August 02, 2011
The way I break it down at the end of the day, any fantasy draft or auction is about value: price relative to expected production, upside and downside. We're shopping. We're negotiating a market. We're trying to beat the room as much as anything, build a better mousetrap than the person across from us.
We'll tackle the sleeper unicorn a different day (sleeper might be the most nebulous word used in this fantasy racket). Today, three simple rules for identifying players likely to be overvalued.
1. Avoid name players off a career year
The concept is obvious, but it's worth repeating in any fantasy marketplace. When a player with respected skills has a silly year, the price next season will usually bank on a similar return, if not further growth. People just can't help themselves, the memories from last year are too vivid in their minds. If you follow me on this concept, you'll avoid taking Michael Vick(notes) in the first round this year.
Keep in mind we're only talking about name players with this. When a relative scrub goes off, the market generally doesn't chase those stats the following year. It has to come on a player that people want to believe in.
We could package this tip in another way, using the R word: regression. The Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx isn't real, and the Madden Curse isn't real, either; it's just natural for someone to step backwards a bit after they've hit a high point. Logical and obvious, sure, but SI has milked their jinx myth for three decades.
2. Avoid receivers with very high TD/reception rates
Receiving touchdowns are flukier than many rotoheads want to believe, especially when we're talking about scores from outside the red area. Consider Greg Jennings(notes), who's had 12, 4 and 9 spikes in the last three seasons. Look at Lance Moore(notes), who's gone 8-2-10 the last three years. Ask yourself why Andre Johnson(notes) has never scored 10 times in a season. Skill and design matter, but there's a lot of luck in the mix, too.
Dwayne Bowe(notes) gets the red flag for 2011. He scored on 15 of 72 catches last year, a rate that no one is likely to match this fall. And for all of Bowe's talent, it's not like he's some uncoverable freak; the Ravens held him without a target in their Wild Card victory at Kansas City. Push Bowe down to the 8-10 level for this year, and if you wind up not getting him as a result, so it goes.
3. Avoid any high-hype, buzz-friendly rookie
Skill players can produce in the NFL right away, of course. It's fairly common at running back, it's harder but not impossible at receiver, and occasionally we'll see it at quarterback, though the odds are stacked against them. I'm not saying you should dismiss all of the rookie skill guys out of hand.
Just keep in mind two things: for every Randy Moss(notes), there are 10 Kevin Dysons. For every Adrian Peterson, there are 10 Donald Browns. And if you follow the buzz on highly-touted rookies, you're paying a markup at the window.
You want more examples, we'll go to the draft history board. The top runners selected in April 2010 read this way: C.J. Spiller(notes), Ryan Mathews(notes), Jahvid Best(notes), Dexter McCluster(notes), Toby Gerhart(notes), Ben Tate(notes), Montario Hardesty(notes) and Joe McKnight(notes). It's hard to blame Tate and Hardesty for getting hurt, but no one in that group made us particularly happy. Dez Bryant(notes) (No. 24 overall) and Mike Williams (No. 101) got it done at the receiver position, but otherwise it was a mess here as well: Demaryius Thomas(notes), Arrelious Benn(notes), Golden Tate(notes), Damian Williams(notes), Brandon LaFell(notes), Emmanuel Sanders(notes) (who wasn't bad), etc.
I realize that A.J. Green(notes) and Julio Jones(notes) come into 2011 with snappier credentials than any of last year's wideouts did. I see a handful of running backs that are stepping into cushy spots. But when I'm sitting at the draft table, I need to let these rookies fall to reasonable spots before I'll take the plunge. I'm not drafting to be a hero, I'm looking to load up the cart with as much value as I can.
I know plenty of good fantasy players who disagree with these concept, of course (it's the long-running Genius vs. Agnostic debate, which I think was coined my genius friend Chris Liss). Hell, any draft strategy can work if you pick (or fall into) the right players. But when I sit down at the table, it's a hunt for value above all else.
I've said my piece, now it's your witness. Share your value (or anti-value) manifesto with the world.
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