Fantasy, in Theory: Revisiting Preseason Expectations

Comparing the reliability of early-season performance to average draft position when predicting scoring for the rest of the season.

Let’s talk about October traditions. Halloween decorations start going up around town. Suburban families start stockpiling fun-sized halloween candy, (I think the “fun” part is supposed to be seeing how many you can justify eating in one sitting). Businesses vie with each other to see what new and outlandish things they can apply the “pumpkin spice” label to.

(As an aside: am I the only one who finds it ominous how the “spice” part of that contrivance always remains so ambiguous? I’d never eat at a restaurant whose menu included items such as “seasoned meat”, “sweetened beverage”, or “prepared food”…)

One other October tradition? That’s right, it’s “Revisiting Preseason Expectations” week over here in Fantasy, in Theoryland!

Why are we revisiting preseason expectations?

After week four in October of 2013, I wanted to look at how much information early-season results really provided us. I was surprised to discover that performance through four weeks actually correlated with performance the rest of the way worse than preseason ADP did. In other words, the first quarter of the season tells us less, in aggregate, than we already knew during the offseason.

This is a surprising finding, and like any surprising finding, my first instinct is to try to disprove it. (Only once a surprising finding stands up to repeated reexaminations can we start to accept it as settled wisdom.)

To this end, I revisited the question in 2014. And then again in 2015. And now I’m doing it again in 2016.

Our Methodology

I have compiled a list of the top 24 quarterbacks, 36 running backs, 48 wide receivers, and 24 tight ends according to MFL’s 2015 preseason ADP. From that list, I have removed any player who missed more than one of his team’s first four games or more than two of his team’s last twelve games. As always, we’re looking by team games, rather than by week, to account for players with a week 4 bye.

I’ve used PPR scoring for this exercise, because that was easier for me to look up with the databases I had on hand. For the remaining players, I tracked where they ranked at their position over the first four games and over the final twelve games. Finally, I’ve calculated the correlation between preseason ADP and stretch performance, as well as the correlation between early performance and stretch performance.

Here’s the data:

QUARTERBACK

PlayerADPEarly RankLate Rank
Aaron Rodgers 2 2 14
Russell Wilson 3 9 3
Drew Brees 5 27 4
Matt Ryan 7 10 19
Tom Brady 8 1 5
Matt Stafford 9 21 9
Cam Newton 10 4 1
Ryan Tannehill 11 11 17
Eli Manning 12 16 8
Philip Rivers 13 7 13
Sam Bradford 14 20 24
Teddy Bridgewater 15 28 21
Carson Palmer 16 6 6
Jameis Winston 17 12 12
Derek Carr 19 17 11
Andy Dalton 20 3 22
Jay Cutler 21 31 16
Blake Bortles 22 13 2
Alex Smith 24 14 15

The average delta between ADP and stretch performance was 6.42 spots. The correlation was 0.260.

The average delta between early performance and stretch performance was 8.00 spots. The correlation was 0.215.

RUNNING BACK

PlayerADPEarly RankLate Rank
Adrian Peterson 1 5 5
Eddie Lacy 2 28 36
C.J. Anderson 4 57 32
DeMarco Murray 5 39 13
Jeremy Hill 7 17 30
LeSean McCoy 8 36 10
Lamar Miller 9 44 2
Frank Gore 10 19 12
Alfred Morris 11 45 60
Latavius Murray 12 8 17
Ameer Abdullah 16 29 47
Jonathan Stewart 17 51 15
Doug Martin 19 20 6
C.J. Spiller 20 48 63
Giovani Bernard 21 12 24
Chris Ivory 22 14 11
Joique Bell 23 64 43
Rashard Jennings 25 26 33
Isaiah Crowell 26 33 37
Shane Vereen 27 43 28
Devonta Freeman 29 1 1
Alfred Blue 30 50 48
Darren McFadden 31 58 8
Tre Mason 32 81 69
Duke Johnson Jr 33 25 26
Danny Woodhead 35 7 7
Knile Davis 36 75 109

The average delta between ADP and stretch performance was 19.22 spots. The correlation was 0.309.

