Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

12 Dec 2007

Scramble for the Ball: The House That Votes Built

by Bill Barnwell

Each year, December brings upon an influx of calls for Pro Bowl honorees amongst the fans and media. Of course, some of these players are the new stars of the league, deserving of accolades tiredly given to the old guard of players. Think Lee Evans replacing Eric Moulds here.

On the other hand, some of those players did not exactly build upon their recognition and produce in the years following. Whether it was due to injury, excessive caloric intake, or a change in situation, those players were not brought to the all-star game again. With that in mind, I wanted to look back and highlight some of these Pro Bowl one-hit wonders. With this column's focus on fantasy and the relatively asinine selection methodologies used when picking most non-skill position players, I'm going to exclusively focus on quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers.

Going chronologically in the DVOA era, some familiar faces appear:

Ironhead Heyward, NO, 1995 -- The late Heyward is probably most famous now for his legendary "Ironhead, what's with this thingee?" Zest commercial. As a player, he was a 260-pound fullback and change-of-pace runner for most of his career despite being a first-round pick, usually putting up very nice yards per carry averages in limited use; in 1995, he got his biggest workload (236 carries) and responded with 1,083 yards, for a nifty 4.6 yards per carry from a guy who really was primarily an interior runner. We don't have DVOA finished for 1995 yet, but I suspect it will smile on him.

Steve Bono, KC, 1995 -- The long-time 49ers backup got his first chance to start regularly following the retirement of Joe Montana; it was Kansas City, though, that reaped the benefits. Bono completed 56 percent of his passes, threw 21 touchdowns against 10 interceptions, and had an awesome rushing line: 28 carries, 113 yards, five touchdowns. The next year, the completion percentage went down to 54 percent, and he threw 12 touchdowns against 13 interceptions, while rushing 26 times ... for 27 yards. He spent three more seasons as a backup on three different teams before retiring.

John Henry Mills, HOU, 1996 -- Mills was a pure special teams guy -- he was listed at running back, but never had a single carry in his career, and caught four passes for 34 yards in seven seasons as an NFL player.

Terry Allen, WAS, 1996 -- I find myself writing about Allen a lot as the weird fantasy guy who kept popping up in starting roles here and there. This was the second of his two biggest seasons. See if you can notice the difference. In 1995, he ran for 1,309 yards, averaging 3.9 yards per carry, scoring ten touchdowns. In 1996, he ran for 1,353 yards, averaging 3.9 yards per carry, but scored 22 touchdowns. The next year, he averaged 3.4 yards per carry and scored four in ten games. Oops. For all of Allen's touchdowns, he only mustered a 3.5% DVOA.

Travis Jervey, GB, 1997 -- I remember Jervey as this great tease, this incredibly fast running back who was supposed to be a breakout star year after year, and was always awesome in Madden as a backup, but he didn't have the instincts of a running back or the ability to stay healthy, which left him as a good special teams player with a big rep.

Doug Flutie, BUF, 1998 -- Aaron wrote at length about Flutie in PFP 2006, so I won't rehash that here. Suffice to say, Wade Phillips messed up. That being said, I'm not so sure we wouldn't have been high on Johnson either after this year: Flutie's DVOA of 23.7% again far surpassed Johnson's 7.1%, but the latter is still respectable and worth exploring. Just, well, on another team.

Jamal Anderson, ATL, 1998 -- Poor, poor Jamal Anderson. This was his year -- after two seasons under 300 carries, he took the elevator right past 370 to 410, which he turned into 1,846 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. His downfall was, in hindsight, predictable. His DVOA that year was only 5.7%, but because of the huge amount of carries, he had 34.3 rushing DPAR.

Roell Preston, GB, 1998 -- Preston was Jervey's replacement as the Packers' special teams Pro Bowler, and he had a strange career. He spent two years on the Falcons roster, got to Green Bay after some marijuana-related issues in Atlanta, and after two seasons in Green Bay (the second being his Pro Bowl year), never played again following a fumbled punt and kickoff (out of bounds) against the 49ers in a Wild Card loss. Wikipedia says he played for the Dolphins, 49ers, and Titans in 1999 without getting on the field, which is quite remarkable for a Pro Bowl returner. He was left unprotected for the Browns in the expansion draft that year and they passed. From Pro Bowl to out of football in a year? That's pretty steep.

