2009 Year In Review – AFC & NFC
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.
It’s never easy for a person to admit their mistakes. It’s
even harder to do so in front of a national audience. But admitting
– and learning from – one’s mistakes is a vital
part to growing and becoming a better person and, for the purposes
of this four-part series of articles, a better fantasy prognosticator.
There are many fantasy “experts” that would not dare
do what I am about to do, which is look back at their projections
from late August or early September of last season and revisit
their triumphs as well as their regrets. (And yes, I was as shockingly
off on some of my projections just about as often as I was right
on the mark.) But I believe this is a useful exercise for all
parties involved and perhaps will give even more credence to my
belief in the PSAs. At the very least, it should allow each of
us to see just how much faith I should have in my ability to “predict
the schedule” and how much trust I deserve from each of
you when I do so.
After much debate on how I should go about deciding whether or
not I projected a player accurately, I finally settled on the
system that I explain over the next few paragraphs. It didn’t
make much sense to stack up my 15-game forecasts against the player’s
actual 16-game numbers and with the number of teams that have
essentially taken Week 17 off recently (if not most of December),
it seemed prudent to measure each player on their points-per-game
average. The next step was deciding how to measure accuracy. Again,
a simple hit-miss system was too rigid, so I added two more categories
to analyze the accuracy of my projections.
Hit: my projection was within +/-
1 FPPG (fantasy point per game)
On-Target: my projection was within
+/- 1.1 and 3 FPPG
Off-Target: my projection was within
+/- 3.1 and 5 FPPG
Miss: my projection missed by more
than 5 FPPG
Before we dive into the heart of this walk down memory lane,
I want to explain two more areas I decided to address: 1) the
percentage listed next to the “hit”, “on-target”.
“off-target” and “miss” and 2) the names
listed after the percentage. The percentage is simply a reflection
of how much each of those four standards fit into the accuracy
“pie” while the names reflect the players who actually
fell into that category. (So, for example, Washington ended up
with seven greens out of a possible 18 – nine PPR and nine
non-PPR projections – so I ended up “hitting”
on 39% of my projections for the Redskins.) Finally, I will hand
myself a grade at the end of each “team report”, with
weight on that grade being given to the quality of player. For
example, a miss on a player like Tom Brady would send my grade
down much more than a miss on Josh Reed. Conversely, a hit on
Brady would skyrocket my grade much more than a hit on Reed.
Explanations of column headers below:
PPR Margin – The difference
(plus or minus) between a player’s actual FPPG and the FPPG
I projected for him prior to the start of the 2009 season in PPR
NPPR Margin – The difference
(plus or minus) between a player’s actual FPPG and the FPPG
I projected for him prior to the start of the 2009 season in non-PPR
Actual PPR – The amount
of FPPG a player scored during the 2009 season in PPR leagues.
Actual NPPR – The amount
of FPPG a player scored during the 2009 season in non-PPR leagues.
PPR Avg – The FPPG average
I projected for the player prior to the start of the 2009 season
in PPR leagues.
NPPR Avg – The FPPG average
I projected for the player prior to the start of the 2009 season
in non-PPR leagues.
| Color Codes
Hit – (14%) Nelson. Not much
to brag about here. Actually, Buffalo treated me so bad last season
that it didn’t bother using its most athletic TE near as much
as it should have. Incidentally, Nelson’s opening-week score
was the only TD scored by a Bills’ TE in 2009.
On-Target – (21%) Reed, Evans
(non-PPR). In all honesty, my forecasts for the 2009 Bills offense
weren’t as bad as they appear here. I
actually predicted the demise of Buffalo’s offense following
the late preseason firing of OC Turk Schonert, but it happened
after my last Big Board was released, so I’m compelled to
use the projections that I shared with each of you beforehand.
Suffice it to say that if another preseason like 2009 happens
again in the near future (where OC's are fired just before the
start of the season) and you haven’t drafted your fantasy
teams yet, feel free to dramatically downgrade every offensive
player or place them on your do-not-draft list.
