The Best and Worst Of Times
Aggressiveness is a characteristic that tends to reward fantasy
owners more times than not. In the NFL, an offensive line will sometimes
hold up long enough to give the quarterback enough time to beat
man coverage down the field and make the defense look foolish against
a fierce pass rush. More often than not, though, when a defense
brings the heat and forces the action, crisis management becomes
the name of the game for the opposing team.
In that same vein, I hope to apply that same kind of pressure
to the owners in all of my leagues by beating my opponents to
the punch in regards to personnel moves. Sometimes, reaching a
conclusion about a player too quickly is much like trying to blitz
Peyton Manning – dangerous and painful. However, coming
to a correct conclusion two weeks or two minutes quicker than
your opponents is considered foresight. Fantasy owners can be
a uneasy lot, knowing that one two-or-three-game losing streak
can wreak irreparable damage to his/her team’s chances to
make a visit to the fantasy postseason. But just as it is in the
NFL and in life, it’s hard to land the big prize by playing
scared. Thus, I will strive each week to help each of you become
a smart blitzer, so to speak.
As a believer in the theory that fantasy football is much more
skill than luck, I’ve maintained for some time now that
skill helps you navigate the fantasy regular season while luck
plays a much bigger role in the playoffs. Why do I believe this?
For one, the margin for error is slimmer because the likelihood
that your league’s postseason features the top 4-6 scoring
teams is pretty high. (On average, I would say one team in each
league slips in that shouldn’t probably have made it.) Going
on a three-game winning streak – two if you have a Week
14 bye or Week 15 playoff start – against your league’s
best teams is a daunting task. For all the planning and projecting
I do for the postseason, it is not always feasible to secure the
highest-scoring team in your league for three straight weeks late
in the season.
A second factor to consider is that during fantasy playoff time,
we are at the point of the NFL season when some of the lesser
teams are setting their sights on next year or their offseason
plans. In other cases, teams are playing to win but have been
ravaged by injury. About this time each year, we are reminded
why the NFL should maintain its 16-game schedule and not attempt
to go to an 18-game slate. Despite the increased attention paid
to player safety in recent years, the fact remains that teams
like the Colts and Bengals have nearly 20 players on IR already
and will probably surpass that mark before the end of the season.
Other players – Maurice Jones-Drew, Adrian Peterson and
Arian Foster come immediately to mind – are now becoming
injury concerns after providing their owners with good or elite
production all season long.
As I mentioned several times throughout the season, fantasy football
is a 16-week marathon. Pretenders can look good for a quarter
or even half of the race, but at some point, the grind of the
season will expose a team. In the worst-case scenario, a relatively
healthy fantasy team can lose it all in one bad playoff showing.
The best example of a team I own that encompasses everything
I have discussed up to this point is one of my big-money teams
that saw its season end last week. My regular lineup – the
one I had played for several weeks leading up to Week 15 in this
PPR league – is below:
After beginning the season 1-2, this team ripped off 10 straight
wins, captured the points title going away and secured a No. 1
seed. Despite some poor matchups in Week 15 (Steelers and Jets
played each other, making Holmes and Wallace somewhat dicey plays),
I was confident in my ability to pull out a win over a team I
outscored in 10 of 13 weeks during the fantasy regular season.
Little did I know that I was going to be handed one of the more
painful losses of my fantasy career.
Losing Rodgers last week was painful (while I was on a bye),
but thankfully I knew I had Jon Kitna in reserve in a relatively
soft matchup against the Redskins. What I did not expect was Foster’s
15 rushing yards (and injury), Charles just missing out on a long
TD run (and cramping which forced him from the game), Holmes suffering
a turf toe at some point, Wayne’s worst fantasy performance
against the Jags since Week 2 of the 2005 season or the Giants’
surrendering 35 points over a quarter and a half after holding
the Eagles to three points through 2 ˝ quarters. Had any
of these freak occurrences not happened this week, I would have
enjoyed putting both of my big-money teams in the title game.
Believe it or not, I’m not asking for sympathy. I offer
up this cautionary tale as an example of to the cruel reality
that sometimes strikes your fantasy team at the worst possible
time. A person cannot play this game for very long without learning
that a great team doesn’t always take home the fantasy title.
What it goes to show you is that despite thorough analysis and
research, a dream season can end with a thud.
