100 facts for the 2018 fantasy football season
Everything you are about to read is false. Except that statement, which is true. And that last statement about the first statement, that one is also true. As is that third sentence, about the second. And, well, this one. But everything else, OK, everything else, is a lie. Not counting, of course, the declaration that everything else is a lie. Because that part is true. About lying, I mean. It’s not a lie that the statement that everything you will read in this article is a lie, because that part is true. Everything else is a lie, except the declaration that everything is a lie is true. That’s the part that’s not a lie, even though I said everything else is a lie.
Confused yet? Like, you follow the logic, but then it gets a bit fuzzy? Get used to it. Because the 2018 fantasy football season is officially underway. Hello, old friend, and welcome back. Put your feet up and relax. Can I get you a smoothie?
I have written this column for 13 years now. Often imitated, never duplicated, it’s always the first column I write and I do so for a few very specific reasons. One, it’s among my most favorite columns to write. Always good to start the season off with a fave. And two, because it’s CRUCIAL to read first so you understand what you are looking at once you start your research and prep for the 2018 fantasy football season. Because your fantasy football success this year is not going to be based on how much you research, but rather how you interpret what you research. Consider these two quarterbacks.
Quarterback A is, well, a work in progress. And that’s being kind. There were 31 quarterbacks last season who had at least one game with at least 22.5 points. C.J. Beathard, Brian Hoyer and Brock Osweiler were among the QBs who reached that threshold at least once. Quarterback A did not. He failed to throw multiple TD passes in seven of his final 11 games and he finished poorly, tying Joe Flacco on a fantasy points-per-game basis in the second half of last season. While averaging 10 percent fewer pass attempts in wins last season than losses, the less our guy did in the passing game, the better the team did on the field, which is good for his NFL team, bad for us. Is this the end of the line for the veteran QB? His 2016 sure seems like a fluke after his touchdown pass total in 2017 fell by 36 percent from the previous year (he had fewer TDs than Andy Dalton, for Pete’s sake), and his QBR dropped for a third consecutive season. Despite playing all 16 games, he still had his lowest rushing total in five seasons, but don’t think that means his passing is improving. Last season was not only his first with his current team without a completion of 55-plus yards, but also his worst in terms of air yards per pass attempt. Given the state of the NFL, it makes sense why his NFL team has to trot him out this year, but that doesn’t mean you have to.
Meanwhile, Quarterback B is one of those set it and forget it, draft him early and don’t worry about it types. Another year with more than 4,000 passing yards, another year of being top 10 in pass attempts. This QB always airs it out and that’s good for fantasy players. Because when he throws, it’s high quality. Last season, he was top three in the NFL in completion percentage, completion percentage on play-action and red zone completion percentage. And you see that high completion percentage and I bet you think he’s a dink-and-dunk guy, right? Nope, our guy also led the NFL in yards per attempt last season. He’s consistent as they come. In his many seasons with his current team, he has never been outside the top 12 in terms of total touchdown passes, even in the seasons he got hurt. A weekly warrior last season, he posted the lowest interception rate of his career and played in all 16 games. In fact, only one other qualifying QB who played all 16 games threw fewer interceptions. When you keep the ball, good things happen, which explains why, over the past three years, only five QBs have more weekly top-two finishes than our guy. He can single-handedly win you a week, which explains why he’s top five in total fantasy points over the past three years as well. Instead of trying to play the matchups each week, just draft Quarterback B and never worry about the position again.
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. Think you know which guy you want? Feel confident one guy is significantly better than the other? Know which of these two guys you would draft and why?
Fair enough, but before you click “draft,” you should probably know one other fact.
Quarterback A’s name is Drew Brees.
And Quarterback B? Well, that’s also Drew Brees.
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 just ask my friends Kyle Soppe of ESPN Fantasy or Mackenzie Kraemer of ESPN Stats & Information to get me the right stat, which I did at various points in this column. Everything you are about read below is an accurate statistical statement. A heavily researched, well-thought-out, 100 percent true, can’t be argued with, fully vetted fact.
That tells only part of the story. The part of the story I want you see. That’s why I say it’s all a lie. And lie is a strong word. It’s more like half-truth. Oh, it’s definitely part of a picture. But not all of it. Just the part that supports whatever opinion I have of a player. Whatever opinion I want to try to convince you of.
You see, there’s very little in this world I am good at, but one thing I am a world class master at? Manipulating stats to tell the story I want. But here’s the other big secret:
I am 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, in pop culture, in 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.
It’s why I start this column off every year with this same message, and the same confession. Because it’s that important. Nothing you read/watch/hear from me (or anyone) in this column or anything in the future is black and white. It’s all shades of grey.
