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Trust the game, not the name: Why O.J. Howard and other big name players no longer belong on your fantasy football team

More often than not we hold onto players that have no real value in fantasy football. This season’s prime example: O.J. Howard.

Getty Images/Pete Rogers Illustrations

I’ve always loved psychology and cognitive biases. By no means I’m an expert in the field, but it really is appealing to me and I often find myself reading and researching it just as a hobby. A lot of psychology-related topics apply to fantasy football, and our brains function in such ways that they could easily make us make completely wrong decisions in our leagues.

I wanted to prove something this week, so I took on Twitter and shared the following poll:

If you’re an avid fantasy player, NFL connoisseur, or just basically read the title of this piece, you probably know what I was after with the question I posed to the Twitterverse. You’re right, I was trying to get an idea of how people are biased toward retaining players in their team by their name and what they remember/believe they can achieve. And this season, there is no better example of such player than O.J. Howard.

Talking in scientific terms, there are multiple biases in play here but I think one is above all of them: recency bias. Fantasy GMs are still holding onto what Howard did in 2018 (12.0 fantasy points per game; TE6 overall) expecting he repeats it this year, which is probably not going to happen with what Tampa Bay and Howard have shown us already. On top of that, there are a few other biases affecting owners: the endowment effect is making Howard owners value him way higher than he actually is; the anchoring bias is telling owners that given Howard’s ADP back when they drafted him, they should put a high price tag on him (the problem is, he’s not performing even close to that price now), etc.

At the end of the day, fantasy football comes down to fielding the best players weekly to get the highest possible score and win your matchup, right? So you should always play the best players, not the ones with the brightest names or those appealing for some non production-related stuff (unless we’re talking about Gardner Minshew). It was very easy to see how people are incorrectly assessing Howard’s situation by running the aforementioned poll.

The players in the poll have scored more fantasy points per game than O.J. Howard through Week 4, yet 75% of the people would still drop every one of them (or just hold onto one, probably David Njoku, also because of his name...) from their rosters, mostly preferring to stream the position on a weekly basis. If they are willing to do that, they should also be willing to drop Howard, which is producing even fewer points, right? Wrong.

Tight End Production vs Ownership

Player FP/Game % Owned
Player FP/Game % Owned
Gerald Everett 9,26 7
Noah Fant 7,38 13
Vernon Davis 7,08 16
Jack Doyle 6,97 26
David Njoku 6,85 28
Tyler Eifert 6,42 25
Hayden Hurst 5,88 3
O.J. Howard 5,78 81

There you have it. While 75% of people are saying “hey, those are just bad players, I’d mostly drop them all” when faced with the decision of dropping O.J. Howard, they just balk. That is why Howard is still owned in more than 80% of Yahoo leagues.

I’m not saying Howard doesn’t have the ability to put on great performances. Hell, he produced as a TE1 in almost every game he played in 2018, but things look different in 2019.

Be it because of the injury he suffered against the Giants that finished his season, the scheme Bruce Arians has installed in Tampa Bay’s offense, or just a simple regression to the mean after a breakout season, Howard isn’t worth keeping on your roster more than any of the names in that poll. Just because his name is O.J. Howard, it doesn’t mean you should hold into him. He is currently the TE27 in PPR leagues. He even laid a goose egg against Carolina in Week 2. How many Jack Doyles or Hayden Hursts would you have trusted after such a performance in back-to-back weeks? None? Zero? Nil? There you have it, then.

More flashy names with no game

If you have made it this long, you deserve a gift. My gift for you, other than advising you to drop O.J. Howard or find someone interested in trading for him (good luck with that), is a list of other players you should consider moving from as soon as this weekend either benching, cutting or trading them (based on fantasy points per game and ADP—that being the average overall position at which the player was often drafted at the start of the season). Let’s get it popping.

  • RB Joe Mixon, CIN: Talk about someone who fooled us. Mixon had an ADP of 16, yet in four games he’s producing a ridiculously low 9.3 points per game good for RB40 in the NFL. Does that sound like someone you should keep in your roster? Not to me, not in Cincy’s offense. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.
  • WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, PIT: So Ben Roethlisberger is out for the season and Mason Rudolph will go through the concussion protocol and lose playing time. Let’s be honest: Juju Smith-Schuster (much like O.J. Howard) is holding onto fantasy lineups just because of his name and what he did in 2018. He’s the WR43 in points per game. Was he great last season? Yes. Did playing with Big Ben and along Antonio Brown help him? Sure. Should you kick him out? I’d say yes.
  • WR Stefon Diggs, MIN: I don’t think I should explain this one. This guy was drafted inside the three first rounds of your draft. If you are a proud owner of him, just wait for a good week and sell him as high as you can. Nor Minny or Kirk Cousins seem to be willing to help Diggs put up big numbers, so you better get something in exchange as soon as you can. Waive him goodbye.
  • RB Sony Michel, NE: Don’t get fooled by Michel’s performance against Washington. Yes, Michel caught three passes for 32 yards, but not until I see that become a trend will I believe it is a real thing. Michel is a one-dimensional running back playing in New England’s backfield. Spending as high as a third or fourth round on Michel was dubious back in the day, and if Michel comes back to his run-only ways then his upside will be stuck at a low. Wait another week but if things regress in the receiving department then you know what to do. Sell. Trade. Drop. Cut.
  • Other flashy names to get rid of, bench, trade, or cut: RB Kenyan Drake (MIA), WR Corey Davis (TEN), TE Jared Cook (NO), RB Latavius Murray (NO), RB Devonta Freeman (ATL).