Fantasy Roundtable - Week 16
Posted 12/21 by Maurile Tremblay, Exclusive to Footballguys.com
Various staff members will share their views on a range of topics each week in discussion format. Feel free to eavesdrop.
Quick Links to Topics:
Evaluating players based on less than a full season
Trend towards RBBC?
Value of top-tier tight ends
Waiting on QBs
Discounting preseason hype
We’ve got two weeks of roundtable discussion left, including this one. I think
anybody who made it to his league’s Super Bowl is capable of setting his own
lineup at this point, so instead of focusing on who-do-I-start questions, I
think it’s appropriate at this point to step back and take a broader approach.
This week we’re going to look back at the 2005 season and
see what we should learn from it. Next week we’ll look ahead to the 2006 season,
getting a jump on the always-too-long offseason.
What lessons did you learn from the 2005 season? Or what did
you already know that the 2005 season reinforced for you?
Evaluating players based on less than a full season
I'll start with an obvious point, but it's one people
would have done well to remember in the 2005 preseason: players with a track
record of one season or less are particularly risky, and are often best avoided
in the first round.
If you look at the FBG top twelve RBs from last July, the three biggest
disappointments (excluding Holmes and McAllister due to injury) were Tatum
Bell, Kevin Jones, and Willis McGahee. The common theme among them is that none
had been impressive for even a full season. We were all extrapolating from a
small sample of games, and doing so is always somewhat risky.
The lesson here may be applicable to the LaDainian Tomlinson
versus Shaun Alexander versus Larry Johnson debate for next year's top pick. I
love Larry Johnson, but he is the riskiest RB of those three, IMO, since
Tomlinson and Alexander have more substantial track records.
Will Grant: The
danger here is that unless you drafted
any of these guys, you probably don't realize how much of a disappointment they
are, and you're looking at Lamont Jordan thinking, if only
I would have picked him instead of Julius Jones . . .
Speaking of Julius Jones, he's another guy a lot of people overrated based on a
Will Grant: Next
season, if Shaun Alexander and/or Edgerrin James leave their respective teams
to free agency, you're going to see guys like Maurice Morris and Dominic Rhodes
going in the second round. Picking
the next Lamont Jordan is very difficult, and many guys will get it wrong.
However, the one or two success stories will have people swinging for the fence
David Yudkin: I harped all offseason in numerous articles and message board posts
that rarely did guys with impressive partial seasons parlay that into the same
level of success over a full season. Too many factors play into that short-term
success. I stayed away from Willis McGahee, Kevin Jones, and Julius Jones this
year but would still look at taking Larry Johnson next year (provided the
Chiefs don't undergo major changes).
Marc Levin: I
agree with "less than one season" but not necessarily "one
season." I would take Lamont Jordan next year in the first round and I do not expect he'd go
the way of the Jones boys - the Jones boys really had less than a season of work and were bumped into the top of the
draft predominately due to second half of the season success.
I call that the Willie Green factor. It happened with Kevan Barlow two years
ago. While there is the suggestion that this trend raises questions about Larry
Johnson, I think his situation will dictate that more than anything less: if he
goes into 2006 with the same OL, same HC and Priest in a backup role or
retired, he is a good first round pick. Expecting duplicated performance,
however, is not wise if Priest
returns. Priest returning, in my opinion, also does not relegate Johnson to
someone not worth a high draft pick. I think he'd still manage a Steven Jackson
type year, which would make him worth a second round pick.
Trend towards RBBC?
Will Grant: To
continue with the RB lesson thread though, I think one of the biggest lessons
that was even more reinforced this season is that running back by committee (RBBC)
will become more of the standard now.
Places like Miami, Denver, Chicago, Dallas, Tampa and Tennessee
all used a RBBC approach when many believe that they were a 'one back' system.
The trend seems like it's going to continue. This is really going to make the
5th-8th round very interesting over the next several seasons as guys try to
decide if a third RB is more valuable than a 2nd WR or a starting QB.
David Yudkin: I'm
not 100% sure on the teams listed here. That's how things may have turned out,
but I bet that the coaches on those teams would have loved to have a stud RB
had things worked out and injuries didn't pop up. Similarly, if one guy did
phenomenally well, than he likely would have earned a regular job.
