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Don't Get Martzed
Can Mike Martz Turn 49er Water in to Wine?

Nearly every fantasy breakdown you read of San Francisco this season is going to talk about Mike Martz and his effect on the offensive skill players. As winners of the Martz lottery, they’ll be touted as sleeper picks with huge upside. After all, he did orchestrate “the Greatest Show on Turf” right? He took a grocery stock boy Kurt Warner and made him in to a Super Bowl champ! Who could argue against that? Well, I’ll be your Huckleberry.

First, you have to be wary of the terms ‘sleeper’. If by sleeper you mean the 49ers offense will go from the worst to the 5th worst, ok I’ll buy that. But if the sleepers you are looking for are some players who may actually help you win a fantasy football game or season, then you may want to shop elsewhere.

Let’s look at the fantasy points per game history of the QB position with and without Martz.

 QBs: FPts/G
Player With Martz Without Martz
Kurt Warner 18.5 16.1
Marc Bulger 21.6 16.7
Jon Kitna 18.9 15.9

Here are the individual career stats I used for my calculations.

The numbers do show a jump in value per game. Even these numbers are a little skewed for Bulger because in 2006 he averaged 19.7 FPTs/g but last year’s 13.7 injury decimated season significantly dropped his average. That said QBs under Martz averaged 3.4 more fantasy points per game. Such an increase would have taken 2007 49er starter Trent Dilfer from 36th (12.7 FPTs/G) to 21st (16.1 FPTs/G) among fantasy QBs and Alex Smith from the 50th (8.9 FPTs/G) to the 38th (12.3 FPTs/G) best QB per game. According to the numbers, the QBs under Martz will receive a production boost but not enough to warrant a starting option. At best, assuming J.T. O’Sullivan is as good a QB as Trent Dilfer is he could become a low-end backup or QB3 on your roster. Unfortunately, even Martz will be unable to make fantasy diamonds out of lumps of coal this year at QB.

Maybe you are more interested in this year’s breakout 49er WRs instead. Does his system propel WRs to stardom? Well…yes and no. Here’s the fantasy point per game look at WRs.

 WRs: FPts/G
Player With Martz Without Martz
Torry Holt 11.6 10.6
Roy Williams 10.2 9.2
Isaac Bruce 9.8 9.4
Az-Zahir Akim 5.6 5.1
Mike Furrey 6.7 0
Calvin Johnson 6.6 0
Shaun McDonald 4.1 1.2

Here are the individual career stats I used for my calculations.

It turns out WRs benefit the least from the Martz spread offense system. The best players to look at in this comparison are Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Az Hakim, and Roy Williams because they have some established history with and without Martz as an offensive coordinator and/or head coach. Those WRs averaged just under a one-point increase (.975) in FPTs/G scored. The leading WR for the 49ers last year was Arnaz battle who finished 52nd in FPTs/G (5.6). A one point increase (6.6 FPTs/G) would lift him to 43rd which would only qualify as a low end WR4 bye week replacement in deeper leagues. This does not bode well for any of the 49er WRs chances to become helpful fantasy sleepers.

The players that seem to have blossomed as sleepers under the Martz system in the past were slot receivers Mike Furrey and Shaun McDonald. Furrey was the 21st ranked WR per game in 2006 and McDonald ranked 29th in 2007. The two players combined have only one year played without Martz so comparisons are tough to make. What we can say is that the slot receiver under a Mike Martz offense could be WR3 worthy if your league starts three WRs. Arnaz Battle is expected to claim that spot this year so there is a chance he will be that kind of player this year. My concern here would be TE Vernon Davis. He is known as an ultra athletic TE that can run like a WR. According to Martz he will move Davis around and use him in the same manner as a slot receiver. This will likely diminish Battle from achieving Furrey-like numbers.

What about the RB position? What can we expect from Frank Gore? Here are the RB fantasy numbers per game under Martz.

 RBs FPts/G
FPts/G RBs With Martz Without Martz
Marshall Faulk 18.5 14.4
Kevin Jones 11.9 9.8

Here are the individual career stats I used for my calculations.

Amazingly the best argument for a significant increase in a Martz offense may be at the RB position! Here both Faulk and Jones had their best years under Martz. The reason for increase is the pass reception yardage and TDs. This is just in standard scoring leagues not PPR where passing points even more significant. An increase in his production by the 3.1 (FPTs/G) increase under Martz would have moved Gore’s RB ranking from the 13th to the 6th last season. Frank Gore is a solid RB who catches the ball well out of the backfield so his 2008 prospects look very bright.

Now that we have broken down each position keep in mind the environment in St. Louis and Detroit was ripe for an explosive passing offense. They were indoor turf stadiums where the weather and wind had no effect. St. Louis and Detroit both had Hall of Fame and All-Pro talent at WR and QB that have produced well either before or after Martz.
San Francisco is a windy outdoor grass stadium and his offensive weapons are a first time starter at QB in J.T O’Sullivan, former #3 Cardinal WR Bryant Johnson, and an aging Isaac Bruce all of whom are much less talented weapons than Martz had in Detroit and St. Louis.

Gore may have a great year and Vernon Davis may catch a lot of passes but don’t draft these 49er QBs and WRs expecting anything more than 3rd string or waiver wire flyers or you’ll be ‘Martzed’ right out of your league’s playoffs.