Looking Back at Pre-Season Rankings
What a Difference a Season can Make
While most leagues, including all Dynasty Owner leagues, wrapped up their title games last week, we can officially put a bow on the 2014 regular season. And unlike all other sites out there that don't ever look back and hold themselves accountable for their pre-season rankings, we like to take a look at where we hit and where we missed so we might learn a thing or two from the ranking process. This also helps owners understand ranking trends and helps them decide when to take them at face value and when to put a lot of credence in them.
This season, more than any other in the past, was full of variance and surprises at all positions but in particular the running back position. It's always been volatile in the past but this year was absurd. None of the consensus top 3 Running Backs (McCoy, Petersen, Charles) finished anywhere close to their relative ranking or draft positioning. Sure fire breakout stars like Gio Bernard, Eddy Lacy and Doug Martin all flopped.
Here is a look back at what we got right and what we got wrong with our preseason Running Back Rankings.
Running Back Hits
1). LeVeon Bell: Bell was probably our best call from the running back position and possibly from our entire rankings. We were the only site we know of that put him in the top 3 RB pre-season rankings, though admittedly his rookie contract helped boost that ranking. But still, we loved everything about his rookie season, and his pre-season explosiveness from losing 20lbs in the offseason. He finished first in virtually every scoring system in fantasy, and Dynasty Owners who drafted him this year have 2 more years on that incredible contract to enjoy top 3 RB production. The duel threat in the backfield shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.
2). Aging Backs: We hit on ALMOST (more on that in the misses) all of the 'over the hill' or steady declining RBs by ranking them very low or undraftable, including Ray Rice (before the incident), Frank Gore (Finished 23rd overall ranking), Steven Jackson (Finished 25th in overall ranking) and we were certainly not buying the change of scenery resurgence from Maurice Jones-Drew (Finished out of the top 75)
3) LeSean McCoy: We ranked LeSean McCoy 5th when the rest of the world unanimously ranked him 1st (his ADP was 1.7, no other RB was under 2). Admittedly we didn't think he'd struggle as mightily as we did, and we feel for owners who spent the first pick on him, but we were extremely leery of the Darren Sproles addition. Everywhere Sproles has gone he's been a significant factor in the running game (especially out of the backfield) and that's where McCoy was especially dominant last year. We knew McCoy was in jeopardy of losing scoring opportunities to Sproles and that he did. He had other issues (like he forgot how to find daylight for most of the season) but there was enough cause for concern to drop him to 5th in our rankings.
Running Back Misses
1). Jamaal Charles: If we're going to take credit for avoiding the McCoy trap, we have to take responsibility for ranking Charles 1st overall even after he signed his big contract. He wasn't a complete disaster, and he rebounded nicely in the 2nd half of the season after a disappointing first half, but for some owners that might have cost them a shot at the playoffs. He only broke 100 yards once the entire season, partially because of nagging injury and partly because of the emergence of Knile Davis as someone to share the workload. For the Chiefs, this is a great scenario as it slows the wear and tear on Charles but for Fantasy Owners it's a real problem, as we're sure any Charles owner would kill to trade him straight up for a sole workhorse like Murray, Bell or even Forte.
2). Gio Bernard: Our 4th ranked RB based on immense talent, a great rookie contract and a fantastic rookie year, anyone who drafted Gio in the 1st or 2nd round of Dynasty Owners better hope they took our advice and handcuffed him with Jeremy Hill. Still, despite the recommendation, that doesn't excuse our ranking him ahead of all but 3 other RBs and he finished the season ranked just outside the top 20.
3). Arian Foster: We mentioned before we hit on almost all of the aging RBs but unfortunately we put Foster in this camp as we thought him coming off of a pretty major back surgery and approaching age 30 (not to mention a tumultuous offseason with off-field issues) and we thought Foster would decline this year. His top 5 finish obviously points to a different narrative, and his dominating performance was especially impressive because teams were game-planning to stop him.
