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Being a Fantasy Elitist, Part I

Why You Should Exclusively Target Elite Offenses in Your Fantasy Drafts

Despite the title above, the thesis of this two-part series isn't to persuade readers to start wearing smoking jackets and bow-ties while discussing the flavor profiles of French wines and quoting Dante's Inferno in the original Italian. If you don't get the reference, then your taste in sitcoms with a bad final episode that were otherwise really well-executed isn't the same as mine. Let's just move on to the actual definition of elitist, shall we?

Elitist (noun)

a person having, thought to have, or professing superior intellect or talent, power, wealth, or membership in the upper echelons of society

Being an elitist in fantasy football terms is what everyone strives to be. We all want to be the smartest guy (or gal) in our league, have the talent to evaluate players properly, have the power to influence owners into beneficial trades, and have the wealth after winning the title.

In order to become elite, rubbing elbows with other elite members of society is good start. In fantasy football terms, this translates into having players from high-quality NFL offenses on our roster.

So which offenses are best? Back in June, our Sigmund Bloom ranked the NFL offenses. Sigmund's premise here was two-fold: a) high-performing offenses produce high-performing fantasy assets; and b) we can generally predict the high-performing offenses in the preseason.

Why Target Specific Offenses?

At the risk of undermining the rest of this article, the following statement must be made: if targeting high-powered offenses seems like common sense, that's because it is. After all, the more production an offense generates, the more fantasy production it yields. 

While this broad-sweeping notion seems like common sense, it's very easy for fantasy owners to be tempted by the occasional touchdown-heavy wide receiver or offensive centerpiece running back. Players like Jamaal Charles and Matt Forte at running back and Mike Evans at wide receiver all provide real examples of exceptions to the rule of targeting elite offenses. But how frequently do these exceptions occur? Excluding the centerpiece running backs, the answer is "not very."

I examined results from 2013 and 2014 in order to give a litmus test to the notion that elite NFL offenses produce far more fantasy starters than lackluster ones. For the sake of simplicity, I split the NFL into thirds. When referring to "bad offenses" below, that includes offenses ranked 22nd or worse in the NFL. When referring to "good offenses," that includes those ranked 11th or better. All rankings are based on total yardage.

PositionBad Offense Top-12 FinishesGood Offense Top-12 Finishes
QB 1 16
RB 3 12
WR 0 19
TE 5 13

To qualify a top-12 finish, I examined fantasy points per game to avoid situations that might be misleading due to injuries. All points were based on PPR scoring.

Notable Items

Bad Offenses

  • 2013 Cam Newton was the lone bad offense quarterback. His 587 rushing yards and six touchdowns led all top-20 quarterbacks.
  • The bad offense running backs were all centerpieces of their respective lackluster offenses – 2014 Jamaal Charles, 2014 Andre Ellington (prior to injury), and 2013 Chris Johnson.
  • Yes, zero bad offense wide receivers finished top-12.
  • The closest was 2014 Mike Evans, who finished as WR13. Evans' 12 touchdowns helped him overcome only 68 receptions and playing on the league's third-worst offense.
  • The tight end position appears to be very random and touchdown-dependent.

Good Offenses

  • In 2014, a whopping nine of the top-12 quarterback finishers came from top-11 offenses.
  • At QB12, Ryan Tannehill captained the league's 14th-best offense.
  • Philadelphia (5th) and New England (11th) were the only good offenses not represented in the top-12. Tom Brady finished as QB13 – a narrow miss – and Philadelphia's quarterback situation was very fluid throughout the season due to injuries.
  • Exactly one-half of all RB1 finishers came from good NFL offenses. That's 33% yielding 50% of the RB1 results.
  • Those results aren't weighted by one year over the other, as 2013 and 2014 produced exactly six good offense top-12 running back finishes each.
  • Once again, wide receiver has the biggest correlation. It's commonly discussed that the receiver position is the most dependent among the fantasy positions, so this is quite logical.

Conclusions

  1. Draft wide receivers from good offenses. Any exceptions should be clear "target hogs" in their middling offenses. Do not draft wide receivers from bad offenses.
  2. If straying from good offenses at running back, it better be for a player who is the centerpiece of his team's offensive strategy (i.e. a Charles/Forte type who will get the lion's share of carries and also a minimum of 40 receptions).
  3. If selecting a quarterback from a team you don't think will be a good offense, he should probably be a rushing threat to overcome his lackluster offense.
  4. The five bad offense tight ends and general randomness to the positional results suggest that this is the only position where owners can relax the good offense constraints and overcome rostering a player from a bad offense.

There is one concession that should be made as Part I comes to a close: using past results to examine other past results isn't the most scientific way to arrive at conclusions. Obviously, good offensive performance and high fantasy finishes will have a strong correlation as the former begets the latter. This exercise was simply to confirm the notion and see which position(s) have a stronger correlation than the others.

While we have no way of knowing exactly how the NFL's offenses will finish 2015, we can make a pretty solid educated guess as to the "good" and "bad" offenses (as Bloom did with his rankings article). Part II will be a look into the future as we'll use Average Draft Position data and select our players based on Bloom's assumptions. Come back next week for Part II!

Questions, comments, suggestions, and other feedback on this piece are always welcome via e-mail hester@footballguys.com