We’re here. Part five. The end of the road. I’ve now laid out all the calls I’ve made in 2023 that could be construed in any way as an affirmation or declaration. The next step in my process is to go over each one and consider what made the call go right, wrong, or somewhere in between. After passing through them all, I’m left with the following conclusions.
ONE EXTRA FLARE A WEEK
There is an incredible scene toward the end of the 2015 film Spotlight. As his reporters lament the fact that they missed the story years earlier, Boston Globe executive editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) turns to his team with leveled affirmation: “Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time fumbling around in the dark,” he states, and to the others, the words are a hammock.
What an evocative illustration. We seek the truth, but we don’t know what it is. We’re released into a dark room with scattered objects, some of which point to this truth, most of which don’t. We feel around, but sometimes we put down the things we held in our hands — things that mattered — because we didn’t yet know what we were trying to know. I think many fantasy players feel this way about drafting in the middle-to-late rounds.
The early rounds are easy. There’s no shortage of reasons to draft these players: We’ve had them, and they’ve crushed for us; we’ve played them, and we’ve died by their blade. Intuitive concepts like, “This guy’s been a WR1 four times, and he’s only 26,” have a remarkably high efficacy, and they are as easy to discover as blinking neon signs.
But by Rounds 5 or 6, or beyond, the easy buttons are as dried up as the Aral Sea. At this point, for most casual fantasy players, drafting is akin to buying their first puppy. Here’s this litter. And all of them look, sound, and act alike. How do we know which one is the right pet for us? We invent things — we all do — this one plays with my finger, or this one doesn’t bark as much — all of which mean nothing, but they give us the illusion of control at that moment. In reality, though, we are playing a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, and we won’t know for months what kind of pet we’ve adopted.
But what if we bring Cesar Millan with us? Admittedly, he won’t know how the dog will turn out either, but he may be equipped with knowledge about which indicators we can disregard and which might be predictive; with him, we have a better chance at finding the companion we crave.
A good fantasy football analyst is like that. But the margins are still thin. Instead of 50-50, with the guidance of a skilled analyst, we may get closer to 60-40 on our decisions. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but (to pull out my second movie reference in one segment) I’m reminded of the 1988 movie Bull Durham when Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) points out the difference between a .300 hitter and a .250 hitter is 25 hits per year. Over a baseball season, that’s one hit — one extra flare — a week. It is in this narrow margin that we find greatness. Those who can access that one extra hit per week make the All-Star Game; those who can’t toil on the travel bus and watch the kids pass them by year after year.
I want to stand by middle-round calls like WRs Jahan Dotson, George Pickens, or Drake London. These particular names didn’t impress this season, but they are still the right bets. According to extensive work by Blair and some of the other incredible writers on this site, second-year WRs remain an exploitable advantage each draft season; despite repeated insistence year after year, drafters are still not putting enough stock in it. Some of the more predictive information when selecting fantasy WRs are past fantasy production (with the caveat that all drafters use previous fantasy scoring, mitigating any edge), earned targets, expected points (EP), fantasy points over expected (FPOE), and yards per route run (YPRR). Here is a comparison of each sophomore WR from 2023 who had scored at least 100 PPR fantasy points in Year 1.
Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, and Christian Watson were all selected in the top 60 in redraft leagues. Of the second-year players remaining with at least 100 PPR fantasy points in 2022, only Pickens, Dotson, and Romeo Doubs had positive FPOE. London did not, but his high draft capital, college production profile, and the fact that he was on the 2022 Falcons, one of the run-heaviest teams of the past 15 years, all served to offset concerns.
As for Roschon Johnson, we want to continually search for decent backs with promising profiles playing in ambiguous backfields. The process isn’t even as complicated as the Year 2 WRs above. RB is a fragile position; things can rearrange above capable players, and when the door opens, the player often consolidates the opportunity. Johnson was a good bet at an invisible ADP, and his payoff had the chance to be massive. It’s a loss, but it’s like betting a dollar against twenty, so we want opportunities like this.