There are some fantasy football players that believe that the lineup you pick can lose you a game just as much as it can win a contest. Having a player give you a consistent performance week after week can be considered more valuable than a player who goes off every third week and then takes two weeks off between those fantastic performances. Consistency has a value, and it does not take much of a leap to understand that players that you can rely on for solid games when you need them (such as in your postseason) are a huge advantage.
Baseball has a term called "Quality Starts" for pitchers, which is a statistic that represents how often a starting pitcher will put up a good (not great, just good) performance in a given game. The bar is set neither high nor low (six innings pitched, three earned runs or fewer) so as to gauge a decent performance. The theory behind it is that if your pitcher gives you a Quality Start, your team has a fighting chance to win a given game.
So now we need to translate this to football. What is "quality" for each position? How do we define a "Quality Start" for quarterbacks or running backs or any other position? Looking back at the 2015 season, I decided to take the #24 WR for the year (Jordan Matthews, 146.7 fantasy points) and take that fantasy total and divide it by 16 for a per game average. Now a case can be made to argue against doing this. I did not account for missed games or a per-start performance metric, but I believe that the numbers will get averaged out by doing this method. Also, taking WR24 seems a bit arbitrary, but if you are looking for a bare minimum of quality, the 24th WR should be the "worst starter" in your fantasy league as a WR2 and a great WR3.
So now we move on to the next question - one of quantifying the quality. At what point do we decide whether or not a wide receiver has given us a quality performance? Here is where it gets a bit murky, but looking at the distribution of WR performances by starters over the season and it becomes evident that the using the 24th WR average and adding or subtracting a percentage gives us a good range for a WR Quality Start.
Using the WR Quality Start range, we can also define a bad performance or an excellent performance as either falling below or exceeding the Quality Start range. Table 1 gives us the fantasy points that it takes to fall in each of the three areas:
|WR Start Type||Fantasy Points|
|Bad Start||0 to 6.8|
|Quality Start||6.9 to 11.4|
Table 1: 2015 WR Quality Start and Fantasy Point Ranges - Standard Scoring
Table 2 shows us the breakdown of all the Top 75 WRs from 2015 and how many of each type of start resulted for each:
|Ted Ginn Jr.||CAR||5||6||3||14|
Table 2: 2015 WR Start Types Sorted By Top 75 WRs - Standard Scoring
That's a lot of info to digest, so let me help. First, we see that there are far more Excellent Starts (316) than Quality Starts (252), a difference of 64 starts. That difference has been even larger in several of the past seasons, with 2014 at 108 (331 Excellent, 223 Quality Starts), simiarl to 2012 at 104 (355 Excellent, 251 Quality Starts), 2011 at 106 (346, 240) and 2010 at 112 (334, 222). Last year's difference of 66 was comparable to 2013, another year with a difference under 100, when it was 318 Excellent Starts versus 240 Quality Starts - a testament to how low the "Excellence" was that season. It also should be noted that the Excellent score is much higher that 2015 (11.5+ points vs. 10.6), which certainly makes Excellence harder to attain. The disparity between the two metrics of Excellent and Quality Starts does start to rise since there is no PPR in the equation now - touchdowns for six big points are a much larger factor. The scoring range is also smaller and the range of a Quality Start is small due to lower scores, so more touchdowns would lead to bigger "Excellent Starts". There were a lot of Bad Starts in 2015 (464), but we are only looking for the best here, plus a "start" is not as definitive for a positional player that may just see partial playing time. The net results look like a good trend, which means that our distribution is close to normal and that our baseline point range does make sense.
Now, to dig deeper, let's look at the numbers distributed in two different ways. First, I need to define a valuable starting wide receiver in this system. We want a WR that will win more fantasy games than lose them, so we want either "Quality" or "Excellent" starts. Using a simple formula of scoring each type of start, we can define the value of a given NFL wide receiver. Here is the formula:
STARTING FANTASY WR VALUE = EXCELLENT STARTS - BAD STARTS
We neglect to look at Quality Starts because they neither win games nor lose them on average - they are just average WR performances. We only really care about how often he helps our team vs. how often he hurts it. Giving a "-1" value to bad starts and "+1" to excellent ones does this for us.
On with the results, sorted by value:
|Wide Receiver||Team||Excellent||Quality||Bad||Total||Net Val|
|Ted Ginn Jr.||CAR||5||6||3||14||2|
Table 3: 2015 WR Start Types Sorted By Value - Standard Scoring
This is a lot of information once again, but some names leap out at us. The first observation is that there are an extraordinary number of receivers with a positive Net Value that had fewer than three or less Bad Starts in all of 2015, including 11 of the Top 15 names on the list. Further, of the 15 wide receivers with a Net Value of +2 or greater, only four of them had four or more bad starts. That tells you that if you had started any of the Top 15 wideouts on this list last year, you had a 75% or higher chance of them either helping your team get a fantasy victory or at worst providing a competitive point total. It is decidedly clear that getting two top notch receivers on your fantasy team is critical to success in today's pass-happy NFL.
Lastly I will sift through it for you and get right to the heart of the matter with our final table. Here we have the results sorted by value for the Top 48 WRs on the 2016 ADP list.
|Wide Receiver||Team||Excellent||Quality||Bad||Total||Net Val||ADP|
Table 4: 2016 Top Drafted WRs Sorted By 2015 Value - Standard Scoring
Note that three rookies (Corey Coleman, Laquon Treadwell and Sterling Shepard) are listed at the bottom of this list along with three receivers (Jordy Nelson, Kelvin Benjamin and Kevin White) that were injured most or all of 2015. This year I expanded the list to a Top 48 to provide more detail for fantasy drafts this season.
Judging form 2015, there are some definite values at the top of the chart. If you believe that Ryan Fitzpatrick will return to the Jets, or that the passing game will be competitive even if he does not, both Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are tremendous values. Top feature receivers on teams with suspect running games rose to the top of the chart last year, as one might expect. Secondary targets on solid passing games such as John Brown or Allen Hurns are also strong value plays. Lastly, players coming off of disappointing or injury-related seasons (such as Steve Smith of the Ravens) can also provide value.
On the flip side, we have to take a long look at the wide receivers in the Top 36 that are hard to justify their place here based on Quality Starts from last season. Much is expected of Dez Bryant this year, but his numbers were not good in 2015. Was it related to the Cowboys struggles without Tony Romo, or the loss of balance on offense, or Dez Bryant's injury woes? Perhaps it wall all of the above, but given his high ADP and the likelihood of Dallas getting back to running the ball more has me looking elsewhere at the end of Round 1 or in Round 2 for a top notch receiver. Golden Tate is another receiver with concerns, both on the chart (-7 Net Value) and the loss of Calvin Johnson (retired) in Detroit. Could Tate become an elite receiver this year? Possibly - but last year's statistics for Tate should give you some doubt. That reminds me to provide the annual warning with this data - there is no reason to believe in these numbers as 100% indicationsof 2016 performance, but having this information available should give you more to think about when deciding who you will have leading your fantasy team this year.
Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org.