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2010 Year In Review – AFC & NFC West
Preseason Schedule Analysis

Divisions: East | North | South | West

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 lWest, 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, Arizona ended up with seven greens out of a possible 14 – seven PPR and seven non-PPR projections – so I ended up “hitting” on 42.9% of my projections for the Cardinals.) 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 Jamaal Charles would send my grade down much more than a miss on Darrius Heyward-Bey. Conversely, a hit on Charles would skyrocket my grade much more than a hit on Heyward-Bey.

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 2010 season in PPR leagues.

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 2010 season in non-PPR leagues.

Actual PPR – The amount of FPPG a player scored during the 2010 season in PPR leagues.

Actual NPPR – The amount of FPPG a player scored during the 2010 season in non-PPR leagues.

PPR Avg – The FPPG average I projected for the player prior to the start of the 2010 season in PPR leagues.

NPPR Avg – The FPPG average I projected for the player prior to the start of the 2010 season in non-PPR leagues.

 Color Codes

AFC West

 Denver Broncos
Pos Player PPR Margin NPPR Margin Actual PPR Actual NPPR PPR Avg NPPR Avg
QB Kyle Orton 5.3 5.3 19.2 19.2 13.9 13.9
QB Tim Tebow 8.7 8.7 12.4 12.4 3.7 3.7
RB Knowshon Moreno 0.6 0.7 15.1 12.5 14.5 11.8
RB Correll Buckhalter -0.6 -1.2 5.9 4.2 6.5 5.4
WR Demaryius Thomas -0.6 -0.7 5.8 4.0 6.4 4.7
WR Jabar Gaffney -2.7 -2.1 10.3 6.2 13.0 8.3
WR Brandon Lloyd 12.6 -10.1 17.9 13.2 5.3 3.1
WR Eddie Royal -1.5 -1.7 8.9 5.0 10.4 6.7
WR Eric Decker -5.2 -3 1.5 1.2 6.7 4.2

Hits – (27.8%) Moreno, Thomas; Buckhalter (PPR). If there was a poster child for my schedule analysis last year, it was probably Moreno. In my PSAs for the Broncos, I felt Moreno owned three favorable matchups and a single unfavorable one after the team’s Week 9 bye. Moreno instead did me one or two better, emerging as a top-eight RB in PPR leagues from Weeks 10-15 before suffering a rib injury early in Week 16 and splitting snaps as a result in Week 17. Fantasy owners went crazy over Thomas following his monster eight-catch, 97-yard, one-score effort in Week 2 last season, but as it turned out, it was the last significant fantasy contribution the super-sized rookie would provide. Denver knew it would have to wait out a foot problem suffered during pre-draft workouts, but subsequent arm, concussion, thumb and ankle injuries squashed any possible momentum he could have generated. Then, while working out for next season in early February, “Bay-Bay” tore his Achilles tendon, which makes any contribution for the 2011 season unlikely.

On-Target – (33.3%) Gaffney, Royal; Buckhalter, Decker (the last two in non-PPR). Entering last season, anyone targeting a Bronco WR was selecting Gaffney, at least until Thomas’ talent allowed him to take the WR1 role. But a funny thing happened on Gaffney’s road to fantasy relevance – Lloyd emerged from his seven-plus year cocoon and did a fairly good job at making Gaffney nearly irrelevant in fantasy by the middle of the season. The same could pretty much be said for Royal, who posted just one decent fantasy performance following the bye. Royal’s offseason, much like Thomas’, will be filled with plenty of long-term rehab after undergoing hip surgery. While Thomas is likely to be placed on the PUP list with an eight-month timetable for his recovery, Royal is hoping to make it back in six months after going under the knife in February. Unfortunately for him, new HC John Fox is a big believer in two-WR sets and not the three-wide approach former HC Josh McDanels was, so healthy players like Gaffney or Decker may win the WR2 job by default.

Off-Target – (0%) None.

Misses – (38.9%) Orton, Tebow, Lloyd; Decker (PPR). It was pretty obvious that Tebow would get thrown into the starting lineup at some point, but when? And would he see specially-designed “Tebow plays” while Orton was still the starter? I ended up taking the conservative approach in August suggesting that Tebow would see some time in just about every game but not make a start. As it turned out, the Broncos were out of the playoff race pretty early, allowing Denver to catch a three-game glimpse of what it potentially had in the decorated rookie. Kudos if you saw Lloyd’s breakout season happening last summer in his fourth different stops in eight years, but the truth is you didn’t and no one else did either. Lloyd has teased so often in his pro career that owners in many leagues refused to add him to their teams well into the season. However, he did give hardcore fantasy owners a small sign that Denver was agreeing with him in Week 17 of the 2009 season but probably squashed any optimism he had generated with a 9-84-1 line over four preseason games in 2010.

Grade: C+ By now, it should be obvious there is no such thing as an acceptable red for me. However, there are reds that are nearly unavoidable and this team possessed a few of them. On the bright side, Moreno fulfilled my expectations once he was finally able to get healthy. Considering his 2010 schedule, it was hard for me not to like the former Georgia Bulldog going into last season. While I cannot totally ignore seven reds in my forecast, I can take solace in the number of key players heading into the season I did get right, so I will award myself a passing grade in spite of the reds.

