Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
31 Jul 2009
by Bill Barnwell
In the last few versions of Pro Football Prospectus, we've included a piece known as "Fantasy Risers and Fallers", based upon the players that had the biggest leaps between their performance in the prior year and their projected KUBIAK performance in the upcoming season.
For a variety of reasons, the piece didn't appear in this year's Football Outsiders Almanac 2009, but fret not; after several requests on our discussion forums and through e-mail, we've put together a Fantasy Risers and Fallers column for free here on the Web site. We'll note ten players on both sides of the coin whose KUBIAK ranking bears little resemblance to their ADP and discuss why KUBIAK grades them as such, plus I'll give my own two cents as to whether the ol' spreadsheet has any idea what it's talking about.
Of course, if you've read FOA 09 already, you know that we have a very high opinion of the San Diego Chargers. KUBIAK, naturally, shares our positive thinking, so we start with my personal choice for 2009 NFL MVP...
Philip Rivers, Chargers (ADP Difference: 27): We have Rivers as the fourth quarterback off the board, while ADP has him tied with Kurt Warner for fifth/sixth; we'll get to Warner in a bit, but the Chargers' sunny projection bodes well for Rivers' 2009. In addition, his consistency in 2008 was remarkable; he was equally effective across the board in virtually any split we can try and muster up. He did all that while recovering from a torn ACL, and gets to play a creampuff schedule. Oh, and his best receiving option is 100 percent again. Most places see some regression from Rivers; we see a step forward. KUBIAK would be even higher if our expected wins for the Chargers weren't so damn high.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (49): KUBIAK doesn't know about the rape allegations against Roethlisberger, but our ADP data was taken from before those charges came out. If anything, he might fall even further on draft day now. Roethlisberger's touchdowns were abnormally low last year -- he threw a touchdown on 5.8 percent of his attempts before 2008, but was only at 3.6 percent last year (a figure he only approached in his lost year of 2006). Roethlisberger will always be a health risk, but his offensive line should be better this year, and having a motivated Santonio Holmes should give him another option in the passing game.
Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks (46): Hasselbeck was the seventh-best quarterback in the league in 2007, but one year of injuries and it's like he never existed? Matt Cassel's ADP (103) is ahead of Hasselbeck's (105). Consider the talent that surrounds these two players. Now realize that Cassel's schedule is harder than Hasselbeck's. Now fear for the future of humanity. Hasselbeck's your best bet if you're stuck looking for a quarterback in the sixth or seventh round.
Matt Ryan, Falcons (-11): Remember the end of the 2006 season? You know, when people couldn't throw Charlie Casserly out of a moving train fast enough for taking Mario Williams over the scintillating, dynamic Reggie Bush? It takes more than a year to judge a rookie's ability in the NFL, especially in a situation where everything goes right for him. That was Ryan last year, who had an extremely effective running game and an absurdly healthy offense around him. Odds of that happening this year? Not so high. We expect some regression from the Falcons, some more injuries, and a decline in performance by Ryan.
Kurt Warner, Cardinals (-60): Last year was the first time Kurt Warner made it through a full 16-game season since 2001. (Granted, Warner's had some years where he didn't have the opportunity to get hurt, so it's not like he's Chad Pennington.) He's 38 this year. Exactly two quarterbacks over the last 15 years have made it through 16 games at 38: Brett Favre and Vinny Testaverde. Although Warner doesn't have the miles on his body that either of those quarterbacks have, he has nothing close to their record of health. 38's a bad age for quarterbacks; it was the final year of John Elway, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, and Steve Young's careers; none of the four made it through the entire regular season. In other words, we expect him to get hurt.
Carson Palmer, Bengals (-59): Here's one where I think KUBIAK is a little harsh. It sees Palmer as an injury risk after last year's injury, but there's not a huge reason to think that Palmer's problems will recur. There's also concern about the revamping of the Bengals offensive line, but truthfully, lining up a blocking sled might have been preferable to last year's disaster.