As you go through this preseason (and, frankly, life), you’ll have countless analysts give you all sorts of reasons 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 belief. Their opinion. And ONLY that opinion.
In a league of All-Pro players, who ruled the gridiron more than the rest? Vote now to determine who takes home the ESPY for Best NFL Player on July 18.
We are in an era of information overload. I work for a 24/7/365 sports news and information media company that has an around-the-clock cable network, radio network, 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, piece of content you could ever possibly want to know at any given time. I have a podcast, a daily TV show, there will be digital video clips from both shows, I am on social media everywhere and then I have rankings, columns and, during the season, a three-hour TV show before kickoff. And that’s just me. There are tons of men and women just like me. Many other media companies like ESPN. And we’re all talking, writing, arguing, tweeting, performing. 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 is about players, some about tendencies, 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. Carson Wentz threw a touchdown on 7.5 percent of his passes last season.
2. Deshaun Watson threw a touchdown on 9.3 percent of his passes last season.
3. Since 2001, the highest rate of TD passes per attempt over a full season is Peyton Manning in 2004 (9.9 percent).
4. The league average TD rate for a QB last season was 4.3 percent.
5. In 2014, from Weeks 13-16, Tom Brady was QB14 (QB7 in points per game Weeks 1-12).
5a. In 2015, from Weeks 13-16, Tom Brady was QB8 (QB1 in points per game Weeks 1-12).
5b. In 2016, from Weeks 13-16, Tom Brady was QB9 (QB2 in points per game Weeks 1-12).
5c. In 2017, from Weeks 13-16, Tom Brady was QB20 (QB4 in points per game Weeks 1-12).
5d. In 2018, from Weeks 13-16, three of the four teams to play the Patriots were top 10 in fewest fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs last season.
6. Last season, quarterbacks who went undrafted in more than 50 percent of ESPN leagues finished as a top-10 weekly performer at the position 89 times.
7. Last season, quarterbacks who were drafted in more than 50 percent of ESPN leagues finished as a top-10 weekly performer at the position 81 times.
8. Since 2015, Kirk Cousins ranks fourth in fantasy points off play-action.
9. Over the past three years, Cousins has a 70.1 percent completion rate off play-action, best in the NFL among qualified QBs.
9a. (Excluding my colleague Matt Hasselbeck’s eight games in that time frame. Shoutout to Matt.)
10. Last season, Vikings pass-catchers led the league in receptions (102) and yards (1,312) off of play-action passes.
12. Speaking of rushing QBs … during the past three years, Alex Smith has the fifth-most rushing yards by a quarterback.
13. Three of the past four years, a Jay Gruden offense has been top 12 in the NFL in pass percentage.
14. Be it as an offensive coordinator or a head coach, the offense with Jay Gruden at the controls has finished inside the top 10 in terms of total QB fantasy points four times in the past five seasons.
15. Alex Smith, last season’s QB4 in total fantasy points and now starting for Gruden in Washington, is currently being drafted in the 13th round, as QB18.
16. Here is a list of quarterbacks who have thrown for at least 4,000 yards and 25-plus touchdowns each of the past three years: Kirk Cousins and … Philip Rivers.
16a. Rivers has thrown for at least 4,000 yards and 25-plus touchdowns in nine of the past 10 years.
16b. Since 2006, he has not missed a game.
17. No quarterback in the NFL had more 300-yard games last season than Rivers, who had six.
18. Last season, Rivers’ ADP was QB17. He finished as QB8.
18a. In fact, over the past five years, Rivers has finished an average of 5.6 spots higher than his ADP.
19. Rivers is currently going as QB15.
20. Over the past two years, “Player A” has played 32 games and and thrown for 6,991 yards and 45 touchdowns.
21. Over the past two years, “Player B” has played 29 games and thrown for 7,594 yards and 47 touchdowns.
22. Prescott has run for six touchdowns in each of the past two seasons.
23. In the past 15 seasons, there has been only one QB who has run for six or more touchdowns in three straight seasons: Cam Newton.
24. Of Dak’s six rushing touchdowns in 2017, four of them came from at least 10 yards out, tied for most in the NFL … among all positions.
25. During Prescott’s NFL career, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten have combined for 40.4 percent of his completions, 40.9 percent of his passing yards and 46.7 percent of his passing touchdowns.
25a. As of this writing, neither Bryant nor Witten is expected to play for the Dallas Cowboys this season.
26. In Jimmy Garoppolo’s five starts last season, the San Francisco 49ers averaged the fourth-most yards per play.
27. In each of the past two seasons, four of the top five offenses in terms of yards per play have produced a top-nine fantasy QB.
