Afraid to watch, can't look away...
- Mar 5, 2006
Matthew Berry uses facts to paint the picture he wants you to see, as it relates to the upcoming season.
I was broke.
OK, not broke in the "I don't know where my next meal is coming from" sense, but broke in the "I am unemployed and certainly don't have any extra money to spend on anything frivolous" way. Like a website I had just started.
It was the summer of 2005 and I had recently quit my screenwriting job to try to make a go of the small fantasy sports website I had started the year before, TalentedMrRoto.com. With no real job to speak of, I had to save whatever money I needed to, you know, live. Which meant I couldn't spend any money to promote the site. I realized the only way I could promote the site was by doing it myself, so I went on any radio station that would have me and wrote for free for any website that would link to my new site, just trying get some promotion.
During that "I'll take any gig" time, I did a few TV things, including a pilot (i.e., a sample) for a fantasy football TV show. So we were shooting the pilot and there was a former NFL player on the show to do "the X's and O's" and argue with me, the fantasy nerd.
At one point, we got to Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals, entering his second NFL season. And the ex-player sang his praises, saying how much he loved his big arm and the weapons in Cincy, like Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Championship!). I then agreed with the ex-player, saying that I thought Palmer had made progress in his rookie season, I liked what I was hearing about the team's offensive plans and that I thought in his second year Palmer would definitely improve and ultimately have a nice fantasy season. He was a sleeper for me.
And just like that, they yelled, "Cut!"
The producer came out and apologized. He had misread his notes and thought I was going to trash Palmer. Could we do it again, he asked, and looked at the former player, who nodded.
So we do it again and the former player, without missing a beat, started trashing Palmer. With no sense of irony, he completely explained that he didn't like Palmer's decision-making and his footwork, and said he still had a lot of work to do. Palmer wasn't ready yet and was not someone to draft in fantasy. And then I disagreed and said the same stuff over again, talking up Palmer. And the producer nodded and smiled and we moved on to the next player.
It was in that moment I realized it's all a show. A total crock. I don't know what I thought before, but I now knew it was all B.S. A true eye-opening moment. It dawned on dumb me that I had no idea what this ex-player really thought of Carson Palmer, but the one thing I did get was this guy could make stats and analysis say whatever he needed to make the show the most entertaining in the eyes of the producer. The show, thankfully, never made it and two years later I wound up at ESPN.
That experience taught me an incredibly valuable lesson, because I realized it wasn't just the ex-player who could make stats say whatever he wanted.
So could I.
And so could everyone else.
I took that knowledge and, later that fall, wrote the very first version of this column. This is Year 14 now and -- often imitated, never duplicated -- it's always the first column I write every fantasy football season. I do so for a few very specific reasons.
One, it's among my favorite columns to write. As I drag myself off the beach back to the dungeon and my blank screen, it helps to have an old friend to start with.
But much more important than that, it is because this column is crucial to read first -- before you do any other research -- so that you fully understand what you are actually looking at once you start to prep for the 2019 fantasy football season.
Because -- and this is important, so pay attention, class -- your fantasy football success this year is NOT going to be based on how much you research.
Much more important to your season is actually how you interpret whatever you research.
Consider these two quarterbacks:
QB "A" has, to be kind, no business being a starting NFL quarterback. That's right. That's my nice way to describe him. Oh, don't get me wrong. He led the NFL in some categories. Like off-target throws. Yep, no one had a higher percentage of off-target throws last season. You want bad stats? I've got bad stats. He was among the two worst qualifying quarterbacks in: yards per pass attempt, touchdown-to-interception ratio and interception percentage, resulting in a (surprise!) bottom-two rank in both overall and deep passer rating. On a per-game basis, he was a bottom-five QB in passing yards, passing touchdowns and passing attempts. He never threw for more than 245 yards in any game last season and had just two games with multiple TD passes. And he's injury-prone, as he's missed at least four games in each season he's played in the NFL. No doubt in large part because of his own putrid play, he's on a brutal offense that last season was third-worst in the NFL in offensive points per game, third-worst in third-down conversion percentage and fourth-worst in Total QBR. So yeah, you can draft this guy, but then you need to ask yourself: What did your fantasy team ever do to you? Yuck.
