By Matt Kelley (@Fantasy_Mansion)
Special to Yahoo Sports
As the Cleveland Browns and a handful of other teams are criticized for bringing a “Moneyball approach” to the NFL and disrupting the competitive integrity of the league, a question begs to be asked … What is analytics? Per Bill James, the originator of Sabermetrics, the first widespread implementation of advanced metrics in baseball, analytics is “the search for objective knowledge about sports.”
Analytics exists because sports consumers are rapidly becoming more sophisticated. If simply observing sports phenomenon is inadequate, the next question becomes: Can we measure it? Advanced stats, metrics, and analytics are the measurement systems.
Here are five interesting advanced stats and metrics on PlayerProfiler.com that help fantasy gamers measure on-field opportunity, productivity, and efficiency:
Dominator Rating specifically captures on-field dominance. It is the most important aspect of a receiver’s prospect profile as often identifies breakout wide receivers. Dominator Rating is defined by a wide receiver or tight end’s share of total team receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
Why does this matter? Dominator Rating factors out both QB play and scheme.
Once upon a time, Josh Huff was a prolific collegiate receiver at the University of Oregon, but his counting stats were inflated by Marcus Mariota and Chip Kelly’s up-tempo system. By recalibrating production, Huff’s College Dominator Rating demonstrated that Allen Robinson was a superior talent to Huff among the 2014 NFL Draft wide receiver class. UPDATE: Huff is no longer in the NFL.
Looking ahead to 2017, College Dominator Rating is a red flag on Tyreek Hill’s profile, because Hill was never the focal point of a passing attack throughout his college career. Lacking dominance at the collegiate level, selecting Hill in the top-25 wide receivers is a high-risk maneuver in fantasy football drafts.
What do the first four running backs selected in 2017 draft have in common? From Leonard Fournette to Christian McCaffrey to Dalvin Cook to Joe Mixon, most top running back prospects are fast. Most importantly, they often possess size-adjusted speed, illustrated by 100.0+ Speed Score ratings.
Speed Scores are derived by taking a player’s 40-time and multiply it by a weight premium and a height premium. Pushing 220 pounds down a 40-yard track requires significantly more explosion and overall athleticism than pushing 180-pounds the same distance. For this reason, all 40-times are not created equal. On Yahoo’s Fantasy Football platform, how many fantasy gamers rostered diminutive track star Marquise Goodwin this summer? 5%.
|Elite Wide Receiver Speed Scores|
|Calvin Johnson||139.0 (100th percentile)|
|Demaryius Thomas||124.4 (99th percentile)|
|Andre Johnson||121.7 (98th percentile)|
|Julio Jones||121.7 (98th percentile)|
|Mike Evans||115.7 (96th percentile)|
|Jordy Nelson||107.8 (87th percentile)|
|A.J. Green||107.1 (86th percentile)|
|Larry Fitzgerald||106.4 (86th percentile)|
|Allen Robinson||103.2 (77th percentile)|
|Dez Bryant||102.3 (74th percentile)|
|Odell Beckham||100.0 (68th percentile)|
Think Mike Evans leads the NFL in target share last season if he were 5-foot-10? Think Jordy Nelson leads the NFL in touchdowns at 5-11, 190-pounds? How does Dez Bryant score double-digit touchdowns seemingly every season?
The vast majority of high-end fantasy receivers have one thing in common: they are both big and fast, evidenced by 100+ Speed Score ratings.
Opportunity is king in fantasy, and the Opportunity Share quantifies a running back’s share of ground game usage by calculating his percentage of total team running back touches (carries and targets).
Melvin Gordon kicked off the 2016 season with a concerning 37.8-percent Opportunity Share, including zero targets in the passing game. Then, the Chargers lost Danny Woodhead for the season. From week 2 onward, Gordon commanded 19.5 carries per game and 4.4 targets per game, and his Opportunity Share never fell below 75-percent in any game. By assuming Woodhead’s red zone carries and targets out of the backfield, Gordon became one of fantasy’s signature running backs last season until he got hurt in December.
Looking forward to this season, a declining Opportunity Share is a red flag for Devonta Freeman as he stares at a precarious touch squeeze in 2017 after Tevin Coleman’s efficient breakout 2016 campaign.
|Devonta Freeman Touch Squeeze|
|2015 RB Opportunity Share||73.4% |
|2016 RB Opportunity Share||58.9% |
Air yards are a better way to forecast wide receiver production. An air yard is the distance from the line of scrimmage to the catch point and is calculated by subtracting yards after the catch from total receiving yards.
Air yards (also known as “completed air yards”) are more predictive of future performance than passing yards, because as Josh Hermsmeyer form AirYards.com discovered, air yards are “stickier” than yards after the catch from one season to the next.
DeVante Parker looks like the ideal fantasy football breakout candidate this season, because like his close comps A.J. Green and Alshon Jeffery, Parker has been an air yards monster during his time in the NFL.
Parker (2015): 7.6 Air Yards Per Target
Parker (2016): 5.9 Air Yards Per Target
Compare Parker’s air yards per target to Jarvis Landry’s over the same period:
On the other hand, Jarvis Landry relies on yards after the catch (YAC), but YAC is more sensitive to random events and outcomes on the football field, while air yards are more stable year-to-year.
Landry (2015): 3.4 Air Yards Per Target
Landry (2016): 4.0 Air Yards Per Target
Air Yards data suggests Parker should usurp Landry as Miami’s leading receiver.
Efficiency is becoming a popular sports media talking point. Yet, the predictive power of efficiency is difficult to pinpoint. Efficiency matters most when situations change. When an efficient player changes teams or receives a new quarterback, past efficiency matters.
Production Premium is PlayerProfiler’s signature efficiency metric. It measures how skill position players performed above or below expectation from any given down and distance vs. league average throughout the season.
DeSean Jackson has been the NFL’s most efficient wide receiver in recent years. Converting deep passes at an exceptionally high rate, Jackson posted an incredible +30.0-plus Production Premium for three consecutive seasons.
|DeSean Jackson’s Exceptional Efficiency|
|2013 Production Premium||+32.3|
|2014 Production Premium||+33.7|
|2015 Production Premium||+33.6|
|2016 Production Premium||+12.2|
The efficiency unicorn now heads to Tampa where Jameis Winston was one of the NFL’s most prolific deep ball passers, averaging an astonishing 5.4 deep attempts per game at age 22. Jackson is a strong buy in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts based on his historic efficiency.