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Archive for the 'Fantasy' Category

John Carlson and Dustin Keller

3rd September 2009

I've seen John Carlson and Dustin Keller listed fairly high on some draft boards at the tight end position, and it got me wondering. How often does a tight end who has a good rookie season end up having a great career? And are they good value plays in their second season?
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Posted in Fantasy, Player articles | 4 Comments »

Fantasy Running Backs and Team Passing Efficiency

27th August 2008

How important is a good passing game to a running back for fantasy football purposes? Do you want the guy that is a cog in a good offense, or the guy that is the offense?

To check how important the team's passing game is on the fantasy production of the running back, I went through the last twenty years (1988-2007) and found every running back who finished at least 80 fantasy points over baseline (where baseline equals the 24th highest scoring back) in a non-point per reception league (1 point for every 10 rushing and receiving yards; 6 points per touchdown). That produced 138 running back seasons--an average of 6.9 per season. While there has been fluctuation from season to season regarding how many backs have reached that benchmark, from a low of three (1990-1991) to a high of nine (1989, 1998, 2000, 2002 & 2003), I think it is a pretty good measuring stick for elite running backs in a given season.

I then took that list of 138 players and found the team rank in the season in question in adjusted net passing yards per attempt (ANYPA). ANYPA incorporates both sacks and interceptions into the efficiency number. For the purposes of this post, it does a good job of measuring how efficient a passing offense was in creating opportunities for the running back, as a team with a decent yards per attempt, but high interception and sack totals, is going to take the ball out of the hands of the running back by surrendering possession or placing the team in poor running situations.

Once I found the ANYPA rank for each team that had a running back finish with at least 80 fantasy points over baseline, I sorted those backs into tiers based on their relative ranking, and the league size at the time (since there were 28 teams in 1988, but 32 now). The top three passing offenses by ANYPA are tier 1 in the chart below. Each subsequent tier represents approximately the next 10th percentile (rounded to the nearest whole number).

Before getting to the charts, however, I guess I should point out that I'm not making value judgments about the specific quarterbacks that were on these teams; I'm only going by the end result of passing rank. In some situations, the back may be influencing the team passing efficiency numbers by allowing big plays in the passing game due to team's overplaying to stop the back, in others, the back may be the beneficiary of a great offensive cast. In many cases, it's probably a little of both. For example, if I told you that Terry Allen finished first in fantasy points in 1996 with Gus Frerotte as his quarterback, and Ricky Watters finished third with Ty Detmer at quarterback, your gut reaction, without going back and looking at the numbers, is probably that they didn't have very good passing teams. By the numbers, though, Washington was actually the #1 team in ANYPA in 1996, and Philadelphia ranked #11. Let's go ahead and get the first chart, showing how many backs played for a team that had a passing offense in each tier, and how many fantasy points the top backs in each tier averaged:

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Posted in Fantasy, General | 19 Comments »

Top Rookies, Part II

29th February 2008

Yesterday, I looked at how the top rookie RBs and WRs end up performing over the course of their careers. The huge failure rate among WRs reminded me of something I wrote three years ago, when I wrote the "downside" column to a debate about Anquan Boldin's 2004 fantasy value:

There are a lot of reasons to be down on Anquan Boldin this year, looking from a historical perspective. From 1991-2002, we've seen the top rookie WR see their FP/G drop the following year.

Well, Boldin continued the trend, and the next year, Michael Clayton became the fourteenth straight wide receiver to regress after leading his class in fantasy points per game as a rookie (note that yesterday, we looked at raw fantasy points). Since then, though, Braylon Edwards and Marques Colston have improved in their second seasons. Here's a list of the top rookie (measured by FP/G) WR each season since the merger, and then how they performed the next year.

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Posted in Fantasy, History, Statgeekery | 2 Comments »

Rookie RBs/Rookie WRs

28th February 2008

Six years ago, Doug wrote this article on rookie running backs and wide receivers. For those that can't be bothered to click the link, here's a short recap:

Question: how often does the rookie RB who put up the best numbers actually turn into the best RB of that rookie crop?

The answer: very frequently. Almost always, in fact. Edge James, Fred Taylor, Corey Dillon, Eddie George, Curtis Martin, Marshall Faulk, Jerome Bettis, Ricky Watters. That's an 8-year run from 1992-1999 where the top rookie turned into the best back (at least so far -- Fred Taylor will probably get passed by Ahman Green this year [Chase note: Green did pass Taylor, but it took two years, not one for him to grab the lead he still holds. Dillon has since lost his title as well.]).

In fact, look through the list of top-producing rookie RBs and you'll find very few eventual busts among them. Mike Anderson (maybe), Leonard Russell, Ickey Woods, Troy Stradford. Contrast this with the list of top rookie WRs (see the Chris Chambers comment) and you'll see lots and lots of complete zeros.

This just in! LaDainian Tomlinson will probably turn out to be a pretty good player. Extra! Extra! Where else can you get insight like that? Ultimately, this won't help you much, but it is interesting to note the very strong correlation between rookie success and eventual success for RBs and the complete lack of same for WRs.

What's the Chris Chambers comment?

Chris Chambers showed a lot of promise in his rookie year. Instead of regaling you with the gushing accounts of his physical talent -- you can get that anywhere -- I'll just say that I am indeed among the rubes who will be on the bandwagon this year. The guy has some amazing jets. I'll leave it at that.

But in addition to the flashes of raw talent, Chambers also put up the best numbers of any rookie receiver in 2001. Which leads to the question:

How often does the best rookie WR actually turn out to have the best career?

The answer: very, very rarely. Randy Moss had the top rookie season in 1998 and will certainly turn in the best career of all the rookies from his class. But before Moss, you have to go all the way back to 1981 to find a year where the best rookie actually turned into the best receiver over the long haul. That was Cris Collinsworth. Between 1981 and 2000, the WRs with the best rookie seasons ended up with careers that varied from non-existent (Rae Carruth) to mediocre (Darnay Scott) to pretty good (Joey Galloway), but none of them turned into the best WR in their class. Some of those guys are still working on their careers, of course, so this could change (it's possible that Peter Warrick could get his act together, for instance), but if you look through the list, it's clear that the best rookie hardly ever turns in the best career.

All that said, I still like Chambers a lot. I'd put my money on him before I'd put it on any other individual from this rookie class. But against the whole field, he'd be a lousy bet. [Chase note: Chad Johnson, Steve Smith and Reggie Wayne were in this class. Lousy bet, indeed.]

So in the summer of 2002, Doug wrote that the best rookie RB is usually the best RB from his class when he retires, whereas the best rookie WR is almost never the best WR from his class when he retires. Is that still true today?

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Posted in Fantasy, History, Statgeekery | 12 Comments »

Marion Barber III

21st January 2008

Let's take a look at Marion Barber's historically comparable players at age 24. Here is the method I used:

1. Start with 1000 points;
2. Subtract 1 point for every difference of 1 rushing attempt (Barber had 204 in the regular season);
3. Subtract 20 points for every difference of 0.1 in yards per rushing attempt (Barber averaged 4.78 per attempt);
4. Subtract 2 points for every difference in receptions (Barber had 44)
5. Subtract 20 points for every difference of 1 touchdown (Barber had 12).

I then looked at all backs who had 150 or more rushing attempts at age 24, since 1970. Thirty-four different backs have a similarity score of 800 or better. I am actually going to provide the similar players broken down into three lists.

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Posted in Fantasy, General, History | 2 Comments »

Reggie Bush and Maurice Jones-Drew, Part III

15th August 2007

On Monday and Tuesday, we tried to decide who would be the better NFL RB, Reggie Bush or Maurice Jones-Drew. In the end, both were projected to have excellent careers. But let's take a look at their rookie seasons from a different angle now, one commonly promoted by fans of either as reason for optimism in '07.

From weeks 10 through 17 last year, Reggie Bush and Maurice Jones-Drew ranked as the 8th and 4th best fantasy RBs, respectively. This was a large improvement from the first half of the season, when Bush ranked 38th and Jones-Drew ranked 20th at the end of week nine. So it's easy to see why fantasy owners are excited about the prospects for Bush and Jones-Drew, but is it warranted? Bush's average draft position is towards the end of the first round, while MJD's is being selected int he early to middle parts of round two. In fantasy leagues that reward points per reception, both are drafted even earlier.

It's been argued many times over that the light went on for Reggie Bush, and he adjusted to the pro game in the middle of last year. If that was the case, then it certainly seems appropriate to expect Bush to play like the 8th best RB and not the 38th best. But remember that sometimes splits happen with no explanation at all. Further, Bush's big game of the season happened when Marques Colston was on the sidelines, and the 67 rushing yards in week 1 were his second highest total of the season. Bush's strong playoff performance shouldn't be ignored, but neither should the careers of Kevin Jones and William Green.

Like Bush, Green had a subpar YPC average as a rookie in 2002 (3.7), but the last seven weeks of the season he ran for 708 yards and averaged 4.2 yards per carry. It was certainly easy to claim that "the light went on" for Green, and in fact, many thought he'd be a stud in 2003. Green never regained the success from the second half of his rookie season, though, and was out of football last year.

Kevin Jones led the league with over 900 rushing yards in the second half of 2004, his rookie season. He averaged 5.3 YPC, and he was expected to be a stud in 2005. He was drafted as a top 12 RB that year, but was one of the biggest busts of the season.

It's easy to say that Bush and Jones-Drew are way better running backs than Green and Jones. But that's only because of what we've seen since the rookie years of Green and Jones. It's non-controversial to state that Bush has about a million times more talent than Willie Green did. But would you have said that after Green carried his Browns into the playoffs by rushing for 178 yards and two scores against the 9-5-1 Falcons in week 17?

Regardless, the question I want to look at today is whether rookie RBs that perform better at the end of the year play better the next season than those that hit the rookie wall.

Jones-Drew (13th best) and Reggie Bush (18th) were among the 26 rookie running backs since 1996 to total over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. The group was evenly split with respect to yards per carry average: twelve saw their YPC decrease as the season went on, twelve saw it increase, and two saw no change. When looking at fantasy points, the picture was much clearer: only seven saw their fantasy production decrease as the season went on, and only two or three of those seven were significant.

While some people like to use first and second half splits, the arbitrariness of those numbers often fails to reflect a true change in production. Instead, I like to use a weighted average formula to note progression:

Adjusted Fantasy Points =

1*(Gm 1 FP) + 2*(Gm 2 FP) + 3*(Gm 3 FP) + ... + 16*(Gm 16 FP)

        1 + 2 + 3 + ... + 16

[Note: For the purposes of this study, fantasy points were calculated by dividing a player's total yards by 10, and adding six points for each touchdown scored by the running back.]

Here's a table of all 26 RBs, with the fantasy players that improved the most during their rookie seasons at the top. The "Improve" column is simply the adjusted FPs minus the actual fantasy points. The last column shows how many FPs each player scored in their sophomore season:

Name			Year	Team	FP	adjFP	Improve	Next Year
Clinton Portis		2002	den	289.2	354.3	65.1	274.5
William Green		2002	cle	136.0	191.5	55.5	 66.9
Corey Dillon		1997	cin	198.8	241.4	42.6	160.8
Maurice Jones-Drew	2006	jax	227.7	269.1	41.4	 --
Kevin Jones		2004	det	167.3	207.9	40.6	107.3
Willis McGahee		2004	buf	207.7	247.7	40.0	172.5 
Jamal Lewis		2000	rav	202.0	241.2	39.2	 --
Dominic Rhodes		2001	clt	186.8	216.1	29.3	 --
Reggie Bush		2006	nor	178.7	207.4	28.7	 --
Anthony Thomas		2001	chi	178.1	201.3	23.2	124.4
Mike Anderson		2000	den	255.6	278.1	22.5	 96.4
Edgerrin James		1999	clt	315.9	337.2	21.3	338.3
Domanick Williams	2003	htx	186.2	207.3	21.1	261.6
Fred Taylor		1998	jax	266.4	284.5	18.1	117.5
Marcel Shipp		2002	crd	178.7	192.0	13.3	101.4
Ricky Williams		1999	nor	117.6	128.3	10.7	194.9
Eddie George		1996	oti	203.0	212.8	 9.8	186.3
Joseph Addai		2006	clt	188.6	193.9	 5.3	 --
Olandis Gary		1999	den	173.8	178.1	 4.3	  9.0
Cadillac Williams	2005	tam	161.9	160.0	-1.9	105.4
Antowain Smith		1997	buf	149.7	144.9	-4.8	161.5
Robert Edwards		1998	nwe	216.6	211.1	-5.5	 --
Karim Abdul-Jabbar	1996	mia	191.5	184.6	-6.9	211.3
Warrick Dunn		1997	tam	186.0	175.6  -10.4	149.0
Ronnie Brown		2005	mia	143.9	128.9  -15.0	158.4
LaDainian Tomlinson	2001	sdg	220.3	194.4  -25.9	307.2

Twenty of the 26 RBs played in the NFL the following season (Jones-Drew, Bush and Addai have yet to play their second seasons, while Jamal Lewis, Dominic Rhodes and Robert Edwards all suffered season-ending injuries before the next regular season). Olandis Gary tore his ACL in the season opener the next year, and Mike Anderson's role changed significantly, leaving just 18 runners to examine.

