Recently I posited that the NFL Draft is easily beatable. The key is to figure out how to do that in the most effective way possible. The 2014 Draft is very deep at wide receiver, but I’m not sure there’s an undervalued player you have to have on every team. Psychological overconfidence is one of the big reasons the draft is beatable in the first place. If we fall into the same trap, then most of the potential value dissipates. The key to winning in fantasy football is a combination of humility and aggressiveness. It’s precisely because analysts don’t believe in the ability to “find the exceptions” that they relentlessly target the “rule” players. But just like every “exception” isn’t going to bust, not every “rule” is going to pan out.
I think a pretty easy way to beat the 2014 Draft is to approach the players as stocks and try to create a portfolio across your various leagues where the “rule” players are heavily represented.
What are the rules?
Recently I looked at a 136-player sample of receivers drafted since 2006 and came back with some startling conclusions regarding the value of weight, receiving market share, and age. I thought all of these components were important going in, but the magnitude of the difference between hits and misses was larger than I expected. For that reason, I called these components the Wide Receiver Holy Grail.
Age and Dominator Rating played such a large role that it seemed only natural that age at breakout was probably also important. A further study of that issue revealed breakout age to be something of a skeleton key. Age at breakout helped explain why Keenan Allen was an immediate NFL star and can also provide a glimpse into the likelihood of breakout for important second year players like Cordarrelle Patterson, DeAndre Hopkins, and Markus Wheaton.
We’ll emphasize these four components in trying to build our sleeper portfolio.
Who Fits Into the Elite, Scout-Approved Portfolio?
Prior to the NFL Combine, the consensus top four wide receivers were Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Marqise Lee, and Kelvin Benjamin. In order to acquire these players in 2014 rookie drafts or redraft formats this fall, we would have to pay full price. The favorable opinion of scouts will be baked into their respective ADPs. That alone doesn’t eliminate them as league-winning players. Sometimes a breakout is so big – think Josh Gordon – that almost any price represents great value. It does, however, create the expectation of thin margins and significant risk.
The Combine created stars out of some of my favorite small receivers. Speed is disproportionately important for small receivers, and Brandin Cooks and Odell Beckham needed big performances in order to avoid being tremendously overvalued. They delivered, Cooks by running a 4.33 and Beckham by posting a 38-inch vertical and sizzling 10.68 Agility Score. Beckham has been rising for a while and could now be the third receiver off the board. We’ll add him to this group.
Who Fits in Our Portfolio?
Cooks is an enigma. He could be an option for Detroit at No. 10 overall or for Detroit at No. 45 overall, which shows the wide range of possibilities for receiver selection in a draft that is both deep and relatively flat at the top. Since Cooks doesn’t fit our template and might go early enough to see no discount, we’ll pass on him. That means we won’t take any of the Top 6 receivers.
The next five receivers definitely intrigue. Jordan Matthews and Allen Robinson are the next two prospects on most lists, and Ryan Rouillard has already explained why Davante Adams’ historical season compares favorably to a similar campaign by Michael Crabtree. In fact, even though Adams is ranked as the No. 10 receiver by NFLDraftScout, @redhat28 took him No. 4 overall in the pre-combine RotoViz Rookie Mock. He immediately coined a term I love and will appropriate for our use here. He called Adams an example of the RotoViz Reach.
Jarvis Landry was an easy inclusion pre-combine, but his disastrous performance raises questions. He was still significantly more effective than Beckham for LSU last season. I’m not going to eliminate him purely on his Combine performance, especially since he should be available much more cheaply as a result. Finally, we’ll select another one of my favorite speed receivers, Paul Richardson. Richardson is not a prototypical RotoViz receiver from a size perspective, but we’ll let him fill out our portfolio so that both bundles include five players each.
How Do Our Two Bundles Compare?
Although there isn’t really a great way to “go short” on fantasy players, we’re going to avoid Watkins, Evans, Lee, Beckham, and Benjamin. We’ll label this the Scout-Approved Bundle. Selling on these players can be accomplished by trading out of the first half of the round, or drafting Watkins or Evans with the intention of immediately trading them. Meanwhile, across our various leagues we’re trying to accumulate as many mid-to-late first round picks as possible in order to buy shares in the RotoViz Reach bundle.
This is how they look in composite.
In order to compare our two bundles, I’ve created averages for each of our key metrics. The hits and misses numbers come from the Holy Grail column and reflect the averages for players drafted in the first two rounds.
There are obvious problems in using averages for 5-player bundles. If you’re trying to decide whether or not to select Sammy Watkins at 1.01, you don’t really care about his bundle. For a look at these players individually, the early 2014 WR Rankings are now updated post-combine. Jon Moore has all the numbers in his Combine Odyssey.
