Somewhat inspired by the end of last
week’s column, I decided to play a hunch and dig a little
deeper. As I discussed last week, receivers have slowly started
to infiltrate the hallowed ground that once used to be reserved
for running backs in fantasy. The shift this year has been dramatic,
however, and I don’t think the majority of owners realize
it. Thus, my goal this week is to provide some tangible proof that
fantasy football is changing and how this year isn’t like
any other year we’ve seen in a while.
As is usually the case anytime a researcher conducts a study,
many of the results do not yield earthshattering revelations.
However, almost any statistical investigation will produce some
surprises. It is those anomalies that I will focus on for the
first half of this week’s piece:
Below you will find the last six seasons laid out in graphical
form. The blue pie in each instance signifies the quarterbacks’
contribution, the orange pie signifies the running backs’
contribution and so on. Next to the position abbreviation (QB,
RB, WR, TE) is the total point average that position produced
during an average NFL game in that season. In other words, the
average NFL game is producing roughly 40.4 fantasy points at the
quarterback position this season. Last but not least, the percentage
below the point average in each instance is the amount that position
is contributing to the “fantasy pie” on average. For
instance, quarterbacks are responsible for 21.8% of the 185.6
fantasy points scored each game this season.
At this point, it probably would be most beneficial to take your
time and simply review each of the six charts below.
2015 Average PPR fantasy points scored per
NFL game: 185.6 2015 Average plays run per game (one team):
64.6 2015 Average pass plays run per game (one
2014 Average PPR fantasy points scored per
NFL game: 177.1 2014 Average plays run per game (one team):
64.0 2014 Average pass plays run per game (one
2013 Average PPR fantasy points scored per
NFL game: 175.2 2013 Average plays run per game (one team):
65 2013 Average pass plays run per game (one
2012 Average PPR fantasy points scored per
NFL game: 171.7 2012 Average plays run per game (one team):
64.2 2012 Average pass plays run per game (one
2011 Average PPR fantasy points scored per
NFL game: 170.3 2011 Average plays run per game (one team):
63.6 2011 Average pass plays run per game (one
2010 Average PPR fantasy points scored per
NFL game: 167.6 2010 Average plays run per game (one team):
63.1 2010 Average pass plays run per game (one
I had initially hoped the following pie charts were going to yield
the results to support last weekís conclusions (and therefore make
my job very easy), but as you can see, there is very little differentiation
visually between the six graphs. Furthermore, it was somewhat frustrating
to see the overall percentages stay roughly the same over the last
five-plus seasons and essentially not support my conclusions. It
didnít take long, however, before I was able to start validating
my initial hypotheses.
First things first, the reason I began with 2010 is because that
season was the last one in which the old CBA was still in effect.
That knowledge is important because the new CBA is the one that
started putting more substantial restrictions on practice time
and, perhaps more importantly, practice time in pads. As many
of us will know, the majority of fantasy football games each week
are decided by relatively thin margin, so itís notable whenever
there is a somewhat significant jump in the amount of fantasy
points being produced on average. Allow me to direct your attention
to the average point total underneath each graph beginning in
2010. Work your way up to the season. Not only is 2015 the highest
by a substantial margin, the 8.5 point-per-game increase is nearly
the same ďjumpĒ the NFL experienced from 2010-14.
Thankfully, every position has benefited in fantasy from a point-per-game
basis since 2010. As you will soon see, however, this isnít
exactly great news for the ďold-guardĒ fantasy football
The second major conclusion I drew was borne out of another disappointing
initial analysis. I had hoped the actual scoring average for running
backs had declined over the last five-plus seasons in order to
prove that coaches had started deemphasizing the running pack
position as a whole. As you can clearly see when you look at each
of the six charts, there isnít a ton of variance from 2010-14.
Even more surprising (to me anyway), the 2015 average for running
backs is easily the highest it has been this decade.
