Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Car Shopping and its effects on fantasy football...and some random nuggets of football goodness

I have come to that inevitable point in a parent's life when a new family car must be purchased.  As a month of research has slowly drawn to a close, I have read so much information about the benefits/drawbacks to purchasing an SUV with an optional third row vs. a mini-van vs. an SUV with only two rows but more storage that I couldn't help but make the comparison to a desperate fantasy owner attempting to pick up a free agent.  The thought process is the same: This WR doesn't usually get too many receptions, but he has big play ability and has a chance to score if the QB airs it out often against this poorly ranked pass defense, but weather.com says it's going to be windy that day, so maybe that's not a good pick, on the other hand, my opponent is playing two good WRs so I want to counter that with a player with more upside, oh crap, I've been reading about receivers for half an hour, there goes my lunch break, oh fine, I'll just pick up Devery Henderson.

I am hoping that my car purchase does not end the way a pick up of Devery Henderson usually ends (in utter disappointment), but I began to find more and more comparisons of how certain players perform, as well as what certain car dealers and cars themselves have to offer, that I couldn't help but point them out here and see if anyone else agrees.  So, here goes:

1.  An extended warranty (such as the Kia 6 year, 100,000 mile warranty) = that player who has a crazy game about 3 times during the year, but the rest of the time, puts up average to below-average stats.

At first glance, the Kia warranty sounds awesome.  However, the more I learned about warranties like this, the more I realized they aren't all they are cracked up to be.  So your car needs maintenance?  Great, but you can only get it repaired at specific Kia dealers because it's still under this crazy long warranty, even though the Midas down the street will do the work for much cheaper.  Oh, you don't think your transmission needs a flush at 30,000 miles?  Your warranty says you do.

I like to call this type of warranty Santana Moss Syndrome.  Santana Moss is a player whose stats on paper look promising, but it's the way in which he acquires them that is so frustrating.  You only needed 3 more points to beat your opponent this week?  Sorry, I decided to only catch the ball once for 6 yards this week.  You are soundly beating your opponent heading into my Monday Night Football game tonight?  Cool, I'll catch 9 passes for 170 yards and 3 touchdowns to meet my bi-monthly quota, then take 3 weeks off.  Santana Moss, you are such a Kia (note: I test drove several Kia's and liked them quite a bit, but the warranty seems too good to be true, just like the promise of Santana Moss ever living up to legit #1 receiver status).

Now, Santana Moss hasn't exactly been fantasy-relevant for a long time, so who else suffers from SMS?  Any boom-or-bust player, particularly WR's who are strictly deep-threats.  Santana Moss wasn't strictly a deep-threat, but the allure of deep-threats and the potential for big points quick (i.e. Devery Henderson, Jacoby Jones, DeSean Jackson, Nate Washington, Kevin Walter, Michael Floyd, even Mike Wallace to a certain extent) have all fit this mold.  They will have about 3-4 amazing weeks, and the rest average, resulting in decent numbers.  However, most fantasy leagues are head-to-head, so unless you are in a total points league in which the end result is all you care about, trying to predict when these players will have their breakout game is incredibly frustrating.  I would much rather have a player who is good for 5 receptions, 50 yards, and a chance at a TD then a deep-threat (which is probably why I am searching for reliable cars that are safe as opposed to sportier, riskier choices - wow, fantasy football is truly a reflection of my values and beliefs, make sure to use that line on your spouse when he or she questions your obsession with managing a fake team of grown men).

2.  Ok, come to think of it, that is the end of the car analogies.  I had been thinking about how free agents that must clear waivers are like pre-owned vehicles, and you shouldn't be afraid to test drive them, or that the Kelley Blue Book of fantasy trading is often helpful to use (for instance, Yahoo has a built in resource that projects players' points for the rest of the season to deem a trade fair or unfair), but none of them seemed too entertaining.  Instead, here are a bunch of tidbits I have floating around in my head!