 Kansas City Chiefs
Pos Player PPR Margin NPPR Margin Actual PPR Actual NPPR PPR Avg NPPR Avg
QB Matt Cassel 1.6 1.6 18.4 18.4 16.8 16.8
RB Jamaal Charles -1.1 -0.2 17.7 15.1 18.8 15.3
RB Thomas Jones 0.6 0.9 9.4 8.6 8.8 7.7
WR Dwayne Bowe -0.2 1.3 17.4 12.9 17.6 11.6
WR Chris Chambers -7.9 -4.1 3.8 2.1 11.7 7.9
WR Dexter McCluster -4.3 -3.3 4.8 2.4 9.1 5.7
TE Tony Moeaki 4.1 2.4 8.0 4.9 3.9 2.5

Hits – (28.6%) Jones; Bowe (PPR); Charles (non-PPR). Though Jones provided some hairy moments for Charles’ owners all season long, TJ ended up being little more than a nuisance in the end. As it turned out, he didn’t even really serve as the full-time goal-line back as Charles scored more times (six) inside the 5 than Jones did (five). Looking forward to 2011, one must wonder if Charles takes even more of the timeshare with Jones entering his age-33 season. It is highly possible that Charles adds a touch or two per game in 2011 and goes from the 275 touches he collected last season to 300-315 this season.

On-Target – (35.7%) Cassel; Charles, Bowe (both PPR); Moeaki (non-PPR). In retrospect, I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams that Kansas City would emerge as such a dominant rushing team or that Cassel could turn in such a fine season with only one legitimate receiver. But as wonderful as Cassel’s final numbers were in 2010, I’m a firm believer that schedule and situation worked in his favor a number of times last season. My evidence for that assertion is a second straight season with a sub-60% completion percentage and the playoff loss vs. Baltimore when Kansas City finally met a team that could stop the run. Avid readers of the Blitz last year may recall how I basically served as a Bowe basher during the second half of the season. Long story short, my instinct suggested that Bowe would fall off badly in December and that is exactly what happened. However, those same readers may also remember how Bowe’s participation in Larry Fitzgerald’s rigorous offseason workout camp began my campaign for Bowe as a top-10 WR on my final Big Board.

Off-Target – (28.6%) McCluster; Moeaki (PPR); Chambers (non-PPR). Even for the best fantasy forecasters, projecting rookie performance is a mixed bag and that is assuming said rookie has everything going for him, including great size. I mention that last part because in the case of McCluster, the question with him will likely continue to be whether or not a player of his size (5-8, 170) can last for any length of time in the NFL. McCluster was on the cusp of fantasy relevancy until late October, when a high ankle sprain basically took the rookie out of the team’s plans as it was making a postseason run. Moeaki’s biggest question entering 2010 wasn’t playing time (he was clearly the team’s best option at his position), but his durability – a question he has struggled with since his college days. The rookie fell by the wayside for the most part after a strong first half, but he did play 15 games and broke Tony Gonzalez’s rookie record for catches by a Kansas City TE. If he can maintain similar health going forward, he’s a strong bet for borderline TE1 production until Kansas City is able to turn first-round choice Jonathan Baldwin into a NFL starting-caliber WR, which may not happen for a year or two.

Misses – (7.1%) Chambers (PPR). Perhaps more of us should have seen Chambers’ disappearing act in 2010. After all, following his midseason release from the Chargers in 2009, Chambers used his time in Kansas City that season to squeeze the Chiefs for a three-year, $12 M contract prior to the start of last season. Despite being counted on to take some attention away from Bowe and the running game, Chambers lost his starting job by late September and playing time to undrafted or street free agents for the rest of the season. Fortunately for the Chiefs, they used a high pick on a size-speed specimen like Baldwin in April, likely all but closing the door on Chambers’ return to the Chiefs.

Grade: A- Aside from a forecast that is all green and blue, this team projection was about as good as I could have asked for last season as I scored greens and blues on all the key players. While many knew the Chiefs had something in Charles, most fantasy owners were leery about using a first- or second-round fantasy draft choice on him, especially once HC Todd Haley named Jones the starter. Needless to say, I’m glad I stayed the course on Charles. And I could say much the same thing about Bowe in that a bounce-back was expected, but very few would have imagined Bowe would finish as a top-five WR last season. I’ll be the first to admit that I thought his fantasy impact would come via yards and catch (and not 15 scores), but the results are nonetheless positive.

 Oakland Raiders
Pos Player PPR Margin NPPR Margin Actual PPR Actual NPPR PPR Avg NPPR Avg
QB Jason Campbell 1.6 1.6 15.4 15.4 13.8 13.8
RB Michael Bush -4 -3.6 10.8 9.5 14.8 13.1
RB Darren McFadden 10.2 9.7 20.6 17.4 10.4 7.7
WR Chaz Schilens -5.2 -3.1 3.0 2.0 8.2 5.1
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey -2.3 -2.4 4.8 2.8 7.1 5.2
WR Louis Murphy -1.7 -1.2 8.3 5.2 10.0 6.4
WR Johnnie Lee Higgins -1.3 -0.6 1.6 0.8 2.9 1.4
TE Zach Miller -3.4 -2.3 10.6 6.6 14.0 8.9

Hits – (6.25%) Higgins (non-PPR). Nothing to see here. The Raiders have receivers they like (Jacoby Ford, Murphy) and one they drafted high (DHB), meaning Higgins is a fourth receiver almost by default and that depends on whether or not Schilens is healthy. With Higgins seeing less and less work in the return game and his low standing on the depth chart, he may be looking for another team before the start of the 2011 season.