Off-Target – (36%) Jackson,
Evans (PPR), Lynch and Owens (the last two in non-PPR). Evans
and Owens suffered mightily due to mediocre play at QB and the
level of play-calling inexperience from the coaches who replaced
Schonert. While the Bills were raving about Jackson in the preseason,
it was mostly for his work in the passing game. However, Lynch’s
three-game suspension to begin the season was the only opening
Jackson needed as he carried the Bills’ offense in Lynch’s
absence. The lesson to be learned here is that very few RBs anymore
have their spot in the lineup “committee-proofed”.
Three games is more than enough time nowadays for a player to
go from best supporting actor to lead man. Think of it this way:
if you knew a RB was named the starter for Weeks 14-16, would
you do everything in your power to acquire him? The same thought
process should apply to Weeks 1-3, with the potential added bonus
being that you may be able to use him beyond that time frame.
Misses – (29%) Edwards, Owens
and Lynch (the last two in PPR). Having touched on Lynch and Owens
already, perhaps no one was more affected by the departure of
Schonert than Edwards. Combine that with the porous offensive
line, Owens’ penchant for dropping passes and Evans’
inconsistency and the QB was bound to fail. My main mistake with
Edwards (besides releasing my projections before Schonert was
fired) was slightly overestimating the “The Terrell Owens
Grade: C While I could
not have foreseen Schonert’s firing (which saves me from
a D-grade), I was a bit too carefree in projecting Owens’
impact on the team. I’m fortunate Jackson wasn’t a
complete miss as well, but in my defense there was little evidence
prior to the 2009 regular season to suggest that Buffalo would
be so quick to push aside Lynch in the event Jackson performed
well as the feature back.
Hits – (25%) Bess, Camarillo.
Just as I’m going to deflect criticism for some of last season’s
misses, I’m also going to keep my ego in check with some of
these hits as well. While I’m sure there were plenty of “experts”
that missed the boat on these two WRs, the fact of the matter is
that “experts” shouldn’t be all that far off on
players such as Bess and Camarillo (receivers that move the chains
but are poor bets for high TD totals).
On-Target – (6%) Brown (non-PPR). There was very little
evidence before the start of the 2009 season that the Dolphins
would a) not use their RBs more often in the passing game with
no consistent play-making threat at WR or TE and b) make Williams
the receiving back after spending most of the offseason praising
Brown’s hands. A typical 30-catch season, 200-300 receiving-yard
season would have made my 2009 projections for Brown a definite
Off-Target – (25%) Fasano, Brown (PPR) and Ginn (non-PPR).
Much like a pitcher picking up a win in baseball, scoring touchdowns
in the NFL can sometimes be a fluke. The elite players in both
sports almost always turn in a high number of wins or TDs each
season, but when the non-elite players seemingly come out of nowhere,
we are often left to ask ourselves if the performance was the
start of a trend or a chance occurrence. Despite posting a better
per-game average in terms of yards and catches than 2008, Fasano’s
2009 season saw him visit the end zone five fewer times. Those
missing scores were the difference between being a fantasy revelation
in 2008 and a marginal TE2 at best in 2009. Ginn, who became just
the latest example of a WR that failed to produce to the level
that his incredible athletic ability says he should, certainly
suffered from Miami’s run-heavy approach. But given the
fact that he rarely ever saw double coverage, someone with his
skill set should have posted more than three decent fantasy performances
last season. Ginn appeared ready to assume the WR1 mantle in Miami
after a huge performance in Week 2, but pretty much fell flat
on his face instead.
Misses – (44%) Pennington, White, Williams and Ginn (PPR).
Unfortunately, Pennington was lost for the season in the third
week and never had a chance to come close to my projections. White
was supposed to be the point man for the evolution of the “Wildcat”
but the team rarely gave him a chance to live up to his second-round
draft status. Williams was a revelation – first as Mr. Outside
to Brown’s Mr. Inside and then as the lead back once Brown
was lost for the season. The key lesson I will take from this
group of projections is to value what I see with my own eyes in
the preseason more than what I am reading from the camps. In this
case, I could see Williams running every bit as well as Brown
in the preseason, but I chose to instead believe that he appeared
to “look every bit his age” in practice.
