Top-Heaviness: A New Metric for Measuring Fantasy Football Reliability

It’s that time of the year again. The witching hour of fantasy football, where championship hopes are dashed for some, and continued for others lucky enough to clinch a playoff berth.

2021 has been a strange year for football so far, rife with injuries and underwhelming performances from top players, breakout seasons for many mid to late round players, and so many flags for taunting that you’d swear you were at the United Nations.

Perhaps the biggest frustration of all is the number of boom or bust players that you can’t quite figure out whether this will be the week that you can trust them enough to give them the start.

As a Tyler Lockett owner (our support group meets on Tuesdays), it seemed like making it back to the playoffs was a foregone conclusion after the first couple weeks of the season. But after an impressive string of 5 consecutive single digit games, I’d rather take my chances starting someone off the waiver wire than I would Lockett.

But he was a top 10 fantasy receiver last year, how could I have seen this coming?

Going off season totals, Lockett was a stud entering the 2021 season, there’s no question. But games are won and lost on a weekly basis and this is where season total statistics can be deceptive. Risk aversion is an integral part of sustaining success in fantasy football year after year, and after the first few single digit games in a row, any risk averse owner would struggle to convince themselves to start Lockett with confidence again (and end up missing on his 20.2 point performance in Week 8). Sure, having 4 games of Geno Smith at quarterback hasn’t helped, but D.K. Metcalf didn’t experience a drop-off anywhere close to what Lockett had during that time.

Tyler Lockett is currently ranked as the 28th wide receiver in half-PPR per, with an average of 11.1 points per game, and while any Lockett owner would know that he’s not startable despite the respectable average, others looking at that number now could be easily fooled into thinking he’s been a viable option at receiver. This is where the thinking needs to change on how we evaluate fantasy players in terms of stats.

In a Sports Illustrated article written earlier this year, Seth Keller argues that we should place less emphasis on end of season point totals and average points per game, and start taking a closer look at the number of median points per game. Using the median fantasy points per game, Lockett only had 5.1 points compared to his average of 11.1 points; this is a HUGE drop-off and a much more reliable indicator of how he’s performed this season.

Inspired by this major discrepancy, I decided to create a metric called “Top-Heaviness“, which is the difference between a player’s average points per game and his median points per game. The idea is that the higher the number, the more a player’s season total stats are inflated by a few games with massive scoring, hence the player being seen as “Top-Heavy”.

Of the top 300 fantasy football players for the 2021 season with half-PPR scoring per, Tyler Lockett comes in as the 3rd most Top-Heavy player, with a Top-Heaviness of 6 points. Putting this number into perspective, Lockett had over 50% of his total points for the season in the first 2 weeks, and nearly 75% if you include week 8.

Tyler Lockett’s 2021 fantasy campaign is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

Joining him at the top of the list are both Los Angeles Chargers, Justin Herbert and Mike Williams, coming in at 1 and 2 respectively.

Both players saw week 3 and week 5 make up a huge chunk of their points so far this season, with Herbert having 55% of his season production come from weeks 3, 5 and 9, and Williams having 52% of his production coming from just weeks 3 and 5.

What’s even more staggering is the fact that 83% of Williams’s points this season have came from just 4 of 9 games played.

Wide receiver in general seems to be prone to Top-Heaviness, with NFC East receivers Amari Cooper and Terry McLaurin tied for 7th, both having a Top-Heaviness of 4.3 points.

Cooper saw roughly 50% of his production come from week 1 and week 8, while McLaurin had 44% of his production come from week 2 and week 4.

The other quarterback remaining on the list is Ravens QB, Lamar Jackson.

Bolstered by big weeks in week 2, week 5 and week 9, Jackson’s other 6 games only contributed for roughly 50% of his points to date.

The rest of the top 10 consists of 4 backup running backs: Peyton Barber, D’Ernest Johnson, Khalil Herbert and Alexander Mattison. These running backs have all filled in for the starter at certain points, however their inclusion in the list is skewed by the other games that they were active for as a backup with little to no carries, resulting in a higher than expected Top-Heaviness.

There are still 8 games to be played this season, and this list may very well be completely different by season’s end, but for fantasy purposes these are the players that may have had the biggest impact on a team’s level of consistency as they fight for a spot in the playoffs. Looking forward to the 2022 season, it’s best to avoid drafting these players until they prove they can consistently put up points.

For anyone still undeterred, I’ll leave you with this quote about determining player fit from Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis prior to the 2021 NFL Draft:

“The guy who goes for the girl who he thinks he can fix, all these different things like maybe the person doesn’t want you to fix them, maybe they’re not fixable, maybe you aren’t going to be the missing piece in the puzzle of this person’s life that’s gonna make a beautiful mural.”

Sorry Tyler Lockett, but I’m not Joe Goldberg. I can’t fix you.

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