Which receivers were truly most effective with the ball in their hands last season? We look at the leaders in YAC+ for 2014 and the last nine years.
15 Aug 2007
by Bill Barnwell
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On the first day of Football Outsiders -- as the story will be told to youngsters and any interested and well-connected biographers -- the Great KUBIAK Mainframe begat two columns on an Internet previously beset by pestilence and vaguely-informed football analysis. The first piece was Aaron's story on winning to run. The second was "Scramble for the Ball," Ian Dembsky and Al Bogdan's joie de vivre as directed towards fantasy football, gambling, professional wrestling, Rod Smart and other spurious yet fascinating ventures. It's been four seasons and three writing combinations since then, the last of which was myself and Ian in 2006. With Ian bowing out this year due to time constraints, Catholic Match Girl not returning my calls after she discovered that ... other ... girl's number in my cell phone, and other FO personalities lost and confused in the woods and/or doing a Mr. Magoo impersonation, it's my duty to inform you that this year, Scramble is a one-man show. I'll be taking over the duties myself, but don't count out the possibility of any special guests appearing as the season goes along.
With all that being said, don't expect much of a change. Scramble remains FO's column dedicated to fantasy football, football betting -- just for informational purposes, of course -- the Loser League, and other goofy topics that aren't covered in any of the other articles FO runs each week.
While the real thing is still a month away, we're now smack-dab in fantasy draft season -- the most wonderful time of the year. For owners who struggled last year, it's a chance to start anew and redeem themselves; for the owners who did not, it's a chance to gloat and build upon last year's success. While you can't bring an Outsider of your choice to your fantasy draft for anything less than four figures, we've created a forum on our new Discussion Board dedicated to discussing fantasy football questions. While the board is primarily designed for discussion between users, myself and other FO writers will be making appearances on the board as time permits. For this first Scramble of the new season, we'll field some of those questions posed on the board over the last week.
SJM: I'm in a 12-team league that starts two QB (and two RB, three WR, and one TE, K, and DEF). Standard scoring for WR and RB (plus 1/2 point per reception). Scoring for QB as follows: Completions, 0.2 points; passing yards, 40 yards per point; passing touchdowns, six points; interceptions, -4 points; fumbles lost, -4 points.
So my question is how do I draft? Do I throw all the quarterbacks and running backs into one big pile and take two of each in the first four rounds? Are quarterbacks still worth more because there are fewer good ones? Should I draft a wide receiver while I still have a starting spot open for a quarterback or running back? I'm afraid your answer will be "Buy the KUBIAK spreadsheet and good luck," but I'm hoping for more.
Bill: It's an interesting scoring system. I don't have fumbles data in front of me, so I'm ignoring that at the moment, and I'm assuming your standard scoring gives a point for every 10 yards a running back or wide receiver gains. If you apply the data back to the 2006 season, the top 12 players in the league are seven running backs (Tomlinson, Jackson, Johnson, Gore, Barber, Westbrook, Parker), four quarterbacks (Manning, Brees, Bulger, Palmer), and one wide receiver (Harrison). When you expand that out to 72 players, or the first six rounds of what would have been a perfect draft, there would have been 19 quarterbacks selected, 26 running backs, 25 wide recievers, and only two tight ends.
Now, that's solely based upon points gained, without any allowance for how to draft. That's where value-based drafting comes into play, the drafting methodology from footballguys.com. While the essay linked does a fantastic job of explaining the principles and ideas behind the VBD strategy, let's quickly mock up a VBD-style strategy by basically calculating each player's fantasy points above replacement -- namely, the value a player has over what would be considered freely-available talent. In this league, let's assume that each team has one backup quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end, so that the replacement value for quarterbacks, for example, will be the 37th-best quarterback in the league, who would be the first quarterback available as a free agent.
The new drafting strategy, accounting for positional scarcity, does change things. The top 12 now features seven quarterbacks and only five running backs; the first six rounds of this draft, based upon 2006 data, would see 22 quarterbacks, 20 running backs, 22 wide receivers, and eight tight ends go amongst the first 72 picks. In short, if quarterbacks are a scarcer quantity in this league than running backs (or vice versa), it's not by much. Of course, that's based upon 2006 data; while you can do the same with our 2007 projections, well, you will actually have to buy the KUBIAK spreadsheet for that.
SuupaJim: I'm in a 10-team league with one QB, two RB, three WR, one TE, one Def, one K, sux bench and no flex spot. The scoring is pretty standard with the exceptions being 25 passing yards for a point, six points per passing TD and 0.5 points per reception.
