Which player do you want?
“Running Back A” is an absolute scoring machine, the second-best RB in the NFL in rushes per touchdown. His 12 rushing touchdowns in his final nine games last season led the NFL during that span and he was second in rushing yards, scoring more fantasy points than even Christian McCaffrey. A big play waiting to happen, he led all RBs (minimum 100 carries) in percentage of rushes that went for five-plus yards and 10-plus yards last season. He ran behind a great offensive line (he was second among RBs in yards per rush before first contact) and he was tough to bring down when you finally got to him (he was top 10 among RBs in yards per rush after first contact). He’s the starting running back on one of the best running teams in the NFL, a squad that is top five in the league in both rush percentage and red zone rush percentage, so it’s exciting to think about how much he’ll get fed since he was fourth best among RBs (minimum 100 carries) in fantasy points per touch. Running Back A is sure to be a centerpiece on many fantasy championship teams this season.
“Running Back B” was third on his own team last season in red zone carries and is more of a career special-teams player than fantasy asset at running back. At best a situational player, he had only three games last season with more than 12 touches, and in 16 games last season he had just six goal-to-go carries (compared to 21 for the other running backs on his team), showing that his team had a lack of faith in him near the goal line. Speaking of those other running backs, our guy is on the wrong side of a committee situation, as there were two other RBs on his team last season who averaged more carries per game and three other running backs on his team who had more receptions. And that’s despite the fact that Running Back B was the only RB on his team to play all 16 games last season. He was nonexistent in the passing game (just 1.4 targets per game, and he had zero or one catch in 12 of 16 games) and is now 28 years old. His own team wouldn’t even commit to him on the field last season, so why should you?
So, which player do you want?
Understand that every single stat I mentioned above about each player is 100% true.
Which player do you want?
They are going in the same round in ESPN leagues.
Which player do you want?
You just read almost 400 words about two players, so I would expect you to have at least a leaning toward one of these guys over the other.
So the draft clock is winding down … gotta make a call … five seconds left. Which player do you want?
Before you answer, you should know one more fact about each guy.
Running Back A’s name is Raheem Mostert.
Oh, and I should also mention this.
Running Back B’s name is … also Raheem Mostert.
Hold that thought, as I’d like to welcome you, officially, to the 2020 fantasy football season. Pull down your face mask and put your feet up. May I make you a custom Zoom background?
As I have now for 15 years, I always kick off my fantasy football written work for the upcoming season with my “100 Facts” column. Often (I mean OFTEN) imitated, never duplicated, I choose to do 100 Facts first for a very specific reason. Because before you start researching (or, even before you continue researching — I see you, dynasty and best ball leaguers), you need to fully understand that what you are about to read/watch/listen to is NOT the truth.
Well, at least not the FULL truth.
Did you know that the quote “There are three kind of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics” is the most cited quotation of 2020?
You didn’t know that because I didn’t know that until I just made it up 10 seconds ago. But somewhere, sometime, some blog or website or person on Facebook will actually declare it to be the most used phrase “per ESPN.com” without mentioning that I am completely full of it, and then someone else will repeat it and share it, and then it’s off and running.
We are in the greatest era of information (and misinformation!) ever. When I started writing this column, it was about grinding and going that extra mile to find an unearthed piece of research, of digging deeper than your league mates to find an edge. Now, thanks to the internet, thanks to easy access to game film, thanks to social media, podcasting, digital video, etc., anyone who wants find something out can easily do so.
So that’s why I start my season of analysis with this column and always make the same point. There is no lesson I can impart this year that is more important than this:
Your fantasy football success in 2020 is NOT going to be based on how much you read/watch/listen/number-crunch.
Much more important is how you interpret whatever you research: what you believe and, maybe even more crucial, what you ignore.
Because the idea that there are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics, is very true, my friend. As I showed above with Raheem Mostert, I can make stats say anything — literally anything — I want. I could talk down Lamar Jackson if I had to. I just have to choose the right stats to share and ignore the others. Or I can ask my friends “Thirsty” Kyle Soppe from the Fantasy Focus 06010 podcast and the “Stat-a-pillar,” Damian Dabrowski from The Fantasy Show on ESPN+, to find me the right stat, which I have done at various points in this column.
