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Investing in a talent and watching him fail has its own special room in the fantasy owner's house of horrors. Often the blame goes to the player, especially when he has the capacity to thrill and he can't deliver that mundanity of excellence to do the little things on and off the field to sustain his talent. This is a self-inflicted offense, but there are many victimized fantasy owners.
There are also instances where the the player with the talent is also one of the victims. The perpetrators of the offenses are teammates and organizations that place the player in oppressive situations. Both scenarios qualify as crimes against fantasy.
Are there lessons to be learned from these acts that can prevent future crimes? In theory, yes, but we know from experience that history is doomed to repeat itself. The Gut Check Commission on Fantasy Crimes reveals some of the worst offenses in recent memory and divulges current hot spots where there is at least a strong suspicion of delinquent activity.
Cleared, Cold, and Potential Cases
Some of players are potential victims, but upon further reflection I can't get the chief to give me clearance on pursuing these matters:
- Maurice Jones-Drew: Fantastic running back who had to get paired with Fred Taylor and later with Blaine Gabbert and a deteriorating offensive line. Even so, MJD had five RB1 finishes and seven years as no less than a top-20 RB during his 9-year career. We can wonder just how great he could have been if a team like the Titans had this mighty mite instead of Chris Johnson and perhaps there's a potential civil suit for his lost shot for the Hall of Fame, but his time in Jacksonville falls short of criminal behavior.
- Marcel Reece: This is might become more of a cold case than a cleared case. Reece has never earned more than 59 carries in a season so it's hard to take his 4.7-yard average as a serious reason to call his lack of use as an every-down runner "criminal." He's a heckuva football player, but the evidence isn't hard enough to conduct a full-blown investigation...yet.
- Johnny Manziel: His boorish, immaturity and addictive behavior didn't help his cause but my office has copious evidence that Manziel is a much better prospect than portrayed. Most don't understand that Manziel will need a year on the field to learn the boundaries of his improvisational style within the realms of his offense. Once he does, he has fantasy potential as a starter in 12-team leagues. We're monitoring the situation, but it's not at the stage where an investigation is needed.
- Jerome Harrison: The former Browns running back who made lots of fantasy owners championship coin in 2009 with a 7-game stretch for the ages never got the chance to be a back a team would build around. Harrison's style, size, and smarts reminded me a lot of Priest Holmes. The Chiefs' star added muscle over the years and became a star. Harrison looked good in spot-time almost everywhere he landed, but a brain tumor cut his career short. Fortunately, Harrison still has his life and family. At the time, I didn't think Harrison got a fair shake in Cleveland after he replaced Jamal Lewis during that 2009 season, but Peyton Hillis was a much better fit of the Lewis template and earned over 1600 total yards and 13 scores. Hard to fault Cleveland beyond the fact that it had two players who statistically became one-year wonders.
Oakland Raiders: Darren McFadden and Illegal Zoning
There were 20 games with the Raiders were McFadden was the ballcarrier in a rushing attack that primarily used gap-style blocking: Follow the pulling lineman through a gap that the rest of the unit sets up and hit the crease with intensity. Gap schemes are strong fits for backs with excellent speed and burst.
The two things McFadden could do out of Arkansas that were breathtaking were hitting the hole with great burst and doing so without hesitation. During those 20 games where McFadden worked behind gap-heavy scheme, he carried the ball 336 times for 1771 yards and 11 touchdowns. Behind the zone-heavy scheme the Raiders installed in 2012 after a regime change, McFadden earned 707 yards on 216 carries during 12 games. In 2010 alone, McFadden earned 450 additional yards on just seven more carries during 13 games.
Nate Miller's article at my blog detailed McFadden's struggles at the time, which in many ways mirrors why McFadden was so successful in a gap scheme in Oakland and, before that, Arkansas. We could name McFadden's injury history as a co-conspirator with this crime against fantasy, but I don't think there's enough proof. McFadden's gait--the bio-mechanics to the way he runs--is the prime suspect.
McFadden doesn't run with a good bend in his hips and it limits his functional flexibility, agility, and power in tight spaces. Zone schemes demand more creativity, patience, and footwork that rely on these physical skills that McFadden lacks at the same degree as top zone runners. How the Raiders didn't build around the strengths of their Pro-Bowl caliber runner and rendered him an expendable disappointment is criminal. McFadden owners have been seeking retribution for the past three years, but there are reports the McFadden Fund has been bilked.