Ed McCaffrey, DEN, 1998 -- McCaffrey would have bigger seasons, like his 101-catch campaign in 2000, but because he averaged 16.5 yards per catch and scored ten times, this was his lone Pro Bowl year. This was one that everyone got right. His DVOA? A whopping 37.7%. That's Hackett-esque.

Steve Beuerlein, CAR, 1999 -- Oh, one of the great out-of-nowhere turns in fantasy history. Beuerlein took over when Kerry Collins was deposed in 1997, and after a nice 1998 in which he missed four games (4.6% DVOA), Beuerlein responded with 4,436 yards and 36 touchdowns for a 12.6% DVOA. It was a breakout year for Muhsin Muhammad and the only big year for Patrick Jeffers. Beuerlein got one more year as a starter before departing to Denver to finish his career as a backup.

Detron Smith, DEN, 1999 -- The D-Train had five carries in his career, but was still a Pro Bowl running back. That's what known as diversifying your skill set.

Terry Glenn, NE, 1999 -- This was, somewhat surprisingly, Glenn's only Pro Bowl. Yes, it came under Pete Carroll. His 14.5% DVOA was only third on the team behind Troy Brown and Shawn Jefferson, each of whom worked underneath to create space for Glenn deep. Two years later, Glenn did his time the sidelines, a forgotten man, as the Patriots won their first Super Bowl under Bill Belichick. D-I-D. Did.

David Sloan, DET, 1999 -- Why was David Sloan a Pro Bowl tight end? Beats me. He caught 47 passes for 591 yards that year, a career-high, which in all fairness, was good for a 15% DVOA. At 6 feet 6, 254 pounds, he might be a wideout nowadays.

Brian Griese, DEN, 2000 --The Pro Bowl was expanded to a fourth quarterback this year, which merited Griese's inclusion -- in 10 games, he averaged 8.0 yards per attempt, completed 64.3 percent of his passes, and threw 19 touchdowns against four interceptions. That was good for a 37.0% DVOA, second in the league to Trent Green. Of course, his career fell apart shortly thereafter.

Elvis Grbac, KC, 2000 -- Speaking of careers falling apart, Grbac was another product of the 49ers assembly line that went to Kansas City, where he failed to impress for a number of years, repeatedly getting hurt, but finally put it together as a vertical passer in 2000, averaging 7.6 yards per attempt and throwing 28 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. That earned him a big-money contract with the World Champion Ravens, who signed him to replace Trent Dilfer. They saw Grbac return to his previous form, and then retire.

Richie Anderson, NYJ, 2000 -- The long-time Jets fullback did his best Larry Centers impersonation this year, going from 29 catches in 1999 to 88 in 2000, going for 853 yards. That made him the twelfth most-valuable receiving back in the league despite a -9.1% DVOA. It was an aberration.

Charlie Garner, SF, 2000 -- In 1999, Garner gained 1,229 yards on 5.1 yards per carry, scoring four times. In 2000, he gained 1,142 yards on 4.2 yards per carry, scoring seven times. In 2000, he was a Pro Bowler, despite a -0.7% DVOA. The magic of expanded rosters and touchdowns.

Desmond Howard, DET, 2000 -- Howard was several years removed from his Super Bowl heroics, but he was still good enough to earn a Pro Bowl nod in 2000 for the Lions. He only had one more season in football before injury forced him out.

Stephan Alexander, WAS, 2000 -- Alexander put up similar production in future seasons, but this was his only Pro Bowl nod. It was worth it, as he had a mammoth 26.5% DVOA.

Kordell Stewart, PIT, 2001 -- From slash to emergency punter, Stewart's career has been well-documented. '01 was his last full year as a starter, in which his passes earned a 6.9% DVOA. He was also second in the league in rushing DPAR for quarterbacks, finishing just behind Donovan McNabb.

