≡ Menu

Prompted by Le’Veon Bell’s remarkable stretch towards the end of last season, I took a look at the greatest four-game stretches by a fantasy running back over at Footballguys.com:

In the Steelers 11th game of the year, LeVeon Bell rushed for 204 yards and a touchdown.  In his next game, he totaled 254 yards from scrimmage against the Saints and ran for another score.  In Pittsburgh’s 13th game of the season, Bell scored three times against the Bengals while gaining 235 yards from scrimmage.  Finally, against the Falcons, Bell totaled 119 yards and ran for two touchdowns.

Over that four-game stretch, Bell scored seven touchdowns, gained 830 yards from scrimmage, and caught 21 passes.  If we use a scoring system that provides 0.5 points per reception and the standard 1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving and 6 points for touchdowns. That translates to 135.5 fantasy points over such period, which is obviously an insane amount of points.  But how insane?  Only six other running backs since 1960 have had greater four-game stretches.  Let’s go to the list.

You can read the full article here. Suffice it to say, Bell is in some pretty rare company.


Fantasy: New Extra Point Rule (FBG)

Over at Footballguys.com, I provided my thoughts on what the new PAT rule means for fantasy players.

What does that mean in practical terms? Instead of there being one missed extra point every 2-3 weeks, there will be about two missed extra points per week. For fantasy owners, that means you might wind up losing a point a couple of times during your regular season, but, of course, you are just as likely to benefit from your opponent missing out on that point, too. In general, kickers are often an afterthought in many fantasy leagues; this rule is not going to change that, although it will make the best kickers (and kickers who play in friendly conditions) imperceptibly more valuable than before.

You can read the full article here.


FanDuel Lineups – Week 12, Thursday Night

Daily fantasy football is pretty sweet, and I’ve become very active in it this year. I’ve only played on FanDuel (affiliate link, here), so my analysis will be limited strictly to that site.

At FanDuel, you start 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 K, and 1 defense, with a salary cap of $60,000. The scoring system is pretty standard, with 0.5 points per reception being the most notable feature to keep in mind. There are generally two that I play: 50/50s, or what people refer to as cash games, where you say, pay $25 to enter a tournament of 50 people, and the top 25 people win $45. The house gets roughly the same cut of ~10% in most games, so the 50/50 is the low-variance play.

The other option is to play in tournaments, which can range from large, to very large, to absurdly large. Anyway, enough minutia. I have limited my play to 50/50s this week, although I did enter one tournament lineup which I’ll explain at the end. [click to continue…]


FanDuel Lineups – Week 11, Thursday Night

Daily fantasy football is pretty sweet, and I’ve become very active in it this year. I’ve only played on FanDuel (affiliate link, here), so my analysis will be limited strictly to that site.

At FanDuel, you start 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 K, and 1 defense, with a salary cap of $60,000. The scoring system is pretty standard, with 0.5 points per reception being the most notable feature to keep in mind. There are generally two that I play: 50/50s, or what people refer to as cash games, where you say, pay $25 to enter a tournament of 50 people, and the top 25 people win $45. The house gets roughly the same cut of ~10% in most games, so the 50/50 is the low-variance play.

The other option is to play in tournaments, which can range from large, to very large, to absurdly large. Anyway, enough minutia. I have limited my play to 50/50s this week, although I did enter one tournament lineup which I’ll explain at the end. [click to continue…]

{ 1 comment }

Fantasy: Running Back Workload Part II (FBG)

Last week, I began my analysis of how to measure workload for running backs. Today brings Part II, another attempt to analyze workload and fantasy production.

Last year, Joique Bell finished as the 15th best running back in fantasy football. Prior to 2013, Bell had just 82 career carries, all of which came in 2012.  Meanwhile, Marshawn Lynch finished as RB5, but he had 1,452 carries prior to the 2013 season. Both players were 27 years old last year, but they had drastically different career workloads.

One obvious issue that comes up when comparing high-workload to low-workload players is that there is often a large talent gap, and Bell and Lynch present that quite clearly. Bell was an undrafted free agent out of Division II Wayne State, while Lynch was a first round pick who played in the Pac-10. What I’ll try to do today is control for “player ability” by looking at the player’s VBD in the prior season. For example, Lynch had 125 points of VBD in 2012, while Bell had 0.

From 1988 to 2013, there were 77 running backs who had a top-24 finish during their age 27 season. One thing we can look to see is whether these players “benefited” from having low mileage up to that point in their careers. I performed a regression analysis using three inputs — Carries in the player’s age 26 year (for example, 315 for Lynch), his career carries as of the end of his age 26 season (1,452 for Lynch), and his VBD in his age 26 season (125).  My output was VBD in the player’s age 27 year.  Here was the best-fit formula:

You can read the full article here. And if you have thoughts on how else to study this issue, leave them in the comments.


Fantasy: Running Back Workload (FBG)

Over at Footballguys.com, I try to unravel the relationship between workload and age. Eight years ago, Doug wrote three articles on the topic; sadly, I’m not sure we’ve come very far since then. So I decided to at least begin the process of measuring how much of an impact “mileage” really has on running backs.

Conventional wisdom suggests that, all else being equal, running backs with “low mileage” are more likely to age gracefully than running backs who have accumulated a significant number of carries.

This, unfortunately, is a very complicated issue to test. For example, new Giants running back Rashad Jennings is 29 years old, but he has just 387 career carries.  This makes Jennings a “young” 29, but is that better than being an “old” 28? The best way to test this question is to analyze running backs of similar quality as Jennings — but who had a lot of carries by the time they were 28 years old — and see how the rest of their careers unfolded.  The problem is that the list of running backs with a lot of carries through their age 28 season bear no resemblance to Jennings. The players with the most carries through age 28 are Emmitt Smith, Edgerrin James, Jerome Bettis, Barry Sanders, LaDainian Tomlinson, Curtis Martin, and Walter Payton, which basically serves as a who’s who of running backs who are not comparable to Rashad Jennings.

