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The Tom Brady Halo Effect

Winning in fantasy football isn’t as easy as the “just pick the right players” crowd would have you believe. Winning – not in a single league, but consistently – is the result of finding the overlooked advantages that together create a sustainable edge. I focus much of my analysis on price, where the market is telling us the collective wisdom of the crowd, and history can enlighten us to zig when others zag.

I’ve used the relationship between quarterback and receiver ADPs in a variety of analyses, from finding the best landing spots for rookie wide receivers to undervalued late-round quarterbacks. One of my favorite applications was from a couple years ago making the case against drafting a team’s receivers in The Andrew Luck Halo Effect.

Luck, like Tom Brady this year, was coming off of a tremendous statistical season. The Colts, like the Patriots this year, added a big-name receiver in Andre Johnson. The crowd saw almost every possible Luck receiving option warranting at least a late-round fantasy pick in 2015, and there are six Patriots wide receivers and tight ends consistently drafted in MFL10s this year.

But are the Patriots wide receivers really overvalued? To answer this and similar questions, I attempted to create a numbers-based formula based on respective ADPs, built of the historical player prices for the last few years of MFL10s below.

qb_rec_adp_2015-2017

There are a few adjustments that make this formula work:

  • The receiver value calculation is the inverse of ADP: the last pick in a 20-round, 12-team draft (240), minus ADP. You then add up all the values for WRs and tight ends to come up with the combined score.
  • The receiving stats accumulated by running backs in an offense are accounted for by discounting the receiver value calculation by the percentage of receiving fantasy points to running backs.
  • QB rushing production is also accounted for by discounting the receiver value calculation by the percentage of QB fantasy points from rushing, not throwing.

This will be the first in a series of posts where I take a deep dive into this year’s outliers, according to the historical trend line. We’re going to start near the top of quarterback ADP with the Patriots.

The Relationship in 2017

ne_qb_rec_adp_2017

The Patriots receiver value this year isn’t grossly out of line with what you’d expect based on Brady’s lofty ADP, but on an absolute basis it’s stunning. Since 2015, the amount of adjusted draft capital being currently spent on Patriots receivers was only slightly exceeded by the receivers of the aforementioned Luck in 2015 and reigning QB1 Cam Newton in 2016. You don’t need to be a football historian to know what happened the following season in those cases, with Luck and Newton regressing significantly and leaving a trail of fantasy receiving options left for dead.

Brady’s consistent excellence over a much longer career logically mean a lower probability that he suffers an “off” year. Although Brady brings an additional risk absent from Luck and Newton coming off of their dominant years: age. I know Brady is doing everything that’s earthly possible1 to stay competitive as long as he can, but entering his age-40 season he’s well beyond the age when most quarterbacks see their performance cliff dive.

Which Receivers Are Most Vulnerable

It isn’t coincidence that the fourth highest receiver value from 2015-2017 also belongs to the Patriots. A comparison of ADPs from 2015:

Pos 2015 – Name 2015 – ADP 2017 – Name 2017 – ADP
WR1 Julian Edelman 49.3 Brandin Cooks 26.8
WR2 Brandon LaFell 112.1 Julian Edelman 55.8
WR3 Reggie Wayne 191.1 Malcolm Mitchell 201.6
WR4 Danny Amendola 206.5 Chris Hogan 207.5
TE1 Rob Gronkowski 10.6 Rob Gronkowski 22.0
TE2 Scott Chandler 219.3 Dwayne Allen 189.6

I italicized the positions with a material difference in ADP: WR1, WR2 and TE1. Rob Gronkowski is a diminished option this season in comparison to 2015, with his track record of injury extending a couple years forward. But Gronk is still viewed as an elite option with a top-25 overall ADP.

More troubling from a price perspective are the two top Patriots wide receivers this year: Brandin Cooks and Julian Edelman. Edelman’s ADP hasn’t changed substantially from 2015, but the addition of Cooks doesn’t seem to have had an negative effect on the ADPs of his teammates. Drafting markets are generally good at incorporating prior year’s performance but worse at adjusting for changes in opportunity.

Conclusion

When a team’s receiver value is high in comparison to quarterback ADP, you can deduce that either its quarterback is undervalued or receivers overvalued. As the second quarterback off the board near the end of the fourth round, Brady doesn’t stand out as a huge value, especially considering his age.

The logical choice is that the Patriots receivers are collectively overvalued, and the most obvious candidates are Brandin Cooks and Julian Edelman. The Patriots WR2 is now priced like their previous WR1, and Cooks is in uncharted territory for Patriots wide receivers. It’s possible that Gronk will fall off the map, while Cooks and Edelman pick up the slack to make their hefty ADPs. But that means that a bet on Cooks or Edelman requires one of the other top-two receiving options to fail, a bet that won’t sustainably pay off in your favor.

  1. There may be also some extraterrestrial factors.  (back)

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