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Marqise Lee, Kelvin Benjamin and Being Dogmatic
Image via Neon Tommy/Flickr
Image via Neon Tommy/Flickr

I could have just as easily ended the title of this post with “Being Pragmatic” since pragmatism and dogmatism sit at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to translating beliefs to actions. I could have also titled this post “Why I Don’t Blindly Follow Numbers – 2014 Edition”.

One of the things that can become possible when you look at a lot of numbers is that you can be tricked into a false sense of certainty. We often make our arguments here on the site in a way that wraps them into perfect little packages, and frames them in such a way that you could falsely believe that they must be right.

But the reality is that looking at a lot of numbers should reinforce your belief in how often you’ll be wrong. That should happen at least as much as numbers give you any sense as to how often you’ll be right. That’s what error rates are for. That’s why NFL teams can’t figure out that trading up in the draft has negative value – because it bakes a false sense of certainty into the equation. I’m going to try to remember to write about this on a semi-regular basis just because it’s an important piece of the RotoViz pie.

I titled this post by referencing Marqise Lee and Kelvin Benjamin, two players that I just drafted at the 1.10 and 2.04 in a 14 team rookie draft. I don’t think I’ve written a positive thing about either player all spring. They’re both oldish. Neither had great Market Share numbers this year.  Lee is small.  Allen Robinson was still on the board when I selected Benjamin, and Donte Moncrief was on the board when I took Lee.

So why did I take these two guys?

First, draft position is an important part of the fantasy scoring equation. Benjamin and Lee both went in that spot at the end of the first round/beginning of the second round. Some part of the value of draft position is likely getting the benefit of the film based eval that most teams use, and some part is likely due to opportunity.

While Benjamin has extremely high bust potential, he also has a very high potential ceiling. He’s probably one of the only WRs in this class with a 15 TD season in his range of potential outcomes over the next few years. I also think it’s the case that he might appreciate faster than some other WRs in this class just based on opportunity. All of the great rookie WR seasons tend to happen when a team doesn’t have another option at the position.

In the case of Lee, I’m sympathetic to the position that I think Shawn Siegele and the Jags analytics people share. Lee might be small and older, but he had a ton of college production when he was younger too. Like Benjamin, Lee was the first WR that his NFL team drafted, which also implies opportunity.

I don’t really know if Lee or Benjamin will work out. I would have rather had Jordan Matthews at the pick I used for Benjamin, but Matthews was drafted by the guy in front of me. I would have rather had Austin Sefarian-Jenkins at the pick I used on Marqise Lee, but ASJ went one pick before me too. So when my pick came up in each case I didn’t have the chance to take guys I really loved, and instead had to sort of fight through my own biases and try to see the upside in drafting two guys that don’t perfectly fit my preferences.

I don’t take players off my board because I just don’t think that’s very pragmatic. I think the late first round is a fine place to pull the trigger on a guy that could easily be a bust, but is likely to get a chance to start right away and has a lot of TD potential. And then I think that early 2nd round is a fine place to draft a guy that is smaller and older, but will also likely get a chance to start and has had some dominant college seasons. Sometimes being pragmatic like that will work out, and sometimes it will fail.

But I think the costs of being dogmatic can be a lot higher. There has been a lot of back and forth lately about the relative value of big and small wide receivers. While I think that the market still doesn’t properly value big WRs, and I’m actually happy to see the Pyrrhic1 references to Marvin Harrison, in the end every player has to hit a point where they’re a value. Will either Lee or Benjamin actually be a value in the spots where I drafted them? Who knows? But I try to use the information I get from numbers to shade my actions. I don’t create hard and fast rules as a result.

Numbers are supposed to make us smarter. Not make us dumber by robbing us of our ability to also use our human capacity to apply logic to problems.

  1. I can’t think of a better way to describe it when someone thinks they’re winning the argument and they’re really losing it  (back)

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