We are really happy with our WR rankings from the pre-season. Injuries aside, which you can rarely predict with any accuracy, we hit on many of the obvious stars, the emerging young corps and many of the rookies to watch. Sure, we'd love to have another crack at the rookies and ranking them much higher in the overall scheme of things, and reslot Antonio Brown and Jordy Nelson, but overall we had only a few misses. This 2014 draft class will go down as one of the most loaded WR drafts in recent memory if not ever, as there are 5 who have superstar potential and a few who already seem to be at that level (like Odell Beckham Jr.)
1). Emerging Stars: Everyone had the first teir of WRs pretty accurately ranked and again, injury aside, it was pretty easy to say Dez Bryant, Calvin Johnson, AJ Green, Deymarius Thomas and Julio Jones were consensus top tier WRs. All should have the same status going into next year but where we were really happy with our rankings was in our tier of emerging stars...usually young number 2 WRs who we thought would make a leap. In this Tier, we had Alshon Jeffrey, Keenan Allen, Randall Cobb, Michael Floyd and Ty Hilton. The only guy we ranked in that tier that was a bust was Cordarrelle Patterson. We had Hilton ranked 11th (consensus had him 24th) and that was probably our best ranking of the WR group.
2). The Busts: We also called several WRs busts, encouraging owners to stay away altogether...including Mike Wallace, Percy Harvin, Greg Jennings and Dwayne Bowe. These seem like easy calls after the fact but Harvin and Wallace were top 20 ranked WRs in the pre-season.
1). Josh Gordon: We knew the suspension was looming but with Dynasty Owner being a keeper format and Gordon having a minuscule sub-million dollar contract for several years, we thought he was worth the risk and even ranked him in our top 5. His talent is (was?) that elite. But with Gordon, he just can't seem to stay out of his own way and he showed up from his suspension out of shape, not up to speed on the playbook and just generally out of sorts. And with news that he was suspended for the Browns finale for missing a Saturday walk through, there is already speculation that his days as a Brown are over. He clearly didn't care this season, and you have to wonder if a guy like that will ever play up to his massive potential. He's running out of chances, which is amazing given his talent level. It's sad to watch actually.
2). Cordarrelle Patterson and Tavon Austin: Anyone who submitted a WR ranking can probably list these two as misses, as they completely busted this season and both became mere afterthoughts in their offenses by the end of the season. But we had them ranked higher than most because in Dynasty Owner, elite WRs on rookie contracts, which both of them are, can be difference makers for franchises. We had Austin in Tier 4 so he probably didn't burn owners too badly, but Patterson was in our Tier 2 of WR rankings, and he only finished with 1 TD and less than 400 yards on the season. And to make matters worse, he lost his starting spot to career journeyman Charles Johnson who was released by the Browns when they were desperate for WR help. It doesn't look good for CP to ever have relevance despite the Vikings coaching staff claiming they are still committed.
The QB position was more volatile than we can ever remember it. And while cornerstones remained in tact (Brady, Brees, Rodgers...Manning ?) there was some definite shifting in the middle of the pack.
1). Andrew Luck: Our best call in all of the rankings, we thought Luck would make the jump and be the top overall ranked QB when all was said an done and we were correct. His average ranking in all other publications was 5th overall as QBs were slotted so we were quite pleased with this outcome...although certainly not as pleased as any owner who was smart enough to make Luck their franchise QB. Even though he's likely going to break the record for highest contract ever in the next 2 years, Dynasty Owners still have him at an unimaginable steal next season at just $5.5MM per year on his rookie deal.
2). Russell Wilson: We were a little overzealous by ranking Wilson 2nd overall, but much of that was driven by his $700k / year contract so in Dynasty Owner his production was very cost effective. Still, he ended up finishing 6th overall, and in some formats 5th so our ranking was much closer than his national ADP of 16th overall.
