Reacting to Week 1 Breakouts

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

Whether you’re playing in a dynasty, redraft, or even bestball league, week 1 of the NFL season holds a special place in our hearts. The months of research and anticipation during the off-season are finally about to pay off, which also means that the players we hyped or faded are about to prove us right or wrong. However, from a fantasy perspective it’s crucial to avoid jumping to conclusions about someone based of one performance, especially if that player starts off by stuffing the stat sheets. So that begs the questions: how are we supposed to react to monster week 1 games and how do these breakout players ultimately finish the season? I went back and analyzed 67 players from 2016-2019 that scored 20+ PPR points in week 1 and had a pre-season ADP of 20 or lower at their respective positions, specifically targeting these lower ranked breakouts. Here’s what I found….

How to think about spending your FAAB

I’m going to share a mind-blowing stat that should help set the tone for the rest of this article. Of the 67 players that met our criteria, 44 (65.7%) ultimately missed time throughout the season due to an injury or being benched. Yes, you read that correctly! Over half of the time you spend FAAB on these players post week 1, they’ll give you an ROI (return on investment) of less than a full season. Naturally the player ultimately being benched later in the season is the sort of risk you should expect when taking a flier on waiver wire players. In addition, football is a violent sport and injuries are often unavoidable. In fact, less than 3% of NFL games are “injury free” according to Dr. Edwin Porras of the Injury Prone Fantasy Podcast. If these players happen to already be on your team, any great manager should be open to putting them on the trade block to see what their market value is….we’re looking at you 2019 Sammy Watkins.

Hopefully this is a reminder of the unpredictability from week to week in the NFL and makes you think twice before prematurely spending a ton of FAAB or overhyping a guy after one game.

DeSean Jackson might be the 1.01 of disappointment after week 1

Hit Rates

The next point I want to cover is perhaps the most important for fantasy owners: hit rates. Below is a positional breakdown of how the 67 players that met our criteria of 20+ PPR points week 1 and pre-season ADP 20+ are made up, along with their overall finishes by percent.

So what do the numbers mean? In laymen’s terms, we’re throwing darts here. Eleven of our players managed to pull off a top 12 finish at their respective position through a four year sample size of breakout performances, which equates to an overall hit rate of 16%. If you were going to take chances on reacting to any positions’ week 1 game it would be running backs. Their average finish is greater than any other positions, and their top 12 hit rate is the highest amongst the three groups with big enough sample sizes. Conversely, WRs have the most volatility with the lowest top 12 hit rates and greatest likelihood to finish outside the top 36. Of course we’re not always looking to strike gold in free agency or even with our bench players. In fact, most times we’re just looking for someone who’s serviceable. Let’s look at the opposite end of the spectrum. 44 of the 67 players who met our criteria finished as a QB3/RB3/WR3 or significantly lower, that’s a staggering 66%! The moral of the story is that you can find that “2018 James Conner” player who out-produces their ADP by 47 spots and finishes as the RB6. However, the odds are you’ll end up with someone like 2016 Ameer Abdullah, your pre-season RB33 who despite putting up 23 PPR points in week 1, finished the season 63 spots lower as the RB96.

Week 1’s Impact of ROS points (Remainder of Season)

Lastly, I want to discuss what percentage of these player’s points ultimately came from their week 1 game. This is particularly important because most of the time the players that have ADPs of 20 or lower are either in your flex spots, on your bench, or floating around in free agency. In other words, they were often wasted points. I’m not saying that’s always the case, especially since wide receivers and running backs with mid-twenty ADPs are still great. However, players like Phillip Dorsett with a 2019 ADP of WR89 made the cut when he put up 25.5 points in week 1. Therefore, it’s safe to say that when John Ross erupted for 34.8 points last year he was likely on your bench or getting scooped up by a league mate come Wednesday morning. I began by calculating what percentage of each player’s week 1 points contributed to their season total, determined an average positional percentage for each year, and then took the average of all four seasons from 2016-2019. The results might shock you:

In a perfect world each week should account for 6.25% of a player’s overall production (100%/16 weeks). Of course this level of consistency can only ever be dreamt of by players like Michael Thomas or CMC, but to have a quarter of your season’s stats wrapped up by week 1 is perhaps the biggest red flag you should take away from this article. As I mentioned, these huge chunks of points are typically wasted since the majority of the 67 players weren’t even startable come week 1. This means we’re left with the remaining 74-82% of their production for the rest of the season, which as I mentioned is statistically likely to get cut short.

I’ll leave you with one example to wrap up this point: Ryan Fitzpatrick was the QB38 heading into the 2018, primed for the waiver wire or a superflex stash. He came storming out of the gates and scored an astonishing 42.3 fantasy points week 1. Later we’d learn that would be good for 25.5% of his overall points (165.8). He finished the season as the QB28. So you tell me, was he worth the money or hype?

Overall Takeaways

To sum this up I want to reiterate the key points you should take away from this article:

  • 65.7% of these week 1 breakout players will play less than a full season

  • You have a 66% chance of spending FAAB on a player that will have a return on investment of QB3/RB3/WR3 or lower

  • 18-26% of these breakout player’s overall points will be attributed to their week 1 performance

  • If you HAVE to overreact to one position, it’s the running backs with the highest average season finish and top 12 hit rate

  • Spend your FAAB responsibly (especially with COVID), really evaluate a player’s talent and situation before making decisions, and don’t be afraid to capitalize on their big game by making some trades