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 Bill Barnwell & Alex Carnevale
Bill: This week's Scramble features the fourth annual Football Outsiders Playoff Fantasy Draft. You can go back and look at the 2004, 2005, and 2006 (it feels weird to type that) versions for some context.
The playoff fantasy game works like this: Each player drafts a QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, TE, K, and a defense. You get the fantasy points for your guys, but if they go out (either for injury or because their team loses) you do not get to replace them. So you need to balance fantasy quality (Larry Johnson!) with teams likely to lose in the first round (Larry Johnson!) Total score for the entire playoffs wins.
Our fantasy scoring is as follows:
The draft is serpentine format and features Jason Beattie (superstar cartoonist, Gil Thorp enthusiast), Russell Levine (football junkie, podcast enthusiast), Tim Gerheim (editor ubes alles, Vince Young enthusiast), Aaron Schatz (petty thief, context enthusiast), Alex Carnevale (quote tracker, Herman Edwards enthusiast), and myself, Bill Barnwell (gimmicky writer, drivel enthusiast).
Alex: The pressure on the TWIQ guy going into this draft was immense. Usually I just have some Yahoo! who bases his draft on Madden scores. Now the creator of DVOA drafts ahead of me...
1. LaDainian Tomlinson, SD (Jason)
In a year with even the closest thing to a Super Bowl favorite likely having to play New England and then Baltimore or Indy, even the easy no. 1 pick might get only two games, and has a chance to be one and done. In the NFC, the teams with the easiest possible playoff paths have huge faults, while the Eagles are the only team that could charitably be described as good.
2. Jamal Lewis, BAL (Russell)
The question of who the second best back on the board was got answered rather quickly. The Colts will be an underdog to the Ravens, as Indianapolis plus a physical defense has usually meant flowers and candy for any women nearby one Bill Belichick.
3. Brian Westbrook, PHI (Tim)
Westbrook was a good sleeper, except Tim doesn't sleep. No other team has an easier path to playing three or even four games than do the Eagles.
4. Corey Dillon (Aaron)
Aaron did a nice job of spreading his risk around while taking players with high upsides. If NE plays four games, he may have the most valuable player in this draft relative to scarcity. If they don't, he's fine.
5. Shaun Alexander (Alex)
Since I knew I was either going to get Peyton or Tom Brady coming around on the snake, and there was something of a serious drop-off to the rest of the QBs, I took my RB now. Scott Engel of ESPN has already jumped on the Shaun Alexander in 2007 bandwagon. Alexander's YPC when he played this year was a career low, but the cause of his missed time was the same as the cause of his poor play -- injury. An absence of backs who don't share the workload in general keeps his draft value high, but he'll never touch his MVP season again.
6. Tom Brady, NE (Bill)
7. Larry Johnson, KC (Bill)
Brady's two games look to be decent for him, but you can say the same for Peyton -- and he's the better quarterback. Brady's the better pick going forward in the playoffs, as Manning refuses to take reps at LB as of yet. If you want to Donovan all over your keyboard, look at the schedule the Jets played this year. I'm surprised Herm didn't stick it out for one more season in NY.
8. Peyton Manning, IND (Alex)
The breakdown by conference:
AFC players: 31
NFC players: 23
Here the fact that two heavy favorites (NE and Indy) were combed over was wiped out by the fact that just one from their two opponents was taken. This balances out the strength of the AFC as a conference. If the matchups were Denver-Pats and Jets-Colts, this would have been weighted even further in the AFC's favor.
9. Deuce McAllister, NO (Aaron)
10. Joseph Addai, IND (Tim)
All the top QBs except for McNair and Rivers were off the board, with only Aaron and Tim left to divvy the two up. This gave Tim a chance to run the No. 1 backfield out there, while Aaron's two backs split carries but score TDs and have a very good chance to play multiples. This was a different strategy for Aaron from last year's draft, where he took Tatum Bell and Tiki Barber and watched them post a combined 12 points.
