One of the big bugbears in the IDP world is positional classification. The position players are classified massively alters their value and impacts our team’s potential for success. A single move can be hugely important to a whole season, as any Khalil Mack or Aaron Donald owners knows only too well.
The debate about how this should work is well-trod and I’m not going to go into it at this stage. I’m only interested in predicting how we can profit from the current system. And we can do that by best understanding which players’ values are most likely to change ahead of the 2018 season.
To set the scene, it’s important to note that offensive players generally line up very consistently. Wide receivers are wide receivers and running backs are running backs. To prove my point here’s a few examples of players that the general football world thinks are multi-positional chess pieces:
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As you can see the amount they move around is massively overestimated. They overwhelmingly stick to one position.
As a counterpoint here’s how some of the top IDP safeties have been lining up this year:
It’s far more fluid. Defensive players by nature are more reactive and therefore get used more flexibly across more spots. It happens more for safeties than other positions but it’s still very prevalent. We simply have to accept that cut-and-dried position definitions in IDP are rare.
Most players move around a bit including many edge players. So our job is not to simply work out whether edge players are a LB or a DE – it’s to see how much they’re used in both spots.
There are more wrinkles than that too. Rotoworld (whose depth charts MFL use) work from how a player is used in base formation. This seems odd given teams use more nickel and dime than base these days but again I don’t care about changing the system – I only want to take advantage of it.
So what I’ve done here is compare the top OLBs and hybrid edge players in terms of positional usage. We know that they’ll all be used as a LB as well as a DE at different times but how are they used and how does that compare across players?
Here’s the summary:
Phew. That’s a lot of data. But hopefully it seems fairly clear to you. There are nine players who seem to be pretty clearly OLBs but also five players here who it seems are obvious candidates for a positional switch. Let’s look at them one by one.
Vic Beasley, ATL
He’s a classic case. He lines up as an off-ball LB in base sets but as soon as the Falcons switch to nickel he’s on the line as a classic end. The ratio seems clear though – he has played 75 snaps as a LB this year but 150 at DE. I find it very tough to understand how he can be classified at the position he only plays for a third of the time.
Chances of a switch to DE: 50%
Khalil Mack, OAK
Again Mack only plays around a third of his snaps as a LB. He’s lined up a left DE about 45% of the time he’s on the field. This is probably the headline player where this is such a big issue in the IDP world. I can understand both sides of it but he certainly does seem to play a lot more as a DE.
Chances of a switch to DE: 75%
Connor Barwin, LAR
This is tight. Barwin has played about 45% of his time as a LB this year. The Rams are a very multiple defense and this is a subjective situation. In the case of using various fronts I think Rotoworld will likely stand pat. In the style of NFL challenges is their clear evidence the call is wrong? Not really. It’s debatable either way.
Chances of a switch to DE: 25%
Ryan Kerrigan, WAS
Kerrigan has spent only 38% of his snaps lined up at OLB this season, compared to 58% at DE. It seems a switch that should be made. Washington have suffered plenty of injuries but Kerrigan’s role has been pretty steady for the whole season.
Chances of a switch to DE: 60%
Jadeveon Clowney, HOU
Although Clowney has played more at DE than LB this year, this is a tough one given it seems to have been a forced change. In the first four games of the season (when JJ Watt was healthy) Clowney spent 56% of his snaps at OLB. Since then that’s dropped to just 33%. I imagine that when everyone is available Clowney is a LB but for now it’s frustrating he’s incorrectly classified.
Chances of a switch to DE: 25%
This comes with a couple of caveats. Firstly positional designations are fundamentally subjective. There is no line on the ground that means a player is now a different position. One man’s strong safety is another man’s Will linebacker. Secondly I’m doing this after just ten weeks of a 16-game schedule. Things will change. I’ll revisit in the off-season but the purpose here was to give people as much notice as possible of potential changes.
So it’s good news for dynasty owners of Mack, but bad news for owners of Clowney I’m afraid. But plenty can change between now and next summer. Coaches will be sacked, new players will be signed and drafted and existing players will be traded or cut.
In the dynasty game being forewarned is being forearmed and you can always get the best of leaguemates with better information. I advise starting to think about moving for some of the players who could move ahead of everyone else cottoning on – and of course selling any Clowney shares to gullible leaguemates by telling them you think he’ll be classified as a DE in 2018!