Meanwhile, QB "B" is a fantasy rock star in the making. Per Tristan H. Cockcroft's great Consistency Ratings, our guy was tied for sixth in "star" games, which marks a top-two finish at his position for the week, giving him as many or more dominant games last season than Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan. I love his big arm, as he led the NFL in aDOT (average depth of target), and it's only going to get better this season. His team added an elite speed receiver, whose NFL career average of 15 yards per catch is 18th among 113 qualified WRs over the past five seasons, better than players such as Tyreek Hill and A.J. Green, among many others. But it's not just about deep balls, as the team also added a great possession guy this offseason. A player who, since 2014, is top-seven in the NFL in slot touchdowns and slot fantasy points and second in reception percentage (among the 33 WRs with at least 250 catches in that span). Giving QB "B" even more weapons is awesome and only adds to the excitement over a guy who can single-handedly win you a week. He scored at least 26 fantasy points in 36% of his starts last season. Only Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan had higher rates. More mobile than he gets credit for, did you know our guy quietly had seven runs of 25-plus yards last season, second only to Saquon Barkley? He could run even more this season, which means this dual-threat QB is ready to once again crush for you.
So, which quarterback do you want this year?
Realize that every single thing I wrote about each player is true.
Which one do you want?
Go ahead and pick. Choice is obvious, right? Come on, you have to feel confident one of these players is poised to have a significantly better season than the other, right?
You know which one you want, don't you?
Before you answer, you should know one other fact.
QB "A" is Buffalo's Josh Allen.
QB "B" is ... also Buffalo's Josh Allen.
You see, I can make stats say anything I want. I can talk up or talk down any player I want, I just have to choose the right stats for the job. Or I can just ask my friends "Thirsty" Kyle Soppe of the Fantasy Focus 06010 podcast or Damian Dabrowski, the "Stat-a-Pillar" from The Fantasy Show on ESPN+, to get me the right stat, which I did while writing various points of this column.
Everything you are about to read below is an accurate statistical statement. A heavily researched, well-thought-out, 100-percent-true, can't-be-argued-with, fully vetted fact.
These facts tell only part of the story. The part of the story I want you see. The part that supports whatever opinion I have of a player. The opinion I want to try to convince you to share with me.
In both QB profiles above, I purposely left out that Josh Allen led the NFL in QB rushing touchdowns, was second in QB rushing yards, led his team in carries from Week 12 on, and was the No. 1 QB in fantasy for the season's final six weeks. I left this information out of the first one because I wanted to make him look as bad as possible. I left it out of the second one because his rushing was so absurd (eight rushing touchdowns in 12 games!) that I thought it'd give away which player I was talking about. So I hyped up his fantasy points (without telling you how he got them) and found two stats to try to sell John Brown and Cole Beasley.
You see, there's very little in this world I am actually good at, but one thing I am a world-class master at? Manipulating stats to tell the story I want.
And guess what?
I'm not the only one.
Everyone does it. Some do it better than others, but everyone does it. They do it in fantasy football analysis; they do it in politics, pop culture, office presentations and happy hour debates. Everyone tells you the stats or side of the story that supports what they think.
But they don't tell you the whole story.
And that might be the most important thing you learn about fantasy football research all season.
I'm going to repeat it because it's so important.
No matter what you read, hear, write or watch -- it's not the WHOLE story.
It's why I start my analysis off every year with this column and why I start this column off every year with this same message, and the same confession.
Because it's that important.
Nothing is black and white. It's ALL shades of gray.