Generally speaking, the best running backs get the most carries: did you know that Jim Brown is the only player to lead the NFL in carries more than 4 times? He did it six times in his nine-year career. Along the same line of thinking, the running backs with the most carries are generally among the best running backs.  Running backs who haven’t had a lot of carries through age 28 generally either aren’t very good or have suffered multiple injuries, which makes it tough to find players who feel like true comparables to a player like Jennings.

One could argue that running back workload and running back quality are so inextricably tied that it’s impossible to accurately measure whether age or workload is more important.  But today, I want to take a step back from examining the specifics of a player like Jennings and look at the big picture.  There are some examples that appear to support the “running back mileage” theory.  Shaun Alexander had a significant number of carries through age 28, and was excellent at age 28; the fact that he then declined so significantly, so quickly, could be a sign that workload really mattered. After all, few players suffer such sharp declines when turning 29. But that’s just one data point.  What if we can bring in many more?

You can read the full article here.


Over at Footballguys.com, I looked at which running backs have produced the most extreme fantasy splits in wins and losses.

With few exceptions, running backs generally score more fantasy points in wins than in losses.  For example, Adrian Peterson has averaged 22.2 FP/G over the last four years in wins, and 14.8 FP/G in losses, in a 0.5 PPR scoring system.  Those numbers rank Peterson in the top four in both categories, but obviously he’s been much more valuable in wins.

Some players, however, have particularly extreme splits. As Jason Lisk points out, Alfred Morris is one of those players.  Since Morris isn’t much of a receiver, he gets his value from carries and touchdowns, and both of those tend to be higher in wins. Over the past two seasons, Morris has averaged 17.1 FP/G in wins and 11.1 FP/G in losses. Marshawn Lynch is another player who is more valuable in wins: fortunately for him, those are more prevalent in Washington state than Washington, D.C. Since 2010, Lynch has averaged 17.3 FP/G in wins and 9.7 FP/G in losses.

So which running backs are most impacted by their team’s fortunes? I looked at the top 50 running backs in Footballguys.com rankings, and then excluded rookies and others players with small sample sizes.  I was left with 37 running backs, and I calculated their FP/G (using 0.5 PPR) in wins and losses since 2010.  Here’s how to read the table below. No running back fared so much better in wins relative to losses as Doug Martin.  The Tampa Bay back has played in seven wins and averaged 24.5 FP/G in those games, the highest average among the 37 running backs in this study.  Martin has played in 15 losses, and averaged just 12.1 FP/G in those games, the 10th best ranking. That’s a difference of 12.4 (24.5 – 12.1) FP/G.

You can read the full article here.


For the eleventh straight years, I’ve written an Quarterback By Committee article for Footballguys.com. Here’s a quick peak at this year’s article:

The general rule for QBBC fans is that the first six rounds of your draft should be used to assemble a wealth of talent at running back, wide receiver, and, if the draft unfolds in such a way, tight end. By going the QBBC route, you can save those high picks in your draft and still get solid fantasy production by grabbing two QBs who face bad defenses nearly every week of the year. That’s what the QBBC system is all about.

Of course, in some leagues, QB10 can now be had as late as the seventh round, and your fifth-ranked quarterback could still be available that late. One could argue that the best strategy is 2014 is to wait until the first ten quarterbacks are off the board and then draft a couple of quarterbacks at a nice discount. Colin Kaepernick, Tony Romo, and Russell Wilson have ADPs of QB11, QB12, and QB13, and all have high upside for 2014. That’s one option, but another option is to wait even longer and implement a quarterback-by-committee strategy.

The first key, of course, is to rank the defenses. I always start by adjusting last season’s data on defenses for strength of schedule. I started with the adjusted FP rankings for each defense listed in the Rearview QB article. Then, I made some adjustments to the defenses based on their efficiency numbers from 2013 and what’s happened since the end of last season. The table below lists my rating for defenses for fantasy quarterbacks, listed from the toughest (the Seahawks) to the easiest (Dallas).  Quarterbacks facing Seattle should expect to produce about five fantasy points below average, while passers facing the Cowboys will be projected to score three more points than average.

You can check out the full article here, which includes rankings of each defense and each quarterback’s strength of schedule.


Fantasy Football: Quarterback Rearview FP/G (FBG)

Every year, I adjust quarterback statistics — both fantasy and traditional — for strength of schedule. Today, a look at my article at Footballguys.com where I adjust the 2013 numbers for each quarterback for the quality of the opposing defenses. On Monday, I’ll be doing the same for quarterbacks using Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt.

For the ninth straight season, I’m advising fantasy football owners about a good starting point for their quarterback projections/rankings. My Rearview QB article analyzes the production of every quarterback from the prior season after adjusting his performance for partial games played and strength of schedule. If you’re a first time reader, here’s my argument in a nutshell: using last year’s regular end-of-year data is the lazy man’s method. When analyzing a quarterback, many look at a passer’s total fantasy points or fantasy points per game average from the prior season and then tweak the numbers based on off-season changes and personal preferences. But a more accurate starting point for your projections is a normalized version of last year’s stats.

The first adjustment is to use adjusted games (and not total games), which provide a more precise picture of how often the quarterback played. Second, you should adjust for strength of schedule, because a quarterback who faced a really hard schedule should get a boost relative to those who played easy opponents most weeks.

To be clear, this should be merely the starting point for your quarterback projections. If you think a particular quarterback carries significant injury risk, or is going to face a hard schedule again, feel free to downgrade him after making these adjustments. (And it should go without saying that if you think a quarterback will improve or decline – or, in the case of Colin Kaepernick or Cam Newton his supporting case will improve or decline – you must factor that in as well.) But those are all subjective questions that everyone answers differently; this analysis is meant to be objective. The point isn’t to ignore whether a quarterback is injury prone or projects to have a really hard or easy schedule in 2014; the point is to delay that analysis.

