2016 KUBIAK vs. ADP: The Overrated
by Vincent Verhei
If you're familiar with Football Outsiders, you know that every year we use our KUBIAK projections (available here for a mere $20!) to forecast the upcoming fantasy football season. It's an invaluable tool for fantasy football players, who get not just a list of players ranked by total point production, but a fully customizable spreadsheet that can be designed to sort players by almost any scoring system your league might use. The spreadsheet also lists where players have been taken in drafts on other web sites, so you can see where KUBIAK rankings differ from conventional wisdom. That knowledge can prove even more valuable than the rankings themselves, suggesting not only which players could be most valuable, but also when you're likely to find a steal in later rounds.
Today we'll look at the overrated players, those going higher in drafts than KUBIAK thinks they should. We'll look at underrated players in a separate article next week. Each player is listed with their rank in Fantasy Points Over Baseline (FPOB), which is the spot where KUBIAK says they should be drafted, along with their rank in Average Draft Position (ADP), which is where they have actually been going in fantasy drafts. These numbers will show where each player ranks at their position, not overall. Players at different positions can change in overall value greatly depending on league settings and waiver wire rules, but their rankings at their position shouldn't change much except in PPR (point per reception) leagues. Obviously, which players are underrated or overrated by ADP may change if your league has non-standard rules.
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FPOB Rank: 28
ADP Rank: 13
Romo first became a full-time starter in 2007. He has finished 12th or higher among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring every healthy season since then, a sure-thing fantasy starter aside from his injury-ridden campaigns of 2010 and 2015. So why does his KUBIAK projection say that he shouldn't even be your backup quarterback in 2016? The numbers here say much less about Romo himself than they do about the circumstances around him. The Cowboys still suffer from a dearth of quality receiving options behind Dez Bryant and ageless wonder Jason Witten. More importantly, the Cowboys used the fourth overall pick on Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. They also signed Alfred Morris away from Washington in free agency, and they still have Darren McFadden, who topped a thousand yards on the ground in Dallas last season With that trio of running backs behind what still looks like the NFL's best offensive line, it only figures that the Cowboys will run more (and thus, pass less) than they have in a very long time. We also forecast Dallas the favorites in the NFC East, which means an even heavier emphasis on the run game as Elliott and company look to kill clock with second-half leads. Romo had only 435 pass attempts in 2014, the fewest of any of his full seasons. And it must be said that Romo isn't getting any younger -- only Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Carson Palmer will be older among starting quarterbacks this season.
FPOB Rank: 20
ADP Rank: 14
In nine starts over his first three seasons, Cousins completed less than 60 percent of his passes and threw more interceptions (19) than touchdowns (18). And then came 2015, when he led the NFL in completion percentage with 29 touchdowns and only 11 picks. Cousins was eighth among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring last season, so why does our forecast put him in the range of a second-tier backup? It's mostly a case of not getting too excited about one season, when we have several years of evidence that says Cousins isn't as good as he played in 2015. The consensus agrees, as Cousins' ADP says he shouldn't be a starter in most leagues, but we still think he's being overrated. Even taking into account that he started nearly twice as many games last season as he ever had before, we still find that his good games only slightly outnumber his bad games. Ten of his 25 starts have produced an NFL passer rating of 80.0 or less, while 12 have produced a rating of 100.0 or better -- and seven of those 12 came after Halloween last season. If you're confident in Cousins this year, you're saying that those two months outweigh everything that happened in the prior three-and-a-half seasons -- and that's why we're not confident in Cousins.
FPOB Rank: 11
ADP Rank: 9
The difference here is slight, but we like to list three players at each position in these articles, and there are plenty of reasons to see a drop in Bortles' numbers this fall. The Jacksonville defense should be better this year, potentially much better, and that should mean fewer shootouts for Bortles and his receivers. And with Chris Ivory around, the Jaguars won't be so reluctant to run around the goal line -- Jacksonville threw 97 passes in the red zone, tied with Green Bay for most in the league, but was tied for 20th with just 51 runs inside the 20. Ivory's presence means they should be more balanced in scoring range in 2016.