Troy Brown, NE, 2001 -- In the Patriots' miracle season, Brown was really the Wes Welker prototype. He was a dynamo underneath, and a superb kick and punt returner, climaxing in his jack-of-all-trades performance against Pittsburgh in the playoffs. He put up a similar line the season after, but the Patriots' mediocre season left him out of the Pro Bowl balloting.

David Boston, SD, 2001 -- What a strange career Boston led. He was huge for Arizona, leading to his 98-catch, 1,598-yard performance in '01. He got hurt in 2002 and wasn't really healthy, which led to Arizona letting him go and San Diego giving him a huge free-agent contract that lasted all of one season. Since then, four catches in four seasons. He's still only 29, somehow.

Ken Dilger, IND, 2001 -- Ken Dilger put up about eight years of eerily similar performance. This was one of his worst seasons. For some reason, the AFC needed three Pro Bowl tight ends, so Dilger made it.

Byron Chamberlain, MIN, 2001 -- On the other hand, the NFC needed four tight ends on their roster, so the charitably nondescript Chamberlain made it for having a career year with 57 catches. He caught 38 balls in two seasons afterwards.

Michael Bennett, MIN, 2002 -- I know the knock on Bennett has always been that he's a great runner but not a great football player, but that being said, he sure didn't do too bad in 2002. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry, picked up 1,296 yards, and had a 6.8% DVOA. Granted, Moe Williams was at 46.4% that year, but you're telling me Bennett wasn't at least a useful back? What happened?

Fred McAfee, NO, 2002 -- Thank god Chris Berman doesn't know how to turn on a computer.

Marty Booker, CHI, 2002 -- Booker deserved the call in '01, when he had 100 catches, but in '02, 97 catches for more yards got him in. He's proceeded to turn right into a 55-catch-or-less possession guy since then.

Michael Lewis, NO, 2002 -- The beer man was a rookie Pro Bowler at the age of 31, in a story you all know and love.

Fred Beasley, SF, 2003 -- Yes, Fred Beasley was a Pro Bowler on a 7-9 49ers team. Your guess is as good as mine. After that, he got surly and out of football right quick.

Alex Bannister, SEA, 2003 -- Bannister was a very good special teams player, if an outspoken one, who's been limited by injury since his Pro Bowl selection.

William Henderson, GB, 2004 -- The urbane Henderson got a career-achievement award here, as there's nothing that stands out relative to the rest of his career.


Check out the Football Outsiders comics archive and Jason's wacky Gil Thorp blog.

Loser League

QB: Yes, leading off for your Loser League stars, we have the magic of Trent Dilfer, who game-managed his way to a donut this week. Joining him was fellow aged veteran Vinny Testaverde, who scored a two, as did Brodie Croyle.

RB: I'm guessing not many people picked Purple Jesus for their Loser League teams, but if they did, they were probably aiming to be the worst Loser League team and were then disappointed when Peterson rolled out a shocking zero. He rushed for three yards! Three! Another not-likely pick? Laurence Maroney, who only picked up one point. Slightly more appropriate? DeShaun Foster and Willis McGahee, who got two each.

WR: Craig Davis and Joe Horn have little in common amongst the wide receiver fraternity. One is old, one is not. One plays for a good team, one plays for an awful one. They are both loud, although they've both been pretty quiet this year. Oh yeah -- they both had zeroes this week. They were backed up by a quartet of oversold wideouts, as Mike Furrey, Ashley Lelie, Lance Moore, and Maurice Stovall had a point each.

K: It was probably bad that I nominated Sebastian Janikowski as a potential Pro Bowl kicker when he was the Losingest Loser of the Week this week, putting up a -1. John Carney, Joe Nedney, and Neil Rackers tied for second-worst with one point.

