Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
25 Aug 2005
By Al Bogdan and Vivek Ramgopal
Al: Over the next two weeks we're going to be dedicating Scramble for the Ball solely to answering your questions as fantasy draft season starts to seriously heat up. If you would like your questions answered in this space next week, submit them through the contact form.
First, we received a number of emails from people looking for the KUBIAK projections spreadsheet. To get the spreadsheet, scroll down on the main page and click the link below where it says "Support the Outsiders." With a minimum donation of $10 through Paypal or Amazon, you can get the spreadsheet. Just be aware that Aaron sends out the spreadsheet himself (yes, that's stupid, and yes, we'll make it automatic next year) so if he's away from his computer it may take a couple hours to get the projections. You also need to click "yes" when Paypal or Amazon asks you if you want to notify FO of your donation, or else we won't know you have donated.
Now, onto the questions.
Matt L writes:
Hey there -- thanks in advance for your opinions. First pick, ten team league, basic scoring (4 pts for td passes). Would you pick a running back -- I guess LT -- or Manning with hopes of grabbing RB's later on? I know it's unusual to pick a non-RB with the first pick, but I'm intrigued by this idea, and the discussion board seems to go both ways on the issue. What do you guys think?
Al: The difference between LaDainian Tomlinson and the running back you'd be forced to start if you picked Manning at #1 will be much greater than the difference between Manning and the quarterback you'd start if you picked Tomlinson #1. If you take Manning at #1, the running back you should expect to draft when it gets back to you with your second round pick according to the latest average draft position data from AntSports.com is Brian Westbrook. Based on the latest KUBIAK projections, that would net you 577 fantasy points on the year.
If you grabbed Tomlinson at #1 and the best available quarterback at your pick in the second round, which according to AntSports would be Daunte Culpepper, you end up with 637 fantasy points for the year. Even if Culpepper is gone and you really want to get a QB with that next pick so you take Donovan McNabb, according to our projections you'll end up with 620 fantasy points.
If you're smart, you'll wait until the 4th/5th round to grab your quarterback and pick up another running back and a wide receiver at the turn of the 2nd and 3rd. You should be able to still get someone like Marc Bulger or Kerry Collins as your starting QB. According to KUBIAK, a Collins/Tomlinson pairing would score you 576 fantasy points, neck and neck with a Manning/Westbrook tandem.
Todd K writes:
Hey guys. I'm picking fifth in a twelve team league. I know that Peyton, LT, and Shaun Alexander will be gone by the time it gets to me. I'm hoping for Edgerrin James to drop to me at 5, but if the person ahead of me grabs him, who do I go with? Priest? Thanks.
Al: I'd stay away from Priest Holmes this year. When I grabbed him at #1 in the Scramble Survivor League last year, I was worried that at 31 age would finally catch up with Holmes. As myself and countless other owners who had the #1 pick last year learned, it did, as Priest missed half the season with injuries. Now he's 32, and there's really no reason to expect him to play a full 16 games. Even if Priest does stay injury free, Larry Johnson is going to take away some carries from Holmes, reducing the odds of another 2000 yard, 20 TD year.
That being said, if Edge is gone at #5, I don't love your options. I'd suggest Domanick Davis. KUBIAK sees Davis, Tiki Barber, Kevin Jones, and Julius Jones as the best available players on the board. Davis is the least likely to be available to you when it comes back in the second round. Pro Football Prospectus 2005 cover boy Kevin Jones is moving up draft boards, but I've seen drafts as recently as this week where he was still available late in the second round. As good as he was last season, Barber is lasting until the second round in most drafts I've seen. Davis could probably last until the 7th or 8th pick in the round, but there's no way he makes it past the turn.
Vivek: I'm not as sold on Davis as a clear cut first rounder this year, but I would take Priest in a heartbeat. Holmes is still a touchdown machine and will single-handedly win games for you while he's active. Look no further than his 14 touchdowns in eight games last year. If you are worried about his health, grab Johnson as insurance. Davis has Jonathan Wells (if his finger heals) and Vernand Morency to take away some carries. I know it's the preseason, but the Texans can't ignore Morency's 90 rushing yards last weekend.
You guys have Antonio Gates as the #1 tight end. Does that change now that he's suspended for the first week of the year?
Al: I think so. Gates was #1 according to KUBIAK ahead of Witten and Gonzo, but not by that much. The loss of a game of production from Gates would move him down to third among tight ends. He should still outperform players like Alge Crumpler and Randy McMichael, but I wouldn't take Gates before the fourth round now. Of course he'll likely be gone by then, so I guess I won't end up with Gates in too many leagues this year.
