Michael Salfino

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Michael Salfino provides quantitative player and team analysis for the Wall Street Journal and Yahoo! Sports.

  • Splitsville: The DeMarco dilemma

    Let’s start Splitsville in Dallas, which has multiple fantasy football wild cards in Championship Week.

    DeMarco Murray was thought to be out for sure with a broken hand. But then Stephania Bell at ESPN reported expertly that this injury had an average 2.8 day recovery time for football players based on a recent medical study. This was within minutes of the news breaking. So then it was bettable that Murray was going to play as normal and I proceeded that way. I did not waste a waiver claim on Joseph Randle knowing my championship game opponent would block me. That resulted in me adding two players I wanted on waivers instead of just one, completely closing the projected points gap. It could still blow up in my face, of course. There is no guarantee that Murray will play. But I thought it was bettable. The process is correct, regardless of the results. Remember, this is an elimination game, essentially, for Dallas.
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  • Scouting Notebook: Backs on the wire

    Week 15 in Fantasy Football was the proverbial “Drunkard’s Walk.” Whether you advanced or were vanquished depends on whether your big players showed up at all. That’s usually the case, of course, but it’s hard to remember another playoff week where so many big names came up empty.

    But before the post-mortem, let’s help those that are advancing assess the waiver wire, which, as is the case every week, is ripe.

    It’s quite frankly hilarious that Toby Gerhart may decide fantasy championships, but that’s our game, boys. The zeroRB guys don’t care, of course. Gerhart suddenly is in line for the most touches and probably any goal-line ones on a team that plays a low-scoring, running friendly brand of defensive football. This week, in front of a nation-wide Thursday audience (as part of, I’m sure, some elaborate practical joke), Gerhart and the Jaguars face the Titans, one of the friendliest running-game matchups going.

    In San Francisco, Carlos Hyde may be in line for the most touches now that

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  • Splitsville: Holding out for a hero

    Let’s start Splitsville this week with a look at the top scorers of Week 15 last year, mostly to prepare ourselves for how cruelly random our game can be. Source for this is Pro-Football-Reference’s excellent player-finder database, well worth a subscription.

    Top five Week 15, 2013 QBs: Nick Foles, Alex Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Cassel and Matt Flynn.

    Top five RBs: Jamaal Charles, Matt Asiata, Eddie Lacy, DeAngelo Williams, Rashad Jennings

    Top five WRs: DeSean Jackson, Greg Jennings, Dez Bryant, Pierre Garcon, Julian Edelman, Andre Caldwell

    So some crazy players may end up being on the Week 15 Hero list this year. You know the candidates, guys like Johnny Manziel, Derek Anderson, Jake Locker, Marquess Wilson, Kerwynn Williams, Latavius Murray, Harry Douglas…. Who knows? Anyone who is starting is dangerous in any given week.

    Again, forget about “fantasy points vs. position X” stats to pick your lineups. They’re too touchdown driven and touchdowns are random. The rate stats are way

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  • Scouting Notebook: Le'Veon on legendary run

    Le'Veon Bell has been delivering plenty of Sweetness for his fantasy owners. (USAT)Le'Veon Bell has been delivering plenty of Sweetness for his fantasy owners. (USAT)Le’Veon Bell has been a disappointment to his owners when it comes to converting yardage into touchdowns but all that changed at a perfect time for his owners, with three scores in Week 14.

    So let’s start our Scouting Notebook with the player who is rapidly emerging as the consensus No. 1 running back (and thus, in the non-zeroRB world, the No. 1 overall pick) in 2015. Bell now has a remarkable 711 yards in his last three games. Only one player in league history has more (or has even ever broken 700) in a three game stretch — Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears in 1977. Bell's season total is up to 1,924 yards. He’ll have to play near his recent pace to break Chris Johnson’s 2009 record of 2,509 scrimmage yards. But just holding his full-season average, which seems a safe bet considering his recent surge, would get Bell to 2,368 scrimmage yards, the fourth most in league history (leapfrogging 1997 Barry Sanders).

    Bell is the complete package, of course, except for home-run speed. But his

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  • Splitsville: The tall and the short of it

    Let’s mine the data this week for the players who were least and most efficient in converting yards from scrimmage into touchdowns. I’ve also included position and height/weight. Thanks to Pro-Football-Reference for the stats.

    Here’s a link to the full chart.  We’ll just do the highlights here.

    The top 20 most efficient scorers are:

    The big WR model still works but it hasn’t been a great year for it. I think we have some selection bias going on. I’ll explain in a moment. First the details. Seven of the nine most efficient scoring wide receivers are at least six-feet tall. But players 5-11 and under average a TD every 212 yards and players 6-2 and over one every 190. That’s not close to the advantage I’d expect based on historical data.

    So what’s going on? Randall Cobb and Antonio Brown are having crazy efficient touchdown seasons. That’s a big part of it.

    But I noticed something when sorting. I typically pull the 6-3 and over guys and 5-10 and under guys and the sample sizes are similar.

