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Is Zac Stacy the Most Undervalued Player in Fantasy Football?

zacstacy

NFL draft analysis wins fantasy titles.

I’ve recently been experimenting with full 1-200 dynasty rankings based off of the RotoViz Composite ranks, and that simple conclusion keeps coming up again and again. Our perceptions of players can remain contaminated for years by the draft chatter before the event and the actual draft slot in which the player is taken. It’s difficult to believe all those experienced “football people” could be wrong, but this year’s candidates to be the next Priest Holmes or Arian Foster hope they are.

They were certainly wrong about Zac Stacy.

The bowling ball out of Vanderbilt was a huge talent based on the evidence. My Agility Score article suggested Doug Martin, Ray Rice, and Ahmad Bradshaw as three of the most similar players. Jon Moore took a deeper look at the SEC stats and came away convinced he was the best runner from the nation’s top conference. Matthew Freedman used a different lens and discovered eerie comparisons to Foster.

Moreover, I used the same methodology that recently uncovered these four undervalued explosive backs in demonstrating that Stacy was definitively not a low upside plodder.

Most Explosive College Running Backs 2011-2012 (Min. 200 carries)

 Highlight Yards Per Opportunity (HY/O) and Block Success Rate (BSR)
Year Player Rushes Yards Hlt Yds HY/O BSR
2012 Kerwynn Williams 218 1512 858.7 9.98 39.4%
2011 LaMichael James 247 1805 912.5 7.73 47.8%
2011 David Wilson 292 1707 866.4 7.28 40.8%
2011 Zac Stacy 201 1193 585.8 7.14 40.8%
2011 Lamar Miller 227 1272 579.6 6.66 38.3%
2011 Terrance Ganaway 249 1538 646.2 6.53 39.8%
2012 Zac Stacy 206 1147 501.7 6.52 37.4%
2012 Johnathan Franklin 282 1734 807 6.4 44.7%
2011 Robert Turbin 249 1527 658.2 6.39 41.4%
2011 Isaiah Pead 237 1259 586.3 6.37 38.8%
2011 Trent Richardson 283 1679 742.7 6.24 42.0%

Highlight yards per opportunity is essentially a measure of how explosive a back was on plays that were blocked correctly. You’ll notice Stacy was the only player to show up in back-to-back seasons.

All of that research was presented before he’d played a down in the NFL, before he screamed up the depth chart to dispatch Isaiah Pead, Daryl Richardson, and Benny Cunningham, before he was a waiver wire miracle who won myriad fantasy titles for his lucky owners. Why do I bring all of that up now when many RotoViz enthusiasts have already read those articles?

The End is in the Beginning for Zac Stacy

It’s an apples to oranges comparison for Stacy–after all, he is being selected in the early fourth round of startups–but it feels like we’re right back where we were last year when everyone declared him a lackluster talent due to his “underwhelming tape” and fifth-round draft status. Of course, Stacy averaged a moribund 3.9 yards per carry and the Rams drafted Tre Mason. So the narrative must have been right after all.

Except, of course, it isn’t.

Take a closer look at what Zac Stacy and Eddie Lacy did in terms of Fantasy Points Over Par when adjusted for strength of the opposing defense.

rb_def_adj_thumb

Here again, we see that the supposed talent gap between Stacy and Lacy appears to be a mirage.

But even that isn’t the end of the story. Mike Clay’s excellent and extensive breakdown of running back carries by defensive personnel packages offers up this gem. Only three runners faced five or fewer defensive backs on a higher percentage of plays than Stacy. Meanwhile, Lacy was on the list of 10 runners who benefited most from seeing nickel and dime packages. Stacy not only faced better defenses, he faced better defenses with more men in the box. He responded by outgaining Lacy after contact on a yards per carry basis by the margin of 2.45 to 2.28.

Stacy’s ADP continues to be plagued by inaccurate notions concerning his talent. Fantasy writers everywhere are labeling Stacy this year’s bust player. There’s obviously no certainty Stacy will stay healthy or hold off the talented Mason (although Davis Mattek makes a strong case that Stacy owners have little to worry about on this front in 2014). The future is always an unknown. But you will consistently dominate your dynasty leagues if you exploit fundamental errors in player evaluation like this one.

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