You also have to consider that if you take Gates you'll be forced to carry two tight ends on your roster going into Week 1. There's really no reason to ever carry a back up tight end on your roster in most systems, except for your starter's bye weeks. Now, with Gates, you lose an opportunity to draft and carry a young running back with potential upside, or the backup to your top running back on your bench because you'll need to have Chris Cooley sitting there to play Week 1.
Vivek: Agreed. The only exception would be if you carry as many bench spots as starting slots and can afford to hold onto a backup TE for one week.
Amol writes in:
I run a fantasy baseball league whose scoring system is based on Bill James' Win Shares statistic, and I was wondering if you guys had any advice on how to set up a fantasy football league which is similarly sabermetrically (for lack of a better term) inclined. I realize that most of what you do is based on play-by-play data that I can't use, but any advice would be appreciated.
Oh, also, I wanted to make sure that football statistics are double counted. For example, is an interception is also counted as an incomplete pass for the quarterback and a pass defended for the interceptor? I'm assuming that it is, since that's how it is in baseball, and, really, that's the way that makes sense, but I thought I'd double check.
Al: My understanding is that the stats are double counted like you say. Someone please correct me if my understanding is wrong.
As for a fantasy league that uses advanced football metrics, I don't know of any off-hand. Most, if not all, of the pay sites on the web allow you to customize your league's scoring system however you wish, but I believe they all still require you to base the scoring on traditional league stats. There is the recently launched PROTRADE, which Aaron has worked on, but that's more of a stock exchange type system than your typical fantasy league. That's a good idea to keep in the back of our minds, though, for the next expansion of the website.
Vivek: I did some digging (and signing up for free trials) for a while and wasn't able to find any leagues that will allow you to "sabermetric-ize" the scoring system. The closest I got was Sabermetrics for Fantasy Golf.
Lenny writes in:
I'm curious as to how the pre-season injuries affect your thoughts on team projections. Obviously Grossman being out will affect the Bears though all the post-injury over-under numbers I see are at 6.5 not 5 even after the injury. Butler's out in St Louis; J. Williams out at least 6 games in Indy; Staley hurting again for Pitt; Williams out in Oakland; Spears in Dallas etc.
Al: The only one of those injuries that has me changing my initial thoughts on how the teams will do this year is Grossman's injury in Chicago. Orton seems to have played well in the pre-season, but it looks like they're going with Hutchinson at QB at least for the immediate future. Combine that with the Benson holdout, and it's looking less and less likely that the offensive turnaround I expected from Chicago is going to happen this year. I was planning to pick them as the division champs in a weak NFC North, but I'm not sure if I can do that anymore.
Vivek: I'm wavering on my OVER pick from the North Over/Unders a few weeks ago. A "Kurt Warner replacing Trent Green" situation only comes along as often as the Colts shut out an opponent. I'm not sure if any QB could salvage this season with the Bears' offensive line. The only other injury that you mentioned that worries me is Duce Staley's knee. He could miss the first few regular season games and might not be 100% for a little while. You have to wonder when the Bus will finally break down. The Steelers need Staley to carry the offense with Bettis -- it is almost unrealistic to expect the same season from Roethlisberger. The line for the number of wins for the Steelers was ten, so the OVER is still a sure bet, but the Ravens may make a bigger push for the division title if Staley is hampered by injuries during the season.
Adam H. writes:
Hello, long time reader since the original duo, first time writer. Just wanted to see what you thought of my draft for this pool I've gotten into at work. You get one point per win for every win over the season (halfpoint for a tie) with 8 people in the pool drafting four teams each. There are tie breakers but I don't see them having enough influence on picks to discuss. I drew the 7th out of 8 slots as my drafting position in a snake type draft. The first round went R1P1: GB (absentee, those were his wishes) R1P2: NE R1P3: CAR R1P4: PHI R1P5:IND R1P6: MIN R1P7(me): PIT R1P8: NYJ. The rest of my picks were R2P2: BAL (my team, felt it was a good compromise of upping my enjoyment and not much, if a reach at all with this pick) R3P7:BUF (ecstatic, why are they still here?) R4P2: SEA (I'm through the roof now, this is a fantastic draft in my eyes with this final pick) Just seeing if you had any thoughts on this that you wanted to share. I'm not particularly happy with the format, but it was this or nothing at work.
Al: Seattle in the fourth round is a steal. I can't imagine 25 teams I would have taken before them. I would have taken them before Buffalo in the third round. While I think Buffalo will finish with a winning record this year, they lost their starting left tackle and have an inexperienced quarterback behind center. If their defense moves back towards the pack, it's very likely that Seattle will finish with the better record.