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  • Scouting Notebook: Donte's inferno

    Expect Donte Moncrief's fantasy value to skyrocket in the coming years..  (Getty)Expect Donte Moncrief's fantasy value to skyrocket in the coming years.. (Getty)Week 13 was a breakout for a select class of young wideouts. What DeAndre Hopkins, Kenny Stills and Keenan Allen all had in common entering this year was producing at an all-time level for a 21-year-old receiver in their rookie season of 2013.

    So the expectation, from me at least, was that we have to age-adjust their stats like we would a super-young baseball player and thus expect star-caliber performance going forward. Unfortunately, going forward is a long time, as much as we’d like that to mean “from Week 1 of the upcoming season forward.”

    It’s been rocky at times with all three guys. Hopkins has mysteriously not been given the lion’s share of targets despite elite yards-per-target production all year. Stills entered the season hurt and and afterthought given the new, 21-year-old wide receiver in town, Brandin Cooks. Allen went seven games without a touchdown and, in fairness, was doing very little with his targets. But in Week 13, the trio combined for 25 catches on 30 targets for

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  • Splitsville: C.J. all the way

    Let’s start Splitsville this week by using last week’s results to illustrate again why it’s best to use rate stats and not fantasy points allowed when picking players to start based on their defensive opponent.

    Last week, I listed the Chiefs as a run defense to target. The commenters noted that this is absurd because the Chiefs are one of the stingiest defenses in allowing running back points, courtesy of yielding zero rushing TDs.

    But I ignored TDs in this assessment because I said they were random events. What would even be the argument for avoiding the Chiefs’ run defense? That they are good at preventing rushing touchdowns while being bad at allowing yards per attempt? Does that make any sense? This is the textbook case of something being descriptive (the Chiefs allowing few running back fantasy points because of a lack of rushing touchdowns) rather than predictive (actually being good at preventing rushing touchdowns). Something, eventually, had to give. And it did last week when

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  • Scouting Notebook: Gordon going gonzo

    Josh Gordon has risen above the limitations of his QB. (USAT)Josh Gordon has risen above the limitations of his QB. (USAT)Josh Gordon is back and the NFL is his playground. He’s on one of the most epic wide receiver runs ever, one unfairly interrupted by outdated NFL policy designed to prevent off-field conduct that few, if any, still consider worthy of a suspension.

    Gordon has eight games of at least 120 receiving yards since 2013, which for him is only 15 games (thanks, Roger Goodell and NFLPA). That’s the most in football in that span, tying Gordon with T.Y. Hilton, who has played 12 more games. A.J. Green, DeSean Jackson and Demaryius Thomas have seven each. Calvin Johnson (more on him later) has four. So 120 receiving yards for Gordon is above his median and thus his projection. That's insane.

    Gordon doesn’t have Peyton Manning so maybe Demaryius Thomas is the top fantasy wide receiver going forward. But Gordon is No. 2. What receiver in the history of our game has had this kind of floor? And he gets 15 targets every game, too.

    Brian Hoyer is a big problem but even he can’t screw Gordon up. If not for

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  • Splitsville: Gray's big day

    Jonas Gray, flash in the pan? (Getty)Jonas Gray, flash in the pan? (Getty)Let’s see if a model will help us forecast the likelihood of Jonas Gray being a flash in the pan versus a star.

    I’ve set the single-game thresholds at 175 yards rushing and three rushing TDs. Of course, Gray had 199 and four last week. That gives us 18 names since 2000: Shawn Alexander, Mike Anderson, Tiki Barber, Marshall Faulk, Arian Foster, Eddie George, Gray, Jerome Harrison, Larry Johnson, Julius Jones, Jamal Lewis, Doug Martin, Alfred Morris, Adrian Peterson (three times), Clinton Portis, Fred Taylor (twice), LaDainian Tomlinson (four times).

    So how many of the 18 were flashes in the pan? I’ll give you Anderson, Harrison, Jones, Martin (I know it’s early but I’m calling it). The other guys were/are good. So that’s four pan flashes of 18 or a 22% chance that Gray is the stiff most thought he was. In other words, odds are about 3.5-to-1 in favor of Gray being some degree of good (which would make him a top projected back for the remainder of the season).

    We could say it’s less

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  • Scouting Notebook: Anderson takes charge in Broncos backfield

    Expect big fantasy returns from Anderson the rest of the way. (USAT)Expect big fantasy returns from Anderson the rest of the way. (USAT)To paraphrase Tolstoy (though this is way better than anything he ever wrote), all NFL weeks are crazy but Week 11 was crazy in its own way.

    If you would have asked me 20 questions about the week, I would have gotten 18 or maybe 19 wrong. But the one I got right arguably made up for all the misses because it was Jonas Gray and the Patriots desire to pound the snot out of the Colts with the run.

    Yes, I meekly said “at least 80 yards and a touchdown” for Gray on Twitter @michaelsalfino. And, yeah, the writing was on the wall if you make any note of the postseason games after our fantasy years are over. The Patriots did exactly the same thing to the Colts last year. So clearly they were going to at least try it. So I played Gray in all my leagues on Sunday, though to be fair I don’t really care much about running backs so his downside was pretty meaningless.

    Ranking Gray going forward is tough. I’ll say top 12, which is a very low bar this season. Alfred Morris is the 12th running back in

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