11. Drew Brees, NO (Russell)
12. Jeff Garcia, PHI (Jason)
13. Marvin Harrison, IND (Jason)
The glass half full here for Jason is that Philly plays well on the road and is destined to go to the Superdome, where the Saints are only playing .500 ball. The half-empty is that no matter how many SportsCenter highlights they run, at the end of the day, it's Jeff Garcia. I had Harrison as the number one ranked receiver on my board.
14. Thomas Jones, CHI (Russell)
Are these end-of-the-season Chicago Bears an illusion or a fair representation of what we can expect come playoff time? With a home game versus either Dallas or Seattle, it's not likely we're going to learn that for awhile. Jones doesn't score TDs or run for huge yardage on poor opponents.
15. Philip Rivers (Tim)
16. Antonio Gates (Aaron)
17. Reggie Bush (Alex)
All upside picks for drastically different reasons. The Chargers were the second-ranked offense in DVOA, and they have Super Bowl potential. At this point, though, only Tim and Aaron needed QBs. I would have taken Gates here if he fell one more slot, but since Bush is as good a running back as most of the second rounders, gambling on Peyton early looks right. Gates is going to face some tough Ds that will key on him in most of his likely matchups.
18. Laurence Maroney (Bill)
19. Chicago D (Bill)
For a back who splits carries, Maroney's likely to score on both the Chargers and Jets. The problem here for Barnwell is that having 2/3 of your QB/RB/RB situation tied up in one team is risky, although the last time someone did it, it was Vivek Ramgopal in 2005, and Brian Westbrook and Donovan McNabb made some noise that year.
20. Reggie Wayne (Alex)
21. Baltimore D (Aaron)
22. Marques Colston (Tim)
23. San Diego D (Russell)
My second Reggie of three total Reggies, and time to give a shout-out to my comic book hero, one Reggie Mantle. Though it actually just happened to be chance that I fielded the all-Reggie team, Reggie Mantle and I did share hairstyles and a passion for spite. Looking back, I should have taken the Baltimore D. The rest of the defenses pretty much amount to counterpunching at this point, with Colston having more value than the Chargers D.
24. Vincent Jackson, SD (Jason)
25. Philadelphia D (Jason)
26. Muhsin Muhammad, CHI (Russell)
27. Todd Heap, BAL (Tim)
28. Terrell Owens, DAL (Aaron)
29. Reggie Brown, PHI (Alex)
30. Mark Clayton, BAL (Bill)
31. Ben Watson, NE (Bill)
32. Reche Caldwell, NE (Alex)
33. Terry Glenn, DAL (Aaron)
34. Donte Stallworth, PHI (Tim)
35. Joe Horn, NO (Russell)
36. Bernard Berrian, CHI (Jason)
The great first WR culling. (I have been watching too much Stargate: Atlantis.) Harrison, Colston, and Wayne had gone previous to this. It's amazing how few successful teams have real impact fantasy wideouts this year. Receivers had gone too high in our first two fantasy drafts. After the top three, it's hard to debate value, but Aaron had the right idea, taking TO before I had a chance to grab him and using my deep hatred for Terry Glenn against me. Both could do in one game against the Seattle secondary what Ben Watson and Mark Clayton could fail to do all playoffs. Tim, Aaron, and Russell were the winners in this group, while I went with a combination of upside and the likelihood of multiple games.
37. Nate Kaeding, SD (Jason)
38. Dallas Clark, IND (Russell)
39. New England D (Tim)
40. Devery Henderson, NO (Aaron)
41. Jerramy Stevens, SEA (Alex)
42. Robbie Gould, CHI (Bill)
43. Keenan McCardell, SD (Bill)
44. Plaxico Burress, (Bill)
I think Bill and Jason got late round steals. I wasn't willing to pick Giants players, and neither was anybody else until the last round, but DVOA doesn't think they suck that much. Burress has owned the Eagles, and Tiki looks good in a suit.
45. Saints D (Alex)
46. Matt Stover, BAL (Alex)
Kickers actually put up serious points in this format, with Josh Brown scoring a 22 on his way to the Super Bowl last year. By way of comparison, Shaun Alexander was the highest rated running back chosen by a columnist, and he did a 32. Stover is both a decent fantasy kicker, which is more than you can say for most of these kickers, and also a nice block on Aaron and Russell's teams. If the Ravens are who we thought they were, then Stover should have a tidy point total. If not, I'll be bathing my newborn baby boy in pile of Aaron Schatz's money. (Note: there is no money at stake nor do I have a newborn baby boy.)