Our projection system isn't that high on your selections, though. Adding up the mean projected wins of your four teams, we end up with 34.6. That's better than what you'd expect from drafting four random teams, but not enough to be a prohibitive favorite going into the season. Which teams doesn't the projection system like? You'll have to wait two weeks to find out when Aaron unveils all the mean projected wins in our annual predictions column.
Former Outsider Ian asks a question about our upcoming auction league:
Every year in our auction-style football draft, I spend virtually all of my auction money on two running backs, spend a little on a quarterback, and fill my wide receiver spots with cheap options with upside. Who do you see as wide receivers who will go for cheap money at the end of the auction, but will be serviceable as starters throughout this season?
Al: Or, who should Ian make sure he grabs before I get a chance to at the end of the auction next week? I'm all about helping the readers, though, so I'll give away some of my cheap wide receiver sleepers even if it costs me the ability to pick up one or two of them in two weeks.
Usually when you talk about cheap auction wide receivers, you're talking about a team's #2 receiving threat. Two #2's that I like that you should be able to get for close to your league's minimum are Greg Lewis in Philadelphia and Keary Colbert in Carolina. Both are entering the first season as their teams #2 receiving option following up successful campaigns where they started the year further down on the depth chart. Lewis will be a nice downfield complement with Terrell Owens. Lewis is fast enough to beat most of the single coverage he'll be seeing while teams double up on T.O. If your league gives you bonuses for long touchdowns, he'll even have more value.
Colbert should see his first full year as a starter, although he ended up starting most of last season after Steve Smith went down in Week 1. Now paired with Smith, I'd expect Colbert to at least put up the 700+ receiving yards he saw last season while getting a few of the touchdown catches that went Muhammad's way last season. Colbert is a versatile receiver that the Panthers expect to line up all over the field. Carolina will move him around to create mismatches that Jake Delhomme should be able to exploit.
Vivek: This won't happen for Ian, but in two drafts I've seen people forget about Steve Smith. Last night I grabbed him in the 13th and 15th rounds. (I don't recommend concurrent drafts.) A clear case of out of sight, out of mind. He should return to his #1 status now that his leg has healed. As for true end of the draft guys, take a look at Antonio Bryant. Someone on the Browns has to catch the ball, and he has solidified his status as the number one option with a good preseason. With that mentality, Brandon Lloyd could help you out as well.
Parag G asks:
1. Who wins the Minnesota RB battle?
2. Who wins the Denver RB battle?
3. Better rookie year and better long term: Mark Clayton or Mike Williams?
Al: 1) It's now looking like Michael Bennett won't be able to play in the season opener, although our own Will Carroll thinks he'll be ready to go Week 1. If he really can't go, Mewelde Moore has to be the favorite to get the majority of the carries in his absence. He's leading the Vikings in rushing yards in the pre-season and did well last year when called on to start three games. If Bennett's injury isn't serious, I'd still expect him to get the majority of the carries this season. But Moore is who I'd go with for Week 1.
2) I just hope it's not Ron Dayne. Mike Anderson is listed at #1 on the depth chart now, but I'd be surprised if Tatum Bell didn't get the majority of the carries this year. Either could put up 1000 yards in Denver's offense, but Bell was Denver's best running back last year. The one thing that may hold him back is his poor blocking ability. I haven't watched any Denver pre-season games to see if he's improved in that facet of his game.
In any event, as a rule I try to stay away from Denver running backs in fantasy league. You're only asking for trouble. Even if Bell is the primary back, Anderson is going to get a fair share of carries. Plus Mike Shanahan is the worst coach in the league in dealing with injury reporting. How many people out there have lost a matchup because their Denver running back was a "game time decision"? The auction league Ian mentioned in the last email actually created a playing time rule based on Shanahan's propensity for not telling anyone which of his players will be playing on a given Sunday until kickoff.
3) I'd rather have Clayton for this year. Williams will be competing with Roy Williams and Charles Rogers for catches, while Clayton only has to beat out Clarence Moore and Randy Hymes for playing time. Williams also hasn't played football in a year, while Clayton was praised going into the draft for his ability to run precise routes. That should translate into NFL success quickly.
Vivek: Bennett has been killing me for a few years, and I just grabbed him this week in a draft. The door was wide open for him to get 250-plus carries this year without Onterrio Smith, but now a neck injury puts him in a precarious situation in terms of his starting slot. Bennett should still see a bulk of the workload, but a solid game from Moore could cut into his opportunities.
The Denver running back situation always scares me because Shanahan might decide to plug and play with any of his guys at any time. Mike Anderson might be designated the starter, but you can expect Tatum Bell to grab 15-18 carries per game early on before bumping that number up.
