Roundtable Week 13

Our panelists discuss football subjects that have humbled them this year, preemptive playoff stashes, underrated NFL players, and partake in a game of fantasy true-false. 

Welcome to this week's roundtable, where our fearless panel of fantasy pundits dive preemptive playoff stashes, play a game of fantasy true-false, share which NFL players they think are underrated, and share a football-related topic that has humbled them this year.

With this in mind, let's examine what we think about these topics as we head into Week 13:

Let's roll...

Humble Pie

Matt Waldman: Happy Thanksgiving fellas, have a slice of humble pie. Take a piece and pass it around the table. Leave enough for everyone so that each of you can share something during the past 365 days that has humbled you about your knowledge of the game.

Jeff Pasquino: The first bite for me is that Pittsburgh could not survive losing two of the three "B"s in their offense. No Le'Veon Bell and no Antonio Brown left Big Ben a big mess. That led to the third "B", which was a broken Ben Roethlisberger—and a trash heap in the wake that is the Pittsburgh offense.

Not even JuJu could have enough "ju-ju" to survive and perform as an elite receiver. I thought that the Steelers could keep on putting up solid fantasy numbers, but such was not the case this year. Not even the departed Brown and Bell could live up to their lofty rankings entering 2019, and I fell into that trap.

Jason Wood: I've mentioned this previously, but we (myself included) have got to get better at assimilating the offensive line into our projections models. Most don't bother at all, and those who do really are going by feel for how talented a unit is and knocking players up or down a tier depending on changes to the line. Few, if any, are able to effectively address the impact changes have in terms of cohesion and game-to-game impact. Yet, it's a massive facet of what makes offenses succeed or fail.

Sean Settle: I have spent more time this year examining wide receiver-cornerback matchups than ever before. I signed up to write a new article here and it has made me look at things from a whole new direction. I used to just look at receiver matchups against a defense as a whole and not just based on who would be in coverage or how a defense performs against a particular type of receiver.

For example, the Saints defense has been towards the lower end at covering receivers, but Marshon Lattimore has shut down Mike Evans both times the teams have met. He shutout Evans the first time they played in the season and I would have never considered that matchup until this year. Benching Evans would have never crossed my mind until I started looking at specific coverages and matchups and that is something I have done for the first time this year.

Maurile Tremblay: I do player projections each week, and I keep track of how far reality departs from my projections in a range of areas. One area where such divergence is often sizable is in my predicted number of offensive plays a given team will run in a game.

It's hard to predict because it depends on a whole variety of factors, among them: how long the team typically lets the play clock run down before snapping the ball, on average; the team's run-pass ratio; the team's ability to sustain drives; the team's ability, on defense, to prevent the opposing team from sustaining drives; and how each of those factors can change depending on whether the team is ahead or behind, and by how much.

That last factor is often especially important and is complicated by the fact that, unavoidably, game scripts are rather stochastic. I build betting lines and over/under from sportsbooks into my projections model, and while I think they are the best predictors of a game script available, they are regularly pretty far off.

So it's hard. And I'm significantly wrong quite often. But I think it's an area where I can find incremental improvements as I refine my approach ... a task I plan to spend meaningful effort on this offseason.

Justin Howe: I’ve been sucked in—and burned—too often by chasing matchups, as usual. Volume tells the tale, not matchup, far more often than not. A workhorse back facing the Buccaneers’ stout run defense is almost always a better play than praying Matt Breida will light up the Bengals over 8-10 touches. Besides, often the matchup for DeAndre Hopkins or Stefon Diggs is so attractive because their opponent isn’t just a bad pass defense: it’s a bad team in general. That speaks to game flow, which speaks to volume expectation, which can swing a fantasy week wildly, even for names like those.

Waldman: I evaluate skill positions for a living and the wide receiver humbles me annually. There are several reasons why.

The variability of grades that NFL teams assign receivers makes the projection of a receiver's success a difficult job. I've broached this before with readers but every year, there are teams that will assign a receiver a grade as high as a second-round value while the rest of the league has him somewhere between the fourth round and undrafted.

Because draft capital often determines the number of practice reps a player earns and it inherently generates a bias among coaches to be more forgiving of errors and still think the prospect has promise, draft capital may be an inaccurate method of predicting talent but it has merits as an indicator of meaningful opportunities.

Grades for receivers are so variable because there are three different positions within the title "wide receiver" and some receivers will have higher or lower grades based on those positions a team seeks. In addition, teams may value the combinations of roles that a receiver can play differently.

Then there are the technical skills of the position and determining which skills are the easiest to learn and which are the most difficult to master if not already refined during college. The deeper I got into the wide receiver position, the more subtleties I learn that have significance for evaluating the position.

Although I've had my share of successes with evaluating the position, I've been far from satisfied with my process. This fall, I've researched the work of some experienced wide receiver coaches and have an entire wall of notes in my offense that will be applied to the Rookie Scouting Portfolio's evaluation process for the position.

Because I choose to evaluate talent rather than predict draft spot, my grades will always have stark differences than many NFL teams. I'm ok with this despite it meaning some players I like more or less will have easier or more difficult paths to playing time for the bias I mentioned. The thing I want to improve is refining my understanding of the subtleties of the position to the point that I can do a better job of outlining a range of possibilities for individual players that transcend a grade.

I believe I do this well with running backs and quarterbacks. I want to do this better with receivers.

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