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Player Analysis

Fantasy Hall of Fame: Outside Backs

by Chuck Booth
Updated On: April 11, 2020, 4:51 pm ET

With the Premier League announcing that they will open a Hall of Fame, we’ve decided to take a look at our own FPL Hall of fame here at Rotoworld. Everyone has had their favorite FPL assets over the years and since we have to wait for the Official Hall of Fame announcements, what better time than now to look at those FPL darlings.

Over the next week or two, we will be looking at our choices for a hypothetical Fantasy Hall of Fame. Understanding that the guys on the Rotoworld team favor different formats and have different frames of reference when it comes to how long they've been playing, we'll keep the criteria open and we'll discuss both career achievement as well as single-season dominance. It's not like we have actual match coverage to get in the way of our writing.

We have already covered goalkeepers and central defenders in our series so far and over the next few weeks, we’ll be continuing further up the pitch. But this stop is at fullback, probably the position that has changed the most in recent years with the reliance on the wing back growing. 

Chuck Booth

Outside backs get all the glory in defense especially in recent years with Antonio Conte and Jurgen Klopp putting wing-backs firmly back on the map in different ways. Nowadays, it’s more likely to start your offense from wide positions with a wing back and that in turn has led to higher scores from them as a whole. It has also led to a lot of positional reclassifications with midfielders moving further back to fill the role such as Jeffery Schlupp, Victor Moses and James Milner and with fullbacks also moving forward as they were too good to use in defense like Gareth Bale, Ryan Sessengnon and Callum Paterson. Because of these moves it is tough to decide which criteria is needed to nominate someone for the FPL hall of fame. If we’re talking peak season’s look no further than Gareth Bale although Andrew Robertson came close with his 213 point season as well. But looking at consistency, let’s get to a few more standard candidates.

Leighton Baines has never been on a world class defense although he did have some great years with Tim Howard behind him and Phil Jagielka beside him in defense but Baines is here mainly due to being involved in 85 goals so far during his Premier League career. It’s an unreal number that has led to both unreal salary cap prices and high draft positions that are now only being challenged by Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andrew Robertson and Lucas Digne. With a few more years of their current output, they may catch Baines but at the moment he holds the candle as the top attacking fullback. 

Ashley Cole and Gary Neville are two other fullbacks to come to mind for merit here but neither had the benefit of set plays and penalties to match Baines. It just shows how special of a defender that Baines is roaming the flanks for the Toffees. While many have outdone his clean sheet record, few can hold a candle to his attacking record.

Neal Thurman

Finding the right outside back can make your fantasy season. There are outside backs that have delivered exceptional value on big clubs combining better than average assist rates with a strong sprinkling of clean sheets. Names like Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines (especially under David Moyes when Everton were stronger defensively), and Kyle Walker are the prototypes at the position and all enjoyed exceptional runs. If this were an overall Hall of Fame, as opposed to a Fantasy Hall of Fame, then the conversation would probably begin and end with those guys as well as more defense-first types like Gary Neville. 
Given that this is a fantasy Hall of Fame column, we have to think about some different factors like cost to acquire (i.e., cost in salary cap, draft position in draft) and where the player actually played vs how he was listed. The prototype for these fantasy loopholes comes in three forms: 

  1. The Christian Fuchs Type - Before he was a very-good-but-appropriately-priced/drafted fantasy producer after Leicester City’s improbable title run, Christian Fuchs was a breakout bargain fantasy outside back for the Foxes. The Austrian yielded 4 assists and 15 clean sheets and did so at a bargain price that made it almost impossible not to own him. 
  2. The Gareth Bale Type - Gareth Bale’s breakout season had him classified as a defender despite playing much higher up the wing. Coming off of an 2009-10 campaign when he had largely lined up as a left back (only to be moved up the pitch for the final few matches of the season to great attacking effect), Bale opened the 2010-2011 campaign listed as a defender but playing a decidedly attacking role. He totaled seven goals and two assists over 30 matches and, for those playing in more nuanced scoring systems, his secondary stats (3.8 successful dribbles/match, 1.8 key passes/match, and 2 crosses/match) were exceptional. Bale was in no way a defender but he was listed as one and a cheap one at that to start the 2010-2011 season. Spurs only picked up 8 clean sheets on the campaign but that was just gravy after Bale’s attacking exploits. 

Fantasy Premier League history is littered with the Christian Fuchs types above. Kieran Trippier’s initial season at Burnley, Marcos Alonso’s breakout at Chelsea after the Blues switched to a 3-man central defense, etc. For me, though, there will be no more memorable fantasy season from an outside back than Gareth Bale’s breakout campaign. 

Andrew Gastelum

While we seem to focus so much of our money and priority picks on forwards and wingers in Fantasy Premier League, fullbacks seem to be the secret sauce to any winning team. Players like Patrick Van Aanholt, Marcos Alonso and Branislav Ivanovic have become hot commodities over the last decade as FPL celebrities for their ability to bring attacking points into a defensive category. It’s become common FPL knowledge that you want most of your defenders to be fullbacks if you can help it, but the challenge is to make sure you can balance your budget at the same time.

