After three NFL seasons of kicking off from the 35-yard line, what has been the impact on touchbacks, returns, field position, scoring and injuries? Also, is this rule responsible for a record number of big comebacks?
17 Dec 2008
by Bill Barnwell and Ben Riley
With Vince Verhei taking a well-deserved vacation this week, we are graced with the presence of the Ghost of Scrambles Past, Bill Barnwell, who joins Ben Riley to pick the first-annual All-Disaster Team. That would be the skill-position players you picked in the first through eighth round of your draft who likely killed your fantasy team on a weekly basis, driving you to heavy (or heavier) drinking.
Note that we're focusing on players whose actual performance was poor, not guys like Tom Brady who got hurt and missed the year because of an unexpected ouch.
Bill: Marc Bulger. Was Bulger ever really that great of a fantasy option? At quarterback, he's ranked ninth, 11th, 22nd, fifth, and then 22nd again last year. Sure, he's been hurt most of those years, but everyone who's reading this is aware that health is a skill. Bulger hasn't had it. Of course, I think anyone would've struggled to project the incomprehensible suck that has enveloped the Rams organization this year, down to Bulger reportedly tipping his passes and staring down receivers like he's in high school. I mean...the guy got a $65 million contract extension last year. It's not as if this is the first time anyone's seeing him on film.
Ben: Derek Anderson. In Week 2 of the 2007 NFL season, I offered the following Audibles observation during the first quarter of the Bengals-Browns contest:
Derek Anderson rolled to his right, saw a wide-open Joe Jurevicius in the end zone, and decided to sail the ball 10 yards over his head, toward an attractive woman sitting in the front row of the end zone. The over/under on Brady Quinn's first appearance in the NFL just moved to "the third quarter."
By "third quarter," of course, what I actually meant was "Week 10 of the 2008 NFL Season," but let's not quibble over the details. Although Anderson's drop off was predicted by KUBIAK and the FO staff (except for me), I don't think anyone anticipated Braylon Edwards' controversial decision to coat his gloves in Vaseline before each game. An even more pressing question: what's happened to Joe Thomas? I love trout fishing as much as the next guy, but focus on working on your foot technique, man.
Bill: Man. I love The Last Guy way more than I love trout fishing.
Bill: LaDainian Tomlinson. What happened to the Chargers offensive line? They've been healthy short a few weeks of Nick Hardwick, but it just seems like they've taken a huge step backwards this year. You can also, I suppose, make the argument that there's a lot of tread on LT's tires despite being only 29; the downside to him missing one regular season game in seven years is that Tomlinson's never had a season where he ran the ball fewer than 313 times. I think the argument about where you pick Tomlinson in next year's drafts is going to be real interesting. I can't see him falling lower than eighth or ninth overall just because of his track record.
Ben: If the draft were held tomorrow, I can see seven backs I'd pick in front of Tomlinson: Purple Jesus, Gore, Slaton, Forte, Slash (not to be confused with Dash), MJD, and Tomlinson's former backup who now plays for the Falcons. Those are locks. Then, you have the "Big Three" of Portis, Westbrook, and Jackson, plus the borderline possibilities of Grant, Thomas Jones, Barber, DeAngelo Williams (who may shoot up this list if he keeps playing out of his mind), and Brandon Jacobs. The more I think about this, the more I'm convinced Tomlinson won't be a first-round pick next year.
Bill: Joseph Addai. I used Tomlinson's slow start in the first two weeks of the 2007 season against a tough schedule as an example of why Addai would bounce back after he ran for 64 yards over the first two games of the year. And then he never really bounced back. The Colts are one of the more secretive teams in the league when it comes to injuries, so I wouldn't be surprised if Addai was struggling with physical ailments that have been understated or that we're not aware of.
Ben: Darren McFadden. Speaking of struggling with physical ailments, Darren McFadden owners -- and I count myself among them -- have gnashed many teeth and rendered many garments over McFadden's dueling turf-toe injuries this year. But even before (and after) McFadden's nagging injuries, he was unable to fully wrest away the starting job from Huggy Bear Fargas, who continues to eat away at McFadden's carries. There's no doubt McFadden has the capacity to be "special," to quote Al Davis, but he will need to learn blitz pickup if he wants to become a feature back.
