Student of the Game: NFL Fantasy Phonies

Student of the Game is a weekly column by Sam Pouncey (an over-worked and over-caffeinated medical student) examining various aspects of the world of sport.  The goal of the column is fairly simple: to provide quality and original content that the reader will find both entertaining and informative.  As always, hopefully you will enjoy this.  Feedback and suggestions for future column topics are always welcome.

Everybody knows that guy who’s so much cooler in his own mind than he is in reality right?  And, as the saying goes, if you don’t know who I’m talking about…well he’s going to be our next president.  The NFL is no different, except in this case these guys are all awesome.  However, there are some guys who are much better in the realm of fantasy football than they are in real life.  Today’s column will take a look at the players/units at each fantasy position whose fantasy production has outstripped their on-field production.

Side Note: I readily admit to and apologize for the clickbait-y title.  I honestly couldn’t think of anything better.

Quarterback- Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck (Photo Courtesy of Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

The fact that Andrew Luck has been a better fantasy player this season is more a reflection on his offensive line than it is him, but the numbers don’t lie.  Luck has been the third best fantasy quarterback this season, but is only 9th in QBR and 17th in completion percentage.  This discrepancy can largely be attributed to a poor offensive line, a key injury, and turnovers.

First, the Colts offensive line has given up 33 sacks this season, which is seven more sacks then any other NFL team this season (and the Cleveland Browns for that matter).  Second, Donte Moncrief, one of Luck’s most dependable targets, has missed five games this season.  Lastly, Luck has turned the ball over eleven times in nine games this season (8 interceptions and three fumbles), which is understandable given the line woes.  Still that doesn’t change the fact that the turnovers get credited to Luck’s name.

All of that being said, Andrew Luck is still number one in my “What QB would you choose to start a franchise with?” power rankings.  His athleticism, intelligence and locker room presence make him a potentially valuable franchise cornerstone, which makes it all the more frustrating that he’s being squandered by Ryan Grigson’s inability to protect him and give him a passable defense.

Honorable Mention: Blake Bortles (Do I really need to say anything here?)

Running Back- LeGarrette Blount

LeGarrette Blount (Photo Courtesy of Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports)

LeGarrette Blount has been a fantasy monster this season, especially in “standard scoring” leagues.  In such leagues, he is seventh among all running backs and has put up double-digit fantasy points in all but two games this season.  That is largely due to the fact that he has scored at least one touchdown in every game except one, and has nine total rushing touchdowns through eight games.

So, what’s wrong with his on-field performance?  The honest answer is nothing.  He just has Tom Brady and Gronk to compete against for touches on Sunday, so he tends to be more of a goal-line option until opposing defenses resort to predominantly nickel and dime packages.  Blount has topped 100 yards rushing in three games this season, but two of those were pre-Tom so expect this schism to continue as long as Brady is healthy and up to his UGG-wearinggoat-hugging ways.

This doesn’t mean Blount is a bad real-life football player.  It just means he has a very specific niche in the Patriots’ offense, and that niche happens to be conducive to really good fantasy numbers.

Honorable Mention: Melvin Gordon (Poor week to mention this given last week’s performance, but Gordon has been the top standard fantasy back this season and only 24th in  Rushing DVOA and Success Rate.)

Wide Receiver- Terrelle Pryor

You are probably looking at this thinking, “Really dude?  Pryor has been THE ONLY bright spot for the Browns this season and you’re going to bring the guy down?”  Well you know what they say:

However, Terrelle Pryor you do need to know this: it’s not your fault.  The Browns have used six different quarterbacks this season, including Pryor actually.  Two have been rookies, one has been Charlie Whitehurst, another has been Josh McCown, and the other was the Madame Tussauds’ sculpture of Robert Griffin III.

This leads us to the main reason Pryor’s fantasy statistics don’t line up with his in-game performance: consistency.  Pryor, as a fantasy player, has been boom or bust this season.  Fortunately, his “booms” have been high enough that he’s a top-ten fantasy wide receiver, despite being the 57th receiver taken on-average in ESPN fantasy drafts this season.  That’s what your snooty investor friends call R.O.I., or Return on Investment.  However, in real life, Pryor has only four touchdown receptions to his name and only two 100-yard receiving games, which admittedly for a Cleveland receiver is pretty astounding.

Honorable Mention: Emmanuel Sanders (Sanders has been a top-20 fantasy receiver this season, but barely a top-50 receiver in real life by advanced metrics.)

Tight End- Kyle Rudolph

Kyle Rudolph (Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

 The hardest two positions to differentiate between fantasy and real production were tight end and kicker.  Rudolph was the clear stand out here though, but the issue was that he’s still only the 10th best fantasy tight end.  That means that he is starting in most leagues, but he’s probably not conferring much of an advantage.  However, he is outperforming his draft position as the 19th selected tight end on-average, so there is moderate value there.  As opposed to real games, where he’s been largely a non-factor.  Take last week for example: Rudolph caught one pass for one yard…but because it was in the end zone fantasy owners who started him got six fantasy points.  The Vikings got one-yard and six real points (and still lost).

Honorable Mention: Jordan Reed (Hate to bash him because the only reason he’s on here is injuries, but he is on here nonetheless.)

Defense/Special Teams- Buffalo Bills

Buffalo Bills v Baltimore Ravens
Brothers Rex (left) and Rob Ryan (right) (Photo Courtesy of Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

It’s a good thing this is a low-level operation, because I’m honestly a little afraid of the Ryan brothers and feet freak me out.  Speaking of freaky, the Bills defensive statistics this season have been odd.  They gave up 37 points to “Fitzmagic” and the Jets, but shutout the Brady-less Pats.  (In case you don’t know, that is the Patriots only loss and the Jets are 3-6 with the 4th worst offense in the NFL).  The Bills also have three NOTs (Non-Offensive Touchdowns) and twelve takeaways on the season, with six interceptions and six fumble recoveries.  All of this adds up to them being the 7th ranked fantasy defense, but only the 22nd ranked defense by DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) on the season thanks to their propensity for the dud game against mediocre offenses.

Kicker- Josh Lambo

All I’ve really got to say about this is that someone had to go here.  Lambo has been the number three fantasy kicker so far this season, but he is the only kicker in the top seven of fantasy kicker with a negative DVOA.  This is probably due to the fact that he’s missed three PATs this season and has exactly zero field goals made of 50+ yards.

But honestly, we had much more exciting specialist-related news this week.  Marquette King rode in on his invisible horse this week and stole the title of “Most Badass Kicker/Punter Ever” #makefootballfunagain.

Credit Cover Photo to Jason Bridge/USA TODAY Sports

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