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Fantasy Football owners are on a constant quest for a Holy Grail.
That one "advanced analytic" that unlocks a player's true upside. That one film breakdown that reveals future fantasy value. The one expert who never misses on his takes.
Guess what? None of those exist.
No single stat. No one evaluation tool. No sole expert. Hell, even if I think I'm the greatest fantasy football guru to ever exist, I'm also "real enough" to know batting 100% is impossible. Or 80%. Shit, 70% is a banner year.
You see, so many factors go into fantasy success -- all of which are out of any of our own control. Thus, hunting for that one crystal ball metric or analyst is a complete waste of time.
Rather, owners should be hunting for something that captures every success-driving factor. A recipe, not an ingredient. Consider it found:
On Wall Street, analysts are always hunting for Indicators -- predictive factors that help project the future value of a particular stock. In the best five minutes of The Wolf of Wall Street, Matthew McConaughey calls these indicators nonexistent, and the market completely unpredictable:
“First rule of Wall Street – Nobody – and I don’t care if you’re Warren Buffet or Jimmy Buffet – nobody knows if a stock is going up, down or fucking sideways, least of all stockbrokers. But we have to pretend we know.”
Fortunately, the exact opposite is true of Roto Street.
Fantasy Football Value has far clearer indicators. In fact, we believe fantasy success or failure boils down to six clear and crucial factors. In order of importance:
Now, I know none of these factors are groundbreaking, crazy discoveries in the fantasy world. And of course other areas, such as the matchup, need to be considered once the season has started, especially for DFS.
But never before have all six variables been considered as one unit — a Fantasy Stock Score –to holistically project fantasy value with every important area considered.
Consequently in 2017, The RSJ groundbreakingly graded out every single relevant fantasy player using this formula. Indeed, this recipe helped us pin Tyreek Hill, Zach Ertz, and Todd Gurley's breakout appeal last season, while also leading us to rank David Johnson #2 overall during his enormous 2016 breakout.
Foolishly, however, we weighted each category as an equal 10, more out of convenience to create a score out of 50. While true that each factor plays a key role in fantasy football success (or failure), certainly some are more important than others -- specifically, Talent and Opportunity.
Thus, I have revamped the formula to now reflect these varying degrees of importance. I'm eager for feedback, but the latest category weights / rubric are:
Below, I dive into each category and highlight what I seek while evaluating:
Talent is simply a player’s sheer ability and skill level when on the field. There seems to be a wide split in the fantasy community with how to best evaluate and predict talent: either you’re a stats guy, or a film guy. Personally, I place more stock in “the eyeball test” when assessing talent versus a random algorithm that generates net expected points when someone’s left shoe is untied. To each their own.
I like to watch and ask: what players are popping off the tape compared to those around them?
Which running backs have that vision to see the hole before it even opens and create for themselves when a gap doesn’t emerge? Can they contribute on all three downs and in the red zone?
Which receivers or tight ends are silky-smooth in and out of their breaks, always finding the soft spot in a zone? Who can dominate a contested one-on-one ball, or make the difficult catch in traffic? Who’s breaking away from defenders once the ball’s in his hands, racking up YAC and fantasy points in equal measure?
Can the quarterback make all the throws? Is his decision making sound as he goes through his progressions in the face of pressure?
Yet, even with an emphasis on film, I still see plenty of value to certain stats. Knowing what runners led the league in broken tackles, or what receivers had the strongest catch % and who’s being targeted the most — these stats can all help flesh out what the tape was suggesting, or lead to talent you weren’t initially aware of.
We genuinely believe individual talent is the most crucial ingredient to fantasy success, hence we weight it most at 30 points. These perfect scores are assigned to the game's elite: Antonio Bryant, Todd Gurley, and Patrick Mahomes as prime examples. From there, descending scores obviously reflect a decrease in natural ability level. As we have seen before, often times even a quality 25+ level talent can frustratingly rot behind an aging, ineffective veteran if he’s not earned the right…
Few words draw fantasy wood faster than “every-down workhorse” or “target hog.” The logic is simple: the more frequent a player's usage, the greater opportunity he has to rack up fantasy points. This is measured quite easily, with projected carries, targets, and passing attempts the key Opportunity Drivers.
Oftentimes, the most common and obvious reason to a breakout campaign is simply a higher usage rate. Just look at Christian McCaffrey, who added over 100 touches in his sophomore campaign, and more than doubled his Fantasy Points total in the process. Tyler Boyd came out of nowhere to fill a gaping No.2 WR void for the Bengals. Ultimately, his targets tripled and facilitated a Top-15 WR finish.
Simply put -- whether a talented backup ascends to a starting role with a new team, or a veteran departs and opens up more volume for the weapons left behind -- "Usage" changes are often the easiest predictor for a breakout. Therefore, Free Agency and the NFL Draft and the roster changes they bring are absolutely crucial to track.
