Every walk of 21st century life is tracked, dissected and analyzed by computers. Weather observations banking transactions, twitter reactions, sporting events, tooth fairy payments, the alcohol content scrawled on your beer can – everything, everywhere has a number attached to it providing consumers with multiple angles on a particular subject.
This, after all, is the age of advanced understanding, though some Neanderthals, namely your antiquated mother-in-law and the backwards thinker who penned this column, fail to grasp the importance.
Naturally, fantasy sports, and those who feverishly play them, have certainly benefited.
Baseball started the trend. Sabermetric godfathers like Bill James and Ron Shandler, starting in the 80s, began to quantify the game outside of the basic hits, runs and errors found in box scores. As a result of their tireless efforts, OPS, K/9, BABIP and FIP are common terms vocalized by even the most novice fantasy players. Other number crunchers, such as Dean Oliver and Ken Pomery, followed suit as they introduced NBA and college basketball enthusiasts to the now requisite Four Factors, an in-depth look into team performance on a tempo-free scale.
Football, a more judgment-based sport compared to the black and white nature of baseball and basketball, has been slower to the take. Before the broadband, and really fantasy, age, yards per carry, yards per catch, QB rating and completion percentage were about the only unconventional stats widely accepted. Visible observation on tape or in person, still an integral part of the sport today, was the only basis for why Player X was destined to have a better season than Player Y. Because of a football play’s constant moving parts it’s understandable why next level stats haven’t become commonplace. Specific events are harder to quantify.
That, however, is starting to change.
Thanks to the ingenious measurements produced by the brains behind Pro Football Focus, Football Outsiders, Advanced NFL Stats and others, fanatics are gleaning insights into the game like never before. Soon breakaway percentage, elusive rating and air yards per attempt, to name a few, will hit the mainstream.
Tapping into the treasure trove of newfangled data, below are 10 telling stats from 2013 that are bound to help owners reach for/avoid certain fantasy commodities in drafts this summer. Yeah, numbers don’t mean everything – they definitely can lie – but they are often incredibly helpful when gaining an advantage.
So grab a calculator, pull up your pants and nerd out, it’s time to dig deep into the numbers …
Joe Flacco, Bal – 26.1 deep-ball accuracy percentage (17-for-88)
Super Bowl stud to dud. That's what Flacco accomplished in just one year. Undeniably one of the best long-bombers in the league two years ago (1,100 yds, 11 TDs compiled on pass attempts of 20-plus yds), he largely remained grounded last fall, a victim of a suspect offensive line. Or was he? During his breakthrough campaign in '12, Flacco experienced heat on 32.4 percent of his snaps. That number increased slightly to 35.5 percent last year. The added pressure did him no favors and Dennis Pitta's absence played a factor, but, ultimately, he alone was responsible for the drop-off (No. 24 in fppg among QBs), astounding when considering he had one of the most explosive weapons in the league, Torrey Smith, to throw to. Miss Anquan Boldin much? Under Gary Kubiak's direction the Ravens hope to reestablish their identity on the ground. Still, new systems typically take time to root and Ray Rice's likely 4-6 game suspension only complicate matters. With that in mind, it could be another long, unappealing season for the league's most overpaid passer, and Smith.
Josh McCown, TB – 77.0 accuracy rate when under pressure (90 of 243 dropbacks, 41-for-73 on attempts, 6 TDs, 0 INTs); 7.4 air yards per attempt
On his ninth pro franchise – he played one year with now defunct Hartford Colonials of the UFL – the Gulliver of football landed in an idyllic spot last year. Blessed with a pass-first offense, productive ground game and arguably the finest receiving tandem in the league (Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery), he replaced injured starter Jay Cutler and became a waiver wire darling down the homestretch last fall. In five starts with the Bears he averaged 308.6 passing yards per game and totaled a sparkling 12:1 TD:INT split (1 rush TD). Only Peyton Manning, Nick Foles and Andy Dalton proved more valuable at QB during the fantasy playoffs. Now thrust into a similar situation with Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans, Tim Wright and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins on roster, he's bound to profit in Jeff Tedford's throw-often system, no matter how the offensive line performs (see above). His strong arm, mobility and experience makes him a dark-horse candidate for 25-27 TDs and 4,000 yards. Snatch him late in challenging formats (136.0 Yahoo ADP, QB26).
