A Matter Of Trust
Aggressiveness is a characteristic that tends to reward fantasy
owners more times than not. In the NFL, an offensive line will sometimes
hold up long enough to give the quarterback enough time to beat
man coverage down the field and make the defense look foolish against
a fierce pass rush. More often than not, though, when a defense
brings the heat and forces the action, crisis management becomes
the name of the game for the opposing team.
In that same vein, I hope to apply that same kind of pressure
to the owners in all of my leagues by beating my opponents to
the punch in regards to personnel moves. Sometimes, reaching a
conclusion about a player too quickly is much like trying to blitz
Peyton Manning – dangerous and painful. However, coming
to a correct conclusion two weeks or two minutes quicker than
your opponents is considered foresight. Fantasy owners can be
a uneasy lot, knowing that one two-or-three-game losing streak
can wreak irreparable damage to his/her team’s chances to
make a visit to the fantasy postseason. But just as it is in the
NFL and in life, it’s hard to land the big prize by playing
scared. Thus, I will strive each week to help each of you become
a smart blitzer, so to speak.
After watching a few of the worst games over one weekend that
I can remember in some time*** - and how it affected the fantasy
football world - one thing kept coming to mind: who can we trust
in fantasy? Seriously, no one should expect a professional in
any vocation to work at peak efficiency 100% of the time, but
for a league in which so many "pros" are making more
money in one season than many of us will make over the 25-30 years,
it would seem that consistency would not be so hard to find. Granted,
most of us do not have to: worry about RBBC at our jobs (imagine
for a second if lawyers or doctors "shared the load"
at their jobs, for example, one lawyer was the opening argument
and cross-examination specialist while another one strictly handled
closing arguments), face the prospect of the media trying to pull
apart your co-workers at every turn or concern ourselves with
people at work whose sole purpose is to stop us from doing what
we want to do - even if sometimes seems that way.
But getting back to the issue of trust, who makes your list of
"trustworthy" players? Using consistency scores over
the last two seasons, I decided to investigate this a bit further.
Just as in school where 70% is a passing score, winning about
70% of your games during a 13-week fantasy regular season will
leave you with a 9-4 record (.692 winning %), which will almost
always get you a playoff berth - if not a division title and first-round
bye. Using that same rationale, I'm setting the bar at 70% consistency
for all fantasy players (or players who are subpar less than 30%
of the time) across the board.
(Remember, this analysis is only for the last two seasons and
is simply looking for fantasy players who were subpar less than
30% of the time they took the field. Because the "measuring
sticks" change each year, I cannot give a firm fantasy point
average for each position, but rather the "subpar level"
that each position recorded that season. At QB, that measuring
stick is 19.12 fantasy points/game for 2009 and 17.21 in 2008.
At RB, the numbers are 12.61 and 12.12. WRs check in at 11.21
and 11.60 and TEs hover around 10.56 and 9.32, respectively. Lastly,
this is for standard-scoring, 12-team PPR leagues (all TDs worth
six points) that require one starting QB and TE, two starting
RBs and three starting WRs.) I think you'll be surprised by the
- Aaron Rodgers
- Larry Fitzgerald
- Wes Welker
- Andre Johnson
- Dwayne Bowe
- Antonio Gates
- Tony Gonzalez
Welker: Your fantasy best friend.
Meet your fantasy "best friends", the players who over
the last two seasons were there for you more often than anyone
else. Consider the magnitude of this list for a minute if you
would. At QB, you need your fantasy signal-caller to average 200
yards passing and two scores in seven of every 10 games. At RB,
the averages are 60 yards and a score. At WR, five catches for
70 yards will do the trick and, at TE, five catches for 50 yards
is just about enough. Further consider this list could have been
reduced to five if you want to get technical and hold injuries
or suspensions against a player. For example, Welker missed a
few early games due to injury and Bowe just got done serving a
four-game suspension. What's most surprising to me is the fact
that not a single RB made the list. Believe it or not, last year's
qualifiers were Matt Forte, LaDainian Tomlinson, Steve Slaton,
Thomas Jones and Peyton Hillis. (Peyton Hillis, really?!?!?)