Marc Levin: I do
not agree that RBBC will become more of a standard, but I agree that it will be
seen more due to the proliferation of talented RBs. I am sure Parcells wants to run one back a lot, but if
Julius is struggling and Marion Barber has been running well, instant RBBC. If
Ricky Williams had never had a change of heart, Ronnie Brown would be the
feature back, but you do not leave a talent like Ricky on the bench. Domanick
Davis has been the feature guy for Houston, and when he gets injured, Wells becomes a feature back.
But if they draft Reggie Bush, we will see a lot of RBBC in Houston.
True RBBC was what the 49ers used to do, which was run Hearst and Barlow on
alternate series. I do not believe that will become an NFL standard, though I
agree that the days of most teams having one back shooting for 25 carries are
Value of Tight Ends
I think another lesson from this year is that a top tight end can make a huge
One of the big insights of value-based drafting (VBD) back in the late 1990s
was that a guy like Tony Gonzalez or Shannon Sharpe could be worth a
first-round pick in terms of value, even though they could often be had in the
fourth round. This was back before everyone was using VBD, so the
"market prices" weren't as efficient as they are now. You could
always tell a fellow VBDer when he "reached" for Gonzo in the third.
Now more people realize the value of a top tight end, but the point has been
reinforced in the last couple years as more guys (not just Gonzo) have become
fantasy forces. Antonio Gates has had huge back-to-back years. Jeremy Shockey
is an impact player whenever he is healthy. Alge Crumpler, Todd Heap, and Jason
Witten have the potential to have huge games.
If you end up with a mediocre or poor tight end, you are no longer at a big
disadvantage just with respect to the Gonzo owner. Now
you are at a big disadvantage with respect to half the league.
In 2004, a number of tight ends rose to fantasy prominence, but a one-year
trend can easily be a fluke. This season, I think, reinforced the idea that it
wasn't a fluke. More NFL offenses are including their tight ends as an integral
part of their passing games, making the TE position a more important fantasy
position as well.
David Yudkin: Last
year, there were six TEs that scored 100+ points and 2 more at 90+ points. This
year, there are currently five that have eclipsed the century mark and another
at 90+. From a value perspective, Gonzalez and Gates were in the 100 value
point range in 2004. Gates is still up there (currently 90 value points) with
several guys in the mid range. Only Gates and Shockey have a value score over
50 points, so those two have been the guys to have this year. I owned both of
them this year, and they often scored like a WR1 or WR2, and I would happily
pursue that strategy again next season.
Will Grant: It
would be interesting to see some analysis done for a TEBC article next season (similar
to what Chase Stuart does with fantasy defenses). Tight ends seem to break out in a very interesting way:
Gates is the clear number one. Shockey has come back as a solid TE and will
place within the top 3. Then you have Heap, Crumpler, Cooley and Witten all within 1 pt per game of each other. Gonzo's slow
start leaves him in limbo, but he'd probably be included in the 'second tier'
group listed here as well.
The third tier is pretty deep: McMichael, LJ Smith, Stevens, Miller, Clark and
Kinney. But if you look at these guys, a lot of them have multiple 10+ pt
games, and multiple two or less point games. Looking at guys like Miller and
Stevens, if you picked the right week to start them every time, they'd be up in
the range with Heap and Crumpler.
I agree with the overall premise though: The difference between Gates at #1 and
Clark at #12 is about 6 points a game... Ouch.
Unlike other years, I ended up with a couple of great TE pairings which
actually posed more problems than expected. I had Gates/Cooley and
Gates/Witten, and it seemed that several weeks either would score more than
Gates. But you can't sit Gates (couldn't get anyone to trade for the other
Marc Levin: The
lesson that tight ends can provide great value was learned a long time ago. It
is just that now there are a lot more teams able
to field a top TE and the few teams who miss out on the top TE derby are really
hurting against the rest of the league. There are now four or five TEs that
could be considered elite pass-catchers (Gates, Gonzales, Shockey, Crumpler,
and maybe Witten). There are another group of WRs who are able to match
those TEs in fantasy production on any given day, and produce fairly consistent
weekly numbers (Heap, Cooley, Randy McMichael, LJ Smith) , and we probably need
to throw Heath Miller, Jeremy Stevens, and Ben Troupe into the "up and
I have just listed exactly 12 TEs who, next year, will probably be relatively
close to each other in TE production - this past year, there were only the 4 or
5 I listed above who were "top" fantasy TEs.
Finally, TE scoring is taking a major overall spike: last year, six TEs
finished the year over 100 points with the top two (Gonzo and Gates) distancing
the field, and with Witten nipping at their heels. This year, there are already five
TEs over 100 with two games to play and a good chance that two more (Gonzo at
99 and McMichael at 90) will crest 100 this week. While there will still be two
at the top of the heap (Gates and Shockey) the ones behind are not separated
from each other by that much.