-Arian Foster is nursing an injury again.  As Matthew Berry points out in his '100 Things Column', (and who, by the way, shares several of my opinions regarding the importance of big-time RBs, the plethora of QBs and WRs available, and thus your obligation to pick up a big-time RB and possibly wait on a QB or WR (unless your league settings determine otherwise), the Kyle Rudolph effect for TE's (in short, many tight ends simply catch a bunch of touchdowns but have little value otherwise, unless they are named Jimmy Graham) - sorry, this is a lot of parentheses and I guarantee there is a grammatical error in my usage of them). his average rushing yards per game has decreased for the past three seasons.  Additionally, as I discussed in an earlier post, he eclipsed the magic number of 300 carries last season as well.  It's hard to not draft him, or keep him if you have a keeper league, but this guy is looking more and more like Rudi Johnson 2.0 to me.  I would still like him on my team, but temper your expectations. 

-The season-ending injury to Dennis Pitta only helps elevate the value of Greg Olsen and Jermaine Gresham, which I discussed in an earlier post

-The hip-injury, and subsequent surgery for Percy Harvin is a slight hit to Russell Wilson's value.  He had a great season without Harvin last year, but much of his preseason ranking had to do with the fact that the Seahawks had added a talent of Harvin's caliber.  Again, of the new crop of QBs (aka the Gang of Five - Newton, Kaepernick, RG III, Luck and Wilson), I would rank them in the order I just listed (if you have already clicked on the link for Matthew Berry's article above, you should...he provides further evidence for why I am down on my Luck evaluation (sorry, had to type it).

-In case you didn't know, Jeremy Maclin also will be out for the season.  I'm sort of up in the air over what to expect from the Eagles.  I think LeSean McCoy will certainly bounce back (not to the tune of 20 touchdowns though), and I'm not convinced that Chip Kelly is the savior of Philadelphia.  Does anyone trust DeSean Jackson enough to draft him before the 4th or 5th round?  Will Brent Celek bounce back?  Is Vick even going to be the QB?  The Maclin injury may not effect your fantasy team, but it certainly doesn't help your overall perception of the Eagles as a success next season. 

-Broncos center Dan Koppen is also out for the season with a torn ACL.  I think Peyton Manning will do just fine.  This wasn't really helpful information, but I saw it go across the SportsCenter ticker and felt it was necessary to type.  If you are in an intense league in which offensive lineman can earn points, adjust your draft rankings accordingly.

-I read an article stating that Vernon Davis has actually been lining up at WR instead of simply TE to help offset the loss of Michael Crabtree to start the season.  I think you would probably have been considering Davis as a high-end TE anyways, but the thought of this is just scary for defenses having to line-up a cornerback on a 6'3", 250lb gigantic dude.

-As a Bears fan, I can't pass up the opportunity to mention that Jermon Bushrod is already injured, granted it is day-to-day.  Jay Cutler should improve his life insurance plan before the start of the season.

As the season draws closer, and pre-season begins, stay tuned for more fun and insightful reading.

Until next time,

Davey Dave

Sunday, July 21, 2013

QB or not QB: Some thoughts about drafting the most important position

I have a confession to make...I like math.  This seems par for the course, seeing as I am a math teacher, but I wanted to forewarn you: the next paragraph will involve math.

We have been led to believe that the NFL is becoming a more pass-heavy league, which is true (trust me, I did the math) but the change hasn't been as drastic as we've been led to believe.  Ready, here come some numbers and stuff:

I wanted to see how the league has changed over the past 5 years, so I looked up the yardage stats of the top 30 QBs from 2008-2012.  I calculated the mean (average) as well as the standard deviation (for those unfamiliar, the standard deviation is simply the average amount by which data points in a set vary).  So, let's say for a given season, the mean is 3500 yards passing with a standard deviation of 500 yards.  That means if you were to select a QB at random, there is a good chance that the yardage stats for that QB would fall anywhere within 3000-4000 yards.

I also calculated the z-scores for these top 30 QBs.  A z-score is a convenient way of normalizing data into a singular context.  It is somewhat similar to WAR or VORP, advanced baseball statistics that are used to compare a player's effectiveness relative to those of a different era, except way less mathematically complex.  For instance, lets say someone passed for 4000 yards, which used to be a rarity (only 5 people passed for 4000 or more yards in 2010, and by 2012, that total had already risen to 11).  A z-score helps us relate that player's 4000 yard season relative to his peers from that season. 