Perhaps I'm being a bit unfair at setting the cutoff at 30%.
For those of you wanting to know, here is the list of additional
players that would make the cut if I raised the bar to 35%:
- Drew Brees
- Peyton Manning
- LaDainian Tomlinson
- Frank Gore
- Vincent Jackson
- Brandon Marshall
- Dallas Clark
However, if we were to make the cutoff at 40%, we'd also be assuming
that 8-5 (.615 winning %) always gets fantasy owners into the
playoffs, which it does not. And we all know that somewhere along
the way, at least of our opponents will make you their Super Bowl,
which shrinks the margin of error even further. Granted, not all
of your consistent players are going to hit rock bottom in the
same week, so I understand this analysis is a bit lacking in some
areas. With that said, it's becoming easier to see why the gap
between the #1 team and #10 team is about three games in competitive
leagues - we are dealing with a lot of mediocre fantasy players,
some much more so than others.
How is this possible? After all, I'm certainly not calling Manning
or Chris Johnson mediocre, am I? The answer is no. In psychology,
students are often taught that “people are a product of
their environment". The same statement applies here as well.
Manning, for instance, can blame his knee rehab in 2008 and young
WR corps in 2009 for being left off the first list. Johnson was
being eased in last year during his rookie season and dealt with
a more pass-heavy offensive approach from his offense before the
bye in 2009. Steven Jackson's lack of a credible supporting cast
recently has made him less consistent than he is capable of while
players like Maurice Jones-Drew and Ray Rice are off both lists
entirely due to their respective delays to "feature-back"
Looking ahead to 2010, you're going to see roughly 10-12 of the
17 aforementioned players go in the first two rounds of fantasy
drafts next summer and rightfully so, barring the unforeseen.
But some of these players (in particular Bowe, LT, Smith, Gates
and Gonzalez) will all be seen as players coming off disappointing
seasons and thus will see their stock drop. But should it?
Due to his age and shaky future with his current employer, LT
will be a hard sell as anything more than a low-end RB2 next season.
Outside of him, I think the other 16 names listed above are players
that you definitely can "trust". I'm not going to even
attempt a Big Board for
public consumption anytime soon, but I'll project now that if
you can kick off your draft with Gore (Round 1), Manning (Round
2), Welker (Round 3), Smith or Bowe (Round 4) and Gonzalez (Round
5) next summer, you will find that you have yourself an incredibly
consistent and competent team. The point I want to make here is
that in a game like fantasy football that has so many variables
contributing to its outcome each week, the goal should be to land
as many constants as possible. With 4-5 "constants"
making up your nine-man starting lineup, you increase your margin
for error significantly - which is a very good thing. Ultimately,
the draft only puts you in position to succeed; in-season management
takes your team to the playoffs and wins championships. But the
path to fantasy success begins by locking up as many constants
as you can early on - so you don't leave early-season points (and
thus, wins) on the bench - and easily identify your team's weaknesses
before your competition takes advantage. When an owner can use
the waiver wire as a way to supplement their bench as opposed
to their starting lineup, then it is quite likely their team is
in very good shape.
So let's get back to what makes even the NFL's best players "untrustworthy".
Sometimes, the biggest obstacle can be the one group of people
that fantasy owners SHOULD be able to count on - coaching. For
as much good as the great coaches do for their teams, isn't it
amazing how often even they forget their team's identity? If I
can say that about the great coaches, what does it say about the
average or poor ones? The answer to these types of questions usually
can be answered in one of two ways: 1) the GM "hints"
who should play and the head coach or coordinators don't feel
they has the authority to go against him or 2) the coaching staff
- as a whole - are poor talent evaluators who can easily be swayed
by a box score or the public. One of my biggest never-to-be-answered
questions is: what exactly goes on during an NFL practice? Of
course I'm being a bit sarcastic, but I ask because I find it
amazing how often players just seem to burst on the scene. Let's
examine a few pertinent examples:
- How is it possible that Miles
Austin goes from a part-timer to a player who must be double-teamed
in less than a month? Are we to believe that Austin merely flashed
in practice, only to become option #1 the same week Roy Williams
was sidelined? Of course not.
