Fantasy: Examining and predicting missed games

| June 20, 2012

Back in April, I posted a study that took a look at missed games by running backs during the 2011 season. The results showed how unlikely it was for a tailback to appear in all 16 games. Today, I’m going to cover the other four fantasy-relevant offensive positions: quarterback, wide receiver, and tight end.

Quarterback

Our quarterback chart is all over the place. First of all, 14 of 32 (44 percent) projected Week 1 starters appeared in all 16 games. That may sound a bit discouraging (and it is), but it’s actually a fairly high number compared to years past.We see that four quarterbacks missed one game and three missed three. That leaves us with 21 quarterbacks (66%) who appeared in 13-plus games.

The other one-third missed, at least, six games on the year. It was for a variety of reasons, including ineffectiveness and injury. Let’s take a look.

Missed Games 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Total 14 4 0 3 0 0 3 2 0 0 2 1 2 0 0 0 1

Peyton Manning really stands out here as he was the only quarterback to miss all 16 games. If we removed him and instead included Kerry Collins, we wouldn’t have much of a difference in the math. Collins appeared in only three games.

Other starting quarterbacks who missed six-plus games due to injury include Chad Henne (12), Jason Campbell (10), Matt Cassel, Kevin Kolb (seven), Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford, and Matt Schaub (six).

Luke McCown (12), Kyle Orton (11), and Donovan McNabb (10) lost their job due to ineffectiveness. (Disclaimer: Orton did start four games for the Chiefs later in the season, but those games don’t count for the purposes of this article)

Overall, of 521 possible games, there were 396 occasions where the projected Week 1 starter appeared, a “success” rate of 77 percent.

Now that we know how these projected Week 1 starters fared overall, let’s focus on fantasy-relevant quarterbacks.

Going a bit subjective here, I’m going to include Tony Romo, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Michael Vick, Matthew Stafford, Matt Schaub, Matt Ryan, Josh Freeman, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, and Aaron Rodgers as a sample. These were arguably the top-15 fantasy quarterbacks heading into the 2011 season.

These 15 quarterbacks combined to appear in 206 of 240 possible games, which works out to 86 percent success. If we remove Peyton Manning, we get a 92 percent success rate. 11 of our 15 “top” quarterbacks missed no more than one game.

The 2011 season was kind to fantasy owners when it came to quarterbacks. There was a very good chance that your top option at the position appeared in, at least, 15 games. Still, it’s fair to expect a little bit of regression here, which is why assuming two missed games for each starter is a strong strategy.

Wide Receiver

More promising than both quarterback and running back, we see strong participation numbers from the top fantasy wide receivers.

During the 2011 season, players considered to be the top wide receiver option on their team competed in 446-of-512 possible games, which works out to an 87-percent success rate. No. 2 wideouts appeared in 81 percent, while, interestingly enough, third wide receivers held up for 84 percent. Differentiating between a team’s one-two-three receivers can sometimes be subjective, but I sorted them as most would’ve prior to Week 1 of the 2011 season.

Missed Games 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
WR1 14 8 3 1 1 0 1 1 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 0
WR2 12 4 3 3 4 0 1 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 1 0
WR3 15 4 4 0 1 2 1 0 2 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 0

Of all No. 1 wide receivers, we see that 14 of 32 (44 percent) appeared in all 16 games. 22 wideouts (69 percent) miss no more than one. Only three missed more than half the season (Kenny Britt, Mike Sims-Walker, Andre Johnson) and only one missed more than 11 games (Britt). Sims-Walker was due to ineffectiveness, while Britt and Johnson suffered injuries.

Moving to No. 2 wide receivers, we see a drop to 12-of-32 players (38 percent) who lasted all 16 games, while only 51 percent appeared in 15-plus games. Where this list gets crowded is in the one-to-four missed games area. Including each of those players, we get 81 percent of No. 2 wideouts appearing in, at least, 12 of his team’s games. Three No. 2 wideouts missed more than half the season (Roscoe Parrish, Danny Amendola, and Bernard Berrian). Parrish and Amendola suffered early-season injuries, while Berrian was cut.