So, how does one calculate a z-score?  You simply take a data point (in our case, passing yards), subtract the mean from this data point, and divide the different by the standard deviation.  That's it.  The answer you get will always be a small number, usually anywhere from -3 to 3.  What this small number standards for is the number of standard deviations above average that person's yardage total was in relation to other QBs that season.  So, if we use our example from 2 paragraphs above, in which the mean is 3500 yards with a standard deviation of 500 yards, and a player throws for 4000 yards, they would have a z-score of 1.  If they threw for 3000 yards, they would have a z-score of -1. 

Why did I do all this?  Mainly, I wanted to see just how much above average some QBs were in relation to one another.  We all make the mistake of falling into biases, whether from the media or our own viewing of football, about who we think are effective players.  If a player annoys us (such as Tony Romo, who will be making an appearance very soon) we tend to think they are worse than they actually are, whereas if a player wins games dramatically or wins Super Bowls, we tend to think they are better than some of their fantasy peers (Super Bowl victories do not make a great fantasy football QB necessarily). 

So, here come some numbers.  First, let me show you the passing yardage totals from 2008-2012, complete with means and standard deviations.

2008: Mean = 3,236.3 yards, Standard Deviation = 812.8 yards
2009:  Mean = 3,330.8 yards, Standard Deviation = 996.7 yards
2010:  Mean = 3321.8 yards, Standard Deviation = 762.9 yards
2011:  Mean = 3449.5 yards, Standard Deviation = 1044.5 yards
2012:  Mean = 3652.4 yards, Standard Deviation = 885.8 yards

What can we conclude from this?  Well, the mean has certainly risen each year, aside from a nine yard fall from 2009 to 2010.  What also stood out to me was the standard deviation for 2012.  The lower the standard deviation, the less one QB's yardage totals vary from their peers.  So, in a year in which the mean passing yardage was at a five-year high, we also saw the third lowest standard deviation; meaning more quarterbacks were performing at a higher level than in previous years (again, 11 passers exceeding 4000 yards).

Now, as mentioned before, I calculated the z-scores for all of the top 30 QBs over these seasons as well, and I identified which quarterbacks had a z-score of 1 or greater (again, meaning they exceeded the mean by at least the standard deviation amount).  Some people were close with z-scores of 0.9, but no partial credit for this exam.  Also, I highlighted which quarterbacks had seasons of 4000 yards passing, because I think it's fair to say that if your starting fantasy QB hits the 4000 yard threshold, you probably had a productive season.  So, below I have listed only the QBs that fit one or both of the two proposed criteria and have labeled the number of seasons in the past five years in which they have achieved (z-score of 1 or greater, 4000 yards passing).

Drew Bress: (5, 5)
Peyton Manning: (4, 3) *(did not play in 2011)
Tom Brady: (3, 3) *(did not play in 2008 - has it really been five years since Cassel fever?)
Aaron Rodgers: (4, 2)
Philip Rivers (4, 2) *(Remember when Philip Rivers didn't suck?)
Tony Romo (3,2) *(Played minimally in 2010 due to injury, replaced by the immortal Jon Kitna)
Matt Schaub (3, 2) *(was injured for second half of 2011 season, replaced by the more immortal fumbling machine known as Sage Rosenfels, who was then replaced by T.J. Yates)
Matthew Stafford (2,2) *(both of those happened in the past two years because this dude was the Glass Jaw Joe of the NFL for awhile getting injured immediately for 2 straight seasons)
Matt Ryan (2,1)
Ben Roethlisberger (2, 1)
Eli Manning (3, 1)
Jay Cutler (1, 1) *(holy crap, Jay Cutler had the third most yards thrown in 2008?  Ever since Peyton Manning jokingly threw him into a pool at the Pro Bowl and messed up his diabetes monitor, he hasn't been the same)
Josh Freeman/Andrew Luck/Carson Palmer/Cam Newton (1,0)

What does this tell us?  First of all, Drew Brees is by far the most consistent fantasy QB.  He has led the league in yardage three of the past five seasons.  Sure, Manning (the Peyton variety) and Brady were completely out for one season apiece, but they still mathematically would not hit 5,5 like Brees.  Either way, if you have the chance to draft anyone of those three, you're in good shape.

Aaron Rodgers didn't have as many high z-score seasons, but he also adds stats and value with his legs.  And while some people will have crazy awesome games, followed by a dud (that means you Matt Schaub), Rodgers is consistent in getting at least 200 yards and 2 TDs per game.

