Brandon Marshall's Fantasy Football Performance Last Season Was More Impressive Than You Realize

Brandon Marshall wasn't selected with a high-end pick in most fantasy drafts last year, but he performed like an elite receiver. How valuable was he for fantasy owners?

I grew up with two puny dogs that laid around all day and stared at you with their tongues sticking out. 

And then my wife and I got Henry.

Henry's puny, too, but he's a lot more spunky and fun than the dogs I grew up with. Everything he does -- as long as he's not doing his business where he shouldn't be -- pretty much exceeds my expectations. And that's because my dog expectations were set back when I was a young teenager, when my family's dogs would sprint into the corner of the room anytime someone approached them with a hairbrush.

Having your expectations not just matched, but surpassed, is a great feeling. NFL teams see and feel it all the time. I mean, the Patriots took Tom Brady in the sixth round of 2000's NFL Draft. Today, Brady's arguably the best quarterback of all time.

Fantasy owners get the feels when players exceed expectation, too. When you've drafted each year, you know how difficult it is to get a later-round pick to perform like a first-rounder. 

But when he does? 


That's what fantasy owners felt in 2015 with Brandon Marshall -- the feeling of success in finding a gem later in their drafts, and the feeling of Benjamins (Hamiltons? Lincolns? Tubmans?) filling pockets.

Brandon Marshall was a monster last year. He exceeded expectations. Almost more than any other wide receiver over the last five years, in fact.

Meeting Expectations

If you read my piece back at the beginning of April on Devonta Freeman, then you're already aware of this process. Let's revisit it for you newbies, though.

I looked at the last five years worth of average draft position data from real, 12-team PPR leagues that held drafts after August 1st on Using this data, I plotted the number of fantasy points scored (Weeks 1 through 17) by a wide receiver versus his average draft position.

WR PPR Points Scored vs. ADP

This looks nearly identical to the  running back chart, where there's a relatively big drop in production after the first few rounds of the fantasy draft. That's to be expected: it's easier to pinpoint solid contributors early in drafts, while the later rounds are more of a crapshoot.

What the trendline represents is expectation -- the number of points, based on the last five years of production, that we'd expect a player at a particular average draft position to score. To give you an example, a wideout selected 100th overall would be expected to score 138.89 PPR points across a season, while someone selected 200th overall would be expected to tally 91.07.

The dots above the line represent the dudes who were able to perform better than expected, and everyone lower is the opposite.

Like the running back exercise, let's take a look at which players over the last five years have exceeded their draft day cost most.

Exceeding Expectations

We now know two things: Brandon Marshall was a great, great value last season in fantasy football, and the chart above shows us exactly how valuable wide receivers have been over the last five seasons.

Let's combine those two tidbits.

YearPlayerAvg. PickPts. ScoredExpected Pts.Difference
12014Odell Beckham Jr.171.94295.00101.50193.50
22013Josh Gordon89.17314.40146.79167.61
32015Brandon Marshall60.07339.20174.04165.16
42011Jordy Nelson129.24284.30121.19163.11
52015Doug Baldwin158.31268.90107.20161.70
62013Alshon Jeffery124.34283.60123.86159.74
72013Julian Edelman176.43251.7099.72151.98
82011Wes Welker42.23335.90198.35137.55
92015Allen Robinson66.55304.00166.98137.02
102011Nate Washington206.92224.8088.73136.07
112014Antonio Brown21.29380.90245.59135.31
122014Emmanuel Sanders66.83301.80166.69135.11
132015Larry Fitzgerald87.68280.50147.95132.55
142013Antonio Brown57.38308.90177.20131.70
152012James Jones186.88226.4095.75130.65
162015Allen Hurns173.99225.10100.68124.42
172011Steve Smith97.48264.00140.65123.35
182013Keenan Allen182.51219.6097.38122.22
192012Randall Cobb143.99234.60113.74120.86
202015Michael Crabtree148.44231.20111.64119.56

The chart above should be pretty straightforward -- we're looking at how many points a player scored versus how many he should have scored given his average draft position and finding the difference. The players with the largest difference, then, are the most valuable over this five-year timeframe.

Keep in mind that not all wide receivers are on here. In order to make the list, a player needed a cost -- he needed to be drafted. Someone like Victor Cruz in 2011, for instance, went undrafted (even when looking at deep drafts), so he's not part of the data set. Fortunately those types of seasons don't come very often.

What's not surprising about the results is that the majority -- almost all -- of the values came from later picks in a fantasy draft. That's because it's a lot easier to outperform expectation when expectation isn't very high.

At the same time, it's pretty interesting to see that only one wide receiver on the list was selected higher than 42nd overall, on average. Doing this same exercise for running backs revealed different results: early-round running backs were exceeding value more often than early-round receivers.

It's true that running backs are selected earlier and more often than wide receivers, though, so there's noise to that conclusion. But get this: 68 wide receivers have been drafted in the top 40 over the last five years, while that number is 87 for running backs. Just one wide receiver has far exceeded value (that is, ranked within the top 20 in most value gained versus average draft position) among this group, while seven have at running back. That's a hit rate of 1.5% versus 8.1%.

Now, this is kind of mediocre math with arbitrary parameters. And we're not looking at the other side of the spectrum, which would show that running backs tend to bust more than wideouts do. Since that's true, expectations are just really high for some of these earlier-round wide receivers. But it does shed some light to the idea that while wide receivers may be safer picks early in your fantasy drafts, truly elite running backs are still giving you the largest advantage in fantasy leagues.

OK, back on topic. 

Marshall's 2015 campaign was the second-best value campaign over the last five seasons, behind only two historic seasons: Odell Beckham's rookie year and Josh Gordon's breakout 2013 season. 

That's it.

Granted, these are season-long numbers. You could probably make an argument that Doug Baldwin's 2015 was more valuable based on the fact that he ranked outside the top six in weekly PPR scoring just twice from Weeks 10 through 16, the most important weeks of the fantasy season.

But let's not understate what Marshall did last year. Because it was kind of fantasy football historic.