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 Aaron Schatz
Welcome back to the Fourth 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 Minnesota wide receivers 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 Justin Medlock. 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, Kolby Smith, Lorenzo Neal, Sean Morey, Martin Nance, and your favorite Gramatica brother may be a lock for zero 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 Wednesday night, September 5. (Secret hint: You can get in under the wire Thursday morning if you pick your team before whatever time we remember to close the contest before the Saints-Colts game.) 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.
This year, the winner of each half of the contest will get a free copy of next year's 2008 KUBIAK fantasy football projections downloadable spreadsheet, guaranteed to have even more cool stuff in it than this year's KUBIAK spreadsheet. 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: The name that probably stands out to you here is Tarvaris Jackson, but before you check that box, take a step back and think about it. We know that Jackson will not have good passing numbers, but the Loser League is based on fantasy football stats, not DVOA stats. Every time that pocket collapses, Jackson is going to run with it, and those points count.
The three worst quarterbacks in 2006 Loser League Part II no longer have starting jobs (Carr, Gradkowski, and Brooks) so let's look at the next three. I see no reason to believe that Rex Grossman, Eli Manning, or Trent Green will be any better this year than they were last year. Another good pick would be Charlie Frye, but how sure can you be that Frye will be the starting quarterback in Cleveland all the way through Week 9? There's a reason that I've left the projected starter listed in KUBIAK as Brady Quinn, no matter what Romeo Crennel says in the preseason.
A dark horse among this year's new starting quarterbacks would be Matt Schaub. Perhaps he is better than David Carr -- the jury is still out on that one -- but he's playing in the same Gary Kubiak offense based on quick hitches and three-yard slant patterns, he still has only one dependable receiver (Andre Johnson), and he still is behind the Houston offensive line. As a bonus, he won't scramble as much as Carr did, so there will be fewer rushing yards.
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 always awfully tough to guess at who that will be. It's also interesting to note that it seems like there are fewer teams going into this season with committee situations, whether because of maturing youngsters (New England, Indianapolis) or because injuries struck part of the committee (Green Bay).
The best bet is to find 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 DeShaun Foster. The Panthers have decided yet again that Foster is the starter, not a member of a committee with DeAngelo Williams, so you know he's getting his carries each week. Last year, Foster set his all-time career high in touchdowns ... with three.
Another starting running back in a poor offense has a better chance at the actual Hall of Fame than the Loser League Hall of Fame -- but not in 2006 or 2007. Edgerrin James was the best Loser League running back in Part I of last year's contest. He scored more points in Part II, but still only topped a dozen points in a week twice. Edge shouldn't feel bad... Curtis Martin had a year where he was the standout Loser League running back too.
If you are looking for a committee back who may struggle, Warrick Dunn definitely has very little tread left on his tires. LaMont Jordan may be a better Part II pick than Part I pick, since he won't have Dominic Rhodes taking away carries in the first few weeks of the season. But the identity of the committee back who was the best running back in 2006 Loser League Part II may surprise you: Julius Jones. Plenty of carries + no red-zone looks = Loser League MVP. Jones' scores from Week 10-17 of last year went 4, 9, 4, 3, 18, 2, 4, 2. That's some good losin'.
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 number-two or number-three wide receivers on bad offenses, or receivers that are in decent offenses but don't get looks in the red zone.
When it comes to Loser League greatness, nobody can hold a candle to Peerless Price. In his two years in Atlanta, Price had 13 games in which he scored three or fewer points while only scoring six touchdowns. Last year, Price pulled the penalty three times, but in his 13 other games he never had more than 10 points. The man put up lines like two catches, 12 yards; three catches, 10 yards; and three catches, 13 yards. Now, that's a loser! The one worry this year is that Roscoe Parrish might start, which increases the chance Price will pull the penalty more often.
A team with a big mess of underachieving wide receivers is a good team to use for Loser League wide receivers. The ball gets spread around plenty; it's just a question of making sure you don't get the guy who ends up scoring touchdowns. Stay away from the designated deep threat, who will have more games with only one catch and more games with touchdowns. Take Bobby Wade, not Troy Williamson; Ernest Wilford, not Dennis Northcutt; Eric Moulds, not... wait a minute, who is the deep threat in Tennessee, anyway?
"Possession receiver" is the word of the day, here. Well, two words, I guess. The Patriots love Wes Welker, but he sure looks like a Loser League special, guaranteed to get at least two catches every week with very few touchdowns. Also worth your time: Michael Jenkins, Bobby Engram, Marty Booker, and always, always Ike Hilliard.
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. After the research we did on field-goal percentage from season to season, the latter is more important than the former. That means just looking at the worst kickers as projected by KUBIAK: Sebastian Janikowski, Jay Feely, Justin Medlock, Kris Brown. It's also good to find guys in cold weather, but that's not really an issue until Part II of the contest starts in Week 10.
When you pick your team, you'll see that three teams have two kickers listed, and if you pick one of those teams, you will get whichever kicker wins the job. Rookies do generally struggle, and they are given fewer opportunities by their coaches, so it may be worth taking a gamble that the kickers in Green Bay, Dallas, and New York will be Mason Crosby, Nick Folk, and Josh Huston.
Click here to begin, and good luck in losin'!