I was surprised how consistent Rivers had been until last season.  He had a horrid year, and doesn't have the cache of targets he once had, so I'm hesitant to draft him high, but I guarantee some people will sleep on him or forget about him and you could possibly get him as a back-up or mid-round draft steal if you're willing to gamble.

Ah, Tony Romo, everyone's favorite player to hate.  Tony Romo reminds me of my children: you are excited to pick them up and give them a hug, so you lean down, extend your arms towards them, and as you are lifting them up to you shoulders, they inadvertently swing their legs and kick you in the junk.  This is what owning Tony Romo in a fantasy league is like.  You will love him when he throws for 400 yards and 3 TDs in a game.  You will then be immediately nut-punched by some bone-headed play he makes the next week, leading to a 3 interception, multiple fumble debacle.  My all time I can't believe how Tony Romo dicked me over this week story is as follows:  I had been playing my brother-in-law in a highly anticipated match-up.  He was in first place at the time, and I was hoping to score a victory over him.  Our match-up remains tight going into Monday Night Football.  We each have players on the Cowboys, me having Romo, him having either Miles Austin or Dez Bryant.  Well, the fourth quarter rolls around, and there is about a minute left to play, and we are tied.  I've never actually seen a tie in fantasy football because I use fractional points (I love fractional points and I will never understand why people don't use them.  Are you really that afraid of decimals?  You mean to tell me that if a guy runs for 97 yards in a game, he should only get credit for 90 of them, and be rewarded 9, and not 9.7 points?  Fantasy football ain't no Greatest Integer Function (boom, math reference, go look it up kids!).

Anyhow, so there is a minute left, score tied, and my bro-in-law messages me to say it looks like we're going to have our first ever fantasy tie, good game, etc.  Well then, as the game is winding down and most normal humans will take a knee, Tony Romo decided he is no ordinary human.  He is Tony Romo, ex-beau of Jessica Simpson, guy who botched a snap and cost the Cowboys a chance to beat the Seahawks in the playoffs, what could possibly be worse than either of those two things?  He decided that he will do the super-protective kneel down in which he will walk backwards a few yards and THEN take a knee.  Well what does that mean for me?  It means Tony Romo ran for NEGATIVE 1 yard!  That's right, because Tony Romo decided he needed to be extra safe to take a knee, I lost a point and lost the game. 

Yet, as I mentioned, Tony Romo is like my children.  No matter how much Tony disappoints me or gets on my nerves, I still love the guy.  Now don't get me wrong, in terms of actual football, I wouldn't want the guy leading my team at all, he always seems to botch things at the worst possible time.  But in terms of fantasy?  He actually produces!  He has people to throw to (Dez Bryant, who I think will really break out this year, Jason Witten, most prolific tight end last season, Miles Austin (I think he's still on the team) and DeMarco Murray, who if healthy, is capable of catching the ball out of the backfield).  We all hate on Mr. Romo because real life Tony Romo annoys us.  Hell, I was in a league where people left him out there until the 10th round.  10th round!  That's nuts.  Then again, I believe alcohol may have played a role in some people's draft decisions that day, seeing as how one man set out to  make a team of nothing but Johnson's (He actually had a fantastic draft, somehow landing Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Stevie Johnson in successive rounds.  I'm sure we threw in Rudi Johnson and Brad Johnson as all-star Johnson's at their respective positions). 

So, moral of the story: Tony Romo doesn't suck as much as you think.  Look at the numbers. 

Stafford set an NFL record for attempts last season, yet wasn't even the yardage leader, weird.  However, this team definitely wants to pass the ball, there is know way Calvin Johnson only gets 4 TDs againt next year, and with Reggie Bush able to catch balls out of the backfield, he is a solid pickup for QB next year.

Eli Manning wins the Charles Dickens award for performing like the opening lines of "A Tale of Two Cities;" "I played the best first/second half of the season, I played the worst first/second half of the season."  Seriously, I feel like I can never predict when this guy is going to be consistently good.  Eli is anti-Romo; a player who I would much rather have, and has more value, in real life as opposed to fantasy life.

Matt Ryan has been getting better, he has three amazing targets, he's solid, Big Ben is always just outside the top 10 in fantasy QB stats, I would pass on him.

