2012 Fantasy Football

Ξ 14 comments

Don’t Draft Megatron

posted by C.D. Carter

I write this with the understanding that advising against drafting Calvin Johnson in your league’s draft this summer is tantamount to treason among fantasy football’s vast and rabid ranks.

Knowing this, I will have left the country by the time this article goes to print, and my family will have been placed into protective custody. Leave us be.

Many people won’t read one word past the above headline before they turn their social media bazookas on me. They’ll eviscerate me. They’ll accuse me of hating the Lions and holding a deep-seated prejudice against men nicknamed for indestructible machines from distant planets.

Well, I kind of like the Lions, and I think Megatron is the coolest and most apt nickname in the history of organized sport.

But I’ve heard far too many people pledge to draft Johnson with their first-round pick, even if it’s in the top five. Or top three. Or top one. I suspect many fantasy freaks would sell their souls to the Dark Lord for a shot at Megatron. I’d like to tell you to step away from Beelzebub, take a breath, and listen here.

Megatron is going fifth in mock drafts this summer, a whopping 11 spots ahead of the second most highly drafted wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, and 17 spots ahead of Wes Welker, mock drafters’ third most preferred receiver.

This, fellow fantasy fiends, is too high. The wide receiver pool is far too deep this year, every-down running backs are a dying breed, and most importantly, even the mighty Megatron is not immune to mean reversion, no matter how high you are on Matthew Stafford or Detroit’s league-leading 666 pass attempts last year.

Megatron vs. Math

After a 2011 season with 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns, the NFL’s mean wide receiver statistical line is rearing its hideous mathematical head, reminding you that everyone – even man-machines — is pulled back toward it without mercy.

In other words, a freakish season like Johnson had last year will likely be followed by a not-as-freakish season. Still good – fantastic, even – but not as good.

Part of projecting player stats involves pretty freaking complicated formulas that help fantasy owners account for the inevitability of reversion – or regression – toward the mean. Using a formula could show that Megatron is more likely to grab 10 touchdowns this season, and that a guy like the Steelers’ Antonio Brown will score more than the measly two touchdowns he pulled down in 2011. Aaron Rodgers, according to mean reversion formula, will throw more than the six interceptions he tossed in 2011. These formulas vary from analyst to analyst, but almost all of them show that wide receiver stats are among the least predictable. Quarterbacks and tight end projections, it turns out, are the most reliable.

I’m not going to tell you which formula to apply to your 2012 draft board, but I would suggest taking a close look at Jonathon Bales’ positional correlations in “Fantasy Football for Smart People,” a book for which I am a total and unapologetic shill. It will help set a realistic baseline for Johnson’s 2012 receptions and touchdowns. This, hopefully, will help you avoid sky-high expectations that will leave you weeping in the shower when Megatron doesn’t have 18 touchdowns by Halloween.

To pretend the indefatigable Fantasy Douche didn’t already break down what mean reversion could mean for Megatron would be disingenuous of me, so let me re-release the knowledge he rained down on fantasy footballers a few weeks ago.

The Douche took results from wide receivers with similar physical attributes – Fitzgerald, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Andre Johnson among them – and told the numerical story of what they did a year after posting big stat lines. You’ll see mean reversion lurking throughout the Douche’s charts, even if some of that reversion was due in part to a devastating quarterback change (Fitzgerald from 2009 to 2010) or injury (Owens from 2004 to 2005).

Look Beyond The Machine

Your self-made Megatron Blinders have stopped you from taking an absolutely necessary look at wide receiver depth in a league that leans toward the pass more every year.

A.J. Green, a guy who football scout deity Greg Cosell dubbed a top-five NFL pass catcher, is being drafted in the third round in mock drafts. Julio Jones, Atlanta’s second-year receiver who is tearing up training camp while “look[ing] like a monster,” is being draft 31st on average. Brandon Lloyd, whose chemistry with Tom Brady is causing breathless beat writers to daydream of the offensive possibilities, is being drafted in the fifth round. This, dear reader, is an atrocity. Green, Jones, and Lloyd are all values at their current ADPs, and there’s nothing that says those three guys could come within striking distance of Megatron’s final 2012 numbers.