Anyway, IMO, it is an old lesson that a top-TE can make a huge difference. The
lesson this year is that you must have one TE from the group of top TEs, but
you do not have to reach for one of the top three to stay competitive with the
teams that do. You can take the TE5 and still match up well against the guys
who take the TE1-3.
Waiting on QBs
This year may have also helped to reaffirm that you can do just fine by waiting
until late to draft a QB.
The top six fantasy QBs have been Carson Palmer, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Eli
Manning, Drew Brees, and Drew Bledsoe. Other than Peyton Manning, all of those
guys were generally available in the seventh round or later. (In
the case of Eli Manning and Drew Bledsoe, much later.)
Part of that was due to an unusual number of injuries to the top guys
(Culpepper, McNabb, Bulger), but I still think it's true that the QB position
is a bit more erratic and unpredictable than RB, WR, or TE.
Last season seemed to go against that principle with the top-rated guys
(Culpepper, Manning, McNabb) all turning in great
season. But I think that's more the exception than the rule.
The way to profit from this tendency is to pass on QBs in the early rounds and
then draft a bunch of them in the later rounds. And use the waiver wire early
in the season to latch onto whoever looks hot. Quantity can make up for a
perceived lack of quality, since a number of late-round QBs are bound to pan
David Yudkin: If
you study fantasy scoring trends over an extended time, there have rarely been
consecutive high scoring QB seasons. As I mentioned numerous times in the
offseason, the likely outcome would be that even if Peyton Manning wound up the
year as the #1 QB, the odds were high that he would not be a great value pick.
He's currently one point behind Carson Palmer but ranked 25th in terms of
Will Grant: I'm a
big fan of waiting on a QB until well after everyone else has one and then
picking up two back to back. My big
mistake in one league was not adding a 3rd QB for insurance later on. I really
think if you're going to wait on a QB, you need two mid-range and one later-round
guy as well. Guys like Bledsoe and Collins performed well during the early part
of the season, but faded down the stretch. Collins was still a top 10 fantasy
QB when he was benched. He came back this week and stunk up the place. Even
Aaron Brooks was putting up top 12 numbers before he was benched. A third QB, or a solid handcuff (like McNair and Volek) can really
minimize that big risk of taking a QB in the first 3 or 4 rounds.
Marc Levin: I have
been firmly in the draft-a-QB-late camp for at least five years, and this year
was no different.
If folks simply can't learn that lesson, I don't think our saying it will help
By the way, in my opinion, drafting a QB late is NOT the same as waiting until
late to draft QBs. Optimally, in drafting a QB late, one of your QBs you have
rated in the 6-10 range falls to you as you are drafting the 11th or 12th QB
taken. You then must follow that QB
pick up, within the next two rounds with another
top 15 QB. If you do not do that, and then wait until very late to draft your
QB2, you run a tremendous risk of blowing your QB draft.
If you do not take a second QB right away, that is where your ability to pick
which QBs will have a good year is really tested and you become extraordinarily
susceptible to the "one hit and I'm done" situation. An example from
this past year, if you grabbed Matt Hasselbeck at QB10, you were much better
off protecting him with a QB15 pick of someone like Byron Leftwich or Jake
Delhomme than if you had selected a QB from the last few rounds of the draft as
You might as well not take a QB2 since
your QB from the bottom of the draft is unlikely to stay on your roster. Every
week, you will be looking to upgrade QB2 with a WW prospect. The QBs projected
that low are usually from low passing teams, so they are unlikely to explode
for you anyway (Eli Manning being the obvious exception to that rule, and Rex
Grossman/Gus Frerrotte, and Trent Dilfer confirm that rule.)
Here's another lesson: Wide receivers age more slowly than do running backs. If
you passed on the older receivers this year, you missed out on Marvin Harrison,
Joey Galloway, Terry Glenn, Eddie Kennison, Keenan McCardell, Jimmy Smith, Rod
Smith, and Amani Toomer -- all of whom outperformed their draft positions.