The bottom row is intriguing: I would pass on Palmer, he may put up some numbers throwing to Larry Fitzgerald, but I don't know who else he will be throwing to, and Rashard Mendenhall isn't even a pass-catching back who could help raise his yardage totals.

I like Freeman a lot, I have for a few years now.  The Bucs do have Vincent Jackson now, and Doug Martin, who IS a pass-catching back.  I have been hurt by taking a chance on Freeman in the past, but I think the Bucs will be decent, Freeman does run too, yet I still worry about consistency.  I would use him as a backup.

And now on to Newton and Luck.  While we're at it, let's throw in RGIII, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.  These guys only have one (and in Newton's case) two NFL seasons to their names, so obviously they aren't going to show up in the numbers I did above.  However, any one of these guys I feel is worth taking a gamble on.  They all have crazy upside.  All can actually run with the ball well (Luck is a better runner than people give him credit, akin to Aaron Rodgers).  But which one do you draft?  Bill Barnwell of grantland.com has coined the phrase 'The Gang of Four' when discussing the four breakouts from last year (no Newton), and has his rankings here.

Since there is not much of a body of work, much of our ranking of these players is on our own speculation about their potential, but also, about their team's potential.  Barnwell also wrote a fantastic piece about some statistical indicators of success in the NFL, and the one that stood out to me like a sore thumb was a team's win-loss record in games decided by one touchdown or less.  The Colts had a 9-1 record in games decided by one touchdown or less.  To summarize Barnwell, most teams regress to the mean the following season, meaning the Colts statistically won't have so many lucky bounces next year.  Additionally, teams with bad records in games decided by one touchdown or less tend to improve their record in these types of games the following season.  Among the lowest in one touchdown or less losses last year (nice alliteration huh?) were the Chargers, Panthers, Lions and Buccaneers (may make you think twice about some doubts surrounding Rivers, Stafford or Freeman).  I have already previously discussed my love of the Panthers for next season, and I think this is yet another stat in favor of my opinion, and in favor of Cam Newton.

Although I love RGIII, I don't see the Redskins making the playoffs next year.  Same with the Colts.  A lot of people love Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, but I can't bring myself to drink the Seattle Kool-Aid just yet.  I think Wilson will be consistent, but not as flashy or have the chance for as much upside as a Kaepernick or Newton.  I would opt for Kaepernick first, then Newton.  The 49ers are legit, I expect them to make the playoffs, and Kaepernick is so much more than a gimmick.  Yes, he runs ridiculously fast, but he throws a beautiful ball (and accurate too).  Again, you really can't go wrong with these guys, but don't forget about the old fogies (gotta love that being 30-ish makes you on the verge of AARP in the NFL) mentioned above who have shown themselves to be consistent for several years running.

Until Next Time,

Davey Dave

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Big Boy Tight Ends (uh...that sounds like a porn title, but if you read the previous post, this would make way more sense)

If you have read any of my previous posts, you know I am a fan of yards and not so much of touchdowns when it comes to fantasy.  TDs are too unpredictable, but yardage production tends to gravitate toward a player's mean from year to year.  So, while trying to find a Big Boy for the tight end position (e.g. someone who is being undervalued but actually will provide you steady production) I found myself ruminating about two players who I really didn't think would be considered 'sleepers' or undervalued by most people.  But then I checked out ESPN's tight end rankings for the upcoming season and realized that in fact my two players are not being given nearly the credit I think they should be.  So, without further ado, here are two TEs who I think will definitely break out this season:

Greg Olsen (Carolina TE) and Jermaine Gresham (Cincinnati TE)

Let's start with Olsen.  Olsen is currently being ranked the #9 overall TE by Matthew Berry of ESPN.  So, again, not much of a stretch here, but I think he has top 5 potential.  Why?  Well first of all, he used to play for my beloved Bears, so I am biased (and still upset that Mike Martz was allergic to TEs).  Secondly, as a parent, reading this story made me appreciate him as a human being.  How can you not root for this guy?