And once armed with my stats, I can shape the narrative to fit whatever I want to convince you of. If I’m pro-Raheem Mostert this year, I focus on the run-heavy tendencies of the Niners, I use his legitimately impressive yards-per-carry and yards-after-contact numbers, and I sneakily use his stats from the final nine games, not mentioning that those numbers include his three postseason games, when most of his “competition” (like CMC) wasn’t playing. I ignore Kyle Shanahan’s multi-RB approach and Mostert’s complete lack of usage in the passing game.
Of course, if I’m down on Mostert, I take his full-season numbers, not the numbers starting with the Week 13 Ravens game, which was his first “breakout” game and which is a more accurate time frame for his expected usage this year. I lean heavily into his lack of passing-game work while not mentioning his scoring prowess, I highlight his age without disclosing he has fewer than 250 regular-season carries for his CAREER. Or that the Niners shipped Matt Breida out of town and his main competition for touches this season is Tevin Coleman (played all 16 games just once in five NFL seasons) and Jerick McKinnon (missed the past two seasons entirely).
Oh yeah. You see, there’s very little in this world I am actually good at, but one thing I am a world-class master at? Manipulating stats to tell the story I want.
So this article is to remind you that I do that. I do it all the time. I will do it every single time you see me this year.
And so does everyone else.
Some of us admit it, many others don’t, but EVERYONE does it.
They do it in fantasy football analysis, they do it in politics, protests, pop culture, office presentations and happy hour debates. They tell you the stats or side of the story that supports what they think.
They’ll disguise it as stats. They’ll claim it’s unbiased and objective, but that’s a crock. Because just by selecting what stat or video they show you, they are editorializing. Even if they wanted to, there just isn’t enough time in the day to do a deep dive on every player and show you everything.
I work for a 24/7/365 sports news and information media company that has multiple around-the-clock cable channels, a radio network, a direct-to-consumer platform (ESPN+), a popular website and two apps (ESPN and ESPN Fantasy) that will send you alerts and keep you up-to-date on any stat, trend, news, highlight and piece of content you could ever possibly want to be aware of at any given time.
I mean, hell, I have a podcast that will be streamed live on camera in multiple places every weekday this season and an almost-daily TV show on ESPN+. There will be many digital video clips from both shows every day. I am on social media everywhere; I do segments on ESPN TV shows like SportsCenter and NFL Live; I have rankings, columns and — during the season — a three-hour TV show on Sundays before kickoff.
And that’s just dumb me, right?
There are tons of smart men and women out there, analyzing fantasy football and specific NFL players’ value in the game from every possible angle. Whether it’s ESPN, many other media companies, websites, podcasts, radio shows, blogs or Twitter, we’re all talking, writing, arguing, tweeting, performing, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
And every single one of us is telling you why this guy is awesome and this one is a bum, and why that guy is undervalued and how you need to ignore this other guy. IT’S ALL JUST OPINION.
Facts and stats and snippets of game film parsed to show you the side that supports their opinion.
And ONLY that opinion.
Your job? Watch the games, crunch the numbers, mock draft like crazy, figure out which analysts you trust and whose thinking aligns with yours. Question everyone and everything you hear, many times over. Take it all in and then make your own call.
Because ultimately, that’s all any of us are doing, especially me: taking a small piece of a big picture and making a call.
It’s what I have done here. I’ve done my research, I’ve looked at the stats, I’ve watched the film and I’ve talked to my contacts. I’ve made a call and now I’m going to show you a bunch of stats.
Stats that support what I want you to think.
Everything you are about to read below is an accurate statistical statement. A heavily researched, well-thought-out, 100-percent-true, can’t-be-argued-with, fully vetted fact.
Some of them are about players, some of them are about coaches, and not a damn bit of it tells the whole story.