28. Over the past decade, Andy Reid’s quarterbacks have scored 2,755.4 fantasy points.
29. If Reid were an NFL franchise, that would rank fifth best in the league during that stretch.
30. Tyreek Hill ranks second in catches that have gained 35-plus yards the past two seasons.
30a. Travis Kelce leads all tight ends in deep receptions during the past two years.
30b. Here is the entire list of players with more catches than Sammy Watkins who are averaging more air yards per target since Watkins entered the NFL in 2014 …
30c. At his pro day at Texas Tech, on his 68th pass attempt, Patrick Mahomes effortlessly threw a 78-yard Hail Mary pass.
31. Last year, Todd Gurley became the fifth running back in the past 10 years to score 19 touchdowns in a single season.
32. Only one of the previous four scored more than eight the following season.
33. In the six games Alvin Kamara got 15 or more touches last season, he averaged 115.5 scrimmage yards.
34. Despite ranking tied for 24th in total touches, Kamara led all running backs with 35 touches that gained 15-plus yards.
34a. Only one other running back had more than 25 (Todd Gurley).
35. Here’s the list of running backs with at least 195 carries and 35 catches in each of the past three seasons: Devonta Freeman.
36. Here’s the list of running backs with at least 1,100 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns in each of the past three seasons: Devonta Freeman.
37. Jerick McKinnon is one of six running backs with at least 150 carries and 40 receptions each of the past two years.
37a. During those two years, McKinnon averaged 31.4 snaps a game.
37b. During Jimmy Garoppolo’s five starts last season, Carlos Hyde averaged 44.6 snaps per game.
38. Last season, the 49ers ranked top five in the NFL in RB receptions, RB targets and RB receiving yards.
39. During Kyle Shanahan’s two years in Atlanta, the Falcons were eighth in RB receptions, fifth in RB receiving yards, led the NFL in RB red zone receiving yards and were second in RB red zone receptions.
40. In three of the past four seasons, the offense that had Shanahan on the sidelines has ranked above average in goal-to-go rush percentage.
42. Lynch averaged 2.47 yards per carry after first contact.
42a. That was the second-highest rate of his career.
42b. … and was fifth best in the NFL.
43. Among other offseason moves to improve the offensive line, Oakland drafted offensive tackles in the first and third rounds this year.
44. Lynch, who had at least 19 touches in five of his final six games last season, is currently being drafted as RB24, in the sixth round.
45. There have been eight rookie running backs who finished top 10 at the position during the past three seasons.
46. Last season, under now Giants head coach Pat Shurmur, the Vikings ranked second in rush percentage.
47. While in Minnesota (2016-17) and Philadelphia (2013-15), Shurmur’s offense was sixth in red zone rush percentage.
48. During those stops, running backs in Shurmur’s offense averaged 5.35 catches per game.
49. Last season, under Shurmur, the Vikings running backs got 108 targets.
49a. The Giants selected Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft.
50. Derrius Guice is the only player in SEC history with three 250-yard rushing games.
51. In his three-year collegiate career, Guice averaged 6.5 yards per carry, the second highest in SEC history.
51a. Only Bo Jackson (6.6) was higher.
52. Despite an injured offensive line and a struggling running game, Jay Gruden’s Redskins ran the ball 54.7 percent of the time in goal-to-go situations, 10th most in the NFL.
53. If you combined Rob Kelley’s and Samaje Perine’s goal-to-go carries from last season, that “player” would rank tied for third in goal-to-go carries with 21.
54. In 2017, LeGarrette Blount converted just one touchdown on 13 goal-to-go carries, a rate of 7.7 percent.
54a. The league RB average was 28.5 percent in 2017.
55. In the first seven years of LeGarrette Blount’s career (2010-16): 33 touchdowns on 98 goal-to-goal carries, a rate of 33.7 percent.
55a. The league RB average during that time was 29 percent.
56. In 2017, the Lions ran the ball 42.9 percent of the time in goal-to-go situations, their highest rate since 2009, which is before Matthew Stafford became the regular starter at QB in Detroit.
57. Last season, Aaron Jones had 81 carries.
58. Eight of those carries went for at least 15 yards, a rate of one such rush every 10.1 carries.
59. Among running backs with at least 75 carries last season, here’s the list of running backs who had a 15-plus-yard rush more frequently than Jones’ once every 10.1 carries: Alvin Kamara, once every 9.2.
60. Among running backs with at least 75 carries last season, no running back was worse in this metric than Jones’ teammate Jamaal Williams, who had one such run in 153 attempts.