3). Ryan Tannehill: While his production was at times erratic, he finished 9th overall in QB rankings, which is exactly where we had him ranked (ahead of more popular pre-season choices like Eli Manning, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford), all of whom Tannehill out-performed as we predicted.
1). Robert Griffin III: We certainly weren't alone (has national ADP was the 13th QB but several other sites had him ranked 3rd overall as we did) but we completely missed it with RG3. Those who might have missed out on Luck took the chance on RG3 as a guy who would make the jump to elite status with his deadly combination of running and throwing the ball where he showed brilliance in his rookie campaign. We figured the addition of a QB friendly head-coach and system would only help RG3s development and the training camp whispers of Kirk Cousins being more ideal for the system were ignored in our rankings.
Fast forward to 2 weeks ago and RG3 was a healthy scratch, benched in favor of noodle-armed journeyman Colt McCoy. It was only out of necessity that Washington turned back to RG3 the last few games of the season. He actually turned in some promising stats, particularly in week 17, but the maddening inconsistency and turnover-prone play that got in Coach Gruden's bad graces remain. It's anyone's guess as to what's going to happen in the offseason but most pundits believe Gruden isn't leaving so RG3 might be on his way out. That's startling to think about when you consider how adored he was just 2 seasons ago.
2). Big Ben: Full disclosure, we thought Big Ben was in decline and ranked him in the overpriced tier (he has a sizable contract) along the likes of Sam Bradford and Tony Romo. Egg is squarely on our face, as Big Ben continues to defy father time and turned in arguably his best statistical season in his career, finishing in the top 5 overall of QB rankings. We won't make the same mistake again next year, as the Steelers have a fantastic core of young playmakers (Bell, Brown, Bryant) and a stable system and coaching staff that seems to play well to fantasy formats even if they stay mired in the perpetual 7-9 to 9-7 range as a team.
3). Overarching this year's Rookie QBs: It's always the biggest risk/reward endeavor in Dynasty Owner (and in real NFL football)...playing rookie QBs. This year's rookie class was touted as a plus group, with 5 highly touted QBs getting forced into action (Bortles, Carr, Manziel, Mettenberger, and Bridgewater). And based on initial results, all 5 of them where underwhelming at best.
Bortles set the world ablaze in the pre-season but threw for over 300 yards only once during the regular season. Even more concerning was his statistical regression as the season wore on and he finished December with only 2 TDs but 4 turnovers. He was a pleasant surprise as an effective scrambling QB, amassing 350 yards on the ground but didn't score any rushing TDs and ultimately turned the ball over almost twice as much as he scored. The tools are there but the decision making is a big question mark.
Carr actually threw for the most yards out of any rookie QB, although he had the most snaps under center. But he did have a very impressive 20 TD to 11 INT ratio, which normally would be something to be excited about, but the Raiders just kept losing and are now sitting at the top of the draft lottery once again. Early experts predict the Raiders could use the 4th pick on a QB (Winston), although they'd be wise to get Carr a top-flight weapon to see if he can grow off his rookie season.
Manziel was an unmitigated disaster and looked overwhelmed in his 7 quarters of play (1 start). He simply looks like a guy who's talent doesn't translate to the speed of the NFL game, and most concerning was the fact that he didn't appear ready to play at any point in the year. If you drafted Manziel with hopes of him emerging as the next Russell Wilson, we'd make other plans.
Finally, Bridgewater seems like he has the most solid foundation and future as an NFL quarterback, as he put up a very respectable 13:11 TD/INT ratio and didn't lose a single fumble...so much for the small hands concern that knocked him down during the combine. And unlike Bortles, he seemed to get more comfortable and controlled in the passing game as the season wore on, finishing December with 6 TDs and averaging 275 yards passing per game. And while he certainly had his share of rookie moments this year, his clutch play and steady demeanor as a leader of that offense put him in the best position of all rookie QBs in this class to have sustained long-term success.