News & Analysis

The perception/production gap: QBs and RBs

By Daniel Kelley
Apr 13, 2019

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Dec 17, 2017; Jacksonville, FL, USA;Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller (26) runs with the ball as Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey (20) defends during the second quarter at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If we as a fantasy football community were perfect at drafting, a player’s end-of-season fantasy finish would match his average draft position perfectly. Also, the game we play would be a terrible one.

Obviously, we aren’t perfect, either individually or en masse. By comparing preseason ADP to end-of-season results, we can get a shorthand for how far off we are on a given player. And by doing that over a multi-year span, we can look for patterns, players or roles we get wrong with regularity.

What we’d expect: A bit of a yo-yo. The fantasy community loves to overreact, so if a player has a low ADP and beats it one year, we’d expect that ADP to rise the next, perhaps rising too far. That leads to him falling short of his ADP that year, and the ADP falling for the third year. And so on. Not many players follow that pattern, but there are some examples.

The more interesting ones, though, are the areas where we miss less predictably. Maybe we’re regularly over or regularly under. That’s what I’m looking at this weekend.

The method: Using Fantasy Football Calculator’s ADP, I noted the ADP of every quarterback and tight end with a draftable ADP and the top 50 running backs and wide receivers. I then compared those to their end-of-season finish. If a player finished ahead of, even with, or less than five spots behind his ADP, he constituted a “win,” under the thinking that missing by four spots or fewer was within the margin of error. If a player finished five spots or more worse than his ADP, that constituted a “loss.”

It’s not a perfect, be-all end-all approach. A player drafted 10th but finishing 15th is considered exactly as much of a “loss” as a player drafted first but finishing 50th, when obviously the latter was much more disastrous than the former. But it’s a good shorthand for players we are right on versus those we are wrong on.

Below are the notable takeaways from the last six years of data at quarterback and running back. We’ll be back Sunday to look at the same numbers for wide receiver and tight end.

Quarterbacks

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

Roethlisberger has been drafted inside the top 10 at quarterbacks twice in the last six years, in 2015 and 2016. Those two years, he finished, respectively, 21st and 17th at the position. When he’s been drafted outside the top 10 in the other four years in our sample, he’s finished inside the position’s top 10. Based on early ADP, he’s going outside the top 10 for 2019 (16th) despite coming off his best season, with the departure of Antonio Brown likely contributing to his drop. If trends continue, Roethlisberger will put up a top-10 season in 2019.

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

As I mentioned on Twitter, if you alternated drafting Ryan and Newton each year, things either turned out really well for you or fairly poorly. They’ve both taken turns with ADP wins and losses over the last six years, more or less fitting the “we love to overcorrect” theme at the top. Ryan, coming off a QB2 season, is likely to see his ADP spike in 2019. Newton, who just finished QB13 and has injury concerns, will see his drop. There might be obvious areas to exploit in those departments in 2019.

Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers

Rivers has put up an ADP win each of the last six years, the only quarterback who can make such a claim. He’s been drafted between 11th and 14th for the last five years running and has finished between eighth and 14th each year. That’s more or less who Rivers is — a high-end QB2 who is so reliably healthy that he’ll have end-of-year finishes that slightly outshine his weekly upside. By early ADP this year, he’s being drafted as … QB13, so wash, rinse, repeat.

Running backs

Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

Elliott has been drafted as a top-four running back all three of his seasons, and the only year he failed to constitute a “win” here was when he missed six games to suspension in the middle of the year. That situation was so confusing that I’m willing to call that a push rather than a loss. With an early ADP of RB2, Elliott has a high bar to clear to maintain his status as a win, but he seems as likely as anybody to do it.

Frank Gore, Buffalo Bills

Like Rivers at quarterback, Gore has made for a “win” each of the last six years, the only running back who can say so. Obviously, his overall stock fell through the floor in 2018 as the No. 2 (or 1A) to Kenyan Drake in Miami, but his draft stock was even lower. In 2019, Gore has headed to Buffalo to play behind an aging and increasingly worrisome LeSean McCoy. Gore’s current ADP is the last running back with a draftable one, at RB64, which makes him (a) a fairly safe bet to continue his streak another year, but (b) not someone you want any part of in fantasy.

Jordan Howard, Philadelphia Eagles

Howard was unsurprisingly well underdrafted as a rookie, when the Bears entered the 2016 season with Jeremy Langford as the No. 1 back. Since then, though, he’s fallen slightly short of expectations in two straight years. Howard’s current FFC ADP is as RB31, which is appropriately modest, but it’s been climbing since his trade to the Eagles. If it goes much higher than that, it will definitely be time to jump ship.

Lamar Miller, Houston Texans

Miller was a big disappointment in his first year in Houston, when he had a sky-high ADP but finished as a low-end RB2. In each of his other years in Houston and his last two years in Miami, his fantasy finish was in line with or well ahead of his ADP, indicating that the fantasy community has at large decided Miller is a middling fantasy performer and he’s … well, slightly better than middling. And as our Pat Thorman has noted, Miller is still only 27, still heads up a razor-thin backfield in Houston, and actually put up decent line-agnostic numbers in 2018. As current RB30 by ADP, if his team doesn’t add someone to compete either as a veteran or a draftee, Miller should easily put up another win in 2019.

Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints

Murray is rolling on a five-year streak of wins, including two years (2015 and 2016) when he was his team’s clear No. 1 back in Oakland and three when he was stuck behind starters in Oakland and Minnesota. Still — based in part on injuries in front of him and in part on his fourth-most-in-the-league 78 carries inside the 10-yard line over the last four years. He’s in New Orleans now, behind Alvin Kamara in the backfield, and carrying an ADP of RB34. But if he gets anything like the workload Mark Ingram had before him — even a poor man’s version of it — he could top his ADP again.

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