- How does Jamaal
Charles go from Larry Johnson's part-time sidekick to a
poor man's version of Chris Johnson in half a season? Apparently,
Johnson had built up so much good will with the new coaching
staff that Todd Haley & Co. saw fit to give LJ 132 carries to
Charles' 23 prior to the bye (and LJ's subsequent suspension
and release). It should also be noted that in standard scoring
PPR leagues, Charles somehow still managed to outscore Johnson
in three of the Chiefs' first seven games.
- How does Jerome
Harrison post the third-highest rushing total in NFL history
one game after getting benched after seven carries? Was Jamal
Lewis capable of putting up this kind of performance this year?
Not a chance. James Davis may have had a chance if he could
have stayed healthy, but Cleveland wasted valuable time - in
what we all knew was a rebuilding year - giving Lewis carries
when it should have been using that time to figure out if Harrison
or Joshua Cribbs were part of the solution in the backfield.
- Lastly, how is it that Michael
Bush has the each of the Raiders' last three 100-yard rushing
performances and is often the least used of the three backs?
With all three Raiders' RBs - Bush, Justin Fargas and Darren
McFadden - all having recorded at least 90 carries this season,
isn't it a bit odd that Bush is sporting a healthy 5.0 YPC while
the other two backs are each under 4.0 YPC?
These examples - and others like them - are the situations that
drive even the best fantasy owners crazy. Each of these players
saw significant time on the rosters of fantasy teams in each of
my money leagues throughout the season, but at some point of the
fantasy season, their spot on the roster became expendable because
we can no longer wait for a coach to see what we've already seen
in a certain player. Despite the fact that coaches and personnel
people spend countless hours, days and weeks observing every on-field
move players make, the light does not come on quick enough to
help us fantasy owners who invested a draft pick and 6-8 weeks
of patience. I'm all for the game of secrecy that NFL coaches
love to play with each other - even if it pains me as a fantasy
owner - because the element of surprise often helps teams gain
an edge. But when NFL coaches leave gamebreaking players on the
sidelines of games while other less productive players are seeing
5-10 times more snaps per game at their position because of the
size of their contract (and ultimately costing their teams in
the process), we are dumbfounded.
I'm going to venture off the NFL path now to address the sad
conclusion to another college football season. I'm far from the
first person to weigh in about the BCS, but year after year I
am amazed by the BCS' inability to pit the two best teams in college
football against each other when that is supposed to be its sole
purpose. Michael Wilbon, columnist for the Washington Post and
co-host of ESPN's "Pardon The Interruption", fondly
refers to the BCS as "the cartel". By my count, the
BCS - since 2001 - is 2-6-1 in picking the right game (two no-brainers,
six wrong picks and one season in which only a playoff could have
honestly decided a champion. Let's review the BCS picks from over
the last nine seasons:
- Not that anyone was going to beat the 2001 Miami Hurricanes,
but an Oregon team led by Joey Harrington and Maurice Morris finished
the season stronger than just about any team in the nation - something
that could not be said about Nebraska, which tailed off badly
at the end of what started out as a dominant season. A weak 31-21
victory over an average Kansas State team led to a 62-36 blowout
loss to Colorado two weeks later in a game that really wasn't
even that close. Undeterred, the BCS decided that nationally-televised
loss wasn't enough to knock out the Huskers, who were completely
outclassed by the 'Canes, 37-14. Somewhat appropriately, Oregon
blasted Colorado in its bowl game matchup, 38-16.
- It’s hard to argue with Willis McGahee's Ohio State Buckeyes
playing Miami in one of college football's great games following
the 2002 season. Of course, it was hard for the BCS to get this
one wrong with these two powerhouses being the only undefeated
teams that season.
- In 2003, the BCS took a bashing by selecting LSU and Oklahoma
(instead of media favorite USC). Why? Much like the Huskers and
Buffalos a couple of years earlier, the Sooners were embarrassed
by Kansas St. in their last game (the Big 12 Championship), 35-7.