And as you go through this preseason (and, frankly, life), you'll have countless analysts give you all sorts of reasons to trust their opinion. Why this player is awesome and this one is a bum, and why you need that guy but must avoid another one -- and it's all just opinions. Facts and stats and snippets of game film parsed to show you the side that supports their opinion.
And ONLY that opinion.
We are in an era of information overload. I work for a 24/7/365 sports news and information media company that has multiple around-the-clock cable channels, a radio network, a direct-to-consumer platform (ESPN+), a popular website and two apps (ESPN and ESPN Fantasy) that will send you alerts and keep you up to date on any stat, trend, news, highlight and piece of content you could ever possibly want to be aware of at any given time.
I mean, hell, I have a daily podcast that will be streamed live on camera in multiple places and a daily TV show. There will be many digital video clips from both shows every day, I am on social media everywhere and I have rankings, columns and -- during the season -- a three-hour TV show on Sundays before kickoff.
And that's just dumb me, right?
There are tons of smart men and women out there, analyzing fantasy football and specific NFL players' value in the game from every possible angle. Whether it's ESPN, many other media companies, websites, podcasts, radio shows, blogs or Twitter, we're all talking, writing, arguing, tweeting, performing, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Your job? Watch the games, do the research, figure out which analysts you trust and whose thinking aligns with yours. Question everyone and everything you hear, many times over. Take it all in and then make your own call.
Because ultimately, that's all any of us are doing, especially me: taking a small piece of a big picture and making a call.
Everything that follows is completely accurate. Some of it is about players, some of it is about coaches, and not a damn bit of it tells the whole story.
These are 100 facts you need to know before you draft. And what you do with them is up to you.
1. If you took 15 touchdown passes away from Patrick Mahomes last season, he still would have been the No. 1 QB in fantasy.
1a. Or take away 950 passing yards and six touchdown passes.
1b. Or 1,000 passing yards, four passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown.
1c. Or 62 fantasy points.
1d. He still would have finished as the No. 1 QB in fantasy.
2. The connection of Mahomes to Tyreek Hill last season scored 2.168 points per target.
3. Mahomes to all other Chiefs scored 2.052 points per target.
3a. Matt Ryan was QB2 last season and he averaged 1.942 points per target.
4. Since 2004, there have been six instances in which a QB threw 40-plus TD passes and was not hurt the following season. All of them regressed in terms of fantasy points the following season.
4a. The average of their drop in production was 16.39%.
5. If Mahomes' point total from last season dropped by 16.39%, he would have 348.7 points.
6. Among QBs last season, only Mahomes and Ryan scored more than 348.7 points.
7. In Andy Reid's final decade in Philadelphia (2003-12), his Eagles ranked fifth in the NFL in QB fantasy points (behind only the Packers, Patriots, Saints and Colts) with 273.76 fantasy points per season.
8. In 2012, the Chiefs' final season before Reid, they ranked dead-last in QB points with 122.58.
8a. For reference, 2018 Arizona Cardinals QBs scored 136.58 points.
9. From 2013-17 (the pre-Mahomes era), Reid's Chiefs averaged 264.96 QB points per season.
10. Only three quarterbacks in NFL history have passed for 4,000 yards and rushed for 500 yards in a single season: Cam Newton (2011), Russell Wilson(2015) and ... Deshaun Watson (2018).
11. In Week 9 of last season, Freddie Kitchens took over the playcalling duties for the Cleveland Browns.
12. From Week 9 of last season on, Baker Mayfield led the NFL in deep completions per game.
12a. And he was second in yards per attempt.
12b. He also was second in deep attempts per game.
12c. He was 10th in QB fantasy points.
12d. And he just added Odell Beckham Jr. and a full offseason in Kitchens' offense.
13. In 2014, Eli Manning's first year playing with Beckham, Manning scored 99.2 more fantasy points than he did in 2013.
14. If you added 99.2 fantasy points to Mayfield's total from last season, he would have been the fourth-best QB in fantasy.
