Ask Madden: Fantasy Football Edition

By Dylan McDonough

In the midst of a ferocious comeback, an animated New England Patriots offense stands at the thirty yard line of the Colts side of the field. Down by four, the Patriots need a touchdown to win, but as the clock ticks down under thirty seconds, the virtual Tom Brady and Co. face a second and fifteen, making the next play a crucial one. The pressure is on me to make a surefire yet surprising play call or I may be handing Madden bragging rights back to my brother. Out of curiosity – and a bit of desperation – I turn to a supposedly smarter football mind for advice; I Ask Madden. And the first suggestion offered to me by the simulated John Madden in this crucial position: a fullback hand off.

This is just one example of a situation familiar – and hilarious – to most Madden veterans. The Ask Madden feature of the popular football video game is laughably inept at play calling. A Hail Mary in the middle of the third quarter? Sure. Goal line formation on defense on first and ten from midfield? Makes sense. Punt the ball away on third and six? Why not.

The amusing inability of the Ask Madden feature aside, the recent above example did get me thinking a bit, especially since it was in the midst of fantasy football draft preparation season. In a way, Madden and fantasy football are sort of like brothers, both offspring of America’s football obsession, but there’s normally not much interaction between the two siblings. Yet integral to both games is the ranking and evaluation of players, so after I fumbled away my Madden bragging rights, I got to wondering how player rankings in both games interact with each other.

I started my investigation by collecting data from the last three NFL seasons. Using ESPN’s fantasy football website as my baseline, I went position by position with the website’s preseason top 40 quarterbacks, top 85 running backs, top 90 wide receivers, and top 35 tight ends for 2012, 2013, and 2014, checking how each player ranked in both Madden and at the end of the fantasy football season. I then deleted any players that were made outliers by injury or suspension (e.g. Adrian Peterson last year or Aaron Rodgers in 2013), since it would be unreasonable to expect either projection system to predict such variables. Once consolidated into one data set, those records gave me Graphs 1 and 2, seen below.

espn fantasy



madden fantasy

These graphs are more than a bit jumbled and confusing, making it tough to pass any sort of judgment on Madden yet. To clarify the relationship between Madden player ratings and fantasy football success, I calculated correlation coefficients between Madden’s positional rankings and the ESPN standard scoring positional rankings at season’s end both overall and for each position. I did the same with ESPN’s own preseason positional rankings and the end of season positional rankings just to establish a control group. These calculations gave me the following data:

Table 1: Correlation to Season’s End Fantasy Positional Rankings

Positional Group ESPN’s Correlation Madden’s Correlation
Overall 0.666 0.548
Quarterback 0.744 0.664
Running Back 0.623 0.485
Wide Receiver 0.595 0.468
Tight End 0.580 0.401

The correlation coefficient between ESPN’s preseason rankings and the season’s end rankings is higher in every single category than that between Madden’s rankings and the season’s end rankings. That means that ESPN’s rankings were typically a better predictor of fantasy success than Madden’s rankings were, as they demonstrated a stronger linear relationship with fantasy football positional rankings. In fact, the quarterback position is the only category in which Madden ratings displayed a strong correlation – a correlation coefficient greater than 0.6 – to fantasy football, while ESPN displayed such a connection in three of the five categories and was close in the other two. Don’t get me wrong, Madden didn’t entirely fall flat on its face. It did actually show at least moderate correlation at each positional group.

How does Madden rate as a fantasy football projection system then? Well, like with most prognosticators, you could definitely do better, but, at the same time, you could probably do a lot worse. So, if you’re feeling the pressure and not sure what to do – like I was with my own Madden bragging rights on the line – or if you’re just looking to make things a little more interesting in your fantasy football draft this year, you could always try to Ask Madden.

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