2012 Fantasy Football

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Beware the Bandwagon Effect: Benson and Olsen

posted by C.D. Carter

Cedric Benson’s fumbleitis will suppress his fantasy value and Greg Olsen won’t get enough tosses from Cam Newton to achieve top-10 tight end status.

These truths, my fellow fantasy friends, are self-evident. Aren’t they?

These two arguments have made their rounds in a few Twitter circles I frequent, and while the fake football values of Benson and Olsen continue to rise among many of the best-informed fantasy pros, Benson’s fumbling and Olsen’s targets continue to blur the fast risers’ true value as the final few days of drafts get underway.

The Bandwagon Effect is pretty self explanatory, especially in sports, where bandwagons are loaded and unloaded with fickle fans every day, every week, every month of every season. But because it’s been explored, explained, and analyzed in all manner of academic research, let’s give the Bandwagon Effect a slightly more formal definition: It is a social behavior that creates a sort of herd mentality as more and more people adopt a theory or idea, forging orthodoxy that eventually becomes unquestioned in that social group.

Bucking the Bandwagon Effect can make your fantasy roster deeper, even if it draws jeers from the cave people at your draft table. Simply being aware of the Bandwagon Effect’s hypnotic sway on your fantasy football decisions and looking for information that gouges holes in fantasy groupthink is the first step to gaining a step on your friends, who happily bump along the trail, feet kicked back in the comfort of their bandwagon.

So let’s look at Benson’s fumbling, an increasingly common argument against the King Plodder’s meteoric rise through fantasy rankings. Clark Judge, an NFL reporter for CBS, on Thursday said Benson’s penchant for fumbling was “one very big concern” for the Packers. Judge said fumbling “always has been” Benson’s bugaboo. John Paulsen from 4for4.com rightly pointed out that CedBen’s 1.24 percent fumble rate ranks 38th among 88 active NFL running backs with more than 100 carries.

Benson lost five fumbles in 2010, the same number as Ryan Mathews, one more than Arian Foster, and two more than Maurice Jones-Drew, Marshawn Lynch and Chris Johnson. You would’ve been hard pressed to find a fantasy analyst , going into 2011 fantasy drafts, who dinged Foster’s value for losing four fumbles the year before. When owners draft Foster No. 1 overall, they didn’t give a fleeting thought to those fumbles; it was a non-issue. Yet, the evaluation of Benson almost always included a discussion of fumbling, even though there are 50 running backs with more than 100 carries who have a high fumbling rate.

CedBen’s supposed fumbling issue is a product of groupthink forged in the slow but persistent Bandwagon Effect. Benson, who lost two fumbles in 2011, has new life in Green Bay, has the confidence of Aaron Rodgers, and will likely be the lead runner on football’s most potent offense (side note: Benson lost one fumble in 2008 and none in 2009).

He’ll face five and six-man fronts as opposing defenses won’t dare stack the box against Rodgers and the Packers’ pass catchers. Green Bay’s running backs coach called CedBen “explosive” in a recent interview. Benson’s arrow is pointing directly skyward. Don’t let talk of fumbleitis move him down your rankings.

Benson is being drafted in the seventh round of most drafts. This is his value through the lens of bandwagon groupthink, which tells us that Benson can’t hold on to the pigskin. Don’t hesitate to take Benson in the sixth round in a 12-team league, or the fifth round in a 14-team league.

Onto Olsen, who Cam Newton targeted five times in the first half of Carolina’s Monday night preseason tilt against the Jets. In civil discussions and knock-‘em-down-drag-‘em-out fantasy brawls on Twitter this summer, the argument against the 27-year-old fourth year pro is that he wouldn’t have enough opportunity in 2012 to secure low-end TE1 value.

Is this the insidious Bandwagon Effect forming the popular opinion of a player based only on the number of fantasy owners who believe the theory that Olsen will lack the necessary targets to be among the best at his position?

Funny you ask.

Rob Chudzinski, the Panthers offensive coordinator, runs a decidedly tight end-friendly offense. That was clear last season, but only if you look at the team’s total tight end targets (Olsen finished 2011 with 58 receptions for 738 yards and six scores, doing a lot of his damage in the season’s first four weeks).

Jeremy Shockey was targeted 62 times in 2011, while Olsen racked up 89 targets, three fewer than Jermichael Finley. Shockey, as you may have heard, is no longer on the team. Some of his targets will surely go to receiver Brandon LaFell and human bowling ball Mike Tolbert, but if you add the Panthers 2011 tight end targets, you get 151, also known as two more targets than Jimmy Graham recorded last year and 27 more than Rob Gronkowski.

Olsen is being drafted today as TE15 in large part because owners have fed into the prevailing Bandwagon Effect. This isn’t new, and it definitely isn’t surprising, but Olsen’s suppressed value is a textbook example of how fantasy football’s groupthink dictates imaginary player values.

Shockey and Olsen combined for 82 catches and 995 yards last year. The numbers – and Newton’s obvious comfort with his tight end – is enough for me to throw out groupthink surrounding Olsen this year. I won’t worry about Olsen’s opportunity in 2012.

And lest we forget, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera – clearly immune from the groupthink on his tight end — has compared Olsen to The Gronk.

Beware the Bandwagon Effect. A healthy skepticism, a couple searches in the Google Machine, and a trustworthy statistical service will keep you free from the bandwagon’s hypnosis.

3 Comments

  • I meant 18 for his career.

  • I’ve run out of arguments against Blount. People are still intent on drafting him like he’s the unquestioned starter, ready to get 15-20 touches every game. It’s delusional at this point in the preseason.
    Benson has 15 total fumbles since 2008. He has 13 during his seven-year career, for the various records.

  • Funny, I assumed you were going to write about the pro-Benson, pro-Olsen bandwagons.

    One footnote, fumbles, rather than fumbles lost, should be the relevant statistic I think.

    Here’s a stat that bodes poorly for the Blount bandwagon. He’s fumbled 15% of his career receptions, answering the riddle: when is a completion just as bad as an interception? Teams DO rely on RBs to catch the ball out of the backfield on 1st and 2nd down as well as 3rd.

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