I'm going to go against Al (sorry Parag, we've essentially rendered ourselves useless for your fantasy question) and pick up Williams. Even as a number three receiver, Williams could catch 50-60 balls this year in Steve Mariucci's system. The Lions' opponents cannot exclusively defend against pass with Kevin Jones in the backfield, so the Lions could thrive in the three-receiver sets (regardless of who is the quarterback). Another point in Williams' favor is the fact that Charles Rogers has been on the field just a bit more than Art Monk the past two years. Williams could be quickly elevated to the second slot. The Harrington-Boller conversation isn't one of Marino-Montana proportions, but Harrington or Garcia could still pile up big fantasy numbers while I don't see Boller having the potential to top 3000 yards. There might not even be enough opportunities for Clayton with Jamal Lewis on the ground and Derrick Mason as the number one option.
And finally, we close this week's mailbag with Scramble aficionado NEPAT1 Don, who poses a very unique fantasy question.
I'm in a league that likes to break the mold in terms of scoring categories. On ESPN.com this year, teams can draft coaches. Six points for every win, 3 point bonus for a margin of victory > 25 points, 2 for 15-24 and 1 for < 15. Any suggestions when I should take a coach and who the top three should be?
Vivek: Definitely unique. I can't answer when to take a coach without seeing the rest of the scoring system, but using ESPN's default scoring system (4 points for passing TD, 6 for rushing/receiving TD and a point for every passing/rushing/receiving yards), a 10-win coach should get you about as many points as a backup running back. Any defenses, kicker or tight end you draft in a 10-team league will probably score more than the coach.
Disregard the margin of victory. A one point squeaker is just as valuable as a two touchdown win. Bill Cowher would have only gotten one bonus point versus a team with 14 one-point wins. Dungy and Vermeil have a chance at topping that, but the 6-point wins are more valuable. Going by history, Belichick, Reid, and Dungy should be the first ones taken, but with the last round picks.
Al: Coaches? What's next, punters? Oh, I see that ESPN allows you to draft punters as well. If you draft either a coach or a punter before the last rounds of the draft, please email me so I can invite you into one of my leagues. Now we turn you over to Aaron for some updated KUBIAK projections.
Aaron: Thanks, Al. Remember that there are some other KUBIAK projections that have been adjusted since the book was finished, which you will find here (including Chicago and Denver changes for numerous players) and here (with changes for Seattle, San Francisco, Carolina, and Atlanta wideouts).
The first adjusted KUBIAK projection is for Antonio Gates, but it just takes the old projection and multiplies it by 15/16. Otherwise, I agree with Al and Vivek: If you are in a league where you have a limited bench, move Gates down to the third tight end taken, but if you are in a league where it is easy or required to stash a backup tight end, just think of Gates as having two bye weeks this year, and grab a backup with a good matchup Week 1.
Next, let's change a few wide receivers. From reading the Dallas Morning News, it was clear that Quincy Morgan has dropped far down the depth chart in Big D, which is fine with us -- PFP 2005 has nice things to say about Patrick Crayton. Glenn is now WR2 in my projections, but ends up slightly lower than Crayton because of a higher injury risk. Glenn's projection is now 506 yards, 3.0 TD, Patrick Crayton is 532 yards, 3.1 TD, and Morgan is 250 yards, 1.4 TD. (TD numbers are in decimals because these projections represent the average of a range of possibilities.)
With Andre' Davis traded to New England, Antonio Bryant becomes the clear number two in Cleveland. (Let's be honest, Edwards isn't listed at number one right now but he probably will be number one for most of the year.) Bryant's numbers improve to 718 yards, 3.9 TD. Davis in New England now projects to 387 yards, 2.4 TD.
Added Friday morning: It's now being reported that Duce Staley will miss at least a couple games, probably the first three, due to injury, so let's give some of his carries to Jerome Bettis and Verron Haynes to make up for those missing games:
Last, and least, the San Francisco quarterbacks. The projection in the book said that we doubted Rattay would really start in Week 1. Whoops. But seriously, who the heck is drafting these guys in fantasy football? Rattay was good for a few games last year but you know he's just going to get broken quickly, and Smith looks awful right now. Anyway, for you masochists, Rattay now projects to throw for 1721 yards with 11 touchdowns and 9 interceptions, plus 60 rushing yards and 0.3 rushing TD. Smith now projects to throw 1752 yards (we assume he plays a couple more games than Rattay) with 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, plus 100 rushing yards and 1.3 rushing TD.
Finally, you'll find my new "alternative" Tiki Barber projection for all you Brandon Jacobs fans discussed here. Use with caution, because preseason hype is often completely overblown.
One last note. This week, I experimented by leaving the goofy Microsoft "smart quote" characters in this column. If the column looks weird to you because you cannot read those quote marks, and they come out as strange text, please email us and let us know what kind of browser set up you have, so we know in the future if we have to avoid the smart quotes or not.
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