So, a lot of people ask me: “Yo-yo Jay, how you do that shihizzay?”. Sure, the verbiage is pretty generalized (if you’re playing Grand Theft Auto), but the resounding point is: readers have shown interest over the years on what exactly my ranking process is. Thinking about it, I’m actually surprised that I haven’t written about this before, and something I might start doing in the preseason to sort of self-diagnose each season. Now, before we get started, I want to mention that if it wasn’t obvious, this process is my own, and I can’t begin to tell you how other “experts” rank the players. We have two other rankers here at Razzball, and that’s Tehol and Rudy. It’s probably fair to say that Tehol’s process is much closer to mine than Rudy’s, but that’s because Rudy actually uses data projection, and dark wizardry, with a scientific and proven methodology. Now, even if I don’t know what that means, the usage of multisyllabic words and the presence of magic should at least convince you that it’s special, which is what I concluded early on when remembering that I actually have no math skills whatsoever and would feel out of place questioning anybody who actually uses it. That being said (and you can see Rudy’s process here), the foundation of how I rank players begins and ends with as many snack breaks and pornHUB interludes as humanly possible. And the middle? Well, let me tell ya…
That it truly is the most ghetto process possible. (Granted, it may not be, but it certainly feels like it.) In fact, I’m sure I’m probably doing it the most archaic way possible, but since taking over the site a little over three years ago, the results were acceptable and I simply went with what worked and have been fine-tuning ever since.
Sunday is probably the busiest day for any football writer, but I think the least amount of information can actually be drawn from watching games in real time. I say this not to squash any analysis that comes out on Monday, there’s still plenty of conclusions to draw from and analyze, but taking all the information from a period where it’s hard to consume every bit of data from every single game just isn’t possible when ranking players for the following week. So my process involves taking notes on specific players throughout the day (which also is reflected in our recaps), and there’s nothing too special about the notes. Sometimes I’ll be really specific, or sometimes I’ll be salty and draw a middle finger. (For those wondering, I find myself doing this for Todd Gurley a lot this year.) My source is usually NFL Network’s RedZone, simply because they do the channel switching for me, but I’ll usually have a lot more detail for the primetime games on Thursday, Sunday, and Monday simply because I can watch and focus on one matchup at a time.
The real work then begins… (First world problems!) Starting on Tuesday and going right on through the week (sometimes to Saturday), I take every single game and watch it over again, and take even more notes. One thing I specifically concentrate on is to focus on the offensive and defensive lines on every play. I’ve found that a lot of spectators will watch the quarterback when the ball is hiked, but the expectation is either he’ll pass, run, or hand off the ball for a run. All of this can be picked up by your peripheral vision. When you watch the two lines instead, you can analyse the entire play. Why did the halfback rush for only three yards? Did he miss a hole? (Never happens for me.) Was there a blown assignment or missed block? It’s almost like watching an entirely new game. And even more helpful is the ability to pause, rewind, change angles, etc. Now, I’m not an NFL coach, nor am I scout, nor do I even consider myself a fantasy “expert”. I’m a writer, and my goal is to disseminate this information as best I can, and then create a vehicle for this information so that you the reader can consume this information.
So then the process starts getting a little bit… rudimentary. I don’t plug numbers into a machine, nor do I generally do anything from an analytic standpoint. That’s not to say I don’t use stats, schedules, etc., I do, but my process can basically be boiled down to: I take notes, I do player research, and then I rank. Ranking players is probably the easiest and hardest part, all at the same time. What I mean by this is, just clicking and move players names is generally easy, mostly because as humans, we have opposable thumbs. But the reasoning of where the players go is the hard part. So we’ve established that I have notes. I have names. And I can click on sh*t. I take those three things and begin ranking…
I start by loading the FantasyPros ranker, and my starting point is the ECR (Expert Consensus Rankings). I do this for one reason, and that’s because this is the only time I am affected by other “experts”. I’d prefer being insulated for the entire process, so by getting a snapshot of what everyone else thinks allows me to develop my own conclusions by what a large analytical body has provided. That is to say, it allows me to start without any bias whatsoever on my part, and instead, start with an accepted median. Think of it this way, if I’m a bartender, and I’m wondering what to fill your glass with, it helps me to know if the glass is already half full. If it’s empty, I could just pour anything into it. Sure, I could ask you what you were having, but then that defeats what was an already poor metaphor.
