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Preseason Schedule Analysis: Putting It All Together

Most of us have 90 seconds or less in a live draft to make a decision, so while some owners will have studied every angle and prepared for every eventuality, they can still be left in a tie-break situation. Should I go with X over Y or vice versa?

I try to treat fantasy drafting as much as the real thing, forming opinions on a player and putting them on a value chart long before the draft so I have time to review it and make any necessary manipulations to my rankings and/or projections.

While many owners will thumb through a fantasy football publication to see what player looks good to them when it is their time to pick, I prefer having a few sheets of paper in front of me with as much quick-reference, easy-to-understand material as possible. In other words, I’d just as soon not have last year’s numbers (or someone else’s opinion of a player) in front of me.

For everyone that read part 1 and part 2 of this PSA “course”, each reader by now is aware that I have to make a reference to a player’s stat line from last season. And for those that are wondering, I did the utterly unthinkable this season and did not so much as look at any site or magazine’s projection for a single player. Even before I knew I would do this article trilogy, I wanted to make sure my opinion was as unbiased as possible, so I had no one to blame (or credit) but myself.

Believe me, I hated it when, at the end of the year earlier in my “fantasy career”, I realized that I felt good about a player going into the preseason and through the preseason, but didn’t draft him because some “expert” said I should draft him in the fifth round and the player ended up going in the third or fourth round every time.

So, without further ado, let’s complete the journey we started by breaking each player’s (and team’s) individual schedule.

Step 1

After I have completed the process of projecting each player’s weekly numbers division-by-division, I then copy and paste every projected player from each division onto a separate spreadsheet. Let’s take a look at the QBs first.

(1)   (2) (3) (4) (5)                                
QB Tom Brady 343 26.7 0 23
QB Peyton Manning 332 20.7 0 22
QB Tony Romo 325 21.2 0 22
QB Drew Brees 323 16.5 0 22
QB Carson Palmer 304 20.5 0 20

A few reference points to consider:

(1) Notice I have “QB” over to the left of the name. I don’t do that for fear that I’ll forget what position these players play, but for sorting purposes. (We’ll revisit that in Step 2.)

(2) The overall fantasy points expected over a 15-game schedule,

(3) Projected fantasy points/game during Weeks 15 & 16 (playoff weeks for most owners),

(4) Expected missed games (much more prevalent for RBs, which we’ll delve into in a bit),

(5) The fantasy points/game average.

Note that I did not carry over the weekly numbers from the projections; I’m only concerned with matchups.

Now, for the RBs.

 Running Backs
(1)   (2) (3) (4) (5)                                
RB LaDainian Tomlinson 310 19 0 21
RB Steven Jackson (holdout) 273 19.5 ? 18
RB Brian Westbrook 266 21.25 1 18
RB Adrian Peterson 255 19.5 2 17
RB Frank Gore 252 25.25 1 17
RB Marion Barber 243 12.5 1 16
RB Larry Johnson 242 20 0 16
RB Ryan Grant 231 13 0 15
RB Clinton Portis 231 18.75 0 15
RB Joseph Addai 224 18 1 15
RB Thomas Jones 223 13.5 0 15
RB Marshawn Lynch 218 13.75 2 15
RB Willis McGahee 212 12.25 1 15

Even if I am less than crazy about Steven Jackson’s holdout, it gives me the opportunity to present another area to cover. As I have stated a time or two already, the goal is to have a mass of quality information and a limited number of places that a person needs to look for it. Obviously, Jackson is a pretty high-profile RB, so for any fantasy owners in a competitive league, they may not care to notate his holdout – and that’s perfectly fine. I, on the other hand, like to assume that – come draft day – I will remember nothing, so I’ll leave it in there just to remind me. This becomes more important when there are multiple holdouts – rookie or veteran – that extend into late August.

Jackson, as Larry Johnson did before him last season, has missed enough camp to the point where he will likely fall greatly in my rankings over the next few days.

Let me backtrack now to the “participation” issue, or projected missed games. I certainly am no visionary and cannot predict when or how often a player may get hurt. However, we can check a player’s history for getting dinged and hold that against him in the final evaluation, can’t we? (It happens every year with Fred Taylor.) I’ll admit, this is another new section I’ve added this year, but for now, it will only serve as a tiebreaker if I am torn between two backs.

To complete this part of the exercise, let’s include the top WRs and TEs.

 Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
(1)   (2) (3) (4) (5)                                
WR Randy Moss 227 18 0 15
WR Terrell Owens 225 15.5 2 15
WR Braylon Edwards 199 14.75 0 13
WR Marques Colston 199 9.75 0 13
WR Plaxico Burress 198 9.5 2 13
WR Larry Fitzgerald 192 9.5 2 13
WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh 185 14.25 0 12
WR Steve Smith 183 10.25 2 14 Susp.
WR Reggie Wayne 183 10.5 0 12
WR Andre Johnson 181 9.75 2 12
WR Anquan Boldin 180 11.75 2 12
WR Chad Johnson 176 13 0 12
WR Calvin Johnson 176 10.5 1 12
WR Marvin Harrison 174 9.75 2 12
WR Roy Williams 166 12.75 1 11
WR Torry Holt 162 11 0 11
WR Brandon Marshall 158 11.25 2 12 Susp.
WR Wes Welker 157 13.25 0 10
WR Laveranues Coles 155 10 1 10
TE Jason Witten 150 8.25 0 10
WR Santana Moss 145 8.75 1 9.7
TE Kellen Winslow 143 11.5 1 9.5
WR Santonio Holmes 143 8.75 0 9.5

Unlike last year, I have decided to lump in the TEs with the WRs. For years, I’ve stated how the top TEs can perform at #2 WR levels, so I figured why separate the two now? In years past, it was necessary to separate the two (and one day, it may need to be done again) but with the plethora of TEs challenging for starter status in fantasy leagues, the point difference recognized from owning the top TE to the #12 overall TE has lessened dramatically.

I suppose the most eye-popping name of this bunch has to be Coles. And given he has little to no time to bond with Brett Favre this preseason, I may need to re-evaluate at some point. That said, with the cannon Favre has plus the increased protection he will receive from his offensive line should be enough to give a player with the speed of Coles the time to outrun just about any corner.

Someone else who surprises me in terms of how highly he is ranked is Burress. We all know what Burress can do when he is healthy, which is why he is as high as he is. However, I assume “best-case scenario” with injury risks, which is a big reason why I wanted to include the INJ column as just another reminder to knock a player down a couple of spots. In my mind, Burress really is a low-end #1, high-end #2 WR for fantasy purposes.

Look, every “system” needs to have a bit of flexibility put into it. But, once again, what this allows me to do is ask myself questions like, “Can my team live with my #2 WR possibly getting shut down near the end of the season?” (Santonio Holmes) or “Do I really want to place my season squarely on Burress’ shoulders?” If the answer is yes and I like the upside of Holmes and/or Burress, I make the pick. If not, I go in another direction.

Also notice that I keep referencing “late in the season” or “playoff week matchups”. I’m not quite sure it is the most important tiebreaker between two similar players, but it’s probably not much lower than #2. Ask any owner that had Brees, Brady or Randy Moss in Week 16 going up against Kurt Warner and/or Boldin. People, I cannot emphasize enough…if it were all about talent, the teams with the top 3-4 picks in most drafts would also end up being the teams that make the playoffs most of the time.

Step 2

Once I’ve grouped all the players and the positions, it’s time to sort the entire population according to position and then to overall points. (On another page, I may sort the entire player pool just by overall points just for fun.)

At this point, this is where all the hard work becomes fun for me. Earlier, I referenced that I try to mimic the real thing when I prepare for a fantasy draft. However, unlike the player personnel members in reality, my “draft board” isn’t set up based on talent and potential so much as a player’s likelihood to achieve a certain performance level each week. (Remember, in redraft leagues, I’m not looking for anything more long-term than Week 16.) Thus, I set per-game averages for each position in each round. Obviously, I expect a QB drafted in the first round to outscore one selected in the second round, just as I prefer a RB or WR to do the same.

Thus, here is my current fantasy point per game (fppg) chart that I move up and down based on my results.

 Positional FPts/G By Round
Round QB (Fpts/G) RB (Fpts/G) WR (Fpts/G) TE (Fpts/G)
1 25 16 15
2 22 14 13
3 20 12 11
4 18 10 9 10
5 16 9 8 9
6 14 8 7 8
7 12 6 6 7
8 10 4 5 5

A couple of points to make right off the bat.

1) If I am going to draft a QB in the first round, I am going to need him to carry my team in a big way, which is why such a high point total should be expected from a first-round QB. Last year, Brady scored an average of nearly 33 fppg in Weeks 1-14 but scored a combined 24 for various reasons in Weeks 15 & 16. (Just ask any NBA team what happens when their leading scorer struggles, other teammates must pick him up or the team may get blown out.) The 21-fppg falloff from fantasy regular season to playoffs likely cost many Brady owners a shot at the league title while Warner and Boldin likely gave their owners a nice Christmas bonus.

2) Call me close-minded on this one, but since I feel it is unrealistic to expect a TE to post Randy Moss or Terrell Owens’ type of numbers, I do not consider one before the fourth round (and not often until the sixth or seventh round) because the dropoff between Witten and, say, Chris Cooley is not enough that I should pass up on a chance to land a top-end #2 RB, low-end #1 or high-end #2 WR or a #1 QB like Brees or Palmer that I feel may take fantasy by storm this season.

Step 3

Many “experts” have cited the use of tiering to keep an owner aware of when the value at one position may be coming to an end. I am no different, except in the way I separate each position by “round value” instead of a category such as “franchise RB” or “fringe #2 RB starter”. I’m not sure the way an owner tiers his/her players is nearly as important as the fact that he/she actually tiers his/her players.