Andre Ellington, Ari – 47.9 breakaway percentage
Naysayers will contend his svelte build, brutal division and porous offensive line are reasons to stiff arm the second-year rusher in drafts. No doubt, those are viable arguments, but Ellington is a Jamaal Charles-like weapon who is on the brink of cementing himself as a top-notch RB2. Shifty, slippery and a gazelle in the open field, he totaled 0.32 fantasy points per snap last year, the 15th-best mark regardless of position. He also tallied the fourth-best elusive rating among RBs with at least 100 attempts. Throw in his excellent receiving skills and Ellington has the look of a swimsuit model, especially in PPR. It's doubtful he'll receive the 20-25 touches some are predicting, but even on 16-18 touches per game he should inflict heavy damage. And don't freak out about the four combined games against Seattle and San Francisco. Last year, he racked 4.76 yards per touch against the divisional foes. Big things are on the horizon. Big things.
Joique Bell, Det – 0.20 tackles avoided per attempt
Draft the pride of Wayne State and you'll surely be #JoiqueInIt all season long. Bell was highly effective as, not only a lead back, but also as Reggie Bush's sidekick. He dodged defenders, broke several tackles (60.5 percent of his yards gained came after contact) and hauled in numerous passes out of the backfield (53 to be exact). In fact his 1.90 yards per route run ranked fourth among eligible RBs, five spots higher than the slot-featured Bush. In versatility terms, Bell might be the most underappreciated back in the league. Coveted by PPR and standard folks alike, he should again be the primary goal-line option in a prolific offense netting roughly 12-15 touches per game. Going around pick No. 92 in early Yahoo drafts (RB27), Bell should toll for depth-minded investors in the middle rounds. Anticipate 1,200-1,400 total yards with 9-11 TDs. And because Bush has played only two full seasons in eight years that's likely a conservative estimate.
Rashad Jennings, NYG – 62.2 yards after contact percentage
The ex-Raider is the Toby Gerhart of the NFC. He's a prototype three-down back who can pass protect, grind out tough interior yards, catch the ball fluidly out of the backfield and, as the stat above proves, pancake would-be tacklers. As the starter in eight contests with Oakland last year he totaled 4.36 yards per carry, 81.6 combined yards per game and scored five touchdowns. A second-half horse, he finished No. 4 among fantasy RBs in points per game from Weeks 9-16. Some continue to believe disappointing David Wilson, off a scary neck setback, and Andre Williams, a one-dimensional rookie rusher, pose workload threats. But that's not the case. As Giants GM Jerry Reese stated post minicamp, Jennings is a bellcow back in line for 18-20 touches per game. Throw in the O-line's top-10 ranking in run-blocking last year and he's a high-end RB2 in 12-team drafts available at a bargain price (67.7 Yahoo ADP, RB20).
Chris Ivory, NYJ – 62.2 elusive rating (38 missed tackles on 184 touches)
Offensively, the Jets were about as interesting as attending a scientific dissertation on bovine flatulence. Not a single player finished with starter-worthy numbers even in 14-team leagues. Bravo. Under the microscope, though, Ivory was a quality back. His 43.5 breakaway percentage ranked second only to Ellington. Overall, he recorded 12 runs of 15-plus yards gaining 65.8 percent of his yards after contact. A violent rusher, the veteran runs like a man possessed. He's slated to enter the season in a timeshare with Chris Johnson. Though OC Marty Mornhinweg, who obviously inhaled too much sulfur over the Fourth of July weekend stating CJ2LAME is a "future Hall of Famer," I suspect the better, more aggressive runner will pull away at some point. The Jets' aging O-line underperformed last season, but if Ivory can gain separation, he should occasionally venture into RB2 territory. He's a useful bench back available well after pick No. 100 in average drafts (125.4 ADP, RB44).
