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February 2018
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It’s the dog days of August. Fantasy football drafts are firing up all over the world. The Draftologist is here to help with a revamp of our ‘Sweet Spot’ concept of years past. This year, I’m proud to introduce an in depth look of who we can expect to be top QBs, RBs and WRs this season.

If you’ve played fantasy football, you’ve likely experienced the gut-wrenching, fist-clenching dismay that accompanies an early round draft pick going bust. While a strong draft and solid in-season management skills can overcome this, it’s certainly in your best interest to try and avoid early round busts.

For several years, I’ve studied the population of TopX fantasy seasons for QBs, RBs & WRs. I used to focus on the ‘sweet spot’- players in the prime age with a certain amount of experience for a given position. I’m changing things up this year since, upon further study, I’ve found that typically the population of elite, top of list players essentially mirror the age ratios for the entire league at a each position.

I break players into three tiers- pups, vets and greys. Typically, 75-80% of the top performing players- as well as the league as a whole- are in the veteran group, in their prime years, a range that varies by position. Couple this with opportunity (scheme and injury risk), and it is fairly easy to ferret out a pool to players to choose from at any tier.

Below I break out the three tiers of players I think have the best chance of giving you a Top24 season.

Quarterbacks

Everyone wants their top QB to be a, well, top QB. To maximize that chance, I found that between 8 & 9 of the top 12 over ten years were between the ages of 25 -30 and entering his 2nd to 8th year. That’s compelling- would you like to try to find one of 8 or 9 guys, or one of three or four? Your odds are better to pick from the larger population, certainly!

This year’s Dog Day Tiers:

PUPS (0 – 1 expected): Last year, Matt Stafford and Cam Newton turned in absolutely incredible seasons for being so young, defying the long term trends. This year, I think Stafford and Newton will stay in the top 12 despite still being pups, and Robert Griffin III has the best chance to join them. Not far behind would be Andy Dalton, Josh Freeman and Andrew Luck. I wouldn’t expect more than three, and would not be at all surprised to see RGIII held outside the Top12 this season.

VETS (8 – 9 expected): Since the rise of the pups last season, it won’t be surprising to see fewer vets than usual again this season. Also- from the other side- there are some greys that are still very good and won’t be booted from the Top12 very easily. I don’t think eight vets will make it this year; the guys with the best shot are Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger & Jay Cutler.

GREYS (2 – 4 expected): So the guys over 30 with 9 or more years in the league I’d expect to have the best shot to turn in a Top12 season are predictably Drew Brees and Tom Brady. A pretty good veteran duo turns grey this year and could stay very much in the mix: Michael Vick & Tony Romo. I suppose it wouldn’t be wise to count out Peyton Manning, either.

Running Backs

The 30 year old RB is certainly one to avoid. Even more compelling is avoiding a RB that has 6 years of experience behind him. The sweet spot for RBs is one aged 24-27 entering his 2nd-6th year. You’ll see 12 or 13 of them in the top 24. Outside of that, you can add in slightly riskier younger RBs- 21-23, but stay with 6 years of experience and under- that nets you an amazing 20-21 RBs out of the Top 24. In other words, don’t waste an early pick on a 30+ year old RB or on one entering his 7th year. That has bust written all over it.

This year’s Dog Day Tiers:

PUPS (8 – 9 expected): We may see a step back in the pup category this season as many good, young RBs enter their prime years. But the pups with the best shot at a Top24 season this year are Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, Roy Helu, Stevan Ridley & Mark Ingram.

VETS (12-13 expected): The ranks of the prime-years RBs really swells this season. The ones with the best shot at Top24 seasons are Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Darren McFadden, Jamaal Charles, DeMarco Murray, Marshawn Lynch, Amhad Bradshaw & Beanie Wells. A riskier guy that may sneak in is Adrian Peterson (knee).

GREYS (3-4 expected): There are several greys that have good shot at a Top24 season this year on paper, but I think Steven Jackson & Darren Sproles have the best chance of all. I’m leery of Fred Jackson, Michael Turner, Frank Gore and Reggie Bush, but they do have a shot to stay in the top ranks, too. Not to mention Maurice-Jones Drew, if he reports or gets traded, but the jury is out on him right now.

Wide Receivers

When you’re looking for a Top 24 WR, look for the good ones that are 25-31 years old entering their 2nd to 8th year. That combination accounts for a whopping 15 out of the expected 24 top receivers. And if you can’t get both factors, get at least one- around 17 meet the age, and about 18 meet the experience. You can take a chance on older WRs that are in good situations, but you still should think twice about taking them high.

This year’s Dog Day Tiers:

PUPS (3-4 expected): Rookie WRs that crack the Top24 are fairly rare, but you’ll usually get a handful of under-25 WRs to make it. This year, consider Julio Jones, AJ Green, Hakeem Nicks, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas & Jeremy Maclin. Percy Harvin is certainly worthy of consideration as long as he can stay on the field. Jones and Green could turn in elite efforts this season.

VETS (15-17 expected): There are many, many WRs to consider in this range, but the ones to focus on include Calvin Johnson, Victor Cruz, Roddy White, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall, Marques Colston, Vincent Jackson, Miles Austin, Dwayne Bowe, Eric Decker, Steve Johnson, DeSean Jackson, Robert Meachem & Pierre Garcon.

GREYS (3-6 expected): Some really good WRs join the ranks of the greys this year, including Larry Fitzgerald & Wes Welker. No doubt these guys will still be elite if they stay on the field. Older guys that may still bring it: Andre Johnson, Steve Smith (CAR), Brandon Lloyd & Reggie Wayne. I’m very leery of Andre given his issues of the past two seasons, but if he is healthy he’s a top 5 WR for certain.

So that’s really about it. The main factor to consider when weeding out busts is opportunity- make sure no one can take the guy’s job; make sure they’re not a major injury risk; and make sure they play on a pretty good offense (average or better). You do that, and you’ll usually be better off. That’s not to say don’t take chances. In a competitive league, that’s about the only way to get ahead. But think twice about taking chances with high draft picks. If you do, make sure to do your homework and understand the potential cost. Measured risks are part of the game and can make all the difference between an also-ran and a champion.

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