Becoming a competitive fantasy manager isn’t as easy as some would make it out to be. Fantasy sports are full of ups and downs, highs and lows, good times and bad. Even if you are the best fantasy manager in the world, your success hinges on injuries and players performing to their projections
The biggest test, or study, one could say, is learning the importance of sample sizes. Far too often, owners jump ship on a player because of a few bad weeks. Or, conversely, they buy into a player because of a few fluke performances. The key is future performance; that is, what’s a player going to do, not what has he done.
Here we sit though, already in Week 9. Oh, how time flies. At this point in the season, you can no longer simply look at season results as flukes. We must start to face reality in that some of our busts are just that - busts.
We now have enough data to separate the mirages from reality for the rest of this 2013 season. In this article, we'll look at two players who seemingly never underperform, but are doing just that in 2013: Marques Colston and Darren Sproles
Marques Colston has been one of the most consistent and reliable WR2’s in the game over the past several years. As JJ Zachariason wrote before the season, his production has been unbelievably consistent. As alluded to earlier though, it’s time to start looking at the first half of 2013 as a legitimate sample, and reevaluate our season outlook.
The chart below show’s Colston’s career game averages. The picture becomes pretty clear regarding the disappointing wide out when evaluating his average game production to this season.
Colston is down across the board in 2013, and the most notable slide is his touchdown production. He’s averaged over a touchdown every two games in his career, and so far he has hit pay dirt only once in seven outings this season. Colston has never been a receptions monster - instead, he has been a ball hog in the end zone. How consistent of a scorer has Colston been? Lets compile a list of wide outs who scored more touchdowns than Colston from 2006-2012.
That’s its. That’s the entire list. So what changed? Well, Colston’s Rec NEP/ Target sits at .73 in 2013. For some perspective, Colston has a career average of .86 Rec NEP/Target (Read more about NEP). While the number is slightly down from his career number, it isn’t a big enough outlier to suggest this dramatic drop of production. No, the answer isn’t efficiency for the fantasy WR2. It’s targets. But why? Why have these target numbers dropped, and why have the touchdowns plummeted? We’ll take a look at that a little later.
Darren Sproles is a very interesting case for 2013. Sproles has been an extremely reliable PPR running back since joining the Saints in 2011, as the pint-sized back is a matchup nightmare for linebackers who simply don’t have the ability to cover him. Like we did earlier for Colston, let’s take a peek at Sproles' career numbers. Because Sproles production is so tied up into receiving production, that is where we'll focus.
First off, man did the Chargers misuse Darren Sproles. It seems almost criminal looking back at it. His time with the Saints are the numbers to keep an eye on. The most interesting part of this is the fact that his reception and yardage totals are almost perfectly in line with 2012. His target average is down slightly, but it fits with his 2011 number, and because he is an efficiency stud, nearly seven targets a game is plenty for Sproles to remain fantasy football relevant.
Similar to his teammate, Sproles has seen a massive decline in touchdowns. The issue, like Colston, isn’t really efficiency. Sproles ranks fourth among running backs with 15 receptionsin Rec NEP/Target, boasting a .57 average. He posted .45 and .49 Rec NEP/Target in 2011 and 2012 respectively. According to our metrics, he is as efficient now as he has ever been in his Saints career. What changed from 2012 to 2013? The difference, once again, is scoring. Sproles' touchdown number is significantly down with his past numbers with Drew Brees at the helm.
Why are these once prolific scorer’s not getting their cut?
Jimmy Graham's Impact
The answer? Jimmy Graham - the unstoppable receiving beast. He’s getting fed right now, and he has a monster appetite.
There are lots of aspects of this chart to dive into. The main items I would like to focus on are his targets per game and touchdown’s per game. You’ll notice his targets per game have been remarkably consistent in his young career, and he’s hovering right around the nine targets per game number over all three years.
Now take look at his touchdown efficiency. He is averaging over a touchdown a game this year. His touchdowns, on a per game basis, has doubled this year. One could infer that with his target numbers staying the same, and his touchdown production doubling, that Jimmy Graham is simply owning the red zone. His efficiency numbers back it up too - he ranks second among tight ends in Reception NEP/Target. If you were a quarterback, it would be difficult to not look Jimmy’s way in the red zone. He’s just too good, too efficient and too productive.
You may recall that back in 2012, Graham battled a wrist injury all season and it showed in his dropped passes numbers – he ranked 10th in the league in drops last year. This season, up until last week, health hasn't been much of an issue for Graham. But now, Graham is dealing with a nagging injury once again, which could be good news for Colston and Sproles owners.
So what should we expect going forward? The story with Colston is fairly simple. Without an uptick in targets, he isn’t going to be able to produce at the level he has in the past. I do expect his touchdown production to increase and trend towards the norm a bit. Colston has been too good for too many years to just expect his touchdown rate to plummet like it has. I think it’s time to accept that Colston won’t produce like he has in the past, but I’d be shocked if his touchdown production were to go down nearly 400 percent of the course of the season.
Sproles' touchdown production could be strongly based on Jimmy Graham. As our own Chris Raybon wrote, no one is more matchup-driven offensively than the Saints, and right now no one is stopping Jimmy Graham. The good news for Sproles owners is that he is getting the targets and producing in line with career numbers. Regression could occur over the second half of the season.
Jimmy’s touchdown number doesn’t appear to be sustainable, as he is on pace to score 18-plus times and has nearly doubled his career touchdown per game totals. Going forward, I’d expect Graham’s touchdown numbers to regress more towards his career averages while Colston’s and Sproles’ numbers creep up more towards their career stats. It’s also important to keep an eye on Graham’s injury as it’s going to be a season long issue for him. He was on a strong snap count limit last week.
Given the numbers provided, I would feel much more strongly with Sproles when compared to Colston simply because he is receiving the targets while Colston isn’t. Sproles remains a hold while it wouldn’t be a bad idea to sell Colston if given the chance. He is going to have a few decent weeks, but his lack of weekly consistency is the type of thing that will keep fantasy owners up at night. (I’m starting Colston this week, by the way, and praying to the Fantasy Football Gods for help.)