On a more positive note, I am proud to announce that FF Today
is back in the SOFA
Auction League title game for the first time since 2006, when
the good guys defeated Rotoworld. As luck would have it, the two
“fantasy powers” meet again in 2010. While not at
the level of Patriots-Colts, it is interesting to note this will
be the fourth time in five years the two sites have met in the
playoffs. In my first year in the league in 2009, I guided FF
Today to the eighth-highest point total in league history. With
any luck in Week 16, I’ll find my way into the top four
this season. But all the scoring in previous weeks only looks
good if it continues through Championship Week and leads to a
With apologies to my loyal readers who count on my workload/target
breakdowns each week, I like to close each fantasy regular season
by setting the stage for next season. My rationale for doing this
is that I feel I perform a much greater good by establishing a
baseline for keeper and dynasty league owners while also paving
a path for owners in redraft leagues. Last season’s pre-Christmas
piece, A Matter of Trust, took
a look at the few players that were the most consistent fantasy
players in the game over the past two seasons. I’d like
to do the same thing again this season. (Please refer to the article
for further explanation if you require it.)
Using consistency scores
over the last two seasons, I decided to investigate which players
have been solid “foundation pieces” over the last
two seasons. Just as in school where 70% is a passing score, winning
about 70% of your games during a 13-week fantasy regular season
will leave you with a 9-4 record (.692 winning %), which will
almost always get you a playoff berth - if not a division title
and first-round bye. Using that same rationale, I'm setting the
bar at 70% consistency for all fantasy players (or players who
are subpar less than 30% of the time) across the board.
Because the "measuring sticks" change each year, I
cannot provide a firm fantasy point average for each position,
but rather the "subpar level" that each position recorded
that season. At QB, that measuring stick is 19.22 this season
and 17.83 fantasy points/game for 2009. At RB, the numbers are
12.29 and 12.95. WRs check in at 12.31 and 11.38 and TEs hover
around 10.79 and 10.56, respectively. Lastly, this analysis s
for 12-team PPR leagues (all TDs worth six points) that require
one starting QB and TE, two starting RBs and three starting WRs.)
Finally, I set the bar at a minimum of eight games played…I
think you'll be surprised by the results.
- Ray Rice
- Frank Gore
- Larry Fitzgerald
That’s it, folks…that’s the list. Over the
last two seasons, only three players have hit the aforementioned
benchmarks in 2009 and 2010. Taken one step further, Fitzgerald
is the only player in all of fantasy to “pass” this
test in each of the past three seasons. Consider the magnitude
of this list for a minute if you would. At QB, you need your fantasy
signal-caller to surpass 200 yards passing and two scores in seven
of every 10 games. At RB, the averages are 60 yards and a score
or 100 total yards with a couple of receptions. At WR, five catches
for 70 yards will do the trick and, at TE, five catches for 50
yards is just about enough.
Perhaps I'm being a bit unfair at setting the cutoff at 30%.
For those of you wanting to know, here is the list of additional
players that would make the cut over the last two seasons if I
raised the bar to 35%:
- Aaron Rodgers
- Adrian Peterson
- Steven Jackson
- Andre Johnson
If we were to make the cutoff at 40%, we'd also be assuming that
8-5 (.615 winning %) always gets fantasy owners into the playoffs,
which it does not. And we all know that somewhere along the way,
at least one of our fantasy opponents will make you their Super
Bowl, which shrinks the margin of error even further. Granted,
not all of your consistent players are going to hit rock bottom
in the same week, so I understand this analysis is a bit lacking
in some areas. With that said, it's becoming easier to see why
the gap between the #1 team and #10 team is about three games
in competitive leagues - we are dealing with a lot of mediocre
fantasy players, some much more so than others.
Granted, this season has been unusual even by the standards fantasy
owners have become accustomed to over the years. Peyton Manning,
Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew,
LaDainian Tomlinson, Greg Jennings and Vernon Davis all find themselves
less than 1% off the 35% mark in 2010 and only need to perform
at the aforementioned scoring benchmarks over the final two weeks
to qualify this season. Regardless, the point still should be
made that in-season management (and a bit of luck) goes a long
way to securing fantasy championships.