Secondly, I examined 20 tight ends who I felt would be worthy of being drafted this coming season and averaged their receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns.  I tried to see how many players met or exceeded the mean in each category.  The only players who did so last year were Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez and Heath Miller.  I certainly don't see Miller repeating the season he had last year (which was aided by 8 TDs), and I don't think I'm alone in my thinking.  Then, I checked who met or exceeded the mean in at least two of the three categories and here is what I found:

Meet/Exceed in Receptions and Receiving Yards:  Jason Witten, Greg Olsen, Brandon Myers, Jermaine Gresham

Meet/Exceed in Receiving Yards and Touchdowns:  Owen Daniels

And that's it.  Now, I know much of preseason rankings is based on speculation about production, which is why you will see Matthew Berry rank Vernon Davis, Kyle Rudolph and Dennis Pitta ahead of Olsen.  I certainly think Davis will be good, as much of his production spiked once Colin Kaepernick became his quarterback.  Pitta I worry about because he still shares some receptions with Ed Dickson, and if you take away just two of his touchdowns from last season, his remaining stats rival those of Brent Celek, Martellus Bennett, Jermichael Finley and Brandon Pettigrew, hardly top 5 material.  Kyle Rudolph scored a lot of touchdowns, which is why people are gaga over him.  On the other hand, he has Christian Ponder throwing him the ball, which having been a Bears fan for life, and knowing what it's like to have a 'game manager' at quarterback, I am very frightened of drafting Kyle Rudolph.  Also, the Vikes added a big target in Greg Jennings this year which could eat into his targets (conversely, you could argue that Anquan Boldin's absence from the Ravens boosts Pitta's stock, and I agree, I never said Pitta wouldn't be good, I just don't think Olsen is getting enough love).

So, back to Mr. Olsen.  Everyone knows Witten is awesome and had a crazy good year last year.  Brandon Myers goes from the wasteland of football productivity that is Oakland to the New York Giants, where I certainly think he will succeed.  That leaves Olsen.  Call me crazy, but I am all in on Carolina making the playoffs.  I watched the Bears play them last year, and the Panthers defense is better than people realize.  They have a lot of young talent, and Ron Rivera, former Bears defensive coordinator, coaching them.  Secondly, I am sold on Cam Newton.  Of all the mobile quarterbacks that emerged last year (RGIII, Kaepernick, Russell Wilson) I am still most confident in Newton.  His surge at the end of last season was what we expected him to do the entire season, which is why people may view his sophomore season as a disappointment.  But he's freakishly good, and I think the Panthers will put up stats and points this year.  Having watched Olsen his entire career, he has definitely been improving each year, and I think he's a steal being ranked where he is.

Next up, Jermaine Gresham.

I like Jermaine Gresham, because his name sounds like John Grisham.  And although I've never read a Grisham novel, I can FIRMly state that the (runaway) JURY is not quite out on the (pelican) BRIEF career of Gresham (while wikipedia-ing John Grisham titles, I came across one called 'Playing for Pizza' which I can only assume is about Jermaine Gresham's love of pizza, thus making him way cooler).

Also, side note: Does anyone remember the episode of 30 Rock in which they kept quoting The Pelican Brief because everybody had been watching it on cable all week?  Liz Lemon mentions how The Pelican Brief is always on tv, but frankly, I think Tom Hanks' movies are contractually obligated to be on some network at all times of the day.  I think Forrest Gump and Cast Away must be on some channel a minimum of once a week, and I've already seen Big and The Ladykillers show up while scrolling through channels recently. 

So, back to football.  I think the Bengals are legit too.  They have made the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, and they seem to have balance on both sides of the ball.  Now, I know the Bengals just drafted Tyler Eifert, but again, this is my ranking of Big Boys - guys whose expectations are low but will produce.  How the hell is Gresham ranked 22nd by Matthew Berry???  He has Jake Ballard, the new TE for New England, ranked ahead of Gresham. 