Caveats out of the way, the numbers are still incredibly interesting. Youth is a big strength of the 2014 class across the board. The RotoViz Reach bundle is slightly younger than the Scout-Approved bundle and significantly younger in the arguably more important breakout age (BOA). Both groups come in better than the average for hits in terms of rookie age, but age at breakout is a concern for the SA bundle. Although Benjamin’s numbers are prejudicial here, only Watkins has an elite breakout age. Lee is the other member with a solid score in this category. Everyone from the RR group meets or exceeds this criterion except Richardson.
Since we precluded Cooks from both bundles, this class passes the weight test with flying colors, especially the Scout-Approved group. Evans and Benjamin in particular are hulking behemoths. The RotoViz Reach bundle doesn’t meet the standard in the aggregate, but Landry and Richardson are pulling it down. Matthews, Robinson, and Adams are all above the threshold.
Dominator Rating isn’t everything – it’s the only thing
Well, clearly that’s not true, but the pre-eminence of collegiate receiving market share becomes clearer every day. As I watched the Combine and the commentators talk about the various skills a receiver needed to have, I kept thinking, “well, that’s expressed through market share, and that’s expressed through market share, and that’s expressed through market share . . .”
And frankly, you don’t care if a guy gets clear separation, or high points the ball, or makes hands catches, or has fluid hips, or plays faster in pads, or is quicker than fast, or has electric wiggle, or has an intangible genius – and I’m not suggesting those attributes aren’t fun to analyze and talk about, because they are – you care about how that combination of characteristics is expressed. Can the player play? The Dominator Rating will usually tell you.
The most important measure in our prediction models is Dominator Rating and this is where the RotoViz Reach bundle crushes the high profile group. Collectively, the players in the RR group were responsible for 43% of their team’s receiving market share. The high profile players represented only 31%. That’s a gigantic gap. It’s difficult to overemphasize how important this is. The guys widely ranked 7 through 11 in this class are above the historical level for hits and the scout-approved group is below the historical level for busts.
Unlike age and weight where the mixed nature of each bundle made the use of averages a little silly, the bundles are fairly uniform on market share. No one in the RotoViz Reach bundle scored below Allen Robinson’s .37, and no one in the Scout-Approved bundle scored above Odell Beckham’s .35. Every other member of the RR group was at .40 or above, and every other member of the SA group was at .32 or below.
If it seems impossible that Dominator Rating could possibly be right based on what you just read, I’d encourage you to peruse the Holy Grail column which gives very detailed historical breakdowns, or to see the Fantasy Douche’s excellent Games Dominated article.
Why the value of the RotoViz Reach bundle is even better than it looks
One of the main principles of my fantasy philosophy is that analysis doesn’t have to be better than scouting. It doesn’t even have to be as good. It just has to be in the same vicinity because the analyst-preferred players are far cheaper. In redraft, this means you can use the early rounds to load up on players about whom there exists a broad consensus. If @spidr2ybanana‘s look at the early MFL10 results is any indication, rookies are going to be all the rage this year, but, as I explained in how to use draft analysis to supercharge your roster, most of those rookies are going to be overvalued.
It’s my belief that the RR group will outperform the SA group straight up, but there’s a huge margin built in because they don’t have to outperform in order to still return excess value over ADP.
Why the value of the RotoViz Reach bundle is even better than it looks – Part 2
Historically, when the analysts disagree with scouts on a wide receiver prospect the Algorithm is right approximately 60% of the time. Moreover, when the algorithm is right, it’s right by a wider margin. This is a crucial point. Since leagues are won by high ceilings and not by high floors, the margin becomes all important.
Why the value of the RotoViz Reach bundle is not as good as it looks
In putting together the holy grail piece, I discovered that hits and misses tend to run equivalent 40-yard-dash times. This means that speed is probably valued appropriately in the draft; it doesn’t mean speed is unimportant. The SA group ran 4.50 on average, easily besting the RR group at 4.55.
Why the value of the RotoViz Reach bundle is not as good as it looks – Part 2
Draft position could be a problem.
Stedman Bailey was one of the best non-Keenan Allen draft prospects in last year’s class, but falling to pick No. 92 means he will have to definitively prove he can play in the NFL to see significant snaps. Meanwhile, lesser players like Tavon Austin, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Justin Hunter were drafted in the Top 35, meaning they will have to definitively prove they can’t play before seeing their opportunities dissolve. Those are very different hurdles.
Allen Robinson, Jordan Matthews, and Davante Adams should all be drafted early enough that it’s not a deal breaker, but Landry and Richardson could face an uphill battle if they slip well past Round 2. They could experience the same skepticism as players like Bailey and Marvin McNutt.
Be aware of value when you’re trading down. Sammy Watkins is going to see 130-plus targets next year, even if most of them are Cordarrelle Patterson-style wide receiver screens.