Adrian Peterson and Why Hindsight Is Often Only 50-50
Everything in this piece refers to the fantasy regular season and uses numbers from Weeks 1-13.
It’s time to start checking in on some of my preseason predictions, and it makes sense to begin with one of the craziest. Before the season I wrote that AP was a poor pick in the first five slots and mentioned on Twitter that Peterson wasn’t in the Top 10 on my personal board.
Despite the fact that many studies have shown expert predictions tend to be more similar to each other than they end up being to the final result, my claim led many in the mainstream fantasy community to suggest such a prediction couldn’t be taken seriously. More recently, my original claim has been categorized as “dead wrong.”
— Ryan Boser (@Ryan_Boser) December 2, 2013
This is an interesting take when you consider almost everything I wrote in the preseason about AP has come true. Here’s a quick recap:
- His yards after contact will plummet. True. AP is still the top after-contact runner in the NFL, but his 2013 yac has fallen from 3.9 per carry to 3.1.
- A.P. will continue to struggle to generate yards before contact (Vision Yards). True. He’s averaging 1.5, far below players like Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, and C.J. Spiller.
- Peterson’s inefficiency as a receiver will continue to give him a low PPR ceiling. True. After an early uptick, Peterson has cratered as a receiver. He has five receptions for four yards over the last four games and is averaging 6.1 yards per reception on the season.
- Peterson plays in a terrible offense. Obviously true (although it’s hard not to wonder what he would have done if the Vikings had just started the pedestrian Cassel instead of the woebegone Ponder or moribund Freeman).
- The Vikings will face more large deficits skewing their run/pass splits. True but ultimately irrelevant. Peterson is on pace for 348 attempts.
- Peterson will need to average 6.5 yards per carry to equal Doug Martin and Jamaal Charles. True and false. The schedule was about to open up for Martin, but he was struggling badly before being injured. On the other hand, if Peterson was averaging 6.5 yards per carry instead of 4.6, he would hold a slim 279 to 267 edge over Charles.
Where Should You Have Drafted Adrian Peterson?
It’s one thing to realize the future is uncertain before a season starts. But fantasy football is an exploitable enterprise because the results tend to be misunderstood even after the season ends. As Mrs. Malaprop would probably say, “Hindsight is 50-50.”
The 2013 Leaderboard
It’s difficult to generate widely applicable rankings in terms of value over replacement due to the variety of formats. I’m using a very simple method that assumes a single starter at QB and TE while using 125 ppr points for wide receivers and running backs. Such a baseline roughly corresponds to a 2-RB, 3-WR format or 2-RB, 2-WR with 1-Flex. (If you think this overstates the value of wide receivers, Flex Wins Championships might change your mind. I’ve been very critical of VBD, but simply choosing more accurate replacement baselines will fix many of the issues.) I’m also using 6-pt passing TD format because I’ve yet to see a touchdown awarded only four, although some of the scoring reviews this year lead me to believe it’s only a matter of time.
I’m also including the percentage of NFFC Primetime owners who made the playoffs with each of these players on a roster. I’m using the NFFC because it’s a high stakes format where most participants are competent and invested – whereas some recreational leagues see a lot of skewing from varying experience and effort levels – and because I have access to the numbers.
Despite the WR-heavy nature of the NFFC format, Peterson was the consensus, and indeed almost unanimous, No. 1 overall pick. There is plenty of noise in the NFFC data, and it’s important to remember that the actual results of the 2013 season represent only one possible history out of many. What actually happened isn’t what had to happen, and it’s not necessarily what was most likely to happen. But most people prefer Bill Parcells’ approach: You are what the scoreboard says you are. So that’s what we’ll use for this analysis.
PPG (PPR points per game), PAR (Points above replacement), PAS (Points above average starter at the position) Playoff % (Percentage of owners who made the NFFC playoffs)
Ten players finished with more points above replacement than Adrian Peterson, but that doesn’t directly address the question of his pre-draft value. Since the value of a player is some combination of his points above replacement and his points above expected (in terms of ADP), it should be no surprise that the most valuable players in the Top 20 were Josh Gordon, Knowshon Moreno, Alshon Jeffery, and Antonio Brown. Those players all returned the equivalent of first or second round value for a fraction of the price.
But even though all of those players were far more valuable than Purple Jesus, none of them are really part of our conversation for the same reason. None of those players were realistic choices for No. 1 overall.
Of the 12 players I had ranked ahead of Adrian Peterson on my personal NFFC board, three finished ahead of him (Calvin Johnson, Jamaal Charles, Jimmy Graham), five finished either slightly ahead or slightly behind (Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Marshall, A.J. Green, Andre Johnson, and Dez Bryant), two were injured (Doug Martin, Julio Jones), and two were busts (C.J. Spiller, Trent Richardson). That’s a pretty reasonable spread, especially considering my top two players were Megatron and Charles.
Who Should Have Been Selected No. 1?
In leagues that award six points for passing touchdowns, Peyton Manning has been the most valuable player in terms of points, but he still might not be the most valuable player in terms of roster construction. Having a top quarterback essentially eliminates the value you gain from locating a sleeper like Nick Foles. In fact, Manning was only tied for No. 4 among quarterbacks on NFFC Primetime playoff rosters. He still found his way onto more playoff rosters than Peterson.
When looking at the issue of my negative claim about AP, it’s also important to note that I made a similarly positive claim about Calvin Johnson. Specifically, he was far more likely to maintain No. 1 overall pick value.
Among players in the first round conversation, Calvin Johnson and Jimmy Graham had the greatest impact on making the playoffs. They also scored the most points above an average starter at their respective positions. 29% of Peterson owners made the playoffs, which looks okay until you realize that 26% of NFFC owners made the playoffs (a few wild cards qualified in addition to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place finishers).
Essentially, Peterson conferred almost no value over what should be expected to randomly occur. One of the arguments consistently made in favor of Peterson is a high floor. I can understand the appeal as Martin, Spiller, and Richardson owners all struggled to make the playoffs (although Spiller and Richardson owners shockingly combined to make the same number of playoff appearances as Peterson owners). But I strongly believe this is the wrong way to look at the question. If your goal is to develop a dominant approach to fantasy football, you should obviously be gunning for a strategy that allows you to win more often than what would occur simply due to chance.
The top three players in 2013 were Calvin Johnson, Jamaal Charles, and Jimmy Graham. On the surface, their gap over Peterson isn’t particularly wide, but a player’s points above replacement may give a false impression of his impact on your playoff chances. The most reflective figure is points above average. Megatron, Charles, and Graham all scored in the range of 60-80% more points above an average starter than did Peterson, and that was reflected in a similarly greater likelihood of qualifying for the playoffs.
Being Wrong for the Right Reasons Usually Leads to a Higher Frequency of Simply Being Right
Between RotoViz, Pro Football Focus, and Money in the Banana Stand, I’ve written more than 200 articles on the 2013 season. In that span of time, I’ve made many predictions. Quite a few of those necessarily turn out to be incorrect. I could have been wrong about Peterson. It’s entirely within the realm of possibility that he would have matched his 2012 results (although that would still have made him less valuable than Johnson and Charles). It just wasn’t likely.
This season I was right about where Peterson would finish and I was right about why he would finish there. Peterson is having a normal AP season, and his value is mid-to-late first round in PPR formats. The great thing for RotoViz readers is that he’s almost certainly going to be drafted No. 1 again in 2014.