Bill: I've charted a bunch of Raiders games this year, which means that I've had to spend a second straight year watching far too many Raiders games (after living in the Bay Area without Sunday Ticket last year). Not only do the Raiders run an impossibly mundane scheme behind impossibly overmatched blockers, but they don't trust McFadden in the backfield, for some reason. He's split out wide or running the world's most unnecessary Wildcat ever, which is sad considering that he was the man who made the scheme work in college. Hopefully, he'll have a better career than Willis McGahee. The horrible truth about Willis McGahee is that he isn't really very good. This is something I've been saying for a while now; he's simply never had the level of performance you'd expect out of a guy drafted in the first-round and given a $40 million deal by a team with sound talent evaluation skills. Sure, he has games where he looks great -- the game against the Patriots last year comes to mind -- but he's not consistent over the course of a season, and he's one of the most injury-prone backs in the league. If you looked at McGahee's performance record without any knowledge of who he was or where he'd come from, he's a slightly-below average starting running back. Now he's one in a timeshare.
Ben: Jamal Lewis and Edge James. You know Bill, cocaine is a hell of a drug. Six years ago, Jamal Lewis ran for 2,066 yards and 14 touchdowns. 14 months later, he was in federal prison on cocaine-distribution charges. Lewis has never really recovered from the experience (despite a brief resurgence last year), and now he's 29 and on the verge of falling off the fantasy cliff. On the other hand, although his season high in rushing is a paltry 88 yards, he rarely rushes for less than 60, so that production combined with the odd touchdown and 15-yard screen pass may make him marginally useful as an RB3.
Bill: He's 30th in fantasy points amongst backs this year, so yeah, that sounds right. I should also point out that Lewis ran for those 2,066 yards on 387 carries.
Ben: As for Edge, his problems have nothing to do with cocaine (so far as we know) and everything to do with the Cardinals' pass-first (and second and third) offensive scheme. And even though you are suspicious of Tim Hightower, Bill -- and rightly so -- there's nothing James can do that Hightower doesn't do better. James also seems to be suffering Shaun Alexander-like delusions about his present abilities. Fantasy owners know better, and I think he'll slip into "hey-it's-the-last-round-of-my-draft-and-I'm-buzzed-so-why-not-take-a-flyer-on-him" territory next year.
Bill: Tim Hightower can pass block better than Edgerrin James? You weren't joking about that cocaine, Ben.
Bill: Braylon Edwards. I really think it's the construction of the Browns offense that's killing Edwards, although the drops obviously aren't helping. Edwards is used best in the Lee Evans role -- guy who gets downfield and kills you when you don't double him. The good thing about last year was that Edwards got to play off of Joe Jurevicius, who ran all the possession receiver routes and used the space created by Edwards to push the team forward towards first downs. Now, Edwards is having to run shorter, more concise routes, moving him away from his strengths. I don't doubt that Edwards should be better at that than he is, but it doesn't change the fact that Phil Savage should have gone out this offseason and signed an Eric Parker-type guy to work across from Edwards, not the poor man's Edwards in Donte' Stallworth.
Ben: Edwards has 22 drops! He could have Wes Welker working the slot for him and that would still be about 21 drops too many. Remember, this is a guy people were taking in the second round of their draft in August. Just a collapse of epic proportions.
On that note, we are obligated to mention Bengals WR-85 on this list. What's weird about this is that, during 85's preseason bout of insanity, I -- and presumably many other fantasy owners -- shied away from him because we had no idea if he'd be traded or suspended for being crazy or what. But he's played every game this year! Sure, Carson Palmer is injured, but you're telling me he couldn't produce a single 100-yard game through the first 15 weeks? In fact, he's only broken 60 yards once. That said, I think Johnson could bounce back next year and provide risk-loving owners with a nice return on their 7th-round investment. This assumes Cincinnati ends the Crimson Alumni experiment at quarterback.
Bill: Torry Holt. Torry Holt's yards per catch since 2004: 14.6, 13.0, 12.8, 12.8, 12.1. With Holt, his value was predicated upon his usage in that offense and catching 90+ balls a season. This year, obviously, he's given up some of his targets to Donnie Avery. He's been targeted around 6.6 times per game this year, down from 9.3 times a year ago.
Ben: And when he's targeted, Bulger is usually staring straight at him to guarantee he'll have to fight through double coverage. You know, as a Seahawks fan, sometimes I've felt mild depression coming on, but then I think of the Rams -- and I feel a whole lot better.
Speaking of depressed, how you doin' Marvin Harrison owners? In Week 5, Harrison racked up 82 yards and two touchdowns and seemed to justify those who were willing to roll the dice on him with a 4th-round pick. He immediately followed that performance up with games of 11, 12, 50 and 37 yards. Harrison's had two good games since, but in head-to-head leagues, this inconsistency is death, especially around playoff time.
