Putting It in Perspective Part I
The “Gut Feeling” is often synonymous with a sense
of desperation resulting from a lack of preparation. The Gut Check
is a huge proponent of studying the numbers, but there’s
a point where one can place too much emphasis on the wrong information.
This can result in the undervaluing or overlooking a player’s
potential. Therefore, The Weekly Gut Check is devoted to examining
the frame of reference behind certain number-driven guidelines
that fantasy football owners use to make decisions.
Although The Weekly Gut Check doesn’t claim to be psychic,
he does believe that he can dispel certain numbers biases and
help you make the best choices for your team. We’ll keep
a running tally of The Weekly Gut Check’s insights. This
way you can gauge his views as something to seriously consider,
or at least seriously consider running the opposite way as fast
as you can!
With the season drawing to an end, I thought it would be good to
take a more statistically based look at 2008 performances by position.
I’m hoping this process will reveal insights you can take
into the 2009 season. This week we’ll look at QBs and RBs,
next week WRs and TEs. I’m not using a full season’s
worth of stats for the rankings, so the results could experience
a moderate change with three weeks left.
The methodology is simple: I took the stats for 2008 through
week 14 and then listed each of these player’s rank from
2007 and the projected rankings Mike Krueger and I gave them in
late August-early September. I assigned points for each of our
rankings. For the Quarterbacks we received 4 points if our projections
were within 3 spots of the current performance; 3 points if within
6 spots; 2 points if within 9 spots; and 1 point if within 12
spots. No points were rewarded if the projection did not come
within 12 spots. The highest possible score was a sum of 48 points.
What jumps out at me immediately is that 50% of the QBs ranked in
the top 12 in 2007 are not in the top 12 in 2008. Mike did a nice
job of touting Cutler and Rodgers. My most accurate picks were Farve
and Eli Manning. Neither of us had confidence in Philip Rivers.
Kurt Warner didn’t win the starting job until late in the
preseason and our rankings reflect this uncertainty. Still, ranking
Warner 16th and 22nd indicates we felt he was a player worth drafting.
Three of the quarterbacks in the top 12 are considered “older”
players (Farve, McNabb, and Warner). Eleven of the twelve quarterbacks
weren’t opening day starters as rookies. Only Peyton Manning
got the nod. By the way, Matt Ryan was ranked 13th and he was
an opening day starter. Brees and Favre are on their second teams
and their replacements Rivers and Rodgers are picking up the slack.
Warner is on his third team and his replacement, Eli Manning also
made the list. So half the list is made up of incumbents who got
pushed out by new blood. McNabb, the Mannings, Rivers, and Cutler
were first-round picks. Favre, Brees, and Rodgers were second-round
picks. Romo and Warner weren’t drafted.
Warner, Rivers, and the Mannings will never be considered highly
mobile. They are strictly pocket passers. Brees, Favre, Cutler,
and Romo are all excellent and moving around in the pocket until
they find the open man. McNabb and Garrard are really the only
threats to gain yardage past the line of scrimmage, but they like
to throw first even when breaking the pocket.
Favre, Eli Manning, Garrard, and McNabb lack highly productive
weapons at wide receiver. The Jets have been good, but they haven’t
been on the level of receivers from the rest of the teams represented
here. Garrard, McNabb, Favre, Romo, and Eli Manning had a top-12
runner and the only Brees, Cutler, and Warner didn’t have
a top-24 back – so 75% of the quarterbacks had a quality
running game to bring balance to the offense. If you’re
looking for a safe bet at quarterback, it’s generally a
good idea to make sure they have a strong ground game to complement
the offense. Just look at the fact that Garrard, McNabb, Favre,
and Eli Manning didn’t have an elite fantasy receiver but
still managed to have good numbers. This may be the one of two
solid things you can go by. The other is that all of these quarterbacks
have a strong pocket presence and can buy opportunities to find
secondary receivers – they all show maturity.
As with the quarterbacks I took the stats for 2008 through week
14 and then listed each of these player’s rank from 2007
and the projected rankings Mike Krueger and I gave them in late
August-early September. I assigned points for each of our rankings.
For the runners we received 4 points if our projections were within
6 spots of the current performance; 3 points if within 12 spots;
2 points if within 18 spots; and 1 point if within 24 spots. No
points were rewarded if the projection did not come within 24
spots. The highest possible score was a sum of 96 points.