FPOB Rank: 27
ADP Rank: 18
The consensus fantasy draft has Murray as a low-end RB2 even though he'll be sharing a backfield with second-round draftee and Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry. (For the record, KUBIAK thinks Henry is also overrated by ADP, even though Henry isn't even an RB3 in most leagues.) We still think Tennessee will be a bad team, with a better than 70 percent chance to miss the playoffs, which means Murray and Henry (and Antonio Andrews, and maybe Bishop Sankey or Dexter McCluster) will be splitting a small number of carries as Marcus Mariota tries to lead some second-half rallies. And speaking of Mariota, the second overall pick in 2015 played well enough as a rookie to warrant more passes in 2016. That might not be Tennessee's game plan, but it will likely be the result when all is said and done.
FPOB Rank: 16
ADP Rank: 9
Here is the rare instance where most fantasy players are looking at long-term trends, while KUBIAK seems more focused on what happened last year. Lacy was sixth among running backs in fantasy points in both 2013 and 2014, but just 26th last year as he actually lost his starting job at one point to James Starks. Earlier, when discussing Kirk Cousins, we said not to get carried away by the results of one season, but history is full of big backs who dropped off a statistical cliff and never recovered. Only two of the ten running backs with three-year spans most similar to Eddie Lacy's 2013-2015 then ran for more than a thousand yards in Year 4. Two of the others ran for exactly zero yards the next season. Lacy is a hell of a lot more likely to run for a thousand yards than for zero -- officially, his forecast is for 1,030 yards on the ground -- but there's also potential here for a repeat of last year.
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FPOB Rank: 27
ADP Rank: 10
John Fox on Chicago's running backs earlier this offseason: "The biggest part is to settle in on two guys, typically, in the rotation, who they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, then situationally use one. It could be even just, as far as whoever's got a hot hand. … I think it's hard to get through a season with one back, from a health standpoint, when you've got 11 guys that are chasing a guy around trying to wack him." And this is nothing new for Fox. In 14 years as a head coach in Carolina, Denver, and Chicago, Fox's offenses have produced only three top-ten fantasy running backs (DeAngelo Williams in 2008, Knowshon Moreno in 2013, and Matt Forte last year). Meanwhile, eight times his top running back has failed to make the top 20 in fantasy scoring. Meanwhile, Fox's secondary running back has only finished outside the top 50 one time, and finished in the top 40 eight times. Fox's top running back has an average rank of 18.9 in the fantasy rankings, while his secondary runner has an average ranking of 37.1 (out of 32 starters, mind you). In short, Langford is going to lose a lot of carries to whoever turns out to be Chicago's second running back, whether it be Ka'Deem Carey, Jacquizz Rodgers, or Jordan Howard.
FPOB Rank: 40
ADP Rank: 25
In four NFL seasons, Floyd has never finished higher than 25th among wide receivers in fantasy scoring, so his ADP seems very optimistic. On the other hand, he has finished 33rd or better for three years in a row. We're down on him partly because we think Carson Palmer was playing a bit over his head in 2015, but also because we see Floyd's role in the offense shrinking -- it's not a coincidence that we think Larry Fitzgerald (FPOB rank of 23, ADP rank of 29) and John Brown (28, 33) are both being underrated in fantasy drafts. Floyd's appearance here is also something of a statistical fluke, because he is at the low end of a very tight cluster of receivers with forecasts between 120 and 140 points. If he gets just one more big game than we expect -- nothing earth-shattering, just 100 yards and a touchdown -- he'll shoot a dozen spots up in the rankings.
FPOB Rank: 41
ADP Rank: 31
It will be easy to spot the compulsive gambler in your fantasy league -- he'll be the guy who drafts Gordon in the fourth or fifth round and laughs about what a steal he'll be. And you know what? He could be right. Even though he will still be suspended for the first four games of the year, it's quite possible Gordon will finish in the top 30 or maybe even top 20 wide receivers this season. In terms of pure physical talent, he is one of the very best receivers in the league. In 2013, he was second among all wideouts in fantasy scoring despite missing two games, on a team with Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden, and Brian Hoyer splitting time at quarterback. Of course, it was December of that year when he caught his last touchdown pass, and November of 2014 when he had his last 100-yard game. Now he is back in Cleveland, where Hue Jackson has said he is fat and out of shape, and a quad injury is keeping him out of practice, on a team that is filled to the brim with receiving options, with a starting quarterback in Robert Griffin who is a giant neon question mark himself. And really, we all hope Gordon has turned his life around, but how much faith do you have in a man who was suspended twice in college and four more times in the NFL in only five years? If everything goes right, Gordon could be the deciding factor in some fantasy playoff games, but man, there is a lot that could go wrong here.
