Wisdom of Crowds 2012: QBs and RBs
by Danny Tuccitto
Welcome back for another August of surveyed fantasy football projections we like to call "Wisdom of Crowds." With the uncertainty of an abbreviated offseason at this time last year, offensive systems were only partially installed and offensive roles were only partially defined. That made it a bit sadistic to throw guys like Mike Sims-Walker, Andre Roberts, Chad Johnson, and Felix Jones onto Twitter expecting the crowd to be anything resembling accurate. Maybe those predictions were train wrecks, but our followers were impressively clairvoyant overall. The typical offseason is back for 2012, so we're expecting nothing short of Nate Silver-esque precision this time around.
If this is your first time encountering our Wisdom of Crowds (WoC) feature, the process goes like this. Each weekday, we take to our Football Outsiders Twitter account (@fboutsiders), and ask followers to give a fantasy football projection for a specific player. For quarterbacks, we ask for passing yards, passing touchdowns, and interceptions. For running backs, it's rushes, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns. For wideouts, it's receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. We spare you the misery of projecting tight ends.
This past week, we posted two players daily, but that was only because my aging, spreadsheet-addled brain broadcasts temporal memories on a seven-day delay (translation: I screwed up the timing). This week, we'll be back to one player per day. In any event, at the end of each week, I compile the responses, and write a column about them the following week. After the season, I write another series of columns looking back at how the crowd did.
So, without further ado, let's get to the first set of WoC projections. For each player, I've listed their average projection (with margin of error), their best-case scenario, and their worst-case scenario. The scenario projections just combine into one stat line the player's best (or worst) projections for each specific stat.
Monday: Andrew Luck
Average: 3,523 ± 136 passing yards, 21 ± 2 TDs, 18 ± 2 INTs
Best-case scenario: 3,950 passing yards, 35 TDs, 11 INTs
Worst-case scenario: 3,100 passing yards, 15 TDs, 25 INTs
Monday: Robert Griffin
Average: 3,329 ± 174 passing yards, 20 ± 2 TDs, 20 ± 2 INTs
Best-case scenario: 4,000 passing yards, 25 TDs, 12 INTs
Worst-case scenario: 2,772 passing yards, 13 TDs, 30 INTs
Taking margins of error into account, the crowd expects similar passing seasons for the first two picks in this year's draft: about 250 fantasy points. If we had also asked for rushing stats, though, it stands to reason that Griffin's 2012 crowd projection would be considerably higher than Luck's. If so, it would match up nicely with our KUBIAK projections, where 46 points of a 65-point Griffin advantage come from projected rushing stats.
Of the 152-point difference between Cam Newton and Andy Dalton last season, 133 came via the former's running prowess. Therefore, it's easy to compare Griffin-Luck in 2012 to Newton-Dalton in 2011. I wouldn't go that far, though, for reasons having nothing to do with racial stereotyping. It's just unlikely Mike Shanahan will reinvent his offense to maximize Griffin's running ability as much as Rob Chudzinski reinvented his in the image of Newton. In Shanahan's 15 years with running quarterbacks John Elway, Steve Young, and Jake Plummer, the trio averaged 43.4 rushing points per season (with proration), and the best single-year output was Young's 77 points in 1992.
Looking at the best- and worst-case scenarios for Luck and Griffin, it's pretty clear that the crowd thinks Luck has the higher ceiling and Griffin has the lower floor this year. That sounds about right.
Tuesday: Philip Rivers
Average: 4,097 ± 210 passing yards, 27 ± 2 TDs, 16 ± 2 INTs
Best-case scenario: 4,800 passing yards, 33 TDs, 12 INTs
Worst-case scenario: 3,500 passing yards, 22 TDs, 20 INTs
Tuesday: Jay Cutler
Average: 3,728 ± 152 passing yards, 25 ± 2 TDs, 17 ± 1 INT
Best-case scenario: 4,225 passing yards, 29 TDs, 14 INTs
Worst-case scenario: 3,200 passing yards, 18 TDs, 18 INTs
Now for a couple of accomplished fantasy quarterbacks who find themselves throwing to new No. 1 wideouts in 2012. Vincent Jackson is but a fond memory for Rivers in San Diego, while Brandon Marshall is déjà vu for Cutler in Chicago (nee Denver). It's pretty interesting, then, that the crowd foresees similar fantasy production from the two. There is a bit of a difference in the scenario projections, though, with Rivers having the higher upside, at least from a yardage perspective.
It's important to note that our WoC tweet for Rivers and Cutler went out before Ryan Mathews' injury. I'm not sure whether or not that would move Rivers up or down, though. On one hand, it probably means more attempts, which at the very least means more yards. On the other hand, San Diego now has a three-headed hydra at wide receiver and running back, with Antonio Gates as the only proven offensive threat. That's not something NFL defenses are going to ignore in preparing for the Chargers at the beginning of the season.
