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How NFL roster construction impacts fantasy: AFC

By Daniel Kelley
Apr 6, 2019

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Dec 2, 2018; Oakland, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Spencer Ware (32) is congratulated by running back Damien Williams (26) after rushing for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders in the third quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Roster construction is a common source of conversation in fantasy football. It’s especially a topic in auction leagues, but as best ball has gained in popularity, a specific roster structure in draft-only leagues is necessary to consider as well.

What we don’t talk about as much, as it relates to fantasy football, is real-world roster construction. When it gets late in your draft, would you rather take a player from, for example, the Patriots or the Saints? Both are potent offenses, but one gets relevant fantasy scoring from players deep into their roster, while the other is more top-heavy.

(To answer the question: The Patriots got 96.5 PPR points from the 10th-highest-scoring player on their roster — Cordarrelle Patterson — most in the league. The Saints got 45.9 from theirs — Keith Kirkwood — sixth-worst.)

To that end, it’s helpful to look at roster construction as it relates to fantasy performance to see what we can learn going forward. Below is a look at the average PPR point total from each spot on the roster (i.e., the average points put up by a team’s top scorer, No. 2 scorer, etc.) through 10th place. If a team exceeds that average at a certain spot or spots, that tells us one thing; if a team falls short a lot, that tells us something as well.

With that information in mind, I’ll take a look at the 2018 performances around the league by division. Today, it’s the AFC. I’ll be back Sunday to take a look at the NFC.

AFC

New England: It shouldn’t come as any grand surprise that the Patriots are the only team in the division with even one performance above league-average until you get down to the dregs of the roster. With the exception of the Patriots’ fourth-best option (the DST), the Patriots were above average at every spot on the chart, including the single best eighth- (Josh Gordon) and 10th-place option and the third-best No. 9 (Chris Hogan).

Buffalo: The Bills literally had no roster spot that was above average, and only one roster spot that was even at 80% of average. You knew the Bills’ offense was terrible. You might not have realized just how terrible.

NY Jets: Only the Ravens had a smaller gap from top to bottom than the Jets, and the Ravens have the excuse of a full midseason quarterback switch. The Jets had the second-worst top roster spot, but tapered off gradually to a middle-of-the-road back end.

Miami: You can credit injuries for the Dolphins running so (relatively) deep last year, as Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant, and Ryan Tannehill all missed so much time that other names popped up that otherwise might not have.

AFC North

Pittsburgh: The top of the Steelers’ roster was as strong as any team’s in 2018; only the Chiefs got more points from their top four contributors, and that was largely because of Patrick Mahomes — Pittsburgh’s fourth-best player (James Conner) outscored Kansas City’s (Kareem Hunt) by nearly a full 50 points. After that, Pittsburgh stayed largely close to average, but still, there was enough depth all the way down the roster to make the Steelers relevant.

Baltimore: The Ravens were confounding in 2018. Five different players led the team in RB scoring in a given week. Four different tight ends. Three different receivers. And of course two different quarterbacks. Put that all together and it explains why the Ravens were way below average at the top of the roster, but among the best teams at the bottom. The Ravens’ 63.9-point gap from No. 1 to No. 10 was the smallest in the league by more than 40 points.

Cleveland: It’s hard to draw too many conclusions from the Browns’ roster construction in 2018. Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb didn’t start for the full year, Odell Beckham Jr. and Kareem Hunt weren’t on the team, and so on. This is a curiosity, not a conclusion.

Cincinnati: There was nothing notable about the Bengals in 2018, for fantasy, for real life football, or for anything else. There’s a graph up there. Enjoy.

AFC South

Houston: The dropoff from No. 2 to No. 3 (Deshaun Watson to Lamar Miller) for the Texans was the biggest in the league, 18 points larger than the Packers’ dropoff and more than 30 points greater than any other team’s. The Texans had the second-best No. 2 in the league, but only the 20th-best No. 3. With no significant roster changes so far heading into 2019, the Texans will need a breakout from Keke Coutee or a healthy year from Will Fuller to give the roster more depth.

Jacksonville: The Jaguars didn’t have an above-average performer at any roster slot, from No. 1 (Dede Westbrook, third-worst) down to No. 10 (Cody Kessler, also third-worst). Things did level off a bit in the middle, though, with Leonard Fournette and the defense approaching average.

Indianapolis: The Colts stayed above-average all the way down the list without ever being dominant at any slot. The return of Jack Doyle, addition of Devin Funchess, and year of development for the 2018 draftees at wide receiver should help the roster, but this was already a balanced attack to begin with.

Tennessee: Only the top-light Jets and Ravens had a smaller gap from No. 1 to No. 4 than the Titans, which is why their No. 4 performer (Dion Lewis, 160.7 points) is the only roster slot at which they were above-average. And then the Titans had the sixth-biggest drop from No. 4 to 5. This was a top-heavy roster without actually having that much weight at the top.

AFC West

Kansas City: The Chiefs were ridiculous. Their worst roster position relative to league average was Harrison Butker at No. 5, with 141 points, and even that was above average. Owing in part to Kareem Hunt’s release, Damien Williams and Spencer Ware hovered down near the bottom of the list, giving the Chiefs more depth. That’s actually a bad sign for the team’s depth going into 2019, as Andy Reid doesn’t have much history of using second and third running backs.

Denver: The Broncos didn’t have much top of the roster, thanks to Case Keenum’s struggles, Emmanuel Sanders’ injury, and Demaryius Thomas’ trade. But the team was fairly balanced. Phillip Lindsay at No. 1 was the 10th-worst point total to lead a team, but Jeff Heuerman at No. 10 was the 10th-best. And with no sure things in the offense in 2019 beyond Lindsay, there’s a chance for a modicum of production throughout the roster.

LA Chargers: It’s pretty easy to identify the point at which the Chargers’ roster fell off. The team had the No. 1 fifth-best producer, the No. 10 seventh-best, and then the No. 25 eighth-best. That’s a quarterback, two running backs, three receivers, and a defense. Sub a tight end (Hunter Henry) in for the third receiver (Tyrell Williams), and 2019 is likely to go much the same.

Oakland: Want to know a little bit about the Raiders in 2018? Their No. 9 producer (Amari Cooper) was off the roster after Week 6. Their No. 10 producer (Martavis Bryant) played in eight games, had 26 targets, and scored zero touchdowns. Their defense didn’t even make their top 10. Heck, their fourth-best­ performer (Jalen Richard) scored all of one touchdown all year.

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