2009 Year In Review – AFC & NFC
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.
It’s never easy for a person to admit their mistakes. It’s
even harder to do so in front of a national audience. But admitting
– and learning from – one’s mistakes is a vital
part to growing and becoming a better person and, for the purposes
of this four-part series of articles, a better fantasy prognosticator.
There are many fantasy “experts” that would not dare
do what I am about to do, which is look back at their projections
from late August or early September of last season and revisit
their triumphs as well as their regrets. (And yes, I was as shockingly
off on some of my projections just about as often as I was right
on the mark.) But I believe this is a useful exercise for all
parties involved and perhaps will give even more credence to my
belief in the PSAs. At the very lNorth, it should allow each of
us to see just how much faith I should have in my ability to “predict
the schedule” and how much trust I deserve from each of
you when I do so.
After much debate on how I should go about deciding whether or
not I projected a player accurately, I finally settled on the
system that I explain over the next few paragraphs. It didn’t
make much sense to stack up my 15-game forecasts against the player’s
actual 16-game numbers and with the number of teams that have
essentially taken Week 17 off recently (if not most of December),
it seemed prudent to measure each player on their points-per-game
average. The next step was deciding how to measure accuracy. Again,
a simple hit-miss system was too rigid, so I added two more categories
to analyze the accuracy of my projections.
Hit: my projection was within +/-
1 FPPG (fantasy point per game)
On-Target: my projection was within
+/- 1.1 and 3 FPPG
Off-Target: my projection was within
+/- 3.1 and 5 FPPG
Miss: my projection missed by more
than 5 FPPG
Before we dive into the heart of this walk down memory lane,
I want to explain two more areas I decided to address: 1) the
percentage listed next to the “hit”, “on-target”.
“off-target” and “miss” and 2) the names
listed after the percentage. The percentage is simply a reflection
of how much each of those four standards fit into the accuracy
“pie” while the names reflect the players who actually
fell into that category. (For example, Chicago ended up with six
greens out of a possible 14 – seven PPR and seven non-PPR
projections – so I ended up “hitting” on 43%
of my projections for the Bears.) Finally, I will hand myself
a grade at the end of each “team report”, with weight
on that grade being given to the quality of player. For example,
a miss on a player like Aaron Rodgers would send my grade down
much more than a miss on Jordy Nelson. Conversely, a hit on Rodgers
would skyrocket my grade much more than a hit on Nelson.
Explanations of column headers below:
PPR Margin – The difference
(plus or minus) between a player’s actual FPPG and the FPPG
I projected for him prior to the start of the 2009 season in PPR
NPPR Margin – The difference
(plus or minus) between a player’s actual FPPG and the FPPG
I projected for him prior to the start of the 2009 season in non-PPR
Actual PPR – The amount
of FPPG a player scored during the 2009 season in PPR leagues.
Actual NPPR – The amount
of FPPG a player scored during the 2009 season in non-PPR leagues.
PPR Avg – The FPPG average
I projected for the player prior to the start of the 2009 season
in PPR leagues.
NPPR Avg – The FPPG average
I projected for the player prior to the start of the 2009 season
in non-PPR leagues.
| Color Codes
Hits – (19%) Mason, Clayton (PPR). In my continued quest to
not aggressively promote my forecasting skills, I’ll just
say that Mason wasn’t a difficult projection as he entered
2009 as the unquestioned lead WR (something that will not be the
case this season). As far as year-to-year production, there are
very few players who consistently post at least 70 catches, 1,000
yards and 5-7 TDs.
On-Target – (31%) Flacco, McGahee, Clayton (non-PPR). Because
I will attempt to convince everyone below that I really wasn’t
too far off on Rice below, I’ll fess up to getting lucky
with Flacco, as it took an injury and near collapse of his first-half
play for my projection to fall into on-target range. McGahee was
a difficult projection last summer (as most goal-line specialists
are), so given how good I was feeling about Rice as the preseason
went on, I’m happy to end up in the blue on McGahee.
Off-Target – (31%) McClain, Rice, Smith and Heap (the last
three in non-PPR). I feel the worst about my Heap projection,
but once again, it’s easy to be well off on a projection
when the OC announces during the summer that his #1 TE would stay
in and block the majority of the time. Going forward, we have
to assume that 2009 will represent the ceiling of what Heap can
do production-wise with the incoming talent (Anquan Boldin and
two solid pass-catching rookie TEs).