And specifically with the players, there is no exact science for me, unfortunately. When ranking players at a micro level (i.e. ranking Randall Cobb at 24 and Travis Benjamin at 25), I make a determination based on my notes, on season stats, on their defensive matchups, basically all the information that I’ve gathered and that’s available to be researched all gets baked into my decision-making process. And that’s basically it. I watch, I research, and then I rank. I also drink.
I’ll be honest, I actually don’t like my process. And I’m not trying to be obtuse since I’m quite happy with the results, but a lot of times I find myself wishing that I had some secret code or some cheat to bring everyone fantasy championships and ultimately peace on earth. And that’s why I talk so much about Rudy’s Pigskinator. I feel like his process is the future in terms of data collection and projection, and watching this wonderful tool grow is an amazing thing to watch. That being said (and I want to let everyone know that I’m a huge advocate of advanced stats and analytic), even though I wish I could optimize the way I rank players even more, there’s a ceiling here. There is literally no way I can improve on what I do, because there’s nothing to tweak. Unlike Jamaal Charles’ hamstring. This is my third year now ranking players, and while we’ve seen tangible improvements, the reason why I don’t really like my process is because sometimes I have no idea how to deconstruct what I did poorly if the results don’t match my expectations. So, since we’re apparently celebrating Jay Ajayi day here at Razzball, he’s a good example of how my process can give me fits. The week he broke out, well, I don’t think many could figure that one out. But the second week of 200+ rushing yards, why did I miss that? Here’s what I wrote for notes on him against the Steelers that determined my low ranking:
“Sunday Notes: WTF? Vison +, Speed -. Steelers are trash. Seriously? Double-check line play. Where are the linebackers?”
“Second view: Wow, Steelers are trash. Zero tackling at second level. WTF? Good blocking first level. Terrible second level defense. Still looks slow, no burst. Good strength. One week wonder?”
Yeah, it comes off a bit jumbled, but my main takeaways, as you can read, was that he showed pretty good vision when getting the ball, hitting the areas he’s supposed to, and getting a good start with the blocking from the offensive line. But I also attributed a lot of his success to breaking tackles he shouldn’t have. And yeah, if you can’t tell, the WTF’s were for this play. So I took that info, and looked at his next matchup, the Buffalo Bills. Their defense has been pretty good this year, with some blips, but their run defense was ranked strong than the Steelers, and their front seven personal were a bit better. So my conclusion was that while Ajayi would once again get RB1 snaps, he’d be contained a bit more. And here we are. Jay Ajayi day… And the most important part, you know who figured out that Ajayi might be for real? That’s right, Rudy’s Pigskinator. Which kinda goes back to one of my earlier points that depending on multiple sources is always probably the best thing you can do.
So hopefully that gives you a macro and micro sense of how I rank players, and where my process has strengths and weaknesses. And I’d just like to say that ranking players is really really hard. I actually stress out every Tuesday (when the accuracy reports are released) because there is a system out there that actually grades how well I do as a fantasy football writer, and that’s the day when I find out if I either helped you, the community, or Tonya Harding’d your team into oblivion. That is a scary thing. And how do I deal with that? I put everything out there, both my successes and failures are presented on Razzball and FantasyPros for everyone to see. So in the end, if I mess up, or give the wrong advice, at the end of the day, at least I can say that I’m transparent. Is that enough? Not at all. But when I do succeed, it does give me a measure of solace that when I do, not only does Razzball have a free and open process, but the community sees that too and maybe that’s the most important thing to me. Well, that and making fun of your mom…
If you have any specific questions or comments on how I rank players, please ask below!