Football

Saying Thanks – 10 Articles to a Primetime Title

jamaalcharles

About a month ago I was fortunate enough to win 1st and 2nd Place in the National Fantasy Football Championship and take home in excess of $200,000. There’s obviously a lot of luck involved in owning the exact right roster combination when going against other elite teams, but where skill was a factor, a lot of credit goes to the RotoViz community. We wrote hundreds of articles in the run-up to the 2013 season. Not all of them were oracular. Some of the least prescient were probably written by me. But a lot of the work was truly incredible, and this is my piece where I try to recognize a few of those articles and say thank you to my fellow RotoViz scribes for the difference their work made in my season.

These were the 10 pieces that helped change my life. They’re the pieces that helped shape my specific championship teams, but this is by no means an exhaustive list of the great work done by my friends here. I’ve heard from many readers that they also won championships as a result of these and other great RotoViz articles. I hope your season was a similar success.

10. Is Zac Stacy the Best SEC Workhorse? by Jon Moore

By the time the PFF Dynasty rookie draft occurred last summer, I was so high on Zac Stacy that he was No. 2 overall on my board. Stacy had a ridiculous Agility Score, he fit a late round profile similar to Arian Foster, and his advanced college stats showed far more explosiveness than anyone was willing to give him credit for.

Fortunately, Jon bothered to break down his regular college stats and show how he was an elite runner in the brutal SEC. Stacy led the conference in 2011-2012 in 10-plus carry games, finished behind only Marcus Lattimore in percentage of games with a touchdown, and behind only Knile Davis and Eddie Lacy in rushing yards per game. Here’s what Jon had to say after looking through all of the data:

It’s interesting that the two names above and two names below Stacy are the ones getting all the credit.  Meanwhile, there is Zac Stacy with no character concerns or major injuries to his name.  He’s a proven producer and a fantastic athlete that has drawn comparisons to Ray Rice here at RotoViz.  Where will he get drafted?  Who knows.  What I do know is that this skill set will make some NFL franchise very happy.

Needless to say, he made the Rams very happy indeed – after they realized what they had in him. He was also the difference-maker for my second place squad. While I prefer to use a WR in the Flex, this team ended up light at the most crucial position after I employed the unusual tactic of drafting both Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. Gronk was my Flex, but in a puff of bad injury luck, he was gone. The third running back behind Charles and Bell, Stacy ended up as an elite Flex for this squad.

9. Andy Reid: Jamaal Charles Wingman by Jacob Myers

Jamaal Charles has long been my favorite NFL running back. I explained before the season why Charles was a better reality player than Adrian Peterson, and this piece by Jacob Myers deftly demonstrates why he had such a massive ceiling in 2013.

During McCoy’s last three seasons under Reid, he averaged 8.36 fantasy points from receiving stats alone in PPR formats.

That quote almost seems to foreshadow Charles’ epic Week 15 game. It’s perhaps true that fantasy owners spend a disproportionate amount of time obsessing over their first round pick, but I strongly disagree with the saying: You can’t win your league in the first round. It depends on the type of a league and your intentions. Charles was on every roster that finished in the NFFC Primetime Top 5. If you wanted to be in the conversation for the big money, you had to own Jamaal Charles. While most of my rosters were Zero RB squads, I was saved by owning the best back in football on the two that mattered in the end.

I’ll let Jacob bring it home.

History tells us Jamaal Charles will have the opportunity to be 2013’s top fantasy RB. If he can continue his yards/touch success and the rest of the Chiefs’ offense can show consistency in moving the chains, Charles could easily be fantasy football’s most feared player in 2013, especially in PPR formats.

8. What Will Marc Trestman’s 2013 Offense Look Like? by Charles Kleinheksel

This article was so good its various mentions included a Grantland shoutout from Matt Borcas. While a lot of folks look at coaching changes and make some general declarations, Kleinheksel’s analysis went quite a bit deeper than that. He broke down the tendencies of Marc Trestman, compared them to Cutler’s opportunities under previous Chicago coordinators, and came up with the following conclusion.

Things look good for Cutler. Assuming he takes every snap, he’ll attempt about 578 passes this season. Based on his career completion percentage (60.8%) and TD Rate (4.6%), he could see a 100-point boost to his season fantasy point production. That’s a six point/game boost, and would have made him a top-10 fantasy QB last year.

