Fantasy Football

20/20 Fantasy Football – Resist Adverse Recency Bias

As you scour the Internet for Fantasy Football content ahead of your annual fantasy drafts in order to satiate your addiction it’s important to reflect and put recent history in it’s proper perspective. Otherwise, you’re subject to the pitfall of “recency bias”. This inherent bias cuts both ways. You have what I like to call adverse (or negative) recency bias which results in criticisms that are blown out of portion and devoid of proper context; and at the opposite end of the spectrum there is auspicious (or positive) recency bias that leads to inflated and unrealistic expectations of a player based on hyperbole generally juxtaposed against limited sample size. In other words, do not let your lasting impression of a given player during a given Fantasy Football campaign color your opinion of said player without thoughtful consideration of that player’s circumstances. Let’s explore some examples of adverse recency bias in which Fantasy Football leads to a skewed reality.

Exhibit A – Todd Gurley

It was around this time last year that many established fantasy football analysts/writers and fledgling fantasy prognosticators alike were insisting that Todd Gurley wasn’t good at football…

fantasy football

For those of you who invested an early first round selection in Gurley in 2016 I can understand your trepidation entering the the 2017 season. Todd Gurley‘s 2016 campaign was truly wretched. He failed to gain more than 85 yards rushing in 16 contests and was a legitimate fantasy football BUST. But context be damned, he wasn’t paying fantasy dividends so “clearly” he wasn’t any good. A lame duck head coach, a lack of offensive aptitude among the coaching staff, a non-existent passing game, an abysmal offensive line, a dearth of perimeter threats, and a tailback pressing, trying to do too much all contributed to a forgettable Year 2 for Gurley.

Fantasy FootballSubtract Jeff Fisher, hire some offensive know-how in the form of Sean McVay, add a couple legitimate offensive linemen in Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan, and give the novel idea of throwing the ball to Gurley some consideration and you have yourself the 2017 NFL Offensive Player of the Year; and as of today Gurley has become the highest paid running back in NFL History. Think about how much of the aforementioned was genuinely outside of Todd Gurley’s control. Were you so consumed by adverse recency bias that you rolled the dice on Ezekiel Elliott and the specter of a 6-game suspension? Did you casually dismiss Doug Free‘s retirement and the loss of Ronald Leary to free agency? Of course you didn’t…


Exhibit B – DeAndre Hopkins

Many a fantasy footballer poo-pooed the prospects of Hopkins heading into the 2017 Fantasy Football season after a disappointing 2016 campaign. The linchpin of his detractors’ argument was Hopkins’ need for an overwhelming number of targets (192 in 2015 – 3rd most in NFL) in order to accrue significant counting stats. Never mind that Nuk turned in a 76/1210/6 line in 2014 on just 127 targets.

Fantasy FootballPerhaps it was DeAndre Hopkins‘ ability to consistently turn in WR1 numbers despite having pedestrian quarterback play that led some to suggest Brian Hoyer was in fact the driving force of what WAS Hopkins’ career year in 2015 (2017 All-Pro); as opposed to the talented wideout’s uncanny body control, physicality at the top of his route, and Flypaper hands. How quickly they forgot the fact that he routinely faced double/bracket coverage and was the only legitimate receiving threat on the Houston Texans roster post Andre Johnson. To think Hopkins was “overrated” despite suffering Brock Osweiler as his quarterback in 2016? Why the knee jerk decision to right-off Hopkins after a solitary dip in production?

The answer is adverse recency bias. Or more specifically a lack of contextual appreciation, a common symptom of evaluating a player’s “real-life” talent through a fantasy football prism.

Who is subject to adverse recency bias in 2018?

There are a number of players who failed to light it up during the 2017 Fantasy Football season that require more than a cursory review of last season’s box scores to evaluate their fantasy value in 2018. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the player’s ADP has been adversely affected, but rather this should serve as a cautionary tale for those of you on the fence or have written a particular guy off in 2018 based on a disappointing 2017 season. Here are a few examples.

  • Matt Ryan – USA TODAY

    QB Matt Ryan Atlanta Falcons – 2017 was a far cry from Ryan’s MVP campaign in 2016. Some may argue that he regressed back to his career mean and while that isn’t entirely untrue I would caution fantasy owners on taking Jimmy Garoppolo or even Kirk Cousins ahead of Ryan this season as current ADP would suggest. Garoppolo has undeniable ability but he is unproven and his supporting cast doesn’t stack up to Ryan’s in Atlanta assuming Julio Jones ends his holdout by Week 1 of the regular season. Shanahan certainly is > Sarkisian but it wasn’t until Year 2 in Shanahan’s offense that Ryan took off. I expect him to be markedly better in 2018 in Year 2 under Sark despite the playcaller’s shortcomings. As for Cousins, call it a personal preference. I don’t like what Kirk Cousins looked like prior to Jay Gruden’s quarterback friendly offense and clearly he didn’t meet Gruden’s expectations. Cousins obviously is a more experienced and accomplished quarterback now, his contract saga behind him, and surrounded by a host of talent but I firmly believe Dalvin Cook is the linchpin of that offense and that Cousins will enjoy far less garbage time and statistical puffery trading some of those counting stat totals for more wins.