First we see how the player performed on the field last year, controlling for strength of schedule and missed time; then you factor in whatever variables you like when projecting the 2014 season. The important thing to consider is that ignoring partial games and strength of schedule is a surefire way to misjudge a player’s actual ability level. There’s a big difference between a quarterback who produced 300 fantasy points against an easy schedule while playing every game than a quarterback with 300 FPs against the league’s toughest schedule while missing 3.6 games. Here’s another way to consider the same idea: Jay Cutler ranked 25th in fantasy points in 2013, but the quarterback position for the Bears (i.e., Cutler and Josh McCown) ranked as the 4th highest team QB last year.

You can read the full article here.

{ 1 comment }

Last year, I provided a starting point for my running back projections. The idea is pretty simple: some fantasy statistics are much more repeatable, or sticky, than others. Over at Footballguys.com, I used the following formula to help isolate those factors:

1) Rushing Yards (R^2 = 0.47). The best-fit formula to predict rushing yards is:

-731 + 3.73 * Rush Attempts + 180 * Yards/Rush

2) Receptions (R^2 = 0.42). The best-fit formula to predict receptions is:

11.1 + 0.39 * Receptions + 0.032 * Receiving Yards

3) Receiving Yards (R^2 = 0.38). The best-fit formula to predict receiving yards is:

83.7 + 1.65 * Receptions + 0.46 * Receiving Yards

4) Rushing Touchdowns (R^2 = 0.29). The best-fit formula to predict rushing touchdowns is:

0.1 + 0.0037 * Rushing Yards + 0.35 * Rushing Touchdowns

5) Receiving Touchdowns (R^2 = 0.23). The best-fit formula to predict receiving touchdowns is:

0.1 + 0.0022 * Receiving Yards + 0.25 * Receiving Touchdowns

Using these formulas, we can come up with a good starting point for your 2014 running back projections.

You can read the full article here.


Green is poised for another monster year

Green is poised for another monster year.

Last year, at Footballguys.com, I looked at the best starting point for wide receiver projections. Well, I’ve re-run the numbers and come up with the best starting point for wide receiver projections in 2014.

The general philosophy is that receiving yards can be re-written using the following formula:

Receiving yards = (Receiving Yards/Target) x (Targets/Team_Pass_Att) x Team_Pass_Att.

Since each of those variables regress to the mean in different ways, we can get a more accurate projection of future receiving yards by projecting each of those three variables than by simply looking at past receiving yards. For example, here are the best fit formulas for each of those metrics:

Future Pass Attempts = 36 + (450 x Pass_Attempts/Play) + (0.255 x Offensive Plays)

Future Percentage of Targets = 6.2% + 71.3% x Past Percentage of Targets

Future Yards/Target = 5.5 + 0.29 x Past Yards/Targets

If you take a look at the three coefficients, the number of offensive plays run from year to year and the yards per target averages are not very sticky; both have coefficients of less than 0.3, which indicates a significant amount of regression to the mean. Meanwhile, percentage of targets is much, much sticker, at 71%.1

As a result, this regression really likes players like A.J. Green (5th in receiving yards in 2013, projected to be 1st in 2014), Andre Johnson (7th, 2nd) and Vincent Jackson (14th, 6th). To find out who else this metric likes and dislikes, and for a more thorough analysis, you can read the full article here.

  1. Pass attempts per play can’t be analyzed the same way, at least using the formulas presented here, but it does look as though the pass-heaviness of an offense is moderately sticky, too. And that would be even more true if we accounted for game scripts, I suppose. []

Don't worry, this will all make sense by the end. I think.

Don't worry, this picture's presence will make sense by the end. I think.

Two years ago, I wrote this post on running back aging curves. One conclusion from my research was that age 26 was the peak age for running backs, which was immediately followed by a steady decline phase until retirement. In that study, I only wanted to look at very good-to-excellent running backs in the modern era; as a result, I was forced to limit myself to just 36 players. I’ve been meaning to update that post, but wasn’t quite sure what methodology to use.

Last year, Neil wrote a very interesting post on quarterback aging curves. In it, Neil computed the year-to-year differences in Relative ANY/A at every age. While reviewing that post, a lightbulb went off. We can greatly increase the sample size if we only look at running backs from year-to-year, and not just the best running backs on the career level.

There are 723 running backs since 1970 who had at least 150 carries in consecutive seasons and who were between 21 and 32 in the first of those two seasons. For each running back pair of seasons, I calculated how many rushing yards the player gained in Year N and many yards he gained in Year N+1. Take a look:

[click to continue…]


Just above these words, it says “posted by Chase.” And it was literally posted by Chase, but the words below the line belong to Steve Buzzard, who has agreed to write this guest post for us. And I thank him for it. Steve is a lifelong Colts fan and long time fantasy football aficionado. He spends most of his free time applying advanced statistical techniques to football to better understand the game he loves and improve his prediction models.

The way to win fantasy football games is to have players that score a lot of points.  Players tend to score more points when they get more touches.  One of the most important factors in determining how many touches each player is going to have is to determine the Game Script ahead of time.  As we all know positive game scripts result in more passing attempts and negative Game Scripts result in more rushing attempts.  But I am going to try to project the pass ratio using two key stats, Pass Identity rating and the Vegas spreads. We can use these projected pass ratios to build our own projections or at least look for outliers and figure out how to adjust players from their year to date averages.

Regular readers know what Pass Identity means. For newer readers, you can read here to see how Pass Identities are calculated.  But the quick summary is that Pass Identity grades allow us to predict the pass ratio of any game where the point spread is zero. This is because Pass Identity tries to eliminate the Game Script from the pass ratios.  For example since the Bears/Cowboys game is a pick’em this week, we can predict the pass ratio of the Bears by using the following formula.  League average pass ratio + (A + B) *C, where

    (A) = number of standard deviations above/below average the Bears are in Game Script (-0.49);


    (B) = number of standard deviations above/below average the Bears are in Pass Ratio (+0.53); and

(C) = the standard deviation among the thirty-two teams with respect to Pass Ratio (5.3%)

Of course, the product of (A) and (B) is the Pass Identity grade for each team; once we determine that, we multiply that number by the standard deviation of the pass ratios of all teams to get us a prediction for the pass ratio in a game with a Game Script of 0.0. Since the Bears have a Pass Identity of basically 100, the projected Pass Ratio for Chicago against Dallas is 58.9%.