I just love projecting the running back position. It’s
the easiest one to look like a complete fool. I’m shocked
Mike and I actually were better than 50% in this scoring evaluation
for the top twelve. Considering only five of the runners from
2007’s top twelve even maintained a spot this high in 2008
and three of the top tier starters are rookies, I’d say
batting 50% or higher is pretty good.
I talk about this next point every year: rookie runners have
the greatest likelihood of making an instant impact. This year,
five of them are capable starters with three in the top-nine.
The lesson learned here is to make sure you pay attention to the
rookie RB class every year. Even if no immediate starters emerge
from the draft, there are a ton of capable backs ready to step
Speaking of drafts – look at the backs on this list who
were either drafted on day two or not at all: Michael Turner,
Marion Barber, Brandon Jacobs, Ryan Grant, Le’Ron McClain,
and Pierre Thomas. That’s 25% of the starting fantasy runners.
The lesson here is not to sell any runners short. Just because
you haven’t heard of them and they weren’t drafted
means you write them off.
Another point to add here is that all of these backs I mentioned
weren’t immediate impact players. Neither were DeAngelo
Williams, Thomas Jones, Brian Westbrook, Frank Gore, or LenDale
White. Let the loudmouths in your league trash players while you
hold out hope.
What about the prototypical dimensions we hear from draft analysts
(at least 5-10 and 220 lbs)? Turner, Forte, Peterson, Brown, Barber,
Jacobs, White, Grant, Jackson, Lewis and Stewart all meet those
requirements. That’s less than half of the list. Seven the
eleven listed actually ran decent 40 times. And we know how important
40 times are to those penny pinching, NFL personnel guys. I guess
those four backs who didn’t just aren’t very good…
But my favorite thing to see is how many of these backs were
labeled “scat backs”. You know in some circles, that
term is pretty derogatory. I certainly wouldn’t want the
word “scat” to describe how I play. Funny thing. Seven
of the top 12 backs on this list have dimensions that draft analysts
cited as reasons why they couldn’t carry the load. Take
note those of you announcing the dominance of RBBC, only three
of the top 12 backs actually qualified as backs in an RBBC (Williams,
Johnson, and Jones-Drew); and only eight of the top 24.
How many backs have hit that magic 370-f/carry, number in previous
seasons? Two – Steven Jackson (19th) and LT (14th) –
be warned for next year, especially if Peterson, Turner, and/or
Portis reach that plateau. The position is also a young man’s
game. Only Lewis, Tomlinson, Westbrook, Portis, and Jones have
more than 4-5 seasons under the belts.
I think the big lesson here is that this is definitely a position
where you can take a chance with projections. If you want to see
certain failure, just follow conventional wisdom.
Cutler vs. Elway
I mentioned in my 20/20 Hindsight
column this week that I would provide an argument in favor
of Jay Cutler’s claim that he throws harder than John Elway.
My little brother Marcus, a recent graduate of mathematics and
atmospheric sciences at the University of Colorado, is currently
serving a two-year contract for Teach for America in the Atlanta
school system before he goes to graduate school and studies more
Will Hunting-like mathematics. Marcus told me he thought Cutler
was right, so I asked him to provide us some evidence. Here’s
Well essentially it boils down to who can throw the ball the
Ignoring air resistance, assuming that the ball has an initial
trajectory angle of 45 degrees (for maximum distance), and assuming
a symmetric flight path (i.e. it lands at the same height as
it started [which we know is wrong because it leaves Cutlers
body at about 6 feet]) then the equation for the speed simplifies
|v| = sqrt( x_f * g )
Where |v| is the initial speed leaving the arm
x_f is the distance the ball traveled horizontally
g is the gravitational acceleration constant.
I had a friend tell me that Cutler threw the ball 81 yards
during training camp, and Elway threw it something like 76 during
the QB competition. So just based off that you know that Cutler
has a stronger arm.
Of course this analysis wouldn't stand up in court, but hey
physics is fun.
So there’s the conversation starter. Any of you math-physics
nuts want to add to the point or help us arrive at a more plausible
method of calculation, be my guest.
Next week, more season grades for Mike and me at WR and TE.
Good luck with your teams this weekend. So far, I’m still
alive in three of the six leagues I made the playoffs –
two expert auction leagues and one 40-man roster, dynasty/IDP