Does that make what I said last week wrong? No. (Did you really
expect me to say ďyesĒ here?). Here is perhaps the
most striking difference Iím going to unleash this week:
in the same time (2010-15) that running back and tight end scoring
has increased about three fantasy points per game, quarterbacks
have seen a 6.5-plus point bump and receivers have experienced
a 7.2-point bump. What could be some of the causes for this phenomenon?
The most obvious answer would seem to be that teams are running
more plays than ever. That doesnít appear to be the case.
You may find it hard to believe there are only about three more
plays run on average in a NFL game this season than in 2010. How
about more pass attempts? Again, I have no doubt it is a contributing
factor, but it seems highly unlikely a 2.3-attempt per game per
team increase (or roughly five more passes every NFL game) can
account for such a large variance. So, what gives?
I think there could be a multitude of reasons. I will admit my
initial thought was that completion percentage is higher than
ever, but this seasonís 63.9-percent rate around the league
is the lowest since 2011. One major factor is the number of touchdowns
per game that receivers are scoring this year as opposed to previous
years. In 2015, wideouts are visiting the end zone a rate of 1.981
times per game, which is nearly a tenth of a point more than in
any other season I charted. That pace (if maintained) will lead
to roughly 507 touchdowns scored by receivers over the course
of the season, which I imagine would be a NFL record if they keep
statistics for such things. A bigger factor is the number of catches
receivers are making this year as opposed to previous seasons.
In 2010, that average was 19.5 receiver catches per game; this
season, that number is at 25.3.
Rest assured, this study is one I plan on revisiting at the end
of the year and/or during next offseason.
Please understand the first half of almost every NFL season anymore
is typically highlighted by astronomical passing-game numbers,
followed by a relatively sharp increase in running-game statistics
as the weather gets colder and injuries begin to pile up. I expect
this season to be no different and for the numbers to normalize
somewhat in the coming weeks, although I donít think we
can assume this process will just continue to occur every year.
Every year, front office personnel can be heard telling the media
around draft time they can only work with what the colleges send
them. While the preponderance of spread offenses has created a
generation of receivers that are no strangers to operating in
space, it has also created a steady diet of offensive linemen
that have been raised to retreat and use a drop step much more
often than theyíve had to cut the middle linebacker on an
outside zone run or even fire out of a three-point stance.
Unfortunately, we are only about halfway through the new CBA
signed in 2011 and the NFL has little incentive to address, change
and/or improve its product on the field with the popularity of
the game continuing to increase every year. My prediction: if
the NFL and NFLPA donít address the practice restrictions
before the expiration of the new CBA, we could begin to see more
teams like this yearís Detroit Lions average 68 yards rushing
and injuries to quarterbacks skyrocket. I hate to paint such a
gloomy picture, but offensive line play this year is probably
the worst Iíve seen it in all the years Iíve been
watching the NFL. Offensive linemen actually need to play football
and work together in game-like situations during practice in order
to build some degree of chemistry Ė a process that isnít
going to happen during an OTA walk-through.
Whatís my point? Fantasy football analysts, writers and owners
alike need to come to grips with the changing numbers and percentages
Iíve presented in this piece. Aside from young workhorse
runners drafted by the current administration that are clearly
the apple of their organizationís eye (LeíVeon
Bell and Todd
Gurley are two very good examples), the disposable nature
of the running back position is such that owners are probably
paying too high of a price on draft day at a position that has
simply become too volatile.
Generally speaking, I try to stick to writing that I believe will
either help owners win titles or allow me to rank the players better
the following season. This week, I would like to try to do both.
Every year, I receive requests to do a midseason Big Board. If
it were just a simple as ranking 100 or so players, it would be
a simple enough request to fulfill. However, my Big Boards have
never been about ranking players based on what they have done
up to a certain point in the season. It is quite time-consuming
to simply project player totals for the upcoming four weeks (like
I did here and will do again next week), so to do that in addition
to color-coding the rest of the season and analyzing a handful
of those players is more than I can do in a week.