I'm planning to pick somewhere between four and seven and grabbing two running backs in the first two rounds. So with that middle pick in the third round, I'm not sure if I should take Gates or Benson. Normally I would not want to take a bench player with my third round pick, but Benson seems to be a great value pick there.
Bill: I'm not so sure about Benson being a great value there. ESPN's draft results have Benson coming off the board at No. 25, which is right where he would be if you were in that four-to-seven range come the third round. He'd be a good pick there for a team that needed a running back, but if you take a running back with your first two picks, it's not a real value. I'd be comfortable picking Gates there, who would represent a real value pick in your system -- the quick and dirty VBD method described above values Gates as the 13th best player in the league.
nojo: I'm in a keeper league (two keepers), deciding who to keep. I'm definitely keeping Frank Gore (costing me a seventh-round pick). I'm deciding between Maurice Jones-Drew and Cedric Benson (each would cost a 16th-round pick).
Scoring is six points per TD, three points per 25 yards rushing (after the first 25), and three points per 25 yards receiving (after the first 25). starters: one QB, two RB, two WR, one TE, one D, and one K.
I know that PFP 2007 has [both Jones-Drew and Benson] projected to produce almost exactly the same numbers this year. I feel like Benson might do better this year (clear-cut starter, and MJD might lose TDs to Greg Jones in addition to the touches he loses to Fred Taylor), but MJD might have a better long-term outlook.
Bill: Well, the good news about this decision is that you're extremely likely to have a stud running back regardless of who you pick. This topic was actually addressed in a recent blog post by Chase Stuart, who contributes to the blog at Doug Drinen's fantastic pro-football-reference.com Web site.
In the two entries Doug's written at the time this column is being written, he's detailed the process of creating a formula that projects for future running back performance based upon several factors. While Doug's entries are must-reads for anyone who enjoys the work we do at FO, Doug's research (at least, as of Part II) finds that Maurice Jones-Drew is projected to score 1,277 more fantasy points over the rest of his career, while Cedric Benson, based upon his rookie performance, is only projected to score 317. Doug also points out that the only two rookie running backs in NFL history who've averaged more yards per carry than Jones-Drew are Franco Harris and Clinton Portis, so Jones-Drew is in pretty rarified air. When you factor in Benson's injury problems, I would go with MJD.
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Andrew: I'm in a 12-team standard league where the commish, for some reason -- mainly due to members being scattered all over the place time-zone wise, including Europe -- has mandated an automated draft. All we can do is alter our rankings of how we view players and let it pick them for us.
Now ... if I know these people, at least half of them won't alter their rankings at all and will use the baseline from Yahoo sports.
So, is the best strategy to rank each and every player completely, or to tweak a few I particularly want higher than they're forecast to try to manipulate it into getting those, likewise modding a few specific ones down (e.g., Larry Johnson) to make sure I don't get those?
Bill: Ah, fleecing the lazy and/or uninformed. I'm a huge fan. Last year, I graduated from university and decided to take a trip with some friends to Las Vegas, where I would employ my honed no-limit hold 'em skills to make possible a wonderfully comfortable vacation. So after a week, when my friends left and I was still making money, I stayed. I left after three and a half weeks, all of which had been profitable, mainly because I couldn't find a hotel room for under $350 a night. Stupid conventions.
The thing is, I'm a pretty mediocre poker player. I know what I'm doing against average or worse players, but I'm no match for really advanced players. How was I able to sustain this? Every night, I'd go to Caesars' Palace, where the poker room is situated directly next to the Pure nightclub. Each of the nights I was there, the poker room would be flooded with a fresh crop of drunken, unsatisfied young males, who would seek to reclaim their masculinity through poker. Unfortunately, they'd run into me, sipping Diet Cokes, and give said money away.
Why am I tooting my own horn? Because it's the same idea. When you play poker against people who have no idea how to play or are too drunk to care, you don't make bluffs or sophisticated plays -- the opposition is too naive or foolish to care or even recognize it. Instead, you play the most conservative, straight-forward game you possibly can. The same is going to be true in your draft. Don't be too concerned about pushing the guys you like up too far, because you might overvalue them with your list when you'll likely be able to grab them in later rounds while the others are drafting players off their lists that you have no interest in. Move your sleepers up slightly, but you'll be able to grab them a couple of rounds later than you might've thought otherwise while others are drafting the Larry Johnsons of the fantasy world.
Please feel free again to post your fantasy questions to the Fantasy Football Forum on our Discussion Board -- I'll be answering questions weekly in the column before and after the season begins. Next week, I'll be partaking in the traditional Scramble preseason look at Over/Unders for each team, starting with the AFC. Is there a more dastardly curse than the dreaded FOMBC? Find out next week!
24 comments, Last at 27 Aug 2007, 1:45pm by Vivek