Finally, we have No. 3 wide receivers. You’ll notice that I included Amendola and Parrish in the No. 2 group, which means that No. 3 receivers aren’t automatically/necessarily the team’s slot receiver. In several cases (most notably the Patriots with Wes Welker), the primary slot man is also one of the top-two primary receivers.

In this grouping, we see 15-of-32 receivers (47 percent) lasting all 16 games, including 60 percent who miss no more than one game. Taking it one step further, 73 percent of No. 3 wide receivers appeared in 14-plus games. Three players in this category missed more than half the season (Jerheme Urban, Jordan Shipley, and Josh Morgan)

At the end of the day, we see that 84 percent of all possible games are played by wide receivers listed one-through-three on the Week 1 depth chart.

Tight Ends

Already climbing quickly towards fantasy relevance, the tight end position gets even more good news today.

During the 2011 season, projected week 1 starting tight ends appeared in 462-of-512 possible games, a success rate of 90 percent. For all intents and purposes related to fantasy football, we really could leave it at that, but – for what it’s worth – No. 2 tight ends  appeared in 399-of-512 (78 percent) possible games.

Missed Games 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
TE1 17 5 4 2 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
TE2 11 8 4 1 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 2 0 2 0 0 2

Of 32 No. 1 tight ends, 17 (53 percent) did not miss a game and 26 (81 percent) appeared in no fewer than 14. Only one projected starter missed more than six games and that was Tony Moeaki, who missed the entire season. In fact, if we remove Moeaki from the mix, No. 1 tight ends appeared in 93 of all possible games a season ago.

Quickly touching on No. 2 tight ends, 11-of-32 (34 percent) appeared in all 16 games, including 72 percent who missed no more than two games. Six No. 2 tight ends missed more than eight games (David Martin, Bo Scaife, Zach Miller (JAC), David Thomas, John Carlson, and Chris Cooley).

In total, 84 percent of all possible games were played by tight ends projected to be first or second on the depth chart. As mentioned earlier, however, with very few exceptions, No. 2 tight ends aren’t going to get drafted. The key number here is 90 percent, which is how often No. 1 tight ends stayed on the field during the 2011 season.

Follow Mike on Twitter: @MikeClayNFL

  • yaopau

    Great article. You mentioned that this year was kind to QBs… what was roughly the average missed games by position in past years?

    • http://www.profootballfocus.com Mike Clay

      Unfortunately, I don’t have the math, which is why I didn’t include it. I do know, however, from common knowledge, that it was a better year, compared to most.

  • 123456

    Year ending injuries happen and when you are drafting that is a possibility. If you add up the total games played by the group according to your tables, I count QBs only playing in 77% of games or missing 3.6 games, which appears more than any other position. Why wouldn’t you include outliers? It’s not as if year to year a QB being out for the year or two is uncommon. You still take out an insurance policy even though there is a low probability of anything happening and even though you expect to lose money on it, because if anything catastrophic did happen it wouldn’t cause you to lose everything. With a good enough backup you still have a very good chance of winning your league even if the rare season ending injury does happen. The points you gain when the catastrophic injury does happen make up for it, so I don’t see why you wouldn’t behave as if a QB will miss 3.6 games which is how much on average including outliers they missed last year.

    • http://www.profootballfocus.com Mike Clay

      All fair points, but I went away from 3 games (instead recommending 2) because of the last point I made. Your only concern is really the top 15 or so fantasy quarterbacks going into the season. Because those players are extremely unlikely to bust or get benched, the probability of ‘missed games due to benching’ is low. The math shows an injury rate (which actually also includes a small % of guys who were benched so they could rest) of 86%, which is closer to 2 games.

      Of course, my sample size is one season. I’ll do this same study next off-season and we’ll see how it holds up.