Wednesday: Peyton Manning
Average: 3,706 ± 334 passing yards, 27 ± 2 TDs, 12 ± 2 INTs
Best-case scenario: 4,300 passing yards, 33 TDs, 6 INTs
Worst-case scenario: 2,100 passing yards, 20 TDs, 17 INTs
In about as big a surprise as the U.S. winning gold in women's basketball, Manning had the biggest error margins of our five WoC quarterbacks last week. Now, we do insist that predictions assume a full season, but there's no guarantee everyone follows directions. A worst-case scenario of 20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions seems reasonable, but I'm pretty sure Manning could have thrown for 2,100 yards from the trainer's table last season. Or maybe someone thinks Denver will be running an option-based attack again this season? (How awesome would that be?) Even if they did, Tim Tebow averaged 150.1 passing yards per start in 2011, which is more than Manning's worst-case average of 131.3 in 2012.
As much as I'd love to see Manning running behind right guard on third-and-3, I'm going to go with the didn't-follow-directions explanation. So, if we throw out our bad apple, then the (rest of the) crowd thinks his worst-case scenario is 3,600 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. Much better.
Also, if Manning hits that best-case scenario, it's practically a fait accompli that we'll be back in February to celebrate his Comeback Player of the Year award and second Super Bowl championship.
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Wednesday: Peyton Hillis
Average: 160 ± 18 carries, 679 ± 78 yards, 6 ± 2 TDs
Best-case scenario: 224 carries, 900 yards, 10 TDs
Worst-case scenario: 100 carries, 400 yards, 2 TDs
Thursday: BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Average: 225 ± 18 carries, 1,041 ± 70 yards, 9 ± 2 TDs
Best-case scenario: 325 carries, 1,300 yards, 15 TDs
Worst-case scenario: 200 carries, 750 yards, 4 TDs
A former workhorse leaves the AFC North to join a committee; a former committee member joins the AFC North to be a workhorse. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the divergent career paths of Hillis and Green-Ellis. That narrative helpfully fits the differences between their WoC projections as well: the crowd predicts a much bigger workload for Green-Ellis than Hillis. However, I think it's still an open question whether or not Jay Gruden uses newcomer Green-Ellis like he used mainstay Cedric Benson. Same goes for whether or not the exit of Todd Haley from Kansas City (finally) means Jamaal Charles gets a workload commensurate with his talent.
Workload aside, the WoC projection for Green-Ellis suggests his double-digit touchdown average over the past two seasons will move with him to Cincinnati, but his mediocre 4.1 yards per carry won't. Touchdowns are less consistent from year to year than yards, so a jump to 4.6 yards per carry in 2012 would be quite a quantum leap. Not impossible. Just not likely.
Thursday: DeMarco Murray
Average: 252 ± 16 carries, 1,150 ± 86 yards, 9 ± 1 TD
Best-case scenario: 317 carries, 1,428 yards, 12 TDs
Worst-case scenario: 190 carries, 850 yards, 6 TDs
Friday: Fred Jackson
Average: 233 ± 18 carries, 1,091 ± 102 yards, 9 ± 1 TD
Best-case scenario: 300 carries, 1,300 yards, 12 TDs
Worst-case scenario: 150 carries, 600 yards, 5 TDs
Before suffering their own lower-leg injuries late last season, Murray and Jackson were busy breaking defenders' ankles on their way to elite fantasy status. Murray's seven-game stretch of rushing from Week 7 to Week 13 prorates to a 210-point full season, and Jackson was on a 207-point pace through 10 games. Those full-season numbers, which don't even include receiving stats, would have ranked them in the top seven of total points for running backs.
From one season to the next, bone breaks tend to have fewer lingering effects than damage to ligaments or tendons, so there shouldn't be much concern going forward. It's true that some players justifiably earn the "injury-prone" label (hello, Darren McFadden), but Murray and Jackson don't have the history for it. The crowd seems to agree, although their specific stat predictions work out to fewer rushing points than the duo's 2011 pace.
Looking at the best- and worst-case scenarios, the crowd also seems to think Murray is the safer bet; why, I'm not sure. Yeah, no one in Dallas is hallucinating about Felix Jones being a feature back, so Murray has almost no competition for carries. The thing is, neither does Jackson. C.J. Spiller acquitted himself well during Jackson's absence, but he was involved in Buffalo's offensive game-planning about as much as I was through Week 11. If Jackson finishes with only 150 carries this year, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
Friday: James Starks
Average: 202 ± 18 carries, 876 ± 92 yards, 5 ± 1 TD
Best-case scenario: 290 carries, 1,150 yards, 6 TDs
Worst-case scenario: 160 carries, 640 yards, 4 TDs
Finally, there's Starks, whose WoC projection has officially been rendered irrelevant. If the first week is any indication, there's shaping up to be some kind of WoC curse this preseason. We set the list of players back in mid-July, and Trent Richardson was supposed to be the first running back. The very day of his scheduled WoC tweet, we hear of a visit to Dr. James Andrews. No problem. We'll just move the other guys up, and replace Richardson with someone else later in the week. Enter Starks. The very day of his tweet, the Benson rumor comes out, which we've now learned was due to Starks' struggles with turf toe.
One is a fluke. Two is a coincidence. Three is a trend. With another injury, our best fantasy advice this preseason might turn out to be, "avoid the WoC curse." We'll have an update in next week's installment.
For now, though, make sure to follow @fboutsiders on Twitter so you can participate in WoC. If you miss a day or two, don't worry. We have a running list of players in this Extra Point, which we'll keep on the front page for the duration.