These are 100 facts you need to know before you draft.
What you do with them is up to you.
1. In 2019, nine of the top 10 fantasy quarterbacks had at least 200 rushing yards.
2. Last season, Dak Prescott had the second-most deep completions in the NFL.
3. The third-highest completion percentage on deep passes.
4. The fourth-most deep pass attempts.
5. The fifth-highest yards per attempt.
6. This year, the Dallas Cowboys drafted CeeDee Lamb, who was tied for second in the nation in TDs of 35-plus yards last season.
7. Last season, Prescott had 11 weekly finishes as a top-12 QB.
7a. Only Lamar Jackson had more.
8. Since Amari Cooper joined the Cowboys, Prescott is the second-best QB in total fantasy points.
8a. As of this writing, he is being drafted as QB6 on ESPN.
9. Last season, Kyler Murray was fourth in pass attempts outside the pocket.
10. He was 21st in touchdown percentage on passes outside the pocket.
11a. He also has the second-most receiving yards on plays where his QB is outside the pocket.
11b. … and the third-most receptions on plays where his QB is outside the pocket.
12. During Bruce Arians’ final two seasons as the Arizona head coach, the Cardinals ranked fifth in pass percentage (63.8%).
13. Last season, Arians’ Buccaneers ranked sixth in pass percentage (66.5%).
14. In Tom Brady’s past 16 games with 40-plus pass attempts, he has 301.2 fantasy points (18.8 per game).
14a. That point total would’ve ranked as QB6 last season.
14b. Jameis Winston was QB5 last season with 305.4 fantasy points.
15. Last season, Aaron Rodgers was held to less than 15 fantasy points in 10 of 16 games.
16. He had his lowest completion percentage since 2015.
17. He had the third-lowest completion percentage in the NFL on deep passes.
18. He was off target on 20% of his throws, the fourth-highest rate in the NFL.
18a. In fact, since the start of 2018, only two other QBs have been off target on a higher percentage of throws.
20. In head coach Matt LaFleur’s first season, Aaron Rodgers had his fewest pass attempts in a season in which he played all 16 games since 2014.
21. Last season, the Green Bay Packers went 13-3, their best regular-season record since 2011, and went to the NFC Championship Game.
22. Last season, the New York Giants were fourth in overall pass percentage.
23. They were third in red zone pass percentage.
24. Daniel Jones had at least 20 yards rushing in seven of 12 starts.
25. Despite having just 12 games in which he attempted at least five passes, Jones had four games with 28 or more fantasy points, tied for third most in the NFL.
26. From Week 8 on last season, Jones was the fifth-best QB in fantasy.
28. Jay Gruden was the offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals from 2011 to 2013.
29. In those three seasons, in order, Andy Dalton was QB20, QB13 and QB6 in fantasy points per game.
29a. 2011 was Dalton’s rookie season.
30. Jay Gruden was the head coach in Washington from 2014 until Week 5 of the 2019 season.
31. In 2014, Washington had three different QBs start games.
31a. In 2018, Washington had four different QBs start games.
31b. In 2019, Gruden was fired five weeks in.
32. From 2015 through 2017, Kirk Cousins was QB11, QB6 and QB7 in fantasy points per game.
33. Last season, Gardner Minshew II had at least 16 fantasy points in eight of 12 starts.
34. He had at least 27 yards rushing in eight of 12 starts.
35. He just got Gruden as his offensive coordinator.
35a. As of this writing, Minshew’s ADP on ESPN is QB27.
36. Since 2014, Philip Rivers has finished as a top-10 QB in total points just once.
37. Last season, when Rivers was pressured, he had more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (six).
38. Last season, when Rivers was pressured, he ranked 21st in points per pass attempt.
39. Last season, the Chargers were seventh best at preventing pressure.
40. The Colts, Rivers’ new team, were 25th.
41. From 2017 to 2019, 83.3% of running backs who finished the season top 10 at the position caught at least 50 passes.
42. Since the start of 2018, the sixth-best running back in yards per rush after first contact is … Austin Ekeler.
42a. In Week 5 of last season, Melvin Gordon returned to the Chargers.
