PlayerProfiler’s biggest hits and misses from 2017

by _tim______ ·

The sports analytics movements continue to gain momentum across most sports. While baseball and basketball front office executives, fans, and fantasy gamers pushed into the outer reaches of advanced stats and metrics galaxy in 2017, football teams were afraid to fly. Did PlayerProfiler’s evidenced-based analysis yield positive fantasy football results using advanced stats, metrics, and analytics player profiles?

Kamara > McCaffrey: CORRECT

In early August, Christian McCaffrey began his assault on fantasy football draft boards. His average draft position (ADP) in Yahoo leagues ultimately climbed into the top-50 overall players. Meanwhile, Alvin Kamara, a bigger, more explosive satellite back, wallowed in the double-digits rounds.

The advanced stats and metrics suggested Kamara would out-score McCaffrey all along, because situation is critical for running backs. Throughout his Saints career, Drew Brees has targeted running backs at the highest rate among his NFL contemporaries. Kamara was set up to exceed expectations in fantasy football by virtue of operating in a New Orleans offensive system that emphasizes running back touches and enhances running back efficiency.

Stats & Metrics Christian McCaffrey Alvin Kamara
 Targets 101 85
 Receptions 73 69
 Total Yards 974 1,336
 Opportunity Share 46.6% 36.8%
 Fantasy Points Per Game 15.1 19.5

Christian McCaffrey vs. Alvin Kamara Statistical Comparison

Cam Newton, on the other hand, targeted running backs less than any current NFL quarterback throughout his career. Despite historic tendencies working against him, McCaffrey received a significantly higher Opportunity Share than Kamara this season, and it did not matter.

The more explosive Kamara better exploited higher quality touches in high leverage situations. Kamara led the league in numerous running back efficiency metrics and became 2017’s signature league-winning, late-round RB pick.

McKinnon > Murray: CORRECT

In the wake of Dalvin Cook’s season-ending knee injury, in a not-so-shocking twist,’s workout metrics affirmed that athleticism matters in athletics.

Jerick McKinnon Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Juxtaposing Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray’s advanced metrics illuminated an upside gulf. While most fantasy analysts pinpointed Murray as the back to own in Minnesota, more quantitative fantasy football enthusiasts heeded a passionate contrarian plea. Based on projected role, historic efficiency, and most importantly, athleticism, McKinnon was the back to own in Minnesota. Sure enough, McKinnon has since dominated Murray in both the efficiency and productivity departments.

Funchess > Benjamin: CORRECT

Once upon a time, NFL Draft analysts suggested that this year’s late-round smash hit receiver, Devin Funchess, should to convert to tight end. The analytics disagreed.

The most predictive stats on Funchess’ advance prospect profile suggested he was poised to usurp Kelvin Benjamin as the Panthers’ primary wide receiver this summer. The intersection of key metrics from College Dominator Rating to Breakout Age to Speed Score comp’d Funchess to rolodex of elite receivers, including his best comparable player on Brandon Marshall.

Get Marquise Goodwin: CORRECT

As with Jerick McKinnon, analytics-minded fantasy gamers leveraged PlayerProfiler’s workout metrics to illuminate Marquise Goodwin’s extreme upside.

Marquise Goodwin Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

From Speed Score to Burst Score to Agility Score to Catch Radius, Marquise Goodwin is arguably the most athletic wide receiver in the NFL. He possessed the highest ceiling among San Francisco wide receivers, and was the ideal waiver wire add heading into the fantasy football playoffs.

Mariota > Watson: WRONG

We can’t ignore the misses.

Marcus Mariota finished 2016 as the most efficient quarterback in the NFL by some measurements. Then, the Titans invested more draft capital than any other team in the wide receiver position and signed free agent Eric Decker this offseason. The numbers suggested it was wheels up for Mariota this season. Yet, his 14.3 fantasy points per game currently ranks No. 22 among qualified NFL quarterbacks. [sad face emoji]

Meanwhile, Deshaun Watson shocked the football analytics community by becoming the first rookie quarterback in recent memory to finish No. 1 among NFL quarterbacks in fantasy points per game (24.3). Watson accomplished this astounding feat with truly uncommon (read: unsustainable?) efficiency.

Metrics Value Rank
  Production Premium +67.1% #1
  Total QBR 81.9 #1
  Air Yards Per Attempt 5.3 #1
  Fantasy Points Per Dropback 0.67 #1
  Receiver Target Separation 1.19 #28

Deshaun Watson 2017 Advanced Efficiency Metrics 

Watson’s exceptional rookie year was particularly impressive given his receivers’ general inability to separate. The Texans’ receiving corps averaged 1.19 yards of separation at target, which currently ranks No. 28 among NFL teams.

Watson also succeeded in spite of a weak throwing arm. This summer, his 49 MPH Throw Velocity (3rd percentile) became the crux of some of the most poorly conceived quantitative analysis in sports history. I vividly recall boldly suggested Watson would be better in the CFL. Though a top-10 quarterback with a sub-50 MPH throw velocity is unprecedented, the analysis was fundamentally flawed. Many quarterbacks do not throw at the NFL Scouting Combine, and there are less than 100 QB arm velocity values in the database. With a relatively small sample set in-hand, I over-emphasized the statistical significance and predictive quality of arm strength data. Sorry!

Fade Cooper Kupp: WRONG

Speaking of me being wrong, Cooper Kupp says, “Hi!” Coming out of college at age 24, I dismissed Kupp as a relatively ancient, small college compiler. Kupp laughed in my face when he became Jared Goff’s go-to receiver in the wake of Robert Woods’ shoulder injury.

Rather than focusing on Kupp’s age on draft day, I should have homed in on the two most predictive metrics on a wide receiver’s prospect profile. His 20.2 Breakout Age was above average and his 40.4-percent (80th percentile) College Dominator Rating was particularly impressive in the context of Eastern Washington’s pass-centric offense. Kupp ultimately finished his college career as the most productive wide receiver in NCAA history. I blew it.

Get Stefon Diggs: WRONG

While Kupp’s preseason forecast under-projected his full season production, most in-season forecasts over-projected Stefon Diggs production after he suffered a groin injury. Analytical models too often assume full health week to week and rarely discount injured players properly.

Diggs’ production collapsed from 17.3 to 11.4 fantasy points per game upon his return from a second groin injury in the past 12 months. Similarly, Leonard Fournette’s per game production dropped from 21.7 points per game to 13.3 points per game after his mid-season foot injury. When a skill position player with a well-documented injury history suffers a second injury to a previously-compromised foot, ankle, knee or groin, treat them as radioactive for the remainder of the season.

Beyond the quantitative analysis, pre and post-injury splits also align with intuition. It just makes sense that if the foundation of a player’s speed and quickness is compromised, walk away in fantasy football.