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 2016 season, I decided to take the #24 WR for the year based on a points per game ranking, rather than based on total points as I had done in some previous years. The reason is simple - when stud wide receivers are available (like A.J. Green or Dez Bryant), you play them - but when they are hurt, you don't. So rather than exclude studs who get hurt for several games from the analysis, elite receivers with high averages are now included even though he missed time. That changes our outlook just slightly, as now our WR24 is Emmanuel Sanders (212.6 fantasy points, or 13.3 per game) instead of Pierre Garcon (201.1, 12.6 per game). It is a subtle change, but I think a better one, so I will use that for receivers going forwards. 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 9.9|
|Quality Start||10.0 to 16.6|
Table 1: 2016 WR Quality Start and Fantasy Point Ranges - PPR Scoring
Table 2 shows us the breakdown of all the Top 75 WRs from 2016 and how many of each type of start resulted for each:
|Ted Ginn Jr||CAR||2||5||9||16|
Table 2: 2016 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 for the first time since 2011, Quality Starts were much more abundant (357) compared to Excellent Starts (267) last season. That is contrary to the past three years, where there were far more Excellent Starts (310, 325, 322 from 2015 to 2013) and fewer Quality Starts (357, 305 and 290, respectively). The reason is hard to pinpoint, although it is worth noticing that the total of Quality and Excellent Starts in all four seasons are comparable (from 603 to 624). The threshold for Excellent Starts has been slowly climbing since 2009, but it had stabilized for the past four seasons, with 2015 nearly identical to 2016. Partial reason could go towards fewer wide receiver receptions in 2016 (497 compared to 519 in 2015), but even if those 22 touchdowns moved 22 Quality Starts to Excellent Starts, it still would not make last season's numbers align with the previous three campaigns. My thought is that quarterbacks are spreading the ball around more evenly, creating more quality receivers than excellent ones, and making it harder for defenses to key in on just one elite receiver. Table 3 below gives a quick summary of the data from the past seasons:
|Year||Excellent Starts||Quality Starts||Excellent Starts Threshold|
Table 3: Excellent and Quality Starts - 2009 to 2016 - PPR Scoring
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|
Table 4: 2016 WR Start Types Sorted By Value - PPR Scoring
This is a lot of information once again, but some names leap out at us. The first observation is that there was just one receiver on the entire list with just one Bad Start (Jordy Nelson) and only one with just two (T.Y. Hilton), with a total of only eight players overall with three or less - all of which happen to appear on the Top 15 list of Table 4 below. That's a stark contrast to 2015, where all of the Top 15 names on the list had three or fewer Bad Starts. Further, only 14 receivers had a positive Net Value last year, and even if you had a fantasy roster completely comprised of this short and elite list, your wide receivers would still underperform roughly 23% of the time. That shows how difficult it was to find reliable, quality receivers last season. Once again it is decidedly clear that getting 2-4 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 2017 ADP list.
|Wide Receiver||Team||Excellent||Quality||Bad||Total||Net Val||ADP|
Table 5: 2017 Top Drafted WRs Sorted By 2017 Value - PPR Scoring
Note that rookie Corey Davis is listed at the bottom of this list along with five receivers (Keenan Allen, Sammy Watkins, Donte Moncrief, Eric Decker and Corey Coleman) that were injured most or all of 2016. This year I expanded the list to a Top 48 to provide more detail for fantasy drafts this season.
Judging form 2016, it is going to be difficult to find a lot of value at the top end of fantasy drafts at the wide receiver position. Only Jarvis Landry and Terrelle Pryor are both in the Top 10 in value and also outside of the Top 25 in ADP. Kenny Britt could be a great value late in drafts if he can translate his success with Rams to his new home in Cleveland. The only other receiver with a non-negative Net Value with a later round ADP is Adam Thelien, who could be quite a steal. 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. Both A.J. Green and DeAndre Hopkins are expected to climb back up on the wide receiver performance charts, but Green will have a rookie challenger for targets in John Ross, while the quarterback situation in Houston could be quite fluid with Deshaun Watson possibly getting work as a first year player. Alshon Jeffery also had quarterback issues last year while in Chicago, but his numbers could be way better with the Eagles and Carson Wentz. That reminds me to provide the annual warning with this data - there is no reason to believe in these numbers as 100% indications of 2017 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.