We can then compare this projection to Chicago’s year-to-date pass ratio of 61.5% and predict that all else equal Jay Cutler and the passing game should score about 4%1 less this week than their average week where as Matt Forte and the run game would score about 4% more.

[click to continue…]

  1. Since 58.9% is 96% of 61.5%. []

Trent Richardson and 400 carries

Richardson powers through for three yards

Richardson powers through for three yards.

Trent Richardson has been a frequent topic of discussion at Football Perspective. In about 14 months, I’ve written the following articles:

  • How often does the first running back selected in the draft become the best running back from his class? The field is always a better bet than one player: Only about 40% of the highest-drafted backs led their class in rushing yards as a rookie, with that number dropping to about 33% on a career basis. On the other hand, that’s better than the production of the first-drafted wide receiver.
  • In 2012, the field won, as both Doug Martin and Alfred Morris rushed for more yards than Richardson. I then tried to project the number of yards for all three players for 2013 based on their draft status and rookie production; as it turns out, draft status remained extremely important, and Richardson projected to average the most yards per game in year two out of that group (a projection that doesn’t look very good right now).
  • In July, I continued to voice my disdain for the use of yards per carry as the main statistic for running backs, when I argued that Richardson’s 3.6 average last year was not important. More specifically, I said if you loved Richardson as a prospect, his 3.6 YPC average in 2012 was not a reason to downgrade him (of course, if you didn’t like Richardson, that’s a different story). Richardson still received a huge percentage of Cleveland carries and had a strong success rate, and I argued that his low YPC was simply a function of a lack of big plays. For a more in-depth breakdown of his rookie season, Brendan Leister compiled a good film-room breakdown of some of Richardson’s mistakes in 2012. Leister noted that Richardson had some mental mistakes, which isn’t atypical of a rookie, and still fawned over the former Alabama star’s physical potential.
  • After the trade to Indianapolis, I wrote that Richardson’s ability as a pass blocker was tough to analyze, and advised you to view some of the numbers thrown around in support of Richardson with skepticism. Believe it or not, I still have thoughts on that trade that I just haven’t gotten around to finishing, so look for my hot take on the Richardson deal to be published in say, March.

In 75 carries with the Colts, Richardson is averaging just 3.0 yards per carry. Even though I find yards per carry overrated, there is a certain baseline level of production needed for every running back, and 3.0 falls well short of that number. For his career, Richardson now has 1,283 yards on 373 yards, a 3.44 YPC average. He’ll reach 400 career carries in a couple of weeks, so I thought it might be interesting to look at the YPC averages of all running backs after their first 400 carries.

We can’t measure that exactly through game logs, but what we can do is calculate the career YPC average of each running back after the game in which they hit 400 career carries. The table below shows that number for all running backs who entered the league in 1960 or later and is current through 2012. Let’s start with the top 50 running backs:
[click to continue…]


This guy's 1982 Chargers sure come up a lot when we do lists like these.

This guy's 1982 Chargers sure come up a lot when we do lists like these.

More than a decade ago (on a side note: how is that possible?), Doug wrote a series of player comments highlighting specific topics as they related to the upcoming fantasy football season. I recommend that you read all of them, if for no other reason than the fact you should make it a policy to read everything Doug Drinen ever wrote about football, but today we’re going to focus on the Isaac Bruce comment, which asked/answered the question:

Is this Ram team the biggest fantasy juggernaut of all time?

“This Ram team,” of course, being the 1999, 2000, & 2001 Greatest Show on Turf St. Louis Rams. At the time, Doug determined that those Rams were not, in fact, the best real-life fantasy team ever assembled, by adding up the collective VBD for the entire roster. They ranked tenth since 1970; the top 10 were:

1. 1. 1975 Buffalo Bills – 550 Simpson (281) Ferguson (98) Braxton (83) Chandler (44) Hill (42)

2. 1982 San Diego Chargers – 542 Chandler (190) Fouts (126) Winslow (121) Muncie (92) Brooks (10) Joiner (1)

3. 1994 San Francisco 49ers – 514 Young (208) Rice (140) Watters (98) Jones (67)

4. 1995 Detroit Lions – 478 Mitchell (136) Moore (132) Sanders (121) Perriman (87)

5. 1984 Miami Dolphins – 470 Marino (243) Clayton (145) Duper (76) Nathan (6)

6. 1998 San Francisco 49ers – 467 Young (200) Hearst (137) Owens (81) Rice (46) Stokes (1)

7. 1986 Miami Dolphins – 456 Marino (210) Duper (94) Clayton (76) Hampton (61) Hardy (13)

8. 2000 Minnesota Vikings – 452 Culpepper (170) Moss (123) Smith (87) Carter (70)

9. 1991 Buffalo Bills – 449 Thomas (157) Kelly (143) Reed (80) Lofton (51) McKeller (17)

10. 1999 St. Louis Rams – 435 Faulk (184) Warner (179) Bruce (71)

As an extension of Chase’s recent post on the The Best Skill Position Groups Ever, we thought it might be useful to update Doug’s study in a weekend data-dump post. I modified the methodology a bit — instead of adding up VBD for the entire roster, for each team-season I isolated the team’s leading QB and top 5 non-QBs by fantasy points (using the same point system I employed when ranking the Biggest Fluke Fantasy Seasons Ever). I then added up the total VBD of just those players, to better treat each roster like it was a “real” fantasy team.