43. From Week 5 on last season, Ekeler was the fifth-best RB in fantasy.
44. Since he entered the NFL, Ekeler is third among running backs (minimum 100 carries) in fantasy points per touch.
44a. Gordon is now a member of the Denver Broncos.
45. Last season, in Weeks 1-9, Nick Chubb was RB5 on a points-per-game basis (18.93).
46. Last season, in Weeks 10-17, Chubb was RB23 on a points-per-game basis (12.97).
47. Last season, in Weeks 10-17, Kareem Hunt was RB24 on a points-per-game basis (12.67).
47a. As of this writing, Chubb’s ADP is RB9 on ESPN.
47b. As of this writing, Hunt’s ADP is RB27 on ESPN.
47c. Come on, guys. What are we doing here?
48. Last season, Chris Carson had nine games with at least 20 touches.
49. He was top five in the NFL in carries, yards per rush after first contact and runs of 20-plus yards.
50. From 2018 to 2019, Carson increased his receptions from 20 to 37 and his targets from 24 to 47.
51. He scored nine touchdowns for the second consecutive season.
52. The Seahawks ranked seventh in rush percentage last season.
52a. His competition for carries: Rashaad Penny, who is likely to start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list; soon-to-be-30-year-old Carlos Hyde, who is on his sixth team since 2017; and fourth-round draft pick DeeJay Dallas, about whom Pete Carroll said following the draft, “Our guys are really excited about him on special teams.”
53. Last season, in Weeks 1-6, before his injury, David Johnson averaged 17.7 touches per game.
54. During that stretch, he was top two in the NFL among RBs in receiving yards per game, routes run per game and yards per reception.
55. He was the fifth-best running back in fantasy in that span.
56a. If you combined their stats, that player would have had the second-most touches of any running back and been the fifth-best RB in fantasy.
56b. As of this writing, David Johnson is RB18 on ESPN.
57. Last season, Le’Veon Bell was eighth in touches per game.
58. He had just four total touchdowns on 311 touches.
59. The other eight RBs with at least 300 touches last season averaged 11.5 touchdowns.
60a. As of this writing, Le’Veon Bell’s ADP on ESPN is fifth round.
61. In the 48 regular-season games Doug Pederson has been the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, there have been only six instances in which a RB got at least 20 carries.
62. Those six instances came from four different running backs.
63. In the first seven games last season — when Jordan Howard, Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Nelson Agholor and (sometimes) DeSean Jackson were healthy — Miles Sanders averaged 11 touches per game.
64. In that seven-game stretch, only one time did an Eagles RB get more than 15 touches in a game.
65. From Week 14 on last season, Boston Scott averaged 15 touches per game.
66. He was the seventh-best running back in fantasy during that stretch.
67. Last season, there were only five RBs (minimum 100 carries) who had a higher percentage of carries that went 10-plus yards than … Jordan Howard.
68. Through the first 10 weeks of last season, Howard was the 20th-best RB in fantasy.
69. Since Howard entered the NFL in 2016, he is third in rushing yards and seventh in rushing touchdowns.
69a. In this year’s NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins drafted three offensive linemen in the first four rounds.
69b. As of this writing, Howard’s ADP on ESPN is RB38.
71. During that same stretch, Thielen has scored on 11% of his receptions with Diggs off the field (compared with 7% with Diggs on the field).
72. For his career, Thielen is averaging 22.8 fantasy points per game when seeing at least nine targets.
72a. The only receiver last season to average more than 22.8 points was Michael Thomas, with 23.4.
72b. Diggs is now on the Buffalo Bills.
73a. Cooks is now on the Texans.
74. The only player over the past two seasons with 150-plus catches AND a drop rate of less than 1% is … current Los Angeles Ram Robert Woods.
75. Last season, Woods was ninth among all WRs in targets per game and yards per game.
76. He was second in routes run per game.
76a. He was the 12th-best WR in fantasy on a points-per-game basis.
