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The Stategist

As many of you know, there is a group of Footballguys, myself included, that take great pleasure in the use of statistical analysis as a means to succeed in fantasy football. Traditionally, we do much of our work leading up to the draft, using historical trends analysis and number crunching to help fine tune our annual projections for players and teams. But statistical analysis can, when used in conjunction with logical reasoning and sound football acumen, be useful during the season, as well. With that in mind, I will attempt to address some relevant in-season issues each and every week, with a statistical slant of course…


In Search of Billy Volek…

How many of you rolled into your playoffs last year with either Peyton Manning or Daunte Culpepper at the helm, only to see yourselves bounced out by the lowest seed thanks to Billy Volek? It happened to a LOT of people [myself included]. As a reminder, Billy Volek was Tennessee's backup for much of last season, who took over for Steve McNair late in the season. Through the first 12 weeks of the season, Volek ranked 32nd among fantasy QBs [using FBG scoring]. In the all-important Weeks 13-16, Volek was the top ranked fantasy quarterback in the league.

But he wasn't the only QB who came out of nowhere to make a mark in the most important stretch run of games.

  • Kerry Collins (OAK) - Collins sat as the 20th best fantasy QB through Week 12, throwing 11 TDs to 14 INTs while averaging 6.8 yards per attempt. But in Weeks 13-16, Collins was the 5th rated fantasy passer, throwing 10 TDs, 3 INTs, and nearly 1,100 yards.
  • Matt Hasselbeck (SEA) - Hasselbeck got off to a rocky start last year, ranking a meager 17th through Week 12. But health and focus lead to a triumphant rebound in Weeks 13-16, as he threw 8 TDs to 3 INTs on route to an 8th place ranking.
  • Josh McCown (ARI) - Josh McCown was shuffled in and out of the lineup last year which lead to his barely noticeable 29th place ranking through Week 12. But he played well enough to rank 10th among fantasy QBs in Weeks 13-16.
  • Brian Griese (TB) - Brian Griese wasn't on anyone's radar at the start of last season, but as Tampa's 3rd starting QB, he took the opportunity and ran with it. Through 12 weeks, he ranked 25th, but finished as the 11th best passer over Weeks 13-16; better than Favre, Plummer, Brady and Brees to name a few.

To put a broader brush on these data points, of the QBs who ranked among the top 12 through Week 12 last year (i.e., "starting caliber" in 12-team leagues), only half of them (six) were top 12 fantasy performers in Weeks 13-16. Digest that for a moment. If you decided to "ride the horse that got you there" last season at QB, you had a 50/50 shot at getting top 12 returns back in the key stretch run.

Lest you think 2004 was an anomaly, consider 2002 and 2003…

In 2003…

  • Jeff Garcia (SF) was the top rated fantasy QB during Weeks 13-16 after ranking just 19th through Week 12.
  • Donovan McNabb (PHI) rebounded from a rough early going to finish 8th in Weeks 13-16 after ranking just 15th through Week 12
  • Jake Plummer (DEN) ranked 22nd through Week 12 (due to a five week injury stretch midseason), but finished 9th during the critical four week stretch

In 2002…

  • Matt Hasselbeck (SEA) came on strong at the perfect time, finishing as the 3rd best fantasy passer in Weeks 13-16 after being a marginal contributor (31st) through Week 12
  • Kerry Collins (NYG) was muddling through the season ranking just 17th through Week 12, but pulled himself together to finish 5th during the Week 13-16 stretch
  • Chad Pennington (NYJ), who took over as a starter early in the season, caught fire down the stretch and ended up 9th among QBs in Weeks 13-16 after being 21st through Week 12
  • Jeff Blake (BAL), who took over in Baltimore midseason, enjoyed a phenomenal stretch during Weeks 13-16 (7 TDs, 2 INTs) to finish 12th over that span after being a forgettable 36th up to that point.


The fact is, sometimes you simply can't assume a QB is going to magically perform to the level you've come to expect of him through the first 3/4 of the season. Myriad reasons apply…injury, strength of schedule, health of the supporting cast to name a few.

So with that in mind, let's look at the top 12 fantasy QBs through Week 12 (2005) to see if there's anything to glean.

Rank
Name
Cmp
Atts
PaYD
Y/A
FD
PaTD
INT
Rush
RuYD
YPR
RuTD
FPs
1
Carson Palmer
252
361
2920
8.09
149
23
7
24
24
1.00
1
239.4
2
Peyton Manning
232
341
2779
8.15
150
22
8
25
41
1.60
0
223.1
3
Tom Brady
237
386
3025
7.84
134
18
10
12
38
3.17
0
217.1
4
Eli Manning
202
386
2660
6.89
116
20
10
20
67
3.35
0
209.7
5
Kerry Collins
223
407
2882
7.08
136
15
10
15
37
2.47
1
203.8
6
Drew Bledsoe
214
335
2557
7.63
128
16
9
27
43
1.59
2
199.2
7
Brett Favre
255
401
2714
6.77
138
19
19
15
56
3.73
0
198.3
8
Aaron Brooks
195
351
2448
6.97
122
12
13
38
254
6.68
2
194.8
9
Matt Hasselbeck
221
354
2603
7.35
132
14
9
29
115
3.97
1
194.7
10
Drew Brees
221
344
2647
7.69
135
18
11
12
7
0.58
0
194.1
11
Donovan McNabb
211
356
2507
7.04
117
16
9
24
50
2.08
1
191.4
12
Michael Vick
142
248
1638
6.60
88
12
7
74
441
5.96
4
191.0

Discussion Points

NOTE: All discussions of strength of schedule are derived from data provided by Clayton Gray's weekly strength of schedule (Week 12 edition).