60a. Second to last in 2017 was Mike Gillislee, with one in 104 attempts.
61. In the four games in which Aaron Jones got 10-plus carries last season, he averaged 5.6 yards per carry and 14.8 fantasy PPG.
62. Jones is currently being drafted in the 13th round on ESPN.com, as RB43.
63. Last year, Kenyan Drake averaged 5.21 yards per carry in the first three quarters, second best in the NFL.
64. In the fourth quarter last season, Drake averaged 3.41 yards per carry, 27th among running backs.
65. On the same number of fourth-quarter carries last season, Drake had 10 fewer rushing yards than … Ameer Abdullah.
66. Drake had a rush result in 30-plus yards on 4.5 percent of his carries last season, the greatest rate (minimum 100 carries) in the past six years.
67. From 2012 to 2016, there were eight running backs (minimum 100 carries) who had a rate of higher than 2.5 percent.
68. The season following their elite big run rate, those eight running backs combined to see just 1.1 percent of their carries gain 30-plus yards.
69. Subtract Drake’s two biggest runs from last season and he averaged 0.42 fantasy points per carry.
69a. In 2017, Frank Gore averaged 0.44 fantasy points per carry.
70. Last season, Drake converted 8.3 percent of his red zone carries into scores.
70a. That was half of the NFL average of 16.6 percent.
71. From 2015 to 2017, there were only five individual seasons in which a running back carried the ball at least 260 times AND failed to run for more than 1,050 yards.
72. Frank Gore in 2015, Frank Gore in 2016 and Frank Gore in 2017 are three of the five.
73. Among the 82 RBs with at least 275 college carries over the past two seasons, Miami Dolphins 6-foot-2, 228-pound rookie running back Kalen Ballage scored on the 10th-highest percentage of carries (7.1 percent).
75. Over the past three seasons, Baldwin has the eighth-most receptions.
76. In those three seasons, only five receivers have more total fantasy points than Baldwin.
78. Graham and Richardson combined for 33 red zone targets last season.
79. Over the past two years, no player in the NFL has more red zone targets than Graham.
79a. Richardson (Redskins) and Graham (Packers) are on new teams in 2018.
80. Baldwin is currently going in the fourth round on ESPN.com, as WR12.
81. Under Jon Gruden from 2005 to 2007, Joey Galloway accounted for 34.5 percent of Tampa Bay’s receiving yards (third-highest rate in the NFL in that time frame).
82. In 2008, under Jon Gruden, Antonio Bryant accounted for 32.9 percent of Tampa Bay’s receiving yards (eighth-highest rate that year).
83. In Amari Cooper’s 13 career games with 10-plus targets, he has averaged 21.8 PPG.
83a. In Amari Cooper’s 22 career games with eight-plus targets, he has averaged 18.0 PPG.
84a. All three of them are no longer with the Raiders.
85. Cooper is currently going in the sixth round, as WR22 on ESPN.com.
85a. He is only 24 years old.
87. The last time the Green Bay Packers had a top-10 fantasy tight end was 2011.
88. Last year, only five of Aaron Rodgers‘ 32 red zone targets went to tight ends.
89. Here’s the entire list of tight ends to have at least five receiving touchdowns in each of the past three seasons: Kyle Rudolph.
90. Here’s the entire list of tight ends with at least seven receiving touchdowns each of the past two seasons: Kyle Rudolph.
91. Since 2015, the only tight end with more touchdowns than Kyle Rudolph’s 20 is Rob Gronkowski, with 22.
92. Over the past three years, Rudolph has the fifth-most fantasy points among tight ends.
93. Since 2015, new Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins ranks first in completions, third in completion percentage, third in passing yards and fifth in touchdown passes to the tight end position.
93a. Rudolph is currently going in the 10th round on ESPN.com, as TE11.
94. From 2014 to 2016, only Tom Brady averaged more touchdown passes per game targeting tight ends than Andrew Luck.
95. In two years with current Colts head coach Frank Reich as their offensive coordinator, the Eagles led the NFL in receptions by tight ends and were third in receiving yards.
96. They ran the fourth-most plays with two or more tight ends on the field and the second-most pass plays.
97. Jack Doyle’s drop percentage last season was 1.9 percent.
97a. Eric Ebron’s drop percentage last season was 6.0 percent.
98. Jared Cook has never caught more than five touchdowns in a regular season.
98a. Cook has never had 800 receiving yards in a regular season.
98b. Cook has never caught 55 passes in a regular season.
99. Over the past three seasons, in 42 NFL regular-season games, Cook has three touchdowns.
100. That’s not a typo. Three.