Keep Choppin' Wood

I don't want to say there was a paucity of candidates for KCW this week, but there were not three or four standouts like there were last time 'round. With that in mind, I'm going to fudge a little and give KCW to Bobby Petrino, who Tuesday announced his return to Arkansas. I'm not necessarily opposed to Petrino leaving if he thinks he's not cut out for the Falcons gig and wants to take a solid collegiate job while there's one available this year. That being said, resigning without talking to your players, and holding a ten-second meeting with your assistant coaches? It's not as if Arkansas told him he had to leave Atlanta within a half-hour. That's shameful behavior if you manage a Wendy's, let alone a professional football team.

Best Bets

2-1 last week, 19-18-1 overall

NEW ORLEANS (-3.5) over Arizona

With the Cardinals secondary in tatters, I like betting on Drew Brees and the remnants of the great Saints offense building an early lead on Arizona and maintaining it.

DALLAS (-10.5) over Philadelphia

I picked the Eagles to win the NFC East this year. I've been on the bandwagon for a while. I've watched all their games and tried to piece together a narrative that would see them come back and make a playoff run. At some point, though, you have to just accept things for what they are. The Cowboys are a way better team, and should roll here.

SAN DIEGO (-11) over Detroit

Completing the home favorite trifecta this week is San Diego, who plays a Detroit team that's sinking rapidly.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 12 Dec 2007

34 comments, Last at 17 Dec 2007, 8:23am by cian

Comments

1
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Wed, 12/12/2007 - 5:30pm

Beasley was awesome in 2003, I remember a play against the Seahawks where he smashed into a defensive end, sending him falling back into a linebacker and then flattening a safety. He singlehandedly blocked most of the run defense to that side, it was good to watch. I think he was a pretty decent short yardage runner that year as well.

2
by Andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 12/12/2007 - 5:31pm

Dear Scramble and Footballoutsiders:

Thanks again for publishing the Kubiak projections. For the 2nd year in a row, I am in the playoffs thanks to your help with selections and the like in fantasy football, this year having had the 9th pick in a 10 team league.

3
by Bobman (not verified) :: Wed, 12/12/2007 - 5:41pm

Bill B, Thanks again for leaving the Colts off your BBBB list. Your check is in the mail after last week's exclusion.

4
by Darin (not verified) :: Wed, 12/12/2007 - 5:52pm

I had to step outside for a breather after that Fred McAfee line. Great stuff.

5
by Andy (not verified) :: Wed, 12/12/2007 - 6:13pm

No mention of FO's favorite whipping-boy Chris Chambers? He belongs on the list of Pro Bowl one-hit wonders.

I agree with #2. I'm in two ff leagues and I've got the #1 & #2 seed in the playoffs respectively. I'm good, but I aint THAT good. I strictly followed KUBIAK and it paid off...even though I drafted Frank Gore with the #3 overall pick!

6
by Jimbohead (not verified) :: Wed, 12/12/2007 - 6:20pm

#2 -
due to FO's kubiak influences, my first three rounds of yahoo auto-draft this year looked like this:

Gore
Jacobs
McNabb

not that I'm complaining. Just saying...

7
by James, London (not verified) :: Wed, 12/12/2007 - 6:22pm

Once again, the comic rocks...

"It's apparently OK to quit midseason...".

Awesome.

8
by White Rose Duelist (not verified) :: Wed, 12/12/2007 - 6:54pm

In three leagues, all drafted based on KUBIAK. 1st (more like 0th, actually, considering how far ahead I am), 2nd and 8th going into the playoffs. Not stellar, but better than I would expect to do without FO. So, thanks also from me.

9
by Spenserhawk (not verified) :: Wed, 12/12/2007 - 7:21pm

Most Packer fans know the reason why David Sloan made the Pro Bowl that year.

I don't remember the exact yardage of the play (I'm thinking it was at least 80 yards) but I do remember seeing Sloan take a short pass, split the linebackers, and then outrun Pro Bowl safety LeRoy Butler to the endzone in a Lions victory over the Pack. That one play represented 14% of his total yardage that season.

