On Wednesday at 8:30 p.m., the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys will kick off the NFL’s 2012 regular season. The game also marks the start of this year’s fantasy football season, in which more than 33 million Americans will participate. Over the last few weeks, these players have been joining their leagues, making their draft boards and reading expert draft rankings to make their roster selections.
Despite the attention, one question that’s rarely asked is whether a player’s value among fantasy players, measured by ranking in the fantasy football community is the same as his value in real life. 24/7 Wall St. attempted to find out by reviewing each fantasy-eligible player’s average expert draft ranking across the four biggest league hosting sites to his actual NFL salary. These are the most overpaid (and underpaid) players in fantasy football.
For those who don’t know how fantasy football works, here is a short explanation: Competitors in a league select a certain number of actual NFL players to build their own “team.” Each week, when the actual teams play on the field, fantasy players earn points for yards football players on their team run, catch or throw for and for each touchdown they score.
Some football fans might be quick to point out that a player’s value on an actual NFL team is different than on a fantasy team. Running backs and wide receivers need to block and run routes effectively. In fantasy football, they only get points for yards ran and touchdowns. Of course, it is tough to argue that these are not the two most important things for players in these positions.
But could you argue that having a valuable fantasy player on your NFL team is an asset? Should a highly ranked fantasy football player even be paid more in real life for increasing interest among fans?
A review of player salaries from player contract website Sportrac shows that, for the most part, players’ salaries reflect their contribution to scoring. The majority of the top 100 ranked fantasy players are in the top 100 best paid players as well. Larry Fitzgerald is the ninth highest-paid fantasy player in the NFL, and the fifth highest-paid fantasy player. Antonio Gates is the 48th highest-paid fantasy player and the is ranked 51st on average among fantasy experts.
However, for a variety of reasons some football players are dramatically underpaid relative to their fantasy draft rank. LeSean McCoy, the Eagles’ leading rusher, averages as the third highest-ranked player across ESPN, Yahoo!, CBS and NFL.com leagues. Despite this, he is paid less than 138 other fantasy-eligible players, including 27 other running backs. Victor Cruz, the Giants’ receiver who was the third-most valuable fantasy wide receiver last year, will earn just $490,000 this year, less than 187 current wide receivers.
Things can go the other way, too. Relative to their fantasy performance, some players are paid eight or nine times what other players at their position make, and often perform worse. St. Louis’s third-year quarterback Sam Bradford missed several games due to injury last year, but in the 10 games he started, he threw just six touchdowns. He averages as the 20th-ranked quarterback — at best a backup in a fantasy league — and yet the $15.59 million in salary and bonuses he will cost the Rams in 2012 represents the second-highest among all NFL offensive players, after only Peyton Manning.
In order to identify the players paid the most and least relative to their fantasy league value, 24/7 Wall St. averaged each player’s overall fantasy rank based on the expert rankings from each of the four largest league-hosting sites, ESPN, Yahoo!, NFL.com and CBS. We then compared their rank in fantasy leagues to the rank their salary cap hit for 2012, which includes base salary as well as bonuses. This was out of the 825 tight ends, wide receivers, quarterbacks, running backs, and kickers. In many cases, bonuses are spread over a number of years for the salary cap, but the player is paid the entire sum when the contract is signed. We are measuring each player’s salary cap hit for 2012. All salary figures were provided by Sportrac. All fantasy rankings and player contracts were as of Wednesday, Aug. 29.