There’s an old fantasy football adage which stipulates the following: championships are never won in the first round; they can only be lost in the first Round. I am a firm believer in this piece of ancient wisdom (believed to have been brought down from the mount by Moses) — last year, it wasn’t the selection of Antonio Brown in the first that brought you that elusive fantasy trophy, but likely that RB3 flier you took later in the draft.
Heading into a draft, every fantasy owner has a list of players who he or she feels will have bounce-back seasons. Some of the players on the list are coming off an injury (see Jimmy Graham), some have switched teams (see DeMarco Murray) and still others will be playing in a new system (see Chris Ivory) or have an opportunity to start for the first time (see Ladarius Green). While the preparation of a “bounce-back list” is a sound strategy, it is largely driven by human intuition. As a computer geek, I find that prospect worrisome— isn’t there some way to inject some cold, hard logic into the process?
Enter Mighty Max, my decades-old supercomputer, to add some order to the chaos. I asked Max to see if there was some way we could use formula to find a few players who had a high probability of a bounce-back season. Here are some of the criteria we used to whittle down the pool of candidates:
- Minimum of three years in the league
- Considered “draft-worthy”
- Increasing fantasy production from 2012-14
- Performance in 2015 at least 20 percent below that of 2014 (but above the position average)
- They are not past the age of effectiveness for their position
We want to look at four-year veterans, because anything less than that is not enough to establish a reputation for being productive; “draft-worthy” would mean players likely to be on a fantasy roster; increasing fantasy production would indicate a positive fantasy reputation; a drop-off in production last year would indicate a devaluing in fantasy owners’ eyes; and finally, we want to make sure that they have not hit the infamous “wall” for their position.
Max chugged through the data and came up with the following:
Some observations on Max’s selections:
- Rashad Johnson, DB, Tennessee: Was Johnson the victim of an overcrowded and talented secondary in Arizona, or did his skills begin to decline? Johnson has a nose for the ball — 12 interceptions the past three years — but the big question is whether or not he’ll come close to replicating the 92 total stops he posted in 2014. I have the feeling he’ll settle in to the 70 tackle range with 4-5 interceptions.
- Connor Barwin, DL, Philadelphia: Barwin’s fantasy explosion in 2014 was due to his posting 14.5 sacks, more than double his output from the year before; the problem was that he only got the quarterback seven times last season. Can Barwin hit double-digits in sacks in 2016? I think he’ll have a tough time hitting that milestone.
- Matt Forte, RB, New York Jets: I’ve been a huge Forte mark for years. He was having a productive season last year, but missed three games due to injury. If the Jets are serious about reducing his work load to keep him fresh, I like Forte’s chances of improving on 2015’s output.
- DeMarco Murray, RB, Tennessee: In isolation, I would say that Murray bouncing back in 2016 is a lock; but nothing in the NFL is in isolation. The Tennessee Titans drafted Derrick Henry in the second round, and they didn’t do that to have the kid sit. Murray should surpass last year’s production, but by how much depends on the reps the Titans will insist on giving Henry.
- Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego: This future Hall of Fame tight end is in the twilight of his career. Looking at 2015, however, I can’t really say that his per-game production was too far off from his 2013-14 seasons’; he simply missed too many games (five). So this becomes a leap of faith for fantasy football owners: if you think Gates will play in at least 12 games at the age of 36, he’ll top last season’s numbers.
- Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver: Sanders is another player I like to watch play; this guy has a love for the game that’s infectious. Unfortunately, he also has a terrible quarterback situation in Denver, where it’ll be Mark Sanchez under center until Week 4. Then in response to all the burning effigies in and around Mile High Stadium, rookie Paxton Lynch will handle the duties. It’ll be hard for Sanders to top (or perhaps even match) last season’s numbers with the quarterback situation in Denver.
There you have it … just a little extra ammunition for your draft. Use this information in context and you should be able to nab a bounce-back player in 2016!