Bill: Roy Williams. Williams has struggled in both of his stops this year. In Detroit, it was pretty clear that he had struggled with becoming the team's second receiver behind Calvin Johnson; in Dallas, he had to learn the playbook (don't believe his story about having the playbook down cold after a week), adjust to a new quarterback, and compete for touches with seemingly dozens of qualified candidates. Williams has had one good game this year -- his final one with the Lions -- and 11 games that make him look like he's Bobby Wade in disguise.
Ben: Chris Chambers. Remember this guy? Neither does Philip Rivers. Over the first five weeks of the season, Chambers had a whopping 11 catches -- but five of them went for touchdowns, thus obscuring his growing irrelevance in Norv Turner's offense. Since that time, Chambers has caught an additional zero touchdowns, and he's averaging about 30 yards per game. Some used to think Chambers was held back by the general quarterback chaos in Miami, but when Philip Rivers throws for 350 yards as he did against Kansas City this past Sunday, and you only have 28 of those yards, safe to say the problem is you.
Bill: I am trying to be nice and not say any more mean things about Chris Chambers. Let me think of some good things I can say about him. He can jump high. He's got a website dedicated to his charity work at catch84.com. Of course, he doesn't wear 84 anymo…crap.
Bill: Jeremy Shockey. Rare indeed is the skill-position player who gets traded in the middle of training camp and keeps his expected level of performance. That's combined with the fact that Shockey's never played a full season and has stagnated since his rookie year. Projecting him to have a huge year in the New Orleans offense made sense on some levels, but like Williams, there were already only so many balls to go around.
Ben: Todd Heap. Just two years ago, Todd Heap racked up 765 yards and six touchdowns. After an injury marred 2007 campaign, many expected Heap's numbers to recover this year if -- and given his injury history, this was a big if -- he could stay healthy. Well, Heap's played all year, yet he's averaging just under 30 yards per game receiving. In part, you can blame the gadgety game planning of new Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who seem content to have their tight ends stay in and block whenever Joe Flacco splits out wide. The other part is the continued emergence of Mark Clayton, who continues to suck up targets.
Many folks may be expecting the KCW trophy to be winging its way to Buffalo right about now, after the Dick Jauron/J.P. Losman fumble fiasco against the Jets, but we're not sure who's more to blame, Jauron (for calling a pass) or Losman (for not throwing the ball away). As a result, we bestow this week's award instead on fullback Mike Sellers of the Imploding Washington Redskins. Sellers may have just made the Pro Bowl, but by fumbling on the goal line against the Bengals last Sunday, Sellers fumbled the Redskins out of any hope of playoff contention. Enjoy Honolulu, Mike.
|Check out the Football Outsiders comics archive and Jason's wacky Gil Thorp blog.|
They say fortune favors the bold, and few would dispute the boldness of Jeff Fisher's decision to try to convert on fourth-and-3 -- while trailing the Texans 13-12 with two minutes to play -- instead of kicking the field goal. Of course, the play didn't work, and Fisher was half-responsible for the mess in the first place (as he later conceded, he should have taken the wind in the fourth quarter), but in order to live, you must be willing to die.
Quarterback: Joe Flacco's fourth-quarter fumble not only knocked the Ravens out of field goal range and dramatically changed the game, but it made him the Losingest QB of the week with a sole point. J.P. Losman was right behind him with three, making Ken Dorsey's four look robust by comparison.
Running Back: LenDale White and Marion Barber each had two points, with Barber's rushing day of two yards on eight carries out of a Loser League wet dream. Right behind them would be the aforementioned Jamal Lewis and Willie Parker, each of whom had four.
Wide Receiver: Single points were obtained by T.J. Houshmandzadeh (but, you know, start your studs), Justin McCareins, Hank Baskett, and Jason Hill. Only one of these receivers was comforted afterwards by a Playmate. Derrick Mason, Marvin Harrison, Chris Chambers, Brandon Lloyd, and Lance Moore each had two points.
Kicker: Well, at least he didn't get hurt attempting a fake field goal. Sebastian Janikowski pulled off his yearly abysmal game in Week 15, scoring -3 points thanks to a missed PAT. To rub it in, Oakland decided it would be a good idea to go for two with 1:53 left in the game down 49-26. You've gotta make it a three-score game there.
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