Step right up, and climb aboard this fantasy hypothetical scenario. Aren’t all hypotheticals sort of fantasies? Sure. Carrying on then.
So you’ve been a good little fantasy drafter, and you selected a running back with your fourth overall pick, maybe C.J. Spiller or Marshawn Lynch. Really, once you get past Adrian Peterson at first overall (if there’s anyone who questions his status as the consensus No. 1 guy, could you please sign up for all of my leagues now? Thanks), about eight running backs could immediately follow, and they’re all interchangeable. Maybe you rightfully like Spiller more than, say, LeSean McCoy, but you’ll be satisfied with either.
Alright, great. But here’s where our hypothetical fun time that’s very possible takes a turn. You’re now on the clock in the back half of the second round in a 12-team league, and while you know that to maintain your fantasy boyscout image you must abide by the cardinal rule and take two running backs to start every draft, a problem of sex appeal presents itself.
Since early running back aggression is a pretty big thing, ideal late second round RB2 targets like Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Matt Forte are all gone, and if you’re forced to settle for ilk like DeMarco Murray or Darren McFadden, you know waiting to do that a few picks later in the third is better value. You’ve decided to be bold and brave, and snatch a beastly wide receiver.
Awesome, and that’s some pretty quick and innovative thinking (not really). By now, Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, and Dez Bryant are gone, and you notice that both of the Falcons’ stallions — Julio Jones and Roddy White — are still on the board. You immediately pounce on Jones, because you’re a dirty conformist and that’s what all the pre-draft ADPs told you to do. But why?
Although it’s generally small, the ADP gap thus far between Jones and White is still significant at such an early point in the draft. Jones is consistently on top, but the distance between the two varies. For a wide range, I perused the sample on four different sites, and found this:
- Fantasy Football Calculator: Jones (20.3), White (31.9)
- ESPN: Jones (21.9), White (29.0)
- Yahoo: Jones (18.9), White (27.1)
- My Fantasy League: Jones (16.6), White (32.8)
The gap is exaggerated the most by the dedicated degenerates at My Fantasy League, and if we compile all four, on average there’s a difference of 10.8 spots between where Jones is drafted, and where White follows. In 10-team leagues that’s a full round, and it’s just shy of that in 12 teamers. So I’ll ask again: why?
I get it. At 24, Jones is much younger and he’s therefore ascending, while at 31 White has likely plateaued. But for him that peak is a consistently productive one, and despite his somewhat advanced age and high usage, there are no injury concerns whatsoever. The next game White misses will be his first missed game in his entire eight-year career. He’s also had six straight +1,000-yard seasons, and if we hone in more recently, here are his averages over the past three years: 167.3 targets, 102.3 receptions, 1,345.3 yards, 8.3 touchdowns.
What’s concerning about White is that target number and its gradual fall, which could signify a shift in how footballs are distributed by Matt Ryan. Jones may not be on top yet, but at the very least he’s inching much closer towards a near even split. Although White’s 143 targets in 2012 were plenty and enough to rank him among the league’s top 15 most used pass catchers (11th), that volume was much lower than his 2011 usage, when he finished with a career high 180 targets.
A fall of nearly 40 is troubling, just as Jones’ rise from 95 to 128 is encouraging. Perhaps in Year 1 for Jones we didn’t see the true scattering of targets that was intended when he missed three games, and was limited in others.
Jones also has superior leaping ability which makes him a greater red-zone threat, though for at least one more year Tony Gonzalez will vacuum back most of those looks. Remember when he did this just because he could?
Yet still, the red-zone advantage is minimal, and touchdowns are always volatile while fluctuating from year-to-year anyway. Even with a difference in touchdowns last year (10-7 for Jones) that amounted to 18 fantasy points in Jones’ favor, the two finished with a nearly identical overall point total (Jones: 173.5, White: 171.5).
Continuing the search for separation, we can’t find it in efficiency, or the production per opportunity. Jones averaged a half yard more per catch, which is…something. But then when we break that down further and see how much they each averaged per target — and therefore how much they produced with each opportunity — Jones had 9.4 yards, while White finished with…9.4.
But there is one metric with true dominance: yards after the catch. With his greater speed, Jones is often utilized on crossing routes, and plays designed to get him in the open field where he can eat up yardage. That’s why in 2012 he had 486 YAC, good enough for 11th in the league, while White was much further back in 33rd with 346.
Obviously, there’s no wrong choice here, and there never really is in any of these Who Ya Got? posts in which I argue with myself. Usually, though, there’s a better choice, or a choice that’s more right. I’m not sure that exists here either.
Outside of the fascination with youth and the unrelenting urge to invest in potential and some great unknown, I’m also not sure why there’s, on average, a gap of nearly a full round between two elite receivers in a vertical offense that attempted 615 passes last year.