Misses – (19%) Rice, Smith,
Heap (all PPR). The only one I’ll address here is Rice,
who I actually promoted here as
a player I felt had a legit shot at becoming a first-round fantasy
pick in 2010. Once again, I sold him a bit short in final Big
Board (which was my last projection release), so I’m bound
to stick to that instead. One trend that is developing recently
with Cam Cameron-coached offenses is that he spends the first
quarter of the season resting the player he is eyeballing as his
feature back (or at the very least, evaluating the talent he has
at RB) before choosing his man and making him his bellcow. Since
leaving San Diego years ago, he has played the same frustrating
game with Ronnie Brown (and the unforgettable Jesse Chatman) in
Miami and now with Rice and McGahee in Baltimore, one season after
making Le’Ron McClain the man to own of all the Ravens’
Grade: B Oh, what perfect
symmetry! It’d be easy to grade this a “B-“
or “C+” because of Rice, but I feel somewhat justified
by giving myself a solid “B” as my final analysis
of Rice would have been on-target. Otherwise, I’m not too
concerned about missing on Smith and Heap and more pleased with
the players I either hit on or was on-target with like Mason and
Hits – (25%) Ochocinco, Leonard. Last year’s most famous
football-playing boxer used his newfound knowledge of the sweet
science to reclaim his good standing with fantasy owners after a
dismal 2008. Will “Dancing With The Stars” help him
relive the days where he was a shoo-in for 85 catches, 1,300 yards
and 7-9 TDs or has the running game become the preferred method
of attack in Cincinnati? While our favorite outspoken wideout is
turning 32 and may have already seen his best fantasy years, he’s
the type of WR that will age well in the league because he is such
a good route runner. Certainly, the quickness that helps him separate
now will gradually decrease, but his production will remain right
about where it was in 2009 over the next 2-3 years, plus or minus
a FPPG or two.
On-Target – (19%) Benson, Caldwell (non-PPR). While even
my most optimistic projection did not have Benson challenging
for the NFL rushing crown at any point during last season, I dropped
roughly 200 yards off from my early projections for him after
concluding that he lacked explosion after watching “Hard
Knocks” and all their preseason games. Apparently, he and
the Bengals’ line was playing at half-speed in the preseason
because when the regular season rolled around, Cincinnati made
a lot of good rushing defenses look pretty average. The lesson
to be learned here is that until further notice, the Bengals will
almost always feature a single RB (usually a one-dimensional power
runner) and complement him with a pass-catching complement.
Off-Target – (44%) Palmer, Scott, Caldwell (PPR), Coles
and Henry (both non-PPR). How volatile can a projection be? Through
the first half of last season, Palmer was on pace for 3,664 yards,
28 TDs and 14 INTs. (My projection was 3,885-26-13.) Then, without
much of a warning, he went for 1,262-7-6 in the second half and
rumors about the health of his elbow were rampant. Why? Well,
this may be one of those rare cases where we should listen to
the player himself, as Palmer cited the importance of Henry ability
to stretch the field despite his lack of production. The numbers
seem to back that up because after Henry was lost for the season
in Week 9 (obviously prior to his unfortunate passing), Palmer’s
numbers dropped off dramatically.
Misses – (12%) Coles, Henry (both PPR). By far, one of
the worst misses of my projections was the impact of Coles. Once
again – as I did with several players – I soured on
him shortly my final Big Board, but he was brutal. Certainly,
Palmer wasn’t nearly as accurate as he has been throughout
his career, but how often were his poor passes thrown in the direction
of Coles? Quite often, as I recall. There’s something to
be said about a QB and a WR who just never appear to be on the
Grade: B Certainly, the
projection of Coles wasn’t my greatest work, but forecasting
the rebound of Ochocinco and actually being on-target with Benson
should win the day as both players were more highly regarded in
fantasy drafts last summer (and thus counted on more).
Hits – (7%) Massaquoi (non-PPR). I predicted the Browns
to be pretty bad last year and they didn’t disappoint in
that regard. In fact, their offense was historically futile for
much of the season. With that in mind, it comes as some surprise
that I was pretty accurate on Massaquoi, who I felt would be a
typical rookie. What I did not expect was that he would be the
Browns’ “lead” WR by the time October rolled
On-Target – (57%) Quinn, Lewis, Harrison, Edwards (non-PPR),
Massaquoi (PPR). I’m not sure if this is a victory of sorts
or not. Forecasting a drop-off from Lewis did not require a great
deal of foresight, but I’m pretty pleased about being in
the ballpark with Harrison and Edwards. While many folks labeled
Edwards as a fourth-round-caliber WR, I was pretty confident about
not wanting him anywhere until after the seventh (and I didn’t
get him). It turns out I need to be even more pessimistic with
him than I was. Harrison, unfortunately, was a bit better than
what I’m sure the Browns hoped. What do I mean? Because
of Harrison’s December explosion, he forced the Cleveland
brass to re-adjust their end-game with him as the Browns probably
would have preferred him remaining in the third-down RB role they’ve
had him pigeonholed into since he joined the team.