After Talent, "Opportunity" ranks second among Fantasy Value Indicators, receiving a score up to 25. The reasoning is quite obvious, as all the talent in the world is meaningless if it's not given a chance to shine.
Too often, however, experts will stop the equation here. Talent + Opportunity = Fantasy Gold, right? Not so fast. 20 uncreative carries straight into the line won’t facilitate a monstrous year, especially if the surrounding team blows (just ask Todd Gurley about his 2016 versus 2017). We also need to consider…
Player A: 1212 YFS, 6 total TDs, 43 rec (58 tgts)
Player B: 2093 YFS, 19 total TDs, 64 rec (87 tgts)
Offense A: 4203 yds (262.6 ypg, 32nd), 224 tot. pts (14.0 PPG, 32nd)
Offense B: 5784 yds (361.5 ypg, 10th), 478 tot. pts (29.87, 1st)
If I asked you which Player and Team were better...
You might laugh, call me insulting even: It's Player and Team B, and it's not even close. Easy... obvious...except...
What if I told you they were the same exact player and team, just one year apart?
The leap is so startling, impossible even. How does Mediocre Player A evolve into a full-blown MVP-Level Player B? How can an offense go, literally, from "Worst to First" in total points over just one year?
Surely, this team must've signed or drafted a stud QB! Or signed some insane weapons for a major offensive overhaul!
Except neither happened.
The Player is Todd Gurley, and the team is obviously the LA Rams.
Indeed, "Surrounding Talent" Upgrades played a major role. Andrew Whitworth helped stabilize and beef up a weak offensive line. Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins and Cooper Kupp all added firepower outside. But none of these were true "game changers."
Rather, the most important personnel change wasn't anyone wearing a helmet, but rather a headset:
Clearly, Coaching Scheme can play an enormous role in fantasy fortunes. Yet, this remains easily the most overlooked of the factors (hence, why we painstakingly broke down every new play caller in our 2018 Coaching Carousel Guide, and will do so again in 2019).
Though not quite as drastic, the Bears went from a laughingstock 28th in points per game under John Fox to ranking Top-5 in 2018 under Matt Nagy. Indianapolis leaped from 30th to 8th under Frank Reich. Massive changes will again come to potential juggernauts like Cleveland and Green Bay.
In the process of these turnarounds, we saw Nagy's ability to utilize Tarik Cohen in space facilitate a huge breakout campaign. We saw Frank Reich's heavy reliance on the Tight End spark an explosion for Eric Ebron. Coaching Scheme was absolutely essential to these monster campaigns.
Thus, when grading a coach / scheme, we consider:
1) Creativity - does the playcaller attack and threaten defenses in unique ways? (Sean Payton) Or is the offense vanilla, dull, and easy to shut down? (Jeff Fisher).
2) Aggressiveness - is the playcaller willing to go for the home run? Will they keep their offense on for 4th downs and constantly sustain drives? (Doug Pederson). Or is the coach detrimentally conservative, capping the scoring ceilings of his talent (John Fox).
3) Talent Management - Does the coach scheme around his players' strengths and skillsets (Matt Nagy)? Or does he force square pegs into round holes, forcing ill-fitting talents into miscast roles?
Scheme is also very closely tied to Opportunity / Usage, as many coaches have predictable trends and preferences. Some coach's clearly favor RB Committees with specialized talents, while others prefer riding a single back to keep defenses on their toes. Some coaches heavily pepper a single weapon, while others find new mismatches every week and make the week's top-scorer difficult to project.
In sum, while Talent and Opportunity are more necessary to build a fantasy floor, the right coach and scheme are crucial in elevating a player to his true ceiling. Yet, even in the perfect marriage of all the above factors, we unfortunately must consider:
Surrounding Talent simply measures the quality levels of a players' teammates -- both skill position and on the line. Although less important than Talent or Opportunity, we rank this as the third most important "Indicator,"
In general, high-end surrounding talent raises a player’s fantasy stock score -- you want the prominent players on juggernaut teams that explode for points every Sunday (Chiefs & Saints, please). You want the RB being fed behind some elite maulers (Ezekiel Elliott, anyone?). You want wide-receivers hauling in passes from an accurate arm. Of course, QBs surrounded by explosive weapons often become fantasy megastars (Patrick Mahomes in 2018).
But as quickly as a ceiling can be elevated by strong surrounding talent, a cavernous fantasy floor can be created by weak teammates. A trash quarterback can often plummet a wide receivers value and motivation -- just ask DeAndre Hopkins his feelings on Brock Osweiler. Moreover, losing a stud on the outside can leave a QB gasping for fantasy air (Matt Stafford after losing Golden Tate). A horrid offensive line can leave even the most talented running backs hitting brick walls, while the box may be stacked against him if no vertical threat or quarterback relieves some pressure. David Johnson and LeSean McCoy would certainly be willing to testify on the importance of Surrounding Talent after 2018 disasters.
