Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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Guest columnist John Kinsley breaks down the tape of every deep pass in the NFL in 2017 and comes away with a shocking conclusion: even without Andrew Luck, the Colts had the best long-ball quarterback in the league.

03 Dec 2008

Scramble for the Ball: Reality vs. Fantasy

by Vince Verhei and Ben Riley

Remember Aaron Brooks? Once upon a time, he was a perennial top-10 fantasy quarterback, a guy who would produce yards and touchdowns as quickly as Judd Apatow produces movies. At the same time, though, Brooks was killing his real-life team, the Saints, with a penchant for interceptions, sacks, and third-down failures at the worst possible times. Only once did he rank in the top 20 in DYAR. With that in mind, we're looking at the most Brooks-like players in the league this season, those guys who are rewarded for their good plays but not penalized for their bad ones. We're also looking at their counterparts, the guys who are helping their teams win games while doing little for fantasy owners. You could think of them as the Troy Aikmans of 2008.


Better in Real Life: Matt Ryan
DYAR: 998, fifth overall.
Fantasy Points: 178, 14th.
Why the Difference? As someone who picked up Matt Ryan off the waiver wire midway through the season after Matt Schaub went down, let me just begin by saying that he has provided much peace and comfort over the past few weeks (albeit while stashed on my bench). The consensus Rookie of the Year is ranked fifth in DYAR, so why are his fantasy numbers so low? Two reasons: As one might expect, he started the season slow (two games with sub-10 point production), but he also lacks any of those monster, 30-plus-point performances that tend to skew a player's total fantasy numbers. Some say consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, whatever that means, but I say consistency is exactly what you want in a backup -- someone who will guarantee you won't get goose-egged in any one week. It will be interesting to see where Ryan gets drafted next year, although the Ghost of Carson Palmer's Past haunts many an owner to this day.

Better in Fantasy: Aaron Rodgers
DYAR: 776, 11th.
Fantasy Points: 259, third.
Why the Difference? This is a surprise -- Aaron Rodgers is the third-ranked fantasy quarterback this year? But that's what happens when you combine a banged-up Packers secondary, a surprisingly flaccid ground game, and a wide receiving corps that gets Doug Farrar disturbingly excited with its ability to generate yards after the catch. Plus, don't look now, but Rodgers has four touchdowns on the ground, and he leads all quarterbacks in rushing DYAR. As a quarterback, however, Rodgers has thrown some absolutely game-killing interceptions (although the Pack's loss last week was entirely the fault of the defense). If you own Rodgers this year, hopefully your playoffs last until Week 17 when the Packers host the Lions. Yummy.

Running Backs

Better in Real Life: Derrick Ward
DYAR: 142, seventh.
Fantasy Points: 112, 21st.
Why the Difference? This will come as no surprise Ward owners, but sharing carries with Brandon Jacobs isn't exactly a positive when it comes to scoring touchdowns. Although DYAR respects him for his knack with converting on third downs, his measly two touchdowns and the crowded Giants backfield severely handicaps his fantasy value. If only there was a fantasy league based on DYAR! (We'll think about it.)

Better in Real Life: Le'Ron McClain
DYAR: 119, tenth.
Fantasy Points: 108, 24th.
Why the Difference? Ah, volatility, you fickle, Baltimore backfield-destroying, Dow Jones Industrial Average-ravaging [rhymes with witch]. McClain is the classic fantasy running back nightmare, the guy who will rack up 56 points in his first four games, only to kill you with 16 points over the next five (aaargh), relegating him to the bench just in time for him to rebound with 32 points in the last three games (double aaargh). But DYAR doesn't punish him for being forced to share carries with the equally baffling Willis McGahee or Ray "I am Not Related to Jim" Rice, hence his top 10 ranking. By the way, LenDale White owners just read this entire paragraph with their heads nodding.

Better in Fantasy: LaDainian Tomlinson
DYAR: 11, 29th.
Fantasy Points: 159, 15th.
Why the Difference? Every fantasy player lives in fear of what's happened with LdR2-D2 this year. (And yes, the fact that we've never settled on a nickname for Tomlinson continues to irk me.) It happened to Larry Johnson owners two years back (don't say we didn't warn you!). It happened to Shaun Alexander owners before that (cue Groundskeeper Willie: "We warned ya, didn't we warn ya?"). We all knew that Tomlinson would fall off the fantasy cliff at some point, but what's surprising is that DYAR is even more unkind -- at 29th overall, he's inching dangerously close to becoming a replacement-level back. On the flip side, I'd like to thank him for making it socially acceptable to own a Vizio plasma television.

