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Preseason Schedule Analysis: RBs

Welcome back to my PSA training course, Day 2.

I think all of us would be happy fantasy owners if we each were able to select a 15-20 fantasy point-per-game producer at RB and leave it at that.

But while I would certainly like to suggest that my approach to projecting the season can take any owner through the season unbeaten, the fact is there aren’t too many fantasy teams in competitive fantasy leagues that resemble the 2007 editions of Miami Dolphins or New York Jets.

As we all know, as much as fantasy football can be all about the stud fantasy RB, there are other positions we need to address as well and are pivotal to a fantasy team’s success. As more and more teams start sharing the load two (and sometimes three) ways in the backfield, it is getting more important each year to find the QBs, WRs and TEs that can, like a #1 RB, carry a fantasy team to victory in any given week.

At the very least, I hope this exercise will help all its readers re-think their approach to how they enter the fantasy football season. As great as some of these players are, there are only a handful (if even that many) that can overcome a bad situation to still produce useful fantasy totals. While notions such as the “third-year theory” for receivers are good ones to at least consider, look past the icing on the cake and see why the “cake” itself should be good.

The “skill-position” talent in the NFL is amazing and spread out very well, meaning even the most minor of details is worth considering. All too often though, fantasy owners (and even fantasy “experts”) don’t strongly consider what I think is one of the top five most important factors in a player’s fantasy success – along with his talent, the supporting cast and the offensive system – and that is the schedule.

Because I addressed my feelings on the conventional way of fantasy prognostication in the first part of this series, I feel it is time to dive right in to the passing game part of this series.

Step 1

(If this looks familiar, it is, as it is step 1 from my previous article. I am only placing it here for convenience purposes, so feel free to skip ahead to step 2 if you feel comfortable about my rationale leading into the actual process.)

Before I do anything, I spend most of the early part of the summer reviewing changes made to a team’s personnel. Did the team bring in a rookie QB? A new head coach or coordinator? If they did bring a new coach/coordinator, what side of the ball did he specialize in? Did the team change their offensive line coach? What draft picks did the team make and how quickly do I think they will impact the team? What free agents did the team add/subtract from the roster?

Those are just a handful of questions I ask myself while taking the first step in my summer-long journey, which is figuring each team’s yards per carry (YPC) allowed and yards per attempt (YPA) allowed.

The first question I would expect is: why would anyone care about YPC and YPA allowed? While many things in fantasy football are constantly in a state of flux, I have found YPC against for the running game and YPA against for the passing game to be excellent predictors of how successful a defense is (or in this case, will be).

Step 2

After setting up a blank spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel, I go through the painstaking process of entering in each player that figures to have fantasy relevancy throughout the season. (In other words, a team’s starting QB – and sometimes their backup, depending on the team – two RBs, three WRs (except in rare cases at both positions) and at least one TE. I then add the schedule and, in this case, the YPA allowed under each opponent to keep my expectations in check.

While many fantasy owners want to talk about strength of schedule (in terms of what a defense did against a certain position last year), most do not take the time to speculate on what they may do this season. I believe this is one huge benefit to this system.

As one can plainly see below, the methodology to this point is much the same as it would be for RBs, outside of the YPA vs. YPC. Since I’m sure everyone is dying to read even more about him, I’ll just cut right to the chase with how the schedule lays out for the most controversial player of the summer: Jets QB Brett Favre and his new cast and crew.

 Favre & Co.
    mia NE sd ARI bye CIN oak KC buf STL ne ten DEN sf BUF sea
YPA   7.6 7 6.4 6.9 6.7 6.5 7.2 6.8 7.1 7 6.1 6.9 7 6.8 6.7
Brett Favre                              
Laveranues Coles                    
Re TD                
Jerricho Cotchery                    
Re TD                
Brad Smith                    
Re TD                
Dustin Keller                
Re TD                

What stands out here? In my opinion, Favre should have a fairly easy game against a pass defense that shouldn’t really be all that good in Week 1. In fact, I have the Jets passing game pegged for two good (green) matchups and two poor (red) matchups in the season’s first half as Favre takes his time to get assimilated to his new offense. I believe Cincinnati also looms as a potential tough pass defense as well, but considering that Favre will have been in the playbook for two months by that time and will be coming off a bye, I don’t foresee the Jets’ passing game getting shut down in that contest, at least not with their underrated offensive weapons.