Only Portis, Dillon and Green had better improvement as rookies than Jones-Drew. None of those three matched their rookie production the next year, though, and only Portis was close. William Green was a huge bust, and Dillon played nowhere near as well as he did towards the end of 1996. Further, the next big improvers -- Kevin Jones, Willis McGahee and Anthony Thomas -- also were busts as sophomores. Only Edge, Dom (Davis) Williams and Ricky Williams were able to even match their rookie production the following year.

On the other side, Antowain Smith, Karim Abdul-Jabbar, Ronnie Brown and Tomlinson were slow finishers that improved the next season. So four of the six strong starters improved on their overall rookie production, while only three of the thirteen fast finishers improved on their overall production. While it's worth noting that all three also bested their adjusted fantasy point totals, this evidence would seem to go strongly against intuition. We shouldn't expect to see the Reggie Bush or MJD from the second half of '06, and might be lucky to just see what we got out of them last year.

I used the same formula to compute adjusted yards per carry, but used Rushing Yards in the numerator and Carries in the denominator.

Adjusted YPC =

1*(Game 1 Rush Yards) + 2*(Gm 2 RYds) + 3*(Gm 3 RYds) + ... + 16*(Gm 16 RYds)

1*(Game 1 Rushes) + 2*(Gm 2 Rsh) + 3*(Gm 3 Rsh) + ... + 16*(Gm 16 Rsh)

Here's the full list, along with their sophomore production (min: 100 carries):

Name			Year	Team	YPC	adjYPC	Improve	Next Year
Reggie Bush		2006	nor	3.65	4.13	 0.48	 --
William Green		2002	cle	3.65	4.05	 0.40	3.94
Olandis Gary		1999	den	4.20	4.56	 0.36	 --
Clinton Portis		2002	den	5.52	5.80	 0.28	5.49
Maurice Jones-Drew	2006	jax	5.67	5.92	 0.25	 --
Kevin Jones		2004	det	4.70	4.94	 0.24	3.57
Corey Dillon		1997	cin	4.85	4.98	 0.13	4.31
Willis McGahee		2004	buf	3.97	4.10	 0.13	3.84
Mike Anderson		2000	den	5.01	5.12	 0.12	3.87
Edgerrin James		1999	clt	4.21	4.32	 0.11	4.42
Robert Edwards		1998	nwe	3.83	3.91	 0.08	 --
Karim Abdul-Jabbar	1996	mia	3.64	3.70	 0.06	3.15
LaDainian Tomlinson	2001	sdg	3.65	3.65	 0.00	4.52
Dominic Rhodes		2001	clt	4.74	4.74	 0.00	 --
Joseph Addai		2006	clt	4.78	4.73	-0.05	 --
Jamal Lewis		2000	rav	4.41	4.35	-0.06	 --
Warrick Dunn		1997	tam	4.37	4.29	-0.08	4.19
Cadillac Williams	2005	tam	4.06	3.93	-0.13	3.55
Ricky Williams		1999	nor	3.49	3.35	-0.15	4.03
Domanick Williams	2003	htx	4.33	4.18	-0.15	3.93
Anthony Thomas		2001	chi	4.26	4.10	-0.16	3.37
Ronnie Brown		2005	mia	4.38	4.21	-0.17	4.18
Eddie George		1996	oti	4.08	3.88	-0.21	3.92
Marcel Shipp		2002	crd	4.44	4.19	-0.25	3.64
Fred Taylor		1998	jax	4.63	4.37	-0.26	4.60
Antowain Smith		1997	buf	4.33	3.91	-0.42	3.75

Reggie tops the list this time, as he really made great strides last year. But remember, William Green is second on that list. On the fast finishers side, of the eight RBs that played their sophomore seasons, only two of them improved. One was Green, who was still a big time bust for the Browns. The other was Edgerrin James. For the strong starters, only one out of ten -- Ricky Williams -- bested his rookie YPC average. Antowain Smith and Anthony Thomas ended the year poorly, and things never turned around for them the next season.

So what's it all mean? Will Bush or Drew be the next Edgerrin James or the next William Green? Perhaps most notably, only four of the 18 RBs -- James, Ricky Williams, Dom Williams and Tomlinson -- had better years as sophomores. Fourteen RBs totaled over 1,000 yards as rookies, were poised to breakout, but then regressed the following year. And it doesn't look like the great finishes in 2006 by Bush or Jones-Drew should make them immune from suffering similar fates.

Posted in Fantasy, History, Statgeekery | 3 Comments »

Reggie Bush and Maurice Jones-Drew, Part II

14th August 2007

In Part I, we looked at the rookie seasons and draft values of all RBs drafted between 1978 and 1997. We found out that Reggie Bush, as a result of his significantly higher draft value, still was projected for slightly more remaining career rushing yards than Drew. However, rushing yards doesn't tell the whole story. Jones-Drew averaged 5.7 YPC, which is incredible. Reggie Bush scored 178 fantasy points, which is very high for a RB with just 565 rushing yards.

Let's start with fantasy points. Using the same technique as we did before, we can perform a regression analysis to find career fantasy points scored, using fantasy points scored as a rookie and draft value as our two variables. Here's the formula:

Remaining career FPs = 107.6 + 0.14 * (Draft Value) + 3.58 * (rookie FPs)

What's that mean? If Tony Hunt (Pick 90, Draft Value = 140) scores 31 fantasy points this year, we'd project him to score about 238 fantasy points for the rest of his career. If he breaks out and scores 150 FPs, we'd up that projection to 664 fantasy points. If Titans' rookie Chris Henry (Pick 50, draft value 400) scores 34 fantasy points, we'd project him out at 285 fantasy points for the remainder of his career. If Chris Henry scores 150 FPs, his projection moves up to 701 FPs. But Marshawn Lynch (Pick 12, Draft Value 1200) only needs 119 FPs to be projected for 701 remaining fantasy points.

Once again, I think those numbers don't feel too out of whack with what your intuition would tell you. How do Reggie and Maurice stack up? Bush (DV = 2600) scored 178 fantasy points last year, projecting him out at 1,109 career fantasy points. Jones-Drew (DV = 300) scored a whopping 228 fantasy points last year, which translates to a prediction of "just" 966 career fantasy points. The extra 50 fantasy points aren't enough to counteract the 2300 point difference in pick value. Don't forget that Freeman McNeil and Garrison Hearst both scored under 100 FPs as rookies, but the former number three overall picks would each end up topping 1200 career fantasy points. While it makes sense to put a lot of stock in what players do in the NFL, one rookie season is a pretty small sample compared to three or four years of college and a draft combine.

On the other hand, what about yards per carry? Jones-Drew's sparkling 5.67 YPC is one of the biggest reasons people are so bullish on his future. In fact, since 1970, only two others RBs with a minimum of 100 carries have hit 5.5 YPC as a rookie: Clinton Portis and Franco Harris. That's pretty good company. And just as interesting, Reggie Bush averaged only 3.65 YPC, over two yards per carry fewer than Jones-Drew.

I looked at all rookie RBs from 1978-1997 with a minimum of 100 carries, and ran a regression using yards per carry and draft value to predict fantasy points for the remainder of their careers. Here's the formula:

Remaining fantasy points = -792 + 0.26 * (Draft Value) + 320 * (Rookie Year Yards Per Carry Average)

Jones-Drew (draft value 300, YPC = 5.67) is now projected to score 1110 more fantasy points the rest of his career. This feels about right: he was projected at 966 when looking at just last year's total fantasy points, but deservedly gets a big boost when using yards per carry as a variable. Bush (draft value 2600, YPC = 3.65) is projected for 1,052 fantasy points, which is still pretty good. That's only a small downgrade from before, when we ignored Bush's low YPC average. Why? The sample here is different, because we're only looking at RBs with 100 or more carries as a rookie. The nine RBs drafted in the top three over this 20 year span averaged over 1500 career fantasy points. Only one -- Blair Thomas -- was a bust. So the draft value variable here got a nice boost.

Finally, let's combine rookie fantasy points, rookie yards per carry average and draft value and see what we get:

Rest of career fantasy points = -515 + 0.10 * (Draft Value) + 130 * (YPC) + 4.5 * (FPs)

Jones-Drew's projected soars to 1282 fantasy points for the rest of his career. Reggie Bush is projected for 1024 fantasy points. Bush got a 231 point head start due to his draft position, but loses 263 points to Drew due to the large YPC difference, and another 226 FPs because of the 50 point difference the players scored last year. Interestingly enough, the relatively small 50 point difference in points scored last year is weighed almost as heavily as the enormous YPC differential. Why is a low YPC average for a rookie not so terrifying? Emmitt Smith (3.9 YPC average as a rookie, 3,025 fantasy points scored the rest of his career), Marshall Faulk (4.1, 2,479), Curtis Martin (4.0, 2,078), Tiki Barber (3.8, 1860), Roger Craig (4.1, 1561), Eddie George (4.1, 1532), Charlie Garner (3.7, 1322) and James Wilder (3.5, 1115) all had great careers despite not running very well as rookies. The fact that Barber, Garner and Wilder -- all excellent receivers -- had similar YPC averages to Bush is good news for Bush fans.

For Jones-Drew, the news is even better. The 11 RBs to score 228 or more FPs during their rookie season averaged 1,472 FPs for the remainder of their careers. Don't forget that the NFL's 4th all-time leading rusher -- Curtis Martin -- was a third round pick who had an incredible rookie year and never looked back.

One note: Herschel Walker was drafted in the 5th round due to his involvement with the USFL, and considered a 5th round pick for this study, despite undoubtedly being an elite, top-ten pick talent. To a small extent, that may understate the value of being a high draft pick, because he's not morally one of the low round picks to succeed.

Check out Part III, tomorrow, though. The news doesn't always stay good for our second year stars.

Posted in Fantasy, History, NFL Draft, Statgeekery | 2 Comments »

Reggie Bush and Maurice Jones-Drew, Part I

13th August 2007

[Note: This can also be seen over at the blog:]

Reggie Bush and Maurice Jones-Drew are two of the most exciting and talented young players in the league. Both have the necessary skills to earn annual trips to Honolulu. Bush, of course, was a Heisman Trophy winner and top three pick in the NFL draft … just like O.J. Simpson, Tony Dorsett, Earl Campbell, Bo Jackson and Barry Sanders. Jones-Drew averaged over 5.5 YPC and rushed for 12+ TDs last year, joining an elite club consisting of only Drew, Jim Brown, O.J Simpson, Eric Dickerson and Clinton Portis. And only Portis did that as a rookie.

It is not controversial to state that Bush was viewed as the better prospect and that MJD had a better rookie season. The key question now, is which one trumps the other? Forgetting the names for a minute, which RB would you expect to have the better career: the highly touted prospect or the rookie stud? Reuben Mayes rushed for 1353 yards at 4.7 yards per carry as a rookie, but had just 2,131 more rushing yards the rest of his career. Additionally, John Stephens, Karim Abdul-Jabbar, Greg Bell and Terry Miller all had 1,000 yard rookie seasons, but fizzled out quickly. On the other hand, we know that high draft position doesn’t mean everything, either. Ki-Jana Carter, Brent Fullwood, Blair Thomas, Alonzo Highsmith, and, well, Terry Miller, were top five draft picks that recorded fewer than 2,500 rushing yards in their careers.

I looked at all RBs drafted from 1978 to 1997. That gives us 20 years worth of drafts, with little worry about active players. There are a few guys still remaining, but Tiki Barber and Corey Dillon just retired from that ‘97 draft class, and I doubt we’ll be seeing significant changes to career totals to cause concern. Here’s a pretty intuitive chart:

Draft Pick   #RBs      Career Rush Yards
1 - 3 13 7132
4 - 10 15 4663
11 - 20 29 3642
21 - 40 54 2930
41 - 70 57 2135
71 -100 52 1629
101-150 70 1268
150+ 154 1032

There were 13 RBs drafted among the top three over this 20 year era, and they each averaged 7,132 career rushing yards. There’s a very strong correlation between draft pick and career rushing yards, which isn’t terribly surprising. Based off this, you might have projected last year that Reggie Bush (#2 overall) would outrush Jones-Drew (#60 overall) for his career by about 5,000 yards.

