2016 Stories and Lessons

Updated: May 28th 2017

Happy holidays everyone! I hope everyone is having a great end to the year.  The fantasy season concluded recently for most of the fantasy community with the week 16 championships (we do keep in mind our wild brethren who finish in week 17) and the NFL season finishes shortly in week 17.  While some of you out there may still be celebrating your successful season and others might be crying after disaster, it is a good time to look at stories that dominated the fantasy season and examine a few lessons learned from the year.

Return of the Running Back

What a difference a year makes. Running backs were the ugly step-child of the fantasy community coming into the season with seemingly every analyst avoiding them like the plague.  We heard everything from “Running Backs are always hurt” to “Every team is going to a committee” or “Nobody runs the ball in a passing league”.  The much-maligned position group came back with a vengeance in 2016 absolutely dominating in a way we have not seen for years.  Table 1 details the big increase in weekly scoring among running backs this season, particularly among the top scorers.  The top running backs have also been far more reliable losing fewer games to injury this season.  The top six scorers per game from 2015 lost 41 games to injury while this year’s group has lost only 6 games total (including 3 games from LeVeon Bell’s suspension).   While the injury rate for running backs returned closer to historical levels, the scoring was far higher than recent years.  I do not expect the increased scoring to continue and will likely be lower on running backs than the consensus next season.

Table 1: PPR PPG for running backs

                RB1        RB2       RB6       RB12     RB18     RB24

2016       26.69     26.45     19.28     14.78     13.68     12.49

2015       21.09     20.22     16.95     14.52     12.80     12.24


Tight End is the new Running Back

Similarly to running backs in 2015, the top of the tight end position lost a lot of time to injuries in 2016. The top-6 per game scorers lost only 7 games in 2015.  That number ballooned to 19 so far this season primarily including top options Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed, and Tyler Eifert.  This number does not include a bunch of “decoy” games with minimum use due to injuries and reincorporation to the offense following an injury which lowered player scoring averages dramatically as seen in table 2.   Many in the fantasy community will use this data as evidence of how “injury-prone” tight ends are.  I will use it as a buying opportunity to obtain one of the few game changers at the position on the cheap.

Table 2: PPR PPG for tight ends

               TE1         TE6       TE12

2016       14.7        12.1        11.0

2015       18.1        14.7        10.8

Avoid Injured Players

Here is a small sample of stat lines for players returning from injury in 2016:

Julio Jones: 4 receptions, 60 yards; Stephon Diggs: 2 receptions, 18 yards;  Steve Smith: 4 receptions, 47 yards

Donte Moncrief: 4 receptions, 41 yards;  Julio Jones: 4 receptions, 60 yards;  Rob Gronkowski: 0 receptions, 0 yards

Tyler Eifert: 1 reception, 9 yards;  Jordan Reed: 1 reception, 10 yards

The conventional wisdom has been to insert your star players into fantasy lineups whenever they are available. The reality is that any player either returning from an injury or playing with an injury is a gargantuan-size risk usually not worth taking.  We will not know how effectively each individual will perform and, perhaps more importantly, how coaches will limit their snaps and thus the opportunity to put up fantasy points.  Coaches and front office personnel tend to the conservative side with players the organization invested heavily in.  It may not seem smart to bench your star players but, in many instances, it is exactly the correct move.

Avoid Skill Position Players with Bad Quarterbacks

There is a common belief among many that talent supersedes situation in dictating fantasy production. The reality is that situation plays a far larger part.  Perhaps no other situation highlights this dynamic more than the relationship between quarterbacks and skill players.  In particular, bad quarterback play negatively impacts fantasy production of attached players dramatically.

This negative impact manifests directly on wide-outs by receivers accumulating less yards for every target. Bad quarterback play also limits the opportunity for receivers to score touchdowns as drives tend to stall much earlier with fewer plays near the end zone.  Competitive teams shield bad quarterbacks in many cases by decreasing passing attempts which means fewer targets for wide receivers.  The bottom 9 NFL teams in passing rating so far in 2016 are:  New York Jets, Los Angeles Rams, Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns, Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers, and the Chicago Bear.  What does this “stellar” group have in common?  There is not a single wide receiver that managed even a WR2 season so far this season (based on PPG) in PPR leagues.  Terrelle Pryor is currently the highest ranked wide receiver out of these teams at WR25.  Those who invested in Allen Robinson, DeAndre Hopkins, or Brandon Marshall likely saw their fantasy seasons end early due to abysmal quarterbacks.

Bad quarterback play can also have a detrimental impact on running backs. Backs suffer from the same loss of touchdown opportunities as wide receivers but also see negative indirect consequences which limit effectiveness.  Defenses adjust to bad quarterbacks by placing more men closer to the line of scrimmage forcing teams to choose between passing with their awful quarterback and running against stacked boxes in low upside situations.  Los Angeles Rams’ Todd Gurley and Houston Texan Lamar Miller provide two examples (both currently top-6 in rushing attempts) which demonstrate the effect.  Both suffered from bottom of the league QBs and faced extensive loaded defensive fronts (along with marginal offensive line play and predictable offensive play calling) throughout the season.  The heavy volume should dictate RB1 numbers but QB play has heavily impacted each resulting in RB2 seasons.

Bio: Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

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