As the season wears on, it appears Favre & Co. should have tough matchups in three of the final five games, meaning I wouldn’t bet the farm on Favre carrying my team through the fantasy playoffs. Week 16 sees Favre visit an old friend in HC Mike Holmgren, but what he will really be facing is one of the best home field defenses in the NFL.

Before I continue, I should explain what I feel are good YPA numbers. For the most part, anything under 6.0 is incredibly stingy, 6.0-6.5 is above average, 6.5-7.0 is borderline and anything over 7.0 usually equals a pretty good matchup for the offense.

Again, this entire process is just as much “feel” as it is anything, so don’t get bogged down with associating a certain number with a matchup level (positive, negative, neutral).

Step 3

At this point, this is where the fun and prognosticating can begin.

 Favre & Co.
            mia NE sd ARI bye CIN oak KC buf STL ne ten DEN sf BUF sea
YPA (1) (2) (3) (4)   7.6 7 6.4 6.9 6.7 6.5 7.2 6.8 7.1 7 6.1 6.9 7 6.8 6.7
Brett Favre 244 3505 140.2 13   290 225 200 255   260 185 240 250 255 200 225 245 225 260 190
TD 23 104 3 2 0 2 2 0 3 1 2 1 1 2 2 2 0
INT 17 0 2 2 1 2 2 1 1 0 2 1 1 0 0 2
Laveranues Coles 155 1005 100.5 10 100 45 55 80 75 55 60 65 75 50 75 70 60 85 55
Re TD 9 54 2 2 1 1 1 1 1
Jerricho Cotchery 140 1035 103.5 7 80 75 65 65 75 50 80 70 75 70 55 45 90 75 65
Re TD 6 36 1 1 1 1 1 1
Brad Smith 32 260 26 1.5 25 10 20 15 20 10 20 25 15 15 10 25 20 15 15
Re TD 1 6     1
Dustin Keller 85 490 49 6.25 25 35 20 50 25 30 35 45 30 25 30 45 30 40 25
Re TD 6 36 1 1 1 1 1 1

Another refresher (for convenience):

Most of the numbers to the right of the blue line should be self-explanatory. They are the yards and TDs expected in a given game. Certainly, this model can be altered with (or added on to) for those owners in PPR leagues.

However, here’s a legend for the numbers on the left side of the blue line so you can follow along.

(1) Total fantasy points scored,
(2) The projected 15-game totals expected from the player (as most league titles are decided in Week 16),
(3) The points scored from yards and points scored from TDs that lead to the total in (1),
(4) The projected average of points in Weeks 15-16 (most leagues’ playoff weeks).

(Remember, since I only chart through 16 weeks, the numbers on the left side of the blue line are 15-game totals and assume participation in every game. Don’t worry, this will be a problem I will address when I wrap up this three-part series.)

Also note that to keep the numbers of the quarterback honest in this process, I set a SUM formula in the yardage and TD cells for the QB. I realize that the QB will throw to more players just his top three WRs, a TE and his top two RBs…how much more is the real question and something I evaluate again – and perhaps change – after I am through projecting the 32 teams.

Of particular surprise above may be the production projected for rookie TE Dustin Keller. On my actual cheatsheet, that is actually production I have projected for the TE position because I can’t honestly sit here and tell everyone I know how the Jets TE situation will break down. Will Chris Baker start? Will Bubba Franks squeeze one more good year out as he is one of the faces most familiar to Favre? Or will talent win the day and Keller get most of the work in the passing game?

