Fantasy Football: More Real Than Imagined

You’d think that NFL salaries would be performance-based. But, those predictions for running backs seldom exceed R2s of 60%.

Happily, fantasy football gets it right.

In A and B, we predict the value for two NFL running backs. If we take a database of 84 of them and filter out those with no catches or touchdowns in 2019, we get 55 players represented by the A-B points. The equation for their total points has an adjusted R2 of 97.7%, based on their 2019 rushing yards, receiving yards, and touchdowns (P-values 1.66e-27, 8.65e-16, and 9.94e-15, in that order).

Leonard Fournette and Todd Gurley had nearly equal scores but took different paths to success. Fournette, in A, had many rushing and receiving yards as he scored 3 TDs. His actual score (183.4 points) exceeds his prediction (164.2). Gurley (B) had fewer yards but scored more often, and his exact number (188.4 points) mimics the prediction (186.4).

Christian McCaffrey and James White contributed much more than this equation suggests. Both had nearly 3 standard deviations worth more points than their predictions. Multiple different variable combinations would offer more insight into player contributions.

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NFL Wideout Valuation: Go Faster

In 1968, Rocky Bleier joined the Pittsburg Steelers.  After the season, once drafted, he volunteered for duty in Vietnam.

When he came #price to the team camp in 1972, he posted a 4.6-second 40-yard dash.

With part of his right foot blown off.

His previous best was 4.8.

What’s the value of added speed for veterans?  If we remove the rookie contracts and draft halo effects by looking at pros in the league for six or more years (thanks, Jem Anderson!), we can find out.  A shows us the total compensation for NFL wideouts goes up with receptions per game.  At the same time, their value falls dramatically with age.  Speed plays a role too. A 28-year old receiver with 4 catches a game running a 4.65 40-yard dash is worth about $6 million per year (note the equation forming surfaces A and B has P-values of 6.43E-07, 0.41%, and 3.6% for catches/game, age, and 40-yard times, in that order, and 2.32E-06 for the entire equation).

In B, we take another 28-year old with 4 receptions/game, but this one runs the 40-yard dash a quarter second quicker.  The extra speed adds another 2/3 to his compensation, bringing it to $10 million.

It’s hard to improve speed.  But if you can do it in the NFL, it pays off.

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NFL Wideout Valuation

If you’re into the game, you probably have a rough idea about how the National Football League assigns values to its players. A little analysis provides unexpected insights.

Each dot in A and B denotes one of 106 NFL wide receivers in 2019. A’s plane shows the value the league assigns to them. It’s a function of their league years, receptions per game, and draft round (P-values of 7.70E-17, 5.84E-08, 0.02%, respectively, and 6.61E-25 for the entire equation, with an adjusted R^2 of 66.7%). Here, we’ve set the round to 1, years to 4, and receptions per game to 3.04. For those valued features, the NFL awards a wideout with $5 million/year.

B shows us how others can get the same. If we keep league years at 4, we find that if we increase the receptions to 6.09, a 3rd-round wideout (note lower plane) can get as much as a 1st-rounder.

That’s twice the receptions for the same salary.

Knowing this informs decisions. If too-high valuations for 1st-rounders come from long contracts too often, perhaps GMs should seek shorter terms. If a 3rd-rounder receives an extended period offer at a low rate but knows he can perform, maybe he should negotiate for bonuses for his excellent work.

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