But now it’s this year, and we have some more information at our disposal. Jones-Drew rushed for 941 yards last year, while Reggie Bush rushed for only 565 yards. What does history tell us to think about those data? The table below breaks down all rookie RBs into tiers based on their number of rushing yards during their rookie season. The last column shows the average rest of career rushing yards (AROCRY) for those players:

Rushing Yards	#RBs	AROCRY
1400+ 8 9702
1100-1399 11 5053
900-1099 13 4161
600-899 31 3109
400-599 45 2527
200-399 80 1590
01-199 206 960
0 50 716

Like the draft pick chart, there are no surprises here. The more yards you rush for as a rookie, the more yards you’d expect a player to rush for during the remainder of his career. Based off this table, you might project that MJD will rush for about 1600 more yards than Bush for the rest of their respective careers.

But we DO know something else about Bush and Jones-Drew, namely their draft position. We’re getting closer to answering the question of which RB should be expected to rush for more yards: the highly drafted player or the better rookie. We can use multiple regression analysis to tell us how these two variables play off each other. One of the problems with using regression analysis, however, is that it treats the difference between the 1st pick and the 20th pick the same as it would the difference between the 201st and 220th pick. The solution? The NFL pick value chart. So now the 1st pick is worth 3000 points, the 2nd 2600 points, the 10th 1300 points, the 116th pick 62 points, etc. So if we use rookie rushing yards and NFL draft value as our two variables to solve for remaining career rushing yards, here’s the formula we get:

Remaining Career rushing yards =

439 + 0.88 * (Pick Value) + 4.49 * (rookie rushing yards)

So let’s say Adrian Peterson (the 7th pick, pick value 1500) rushes for 1,000 yards this year. This formula would project him to rush for 6,249 rushing yards for the rest of his career. If he rushed for 1,500 yards, we’d project him at 8,494 remaining career rushing yards. If the first pick in the draft rushed for 1,206 yards as a rookie, we’d project him for the same 8,494 remaining career rushing yards. An undrafted rookie would need to rush for 1794 yards to be projected for the same remaining career rushing yards. Those numbers “feel” about right to me, so I think our formula will work.

How do Reggie Bush and Maurice Jones-Drew fare? Bush was the 2nd pick (2600 points) and rushed for 565 yards, so that projects him out at 5,264 rushing yards for the rest of his career. Jones-Drew was the 60th pick (300 points) and rushed for 941 yards, projecting him at 4,928 yards. So at least for now, it looks like Reggie Bush holds a slight edge.

In part II of this series, we’ll compare the two players using different variables than rushing yards. In part III, we’ll take a step back and reign in our optimism just a bit.

Posted in Fantasy, History, NFL Draft, Statgeekery | 9 Comments »

Running Back Overuse and Injuries, Part Two (Playoff Edition)

12th July 2007

This post will continue with looking at workloads and evidence of overuse, by examining the end of the season games, and playoffs, and what effect it has on injury rates early the next season.

The below chart contains all running backs who played in all team games between weeks 12-17, with a couple of caveats. First, if a back missed only week 17, and he played in the playoffs, he was included. Also, between 1995-2001, there were a few backs that had bye weeks at the end of the year. Thus, we are not dealing with backs who had the same number of games, some could have five, some could have six. Thus, the players are divided by attempts/game, and not raw attempts, like yesterday.

This chart also does not separate out playoff participants from non-playoff participants (I'll discuss the playoff games shortly). Here are the injury rates for the early part of next season, sorted by average attempts per game over the last 6 weeks of the regular season. "GP" is the average number of games played the next season by players in that group. "SEI" represents "season ending injury" and is for all backs who had a season ending injury within the first 6 games of the following season. "INJ6" represents the running backs who missed at least 1 game due to injury in the first 6 games of the next season, but returned to play following the injury. If you add "SEI" and "INJ6", you will have the total percentage of players who missed at least one game out of the first six the following season. "PL15" represents all backs, among those who made it through the first 6 games of the next year healthy, who went on to play in at least 15 regular season games.

Att/G          No        GP       SEI     INJ6     PL15
25.0+          14       11.0     0.286   0.214    0.857
23.0-24.9      23       13.3     0.087   0.217    0.733
21.0-22.9      41       13.7     0.098   0.073    0.794
19.0-20.9      41       14.3     0.024   0.122    0.771
17.0-18.9      34       13.3     0.059   0.294    0.682
15.0-16.9      37       13.4     0.027   0.270    0.593

The pattern is similar to the early season pattern from the previous post. The groups between 19.0 and 22.9 attempts per game represent the peak in terms of average games played the next season. For the lower carry groups, the season ending injury rate is not high, but the players in these groups tend to miss some games early, and those who do not miss some games later at a higher frequency. The higher carry groups have increased season ending injury rates in the short term, but if they survive the early part of the next season without injury, they tend to remain healthy at a high rate.

Here are the players included in the above study, but sorted by games played in that year's postseason, rather than rushing averages:

Playoffs   No      GP     SEI     INJ6    PL15
0         104     13.5   0.077   0.192   0.750
1          43     13.8   0.047   0.163   0.758
2          25     13.4   0.040   0.200   0.632
3+         18     12.1   0.167   0.222   0.667

When the players are sorted by playoff games played after the season, there is generally no effect on injury rates, with a couple of exceptions. As we have seen, higher workloads increase the risk of serious injury already. Extending the season in the playoffs is like a spark, and high workloads are the gas. Also, if a team is using a running back heavily in the final weeks of the regular season, they do not typically reduce that use in the playoffs, so we are generally seeing the overuse period extended.

Three running backs averaged 25.0 or more rush attempts per game over the final six weeks of the regular season, and then played in three or more playoff games. Those three are Terrell Davis (1998), Jamal Anderson (1998), and Jamal Lewis (2000). I do not need to spend much time discussing their well-known injuries. In short, all three blew out knees early the next year: Lewis before the season began, Anderson in game two, and Davis in game four. If we add in the 23.0-24.9 group, four more running backs played in at least three playoff games. Those backs were Emmitt Smith (1995), Dorsey Levens (1997), Corey Dillon (2004) and Shaun Alexander (2005). Emmitt played in 15 games the next season; the other three all suffered injuries early the next season. Both Dorsey Levens and Shaun Alexander had serious injuries early, had consecutive games missed, but did return later in the season. For Levens, it was nine games missed in a row with a knee injury. Alexander missed six consecutive games last season with a foot injury.

The other exception where extending the playoffs increased injury rates involved recently injured backs. I found thirty backs who played in at least 3 playoff games (and averaged at least 10 carries a game) in one post season since 1995. Of those thirty, six had missed at least one game in weeks 12-16 of the regular season, before returning in the playoffs. Of those six, five of them missed at least one game within the first six games of the next season, and none of them played in more than 13 games the next year. The six were Lamont Warren (1995), Bam Morris (1995), DeShaun Foster and Stephen Davis (2003), Antowain Smith (2003), and Brian Westbrook (2004). Of those, two suffered season ending injuries early--the Panthers' Davis and Foster. Davis played two games before knee injury ended his season. Foster played in four before a knee injury--having a 32 attempt game in week 2 probably did not help either.

In my opinion, it is not the raw number of carries that matters. I believe the key is the number of higher stress games a back endures over a period of time. I will refer to these as Increased Risk Games (IRG). For now, my educated guess in reviewing the data is that the cutoff to qualify for an IRG is around 25 rush attempts for an average, healthy starting running back. More research is needed in this area, as the number may be lower or slightly higher depending on other factors, such as age, recent injury history, or stamina/conditioning of the specific back.

The pro football reference database has regular season game by game data back to 1995, but the playoff database goes back to the start of the Super Bowl era. Going back to 1978, there were 74 player-seasons where a back had at least one IRG in a postseason. Ten of those 74 backs (13.5%) played in six or fewer games the next season. Four of them were already discussed--Lewis, Anderson, Terrell Davis, and Stephen Davis. Going back in time, the other six were Edgar Bennett (1996)-0 games, Greg Bell (1989)-6 games, Ickey Woods (1988)-2 games, Dan Doornink (1984)-6 games, Curt Warner (1983)-1 game, and Wendell Tyler (1979)-4 games. Rob Carpenter (1981) also played in less than 6 games the next season, but the next season was the strike-shortened 1982 season, and I could not find information on the reason for his missed games to know whether to include him.

Here are some other recent cases that were not previously discussed, or not included in the previous studies, but which also show the potential role IRG plays in increasing risk of injuries, beyond what simply knowing raw rushing attempt totals might tell us. I could have selected numerous others; I selected these to get a mix of different type players or players with different reputations.

  • Samkon Gado (2005): his 8 games/143 attempts might not seem excessive, but he had 4 IRG in the 6 games before his season-ending knee injury.
  • Deuce McAllister (2005): 82 carries through 4 games prior to ACL injury does not seem excessive, but two of the four games were IRG.
  • Clinton Portis (2003): Portis had 4 IRG in last 6 games, including 38 attempts in final game, before missing the final 2 games of the regular season with chest injury.
  • Lee Suggs (2003 and 2004): After being injured and little used all year, Suggs had 26 carries in week 17 of 2003. He missed first 3 games next season. He had back to back IRG at the end of 2004, including 38 attempts in week 16. Played in only two of first ten team games next season, and has had only 14 attempts last two seasons.
  • Duce Staley (2000): Staley's 79 carries through 5 games, and 326 carries in 16 games the previous year might not suggest overuse, if you were going by raw attempts. He closed 1999 with 2 of 4 IRG, and then had 26 attempts in game 1 of 2000. He went downhill quickly thereafter, and was done by week 5.

If you want to know how the regression Doug ran last year, and the research here can be reconciled, I believe, in a figurative sense, it is because of Samkon Gado and Lee Suggs. I am skeptical that prior historical workload has anything to do with injury risk. What matters is recent workload. In other words, Curtis Martin may have broken down in 2005 beyond what could be expected on age, due to workload over the second half of 2004, but I do not think what he did from 1995-2000 had any impact on whether he was going to break down or not. If Larry Johnson breaks down early in 2007, it will be because of what happened late in 2006, and have little to do with what happened late in 2005.

So, for Johnson, there is a glimmer of hope. If his workload is reduced next year, and he does not show signs of an injury early in the season, he is probably going to be okay (assuming no more IRG, an assumption not likely to be realized). I will close with my assessment of the top five injury risks early next season. The top one is probably not who you think it would be, in a season where the rush attempt record was broken.

  1. Shaun Alexander-- Alexander came off missing six games due to the foot injury, and was immediately subjected to a workload greater than any of his career. Apparently, Holmgren thought he needed to be punished for missing games. Alexander had a whopping 220 carries over 8 games since week 12 last year, including 5 IRG. With his age, recent injury history, extremely high IRG rate, and rumors of the foot injury not being healed, Alexander has more red flags than the United Nations.
  2. Larry Johnson-everyone knows about his record setting rushing totals last year. Unsurprisingly, then, he had 4 IRG in his last 7 games. His one saving grace is that he was not extended in the playoffs, and the Colts bottled him early and prevented him from adding to that IRG total.
  3. Steven Jackson- through 13 games last year, Jackson was a model of how a top running back should be used to keep him healthy and productive. Jackson had zero IRG, as he consistently had games of between 18 and 22 attempts. Then, for whatever reason, he finished with 3 IRG in his last 3 games, including over 30 attempts in two of them, which places him squarely in the high risk category for developing an injury early in 2007. Linehan will have major regrets if Jackson's season is ruined due to work while playing out the string on a non-playoff year in 2006.
  4. Rudi Johnson- Rudi closed with 3 out of 6 IRG. That alone might place him in the group. Couple that with his age beginning to get on the wrong side of prime running back age, his decline in ypc last year to 3.8, and the Bengals using a 2nd round pick on a running back, and I have my concerns.
  5. Ladell Betts- Betts played backup most of the season, but closed with 3 out of 6 IRG, and 156 attempts in his last 6 games. He may not get enough attempts to make him as big a risk early, but he is still a risk to breakdown early.

Now, am I predicting any of these guys to definitely get hurt? No. When I say high risk, that means each of them have about a 15-25% chance of suffering a significant injury early in 2007, based on the historical data. But that is a significantly higher chance than other running backs, such as Joseph Addai or Reggie Bush, have of suffering a severe injury early in 2007.

