Beware of Recency Bias and Rookie Hype (Fantasy Football)

by Kyle Richardson | @krich1532 | Featured Writer
Mar 21, 2018

Recency bias could be a strong factor in Alvin Kamara’s sky-high value heading into 2018

Dynasty fantasy football is supposed to be much different than redraft fantasy football. Dynasty tests owners and their ability to evaluate talent for multiple years, instead of a few months of the season. Each type of league has its own strategies and nuances that make them unique and demanding. However, one of the most significant differences between the two continues to be the downfall of dynasty owners.

Recency bias does not escape our minds regardless of what type of league we are in. In dynasty leagues, we are supposed to be looking towards the current and future.

More times than not, it is the present or past that drive our decision making. We are all guilty of it. In a format that requires us to look ahead just as much as looking at the present, it’s not easy to do.

So, is the fantasy football community currently wrapped up in recency bias? I think the answer to that question is pretty clear.

What is it that draws us to recency bias though? Is it just the stats? Or are there other things in play that lead us to choose the information directly in front of us instead of thinking about what the data may be like in five years?

Alvin Kamara vs. Kareem Hunt
Two of the darlings from the 2017 draft class bring me to my first point about recency bias. Those that finish strong catch our eye the longest.

Kareem Hunt was one of the hottest players in football the first five weeks of the season. During that time, Hunt had 775 total yards and six touchdowns. Alvin Kamara, on the other hand, didn’t get off to quite that start, racking up 317 total yards and two touchdowns.

It only took a few weeks for Hunt to become one of the hottest dynasty assets. Things changed after Week 5 though.

From Week 6 through Week 12, Hunt seemed to disappear. He only had 522 total yards and did not find the end zone once. Fantasy owners who thought they had struck gold suddenly didn’t have that workhorse back anymore.

It was frustrating for Hunt owners who were trying to figure out if they should have him in the lineup. Week after week my messages were filled with questions about whether Hunt should be in the lineup or on the bench. Since I was a big supporter of Hunt, my answer was typically to leave him in, even though it didn’t work out very often during that stretch.

Week 6 through Week 12 was much different for Kamara though. He was the face of playoff pushes for fantasy football owners everywhere. Kamara’s 903 total yards and nine touchdowns were an amazing sight to behold. He was electric in every game and in seven short weeks, he made owners forget about Hunt.

That performance from Kamara leading up to the fantasy playoffs has carried through to the offseason in owners’ minds. The ADP is close, but only because it had changed dramatically since October. Hunt’s ADP was 13.75 in October and now is slightly down to 14. Kamara however was 56.75 in October and is now all the way up to 11.17.

Should Kamara be ahead of Hunt though? Even though Kamara significantly outplayed Hunt for the most critical stretch of the season, the numbers tell me I should be taking Hunt before Kamara.

Player Attempts RuYds YPC RuTD Rec RecYds RecTD TotYds
Hunt 272 1,327 4.88 8 53 455 3 1,782
Kamara 120 728 6.07 8 81 826 5 1,554

 
It’s hard not to feel that Kamara is being drafted based on his showing to end the season, rather than his season as a whole. The argument is that he had to fight for carries with Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram, or his full-season numbers would have been better. If he had played a whole season, would he have been just as effective?

Three running backs since 1970 (min. 100 attempts) have higher yards per carry in a season than Kamara last year. Only Mercury Morris (6.40), Jamaal Charles (6.38), and Barry Sanders (6.11) have had a more efficient season running the ball.

Even though Hunt didn’t finish the season as strong as Kamara and recency bias leads us to believe Kamara is more valuable then Hunt, I would still take Hunt in 2018. The numbers he posted in 2017 have a more realistic chance of being replicated then the numbers Kamara posted.

Owners who go all in on Kamara this season at his 11.77 ADP will be skipping on players such as Keenan Allen, Julio Jones, Davante Adams, A.J. Green, Melvin Gordon and Devonta Freeman. All players with a longer track record than Kamara and none of which share the same position with another All-Pro from the year before.

Mark Ingram will surely continue to take carries from Kamara and limit his production. If the shares continue to work that way, and Kamara’s ridiculous yards per carry come back down to earth, he won’t live up to the 11.77 ADP.

Amari Cooper
After back to back 1,000-yard seasons and still only being 22 years old, Amari Cooper was one of the most popular picks in dynasty leagues last year. Wide receivers are typically seen as the heart of dynasty drafts.

