10 Things to Know About This Year's First-Round Picks in Fantasy Football
It's August, and that means you're scrambling to get your crew back together for your annual fantasy football draft. But how much do you really know about the players you'll be drafting when the clock starts and the board starts to fill?
Your know-it-all friend who you only keep around because he pays on time every year will have plenty of facts and figures ready to fire when you pick, so make sure you're prepared to fire back with these 10 facts about first-round talents in 2014 fantasy drafts.
1. LeSean McCoy had the most Net Expected Points for a running back with more than 300 carries since 2010, and the seventh-most since 2000.
In an age where the bell-cow back is a thing of the past, what LeSean McCoy did last season is ridiculously impressive. In a year where he carried the ball 314 times and caught it another 52 times, he managed to keep up both his production and efficiency. Our Net Expected Points metric focuses on making positive plays, and doesn't give brownie points for "wearing down the defense" or "keeping the other team honest."
McCoy finished as the best runner in the league and one of the best receiving backs using our numbers, and that's why he's at the top of nearly every draft board this summer. But what makes him even more impressive was the fact that...
2. Marshawn Lynch was the only other back in 2013 to carry the ball 300 or more times. From 2000-2012, 103 backs accomplished that same feat, an average of almost eight per year.
Yes, he's seemingly always in the news for the wrong reasons. But Marshawn is just "all about that action, boss," and you should be too.
Forget about injuries, holdouts and off-the-field concerns. Marshawn Lynch gets and stays on the field in one of the most run-friendly offenses in the league. The Seahawks had the second-lowest pass-to-run ratio in the league last year, and were one of only two teams to call more runs than passes. Marshawn benefited.
The Seahawks finished as the 11th-best rushing offense last season despite that ridiculous volume, and even if Lynch does give up some carries to Christine Michael, he's still poised to be one of the most consistent backs and a threat to score a good amount of touchdowns for Seattle.
3. Adrian Peterson was among the bottom half of high-volume running backs in consistency last season, but in the top half in production.
Many fantasy football owners see Adrian Peterson as consistent and reliable, but in reality, the Minnesota back is anything but. Among the 22 backs to carry the ball 200 or more times in 2013, Peterson finished 15th in our Success Rate metric, which measures how often a player gains positive NEP for his team.
So what does that mean? It means that fewer of AP's runs helped the Vikings improve their chances of scoring. But he still finished sixth in production on a per-rush basis among that same group of backs because he produces in big chunks and makes up for his "misses."
This has always been the case for Peterson, as his Success Rate in 2013 was on par with his career average. Having a low rate isn't even necessarily Peterson's fault, as it's more a symptom of his team's over-reliance on the back to carry the burden of moving the chains and making big plays. Expect more of the same in 2014.
4. Jamaal Charles led all backs with 200 carries or more in production as a receiver, according to our metrics.
The Kansas City offense last season might have seemed like "handoff to Jamaal, handoff to Jamaal, throw to Jamaal," but the reality was that Jamaal Charles didn't see as much volume as a few of the NFL's other elite running backs.
What he did with the touches he got is what set him apart, however. Charles finished first among 200-plus carry backs in Reception NEP, and combined with a fourth-place finish in Rushing NEP among the same group, he earned the top spot in Total NEP, narrowly edging out McCoy (remember, the statistic above about McCoy is in relation to 300-plus carry running backs).
But don't let that "decide" who should go first in a fantasy draft, as NEP isn't only a fantasy football statistic. Charles didn't see the same volume as McCoy last season, and likely won't this year, either. Opportunity and situation are just as important as production and efficiency in fantasy football. Neither player is a bad pick at the top of a draft, but if you're in a PPR league, Charles' status as the only 100-target back among 200-carry runners should help clarify things a bit.
5. Calvin Johnson will benefit from the addition of Golden Tate in Detroit.
In 2012, the Lions threw the ball at Calvin Johnson 204 times, the most for any receiver since 2010. In 2013, Johnson saw nearly 50 fewer looks in the passing game, but still turned in one of the three best wide receiver performances over the past four seasons.
The Lions' superstar at receiver was still among the most-targeted wideouts last year, but by seeing fewer looks, he improved his per-target efficiency while still remaining one of the best at his position for fantasy purposes.