Julius Jones, Seahawks (63): Probably KUBIAK's most controversial projection this year. Jones' big year is predicated on the idea that the Seahawks will improve -- and thus run out the clock more frequently -- while Jones holds on to the top spot in the Seattle running back committee. (This projection does account for T.J. Duckett receiving his fair share of the goal-line carries, and you may note that since the publication of the book, our KUBIAK downloadable projections have transferred a couple of touchdowns from Jones to Duckett.) Jones did average 4.4 yards per carry last year despite a passing offense that was in shambles, so he certainly wasn't awful in his first year as a Seahawk. The real issue here is health; Jones hasn’t shown the ability to carry the load as a full-time back in the past without experiencing a decrease in performance, getting hurt, or otherwise angering his coaches. While Duckett and Justin Forsett aren't likely replacements as a full-time back, the possibility of a Ryan Grant-style swoop in to become an unexpected lead back here are high. Does that mean Jones should be avoided on draft day? Not really. Just pay attention to the news.
Knowshon Moreno, Broncos (17): We might be the only people who have Moreno ahead of Michael Turner, but we've got our reasons. Receptions as a college back translate very well to that same ability on the pro level, making Moreno a likely fit as an all-purpose back as a rookie. While Josh McDaniels rotated his backs frequently in New England, truthfully, he didn't have one as good as Moreno. He also never had an offensive line that blocked for the run as well as the 2008 Broncos' line did, Adjusted Line Yards aside.
LenDale White, Titans (35): Our spreadsheet doesn't take into account his weight loss, but White appears to be motivated heading into 2009. His projection is higher than most places because of his usage pattern, but it's hard to figure out how he'll see fewer than the 201 carries we have him projected for. It's not like Tennessee's going to start throwing the ball 35 times a game, and while they probably will run the ball less frequently in 2009 because of a decrease in their win-loss record, White and Chris Johnson combined for 451 carries last year. If anyone's going to lose carries, it's probably the slight Johnson, who is a bigger injury risk than White.
Felix Jones, Cowboys (35): Here's one I don't agree with. Jones, of course, was dynamite in a small sample last year. KUBIAK expects him to get 203 touches in the Cowboys offense this year (151 rushes and 52 receptions). I'd take the under on both. Before Jones got hurt, he wasn't a bigger part of the Cowboys offense because of his inability to do everything a back needs to do. He wasn't an effective blocker, didn't sell fakes well, and didn't fit into the Cowboys' scheme as an interior runner. He'll get better as a sophomore, but he's just not likely to pull off as many big plays as he did a year ago; he's fast, but not otherworldly-fast. Something closer to 100 carries and 30 receptions makes more sense.
Michael Turner, Falcons (-29): This one should be simple. Overworked a year ago, healthy team around him that's not likely to recur, far-above-average touchdown rate inside the five, and while we're at it, let's throw in Plexiglass Principle. You put the pieces together.
Joseph Addai, Colts (-38): The theory that I've espoused about Addai this offseason is that Donald Brown isn't ready as a pass blocker to play in the Colts' system. That would lead to an early-season situation where Addai got the bulk of the team's carries, as with Peyton Manning calling one of several different plays at the line, it's more difficult to just send Brown out there when you know you're going to run the ball. With the Colts having a relatively relaxed first half of run defenses, Addai could be a great trade-high candidate about halfway through the year.
Willie Parker, Steelers (-35): Of course, we don't think Willie Parker is all that great. He's also missed time with injuries each of the past two seasons, is entering the decline phase for backs, and has 2008 first-round pick Rashard Mendenhall returning from injury behind him. It's not impossible to see Parker holding on to his job and having a good year; it's just that a lot of things will have to stay status quo for that to happen.
Marshawn Lynch, Bills (-76): This might just be the idiots in casual leagues or auto-drafts propping up Lynch's ADP, but I really don't get this one. The guy's going to miss the first four games of the year. When he comes back, chances are that it'll take him a week or two to get into the rotation. That leaves him 10 games. Even 12 games of Lynch last year would have been 828 yards and six TD's. Is that really worth spending a fourth-round pick on?
Vincent Jackson, Chargers (18): Another innocent bystander on the Chargers bandwagon, Jackson has been elevating himself to Receiver 1A status alongside Antonio Gates. We don't project his usage to rise much, but simply instead that Jackson will haul in 10 scores on his 68 receptions thanks to his huge frame in the red zone. In fact, our projected 15.3 yards per catch is probably a little low; Jackson's averaged 17.2 yards per catch so far as a pro.
