More fantasy football DOs and DON'Ts: contract-year edition
The graph of a player's production is almost never simple. It doesn't look like a bell curve, it looks like a mountain range. There are ups and downs (see Ahmad Bradshaw 2010-2012) but the general trends stick out at you. Bradshaw's fantasy production may go up or down this year (another contract year), but it has gone way up since his early days in New York. It is entirely likely that his fantasy points per game rise or fall by a couple of points this year, but it is unlikely that he'll go back to five points per game or skyrocket up to elite status.
Like our previous analysis of fantasy football dogma, this rule may have some hint of legitimacy, but you should never trust rely on generalizations for something as flukey as fantasy football. This year, Kenny Britt, MJD, Anquan Boldin, and a million other players are in contract years but I don't anticipate it mattering much.
In almost every big-name free agent example from the last three years, there have been much betterexplanations for a player's decline or increase in production than "it's his contract year".
Do you think Alex Smith led the 49ers to the NFC Championship in 2011 ecause his contract made him more motivated than usual? Or was it maybe the incredible offensive line play in Jim Harbaugh's first season?
In 2012, in a contract year, Shonn Greene outperformed his career average, but was just slightly better than in 2011. Was it the money on the table that boosted his play? Or was it the fact that his production had increased each of the previous three seasons, as often happens with young players.
In Randy Moss' 2010 contract season, his production fell off. He played for three teams that year, a season after scoring 13 touchdowns for New England. If money were really a motivator, as the contract year theory suggests, he would've made one of those stops work in 2010.
The moral of the story is this: don't rely on any particular rule of fantasy football. Look at a player's individual history only in the context of that single player. Look at multi-year trends, not contract expiration dates.
In reality, most FF players only abide by these sorts of rules in a tossup situation. Should I take player X or player Y? Well, player Y is in a contract year, so let's go with him. I'm glad that this is usually the extent of the rule, but even that thought process is overly lazy. Here's a much better way. Just compare each player's previous couple of years; which way are they trending? Are there other factors like age, system, competition that are actually going to be relevant factors? Those more nuanced approaches are sure to produce more consistent results than looking at a list of upcoming free agents.
As they say on the Discovery Channel, MYTH BUSTED!