47. Steve McNair, BAL (Aaron)
48. John Carney, NO (Aaron)
To be fair, most of us hadn't fathomed Aaron's final season DVOA rankings by draft day. But hey, this way Aaron's either the genius winner of the league, or Jim Fassel has a chance at another NFL coaching job. Now that is what we call a win-win.
49. Deion Branch, SEA (Tim)
50. Stephen Gostkowski, NE (Tim)
Meanwhile, our collective lack of faith in the Seahawks buried Branch and fellow pass catcher D.J. Hackett. Hackett's outplayed Branch in fantasy of late, and going against Anthony Henry, recently described in Audibles as a nickel back playing corner, you have a nice upside play and a possible return engagement at Soldier Field. Branch hasn't scored since Week 11.
51. Derrick Mason, BAL (Russell)
52. Adam Vinatieri, IND (Russell)
53. L.J. Smith, PHI (Jason)
54. Tiki Barber, NYG (Jason)
How dare you call Fox & Friends irrelevant!
|2007 Football Outsiders Playoff Fantasy Teams|
|QB||Garcia, PHI||Brees, NO||Rivers, SD|
|RB||Tomlinson, SD||Lewis, BAL||Westbrook, PHI|
|RB||Barber, NYG||Jones, CHI||Addai, IND|
|WR||Harrison, IND||Muhammad, CHI||Colston, NO|
|WR||Jackson, SD||Horn, NO||Stallworth, PHI|
|WR||Berrian, CHI||Mason, BAL||Branch, SEA|
|TE||Smith, PHI||Clark, IND||Heap, BAL|
|K||Kaeding, SD||Vinatieri, IND||Gostkowski, NE|
|DEF||Philadelphia||San Diego||New England|
|QB||McNair, BAL||Manning, IND||Brady, NE|
|RB||Dillon, NE||Alexander, SEA||Johnson, KC|
|RB||McAllister, NO||Bush, NO||Maroney, NE|
|WR||Owens, DAL||Wayne, IND||Clayton, BAL|
|WR||Glenn, DAL||Brown, PHI||McCardell, SD|
|WR||Henderson, NO||Caldwell, NE||Burress, NYG|
|TE||Gates, SD||Stevens, SEA||Watson, NE|
|K||Carney, NO||Stover, BAL||Gould, CHI|
As always, readers are invited to declare their own "Best of the Rest" teams in the comments, and we'll track which one of you does the best job with the limited pool of Giants and Jets that we left behind.
Bill: The glory struck on Week 17. Missed extra points, Rex Grossman specials ... it was a beautiful end to the season.
QB: Rex Grossman got a -7. No need to use adjectives there. They'd be vulgarities, anyway, with "Holy" before them and/or "sticks" at the end. Grossman now has the three lowest scores of the season for Loser League. And his team has won 13 games. Football is so great. Aaron Brooks earned only a 1, but he was almost closer to the penalty than he was to the low score. He might never get anything besides the penalty again. David Carr's 2 is honorable mention.
RB: We'd be throwing Willis McGahee into the Larry Johnson injury discussion if he hadn't missed time already this year. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing for his future hopes, but he got a 0 this week. Again, Rex Grossman thinks you are a coward for not daring to venture into negative points. Just wait till we get to the kickers. Thomas Jones and Julius Jones each picked up 2 points, but the Bears back gets the tiebreaker by having -3 receiving yards. That is smooth. Go Rex go. Kyle Orton couldn't have done this! Someone needs to hit Chicago and not decide to stop until Lovie brings the ol' Neckbeard in.
WR: Both Andre Johnson and Eric Moulds got 1's this week. That hurts. Usually a receiving tandem has at least one guy with four, five points. They tied with Michael Jenkins (hello, old friend) and Rashied Davis (you didn't pick him) this week.