Off-Target – (21%) Anderson, Edwards (PPR). Missing the
boat on Anderson can’t be considered a big deal in just
about any league simply because I doubt anyone was counting on
him to do much after Quinn won the QB battle in training camp.
Once again, Edwards was too easily covered in most games and suffered
from lapses of concentration when he did have his chances to make
Misses – (14%) Robiskie. To this day, I still can’t
believe how little Robiskie saw the field. Certainly, he’s
not the greatest athlete but his route-running and smarts should
have led him to some decent level of production in 2009. Instead,
he saw action in only 11 games and finished with seven catches.
Fortunately, I only promoted him as a good bye-week fill-in and
Grade: B+ Because Cleveland’s
offense was so pathetic for most of the season, it’s hard
to grade because all anyone had to do was predict about eight
FPPG in PPR for any Browns’ fantasy player and five FPPG
in non-PPR and they would have done pretty well. In the end, hitting
on Massaquoi overrides missing on Robiskie and my on-target players
meant much more in fantasy than any of the off-target players.
Hits – (7%) Holmes (non-PPR). Typically, I’ve been
pretty good about predicting what Ward will do from year to year.
While I wasn’t too far off with him, I was much better with
Holmes in 2009. So far in his four-year career, Holmes has been
a big-play WR (well over 16 YPC for his career) that has been
stopped short of the end zone (five TDs or less in three of his
On-Target – (43%) Mendenhall, Ward, Holmes (PPR), Wallace
(non-PPR). If only I could have brought Big Ben and Miller to
this party, I could have really enjoyed this particular team summary.
As is, I’m glad that I was within reason on Mendenhall as
Parker’s fall from the starting lineup was fast and furious.
To be fair, prior to the San Diego game when Mendenhall locked
down the starting job, I can’t remember the last time I
saw the combination of such huge holes and powerful running from
a single rusher in the same game as I did the night when Pittsburgh
destroyed the Chargers on the ground in 2009. Under this current
offensive arrangement, Steelers’ third WRs will always be
worthy of fantasy consideration because Big Ben has the arm and
each WR (Nate Washington and Wallace are the most recent examples)
has more than enough speed to make his fantasy team’s day
on just one catch.
Off-Target – (14%) Wallace (PPR), Miller (non-PPR). Long
one of my favorite TEs because he is one of the few “every-generation”
kind of players at his position, Miller showed off his great hands
that led him to catch nearly 80% of the passes thrown his way
in 2009 en route to career-best numbers almost across the board.
Misses – (36%) Roethlisberger, Parker, Miller (PPR). For
far too long, I have predicted that Big Ben’s activity in
the pocket would ultimately lead to an untimely injury. I may
need to back off that stance because he just continues to play
game after game despite taking about 3-4 sacks per contest. While
Parker was far from “Fast Willie”, the Steelers’
o-line did next to nothing to help him, so some of the blame rests
on the front five.
Grade: D+ Ouch. Even though
I have preached year after year that OC Bruce Arians is a coach
who loves to throw the ball, he took it to a new level last year
and it resulted in a pretty ugly chart above. As you can likely
tell, the extra passing plays made a fool out of me and big winners
for anyone who stole Roethlisberger and Miller in their drafts.
I saved myself from a failing grade with my projections of Ward,
Holmes and Mendenhall, but there’s too much red on the board
to feel good about my work with the Steelers.
Hits – (43%) Cutler, Hester, Clark. Cutler is a classic
example of a player that probably performed just about as he should
have all things considered (weak supporting cast, new surroundings
and offense), but due to the lofty expectations heaped onto him
from the start, he was bound to “bust” in his first
year as a Bear. However, let’s not forget he threw for a
career-high 27 TD passes last season. Yes, his 2009 campaign will
be remembered for four games in which he threw at least three
INTs, but how much of that was his “gunslinger” ways
and how much of that was a result of a running game that was atrocious?
It often takes the perfect storm for a QB to thrive in his first
year with a new team, so keep that in mind for anyone expecting
big things from Donovan McNabb this fall. I was quite pleased
to find out that I was so close on Hester. However, he possesses
all the physical traits a receiver needs to produce in this league,
so I took a roll of the dice on his natural talent overcoming
his inexperience at WR and it paid off nicely for me.