In 2014, the addition of Golden Tate figures to take a few more targets away from Johnson, but that's not a bad thing for the man known as Megatron. He will still be a primary red-zone target for Detroit, and will be more efficient and productive when he has the ball if he's not force-fed as often.
A drop in targets may see a slight drop in fantasy production in a PPR league, but Johnson has proven the be more efficient when he sees fewer targets, and that trend will continue in 2014.
6. Demaryius Thomas was as good as Calvin Johnson on a per-target basis in 2013.
The Denver offense set the world on fire last season, and Demaryius Thomas was a big part of that. The receiver hauled in 14 touchdowns en route to finishing just shy of the top of standard scoring fantasy leagues at receiver.
But what's even more impressive is that Thomas was just as good on a per-target basis as Calvin Johnson, and better in terms of Success Rate. Thomas is in a better offensive situation in Denver, and he took advantage of that in 2013.
This season, without Eric Decker, Thomas may see a slight boost in targets, and if he's able to keep up that per-target efficiency, he will eclipse Johnson as the best receiver in football (especially with Josh Gordon likely suspended for some or all of the season.)
7. Jimmy Graham isn't the best tight end in the NFL, and isn't a wise first-round pick.
Our numbers prove that, when healthy, Rob Gronkowski is better than Jimmy Graham. But since Graham is healthy more often, he's favored among fantasy owners, and is consistently taken in the first round.
Even if we assume that Graham is the better choice (and with Gronkowski returning to health this season, that might not be the case), he's not a smart investment with a first-round pick in fantasy football drafts.
Assuming that you're in a standard-scoring league with 12 teams and a flex spot where a tight end is allowed to start, our customizable FireFactor rankings say that Graham should be the 30th player off the board. That's because his value over a potential replacement is lower than most of the top running backs and receivers.
And if you're taking Graham in the first, you're putting off the selection of your RB1 or WR1 for another round, and as we've learned about bust rates at running back and receiver, that's a risky proposition.
8. The Green Bay Packers are one of the more run-heavy teams in football, and this is great news for Eddie Lacy.
You might think that having Aaron Rodgers under center would lead a team to be pass-happy, but the Green Bay Packers have consistently been at or below average in pass-to-run ratio over the past few seasons.
This means Eddie Lacy is in an ideal situation, as the Packers are also one of the best offenses in the NFL with a healthy Aaron Rodgers. From 2010 through 2012, the Packers turned in three of the 25 best performances according to our Adjusted Net Expected Points metric. This puts them alongside the Patriots and Saints as consistent, productive offensive teams.
So while Lacy is a bit unproven, he finished 10th (around average) among 200-plus carry runners last season in Rushing NEP, and he's in a great place to score touchdowns and produce tons of fantasy points.
9. Montee Ball was the third-most consistent running back in the NFL last season.
Montee Ball has only 119 career carries, but in that small sample size, we see a player with ridiculous levels of consistency.
Ball finished third in Success Rate last season among backs with 100 carries or more, with over half of his carries resulting in an improved situation for his offense. He wasn't very productive overall thanks to some early-season fumbling issues, earning a pedestrian Rushing NEP total, but his consistency will make or break his fantasy production in 2014.
Is getting "just enough" for the offense to move the chains enough to keep Ball on the field, or will his lack of explosiveness and uncertain ability as a receiver keep him limited to a part-time role? There may be no bigger gamble among first-round running backs than Ball, but like Lacy, he's in such a great situation if he's able to stay on the field.
10. Peyton Manning was ridiculously good last year, but you shouldn't take him early in the first round of your fantasy drafts.
In 2013, you could combine the NEP production of any two quarterbacks not named Drew Brees and you wouldn't match what Peyton Manning accomplished. The Denver quarterback posted the highest Passing NEP of any player ever, and had the unquestioned greatest season under center of all time.
But you still should avoid him in the first half of the first round of a fantasy draft. Ignoring the likely regression to come after such a historic season, Manning simply isn't enough of an advantage over his potential replacements to justify a top-eight pick. Our customizable cheat sheet rankings reveal that in a 12-team league, Manning (along with Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers) are in the mid-teens using our FireFactor ranking method.
So while it may be tempting to chase another historic season from one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, you're better off waiting at the position and loading up on skill position talent if you're picking near the top of your fantasy draft.