Heads Up With The All In Kid: Mike Clay
By Jake Ciely
First off, I know why I handpicked you to be part of this series, but why don’t you tell the readers how and why you became a fantasy football writer?
I’ve always been into numbers. I still have notebooks full of stats from when I was young, and I ended up with a degree in Accounting. I played fantasy football (among other sports) for years, but I was annually frustrated with the underwhelming projections available on the web. There were always too many problems with them. Team and league totals were way off base from historical data. Passing and receiving yards didn’t match up (nowhere close in some cases). Assumptions related to depth charts were way off. You catch my drift. Anyways, I decided to put the man hours into building a strong projection system. From there, I began writing about my research and applied it to fantasy. The rest is, well, you know.
One of the more valuable metrics that I have found for fantasy football is your aDOT statistic. Tell the readers how you came up with it and why it’s such a valuable metric.
I can only take part of the credit. At Pro Football Focus, we have a team of game analysts that sit down and chart every player on every play of every game. One of the stats our guys began tracking in 2008 was the ‘depth’ of each throw. Anyone can throw ‘depth’ in the numerator and ‘targets’ in the denominator, but what I did was go back and study years of the data to determine how useful it really was. As it turned out, not only is aDOT a significantly better indicator of each wide receiver’s role, but it’s also a lot more predictable than the popular yards-per-reception stat. And it can be applied to quarterbacks, as well, which opens up another can of worms (in a good way).
Another one of your more frequent analysises? analysi? analyses? is looking at defensive personnel packages versus offensive positions. What can we learn from that as fantasy football players?
This is yet another situation where the game analysts at PFF have provided me/us with awesome raw data to work with. I’ve utilized this data as a way to adjust/normalize/regress/etc. passing and rushing data. Peyton Manning, for example, has the disadvantage of throwing against a ton of Nickel defense. Colin Kaepernick, on the other hand, benefits from facing a lot of base defense. A fine example of where this really comes in handy is Alex Smith. He’s leaving a run-heavy offense that faced a ton of base. In Kansas City, he’ll see significantly more Nickel in a pass-heavy offense. It’s helpful adjusting running backs, as well, especially when you consider a situation like the one in New Orleans where Mark Ingram sees stacked boxes, while Darren Sproles runs against Nickel and Dime. When these players change teams (a la Reggie Bush), it’s extremely helpful for YPC projections and the like.
It seems PPR leagues are starting to become more prevalent. So, we’ll ask your personal preference: What is your favorite league/scoring type?
In terms of standard-style leagues, I’d pick PPR over non-PPR. I really try to push adding as many starting positions as possible. There’s too much of a luck factor in fantasy football the way it is. Adding a few more spots to the starting lineup rewards owners who have a strong draft from beginning to end and punishes those who luck into a few picks and ride it to a playoff berth. Add another running back, wide receiver, and tight end starter. While you’re at it, make quarterbacks eligible for the flex (or just add a super flex). If you know football, you’ll be pleased with the results.
The big news couldn’t be stranger for you this week. Aaron Hernandez is being questioned in a murder case. We’ll make this a two-fer though. Does it affect your value for Hernandez if drafting today? And, his teammate Rob Gronkowski, where are you ranking him given the surgeries?
I recently (06/20/13) participated in a PPR Mock Draft with the crews at Rotoworld and Yahoo. Hernandez came off the board at the fifth pick of the ninth round. Had he made it to me at 9.12, I would’ve taken him. If he plays, that’s a major steal. If he doesn’t, you still put together a strong starting lineup in the first eight rounds, so you’re not losing much. As for Gronkowski, I actually landed him with the 37th overall pick in the same draft, which I think is great value. I’ve said this a dozen times or so over the last few weeks, but 12 games with Gronkowski coupled with four from a replacement-level tight end still leaves you with elite production at that spot.
A question I’m asking everyone: David Wilson appears to be a polarizing running back when it comes to experts’ rankings this year. Where do you rank him and why?
This is interesting timing, as I just finished a 2,000-plus word article on how predictive rookie running back stats are on future production. Wilson was the player who inspired the article after Matthew Berry and Nate Ravitz brought up a PFF Fantasy stat during their June 19th show. My research provides optimism that Wilson is legit. At least over the last five years, rookie backs who put up strong numbers on a moderate-to-high number of carries tend to pan out. Prior to the study, I had Wilson as my No. 18 back in standard-scoring leagues. I may move him up a spot or two (over Chris Johnson and DeMarco Murray) later today. There are certainly concerns about his run blocking and the number of snaps he’ll get inside the five with Andre Brown in the picture. The ceiling here is huge, though, so I wouldn’t be upset with him as my No. 2 back.
Without giving away all of your secrets, what is your one tactic/strategy of fantasy football that you feel gives you the edge to win?
Understanding the value of replacement level players is huge. “VORP” goes so much further than the concept of drafting running backs early and, at least in 2013, waiting at quarterback. The value of every player changes with each pick. Monitoring/predicting position runs and the picks of your opponents is key to making the best pick. Understanding VORP is helpful in the later rounds, as well. A savvy owner knows that most people eventually drop their backup tight end, and that it’s much harder to find spot-starter/upside running backs than wide receivers on waivers. That’s important to remember when filling out your roster.
Because everyone always wants to know, who is your favorite underrated (notice I didn’t say “sleeper”) player for 2013?
My guy is Michael Floyd this year. It may surprise you to know that he was even with Larry Fitzgerald in targets over Arizona’s final five games of 2012. I have him down for just over 1,000 receiving yards and he could easily notch a half dozen scores. I don’t think it’s a stretch to think he could flirt with Top 20 production.
Plug time! I could easily just link to your stuff, but I’ll let you do the honors, sharing any specific pieces, etc., that would make the reader a better fantasy owner.
I linked to a few articles earlier, so I won’t do any more of that. Of course, I have to promote our 2013 Draft Guide, which is awesome and only $4.99 for the PDF. If you want a print guide, head to your local Walmart, Walgreens, Barnes & Noble, etc. in a few days and pick one up. Finally, be sure to sign up for our premium fantasy product, Fantasy Gold, for the 2013 season.
Parting thought (i.e. something you wish I had asked about)?
I can remember my dad destroying me and my brothers in Madden 93 back when I was eight years old. I went on to buy and/or play Madden every year for a majority of my life up until now. In a few months, I’ll be featured as a Virtual Analyst in Madden 25. I’m not going to lie – I’m excited!