  • Carson Palmer (CIN) has a moderately difficult schedule but barring injury and the loss of any of his offensive weapons, is a safe bet to remain among the league's elite. Furthermore, the team is vying for a division title and potential bye week, which means he's not likely to be benched late in the year as the Bengals aren't far enough ahead in the standings to clinch early.
  • Peyton Manning (IND) has been terrific after a slow first month, but the risk with him is that Indianapolis is already 11-0 and could clinch home field advantage with two or three weeks to play. HC Tony Dungy has already stated that he'll rest his starters to keep them healthy as going 16-0 isn't the goal, winning a Super Bowl is.
  • Tom Brady (NE) faces the most difficult schedule (Weeks 13-16) of any NFL quarterback. Combine that with a struggling defense and an uncertain running game, and Brady's elite fantasy productivity may be in line for a falloff in the next month.
  • Eli Manning (NYG) enjoys an easy schedule on paper, and has a healthy cast with which to work. Given his age and that he's on an upward learning trajectory, he seems like a safe bet to continue to deliver top tier performance.
  • Kerry Collins (OAK) has been erratic, but whether or not he would be in line for a late season benching if the Raiders want to evaluate their younger QBs remains to be seen. One can assume Collins ability to maintain his productivity relates entirely to the health of Randy Moss and Jerry Porter.
  • Drew Bledsoe (DAL) is enjoying a resurgent year, but he needs solid pass protection more than anyone given his age and limited mobility. With LT Flozell Adams lost for the year, Bledsoe could easily suffer a degradation in performance. That said, he has a favorable schedule.
  • Brett Favre (GB) always seems to find a way to end the season with solid numbers, but it's worth mentioning that he faces the 2nd most difficult schedule in Weeks 13-16 according to our SOS data. That, combined with the team's woeful record could lead to a potentially subpar final month.
  • Aaron Brooks (NO) is one of those guys who seem to always rank among the top 10 fantasy QBs yet never plays to that level in terms of real NFL value to his franchise. This year is shaping up no differently as his rushing totals have offset his negative TD-INT ratio. New Orleans schedule is not advantageous in Weeks 13-16, however the state of the Saints defense and running game all but assure he'll continue to get a ton of attempts.
  • Matt Hasselbeck (SEA) is guiding the NFC's best offense, has an unsurpassed supporting cast, and gets back his best receiver (Darrell Jackson) for the stretch run to go along with the recently returned Bobby Engram and productive Joe Jurevicius. As importantly, he has the 2nd easiest schedule in Weeks 13-16…making Hasselbeck a candidate to put up top 5 numbers the rest of the way.
  • Drew Brees (SD) has a moderate schedule and could go either way, frankly. As long as Antonio Gates is healthy, he could finish slightly below or slightly above his current level of production.
  • Donovan McNabb (PHI) is now on IR, which obviously eliminates him from the conversation.
  • Michael Vick (ATL) faces one of the most difficult remaining schedules, but so much of his productivity is tied to his rushing ability it's harder to rely on QB SOS in evaluating him. If he's healthy, it's tough to imagine he'll fall short of a top 12 finish in the next month.

OK, so that covers the CURRENT top 12, but which guys are going to be this year's Billy Volek or Jeff Garcia? There's no easy answer, but here are several names worth mentioning…

  • Kurt Warner (ARI) - Warner is back in the saddle, has Boldin back to go along with an emerging Larry Fitzgerald, is finally getting a little help from the running game [to keep defenses honest] and has the 3rd easiest schedule in Weeks 13-16. If that offensive line can keep him upright, Warner could be a gem for the stretch run.
  • David Garrard (JAX) - Byron Leftwich only ranked 18th through Week 12 so it's not a foregone conclusion that his backup, Garrard, is a fantastic alternative for fantasy owners down the stretch. HOWEVER, the Jaguars face the 6th easiest schedule for QB points allowed the rest of the way. And, Garrard is a big, mobile QB that should add some rushing yards to the mix.
  • Jeff Garcia (DET) - For the 2nd time this year, Jeff Garcia will take over command of the Lions. He got an incomplete the first go around due to injury, can he stay healthy down the stretch? If so, he's got young weapons, a new offensive coordinator in Greg Olsen, and a favorable fantasy schedule.
  • Steve McNair (TEN) - Steve McNair currently ranks 14th among fantasy QBs, so it wouldn't take much to vault him into the top 12. Given the return of Drew Bennett and his favorable schedule, he's one of the more compelling 2nd tier fantasy signal callers for the stretch run [the same rules would apply if Billy Volek played too].

Concluding Thoughts

This is the time of year when you're either making a push for the playoffs or trying to solidify your roster for a run to the Super Bowl. In either case, remember that sometimes it does NOT pay to ride the horse that brought you there. To win in the playoffs you need to make bold moves, you can't be afraid to take chances. Hopefully this week's discussion helps frame the kind of bold moves you should be contemplating at the QB position from here on out. Best of luck!


Notes:
1) All fantasy point production assumes the Footballguys Scoring System:

  • 1 point per 25 yards passing
  • 1 point per 10 yards receiving or rushing
  • 4 points per passing TD
  • 6 points per rushing or receiving TD
  • -1 per interception thrown

2) Special thanks to Doug Drinen for providing the relevant statistical databases

3) Feel free to contact me (wood@footballguys.com) if you wish to discuss this column further or share other ideas for future issues

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