Grade: D While I believe
that Pennington’s injury had a significant impact on the
accuracy of my projections, it doesn’t change the fact I
missed the boat on Williams and, to a certain extent, Ginn.
(While I’ll put some blame on the injury and coaching
situations for each of my first two team projections – as
well as the fact that Buffalo and Miami were the first two teams
I projected –the off-target and miss rates for these two
teams are unacceptable to me. Fortunately, it gets better…
Hits – (28%) Morris, Taylor
(PPR), Faulk and Welker (both non-PPR). Not much to say here outside
of knowing that as long as New England insists on carrying at
least four RBs – especially these four – every one
of them is going to get a shot at some point, usually due to injury.
On-Target – (72%) Brady, Maroney, Moss, Galloway, Watson,
Faulk and Welker (the last two in PPR) and Taylor (non-PPR). I
admittedly set the bar a bit high for Brady, but I really can’t
complain too much about being less than two points per game off.
While Moss certainly had his days, I was probably too optimistic
with him as well, considering the fact that Brady was still hesitant
about stepping into his throws following knee surgery, meaning
he probably wasn’t going to go too crazy with the deep ball.
Off-Target – (0%)
Misses – (0%)
Grade: A- Now that is more
like it! I am particularly proud of just how well I handicapped
the Pats’ backfield, which is always a nightmare for fantasy
Hits – (19%) Cotchery, Smith
(PPR). I’m not going to brag too much about coming close
on Smith’s PPR value, but I’ll take a bit of pride
in nailing Cotchery. While we knew going into 2009 that New York
would be running the football a lot, it wasn’t easy to distinguish
what receiver would carry the passing game in the preseason: Cotchery
or Keller. As it turned out, Keller was less involved than I had
predicted and I was in the minority of people who felt he would
not be a TE1-worthy player in fantasy.
On-Target – (56%) Sanchez, Greene, Keller, Washington,
Clowney and Smith (the last three in non-PPR). There was little
reason to believe Sanchez would have a Matt Ryan-like impact for
such a run-heavy team, but as it turns out, I was just a bit too
optimistic about him (and I thought I was being pretty critical
of him last summer). Clowney, who once again failed to deliver
on his preseason promise, was quickly made an afterthought once
Braylon Edwards was acquired.
Off-Target – (25%) Jones, Washington and Clowney (the last
two in PPR). While the committee approach was the right move for
Jones and Washington, I rarely felt Washington was used like he
should have been prior to his gruesome injury in Week 7, which
contributed greatly to my margin of error with him. With Washington
out of the way and Greene injured early and fumbling at midseason,
the path was clear for Jones to touch the ball at least 19 times
in every game from Week 10 until the end of the regular season.
Misses – (0%).
Grade: B+ This one is a
tough one for me to grade simply because I feel like I got most
of them right, but I got the timing wrong. I sang the praises
of Greene all season long, but he didn’t reward me (or his
fantasy owners) until the playoffs. Had he not been injured early
on and not fumbled so much around midseason, I believe my projections
would have been pretty accurate. With that said, Jones was the
workhorse back all regular season long, therefore, I must grade
myself down for being as far off-target with him as I was.
Hits – (22%) Choice, Crayton.
It’s hard to get overly excited about nailing the numbers
of the Cowboys’ underused third-down back and their slot
On-Target – (28%) Jones, Barber and Bennett (both non-PPR),
Witten (PPR). On a positive note, I did a pretty good job at predicting
how many points per game would come out of the Dallas backfield,
however, I underestimated the team’s fascination with Felix’s
big-play ability. Believe me, Jones has a place on this team to
be sure, but the Cowboys’ must do their best not to overexpose
him. At 5-10 and 218 pounds, he isn’t a lightweight, but
he hasn’t exactly shown the ability to stay healthy for
an entire season either. As for Barber, it was nearly impossible
to imagine a scenario in which he was more productive as a runner
and receiver (on a per-yard basis) but catch half as many balls
as he did in 2008 and score two fewer times.