On-Target – (50%) Campbell, Heyward-Bey, Murphy; Higgins (PPR); Miller (non-PPR). For a QB that was pulled for Bruce Gradkowski on occasion, Campbell sure has generated a great deal of offseason goodwill from his bosses. In January, team owner Al Davis compared Campbell to Raiders’ legend Jim Plunkett. A few weeks later, new HC Hue Jackson – last year’s OC – declared QB the only position on the team that Oakland would not consider drafting. One has to question how smart of a strategy it is with only Kyle Boller in reserve and just how much of Campbell’s 84.5 QB rating came as a result of the incredible ground game in 2010. The one thing to keep in mind, however, is that Campbell will be entering his second season in the same offense – a distinction that has led to career years as a college and pro QB the other two times it has happened in his career. And with the owner and head coach firmly in his corner with no viable replacement holding a clipboard on the sidelines, Campbell has a number of key factors working in his favor as fantasy owners consider their darkhorse QB picks for 2011. Murphy suffered an embarrassing run-in with the authorities back in April, but assuming no drastic legal punishment or league suspension is forthcoming, he’s the closest thing the Raiders have to a consistent threat at WR, although Ford may be nipping at his heels for WR1 honors before the end of this season. Having one clear QB under center each week will go a long way in making both more fantasy relevant, so each can safely be targeted near the end of drafts this summer.

Off-Target – (25%) Bush; Miller (PPR); Schilens (non-PPR). Of the 500-plus total projections I did last season, I can’t think of a more ironic situation than the one that played out in Oakland’s backfield last season. I promoted Bush as a strong RB3 candidate last summer who I felt would emerge into a strong RB2 or even RB1 in fantasy. I said this in large part because McFadden had yet to show any signs of staying healthy for any length of time and, true to form, “Run DMC” injured his left hamstring in the preseason. At the time, this seemed to crack the door for Bush to take over the lead-back role in what many knew was going to be a committee attack, but then Bush needed to undergo thumb surgery after suffering an injury in a preseason game. At the time of the last Big Board, we had no idea if either RB could suit up Week 1. As we know now, McFadden made it back in time and Bush did not, which allowed the former to prove to Oakland that he could handle the heavy lifting during Bush’s two-week absence. As far as Miller is concerned, I probably overvalued the arrival of a capable QB like Campbell more than he disappointed fantasy owners. However, were it not for a plantar fascia injury that slowed him considerably around midseason, Miller could have easily landed in the green or blue.

Misses – (18.75%) McFadden; Schilens (non-PPR). Once the Raiders removed Justin Fargas from the backfield equation, it was only a matter of time before one of the Raiders’ two talented RBs became fantasy relevant. After consecutive injury-plagued seasons to kick off his pro career, McFadden added a little upper-body strength and was able to keep his hamstrings warm enough to more than double his career workload in 13 games (270 touches) after mustering 267 touches in 25 total games over his first two years combined.

Not included – Ford.

Grade: C- Long story short, preseason injuries to McFadden and Bush played out in a way that no many of us could have foreseen and Miller’s foot injury also is not something we could have forecasted back in August. But while there were good reasons for the players I logged reds on, it just so happened with this team in 2010, my worst projections were with the three most valuable fantasy players on this team. While there is a fair amount of blue on the chart above, it doesn’t make up for the fact that I was so far off on McFadden, Bush and Miller.

 San Diego Chargers
Pos Player PPR Margin NPPR Margin Actual PPR Actual NPPR PPR Avg NPPR Avg
QB Philip Rivers 4.7 4.7 22.5 22.5 17.8 17.8
RB Ryan Mathews -2.6 -2.6 11.7 10.3 14.3 12.9
RB Darren Sproles 0 -0.5 9.0 5.7 9.0 6.2
RB Mike Tolbert 8.6 7.9 12.0 10.7 3.4 2.8
WR Malcom Floyd 0.3 0.9 13.2 9.8 12.9 8.9
WR Legedu Naanee -3 -2 6.4 4.3 9.4 6.3
WR Craig Davis -3.8 -2.3 7.6 4.6 3.8 2.3
TE Antonio Gates 2 2.8 18.8 13.8 16.8 11.0

Hits – (25%) Sproles, Floyd. When LaDainian Tomlinson was released, it became obvious that Sproles would inherit a bigger share of the backfield pie than he had seen prior. (Well, maybe it wasn’t so obvious after all…) While he did set career highs in receptions and receiving yards, he saw almost a 50% cut in carries because Tolbert assumed so much more of the workload than many expected. With Vincent Jackson an indefinite holdout last season, we did know Floyd was in line for a significant boost in fantasy value. The problem with 6-5, 225-pounder was that he was coming off his first 16-game season of his career in 2009 and didn’t seem like a good bet to me to stay healthy all season long. He injured his hamstrings and struggled for the most part upon his return, allowing me to record a pair of greens in the process.