15. Last year, Mayfield had a 5.6% TD rate (ranked 11th).
16. Manning's TD rate over the past three seasons is 3.8% (ranked 31st).
17. Last year, there were 14 QBs who had at least three games of 25-plus points, including Kirk Cousins and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
17a. None of the 14 were named Russell Wilson.
18. In his first three NFL seasons, Wilson rushed for 11 TDs and averaged 102.7 carries per season.
19. In his four NFL seasons since, Wilson has run for just five TDs and averaged 84.3 carries per season.
20. From 2012-17, Wilson averaged 0.501 fantasy points per pass and had a 5.7 TD%.
21. In 2018, Wilson averaged 0.618 fantasy points per pass and had a TD% of 8.2.
21a. In other words, his 2018 season, despite Seattle leading the NFL in rush percentage, represented a 23.4% spike in points per pass and a 43.9% spike in percentage of passes resulting in a TD.
21b. Doug Baldwin retired during the offseason.
22. From the time Amari Cooper joined the Cowboys until the end of the season, Dak Prescott was eighth in the NFL in passing yards.
23. He was fifth in completion percentage.
24. And ninth in QB fantasy points.
25. Prescott has six rushing touchdowns in three straight seasons.
25a. He is currently being drafted as QB12 on ESPN.com, in the 11th round.
26. In his nine starts last season, Jameis Winston averaged 4.6 deep completions and 11.1 deep attempts per game. Both would have led the NFL if he qualified.
26a. For reference, Mahomes led the NFL with 4.2 deep completions per game and Mayfield led with 8.8 deep attempts per game.
27. In those nine starts last season, Winston averaged 294.2 passing yards per game.
28. That would've been fourth most among all QBs last season, behind only Roethlisberger, Mahomes and Ryan.
29. Since the start of 2017, Winston has 11 games with at least 300 passing yards (tied for third most).
30. The only three QBs with more such games in that span are Jared Goff (13), Ryan (12) and Roethlisberger (12).
30a. Ryan has started 32 games in that span, Big Ben and Goff 31.
30b. Winston has started just 22!
30c. In other words, over the past two seasons, Winston has thrown for at least 300 yards in half of his starts.
31. Last season, Winston threw for a league-high 10.7 air yards per pass attempt.
32. From 2013-17, the Arizona Cardinals under Bruce Arians were second in air yards per pass attempt.
32a. Bruce Arians is now the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
33. Alvin Kamara is one of 10 players with 80-plus catches in each of the past two years.
34. The rest of the list includes eight wide receivers and Christian McCaffrey.
35. Last season, Kamara became only the third player in NFL history with consecutive seasons of 700-plus rushing yards and 700-plus receiving yards.
35a. The other two are Marshall Faulk and Herschel Walker.
36. Last season, in Weeks 1-4 without Mark Ingram II, Kamara averaged 22.8 touches per game, 152.8 yards per game and 34.0 fantasy PPG.
37. In fact, Kamara has had 17 career games in which he received at least 15 touches. In those games, he is averaging 26.0 fantasy PPG.
37a. Todd Gurley II was RB1 on a per-game basis last season with 26.6 fantasy PPG.
37b. Ingram is now with the Baltimore Ravens.
37c. Last season, in games in which Dalvin Cook was active, Latavius Murrayaveraged 7.5 touches per game.
38. Since 2016, there have been only five instances in which a player was responsible for at least 70% of his team's carries: Gurley (2016), Le'Veon Bell(2017), Saquon Barkley (2018) ... and the past two seasons that David Johnsonhas been healthy (2016 and 2018).
39. With Kliff Kingsbury as the head coach at Texas Tech from 2013-18, the Red Raiders passed 61.5% of the time, the second-highest rate in FBS.
40. During Kingsbury's tenure, Texas Tech RBs caught 363 passes, 10th-most in the nation.
41. The Red Raiders were actually sixth in FBS in RB receptions in 2018.
42. In his past two healthy seasons, David Johnson has averaged 65 receptions (and 275 carries).
43. He has scored in 55.1% of his career NFL games.
44. That's the fourth-highest rate since he entered the league (minimum 30 games played) and includes his rookie season, when he was mostly a backup.
