For many talented and lucky individuals among us, it’s one of the most thrilling and stress inducing times of the year. The fantasy playoffs. You are scrolling twitter looking for an edge. You are hunting the waiver wire for that last valuable piece. It’s survive and advance time, baby!
But it’s that threat – of getting so close only to fall short at the last moments, on the precipice of fake football glory – that makes playoff start-sits so paralyzing.
Finding the Difference Between WR39 and WR39
Early in the season, I was having a hard time with my last flex spot in one of my deeper dynasty leagues. Week-in, week-out I was debating between the same two players. In terms of overall performance, these players are relatively similar.
Here are their stats through the first 8 weeks (while both were active and largely uninjured):
Average WR positional rank across the 8 weeks:
Player A – WR39.375
Player B – WR39.25
Player A – 8.61
Player B – 10.6
Player A – 21.03% (7.63 targets/game)
Player B – 13.10% (4.75 targets/game)
ADoT (Average Depth of Target):
Player A – 10.34
Player B – 18.24
(Stats to be made into an image asset)
These two players happened to also be on the same team which meant many of the external factors were controlled for – opponent, weather, QB status, etc. So who are our mystery men?
If you guessed that we were talking about Saints wide receivers Michael Thomas and Rashid Shaheed, 10.6 fantasy points to Gryffindor!
So, what could I lean on to make my start/sit choices? Expert consensus rankings? Well if I am playing against a league median score – sure. But one thing that I think is too often ignored in fantasy spaces is that these choices should be situational. And when we get to the playoffs, where it’s kill or be killed, we need to think more strategically.
Raise The Roof or Get Low
When breaking a tie between similarly ranked players, don’t forget to look at your situation and whether you need ceiling or floor. If you are like me and enjoying the thrill of a 5th or 6th playoff seed in a bunch of leagues, you are probably projected to lose. You are already behind. You need to go for the gusto. Ceiling time.
Are you the mad genius with pretty much the full Avengers crew in your starting roster?* Floor time friend.
We hear terms like “Boom/Bust” all the time – and sometimes you can know it intuitively. If you watch them play, you know Rashid Shaheed is a boom or bust guy. You know “Slant Boy,” Michael Thomas had a safe floor this year. The stats above give us some good signal too – during those weeks, Shaheed led the league in aDOT (or average depth of target) among players with over 20 targets during this time frame. So despite getting nearly 3 fewer targets per game, he managed to win the points per game contest.
To get to one quick and dirty statistical representation of ceiling or floor, you need to go back to grade school – using range, the difference between the highest and lowest values in a dataset.
In weeks 1-8, Michael Thomas had a fantasy point per game range of 4.7 points. He never scored more than 11.7 and never fewer than 7 fantasy points. Safe. Floor.
In weeks 1-8, Rashid Shaheed had a fantasy point per game range of 19 points. He maxed out at 22.8 and fell flattest to the tune of 3.8 fantasy points. Boom/Bust. Ceiling.
Range is limited though – what if an incredibly reliable player drops one errant goose egg – should we write them off? A deeper way to look at the data would be to plot each game on a box and whisker chart that represents statistical outliers. When you do that, you can start to really see what ceiling looks like vs. floor. Here are the box plots for Shaheed and MT during those 8 weeks we have been talking about:
So, for two players with similar top-line stats, this chart shows a dramatically stark difference. One surprise is that it isn’t Shaheed’s 16.5, 17.3, and 22.8 point outings that are statistical outliers, but MT’s scores are so consistent that his 11.7 points in Week 7 is an outlier.
This visualization should help guide you in the kind of range of outcomes you can expect from a player and then help you slot them based whether you need ceiling or floor.
As mentioned, some of this is intuitive – but especially in the playoffs, why not strive to be data driven? Plotting this is a bit onerous but you can access a complete cheat sheet with this visualization for the top 80 WRs on the 32 Beat Writers Patreon. There is also a preview of the cheat sheet below.
When making that tough start/sit call, don’t just lean on ECR. Remember to look at your personal fantasy situation with statistics like aDOT, targets, and range!
I am ready, I am ready for the floor (or ceiling)
You can access the full WR Floor/Ceiling cheat sheet today on the 32 Beat Writers Patreon or download the visualization for our first two clusters of WRs to check it out first.
When working on this project, I filtered out weeks with low snap participation to avoid injuries muddying the data (I set a minimum 25% of offensive snaps for a game to be included). I broke the WR comparisons into clusters based on FantasyPros ROS projected points, since most likely, it is players with similar projections that will be compared and where a start/sit question is most likely to come into play.
Happy plotting and good luck in the playoffs!
*Slotting The Fantasy Avengers
QB: Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye
WR: Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man
WR: Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow
RB: Bruce Banner, a.k.a. The Incredible Hulk
RB: Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America
TE: Thor Odinson