10 Surprising NFL Stats From 2014 That Could Help Your Fantasy Football Teams in 2015
Fantasy football can be a fickle game.
We can put players on our "never again" lists after one quarter of football in Week 1 (cough, Eddie Lacy), but time and countless hours of studying the numbers can change your mind (and make you do a 180 on a player).
Now that the steam of frustration has dried up thanks to months of downtime, an objective look at things can reveal a lot, especially when examining things through the lens of our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which indicates how far above or below expectation level a player performed.
Here are 10 such instances with telling numbers. Keep them in mind -- and keep an open mind -- heading into 2015.1. Eddie Lacy's Reception NEP of 34.56 ranked third among running backs.
So, I'm back in on Lacy for various reasons, but one of them that really sticks out is his receiving numbers. It's hard to think of Lacy as a threat out of the backfield. Last year,though, he caught 42 passes. Those passes led to roughly five touchdowns and extra points for the Packers.
We may think the gap between Lacy and a receiving threat such as Matt Forte is cavernous, but on 100 catches, Forte secured just 35.92 Reception NEP. Basically, they made the same net impact last year despite the 58-catch discrepancy. The fantasy edge in PPR leagues is great, but the actual impact isn't.2. Jimmy Graham's Reception NEP per target of 0.59 was below average.
Jimmy Graham wasn't exactly healthy last season, but his efficiency was middling, and we can't ignore that. Among the 27 tight ends who saw at least 50 targets, Graham's per-target Reception NEP ranked 15th. Sure, he saw 125 targets, so it's reasonable that his efficiency was fairly low -- but other players remained efficient with high volume.
Antonio Gates ranked second in the efficiency metric (0.92 Reception NEP per target on 98 targets). Rob Gronkowski (0.86 on 131 targets) ranked fourth. Travis Kelce (0.83 on 87 targets) and Jason Witten (0.82 on 90 targets) ranked fifth and sixth, respectively.
Graham has just one season with at least 50 targets and a Reception NEP better than 0.80 (it was 0.84 on 142 targets in 2013). Based on the numbers, Graham needs volume, and he probably won't get that in Seattle.3. Le'Veon Bell's Total NEP of 82.85 ranked 38th in the NFL.
This needs context. Le'Veon Bell was amazing last year. His Rushing NEP combined with his Reception NEP (i.e. his Total NEP) was top-40 in the league. Because Rushing NEP is hard to come by -- running the ball just isn't an efficient way to move the ball against an NFL-caliber defense -- running backs just don't show the same type of overall impact that other players do from an expected points standpoint.
Overall, Anderson's Passing NEP of 35.12 ranked 18th at the quarterback position. Cam Newton managed a Passing NEP of 18.40 on 487 drop backs (just 0.04 per drop back). That's not great news for Kelvin Benjamin, who could be headed for a sophomore slump with more Newton at the helm.5. Andre Ellington's Rushing NEP of -28.34 was the worst mark in the NFL.
Yes, Andre Ellington was banged up last year, but he was also really bad for the Cardinals. He wasn't alone, as the Cardinals ranked 26th in the NFL in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play, but his struggles were evident by every measure.
Among the 32 running backs who ran the ball at least 150 times last year, Ellington's Rushing NEP per play of 0.14 was better only than Darren McFadden's (0.15). His Success Rate of 33.83% was worst in the group. To make matters worse, he has some serious competition in Arizona.6. Antonio Brown had more successful receptions (112) than any other player had receptions.
Antonio Brown had an absolutely ridiculous 2014 and led the NFL in receptions last year with 129, 112 of which added to Pittsburgh's NEP. Demaryius Thomas was second in the NFL in catches (111) and in Reception Successes (98).
Brown wasn't just a volume guy, though. Of the 60 players who caught at least 100 passes in a season since and including 2000, Brown's Reception NEP per target (0.84) ranked eighth. He doesn't fit the typical profile of a touchdown threat, but he's good enough to trust as an elite receiver regardless and grades out as our top fantasy receiver heading into the year.7. Devonta Freeman's Success Rate of 24.62% was historically bad.
Devonta Freeman didn't see a ton of volume last season -- just 65 carries -- but they were bad. He secured a Rushing NEP of -18.80, third worst since 2000 among players with fewer than 65 carries. But his Success Rate was the worst mark ever among players who ran the ball 65 time or more. Basically, nothing good happened when Freeman carried the ball last season. Like Ellington, he also has competition in the backfield this year.8. Blake Bortles' Passing NEP of -97.97 was also historically bad.
There's plenty of hype surrounding Allen Robinson heading into the season, but he does have a big hurdle in front of him: Blake Bortles. Last season, Bortles lost the Jaguars nearly 100 points with his 530 drop backs.
Since 2000, a quarterback has attempted at least 300 drop backs in a season 431 times. Bortles' Passing NEP is fifth worst on that list (427th). His per-drop back mark (0.18) jumps up to 420th, though. Receivers don't exactly need good quarterbacks to perform well, but Bortles' rookie year passing was downright bad. Like Ryan Leaf and Akili Smith bad.9. Calvin Johnson's Reception Success Rate of 98.59% was historically good.
Not everything went well for Calvin Johnson last year, but he was still really, really good, especially when he actually caught the ball. Among the 428 players who caught at least 70 passes in a season since 2000, Johnson's Success Rate was second best. In 2012, Vincent Jackson added NEP on each of his 72 receptions.
Megatron made the most of his targets, too. Of the 48 players who saw at least 100 targets last year, his Reception NEP per target (0.82) ranked 10th. Don't sleep on him this season.10. Aaron Rodgers' Total NEP of 214.26 was the seventh-best in the NFL since 2000.
It's not accurate to say that Rodgers quietly had a good season -- after all, he won the NFL MVP award -- but it's easy to take his production for granted. Since 2000, only nine times has a player accounted for at least 200 Total NEP. Only five players have done it. Rodgers did it back in 2011 (250.29), too.
Oh, and just his passing alone is worth mentioning, as his Passing NEP of 188.41 was the 10th-best mark since 2000.
It looks like Andrew Luck is the first quarterback off the board this year, but that shouldn't be the case. Rodgers was more than 100 points better than Luck last year in terms of Total NEP (214.26 for Rodgers and 114.02 for Luck). For that reason, Rodgers is clearly our top projected fantasy point scorer heading into 2015.