Monday - Jun 17, 2019

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Chasing Ghosts

I am often amazed at how closely the new year’s fantasy draft resembles the past year’s fantasy results.

Too often, fantasy players – both experienced and those new to the hobby – waste time and energy chasing ghosts. And most often to no avail.

We know that about 60 percent of the Top 5 by position will fall out of that lofty ranking each year. In fact, over the past six seasons only the tight end position has had more than 50 percent of the Top 5 repeat the following season (17-of-30). Running backs (33 percent) and wide receivers (23 percent) are particularly volatile.

For wide receivers, only two players that reached the Top 5 in the past three years managed to repeat the following season.

But this is not about the Top 5. This is about ghosts. This is about drafting someone because they had a superb season a year ago. This is about expecting the same or better results this year than you saw last season.

We all know what happened to
Chris Johnson
after his 2,000-yard season and
Tom Brady
after his 50-touchdown year. What some have forgotten is how far
Peyton Manning
fell after his 49-touchdown season.

Last year, fantasy experts were ranking
Jimmy Graham
Rob Gronkowski
as Top 15 picks with some drafts having one or both of them taken in the first round. While both players had excellent seasons, neither performed at a level sufficient to justify such a lofty draft position.

In fact, only one player that has had a superlative season (20-plus points better than the second ranked player at his position) has managed to come close to his previous season. And he did it with yards rather than touchdowns, so take that into account when considering whether to draft a touchdown maniac.

Calvin Johnson
actually exceeded his scoring from 2011 when he set an NFL record for receiving yards. I would not count on a third consecutive 400-plus point year from the Detroit superstar. Too many things have to go right for that to happen.

Drew Brees
had a superlative 2011 season and led all quarterbacks in scoring in 2012. But he dropped nearly 70 points (an 11.5 percent drop in scoring) in 2012. So those expecting a repeat performance were sorely disappointed.

From 2009 to last year, we have had four different running backs top the scoring for their positions. Each one had a superlative season the year they led the fantasy rankings for their position. These players,
Chris Johnson
Arian Foster
Ray Rice
(406.85) and Adrian Peterson (403.40) averaged 429.7 points per year.

The first three have averaged a drop in scoring of 102.8 points. Percentage-wise, Johnson (-149 points – 32 percent drop), Foster (-78.7 – 18 percent) and Rice (-99.8 – 25 percent) averaged a 25 percent drop in scoring the following season.

This means that Peterson – based on historic reference – is still a solid first-round pick. Just not the first pick overall … which is exactly what he will be in most drafts this season.

You can run similar analysis for both the quarterback and wide receiver positions.

Tight ends, on the other hand, are relatively stable. What you don’t want to do is elevate a particular tight end from the normal draft position for the top player at that position into a much higher ranking. The top tight end should be selected very late in the second round to early in the third round. This means you probably won’t get
Jimmy Graham
this year (or any year) because most will take him too early.

So the $60 million question of the day is: Who DO you take with the first pick in a draft?

For my money it should be
Doug Martin
in point-per-reception (PPR) leagues and
Marshawn Lynch
in non-PPR leagues. Both players had excellent seasons last year. Both are their teams’ predominant ball carriers.

Martin carried the ball on 86 percent (319-of-371) of the carries by Tampa Bay Buccaneer running backs. Martin added 49 receptions and probably wasn’t used as much in the receiving game as he should have been.

Lynch carried the ball on 73 percent (315-of-430) of the carries by Seattle running backs.

These percentages should be relatively stable, and neither back was overused last season.

So should you use the first pick in a draft to get one of these guys? Only if you can’t trade the top pick away. Keep a watch on the average draft position for these players. As of this writing, shows Martin going as the third overall player (PPR leagues – average pick 4.05). Trading down to draft him doesn’t allow you many choices – trade down one spot but could move you up in a later round.

In non-PPR leagues, Lynch is the eighth player being taken currently. The earliest he has been taken thus far is fourth overall. His average draft position is 11.07. This will allow you to drop to the middle of the first round, which gives you a much better chance at both grabbing the player of your choice and moving up in later rounds.

Many will ignore this and grab Peterson with the first pick. History will be against you. It always is when you go chasing ghosts.

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