In 2019, for example, whoever lands in Kansas City's massive RB Value Hole could be a legitimate first rounder, largely in part because of Surrounding Talent. The line is solid, the overall offense lives in the Red Zone, and the stockpile of vertical threats keeps boxes light.
Even if all these factors are in place, a full fantasy ceiling can't be reached without the right...
Risk Level is determined by looking at three factors: injury susceptibility / history, consistency, and proven-ness (if that's a word). The higher the Risk Score, the safer the investment. A 10 would mean a player is close to risk-free: an established commodity that displays iron-man health and match-up proof consistency. Think DeAndre Hopkins, who's rarely missed time and has proven to be QB-Proof (outside of the special breed of horrendous that is Brock Osweiler).
Indeed injuries are impossible to predict. Every single player is on the same field with seemingly equal risk on any given play.
Yet, some identifiable trends do exist that certainly make some players more injury prone than others. High mileage or older running backs often break down, and runners in general are at a higher risk given their greater exposure to hits. Style of play, such as an upright rushing style or fearlessness over the middle, can also create greater injury susceptibility.
Previous injury history also needs to be considered, particularly if a player is coming off a surgery. No matter what, Sammy Watkins is going to miss time.
While injury is by far the greatest factor to consider, consistency is its near equal for risk assessment. Are you Michael Thomas, churning out double-digit weekly outputs? Or are you Corey Davis, booming for week-winning 30 FPs weeks, and then disappearing for game-costing goose eggs?
Additionally, a track record of durability and performance is comforting. Some players simply can fight through the pain and are built to absorb the punishment better than others. Also, once a player has an established role, he will usually have a longer leash and clearer weekly usage as compared to an unproven commodity. Even though we love Nick Chubb's overall Stock Profile, his risk score is far greater than Ezekiel Elliott, who has three years of RB1 domination as compared to a half season.
This does not mean to only draft "proven players," however. More often than not, their ceilings are often more firmly established, and while security has its own appeal, there’s often more sexiness -- and value -- to the allure of the unknown. A balance between the established floor versus the limitless potential is key to being a true contender. Speaking of ceilings...
I'll come clean: I love upside. I'm incredibly addicted to chasing ceilings, knowingly at the expense of a sturdy fantasy team floor.
Consequently, I have added Upside as a "Bonus" Factor in my 2018 Fantasy Stock Formula.
When evaluating Upside, we're considering a player's best case statistical output, and how realistic his chances are of hitting this high bar.
Players who could be genuine weekly "Cheat Codes," like Patrick Mahomes and Christian McCaffrey, receive high marks. Meanwhile, dull talent, with a capped "best case" scenario, will grade out poorly -- even if "dependable." Think Lamar Miller.
We use The Fantasy Stock Formula to power our trademark Fantasy Football Stock Watch. Like the RotoWorld Blurbs (but better), our Stock Watch aims to capture the same "stream of value" feel, but with more relevant, and properly framed, information.
Hence, we analyze only the meaningful moves, leaving the reserve swing tackles and backup defensive ends to RotoWorld. We also ground each breakdown in whichever Fantasy Stock factor(s) have seen a change (Talent, Opportunity, Surrounding Talent, Coaching Scheme, Risk, and Upside)
A preview of The Fantasy Football Stock Watch is below. For the full version, click here.
It's official: The Wolf has run every player through the Fantasy Stock Formula, and we are now in the process of crafting our 2018 Fantasy Stock Profiles. We're beginning with our 2018 First Rounders, and some early examples include:
These Stock Scores soon be used to update our 2018 Fantasy Football Rankings and Big Board. Some surprising names are rising and falling after being graded out, so be sure to tune in as the rankings are updated.
This ensures our rankings and predictions are as holistic and well-informed as possible, with every meaningful angle considered. Additionally, the formula removes bias by forcing us to examine every player under the same exact lens. So leave no fantasy stone unturned, and check back in a few weeks as we update our Rankings and begin unveiling our improved Fantasy Stock Profiles.
The development, and increased reliance, upon Advanced Analytics has Fantasy Football Owners confused.
Now, owners expect to find that one metric or evaluation tool that'll open up Fantasy Nirvana.
Instead, owners should be taking a simpler yet more holistic approach: the Fantasy Football Stock Formula.
Talent, Opportunity, Surrounding Talent, Coaching Scheme, Risk, and Upside all play upon one another and combine to drive Fantasy Football Value. Like mad scientists in a lab, we've revamped and reweighted the value of each factor, and are now able to capture Fantasy Value more accurately than ever before.
Indeed, my grades on Player X's Talent, Player Y's Opportunity, or Player Z's Risk Level are all open for debate. Sure, I'll swing and miss on my fair share of evaluations, overlooking a line downgrade or underselling a new coach's importance.
However, there's one thing I won't be wrong about (besides Pat Mahomes exploding): the Fantasy Stock Formula is 100% the best way to evaluate Fantasy Football value.