10
by Andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 12/12/2007 - 7:23pm

Jimbohead:

The value of Kubiak is not in the first couple of rounds which almost any fan ought to be able to do nearly blind, but in the final 12 rounds, where you are picking among apparent slop or trying to figure out what defense to choose, or things like figuring out if you are better off grabbing a Tight End in the 7th round or a 3rd wideout.

11
by Athelas (not verified) :: Wed, 12/12/2007 - 7:44pm

I'm happy to see Warrick get some love--that must just be a horrible place to be this year.
And what's the name of that tape that you punch the letters into that is now some of the anti-spam words? (I feel so old; I'm sure it's not around anymore, is it?)

12
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Wed, 12/12/2007 - 8:29pm

9: KUBIAK actually was pretty valuable in the first round. Of the top ten by average draft position at Yahoo, it disliked four players significantly more than average, and liked three more than average.

The ones it especially liked:
Gore
Addai
Westbrook

The ones it disliked:
Alexander
Larry Johnson
Rudi Johnson
Willie Parker

The ones where it was about with the consensus:
Tomlinson
Jackson
Manning

Every player it thought was a miss turned out to be one. Of the ones it especially liked, two of three were indeed bad picks.

Overall I feel KUBIAK is very idiosyncratic and won't give you a good draft if you read it literally. But the first round wasn't its problem this year.

13
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Wed, 12/12/2007 - 8:34pm

11: Obviously, that sentence should read "two of three were indeed good picks." I can't write properly today.

Oh, where do I whine about how my loser league team is kicking ass except at QB, where both of my studs are probably done for the season? (Alex Smith and David Carr.)

14
by vrao (not verified) :: Wed, 12/12/2007 - 8:43pm

I don't get the Berman reference

15
by Bob Coluccio (not verified) :: Wed, 12/12/2007 - 9:03pm

Fred "Antivirus" McAfee?

16
by Alaska Jack (not verified) :: Wed, 12/12/2007 - 9:26pm

Charlie Garner only made one pro bowl? Interesting. He couldn't have been an overpowering blocker, but other than that, I remember his as a good-to-excellent outside runner, inside runner (unusually so for a little guy) and receiver.

Also a little surprised about Terry Allen, I guess. He seemed reliable wherever he went.

- Alaska Jack

17
by karl (not verified) :: Wed, 12/12/2007 - 10:48pm

dj hackett. ladell betts. frank gore. i drafted the first two and kept the third. i would've kept frank either way, but betts was purely a kubiak encouraged pick. that being said - i'm in the semifinals in one league and didn't make the playoffs in my other. why in the world did i pass on adrian peterson!? (although having him this past week probably would've spelled the end of me in my playoff league, thank goodness).

18
by Chad Gerson (not verified) :: Thu, 12/13/2007 - 12:31am

"Listen, chump: Zest body wash doesn't contain heavy moisturizers!"

Even better was the parody in the Onion: "Congress to Ironhead: what's with this thingy?"

Consider this: his one Pro Bowl appearance probably made the ad possible. Under his name appeared "All-Pro Running Back."

19
by Jim (not verified) :: Thu, 12/13/2007 - 12:56am

My draft in order in the league where I followed Kubiak most closely:

Gore
MJD (a steal at pick 22!)
Steve Smith (a steal at pick 27!)
Vince Young
Jamal Lewis
Jerious Norwood
Donte Stallworth
and so on...

I didn't quite make the playoffs in that one. To be fair, it's the only league out of 5 where I didn't, and all of them were influenced by Kubiak to some extent.

20
by Rex (not verified) :: Thu, 12/13/2007 - 1:02am

David Boston is only 29?!!

*checks nfl.com*

well i'll be damned.

21
by Sergio (not verified) :: Thu, 12/13/2007 - 1:05am

I don't want to hijack the thread, but YAY!!!!

The Firefox bug (where the main menus appeared behind the ads) is fixed!!! Joy is life!!!

22
by dbt (not verified) :: Thu, 12/13/2007 - 2:01am

I took westbrook #8 and #9 in two different leagues, Favre and the Pack defense late, held DJ Hackett after his first injury, drafted VY and traded him for Cooley after it was clear that Gerrard was the real deal (that draft was literally held the night before the season opener, or I would have been at the FO book signing here in Chicago). Most of these are moves I would not have been able to make without KUBIAK.

