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14 Aug 2012

2012 KUBIAK vs. ADP: The Underrated

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.

Matt Ryan
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.

Shane Vereen
RB Rank per KUBIAK: 25
RB Rank per ADP: 60

David Wilson
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.

Jonathan Stewart
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.

Pierre Thomas
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.

Dwayne Bowe
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.

Kyle Rudolph
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:

Kellen Winslow the Elder (25-255-2 in 7 games)
Vernon Davis (20-265-3 in 10 games)
Dallas Clark (29-340-1 in 10 games)
Ernie Conwell (15-164-0 in 10 games)
Lance Kendricks (28-352-0 in 10 games)

This year, Rudolph has opportunity. Visanthe Shiancoe is gone, Minnesota is horrible, and Adrian Peterson is hobbled. Who else is Christian Ponder going to dump off to in a panic?

Posted by: Danny Tuccitto on 14 Aug 2012

7 comments, Last at 26 Apr 2013, 4:45pm by Chatrandom.com

Comments

1
by Duke :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 12:57am

Re: Stewart vs. Spiller, Helu, Ingram:

I think in that RB20-25 range (right when you're looking for some of your first backups) people are often looking for guys who will probably produce some and might might might MIGHT turn into a top-15 back.

I'm not sure that it's right to judge those guys as more likely to bust out than Stewart. But I can see where you might say his ceiling (with Williams the #1, and Newton around too) is lower than Spiller (former #1 draft pick, may take over for an old #1), Helu (if he ever became Shanny's clear #1 back!), or Ingram (if Thomas is hurt again he could break out!).

2
by Danny Tuccitto :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 1:12am

That's certainly a fair point.

I'd just say that, from my own perspective, the stereotypical mid-round "fliers" like Helu and Spiller (less so Ingram) are fine as RB4 or RB5. I wouldn't take a chance on one of them as my RB3, though. Not saying I'd want Stewart as my RB3 either, but if I was absolutely desperate for whatever reason, I'm almost certain I can make do with him as one of my starting RBs in a pinch. Those other guys, who knows what their usage pattern is going to be like at the moment I need to start them. Would much prefer to stash them at the bottom of my bench so they only matter when one of them actually does magically turn into a top-15 back.

3
by Ryan D. :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 12:08pm

As a die-hard Panthers fan, my biggest concern with owning either Williams or Stewart is always injuries. It seems like one, or even both of them get nicked up every single season. Of course, when one of them is banged up is the best time to own the other one, as it's the only time they usually get a solid amount of carries and become highly productive for fantasy purposes.

But, when you consider Cam Newton's ability to run it in himself, and then add a known touchdown vulture like Tolbert into the mix for this season, you can see where Williams and Stewart are going to have a lot of days where they each have around 12 caries for 64 yards and no touchdowns. The Panthers might have a great day overall, running for 200 total yards and 3 scores, yet neither Williams or Stewart will have a lot of fantasy value to show for it.

As a Panthers fan, it's great to know that our running game can be very effective without relying too heavily on a single running back. But, as a fantasy owner of any Panthers player not named Cam Newton or Steve Smith, it's going to be very frustrating to guess who might have the hot hand or break the long run from week-to-week.

4
by Paydro70 (not verified) :: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 10:54pm

The reason I don't think this argument works is that the high ceiling for Helu/Spiller/Ingram is also true of Stewart; if Williams gets injured for an extended time (like the tail end of 2010), Stewart is a virtual lock to be a top-15 back. Most likely there would be a few more carries given to Tolbert or a bench RB, but he'd be in line for a steady diet of 20+ touches a game.

That's not to say I'm drafting him (or Williams); I don't like depending on an injury and I don't value his potential as a spot starter very much. On ESPN he's currently going in the seventh round, and I think there are better values there than him.

6
by TomC :: Tue, 08/21/2012 - 10:59pm

I think most fantasy owners (including me) are more Daniel Snyder than Bill Belichik, in that they don't think they can elevate their team to elite status by a series of solid B-level additions, so they'd rather take a flier on a guy that might be a #1 but will probably be useless. (Or, if you prefer, in that they didn't luck into Tom Brady in the 6th round so they have the luxury of filling in role players with every draft.)

5
by @nonymous (not verified) :: Fri, 08/17/2012 - 11:33pm

I often wonder why Pierre Thomas gets overlooked too. In my opinion he has been criminally underrated the past few seasons. When I look at the Saints he's really their #1 back when healthy. He fits what they do so well. I'd say Sproles is the #2 as he fits the Saints offense well too. I've never seen Ingram fitting in with what the Saints like to do.

7
by Chatrandom.com (not verified) :: Fri, 04/26/2013 - 4:45pm

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,Chatrandom.com