I must digress again, but trust me, this one is football related:

I hate the idea of handcuffing your running back (for those unfamiliar, this is the theory that you should draft the backup of your stud running back when drafting because should your RB get injured, you immediately have his backup in place before someone else can claim him off waivers).  Well, this theory is awful because there is a reason someone is a backup - they aren't as good as the starter.  There is no way in hell I am going to waste a draft pick on Toby Gerhart in case Adrian Peterson gets hurt, because if Gerhart does play in AP's place, he is certainly not going to put up AP numbers.  I have only seen a backup RB be as productive as a starter in cases where a team has a scheme (such as Mike Shanahan with Washington who we detailed plenty in my last post, or his former staff member Gary Kubiak in Houston).  It was only a few years ago that a rookie named Steve Slaton was a fantasy Big Boy, until he was deemed too fragile to be a full time back.  The Texans went on to have success (or should we say fantasy football success) with the likes of the immortal Samkon Gado and Ron Dayne (Big Ten shout-out, woo woo!) before drafting Ben Tate as their next big RB.  People forget that Arian Foster was given the opportunity to start the season due to a fantastic finish in Week 17 the year before Tate's draft, and the fact that Ben Tate was injured for his entire rookie season due to an injury sustained in the preseason (and ironically, right before my fantasy draft, which threw a dent into my brother's plans to draft him that year as a sleeper).  Anyhow, Arian Foster happened to be in the right place at the right time, and the rest is fantasy history. 

The other side of the handcuffing coin I shall call the Glen Coffee Phenomenon.  A few years back, Frank Gore was having a great year and sustained an injury which would sideline him for roughly four weeks.  Every fantasy expert on Earth said that Glen Coffee needed to be picked up pronto, and I followed suit.  However, I was hoping someone would buy into the hype and agree to a trade with me, because I really didn't need Mr. Coffee (actually, who doesn't need a Mr. Coffee, they are fantastic machines that often retail for about $10 in Black Friday sales at Menards).  Anyhow, nobody bit on my trade bait, so I felt obligated to play Glen, and he had a modest 30 or so yards rushing with a TD in his first week as a starter, and that was the highlight of his career.  He then went on to RETIRE THE NEXT SEASON!  This phenomenon can also be called the Rashad Jennings, Ken Darby, Jerious Norwood Phenomenon for similar reasons.

SO....how does this relate to Jake Ballard?  Ballard is talented, no doubt, he had some productive seasons with the Giants.  However, just because New England has been able to utilize the TE like no other team the past couple of seasons, and happens to have two very giant question marks at that position going into the 2013 season, that doesn't mean Jake Ballard will now become Gronk 2.0 because he's running the same routes Rob Gronkowski did last year (we certainly don't expect Ballard to party like Gronk, so why should we expect him to perform like him on the field?).  Belichick was able to make the TE so effective because had the personnel (i.e. good tight ends).  He is a remarkable coach when it comes to playing to his strengths, as well as going against the grain.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Belichick give a proverbial middle finger to the pass-heavy modus operandi of the NFL by playing to his breakout running back Stevan Ridley and going old-school, rushing and using the running back in more unique ways instead of passing the ball 50 times a game.  Well, I think Tom Brady and Gisele would have something to say about that, but I definitely think Ridley gets used more often, and that Ballard does not instantly become good just because of the position he is in.

That being said, Gresham has seen his receptions, targets and yards all increase each season, while maintaining an average of about 5 touchdowns per season.  Also, Gresham is clearly the number two target behind A.J. Green, so I don't see him ceding too much of his productivity to Eifert.  And, how cool is it that Gresham's quarterback, Andy Dalton, has hair that matches his helmet color?  It's as if the Bengals drafted him partly because of his sweet rust colored buzzcut. 

So, if you are unable to pick up one of the obvious studs at tight end (Witten, Graham, maybe Tony Gonzalez, but come on, this guy is like 50 years old, I can remember getting his rookie card when I was a kid) Good-time Gronkowski or Vernon Davis, you could be in for a steal if you watch your friends pass up Olsen or Gresham on draft day, only to then show them this blog and how insightful it was and how they should have been reading it all along! 

Until next time,

Davey Dave

Monday, July 8, 2013

Big Boys and Hipsters: A look at draft day steals and over-rated players

Hello all,

It has been a ridiculously long time since my last post, mainly because other things such as 'parenting' or 'yardwork' or 'vacation' happening the past two weeks.  Lucky for you, while doing said yardwork or driving home from vacation, I had plenty of time to think about fantasy football!

