Exploiting Recency Bias: Doubt T.Y. Hilton At Your Own Risk

Everything has aligned for T.Y. Hilton to destroy fantasy leagues far and wide. 

“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned” -W. Congreve

Last season, I wrote two articles in this vein, the first about Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, and the second about Brandon Marshall (two out of three ain’t bad, I’ll take it.)

These two sentences, from the introductions to those articles, encapsulates the idea:

  1. Identifying the illogically cheap is just as fruitful as identifying the illogically expensive.
  2. Exploiting emotionally fueled avoidance helps us find underpriced assets.

“Recency bias” describes a natural flaw in the way humans think. University of Rochester Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and contributor to ESPN and RotoViz, Dr. Renee Miller explains:

“The Primacy Effect, the finding that things that happen first in a sequence of events are preferentially remembered and hold a more prominent place in our memory than subsequent events, with the exception of the most recent event (Recency Bias).”

Recency Primacy Bias

Primacy effect is something else, that Dr. Miller has written about extensively, here, here, and here. Her articles are some of the most interesting and helpful that are hosted on the site, they are something I read annually. 

What happened most recently dominates our memory, and it unavoidably causes people to draft in fantasy football with the notion that last year was the only year that has ever taken place. None of us are above it, and recognizing it is the first step to capitalizing on it.

After he was drafted as the WR9 last season, T.Y. Hilton finished as the WR23, in a season that Andrew Luck struggled through only seven game appearances. That’s the kind of thing that leaves people mighty wary of investing again the following season. Currently being drafted as the WR15, drafters might have begun to realize that they were falling prey to this behavior:

Hilton ADP

Not quite the drastic value that he once was, that’s still too cheap.

Here’s what is expected from an average draft position of WR15 based both on last season’s finish, and the last five years of what has been scored from that ADP. Also, the expectations for Hilton generated using our Sim Scores, and the composite projections of the RotoViz writers:

2016 ADPWR15
2015 WR15 244.9
2011-2015 ADP WR15213.0
RotoViz Writers' Composite Projection257.9
Sim Scores158.4 - 270.4

Hilton has only finished above WR15 once, in 2014, when he finished as the WR11. It was also the only season, however, when he was over the age of 24, and Luck appeared in more than seven games. While Luck struggled mightily last season, Hilton still managed to finish as the overall WR23, despite 51.5 percent of his targets coming from the combination of Matt HasselbeckCharlie WhitehurstJosh Freeman, and Ryan Lindley.

Hilton Career Graphs

Andrew Luck Career Graphs

Hilton’s a particularly interesting situation for a couple of reasons.

First, the Career Graphs make him seem a little older than he actually is, as his birthday is in mid-November. While 2015 was his age-26 season, he will still be 26-years old through Week 10 this season. His production through his 26th birthday is incredibly rare, with only 18 players that have produced more receiving yards by that threshold. They include Jerry RiceRandy MossLarry FitzgeraldCalvin JohnsonDez BryantJulio Jones, and Brandon Marshall.

Second, his accomplishment, at his age, is even more impressive when considering that he profiles like someone who struggles to find relevancy, nevermind superstardom. He’s exceptionally small, with a pretty terrible athletic profile, middling draft capital, and came from a school in the Sun Belt Conference.

Hilton box score scout

Courtesy of MockDraftable.com
Courtesy of MockDraftable.com

And yet, despite all of that, he had a remarkably productive college career, an historically productive rookie season that The Oracle wrote a two-part thesis about, and wondrously consistent fantasy production throughout his NFL career.

Working with Luck, he has consistently outperformed his current ADP, while incredibly young and inexperienced.

16 Game Pace CriteriaCatchesTargetsRec YardsTouchdownsPPR Fantasy Points
2015 w/ Luck711491,2537238.3

Using our Projection Machine, and expectations for a slightly better team, that passes slightly more, but runs fewer overall plays, I came up with something I think is a pretty reasonable expectation.

PlayerTargetsReceptionsReceiving YardsReceiving TouchdownsReceiving Fantasy Points
T.Y. Hilton156971,4049291.4
Donte Moncrief119741,0078222.7
Phillip Dorsett75446183123.8
Dwayne Allen106727699202.9
Frank Gore3120164142.4
Josh Ferguson2518144138.4

If Luck is to stay healthy, and play relatively well, there’s no reason that Hilton cannot have a 25 percent market share, with a 62 percent catch rate, 9.0 yards-per-target, and a touchdown rate of six percent. He had a higher touchdown rate, and more yards-per-target, than that in his rookie season. He had a higher catch rate, and more yards-per-target, than that the season before last. Additionally, a wide receiver’s 26-year old, and 27-year old, seasons have historically been the absolute peak of their careers.

In 2012, Hilton was third on the team in targets, behind Reggie Wayne‘s staggering 195, and Donnie Avery‘s 124. In 2013, Wayne had 58 targets in seven games, a 16-game pace of 133; he and Darrius Heyward-Bey would end up combining for 122. In 2014, Wayne had 116 targets, Hakeem Nicks and Donte Moncrief combined for 117, and Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen combined for 142. Last season, Andre Johnson had 77 targets, and Frank Gore had 58.

Let’s assume Moncrief becomes what Aaron Butler believes he will, and Dorsett lives up to the potential that The Contrarian sees, in an offense that features all three wide receivers. And let’s assume that Allen does what Matt Wispe, Kyle Pollock, Anthony Amicoand I, all believe he will, absorbing a large part of Fleener’s workload, and putting up a TE1 finish. And let’s assume Gore still has one season in the tank, and even if he fades into history, Josh Ferguson will absorb heavy receiving work in, what Ben Gretch calls, the rise of the profile-3-back.

There are still all kinds of ways that Hilton could hit 150 targets.

Luck’s 16-game pace the last three seasons is also way above those cumulative totals for attempts and completions, which is a way of hedging the projection against one specific possibility coming to fruition.

New offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski did not have Luck available; but, after he took over calling the plays, following predecessor Pep Hamilton’s post-Week 9 exile, he ran a far slower pace. Without having his starting quarterback, it’s difficult to deduce if that’s his intention going forward; but, even if it is, Hilton should be just fine.

chudzinski splits

Luck 16 game pace

Buying Hilton is a bet that make sense on both ends, with his healthy floor seemingly close to his ADP, and the kind of upside where he can realistically, significantly beat an already high end-WR2 price.

Exploit recency bias.

You know what it is, you know when you see it, and you know that people are naturally inclined to be susceptible to its pitfalls.