2019 Fantasy Football Hit Rates: Did ZeroRB Die?
2019 felt like a unique fantasy football season…but was it? People almost always feel that way but the real way to test this is to look at fantasy football hit rates from the year to see how “wild” things actually got.
Comparing the accuracy of the fantasy football consensus from year-to-year is a difficult task and has no perfect methodology. The only way to judge how accurate the community was as a whole is to compare “hit rates” amongst the top picks at each position and the term “fantasy football hit rates” can be defined in multiple different ways. The goal of this article is use the different methodologies to compare the hit rates at running back (RB) and wide receiver (WR) this year to those in years past.
The two different methodologies to comparing hit rates are RotoExperts’ own Davis Mattek’s favorite “FLEX play” methodology and the value methodology. Essentially, the FLEX play methodology measures how many of the top 24 draft picks at the position were viable FLEX plays for the season. FLEX plays are defined as top 36 overall players at the position but that methodology allows for some leeway as the first overall pick could finish 36th at the position and still be considered a “hit.” Still, a WR36 is still a usable player for the season, especially when taking into consideration all the players who emerge throughout the year who were undrafted or propelled into a role due to an injury.
In the value methodology, which is sort of a makeshift methodology to attempt to more accurately identify players’ hit rate according to their draft spot, players are considered a hit if they finish within five spots of their average draft position. In other words, if a player was drafted fifth at their position, they are considered a “hit” if they finished 10th or better at their position. ADP was drawn from Fantasy Pros.
Running Back ADP + Finishes (Last Three Years)
Wide Receiver ADP + Finishes (Last Three Years)
FLEX Play Methodology For Fantasy Football Hit Rates
Amongst the top 24 drafted at the RB position in 2019, 21 of them finished as FLEX plays, making 2019 the most accurate season during the four-year sample analyzed.
However, James Conner (PIT) finished 35th at the position despite being drafted fifth, and that is amongst the loosest of definitions of a “hit.” Not a single player in the top 24 of ADP finished outside the top 100 which really speaks to the lack of early season-ending injuries at the position more than anything else. The first “miss” according to this methodology came at RB7 which was the latest miss in any season since 2016.
At the WR position, there were exactly as many hits in 2019 as there were in 2018, and the first flop came a spot earlier this season (JuJu Smith-Schuster flopped at WR7 ADP whereas A.J. Green flopped at WR8 ADP last season). Additionally, Antonio Brown finished outside the top 100 at the position despite being drafted as WR9 and that was the earliest a player had been drafted that finished outside the top 100 since Keenan Allen in 2016. Amazingly, 2019 was the only season during the sample in which two top 24 ADP receivers finished outside the top 150 at the position but it was also the third time in four years three of the top four receivers drafted finished in the top five of the position.
Fantasy Football Hit Rate Value Methodology
By this methodology, 2019 was by far the most accurate ADP season since at least 2016, as there were four fewer flops last year than any other season during the sample. No single player finished worse than 35 spots below their draft position which is amazing because every other season saw at least one player finish 100 spots below their ADP. Another way to interpret this data is to say 66.7-percent of the top 24 RB picks were worthy of their draft position or out-produced their draft spots whereas the most accurate receiver year during the sample finished with a 54.2-percent hit rate.
In the WR department, the value method shows just how imperfect the FLEX method truly can be as this method showed a significantly lower accuracy percentage in every season. Regardless of methodology, 2017 proved to be the most accurate year for handicapping the top 24 receivers and 2018/2019 showed identical hit rates. During the entire WR sample, A.J. Green missed his draft spot by the largest margin, as he finished 214th amongst WRs in scoring despite being drafted 24th (a difference of 190 spots).
Fantasy Football Hit Rate Conclusions
Regardless of methodology, 2019 proved to be the most accurate year since 2016 drafting RBs and a relatively unremarkable year when it came to drafting WRs (exactly the same hit rates as 2018). While the access to more data would lead the industry to believe their handicapping has become more accurate, neither set of data signified a linear trend upwards in accuracy. So the overall answer to the question “Is ZeroRB dead?” would, of course, be no.
Just because the top running backs stayed mostly healthy and the top wide receivers mostly disappointed in 2019 does not mean that the same thing will (or won’t) happen in 2020. Probably your largest takeaway from this methodology would be that looking at multi-year trends in fantasy football is vastly more important than one-year samples of data.