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 2012 season, I decided to take the #24 WR for the year (Miles Austin, 196.3 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 9.1|
|Quality Start||9.2 to 15.3|
Table 1: 2012 WR Quality Start and Fantasy Point Ranges - PPR Scoring
Table 2 shows us the breakdown of all the Top 75 WRs from 2012 and how many of each type of start resulted for each:
Table 2: 2012 WR Start Types Sorted By Top 75 WRs - PPR Scoring
That's a lot of info to digest, so let me help. First, we see that there are about 10% more Excellent Starts (355) than there are Quality Starts (319), which marks the first time since 2008 that we had more Excellent than Quality Starts. The numbers were closer and favored Quality Starts the past three seasons (315-340 in 2011, 332-381 in 2010 and 332-348 in 2009). The net total of both categories was higher by almost 10% in 2008 (384-2820 and 2009, which might indicate that stud WRs are starting to separate themselves a bit more than the next few tiers of NFL wide receivers. There are also a lot of Bad Starts (412), 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 RB 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|
Table 3: 2012 WR Start Types Sorted By Value - PPR Scoring
This is a lot of information once again, but some names leap out at us. For example, Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, Wes Welker, Reggie Wayne, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker were the only wide receivers with a positive Net Value that had fewer than two or less Bad Starts in all of 2012. Thomas and Decker received the added boost because of Peyton Manning’s big year, a fact that should help both receivers and now Wes Welker this season. Other names at the top of the list that catch my eye are receivers that had a positive score despite missing a few games – Percy Harvin (+5, 10 games), Cecil Shorts (+5, 14), Danario Alexander (+4, 8), Antonio Brown (+3, 13) and Pierre Garcon (+2, 10). If these receivers can figure out how to stay on the field in 2013 and play all 16 contests then they could be huge values in fantasy drafts this season.
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 36 WRs on the 2013 ADP list.
|Wide Receiver||Team||Excellent||Quality||Bad||Total||Net Val||ADP|
Table 4: 2013 Top Drafted WRs Sorted By 2012 Value - PPR Scoring
Note that Tavon Austin is not included due to his rookie status, and Greg Jennings is also missing because of his injury issues last season.
Judging form 2012, it would appear that Reggie Wayne would be the best value by far if he was a lock to repeat his fantastic numbers, with Eric Decker not far behind. As mentioned earlier, Cecil Shorts has great value but Jacksonville’s offense can be pretty shaky. I would love Shorts as a WR3 in a PPR league but not much higher than that. James Jones, Danario Alexander and Miles Austin lead the class of valuable WR3s on the market who can outperform expectations, another confirmation of the depth of the WR3 pool for 2013. Lastly there are four wide receivers that are on the list that are not in the Top 36 – Lance Moore (WR41), Anquan Boldin (WR38), Malcom Floyd (WR60) and DeSean Jackson (WR37). I felt that it would be a terrible oversight to omit these great value wide receivers that can be had after many lesser quality 2012 WRs go off the board.
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. Dwayne Bowe (-1 Net Value) seems to find a spot on this list each year, but maybe Andy Reid can help Bowe and the Chiefs to turn it around. I just know I would not overpay to have Bowe on my team. Jordy Nelson could be a sleeper if he becomes Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target this year, but only if he falls past Round 4. Hakeem Nicks must stay healthy, else he will not be worth a Top 50 pick either. Larry Fitzgerald could be a value considering he gets Carson Palmer at quarterback now, a huge improvement for Arizona from last year. That brings up an important point, which is that all of this is based solely on last year's results. There is no reason to believe in these numbers as indications of 2013 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.