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 Matt Forte in the first round that brought you that elusive fantasy trophy, but likely that RB4 flier you took on Justin Forsett.
Heading into a draft, every fantasy owner has a list of players who he feels will have bounceback seasons. Some of the players on the list are coming off an injury (see Paul Posluszny), some have switched teams (see A.J. Hawk) and still others will be playing in a new system (see Eric Decker). While the preparation of a “bounceback 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 bounceback 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 2011-13
- Performance in 2014 at least 20 percent below that of 2013 (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 dropoff 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:
- Andy Dalton had been a quarterback on the rise before taking a step back last season. His success will very clearly depend on fellow bounceback candidate A.J. Green’s ability to remain healthy and on the field for the entire season.
- Eric Decker suffered from a different role in a different offensive system that employed subpar quarterback play. Now back in his more familiar WR2 role, Decker should be able to put up improved numbers in 2015.
- Robert Quinn played a lot better than his final 2014 numbers would indicate; if you watch tape of him, there were several pressures and quarterback hits that could have easily been sacks. I like his chances of a bounceback season.
- Paul Posluszny is a tackling machine. He had been pretty good about staying on the field the past four seasons, until an injury derailed his 2014 campaign (played only seven games). If he stays on the field for 14 games, he’ll be a Top 5 Individual Defensive Player (IDP) linebacker in 2015.
- Both Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus are Buffalo Bills players who will be key components of a stingy Rex Ryan defense, but I’m not 100 percent convinced they’ll generate enough big plays to justify being taken ahead of teammate Mario Williams.
- Gerald McCoy is a solid defensive tackle who can generate some sacks (18 in his last 29 games); however, he fell into bad habits by missing three games last season and by having his tackle numbers fall off. I think McCoy can hit double-digit sacks in 2015, but not sure if he can get back to posting 50 combined tackles, like he did in 2013.
- I like the odds of Muhammad Wilkerson returning to IDP prominence in 2015 —even with teammate Sheldon Richardson due to miss at least four games due to suspension. Not only is he a great defensive lineman, he is playing for an aggressive defensive head coach in Todd Bowles and he’ll have stud rookie lineman Leonard Williams playing alongside him. When Richardson gets back on the field, Wilkerson will face nothing but winnable one-on-one matchups.
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 bounceback player in 2015!