Why fantasy players should bench Dez Bryant in Week 2

By Matt Kelley (@Fantasy_Mansion)
Special to Yahoo Sports

Remember Zero RB? The draft strategy peaked in popularity last season after many receivers exceeded expectations in 2015, while most running backs flamed out that season. Spurred by a zeal to acquire the next Odell Beckham, only a handful of running backs were selected in Round 1 of Yahoo Fantasy Football drafts as gamers rushed to hoard wide receivers early and often. But like running backs, wide receivers also bust. From Allen Robinson to DeAndre Hopkins to Brandon Marshall, numerous early-round wide receiver busts crippled overzealous zeroRB hipsters in 2016.

Yet, a post-mortem of failed 2016 rosters suggests in-season errors were also at fault. This makes sense conceptually – drafting a bust receiver(s) should not doom a fantasy team carrying 5-6 wide receivers. What really happened last season?

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Upon closer inspection, Allen Robinson did not sink any battleships. Gamers sunk their own ships under the weight of fantasy’s most pervasive season destroyer: The sunk cost dilemma.

The Economic Times describes a sunk cost dilemma as:

“Irrecoverable costs that have already been incurred and are independent of any happenings in the future. Determining whether to continue a project with obscure prospects, which has already absorbed a considerable amount of sunk cost, is known as sunk cost dilemma.”

Thinking about the sunk cost dilemma in a Fantasy Football context, the next question becomes: When is it okay to bench a superstar? The answer: any time the opportunity presented by a bench player’s matchup is more than offset by lesser efficiency.

Yet, most fantasy gamers continue to start early round picks regardless of circumstance until their season is already lost. Behavioral economists call this decision-making phenomenon: Loss aversion – a general tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains. In practice, most humans are irrationally risk-averse, inherently believing it better to not lose $5 than to find $5.

Better to not risk losing Aaron Rodgers’ fantasy points against a notoriously stout Seahawks pass defense than to possibly gain Sam Bradford’s likely windfall against the New Orleans Saints at home. The Rodgers vs. Bradford fantasy points differential (25.5 vs. 16.5) would have swung the week 1 outcome for literally thousands of teams on Yahoo to start the season.

Against a backdrop of illogical behavior, the logical fantasy question is “Should I bench Dez Bryant this week?”

The answer: Yes.

[Week 2 rankings: Overall | QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | FLEX | DST | Kickers]

About to turn 29, Dez Bryant has become match-up sensitive. Looking back to last season, Bryant struggled against big, physical shadow corners. His struggles continued in week 1 securing two receptions for 43 yards on a team-high nine targets. Bryant still high-points the football in the red zone better than any receiver in the NFL, and he should score double-digit touchdowns this season. Unfortunately, Bryant’s underwhelming 2016 efficiency followed him into 2017, exacerbated by NFL schedule makers who set up the Cowboys to face a gauntlet of suffocating pass defenses early this season.

Dez Bryant Catches Per Game in 2016 vs. Big Shadow Corners
Washington (Josh Norman) 6
Minnesota (Xavier Rhodes) 4
Philadelphia (Eric Rowe) 2
New York Giants (Janoris Jenkins) 1
Cleveland (Joe Haden) 1

After shaking a fist at the schedule gods, Janoris Jenkins deserves credit for muting Bryant’s production last week and holding him to two receptions in two games last season. Jenkins was quietly the NFL’s best cover corner last season, evidenced by a +50.6 Coverage Rating on PlayerProfiler.com. Coverage Rating aggregates pass break-up and yards per target while controlling for target rate. Essentially, quarterbacks refused to throw in Jenkins’ direction, and when they did, he prevented receptions and minimized receiving yards.

Janoris Jenkins Efficiency Metrics in 2016
Coverage Rate +56.0 (#1)
Passer Rating Against 46.2 (#3)
Catch Rate Allowed 46.4% (#3)

Well, thankfully Bryant swallowed the bitter Jenkins pill in Week 1. Week 2 can’t be any worse, right? Not so fast.

In a cruel twist of wide receiver scheduling fate, the Cowboys face the Denver Broncos and Aqib Talib this week.

Aqib Talib Advanced Stats & Metrics on PlayerProfile.com

Reviewing Talib’s workout metrics on PlayerProfiler.com, he is big, fast, explosive and agile. Talib looks like he was sent from the future to box out a fellow-end zone bully like Bryant.

Perhaps you are worried about Talib’s age (31)? Talib has been one of the NFL’s highest-rated cornerbacks over the last five years. Last season, Talib had one of his best seasons finishing top-20 across all of PlayerProfiler’s key efficiency metrics.

Aqib Talib Efficiency Metrics in 2016
Coverage Rate +37.0 (#10)
Passer Rating Against 54.9 (#11)
Catch Rate Allowed 51.4% (#16)

Kicking off the 2017 season, Talib and the Broncos secondary held Philip Rivers under 200 yards for one of the few times in the QB’s career in Week 1. Given Bryant’s struggles against Jenkins, Talib will be a waking nightmare for him this Sunday. Overcome the sunk cost dilemma and instinctual loss aversion tendencies by benching Bryant in week 2 against receiver kryptonite and true shutdown corner, Aqib Talib. And be sure to send out trade offers after Week 3 to acquire Bryant just as the Cowboys’ schedule softens.

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