Lather, Rinse, Repeat
Last week I analyzed five years of Week 3 vs. end of season rankings to help you avoid the post-Week 3, anxiety-driven fantasy football nightmare where Monseigneur Bloom-Kesey stands over your open grave spitting lyrics to his favorite joint "Change or Die," with his signature Rocky Balboa affectation. The gist of the column is that, based on five years of data, using fantasy rankings after the first month of the season to determine personnel decisions is a mixed bag, at best.
Wide receivers and running back rankings will experience a lot of change between the first month of the season and the end of the year so don't overreact to players off to slow starts due to minor injuries, tough defensive match-ups, or a lack of opportunities. Tight ends and quarterbacks do a better job sustaining their rankings if the get off to a strong start.
After sharing this data, I was asked about average draft position versus end of season rankings.I'll get to those this week. But first, here were the takeaways worth repeating that fit both analysis as we enter Week 5:
Stand By Your Man - Based on the data, I recommended you to target or stick with the following under-performing starters: Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy, Keenan Allen, Andre Johnson, Roddy White, Reggie Wayne, Demaryius Thomas, T.Y. Hilton, Marques Colston, and Greg Jennings.
Only Colston and Jennings still under-performed, but Colston earned a lot of targets and should continue to see more and Jennings made the most of the three receptions he earned with a rookie quarterback's first start. All 11 players have a significant role in their offenses and three weeks does not a fantasy season make. Stick with them or let some other panicked owner give them to you in a September-fueled sell-off.
Raid the Infirmary - Ryan Mathews, Knowshon Moreno, and to a lesser extent, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart all offer value as players to target and stash if you have the luxury to add depth to your roster through a trade or waiver transaction. Remember, a valuable running back is the most difficult position for fantasy owners to acquire during the season. If you have the opportunity to stock up, do so.
Target Players With A History of Slow Starts-Strong Finishes - Colston, Moreno, Mathews, Johnson, Jennings, Williams, Dez Bryant, Reggie Bush, Vincent Jackson, Eric Decker, Mike Wallace, and Frank Gore are all qualifiers here and their histories intersect with their significant roles in their respective offenses.
Consider Rookies Growing Into Bigger Roles: Isaiah Crowell, Terrance West, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson, and Sammy Watkins are all examples of rookies with early production and consistent opportunities worth a speculative add or trade as part of a larger package deal. Bishop Sankey may eventually have the opportunity to qualify, but when his only quality production comes when he's earning carries with the team down by at least 19-20 points it's easy to blame the head coach, but apparently harder to assess Sankey's shortcomings objectively. Then again, I still think Cedric Peerman has been getting a raw deal for almost a decade, so who am I to judge?
Trade for Running Backs, Hunt and Gather WRs - If the five years of data holds to form this year, there will be five runners who aren't in the fantasy top 24 in September who earn their way on the list by season's end. Not all five will be on the waiver -- in many cases, most of them are sitting on the benches of your competition. Because wide receiver has the greatest volatility between Weeks 4-17 and there are generally more receiver slots available in fantasy lineups, you will have some leeway to pursue receivers both through trades and whe waiver wire. Formulate your strategies accordingly.
Preseason ADP vs. End of Season Rankings
It's a good question: How does preseason ADP fare versus end of season compared to Week 3's rankings? I had a few readers pose this question -- one of them with a tone that could be interpreted as: You're looking at the wrong data, dummy. ADP will illustrate that those slow starts are something to ignore and if you stick with ADP you'll be ok.
Wouldn't it be nice if average draft group-think was the best way to go? Let's see how well it has worked out over the past five years . . .
Quarterback ADP vs. End of Season Rankings
The rate of quarterbacks with an QB1 ADP finish the season as QB1's at a rate of 68 percent. This is higher than any fantasy position and 5 percent higher than the Week 3 rankings vs. end of season (63 percent).
In other words, group-think on quarterbacks has a five percent high rate of accurately predicting QB1 performance than what the end of September looks like. If you need a quarterback, it's probably best to trade for one. Sure, take a chance on rookies like Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles if you like, but if you don't want to mess around and land a quarterback you can trust for weekly starter production then the odds are much better to pay for one.
Tight End ADP vs. End of Season Rankings
The preseason ADP group-think isn't as strong of a predictor of end of season production for tight ends (6 percent lower) as the September rankings. Even so, the early thoughts (August ADP or September rankings) on tight end production tend to be more accurate than that of running back or wide receiver.
The takeaway is that there are still tight ends worth acquiring from the waiver wire, but if you have a chance to buy that unknown who is out-performing his draft position (Larry Donnell, Delanie Walker, and Martellus Bennett), his chances of being worth the investment are solid. Make sure who you're buying high is in an offense where his good start is not some quirk of good match-ups or injury substitution.