Off-Target – (33%) Romo, Barber, Bennett and Williams (the
last three in PPR), Witten (non-PPR). Obviously, the emergence
of Austin gave the ‘Boys the WR that not many people thought
they had, which obviously catapulted Romo’s overall point
total. How fluky was Witten’s season in 2009? Of players
with 94 or more catches in recent NFL history, I could only find
two players (Larry Centers, 1995; Troy Brown, 2002) who posted
more catches than Witten and scored three TDs or less. If Witten
scores 4-7 times like he did in four of previous six seasons,
my non-PPR projection starts looking a whole lot better.
Misses – (17%) Austin, Williams (non-PPR). While I certainly
enjoyed the contributions of Austin on a few teams last season,
it is players like him who drive prognosticators crazy. Think
about it – at some point in practice, Austin has to be showing
off the kind of skill that allows him to explode in his first
career start. How can that player be fighting Crayton for snaps
through a quarter of the season? This goes to show you that on
a number of teams, changes don’t get made when the coach
wants them to get made, changes happen when the GM (or in this
case, the team owner) is ready for them to happen.
Grade: C- In an effort
to compliment and criticize myself at the same time, it’s
hard to give myself a decent grade when I see a double-digit miss
on the per-game average of a player. Conversely, at least he was
on my radar, which is more than I can say for most of the fantasy
community. Still, I was too far off on Romo and bought a bit too
much into Jerry Jones’ hype of a Bennett breakout.
Hits – (12.5%) Bradshaw.
It wasn’t hard to see Bradshaw was going to pick up a big
chunk of the production Derrick Ward left behind when he left
for Tampa Bay, but it wasn’t easy to foresee just how well
he was going to do, especially in light of his season-long injury
On-Target – (25%) Manning, Ware. As I will detail below,
it’s not difficult to understand how Manning made my projection
for him look a bit off when the Giants transitioned from a power-running
team into a pass-heavy offense, doing so without a single accomplished
WR going into the season.
Off-Target – (50%) Jacobs, Nicks, Boss, Smith, Hixon (the
last two in non-PPR). Although I had the right idea with Smith’s
PPR projection, even the most enthusiastic Smith supporter could
not have foreseen him catching over 100 passes last season. While
many blamed Jacobs for running a bit timid, I believe I was one
of the first to suggest that he appeared to be running with a
bum knee. As it turns out, I was right. Unfortunately, the realization
of a regular season injury can’t come in the preseason.
Nicks benefited from the fact that he entered the league with
a pro-ready body, but just as was the case for Smith, it would
have been hard to foresee New York turning into such a pass-heavy
offense. It would have been equally difficult to believe Hixon
would fall victim to injury in Week 1 as well, paving the way
for Mario Manningham and Nicks to get involved right away.
Misses – (12.5%) Smith, Hixon (both PPR). As is the case
most years in the NFL, a significant drop in one area tends to
lead to an incredible rise in another area. With the Giants’
inability to run the football last year, Smith was often required
to convert the tough yards Jacobs had in previous years. Just
about everyone had Smith tagged for a career year, but who knew
New York would turn into a passing team and give any WR a chance
to catch 100 balls?
Grade: C- Although no one
could have really foreseen the dramatic falloff of touchdowns
from Jacobs (or knee injury that likely contributed to his woes),
missing both his PPR and non-PPR value by nearly four points per
game is too much. Considering the huge season Smith enjoyed, I
wasn’t as far off as I could have been. With that said,
the gap was still too much.
Hits – (25%) McNabb, McCoy.
Outside of the Terrell Owens years, McNabb has been a good –
but not great – fantasy option. Much like a game manager
in the NFL, McNabb the fantasy player has typically been good
enough to not be the reason why his owners’ team wins a
game but rarely is he ever the difference maker in a fantasy win
or loss. So, in some respects I am proud I was able to reflect
that in my predictions, although he was one player that I would
have expected to be next to elite in 2009. A prouder moment was
realizing how close I was on McCoy. The Eagles never found a concrete
role for their rookie RB, but he produced just about every time
HC Andy Reid allowed him a chance to touch the ball on a semi-regular
basis. Considering how much hybrid RB/FB Leonard Weaver chipped
away at his value late in the season, I’m probably somewhat
fortunate I was as close as I was on McCoy.