Current Hot Spot Under Investigation for Illegal Zoning: Atlanta And Tevin Coleman
The Falcons are a tricky situation because their potential crime is harder to detect. Coleman ran an outside zone scheme at Indiana and the overall stats look fantastic. There were also a lot of long runs, which in itself is a great thing.
Long runs become problematic if you examine the rest of the carries during games and there are a lot of runs of three yards or less than with more skill in tight spaces could have been gains of 4-6 yards. This is what I saw from Coleman and I believe a lot of it had to do with this same bio-mechanical style of his gate that compares to McFadden. When I said that Coleman would be a better fit for a gap system and an outside zone scheme, there were a few analysts who were highly critical because they see Coleman going to the same scheme in the NFL and they don't understand why I'd maek this statement.
My analysis is based on a projection of how I think Coleman's weaknesses as a runner will work in this same scheme with much larger concentration of savvier and dominant athletes on the field. If I'm right, Atlanta will be committing a completely unintentional crime, but Coleman's fantasy owners will direct their wrath on the runner when the true suspect could be the scheme.
Tennessee Titans: FAlse IMprisonment of Steve McNair's Talent
If Daunte Culpepper could have the five years he had in Minnesota with Randy Moss, I know Steve McNair could have matched or exceeded Culpepper's production if Moss and Derrick Mason were the 1-2 punch in Tennessee's receiving corps. I believe Steve McNair would have been a multiple-time league MVP with Hall of Fame-caliber stats and a Super Bowl win with Moss stretching the field and Eddie George pounding seven and six-man fronts.
A fact is the receivers Tennessee desperately tried to substitute for bypassing Moss came up woefully short: Chris Sanders, Kevin Dyson, Carl Pickens, Yancey Thigpen, Drew Bennett, Justin McCareins and Tyrone Calico. Give McNair Randy Moss, and is it inconceivable that McNair earns an additional 500-700 yards passing, 5-7 passing touchdowns, and bumps his career 60.1 percent passing percentage at least to 2-3 points?
McNair's stats with an extra 4200 yards, 42 touchdowns, more completions, and likely fewer interceptions would have placed McNair's yardage in the top-20 and his touchdowns among the top 30 at the time of his retirement. I think these are conservative estimates because opposing teams would have been less likely to get the same caliber of pressure on McNair and the fewer dangerous situations he had to maneuver would have resulted in a longer, healthier career with more games played and a higher estimate of production that what I'm adding on.
John Elway and Ben Roethlisberger got the help they needed later in their careers so that they didn't go down in history as one-man-gangs with the subtext of "what could have been." McNair lacked that good fortune that Randy Moss would have provided. And it's possible McNair could have been an equally positive influence on Moss' maturation. Instead of four seasons with top-five fantasy numbers at his position, McNair could have give fantasy owners double that frequency and perhaps elite production during some of those years.
Current Hotspot Under Investigation for False Imprisonment: Washington and DeSean Jackson
WR17 production is fine work for most receivers but when you're capable of WR4 and WR10 seasons and three years with at least 18.5 yards per catch on no fewer than 55 receptions, anything less than top-10 production is worthy of investigation. Pair Jackson with Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford, Phillip Rivers or Tony Romo and Jackson is a fantasy stud where 80 catches, 1300 yards, and 9 scores is closer to the norm than the exception.
Jackson is lightning quick, excellent versus tight coverage, and he has only missed 10 games in 7 seasons, which isn't bad for a 169-pound wide-out. Washington's decision to start Kirk Cousins--a quarterback who thinks he has the arm of Jay Cutler and sturdy frame of Ben Roethlsiberger at the most inopportune moments--slams the door shut on Jackson's top-10 upside in Washington.
Carolina Panthers: DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan STewart, and Illegal RoadBlocks
Forget about DeAngelo Williams the Steeler backing up one of the three best fantasy running backs in the NFL. Let's stroll down memory lane until we arrive at 2008, the year Williams was the No.1 fantasy back in the game after a rushing stat-line of 274-1518-18 and another 22-121-2 receiving. No runner in the top-20 was within a half-yard of Williams in per-carry-average.