On-Target – (43.75%) Mathews, Naanee, Gates; Davis (non-PPR). It’s awfully hard not to follow and hype trains when every fantasy analyst with access to a microphone, webpage or Twitter account would have you believe a player is going to explode. As much as I believed (and continue to believe) that Mathews is the real deal, something told me that Tolbert would create some chaos for my favorite RB in the 2010 NFL Draft. Mathews’ injuries ultimately led to Tolbert carrying the load for large parts of the season, but Tolbert is also going to be a real threat to Mathews’ going forward. I had Naanee pegged as a WR who only needed an extended look to be fantasy-relevant, but after watching him perform last season, I tend to believe the Chargers would be wise not to view him as a starter until they see substantial improvement in his route-running and ability to separate. In terms of FPPG, I predicted near-career highs for Gates. Instead, he accomplished two feats that no fantasy owner could have realistically expected going into the season. First, he set a blistering scoring pace in the first half of the season that probably would have seen register the best season ever by a TE (40 catches, 663 yards and nine TDs through Week 8) despite playing with painful toe and ankle injuries during that time. Then, just when it seemed nothing could slow Gates down, it was revealed that the All-Pro TE suffered a torn plantar fascia in Week 8. He sat out the next week – the first game he had ever missed due to injury – and played in only two games thereafter. HC Norv Turner has confirmed his “lead guy” is completely healthy and did not need surgery, meaning Gates should be the favorite for the first TE off the board in fantasy drafts this summer.

Off-Target – (18.75%) Rivers; Davis (PPR). In some ways, the yellows I logged with Rivers were probably the most disappointing ones I registered with any player all season long. I reasoned with Vincent Jackson and LT Marcus McNeill holding out indefinitely, Rivers could not possibly match the high standard he had set with just one constant (Gates) and an inconsistent Floyd leading an uninspiring receiving corps. Instead, Rivers showed he belongs in the elite group of NFL QBs, with his fearlessness in the pocket standing out as one of his most admirable qualities. Rivers’ gutsy play resulted in career highs in completions, attempts, yards and completion percentage, just to name a few categories. It’s fair to say that Rivers will find his way into my top tier or two of QBs in 2011.

Misses – (12.5%) Tolbert. Somewhere in the middle of his five-game scoring streak, fantasy owners probably started to understand why I was leading the anti-Matthews movement and trumpeting the case for Tolbert. What I could not have foreseen was how quickly the rookie would get hurt or how often he would not be able to play, which paved the way for Tolbert to add more yards and receptions than just about anyone – including the Chargers – could have imagined.

Not included – Vincent Jackson, Patrick Crayton, Seyi Ajirotutu.

Grade: B Preseason holdouts that carried well into the regular season figured to make San Diego a difficult team to forecast, but I tend to believe I did pretty well when you consider how much mystery surrounded this team last summer. While I didn’t exactly predict just how much Mathews would disappoint or how big of an impact Tolbert could have, I did warn readers to not view the rookie as a first-rounder and to start taking Tolbert seriously. Therefore, my biggest downfall was receiving yellows on Rivers. While the grade must suffer because of that, I’m left feeling good about the greens on Floyd and Sproles, the Tolbert recommendation and the warning I gave about Mathews.

NFC West

 Arizona Cardinals
Pos Player PPR Margin NPPR Margin Actual PPR Actual NPPR PPR Avg NPPR Avg
QB Derek Anderson 2.2 2.2 8.4 8.4 6.2 6.2
RB Chris Wells -8 -7.1 4.9 4.5 12.9 11.6
RB Tim Hightower -5.2 -2.8 8.1 7.3 13.3 10.1
WR Larry Fitzgerald -0.2 -1 15.0 9.4 15.2 10.4
WR Steve Breaston 0.1 -0.1 9.9 6.0 9.8 6.1
WR Early Doucet -2.4 -2 6.2 3.5 8.6 5.5
WR Andre Roberts 1.1 0.6 4.3 2.8 3.2 2.2

Hits – (42.9%) Fitzgerald, Breaston, Roberts. It really says something about the greatness of a star WR when he can post a 90-catch season, 1000-yard, six-score season, all while receiving passes from four different quarterbacks. Still, there are those who would say Fitzgerald disappointed last year, which is somewhat correct when the expectation has been set at 100 catches and double-digit touchdowns, but fantasy owners should know by now that QBs typically do more to make the WR than the other way around. As a Fitzgerald owner, I recall a good share (half) of his TDs came in the fourth quarter in games that were often out of reach, almost as if Arizona knew how important it was to keep its star happy statistically even if it couldn’t compete on the field. Although the difference became less pronounced as the season progressed, it is notable that Fitzgerald scored all six of his TDs in the 13 games Breaston played and zero in the three games he missed. Breaston is the perfect complement to Fitzgerald in that he is good enough to make defenses pay for not respecting him, but not so good (or outspoken) that he seriously challenges his counterpart’s targets. While Fitzgerald stands to benefit the most from a new free agent QB in the TD and yardage departments this season, Breaston may actually make the biggest jump in fantasy value when that eventuality comes to fruition.

