Fantasy Football: Spotting Trends Versus Overreaction

We are three weeks into the season and Fantasy Football Twitter recently took exception to my contention that three weeks can be enough data to understand trends with teams. 18.75% of the season is over and some trends are emerging. How do you spot a real trend instead of just overreacting to a small sample size? Let me show you how. 

Darren Waller Over George Kittle Trend Likely to Continue

The addition of additional young wide receivers in the San Francisco offense had me convinced before the season that George Kittle would drop out of the “Elite Three” at the tight end position. After three games, Kittle’s targets per game has dropped by about one and a half and his air yards per game has dropped by 15%.

Meanwhile in Oakland, the lack of wide receivers due to the departure of Antonio Brown has allowed Darren Waller to average 9.67 targets per game and air yards just 3% less than George Kittle’s average last season. Kittle is still one of the top tight ends but don’t expect last year’s numbers where his performance was greater than all but the top 12 wide receivers which is close to what Waller is producing so far this season. 

Forget Points Look at Volume

Too many Fantasy Football players overreact to the data because they are looking at the wrong data. Fantasy points vary considerably from one week to the next and one year to the next. Volume is a more predictable number that you should be tracking.

Week One, Sammy Watkins led all Kansas City Chiefs wide receivers in points with 46.8. Demarcus Robinson, led Chiefs’ receivers in points Week 2 and Mecole Hardman, in Week 3. But Sammy Watkins was number one in targets each and every week so he is likely to outperform his fellow wide receivers on any given week going forward.

Compare the consistency of targets for wide receivers and touches for running backs to understand player volume and how it changes over the course of the season to understand who is the best player to start. 

Overall Offense Matters Too

Todd Gurley owners are disgusted by his lack of performance to start the season. Last year after three weeks, Gurley was averaging an amazing 26.2 PPR Fantasy Football points per week.

This year, he is averaging a very pedestrian 10.4 points per game. Gurley’s touches per game have dropped from 22 per game last year for the first 3 games, to just 16 this year. This lack of volume is a concern and was expected, which was why Gurley was no longer a lock for a quality first round pick in the draft.

But there is much more to the situation with Gurley than just Todd Gurley. Last year, the Los Angeles Rams offense was ranked second best in the NFL averaging 421 yards per game. This year the Rams offense is ranked 16th at just 358 yards per game.

While the significant drop in volume should be a concern to Gurley owners in Fantasy Football, the big drop in offense the first three games is as significant. If the Los Angeles Rams’ offense returns to his place as an elite offense, then Gurley’s fantasy numbers will improve too. 

Simple Averages Simply Don’t Work

Three games is a very small sample size when trying to decipher player usage trends for 2019. But if a player’s usage is very consistent from game to game, then you can assume the small sample size trend in data is likely to continue.

Two of the hottest young wide receivers in the league after the first week were John Ross and Terry McLaurin. If you look at the consistency in data from Terry McLaurin, he has seen 7, 9, and 8 targets respectively in the first 3 weeks. John Ross, on the other hand has seen 12, 8 and 6 targets in his first 3 games. McLaurin has tied or exceeded the targets of his fellow receivers in 2 of the 3 games while Ross only led his team in one game. Don’t rely on averages rely on consistency from week to week to determine the true meaning hidden in the volume data. 

Conclusion

Three weeks is often enough time to get a good feel for how a coach plans to utilize his players. Do not get too caught up in overall statistics because one big game can skew a player’s average just as it does for team averages.

Also, the strength of schedule can come into play more for overall fantasy points just as it does for real offensive statistics in the NFL. Does anyone really think the New England Patriots will only give up 91 points this season since they are averaging 5.7 points per game after 3 weeks?

Playing the hapless Miami Dolphins and the quarterback-less New York Jets, skewed that small sample size. Be careful not to make too many conclusions after just 3 weeks but dig into the statistics to see if a player’s volume of usage is close to what you expected before the season began. 

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