They might even, dare I say, top him.

There’s also Percy Harvin, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Carolina’s Steve Smith and a finally-healthy Jeremy Maclin – all receivers vastly undervalued in mock drafts so far this summer. Even Dez Bryant, if you can stomach the off-the-field nonsense, remains a great value.

Beware the Running Back Cliff

The projected drop-off from Megatron to fourth and fifth round sleepers isn’t nearly as dramatic as the gap between the top-eight running backs and the rest of the league. Positional scarcity should be foremost on the minds of fantasy footballers this summer, and running back is far scarcer than wide receiver.

Megatron deserves to be on a positional tier of his very own, perched above the game’s elite pass catchers. And no one – not even me, the one who will be tried for crimes against Megatron – would be shocked to see Johnson finish the season as fantasy’s No. 1 wide receiver. I like to stack my lineup with physical freaks, and there’s no one more freakish than Johnson. And if I have a bottom-three first round draft pick this summer, I’ll snap up Megatron fast enough to tweak a hammy.

But you are overpaying at his current ADP, and the value of a top-tier running back like Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Ryan Mathews, Chris Johnson or Darren McFadden should not be ignored. They will prove their value as the running back by committee approach courses through the NFL, leaving backfields with impossible-to-predict three-headed monsters and fantasy owners with ulcers, alcoholism, and swollen tear ducts.

Probably anyone drafting Johnson as a top-five pick is banking on him finishing 2012 with the same unholy stat line as he posted in 2011 – maybe even better. Take Johnson with a tail end first round draft pick, sure, but cash in your top-five lottery ticket for one of the league’s few remaining non-committee running backs, or that Rodgers guy who wears the green and yellow.

14 Comments

  • I took Calvin in the 2nd round last year & obviously it panned out pretty well…I’ve already accepted the fact he won’t be on my roster this time around.

    I also took AJ Green later in the draft.

    I don’t know how much you put into strength of schedule, but Cincinnati has the toughest matchups for receivers this season, so projecting Green to come close to Johnson is a big stretch…

    • Good point about AJ Green’s strength of schedule. The AFC North is not a particularly friendly place for WRs. But when Greg Cosell, the scouting whiz, says Green has the physical skills, route running ability, and toughness off the line to become the best receiver in football, I listen. Skill — and the Bengals’ determination to force feed the ball to Green — could be enough to keep his numbers in the top-5 range. I would concede that his chances of topping Calvin are pretty slim.

    • This, my friend, is why it was tough to write this piece. Megatron is a supremely safe pick. He has a gun-slinging QB who, when in doubt, tosses up jump balls for Megatron. The offense will continue to be among the league leaders in passes in 2012. There isn’t another major receiving threat who could take away significant targets. So I get it. And you have a handful of valid points.
      Projections will change, as you know. Doug Martin, by the first week of September, could be projected to score 10 points MORE than MJD (of course, he’d be a top-20 pick at that point). Royster’s another guy, as you pointed out, to keep an eye on. So yeah, you can snag a cheap RB in the fifth or sixth who gets 14-18 touches a game. More power to you. But in a passing league, and with the physical prowess and statistical potential of a Julio Jones (for example), I’m saying burning your top-5 pick on Megatron doesn’t fit my projections right now. If you have different projections, please, by all means, roll the dice with Mega. He’ll never be a bad pick.

  • @Denny

    I don’t follow what you’re saying in the comments here.

    Why do you say Fitz (WR2, #15) could beat out Mega (WR1, #5), but it’s inconceivable that Spiller (RB34, #77) could beat out Arian Foster (RB1, #1)? What is the point of this comparison?

    The thesis of your article is that you should take CJ?K, Mathews, DMC, maybe MJD over Megatron. Just because you believe there are steals at WR in the 3rd/4th/5th rounds isn’t necessarily reason not to take Mega. (Unless your league only starts one WR).

