It's time once again for our preseason series on True Fantasy Points (TFP), which enters its fourth season on Footballguys. Readers can consult previous years for a more thorough explanation of the methodology (2015, 2016, 2017), but the basic idea underlying the system is that, although most fantasy football players are aware of regression to the mean, most don't know how to adjust projections for small sample sizes mathematically. For example, most know that DeShaun Watson's stratospheric per-attempt stats last season must come back down to Earth, but most simply guess at how much they'll fall. (More on that later.)
With the hard part done (i.e., making the above calculations), the rest is easy. It's just multiplying these "true" rate stats by David Dodds' volume projections in order to obtain stat totals, and then applying Footballguys' standard scoring system to said stat totals. The final result is TFP, which can be thought of as an answer to the question, "How many fantasy points would a player score if we could mathemagically eliminate luck from the equation?"
But why ask the question in the first place? Well, it's so that you can properly value players in your draft(s). A player whose TFP is lower than Dodds' standard point projection is likely being selected earlier than they should be, and vice versa.
Speaking of which, below is a table showing Dodds' projections, TFP, and their difference for 25 starting quarterbacks returning to their 2017 team:
||Dodds' Stats||True Stats||Points|
Although the "True Stats" and "TFP" columns contain information you won't find anywhere else, the "Diff" column is where to focus attention for the purpose of identifying value. As the table proceeds from top to bottom, the "Diff" column proceeds from the most overvalued fantasy quarterback to the most undervalued fantasy quarterback according to what their "true" rate stats suggest. For instance, Russell Wilson is the second-most undervalued quarterback because his "true" rates suggests he would score 359.3 points across 513 projected attempts; whereas Dodds' projects only 330.9 points across that many attempts.
THE TRINITY OF 2018 REGRESSION TO THE MEAN
Three of the quarterbacks starting once again for their 2017 team have received particular scrutiny this offseason due to their performances over small sample sizes. DeShaun Watson only started six games, but his 9.3% TD% was so much better than the league average that everyone's identified it as unsustainable in the long run. Ditto Carson Wentz's 7.5% TD% in 2017, although at least we have his 2.6% TD% as a starter in 2016 to more clearly see regression to the mean on the horizon. And finally, there's Jimmy Garoppolo, who had a 2017 sample size akin to Watson's, but whose unsustainable performance was with respect to YPA, not TD%.
All of which is to say that separating the wheat from the chaff among among these three quarterbacks can provide an edge in 2018 fantasy drafts. And from the above table, it's clear that Watson and Garoppolo are the wheat, while Wentz is the chaff. With respect to Watson, after mathematically adjusting for regression to the mean, it turns out his True TD% still ranks fifth among these 25 quarterbacks.. Similarly, if he had qualified for the official rankings, then Watson's 8.3 YPA last season would have outpaced the league leader, Drew Brees. And yet, it turns out that, even after accounting for the small sample, Watson's True YPA only drops to an eighth-ranked 7.6 heading into 2018.
Garoppolo's 8.8 YPA would have outpaced Brees even more so than Watson's if he had amassed a qualifying number of attempts. But because both he and Watson have a similar number of attempts with Houston and San Francisco, respectively, it makes sense then adjusting for sample size results in Garoppolo's True YPA being slightly better than Watson's (7.7, ranked sixth).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the math shows that Wentz's True TD% heading into 2018 is a 14th-ranked 4.6%, which represents a precipitous drop from his league-leading figure in 2017.
undervalued: Eli Manning
It's odd that both pundits and the public alike have soured so much on Manning, considering that his "dismal" 2017 came with a lame-duck head coach, no running game, and a primary target of rookie tight end Evan Engram rather than perennial Pro Bowler Odell Beckham. To boot, he's only one year removed from a 4,027/26/16 stat line and now has Saquon Barkley as a weapon in addition to Beckham, Engram, and Sterling Shepard. It's not surprising, then, that the math of regression to the mean suggests Manning's 2018 per-attempt rates will hew closer to his True 7.1 YPA and True 4.6% TD% than last season's 6.1 YPA and 3.3% TD%.
overvalued: Matthew Stafford
In 2017, Stafford massively outperformed his "true" stats across his board. Going into the season, he had a True YPA of 7.2, a True TD% of 4.4%, and a True INT% of 2.4%. That turned into 7.9 YPA, 5.1% TD%, and 1.8% INT% over the course of his next 16 games. What goes up is likely to go down. To his credit, Dodds does project a modicum of regression to the mean; just not as much as Stafford's "true" stats suggest.
Bringing these last two sections together, astute readers will have noticed that Stafford's TFP is only 5.9 points higher than Manning's, yet he's currently being selected nearly 70 picks earlier.