The average delta between early performance and stretch performance was 15.37 spots. The correlation was 0.644.

WIDE RECEIVER

PlayerADPEarlyLate
Antonio Brown 1 3 1
Julio Jones 2 1 2
Odell Beckham Jr Jr. 3 19 3
Demaryius Thomas 4 12 14
Calvin Johnson 5 26 13
A.J. Green 6 7 11
Randall Cobb 7 9 38
T.Y. Hilton 8 32 24
Mike Evans 9 70 12
Brandin Cooks 10 44 8
DeAndre Hopkins 11 4 6
Emmanuel Sanders 12 18 27
Jordan Matthews 13 25 25
Amari Cooper 14 15 28
Golden Tate 15 47 16
Andre Johnson 17 110 49
Sammy Watkins 18 71 15
Jeremy Maclin 19 13 20
Jarvis Landry 20 17 9
Brandon Marshall 21 6 4
Devante Adams 22 83 61
Allen Robinson 25 23 5
Mike Wallce 27 37 90
Larry Fitzgerald 29 2 17
Roddy White 30 97 56
John Brown 31 38 23
Torrey Smith 32 49 60
Eric Decker 33 35 10
Michael Floyd 34 92 21
Anquan Boldin 35 55 37
Devin Funchess 38 130 64
DeVante Parker 39 125 75
Marques Colston 40 57 48
Pierre Garcon 41 27 39
Terrance Williams 42 43 51
Markus Wheaton 44 64 41
Dorial Green-Beckham 46 81 53
Kenny Stills 48 67 76

The average delta between ADP and stretch performance was 14.18 spots. The correlation was 0.648.

The average delta between early performance and stretch performance was 22.42 spots. The correlation was 0.632.

TIGHT END

PlayerADPEarlyLate
Rob Gronkowski 1 1 5
Greg Olsen 2 8 3
Travis Kelce 3 2 8
Jason Witten 4 3 14
Jordan Cameron 6 23 30
Zach Ertz 7 29 7
Delanie Walker 9 16 1
Owen Daniels 10 21 16
Kyle Rudolph 11 20 13
Josh Hill 14 41 46
Coby Fleener 15 15 22
Eric Ebron 16 11 18
Vernon Davis 17 31 28
Maxx Williams 18 36 35
Heath Miller 19 19 15
Jordan Reed 20 5 2
Richard Rodgers 21 13 11
Ben Watson 22 26 6
Jared Cook 23 22 26
Clive Walford 24 68 21

The average delta between ADP and stretch performance was 9.15 spots. The correlation was 0.295.

The average delta between early performance and stretch performance was 9.25 spots. The correlation was 0.559.

CONCLUSIONS

In 2016, preseason ADP was slightly more predictive at quarterback and wide receiver, and much less predictive at running back and tight end. Across all four positions, the correlation between preseason ADP and stretch performance was 0.548. The correlation between early performance and stretch performance was 0.659.

Rounding up all years worth of data into one handy chart, here are how things stand:

YearsPreseason correlationEarly season correlation
2010-2012 0.578 0.471
2013 0.649 0.655
2014 0.466 0.560
2015 0.548 0.659

After my initial finding that preseason ADP better predicted stretch performance than early-season performance did over the 2010-2012 seasons, each of the seasons from 2013 to 2015 has given a slight edge to early-season performance in reliability. It’s possible that this represents some structural trend in the NFL. It’s also possible that data is noisy and random is random.

Either way, the correlations have been fairly close each time, close enough for me to declare that it’s not until week four that the new information we’ve gained approaches an approximate equilibrium with all of the information we had to enter the season.

One last note must be made; because I am excluding players who missed substantial time, these data are subject to selection bias. Players who lose their job due to underperformance rather than injury will not be counted, and they would surely drive the correlations for early-season performance up.

I've included all of the data used, so please feel free to peruse at your leisure and draw your own conclusions.


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