Managing Risk on Your 2005 Roster
Posted 8/8 by Mark Wimer, Exclusive to Footballguys.com
Fantasy football is about more than just statistics and projections. While
raw data about the players' anticipated on-field performance is useful and can
help us on draft day in the selection process (once compiled and sorted), it
doesn't paint the whole picture. Beyond what happens on game-day, we need to
remember that players are members of a team - a political structure composed
of human beings, with a dictator the top of the heap (usually the head coach).
In addition, each player has behavioral/mental dimensions that may affect the
level of success he achieves in the course of any given NFL season. In order
for your fantasy franchise to triumph in any given season, you need to manage
the "intangible" risks that have bearing on your players' chances
What kind of risks can drag down your franchise's players? The list includes
(but is not limited to): Chronic Injury; Attitude Problems; Coach's Doghouse
(includes holdouts); Positional Battles (including the dreaded by-committee
specter); Switching to a New Team; New Coaching Staff on Players' Team; Offensive
Line Problems; Off Field Problems (Reported Substance Abuse/Legal Issues/League
Suspensions); and finally, Drafting Too Many Players from One Team.
Many times the mantra "you can't predict injuries" is repeated in
fantasy circles - and in some cases, perhaps most cases, this is true. However,
certain types of injuries - the "chronic" or "degenerative"
injury - are definitely the sort of condition that a fantasy owner can rely
on to manifest at some point in the season. For example, elbow tendonitis in
a quarterback's throwing arm. Tendons don't heal up very well, because they
don't get much blood flow - once they are damaged, a player needs to turn to
pain management techniques precisely because the condition isn't likely to be
reversed. Ex-Brown Tim Couch is an example of a player who never reached his
potential due to elbow problems of this sort. Another example would be degenerative
cartilage damage in the knees. Once cartilage is worn away from a player's knee,
the bones impact on each other during each stride, which causes chronic swelling,
pain, and the need for "drainage". Marshall Faulk struggled with knee
problems of this type last season.
Attitude problems are another factor which can negatively impact a player's
production - they can lead to sloppy practice habits, mental lapses during games,
problems with teammates, or confrontations with the coaching staff. As we discussed
at the top, a football team is a political entity - if a player becomes a "locker-room
cancer", then the coaching staff might decide to put him in the doghouse
("Grab a piece of the bench and shut-up!"). Attitude problems don't
always send a player to the doghouse, but they will help him on the way there.
Terrell Owens' behavior while Jeff Garcia's teammate in San Francisco, and now
as Donovan McNabb's teammate in Philadelphia, is an example of an extreme attitude
problem that may negatively impact his standing with the Eagles' coaching staff
and his quarterback.
Of course, attitude problems aren't the only way to get in the coaches' doghouse.
Another tried and true method of reducing one's playing time in the NFL is to
holdout during mini- and training camp practices, or a large portion of them.
At the least, a holdout will usually lead a player to a poor start, and some
coaches believe that missing a large part of preseason camp practice makes players
more likely to suffer serious injury, because the holdout often isn't at the
same level of condition as players who have been participating in the full slate
of practices. Also, at the NFL level timing is a crucial factor in most offenses,
and "getting up to speed" requires many repetitions - which a holdout
will lack in proportion to the length of their absence from the team.
Positional battles are another pitfall that can reduce a player's fantasy worth.
NFL teams are constantly on the hunt for bigger, better, faster players - that's
what the draft is all about - and guys who didn't look very good as rookies
(especially at WR) often blossom in their second or third season, and rise up
to challenge an established veteran. Knowing the quality of the back-up players
on the various teams will help you assess the likelihood that a veteran player
may be becoming "yesterday's news". The Michael Jenkins/Peerless Price
showdown in Atlanta during training camp this season is a prime example of such
a situation this year.
In the era of free agency, players are in constant motion among the NFL teams.
Big contracts get paid out to unrestricted free agents every offseason, and
some of the moves are positive - but others just don't work out. Especially
when a player is not only switching teams, but also offensive systems, there
can be a negative impact on the player's fantasy value. When a big-name guy
switches teams, pay particular attention to how he looks in training camp and
preseason games - while the preseason games are played against vanilla defensive
schemes and, for starters, only small amounts of game-time, if a player is lost
with his new team, you'll see it manifest as bad routes, dropped passes, and
etc. Clinton Portis suffered a significant drop-off in fantasy production last
year, due in part to relocating to a new team with a different offensive line
and an unfamiliar offensive scheme.
Sometimes, the players don't leave a team - instead, some or all of the coaching
staff is replaced. For example, everyone is aware of the ongoing turnover amongst
the Miami coaching staff. Nick Saban is performing a major overhaul of the team
and coaching staff, a process which will continue during training camp. He has
already faced several disciplinary problems with players during the offseason,
so it'll be interesting to see what sort of discipline he can instill among
the Dolphins (Ricky Williams has rejoined the team which will add to the complexity
of the job for Saban). Team chemistry is a delicate balance - something which
is hard to create during just one training camp.
Offensive line problems are an insidious factor, because cohesiveness of the
entire unit is essential for solid line play. Line play is what opens holes
for running backs to exploit and provides the time necessary for passing plays
to develop. If a team has a lot of quality OL players who miss time in camp
due to a plague of minor injuries, the "quality" unit may play worse
than another team's unit of average OL players who enjoy lots of repetitions
in camp. Therefore, it is worth your while as a fantasy owner to monitor the
relative healthiness of the 32 OL units across the NFL in the days leading up
to your fantasy draft, and to pay attention to it as the season progresses.
Off-field problems can lead to league suspensions, which vary in length from
4 games to entire seasons - in extreme circumstances, a player can even be banned
from the NFL for life. If a player has had a series of run-ins with law enforcement,
or has a history of substance-abuse problems, that player is a higher risk for
suspension than better-behaved professional athletes (although sometimes even
"nice" guys can give you a nasty surprise). Koren Robinson's ongoing
problems with alcohol and alcohol related offenses appear to have derailed his
career, for example, and Adam "Pacman" Jones of Tennessee is a rookie
CB who is exhibiting a lot of poor decision making heading into the 2005 season.
Finally, sometimes fantasy owners are big fans of a particular NFL team, and
they fill up their roster with lots of players from that team. This obviously
leads to big problems on that teams' bye-week - but there are other problems,
too. Almost every NFL team has games during the season where things just don't
go right, and the offense stalls. Maybe they are playing in a torrential downpour,
or dealing with the arctic cold of Lambeau field in the winter. Anyway, a fantasy
team that relies heavily on one NFL team will suffer a similar "power-outage".
Also, relying heavily on just one NFL team means that any OL problems the team
suffers during the course of the season will be very damaging to the fantasy
squad. The Houston Texans have been miserable in this department during 2 of
the last 3 seasons, and David Carr and the Texan's receiving corps have suffered
in terms of fantasy production due to all of the sacks/quarterback knockdowns
allowed by the Texans.
So, how do we translate all these possible risk factors into a tool that you
can use on draft day? A common approach is to include a column on your draft
sheet that says "Injury Risk" or simply "?". The more negative
qualitative factors you believe a player has against him, the more ? marks accumulate
in that column. Then, when you are debating between two or three players during
the draft, you can help break ties in projected point value by referring to
a player's potential risk level.
Evaluating each player on your draft list in terms of "risk" will
help you to draft the most consistent and solid fantasy football team around.
Simply being able to break numerical ties on the basis of your risk analysis
will make your entire mid-to-late round efforts easier - it's worth the investment
of time and effort. Happy Drafting!