Posted in Fantasy, General, Statgeekery | 6 Comments »

Insurance policies and lottery tickets

10th July 2007

On their face, the two items named in the title are almost identical. In both cases:

1. you pay a relatively small amount of money;

2. you might or might not receive an enormous amount of money at some point in the future;

3. the long term expected value of the investment is negative. In other words, it's not likely that you'll come out ahead on the deal.

So, aside from the fact that the expected value is probably a bit lower on most lotteries, why is an insurance policy considered a sound financial decision while the powerball-ticket-a-day plan is frowned upon? The answer has to do with what a mathematician might call independence of events. In the case of insurance, the receipt of the enormous sum of money is directly tied to some other random event, like your house burning down. If you never get that enormous sum, that just means you never needed it. With the lottery, on the other hand, the payoff is independent of the rest of the events that might impact your financial situation. If you spend your money on lottery tickets instead of insurance premiums, you might end up homeless, or you might end up with a lot of money that won't necessarily make your life any better.

This is why fantasy football owners of LaDainian Tomlinson will also be drafting Michael Turner this year, and overpaying for the privilege. And why that's OK.

If you have Tomlinson, then Turner is an insurance policy. If Turner finishes the year with 65 carries, who cares? That probably means Tomlinson stayed healthy and productive. If Turner rushes for 1200 yards, it's extremely likely that you will be in desperate need of those yards.

If you don't have Tomlinson, then Turner is a lottery ticket. Sure, the upside is that you get a 1200-yard back with your 9th round pick. But if so, you may not even have a place in your lineup for him. And the more likely scenario is that Turner finishes with fewer than 100 rushes and provides no help if and when your top back gets hurt.

This phenomenon has been well known among fantasy football players for a long time, and it even has a name: handcuffing. But I think the same philosophy, to a lesser extent, can be applied more broadly. For instance, I mentioned yesterday that I love the Laurence Maroney / Tom Brady combination this year because of its potential to deliver consistent weekly production. But there is another reason to like this combo: we know (inasmuch as we ever "know" anything) that the Patriots are going to score a ton of points. What we don't know is who is going to score them. I'm not sure I'd be very comfortable with Maroney at his current price --- there is too much of a risk of Belichick opting to really open up the passing game. For similar reasons, I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with Brady at his current price. But I would be comfortable with the pair for their combined price. I wrote something similar about Brandon Jacobs and Eli Manning last month.

In this article from last year, I wrote:

If I ended up drafting running backs, quarterbacks, and/or Antonio Gates in the first few rounds, I would not hesitate to draft both Rod Smith and Javon Walker and pencil them both in as every-week starters.

My footballguys and p-f-r blog colleague Chase subsequently blamed me for telling him to draft Rod Smith. But it's important to realize that I wasn't necessarily recommending Smith, nor was I recommending Walker. True, part of my recommendation was based on the week-to-week consistency I talked about yesterday, but part of it was also based on the handcuffy principles I'm talking about here. Smith turned out to be a wasted pick, but that must at least in part be tied to the fact that Walker was a bargain at his draft slot. It might have turned out the other way, for all I knew at the time, but I was pretty sure that the Denver WR group would produce at least one player --- and possibly two --- with big numbers.

I realize that that particular recommendation doesn't exactly represent a triumph of this mode of thought; it's just an illustration. And I need to give Chase a hard time.

I'll close with some speculation about same-NFL-team running back pairs. I have never run the numbers because I don't think there are enough numbers to run at this point, but my guess is that such pairs --- like Bush/McAllister and Jones/Barber --- show more week-to-week consistency than similar scoring pairs not from the same team. If that's true, then it makes those pairs attractive for two reasons: the consistency, and the handcuff. If you feel like having some fun this year, spend your first picks on Manning and/or Gates and/or stud wide receivers, and then roll with Marion Barber and Julius Jones as your every week starters. There is, of course, the possibility that one of those guys will get hurt or be relegated to a severely diminished role, but in that case, the other will likely outperform his draft position greatly. I'm not saying that's going to get you good production from the RB position, only that it is a very cheap way to guarantee yourself some minimal output at RB while you enjoy an advantage at the other positions.

Posted in Fantasy | 21 Comments »

In search of consistency

9th July 2007

It seems to me like fantasy football players are becoming more and more concerned about week-to-week consistency. Lots of people are down on Chad Johnson, for instance, because, while his overall numbers were fairly solid last year, he achieved those numbers via a couple of enormous games and a lot of stinkers. Give me someone who puts up the same numbers, or even lesser overall numbers, but gives me consistent production I can count on from week to week, says the pro-consistency crowd.

There are two issues here.

First, does consistency really make your team better? In the very first football article I ever wrote (nine years ago!) I examined that question mathematically, and observed that consistency isn't inherently good or bad. It's good if your team is good and bad if your team is bad. If your team is stronger than your opponent's on a given week, then you just need your players to do their usual thing. You want consistency. If, on the other hand, you have the weaker team, then consistency hurts you. If your guys turn in typical efforts, you're going to lose. You need some unexpectedly big performances. In addition, unexpectedly poor performances don't turn a win into a loss; they just turn a loss into a bigger loss.

In some sense, these are the same reasons why teams that are ahead more often opt for the kneeldown --- the most consistent play in the playbook --- while teams that are behind are more likely to run hook-and-laterals and Hail Marys.

So consistency isn't necessarily a good thing but, since no one plans to have a bad team, it is certainly justifiable for a fantasy owner to, in August, seek to fill his roster with consistent players.

Which leads us to the second issue: how do you find consistent players?

I've studied that issue. A lot. A whole lot. And I always end up concluding that predicting future consistency from past consistency is very difficult if not impossible. That's not to say that consistency can't be predicted. Maybe it can. But if so, there's got to be more to it than just observing which guys were consistent last year or the year before. For example, it could be the case that, because of the Patriot/Brady propensity for spreading the passes around, Randy Moss is likely to be less consistent in 2007 than other non-Patriots who end up with similar 2007 totals. But that's not clear. And other examples like that are hard to come by without introducing a lot of subjectivity and guesswork. For now I'll just say that I'm very skeptical that anyone has any real idea whether Torry Holt, Chad Johnson, or Steve Smith will be more consistent from week to week in 2007.

But there is yet hope. Even if a fantasy GM can't identify consistent players, he can still make his team more consistent --- or at least improve the chances of his team being more consistent --- by acquiring the right combinations of players.

Over the years I've written a few articles on the advisability of having same-team WR/WR pairs, or same-team QB/RB or RB/WR pairs, on your fantasy team (here is one, another appeared in ESPN magazine last year; it used a different methodology but confirmed the conclusions of the linked article.). Those conclusions are that, more often than not, same-team WR/WR, WR/RB, and RB/QB pairs are more consistent than different-team pairs with similar end-of-season totals.

This year, there are a few such pairs that appear to be obtainable in typical serpentine drafts:

  • If you're drafting near the end of the first round, then using your first two picks on Chad Johnson and Rudi Johnson might be an option. Early returns indicate that, unless you're in a 14- or 16-team league, you'll probably be overpaying for one of those two if you do that. Of course it goes without saying that you have to like the individual players themselves in those slots for this to be worthwhile.
  • If you're drafting near the top of the first round, then Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison might be available for your second- and third-round picks.
  • One combination I love this year is Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh for the price of a second and fourth round pick.
  • Keeping with the Bengals theme, pairing Rudi Johnson and Carson Palmer would be feasible in many leagues.
  • Marc Bulger would, in my opinion, be a solid quarterback option for the proud owner of Steven Jackson
  • I'm not sure I'm sold on Joseph Addai, but if you are, he and Peyton Manning could be a good combination with your late-first, early-second picks.
  • Finally, I'm sure I'm going to hurt my chances of acquiring this combo in my keeper league, but that's how much I care about my readers: my favorite pair this year is Laurence Maroney and Tom Brady. The Pats scored more offensive TDs than all but four teams last season and, despite the fact that Randy Moss is a bit of question mark and Donte Stallworth's and Wes Welker's talents have been greatly exaggerated by many since they signed with the Patriots, there is no doubt that the trio constitutes a major upgrade to the Pats' only offensive weakness. There is very little question that they'll have one of the top offenses in the NFL in 2007. The problem is that nobody knows how Belichick The Inscrutable Genius will choose to score his many, many touchdowns. We don't know if he'll let Brady toss 40 TDs, if he wants Maroney to score 25, or if he's going to mix it up from week to week. If you've got both Brady and Maroney, it's hard to imagine that you won't get solid consistent production every week.

I've been peddling this schtick for awhile now. One objection that I commonly hear --- and it is a valid one --- is that by taking a pair of players from the same NFL team, you are more susceptible to the effects of a single injury. If you have Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, for instance, then you're one Peyton Manning injury away from getting consistently low production instead of consistently high production from your receiver duo.

At least in some cases, that's a price you may have to be willing to pay. If you want to decrease your week-to-week risk, you might have to increase your "macro" level risk. I'll discuss that a bit more in my next post.

Posted in Fantasy | 13 Comments »

Losing Tiki

4th June 2007

The Giants will in 2007 be without Tiki Barber, who was the league's 4th-leading rusher in 2006. I thought I'd take a quick look at teams who lost a top-10 rusher and see how much their offensive production suffered. Since 1970, there have been 25 such squads. Here is the quick summary:

           YearN   YrN+1
RshYd/G    114.4   102.9
Yd/Rsh      4.14    4.00

Att/G         32      33
PassYd/G     224     226
PassTD/G    1.40    1.28
INT/G       1.15    1.25

Points/G    21.7    20.3

After losing the top ten rusher, these teams ran slightly less, passed slightly more, and were slightly less efficient in both phases. The net effect was a drop of about a point and a half per game.

But hold on. Teams with excellent performances in a particular category will tend, as a group, to regress regardless of whether they lose key players or not. Look at the year-to-year comparison of teams that had a top-ten rusher in Year N and then did not lose him the following year.

           YearN   YrN+1
RshYd/G    124.3   115.2
Yd/Rsh      4.26    4.10

Att/G         29      30
PassYd/G     206     211
PassTD/G    1.30    1.28
INT/G       1.14    1.17

Points/G    21.9    20.9

If these figures are to be taken as a baseline, then it appears that losing a top-10 rusher has historically cost an offense something like 0.4 points (compared to what they might have scored had they kept him). And interestingly, it's the passing game, not the ground game, whose efficiency seems to decline more. There are all sorts of little things that could be affecting the data we see here, but I think it's safe to say that, at the very least, the Giants have a chance to maintain their 2006 level of production this season.

Allow me to state clearly, before some helpful soul points it out for me, that the Giants are not the same entity as the average of 25 different teams from the NFL's past, and that their future is not determined by that average. Those 25 teams include some, like the 1999 Colts, who had great running backs (Edge James) ready to step in, others, like the 1999 Lions, who had a grim lot to choose from (Greg Hill was their leading rusher), and all points in between.

Tiki Barber will be replaced by some combination of Brandon Jacobs, Reuben Drouhgns, and possibly rookie Ahmad Bradshaw, a seventh round pick from Marshall who has a skill set vaguely similar to Barber's and is garnering some minicamp kudos. The one thing that seems clear to me is that, five years from now, if someone runs a similar study, it will be easy to see why the Giants 2007 rushing attack turned out like it did. If Jacobs can be as good in a featured role as he was in limited time, people will say, "it was obvious that teams like the 1999 Colts and 2007 Giants would continue to run the ball effectively. They had fantastic young backs ready to step in!" If Jacobs turns out to be too stiff, Droughns can't revive his Denver self, and Bradshaw follows the same career path as most 7th-round rookies who garner minicamp kudos in May, people will say, "it was obvious that teams like the 1999 Lions and 2007 Giants would have big dropoffs. They had absolutely nobody to replace their departing star!"

Predicting their fate right now is, of course, a much trickier proposition. But I will say this: according to these aggregated fantasy draft results, you can probably get Brandon Jacobs and Eli Manning by using your 4th and 7th round picks, and that seems like a good package for the price. If Jacobs turns out to be the real deal, you got yourself a great runner in the 4th round. If not, then the Giants will throw about 600 times and Eli will rack up some numbers in spite of himself.

