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Fantasy Vs. Reality: NFL Player Impact Doesn't Always Line Up

By Harrison Goo

Every year around this time, I find myself getting asked the same question over and over again from people who know I enjoy football.  “So, who do you like this season?” To which I always respond with, “Well that depends, fantasy football or regular, real-life football?”  Which raises an interesting concept.  Are these two things really that different?

This year, I think, the distinction here is particularly clear (which helps answer the question).  Real-life football importance, to me, depends generally on two things:

  1. How close their team is to making the playoffs?
  2. How much will they be asked to do to get them there?

Fantasy importance, on the other hand, depends generally on just one:

  1. How many times will they touch the ball per game?

Perhaps seeing an actual list will help.  First, the real-life top 10:

  1. Tom Brady – No Gronk?  No Hernandez? No Welker?  Still, Brady has always done more with less.  Provided he has two good knees.
  2. RG III – Hopefully his ACL has healed.  And his relationship with the Shanahan’s as well.
  3. Russell Wilson – Would have been higher here except that he lost Percy Harvin for an indefinite period which has apparently stagnated the offense.
  4. Reggie Bush – Brings stability at running back that the Lions haven’t had in years.  Provided, of course, that he can stay healthy.
  5. Carson Palmer – Larry Fitzgerald.  Enough said.
  6. Colin Kapernick – No Crabtree, hopefully no problems.  But second year QB’s tend to regress.
  7. Alex Smith – A lot is expected of him, despite the fact that he’s never been a dynamic passer.
  8. Steven Jackson – Can he run behind the terrible run-blocking line that is the Atlanta Falcons?
  9. Adrian Peterson – One man show. Can the Vikings run him, without running him into the ground?
  10. Peyton Manning – Superbowl or bust. Nothing else matters for him, especially not now that he has Wes Welker.

And now the fantasy top 10:

  1. Adrian Peterson
  2. Ray Rice
  3. Arian Foster
  4. Doug Martin
  5. CJ Spiller
  6. Jamaal Charles
  7. Marshawn Lynch
  8. LeSean McCoy
  9. Trent Richardson
  10. Stevan Ridley

Really, the fantasy list should be “top ten fantasy running backs.”  And that’s for good reason.  When deciding who to value in fantasy, the main objective should be to look at productivity versus scarcity.  Sure Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees and Calvin Johnson are all studs, and could all be deserving of a high draft pick.  But the difference between Rodgers and say...Tony Romo is significantly smaller than the difference between Adrian Peterson and Ryan Mathews/Ahmad Bradshaw (meaning the talent drop off between an elite vs. middling QB is far, FAR less steep than the one between elite vs. middling RB.)  So, when you make a top 10 list, all of the “elite” RB’s have to be given precedence since they’ll be harder to find later on in the draft.  Each of the running backs on the list is a “feature back” and each has proven to be effective touching the ball 300+ times a season.  Some of these could rotate depending on the type of league you play (PPR vs. standard scoring, number of yards per point, etc.)  Still, these are definitively the ten most important players in fantasy this season.

Juxtapose that with the real life top 10, rife with a mixture of QB and RB.  Some of these guys (like Reggie Bush) may initially seem out of place, but his importance is found where he adds something potentially game-changing to the Lions offense that wasn’t there last year.  We’ve seen what we’re going to get from Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson.  But Reggie?  Reggie is a wild card, particularly given the sometimes-awful, (and sometimes worse than awful) play at RB that the Lions have had over the last few years.  If he plays well?  The Lions could challenge for a playoff spot.  If not?  They could be looking at another high draft pick.

You see, in real-life rankings putting up tons of stats on a bad team (Trent Richardson/CJ Spiller/Doug Martin last year) doesn’t help at all.  Average stats on a winning team are far more impressive and, far more important.  That’s why Russell Wilson, Alex Smith and Carson Palmer all made the list.  Each of them will be expected to add something new (and by implication, improved) to their respective teams to help get them over the hump. I guess in football, as in life, fantasy and reality never quite line up.

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Harrison Goo is a sports contributor for CBS Local Digital Media.

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