    A better question is: AJ Green/Julio could possibly top Megatron, but could Bradshaw/Martin/FJax possibly top DMC/MJD/Chris Johnson? The answer is definitely yes. You have AJ Green at 21 points short of Megatron. Does MJD outscore D.Martin by 21 or more? I’d say it’s a toss-up. Even assuming MJD’s holdout doesn’t last, it wouldn’t shock me at all if he had 150 fewer touches this year than in 2011.

    Calvin Johnson’s ADP reflects that he’s one of the top 5 most proven/safe picks right now. If you can tolerate more risk, you can say that #5 is too early, but it may also be the case that #8 is too late. A few long TDs is all that separates an excellent season from a ridiculous good season. Of DMC/CJ?K/MJD/Mathews/Megatron, who do you think has the best chance of putting up an outlier season? I think Mathews and Megatron are very close, and significantly ahead of the others.

    I get the scarcity argument. Whenever there’s scarcity, the biggest losers are the ones that chase the supply after it has dried up. It’s possible the RB supply actually only goes 4 deep rather than 8. The flip side is that there are a lot of very high upside RBs late in the draft. Especially in a smaller league, there is an argument for loading up on the Gerharts and Turbins and Hillmans and Roysters, and allowing your RB slots to be the weakest, but deepest, position on your team.

    • This, my friend, is why it was tough to write this piece. Megatron is a supremely safe pick. He has a gun-slinging QB who, when in doubt, tosses up jump balls for Megatron. The offense will continue to be among the league leaders in passes in 2012. There isn’t another major receiving threat who could take away significant targets. So I get it. And you have a handful of valid points.
      Projections will change, as you know. Doug Martin, by the first week of September, could be projected to score 10 points MORE than MJD (of course, he’d be a top-20 pick at that point). Royster’s another guy, as you pointed out, to keep an eye on. So yeah, you can snag a cheap RB in the fifth or sixth who gets 14-18 touches a game. More power to you. But in a passing league, and with the physical prowess and statistical potential of a Julio Jones (for example), I’m saying burning your top-5 pick on Megatron doesn’t fit my projections right now. If you have different projections, please, by all means, roll the dice with Mega. He’ll never be a bad pick.

  • I definitely agree with everything written here.

  • whew. witnessed two drafts today where Megatron went 5th

  • I would say it IS in fact inconcievable that AJ leads the league for WRs. He gets injured a lot and whats the highest spot he’s ever had?

  • I don’t find this very convincing at all. Sure, he’s likely to regress somewhat, and I don’t think many would argue with you on that. But he is still the only elite WR in a pass first (and second and third) offense with an elite QB. Even after regression, his baseline would be higher than any other receiver and more than justifies taking him 2-3 rounds ahead of Jones, Lloyd, or Green.

    I agree that the dropoff is larger after the top runningbacks and there is no way I would take him over Foster, McCoy, and maybe Matthews. However, the other top running backs (McFadden, CJ2K, MJD, Lynch, Turner) have so many question marks that I would gladly take Megatron in the mid first and draft an RB in the next two rounds.

    • I agree with a good chunk of what you’re saying, JeffFromTallahassee. I wouldn’t dream of taking Turner or Lynch before Megatron. A late first round pick is a perfect spot to nab Johnson.
      Here’s the scarcity argument: I have Megatron projected for 203 points this year, Julio Jones projected for 191, Larry Fitzgerald for 190, and A.J. Green for 182. Dropping to the 3rd tier, I have Steve Smith projected for 170, for example.
      So even when you get to the WR’s third tier, you’re talking about a 33 point difference (about 2 fantasy points per week). That just won’t happen when you drop to the third and fourth tier RBs. It’s not inconceivable that Julio, Lloyd, Green, Andre Johnson, or Fitzgerald could lead the league in WR fantasy points. It is inconceivable that Reggie Bush, CJ Spiller, or Shonne Greene will beat out Foster or Rice or McCoy.

  • how is it possible that in a world where Megatron is projected to go very, very early that no one is saying BOO to Denny?

    • Probably because they read the article.

  • Thanks Steve. I’m glad you won’t be distributing torches and/or pitchforks.

  • i think this is sound advice…you shouldn’t take any heat. even in an auction format where you can grab megatron AND a baller RB it’s still best to spend big $ on RBs i think…

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