The former Memphis star was arguably the best running back in football: excellent vision, terrific cutback ability, underrated power, and breakaway speed. The Panthers could give the short, but thick-bodied Williams a full workload and get the most out of him for a 6-8 years. Fantasy owners would have loved it.
The same could have been said in 2008 of rookie Jonathan Stewart, who was RB24 and averaged 4.6 yards per carry while posting 183-835-10 on the ground as Williams' backfield partner. In terms of size, speed, agility, and skills, Stewart was among the most promising prospects I've ever evaluated at his position. Chronic foot, leg, and ankle injuries were the only barriers to Stewart's entry as a future fantasy RB1.
By 2009, Stewart busted through those entrance gates with a 221-1133-10 stat-line (5.1 yards per carry) for a full 16-game output, earning RB11 acclaim in fantasy leagues. It was Williams who missed three games that year and he still managed 216-117-7. Smash and Dash was dead before it was even born.
In 2010, Williams missed 10 games and for the next few years contended with Mike Goodson and Mike Tolbert in addition to Jonathan Stewart, who missed 21 games over the span of 4 seasons: 2 games in 2010; 7 in 2012; 10 in 2013; and 2 in 2014. Carolina had a justifiable argument for keeping both backs, but we all hated how the Panthers used them. Neither player got into a rhythm, the split workload didn't help the team, and fantasy owners were putting chips on top-5 RB talents delivering low-end RB2 production at best.
In hindsight, Williams should have been the guy and the Panthers should have dealt Stewart. You could argue it the other way, but Williams had a better track record with his health. Add Stuart's production in 2011 to Williams' totals and Carolina would have had the No.2 fantasy back instead of the No.25 and No.26 runners. Add Mike Tolbert's production in 2012 to Williams' totals and Williams is likely the No.6 fantasy back. If Williams earned Tolbert's workload in addition to his in 2013, he's ahead of Marshawn Lynch for the No.4 spot.
Williams and those fantasy owners who believed in his football talent got the shaft. Meanwhile, Williams is in Pittsburgh and likely to deliver no worse and strong RB2 production while Le'Veon Bell is serving his suspension--and Bell is telling the media that he and Williams are the best 1-2 punch in the NFL. Take it from a great running back to recognize another great running back.
Too bad Carolina was too cautious.
Bernard may be more Brian Westbrook than Ray Rice as a style of runner, but he can work between the tackles. There may be justifiable concerns about Bernard breaking down too fast to enjoy a productive 3-5 years as a lead back, but I'm not automatically buying it. Jeremy Hill was the No.7 fantasy RB from Weeks 8-17 last year when Bernard missed Weeks 9-11. Ride one, get value at another position for the other--that's what I'd want a fantasy judge to order from the Bengals.
49ers: Position-Based Hate Crimes AGainst Vernon Davis
I'd like to say that Mike Martz is a wide receiver and running back supremacist. He hates move tight ends. Name a productive receiving tight end in a Martz offense and and I'll show you a picture of a plaid shark with goose wings that can breathe air and drive a car.
I have decent circumstantial evidence for these accusations, but I don't think I can prove it. Vernon Davis was the only clear-cut case of a great receiving tight end anchored to the line of scrimmage during Martz's tenure as an offensive mastermind. I get that Davis is a fine blocker, but there's more to that "they needed him to block" excuse floated around at that time.
Vernon Davis was the No.14 fantasy TE the year prior to Martz and the No.1 TE the year after the 49ers cut Martz. Alex Smith's slow development also deserves some blame. So does Davis' early immaturity that required a sideline berating from Mike Singletary.
Most of the blame goes to the team. There's too much evidence in favor of Davis as a game-changer. I realize that conceptual skill matters, so it's possible that Rob Gronkowski might have more savvy than Davis--I don't know--but physically, I'd take Davis over Gronkowski without any regrets. Freakish is an overused term among football writers, but it suits Davis:
- 6-3, 253 lbs.
- 4.38-second 40
- Vertical: 42 inches
- 20 Shuttle: 4.17 seconds
- Three-Cone Drill: 7.00 seconds
- Bench Press: 33 reps
- Broad Jump: 18 inches