I'll leave you with a quick look at the 25 other teams who lost a top-10 rusher:

                                   Year N       Year N+1
Tm   Yr    Top-10 rusher         RYd/G   Y/R   RYd/G   Y/R  top rusher
ind 2005  Edgerrin James       | 103.6  3.95 | 107.9  4.15 (Addai)
den 2004  Reuben Droughns      | 128.8  4.49 | 139.7  4.72 (Anderson)
mia 2003  Ricky Williams       |  98.8  3.61 |  65.9  3.50 (Morris)
den 2003  Clinton Portis       | 139.9  4.74 | 128.8  4.49 (Droughns)
nor 2001  Ricky Williams       |  84.0  4.02 |  93.4  4.20 (McAllister)
min 2000  Robert Smith         |  99.2  4.99 |  59.8  3.67 (Bennett)
bal 2000  Jamal Lewis          | 124.4  4.30 | 104.5  3.87 (Allen)
ind 1998  Marshall Faulk       |  89.0  3.90 |  98.8  4.14 (James)
det 1998  Barry Sanders        | 102.9  4.28 |  68.4  3.58 (Hill)
sfo 1998  Garrison Hearst      | 127.1  5.02 | 111.2  5.00 (Garner)
nwe 1997  Curtis Martin        |  89.4  3.91 |  89.0  3.90 (Edwards)
phi 1997  Ricky Watters        | 111.4  4.18 |  99.7  4.13 (Staley)
min 1994  Terry Allen          |  91.8  3.81 |  92.7  4.31 (Smith)
nwe 1993  Leonard Russell      | 104.1  3.64 |  79.9  2.97 (Butts)
min 1992  Terry Allen          | 108.4  4.18 |  93.5  3.80 (Graham)
ram 1989  Greg Bell            | 115.0  4.24 |  97.9  3.94 (Gary)
sdg 1988  Gary Anderson        | 101.6  4.63 |  96.1  4.33 (Butts)
nyg 1988  Joe Morris           |  94.6  3.38 | 103.9  3.27 (Anderson)
sdg 1984  Earnest Jackson      | 104.5  3.80 | 103.3  4.10 (James)
atl 1983  William Andrews      | 129.8  4.58 | 111.5  4.08 (Riggs)
was 1979  John Riggins         | 134.4  3.83 | 115.9  3.90 (Jackson)
sfo 1977  Delvin Williams      | 141.6  3.78 | 119.2  3.64 (Simpson)
bal 1977  Lydell Mitchell      | 141.1  3.75 | 121.7  3.93 (Washington)
nyj 1975  John Riggins         | 144.4  4.20 | 121.6  4.28 (Gaines)
dal 1974  Calvin Hill          | 149.8  4.35 | 146.9  4.07 (Newhouse)

Posted in Fantasy, General | 9 Comments »

Chris Chambers = Eddie George?

21st May 2007

Target stats --- that is, the number of times a particular receiver was the intended target of a pass --- are now widely available. But I've never been quite sure what to do with them. If two receivers have the same number of catches, but one of them was targeted much more often, which one is likely to have more catches in the future?

Occam would probably assume that the player with the lower number of targets --- and thus the higher catch percentage --- is probably the better player. After all, isn't that what receivers are supposed to do? Catch the balls that are thrown to them.

On the other hand, the player with more targets is in some sense a bigger part of the offense. Either he's open more often, or the quarterback is throwing in his direction even when he's not open. At least if he's staying in the same situation the following year, maybe some of those looks will turn into catches.

I have always suspected that neither of those explanations is in general correct, that while target numbers are probably relevant in certain cases, they aren't worth anything unless you have more information about the particular situation. But I'd never really studied it before.

So I took all pairs of consecutive wide receiver seasons since 2002/2003 in which the player played at least eight games in each season and had at least 30 receptions in the first season (there were 264 such). Then I ran a regression of Year N+1 receptions per game against Year N receptions per game and Year N targets per game. Here is the resulting equation:

Year N+1 rec =~ .64 + .63*(Year N rec) + .07*(Year N targets)

The coefficient on Year N targets is positive, but it's small, and not significantly different from zero in the "official" statistical sense. In other words, given the variation in the data, there is no real reason to assume the true coefficient on Year N targets isn't zero.

And again, it doesn't much matter whether it's statistically significant or not. It's too small to be very meaningful anyway. Last year, Chris Chambers had 3.7 catches per game on 9.7 targets per game. That's a ton of targets for someone with so few catches. Our formula predicts him to have about 3.6 catches per game next season. If he had had the same number of receptions, but a more typical amount of targets, say 6 per game, last season, then the formula would project him with 3.4 catches per game next year. That's a difference of only 3 catches over a 16-game season.

For what it's worth, I also included various age controls in the regression and it doesn't alter the conclusions.

Chambers' low catch percentage last season was not an aberration, which leads me to the title of the post. Is Chambers' consistently low catch percentage, like Eddie George's consistently low yards-per-rush average, a sign that he's not as good as he appears and that he's only compiling raw numbers because he has been given a ton of opportunities? Or is the fact that he has consistently been given a ton of opportunities despite the seemingly poor production a sign that he must be pretty good, because no competent coach would make him such a major focus unless he had some real talent.

I don't know how much this has to do with Chambers, but young running backs who get a ton of carries but have a low yards-per-rush average often turn into Hall of Famers. Here are the backs who had the most carries in their first three years despite a sub-4.0 average per carry:

Eddie George
Curtis Martin
Willis McGahee
Karim Abdul-Jabbar
Ricky Williams
Marshall Faulk
Jerome Bettis

Now there have been a lot of other young runners who failed to eclipse 4.0 yards per carry over their first three years. For example, Reggie Cobb, Antowain Smith, Johnny Johnson, and Leonard Russell. But those guys didn't get as many carries as Curtis Martin and Marshall Faulk did. I think that might say something. A low yards-per-rush is bad. But a ton of opportunities over a reasonably long period of time despite a low yards-per-rush might just be a signal.

In the same way, Chris Chambers' ability to remain a huge part of the offense through two entire coaching regimes (including several offensive coordinator switches) and numerous different quarterbacks, despite what appears on the surface to be sub par performance, might be a sign that he's better than we think he is.

Posted in Fantasy | 14 Comments »

Chad Pennington and Thomas Jones

7th March 2007

There are lots of things to write about the Thomas Jones trade, but most of them aren't that interesting to your average sports fan. I heard one comment, though, that piqued my interest. Roughly speaking, the claim was this:

Chad Pennington is going to be helped out a ton by Thomas Jones. Last year, it wasn't fair how the Jets asked him -- while recovering from consecutive arm surgeries -- to carry the entire offense. It was all on him and his arm, and he played through it all. Now, with Jones there, Pennington should be much better this year.

As usual, "much better" can be interpreted lots of ways. I'll look at two, adjusted yards per attempt, and team wins. As I started thinking about how to test this theory empirically, I realized there are quite a few assumptions we'll have to make to really examine this. There are thousands of QB seasons to look at, so here is how we'll narrow down the list.

  • We'll only look at quarterbacks that played on the same team in consecutive years, played in at least ten games in each season, and threw for at least 2,000 yards in each year. Those last two numbers are pretty arbitrary, but they seem to establish a decent floor.
  • The 2006 Jets RBs, as a group, rushed 426 times for 1,449 yards, a 3.40 YPC average. You may remember, this was after a historically bad start, too. Jets RBs, as a group, ranked 26th in rushing yards and 30th in YPC. We'll have to be arbitrary again, but the assumption we're using is that Thomas Jones is good, and this helps Pennington. If the Jets RBs, as a group, stink again next year, this analysis would be meaningless. So I'll only look at QBs that played on teams that moved up at least 10 rankings in rushing yards and 10 ranking spots in rushing YPC average the following year.
  • Only 37 QBs since the merger have met those requirements, but we'll have to narrow the list a bit more. Why? Our system now will spot someone like the 1990 version of Troy Aikman, who played in 15 games and threw for 2,579 yards for Dallas. The next year, the Cowboys RBs improved from ranking 24th and 23rd to 9th and 8th, in rushing yards and rushing YPC, respectively. And Aikman played in 12 games in 1991, throwing for 2,754 yards. But in 1990, his leading receiver was Kelvin Martin (732 yards), while in 1991 Michael Irvin (1523) more than doubled Martin's output. That surely helped Aikman more than anything else, and the key factor here is that we all expect Coles and Cotchery to lead the Jets in receiving in 2007. So I'm going to stipulate that another requirement is that the same two receivers lead the team in receiving yards the same year. I italicized receivers, because I don't mean wide receivers. If a RB or TE ranks first or second, that's fine too. Additionally, the order doesn't matter, because the Jets won't change much if it's Cotchery that leads the Jets in receiving yards next year, or if Coles does it again.

That whittles the list down to twelve. I think that's a pretty good number. There's too much information for one table, so here is how those QBs all did in the first year, Year N. The categories should be self-explanatory, except note that YdRk is how that team's running backs ranked in rushing yards, and YpcRk is how that team's running backs ranked in rushing yards per carry. I also threw Pennington on the top of the list, but did not include his numbers in the averages.

Name Nyr Tm YdRk YpcRk Receiver1 Receiver2 AY/A W-L
Chad Pennington 2006 nyj 26 30 ColeLa00 CotcJe00 5.78 10-6
Matt Hasselbeck 2002 sea 21 22 RobiKo00 JackDa00 6.62 7 -9
Jay Fiedler 2001 mia 24 30 ChamCh00 McKnJa00 5.86 11-5
Kerry Collins 1999 nyg 25 28 ToomAm00 HillIk00 5.73 7 -9
Mark Brunell 1997 jax 22 23 SmitJi00 McCaKe00 7.23 11-5
Brad Johnson 1996 min 18 18 ReedJa00 CartCr00 6.36 9 -7
John Elway 1994 den 28 27 MillAn00 SharSh00 6.48 7 -9
Wade Wilson 1988 min 20 23 CartAn00 JoneHa00 7.50 11-5
Ken O'Brien 1987 nyj 19 17 ToonAl00 ShulMi00 6.27 6 -9
Warren Moon 1986 oti 26 27 HillDr00 GiviEr00 5.02 5-11
Ron Jaworski 1980 phi 16 21 SmitCh00 CarmHa00 7.23 12-4
Jim Hart 1978 crd 23 25 TillPa00 GrayMe01 5.18 6-10
Ron Jaworski 1977 phi 24 24 CarmHa00 KrepKe00 4.10 5 -9
Average 22 24 6.13 8 -8

To be clear, the above table should be read as follows: Chad Pennington played for the 2006 Jets, whose RBs ranked 26th in rushing yards and 30th in rushing yards per carry, and his top receivers were Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery. He averaged 5.78 adjusted yards per attempt, and his team went 10-6.

The rest of the above table list is filled with QBs on bad rushing teams, who played a lot in Year N and Year N+1, and whose top receivers remain unchanged. Here's how those QBs did in Year N+1:

Name N+1yr Tm YdRk YpcRk Receiver1 Receiver2 AY/A W-L
Matt Hasselbeck 2003 sea 7 9 JackDa00 RobiKo00 6.68 10-6
Jay Fiedler 2002 mia 1 3 ChamCh00 McKnJa00 6.02 9 -7
Kerry Collins 2000 nyg 5 15 ToomAm00 HillIk00 6.13 12-4
Mark Brunell 1998 jax 6 4 SmitJi00 McCaKe00 6.77 11-5
Brad Johnson 1997 min 7 5 ReedJa00 CartCr00 5.96 9 -7
John Elway 1995 den 15 3 MillAn00 SharSh00 6.64 8 -8
Wade Wilson 1989 min 6 11 CartAn00 JoneHa00 5.78 10-6
Ken O'Brien 1988 nyj 4 6 ToonAl00 ShulMi00 5.67 8 -7
Warren Moon 1987 oti 13 5 HillDr00 GiviEr00 5.99 9 -6
Ron Jaworski 1981 phi 4 2 CarmHa00 SmitCh00 5.26 10-6
Jim Hart 1979 crd 3 2 TillPa00 GrayMe01 3.72 5-11
Ron Jaworski 1978 phi 8 10 CarmHa00 KrepKe00 4.84 9 -7
Average 7 6 5.79 9 -7

I wasn't sure what before running the numbers what the results would tell us, but the results are clear: don't bump up Chad Pennington's 2007 projections just yet. Not surprisingly, team winning percentage went up with improved running games. But while half of the dozen QBs technically saw an increase in their adjusted yards per attempt ratio, only two of them, and none in the last 19 years, saw significant increases. So the next time you hear someone tell you how Chad Pennington's efficiency numbers should increase this year with an improved rushing attack, ask them why, because it didn't help Wade Wilson or Jim Hart.