Yes I drafted Betts in one league, rivers in another, dj hackett in both. you can't blame kubiak for hackett's injury, sometimes things happen, and no projection system is perfect. But heck yeah I'll take it. Thanks, FO.

23
by BlueStarDude (not verified) :: Thu, 12/13/2007 - 2:37am

Fred Beasley was one of the top FBs for a couple of years there. Unfortunately for him, the AP All-Pro Team didn't include FB as a separate position in 2002 and 2003, but Beasley finished 3rd and 4th in the RB voting in those years respectively, thanks to some of the more sophisticated voters, e.g. Dr.Z, who accounted for one of the seven Beasley votes in 2002.

24
by Bobman (not verified) :: Thu, 12/13/2007 - 3:53am

#17 Ya know, his whole demeanor and persona in that ad were winners. I had a grad school advertising prof who gushed over the ad, though she had no idea who he was. Just a big, burly man not afraid to show his soft side to help a company expand their customer base with men. I actually said it was Bettis and a classmate corrected me.

And to this day, I'm still a bar of Ivory soap kinda guy. Maybe if it was crazy-eyed Lyle Alzado hawking soft soap....

25
by EvanW (not verified) :: Thu, 12/13/2007 - 7:26am

Preston did play in a game for the Titans in '99. They signed him to replace Derrick Mason as the return man. Preston showboated on a return and was promptly cut shortly thereafter by Fisher. Then Mason got good ...

26
by RobM (not verified) :: Thu, 12/13/2007 - 8:11am

This is all from memory but I'm pretty sure John Henry Mills was listed as a TE when he was with the Oilers and as a LB when he was with the Raiders, but he was pretty much exlusively a special teams guy.

27
by justanothersteve (not verified) :: Thu, 12/13/2007 - 11:48am

Another not-likely pick? Laurence Maroney, who only picked up one point.

Why was that unlikely? I had Maroney on my regular FFL team and he's killed me all year. He's got to be the only Patriot listed as a starter on offense who has had less than a stellar season.

#14 - The Berman reference stumped me also.

28
by mush (not verified) :: Thu, 12/13/2007 - 8:16pm

I'd like to know what players KUBIAK *hit* on this year. Not the "players to avoid" - what target players did it hit on? Because all of the "winning theme" players that I see out there were not pathed from KUBIAK. Said another way, people who did well in their leagues using KUBIAK in 2007 did so in spite of, not because of.

29
by mush (not verified) :: Thu, 12/13/2007 - 8:18pm

22. You drafted Favre with Tarvaris Jackson still on the board? That's *you*, not KUBIAK.

30
by David (not verified) :: Fri, 12/14/2007 - 12:07pm

29? Seriously?

I propose an immediate Congressional investigation into what the hell happened to David Boston. Heath Shuler can chair the subcommittee.

31
by FavreFan (not verified) :: Fri, 12/14/2007 - 4:02pm

Roell Preston finished up his career (I think it was the end) with the Saskatchewan Roughriders where he played with his brother Rock. Yes - their names were 'Rock and Roell', and the local media used that clever phrase about 10,000 times leading up to the much anticipated debut of the dynamic brother duo. Needless to say the brothers did not live up to expectations and the Riders finished well below the mendoza line, with which their fans had grown accustom to at the time.

32
by Arkaein (not verified) :: Sat, 12/15/2007 - 6:42pm

I'm pretty sure that in 2004 William Henderson set an NFL record for defenders hurdled after catching a pass in the flat by a 250+ lb player. Seriously, he must have done this on every other one of his receptions that year, so he had some nice highlight footage.

33
by Sid (not verified) :: Sun, 12/16/2007 - 5:11pm

Jacksonville missed two extra points today.

34
by cian (not verified) :: Mon, 12/17/2007 - 8:23am

What a strange steroid-filled career Boston led.

fixed it for ya...