Anyway, here are the results. Remember as well that VBD is scaled up to a 16-game season, so as not to short-change dominant fantasy groups from strike-shortened seasons (:cough:1982 Chargers:cough:).
[click to continue…]


Yesterday, I set up a method for ranking the flukiest fantasy football seasons since the NFL-AFL merger, finding players who had elite fantasy seasons that were completely out of step with the rest of their careers. I highlighted fluke years #21-30, so here’s a recap of the rankings thus far:

30. Lorenzo White, 1992
29. Dwight Clark, 1982
28. Willie Parker, 2006
27. Lynn Dickey, 1983
26. Robert Brooks, 1995
25. Ricky Williams, 2002
24. Jamal Lewis, 2003
23. Mark Brunell, 1996
22. Vinny Testaverde, 1996
21. Garrison Hearst, 1998

Now, let’s get to…

The Top Twenty

20. RB Natrone Means, 1994

Best Season
2nd-Best Season

Big, bruising Natrone Means burst onto the scene in 1994 as a newly-minted starter for the Chargers’ eventual Super Bowl team, gaining 1,350 yards on the ground with 12 TDs. In the pantheon of massive backs, he was supposed to be the AFC’s answer to the Rams’ Jerome Bettis, but Means was slowed by a groin injury the following year and never really stayed healthy enough to recapture his old form. The best he could do was to post a pair of 800-yard rushing campaigns for the Jaguars & Chargers in 1997 & ’98 before retiring after the ’99 season.

19. WR Braylon Edwards, 2007

Best Season
2nd-Best Season

The 3rd overall pick in the 2005 Draft out of Michigan, Edwards seemingly had a breakout 2007 season catching passes from fellow Pro Bowler Derek Anderson. But both dropped off significantly the next season, and Edwards was sent packing to the Jets in 2009. He did post 904 yards as a legit starting fantasy wideout in 2010, but he has just 380 receiving yards over the past 2 seasons, and it’s not clear he’ll ever live up to those eye-popping 2007 numbers again.
[click to continue…]


I prefer cooking in a Garrison  Hearst replica jersey

I prefer cooking in a Garrison Hearst replica jersey.

There’s nothing like a truly great fluke fantasy season. Because they can help carry you to a league championship (and therefore eternal bragging rights — flags fly forever, after all), a random player who unexpectedly has a great season will often have a special place in the heart of every winning owner. And even if you only use their jerseys as makeshift aprons to cook in, fluke fantasy greats are a part of the fabric of football fandom. That’s why this post is a tribute to the greatest, most bizarre, fluke fantasy seasons of all time (or at least since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger).

First, a bit about the methodology. I’m going to use a very basic fantasy scoring system for the purposes of this post:

  • 1 point for every 20 passing yards
  • 1 point for every 10 rushing or receiving yards
  • 6 points for every rushing or receiving TD
  • 4 points for every passing TD
  • -2 points for every passing INT

I’m also measuring players based on Value Based Drafting (VBD) points rather than raw points. In a nutshell, VBD measures true fantasy value by comparing a player to replacement level, defined here as the number of fantasy points scored by the least valuable starter in your league. For the purposes of this exercise, I’m basing VBD on a 12-team league with a starting lineup of one QB, two RBs, 2.5 WRs, and 1 TE. That means we’re comparing a player at a given position to the #12-ranked QB, the #24 RB, the #30 WR, or the #12 TE in each season. If a player’s VBD is below the replacement threshold at his position, he simply gets a VBD of zero for the year.
[click to continue…]


If you don’t play fantasy football, you probably have no idea what this title means. Of course, it’s 2013, so if you don’t play fantasy football, you’re now the oddball. “PPR” stands for points per reception. About half of all fantasy leagues do not give any points for receptions, while the other half includes some sort of PPR format. And while the value of every player is dependent on each league’s scoring system, few players see their value fluctuate between scoring systems quite like Wes Welker. Or, at least, that’s how it seems. Is there a way to measure this effect?

First, a review of Welker’s numbers since he joined the Patriots:

Games Receiving
Rk Player Year Age Draft Tm Lg G GS Rec Yds Y/R TD Y/G
1 Wes Welker 2012 31 NWE NFL 16 12 118 1354 11.47 6 84.6
2 Wes Welker 2011 30 NWE NFL 16 15 122 1569 12.86 9 98.1
3 Wes Welker 2010 29 NWE NFL 15 11 86 848 9.86 7 56.5
4 Wes Welker 2009 28 NWE NFL 14 13 123 1348 10.96 4 96.3
5 Wes Welker 2008 27 NWE NFL 16 14 111 1165 10.50 3 72.8
6 Wes Welker 2007 26 NWE NFL 16 13 112 1175 10.49 8 73.4

Welker doesn’t get many touchdowns, and while he has respectable yardage totals, he is only exceptional when it comes to piling up receptions. Welker has 672 receptions over the last six seasons, easily the most in the NFL (in fact, it’s the most ever over any six-year stretch). Brandon Marshall (592) and Reggie Wayne (578) are the only two players even within 100 catches of Welker. Over that same time frame, he ranks 4th in receiving yards, but only tied for 17th in receiving touchdowns.

Giselle approves of Welker's form

Giselle approves of Welker's form.

So how can we measure how much more valuable Welker is in PPR-leagues than non-PPR leagues? One way is to use VBD, which is a measure of how much value a player provided over the worst starter (or some other baseline). For example, Welker scored 173 fantasy points and ranked as WR12 in non-PPR leagues last season. If you are in a start-three wide receiver league, the worst starter would be WR36, who scored 111 fantasy points. That means Welker provided 62 points of VBD.
[click to continue…]


For eleven straight years, I’ve written an article called “Defensive Team By Committee.” This year’s version is up at Footballguys.com (subscriber only).

Fantasy defenses are inconsistent from year to year, making it difficult to predict which defenses and special teams (D/STs) will excel. And, at least in theory, the teams available at the ends of your drafts should provide less rewards. So how do you get great production out of the position while saving your most important draft picks?

We spend countless hours analyzing team offenses, and relatively few thinking about team defenses. But an average defense against a bad offense will do just as well as a great defense against an average offense. The key to the DTBC system is to find two teams available late in your draft whose combined schedule features predominantly weak offenses. By starting your defense based on matchups, your D/ST will generally face a weak offense, meaning your D/ST position will score lots of fantasy points.

