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Doug Orth | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

The New Fantasy Reality
All Out Blitz: Volume 97

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.

FPts/G 2015

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 team): 36

FPts/G 2014

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 team): 34.9

FPts/G 2013

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 team): 35.4

FPts/G 2012

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 team): 34.7

FPts/G 2011

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 team): 34

FPts/G 2010

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 team): 33.7

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 owners.

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:

 Mid-Season Re-Draft
Rd 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
1 Le’Veon
Rob Gronkowski Adrian Peterson Keenan Allen Julian Edelman Mark Ingram
2 Larry Fitzgerald Justin Forsett Steve Smith Calvin Johnson Chris Ivory Doug Martin A.J. Green Tom
Lamar Miller Odell Beckham Demaryius Thomas Brandon Marshall
3 Aaron Rodgers Randall Cobb Marshawn Lynch Danny Woodhead Gary Barnidge Jarvis Landry LeSean McCoy Amari Cooper Tyler Eifert Latavius Murray Giovani Bernard Emmanuel Sanders
4 Travis Benjamin Eddie Lacy T.Y.
DeMarco Murray Mike Evans Chris Johnson Alshon Jeffery T.J.
Donte Moncrief Allen Robinson Frank
5 Charcandrick West Andy Dalton Philip Rivers Greg Olsen John Brown Carson Palmer Jonathan Stewart Duke Johnson James Jones Antonio Gates Jeremy
Travis Kelce
6 Darren McFadden Jimmy Graham Rishard Matthews Ryan Mathews Allen Hurns Jordan Matthews Eric Decker Stefon Diggs Jeremy Maclin Carlos Hyde Jordan
Andrew Luck
7 Joseph Randle Brandin Cooks Jason Witten Golden Tate Charles Sims Andre Ellington Delanie Walker Ronnie Hillman Cam Newton LeGarrette Blount Ben Roethlisberger Theo Riddick
8 Charles
James Starks Ameer Abdullah Ryan Tannehill Tyrod Taylor Martellus Bennett Kendall Wright C.J. Anderson Rashad Jennings Matt Jones Michael Crabtree Pierre GarÁon
9 Anquan Boldin Mike Wallace Thomas Rawls Willie Snead Tevin Coleman Tavon Austin Eli Manning Davante Adams Ted Ginn Ryan Fitzpatrick Melvin
Alfred Morris

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 backs).

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 progresses.

- 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 either.

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.