As I write the Blitz for the final time in 2010, I'll leave you
with a short to-do list in order to improve as a fantasy owner
in time for next year. (Believe me, I'm a far-from-perfect fantasy
At the end of each season, I like to sit back and take inventory
on what exactly happened along with any thoughts about how that
could potentially impact the next season. Just like with anything
else, the sooner you complete this process, the more you'll likely
remember what happened and how it happened. Case in point: Anquan
Boldin was the ninth-best WR in PPR leagues after Week 7 (averaging
17.1 fantasy points/game). Since the Ravens’ Week 8 bye, he is
averaging less than 10 points/game (9.1 to be exact), good for
57th place at his position. Are we really to believe one of the
great receivers in the league is trending down at age 30? Probably
not, as opponents began to double team him or use bracket coverage
on him consistently about the same time his stats started declining.
With viable threats all over the field, Joe
Flacco simply doesn’t need to force-feed his stud receiver
the ball. Now, if Derrick
Mason was to retire, T.J.
Houshmandzadeh leaves in free agency and Todd
Heap’s $4.6 M salary for 2011 is deemed to be too much for
an injury-prone TE with two talented rookies at his position in
reserve, Boldin quickly becomes a 10-target/game receiver again.
Here are some other situations to consider: Does Ryan Fitzpatrick’s
mid-season emergence in mean Buffalo doesn’t draft a QB
this spring? If they do draft a top-tier prospect, does that negatively/positively
affect the value of someone like Steve Johnson? Does the complete
restructuring the Bengals are almost certain to undergo turn them
into a fantasy black hole? Is Peyton Hillis’ recent decline
due a heavy workload or because defenses have realized he is the
only reliable source of offense for the Browns?
Something else I like to do as the current fantasy season winds
down is get a head start on the talent evaluation period for the
next fantasy season. This not only includes watching every bit
of NFL playoff action I can, but also involves taking in as many
of the college bowl games as possible. (Bowl season is a great
time to evaluate talent as well as seeing which players can perform
when the pressure is at its apex.) With over 70 teams playing
in the college postseason nowadays, the chances that you will
see next year's fantasy rookie contributors in action are very
I also try to form a "wish list" for each team (do
the Redskins select University of Washington Jake Locker or try
to convince us that Rex Grossman or John Beck is the future, for
example), understanding that an addition/subtraction from one
area of a team affects several players. The trick is understanding
which additions/subtractions help take pressure off the players
on a team (and thereby increase their effectiveness) and which
additions/subtractions put more pressure on players (causing you
to decide whether a player on his old team will get more touches,
see more double teams or something else entirely).
Does that sound like a lot? It's not. And understand going in,
you will be wrong more than you care to admit. But this preparation
helps you hit the ground running a lot easier in May and June
when it is time to start forming some opinions about the upcoming
season while your competition is, well, not doing much football-related.
Lastly, I try to put together a mini-Big Board at the end of
the fantasy season to leave me with some impression of how I feel
about the top 50-100 players heading into next season. Just for
fun, I’ll put together a top 20 list (PPR scoring) that
is subject to change about as quickly as I submit this article.
After each player, I will provide a brief explanation as to the
concerns his fantasy owners should have entering the offseason.
It’s hard to argue with the top-scoring fantasy player as
the top fantasy prospect for next season. However, I am slightly
concerned by the return of second-round rookie Ben Tate (does
he steal significant snaps or just replace Derrick Ward?) and
any changes Houston may make with its coaching staff (HC Gary
Kubiak, OC Rick Dennison). I tend to believe he’ll remain
the clear-cut feature back and that Kubiak/Dennison will return,
but none of the above occurrences are locks to happen.
Is it crazy to believe this high ranking is possible for a RB
who often gets less than 15 carries/game? It shouldn’t be.
Brian Westbrook was a fantasy force in this offense for years
and that was without the threat of Michael Vick to scare opposing
defenses. My concerns in regards to McCoy are that Vick takes
a lot of hits (and without his QB, he goes from a top fantasy
player to an above-average one) and that his biggest competition
for scoring TDs on the ground is the very player handing him the
As mentioned in this column
a couple of weeks ago, Charles is in rarified air in terms of
his current 6.4 YPC. His biggest concern heading into the offseason
is the same one it was heading into this season: how much work
will Thomas Jones steal from him? With his role becoming more
certain, the Chiefs becoming a stable franchise again and his
new contract befitting of an upper-echelon RB, Charles should
be a strong and stable fantasy force – with great upside
– in 2011.
Last summer, CJ’s preseason contract demands and threat
of a holdout made him a bit of a risk. This season, the potential
losses of Vince Young and HC Jeff Fisher may be the biggest concerns.
