Decoding the Past

2012-08-02 21:18:14
By JEFF PAUR
Sr Fantasy Writer
RealTime Fantasy Sports

Stafford was difference maker

When it comes to drafting, the '12 season seems about as debatable as any. Many of the so-called experts this year are stating you need to act early on a quarterback. It isn't time to wait to grab a signal caller anymore. Others are saying getting one of the elite backs early is the only way to go this year. And we can't forget the other sentiment that going elite receiver is the way to winning your fantasy championship.

With that all said, we thought it would be a good time to examine last year before making a call on the coming season. Using the data from our money league games, below is a look at the players owned on the most championship teams on our site. Some of the data might be a bit surprising.

   NAME               PCT OWN
1. Kahlil Bell, RB	25%
2. Sammy Morris, RB	20%
3. M. Stafford, QB	18%
4. Wes Welker, WR	17%
   C. Johnson, WR	17%
6. Drew Brees, QB	15%
   Arian Foster, RB	15%
   Tom Brady, QB	15%
   Jimmy Graham, TE	15%
   D. Thomas, WR	15%
11. Roddy White, WR	13%
12. Darren Sproles, RB	12%
    R. Gronkowski, TE	12%
    Reggie Bush, RB	12%
    M. Lynch, RB	12%
    Victor Cruz, WR	12%
17. A. Bradshaw, RB	11%
    M. Jones-Drew, RB	11%
    Donald Driver, WR	11%
    Julio Jones, WR	11%
    Ray Rice, RB	11%
    B. Marshall, WR	11%
23. Evan Royster, RB	10%
    Ryan Mathews, RB	10%
    Cam Newton, QB	10%
    A. Hernandez, TE	10%
    Jordy Nelson, WR	10%
    C.J. Spiller, RB	10%
    Percy Harvin, WR	10%
    M. Colston, WR	10%
    LeSean McCoy, RB	10%

First off, you can throw out the first two guys on the list. Both Bell and Morris were one-week grabs for the championship games, which is why they were on so many rosters. So that leaves Stafford as the player owned on most of the championship teams. This isn't overly surprising if you consider he had an ADP of 85 (seventh-round pick). Stafford was near the top of all fantasy scoring and was taken later than many of the other top quarterbacks. He was great value for fantasy teams.

But this gets us back to the quarterback dilemma. What does this data tell us? Well, here is a look at the top five scoring quarterbacks last season with the percentage of championship teams that owned them.

RK NAME       PCT OWN
1. D. Brees	15%
2. Rodgers	9%
3. T. Brady	15%
4. Newton	10%
5. Stafford	18%

If you add that up, it means 67 percent of championship teams had a top-five scoring quarterback last season. That is a pretty high number if you consider all the options at quarterback. This could speak to the strategy of acting early on a quarterback this season. It made a big difference for fantasy teams last season and could be much of the same this year with the NFL so pass first.

But the big key is identifying those top scorers, which is no easy task. Brees, Rodgers and Brady were top five on about all draft boards last season but Newton and Stafford weren't. Guys like Michael Vick, Philip Rivers and Tony Romo were all drafted ahead of Newton and Stafford in 2011. As we all know, the preseason rankings don't always match up with the end of season rankings. But if you can identify and obtain a top-five quarterback, this data clearly shows you have a much better chance at winning your league.

Let's take a look at the top running backs now.

RK NAME       PCT OWN
1. Ray Rice	11%
2. McCoy	10%
3. Foster	15%
4. Jones-Drew	11%
5. Sproles	12%
6. Lynch	12%
7. Mathews	10%
8. Turner	5%
9. C. Johnson	5%
10. S. Jackson	9%

Rice led all backs in scoring and didn't finish first in most owned at running back but was a solid third. It was a little surprising to see McCoy not owned on more teams as he had a huge season, finishing right behind Rice but he still did well as third most owned at running back. Foster was the most owned of the group, which does make some sense as he missed a few games early in the year but still finished third in scoring. So he produced big numbers when playing and helped a ton of teams when championships with his big finish to the year.

This data does show having an elite back does make a difference but as you can see at the end of the top-10 scorers, two players were owned on just five percent of teams. So the running back spot remains a little top heavy. The elite guys make a big difference but there is a drop off from the top. Keep this in mind come draft day when trying to figure out what position to target early in your draft.

Now it is time to examine the receiver spot.

RK NAME       PCT OWN
1. C. Johnson	17%
2. Welker	17%
3. Cruz	        12%
4. Nelson	10%
5. R. White	13%
6. Harvin	10%
7. Fitzgerald	9%
8. S. Smith	8%
9. Wallace	7%
10. Colston	10%

With more leagues going PPR, including this league data, having a top-scoring receiver is almost a must for fantasy teams. And this data clearly shows that as the top two scorers at receiver (Calvin Johnson and Welker) finished tied for first in most owned by championship teams. If you had either Johnson or Welker last season, there was a good chance you did well in your league.

There wasn't a huge drop off between the third rated receiver and the 10th in terms of owned by winner, but you have to remember the position is very deep so these numbers are skewed some because of that. This league starts two receivers and a flex, which is normally a receiver. The position is deep with a lot of quality players that can serve as a No. 1. It still helps to get the cream of the crop, though, as evident by Johnson and Welker's high percentage.

And finally, a look at the tight end position.

RK NAME       PCT OWN
1. Gronkowski	12%
2. Graham	15%
3. Hernandez	10%
4. Gonzalez	8%
5. Witten	6%

This might have been the most surprising data of the group. You would have thought with the huge, monster seasons both Gronkowski and Graham had at a pretty thin position that the percentage owned by champions would be very high, especially if you consider you start just one tight end. But kind of by surprise, Gronkowski wasn't even first overall in percentage owned despite leading tight ends in scoring. Graham finished three percentage points higher than Gronk. And just three tight ends in all were owned by at least 10 percent of champions. So a lot of championship teams won their leagues will all sorts of combinations at tight end.

The tight end spot isn't a throwaway position anymore but using an early pick on the top guys can make a difference for fantasy teams. While the numbers of Gronkowski and Graham weren't off the charts for percentage owned by winners, they were still very good. They were top 12 overall, which means they were on a lot of championship teams. There is a reason both these guys will go in the first or second round of drafts this season. But after the elite guys, it seems a good idea to wait to grab your starting tight end. Don't reach too early after the top guys are gone.

In closing, what the heck does all this data mean? Well, for us, it still means you must draft well and identify the breakout players and good values. That means as much as anything. But this data also shows that getting the best of the best at any of the positions is almost essential to winning a championship. You can't have guys at the top of all the positions, but getting one or two of the top scorers likely gets you a ton of wins. This isn't shocking news by any means but we think it shows that all the key positions carry value and none are positions you can ignore anymore. The top guys at any of the spots can lead you to a fantasy championship.

We don't think there is a set in stone strategy for winning (i.e. drafting a QB first), but getting a top-level, elite player at a position or two seems the way to go. So if you are picking at the end of the first round and all the elite running backs and quarterbacks are gone, feel free targeting that top receiver with your first pick and follow that up with an elite tight end. That seems the way to go to building a championship team. You can't ignore position runs but don't reach for a position too soon if you can get elite players at other positions.

If you have any questions or comments, please email Jeff Paur at jeff@rtsports.com

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