Fantasy Football: Understanding the Difference Between Rankings and Projections

John Miller@SportsSomethingCorrespondent IIIJuly 25, 2012

Larry Fitzgerald is the consensus No. 2 ranked fantasy WR. What does that mean?
Larry Fitzgerald is the consensus No. 2 ranked fantasy WR. What does that mean?Christian Petersen/Getty Images

During both your fantasy draft and the regular season, you will be constantly hit over the head with rankings and projections. With so many sources generating these numbers, they must be useful, right?

Yes, rankings and projections are useful, but they are two entirely different animals. Neither is particularly scientific, but if you had to choose, projections are more grounded in actual statistical basis. And therein lies the difference between rankings and projections.

Projections are simply the statistics you think that a player will end up with for a season or even a certain game. For instance, my general projection for Wes Welker in 2012 is 100 catches, 1,100 receiving yards and seven receiving TDs. That's based on his previous production with a slight decline because of his age and the additions to the New England offense.

Based on those projections, Welker would end up with approximately 152 points in standard leagues and 252 points in PPR leagues. That is of course, assuming he plays 16 games. And with Wes Welker, that's a decent bet. He's been quite durable throughout his career.

And that is where rankings come into the picture. Rankings take into account projections, but they also take into account injury risk, public perception and the personal bias of the individual generating the rankings.

Here's an example from last season. I was torn on how to rank Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy in PPR leagues. I had them both as elite options at the RB position, but I couldn't decided how to rank them for draft purposes. For most of the summer, I had McCoy ahead of Charles. I liked that McCoy wouldn't share as many touches as Charles and the Eagles had a more favorable schedule than the Chiefs.

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But as summer came to a close, I flip-flopped. Because I live in Philadelphia, I hear a ton about the Eagles. And what I was hearing was bad news. Vick didn't look good. The offensive line was a mess. The locker room was being splintered by DeSean Jackson.

So I ultimately ranked Charles ahead of McCoy, to the point where I selected Charles with McCoy on the board in my FFPC league. And that individual choice cost me my chance at the playoffs. And why did I change my ranking? Because of where I live.

Rankings try to take into account how a player is perceived and how consistent he has been. Just because Larry Fitzgerald is the universal No. 2 ranked WR doesn't mean that everybody thinks that he will finish 2012 as the No. 2 scoring WR.

That No. 2 ranking comes from several factors:

  1. Larry Fitzgerald has been a productive fantasy receiver, no matter who is throwing him the football.
  2. Larry Fitzgerald has stayed very healthy over the course of his career, especially when compared to some other "elite" WRs.
  3. Larry Fitzgerald is a well-known and popular football player. This will contribute to him being drafted early in fantasy drafts, especially among novice players.

Larry Fitzgerald is ranked as the No. 2 WR because fantasy prognosticators expect him to stay healthy and finish as a top-seven fantasy WR. And he will be drafted early, so he's ranked appropriately for where you have to draft him.

This is why creating your own rankings is so important. Get your thoughts down on paper so that you can see what preconceived notions you already have. It's fine to look at the rankings everybody else puts out, just know that there isn't much science behind it.

At the end of the day, a fantasy football writer has more in common with Ms. Cleo than Hunter Thompson. We're trying to predict the future. Literally. It's all just analyzing the data and making your best guess. That's why it's important that you arrive at your own conclusions.

Unless of course, I begin to correctly predict the future. At that time, feel free to pay me large sums of money to ensure your victory. Until that glorious day, try to remember that all of this rankings nonsense is just as accurate (or possibly even less) than your horoscope.

Thanks for reading and good luck this season. If you have anything to add, please use the comments feature, or reach out on Twitter.

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