An NFL player can be good at fantasy football while leaving a lot to be desired on the field.
Perhaps no player embodies this idea more than Matthew Stafford. He’s typically a middling quarterback with flawed mechanics, who loves to chuck the ball to his favorite robot-like receiver. He’s not great on the football field. But in fantasy, Stafford is relevant because he sees more volume than any other passer in the league. It’s never pretty, but Stafford is always a pretend pigskin favorite.
We now live in a world where football statistics are known by the least likely of people. Your mom, my aunt, my friend’s grandpa – they now know how many yards Ryan Mathews rushed for because of, quite frankly, fantasy football.
While some embrace this change, traditionalists grow angry. They seem to think that you can’t gain anything from statistics because their experience with football and statistics is simply fantasy football, and they don’t like fantasy football – it gives people the wrong idea. It forces people to actually think that Matthew Stafford is a good quarterback.
Clearly we disagree at numberFire. We have a measurement we use called Net Expected Points (NEP), which looks at each down and distance on a football field to accurately predict how many points a particular player is adding for his team over the course of a season. If Josh Gordon catches a 12-yard pass on 3rd and 11, extending the drive for his team, that catch should mean more than a 12-yard catch on 1st and 10. It does mean more in terms of NEP, but it doesn’t in fantasy football. That’s the problem.
To bridge this gap, I decided to look at the final fantasy football rankings from the 2013 season and compare them to how those players performed in terms of Net Expected Points. If the ranking in fantasy football was much higher than the one in NEP, that player would be dubbed “overrated." In other words, that player was just piling up numbers that didn’t really mean much in the long run.
So without further ado, I bring to you the 10 most overrated fantasy football players from the 2013 season.
10. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
Folks won’t be happy to see Cam sitting here, but it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering fantasy football heavily favors rushing to passing. We even wrote an in depth article on that fact as soon as the fantasy football season ended.
Cam finished the fake football season as the league’s third-best quarterback option. In Passing NEP, however, Cam ranked 16th. When you factor in his Rushing NEP totals, Newton still was just the ninth-best quarterback from the 2013 season.
It’s not a huge disparity, but one that should always be noted, as the public tends to favor running quarterbacks over traditional pocket passers because those guys “get points.”
9. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Though Le’Veon Bell had a fantastic rookie season, he was much more successful through the air than on the ground. Bell finished as the 14th-ranked running back in fantasy this season, despite missing his first three games. In terms of Rushing NEP though, the rookie ended up with the 34th-best score out of the 47 running backs with 100 or more carries this season.
Much of this had to do with a bad, bad offensive line in Pittsburgh, but separating that from true production is difficult to do. And even when you factor in his receiving, Bell was a middle-of-the-pack high-volume back. In the end, there’s certainly a bright future for Bell, but his efficiency on the ground was lacking in 2013 in spite of his solid fantasy finish.
8. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
I’m sure this one comes as a shock to many, but A.J. Green, the fourth-best wideout in fantasy this year, may be a little overrated due to his fantasy success. No, I’m by no means saying he’s not a top wide receiver in the league, but when you dig into his advanced metrics, he leaves you wondering if his season should have been even better.
First, note that A.J. Green’s Reception NEP, a measurement of what a player does on all of his receptions, ranked fourth in the entire league. That’s usually a predictive measure for fantasy success, and by no coincidence, that’s exactly where he finished in standard leagues this year.
But Green’s Target NEP, which looks at the points added on all targets, ranked 42nd of the 68 receivers with 40 or more receptions. This is due to a fairly low catch rate (albeit one that lines up with Megatron and Josh Gordon), but more importantly, a Reception Success Rate that is very middle-of-the-pack. The Success Rate measures the percentage of receptions a player has that contributes positively towards his NEP, and Green’s is far lower than some of the other stud wideouts.
Green’s lack of success at times throughout the season isn’t all on him. This is the inherent trouble of looking at receivers - quarterbacks play a major role.
7. Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Many expected Rashard Mendenhall to be a bust at the beginning of the season, and they weren’t completely wrong. However, Shard still finished as the 25th-best running back in standard, non-PPR fantasy leagues, besting players like C.J. Spiller and Stevan Ridley.
However, Mendenhall only finished ahead of Trent Richardson, Bernard Pierece and Ray Rice in Rushing NEP among 100-plus attempt runners, a ranking of 44th. That’s a big gap, especially when you consider his teammate in a very similar situation, Andre Ellington, finished just one spot ahead of him in fantasy while being 34 spots ahead in Net Expected Points on the ground.
6. Jordan Cameron, TE, Cleveland Browns
Ah, yes – Jordan Cameron. The Browns new superstar tight end started the season off hot, but died down a bit over the second half. Quarterback play, again, had something to do with this, but his general inconsistency placed him 10th in tight end Target NEP, while he finished fifth overall in tight end fantasy scoring.
The difference isn’t massive, but Cameron is the perfect example of why we can’t look at season-long data to draw true conclusions. Consider this: In PPR leagues, Cameron had just one weekly top-12 tight end finish after Week 8 concluded. He just played out of his mind to start the year, and we’ve got an overrated player as a result.
5. Mike Wallace, WR, Miami Dolphins
The last pass-catcher on this list comes in the form of the controversial Mike Wallace, who finished 25th in fantasy this season with his new team. However, Wallace was 37th in Reception NEP - worse than Greg Jennings - and 50th in Target NEP. Like a lot of overrated fantasy players, Wallace made his living in fantasy making big plays or having big games, which can not only change the way he scores in fantasy, but it will often skew the perception of a player.
4. Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco 49ers
I love me some Frank Gore, but even though he finished as the 13th-best running back in fantasy this year, his efficiency was lacking. While other high-volume players finished with a positive Rushing NEP this year, Gore didn’t, coming in with a -17.29 score, 37th-best out of all 100-plus attempt rushers. Moreover, when looking at Total NEP (which factors in receiving), Gore finished with an even lower ranking, coming in as the number 40 back.
To be fair, this is Gore’s game. He sees a high number of carries, doesn’t do anything spectacular with them, but tends to do enough to get the job done. Don’t think he was the same Frank Gore this year as he's been in the past though.
3. Ryan Tannhill, QB, Miami Dolphins
Tannehill had a nice run during the regular season with multiple 20-point fantasy games in a row, but slowed down at the end and saw his efficiency drop, too.
The Dolphins sophomore signal-caller finished 16th in standard scoring leagues this year, but finished as the 25th-best quarterback in terms of Passing NEP. In fact, his Passing NEP finished at -2.44, resulting in him being a detriment to his team over the course of the season.
Perhaps this is the reason Mike Wallace found his name on this list, too. Maybe.
2. Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
Of course Andy Dalton is on here – have you read my other articles on this site? Dalton was the most inconsistent quarterback I’ve seen in a while this season, taking advantage of poor defenses and putting up statistics when his team didn’t really need the points. As a result, Dalton ended the season as the number five fantasy quarterback (number five!).
However, the Red Rifle wasn’t nearly as efficient as his fantasy total shows: He finished as the 14th-ranked quarterback in terms of Passing NEP, a mark that was barely above average. This, in the end, is probably the main reason A.J. Green is on this list as well.
1. Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans
What’s an overrated list without noting the king of inconsistency, Chris Johnson?
CJWhateverK finished the season as the ninth-best running back in standard leagues (I’m not even kidding), while his Rushing NEP, Rushing NEP per rush, Total NEP and rushing Success Rate all ended up being no better than average among 100-plus attempt runners. Johnson finished seventh in the league in attempts and caught 42 passes, which is what made him fantasy relevant. He was anything but effective with the ball in his hands this year.