That 28-point drubbing was more BCS-friendly that USC's three-point
loss at Cal in September of that season. Long story short, USC
was handed the mythical "People's National Champion"
that season while the Tigers downed Oklahoma, 21-14.
- One of the biggest mistakes (in my estimation) in BCS history
came in 2004 when undefeated Auburn was left out of the National
Championship game in favor of Oklahoma and USC. While not many
people saw anything wrong with this arrangement, anyone who really
saw Auburn play that season knew the Tigers' running game (led
by Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown) and incredible defense
was the right matchup against the Trojans' explosive trio of Matt
Leinart, Reggie Bush and LenDale White. Of course, USC thrashed
- Ah, bliss. USC played Texas in one of the greatest games in
college football history. Of course, the game was a no-brainer
as the Trojans and Longhorns were mostly dominant on their way
to registering the only two undefeated records leading up to that
historic showdown at the Rose Bowl.
- Following the 2006 season, we were exposed to the first of
two successive Ohio State beatdowns. However, unless the BCS was
willing to consider the third undefeated that season, Boise State,
this game pitted the only two remaining unbeaten teams. Florida
defeated the Buckeyes, 41-14.
- In 2007, there was more chaos. Only one team, Hawaii, finished
the regular season unblemished. But much like other WAC teams
this decade, no one chose to take them seriously and after one
look at its schedule, it's easy to see why. In a year that five
or six teams probably had legit cases to play for the national
title, only a playoff could have settled this quagmire. LSU downed
the Buckeyes, 38-24.
- The BCS' fascination with Oklahoma continued following the
2008 season. Despite Boise State finishing the season undefeated,
USC rolling through the Pac-10 after a tough road loss to Oregon
State early on and Texas actually defeating the Sooners, the BCS
hid behind a tiebreaker rule as opposed to using common sense
in putting the Longhorns in the title game. Florida defeated Oklahoma,
24-14, in a game that really failed to hold my attention throughout.
- This year is by far the biggest argument yet for a playoff.
Even though Alabama and Texas both are unbeaten, there are an
additional three teams that enter the postseason undefeated, which
makes this season a "pass the eyeball test" season for
the zero-loss teams. In my estimation, the two best teams in college
football this year - by far - were Alabama and TCU. Texas' signature
win was probably a 41-14 thumping of Oklahoma St., which later
got shelled by a mediocre Oklahoma team, 27-0. Worse yet, the
Longhorns struggled to beat Texas A&M and got a lot of help
to beat a Nebraska team that simply did more to stop itself on
offense in the Big 12 Championship than the Texas defense did.
But it gets worse. Rather than give the other three undefeated
teams each a shot at the "big guys", the BCS decided
to take the least well-rounded team of the bunch (Cincinnati)
and place it against the team that a lot of people thought was
the best team in college football before the SEC Championship.
Next, rather than allow Boise State and TCU to whip a team from
a BCS conference, someone decided that it would be a great idea
to let the two non-BCS teams knock each other off instead. While
the "experts" can sell the Fiesta Bowl as another "battle
of the undefeated", the game hurts college football long-term.
Instead of giving two teams an opportunity to show they belong
in the national title discussion, this game simply saves BCS conference
teams from the embarrassment of getting beat by non-BCS teams
while minimalizing the accomplishments of the Broncos or Horned
Frogs. This hurts recruiting and, ultimately, the ability for
either team to maintain their success. Unfortunately, I have noticed
this same trend with the NCAA Tournament over the last few years
as the committee has resorted to pairing up as many "Cinderellas"
in the first round as possible in order to keep the bigger conference
teams around longer.
Perhaps everything I have offered up to this point is subjective,
but the fact that only three of the previous eight (I’m
predicting Alabama will make it three of nine) BCS title games
have been played within single digits suggests there has been
a single powerhouse team almost every year or a definite flaw
in the polling system. I’ll let you guess which one I think
Ultimately, I wanted to review this recent history of the BCS
because I wanted to see if there were other people like me who
not only feel like the BCS has removed some of the luster from
college football, but also feel like the "cartel" has
caused you to lose some degree of interest in college football.