For instance, Niles Paul has looked good, but Jordan Reed is returning. Perhaps Paul will force some kind of split with Reed, but even if this happens it's likely you're still seeing a drop in Paul's production. I'd rather bet on Reed.
While Donnell, Walker, and Bennett have had some big games -- Donnell and Bennett were insanely good last weekend -- you should still expect a decent amount of consistency as TE1-caliber producers even if last week could be the best outputs of their respective seasons.
Running Back ADP vs. End of Season Rankings
Note: Week 3 percentages are in parenthesis for comparison.
|RB1s||52% (50%)||18% (27%)||17% (12%)|
|RB2s||23% (32%)||32% (23%)||12% (20%)|
|RB3s||5% (7%)||17% (22%)||22% (20%)|
|RB4s||13% (3%)||17% (15%)||17% (18%)|
|RB5s||3% (7%)||2% (7%)||8% (10%)|
|RB6s||2% (0%)||0% (2%)||0% (8%)|
|RB7s||0% (2%)||0% (2%)||0% (7%)|
|UR||2% (0%)||15% (3%)||25% (5%)|
The predictability of ADP vs. Week 3 for running back rankings by season's end is roughly the same, and none of it is all that good. The high rate of injury at the position is a significant factor. One notable point is that 15 percent of the RB2s by season's end weren't even considered in preseason ADP and that number rises to 25 percent for RB3s.
In other words, group-think on RBs becomes less reliable because the folks picking players at the end of drafts often lack any clue about the backs who aren't established names.
Wide Receiver ADP vs. End of Season Rankings
Note: Week 3 percentages are in parenthesis for comparison.
|WR1s||50% (45%)||25% (25%)||12% (13%)|
|WR2s||27% (20%)||23% (28%)||18% (8%)|
|WR3s||10% (13%)||18% (17%)||13% (17%)|
|WR4s||3% (7%)||5% (12%)||15% (20%)|
|WR5s||2% (8%)||3% (8%)||8% (15%)|
|WR6s||2% (3%)||5% (5%)||2% (15%)|
|WR7s||0% (2%)||2% (0%)||0% (5%)|
|UR||5% (2%)||18% (5%)||32% (8%)|
ADP group-think has a more predictive rate than Week 3 when it comes to WR1s, but it's about the same or less predictive for WR2s and WR3s. Besides any percentage that's a coin flip at it's very best isn't something worth getting excited about. There's common sense at play here: There's only one quarterback on the field at any given time and most teams use only one tight end as a heavily targeted receiver. In contrast, running backs have high rates of injury, committees are more prevalent, and teams often abandon the run if the team falls behind early.
There are also as many as 3-5 receivers on the field and beyond the primary option for each team, the secondary options (no matter how good they are...paging Randall Cobb) are more susceptible to variances in targets.
All in all, there aren't major differences between the predictive, end-of-season value for ADP and September rankings. Factor this information in appropriate doses with game recaps as you consider personnel moves.
Game Notes - Week 4
Not a fantasy-related note, but the Colts' surprise onside kick with 7:06 in the first quarter was one of the best I have seen. The kicker got great height on the ball and it allowed one of the trailing players to run under the ball after his teammate (reserve tight end Jack Doyle) cleared the opposition at the sideline.
T.Y. Hilton isn't a big guy, but like Antonio Brown, he needs more opportunities as a runner. Hilton was a fantastic play on end-arounds and reverses at Florida International and the Colts have the personnel to make this type of misdirection a staple of the offense. Granted, there's a balance to how often a team can execute these plays productively without overdoing it, but I think there's still room for Indianapolis to give Hilton the ball more often in this creative context.
Andrew Luck also under threw Hilton on a deep post with 9:00 in the half. It looked like a perfect throw in terms of Hilton running in stride to make the catch, but the location of the ball could have been another step or two over Hilton's head to maximize the separation the receiver had on the trailing cornerback who knocked the ball away as it arrived.
Justin Hunter continues to play like Unvarnished Moss. Titans backup Charlie Whitehurst breaks to the pocket to his right, sets his feet, and delivers a dig route to Hunter at the Colts' 25. The pass admittedly is high and requires Hunter to leave his feet and fully extend for the ball over his head, but the trajectory reaches Hunter in stride and the receiver has both hands on the ball. Hunter allows the ball to rebound off his palms, go skyward, and land in the arms of the Indianapolis safety. Hunter should have caught this ball with his fingers, but his he didn't get both hands up in time. Tough catch, but one that a player with Hunter's talents should make.
Nate Washington ran a similar dig to the same side later in the half and makes a leaping catch between two defenders. The ball placement from Whitehurst wasn't as high, but it still forced Washington to leave his feet and extend for the ball. Don't think Titans coaches won't notice these two plays within this context. I would not be "buying low" on Hunter.