Because like Pennington, Wilson and Hart were the starting QBs on the same team for two straight years. And like Pennington, Wilson and Hart had the same top two receivers (Coles/Cotchery, Tilley/Gray, and Carter/Jones) both years. Pennington, Wilson and Hart all had really bad running games the first year, and then added a marquee RB in the off-season (Thomas Jones, Ottis Anderson and Herschel Walker). And they have it even better than Pennington's projections, because we know that the receivers stayed healthy and the RBs did very well, and the rushing game became very good. Yet both quarterbacks saw significant decreases in their passing efficiencies.

I'm not saying that will happen to Pennington, but it's clear that it's incorrect to assume that the addition of Thomas Jones will help Pennington's statistics. By weighing the deck as much as possible -- assuming Pennington plays at least 10 games and throws for 2,000 yards next year, assuming that the Jets running game improves significantly, and assuming that Coles and Cotchery are healthy enough to lead the Jets in receiving -- there's still no evidence to expect Pennington to play better. He might play better because he's finally not recovering from off-season surgery, the offensive line has improved with experience, and he's got a year in this new system under his belt, but I'm not sure his numbers will improve because of Thomas Jones the runner. (I say the runner, because if someone like Reggie Bush came over and the Jets running game improved, Pennington's numbers would likely go up because of Reggie Bush the receiver. But Jones isn't in that class as a receiving back, so it's a moot point in this example.)

I'm filing this post under "Fantasy", so I should include some fantasy football information as well.

|==============Year N==============| |=============Year N+1=============|
QBID Rk Att Yards TD/INT FP Rk Att Yards TD/INT FP
HassMa00 19 419 3075 15/10 230 4 513 3844 26/15 306
FiedJa00 10 450 3290 20/19 282 26 292 2024 14/ 9 176
CollKe00 25 332 2316 8/11 152 8 529 3610 22/13 268
BrunMa00 8 435 3281 18/ 7 267 15 354 2601 20/ 9 220
JohnBr00 19 311 2258 17/10 186 13 452 3036 20/12 234
ElwaJo00 5 494 3490 16/10 276 5 542 3970 26/14 312
WilsWa00 14 332 2746 15/ 9 214 20 362 2543 9/12 170
OBriKe00 12 393 2696 13/ 8 185 18 424 2567 15/ 7 184
MoonWa00 12 488 3489 13/26 228 7 368 2806 21/18 236
JawoRo00 5 451 3529 27/12 288 13 461 3095 23/20 240
HartJi00 9 477 3121 16/18 215 26 378 2218 9/20 128
JawoRo00 5 346 2183 18/21 203 13 398 2487 16/16 180
Average 12 411 2956 16/13 227 14 423 2900 18/14 221

The numbers are pretty similar, with quarterback efficiencies going slightly down, TD/INT ratios going slightly up, and fantasy rankings going slightly down, after significantly improving their running games. (While not shown here, rushing yardage is included in fantasy points and fantasy ranking. E.g., Jay Fiedler rushed for 322 more yards the year before Miami added Ricky Williams than the year after. Once again, don't rush to bump Chad Pennington up your fantasy draft board just because the Jets added Thomas Jones.

Posted in Fantasy, History, Statgeekery | 19 Comments »

The Greatest Fantasy Season Ever

21st December 2006

Is LaDainian Tomlinson having the greatest season ever, and what does that have to do with John Brockington?

There's a whole lot to say about LaDainian Tomlinson. Readers of this blog probably know he set the single season scoring record this past weekend, even if Paul Hornung thinks there should be an asterisk. And everyone knows that Tomlinson set the single season touchdown record, too. So just how good of a season is he having?

Let's start by looking at pure dominance. Over a nine-game stretch last year, Larry Johnson scored an incredible 264 fantasy points. He rushed for 1,351 yards and 16 touchdowns, and gained another 276 yards and a score through the air. When it was over, I thought that might have been the greatest stretch in fantasy football history. Johnson averaged 29.3 FP/G, an absolutely unheard of number.

Marshall Faulk set the record for fantasy points in a season by a non-QB, with 374.9 in 2000. Faulk did that in just fourteen games, for an astounding 26.8 FP/G. Priest Holmes in 2002 averaged 26.6 (while also only playing fourteen games), but in the last thirty years only Holmes (2002, 2003, 2004) and Faulk (2000, 2001) averaged even 23 fantasy points per game. Emmitt Smith came closest, averaging 22.8 FP/G in 1995, with Shaun Alexander's 2005 season and Terrell Davis' 1998 season right behind him.

As we all know, then LaDainian Tomlinson happened. His season started innocently enough, with only one 100-yard rushing game and two scoreless games in the season's first month. But after eight straight 100-yard games and 28 more TDs, Johnson's great 2005 has been left in the dust.

Through fourteen games, Tomlinson has scored 406.1 fantasy points this year. That's an average of 29 FP/G, ever so slightly behind Johnson's great run in 2006. But let's compare apples to apples; LJ averaged 29.3 FP/G over nine games. Over his last ten games, LT is averaging 34.34 FP/G. That's the greatest stretch in the modern fantasy football era.

Tomlinson not only broke the single-season FP mark for non-QBs, he smashed it. But does that mean this is the best season in the history of fantasy football? To figure that question out, you need to know a bit more about Value Based Drafting ("VBD"). In short, we need to compare Tomlinson to his peers (other 2006 RBs), so we can compare him across eras and across positions.

LT's 406 points give him a VBD value of 266; simply, this means he's scored 266 fantasy points more than the 24th best running back, Corey Dillon. He's also scored 126 more points than the 2nd best running back, Larry Johnson. Obviously, that's really good. But is it the best of all time?

In that 2000 season, Marshall Faulk had a VBD value of 216, and in 2002 Priest Holmes' VBD number was 220. Those numbers actually understate their true values, since both only played 14 games while the rest of the league played sixteen. Terrell Davis (233 VBD, 1998) and Priest Holmes (231, 2003) earned the highest VBD values of any player at any position over the last thirty years.

Now, of course, LT has passed both of them. And he's likely to add to his total, and maybe even reach a mind-boggling 300 VBD points. So why are we discussing this now, instead of in a few weeks?

Because while TD's 233 points of value was the most in the last 30 years, it wasn't the most of all-time. For many years, it's been undisputed that O.J. Simpson had the greatest single season in fantasy football history. Many of us know that Simpson ran for 2,000 yards in 1973, becoming the first player to ever do so. What many don't know, was that his 1975 season was one of the greatest of all time. Simpson averaged 160 combined yards per game, and reached paydirt 23 times in a fourteen game season.

Simpson scored 362 fantasy points in 1975, an unheard of number for that era. It was the record for non-QBs until 1995, when Emmitt Smith scored 365 points. Last year, Shaun Alexander's 364 points knocked The Juice to sixth all-time. But what's most impressive is how Simpson distanced himself from his peers.

While Larry Johnson's streak last year was good, I really doubted that anyone would ever challenge Simpson's 247 VBD points in a fourteen game season. Simpson had one of the best seasons of all time, and the 24th ranked RB that season -- John Brockington -- totaled 676 yards and eight TDs.

But once again, LT continues to amaze. Simpson's VBD pro-rated for a 16 game season is 282 points, which Tomlinson seems likely to break. So while most of us will remember Tomlinson's 2006 season for how he set the single-season touchdown record, I'll remember it for what I consider to be a much more incredible achievement.

You might think the 24th best RB is an arbitrary baseline, so here is how many more points that LT (and O.J.) scored than the X ranked RB did that season. As you can tell, LT is better by any measure, save comparing the players to the fifth best fantasy RB that year.

LT O.J. Diff
2 125.7 54.2 71.5
3 154.5 98.6 55.9
4 164.5 150.3 14.2
5 167.9 171.5 -3.6
6 173.2 171.7 1.5
7 215.5 173.8 41.7
8 215.9 176.9 39.0
9 219.8 180.1 39.7
10 232.4 192.7 39.7
11 235.2 206.6 28.6
12 235.9 211.8 24.1
13 237.2 211.9 25.3
14 237.6 222.4 15.2
15 242.5 229.8 12.7
16 244.0 230.2 13.8
17 244.1 231.1 13.0
18 251.3 234.4 16.9
19 255.9 238.2 17.7
20 258.7 240.4 18.3
21 259.2 243.7 15.5
22 262.4 243.8 18.6
23 265.0 245.5 19.5
24 265.8 246.7 19.1
25 267.0 249.3 17.7
26 273.0 251.2 21.8
27 275.3 251.7 23.6
28 292.6 252.0 40.6
29 293.2 252.3 40.9
30 294.8 256.3 38.5

As I've stated a few times, I've long held O.J.'s record in high regard. But Tomlinson's going to smash another record, too. The most the number one RB has ever topped the number two RB by was 100 points, when Emmitt Smith lapped Curtis Martin and the rest of the NFL. Walter Payton (88.2, 1977), Jim Brown (76.7, 1963, based on somewhat incomplete data), Leroy Kelly (76.2, 1968, same data concern), Marshall Faulk (63.8, 2001) and O.J. were the only players to ever even beat the number two RB by 60 fantasy points. And right now, Tomlinson's topping Johnson by more than double that.

Posted in Fantasy | 6 Comments »

Weirdest season ever

13th October 2006

I've been playing fantasy football for a long time. And the only thing I can predict with absolute certainty is that every year, people will claim that this is the wildest, craziest, wackiest fantasy football season ever. It's as regular as the tides. But this year they might just be right. Let's take a position-by-position look at fantasy scoring.

Except for Donovan McNabb, fantasy scoring is down at the quarterback position this season. In this table, we see the average (2000--2005) fantasy point total of the player ranked X through five weeks. For example, on average the top-ranked QB through five weeks has 130.5 points. McNabb has 149.8. The 20th-ranked QB through five weeks has accumulated, on average, 66.9 points while this year's 20th-ranked QB, Drew Bledsoe, has 66.0. The asterisks indicate slots where the 2006 performer is outproducing the historical average, and there aren't many of them.

RANK AVG 2006 player 2006 FPT
qb 1 130.5 Donovan McNabb 149.8 *
qb 2 118.5 Peyton Manning 107.0
qb 3 112.5 Rex Grossman 98.9
qb 4 107.4 Jon Kitna 94.0
qb 5 104.0 Marc Bulger 91.3
qb 6 99.1 Byron Leftwich 90.8
qb 7 96.4 Eli Manning 89.1
qb 8 93.3 Charlie Frye 87.9
qb 9 87.7 Brett Favre 86.2
qb 10 85.2 Tom Brady 83.2
qb 11 83.4 Alex Smith 80.8
qb 12 80.9 Drew Brees 79.4
qb 13 79.4 David Carr 78.2
qb 14 77.7 Chad Pennington 77.9 *
qb 15 74.9 Michael Vick 75.4 *
qb 16 73.3 Mark Brunell 69.1
qb 17 71.0 J.P. Losman 68.5
qb 18 69.7 Brad Johnson 66.4
qb 19 68.4 Carson Palmer 66.3
qb 20 66.9 Drew Bledsoe 66.0

Now I know that some teams have had their bye and some haven't, so total points might not be the best way to rank players at this point, but that was true of the previous seasons as well, so at least we're comparing apples to apples.

The QB list tells a simple story: QB production is generally down this year. But the running back story is a little more complex. If you have a typical team, then odds are your #1 RB is doing worse than last year, but your #2 is doing better.

RANK AVG 2006 player 2006 FPT
rb 1 118.4 Brian Westbrook 86.6
rb 2 100.2 Frank Gore 81.2
rb 3 92.8 Larry Johnson 77.9
rb 4 84.7 Steven Jackson 70.9
rb 5 82.9 Deuce McAllister 67.3
rb 6 77.7 Clinton Portis 67.0
rb 7 76.0 Rudi Johnson 63.9
rb 8 73.3 LaDainian Tomlinson 62.6
rb 9 71.7 Kevin Jones 61.4
rb 10 69.8 Ronnie Brown 61.1
rb 11 64.1 Chester Taylor 59.9
rb 12 61.0 Fred Taylor 59.5
rb 13 58.4 Edgerrin James 58.9 *
rb 14 56.2 Laurence Maroney 58.8 *
rb 15 55.2 Julius Jones 56.9 *
rb 16 53.7 Willie Parker 56.3 *
rb 17 51.9 Willis McGahee 55.1 *
rb 18 49.4 Thomas Jones 54.1 *
rb 19 48.1 Dominic Rhodes 51.5 *
rb 20 46.6 Maurice Jones-Drew 50.8 *
rb 21 45.0 Tiki Barber 49.6 *
rb 22 44.4 DeShaun Foster 49.5 *
rb 23 43.9 Joseph Addai 47.6 *
rb 24 42.5 Corey Dillon 42.3
rb 25 41.1 Tatum Bell 42.0 *
rb 26 39.9 Reggie Bush 42.0 *
rb 27 38.1 Ladell Betts 41.9 *
rb 28 36.6 Ahman Green 41.3 *
rb 29 35.6 Marion Barber III 39.2 *
rb 30 34.7 Warrick Dunn 38.7 *

Every year you hear people complain about the fact that more and more teams are moving toward running back by committee (RBBC) systems. The facts tell a different story, as the past few years have, as a whole, featured far less RBBC than at any point in history. However, there may have been a slight shift toward RBBC just last year (I need to write up a full post or two on this), and it may be continuing (and accelerating) this year.