  • QB Derek Carr Oakland Raiders – This isn’t an endorsement of Jon Gruden per se but rather confidence in Derek Carr‘s career arc prior to offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave being ousted and Carr breaking his back in 2017. I also trust in his TD/INT ratio (103:44 – 2247 attempts) more so than Marcus Mariota‘s (58:34 – 1274 attempts) outside of a full-blown spread, read-option system. For what it’s worth I trust Carr more than Andrew Luck‘s shoulder.
  • RB David Johnson Arizona Cardinals – He was hurt… it was his wrist. “Out of sight, out of mind” lends itself to adverse recency bias. Don’t overthink it. Only Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley get the nod over Johnson.
  • Fantasy Storylines
    Joe Mixon – Photo by John Minchillo/AP Photo

    RB Joe Mixon Cincinnati Bengals – I had hoped that Mixon’s struggles in 2017 would keep his ADP depressed for personal reasons but it appears that the Mixon truthers are out in full force as early 2018 ADP results have him coming off the board at the bottom of the 2nd round or top of the 3rd round. For those of you on the fence, I’m not suggesting that you reach on him but make sure he’s on your draft board. The Bengals were screwed from the word “go” last year. They fired their offensive coordinator, Ken Zampese, after starting the season 0-2 and NOT scoring a single touchdown. Additionally, Mixon struggled to adjust to the style/speed of the professional game not unlike Melvin Gordon did a few years ago. If you stayed the course and doubled-down on Gordon in 2016 then do yourself a favor and re-up on Mixon in 2018. I’ll never forget how DeAngelo Williams described his rookie season as only being able to see colors meanwhile he was able to recognize faces as the game slowed down during his sophomore campaign. Finally, and most importantly, Cincinnati’s offensive line was dreadful last season. Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler were not adequately replaced resulting in 11 different players getting snaps along the offensive line… enter Cordy Glenn and Billy Price. Maturity is the only question mark I have on Mixon. Fight the urge to question his talent. Wait for it…

  • Fantasy
    Jordan Howard – Getty Images

    RB Jordan Howard Chicago Bears – What does Jordan Howard have to do to get some respect? There’s a lot of buzz coming out of Chicago regarding new head coach Matt Nagy and how he’s deploying spark plug Tarik Cohen all over the formation. Naturally this has been internalized as the foretelling of Jordan Howard’s fantasy football demise but he’ll still push 275-300 carries, garner all the goal-line work, and believe it or not he’s improved in the pass-catching department. Glass half full, the Bears now have some proven “know-how” in terms of offensive play design and legitimate weapons on the perimeter that demand respect. Still, I’m not expecting Mitchell Trubisky to throw it all over the yard but given the infusion of talent on the perimeter Howard can expect to face stacked boxes less frequently. I’m actually more in on Howard than I’ve ever been because he’s no longer the solitary offensive weapon in Chicago but remains the main cog as far as I’m concerned. Allow me to add a little more context regarding Howard’s talent:

    • In 31 games/29 starts Howard has amassed a career rushing line of 528/2435/15;
    • The infinitely more ballyhooed Ezekiel Elliott has a career rushing line of 564/2614/22 in 25 games/starts; and
    • Elliott plays with three offensive linemen that have been named to the All-Pro team, meanwhile Howard has played with none. Stop sleeping on Howard…
  • WR Sammy Watkins Kansas City Chiefs – If you’re fading Watkins because there are a lot of mouths to feed in Kansas City, I suppose… If you’re fading Watkins because of his injury history, I’d reconsider… If you’re fading Watkins because you think he’s “just a deep threat” you’re doing it wrong. I need room for this one so stay tuned for my Fantasy vs. Reality post featuring Sammy Watkins in the coming weeks.
  • WR Emmanuel Sanders Denver Broncos – A high ankle sprain and incompetent quarterback play may have left a bad taste in your mouth but bare in mind that doesn’t make him bad at football. Sanders averaged 85/1190/7ish a season on 138 targets during his 1st three years in Denver. But his injury/quarterback plagued 2017 season (92 targets) apparently trumps a clean bill of health and the fact that the Broncos have added a quarterback that actually has some good film in Case Keenum. So much so, that Julian Edelman‘s 84/924/5ish average on 127 targets per year during that same 3-year span, a 4-game suspension this season and a season-ending knee injury of his own is being selected a full round ahead of Sanders.

These are just a handful of examples but the moral of the story is NOT to succumb to the pitfalls of the previous year’s box score without holistic analysis when drafting your fantasy football team. Context (and coaching) matters and adverse recency bias can be expensive.



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