On-Target – (28.5%) Bennett, Davis and Olsen (the last
two in non-PPR). Bennett was a player many folks had a good feeling
about last season, but I doubt many came as close to hitting his
FPPG as I did. Regardless, I feel pretty good about getting as
close as I did on him. (Now, if only Chicago could have made Olsen
the focus of the passing game they had promised to, I could have
handed myself a better grade!) If there was a more maddening TE
in fantasy last season, I don’t know who he was. While he
was setting career highs across the board, Olsen’s weekly
consistency likely resulted in a number of headaches for his fantasy
owners. And as much as I’d like to tell each of you what
the lesson to be learned here was, the fact of the matter is that
he could have easily been a Brent Celek clone in fantasy with
just a bit more consistency.
Off-Target – (28.5%) Forte, Davis and Olsen (the last two
in PPR). While some would call what Forte went through last season
a “sophomore slump”, others would suggest he was doomed
from the start. The former Tulane product lacked the lateral quickness
he showed as a rookie almost from the start (reportedly due to
a weight gain), fought through a handful of injuries and suffered
from some of the worst run-blocking Chicago fans have seen in
years. All this obviously contributed to a lack of confidence
in running abilities, although he was able to manage the same
kind of receiving numbers (minus the TDs) he did as a rookie.
Misses – (0%)
Grade: B No one in their
right mind saw the kind of falloff Forte experienced last season.
It’s actually quite surprising to me that I managed an “off-target”
with him. Still, he was a “miss” grade-wise because
he was a top-three pick in most drafts. Fortunately, no actual
misses and hits on two important fantasy players in Cutler and
Hester leave me with a good taste in my mouth. Scoring an “on-target”
with one of 2009’s favorite sleepers in Bennett rounds out
a nice team summary.
Hits – (25%) Pettigrew, B. Johnson, Northcutt (the last
two in non-PPR). Even though he didn’t make much of an impact
in fantasy, hitting on Pettigrew was a definite feather in my
cap. Rookie TEs are among the most difficult to forecast, so I
am pleased from a personal standpoint about my forecast on Pettigrew.
Bryant Johnson was fairly easy to project because there was little
reason to believe he was going to do much more in Detroit with
a rookie QB than he had in San Francisco or Arizona, that is,
tease fantasy owners with a handful of decent games and disappear
for long stretches of the season.
On-Target – (43%) Culpepper, Smith, B. Johnson and Northcutt
(both PPR) and Morris (non-PPR). The 2009 season started off promisingly
enough for Smith and his owners, but after three weeks, Detroit
really struggled to run the ball with any degree of success –
certainly not to the level a Scott Linehan-offense is accustomed
to rushing the football. Smith’s biggest culprits for his
limited success last year were injuries (always tough to project)
and a line that just didn’t generate much push up front.
Off-Target – (25%) Stafford, Morris (PPR), C. Johnson (non-PPR).
Stafford was a tough projection (as most rookie QBs are). Sure,
they may have all the physical tools to succeed, but each coach
has his own preference on when to make his QB of the future the
QB of the present. Considering how much of the season Johnson
played injured and/or faced relentless double- or triple-teams,
it’s pretty amazing Stafford held up as well as he did.
Misses – (7%) C. Johnson (PPR). Continuing my thought from
above on Johnson, I place most of the blame for his poor fantasy
season on those two key factors – injuries and the lack
of a quality running mate. Injuries have dogged Johnson in two
of his three seasons in the league, but it’s hard to say
that he’s injury prone quite yet. Rather than learning from
a mistake here, I’m more apt to predict huge numbers for
him again this season, simply because I’m not going to miss
out on the fun when he revisits (or surpasses) his 2008 totals.
It’s not only that he is always a mismatch for any CB, it’s
that he is a hard worker as well. I tend to believe when his career
comes to an end in 10 or so years, we’ll look back at 2009
as the exception much more than the rule.
Grade: B It’s very
tough to grade my projections regarding the 2009 Lions. On one
hand, I missed on the most important fantasy player they had,
but I feel strongly that injuries made him a shell of his 2008
self. I’ll still dock myself a bit regardless, but I feel
very good that two-thirds of my projections for the Lions were
in the “hit” or “on-target” categories.
Hits – (39%) Grant, Jones, Jackson and Driver (both PPR),
Nelson (non-PPR). For whatever reason, some players (in all sports)
only start “heating up” after half the season is over.
For as long as he has been the Packers’ lead back, Grant
has been one of those second-half standouts. Over the last three
years and with 18 fewer carries in the second half of the season,
Grant has rushed for over 100 more yards, averaged a better YPC
(3.8 first-half, 4.5 second-half) and scored twice as many rushing
touchdowns (10 to 5). Just keep this nugget in mind when you own
(or trade for) him this season…
On-Target – (28%) Wynn, Nelson (PPR), Jackson and Driver
(both non-PPR). For the same reasons Jennings suffered early on
(poor tackle play), Driver thrived. Sooner or later, the 35-year-old’s
fantasy contributions will start to dwindle. But he has been a
remarkably consistent 13 PPG producer in PPR the past three years
and may not fall very far from that again in 2010.
