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DRAFT STRATEGY: Ignore The Narrative

Tony Romo isn’t clutch” is something we all heard a thousand times in his playing days, usually on a Monday morning following a brutal fourth quarter loss. It’s also one of the dumbest narratives I can think of. Romo’s 2.7 percent interception rate in the fourth quarter is directly in line with his career average. For comparison, Drew Brees has a 2.9 percent and Peyton Manning a 3.1 percent interception rate in the fourth quarter, significantly higher than their career rates of 2.5 percent and 2.7 percent, respectively. Romo averaged a fourth quarter comeback every five starts he made. Tom Brady, who many people consider the most clutch and best quarterback of all time, averaged a fourth quarter comeback every seven starts he made. But we have Romo as the choker and Brady as clutch. Why? Well for one, Brady wasn’t down as often in the fourth quarter because he played for significantly better teams. Second, however, is confirmation bias working at its finest. When we have it in our mind that a player will fail, it will inevitably stick with us longer when he does because we were “right.” We forget about all the times that our preconceived theories were wrong and instead choose to remember the times we were validated, regardless of what the data says.

Confirmation bias and false narratives aren’t confined to Monday morning NFL talk shows. Below we’ll address three common narratives in the fantasy football community and try to flesh out our thought process on them. If we can identify these narratives and take control of our emotions, there’s an edge we can use to get a head-start on our opponents.

1) Injury Prone/Inconsistent

Player X has finished as the WR2, WR5, WR4 in 1/2 point per reception leagues (PPR) the last three years with 46 games played, 14 of which have been single-digit fantasy weeks.

Player Y has finished as WR1, WR3, WR2 in 1/2 PPR the last three years with 45 games played, 13 of which have been single-digit fantasy weeks.

I’m not about to argue that Player X, Julio Jones, should be picked ahead of Player Y, Antonio Brown. What I am arguing is why Jones is somehow injury prone and inconsistent while Brown is the beacon of consistency for fantasy sports.

It seems like a silly point to make considering Jones’ current expert-consensus ranking is WR4, but there’s a loud and substantial #NeverJulio crowd that swear off the player, claiming “he’s injury prone” or “his year-end total may look good, but weekly he’s going to kill you.” One theory a Twitter user presented to me was Jones’ all-world talent can leave some fantasy owners frustrated that he’s not doing more with it. Jones is arguably the best receiver in the real-life NFL, so I understand the viewpoint, but in a purely statistical game like fantasy football we need to leave emotion at the door and look at the production. The production says he’s been just as healthy and consistent compared to the best receiver in fantasy football, even if he hasn’t matched Brown’s touchdown totals.

I’m not telling you draft Jones if you have, say, the 10th pick (though you probably should even if his average draft position is 13). It’s your team and ultimately you pick the player you feel most comfortable with. I am just asking you not to use a crutch like “injury prone” or “inconsistent” to pass on him or anyone else without first looking at what the numbers say.

2) Contract Year

Every off-season we hear about big-name players who are going to have monster years because it’s their contract year. There have been multiple studies that show this simply isn’t a thing. A criticism I commonly see from people clinging to the “contract year” myth about these studies is the methodology of using every player and not “fantasy-relevant players.” I don’t buy in to that criticism seeing as, if it’s real, all players should benefit by it, but let’s use last year’s fantasy relevant “Contract Year” players as designated (rather arbitrarily – I admit) here.

Name ADP 2016 PPG 2017 PPG Difference
Le’Veon Bell 2 23.33 19.94 -3.39
Isaiah Crowell 25 11.56 8.09 -3.47
Carlos Hyde 34 13.74 12.77 -0.97
Terrelle Pryor 36 10.93 4.44 -6.49
Drew Brees 39 21.71 16.9 -4.81
Alshon Jeffery 41 10.01 10.46 0.45
Martavis Bryant 45 13.2 7.17 -6.03
Davante Adams 47 13.07 13.25 0.18
Jimmy Graham 59 9.8 8.91 -0.89
Sammy Watkins 69 8.63 8.45 -0.18
LeGarrette Blount 73 14.34 6.48 -7.86
Jarvis Landry 74 11.52 12.75 1.23
Willie Snead 81 10.37 1.02 -9.35
Terrance West 84 9.63 5.42 -4.21
Kirk Cousins 87 19.51 18.17 -1.34
Thomas Rawls 90 7.67 2.3 -5.37
Eric Decker 92 11.97 5.58 -6.39
Eddie Lacy 94 8.16 2.85 -5.31
Tyrell Williams 99 11.4 7.27 -4.13
Jeremy Hill 109 10.36 2.17 -8.19
John Brown 110 5.26 5.94 0.68
Donte Moncrief 114 9.73 5.34 -4.39
Jordan Matthews 125 9.64 4.47 -5.17
Mike Wallace 139 10.42 8.35 -2.07
Dion Lewis 186 6.6 11.67 5.07
Marqise Lee NA 9.18 8.56 -0.62

All told, we’re seeing 3.19 fewer points per game out of our contract year guys compared to the year prior. New offenses for players like Jordan Matthews and Terrelle Pryor could have played a part, but it didn’t affect Alshon Jeffery. LeGarrette Blount was never going to score 18 touchdowns in Philadelphia like he did in New England in 2016. Tyrell Williams was obviously hurt by the return of Keenan Allen. There’s a story and context for every one of these players, but, again, the raw numbers show that “contract year” didn’t really do much to help most of these guys even in more stable situations (Hyde, Bell, Brees, etc.) either.

3) Coaching Tendencies

“Sean McVay doesn’t force feed his receivers” was a recent point I saw in regards to Brandin Cooks. Coaching tendencies are certainly valuable to look at, but we also need to examine why a coach might have a certain pattern. When it comes to McVay, here’s how his yearly target leaders break down:

2014 Pierre Garcon 19.3%
2015 Jordan Reed 20.5%
2016 Pierre Garcon 18.8%
2017 Cooper Kupp 18.1%

With most top options in the NFL getting 25-30 percent of their team’s target share, McVay’s target shares aren’t that high, giving credibility to the idea that McVay doesn’t force the ball to his receivers. What it ignores however, is that Garcon and Kupp aren’t exactly standout receivers who are so good that you have to throw the ball to them. Reed was one of the dominant tight ends in football, and maybe-not-so-coincidentally, has the highest target share of any McVay pass catcher.

This isn’t to say I think Brandin Cooks will be forced the ball in a McVay offense. His target shares the last three years on his respective teams have been 19.3 percent, 17.4 percent, and 19.4 percent so I wouldn’t expect a huge jump from that. I am just using McVay as an example of looking at the underlying reasons for the narrative and then making your own informed decisions from there, and to not use Cooks getting his career normal target share of 19 percent as another data point for the “McVay doesn’t feed his best receiver” narrative at this time next year.

About Ryan Melosi