Anthony Gonzalez, Colts (23): He is a starting wide receiver in the Indianapolis Colts' offense.
Hines Ward, Steelers (33): I get the feeling that Ward's going to have that Rod Smith-style late run to his career, where he plays really well up to a point and then just falls off a cliff. All his metrics -- his usage pattern, his yards per reception, and yards after catch -- are consistent, and those of a very good wide receiver. At 33 and entering his 12th season, it's not like a good year for him would be unprecedented: Tim Brown and Cris Carter both made the Pro Bowl in the same situation.
Wes Welker, Patriots (-13): Welker's obviously an extremely unique player at this point, one whose catch rate has been so freakishly high the last two years that KUBIAK doesn't know what to do with him. Unless Welker gets hurt or the Patriots shift away from their current scheme, Welker's usage pattern and catch rate should remain about where they are now. I'd ignore this downgrade.
Anquan Boldin, Cardinals (-21): It's easy to see a guy who caught 89 passes in 12 games last year and think, "Man! If he had played those four extra games..." Unfortunately, Boldin's not likely to play those four extra games; he's a physical player that's missed time in four out of his six seasons as a pro. He has more miles on his body than most receivers do at 29. Combining those injury concerns with his presence in the news (likely artificially raising his draft value) and the Cardinals' expected decline, Boldin's not a safe play at his current ADP of 27.
Roy Williams, Cowboys (-13): Context, context, context. Like Boldin, Williams has injury issues; he's only made it through one full season as a pro (although last year's 15-game season was due to his trade, not an injury, so it's really two seasons). He has one season that sticks out like a sore thumb: That healthy season, 2006, when he caught 82 passes for 1,310 receiving yards in his first year under Mike Martz. His next-best year is 838 yards. I mean, maybe there's an elite receiver there, it's possible. He's already through his rookie contract, though, and he's got exactly one year as a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver. And yet -- somehow -- his ADP is 40 and Anthony Gonzalez's is 57. If you pick him before Gonzalez, truthfully, you deserve to finish in eighth place.
Antonio Gates, Chargers (11): It's pretty obvious that Gates' toe injury and Jeromey Clary's blocking issues caused Gates to stay at home a little more frequently in 2008. His catch rate was exactly what it normally was. He averaged about a yard per catch less than he normally does, which is within the realm of natural variance considering the rest of Gates' career. He just was targeted 25 fewer times than he normally is. There's no reason to think those 25 targets aren't going to come back this year, and that should mean another 15 catches, 180 receiving yards, and two touchdowns upon his totals from last year. That would put him at 75/880/10, right near our KUBIAK projection of 70/842/9.
Zach Miller, Raiders (42): OK, so people aren't taking Zach Miller because a fair amount of fantasy football players probably have no idea who he is. KUBIAK likes the rise in his usage pattern, the lack of viable receiving options around him (sorry, Darrius Heyward-Bey), and the likelihood that he'll improve on his one touchdown catch from a year ago. Our line for him is a mirror image of his 2008, just with a few more touchdowns thrown in.
Tony Gonzalez, Falcons (-22). We'll address Gonzalez in Monday's Wisdom of Crowds, but the spike in his stats the last two years came because he played on an awful team that had one receiver of any remote consequence behind him. Atlanta, at the very least, has Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, and Harry Douglas. When he gets 150-plus targets, he puts up those crazy 95-plus catch seasons that will get him into the Hall of Fame. We expect his target totals to drop some, which will result in a decrease in raw numbers.
Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers (-20). Winslow's the sixth tight end off the board because, uh, his dad's famous? He used to curse a lot? He's tough enough to ... forget it, just threw up. Those 2006 and 2007 raw totals look nice, but the guy's started exactly half of the games he was eligible to play in as a professional so far. He posted what appears to be a total fluke catch rate of 76 percent in 2006, considering his catch rate's been at 54 percent over the other three years of his career. He also doesn't have a quarterback yet. Just avoid him. You'll feel better about it.
Stay tuned to FO next week for the final Wisdom of Crowds feature on fantasy football, as well as another oft-requested-by-the-readers bit of analysis that could absolutely, positively change how you look at the game.
31 comments, Last at 08 Aug 2009, 9:04pm by Big Johnson