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Projections vs. Rankings, All-Day vs. Pocket Hercules

The last mock draft I participated in and co-ordinated by FF Toolbox finished up in early June, and after a little downtime they kicked off another last week. I know I get repetitive about the, "never get an early draft pick" schtick, but I was randomly assigned the 9th pick in the earlier mock draft. In this one... 9th. Fortunately, it is a mock draft so I was able to swap entire draft picks with someone for a little variety, and moved all the way up to the 2nd overall spot, a sweet spot to be sure.

I was all set to jump right into my full mock draft pick-by-pick commentary. (My picks, not all the picks. Let's not get too crazy.) This rare fortune of drafting right at the top of the draft though gives me an opportunity to discuss two things. The first is the difference between player projections and player rankings. The second is, the annual big debate, just who is the #1 pick/RB in fantasy football this year? Plus as an added bonus get some insight about how I utilize the Cheatsheet Compiler and Draft Buddy.

Projections vs. Rankings

Drafting 2nd, I'm all set to take whoever is left between my top 2 RB, Adrian Peterson and Maurice Jones-Drew.

The Cheatsheet Compiler kicks out Jones-Drew as the top choice based on this scoring, with Peterson actually falling to 4th behind Matt Forte and LaDainian Tomlinson, due mostly to the reception points. Mike Krueger has Peterson projected for 19 receptions, while Forte is projected for 67 receptions, and LT, 50. That is a 31 to 48 point swing, and the beauty of the Cheatsheet Compiler is it customizes your cheatsheets based on the projections and scoring so you can see just how much players move based on differences in the rules from league to league.

I'm sure you're asking the question though, why are Peterson and Jones-Drew my top 2 picks, when the Compiler created cheatsheets showing, in order, Jones-Drew, Forte, Tomlinson and Peterson? That is the difference between projections versus rankings. The Compiler has Jones-Drew projected 1st and Forte projected 2nd. I have Peterson ranked 1st and Jones-Drew ranked 2nd.

Projections can only account for so much on their own. The projections are created under a single, most probable (as the prognosticator sees it) set of circumstances playing out for the upcoming regular season. Many players are less predictable than others, whether they be rookies, sophmores, players on new teams, playing under new coaches or with a different QB, coming back from serious injury, etc., etc.

The variable is risk. There is upside risk and downside risk. Either way, the greater the risk, the less certain we are about the projections, the greater potential for error, plus or minus, and the more we may want to rank a player differently than his pure projection tells us to.

I truly believe Mike Krueger is an expert fantasy football prognosticator. I'm not trying to stroke his ego, but I can honestly say his numbers have worked wonders for me year after year, keeping me grounded from grabbing overhyped duds, and highlighting potential sleepers. I don't do my own projections, or add other projections to the Compiler, and I don't edit Mike K.'s projections, instead using them straight out of the box.

However, that doesn't mean I don't adjust the rankings more to my liking, which is something people should understand to truly get the most value from using the Compiler and Draft Buddy tools. They are what I call, "thinking person's" tools, not, "hold your hand" tools. One way you should interpret that is, if you feel strongly about ranking a certain player above another, even if the Compiler is telling you differently, then do what you think is right. It may work, or it may not, but you'll get a lot more satisfaction playing the game this way.

Heck, Mike Krueger differentiates projections versus rankings himself, meaning he adjusts his very own projections that he has spent countless hours on to a more refined rankings cheatsheet. For years we've posted separate Projections and Rankings at FF Today. Clearly, the rankings are developed from the projections, but there are additional subjective risk and upside adjustments bridging the two datasets.

Keep in mind the projections are opinions. Good, experienced and well thought out opinions, but still, opinions that are going to have a margin of error. Often fantasy footballers can get bent out of shape with rankings lamenting, "how can Player ABC possibly be ranked ahead of Player XYZ?" Hey, check the numbers. If there is just a 16 fantasy point difference between them, that is less than a point a game. Big difference? No, not really. And something that could possibly happen? Absolutely. This is fantasy football we're talking about, where seemingly almost anything is possible.

So keep the terminology in check when you're chatting fantasy football with someone. You may have a player projected at a certain level, but at what point are you comfortable ranking that player? I let Mike K. and Tony on the IDP side, plus the Compiler, do the heavy lifting crunching the numbers to produce cheatsheets based on the projections, and then setup Draft Buddy to re-rank some key players I'm more or less interested in than the projections show. It's a good system, and one I highly recommend.

Who is #1?

Now back to the example that brought out the projections versus rankings discussion in the first place, the Maurice Jones-Drew, a.k.a. Pocket Hercules, or Adrian "All-Day" Peterson or someone else at #1 overall debate. I already let it slip earlier that I have Peterson in my #1 spot, and yes, even in a point per reception scoring league I'd have a tough time passing on him if I had the entire NFL universe available to me. The reason essentially comes down to potential. When I think pure talent at the RB position, Peterson right now is in a class of his own.

Jones-Drew is a great player, but one who has never rushed the ball more than 200 times a year. Peterson almost did that in the latter half of 2008 (188 carries). Forte looked impressive a year ago as a rookie, but really came across as a bit of stat compiler to me, as opposed to overwhelming me with natural talent. Tomlinson is an incredible talent, but are his best years behind him? While a rebound is not out of the question by any stretch, the carries and years seem to be catching up to him.

There is risk with any player. No player is a lock to perform. Just ask anyone who "played it safe" drafting Tom Brady last year. I see risk with each of Jones-Drew, Forte, Tomlinson and right on down the list through the typical 1st round, but I'm not naive enough to think Peterson has no risk. Peterson hasn't been a TD machine in his first 2 seasons, scoring 12 in 2007 and 10 in 2008. He's young but the carries are adding up quickly. Beyond injury concerns, Peterson's quarterback is perhaps the worst of the bunch here, and even if Brett Favre comes to town, will that be a positive or negative impact on the team with the inevitable media circus following him to Minnesota? Hard to say. So, they all have risk, but Peterson has in my mind, the least downside risk and the most upside risk of them all.

Peterson is the consensus #1 pick in fantasy football, and my pick for the top player this season. It is only a mock, but maybe, just maybe, I'll get him at the #2 spot. This is point-per-reception scoring, and in the prior mock draft Jones-Drew went #1. And... and...

June Mock Round 1

Peterson went at 1.01. Well, Jones-Drew is a great consolation at the 1.02. The Cheatsheet Compiler does have him #1 afterall (wink), plus he's got a better nickname.

The graphic is a preview of the 1st round of the mock draft, and pick commentary will be available after the conclusion of the draft.