But the same thing is happening at the receiver positions. Here are the WR and TE lists.

wr 1 84.6 Bernard Berrian 65.8
wr 2 81.4 Torry Holt 61.2
wr 3 70.7 Santana Moss 59.4
wr 4 67.5 Keyshawn Johnson 55.7
wr 5 63.4 Marques Colston 55.4
wr 6 60.7 Reggie Williams 54.5
wr 7 58.7 Greg Jennings 54.4
wr 8 56.7 Andre Johnson 53.0
wr 9 54.9 Jerricho Cotchery 51.3
wr 10 52.8 Marvin Harrison 50.2
wr 11 51.6 Terry Glenn 49.2
wr 12 50.1 Laveranues Coles 49.1
wr 13 49.5 Anquan Boldin 48.7
wr 14 48.0 Reggie Brown 47.9
wr 15 46.7 Darrell Jackson 47.3 *
wr 16 45.7 Amani Toomer 46.8 *
wr 17 44.8 Plaxico Burress 46.6 *
wr 18 43.5 Larry Fitzgerald 45.6 *
wr 19 42.9 Javon Walker 45.2 *
wr 20 42.0 Roy Williams 45.1 *
wr 21 41.1 Reggie Wayne 44.2 *
wr 22 40.6 Donald Driver 41.8 *
wr 23 40.4 Braylon Edwards 41.1 *
wr 24 39.9 Chris Chambers 40.4 *
wr 25 39.5 Mike Furrey 40.3 *
wr 26 39.1 Isaac Bruce 40.3 *
wr 27 38.5 Joey Galloway 39.9 *
wr 28 38.2 Antonio Bryant 39.7 *
wr 29 37.4 Lee Evans 39.5 *
wr 30 36.7 Muhsin Muhammad 39.4 *
wr 31 36.1 Donte Stallworth 36.8 *
wr 32 35.7 Steve Smith 32.8
wr 33 34.9 Arnaz Battle 31.4
wr 34 34.4 Derrick Mason 31.0
wr 35 33.4 T.J. Houshmandzadeh 30.9
wr 36 33.0 Travis Taylor 30.8
wr 37 32.6 Greg Lewis 30.7
wr 38 31.8 Drew Bennett 30.5
wr 39 31.3 Wes Welker 29.9
wr 40 30.7 Chris Henry 29.7

RANK AVG 2006 player 2006 FPT
te 1 47.9 Kellen Winslow Jr 40.3
te 2 42.4 Todd Heap 36.0
te 3 36.1 L.J. Smith 34.7
te 4 33.6 Desmond Clark 30.4
te 5 30.7 Antonio Gates 29.7
te 6 29.2 Dallas Clark 24.4
te 7 27.4 Tony Gonzalez 23.2
te 8 26.3 Heath Miller 22.8
te 9 24.2 Ben Watson 22.3
te 10 22.8 Bo Scaife 21.8
te 11 21.3 Daniel Wilcox 21.7 *
te 12 19.9 Jeremy Shockey 20.7 *
te 13 19.5 George Wrighster 20.1 *
te 14 18.8 Randy McMichael 19.7 *
te 15 18.3 Alge Crumpler 18.8 *
te 16 17.5 Eric Johnson 18.6 *
te 17 16.7 Dan Campbell 18.0 *
te 18 16.1 Chris Baker 18.0 *
te 19 15.5 Owen Daniels 16.7 *
te 20 14.5 Alex Smith 16.6 *

I don't know what to make of this, but there is some serious compression this season. From 2000--2005, the difference between WR#1 and WR#20 after five weeks has averaged 42.6 points. This season it's just 20.7. The TE position is seeing a similar shift, but not as drastic.

Posted in Fantasy | 6 Comments »

Westbrook is good and the Texans are bad

26th September 2006

I had a couple of requests via email yesterday.

One was to provide some historical context for just how bad the Texans' defense has been. They've given up a lot of yards, and they've given up the most points in the league. But if you want to wade into a worst-ever brawl, you'd better be packing more than 98 points allowed in a three-game stretch. Since 1978, NFL teams have played 11,813 three-game stretches (some of which overlap with each other), and 361 have been worse than the Texans' last three games. So they're in the 97th percentile for badness. But as of now they do not seem to be anything special. They're just regular old worst-in-the-league bad.

In case you were curious, the worst defensive three-game stretch of the last 25 years belongs to the Titans, who in weeks 13--15 of 2004 gave up 140 points: 51 to the Colts, 49 to the Chiefs, and 40 to the Raiders. On the other end of the list, the 2000 Titans, the 2000 Steelers, and the 1985 Bears had three-game stretches where they allowed 3 points.

The other request was for an analysis of where Brian Westbrook's Sunday performance ranks historically in terms of fantasy points per touch. If you set the cutoff at 10 touches, then it was the best performance since 2000. Westbrook is no stranger to this list:

Brian Westbrook 2006 3 8 117 4 47 3
T.J. Duckett 2004 14 12 65 0 0 4
Charlie Garner 2002 5 8 94 4 83 2
Larry Johnson 2005 1 9 110 1 11 2
Clinton Portis 2003 14 22 218 2 36 5
Marshall Faulk 2000 5 7 55 6 116 2
Jerome Bettis 2005 17 10 41 0 0 3
Ryan Moats 2005 14 11 114 0 0 2
Marshall Faulk 2001 12 12 70 6 128 3
Kevin Faulk 2002 10 5 21 7 109 2
Brian Westbrook 2003 11 9 48 5 60 3
Brian Westbrook 2003 15 8 59 3 45 2
Michael Pittman 2004 9 15 128 2 30 3
Shaun Alexander 2002 4 24 139 3 92 5
Tatum Bell 2005 5 12 127 1 5 2
Randy Jordan 2000 16 11 55 1 55 2
Frank Gore 2005 16 10 68 0 0 2
Tiki Barber 2004 1 9 125 5 75 1
Clinton Portis 2002 15 21 130 3 75 4
Antowain Smith 2000 17 17 147 1 4 3
Corey Dillon 2000 8 22 278 0 0 2
Tiki Barber 2000 1 13 144 3 25 2
Derrick Blaylock 2004 12 8 57 3 21 2
Garrison Hearst 2001 11 12 106 1 6 2
Chris Warren 2000 8 10 64 1 11 2
Antowain Smith 2005 6 12 88 0 0 2
Shaun Alexander 2005 3 22 140 0 0 4
Brian Westbrook 2005 3 13 68 6 140 2

If you lower the cutoff to five touches, there are a few performances that can top Westbrook's. Who can forget Jerome Bettis's 5 carries for 1 yard and 3 TDs in week 1 of 2004?

Posted in Fantasy, General | 10 Comments »

Slow starters

25th September 2006

Three weeks of football are in the books (well, almost), and nobody seems to have told your first-round pick that the regular season has started. Is it time to cut bait on your slow starters, or can you sit tight and hope they'll get it turned around?

The historical data, as usual, reveals a lot of guys who you should have given up on, and a lot of others who flipped the switch started producing right away. In 2000, Tony Gonzalez had a miserable first three games, compiling less than 100 total yards and no touchdowns. He heated up in week four and never cooled down, finishing the season as the league's top-scoring fantasy tight end.

Marshall Faulk's 2002 paints a different picture. After having had two of the best fantasy seasons in history the previous two years, Faulk started the season with three underwhelming (for him) games. He never stopped the slide, ending the season even less productively than the first three weeks had been.

But are there more Gonzos or more Faulks? Only when we collect all these stories do the trends start to show themselves. I searched the archives for all players since 2000 who (a) finished the previous season in the top 10 in fantasy points per game, (b) played in all of the first three weeks, and (c) had a substantially lower points per game average in the first three weeks than in the previous year (five points per game for QBs, RBs, and WRs, three points for TEs). Then I asked: was their points per game average for the remainder of the season closer to last year's average, or was it closer to their average for the first three disappointing weeks?

The results: 30 of the 40 players rest-of-season averages were closer to the previous year's. So the good news is that most of these guys got their acts together. And a lot of the ones who didn't were obvious: Mike Anderson in 2001 (he lost his job to Clinton Portis) and Muhsin Muhammad (who was Orton-ized) in 2005, for example.

The bad news is that most of them didn't get their acts all the way back together. Only 16 of the 40 had a rest-of-season average that was as good as their previous season's average. Bill James once said (something like): if a guy hits .300 one year, and .250 the next, I'm going to project him to hit .275 in the following year. It's essentially the same story here.

Here is the data:

--Prev Yr- --First 3- -- Rest ---
Jon Kitna 2000 8 16.6 15 9.6 13 14.7
Jeff Garcia 2001 2 24.6 8 18.7 1 22.5
Mark Brunell 2001 7 17.7 17 12.3 7 18.3
Jeff Garcia 2002 2 21.8 16 13.1 4 19.6
Drew Bledsoe 2003 5 19.9 13 14.0 16 11.4
Trent Green 2003 8 19.0 14 14.0 5 20.3
Peyton Manning 2003 4 20.4 16 12.9 2 21.8
Trent Green 2004 6 19.1 14 13.4 3 22.2
Trent Green 2005 5 20.6 16 12.0 4 17.8
Peyton Manning 2005 2 26.1 17 11.9 1 19.9

Emmitt Smith 2000 6 15.3 18 7.7 13 12.2
James Stewart 2000 8 13.0 19 6.0 6 15.0
Stephen Davis 2001 9 15.3 15 7.6 8 13.1
Mike Anderson 2001 5 18.3 22 5.4 23 6.2
Marshall Faulk 2002 1 24.3 5 17.0 9 14.4
Shaun Alexander 2002 4 16.4 17 8.7 5 18.9
Curtis Martin 2002 5 15.5 30 4.1 12 13.5
LaDainian Tomlinson 2003 3 19.2 9 13.2 1 23.4
Deuce McAllister 2003 5 18.0 14 11.2 7 17.7
Charlie Garner 2003 9 16.0 15 10.1 21 8.0
LaDainian Tomlinson 2004 3 21.5 7 16.3 1 19.9
Fred Taylor 2004 10 14.8 15 8.9 8 13.5
Michael Pittman 2005 9 14.7 38 2.3 27 6.1

Terrell Owens 2001 1 16.0 15 8.3 1 16.5
Randy Moss 2001 2 14.6 23 6.8 3 12.9
Terrell Owens 2002 2 15.0 22 9.3 1 17.6
Terrell Owens 2003 1 15.8 15 10.2 8 11.1
Marvin Harrison 2003 2 14.9 33 6.5 3 14.0
Peerless Price 2003 7 11.1 50 3.4 26 7.1
Muhsin Muhammad 2005 1 14.9 23 8.6 36 6.1
Marvin Harrison 2005 5 12.6 27 7.3 3 13.7
Reggie Wayne 2005 8 12.0 41 5.5 15 9.1

Tony Gonzalez 2000 1 10.1 7 3.1 1 13.7
Rickey Dudley 2000 3 6.8 9 1.8 4 4.9
Tony Gonzalez 2003 2 7.5 9 2.6 1 11.1
Bubba Franks 2003 4 5.7 12 2.0 10 4.2
Billy Miller 2003 6 5.0 17 1.3 11 4.1
Alge Crumpler 2005 4 8.1 10 4.7 2 8.0
Tony Gonzalez 2005 2 10.5 12 4.1 4 6.9
Jermaine Wiggins 2005 6 6.8 13 3.7 12 4.0

Posted in Fantasy | 2 Comments »

Looking back, looking forward: Wide Receivers

15th September 2006

With week one in the books, lots of football fans have already put 2005 in their rearview mirror. On the other hand, you've probably been bombarded with writers and sports anchors telling you "to remember it's only week one, and player X will be fine just like last season." That brings us to what's on my mind today: just what exactly did happen last year?

