Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
by Al Bogdan
Welcome back to the Third Annual Football Outsiders Loser League Contest, the contest so good The Onion ripped us off.. For those of you just joining us, the Loser League is a fantasy league, but not like one you've played before. Instead of trying to put together a team of the best performers every week, you are trying to compile a roster of the worst. It's one of the few leagues in America where San Francisco 49ers are regularly drafted in the first round.
A group of us started doing the Loser League amongst ourselves before Football Outsiders ever started. We'd draft a new team of players weekly, since the players you've drafted in Week 1 would hopefully be so bad that they'd be out of a job by mid-season. After writing about our weekly league during the website's first year, our readers wrote us in droves trying to get in on the action.
By popular demand, we developed a contest to allow our readers to share in the joy of owning Ike Hilliard and Jose Cortez. Based loosely on the annual HACKING MASS contest run by our partners at Baseball Prospectus, the object is to pick a roster of players who will put up the fewest fantasy points. Unfortunately, we can't have a snake draft each week with all the Football Outsiders readers, so we split the season into two contests so that you aren't penalized later in the year by guessing correctly that a player will be terrible in the first half of the year. One contest will run from Weeks 1 to 9, while the second half contest will run over Weeks 10 to 17. The team that you select at the beginning of each contest is yours to keep throughout the eight or nine weeks the contest runs.
(Of course, you can still run a Loser League over e-mail with your friends, re-drafting every week like we do. You'll find a few more rules to help you do that here.)
Now, you may be saying to yourself, "Self, this sounds easy. I'll just draft fourth-string running backs and emergency quarterbacks and I'll be a lock to win. They won't put up any points!" And you'd be right to think that. Except we've designed the league so that people lame enough to employ such a tactic aren't guaranteed to win.
You have to draft players that are expected to play in a game, or you'll incur a hefty penalty for that week. For each quarterback that attempts fewer than ten passes, running back that rushes fewer than eight times, or wide receiver that catches fewer than two passes, you're penalized 15 points. A team made up of Jared Lorenzen, Naufahu Tahi, Lorenzo Neal, Sean Morey, Jerricho Cotchery, and your favorite Gramatica brother may be a lock for 0 fantasy points every week, but in this contest they'll likely score 90 points because of their complete lack of passes, carries, receptions, or kicks.
Here are the full scoring rules:
(Note: You only incur a kicker penalty if another kicker on that team makes an attempt and the selected kicker does not. If a kicker's team makes no attempts in a game, there is no penalty. Kicker penalties are one of the world's greatest evils.)
Each team will select their roster for Weeks 1-9 by Saturday, September 9, 2006. Your roster will consist of 2 QB, 3 RB, 3 WR, and 2 K. The highest scorer at each position gets thrown out each week (remember, we're aiming for the lowest score here). You'll end up getting credit for 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR and 1 K every week. This also won't keep one injury at a position, or a bye week, from destroying an otherwise perfectly crappy loser team since you can't make changes to your roster once it's submitted. Only one team per person, please.
The winner of each half of the contest will get a free copy of Pro Football Prospectus 2007, once it's fresh off the printing press next year. The person with the best score in both halves combined wins a very special Loser League grand prize. We don't know what it is yet, but it will be super duper special. We'll update the full standings every week on the website and highlight some of the best performers each week in Scramble for the Ball.
Need help drafting your team? Here are some folks that I like for the first half of the year:
QB: Brett Favre needs to be on every Loser League roster. Barring injury, he is virtually guaranteed to have a starting job through Week 9. Green Bay's running game is non-existent and their pass protection should be awful with two rookies starting on the line. What does that mean? Favre will be throwing the ball with abandon all over the field. Last year, Brett had a career high 29 interceptions and threw only 20 touchdowns, the third lowest number of his career. Favre will give you the consistent poor fantasy performance that you need from the quarterback position.
With the steady Favre at one quarterback spot, I can afford to be a bit more risky at my other spot. One of the biggest risks in picking a Loser League roster is that your players will be so bad that they won't be able to keep their jobs. Since it's a virtual certainty that Favre will be out there every week, I can pick someone who might be out of a job by Week 5, in hopes of racking up some spectacularly low point games while the player is still in the starting lineup.