The same thing, in a way, goes for Brad Smith. Does David Clowney, who is having a great preseason, pass Smith on the depth chart? Clowney has emerged as a deep threat so far, so maybe he emerges in the same way James Jones did for the Packers in that scenario. On the other hand, if Smith holds down the #3 job, perhaps my projection for him if fairly close, plus or minus some rushing or passing yards he may accrue on trick plays.

Let’s consider another passing game example that may surprise some folks.

 Schaub & Co.
            pit BAL ten jax IND MIA DET bye min CIN ind cle JAX gb TEN oak
YPA (1) (2) (3) (4)   6.9 6.8 6.1 6.5 5.9 7.6 6.9 6.4 6.7 5.9 7.2 6.5 6.8 6.1 6.5
Matt Schaub 231 3525 141 16.5   210 215 250 280 200 295 240 230 265 190 260 240 225 240 185
TD 20 90 2 1 1 3 1 2 1 2 1 0 1 2 0 2 1
INT 15 2 0 1 1 2 0 1 2 1 1 0 1 2 0 1
Andre Johnson 181 1210 121 9.75 70 60 80 90 65 115 85 90 105 60 120 75 60 70 65
Re TD 10 60 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1
Kevin Walter 70.5 585 58.5 3.25 45 50 50 40 35 35 30 25 40 35 35 50 50 40 25
Re TD 2 12 1 1
Andre Davis 95 650 65 7.5 40 30 60 55 25 50 45 40 55 30 40 40 50 60 30
Re TD 5 30 1 1 1 1 1
Owen Daniels 80 620 62 6.5 30 40 25 55 50 60 45 50 40 40 35 40 40 30 40
Re TD 3 18 1 1 1

I can’t deny it, this schedule looks brutal. Three of four games on the road to start the season, all against defenses that, in theory, should be pretty good against the pass. They come back home in Week 5 to find the Colts, who finished second in the league last year in YPA behind Pittsburgh, Houston’s first opponent. This is the analysis that helped me figure out just how impossible it was going to be for Lee Evans to get started last year. However, this case is a bit different, as AJ is a better WR than Evans and Schaub is a better passer than either JP Losman or Trent Edwards is at the moment. Throw in the fact that the Texans play exceedingly well against the Jags and I have Houston coming out of the early mess in decent shape.

The season also doesn’t end particularly well for the Texans’ passing game either. In successive weeks to end the fantasy season, they face the bump-and-run of Green Bay, the overall tough defense of Tennessee and what should be the best pair of man-to-man CBs in the league – DeAngelo Hall and Nnamdi Asomugha. Johnson has the ability to overcome it all, but if ever an owner was looking for a tiebreaker to take another stud WR over AJ, this might be enough.

Good stuff, huh?

At this late hour of the preseason, I don’t exactly expect anyone to complete their own 32-team PSA spreadsheet, but I would heartily suggest that if any drafter knows he/she is torn between two or more players, give the schedule a hard, honest look as I have above. As with any fantasy football season, being able to roll with the punches (the “punches” in this case being injuries or benchings) is very important. Realizing that the possible loss of Schaub doesn’t mean the same to AJ (because of Sage Rosenfels) as the possible absence of Peyton Manning means to Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison is key to success in fantasy football.

Wrapping Up…

In the coming days, I will follow this with the final part of this three-part series where I do my best to tie everything together. Sure, while it would be wonderful if everyone agreed with my projections (in this article and in the upcoming one), it is not necessary and does not take away just how large of a role matchups should play into the thinking of owners not only during the season, but also during the drafting process. Securing a “soft matchup” during the fantasy playoffs should not be an accident, it should really be something that an owner seeks to find in the draft.

The third part of this series will also include the ranking and tiering “tutorial” of sorts that shows owners how I like to set up a “value chart”. Additionally, I will address the “participation issue” I mentioned in the first installment of this series.