But when I think of Hall of Fame fullbacks, one name immediately comes to mind. Leighton Baines has become a legend at the position, especially in FPL where his value during his prime was likened to that of a Golden Boot winner. Over the course of his illustrious 14-year career at Goodison Park, one that has been recently hampered by injury, Baines recorded 32 goals, 64! (FPL.com) assists and 71 clean sheets. As a defender, Baines was a golden goose for his role as Everton’s penalty and free-kick specialist. Despite his sky-high price tag in salary cap games (the left-back ended his legendary 2010/11 with five goals and 11 assists, but also valued at a whopping £8.1), Baines was a must-have in any team. Meanwhile, it was always fun/frustrating in draft leagues to see Baines drafted higher and higher every year, disrupting draft plans and seasons alike. That’s how much of an impact he had on FPL—managers would panic draft or spend seven percent of their budget on a defender for fear of missing out. As far as careers go, I would dare anyone to find a better FPL fullback than Leighton Baines

Anthony O’Shea a.k.a FPL Stag

As the rest of the team have alluded to so brilliantly in their passages here, the “outside back” position is one which has changed dramatically over the last 10-15 years and in doing so, it has made outside backs, or more specifically wing backs, an essential component of an FPL side. Consider for an instant two of the most highly regarded outside backs of their eras, Paolo Maldini - a master of defence, and Dani Alves - whose brilliance at Barcelona in particular is the modern benchmark, and you capture the revolution that has occurred quite succinctly. 

For me, the zenith (so far) of the outside back in the Premier League came when the “RAM” was firmly installed in the “template” team at the beginning of the 2017/18 season. The group consisting of the flying Scotsman Andy Robertson, Marcos Alonso (whose average position was often further forward than Eden Hazard), and Benjamin Mendy (who had not yet into continuous injury trouble) cost almost 20% of each manager’s budget but they proved themselves to be essential components of a successful FPL side for three consecutive months.

I also feel obliged to add my voice to the Leighton Baines appreciation group that we are forming here. His record in terms of goals and assists speaks for itself, as did the annual rush to own him in both draft and classic fantasy formats, but for me it is also important it remember that not only was he relied upon to create in open play - he was Everton’s go-to dead ball specialist. He has scored twenty (20!) goals from spot-kicks in the Premier League and missed on just two occasions (one of which I captained him for but let’s forget that) whilst he also scored six times from direct free-kicks in the English top flight. His most memorable day came when he scored a brace of frees against West Ham in 2013/14 - the only other full-back I remember doing that is Marcos Alonso

Outside of the memorable elite picks, recently Matt Doherty has proven a revelation at Wolves from a fantasy perspective. In 2018/19, only Cardiff centre-back (and corner magnet) Sean Morrison recorded more penalty box touches than “Doc’s” 110 but the Ireland international topped the leaderboard amongst his defensive peers for goal attempts (47) and he was just behind international teammate Shane Duffy for goals scored (4). After a brief period at the start of the current season where he tended to feature only in Wolves’ starting line-up in the Europa League, the Dablin native has again started to justify his greatly-increased 6.0 price tag this term.

Steve Rothgeb

While I have had the luxury of seeing several of my colleagues’ submissions for the outside back positions, I should hope those who have been following the FPL game for the last decade or thereabouts understand there is no getting around leaving Leighton Baines out of the equation. For several years, despite typically being at or near the most expensive defender available, he was a must-own, particularly for his role of taking penalties. A duty that, for some reason, he was one day stripped of, despite a phenomenal conversion record, and his fantasy relevance dipped severely overnight, never to recover. I think it was Kevin Mirallas who bumped him off that one penalty. I will never forgive you, Kevin, if indeed that was you who ended the reign of Baines. If it wasn’t you, well, then accept my apologies.Someone needs to say sorry to someone here.

With my left back in place, it only feels appropriate to nominate a right back to round up my pair of Hall of Fame inductees, but first, a shout to some odds and ends. For sentimental reasons, I have to give a nod to one Aleksandar Kolorov, the Hall of Famer that should have been. During his days with Manchester City, I have fond memories of seemingly daily banter among myself and others in the fantasy community, always touting his potential to be an FPL beast. Well, due to his inability to nail a spot down for any long stretch of time, he teased as much as he delivered. I also have to toss in a nod to the ol’ bargain choice. Just about every season, there is at least one full back that has a starting tag of 4m, maybe 4.5m, that has a breakout season. They grab the job and immediately turn heads among FPL players by showing attacking contributions right out of the gate. Those who finish with a solid rank typically find and transfer in these players the quickest. Baines’ teammate Seamus Coleman comes to mind. I certainly remember his breakout year saw him cost only 4m. If you didn’t have him then, you were playing the game wrong.

Right, so to round out the official inductees, I am not tasked to look far back in annals of FPL history to find my second and final choice. Trent Alexander-Arnold is making a mockery of the position right now. No one else is a close second. When I saw his price was equal to Andrew Robertson’s when this latest season started, despite Robertson coming off a better previous year in terms of fantasy points, I did not hesitate for one second. The kid is 21 years old, folks. Most players have a hard time living up to their FPL price tag when they are anointed with the highest fee. Alexander-Arnold was worth every shilling of his 7m price and if he goes up another .5m-1m more next season, I am going to find the cash for him. 

Conclusion:

While we all have a few different opinions on who had the best peak seasons across the years, one constant is that we view Leighton Baines as the cream of the crop. He truly wrote the book as a defensive FPL option as even Trent Alexander-Arnold has yet to top Baines’ peak price of 8.1m. The younger generation may come close in the future but consistent top scoring will be needed. Marcos Alonso is probably the most interesting case study as he would have been a shoe-in given consistent starting time.

Next up we'll have central defenders. Have anyone who you'd like to be considered? Let me know on twitter @chuckboothsport!