On the flip side, many fewer old WRs performed below expectations. Derrick
Mason, Keyshawn Johnson, Hines Ward, and Muhsin Muhammad finished near their
preseason rankings. Only Joe Horn, Isaac Bruce, and Eric Moulds finished below
expectations, and Horn and Bruce had injuries.
Marc Levin: Yes,
and even when their skills erode to where they are no longer the same fantasy
producers, they are still fairly reliable fantasy players. When a running back
breaks down, he breaks all the way down. I think Curtis Martin is an excellent
example of that and there are other examples strewn across the last few years --
Emmitt Smith's last year in Dallas, Eddie George's last couple of years with
the Titans, Marshal Faulk physically broke down. I think that for next year,
folks should really worry about the workload Edgerrin James took this year,
Priest Holmes has not been able to finish a season the last three years, and
even LaDainian Tomlinson started showing signs of wear and tear this year and
On the three examples you mentioned above of WRs falling below expectations due
to age, you better go ahead and add Randy Moss to that list. He suffered
injuries this year and last year that slowed his production, but he was not the
same receiver even when healthy this year.
Final point. I expect both Horn and Bruce to bounce
back next year and to be great values in the middle rounds. I also expect Eric
Moulds to be released by the Bills and to sign with a team where he will vault
back to the upper echelon. I am thinking he would be a perfect fit, and would
excel to a high degree, with teams like Kansas City and Philadelphia, who are teams that pass a lot but who lack one real
sure-handed go-to receiver.
If he ends up in either city next year, he will make for another great middle
to late round selection.
Every year, I see unproven WR and breakout candidates going several rounds
before proven guys and seasoned veterans. I never understood WHY people persist
on taking guys with limited experience over players with several 1,000 yard
seasons. Go figure. I suspect this drafting trend will continue--leaving a lot
on the table for sharks to grab late.
Will Grant: That
being said, there's a definite changing of the guard in the top tier of WRs. Marc
mentioned Randy Moss. Moss did not
come anywhere near delivering the
value of a late first or early second round pick. Owens proved a bust with his
attitude. Chad Johnson did well, and Harrison should also finish in the top five. But now Steve Smith,
Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are creeping into the top five range. Holt's value dropped a bit due to injury and the
emergence of Kevin Curtis; and Joey Galloway, Santana Moss, Terry Glenn and
Chris Chambers all outperformed their draft position. Walker was hurt, but would he really have finished in the top
five this season with how many other injuries GB has had?
Guys in Dynasty leagues need to take note of this trend and seriously consider
dumping some of these 'sell high' candidates for next season.
Marc Levin: Regarding
Steve Smith, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin, I think you can call all
three of those receivers as solid additions to the top five, not guys creeping
in. Smith leads the league in both receptions and yards. Muhsin Muhammad was
near the top last year when Smith was injured, and Smith was near the top the
year before. So Carolina is friendly to its top WR.
Fitz and Boldin are both top five in receptions and yards. Dennis Green will
probably go with the 40+ attempts per game attack next year, but an eye needs
to be kept on their quarterback situation.
All three of those guys should be drafted as top-6/top-8 receivers next year,
especially in PPR leagues.
Discounting preseason hype
Great discussion today, guys. This was a lot of fun. I’m going to end with one
more lesson that has to do with correcting a bad habit
of my own. Specifically, I need to stick with my May-July evaluations of
players rather than changing them all around in late August based on training
To name just a few examples, I was higher than most on Tiki Barber and Carson
Palmer early in the offseason, but came back to the pack on both guys just
before the season started. I haven't done a systematic comparison of my July
rankings versus my early September rankings, but it's probably a good idea, and
I'll look to do one after the season is over. I'd expect to find that my July
rankings were actually better once I adjust them for obvious injury issues.
And I felt the same way about the 2004 season as well (although I didn't do
formal study then, either).
Early in the offseason I put a lot of effort into analyzing the previous NFL
season in order to form projections/rankings of players. The whole previous
season should count for a lot more than a few weeks' worth of news from the
preseason. But -- probably because it's more recent -- I tend to give the
preseason news (much of which is just hype) more weight than I should.
And speaking of analyzing players in the offseason, that’s
part of what we’ll cover next week. How do you go about doing that? Should a
common fantasy player do his own projections? If so, where should he start?
So we’ll meet back here next week to jump into some of those
issues, and also make our Super Bowl picks. Until then, have a great holiday
season and enjoy the weekend’s games.