If Fisher goes, the commitment to a strong running game may leave
with him while a VY departure keeps the opponents’ focus
solely on stopping Johnson. It’s hard to put a RB with his
talent and established role at #4, but there is reason for concern
here in 2011.
This ranking is sure to create some controversy, but I don’t
believe there is a finer fantasy QB available. Consider for a
second that Rodgers lost his RB (Ryan Grant) in Week 1 and most-talented
playmaker in the passing game (TE Jermichael Finley) in Week 5.
Throw in a three-game stretch in which trusted security blanket
Donald Driver was either unavailable or shouldn’t have played
and you have a QB who is still carrying fantasy teams. My only
concern with Rodgers in 2011 is if he will be asked to carry the
Packers’ ground game again and what that would mean for
him in the durability department.
Without a doubt, we have seen this year what can happen when an
ultra-athletic QB can do when he learns how to play the position
and is open to coaching. Still, this ranking scares me and it
has nothing to do with his off-field history because he refuses
to slide when he leaves the pocket and isn’t exactly built to
take a great deal of punishment, Vick is a poor bet each year
to play a full slate of games. But, oh, what he can do when healthy…
Meet this fantasy generation’s version of Tiki Barber. Because
Thunder (with Willis McGahee playing the role of Ron Dayne) continues
to cap the scoring potential of Lightning, Rice owners can only
hope that McGahee’s hefty 2011 salary is traded/released
in the offseason and OC Cam Cameron elects to see what the Rutgers
alum can do with his 300+ touches AND goal-line duties. Whereas
many of the players on this list will have slight-to-significant
concerns to overcome in 2011, Rice only needs a player who should
already be off the roster to leave in order to soar up this list.
This ranking has nothing to do with his immense talent and everything
to do with the situation in Minnesota. AP was a stud before Brett
Favre and will still be one after he retires, but expecting him
to put up his typical numbers with Joe Webb or a rookie QB next
season behind an offensive line that is not what it once was may
be asking too much. He’ll probably extend his four-year
stretch of at least 10 TDs and 4.4 YPC to five in 2011, but a
lot of work needs to get done in Minnesota this offseason if owners
expect him to be the #1 RB next season.
It’s easy to forget when AJ is putting up the numbers he
is this season that he has done it for the most part on an ankle
that isn’t anywhere close to 100%. Whereas many players
enter the offseason with potential threats to their workload or
targets, that does not appear to be the case for Johnson anytime
soon. Only Owen Daniels is a viable weekly threat – besides
Johnson – in this offense, but Daniels’ return to
full health should mean Johnson draws less attention. Combine
that with a thriving ground game and Johnson could enjoy a career
season in 2011 if he can stay healthy.
Much like Andre Johnson, White’s situation could not be
much better for his fantasy prospects. Tony Gonzalez (assuming
he doesn’t retire) will still draw enough coverage to him
that White doesn’t always have to face impossible coverage.
Matt Ryan also trusts him in any situation, meaning he is about
as matchup-proof as receivers get. White falls just behind AJ
on this list because of Gonzalez’s age and inevitable decline.
If he ends up retiring after the season, White’s numbers
could fall back to pre-Gonzo levels.
Much like he did in 2008, “Megatron” is once again
showing the world what he is capable of despite a revolving door
at the QB position. His biggest concern, as was the case in 2009,
is staying healthy because his floor each season is about 1,200
yards and 10 TDs. If Detroit is ever able to keep Matthew Stafford,
Jahvid Best and Johnson healthy for an entire season, this receiver
could post numbers that would rival some of Randy Moss’
People are going to look at Brees’ high INT total this season
and say 2010 was a disappointing season for the QB. But let’s
keep in mind that much like Aaron Rodgers, he missed his RB (Pierre
Thomas) and one of his most dynamic playmakers in the passing
game (Reggie Bush). And despite that, he’s very likely to
eclipse 4,300 yards passing and 34 TDs for the third straight
season. Further consider rookie TE Jimmy Graham is only going
to make this offense harder to defend. In such an attack-oriented
offense with so many weapons and no one threatening his job, he’s
about as sure of a thing as there is in fantasy.
Philip Rivers: In case you hadn't noticed...