On-Target – (38%) Jackson, Avant, Maclin. The Eagles’
projection I was most pleased with was Jackson, who more than
fulfilled the top-end WR2 prediction I placed on him last summer.
He would have done even better, but Philly was highly unpredictable
with how often he saw the ball – a topic I’ve touched
upon on more than one occasion. It’s a shame that I didn’t
just project Curtis to miss half of the season and mark Maclin
down for the same production. However, I really had no strong
reason to believe that Curtis would go down to injury so quickly
and that Maclin would adapt so quickly after coming from the spread
offense he played in at Missouri.
Off-Target – (18.5%) Curtis, Celek (non-PPR). I’m
not going to raise a big fuss over missing on Curtis. I can’t
think of an owner that would have been willing to count on him
entering the season as a starter in a three-WR league. I’m
actually happy that my projections for Curtis – Philly’s
WR2 to enter the season – were almost spot on for Maclin,
who ended up becoming the Eagles’ WR2.
Misses – (18.5%) Westbrook, Celek (PPR). Any veteran fantasy
owner knew going into last season what they had in Westbrook –
a potential fantasy-scoring machine limited only by his (in)ability
to stay on the field. Last year – after putting together
three straight relatively healthy seasons – Westbrook regressed
into the same injury risk he was at the beginning of his career,
although it’s hard to pin the blame for 2009 solely on him.
I was probably a bit too cautious on Celek in retrospect, although
I had trouble believing defenses wouldn’t adjust to him
after his great run in the 2008 postseason. When Jackson stepped
up (taking the onus off him) and the short-yardage running game
continued to fail (forcing Philly to opt to pass on short-yardage
conversions), it combined to become the perfect storm for the
Grade: B- On one hand,
I felt I was predicting Celek’s breakout prior to last season.
Little did I know that in his first year as the full-time starter
that he would go on to blow anything a healthy L.J. Smith ever
did out of the water. Westbrook hurts the grade a bit too, but
even as injury-prone as he has been throughout his career, I’m
not going to grade myself too harshly on a player who was extremely
unlucky when it came to injuries last season. Surprisingly, I
feel my hits were more powerful than my misses and I scored twice
as many “on-targets” as “off-targets”.
Hits – (39%) Betts, Moss,
Kelly, Randle El (non-PPR). I don’t expect a great deal
of congratulations for recognizing Moss was the only WR that Campbell
had for most of the season that could help him move the ball down
the field. Still, it took some guts on my part to predict he would
suffer a 2-3 FPPG decline from his 2008 rebirth.
On-Target – (33%) Campbell, Cooley, Randle El (PPR), Thomas
(non-PPR). Campbell was miscast in the West Coast offense from
the start, but that didn’t keep him from posting above-average
fantasy numbers more often than he should have, considering his
supporting cast. That’s why it is a bit shocking to me that
I actually missed low on his projection as I was higher than most
on him entering the season.
Off-Target – (22%) Portis, Thomas (PPR), Davis (non-PPR).
As I’ll reference later, the Redskins’ offensive line
entered 2009 as one of the biggest question marks and ended the
season as one of the worst units at any position in the league.
I’ll admit that despite predicting a down year for Portis,
I was still too high on his final numbers, which was probably
my biggest mistake with my projections for the Redskins.
Misses – (6%) Davis (PPR). I’m not going to raise
a big fuss over this one; the only reason Davis saw enough playing
time to score as well as he did was due to Cooley’s injury.
Grade: B+ (For what it
is worth, I sure seemed to close out each division strong in this
article.) It’d be easy to knock my grade down due to Portis,
but to be fair, he never had a chance once his below-average line
started falling apart at the seams. Those types of occurrences
will happen and I won’t hold myself accountable for predicting
offensive line injuries. The keys here were nailing Moss and getting
pretty close on Cooley. Campbell was a plus as well and is the
reason I will not give myself anything lower than a “B”.
Suggestions, comments, musings about the article or fantasy football
in general? E-mail me.