Wanna know a secret? Numbers do lie.
Well, maybe not lie, per se. Andy Dalton did throw 33 TD passes this season, just like his stat line says. He did reach 4,293 passing yards, more than 600 better than his previous best. And he ran for a career-high 183 yards.
That all added up to the 3rd best fantasy football point tally among QBs in 2013. But would you argue for Dalton to rank anywhere among the top 5 QBs in the league? Of course not. You'd probably have trouble finding anyone to convincingly argue for Dalton anywhere near that group. And for good reason.
Pro Football Focus rated Dalton the league's #17 QB for the season, with just 5 strong single-game grades among his 16 starts. By comparison, Nick Foles graded out just 1 spot ahead but posted 6 good ones while starting just 10 times all year. (He added another good rating in the Wild Card loss to New Orleans.)
In fact, only 1 of the 16 QBs rated ahead of Dalton failed to outdo him in the "good game" category. (Cam Newton also had 5.) Even Aaron Rodgers, Josh McCown and Jay Cutler outdid Dalton while all playing 11 games or fewer.
Most importantly for his team, Dalton's erratic play helped get the Bengals bounced in the 1st round of the playoffs. So although his traditional stat line didn't exactly lie, his fantasy finish sure didn't accurately represent his actual performance.
Of course, this is true for plenty of players at various positions every season. Here are 12 other players whose fantasy performances failed to align with PFF's ratings for their actual play.
Not as good as
their fantasy stats
Cam Newton, QB, Panthers
If you paid any attention to Newton's season, you know that he struggled with near-Daltonian inconsistency. He avoided the INT buffets of Cincinnati's starter, but Newton also fell 490 yards short of his previous low in passing yards. He also set career lows in rushing attempts, rushing yards and rushing TDs -- while achieving personal bests in completion rate and TD passes.
Overall, PFF graded Newton the #15 QB -- tied for 30th in pass rating with Tampa Bay rookie Mike Glennon. Contrast that with Newton's #5 fantasy finish at the position, right in the range most of us expected.
Rushing production will boost Newton's fantasy football value every year, but we're a bit worried about his 2013 regression as a passer.
Vincent Jackson, WR, Buccaneers
Good player, tough situation. Right? This guy moved on from the crappiness of QB Josh Freeman to a 3rd-round rookie. You might be impressed that Jackson still finished among the top 16 fantasy WRs across formats. PFF wasn't.
Jackson checked in just 46th overall among WRs in their ratings. And his receiving value alone ranked 29th, behind Panthers WR Steve Smith, Dolphins WR Brian Hartline, Colts inconsistent WR T.Y. Hilton and a pair of Titans (Nate Washington and Kendall Wright).
V-Jax got a big stat boost from his 160 targets, 6th most among WRs league wide. But he caught just 78 of those (48.8%) while dropping 12 catchable balls. Only Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess and Julian Edelman dropped more, with Marshall and Edelman beating Jackson in drop rate.
Terrance Williams, WR, Cowboys
A 3rd-round pick entering a crowded offense, Williams did well to simply approach fantasy-starter range in 2013. He finished the year 45th in PPR formats and 40th among standard-scoring WRs. And Williams helped plenty of fantasy teams from Week 5 through Week 8 with TDs in 4 straight games.
But the rookie has plenty of room to develop heading into Year 2, hence the #86 receiving grade among 111 qualifying wideouts. That ranked Williams just behind Rams WR Brian Quick and Ravens WR Tandon Doss, a pair of guys who shouldn't have sniffed your fantasy roster.
Chandler Jones, DE, Patriots
Jones broke through just the way we predicted for fantasy football owners, finishing 6th among D-linemen in balanced scoring. That included 11.5 sacks, which tied for 7th in the league. Not enough to impress PFF graders, though.
Jones ranked just 23rd overall among 4-3 DEs and a lowly 41st in pass-rushing. That might signal regression in real numbers for some players, but we expect the grade to catch up with the production in 2014. After all, Jones backed his sacks with 14 QB hits (tied for 10th at the position) and 39 hurries (tied for 13th).
Better than their stats
Darren Sproles, RB, Saints
Sproles probably let you down pretty hard in 2013 if you selected him in the 3rd round -- or maybe even late 2nd -- of your PPR draft. He caught just 4 fewer passes than last season overall, but that averaged out to 1 fewer reception per game. He saw 15 fewer targets than last year despite playing 2 more games, decreased his averages for both rushing and receiving yards and slashed his TD total in half.
PFF, however, rated Sproles the league's 7th best RB overall -- compared with 15th in 2012 and 7th in 2011, his 1st Saints season. The biggest difference? Sproles notched the best receiving rating of his 3 years in New Orleans, tops at the position.
The lesson: Sproles remains a high-value receiver who was probably due for TD regression after seasons of 9 and 8 total scores. A healthier Saints offense overall would likely help him find more room as well. Just beware of Sproles' durability concerns. He'll turn 31 in June and dealt with multiple injuries the past 2 years.
