News & Analysis

The perception/production gap: Fantasy QBs and RBs

Nov 23, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) drops back to pass against the Dallas Cowboys during the second quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

I want to be clear here. This isn’t about the players. It’s about us.

Every year we sort players. Whether it’s individual rankings, consensus layouts, draft-season ADPs or some other method, we put the players in order and go forward. The players don’t give a crap about how we sort them. Matthew Stafford doesn’t look at his ADP and say “Screw those guys, I’m finishing higher than that.”

But we do it nonetheless. And I was curious how good we were at it. I wondered whether there were some players who we consistently over- or underrated. So with that in mind, I went back six years in positional ADPs on Fantasy Football Calculator and tracked players’ end-of-season totals against their positional draft position. If they equaled or bested it, they got a green mark. If they fell short, they got a red mark. If they didn’t have an ADP for a given year (they weren’t in the league, or they were hurt, or we just didn’t care about them), they got a black mark. With six years of data, I then searched for trends in what I call the perception/production gap.

First, the caveats:

  • FF Calc only offers up quarterbacks and tight ends who were drafted often enough to be worthwhile, so those positions were generally limited to somewhere in the range of 20 names in a year. For running back and wide receiver, I went 50 deep, under the thinking that anyone taken after 50 is more or less a lottery ticket anyway.
  • Obviously, this isn’t perfect. High-drafted players get penalized. A player who is consistently taken first at the position and finishes second gets a bunch of red marks, while a player consistently taken 40th and finishing 36th goes green. It’s not about building a fantasy roster entirely with green; it’s just about how our perceptions go.
  • Because it’s binary (red or green), a player who is drafted 10th and finishes 11th gets the exact same credit as a player who is drafted 10th and finishes 110th. So we aren’t looking for nuance here.
  • End-of-season fantasy-point total carry its own problem as a metric. A player who has three monster games and 13 so-so outings can finish higher than a player who has 13 decent games and three no-shows, and that doesn’t necessarily mean A was better than B.

Below were the biggest takeaways I noticed from quarterback and running back. Thursday, I’ll be back with what I noticed from wide receiver and tight end. Along with each name you’ll see the player’s six-year chart. If a quarterback was taken top-five or a running back went top-10, his ADP is noted. (Any deeper than that and I thought the ADP just clouded things instead of making them clearer.)

Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

The logical way for this to go is for a player to alternate red and green marks — the fantasy industry loves to overcorrect. Newton comes the closest to that pattern, alternating each of the last five years and jumping into and out of the top five in ADP. Assuming that continues, Newton — who is currently the No. 8 QB in early drafts — is destined to disappoint in 2018.

Philip Rivers, QB, Los Angeles Chargers

Rivers is one of three players (the other two are below, in the running back section) to have outproduced his ADP each of the last five years. His worst fantasy finish in the last five years was 12th among quarterbacks; his best ADP was 11th. He’s only finished better than eighth once, so it’s not like Rivers has been quietly dominating, but with an early 2018 ADP of 13th, Rivers already feels like a late-round winner for 2018.

Colin Kaepernick, QB

For all the buzz about Kaepernick warranting a job last year (and I was one of the most vocal about it, and I stand by it), he was the only quarterback in our sample to have more than two years of relevant ADP and never outproduce it. Every year Kaepernick was given value by fantasy drafters, he fell just short of realizing it. For whatever that’s worth.

Frank Gore, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Matt Forte, RB, New York Jets

Along with Rivers, Gore and Forte are the only two players to better their ADPs each of the last five years (six, in Gore’s case). With Forte announcing his retirement and Gore out in Indianapolis and possibly a longshot to land anywhere in 2018 — or at least anywhere with guaranteed fantasy relevance — Rivers is likely to carry the longest active streak into the coming season.

LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo Bills

McCoy is the only running back on even a four­-year streak of a top-10 ADP at the position, and his streak actually stretches all the way back to 2011 (when he’d have earned a green mark if I had studied that far). That he’s bounced around from red to green is largely immaterial, given his lofty starting spot (i.e., he's impressive regardless), but a guy who has finished as a top-12 fantasy running back five of the last seven years gets some mad respect.

DeMarco Murray, RB, Tennessee Titans

Murray’s public opinion appears to have a ceiling — he’s gone seventh or eighth in drafts four of the last six years. He’s also the closest we’ve come to the expected pattern of alternating red and green years. Considering we’re not even sure he’ll have a gig in 2018, though, he’s got some work to do to (a) have a relevant ADP, and (b) exceed it.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Arizona Cardinals

At five years, Peterson has the longest stretch of coming up short on his ADP (Eddie Lacy and Jamaal Charles have four straight years in the red). Of course, with top-four ADPs in four of those five years, he’d have been hard-pressed to finish in the green, but hey, as we’ll see in the WR/TE section Thursday, it’s not that out of the question.

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