by: Sam DiSorbo, twitter: @analytacist
Many fantasy owners often look for the one metric that tells them how much a given player will help their team in comparison to another. One metric that does exactly that is WAR (Wins Above Replacement). This shows us (assuming the rest of your team is average and the other teams in your league are average) how many more fantasy wins a player should generate for your team than a replacement level player (someone you may pick up off of waivers, say, 2020 Todd Gurley). This stat is a bit complicated to calculate, so if you want to learn more about how I created these rankings, check out this article from dynastynerds.com. Now let’s get into our rankings.
The graphic below shows the WAR rankings for QBs for the 2020 season. Nothing comes as a surprise when we check out the top of the leaderboard, where Allen, Murray, Mahomes and Rodgers sit, but as we veer further down the graphic, more interesting things come to light. The first thing that comes to eye is the high ranking of Kirk Cousins (and despite losing his starting spot, Gardner Minshew). Year after year, Cousins takes criticisms of not being an elite QB, not being able to perform in primetime, and not leading his team on a playoff run. Regardless of if any of this is true, Kirk Cousins IS an elite fantasy QB. As the 11th ranked QB in 2020, the gunslinger would have given teams an average of 4 wins above replacement–these are starting fantasy QB numbers! Our next surprise is with Tua Tagovailoa, who only boasted around 1 WAR for the 2020 season. As a QB whose draft stock raised quite a bit this season, Tagovailoa might be someone to avoid this season or look to trade away. Two of the biggest players to check out are Jimmy Garoppolo and Jalen Hurts, who held negative WAR values for the 2020 season. Yes, both of them had limited starts on the season, but it is concerning nonetheless, especially if you are planning on relying on one of them for your QB1.
One thing it is important to look at is the effect of certain stats on our WAR values. That is, what metrics correlate the most with WAR, or what one metric is the best to use to predict how many wins above replacement a player will get us. For QBs, we are taking a look at pass TDs, pass yards, rush yards, and rush TDs–of course, all of these stats are important in determining WAR, but our goal is to find which one is the most important of all (Note*size of logo indicates amount of touches the player had).
This graphic shows that passing QBs are still fantasy kings. QB WAR is higher correlated with passing TDs and passing yards than it is with rushing statistics–this doesn’t mean mobile QBs don’t have higher WARs–in fact it’s quite the contrary, as a QB who can do it will likely have a higher WAR than one that isn’t very well rounded. What it does mean, is that if we were just trying to choose a QB on their most important metric to determine how many wins above replacement they will get us, we’d narrow in on pass TDs (it having the highest correlation of .88 to WAR).
This next graphic gives us the RB WAR rankings from the 2020 fantasy season. Here are some key things to note. After the large drop-off from the top 2 backs (Kamara and Cook), one name that stands out is James Robinson. After the Jaguars drafted Travis Etienne this year to take over the backfield, Robinson’s fantasy draft stock plummeted. Anyone who was able to grab him in their leagues is in great position now, as Etienne’s season ending injury gives Robinson the chance to put up elite WAR numbers yet again this season. Stay away from 49ers RBs! While we all love Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson, the Niner’s backfield committee struggled to put up strong (consistent) numbers in 2020, pushing them down on the WAR chart. Despite the large amount of skepticism on Miles Gaskin coming into this season, looking at his numbers from 2020, he seems like a solid option for an RB2. Gaskin put up a 3.5 WAR while only scoring 3 TDs–can he find the endzone more this season, fantasy owners will be in for a nice surprise.
Now let’s take a look at what correlates most with RB WAR (Keep in mind, total TDs has the highest correlation at R = .88, but is not included in this graphic). Here, we see that while pass catching backs are valuable, rush numbers are much more effective when looking at wins above replacement. Number of carries correlates much more (.72) with RB WAR than number of receptions does (.59)–of course, it would still be better to have a back who also caught passes, but if you had to choose between a rush back and a pass-catching back, rush backs are the way to go (Note*size of logo indicates amount of touches the player had).
The first thing that catches our eye from the 2020 WAR rankings is how far ahead of the pack Davante Adams is. The next best receiver (Tyreek Hill) falls almost 2 WAR behind Adams, and it only goes downhill from there. One dark horse player for the 2021 season is Will Fuller, who put up strong numbers last season with the Texans–this season with the Dolphins could be a good change of scenery for him and could have his WAR increasing from 3. There’s also a number of players who surprisingly hold a negative WAR. This list includes Chase Claypool, D.J. Chark, Devante Parker and Marvin Jones–it may be smart to avoid these players early on this season.
WR stats are all fairly correlated with WAR, other than total rush yards. One thing that is interesting is that we see a lot of receivers who have a smaller number of receptions having strong WARs regardless. That being said, in deeper leagues, explosive, minimal touch receivers could be very effective (Note*size of logo indicates amount of touches the player had).
Good luck this fantasy season, keep posted for more player WAR rankings.