 Tiers - By Round Value
  2nd Round       1st Round       1st Round    
QB Tom Brady 343 23 RB LaDainian Tomlinson 310 20.6 WR Randy Moss 227 15.1
QB Peyton Manning 332 22 RB Steven Jackson 273 18.2 WR Terrell Owens 225 15.0
QB Tony Romo 325 22 RB Brian Westbrook 266 17.7 2nd Round
QB Drew Brees 323 22 RB Adrian Peterson 255 17.0 WR Braylon Edwards 199 13.3
3rd Round RB Frank Gore 252 16.8 WR Marques Colston 199 13.3
QB Carson Palmer 304 20 RB Marion Barber 243 16.2 WR Plaxico Burress 198 13.2
RB Larry Johnson 242 16.1 WR Larry Fitzgerald 192 12.8
2nd Round 3rd Round
RB Ryan Grant 231 15.4 WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh 185 12.3
RB Clinton Portis 231 15.4 WR Steve Smith 183 14.1
RB Willis McGahee 212 15.1 WR Reggie Wayne 183 12.2
RB Joseph Addai 224 14.9 WR Andre Johnson 181 12.1
RB Thomas Jones 223 14.9 WR Anquan Boldin 180 12.0
RB Marshawn Lynch 218 14.5 WR Chad Johnson 176 11.7
WR Calvin Johnson 176 11.7
WR Marvin Harrison 174 11.6

As anyone can see, I’m not all that concerned with my chart matching up with anyone else’s. Yes, finding out a player’s ADP is very important part in getting to know when to expect certain players to go, but if I really feel good about Thomas Jones and Larry Johnson leading my backfield this season (and they both live up to my expectations), isn’t it more important that I land both of them a round earlier as opposed to not at all? “Reaches” only truly become that when they don’t perform to the level of the slot they were drafted in. That said, I’m not suggesting that an owner should draft Johnson in the first round of their draft if they are pretty certain that most or if not all of his/her league-mates are completely sold on the notion LJ will not produce.

Step 4

And we’ve reached the final step…the “big board”. For the sake of time and space, I’ll just include the top 25.

 The "Big Board"
Overall Pos Rank Pos Player Pt Total 15&16 INJ Average
1 1 RB LaDainian Tomlinson 310 19.00 0 20.67
2 2 RB Steven Jackson 273 19.50 ? 18.20
3 3 RB Brian Westbrook 266 21.25 1 17.73
4 4 RB Adrian Peterson 255 19.50 2 17.00
5 1 WR Randy Moss 227 18.00 0 15.13
6 5 RB Frank Gore 252 25.25 1 16.80
7 6 RB Marion Barber 243 12.50 1 16.20
8 7 RB Larry Johnson 242 20.00 0 16.13
9 8 RB Ryan Grant 231 13.00 0 15.40
10 9 RB Clinton Portis 231 18.75 0 15.40
11 2 WR Terrell Owens 225 15.50 2 15.00
12 1 QB Tom Brady 343 26.70 0 22.87
13 2 QB Peyton Manning 332 20.70 0 22.13
14 10 RB Joseph Addai 224 18.00 1 14.93
15 3 WR Braylon Edwards 199 14.75 0 13.27
16 4 WR Marques Colston 199 9.75 0 13.27
17 5 WR Larry Fitzgerald 192 9.50 2 12.80
18 3 QB Tony Romo 325 21.20 0 21.67
19 4 QB Drew Brees 323 16.50 0 21.53
20 11 RB Thomas Jones 223 13.50 0 14.87
21 12 RB Marshawn Lynch 218 13.75 1 14.53
22 13 RB Willis McGahee 212 12.25 1 15.14
23 6 WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh 185 14.25 0 12.33
24 7 WR Reggie Wayne 183 10.50 0 12.20
25 8 WR Andre Johnson 181 9.75 2 12.07

Note from before that even though Burress was my fifth-ranked WR, he doesn’t even appear in the top 25 (he’s at #30 right now).

Once again, just because I believe in this system doesn’t mean my ranking and drafting processes are rigid and that I must conform to them. Just like the real thing, drafting is about finding as much relevant information as possible on a player, making an educated guess about how well that player can consistently perform throughout the season and then following through on draft day.

Because I have all my information on different tabs within the same spreadsheet, I do not carry over the matchup information onto this page (although I am still considering it). I wish I could tell everyone that the “big board” was the only sheet I used on draft day, but the reality is that I often go back and forth this page and my tiering page, all the while keeping track of the players and positions that each of the other league owners are drafting. (If it sounds like a lot, it may very well be…just another reason that doing mock drafts regularly are a great idea, that is, to practice strategy AND execution. This draft-day practice of mine is really not as difficult as it sounds.)

Why do I do all this? Much as players progress the most throughout the offseason, the spring and summer is the time I do my “power lifting”. In other words, I too want to improve on last season. I have little interest in leaving a draft room knowing I did not do everything I could have done to build a championship team. And isn’t that what this is all about?