On-Target – (35.7%) Anderson, Doucet; Hightower (non-PPR). To be completely honest, I had Matt Leinart projected as the starter in my final Big Board simply because I couldn’t imagine a NFL team turning the keys of its offense over to Anderson last summer. Some fantasy owners reasoned that Fitzgerald could make any QB look good, but Anderson had been varying degrees of awful in the two years since his 2007 breakout and didn’t exactly change his ways in the desert. Doucet was hyped by some to be the most likely receiver to emerge following the Anquan Boldin trade, but Anderson and his continuing durability issues made it nearly impossible for him to overtake Breaston in the starting lineup.

Off-Target – (0%) None.

Misses – (21.4%) Wells; Hightower (non-PPR). Behind the same offensive line Wells managed just 3.4 YPC, it is hard to believe Hightower could manage 4.8 in an offense that was the lowest-scoring fantasy backfield in the league in 2010. Unlike Wells, Hightower found a way to play all 16 games once again (he has yet to miss a game in his three years in the league), but saw his usual production dip considerably in the TD and receiving categories. With explosive Virginia Tech rookie Ryan Williams joining this backfield via the draft, this RB situation just got even more confusing. For instance, does the second-round pick make his mates irrelevant right away with his big-play ability? Will Wells take the rookie’s selection in the draft personally and decide to work harder than he ever has in his career to finally assume the lead role? Or do Wells and Williams both get hurt, paving the way for Hightower to become the only healthy runner in this stable of backs? With Williams now in tow, Wells will either find a way to play through pain or wear the injury-prone tag while the rookie slowly takes his job from him.

Not included – Leinart.

Grade: B+ On a team that was as unpredictable as the Cardinals in 2010, I’m quite happy about the job I did with their receivers and, to a lesser extent, Anderson. I don’t regret my Wells’ projection since the 2009 first-round pick gave us very little reason to doubt him as a rookie. Of all the projections, I feel the worst about Hightower, who I figured would see about the same amount of work in the passing game as he did in his first two seasons because Anderson isn’t nearly as accurate as Kurt Warner was, meaning he would consistently check down. Instead, Anderson (and the rookie/inexperienced QBs that followed) did just the opposite and left Hightower with a career-low 21 catches. In the end, however, scoring two greens on Fitzgerald outweighs everything else with the four greens on the other two WRs a nice bonus.

 St. Louis Rams
Pos Player PPR Margin NPPR Margin Actual PPR Actual NPPR PPR Avg NPPR Avg
QB Sam Bradford 5.6 5.6 16.2 16.2 10.6 10.6
RB Steven Jackson -4.8 -3.6 15.2 12.4 20.0 16.0
WR Brandon Gibson 1.3 0.5 9.3 5.3 8.0 4.8
WR Laurent Robinson -6.2 -4.3 5.6 3.3 11.8 7.6
WR Danny Amendola 1.5 -0.4 11.1 5.4 9.6 5.8
WR Mardy Gilyard -2.7 -1.3 0.9 0.6 3.6 1.9
TE Michael Hoomanawanui -0.5 0.3 5.7 4.1 6.2 3.8

Hits – (28.6%) Hoomanawanui; Gibson, Amendola (both non-PPR). Even though they attended the same college (Texas Tech) and entered the league with the same fanfare (undrafted free agents), Amendola isn’t quite Wes Welker. With that said, Amendola did a very nice impression of Welker last season and served in the one role that he could prosper – namely in the slot of a short-passing game. Of all the pieces in the passing game that seemed to change with regularity in the Rams’ passing game, Bradford knew he had Amendola to basically serve as an extension of the running game. With rookies Austin Pettis and Greg Salas joining the fray at WR and Lance Kendricks at TE, Amendola doesn’t figure to repeat his 85-catch campaign from a season ago. But with his performance in 2010, he likely has solidified a WR3 role in this offense for the near future.

On-Target – (28.6%) Gilyard; Gibson, Amendola (both PPR). If there was one player that I thought could emerge as the Rams’ WR1 early last summer, I thought it was Gibson. However, it became clearer as the summer progressed that Amendola was the most trusted option and the regular season bore that out, especially when one considers Gibson dropped 8.8% of the targets he received. With the influx of young talent coming in at receiver and the returns of Mark Clayton and Donnie Avery, Gibson faces long odds of contributing in 2011, if he even makes the team.

Off-Target – (21.4%) Jackson; Robinson (non-PPR). If I could have only had the foresight to see that Bradford would do so much with so little and Jackson would begin his decline in the same season. My thought process going into last season was that St. Louis would lean on Jackson to ease the rookie QB in as much as possible, but the Rams had other ideas, instead throwing short pass after short pass and not relying as much on their franchise RB as much as I expected (despite 376 touches). St. Louis must bring in a viable backup RB via free agency – the team did not draft one – as Jackson started to show the wear and tear that usually comes as a result of such heavy workloads over a career. New OC Josh McDaniels’ offense figures to temporarily boost Jackson’s PPR value with his pass-heavy system (as well as open more running lanes with his heavy use of spread formations).