Off-Target – (33%) Rodgers, Jennings, Finley. Once again,
my final Big Board did not reflect my final true feelings on Rodgers
or Finley, but I still would have never forecasted such incredible
seasons for either player. I thought with a rejuvenated Grant
that Rodgers would not be quite as active as a runner (particularly
at the goal line). Instead, he ran just as much as he did in 2008
and did so more effectively. Finley became an absolute matchup
nightmare once he returned from injury; it’s hard to remember
the last time a TE made such incredible strides from his rookie
year to his second season in the production department. I feel
the worst about Jennings, who really suffered early on when the
Packers’ offensive tackles were giving sacks up left and
right. As the protection improved, so did Jennings’ fantasy
Misses – (0%)
Grade: B Am I getting soft
on my grading? Perhaps. However, not finding any red on an offensive
juggernaut like the Packers has to be worth a lot. Had I been
closer on Rodgers and/or Jennings, I would be giving myself an
A or A-, but it was not to be. The key here is that while the
gap was significant on Rodgers, I was already predicting elite
QB numbers for him, so that lessens the blow to my grade somewhat.
Either way, nailing Grant’s contributions to fantasy owners
make me feel pretty strongly about the grade.
Hits – (28.5%) Peterson, Harvin (PPR), Taylor (non-PPR).
As bad as I feel about the Sidney Rice projection below, I feel
that good about Peterson’s. Amazingly, as 18-TD seasons
go in the league, just about everyone in fantasy circles was disappointed
in him - much of that disappointment arose due to his continued
ball-security issues and his less-than-AP-like 4.4 YPC. Still,
Peterson was amazingly consistent in both PPR and non-PPR (as
reflected by his third-place and second-place CRANK score finish
in those formats, respectively). With the departure of Taylor
in the offseason, his role is only going to grow.
On-Target – (28.5%) Shiancoe, Taylor (PPR), Harvin (non-PPR).
When I first noticed how much variance there was between my projections
for Harvin’s PPR and non-PPR numbers, I naturally assumed
I missed on rushing yards (I projected 230 for him). As it turned
out, I was wrong to believe Minnesota would use him near as much
in “Wildcat” packages as they let on last summer,
so he didn’t have much of an opportunity to run for the
two scores I had forecasted. I was also wrong to believe the Vikings
would gradually phase Taylor out in favor of Harvin, however,
I expect Harvin to be the biggest beneficiary – along with
Peterson – of Taylor’s departure. Regardless of whether
or not I’ve said it enough yet, Shiancoe is another example
of a player that I needed to trust my gut on last year. Certainly,
I wasn’t far off on him, but Favre has long loved his TEs
(regardless of the talent he’s had at WR through the years),
especially in the red zone. I won’t project another 11-TD
outburst for him, but he’s probably in line for at least
another 7-9 scores in 2010.
Off-Target – (14.5%) Berrian. The former Bear was hampered
by a hamstring for most of the preseason. By the time he returned
to playable health, Rice had secured all the love Favre had to
give. Still, Rice was going to break out in 2009 regardless of
who was playing QB simply because he was healthy for the first
time as a Viking, but Berrian’s early-season injury woes
only made the opening that much larger for Rice.
Misses – (28.5%) Favre, Rice. What can anyone say about
Favre? Even in his 40s, if he is playing for an NFL team, he will
find someway to make that team rely on his arm, even if said team
employs one of the best RBs in the game. While I don’t feel
too bad about missing on Favre, I feel absolutely terrible for
believing that Berrian, not Rice, would benefit the most from
Favre in 2009. Naturally, part of my reason for thinking that
was the fact Rice couldn’t stay healthy in his first two
seasons. Still, it was idiotic for me not to be just a bit more
optimistic on Rice than I was last summer.
Grade: B- As easy as it
would be to gloat over Peterson, Harvin and Shiancoe, it’s
hard to forgive myself for Favre and especially Rice. Granted,
very few expected Favre to put together a season for the ages
in 2009, but I stand behind my belief that Rice’s breakout
was going to happen last year regardless of whether Favre, Tarvaris
Jackson or Sage Rosenfels was leading the team (although his numbers
would have been significantly less with either of the last two
QBs) because he was healthy for the first time.
Suggestions, comments, musings about the article or fantasy football
in general? E-mail me.