You can read my two picks, along with a ranking of all 496 combinations, here.

For you iPad users our there, I’ll also recommend the $4.99 Footballguys Fantasy Football Magazine Draft Kit, an awesome resource at a super cheap cost. That includes the Draft GM Kit, which you can separately order if (like me) you don’t have an iPad but do have an iPhone. Both products will also be available on Android very soon, if not already by the time you read this. You can receive all Footballguys updates by signing up on the Free Footballguys Daily E-mail list.


Fantasy Football: Expected VBD (FBG)

[Note: For the rest of the year, content over at Footballguys.com is subscriber-only.]

Over at Footballguys.com, I build upon Joe Bryant’s VBD and create the idea of Expected VBD. While VBD is a great way to understand the value of players, Expected VBD explains how we draft. This concept is why even though you may expect some kickers and fantasy defenses to perform well, you don’t take them early in the draft because they have low Expected VBDs. So what is Expected VBD?

Instead of drafting according to strict VBD, you should be drafting to something I’ll call Expected VBD, which is best defined by an example. Suppose Russell Wilson has three equally possible outcomes this year: he has a one-in-three chance of scoring 425 fantasy points, 325 fantasy points, and 225 fantasy points. Further, let’s assume that the baseline number of fantasy points at the quarterback position is 300 fantasy points.

We would project Wilson to score 325 points, which would be the weighted average of his possible outcomes. This means VBD would tell you that he is worth 25 points, because 325 is 25 points above the baseline. Expected VBD works like this: If Wilson scores 425 points, he’ll produce 125 points of VBD. If he scores only 325 points, he’ll be worth +25, and if he scores only 225 points, he’s going to have -125 points of VBD. In real life, players with negative VBD scores can be released or put on your bench. So if Wilson scores 225 points (probably due to injury), you’ll start another quarterback, roughly a quarterback who can give you baseline production.

So when Wilson scores 225 fantasy points, his VBD is 0, not -75. That means his Expected VBD would be (125+25+0)/3, or 50. Wilson’s VBD according to our projections may be only 25, but his Expected VBD is twice as large because Expected VBD does not provide an extra penalty for sub-baseline performances. Not surprisingly, different positions have different amounts of Expected VBD associated with them.

Below is the summary graph — it has quickly become one of my all-time favorite graphs — which shows the Expected VBD by each position according to Average Draft Position.


I go into much more detail in the full article.


In 2008, Larry Fitzgerald had a fantastic regular season capped off by a historically great postseason; in the Super Bowl, he set the record for receiving yards in a season, including playoff games, with 1,977 yards. Of course, 2008 was decades ago in today’s era of what have you done for me lately. The table below shows Fitzgerald’s stats over the past four seasons. The final two columns show the total number of receiving yards generated by all Cardinals players and Fitzgerald’s share of that number.

YearRecYdsYPRTDARI Rec YdsPerc

2009 was the last season of the Kurt Warner/Anquan Boldin Cardinals. The 97 receptions and 13 touchdowns look great, although hitting those marks and not gaining 1,100 receiving yards is very unusual. Fitzgerald was only responsible for 26% of the Cardinals receiving yards that season, although one could give him a pass since he was competing with another star receiver for targets.

Can Fitzgerald rebound in 2013?

Can Fitzgerald rebound in 2013?

In 2010, Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Max Hall, and Richard Bartel were the Cardinals quarterbacks: as a group, they averaged 5.8 yards per attempt on 561 passes. Arizona’s passing attack was bad, but without Boldin, Fitzgerald gained 34.8% of the team’s receiving yards. Steve Breaston chipped in with 718 receiving yards yards while a 22-year-old Andre Roberts was third with 307 yards. In other words, Fitzgerald performed pretty much how you would expect a superstar receiver to perform on a team with a bad quarterback and a mediocre supporting cast: his raw numbers were still very good (but not great) because he ate such a huge chunk of the pie. After the 2010 season, I even wondered if he could break any of Jerry Rice’s records (spoiler: he can’t).

In 2011, Skelton, Kevin Kolb and Bartel combined for 3,954 yards on 550 passes, a 7.2 yards per attempt average (Kolb was at 7.7 Y/A). That qualifies as a pretty respectable passing game and Fitzgerald appeared to have a monster year, gaining 35.7% of the Cardinals’ receiving yards (Early Doucet was second with 689 yards and Roberts was third with 586 yards). It’s always hard splicing out cause and effect, but my takeaway is that with a more competent passing game, Fitzgerald continued to get the lion’s share of the team’s production but unlike in 2010, this led to great and not just good numbers.
[click to continue…]


Over at Footballguys.com, I look at a different method to project receiving yards.

The number of receiving yards a player produces is the result of a large number of variables. Some of them, like the receiver’s ability, are pretty consistent from year to year. But other factors are less reliable, or less “sticky” from year to year. I thought it would be informative to look at three key variables that impact the number of yards a wide receiver gains and measure how “sticky” they are from year to year. These three variables are:

  • The number of pass attempts by his team;
  • The percentage of his team’s passes that go to him; and
  • The receiver’s average gain on passes that go to him.

We can redefine receiving yards to equal the following equation:

Receiving yards = Receiving Yards/Target x Targets/Team_Pass_Att x Team_Pass_Att.

You’ll notice that Targets and Team Pass Attempts are in both the numerator and denominator of one of the fractions, and they will cancel each other out: that’s why this formula is equivalent to receiving yards.

By breaking out receiving yards into these three variables, we can then examine the stickiness of each one, which should help our Year N+1 projections. Below are the best-fit equations for each of those variables in Year N+1:

Future Pass Attempts = 36 + (450 x Pass_Attempts/Play) + (0.255 x Offensive Plays)

Future Percentage of Targets = 6.2% + 71.3% x Past Percentage of Targets

Future Yards/Target = 5.5 + 0.29 x Past Yards/Targets

I then used those three equations to come up with a starting point for receiving yards projections for 28 wide receivers. You can read the full article here.


