August 17, 2009

I have a confession to make: I am a geek. That's "geek", not a "Greek" (although I qualify for that as well). Being a geek means that I have a natural affinity for numbers, statistics, computers... the usual geek fare. That's why the predictive work at Sports Grumblings is driven largely by our affable computer, Mighty Max. Trend analysis, performance modeling, historical pattern adjustments... you name it, Mighty Max has already applied it to the further unraveling of the mysteries of fantasy football.

However, there are times when it is helpful to rise above one's geekdom in order to appreciate what it is that all the numbers and analysis are telling us. Such was the case this week, when I emerged from my daily statistical meditation with Mighty Max.

We all know that it is the goal of every fantasy owner to collect and field as many impact players as possible from week to week. But how big of an impact do "impact players" really have on the bottom line? How many wins can be attributed to the presence of impact players in your weekly lineup?

I immediately asked Max to produce the weekly fantasy performances of 2008 (using WCOFF methodology) by position; the following requirements were put in place:

1. Produce the average WCOFF score for each position;2. Produce the best WCOFF score for each position;3. Record the difference between the best and average performance for each position;

Max quickly churned out the results, which looked like this:

Interesting ... if we could land the "Impact Player" at a given position in any given week, we greatly increase our chances of winning that week's contest; especially if you could land one at the most important positions, RB and WR. Sounds simple and reasonable, right?

Digging deeper into this analysis, I asked Max to produce the names of the players who rang up the best weekly performances for each position. This produced even more surprising results:

So who were the "impact players" of 2008?

• QB: Matt Cassel (three times), Drew Brees, Donovan McNabb and Jay Cutler (twice each)• RB: Brian Westbrook (3x), Michael Turner, DeAngelo Williams and Steven Jackson (2x)• WR: Andre Johnson (5x), T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Brandon Marshall (2x)• TE: Tony Gonzalez (3x), Tony Scheffler, Dallas Clark and Owen Daniels (2x)• PK: John Kasay (4x), Jay Feely, John Carney, Rob Bironas and Robbie Gould (2x)

Note that at each position only one player could be considered "the" Impact Player.

Unfortunately, hindsight is 20-20. While many fantasy football experts will advise you to "grab as many impact players" as possible -- including urging you to trade up in order to grab an extra impact player -- actually knowing who will be an impact player is easier said than done. Oh sure, guys like Andre Johnson, Tony Gonzalez and Brian Westbrook seem like no-brainers, but Matt Cassel? DeAngelo Williams? Houshmandzadeh? Anyone who tells you that they had selected DeAngelo Williams as an impact player for 2008 is a flat-out liar.

The bottom line: While it is true that "Impact Players" can radically improve your team's fortunes, they are also not that easy to spot a priori. Whether or not you decide to place big Draft Day bets on trying to acquire Impact Players is largely a function of your personality, a classic risk/reward scenario: Do you trade up early in the draft to grab an extra Impact Player? Or do you stand pat and try to draft into the "impact positions," RB and WR?

So the question you have to ask yourself is this: Are you feeling lucky?

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