As parents out there can attest, road trips are memorable, fun experience that you usually don't realize are fun and memorable until you've been home for a few days.  Alas, the title of this blog came to me after several failed attempts to go out to eat with my 15 month old son.  I had been excited to try several trendy bars or microbreweries in the hopes of having a nice cold one after a fun day with the kids, only to find that 15 month olds do not like trendy bars or microbreweries.  15 month olds like to scream and wander the restaurant, make an ill-fated attempt to fly down flights of stairs or run into the waitstaff in a kamikaze effort to be removed from the restaurant.  However, what do 15 month olds love?  Fast food restaurants.  For some reason, the allure of fluorescent lights, pubescent teens taking orders and ketchup packets make kids calm and happy.  What was my son's favorite destination over the course of a 3-day vacation?  Big Boy.  That's right, the quintessential sign of America's love of greasy food and its effects on the circumference of our waists.  My wife and I had to pry our son off of the Big Boy statue because our son would not stop affectionately hugging his new best friend. 

So what does this have to do with fantasy football?  Why, it's only the greatest analogy between sports and food ever to be made, that's what!

This was my first trip to Big Boy, and I must say, it hit the spot.  I had low expectations, wasn't expecting much in return, and actually had an enjoyable experience.  I liken Big Boy to a player you draft in a later round without much expectation, only to see them perform far beyond your expectations.  We shall call these players Big Boys.

On the other hand, the hip places I attempted to go to, only to experience utter failure, I shall use to discuss those players who you hold in high regard prior to your fantasy draft.  You have high hopes that they hold the key to fantasy glory, only to draft them and watch as your team continues to have the highest projected points each week and lose to that random person you added to your league just to round it up to an even number of players.  We shall call these players Hipsters, partly because of hip restaurants, but also because we all have a negative connotation of real-life hipsters, so let's keep that bitter taste in our mouths.

So, let's get the bad news out of the way:  The Hipsters

1.  Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins
Ok, let's get something out of the way from the get go.  Being a Hipster doesn't mean you won't be an effective player.  Alfred seems like a nice young man, probably my favorite running back ever named Alfred to play in the NFL.  However, people have this guy ranked in the Top 10 of ALL players heading into drafts, and that is just too high.

Why you ask?  Sure, there are the issues regarding his coach and his love of using any man off the street to be his starting RB at a moment's notice, and somehow having success doing this (anyone know what Selvin Young, Mike Anderson, Mike Bell, Tatum Bell, Reuben Droughns, Travis Henry, Peyton Hillis, Evan Royster, Ryan Torain or Roy Helu are up to?).

There's also the fact that the Redskins have discussed using RGIII more as a passer to preserve his health, which means more passing plays.  Morris was only targeted 16 times last year in the backfield, which can obviously change, but regardless, less running plays is less running plays.

However, here's the kicker.  In looking at many top fantasy RB's over the past five years, I have noticed a major trend: Any RB who exceeds 300 rushing attempts in a season sees a decline in their rushing yardage the next year.  4 years ago, Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN wrote a great article about why people should be leery of Michael Turner because he exceeded the magic number of 370 carries, which he goes on to demonstrate as the forbidden number of attempts for RBs.  I will spare you all of the details, because you can check these people's stats on your own, but the following players, many of whom were quite dominant in fantasy at one point or another (or still are) have all seen their rushing yards and attempts decrease following a season of 300 or more carries:  Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Michael Turner, Matt Forte, Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson.  The only person I saw actually have an INCREASE in rushing yards (by 144 yards) was Ray Rice from 2010-2011.

How many attempts did Morris have last year?  335.  The only running backs with 300 or more carries last year were Morris, as well as Foster, Peterson, Doug Martin and Marshawn Lynch.  Now, even if AP or Arian Foster or Marshawn Lynch have a down year next year, it probably won't be as precipitous a fall as other backs may experience.  These guys have been consistent for at least two consecutive seasons, and there is no way you can't draft them if the opportunity arises.  But I would be hesitant with Morris and Martin, or possibly offer them as trade bait.  I feel that I need to see at least one more good year out of these two before I take a first/second round gamble on them.  I am reminded of how Ryan Mathews was considered a first/second round draft pick his first two years in the league, and yeah, I am still wondering why I drafted a guy who doesn't even have two t's in his last name when spelling 'Matthew.'

I will continue with posts on Big Boys and Hipsters soon.  My son took 3 hours to fall asleep yesterday (he had an accidental five minute nap in the car, which somehow recharged him and convinced him that he didn't need sleep) so a longer night's sleep is very much in order.  Until next time,

Davey Dave