Over at Footballguys.com, I explain my method of how to value a player that we know is going to a certain number of games. You can’t simply use the player’s projected number of fantasy points because that will underrate him. But if you go by his projected points per game average, he’ll be overrated. Using Rob Gronkowski as an example, I explained my method:

First, you need to determine the fantasy value of a perfectly healthy Gronkowski.  Prior to today’s news, David Dodds had projected Gronkowski to record 70 catches for 938 yards and 9 touchdowns… but in only 14 games.  This means Dodds had projected the Patriots star to average 10.6 FP/G in standard leagues, 15.6 FP/G in leagues that award one point per reception, and 18.1 FP/G in leagues like the FFPC that give tight ends 1.5 points per reception.

But those numbers aren’t useful in a vacuum: the proper way to value a player isn’t to look at the number of fantasy points he scores.  Instead, the concept of VBD tells us that a player’s fantasy value is a function of how many fantasy points he scores relative to the other players at his position.  I like to use a VBD baseline equal to that of a replacement player at the position, and “average backup” is a good proxy for that.  In a 12-team league that starts one tight end with no flex option, that would be TE18.  In standard leagues, TE18 on a points per game basis is Brandon Myers, the ex-Raiders tight end now with the Giants.  Footballguys projects Myers to average 5.4 FP/G in standard leagues and and 8.9 FP/G in PPR leagues.  In 1.5 PPR leagues, Martellus Bennett comes in at TE18 in our projections, with an average of 10.6 FP/G.

You can read the full article, which includes a neat table, here.


At Footballguys.com, I explain why fantasy football owners need to understand the concept of regression to the mean. Readers of this blog probably don’t need the long background, but you might enjoy some of the graphs at the end. For example, this is the distribution of yards per carry in Year N and yards per carry in Year N+1:

regression ypc

You can read the full article here.


Over at Footballguys.com, I identified which quarterback statistics are repeatable and which ones are most likely to regress to the mean. I also ran a regression using touchdown length as my input and future touchdowns as my output.

From 1990 to 2011, 188 different quarterbacks started at least 14 games and thrown 300+ passes in one year, and then attempted at least 300 passes for the same team the next season. After analyzing the lengths of each touchdown pass for those quarterbacks, I discovered the following:

  • For every one-yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.70 touchdowns in Year N+1
  • For every two-to-five-yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.56 touchdowns in Year N+2
  • For every six-to-ten-yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.77 touchdowns in Year N+2
  • For every 11-to-20-yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.70 touchdowns in Year N+2
  • For every 21-to-30-yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.22 touchdowns in Year N+2
  • For every 31-to-50-yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.33 touchdowns in Year N+2
  • For every 50+ yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.33 touchdowns in Year N+2

If a team throws touchdowns from inside the red zone, that reveals an offensive philosophy that is good for your fantasy quarterback. On the other hand, 21+ yard touchdowns might make the highlight feels, but are very unpredictable from year to year. What does that mean for 2013?

You can view the full article here.


Over at Footballguys.com, I analyzed how the fantasy value of quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends have changed since 1990. The NFL is a very different beast than it was 23 years ago, but you might be surprised to see what that means for fantasy football. To measure value, I examined the VBD curves for each of the four major positions in fantasy football.

For those unfamiliar with VBD, you can read Joe Bryant’s landmark article here. The guiding principle is that the value of a player is determined not by the number of points he scores but by how much he outscores his peers at his particular position. This means that in a league that starts 12 quarterbacks, each quarterback’s VBD score is the difference between his fantasy points and the fantasy points scored by the 12th best quarterback. The cut-offs at the other positions are 12, 24, and 36, for tight ends, running backs, and wide receivers, respectively.

The NFL in 2013 won’t closely resemble how the league looked in 1990, but what does that mean for fantasy football? To determine that, we need to see if VBD has evolved with the rest of the football statistics. Let’s start with a graph displaying number of fantasy points scored by the last starter at each position since 1990. As you can see, quarterback scoring has risen significantly over the last two decades, and the production of the 12th tight end has nearly doubled over that time period.

Worst Starter Since 1990

You can see the full article here.


Green Bay didn’t use a first round pick on a running back, but the Packers did spend a second round pick on Alabama’s Eddie Lacy and a fourth round pick on UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin.  How much weight should we put on draft status when one team drafts two running backs just a couple of rounds apart?  One school of thought is that the Packers liked both players and are maximizing their odds of finding a star; another is that Green Bay prefers Lacy and wants him to win the job, since he was their first choice.  Here’s another thing to consider, courtesy of my good buddy Sigmund Bloom: the Packers traded down to grab Lacy and traded up to draft Franklin, indicating that perhaps the Packers were higher on Franklin than you might think.

How rare is it for teams to double dip at the running back position like this? That depends on how you want to categorize what the Packers did. I think a reasonable comparison would be to look at all teams that:

  • Did not draft a running back in the first round but drafted one in the second or third rounds (this excludes combinations like Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington); and
  • Then drafted a different running back within the next two rounds

Since 1970, only 34 teams have met those criteria, meaning this is a strategy employed roughly three times every four years. In three instances, a team drafted three running backs that met those two criteria, and we’ll deal with them at the end of this post. I’m going to exclude three teams that drafted fullbacks after selecting halfbacks, as the 2008 Lions (drafted Jerome Felton after Kevin Smith), 2003 Ravens (Ovie Mughelli after Musa Smith), and 1999 Dolphins (Rob Konrad after J.J. Johnson) don’t really fit the intent of the post. That leaves us with 28 pairs of running backs. The table below lists each pair. On the left, you will see the first running back drafted, his round and overall pick, his rookie rushing yards, his rookie fantasy points total (using 0.5 points per reception), and his career rushing yards; on the right, the same information is presented for the second running back drafted. The far right column shows the difference between the two players in terms of fantasy points during their rookie year. For example, Stevan Ridley scored 41 more points than Shane Vereen in 2011, even though the Patriots drafted Vereen first.
[click to continue…]


As most of you know, I also write for Footballguys.com, what I consider to be the best place around for fantasy football information. If you’re interested in fantasy football or like reading about regression analysis, you can check out my article over at Footballguys on how to derive a better starting point for running back projections:

Most people will use last year’s statistics (or a three-year weighted average) as the starting point for their 2013 projections. From there, fantasy players modify those numbers up or down based on factors such as talent, key off-season changes, player development, risk of injury, etc. But in this article, I’m advocating that you use something besides last year’s numbers as your starting point.