That’s the type of information that helps you win fantasy leagues, especially when Cutler was frequently available in Round 15 of high stakes drafts. One of the biggest mistakes VBD drafters make is to downgrade the QB position but still select a QB from the bottom of the QB1 tier. If you really believe quarterbacks are less valuable (from a points perspective) and their results are less predictable, then it’s incumbent upon you to take a true Late Round approach. Round 8 is not a late round.

Both of my teams had Jay Cutler, but the funny thing here is that neither team won because of Cutler. In reality, Josh McCown was the prime culprit. While the title team had Russell Wilson, I believed so strongly in the Chicago offense by Week 14 that I chose my Cutler handcuff over Wilson for the first week of the playoffs. McCown threw for 4 touchdowns and rushed for another on the way to 49 points, thus setting our squad up for what followed.

(Although I didn’t own Matt Forte in 2013, this article also forecast the strong RB1 season by the Chicago running back.)

7. and 6. Le’Veon Bell Wants You To Win Fantasy Titles by Davis Mattek and A New Running Back Model to Rank the 2013 Class by Ryan Rouillard

Le’Veon Bell got off to a slow start due to his foot injury and early bye, scoring only 44 points over the first seven weeks. He then exploded starting in Week 8, averaging 17.7 points over the final nine. Among runners who scored at least 50 total points, Bell’s per game average of 16.9 finished as RB9. He scored only 19 fewer points than Adrian Peterson, and, because of when those points occurred, was the more valuable player.

There are no sure things in fantasy football, but Ryan’s new running back model picked him as the safest bet in the rookie class, and by a wide, wide margin. Ryan’s model is based on draft position, running back Dominator Rating, and speed, which means Bell’s best feature – his elite Agility Score – wasn’t even taken into consideration.

Davis built on this research in his article, pointing out how well Bell ranked on the Fantasy Douche’s Agility Index. But he went beyond that and explained why the relative lack of competition for Bell was going to be huge. Davis generated a comp of list of similar backs since 2000 and showed how much difference it was going to make.

Looking at the tables one thing becomes clear: the players who had competition weren’t fantasy stars. Those who were given a clear shot at the job and given starter’s touches did well, or even exceeded expectations.

I probably wouldn’t have drafted Bell at his pre-injury Round 3 ADP – taking an unproven runner when there are still elite WRs on the board doesn’t fit Zero RB – but once he fell into Round 6 he seemed like a bargain. In some ways I got lucky here – Bell’s foot injury lingering all season was well within the range of possibilities – but he was clearly worth the risk in the middle rounds. He ended up on almost every one of my teams.

5. and 4.  Head of the Class: Alshon Jeffery by Jacob Myers, Alshon Jeffery, DeAndre Hopkins, and Rookie Derangement Syndrome by Coleman Kelly

The aforementioned Kleinheksel column about the Bears offense alluded to a bump for Jeffery. Jacob expanded on that here, using Jeffery’s rookie numbers in a Trestman-run offense to make a prediction of 180 fantasy points.

180.9 fantasy points would have made Jeffery a top 10 WR in 2012. Of course, it isn’t reasonable to expect Jeffery to be a WR1 in 2013, but his high TD rate and high yards per reception ratio he posted his rookie year combined with the opportunities 2nd receivers have gotten in Trestman/Kromer offenses is certainly appealing.  

It may not have been reasonable, but it happened. In fact, Jeffery scored 195 standard points. Jacob went on to demonstrate how Jeffery’s market share of collegiate touchdowns was a very promising sign. Coleman Kelly expanded on this idea in his Rookie Derangement article. He begins by comparing Jeffery’s sophomore season at South Carolina to final seasons by A.J. Green, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, and Rueben Randle.

Alshon keeps pace easily with these fantasy studs. Jeffery doesn’t place lower than 3rd in any category except for red zone touchdown rate, and he’s 1st in yards per target, and right in the middle in Dominator Rating. It’s probably worth something that the 4 SEC players have the lowest RZTDRs, and speaks to the talent of those SEC cornerbacks. For some perspective on how amazing his 2010 season was, consider his real yards per target number. Tracked by Bill Connelly over at Football Study Hall, RYPT is an efficiency metric that takes into account how frequently the team passed, and how effectively they passed. Jeffery’s 2010 RYPT is 6th all time since they started tracking wide receiver statistics in 2005.

