Finding Player Upside Through SAM: Situational Adjusted Metric (Fantasy Football)

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It is often difficult to forecast a player’s fantasy value, especially when using standard metrics like total fantasy points or fantasy points per game. These metrics make it easy to miss players who have serious upside while tricky to determine which players are being overvalued. Introducing SAM: Situational (expectation) Adjusted Metric.

SAM is a statistic that ranks players by their performance relative to their expectations. Using an xgBoost machine learning algorithm, I trained a model to predict the expected fantasy points for players during each play. With this model, calculating SAM is just a few simple steps away. SAM is built from two components–expected fantasy points per 50 touches, and actual fantasy points per 50 touches. When we combine these values, we get SAM, which tells us how many points over expected a player is racking up per 50 touches.

Another Expectation Metric?

You might be asking, why is SAM important? What can we use SAM for? There are two aspects that make this metric great.

  1. SAM acts as a forecasting statistic–it tells us who has performed well relative to expectation, in turn highlighting players who are likely to continue performing well in the future (and vice versa).
  2. SAM can be used to statistically find a player’s upside.

These aspects help us answer questions such as:

  • Is said player actually good, or are they just getting a ton of volume?
  • If said player saw more touches, would he be a good fantasy option?
  • Which players have the potential to break out?

The way we find player upside with SAM is by subtracting the players’ percentile for SAM by their percentile for total expected fantasy points–the range of outcomes falls between -1 and 1. This allows us to find the players who are performing the best relative to expectations, while their expectations are still quite low.

Breaking SAM down by position, we see WRs and TEs excelling—this isn’t surprising, as they have more opportunities to break out for big plays since when they receive the ball they are already past the line of scrimmage. All it takes is one lost coverage or broken tackle for a player to rack up more fantasy points than expected–for RBs and QBs, it is a bit more difficult. It is interesting to note that QBs perform worse than expected in fantasy on average–unless you have a mobile QB, you can generally expect them to put up numbers close to expected, meaning other positions will offer you more upside.

You’ll also find that as expected, we see that SAM has a strong, positive, linear relationship with player upside. When looking for high-upside players, SAM is a great indicator of potential talent. See the two plots below for reference.

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2023 SAM Ratings

Below you’ll see some player highlights from the upside rankings. Some of my biggest takeaways: 

  • Van Jefferson hasn’t seen much fantasy volume throughout his career but is an explosive player with a high SAM–he has serious upside potential, especially if he can win the WR2 job in LA.
  • Jordan Love is a player who holds a high upside and boasts a large SAM–he doesn’t get much attention, especially in redraft leagues, so he could be a late-round QB steal.
  • Khalil Herbert finally has a chance to be an RB1 in Chicago, and his SAM numbers show that he can produce in the backfield if given the opportunity.
  • Dameon Pierce: the model expected 159 points from Pierce last season, yet he put up -0.2 points over expected per 50 touches (SAM)
  • Daniel Jones may have seen the best of his fantasy days–while he had a great 2022 season, he had a -0.2 SAM–he is a solid option at QB, but isn’t going to play above expectations–don’t overpay for him!
  • A general tip for dynasty players: if a player has a negative upside and is coming off a great season, now is the best time to trade them! A fantasy regression could be in their future…


Now it’s time to dive into some player insights by looking at their SAM ratings.

*The rank column refers to their ranking in total expected points

Miles Sanders: +0.7 SAM in 2022–Carolina has made huge investments on their O-Line, offering Sanders the opportunity for a huge season.

Amari Cooper: +1.0 SAM in 2022, one of the highest in the league! He was a bit under-utilized, with only 157.58 expected fantasy points, leaving him as a high-upside player (0.17).

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Joe Mixon: He underperformed last season by -0.4 points per 50 touches. He is one of the lowest upside players (-.94) in the league!

Tony Pollard: Pollard finally will have the starting position in Dallas–with a greater volume, he has the potential to be a top RB in fantasy.

Najee Harris: Harris performed as expected last year (0.0 SAM). Don’t overvalue him in your drafts!

Rashaad Penny: Penny has consistently put up positive SAM numbers each year he has been in the league–the key to his success, however, is his health. If he stays on the field, he could be a strong fantasy RB to have on your roster

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Jahan Dotson: Dotson has incredibly high upside (0.34). He can be a big steal in the later rounds of your drafts!

Kirk Cousins: Cousins has the lowest fantasy upside (-.99) in the league. Surprise!

Jordan Love: Per SAM, Love has some hidden upside (0.46) for a late-round QB option!

That’s all for this article, please reach out on Twitter with any questions or if you want to see the ratings for any other players!

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Gord says:

Great article, Sam! Always enjoy your work. Are your SAM rankings accessible publicly? Thanks!

Samuel DiSorbo says:

No, but I could make them publicly available if there is desire!

Eric W says:

Great article!

Samuel DiSorbo says:

Thank you!!

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