Players at the position typically last longer, and if you play in a PPR format, they receive a slight bump over most running backs. One of the biggest knocks on Cooper was his lack of red zone targets and drops, but if you have 155 catches on 252 targets for 2,223 yards and 11 touchdowns in your first two seasons, owners can overlook some issues.

Between January of 2017 and September of 2017, Coopers highest ADP was 5.67 and his lowest was 7.33. Owners have quickly turned their backs on one of the top dynasty assets last offseason. Cooper did not have a significant year, catching 48 passes for 680 yards with a catch rate of 50%.

To look at his numbers glass half full though, Cooper did have a career high in touchdowns and saw his yards per receptions rise from 2016. The Raiders as a whole did not have a good 2017, but owners are showing their recency bias in drafts now.

Since Coopers high ADP of 5.67 in September of 2017, he has fallen all the way to 16.33 currently in March. Cooper has dropped over 10 spots in the draft due to one bad season. Those who still believe in Cooper point to his age and production in his first two seasons as positive notes that he will turn things around.

Most forget that Carr may have also been playing hurt most of the season as well. How quickly owners forget the abilities of a player based on one season.

Todd Gurley
Will owners change their recency bias if Cooper has the same type of turn around as Todd Gurley? Gurley had a great rookie season, rushing for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns, but a down season in 2017 for the Jeff Fisher lead Rams and owners thought the hype was done.

Gurley only rushed for 885 yards and six touchdowns while totaling 3.2 yards per carry. Gurley’s ADP saw the down season take effect last offseason.

Gurley’s ADP started at 14.5 in January 2017 but fell all the way to 23.33 by August 2017. Of course, winning offensive player of the year changes that very quickly. As of March, he is all the way up to 2.33 in drafts.

The same guy that was barely a second-round pick after a lousy season in a historically bad offense has shot up 21 spots to be the second or third overall pick. This is the perfect example of recency bias and how one bad season, or a stretch of a season in Hunt’s case, can send owners running for the hills.

Injuries
If owners are willing to bail on their favorite players after one bad season, imagine what they do when we give someone the label of injury prone. That is what we have done with Keenan Allen, who is one of my favorite players.

For everyone that has left him behind before this season, shame on you. I will just sit up here at the front of the Allen fan bus and continue to root for the guy who shouldn’t be labeled injury prone.

Allen had a 1,000-yard season his rookie year, but then had three straight injury-shortened seasons. His low point was tearing his ACL during Week 1 of the 2016 season.

So yes, three consecutive seasons with injuries including a torn ACL will drop your value and rightly so. But let’s look at it backward instead this time.

Allen and Cooper are swapping places in ADP as you can see in the graph below. After bouncing back from those injuries to become the WR3 in PPR leagues this past season, Allen’s ADP is all the way up to 12. But just a short time ago, in August 2017, Allen was at a low of 27.17.

Talent has never been the concern with Allen. When he has been healthy, and on the field, he has produced.

So has one good season removed the injury tag from Allen? Is he all of a sudden not injury prone because he finally had a healthy season again?

If we all go and hop in my DeLorean, which is parked right outside, we can go back to last offseason and run a poll as to why owners did not draft Allen higher than 27.17. I would be willing to place some bets that the number one answer would have been injury concerns. But, as the title of the article says, it is recency bias.

We are currently looking at the information in front of us, which says Allen is the WR3 in 2017 and is one of the top young receivers in the game. Don’t bother to go look at 23 games played between 2014 and 2016, or that he’s only had one 1,000-yard season before this. Owners have changed their mind about Allen due to one season.

Just to clarify as well, I am a huge Allen fan. When I draft players, I do not draft based on injury history. Injuries can happen to anyone at any time.

It’s not like Allen has a history of hamstring injuries, he tore his ACL and had a lacerated kidney. Last time I checked, players were not landing on the weekly injury report with reoccurring lacerated kidneys.

Rookie Hype
Ah yes, the best time of the year for dynasty owners. The combine has come and gone, and now we await the draft to see where our favorite prospects land. At this time of the year, picks are gold to owners.

We want to find the next top fantasy asset, who will help win us multiple championships in the next 10 years. This time of year is a combination of rookie hype and recency bias.