In case you hadn’t noticed, Rivers is an elite QB. And what
he has done with an ever-changing cast of receivers and tight
ends is nothing short of amazing, so his ranking behind Brees
is a matter of personal preference. His concerns going forward:
1) the unlikely return of Vincent Jackson and Darren Sproles and
2) the healthy return of Antonio Gates. As I have already stated,
he overcome injury after injury in 2010, so it will take something
like HC Norv Turner putting a heavier emphasis on the running
game to alter this ranking downward.
It’s hard to remember before tossing 11 INTs over a three-game
stretch, Manning had six zero-pick games through 10 weeks. But
regardless of his recent rough spell, it is the same as it always
was for Manning. He will carry this offense and hope the running
game holds up its end on occasion. But unlike the other QBs on
this list, his concerns are a bit troubling for the first time
in his career. At what point does the porous offensive line expose
him to injury? And, heading into his age-35 season, how much longer
can he be expected to post his ho-hum 4,500-yard, 30-TD seasons?
If it weren’t for his history with hamstring injuries, McFadden
might be considered for a top-five spot on this list. His 2011
concerns for fantasy owners are pretty clear: 1) does Michael
Bush continue to be an occasional thorn in his side, 2) does OC
Hue Jackson get a head-coaching nod, and 3) can any Raiders’
offensive player be trusted with a first-round pick in fantasy?
There’s enough risk here that a second-round pick in 12-team
league is warranted, but he has enough talent to be the top fantasy
RB in 2011 if he stays healthy and none of his aforementioned
concerns sabotage his numbers.
It seems almost unthinkable to make a three-time Super Bowl champion
QB who has a 31:4 TD-INT ratio the sixth-ranked signal-caller
on this list. But the difference between Brady and every other
QB listed so far is that he isn’t always the sole reason
his offense does so well. Because the offense is balanced and
the gameplan each week is more matchup-specific than any other
team in the league, Brady will sometimes post decent – rather
than stellar – passing totals. As a result, his major concern
is his own offense’s balance, something that doesn’t
figure to change anytime soon.
Just about every Steelers’ offensive linemen (especially
RT Willie Colon and LT Max Starks) has missed substantial time
and/or has logged some serious time at a different position than
the one he started the season at, which makes Mendenhall’
2010 season rather remarkable. Considering just how much turmoil
his blockers have experienced, it’s a pretty good bet that
we’ve seen the floor of Mendenhall’s fantasy potential
this season, which is pretty darn good. Assuming he continues
to hold off the likes of Isaac Redman for goal line work, Mendy’s
biggest concern in 2011 is a repeat of this year.
I know, I know…seems awful low for a breakout RB, right?
To be honest, it probably is. With his all-around production,
only a weak supporting cast figures to slow him down. As we have
seen lately, teams have finally wised up on letting someone other
than Hillis beat them. My main worry, however, may be a more legitimate
but forgotten concern – the return of Montario Hardesty.
Because the second-round runner has been an injury risk for some
time, it may not be a huge threat. But if we combine the lack
of a passing game staple with a threat to his touches, then perhaps
it becomes clearer as to why Hillis may not be worth a first-round
pick next season.
Despite the fact he has performed at a top-10 fantasy RB level
in each of his two seasons as the Jags’ feature back, MJD
has yet to put together a complete season. In 2009, he was the
main weapon in the red zone (16 TDs) but his workload was somewhat
inconsistent and he did not produce at a high level in fantasy
over the second half of the season. This year, it has been just
the opposite. With his work in the passing game decreasing for
the second straight season and Rashad Jennings starting to relieve
him more often, owners would be wise to lower their expectations
for a RB the Jags just don’t seem to know how to use correctly.
Suffice it to say, this ranking is more of an indictment on Jacksonville’s
usage of MJD than it is a slap in the face to his talent.
One of my favorite all-time college players, it is sad that Jackson
is closer to the end of his pro career than the beginning. Based
solely on his age (27), Jackson should just now be entering his
prime. But with 1,843 carries (and counting) and 2,163 regular
season touches already on his odometer, he’s going to need
Sam Bradford & Co. to help keep him among the low-end RB1
– which is exactly what I expect to happen in 2011 and possibly
2012. However, for Jackson to keep this ranking (over someone
like Jahvid Best or Hakeem Nicks), the Rams will need to find
a legit WR1 so Jackson is not always playing against an eight-man
Just missed the list: Reggie
Let the debate begin…please check out the “Road
to the Super Bowl” series coming your way in two weeks.
Until then, Happy Holidays!!!
Suggestions, comments, musings about the article or fantasy football
in general? e-mail me.