45. As of this writing, Johnson is being drafted in the second round in ESPN leagues.
46. Since Andy Reid took over as head coach in Kansas City in 2013, Chiefs RBs have ranked top-four in the NFL in: yards per carry, rushing touchdowns, yards before first contact per rush, red zone rushing touchdowns, yards per catch, red zone targets, receiving touchdowns and fantasy points.
47. In the six games Damien Williams got double-digit touches last season, including playoffs, he averaged 24.4 fantasy points per game.
48. Last season, 24.4 points per game would have ranked third, just ahead of McCaffrey.
49. During those six games (146.2 points), Williams averaged 1.39 fantasy points per touch.
50. Some other 2018 fantasy points-per-touch rates: Kamara (1.29), Melvin Gordon (1.22), McCaffrey (1.18), Gurley (1.18), Barkley (1.10).
51. In those six games, Williams averaged 4.7 catches per game and 4.88 yards per carry.
52. Behind him on the depth chart are 29-year-old Carlos Hyde, who is on his fourth team in two years, 2019 sixth-round pick Darwin Thompson and undrafted free agents Darrel Williams, Marcus Marshall and Josh Caldwell.
53. Williams is currently being drafted as RB19, in the fifth round, in ESPN leagues.
54. In five of the six years Adam Gase has been an NFL head coach or offensive coordinator, his teams have been 21st or worse in terms of RB receptions.
55. The one year his offense was better than 20th in this category was 2013 in Denver, when Peyton Manning threw 55 touchdown passes.
55a. And even that season, Denver RBs were just 19th in target share.
56. In 2015, under Gase, Matt Forte averaged just 3.4 catches per game.
57. In the two seasons prior to Gase showing up, Forte averaged 5.5 catches per game.
58. During Gase's three seasons in Miami, the Dolphins ranked dead-last in offensive snaps per game.
59. In Le'Veon Bell's two best fantasy seasons (total points) the Steelers ranked in the top 10 in offensive snaps per game.
60. The only time Bell has played in all 16 games in a season was in 2014.
61. Last season, the Seahawks ran the ball an NFL-high 49.5% of the time.
62. In fact, they have run the ball at the highest rate in the NFL since Russell Wilson came into the NFL.
63. On the run-heaviest team in the NFL last season, Rashaad Penny averaged 6.1 carries per game.
64. Last season, in the Seahawks' final seven games (including playoffs), Penny got zero targets.
65. Meanwhile, on a per-game basis, only Ezekiel Elliott and Gurley averaged more rushing attempts last season than ... Chris Carson.
66. Carson lost yardage on just 6.5% of carries, the fifth-lowest rate among qualified RBs.
67. Last season, there were only three running backs with at least 1,100 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns: Barkley, Gurley ... and Carson.
68. In the nine games he received at least 15 carries last season, Carson scored eight times.
69. Mike Davis had 146 touches for the Seahawks last season, or 9.7 per game.
69a. Davis is now with the Chicago Bears.
70. Last season, despite playing just 14 games, Carson finished as RB15 in total points.
71. As of this writing, Carson is being drafted as RB24, in the sixth round on ESPN.
72. In 2017, the New Orleans Saints were seventh in rush percentage, 10th in red zone rush percentage, 13th in rushes per game and ... first in rushing touchdowns.
73. In 2018, the Saints were third in rush percentage, fourth in red zone rush percentage, fifth in rushes per game and ... first in rushing touchdowns.
74. Only three running backs have scored at least six rushing touchdowns in each of the past four seasons: Todd Gurley of the Rams, former Saint Mark Ingram and ... new Saint Latavius Murray.
74a. As of this writing, Murray is being drafted as RB35, in the 11th round.