Misses – (21.4%) Bradford; Robinson (PPR). Bradford was given next-to-no chance to succeed last year by just about every football fan or expert. Whatever hope he did enter the preseason with probably faded away with the season-ending knee injury to Avery. The Rams countered with a trade for Clayton, who needed just a few days with his fellow Sooner alum to become a Week 1 star and top waiver-wire add. After Clayton was lost for the season in Week 5, it was time for Amendola to take over. The point to all of this is to remind everyone how little Bradford had to work with entering his first season, not to mention the constant change once the season got underway. The Rams had to run a conservative offense if only because they had no explosive playmakers after Avery and Clayton were lost for the season. Still, the NFL Rookie of the Year somehow managed to set rookie records for completions and passing yards on his way to becoming just the fourth rookie QB in league history to take every snap in a 16-game season. With McDaniels and his wide-open passing attack coming to town and a host of strong pass-catchers coming to the team via the draft, it may not be all that foolish to view Bradford as a darkhorse QB1 candidate in 12-team leagues already this season.

Not included – Danario Alexander, Clayton and Avery.

Grade: C+ Four total greens is a pretty nice accomplishment for a team that many of us knew would be difficult to project last season, but two yellows on Jackson and two reds on Bradford dampers any enthusiasm I could have enjoyed with this forecast. I deserve a fair amount of credit for scoring a blue and green on one of PPR’s great surprises (Amendola), but – at best – all that does is level out my grade.

 San Francisco 49ers
Pos Player PPR Margin NPPR Margin Actual PPR Actual NPPR PPR Avg NPPR Avg
QB Alex Smith -0.8 -0.8 16.4 16.4 17.2 17.2
RB Frank Gore -2.4 -3.1 18.4 14.6 20.8 17.7
RB Brian Westbrook 2.4 2.1 6.3 5.3 3.9 3.2
WR Michael Crabtree -3.8 -2.2 10.3 6.9 14.1 9.1
WR Josh Morgan -0.1 0.3 7.8 5.1 7.9 4.8
WR Ted Ginn Jr. -2.4 -1.4 2.7 1.7 5.1 3.1
TE Vernon Davis -4.4 -2.4 11.8 8.3 16.2 10.7

Hits – (28.6%) Smith, Morgan. Sometimes when you’re wrong, you’re still right. Coming off a fairly successful second half of the 2009 season, I thought Smith was ready to take a step up with another year in OC Jimmy Raye’s system. (Mind you, I have never been a Smith fan per se as I never did understand how scouts and GMs saw him as a better college QB than Aaron Rodgers, but that is a debate for another time.) Either way, with another year to bond with Davis and Gore, Smith seemed to have a lot of the necessary pieces to build off 2009. Unfortunately, Smith had little opportunity to bond with Crabtree due to the receiver’s preseason neck strain and continued his turnover-prone ways in the regular season (nine picks in the first five games). By the time he curtailed his interceptions, his accuracy tanked (48% in the next two games combined) before he was benched. The good Smith – if there is such a thing – returned when he rejoined the starting lineup again in Week 14, as he sported a 5:1 TD-to-INT ratio over the final four games while completing 61% of his passes.

On-Target – (50%) Westbrook, Ginn; Gore (PPR); Crabtree, Davis (both non-PPR). Gore may not have scored a lot of TDs in 2010 (five total), but there weren’t many RBs who could match his consistency in fantasy last season – especially those backs generally selected in the first round of drafts. Gore hasn’t been the most durable RB – one 16-game season in his six-year career – but the Niners chose to ride him until the wheels fell off last season – he led the league in touches/game through 11 weeks (24.4 per game). Although a hip injury for a RB can’t be considered a good thing, Gore is reportedly 100% recovered from it and will once again be counted on for another heavy workload in new HC Jim Harbaugh’s power run-oriented offense. Westbrook is done as a Niner following the fourth-round selection of Kendall Hunter, but will only see time initially to spot Gore and on special teams since Gore is such a well-rounded RB.

Off-Target – (21.4%) Crabtree, Davis (both PPR); Gore (non-PPR). A full offseason and preseason was supposed to be just the thing Crabtree needed to catapult himself from impressive rookie to the next great Niners’ receiver. Double teams and supposed chemistry issues with Smith didn’t help, but Crabtree has quickly earned a reputation for being a poor teammate. But if you look at Crabtree’s numbers for a second-year WR by themselves (without taking his first year into consideration), it’s not hard to suggest he has the look of a third-year breakout candidate. Harbaugh’s offense should allow him to use his natural gifts (size and run-after-catch ability), but it remains to be seen if he will allow himself to be coached and fight through pain, qualities he did not show with Mike Singletary in charge. Davis, on the other hand, has completely turned around his image over the past few years and is clearly the team’s best receiver at this point. According the Santa Rosa Press Democrat back in March, San Fran QBs posted a 113.8 rating when throwing the ball to their top TE – a number that was more than 23 points higher than second-place Westbrook and almost 50 points better than Crabtree. Davis is a safe bet in fantasy for the foreseeable future with Crabtree seemingly not “all in”, so assuming Smith can find just a bit of his 2009 magic or second-round pick Colin Kaepernick can wrestle the job away from Smith with a solid preseason, there is reason to believe Davis could find his way back to double-digit scores in 2011.