We hear so much about the draft class and which prospects are going to be future superstars, we lose sight of players who are currently superstars. That’s the only explanation I have for someone who is giving up Mike Evans and multiple other assets to get the 1.01 this season.

But how do top picks work out in any given season? We have been spoiled watching players like Ezekiel Elliott and Odell Beckham Jr. become top players in their rookie season, not to mention players I’ve already mentioned in this article like Hunt, Kamara, and Gurley. Based on 12-team, PPR dynasty leagues, I’ve pulled the first two rounds of picks from the last three years to see which players have become legitimate starting options right away.

Pick

2017 2016 2015
1.01 L. Fournette E. Elliott M. Gordon
1.02 C. McCaffrey D. Henry A. Cooper
1.03 J. Mixon S. Shepard T. Gurley
1.04 D. Cook C. Coleman A. Abdullah
1.05 K. Hunt W. Fuller T. Yeldon
1.06 C. Davis Michael Thomas N. Agholor
1.07 A. Kamara K. Marshall T. Coleman
1.08 O. Howard L. Treadwell K. White
1.09 S. Perine Mike Thomas D. Parker
1.10 Z. Jones K. Drake D. Funchess
1.11 Joe Williams J. Goff Duke Johnson
1.12 J. Ross H. Henry D. Smith
2.01 E. Engram A. Collins B. Perriman
2.02 M. Williams A. Hooper J. Ajayi
2.03 D. Njoku J. Williams J. Strong
2.04 D. Foreman J. Doctson D. Cobb
2.05 M. Mack P. Lynch M. Davis
2.06 D. Watson M. Mitchell David Johnson
2.07 C. Kupp R. Higgens D. Green-Beckham
2.08 Jamaal Williams C. Wentz M. Williams
2.09 J. Smith-Schuster P. Cooper J. Winston
2.10 K. Golladay D. Booker C. Conley
2.11 J. Conner K. Garrett S. Coates
2.12 P. Mahomes K. Dixon M. Mariota

 
2017 was the outlier compared to 2016 and 2015, with nine rookies who contributed to their teams and fantasy owners during portions of the season. Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Hunt, Juju Smith-Schuster, Kamara, Jamaal Williams, Cooper Kupp, and Evan Engram all carved out a role in their first season. The year prior, only Ezekiel Elliott, Sterling Shepard, Will Fuller, and Michael Thomas made an impact while 2015 just saw four players in Amari Cooper, Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, and David Johnson, who was taken late first to early second round in rookie drafts but didn’t make a significant impact until 2016.

If you look down this list, you find names that are very familiar. These are guys you have in your lineup weekly, but other names haven’t done anything.

The 2015 class has seen a couple more players grow over the past year. Nelson Agholor, Duke Johnson, and Devin Funchess finally saw their breakout campaigns in 2017. Imagine selling on a proven player to try and acquire picks in the 2015 draft, and picking Ameer Abdullah, T.J. Yeldon or even Kevin White.

Only eight out of 24 players with an ADP in the first two rounds of 2015 rookie drafts has had a season among the top 75 fantasy scorers. That is a 33% chance that you will get a player able to offer a top 75 season within three years of the draft. The fact is, the 2017 draft has set our expectations so high, that we feel every player we get our hands on could be the game changer we need to win a championship.

The Chase
This is what I call it, every year…the chase. Fantasy football owners spend hours researching, mock drafting, studying, listening to podcasts, and reading articles in the pursuit of being the best.

You might be a casual fantasy football fan, and that is okay. Just try not to laugh at those of us who do participate in the chase every year. In dynasty fantasy football, the goal is to sustain success over many years.

Obtaining good young players is the way to do that. The draft seems to be the best option though, right? Just remember 33% was your hit rate in 2015 for top 75 players.

We live in a world of instant gratification. We eat fast food, so we get our food right away. We have emails come to our phone so that we can respond right away. We join social media, so we get our news right away. We also want our players to produce right away. That is why we have recency bias.

Everything doesn’t need to be about information that is right in front of us. We need to be able to expand our vision and see the current product and the product that could be.

Stop letting the rookie chatter get to your head. Don’t let injuries keep you from adding Allen. Don’t let one stretch of a season block out an entire body of work. If we can’t, then that is how recency bias and rookie hype burry dynasty owners.


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Kyle Richardson is a correspondent for FantasyPros. For more from Kyle, check out his archive and follow him @krich1532.

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