There is a way to improve on last year’s numbers without introducing any subjective reasoning. When you base a player’s fantasy projections off of his fantasy stats from last year, you are implying that all fantasy points are created equally. But that’s not true: a player with 1100 yards and 5 touchdowns is different than a runner with 800 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Fantasy points come from rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. Since some of those variables are more consistent year to year than others, your starting fantasy projections should reflect that fact.

The Fine Print: How to Calculate Future Projections

There is a method that allows you to take certain metrics (such as rush attempts and yards per carry) to predict a separate variable (like future rushing yards). It’s called multivariate linear regression. If you’re a regression pro, great. If not, don’t sweat it — I won’t bore you with any details. Here’s the short version: I looked at the 600 running backs to finish in the top 40 in each season from 1997 to 2011. I then eliminated all players who did not play for the same team in the following season. I chose to use per-game statistics (pro-rated to 16 games) instead of year-end results to avoid having injuries complicated the data set (but I have removed from the sample every player who played in fewer than 10 games).

So what did the regression tell us about the five statistics that yield fantasy points? A regression informs you about both the “stickiness” of the projection — i.e., how easy it is to predict the future variable using the statistics we fed into the formula — and the best formula to make those projections. Loosely speaking, the R^2 number below tells us how easy that metric is to predict, and a higher number means that statistic is easier to predict. Without further ado, in ascending order of randomness, from least to most random, here is how to predict 2013 performance for each running back based on his 2012 statistics:

You can read the full article here.


The predictive value of target data, part II

On Monday, I argued that target data has some predictive value. I wanted to update that post with a few observations.

Wide Receiver Targets

In the original post, I looked at year-to-year data for all players with at least 500 receiving yards in Year N and at least 8 games played for the same team in Years N and N+1. But it makes more sense to limit the sample to only wide receivers if we want to predict how wide receivers project in the next season.

There are 554 pairs of wide receiver seasons that meet the above criteria.1 The best fit formula to project future receptions based on prior receptions and prior targets is:

Year N+1 Receptions = 14.0 + 0.547 * Yr_N_Rec + 0.124 * Yr_N_Tar

The R^2 is 0.39, and while the receptions variable is statistically significant by any measure, the targets variable just barely qualifies (p = 0.044) as such. Still, this tells us that for every 8 additional targets a receiver sees in Year N, we can expect one more reception in Year N+1, holding his number of receptions equal.

If we want to project receiving yards instead of receptions, we get:

Year N+1 Receiving Yards = 180.3 + 0.434 * Yr_N_RecYd + 2.55 * Yr_N_Tar

The R^2 is 0.33, implying a slightly less strong relationships, which makes sense: yards are more variable to large outliers than receptions, so you would expect receiving yards to be slightly harder to predict. Another interesting note: the targets variable here is statistically significant at the p = 0.0003 level, and as expected, the receiving yards variable is statistically significant at all levels. Holding receiving yards equal, a receiver would need an additional 19 targets to increase his projected number of receiving yards by 50, so the practical effect may not be all that large.

Addressing the multicollinearity problem
[click to continue…]

  1. I have again pro-rated all seasons to sixteen games. []

Checkdowns: My very first football article

Because I am an enormous narcissist, I wondered if I could find the very first article I ever wrote. And I did. While I doubt anyone visiting the site today wants to read an article by a first-time writer from the summer of 2002, if you do, here is my article discussing the fantasy relevance of a defense when ranking running backs. Here is the intro:

Being the most important position in fantasy football, running backs are analyzed and examined from just about every angle. Most fantasy footballers can tell you who slumped in the 2nd half, who had a great ypc, and who had a ton of “fluky” TDs last year that won’t likely happen again. One factor a lot of owners look into is the defense of a RB. Logic dictates that the RBs on good defenses are like gold mines: see Eddie George the past few years, Jamal Lewis and A-Train when their teams Ds had breakout seasons, and the original superstar of modern fantasy football, Emmitt Smith. 4 straight years as the number 1 RB, and his team’s D was in the top 5 all 4 years. Teams with great Ds are notorious for pounding the ball late in game, running a lot early in games(so as to not throw interceptions, and win the battle of field position and win it with your defense), and basically pad your RBs stats. While some put more weight than others on the importance of a strong D(some view it as very important, others as a deciding factor between 2 backs they rate similarly), it appears the correct weight to put on a defense when evaluating a RB is 0. Zilch. Nothing. Meaningless. Let’s take a look at last year:

S. Davis1432133205200112

Yards is the rushing yards, DPA is the POINTS ALLOWED RANK by that RBs defense, DPYA and DRYA are the rank that RBs team fared in Passing and Rushing yards allowed respectively, and TDs are rushing TDs for that RB. DTR is the average of the 3 defensive categories. The top 2 RBs last year were on teams with defenses who were in the bottom 5 of the league against the run. Using “common theory’, one would figure that teams that can’t stop the run, can’t control the clock, get behind early, and have to pass more. Those who backed off on Holmes and Martin due to their poor Ds(and Stephen Davis included) missed out. On average, the top 10 rushers in the league had well, average defenses. Middle of the pack in terms of points allowed, rushing yards allowed and passing yards allowed. Is this a one year trend?

I think it was Doug Drinen who once said if you don’t look at something you wrote five years ago and cringe, then you aren’t improving as a writer. For ten years old, this article seems to hold up okay although it could certainly use some editing. Fortunately, the conclusion is cringe-inducing enough for me to be convinced that I have improved from my first piece to my last.

Previous Posts