Misses – (0%) None.

Not included – Jason Hill.

Grade: A- It goes without saying that zero red blocks are always the goal in this analysis. But when a forecaster can say his biggest error was being a bit too optimistic with the key fantasy players on a given team that suffered through its fair share of injury and turmoil, the lack of red means job well done.

 Seattle Seahawks
Pos Player PPR Margin NPPR Margin Actual PPR Actual NPPR PPR Avg NPPR Avg
QB Matt Hasselbeck 0.8 0.8 15.9 15.9 15.1 15.1
QB Charlie Whitehurst -2.2 -2.2 7.3 7.3 9.5 9.5
RB Justin Forsett -3.1 -3 7.6 5.6 10.7 8.6
RB Leon Washington -6.8 -5.2 1.9 1.5 8.7 6.7
WR Golden Tate -3.4 -2.7 4.0 2.1 7.4 4.8
WR Deon Butler 3.5 2.2 7.6 4.8 4.1 2.6
WR Mike Williams 8.2 -4.4 10.9 6.2 2.7 1.8
TE John Carlson -8.6 -5.8 4.6 2.5 13.2 8.3

Hits – (12.5%) Hasselbeck. An offseason filled with questions as to whether or not Whitehurst – who the team paid a fairly steep price for – would start over Hasselbeck gave way to the latter QB assuming full control of the job when the former looked every bit the third-string QB he was in San Diego. Life only got tougher when the Seahawks released TJ Houshmandzadeh a week before the start of the season and became even more difficult when his offensive line started falling apart once again. Fortunately, from my point of view, none of these occurrences were hard to see happening before my final Big Board. Looking back, it’s actually hard to believe that Hasselbeck held up for 14 games and was able to throw for 3,001 yards and account for 15 TDs (12 passing and three rushing scores). What was truly remarkable, however, was the 35-year-old’s showing in Seattle’s two-game playoff run. In both games, he threw for at least 250 yards and three scores, posting a 7:1 TD-to-INT ratio in the process – a stretch that may have earned him one final big payday from the Seahawks or some other QB-needy team.

On-Target – (25%) Whitehurst; Tate, Butler (both non-PPR). If there ever was a rag-tag group of blues, this would be it. Given the price Seattle paid in draft pick compensation for Whitehurst, the team was almost obligated to make sure he saw some time. Even though he helped guide the Seahawks past the Rams in Week 17’s win-or-go home game last season, he enters this season having answered no more questions than he had answered prior to last season. Tate was a popular pick as a candidate to start Day 1 opposite Houshmandzadeh and even more so once the veteran was let go, but HC Pete Carroll cited route running as the main reason he didn’t see time early in the season while an ankle injury slowed him down for a significant part of the second half of the season.

Off-Target – (31.25%) Forsett; Tate, Butler (both PPR); Williams (non-PPR). Entering the 2010 season, Forsett seemed the most likely of Seattle’s uninspiring RBs to emerge as a RB3 candidate, at least until the team did what everyone expected it would do before the season started – acquire a RB that could carry most of the load. After sifting through LenDale White and eventually cutting Julius Jones, Forsett entered tenuous RB3 status until the Seahawks’ acquisition of Marshawn Lynch. After a 10-carry game in Lynch’s debut vs. Chicago, Forsett didn’t see a double-digit carry game the rest of the way. The biggest question entering 2011 for fantasy owners regarding this backfield is whether or not a full preseason will allow Lynch to assume feature-back duties or if he’ll be relegated to a 55-35-20 kind of role in which the ex-Bill will lead a three-man committee with a heavy dose of Forsett and a touch of Washington.

Misses – (31.25%) Washington, Carlson; Williams (PPR). One of my worst projections of 2010 was Carlson. I felt there was reason to believe – with the late release of Houshmandzadeh – that Carlson would become an even more featured player in this offense. Instead, he teased owners after starting out fairly strong after three weeks and delivered career lows in many categories as a result of being asked to block when lineman after offensive lineman went down to injury. There is some hope with the 2010 draft (supplying the team with blocking TEs as well as the LT of the future) and the 2011 draft (helping to fortify the offensive line) that Carlson may get a chance to return to his 50-catch ways of 2008 and 2009. Williams started generating some buzz in Seattle’s first preseason game when he turned a short pass into an impressive 51-yard run-and-catch TD. His bandwagon continued to grow until Houshmandzadeh left, which spiked fantasy owners’ interest in the receiver as the most talented player at his position on the roster. After a solid showing in Week 1, Williams emerged as an out-of-nowhere PPR dynamo in Lynch’s Week 6 debut and went on to post four games in which he caught at least eight balls. While there was a great deal of inconsistency along the way, a 65-catch season from the former first-round bust allowed Seattle to believe it may have a WR1 for the near future.

