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.
14 Aug 2012
by Danny Tuccitto
With one-year fantasy drafts in full swing, it's time for our look at how Football Outsiders' KUBIAK rankings compare with the conventional wisdom of average draft position (ADP). You might think our statistics-based rankings would differ considerably from what you'd see from a more subjective source, say The Sporting News, but it turns out that they don't. That's because even the most non-statistically savvy fantasy football owner -- whether they realize it or not -- incorporates stats from the last year or two into what they think about a given player this season. Where the benefit of KUBIAK (available as a $20 customizable spreadsheet here) comes into play is at the margins, and those marginal differences are based on the other factors we consider besides last year's stats. Given that the majority of leagues consist of owners who rely heavily on the more subjective rankings, draft day ends up conforming to ADP. As a KUBIAK consumer, though, this presents one heck of an opportunity to extract the draft value necessary for a lucrative run whether we're talking monetarily or simple bragging rights.
I've compared our most recent KUBIAK rankings with ADP and found a number of players who seem to be getting overvalued or undervalued in fantasy drafts to date. I'll discuss the most underrated players in Part I below, and save the most overrated for Part II next week.
QB Rank per KUBIAK: 5
QB Rank per ADP: 11
We're not the only ones high on Matt Ryan this year. Sure, personally invested Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff recently said as much, but Football Outsiders Almanac 2012 contributor Jason Lisk agrees from a more statistical perspective. Our belief in Ryan stems from his continuous improvement over the past few years, the likelihood of Julio Jones being even better than he was as a rookie, and a favorable projected schedule.
RB Rank per KUBIAK: 25
RB Rank per ADP: 60
RB Rank per KUBIAK: 27
RB Rank per ADP: 41
Vereen and Wilson are young players in committees with backfield mates who haven't been world-beaters in their careers to date. Admittedly, Bill Belichick is as predictable about his backfield situation from week to week as Mike Shanahan. For now, tea leaf readers project Stevan Ridley to fill the role vacated by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, with Vereen and Danny Woodhead playing almost exclusively on passing downs.
The tea leaves say something different to us. Overall, it seems Vereen is the classic case of a player being undervalued in fantasy drafts simply because he was injured last year. Also, when compared with Ridley's 94.7 Speed Score, Vereen's 103.3 mark suggests he's got the bigger upside talent-wise.
Wilson, whose Speed Score (101.4) and college production (+13.7 Adjusted POE) bode well for the future, is in a slightly less advantageous position than Vereen given the presence of an established back in the Giants committee (Ahmad Bradshaw). However, Bradshaw has the look of a back who struggles to separate himself from the pack. He's only produced a single RB1-caliber season in the past three as part of a committee despite Brandon Jacobs doing everything he can to underwhelm the Giants coaching staff. To be fair, Bradshaw's still only 26 years old, and we can attribute his yards-per-carry dip last season to injury and running behind the 28th-ranked offensive line. Still from Wilson's perspective, we're not talking about competing against Walter Payton here.
RB Rank per KUBIAK: 20
RB Rank per ADP: 35
Carolina's running backs seem to be getting undervalued because of a committee approach that includes their quarterback and added Mike Tolbert in free agency. First off, Tolbert isn't likely to get many touches at fullback/H-Back, so we can toss that excuse out immediately. There's also the strange circumstance of people preferring to draft backs with nebulous workloads (e.g., Roy Helu, C.J. Spiller, and Mark Ingram) ahead of guaranteed contributors like Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.
The Panthers are poised to win more games this year, which means more late-game running. Given his newly minted contract and age relative to Williams, Stewart seems like the Carolina back better positioned to benefit from that increase in team attempts. Will he finish in the top 10 of fantasy running backs? Probably not. Will he outperform his position ADP? Well, consider that his average end-of-season ranking the past four years was 24th.
RB Rank per KUBIAK: 30
RB Rank per ADP: 56
Riddle me this: A No. 1 running back on a team that figures to win double-digit games, coming off a season where he gained 987 yards from scrimmage and scored six touchdowns. Why is he the 56th running back selected right now? Is it because he's 28 years old? Are there lingering concerns among the populace about his concussion late last season? Is constantly injured teammate Mark Ingram going to run the ball 200 times? Inquiring minds want to know.
Mike Williams (TB)
WR Rank per KUBIAK: 21
WR Rank per ADP: 34
Williams -- who was previously miscast as a No. 1 -- may have experienced a sophomore slump in 2011, but his rapport with Josh Freeman and the addition of Vincent Jackson portends a rebound in his third year. It also helps that, as far as our DVOA projections go, the Buccaneers won't be facing many elite defenses in 2012.
WR Rank per KUBIAK: 8
WR Rank per ADP: 27
Bowe's ADP has to be a simple byproduct of his protracted holdout. The longer it lasts, the more he'll fall in fantasy drafts, so the above comparison may actually become more pronounced as time goes by. And, of course, that's insane. Bowe is a 28-year-old elite pass-catcher who has gained over 1,100 receiving yards in each of the past two seasons. His touchdown total dropped from 15 to five last year, but that was mainly due to Matt Cassel's injury. Simply put: As it stands right now according to KUBIAK, Bowe is the best value of any established top 25 player.
TE Rank per KUBIAK: 9
TE Rank per ADP: 17
Speaking of great values, Rudolph ranks just below Bowe in our list of draft-day steals. For one, tight ends are a notoriously bunched-together group in fantasy football, so there are opportunities to be had if you don't end up with the elite guys. Rudolph had only 26 catches for 249 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie, but remember, that was with only eight games and only one start. Here's a list of tight ends who were drafted in the first three rounds (Rudolph was a second-rounder) and played 10 or fewer games as rookies with at least 15 receptions since 1978:
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