Reggie Wayne and T.J. Houshmanzadeh had a lot in common in 2005. Both played on playoff teams in the AFC, caught passes from a superstar QB, and played alongside a superstar wide receiver. Houshmanzadeh missed two complete games, while Wayne was rested for most of the last two weeks of the year. The two receivers had similar end of season stats, too.

Rec Yards Y/R TD Pts
Reggie Wayne 83 1055 12.7 5 218.5
T.J. Houshmanzadeh 78 956 12.3 7 227.8

On the surface, those numbers look pretty similar. But it turns out Houshmanzadeh had a much more impressive season than Wayne. Why? Houshmanzadeh produced better numbers despite playing a significantly harder schedule than Wayne.

In order to rank the receivers and the schedules, I needed a statistic. I used the following formula (no doubt familiar to fantasy football fans) to come up with "Pts" for each receiver in the NFL: (Receiving Yards)/10 + (Receiving Yards) * 6 + Receptions. (Note: I'm not terribly concerned with what's the "best" statistic to use here, like I was when I tried to rank the quarterbacks. This scoring system was just convenient for me and in my current database. It's fine for serving our current purpose.)

So which teams allowed the most points to opposing WRs?

Pts Rec RecYD TDs Ratio
San Francisco 49ers 664 231 3238 18 1.36
St. Louis Rams 576 192 2616 19 1.18
New England Patriots 567 174 2744 20 1.16
New York Giants 564 193 2773 15 1.16
Denver Broncos 555 208 2662 12 1.14
Houston Texans 555 181 2655 18 1.14
Tennessee Titans 553 168 2307 24 1.14
San Diego Chargers 539 206 2549 13 1.11
Seattle Seahawks 530 195 2447 14 1.09
Arizona Cardinals 522 194 2378 15 1.07
Miami Dolphins 515 178 2453 15 1.06
Cincinnati Bengals 505 183 2508 11 1.04
Kansas City Chiefs 501 170 2361 14 1.03
Buffalo Bills 496 178 2464 11 1.02
Carolina Panthers 488 185 2352 11 1.00
Minnesota Vikings 482 176 2197 14 0.99
Atlanta Falcons 476 188 2245 10 0.98
Washington Redskins 469 168 2270 12 0.96
Baltimore Ravens 464 176 2306 9 0.95
Jacksonville Jaguars 463 157 2202 14 0.95
Philadelphia Eagles 455 154 2150 14 0.93
Cleveland Browns 451 162 2064 13 0.93
Indianapolis Colts 449 170 2126 11 0.92
Detroit Lions 445 160 2100 12 0.91
Pittsburgh Steelers 438 171 2228 7 0.90
Dallas Cowboys 434 144 2147 12 0.89
Oakland Raiders 427 148 2033 12 0.88
New Orleans Saints 420 121 1936 17 0.86
Chicago Bears 419 160 2014 9 0.86
New York Jets 404 151 1733 12 0.83
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 398 139 2058 8 0.82
Green Bay Packers 369 122 1677 12 0.76
Average 487 172 2312 13

That last column on the right is what we're really concerned about. The Green Bay Packers allowed 24% less points to opposing WRs than the rest of the NFL. Only two wide receivers -- Braylon Edwards and Az-Zahir Hakim -- had over 100 receiving yards against Green Bay last year. On the flip side, the 49ers defense was horrible, a whopping 36% worse than the league average. Ten times a receiver went over the century mark, with Torry Holt, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald doing it two times each.

If you follow this line of thinking, you'll conclude that catching 180 yards against the 49ers would be equivalent to 100 against the Packers. So I divided every receiver's point total from every game by the ratio of his opponent's stingiest relative to the league average. So when Joey Galloway had 5/53/2 against the Packers, those 22.3 points get converted to 29.5 points (22.3/0.757); when Galloway put up 8/149/1 against the 'Niners, those 28.9 points get converted to 21.2 points (28.9/1.363). This makes sense because a receiver should be rewarded for producing against a tough opponent and his performance should be diminished for dominating an inferior one.

I ranked every receiver in the NFL by how many points they scored in 2005. I've listed the top 75 receivers, and provided both their points totals and their corresponding ranks. Then I adjusted each player's point total by opponent, and listed the receiver's adjusted points and adjusted rank totals. The players are sorted not by either ranking, but by those "most hurt by a tough" schedule to "most helped by an easy schedule. (For you math guys out there, the list is sorted from lowest to highest after dividing the difference in points totals (actual points minus adjusted points) by the natural logarithm of the individual receiver's actual points.)

Name Pts Rk APts ARk
Steve Smith 340 1 363 1
Muhsin Muhammad 163 33 179 28
Travis Taylor 135 43 149 39
T.J. Houshmandzadeh 228 14 244 11
Roy Williams 162 35 176 30
Roddy White 93 71 105 61
Chad Johnson 298 3 312 2
Joey Galloway 272 7 286 4
Donald Driver 239 10 252 10
Marcus Robinson 113 53 124 48
Antonio Bryant 194 25 205 21
Derrick Mason 211 19 222 15
Michael Jenkins 105 62 114 55
Deion Branch 208 22 218 16
Braylon Edwards 101 66 109 57
David Givens 146 41 155 35
Ricky Proehl 92 72 100 67
Chris Henry 109 57 116 52
Antonio Chatman 131 45 139 44
Troy Brown 98 68 104 62
Az-Zahir Hakim 95 70 100 68
Dennis Northcutt 101 64 105 59
Brian Finneran 123 49 126 47
Ashley Lelie 133 44 136 45
Rod Smith 232 13 235 12
Josh Reed 89 74 90 73
Mark Clayton 112 54 114 54
Keenan McCardell 216 17 217 17
Donte Stallworth 207 23 208 20
Eric Moulds 187 28 187 26
Justin McCareins 127 46 127 46
Eric Parker 153 38 153 36
Hines Ward 234 12 233 14
Joe Horn 120 50 119 50
Darrell Jackson 105 61 104 63
Antwaan Randle El 104 63 103 64
Jabar Gaffney 118 51 116 53
Greg Lewis 111 55 109 58
Lee Evans 168 32 165 34
Eddie Kennison 213 18 210 19
Chris Chambers 269 8 266 7
Dante Hall 97 69 94 70
Andre Johnson 145 42 141 42
Laveranues Coles 188 27 183 27
Matt Jones 114 52 110 56
Amani Toomer 170 31 166 33
Brandon Lloyd 151 39 147 41
Samie Parker 107 59 103 65
Marty Booker 126 47 121 49
Jerry Porter 199 24 194 25
Arnaz Battle 87 75 82 75
Corey Bradford 107 58 102 66
Bryant Johnson 89 73 84 74
Plaxico Burress 239 11 233 13
Reggie Brown 125 48 119 51
Doug Gabriel 111 56 105 60
Santana Moss 286 6 279 5
Terry Glenn 223 15 216 18
Kevin Curtis 183 30 174 31
Jimmy Smith 208 21 200 23
Shaun McDonald 99 67 92 72
Drew Bennett 156 37 148 40
Terrell Owens 160 36 150 38
Randy Moss 209 20 198 24
Brandon Stokley 101 65 92 71
Ernest Wilford 151 40 140 43
Bobby Engram 163 34 151 37
Isaac Bruce 107 60 95 69
Marvin Harrison 269 9 254 9
Keyshawn Johnson 191 26 177 29
Joe Jurevicius 184 29 170 32
Reggie Wayne 219 16 202 22
Larry Fitzgerald 308 2 287 3
Anquan Boldin 289 5 267 6
Torry Holt 289 4 262 8

So what's this all mean? For starters, Steve Smith is really, really good. Sure he ranked first on the unadjusted list, but he also was hurt more than any other WR by a tough schedule (in part because of just how many total points he scored, but mostly because of a difficult schedule). Seven of Smith's games were against the toughest five teams in the league, and that doesn't even include Smith's dominant performance at Soldier Field in the playoffs. We saw this weekend just how much the Panthers missed Steve Smith, as Carolina didn't get a first down until the fourth quarter.

Two of my favorite receivers in the league, Anquan Boldin and Torry Holt, are the two players that get downgraded the most by this system. One word of caution: part of the reason Holt's schedule looks so easy is because his opponents (for the most part) had to face Holt, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald last year. But in general, the Rams' and Cardinals' receivers had very easy schedules, which likely inflated their numbers. When you consider that the Rams lost Mike Martz and the Cardinals ranked 1st in pass attempts last season, there are lots of reasons to expect those three star receivers to have weaker years in 2005.

Another pair -- Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh -- excelled in '05 despite playing eight games against top 11 defenses (and Houshmanzadeh missed two games against the Jaguars and Titans, which explains why his schedule was slightly harder than Johnson's was). Of course, this formula does nothing to eliminate the huge advantage both Bengals receivers receive by getting to catch passes from Carson Palmer.

Muhsin Muhammad, Travis Taylor, Roy Williams, Roddy White and Joey Galloway all looked pretty good in this system. Doug Drinen's written a lot about how Galloway's constantly underappreciated, and this system concurs. Those players might be expected to have better years in 2006, with presumably lighter schedules. On the flip side, Joe Jurevicious and Keyshawn Johnson switched teams after having very easy schedules last year, so you'd probably expect a downgrade in their 2006 production.

That's the big value in this system. A player's ability is more consistent from year to year than a player's opposing schedule, even if he doesn't change teams. Remember, pre-season predictions about strength of schedule are usually meaningless. So if I was going to try and predict how a player was going to do this year, I'm confident that I'd be able to increase my accuracy by basing my projections on these adjusted 2005 numbers, rather than focusing on the raw data.

One last thing -- I've used this system with great success at the quarterback position. Things are a bit dicier at wide receiver, and I'm not exactly sure how this relates to Doug's article on defending number one and number two receivers. My system could probably be improved a good bit by combining these two things. I'll put it on my to do list.

Posted in Fantasy, General | 3 Comments »

The Tootsie Pop Effect

12th September 2006

Admit it, as a kid you thought there was an explicit answer to the owl's query about how many licks it took to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, didn't you?

These days our curiosities may revolve around other things, but are no less nebulous at times.

Today my curiosity turns to how likely a wide receiver is to enjoy 1,000+ yards receiving for the first time in any given season. As an Eagles fan, my expectations for the newly-acquired Donte Stallworth were minimal. After all, he failed to break the 1,000-yard mark in his first four seasons. But his Week One output (6 receptions, 141 yards, 1 TD) has my homerism in full bloom and I now have visions of Fred Barnett dancing in my head. So I asked myself, how often is a receiver likely to break the 1,000-yard mark in Year 5 or later after not doing so in Years 1-4?

Among players debuting in 1990 or later, 75 wide receivers have recorded at least one 1,000-yard season. Of those, only 20 had their first 1,000-yard campaign in Year 5 or later:

LastName FirstName 1st 1K Season # 1K Seasons
Kennison Eddie 9 2
Brown Troy 9 1
Jackson Willie 8 1
McCaffrey Ed 8 3
Ismail Qadry 7 2
Ismail Raghib 6 2
Scott Darnay 6 1
Stokley Brandon 6 1
Martin Tony 6 4
McDuffie O.J. 6 1
Jackson Michael 6 1
Horn Joe 5 4
Mason Derrick 5 5
McCardell Keenan 5 5
Graham Jeff 5 1
Westbrook Michael 5 1
Chambers Chris 5 1
Moore Rob 5 3
Thigpen Yancey 5 2
Mathis Terance 5 4

Of those 20, nine (45%) had one and only one 1,000-yard season while seven (35%) have recored three or more 1K seasons. More germane to my Stallworth curiosity, nine (45%) of the 20 came in Year 5. It appears that WRs who hit the 1K mark in Year 5 have a higher rate of excellence in future years:

  • Average # of 1K seasons for WRs who have their first 1K season in Year 5 = 2.89
  • Average # of 1K seasons for WRs who have their first 1K season in Year 6+ = 1.73

20 instances in 15 years is, in my mind, neither something we can label as common or exceedingly rare. The fact is, it happens, but it's less likely a receiver will break into the elite 1,000-yard category and stay there if it takes him until his 5th season.

  • Average # of 1K seasons for WRs who have their first 1K season in Year 5+ = 2.25
  • Average # of 1K seasons for WRs who have their first 1K season in Years 1-4 = 2.82

I'm not sure whether Donte Stallworth will have a career like Derrick Mason's, but I'll just be happy if he doesn't end up with one like Michael Westbrook's.

Posted in Fantasy, History, Statgeekery | 6 Comments »