Coleman goes on to demonstrate why rookies are overrated, that Jeffery is a bigger physical talent than Hopkins, and how players like Jeffery don’t always break out, but when they do, they break out big.

I heartily agreed with Jacob and Coleman. Alshon Jeffery was the one guy I tried to select in every league.

3. 2. and 1. Josh Gordon is the Prettiest Girl at the Bar by Davis Mattek, Dynasty Building Blocks: Josh Gordon by Bryan Fontaine, 10 Redraft Targets in 10 Days: No. 7 Josh Gordon by Fantasy Douche

Davis got the RotoViz offseason obsession with Josh Gordon off on the right track by showing how much the offense should improve under Norv Turner and Rob Chudzinski. He then noted how the WR Sim Scores projected Gordon as WR23, a number he suspected would be an underprojection:

Those numbers strike me as incredibly conservative, however. Gordon received 16% of the team’s targets in 2012, but that number is likely due to rise significantly in 2013; he is just so much more talented than Little, Cameron, Davone Bess and Travis Benjamin. If the Browns attempt 600 passes and Gordon increases his market share of targets to 20%, that will mean 120 targets. Likely, many of those will be high value, downfield targets which is what Gordon specializes in.

Bryan Fontaine is a dynasty editor for PFF Fantasy and one of the best fantasy players out there. He drafted Josh Gordon in the RotoViz Dynasty league, and while he was clipped by Ryan Lessard in the finals, he put together one of the all-time great regular season campaigns. (And that’s not an exaggeration. His squad finished clear of the field by 252 points.) He also selected Gordon for his powerhouse FBG Players Championship league, and won the league title there.

Bryan made the case that Gordon’s two closest rookie comps might have been Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones. He then used the Sim Scores to generate a more inclusive list. Here’s that chart with Bryan’s dynasty rankings included.

NAME ADP Rank Value
A.J. Green 2 1 1
Julio Jones 3 4 -1
Dez Bryant 4 3 1
Demaryius Thomas 5 5 0
Larry Fitzgerald 10 16 -6
Hakeem Nicks 12 9 3
Andre Johnson 13 14 -1
Dwayne Bowe 18 22 -4
Torrey Smith 19 13 6
Josh Gordon 27 12 15
Marques Colston 28 29 -1

 

Bryan had Gordon as WR12 even before the 2013 season started. You should probably be following his various work across the fantasy football landscape.

The Fantasy Douche begins his evaluation of Gordon with an important warning about the cost:

If you did a simple google search for “Josh Gordon fantasy sleeper” I’m sure you would get a good number of results. I’m not going to pretend that’s not problematic, because it is. Every article written about Gordon is going to increase his price, which is going to lower the odds that you get a bargain. It doesn’t do you any good to pick the year’s breakout WR that vaults into the top 24 wide receivers if you end up also paying top 24 WR prices for him at draft time. The draft is about acquiring equity in players, where equity is defined as their performance less the cost to acquire them.

This is an important warning as many drafters will continue to chase trendy players all the way up the board even when it no longer makes sense. On the other hand, there were some very specific things about Gordon that may have caused cautious drafters to get the upside calculation wrong.

If you offered me a chance to acquire a player for basically a fair price based on the prior year’s production, but that player had a range of outcomes that could be wildly better than the prior year outcome, I would take it. In fact I will be taking it with Gordon. You’re basically paying market for Gordon’s 2012 production when you take him at the mid-30s among WRs. Normally you might look at that and say that the player might be just as likely to underpeform their draft spot as they would be to overperform it. But if you adjust the odds by making them conditional upon using that pick on a 22 year old player, and also conditional upon using that pick on a player with an elite Physical Score, then the odds change. Now you have an asymmetric bet, which is what we’re always looking to make in fantasy football.

Winning big fantasy titles is about placing asymmetric bets and having them pay off. I would not have made such a concerted effort to get Josh Gordon if not for the enthusiasm of Davis, Bryan, Frank, and others at RotoViz.

Knowing some of the plans for Season 2, I believe RotoViz has just scratched the surface of what it will eventually provide. I hope you’ll be with us in 2014 as we try to find the next Bell, the next Jeffery, the next Gordon. Our 2014 NFL Draft coverage has already begun.

 

Shawn Siegele is the creator of the contrarian sports website Money in the Banana Stand and Lead Writer for Pro Football Focus Fantasy.

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