2016 Fantasy Football Busts

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If you have been around the fantasy football game for a while, say 10 years or more, you remember a time when the golden rule was “Draft RBs early and often”.  This led to many owners taking RBs in the first 2-3 rounds before even looking at the other positions.  Were there exceptions? Sure, like Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison, for example, but nothing like what we have now where half of the first round is made up of pass catchers.  This stems from a widespread belief that WRs are safer selections both from an injury risk and overall bust rate.

In this article, we will dig a little deeper into this perception of busts from 2016 as well as a historical perspective on the subject.

2016 RBs

In 2016, 4 of the top 12 RBs in terms of ADP busted (i.e. finished outside of the top 24 at their position).  This means that they were drafted to be an RB1 but finished the season as an RB3 or worse, much worse, in some cases.  The 4 RBs who let you down were Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Eddie Lacy and Doug Martin.  You may notice that injuries played a huge role in their poor production, but one can argue that they were ineffective even when they were on the field.  This number was actually very close to being 6, as Todd Gurley and Lamar Miller just barely escaped our definition of ‘busts’ as they disappointed owners by finishing 17th and 18th at their position respectively.

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The sting of these players crapping your team is intensified when compared to the scoring of the boom players.  David Johnson set the fantasy world on fire leading to a standard deviation amongst the top 12 RBs of 49.8, which was nearly double the same stat from 2015.  (if you aren’t super into the ‘maths’, standard deviation is just a fancy way of figuring out disparities between individuals in a data set.)  In this case, it means that not all top RBs are created equal and the guys at the top, especially Johnson provide a huge advantage even over other top RBs.  Because of this, you will likely find David Johnson on a lot of 2016 championship rosters.

2016 WRs

Half of the top 12 WRs from 2016 busted, that’s two more than busted for the RBs.  Not only did more WRs bust, but the ones that did were more damaging to their owners than the RBs.  This is because the likes of Allen Robinson, DeAndre Hopkins, and Brandon Marshall didn’t miss games due to injury, they just wildly underperformed.  Robinson and Hopkins finished 25th and 29th amongst WRs while Marshall’s production fell off a cliff, plummeting to the 50th spot.  If you used a high draft pick on one of these guys, you were compelled to start them every week hoping for redemption as they continually crapped your team.  At this point, it would’ve been preferable for a player to miss several games or even go on IR because at least then you could’ve made a roster move or streamed the position giving you solid replacement value.  Take the Keenan Allen and Tyrell Williams situation in San Diego, for example.

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Since more WRs busted in 2016, many owners will [over]react and possibly swing the pendulum too far into the RB side.  Before we do that, let’s gain some historical perspective.

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Historical Perspective

2016 was clearly a better year for RBs with a top 12 ADP, but 2016 was an anomaly.  In fact, 2016 was the only year over the last 5 seasons where more WRs busted than RBs.  Since 2012, 20 WRs have busted (33%) compared to 23 RBs (38%).  It, therefore, makes sense to draft WRs early if your goal is to avoid risk as much as possible.  5% isn’t much, but it could be the difference between a wasted pick and glory.

Bust rates are not the only thing to consider in this equation.  Risk is one thing but what about the reward?  Since 2013, the standard deviation for top RBs is 43.76, compared to just 27.16 for the WRs over the same time.  This means that the payoff for hitting on a top RB is far greater than hitting on a top WR, roughly 64% greater by this metric.  The picture becomes a bit clearer if you have decided how you want to construct your roster.  If you believe that a player available to you in the first round will be an elite RB, that is probably the pick you should make because the payoff is so high, however if you do not see that roster defining RB on the board perhaps you would be better suited to take a surer thing and go with a top pass catcher.

Draft Plan

This brings us to another interesting question… when is the best time to find a top option at each position? Interestingly, the average ADP of a top 12 RB since 2012 is the 10th pick in the 4th round, about 46th overall while the average ADP for top 12 WRs is the 1st pick in the 5th round, or 49th overall.  This means that regardless of the decision you make with your top pick, you still have a few rounds in which to shore up your roster.  Though I would advocate for moderation, if you load up on one position or the other, averages show that depth at the positions starts to drop off after 4 rounds or so.

Unfortunately, looking at past seasons does not provide all the answers.  While we can be assured that there will be some busts and some booms in the first two rounds, with the booms outnumbering the busts roughly 2 to 1, this does not provide guidance as to whom will boom or bust.  The best way to be ready to make these predictions is to do your research, stay tuned to the Fantasy Footballers all offseason long, and make sure you dive into the Ultimate Draft Kit (which will contain risk assessments) to be fully prepared to make the most educated picks you can to maximize your chances of avoiding a costly bust with your top picks.

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