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 overall 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. This is a change from the way we have written these pieces in the past, but we think it's a good one -- 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 at all. Obviously, which players are underrated or overrated by ADP may change if your league has non-standard rules.
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FPOB rank: 24
ADP rank: 15
At his best, Sam Bradford has never been more than an average fantasy quarterback. In 2012, he threw for 3,702 yards and 21 touchdowns, and he finished 16th among quarterbacks in fantasy points that year. And remember, that was his best year. He ranked 19th as a rookie in 2010, and otherwise has never finished higher than 30th. That's largely due to a failure to stay healthy -- Bradford started 16 games in both 2010 and 2012, but has missed at least six games in every other year of his career, including all 16 games in 2014. Now, apparently, a lot of fantasy players think he'll be better than ever before operating Chip Kelly's offense. His average draft rank among quarterbacks is 15th, which means a lot of people must be taking him even higher than that.
Fortunately we have a case study for a career mediocrity who then moved into Kelly's offense. In 62 starts with the Jets, Mark Sanchez never completed more than 57 percent of his passes or averaged more than 6.7 yards per pass. In nine games in Philadelphia last year (eight starts and one 22-pass relief appearance), he completed 64 percent of his passes and averaged 7.8 yards per throw. His DVOA of -1.4% was also a career-high, besting the -4.8% mark he produced in 2010. And most importantly for this article, he was a much better fantasy player too, averaging 15.4 points per game last year, a huge increase from the 11.5 points per game he mustered during his Jets career. That seems like good news for Bradford, but it's actually a double-edged sword, because Sanchez is still on the roster. If Bradford struggles early, will Kelly hesitate to put Sanchez on the field?
If you take Bradford high in the draft, you're betting that he won't revert back to his pre-2012 days; that he will improve even further under Kelly's guidance; that this will be one of the rare seasons when he manages to stay healthy; and that Sanchez won't take his job. That's too many questions to rate him any higher than a late-round backup.
FPOB rank: 21
ADP rank: 16
Look, we like Teddy Bridgewater. Really, we do. But 16th among quarterbacks is a little optimistic for a guy who was 22nd at the position last year. Even if you prorate his 13-game performance (including one 20-pass relief stint) to 16 games, he still would only have been 20th. His over-hyped draft stock might have to do with his hot streak to finish the year -- he averaged 221.5 yards and 0.7 touchdowns in his first six starts, but 240.0 yards and 1.7 touchdowns in his last six. However, as we discussed in the Minnesota chapter of Football Outsiders Almanac 2015 (on sale now!), there is no correlation between a quarterback's rise or fall in the second half of his rookie season with that same quarterback's performance in his second year. Those first six starts happened, and they were crummy, and they must be considered when projecting Bridgewater's future numbers.
Furthermore, the Vikings figure to be running the ball a lot this year -- Adrian Peterson is back, as you might have heard -- which would put a cap on Bridgewater's production.
FPOB rank: 9
ADP rank: 5
Here we have a case where the masses are ignoring long-term trends in favor of very recent events. Last season was something of a fluke for Ben Roethlisberger. He finished fifth among quarterbacks in fantasy points, his first season inside the top 10 since 2009, and first inside the top five since 2007. Historically, he has been something of a fringe starter in fantasy leagues. Now, he is probably playing with the best receivers he has had in his career, and he certainly has higher upside than the Roethlisberger of old. Still, we see him as second-tier fantasy starter, and it's likely that somebody in your league will draft him when there are better passers on the table.
FPOB rank: 30
ADP rank: 23
You probably weren't thinking much of drafting Spiller anyway, but in case you thought it wise, let's put that notion to bed. Spiller was seventh among running backs in fantasy points in 2012, but ranked 27th or worse in each of his other four seasons. He's now in New Orleans, where he'll certainly enjoy playing with Drew Brees, but he's third on the depth chart behind Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson. Spiller has always been a boom-or-bust player -- he has only gone over 50 yards from scrimmage in a game 37 times in his five-year career, but has averaged 102.0 yards in those 37 games -- and there's a good chance he'll score on a few long runs or catches this season. He's not reliable, though, and in this case the boom is definitely not worth the bust.
(These comments apply primarily to standard leagues; in PPR leagues, Spiller is definitely worth more and may match that ADP. Then again, his ADP would also be higher if the figure only represented PPR leagues.)
FPOB rank: 25
ADP rank: 18
A sixth-round draft choice in 2013, Murray missed his rookie season with an ankle injury, then surprised the Raiders by averaging 5.2 yards on 82 carries last year, topping 85 yards from scrimmage against the Chiefs, Bills, 49ers, and Broncos. However, 90 of those rushing yards came on one run against Kansas City; take that one play out and Murray's average carry drops to 4.1. Darren McFadden's departure makes Murray the unquestioned top runner in Oakland, but this is still a developing, unproven player on a developing, unproven team, and he shouldn't be trusted to reliably produce.
FPOB rank: 6
ADP rank: 1
Earlier we said the Vikings would be a run-heavy team, yet here we say Adrian Peterson is also overrated. What gives? Well, we think Peterson will be a very good running back in fantasy football and a clear starter, but we don't think he'll be the best running back in fantasy football. Let's not forget that he ranked 11th among running backs in 2013 and 2011. Of course, in between, he ran for 2,097 yards and was the best player in all of fantasy football, but it's not like he should be expected to hit that mark every season. Jerick McKinnon (4.8 yards per carry and 11.5% DVOA on 113 runs as a rookie last year) could also eat into Peterson's opportunities. You want to keep your 30-year-old backs fresh.
A bigger issue, perhaps, is that the top 10 running backs in our projections are very tightly clustered this year. Including risk factor and playoff adjustments, we're projecting Le'veon Bell to lead all running backs with 240 fantasy points (the playoff adjustment offsets his two-game suspension to start the year), while we're projecting LeSean McCoy to finish 10th with 195 points. That's a gap of only 45 points, which is the smallest of the past six years.
|Gap Between First- and 10th-place RBs in KUBIAK, 2010-2015|
|Year||No. 1 RB||Proj. Pts.||No. 10 RB||Proj. Pts||Gap|
|2010||Chris Johnson||257||Michael Turner||175||82|
|2011||Ray Rice||259||Michael Turner||198||61|
|2012||Ray Rice||264||DeMarco Murray||167||97|
|2013||Adrian Peterson||253||Trent Richardson||205||48|
|2014||LeSean McCoy||256||Marshawn Lynch/Doug Martin||188||68|
|2015||Le'Veon Bell||240||Lesean McCoy||195||45|