Andre Ellington, RB, Cardinals
Ellington looked like a terrific player in flashes for fantasy owners this year, but limited playing time forced him to finish no higher than 25th across most formats. His 117 carries ranked just 42nd among RBs, falling short of the totals Arian Foster, Doug Martin and Andre Brown amassed in 8 games or less. (Martin played in just 6.)
But the position's 34th most snaps were enough for PFF to rank Ellington 10th among all backs in overall performance. He notched positive grades in all 3 major areas, too: rushing, receiving and blocking. Big things lie ahead ... as soon as HC Bruce Arians gets out of the way.
Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Falcons
Matt Forte's poor PFF grade for blocking knocked him down to 16th among RBs -- which is still a pretty solid spot, thanks to his strong performance as both a runner and receiver. At #18 sits Bills RB Fred Jackson, who once again proved he ain't dead yet. But guess who sits between them at 17th overall ...
Well, you might want to grab some caffeine if you didn't guess the bolded name at the start of this section. Rodgers tied Saints RB Pierre Thomas for 9th in receiving rating among RBs and finished a surprising 10th in blocking (just behind teammate Steven Jackson) to post the strong overall score.
Thanks to just 97 carries, a mere #18 ranking among RBs in receiving yards and 4 total TDs, Rodgers finished outside the top 40 across fantasy formats. But it continues to look like more touches could lead to real fantasy value.
Joique Bell vs. Reggie Bush, RBs, Lions
Let's treat this backfield as 1 player for the sake of the list, because the comparison is interesting. Bell obviously provided 1 of the season's most surprising fantasy stat lines -- even if you considered him a sleeper back at draft time. But even though Bell's 166-650-8 rushing and 53-547 receiving ranked him 14th among PPR backs, he still watched Bush finish 7 spots higher in the format. Similarly, standard scoring found Bush 10th in total points and Bell 17th -- with the points per game gap even wider in each format.
So Bush must have just been the better player overall when on the field, right? Nuh uh. According to PFF, Bell clearly outperformed Bush in the receiving, running and blocking categories, leading him to the position's 9th-best overall grade. Bush lagged way behind at 33rd. We'll be quite interested to see how the Lions treat Bell's approach to restricted free agency this offseason.
Jerome Simpson, WR, Vikings
Would you be surprised to learn that PFF graded out Simpson better than Vincent Jackson, Victor Cruz, Greg Jennings, Riley Cooper and Rod Streater?
Well ... surprise! The guy tied Patriots WR Danny Amendola and teammate Cordarrelle Patterson for 34th among wideouts. Ranking 8th in blocking certainly helped quite a bit, but Simpson's 48th-best grade in receiving tied him with Amendola and put him ahead of Patterson, Cecil Shorts, Dwayne Bowe and Mike Wallace, among others.
Despite seeing 100 targets, though, he could only manage to rank 80th among WRs in standard-scoring fantasy points per game. Perhaps a QB upgrade will help.
Zach Ertz, TE, Eagles
You may remember this rookie from quality outings against Arizona in Week 13, at Minnesota in Week 15 ... and not a whole lot else.
Ertz's limited role -- just 3 games with more than 3 receptions -- was enough to land him 7th among TEs in PFF's receiving ratings and 8th overall. The problem: Teammate Brent Celek notched the position's 2nd-best run-blocking grade to earn a lot more playing time. Celek even finished 13th among fantasy TEs in standard formats (Ertz 20th).
PFF rated Celek just the 30th best receiver at the position, but he played 405 more snaps than Ertz and stole many a target. We're betting, however, that Ertz's positive rookie-year performance earns more playing time going forward -- especially if he can improve his blocking.
Ladarius Green, TE, Chargers
Like Andre Ellington among the RBs, Green's team blocked him from significantly more fantasy value in 2013. The 2nd-year Charger ranked just 30th among standard-scoring TEs for the year, 39th in PPR. That'll happen when you only manage 17 catches.
But his late-season surge pushed Green to 9th among TEs in overall PFF rating -- way ahead of Antonio Gates' 46th-place finish.
Green started to take over some of the downfield work that previously belonged to Gates. Look for that trend to continue in 2014. And Green could blow up if San Diego parts ways with Gates and his $5 million 2013 salary.
Sio Moore, OLB, Raiders
We whiffed on this Oakland rookie as an IDP sleeper in 2013, but that doesn't mean we'll be scared to swing again in 2014.
Moore's numbers suffered for lack of playing time, thanks largely to a preseason foot injury and then a Week 3 car crash that caused a concussion. But that slow start didn't stop him from finishing 8th overall among 4-3 OLBs in PFF's ratings. And that even came despite a glaringly negative pass-rushing grade.
Moore entered the league with such pass-rushing intrigue that the team deployed him as an end in passing situations as early as the preseason. Look for more of that -- plus improved performance -- in his 2nd season. Add that to positive early returns in both coverage and run D, and you just might get the kind of intriguing 3-down talent we envisioned for 2013.