Perhaps as a compromise to not doing a Big Board and appeasing
the Big Board lovers out there, I’ve decided to do what
is essentially a midseason one-man mock draft. On one hand, I
feel like I’ll be doing some of you a service by illustrating
where I stand on a certain player. On the other hand, I’ll
be able to use this information at the end of the season to get
a general sense of how much player values have fluctuated from
the end of the first half the season to the end of the regular
season. Let’s get it started:
Number of players drafted at each position...
QBs: 12 RBs: 43 WRs: 41 TEs: 12
About the only rule I followed was making sure each team had
at least one quarterback, three running backs, three receivers
and one tight end.
Iíd like to think that Iím starting to embrace the
new line of thinking I have referenced over the past two weeks;
I had 12 receivers gone after two rounds (versus 10 running backs)
and 22 receivers off the board after four rounds (versus 21 running
Some quick notes about the ďdraftĒ above and why
I placed some players where I did, despite lackluster first-half
performances in some cases:
- Iím still not ready to buy into Freeman as a player that
will perform as an elite RB1 for a full season. Then again, Colemanís
fumbling problems arenít helping him earn more playing time.
- Ingram scares me as a first-round pick (or even inside the
top 20). His consistency up to this point justifies his spot,
but I tend to have a long memory when it comes to a playerís
ability to hold up for a full season. The 88-catch pace he was
on after four games has already slowed dramatically and Ingram
hasnít been appreciably better than Khiry Robinson to this
point. Iíd like to think HC Sean Payton is starting to trust
C.J. Spiller as well, although it seems like Iíve been wrong
about the ex-Bill all season long.
- Ivoryís production suggests he should probably be at
the beginning of the second round, but he continues to find his
way on the injury report on a pretty consistent basis. Given his
past durability issues, consider me skeptical that he wonít
miss at least one or two more games.
- I understand why readers might wonder why Fitzgerald is at
the end of the second round. His early-season pace has slowed
dramatically and I tend to believe John Brown is going to be the
Arizona receiver owners want to have on their roster as the season
- Lynch in the third round bothers me, but I ultimately think
itís the right spot for him. The combination of his physical
issues this season (back, upset stomach, hamstring, etc.) and
Seattleís offensive line has me bearish on Beast Modeís
ability to produce another first-round caliber fantasy season.
- Once upon a time, it was said the only person that could stop
Michael Jordan from scoring 20 points per game was Dean Smith
(his college coach at North Carolina). Itís getting to the
point where the same can be said about Barnidge, whose career
high in catches entering the season was 13. I honestly donít
know how to feel about a 30-year-old tight end that breaks out
in his seventh season.
- Remember how Green Bay suggested it will ride the hot hand
in its backfield moving forward after James Starks exploded against
San Diego in Week 6? Starks, who has seemingly never been able
stay healthy for any length of time, is dealing with a hip injury
even though the Packers are coming off their bye. Suffice it to
say I think Lacy remains a solid buy-low candidate, even with
Green Bayís difficult upcoming schedule.
- James Jones strikes me as a solid sell-high property. How long
can a player with a sub-five target per-game average (29 targets
through six games) remain a solid fantasy WR2? Iím always
leery of receivers that possess a combination of low catch totals
and high touchdown rates (think Mike Wallace during the first
half of last season). Feel free to include Hurns in this discussion
as well, although his targets (51 through seven contests) suggest
he should remain a factor. Julius Thomasí return will change
things for him, however.
- As you can tell, Iím bullish on Diggs. I anticipate a
bit of a downturn in the coming weeks as defenses begin to pay
more attention to him, but durability has always been his biggest
question mark. If he can stay healthy, I anticipate a strong finish.
He may not be the next Antonio Brown Ė as Wallace as suggested
Ė but I also donít think the comparison is ridiculous
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.