Fantasy football Web sites like www.espn.go.com like to make a big deal out of their player rankings. They hold them up as gospel and would like you, the humble fantasy owner, to unquestioningly follow their advice.
To actually do so would be a mistake.
Often their rankings do reflect reality. Peyton Manning is always going to be a top five quarterback. Yet in the end, the analysts are only making educated guesses. It is not possible, therefore, for them to always be right, and it is the owners who do follow their advice without doing any research of their own who end up missing out on the gems that free agency has to offer.
Each week, ESPN puts out its updated player rankings, listing its top 60 players at each position. To view them just on a basis of names, it would seem as though player value begins to drop off around the 10th spot on each list. But if you look carefully, you will find low-ranked players who still produce solid numbers and may even still be available in your league.
Let’s take a look at ESPN’s rankings. On its list of the top quarterbacks, ESPN has Matt Schaub of the Houston Texans ranked 6th, while Chad Henne of the Miami Dolphins is ranked 14 spots lower at #20. Schaub has almost 200 more yards passing than Henne, has a higher QB rating, and has thrown for two more touchdowns, making it seem as though Schaub is the obvious choice over Henne. But to be a successful fantasy owner, you are going to need to look a bit deeper. Take Henne and Schaub. Despite his numbers, Schaub has only scored nine more fantasy points than Henne. Why? Interceptions. Schaub has thrown four interceptions to Henne’s one.
So while Schaub has had the more explosive season, he is also more likely to hurt you fantasy-wise. And while Schaub is owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues, Henne is still available in almost 33 percent of leagues. The contrast is even more striking when you compare Henne to ESPN’s #11 quarterback, Eli Manning, who, despite also being owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues, has actually put up fewer fantasy points than Henne. It is because of players like Henne that free agency can be an owner’s best friend. Every now and then there will be a player who is flying under the radar but is still producing at the level of a highly ranked player. If you pay attention, you might find one.
Here are a few more numbers. Maurice Jones-Drew, running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars, is ESPN’s fourth-ranked running back. He has scored a grand total of 20 fantasy points and is owned in 100 percent of leagues. The 40th and 41st ranked running backs, Jason Snelling and Mike Tolbert, have put up 41 and 29 fantasy points respectively, and are both still available in almost 40 percent of leagues. St. Louis Rams wide receiver Mark Clayton, who can still be picked up in 23 percent of leagues, is ranked 30th by ESPN despite scoring nine more fantasy points than sixth-ranked receiver Greg Jennings.
My point is this: Just because you missed out on the top ten players does not mean you can’t put together a strong team. Instead of memorizing all the bullshit the analysts at ESPN or any other fantasy football site come up with, do some actual research. Track performances each week and keep a close eye on the free agents in your league, because more likely than not, you will find something that somebody else missed.
Daily Nexus staff writer Josh Greenberg spends his days trolling free angency lists, and absolutely nothing else.