“Can we use traits in NFL Draft Prospects to identify future fantasy studs?“
I recently began a study of recent NFL historical data with one real question in mind. If we can study film to identify prospects that could stand out and succeed at the NFL level, can we go a step further and predict fantasy success as well?
How would such a study work? That was where I had to begin. I decided to take the top prospects at each position that received playing time as a rookie, and measure fantasy success of each of them early in their respective careers. To make it as fair as possible I chose points per game as opposed to total points as our measure.
After accumulating that data, it was important to quantify the success of each players. To do so we grouped individual seasons and the cumulative average into 3 categories.
- QB1: (PPG at least the average of QB12 finisher since 2015) 18.55 or more Points per Game (PPG)
- QB2: (PPG at least the average of QB24 finisher since 2015) 15.52 or more Points per Game (PPG)
- Under Performing QB: Less than the 15.52 PPG needed to qualify as a QB2
After defining and measuring success, the next step was to go back to the tape and my old notes on the prospects before their respective drafts to identify positive and negative traits, with the hopes of identifying a pattern that may help us identify which traits most commonly contribute to fantasy success early in a player’s career. Now that I’ve gone over the parameters, here are my findings.
1) More success early than I anticipated
Of the 18 QBs that I studied, 5 of them posted an cumulative average firmly in that QB1 category. 4 of those posted QB1 seasons as rookies. 6 more of the QBs posted a QB2 average, meaning that 11 of 19 QBs were at least solid QB2’s. That’s a much higher hit rate on those picks than I expected.
2) Early Career QB2’s don’t usually stay that way
Another trend that I didn’t expect to see is that of all of the 4 early career QB2’s that are in at their 5th season, not a single one of them is still a QB2. Dak Prescott has risen to a true QB1, and the other 3 have all been benched . What this means for Joe Burrow and Baker Mayfield, will be interesting to see as they enter the next stages of their careers.
3) Mobility is King
In my search for traits that correlate to fantasy success, one trait kept coming up among top performers… Mobility. In fact, out of the 5 Prospects that produced as QB1’s, 4 had mobility as a top trait and the 5th (Justin Herbert) is extremely mobile but had other traits even more highly rated. When you dig deeper into the QB2’s the trait is still prevalent as 3 of the 6 have mobility as a top trait.
4) Accuracy is less important in Fantasy than in real life
This one shocked me a bit. Accuracy is one of, if not the most important trait in evaluating real life success of QB’s….or at least it has been historically. It’s still an extremely accurate measure of long term success, but it has little if no bearing on early success as long as the prospect is A) not comically inaccurate and/or B) has a physical trait such a mobility that allows him to make up for it. In fact of the top 5 QB’s, 3 had accuracy as their worst trait. Digging deeper into QB2’s 2 of the 6 had accuracy as their worst trait as well. It will be incredibly interesting to see how this effects their real life status as the years pass.
5) The trait that most accurately predicts fantasy success and failure in NFL Prospects is…..
This is actually a bit of a trick heading as their are two traits that best predict fantasy success. It’s also a trick because neither of them are positive traits. When studying the worst traits among these prospects an alarming trend popped up. Not a single QB that qualified as a QB had Reading Defenses or Decision Making as their worst traits. In Fact not a single QB2 that was studied had reading defenses as their worst trait. A total of 8 QB prospects performed worse than a QB2, 5 of them had one of these two as their worst trait. In fact of all of the 8 QBs to struggle with decision making or reading defenses, only Baker Mayfield (Decision Making) is both starting and putting up QB2 numbers. The rest are either on the bench or unproductive.
Keep posted for the next edition of this series as we will dig farther into which prospects turned into the best early career fantasy QB’s, dive even farther into correlations between the scouting report and fantasy success, and identify which prospects fit the profile of a early career fantasy stud.