Is Russell Wilson Overvalued in Fantasy Football?
I love quarterbacks with poise.
That cool, unflappable quality that Aaron Rodgers has in spades is what draws me to the position, even from a fantasy football perspective.
Last year, guided by my editor's late-round quarterback school of thought, I and many others correctly grabbed Russell Wilson around the 10th round thinking that he was significantly undervalued in fantasy football. Buoyed by his historic rushing season, Wilson entrenched himself as one of the top fantasy quarterbacks for the 2014 season.
Now, fresh off a game-ending Super Bowl interception, ongoing contract negotiations, and a surprising trade where the team landed stalwart tight end Jimmy Graham , Wilson's Average Draft Position (ADP) has skyrocketed. He currently is the fourth drafted quarterback, and the 40th player selected overall in fantasy drafts.
The big question, currently, is whether or not the juice is worth the squeeze now that Wilson's preseason stock has gone from frozen concentrated OJ (think Trading Places) in 2014 to the freshly squeezed no-pulp stuff you find at Whole Foods for $6 in 2015.
Russell Wilson: Manic Runday
Here at numberFire, we use Net Expected Points (NEP) to measure how many points a player contributes for his team. Passing is generally more efficient than running, but rushing can still be just as effective -- like a quarterback scrambling, as defenses aren't prepared for it. That's why taking these numbers in context is important.
You can read more about NEP in our glossary.
Over the past three years, Wilson has improved significantly as a runner, certainly adding to his fantasy value. Wilson had 118 carries for 849 yards (7.2 average yards per rush) and 6 touchdowns in 2014. That's practically low-end RB2 totals for fantasy purposes!
Take a look at his numbers from a NEP standpoint.
|Year||Passing NEP||Rushing NEP||Passing NEP per Drop Back|
|2014||47.65 (15th of 30)||60.5 (1st of 15)||0.10 (15th of 30)|
|2013||74.66 (6th of 30)||22.19 (6th of 15)||0.17 (6th of 30)|
|2012||84.01 (8th of 30)||28.81 (4th of 25)||0.20 (6th of 30)|
Passing numbers are among quarterbacks with 300 or more drop backs, while rushing numbers are among quarterbacks with 25 or more rushing attempts.
While Wilson has improved his Rushing NEP significantly every season, he's gotten significantly worse as a passer both on a total and per drop back basis. Considering Wilson is somewhat of a game manager who does not turn the ball over frequently, you'd expect his Passing NEP totals to be improving, yet they're going the other direction. You could blame his past lack of receiving weapons for this passing decline, however, that would mask several things that start to poke holes in Wilson's value as a passer.
Basically, to have been the fourth ranked overall quarterback last year in terms of Total NEP, Wilson would have had to approximately double his Passing NEP to jump Joe Flacco and move into the top 10, all while keeping his historic Rushing NEP the same. That would have been the best passing season of Wilson's career, according to our metrics.
In other words, from a fantasy perspective, Wilson played a little over his head.
Jimmy Graham: The Secret Sauce to Wilson's ADP?
The Seahawks' trade for Graham was a necessary one after significant shortcomings in the red zone throughout last season.
Essentially, Graham gives Wilson a more reliable, physical target that can win contested balls in the red zone and the middle of the field. The takeaway from this? Wilson will target Graham in the red zone more frequently, while the team still feeds the beast, Marshawn Lynch, near the goal line. What this likely means is that Wilson will regress from his six rushing touchdowns last year, which is part of why he was so valuable in 2014.
Another thing to note is that the Seahawks own the lowest pass-to-run ratio (0.89) over the past three seasons. The Seahawks' attack is predicated on running the football behind Lynch and relying on their dominant defense. This could certainly change with Graham, but this is clearly the mindset of this team offensively. And it's worked.
Additionally, Wilson's 117 carries last season (over 7 per game) seems unrealistic for 2015 with Graham in tow and the team spending high draft capital on Tyler Lockett . In both 2012 and 2013, Wilson's carries were in the 90s -- something in that range naturally feels more realistic.
So the Seahawks bring back the same stalwart defense and Lynch, and they add Graham. Yet, high rushing totals and significant passing improvement are priced into Wilson's current ADP.
Russell Wilson's 2015 Projection
According to our fantasy projections, Wilson is projected to be the sixth best quarterback in terms of fantasy points this season. We have Wilson rushing 101 times for 584 yards and 4.86 rushing touchdowns, while passing similarly to what he has done in the past.
Those projections seem realistic, yet they offer little room for upside for Wilson based on his ADP. In turn, if you're picking Wilson as the fourth quarterback overall, you're buying him closer to his ceiling. If you invested a later pick in someone like Matt Ryan, for instance, who plays in a more quarterback-friendly offense, you'd be buying lower with higher upside, yet a similar floor.
For those reasons, while I love Wilson as a quarterback and he's done well by me in the past, I'm looking elsewhere for fantasy quarterback value in drafts in 2015.