Aaron Rodgers: Mr. Inconsistency?
LeSean McCoy, to many, was a fantasy bust in 2012. Some people took him as high as the second or third overall pick in the first round during August, and he finished the season as the 21st-best player at his position. He missed four games, and because of that, the fantasy football masses have dubbed Shady’s season a failure.
Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand, appeared to live up to his pre-season hype. A first overall pick by several fake footballers, Rodgers finished the 2012 fantasy season ranking only behind Tom Brady and Drew Brees at quarterback. Although finishing at a lower rank than his pre-season score, he was able to prove himself, once again, as a favorable option at quarterback.
But is it possible – and I say this while wincing – that LeSean McCoy had a better fantasy season than Aaron Rodgers?
Did I really just say that?
Fantasy football is a weekly game. In most cases, you’re battling a buddy in a head-to-head league in an attempt to outscore his roster with your own. And in order to do that, just like they say in the real sport, you have to “win the individual battles”.
So what exactly does this mean? Well, fundamentally, you win by having the most valuable, highest-scoring players at each position in fantasy. Because there are only a handful of studs, and because one player can play for only one fantasy team, you have to make sacrifices. It’s nearly impossible (unless you’re in a 4-team league) to have Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, AJ Green and Calvin Johnson in your lineup each week.
It’s why my core philosophy of drafting a quarterback late exists. From a historical, stat-driven perspective, you simply don’t gain a huge point advantage by having a stud quarterback instead of a replacement-level one. Instead, it’s beneficial to bulk up on running backs and receivers, increasing your probability of having a top-ranked guy at those positions. Nearly each year you’ll find that those slots in your lineup yield the most variance from player to player because you start two or three of them each week. At quarterback, you start just one in a standard lineup.
Given this, there’s less room for error at the quarterback position. When you have 12-teams in your league, and each team starts at least two running backs, there’s a pool of 24 running backs being started each week. At quarterback, each team will usually start one, producing 12 starters each week. In other words, a sixth-ranked quarterback is, hypothetically, only better than half of the starters in your league. A sixth-anked running back, on the other hand, is better than three-quarters of the starters in your league.
I took a look at how both LeSean McCoy and Aaron Rodgers performed this season from a weekly basis, and you may be surprised by the results. We know Rodgers – across the entire season – ranked third at the quarterback position. But did you know that he ranked outside of the top-12, a “startable” option, in seven of his 16 games? And did you know that LeSean McCoy finished outside of the top-24 at running back in just one of his 12 games?
McCoy played in 12 games in 2012, and the lowest rank he obtained in a given week at running back was 25. That’d be like ranking as the 12th- or 13th-best quarterback in a given week: something Aaron Rodgers failed to do in 7 of his 16 games.
I get it, though. You’re thinking, “But Aaron Rodgers gave you more elite games.” You’re right. He did. Rodgers had 5 performances where he ranked in the top three in a given week, while McCoy cracked the Top 6 once. (Rodgers did, however, have one of those performances during Week 17 where nothing matters in fantasy.)
The majority of LeSean McCoy’s games resulted in a running back rank between 13 and 19. And as I noted earlier, Shady only ranked outside of the top-24 once. He was reliable, even if you weren’t getting elite play each week. In essence, he was a consistent back limited by lack of touchdowns in a sub-par offense.
Aaron Rodgers wasn’t nearly as dependable. Consider this: If you owned Aaron Rodgers throughout the season, the typical 13 weeks leading up to the fantasy playoffs gave you exactly 6 top-12 weekly quarterback finishes.
Do the math: Aaron Rodgers wasn’t a reliable starting fantasy option in over half of his regular season fantasy games in 2012.
Fantasy players and experts alike often overlook these simple details when analyzing a fantasy season. When you have only 16 games in a season, your sample size isn’t large enough to draw real conclusions based on averages. A performance – like Rodgers’ against Houston in Week 6 – can dramatically skew overall results.
It’s important to remember, too, that injuries to running backs happen at a much higher rate than quarterbacks. But even when your running back misses three or four games, it doesn’t mean you’re taking a “zero” at that slot in your lineup while your back is out. For instance, if I had LeSean McCoy, I could possibly play his backup, Bryce Brown. If I didn’t get Brown off the wire, then I could play a backup on my own team. I’d hope that, while McCoy was out, I could at least produce respectable numbers at the running back spot until he came back.
In the end, we all need to stop with the laziness. It’s much easier to draw conclusions by looking at cumulative, overall point totals. They stare you in the face every time you enter your lineup’s page and see the player rank of each of your players. I’ve fallen victim to making decisions this way, and I know many other writers, bloggers and experts have as well. It’s obvious that fantasy owners have fallen in love with the idea of drafting a quarterback early because the same names consistently rank high at season’s end. Year-long point totals don’t tell the whole story, though.
It’s a new passing age in the NFL. Despite this, in fantasy football, stud running backs still reign supreme.