10 Overrated Fantasy Football Players From the 2014 Season
Fantasy football isn't real football.
We don't get points for rostering players on winning teams -- not in most leagues, anyway. We don't care if production comes from a team that is trailing by 35 or if a player gets to fall into the endzone after another player gets them to the one-yard line. It all counts the same. Still, the scoring we rely on comes from the on-field production of these players, so we have to put stake in what's actually happening.
That's where advanced metrics can come into things -- if you let them. At numberFire, we have a metric called Net Expected Points (NEP), which quantifies a player's overall production and impact on the field.
Remember all those times your players were tackled on the one-yard-line, denying you a satisfying six points in favor of a few points for yards? Of course you do! Any 20-yard run nets you 2.0 points in your fantasy leagues, whether it's from the 20 to the 40 or from the 21 to the 1, mere inches from a touchdown. NEP weighs things differently, as the expected scoring results of those drives are different based on the rushes of the same distance.
I know that NEP rankings don't change fantasy points at all, but players with high NEP marks put their teams in scoring position and helped extend drives this year. Players with relatively low NEP marks and high fantasy points (like the guys below) either reaped the benefits of high volume despite their inefficient play or took advantage of the way we score fantasy points (i.e. the quarterbacks).
So, who were some of the most overrated players this year at each position?
Fantasy Points Rank: 14 | Total NEP Rank: 24
Among top-24 fantasy quarterbacks, Cutler didn't have the largest discrepancy between Total NEP (among the 37 quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs) and fantasy points. (Both Derek Carr and Blake Bortles had larger gaps but were barely top-20 quarterbacks). Still, Cutler was pretty disastrous in terms of Total NEP (18.46). That Total NEP, which combines Passing NEP, Rushing NEP, and Reception NEP, ranked just 24th among the 37 quarterbacks.
His passing metrics were even worse. His Passing NEP of -1.24 ranked just 32nd out of those 37. Cutler's mistakes were costly, and even though that doesn't get weighed differently in fantasy football, he was pretty fortunate to finish as well as he did. You probably only lose one point for an interception (which hardly impacts fantasy production, as Cutler's final rank proved), but Cutler owners were lucky he finished as well as he did considering the magnitude of his turnovers.
Fantasy Points Rank: 8 | Total NEP Rank: 15
Tannehill and the Dolphins had a promising year. Tannehill was one of just five quarterbacks to rush for more than 300 yards (he had 311), but his Passing NEP of 46.72 and Total NEP of 58.94 ranked just 15th among the 37 quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs. His rushing production boosted his fantasy total seven spots higher than he was from an on-field perspective.
Of note, three of the six quarterbacks who ran for at least 270 yards finished six spots higher in final fantasy production than in Total NEP production: Andrew Luck (2nd in fantasy points, 8th in Total NEP), Russell Wilson (3rd, 9th), and Colin Kapernick (16th, 22nd).
Fantasy Points Rank: 19 | Total NEP Rank: 61
Ellington managed to stick inside the top 20 in half-PPR points this year despite missing four games to end the season. However, he wasn't efficient while he was on the field. His Total NEP (-9.95) ranked just 61st out of 68 backs with at least 60 opportunities (rushes plus targets). His Rushing NEP (-28.34) ranked last in that subset, too. Ellington, hopefully, will enter 2015 with full health and stay that way, but with his inefficient play, you'd be banking on him to stay healthy and receive significant volume for a second straight year.
Fantasy Points Rank: 14 | Total NEP Rank: 53
Morris posted a Total NEP of just -5.17, 53rd of those 68 backs. His Rushing NEP of -11.86 ranked 51st, though, and he didn't have the receiving volume (17 receptions and 26 targets) to make up for his underwhelming rushing metrics. On a per-rush basis, Morris (-0.04) ranked 37th, which was better than his cumulative Rushing NEP rank.
