Classic Fantasy Football Over Thinking
Fantasy owners are often very intellectual, analytical and logical people, but like every other person, they have their flaws. Despite a vast knowledge of the careers of NFL players, even the best owners often enter fantasy drafts with the mind set of “what have you done for me lately?”
This makes some players susceptible to “recency bias”, where their reputation in fantasy is tarnished due to an off year or an injury. The difference between this type of player and a “post-hype sleeper” is that players suffering from recency bias are typically veterans with productive histories while post-hype sleepers are typically younger players who were supposed to break out in Year X, but failed to do so and then are available at a discount the following season, like Lamar Miller. While everyone is on to the top sleepers year after year, players suffering from recency bias are usually easier to be had in drafts as they are older vets who are by labeled as “un-sexy” picks. Hitting on these players is a great way to build a winning fantasy team. These players are former fantasy studs coming off a career outlier season.
There are plenty of players that fit this criteria and can be had at a large discount in drafts this Summer, but here are the top 5 players suffering from recency bias that I think will return to previous levels of play and provide great value in fantasy drafts:
Tom Brady (ADP: 7.04, QB8)
New England Patriots
Tom Brady’s career accomplishments don’t need to be listed, but his dominance among his peers in fantasy statistics should be reiterated. After finishing as a top-10 fantasy QB each year since 2004 (except for 2008 when he missed most of the season), including top-3 finishes in 2011 and 2012, Brady plummeted to QB14 in 2013, his lowest finish since his first full season as a starter in 2001. Many attribute Brady’s bad season to his age and suggest that he is “falling off the cliff,” but fail to realize the outliers present from Brady’s 2013 campaign.
With Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen and Rob Gronkowski injured for most of the year, Brady’s most trusted receiver was former cornerback Julian Edelman. Injuries are hard to predict from year to year, even with historically injury prone players like Amendola and Gronkowski. Chances are they will be healthier in 2014 than they were last year and with rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins furthering their development. Brady’s receiving core should be vastly improved in 2014. Another outlier from Brady’s 2014 was his lack of rushing touchdowns. A historically good converter of goal-line plunges, Brady didn’t have any rushing TDs last year after scoring a combined seven in 2011 and 2012. With a better receiving core and better luck in the rushing department in 2014, Brady should return to previous form and a top-4 QB finish wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Tom Brady is currently high up our QB rankings board than you would expect.
Stevan Ridley (ADP: 6.05, RB29)
New England Patriots
After finishing as a top-1o RB in 2012, Ridley had fumbling issues throughout his 2014 campaign and went from being a lead back to part of a time share. Ridley still put together a decent season, finishing with 7 touchdowns as the 30th best RB in fantasy. Despite his finishing rank and it being clear that 2013 was the worst case scenario for Ridley, he is being drafted as the 29th RB in drafts so far, essentially meaning that anything Ridley accomplishes above his 2013 stats will provide instant value. However, I think that Ridley has a good chance at returning the top-10 level he was in 2012. Ridley has little competition for touches and can easily reach the 250 carry mark likely needed to be a RB1. Shane Vereen is still around, but his touches and Ridley’s touches rarely cross paths. Vereen is a pass catcher who does most of his work on 3rd downs.
Rookie James White looks to be second in line for early down work, so as long as Ridley doesn’t fumble the ball away, he should have a longer leash than he had last season. It also helps that LeGarrette Blount is now a Steeler. The key to Ridley’s success will be his ability to score touchdowns and I think he has the potential to get double-digit TDs. The Patriots have led the league in rushing TDs within five yards since 2010 and the offense looks to follow the same blueprint as in previous years, meaning there should be plenty of goal line work for Ridley. Ridley has the talent and the opportunity to be a RB1 in 2014 and with his current ADP reflecting his worst case scenario; he is a steal in drafts this summer due to his poor 2013.
Steven Jackson (ADP: 6.08, RB30)
Suffering his worst season since his rookie year in 2004, Jackson’s value is at an all-time low. Coming into 2013 with high hopes as the lead back on an elite offense, S-Jax disappointed mightily, suffering a hamstring injury and struggling behind a horrible o-line when he was healthy. Jackson is 31 years old now and clearly looks like he’s losing a step when you watch him, but he has the opportunity to put up the top-15 RB season that owners were hoping for last year.
The Falcons offense will be much improved with Julio Jones and Sam Baker back from injury and rookie Jake Matthews upgrading the offensive line. Jackson will likely only be responsible for early down work with the Jacquizz Rodgers and rookie Davonta Freeman better suit for passing downs, but Jackson will have the chance to reach the double-digit touchdowns needed for him to be a top-15 back. Despite playing in only 12 games (limited from injuries and bad line play), Jackson had 6 rushing TDs, tied for his highest total since 2008. Jackson is one of the better bets at the RB position for 10 or more TDs and that is a gamble I would take with a guy who is being drafted as the 30th RB. After finishing as the RB32 in 2013 in what was a worst case scenario season (like Stevan Ridley) any additional production from Jackson will be straight profit from his draft slot.
Gridiron Experts RB Projections have Jackson bouncing back into fantasy relevance for 2014.
Greg Jennings (ADP: 13.08, WR58)
Jennings busted in a big way in his first season with the Vikings, finishing as the 39th WR while catching passes mostly from Christian Ponder. After an injury riddled final season with the Packers in 2012 and a bad performance in 2013, people are writing off Jennings far too early, as seen in his draft price. Jennings is only 30 years old and had five straight top-20 WR seasons from 2007-2011, including top-4 WR finishes in 2008 and 2010. Along with a productive past, Jennings also has a favorable situation this season to replicate his former greatness. Despite the fast-rising Cordarrelle Patterson, Jennings is the better overall receiver at this point and should be the number one target in Minnesota. The Vikings offense will be improved from last year with the addition of Norv Turner’s pass-friendly scheme and the addition of rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater, who should be an improvement from Ponder and Matt Cassel. Jennings has a low floor as a high-volume receiver, he finished 39th in 2013 in his worst full season and possess top-10 upside as well, making him an absolute steal at his current ADP. I would much rather have this proven vet with upside than a complete flyer like Markus Wheaton or Kenny Stills, both of whom are being taken ahead of Jennings in drafts. Of all the players suffering from recency bias, none may have seen their value fall farther than Jennings, making now the best time to invest.
Andre Johnson (ADP: 4.11, WR19)
In the most bizarre case of recency bias, we have Andre Johnson sometimes going in round five this year. Johnson finished as the 12th best WR in 2013, not far off from his ADP from last year, yet owners have a bad taste in their mouth due to the Texan’s train wreck of the season. While Johnson did only score 5 TDs in 2013, there really is no reason for his ADP to fall as much as it has. The biggest issue with Johnson’s fantasy value is his lack of a QB, but that can’t possibly get worse in 2014, as the Texans will move from Matt Schaub and Case Keenum to Ryan Fitzpatrick and possibly rookie QB Tom Savage. Fitzpatrick is an unspectacular veteran, but he should not have a negative effect on Johnson, who has never had great QB play.
There are not many other reasons to talk up Johnson, as I think he should have a similar season as last year, but that means he should be drafted earlier than he is. Johnson had four straight top-10 WR seasons from 2008-2012 (not counting an injury shortened 2011), including a top-WR finish in 2009. He has always had trouble scoring TDs, but as long as he catches 100+ balls and stays in the 5-8 TD range, which I think he will, he should have no problem replicating last year’s “off” season and possibly improving on it. Don’t let bad QB play and an underperforming Texans’ defense from 2013 scare you away from a consistent top-10 WR in fantasy.