How Our Official Fantasy Football Player Projections Were Created
The fantasy football player projections are out. Here is a summary of how we came up with these projections for the 2021 season.
May 13, 2021 - by Jason Lisk
Our official fantasy projections are out, not to be confused with our fantasy official rankings, where Ron Torbert ranks in the top 5 (Photo by Kiyoshi Mio/Icon Sportswire)
The general method was:
- We created team projections (which you can read about in more detail) using a variety of stats, and by identifying similar teams from the recent past;
- We created three sets of player projections based on completely different models;
- We divided the team stats among the players based on the combined results of those three player models.
Combining the Player Models to Create Player Fantasy Point Projections
We used three different models and combined all three for the final player projections. Those models were:
Similar Player Model
We found historical players similar to this year’s fantasy players at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end. To do so, we looked at 2020 stats. We also included personal characteristics and team stats for this year’s players, and found past players with similar profiles. We then used the following year’s results for those similar players to project how this year’s players will do in 2021. You can read more about the similar player model details here.
Average Draft Position Model
We incorporated market data into our projections, by looking at average draft position (ADP) for players. We converted each player’s ADP into expected fantasy points, based on historical draft outcomes at each position. You can read more about the ADP model and converting to expected fantasy points here.
Team Usage Model
Finally, we looked at league-wide and team-specific trends on how touches, yards, and touchdowns were distributed among positions, and between players at each position. For example, the RB1 (the starting running back) for Carolina has a different volume expectation than the RB1 for the New England Patriots, based on how the teams have utilized those roles in the recent past.
We multiplied the percentage estimates for each role by the 2021 team projections to get role-based fantasy point projections. We then assigned players to each role to get player point projection based on team usage trends.You can read more about our team usage model here.
Putting Them All Together
We combined the three fantasy points outputs, with the Similar Player Model weighing most heavily, followed by ADP Model (to incorporate market data) and then team usage.
For many players, the three model projections were very similar. But there are exceptions. If you see a player where our projection is either above or below the consensus, then there are three main explanations:
- the player similarity scores were either really good or really poor for that player, relative to others with a similar ADP;
- the team usage trends and our role assignment for that player put him, specifically, out of line with consensus (say, he’s being drafted like a WR1 but he’s really a WR2); or
- the overall team projection (and thus how big the overall points “pie” is that the player can get a piece of) doesn’t match the team’s combined ADP-based projection, meaning that somebody (often, multiple players) on the team needs to be higher or lower than the consensus in order to make the numbers work.
Why are Your Projections Lower Than Other Sites?
You may notice that our player projections are lower across the board than those from some other websites. Depending on which player you compare, they could also be lower than full 2020 totals for some stars.
Alvin Kamara, for example, had 1,688 yards from scrimmage and 21 total touchdowns last year. This year, even with the NFL adding an extra game, we project Kamara for 1,593 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The primary reason is that plenty of sites project stats based on an assumption the player plays all year. Our projections, meanwhile, include the real risk of injury and missed games. The ADP and Similar Players models use actual fantasy scoring of players, which includes seasons where games were missed to injury. Kamara’s similar players, for example, include David Johnson in 2017, when he was hurt early in the year coming off a big season aa year earlier. It also includes a past Kamara season, when he regressed from 18 touchdowns to 6 touchdowns scored a few years ago.
Real results that include injuries means our projections are a bit lower. If we knew Kamara would play every game again, he would be projected for over 1,700 yards from scrimmage. But don’t worry, everyone is being projected under the same method. That means everything is relative, and all running backs are projected with less than 17 games played. So you should look at the projection differences between players. Kamara is still near the top of our running back rankings in 2021, even if he is projected, on average, to have fewer yards and touchdowns than in 2020.
The above explains the methods used to generate the initial projections for 2021. These projections should be good at the outset of players reporting for training camp, but could change with news about depth chart changes once the season approaches.
Most news in the preseason should not affect overall team projections, and not have much impact on established veterans with clear roles. However, injuries can happen, which can shift expected roles. Some depth chart battles are also less clear now. If more information emerges, we will adjust percentages for some situations. One example is a wide receiver situation where it is unclear who the starter is. If a starter emerges, that player will see an uptick in their projection, at the expense of other players they were competing with. And of course if there is sudden, unexpected big news (like Andrew Luck retiring before last season), then we will adjust a team projection accordingly.
But the key to all of this is that our team projections match our player projections. Our player projections are in line with the expected team performance. If a team is projected for 4,000 passing yards, then the backs, receivers, and tight ends will be projected to have 4,000 receiving yards altogether.