With fantasy draft season nearing an end, here are the 10 things most on my mind heading into the season, and the analytics behind these thoughts.
1. “Is Todd Gurley even good?” He had the second worst rushing season (yards per rush) since the merger (minimum 200 attempts), for a first- or second-year player. On the list of sub-3.5-yard rushing seasons (there are 19 in history), only two of these players developed: Jerome Bettis (1994 Rams; so he needed a change of scenery) and Ricky Williams (1999 Saints and he rebounded with three-straight seasons worthy of Gurley’s current 20-ish ADP).
Curtis Enis (5th overall), Sammy Smith (9th) and Ron Dayne (11th) were busts. I’m tabling the late Lawrence Phillips (6th) for his well-documented off-field issues. So if we thought the odds of Gurley being good were 50/50 (one good year, one bad), this means they’re more like 60% he’s bad. I don’t put a lot of stock in environment, admittedly horrible but which great runners historically overcome.
2. “Marlon Mack is the poor man’s Joe Mixon.” Mack has to beat out Frank Gore, Mixon has to beat out Jeremy Hill. That’s a wash. Colts offense when (if) Andrew Luck is back is about a wash with Cincinnati. The fantasy community wanted Mixon to be the Bengals starter but it looks like Hill will be involved heavily. Yet Mixon is still a third-rounder and Mack basically free.
3. “Zay Jones and Cooper Kupp over Marvin Jones is hilarious.” Why is this a thing, even among experts? I guess people want to make a statement but Jones is in a high-powered passing offense with a good QB and looked like a league-winner early in 2016. Jones also has elite air yards, which is the most predictive WR stat.
4. “I get docking Jordan Reed for injury but why is Rob Gronkowski going 40 picks higher now?” Both are often hurt. Gronkowski’s back injuries seem more career threatening. If both are healthy, Gronk wins this matchup but it’s close. And lots of targets left Washington, too. Reed was 87-952-11 in 14 games in 2015, which projects to 99-1,088-12 in 16 games (add a half a TD there if you want).
5. “Why is Donte Moncrief suddenly so cheap?” He always was overrated but Luck’s uncertain status doesn’t explain Moncrief sliding from the fourth round to the 10th, where I took him 114th overall in the Yahoo Friends and Family league this week. And I hated Moncrief. But it’s always the price and never the player. And I advocate a QB-centric WR ranking model and if Luck plays 14 games, the floor for a Colts starting WR is about WR30. No one has threatened Moncrief in camp this summer.
6. “Why am I suddenly pro-auction?” Scott Pianowski and I have had huge debates over this and my take is that Fantasy Football auctions are such irrational pricing markets and the talent pool so deep in 12-team leagues that everyone would go stars-and-scrubs so who cares? But the difference now is that fantasy has two unfair players — David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell. And auction gives everyone a shot at them. This is an unusual phenomenon that I didn’t think we’d see again at the running back position. But here we are. Owning one of these guys in a draft format at least doubles your win probability.
7. “Why doesn’t Drew Brees ever go as the No. 1 QB?” Brees has five 5,000-yard passing seasons (including last year). All the other QBs in NFL history have combined for four. There are no other repeaters. It’s reasonable to project Brees for 5,000 passing yards. And he has led the NFL in passing yards three-straight years and seven times overall.
8. “Why isn’t Travis Benjamin’s ADP rising?” He’s secured a spot in three-WR formations and takes the top off the defense so he’s going to see a lot of snaps. He’s had a great camp. And he’s showed his speed has returned after last year’s knee injuries. In 2015, on the putrid Browns, Benjamin went 68-966-5. He’s a last year’s bum available in the last round of just about every draft.
9. “Why are people hesitant on elevating Kareem Hunt appropriately?” This is a world where Gurley and Leonard Fournette (horrible QB, offense and an injury to boot) are going in the second round and no one blinks. But now Hunt going there raises eyebrows? It’s because his price is now tethered to where he had been drafted prior to Spencer Ware’s injury. It’s a recency bias. If Ware was released in March and the Chiefs drafted Hunt just where they did, he’d be a 20ish overall RB no worries. I recently dove deeper into Hunt’s value.
10. “Is Wendell Smallwood sneaky?” LeGarrette Blount is a minimum-salary veteran. He also is not good and is over 30. That makes him a spring chicken compared with Darren Sproles. Smallwood is free so my zeroBadQB rules are not in play. How many young backs with no competition have coaches publicly saying they are three-down backs? I don’t like Carson Wentz, who best comp is Mark Sanchez 2009. But maybe Wentz IS good. In other words, when the price is right, Philly is not a sure-fire, bad-QB team. So when it’s free, why not gamble?