76b. As of this writing, Woods’ ADP on ESPN is WR17.
77. Over the past two seasons, Woods is the eighth-best WR in fantasy.
78. Among the players Woods has more total fantasy points than during that span are: Odell Beckham Jr., Chris Godwin, Amari Cooper, Kenny Golladay, Allen Robinson II, JuJu Smith-Schuster, DJ Moore and Adam Thielen.
78a. As of this writing, all of the players listed above are being drafted ahead of Robert Woods.
78b. WTH, people.
78c. No, seriously. WTH.
79. Here are the 2019 per-game averages for two WRs:
WR A: 4.9 rec., 7.4 targets, 74.3 yds., 15.1 yds/rec., 15.1 YAC, 31 routes, 0.50 rec. TDs, 15.4 fantasy pts.
WR B: 4.7 rec., 8.1 targets, 79.1 yds., 16.8 yds/rec., 23.5 YAC, 35 routes, 0.43 rec. TDs, 15.2 fantasy pts.
80. Player A’s name is Amari Cooper.
80a. Player B’s name is Michael Gallup.
81. Last season, Gallup was injured in Dallas’ Week 2 game against Washington.
81a. He missed the next two games.
81b. He had subpar fantasy performances in two of his first three games back, during Weeks 5-7.
81c. The Cowboys had a bye in Week 8.
82. In the nine games from Week 9 on, Gallup led the Cowboys in target share, receiving yards and receiving TDs, averaging 15.3 fantasy points per game.
83. From Week 9 on last season, Cooper averaged 12.9 fantasy points per game.
84. As of this writing, Cooper’s ADP on ESPN is WR11.
84a. Gallup’s ADP on ESPN is WR31.
84b. Please refer to facts 78b and 78c.
85. From Week 14 on last season, the 12th-best WR in fantasy was … Diontae Johnson.
86. From Week 14 on last season, the 13th-best WR in fantasy was … Steven Sims Jr.
87. Last season, Courtland Sutton had a 26% target share, sixth highest in the NFL in terms of total team targets.
88. Last season, he had only three games with more than five catches.
89. His 55.1% career catch rate is 74th among qualified WRs in that span.
90. In his rookie season, Marquise Brown got at least four targets in a game nine times.
90a. He averaged 14.8 points per game in those games.
90b. Extend that rate over a 16-game season and Brown would’ve finished last season as WR13, just ahead of Tyler Lockett.
90c. As of this writing, Brown’s ADP is WR32, going in the ninth round.
91. Over the past three seasons, Travis Kelce has outscored “TE10” by 118.2%.
91a. Over the past three seasons, Christian McCaffrey has outscored “RB20” by 116.2%.
91b. Over the past three seasons, Michael Thomas has outscored “WR20” by 71.3%.
91c. Over the past three seasons, Russell Wilson has outscored “QB10” by 29.9%.
92. From Week 13 on, there were only seven players in all of fantasy football with more points than … Tyler Higbee.
93. The last time we saw Rob Gronkowski, in 2018, he had only three games with more than four catches.
94. He tied a career low with three touchdowns.
94a. He still finished as TE9 that season.
95. Last season under Bruce Arians, despite inconsistent TE production, Tampa Bay was 11th in TE targets and TE red zone targets.
96. George Kittle’s rookie year (15 games): 43 catches on 63 targets, 515 yards, 2 TDs, 359 routes run.
97. Noah Fant’s rookie year (16 games): 40 catches on 63 targets, 562 yards, 3 TDs, 349 routes run.
97a. In George Kittle’s second season, he finished as TE3.
98. Last season, Hayden Hurst was seventh among tight ends in yards per target.
99. Last season, the Atlanta Falcons, Hurst’s new team, were 10th in tight end targets.
100. … and tied for sixth in tight end red zone targets.
Matthew Berry — the Talented Mr. Roto — swears he will get Robert Woods’ and Michael Gallup’s ADP up this year, if it’s the last thing he does.