J.P. Losman is my pick here. He starts the season with games on the road at New England and Miami, followed by home games against the Jets and Vikings, and then on the road to Chicago. Kelly Holcomb will likely be in the starting lineup in Week 6 against Detroit, but until then, Losman is a great bet to put up some very low numbers, with a negative point week a strong possibility.
RB: Your ideal RB candidate will get 8-12 carries a game, every game. That usually means the slightly lesser half of a running back by committee. Unfortunately, going into the season it's awfully tough to guess at who that will be. There's no way right now to say who is going to end up with the majority of the carries in Tennessee or Houston.
For at least your first two running backs in this contest, I'd recommend staying away from these risky situations and instead look for starting running backs in poor offenses that will most likely get at least eight carries a game. No one fits this description better than first ballot Loser League Hall of Famer Kevan Barlow. Barlow was the best Loser League performer in 2004, and kept up his strong performance for most of 2005. As the starter for the New York Jets, Barlow should continue to average under 3.5 yards per carry while failing to find the end zone.
For the second year in a row, I'm going to pair Barlow up with Fred Taylor. Taylor is ideal for this format because he is regularly pulled at the goal line. There is very little risk that Taylor will have a big scoring week when Derrick Wimbush or LaBrandon Toefield are on the field when Jacksonville is inside the five-yard line. Taylor should be good for 6-7 points a week, a perfectly acceptable total from one of your running backs.
I'll go back to Green Bay for my final running back and select Ahman Green. Green is listed as the starting tailback for the Packers, but likely will share carries with Samkon Gado and Najeh Davenport as the season wears on, especially inside the goal line. Green was ineffective in the few games he played last year, never finding the end zone or rushing for more than 58 yards in a game. Behind an offensive line that doesn't look to be improved from last year, Green is not a good bet to have success this season, making him the perfect Loser League player.
WR: The key to a championship caliber Loser League franchise is your wide receivers. It is also the toughest position to pick. This is the position where you stand the best chance of putting up consistently low numbers every week. You want your two wide receivers to combine for under ten points a week. What you want to look for are #2 or #3 wide receivers on bad offenses, or receivers that are in decent offenses, but don't get looks in the red zone.
Peerless Price was a great Loser League performer in Atlanta and should return to his previous level of performance now that he is a starter in Buffalo. In his two years in Atlanta, Price had 13 games in which he scored three or fewer points while only scoring six touchdowns. After signing a ridiculous free agent contract this off-season, Price will see enough playing time to get his two catches per game.
With all of the weapons the Giants have on offense, it is unlikely 32-year-old Amani Toomer will match his seven touchdowns from last season. It is likely, however, that Toomer will get a few balls thrown in his direction every game, avoiding the dreaded penalty. The latest KUBIAK projections say Toomer will pick up a hair over 620 yards and three touchdowns this season. That's an average of five points a game, making Toomer a reliable low scoring Loser League player.
For my third receiver, I'll be a bit more risky and take Arnaz Battle from San Francisco. I'm a big fan of grabbing guys like Battle, number two receivers on bad offenses. When he gets his two receptions a game, it's highly unlikely that one of them will be in the end zone. There's a high penalty risk here, but with Toomer and Price, I can manage that risk in hopes of the occasional two-reception, 11-yard day from Battle.
K: Neil Rackers used to be a guaranteed first round pick in our weekly Loser League draft back when he was a Bengal. Oh, how times have changed.
When you look for a Loser League kicker, you are looking for two things: low field goal accuracy and/or a low scoring offense. Kris Brown of Houston meets both criteria. Brown is regularly one of the least accurate field goal kickers in the NFL. He plays on an offense that is regularly in the bottom half of the league in scoring. With Domanick Davis out for the foreseeable future, there isn't much reason to expect that to change.
The Jets should have an offense that is even worse than Houston's, and a kicker not much more accurate than Brown. Mike Nugent was successful on only 78.6 percent of his field goals as a rookie. I won't need to worry about him racking up extra points and sabotaging a great Loser League week because his offense found the end zone one too many times.