Marvin Jones, Cin – 85.7 catch rate inside red-zone (14 targets, 12 catches, 9 TDs)
As detailed previously, according to Hue Jackson, Jones is rubber stamped as Andy Dalton's WR2 opposite A.J. Green. Jackson promises a more balanced offense, potentially slicing Dalton's 2013 attempts (586) by 150-170. Still, only attracting 77 targets a season ago, the wideout should sail past 100 looks with relative ease, with many of those coming inside the 20. Because of his size, body control and reliable hands he's become one of the league's better red-zone receivers. Roughly 60-70 catches, 900 yards and 8-10 TDs are in his immediate future. It's nutty he's going behind guys like Cecil Shorts, Emmanuel Sanders, Riley Cooper and Sammy Watkins in average Yahoo Drafts (118.3 ADP, WR44).
Anquan Boldin, SF – 2.99 drop rate (Caught 65 of 67 catchable balls)
Boldin, overlooked by most, greatly exceeded expectations in a largely conservative 49ers offense last year. Dependable, tough to contain after the catch and exceptional downfield, he snagged 85 passes for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns. His subsequent 10.1 points per game in standard Yahoo leagues (12.8 in PPR) ranked top-20 among WRs. Even when Michael Crabtree returned to the lineup in Week 13, the gritty veteran didn't skip a beat, delivering back-end WR1 numbers in the fantasy playoffs. An expected full season of Crabs and the addition of Stevie Johnson has many feeling apathetic towards Boldin. No surprise, he's slid outside the top-100 in average Yahoo Drafts (104.4, WR36). Still, OC Greg Roman has hinted at beefing up the pass game featuring more three-WR sets. It's unlikely he'll entice another 129 targets, but he'll probably overshoot the WR4/WR5 projections most fanalysts are forecasting. He's an excellent later draft value.
Mike Wallace, Mia –16.7 deep-ball catch rate (36 tgts, 17 catchable, 6 catches, 2 drops)
'Dumpster fire' is a phrase that essentially sums up Wallace's first year in Miami. Despite attracting the same number of targets as Demaryius Thomas (142), the streaky receiver finished 29 spots behind the Bronco in per game average. That's what happens when your QB, Ryan Tannehill, is one one-thousandth that of Peyton Manning when it comes to general effectiveness. Newly installed OC Bill Lazor experimented with Wallace throughout OTAs and minicamp deploying him everywhere, even lining him up in the backfield. If he becomes more of a Percy Harvin gadget-like receiver, a scoring boost is in the offing. However, Miami's questionable offensive line (Brandon Albert helps but Mike Pouncey's season-long loss stings) and Tannehill's mediocre execution don't instill much confidence. No.1 corners should again have a field day. Another inconsistent year lies ahead.
Vernon Davis, SF – 23 targets of 20-plus yards
Waiting on the sidelines, presumably for the verdict on Jimmy Graham's arbitration hearing, Davis was a no-show in minicamp. Drawing a line in the sand weeks ago, he staged a holdout in the hopes of leveraging more cash. However, with Graham ruled as a TE, Davis knows a new contract isn't forthcoming. Bluff called. When Niners camp opens later this month, expect the former All-Pro to report on time. Although he didn't receive a spike in compensation, VD is firmly entrenched among the position's elite. The most productive deep-ball TE in the game a season ago – 409 of his 850 yards were on pass plays beyond 20 yards – he will again terrorize helpless defenders. If Roman opens up the playbook, a career-year could be in store. With Crabtree, Boldin and Johnson to account for, Ds will be stretched, creating several exploitable opportunities for the monolith. He's a steal in 12-team drafts anytime after Round 4, precisely the reason why you shouldn't draft Graham or a healthy Gronk early on.
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