Anymore, I can only watch an entire *regular season* college football
game if I am scouting for future NFL talent (which is still quite
often). However, I remember a time not so long ago where I could
spend all day Saturday taking in football and loving every minute
of it...but I digress.
As I write the Blitz for the final time in 2009, I'll leave you
with a short to-do list in order to improve as a fantasy owner
in time for next year. (Believe me, I'm far from perfect as a
At the end of each season, I like to sit back and take inventory
on what exactly happened. Just like with anything else, the sooner
you complete this process, the more you'll likely remember what
happened and how it happened. For example, if you were to take
a long break from fantasy football after this week, the chances
you'll remember just how big of an impact the losses of DE Aaron
Smith and S Troy Polamalu had on Pittsburgh's defense will probably
fade from your memory, for example. No offense to any of the players
I'm about to mention, but there is no way anyone can convince
me that Bruce Gradkowski (32.3), Aaron Rodgers (41.5), Chris Jennings
(13.3), Louis Murphy (28.8), Greg Jennings (22.8) or Jermichael
Finley (22.4) put up any of their eye-popping PPR totals against
this vaunted defense - one year removed from one of the best defensive
showings in NFL history - against a healthy Steelers' defense
in one season, much less a three-week period.
Something else I like to do as the current fantasy season winds
down is get a head start on the talent evaluation period for the
next fantasy season. This not only includes watching every bit
of NFL playoff action I can, but also involves taking in as many
of the college bowl games as possible. (Bowl season is a great
time to evaluate talent as well as seeing which players can perform
when the pressure is at its apex.) With nearly 70 teams playing
in the college postseason nowadays, the chances that you will
see next year's fantasy rookie contributors in action are very
Lastly, I try to put together a mini-Big Board at the end of
the fantasy season to leave me with some impression of how I feel
about the top 50-100 players heading into next season. I also
try to form a "wish list" for each team (does Houston
address its RB situation with a free agent/draft pick or wait
for Steve Slaton to come back healthy, for example), understanding
that an addition/subtraction from one area of a team affects several
players. The trick is understanding which additions/subtractions
help take pressure off the players on a team (and thereby increase
their effectiveness) and which additions/subtractions put more
pressure on players (causing you to decide whether a player on
his old team will get more touches, see more double teams or something
Does that sound like a lot? It's not. And understand going in,
that you will be wrong on occasion. But this preparation helps
you hit the ground running a lot easier in May and June when it
is time to start forming some opinions about the upcoming season
while your competition is, well, not doing much football-related.
Happy Holidays and good luck to everyone competing in your league's
fantasy title game(s). I'll be happy to answer any questions or
address any comments to help you secure a little extra dough or
bragging rights! In closing, it is only right to update each of
you on the team I referenced on several occasions throughout the
season – here is a link.
Much as I suggested in the article, I had a good feeling about
this team despite a 3-5 record at the time. Since I pushed all
my chips into the center of the table Jim Fassel-style, I have
yet to lose since, although I have a very formidable opponent
standing in my way this weekend. Here’s to hoping that I
can do Fassel one better and come home with the title.
That's all for 2009! Thank you to everyone who let me know just
how much they enjoyed the Blitz this season.
e-mail me with any questions/comments.
*** - The games referenced in the first paragraph were:
1) Buffalo-New England - in which the Bills' offense absolutely
dominated on their first offensive drive of the game and did next-to-nothing
2) Minnesota-Carolina - in which the Vikings played like they
knew they just clinched a division and officially declared themselves
a Brett Favre offense after giving Adrian Peterson a season-low
12 carries against the 26th-ranked run defense...all this despite
being within one score for nearly 3 1/2 quarters and
3) Washington-NY Giants - in which all but a handful of Redskins
checked in for the night early in the first quarter with their
new boss - GM Bruce Allen - in town for a nationally televised
game and most of the players supposedly playing for their jobs.