Matt Ryan, A.J. Green, and Why Cheaper Isn’t Always Better


Image via Football Schedule.

We spend a lot of time at RotoViz trying to find players who are similar to highly priced players but come at a discount. Finding discounts is the foundation of championship roster building.

It can also occasionally leave the impression that, if we had our druthers, we’d trade out of the first four or five rounds and just build an entire roster out of cheap-but-similar players. I recently broke down the advanced stats for Chris Givens versus T.Y. Hilton and came away believing the Rams receiver is the same player at a fraction of the price.

Astute reader 19>18 pointed out in the comments that “cheaper isn’t always better.”

That’s also true. And it’s very, very important. Any study of expected return by ADP will show the top picks worthy of a healthy premium. In fact, that’s the two-part reason you’re trying to locate similar-but-cheaper players in the first place:

1) So that you can differentiate between profiles that are truly rare and those that are easily replaceable.

2) So that when you’re on the clock with a premium pick you make very sure to select a player whose similar players are few and far between.

With that in mind, here’s a quick list of players whose closest comps are cheaper but definitely not better.

The Man Without Peer:  Calvin Johnson

Cheaper But Not Better: A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones

RB-RB is the way to start this season, but, if you’re going to go with a RB/WR hybrid strategy, you should take Megatron in the first round and one of the undervalued runners in the second.

Calvin Johnson finished as the No. 1 receiver last season despite being tackled at the 1-yard-line five times. Sure, he smashed the single-season yardage record, but his outlier performance is more sustainable than Adrian Peterson’s. His athletic gifts are even rarer. While Marques Colston and Vincent Jackson are actually projected to outscore Julio Jones and A.J. Green, nobody is going to replace Johnson.

(For a quick look at why Brandon Marshall might, check out James Goldstein’s innovative WR Upside Ratios. For an explanation why he won’t, make sure you read Charles Kleinheksel’s breakdown of the new Marc Trestman offense.)

If you’re looking for a great second round runner to pair with Megatron, I’ve suggested Chris Johnson as the perfect candidate for a massive bounceback campaign and recommended DeMarco Murray as a stealth star. Matthew Freedman has started a grassroots campaign for Reggie Bush. (If you’re lucky enough to see Matt Forte fall to you in the mid-second, the aforementioned Trestman article explains why he could catch more passes than Darren Sproles.)

The Possession Superstar: Randall Cobb

Cheaper But Not Better: Tavon Austin

My very first RotoViz post was an argument against Cobb (now updated), and I think people are forgetting about Lance Moore as a guy with some similar traits who’s available far later. (I explore the fantasy community’s Moore amnesia and eight other crucial memory lapses in Eternal Sunshine of the Fantasy Mind.)

But while Cobb may be overvalued – he’s one of the 10 villains in How To Lose a Draft – the Packers’ ostensible star also sports a high floor. Catching passes from Aaron Rodgers and with zero competition for the slot role, Cobb’s path to a WR2 finish seems yellow bricked.

Loyal RotoViz readers have probably seen my Tavon Austin comparables, but if you haven’t checked them out, they aren’t pretty. That doesn’t mean Austin won’t be force fed the ball, but there are a couple of things working against him:

1) He’s a tiny rookie who’s catching passes from Sam Bradford (that’s really three actionable concerns in one sentence).

2) He’s got significant competition for the types of low efficiency touches that players like Cobb and Harvin thrive on. Remember Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, Stedman Bailey, and Chris Givens? Individually they don’t match Austin’s versatility, but collectively they can duplicate the types of route he might run. Obviously they drafted Austin because he can theoretically run them all. It’s still a reason to doubt his ceiling and worry about his floor.

Tavon is cheaper but not better.

The Vertical Receiver: T.Y. Hilton

Cheaper But Not Better: DeSean Jackson

DeSean Jackson is one of the cautionary tales for T.Y. Hilton fans, but he’s also not particularly similar in that we already know he can’t play. Every year about this time we get the puff piece about how Jackson has his head on straight and is going to reprise the 2009 season where he scored 10 combined touchdowns and flashed electric playmaking every time he touched the ball.

Jackson has never caught more than 62 passes, and he’s not going to do it this year either in Chip Kelly’s run-heavy scheme. Already demoted to the second team for a stretch in OTAs, Jackson may lack the cerebral nature or self-discipline to master the new, extreme tempo approach.

Here’s a quick look at their respective RotoViz projections using the WR Similarity Score app.

T.Y. Hilton DeSean Jackson
 Standard  Half PPR  PPR  Standard  Half PPR  PPR
Low 5.8 7.2 8.5 Low 3.4 5 6.5
Median 6.8 8.7 10.5 Median 5.1 6.7 8.2
High 8.7 11 13.1 High 6.3 8 9.9

DeSean Jackson is cheaper but not better.

The New GOAT: Aaron Rodgers

Cheaper But Not Better: Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan has been a forgotten man with the continued performance of the old guard and the astonishing debut of last year’s rookie class. Not a lot has been written about Ryan – although one of the most actionable was written right here – and his ADP remains pretty favorable despite his excellent 2012 season and the plethora of weapons at his disposal. If there’s one quarterback I expect to be disproportionately owned by the big fantasy guns, I think that guy will be Matt Ryan.

Here’s why that’s still going to be a mistake.

Aaron Rodgers Matt Ryan
4 pts TD 6 pts TD 4 pts TD 6 pts TD
Low 17.1 20.3 Low 14.3 17.5
Median 18.3 22 Median 16.4 19.6
High 19.8 23.8 High 18.2 22.3

A year after being a Top 5 pick, Aaron Rodgers has seen his ADP fall into the Third Round. While the RDL rightly chose a QB-heavy format, most new leagues award four points for passing touchdowns. In such formats Rodgers towers over Ryan. His low projection easily beats Ryan’s median projection. His median projection edges Ryan’s high.

Even as a strong advocate of Late Round QB, I now think QB’s will be undervalued in 2013. Just about the worst thing you can do in a fantasy league is take a mid-round signal caller. Rodgers’ points above replacement count just as much as those you accrue at any other position.

The most obvious way to win a fantasy championship is to have the best players. Aaron Rodgers is the best player in the NFL. I recently argued we’ve forgotten just how good he is. (Yes, more Kirsten Dunst brainwashing.)

In that article, I also compare Rodgers to Cam Newton and Peyton Manning, the two closest guys in the RotoViz projections. James Goldstein and Jonathan Bales have made very compelling cases for Newton and for Manning, but I doubt the difference in their respective ADPs makes up for the potential chasm in their final point totals.

When it comes to Aaron Rodgers versus anyone, cheaper is never going to be better.

If you’re a devout late round adherent, you probably want to read why Todd Haley turns Big Ben from reality star to fantasy dynamo, why Joe Flacco’s playoff run presages a massive breakout, and why DeAndre Hopkins elevates Matt Schaub back to fantasy relevance. 

Shawn Siegele is the creator of the contrarian sports website Money in the Banana Stand and Lead Redraft Writer for Pro Football Focus Fantasy.

Shawn Siegele

Author of the original Zero RB article and 2013 NFFC Primetime Grand Champion. 11-time main event league winner. 2015, 2017, 2018 titles in MFL10 of Death.
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