brought out to the 25-yard line, not the 20-yard line. Those five yards may not sound like much, but it can be meaningful for some teams, especially late in close games or in the final minutes of the first half. Some teams may try and use a "mortar kick", where the kicker pops the ball up as high as he can and tries to pin the team near the goal line rather than trying to put it into the end zone. That trend is likely to continue again in 2017.
Table 2 summaries the numbers for the past seven years:
|Year||Punt Return TDs||Kickoff Return TDs||Total|
Table 2: 2009-2016 Kick Return Touchdowns
**In 2011, the NFL moved the kickoff line from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line.
Table 3 summarizes the players that found the end zone via a kick or punt return last year:
|Player||Team||Punt Returns||Kick Returns||Total Returns|
Table 3: 2016 NFL Kick Return Touchdowns
Based on the results, it becomes clear just how rare a kick return for a touchdown is these days. Further, three players dominated the return game as Tyreek Hill of Kansas City (three touchdowns), Andre Roberts of Detroit and Marcus Sherels of Minnesota (two scores each) are the only players that found the end zone more than once last year. In 2015 four players manage this feat, and three different players accomplished this milestone in 2012-2014. Many more players (nine in 2010, six in 2009) scored before the NFL's rule change. There is at least a little bit of good news - one of these players is worthy of a draft pick this season, Tyreek Hill of the Chiefs. He is already considered a Top 50 pick, but this does boost some of his value in kick return friendly leagues such as the FPC. While his ADP is high, some of that current value may not reflect this extra boost potential. A few other players may see more chances than others on this list, so be sure to check on kick and punt returner depth charts to possibly find that extra upside in a later round pick. Looking at the table overall, there is not much point in considering anyone else for a considerable Action Scoring boost - even if a player gets an extra touchdown on the season.
Every fantasy league and its rulebook is a little different. For the FPC and the FFPC, the addition of Action Scoring may seem at first to have very little impact on the scores overall, but in certain circumstances it can impact several players' values. Key return men that are expected to be solid picks such as Tyreek Hill should get a little bit of a boost to their overall ADP thanks to this extra touchdown (or a few) per season. Even Antonio Brown, John Brown and Odell Beckham Jr get minimal bumps here despite many expectations that they will not be returning kicks much longer. Rest assured that if it is just before halftime or towards the end of a close game, any of these players may find himself back there to field that key kickoff or punt return.
The tricky part of evaluating the rest of the kick returners comes after these first 4-5 guys are off the board. Marquise Lee and Darren Sproles are decent backups, but can they really be relied upon as spot starters? They are certainly worth drafting and if injuries or bye weeks hit, and their clutch performances may give lucky owners an advantage in just the right week thanks to the Action Scoring added value. While they are not worthy of big bumps up the draft board, their added value as return men with a history of touchdowns should be a nice tiebreaker if someone is deciding between Lee, Sproles or another running back or wide receiver.
The last comment I will add is more of a warning - do not be surprised if a few of these players see fewer kick return chances as they develop into regular offensive starters. Antonio Brown and Tyreek Hill are both likely to be replaced by depth players to give them both a rest and less chance of getting hurt. Keep that in mind if you are factoring in kick return value to a particular player. Turnover at both kick return spots can be quite high.
It takes a little time to get your mind wrapped around a new contest with a new set of rules, but the time spent is often well worth it if the goal is to field a competitive team. Giving a little bit of effort to get a greater understanding of the twists and turns to the rulebook can give turn a good fantasy player into a great one and a great player into a dominant force. Knowledge is power - so be as powerful as you can!
Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org.