Not included – Lynch, Jones, Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch, Ben Obomanu. Lynch was traded from Buffalo and included in the Bills’ assessment as he was a likely candidate to be dealt all along. Jones went from shaky starter to former Seahawk in less than a month, eventually landing in New Orleans. Houshmandzadeh was allowed to leave a week before the start of the season and moved to Baltimore when Seattle decided he was not worth his contract one year after signing it. Branch was dealt to New England shortly after the Pats traded Randy Moss, changing his fantasy stock dramatically. Obomanu wasn’t included in my projections last summer.

Grade: B- As one might imagine, when a team makes over 200 transactions in the course of one year, taking one late August or early September projection snapshot figures to be a shot in the dark at best, which is why it will be difficult to penalize myself too much on this team forecast. Scoring a pair of greens on Hasselbeck is important to this grade while I was probably one of the few forecasters who didn’t completely miss on both Williams’ projections. Still, I predicted that Washington would see much more time in the backfield than he actually received and my accuracy on the Seattle’s WRs and TEs was not particularly good. Given the fluid nature of this roster last year, I’ll give myself a bit of a pass and allow myself a decent grade to wrap up this series of reviews.

A review doesn’t mean much without a final analysis, so let’s see how I did overall in 2010.

AFC East (out of 68) – 22 hits (32.4%), 20 on-targets (29.4%), 11 off-targets (16.2%), 15 misses (22.0%)
AFC North (out of 68) – 14 hits (20.7%), 33 on-targets (48.5%), 9 off-targets (13.2%), 12 misses (17.6%)
AFC South (out of 60) – 23 hits (38.3%), 19 on-targets (31.7%), 6 off-targets (10.0%), 12 misses (20.0%)
AFC West (out of 64) – 14 hits (21.9%), 26 on-targets (40.6%), 11 off-targets (17.2%), 13 misses (20.3%)

AFC Final Grades (out of 260) - 73 hits (28.1%), 98 on-targets (37.7%), 37 off-targets (14.2%), 52 misses (20%)

NFC East (out of 68) – 20 hits (29.4%), 25 on-targets (36.8%), 11 off-targets (16.2%), 12 misses (17.6%)
NFC North (out of 68) – 17 hits (25%), 25 on-targets (36.8%), 15 off-targets (22.0%), 11 misses (16.2%)
NFC South (out of 66) – 7 hits (10.6%), 32 on-targets (48.5%), 14 off-targets (21.2%), 13 misses (19.7%)
NFC West (out of 58) – 16 hits (27.6%), 20 on-targets (34.4%), 11 off-targets (18.9%), 11 misses (18.9%)

NFC Final Grades (out of 260) – 60 hits (23.1%), 102 on-targets (39.2%), 51 off-targets (19.6%), 47 misses (18.1%)

Final Grades (out of 520) – 133 hits (25.6%), 200 on-targets (38.5%), 88 off-targets (16.9%), 99 misses (19.0%)

Analysis: My goals for this past season were as follows: 25+% hit rate, 40+% on-target rate, >25% off-target rate, >10% miss rate. Overall, I wanted a 65% hit-or-on-target rate, so while I fell just short at 64.3% and saw my miss rate soar just over 6% from last season (12.8 to 19), I’m quite pleased I was able to increase my hit-or-on-target rate by nearly 5% over last season. And given how many possible greens and blues I missed by not including some of the players I chose to leave out over the last four weeks, I realize that my accuracy percentage may have actually hit my stated goal if all the players had been included. Taking a quick look at the division-by-division numbers, it appears the NFC South was by far my biggest downfall as even an average showing in that division would have bumped up my hit percentages by 1-2%.

If there is one concern I have in regards to comparing my numbers from 2009 and 2010, it is that I saw a dramatic rise in my miss rate this past year (although my overall miss-or-off-target rate dropped – which is very much a good thing – particularly with 20 more projections this year). Since I don’t think my approach changed all that much from 2009, I tend to believe that all the player movement (Moss, Lynch, etc.) contributed as it is impossible to tell just how much a player’s arrival/departure affects those players around him on his new team or on the team he leaves. Injuries – always a very real part of the game – will also go a long way in skewing the numbers as well, almost to the point where forecasters need to accept they will probably miss on at least 5-8% of their projections because of it. There are always going to be those players who come out of nowhere (such as Steve Johnson) or return to glory after a long layoff (such as Michael Vick) that will make all of us forecasters look like a fool. And certainly, there will be those players that we just simply did a poor job of projecting.

After striving for a five-percent increase in the accuracy of my projections from 2009 to 2010, I’m going to shoot for a more modest goal in 2011. While my ultimate goal is to carry a >70% hit-or-on-target rate every season, this season’s goal will be a 67.5% hit-or-on-target rate, with a 27.5+% hit rate, 40+% on-target rate, >20% off-target rate, >12.5% miss rate. To do this, I plan on tweaking the way I project receivers and tight ends because the reality of the passing game in the NFL is that defenses do not always put their best defenders on the offense’s best receivers. There is also a great deal of volatility in passing game numbers from game to game based on score and situation, so hopefully I will do a better job of showing that volatility in my game-by-game projections this season.

Suggestions, comments, musings about the article or fantasy football in general? E-mail me.

Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006, appeared in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine in each of the last two seasons and served as a weekly fantasy football analyst for 106.7 The Fan in Washington, D.C. this past season. He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can also follow him on Twitter.