Don't think "confidence" in a player fits into analysis? Try Delanie Walker. During a drive late in the first half, Whitehurst targeted Walker three times. The first was a seam route where Walker got jammed by the linebacker with a good drop and the quarterback still rifled it to the tight end, counting on Walker to work free and make the grab -- which he did.
The next was a swing pass in the red zone that a wide-open Walker, who could have trotted into the end zone, dropped. Undeterred, Whitehurst looked for Walker between two defenders on a post near the end line that forced the tight end to make an acrobatic play in the face of contact.
Considering that Washington and Hunter each dropped targets at the goal line on the previous drive, you see the context of confidence playing out with Walker. Sigmund Bloom may be right when he says Walker is the only reliable fantasy option in Tennessee.
If I had to bank on a Colts receiver for the remainder of the season, I'm sold on Reggie Wayne's comeback from his ACL tear. The precision he had on timing routes wtih Andrew Luck looked as good as anything I used to see with him and Peyton Manning, including deep digs, back shoulder fades, and outs at the sideline in tight coverage. If Luck wasn't producing at such a high rate, Wayne might have been undervalued. As WR17, he still might.
As I stated on the Audible a couple of weeks ago as added emphasis to my pre-draft evaluation of Kirk Cousins, Washington's backup quarterback is an interception machine once teams are reminded of his limitations and ways he can be baited into bad behavior. Cousins will someday become a good backup along the lines of Jon Kitna or Kyle Orton--capable of good work for short spurts, maybe even a Pro-Bowl season--but don't expect long-term development into the figurehead of an offense.
The Giants could surprise and earn a playoff spot. I hate to say this because the NFC East is filled with streaky teams over the years, but the defense has been solid and the offensive line is improving. The development of Larry Donnell has taken pressure off Victor Cruz and Rashad Jennings, too.
The most significant way Donnell makes life easier for the offense is the red zone. He's a go-to guy that complements Jennings and sets up that guessing game of "will the offense run or use play action?" And that play action target can also be another tight end like Daniel Fells, who might not be a go-to guy in his own right, but he has enough athleticism to sneak through the scrum and make plays while the rest of the defense is preoccupied with Donnell, Jennings, and a taller receiver like Reuben Randle.
New York has enough weapons to move the ball, but Donnell helps the red zone offense, which translates to higher scores, and ultimate more wins. Eli Manning might be one of those sneaky-good options this year. If you need to sell a stud QB to get additional weapons, Manning should be one of those candidates for a package deal if you don't have additional depth when you give up that top-tier guy.
The 49ers took away LeSean McCoy's first and second gaps on several of his attempts on Sunday. This combined with the athleticism of the defense and a banged up offensive line contributed to a bad day for the Eagles' runner. The Philadelphia schedule is a mixed bag going forward so the line has to get healthy (or better) if McCoy is to develop some fantasy consistency.
Bruce Ellington is getting more comfortable. Flashes of the dynamic weapon seen lighting up scoreboards with the Gamecocks are on display when Ellington returns punts and takes end-arounds. I don't know if or when Ellington becomes a bigger cog in the offense that will translate to fantasy production, but I believe in talent. Bruce Ellington is talented.
After watching the 49ers limit this passing offense, it led me to wonder if Chip Kelly's quick-hitting scheme with receivers running free has a negative side effect of receivers not working back to the football as well as other schemes. It appeared that Nick Foles had a lot of time, but he could not find open receivers. The old football axiom is that the team with the best athletes can beat any scheme and San Francisco's defense might qualify here. Even so, it's worth a thought that Kelly's scheme has gotten its receivers used to running the initial route and not needing to work back to the passer.
Buffalo - Houston
When a quarterback cannot connect with a savvy route runner like Robert Woods on plays that counter what the defense thinks is happening, it damages an offense's rhythm. Kyle Orton lacks E.J. Manuel's physical talent, but he can find the intermediate option in the middle of the field. Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins should benefit from the switch if the offensive line holds up -- and that's a legitimate "if."
New England - Kansas City
Travis Kelce needs to be on the field every down. Switching him with receivers like Junior Hemingway and Frankie Hammond does little for the offense. Let Kelce play outside when he's not the second or third tight end. This even dawned on the Monday Night crew by the second quarter.
Knile Davis' 48-yard run was a variation of the reverse action that they had success with against the Dolphins. The runner getting the ball on this play is earning huge creases.
Unless a quarterback has the mobility of Colin Kapernick that can be channeled into scheme design that keeps defenses off balance with his running or the size and improvisational smarts like Ben Roethlisberger, there's little that can be done to compensate for poor offensive line play. This is what plague Tom Brady most and the shufflling of linemen in the first half of this game is symptomatic of the problem.