Morris had 265 carries this year, and among the 17 backs with 200 or more carries, Morris' Rushing NEP was still just 14th. If he can keep his volume, he can keep plodding his way to solid fantasy points, but you can't bank on his efficiency to make the most of limited touches if that ever is the case. (Spoiler: Roy Helu finished 13th in Total NEP among those 68 backs this year, so you might want to be wary of Morris in 2015.)
Fantasy Points Rank: 12 | Total NEP Rank: 49
LeSean McCoy wasn't awful. That's not what this is about. He saw 314 carries, which we can't ignore. But he ranked just 49th in Total NEP (-4.24) out of 68 backs with 60 opportunities, and he was 36th in Rushing NEP (-5.95).
Among the 200-plus carry backs (17 of them), McCoy ranked 11th in Rushing NEP (-5.95), so we can't say that he was dreadful. In fact, his Rushing NEP per carry (-0.02) ranked 22nd out of the larger 68-back subset, which feature plenty of low-volume rushers by comparison to McCoy. However, his Reception NEP (1.71) ranked only 58th out of 68. His final fantasy point finish as RB12 was heavily dependent on his rushing workload, which he will need to have again if his receiving is again near the bottom of the league in 2015.
Fantasy Points Rank: 32 | Total NEP Rank: 52
Thanks to a 24.4-point outing in Week 17 (in half-PPR scoring), Johnson vaulted up to WR32 in fantasy points this year, but our metrics suggest to pump the brakes investing too heavily in this number. Johnson finished the season just 52nd in Total NEP (54.95) among the 81 receivers with at least 60 targets. His Reception NEP per target was a cringe-worthy 0.38, 80th out of those 81 receivers. Thanks to 146 targets, Johnson mustered a respectable season-end fantasy rank, but he was one of the least efficient receivers in the league this year.
Fantasy Points Rank: 20 | Total NEP Rank: 32
It makes sense that Wallace joins Tannehill on the list. Wallace's Reception NEP per target (0.67) ranked a middling 38th out of those 81 receivers with at least 60 targets. His Total NEP (76.54) and Reception NEP (77.23) both ranked 32nd in the group. Wallace was by no means bad, but don't be fooled by his WR20 finish in fantasy, as his efficiency and total impact isn't in line with that final rank.
Fantasy Points Rank: 31 | Total NEP Rank: 43
As was the case with Tannehill and Wallace, Cutler and Marshall both make the list of players with some possibly over-inflated fantasy totals based on the actual on-field production. Marshall saw 106 targets this year but could only rank 31st in fantasy points at the receiver position. You're probably aware that Marshall missed the final three games of the year this season, but he ranked just 46th in Reception NEP per target (0.63). Marshall just wasn't an above-average receiver this year -- even on a per-target basis -- and that speaks to the Bears offense as much as anything else can.
Also, Brandon LaFell, who finished 22nd in fantasy points was just 34th in Total NEP, the same difference (12 spots) as both Wallace and Marshall.
Fantasy Points Rank: 12 | Total NEP Rank: 19
Despite finishing the year 12th in fantasy points among tight ends, Donnell's actual impact on the Giants wasn't nearly as strong. Of the 44 tight ends who saw at least 30 targets, Donnell's Reception NEP ranked 19th. That's not too bad, but his Reception NEP per target (0.40) ranked just 37th. Sure, Donnell tied for ninth in tight end targets, but his efficiency isn't promising going forward. Donnell might prove to be volume-dependent, which can work for other positions, but at the low-volume tight end position, it's hard to trust a repeat performance in fantasy points.
Fantasy Points Rank: 16 | Total NEP Rank: 23
Gresham has the same differential in ranks as Donnell did. Gresham saw 80 targets this year, but his Reception NEP (29.44) was just 23rd among the 44-tight end subset. His per-target Reception NEP (0.37) was just 38th. Much like Donnell, it appears that Gresham is depending on volume that may not be guaranteed in 2015 with the imminent return of Tyler Eifert and potential healthy season from A.J. Green.