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FPOB Rank: 9
ADP Rank: 4
Hopkins was a non-factor in fantasy as a rookie in 2013, then ranked 15th in his breakout sophomore season and sixth last year. The consensus is that he'll continue his upward trend, but we're forecasting a slight regression, mainly because it appears the running game has returned to Houston. Really, it never left; it just got very bad. The Texans were fifth in running plays last season, even though top runners Alfred Blue, Chris Polk, and Arian Foster had a combined average of just 3.46 yards per carry. In Bill O'Brien's first season in 2014, when Foster was running for 1,246 yards and averaging 4.79 yards per carry, the Texans were first in the league in running plays. Now they have Lamar Miller, who was very effective in Miami (18th in DVOA last season, third in 2014) even though his efforts were often wasted by a Dolphins coaching staff that didn't seem to realize what they had. O'Brien knows how to feed a player like Miller, which means fewer opportunities in the passing game for Hopkins.
FPOB Rank: 26
ADP Rank: 16
In three years in St. Louis, Cook ranked 10th, 15th, and 34th among tight ends in fantasy scoring … while playing on a team whose leading wide receivers were Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, and Brian Quick. Now he goes to a team with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, not to mention another tight end in Richard Rodgers, and people are expecting his production to essentially hold steady? Granted, Aaron Rodgers is worlds better than any Rams quarterback who ever threw a pass to Cook, but the tight end figures to get lost in the shuffle here. And at 29 years of age, Cook isn't a young football player, either.
FPOB Rank: 13
ADP Rank: 8
The entire fantasy football world has been forecasting a breakout for Green ever since he led all tight ends in DVOA in 2013. In four NFL seasons, though, Green has never ranked higher than 19th among tight ends in fantasy scoring. Now starting in Pittsburgh instead of backing up Antonio Gates in San Diego, Green is very likely to set career highs in most numbers, but we are sick of predicting a breakout that just hasn't come. He's also a very high risk because of his current health and headache problems.
FPOB Rank: 7
ADP Rank: 5
Two touchdowns, zero touchdowns, 13 touchdowns. Which one looks like the fluke to you? If you guessed the 13 scores that Eifert had last season, you're with us, and you're a little cautious about taking Eifert too early in the draft. Eifert is also expected to miss part of the regular season after offseason ankle surgery, and who knows how long it will take him to get back into playing shape? Eifert is a 26-year-old former first-rounder with a very bright long-term future, but his short-term future isn't quite as bright as most fantasy football players think it is.
FPOB Rank: 27
ADP Rank: 12
Aguayo is overrated most of all by Jason Licht and his staff at 1 Buccaneer Place, but fantasy players seem pretty optimistic about his chances this year too. Apparently they've forgotten that the Bucs were tied for 23rd in touchdowns last year, and though they were tied for second in field goal attempts, that figures to go down this year with a kicker like Aguayo who lacks the leg to hit 50-yarders. Our forecast says the Bucs will have the 23rd-best offense in 2016, and that's the biggest indicator of kicker fantasy success. Even if you're the last player in your league to take kicker, you'd be wise to find another option besides Aguayo -- and for god's sake, don't trade up for him.
FPOB Rank: 26
ADP Rank: 10
NY Jets D
FPOB Rank: 22
ADP Rank: 9
FPOB Rank: 16
ADP Rank: 5
The common theme here is that "individual stars do not a great fantasy defense make." The Raiders' defense was 19th in fantasy scoring last year, but people know Khalil Mack, so they project a jump ahead of one-third of the league. The Jets' defense was 16th (and 29th the year before that, and 27th the year before that), but hey, Leonard Williams! Sheldon Richardson! Revis Island! As for Houston, they were sixth last year, and second in 2014, but now J.J. Watt is coming off back surgery and will probably miss the start of the regular season. If he can't get better in a hurry, this could be like 2013, when Houston was last in fantasy D.