K: What's better than one kicker missing an extra point? Would you believe two kickers missing an extra point? Life is wonderful. Matt Bryant would've hit it if it was a 63-yard extra point, you know. 20's just not a challenge. Bryant had a -1. The other extra point-misser, Stephen Gostkowski, hit for 3. Rian Lindell and Robbie Gould each had 1's. Hooray!
Oh! Brett Favre's anointing with the traditional European oils must mean the season is over! In that case, the Loser League, sadly, has also come to an end for 2006. The good news is that we can now name a winner.
As you may remember, our second-half winner gets a copy of Pro Football Prospectus 2007. No truth to the rumors that the cover will feature Larry Johnson with a big X and caution tape over him.
The second-half winner? The Newcastle Browns, managed by Tim Kirk of York, UK. I've never been to York, but I have managed to get York from the Conference to the Premiership in six years on Championship Manager. Maybe I should get a book.
Tim's Week 17 score of 23, good enough for fifth overall, gave him the title. He built his team around a solid base of Buccaneers, with Bruce Gradkowski, Cadillac Williams, and Matt Bryant forming the backbone of the franchise.
Congratulations to Tim and thanks for playing, everyone!
(Ed. note: Hey, Tim, your e-mail address is bouncing, so can you contact us at Football Outsiders and send us your mailing address? We want to make sure you get your book next summer.)
QB: Andrew Walter only started eight games, and had two more where he played significant time. In those 10 games, Walter had an average of 4.5 loser points, and his season high was 11.
RB: Cadillac Williams put up nine single-digit games, and none above 15. He averaged 57 rushing yards per game and scored just one touchdown. Justin Fargas was a Loser god once LaMont Jordan got hurt. His totals for the second half of the season, from Week 10 to Week 17: 2, 6, 4, 10, 3, 5, 9, 7.
WR: For most of the year, Eric Moulds was a Loser force. From Week 1 to Week 12, he never went below two catches or above 79 yards, and only scored one touchdown. Alas, he pulled penalty three times in the last five weeks. Peerless Price averaged just 6 Loser points per week, despite pulling penalty three times. He had sublime weeks like 2 catches for 12 yards, 3 catches for 10 yards, 2 catches for 19 yards, and 4 catches for 27 yards with a fumble.
K: When Matt Bryant was not kicking one of the longest field goals in NFL history, he was averaging a tiny 5.3 Loser points per week. Bryant went 17-for-22 on field goals and 22-for-23 on extra points, with four weeks of 0 or -1 point.
|Check out the Football Outsiders comics archive and Jason's wacky Gil Thorp blog.|
Alex: On December 11th of this year Ian Dembsky and Bill Barnwell made a decision that would forever change their lives and their children's lives forever. And when I say children, I mean daughters.
On that fateful day, our two favorite Scramble writers gave the Keep Choppin' Wood Award to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. While I respect their considerable ingenuity in acknowledging that Belichick and Brady are one organism with one wardrobe (Bill gets the hoodies, Tom gets to dress like The Rock), don't think that this act went unnoticed. On the contrary--Mssr. Belichick hates other people named Bill, and Mssr. Brady also hates other people named Bill. That's just how it works.
You need to see through to Bill's master plan here. The Pats loss to the Jets on the shaky grass of Gillette Stadium earlier this season was purely a set-up. Bill sleeps on the field--do you think it wasn't rough on purpose? Do you really think it's a coincidence that through astronomical odds the Pats ended up getting the Jets in the first round instead of the Denver Broncos, a team with a coach who owns Bill? Conspiracy buffs are already regarding this as the 12/11 conspiracy. Consider this: Jay Cutler tried to come back too soon and burned all three timeouts in the second half in his fog. Are you dumb enough to believe Bradychick wasn't involved? Meanwhile, in Kansas City, Herm Edwards was able to win a crucial game. If you think he can do that on his own, you're either delusional, or you work for an organization that hasn't won a Super Bowl. Ian and Bill, you put this chain of events into motion. When the Pats win by 20 this weekend, the plan will be complete.
On the other hand, not even Tom and Bill could have done as bad a job with the talent the Bengals have on defense as defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan in his team's crushing loss to their hated Pittsburgh rivals. Bresnahan may not be choppin' wood much longer.
With both Ian and Bill on vacation and incommunicado, Best Bets will return next week.