Numbers definitely lie.
It happens all the time. An entire movement in analytics grew out of the notion that stats either deceive or dissemble when it comes to what is happening on the field.
As fantasy football becomes ubiquitous in NFL culture — it’s definitely not gambling, right guys? — a fantasy mindset has inevitably seeped into our brains.
It has always been true that some guys who put up great numbers really weren’t as amazing as those numbers indicated. The rise of fantasy exacerbated that issue because more and more people are paying closer attention to the numbers.
Kansas City Chief fans know about the second receiver on the Los Angeles Rams (God help us). Philadelphia Eagle fans know the second-string running back in Houston, so they can handcuff him to Lamar Miller.
We know more, and because we know more, we have placed added importance on that knowledge. It’s human nature.
Plus, the casual fan has no true way of ranking or grading these players. It doesn’t stop fans from acting like they know, but it makes sense: We view players as commodities in fantasy football, so this is the lens through which we view them.
It’s natural to think a running back who puts up great stats is better than a running back who doesn’t, but that’s not always true. It causes us to overrate and underrate players based on their fantasy value (this also used to happen with Madden ratings).
Here are five players overrated by fantasy football.
Remember, this is not an indictment of their perceived value as players in fantasy football, but rather their value in fantasy compared to their real-life value.
Tyreek Hill — WR, Kansas City Chiefs
This one isn’t quite fair, but hear me out. The Chiefs cleared the deck this offseason by releasing Jeremy Maclin. This is Tyreek Hill’s offense now.
Much was written and said about Hill’s big-play ability as the catalyst for this offense. A lot of that was true, though it overshadowed the real driver of the passing game: Travis Kelce.
More the point, Hill was wildly inconsistent last season, which is to be expected from a rookie, but he was often talked about like the second coming of T.Y. Hilton, rather than souped-up Tavon Austin (which would be more accurate).
Right now, he’s WR27 according to FantasyPros’ composite rankings.
Last year, he was 64th in catches, 78th in yards, and only Larry Fitzgerald, Le’Veon Bell and Dennis Pitta had lower per-catch production. On an efficiency-related basis, he wasn’t very good, but a few incredible big plays and big games drove up his value in fantasy, and the flashy plays always bring more attention.
To drive that point home, he was 51st in receiver DVOA last year and 55th in DYAR.
That’s not to say he can’t be good, but he wasn’t as good last year as his press clippings suggest. No one should think he is one of the 25 best receivers in football. He’s just not.
Jameis Winston — QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I guess I get it: He is the former No. 1 pick who gets to throw to Mike Evans. He has had some big games against good teams, such as Week 1 last year against the Falcons.
But let’s be clear: Jameis Winston is nowhere near a top-10 quarterback. Yet, he is perceived as one because of his connection to Evans, and people expect him to put up enormous numbers this year. That’s reflected in his QB9 ranking on FantasyPros.
The numbers from last season just don’t reveal an above-average quarterback. Winston has a reputation for being a big-play, down-the-field quarterback, but he finished 16th last season in yards per attempt, behind Alex Smith.
Despite that, Winston finished 23rd in completion percentage. The accuracy has lagged. Decision-making, a problem in college as well, hasn’t been there. We have no reason to believe it will be — not yet, at least. Winston was 27th in interception percentage, better only than Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Philip Rivers. That means he finished behind Blake Bortles and Brock Osweiler.
Overall, Winston was 21st in passer rating, which should reward him for the big plays and touchdowns. The problem: There are still so many other mistakes.
Fantasy players aren’t often hurt by the interceptions, or throws that sail over Mike Evans’s outstretched arms, but the Buccaneers are.
Jay Ajayi — RB, Miami Dolphins
Ajayi’s case applies to both fantasy and his true value. I’m selling on Jay. Players who single-handedly win or lose a week always get serious buzz. Headline-worthy performances ought to be discussed and applauded, but they also serve our confirmation biases. We remember that time Jay Ajayi ran for a billion yards against us, scored 40 or more fantasy points, and sank our week.
Gosh, he must be really good.
Ajayi rushed for 200 yards three times last year. Three. That’s incredible.
In 13 games outside those three, he broke 80 yards just once.
That’s not so incredible.
In fact, half of Ajayi’s seasonal production took place in three games. This may seem like a weird thing to say about a player whom I just wrote was the fifth-best running back in football, or who would be in 2017. If you’re saying that, you’re right, but I think he’s both good and overrated by those huge games and his fantasy impact.
Both can be true.
T.Y. Hilton — WR, Indianapolis Colts
Hilton provides another great example of this idea. He’s a very, very good receiver. He’d have to be in order to lead the league in yards as he did in 2016.
But he’s one of the 5-10 best receivers in football as his pure numbers and fantasy status suggest? No way.
Right now, he’s WR7 on FantasyPros, ahead of Dez Bryant, Amari Cooper, Allen Robinson, and Demaryius Thomas,
If the Colts called the general managers of any team for the above listed player and offered them T.Y. straight up, the other team would hang up the phone and then text their friends about what a funny trade offer they just got.
Hilton is one of the preeminent deep threats in the game. Even when defenses know he’s going deep, they can’t seem to stop him. But despite being tops in the league in yards, Hilton scored just six times and has never been a prolific red zone threat.
Football outsiders ranked him 12th in DVOA last season, and he managed just under a 59 percent catch rate.
The numbers are great, and he’s definitely worth drafting highly this fall in a fantasy league, PPR or otherwise, but if you needed 10 yards to save your life, is Hilton one of the first 20 receivers you think of?
Julian Edelman — WR, New England Patriots
Even the Patriots agree with this one. Why else would they give up a first-round pick for Brandin Cooks?
Edelman is a versatile, dynamic slot receiver. That’s good. He has been extremely productive, but so was Wes Welker before him. Over the course of his career in New England, the Patriots have constantly brought in receivers to try to fill the role of No. 1 receiver. It hasn’t worked out for a host of reasons, very few of which have to do with Edelman’s play.
In short, he’s just not a value add to this offense in the way his numbers say he is, or in how he is perceived as a player.
FantasyPros has him as WR26, the 57th overall player after finishing 13th in yards last season. He scored just three times and has a red zone deficiency similar to Hilton: He’s not very helpful there.
Edelman finished 69th in DVOA (which he might be “low-key happy” about), and 65th in DYAR. If we polled the casual fan about whether or not Edelman was a top-25 receiver in the NFL, the answer would probably be overwhelmingly yes, but it’s just not reality.