75. Last season, LeSean McCoy gained five-plus yards on just 25.5% of carries (among 47 qualified RBs, only LeGarrette Blount had a worse rate).
75a. McCoy was held to under 70 yards in 10 of 14 games last season.
75b. He averaged just 3.2 yards per carry, ranking him 46th out of 47 qualified running backs.
75c. He was RB45 on a per-game basis.
75d. From Week 12 on last season, Josh Allen accounted for 53.1% of the Bills' rushing yards, and even Chris Ivory was more efficient than McCoy when running the ball during that span.
76. Odell Beckham Jr. ranks third in points per deep catch (5.52) among players with at least 50 deep receptions since he entered the league in 2014.
77. In the past three seasons, Eli Manning has a 39% deep completion percentage and a 5% deep touchdown rate, both in the bottom third of the NFL.
78. Last season, under the playcalling of current head coach Freddie Kitchens, Baker Mayfield ranked fifth in deep completion percentage (52.1%) and 11th in TD rate on deep passes (8.2%).
79. On a per-game basis, Julian Edelman was the 12th-best WR in fantasy in 2018.
79a. He averaged 17.3 fantasy PPG, better than T.Y. Hilton, A.J. Green and Keenan Allen, among others.
80. He also averaged 1.67 red zone targets per game in 2018 (only Zach Ertzaveraged more).
81. In Edelman's past 16 regular-season games without Rob Gronkowski, he has had 180 targets.
81a. He also caught 114 balls for 1,374 yards and three touchdowns in those games, which works out to 269.4 points.
82. Last season's No. 10 WR, Stefon Diggs, scored 266.3 points.
83. Since 2017, Andy Dalton is 31st in completion percentage.
83a. He's 27th in deep completion percentage.
83b. He's 31st in yards per deep pass.
84. Week 10 of the 2017 season marks the last time A.J. Green had a 40-yard catch.
85. Green has missed at least six games in two of the past three years, played all 16 games just twice in five years and turns 31 this July.
86. The top pass-catcher (WR/TE) during the Cam Newton era (2011-18) has averaged 7.6 targets per game.
87. In DJ Moore's three career games with more than seven targets, he has averaged 19.4 fantasy PPG.
87a. On a per-game basis, that would have made him WR7 last season.
88. The first game Moore played more than half of the Panthers' offensive snaps came in Week 8.
89. From that point forward, Moore was a top-20 wide receiver in receptions, receiving yards, yards after the catch and fantasy points.
90. Devin Funchess and his 80 targets in 15 games last season are now on the Indianapolis Colts.
90a. As of this writing, Moore is currently being drafted at WR28, in the eighth round, on ESPN.
91. Over the past two seasons, Evan Engram has played in 14 games without Beckham. In those games, he has averaged 13.8 fantasy points per game.
91a. Last season, that would have made him TE5 on a per-game basis.
92. Last season, Engram played four games without Beckham but with Saquon Barkley.
93. Engram had at least 75 yards in all four of them and averaged 16.2 fantasy PPG.
93a. That would have been good enough for TE4 on a per-game basis last season.
94. During the past four seasons, only Tom Brady has thrown more TD passes to tight ends than ... Philip Rivers.
95. In 2018, O.J. Howard was a top-10 TE in seven of his 10 games played. Only Travis Kelce (81.3%) and Zach Ertz (75%) were better.
96. Howard had at least 50 yards in 80% of his games last season. Only Kelce and George Kittle had higher rates.
97. Last season, Vance McDonald was the 10th-best tight end in fantasy.
97a. His 3.8 yards per catch after first contact was third-highest in the NFL among all players last season.
98. Last season, the Steelers ranked eighth in TE targets.
99. The departures of Antonio Brown and Jesse James from the Steelers free up 209 targets from last season.
100. As of this writing, McDonald is being drafted as TE11, in the 12th round, on ESPN.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- can't believe June is almost over. He is the founder of the Fantasy Life app and the owner of RotoPass.com.