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Aug 31

Stripping it down: removing player names and biases from fantasy football draft strategy

We all have our own inherent biases. For example, I’m a Patriots fan (don’t stop reading). Knowing this, all things being relatively equal I’m more likely to draft a Patriot than I am a Dolphin. It is important to be aware of our own biases when drafting so that they don’t influence your picks – at least not too much – lest they lead you in the wrong direction when there is value to be had.

Looking at this example, it’s really important to evaluate players without being affected by the Name brand. I’d like to take you through a little exercise that helps address this. Please note, I’m not necessarily saying that ‘Player B’ below should be drafted in front of ‘Player A’ but I am saying that the gap in production isn’t likely to be as significant as people seem to be thinking it is.

Player A: Review and Projections

Player A finds himself in a situation ripe for fantasy production this year. He’s in an offense that put a lot of points on the board last year (scoring the 4th most in the NFL) and sits as the top WR on the team’s depth chart. His situation isn’t without risk as both he and the team’s signal caller has significant health issues surrounding them heading into the 2013 regular season.

Over the last four season Player A has played just one full 16 game slate. He has not scored more than six touchdowns during that same span and has finished outside of the position’s top 30 three times, with a high of WR22 in fantasy scoring. He has never topped 1000 yards.

This season we’re expecting big things for Player A and there were enough positive signs in 2012 to help suggest that a breakout is on the way including his new role as X receiver in an offensive system that has produced plenty of fantasy talent at the position.

Player B: Review and Projections

Player B is working in an offense with a new play caller, but should expect to see only minor changes in scheme. That offense has tended to be pass heavy over the last few seasons, including last year where it finished 3rd in the league in passing yards and attempts per game. With that said, it was a middling offense in terms of total point production which cannot be overlooked when assessing fantasy value.

Over the last four seasons player B has played in 16 games three of four years, missing six games in 2011, though he tends to be viewed – perhaps unfairly – as an injury risk. He has never produced fewer than six touchdowns in a season during that span and boasts a high of 11 – averaging one touchdown for every 8.35 receptions (as compared to Player A’s 1/11.4). He has finished outside of the WR top 30 just once since 2009 (43, in the season where he missed six games) with two top 12 finishes.

This season, we seem to be forgetting Player B, drafting him as a low end-WR3 and as a community we’re not expecting much more. His QB is a polarizing figure and as such most people tend to downgrade the anticipated production of each player. Plus, he plays with a dominant WR1 across the field, and while this often opens up there is absolutely no doubt that Player B will finish behind Player A in terms of percentage of his team’s passing targets, assuming both play full seasons. In fact, he’ll likely be third on the team in targets – as he was in 2012 when he finished as fantasy’s 26th best WR.

Player A is Pierre Garcon, and Player B is Miles Austin

It’s not like that information was extremely well hidden however so perhaps you’d already figured it out. Garcon is a legit upside WR2 pick and if you’re the type of gamer who is willing to pay an expectant price for presumed increased production then you’ll likely to be happy to draft him. Still, I don’t think that the gap between the players in terms of ADP is fair to the consistent production of a guy like Austin. Yes, he’s the 3rd option in the passing game but there will be plenty of targets to go around, and he’s produced reasonably strong fantasy seasons under the same circumstances before.

The gap in these two players’ ADP per fantasyfootballcalculator.com is simply too significant for me to justify, with Garcon going nearly three full rounds ahead of Austin (5.01 as compared to 7.09).

ADP Austin Garcon

Garcon looked good with Griffin last year before the toe injury finally derailed his season, however he wasn’t markedly more productive than Austin. The players averaged 14.4 and 14.3 Yards Per Reception respectively on the season, and while he did edge Austin in both receptions and touchdowns per game the differences were minor (4.4 to 4.125 receptions per game and 0.4 to 0.375 touchdowns per game). Garcon was not two to three rounds more productive than Austin last year, and we shouldn’t expect him to be so this year. Griffin has plenty of questions surrounding his health and how any requisite changes to his game to remain healthy will affect the Washington offense, and Garcon himself isn’t a lock to play 16 games – he’s still dealing with the foot issue that sidelined him last year after opting to avoid surgery. Austin is indeed a bit of a question mark in terms of health status as well, but as mentioned above he’s failed to play in 16 games just once since 2009 and the Cowboys have spent time working on his body in a way that should help avoid the soft tissue injuries that Austin has faced the last few seasons.

One note that tilts the bar in Garcon’s favor: he finished second in the league last year in Yards Per Route Run. Assuming a healthy season and that projections of a bigger role in Kyle Shanahan’s offense hold true, he’ll be in for an impressive campaign. Still, there are enough question marks for me to side with Austin – when considering his present draft cost – over Garcon.

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