Wide Receivers

Better in Real Life: Steve Breaston
DYAR: 220, 9th.
Fantasy Points: 89, 30th.
Why the Difference? Because Breaston, the third option on his own team, ranks just 26th in targets. Breaston is pretty clearly the right guy in the right place at the right time: A fifth-round draft pick out of Michigan in 2007, Breaston was targeted only 14 times his rookie season. That's hardly the pedigree for a breakout season, but Breaston stepped into the opening left when Bryant Johnson departed to San Francisco. Then Breaston saw Larry Fitzgerald to one side, Anquan Boldin to the other, and Kurt Warner behind him, and he probably started to giggle. To draw comparisons to Warner's former receiving crew, Breaston is probably the Az-Zahir Hakim to Boldin and Fitzgerald's Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. Hakim did just fine as the third receiver on a great team, but flopped as a starter when he moved to Detroit. With that in mind, we'd advise Breaston to stay in the desert as long as he can.

Better in Fantasy: Terrell Owens
DYAR: 40, 50th.
Fantasy Points: 132, seventh.
Why the Difference? Owens has produced big plays, particularly in the red zone; he's tied for third among receivers in touchdowns despite being just 14th in yards. Those big plays, however, have come with plenty of incompletions. He has a catch rate of just 50 percent, and is fourth in the league in passes not caught. Owens also catches a lot of short passes. Only 57.7 percent of his catches have resulted first downs. Of the top 20 players in the league in receiving yards, only Wes Welker and T.J. Houshmandzadeh have lower rates than Owens.

Tight Ends

Better in Real Life: Billy Miller
DYAR: 125, third.
Fantasy Points: 51, 16th.
Why the Difference? The Saints pass the ball more than any team except Arizona, but they spread the ball around, even among their tight ends. Miller has only 46 targets, 17th at his position and 11 fewer than teammate Jeremy Shockey. Still, he trails Shockey by only three catches, tops him by 79 yards, and matches him in first downs. Miller also ranks second in the league in catch rate.

Better in Fantasy: Kellen Winslow
DYAR: -13, 36th.
Fantasy Points: 61, 13th.
Why the Difference? Winslow isn't having a great fantasy season by any means, but he's probably starting in your league (or was, before a high ankle sprain put his playing status in jeopardy). That's only because the Browns are forcing him the ball though; Winslow ranks fourth among tight ends in passes despite ranking third from the bottom in catch rate, fourth from the bottom in yards per pass.

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

Keep Choppin' Wood

Rian Lindell, overheard in the parking lot outside Ralph Wilson Stadium after he missed 20- and 40-yard field-goal attempts in the Bills' 10-3 loss to the lowly 49ers, virtually guaranteeing that they will miss the playoffs again this year:

Is this a shifter car? I cannot drive a shifter car, alright, so we got a little situation here. I can't drive these kinda cars! What the f*** is goin' on! You think that's funny? Would you like to know, smartass? Would you like to know why I can't drive this kinda car? I'll tell you why, I'm used to *luxury* cars. Have you ever heard of a luxury car? You know what luxury means? Ever heard of Cadillac, Cadillac Eldorado? That's what I drive. I drive cars that shift themselves.

You're a goon, Lindell.

Colbert Award

You know, we get lots of suggestions for this award, and most of them are "You should go with Team X because they went for it on fourth down at Z point in the game." The truth is, teams go for it on fourth down every week. It takes more than a typical fourth-down attempt to win the Colbert Award. It takes something special. Something zany. Something that can only work because it's so mind-numbingly stupid, the opposing team could never possible expect it to happen. It takes a team like the Oakland Raiders, who didn't just go for it on fourth down, and didn't just attempt a fake field goal. No, they attempted a fake field goal that involved Shane Lechler, from one knee, flipping the ball between his legs back to Sebastian Janikowski -- yes, this Sebastian Janikowski -- who was then expected to run a sweep play to the outside and gain the 10 yards needed for a first down. Lechler botched the flip and Janikowski never got the ball; Maurice Leggett picked the ball off the turf and ran it in untouched for a score. Which is a shame, because Sebastian Janikowski in the open field would have been a once-in-a-lifetime treat for football fans everywhere.

Loser League

QB: Two fumbles! Two interceptions! 0 fantasy points! That's what the Steelers did to Matt Cassel last Sunday. That's the sort of thing the Steelers do to most things, though, so Matt shouldn't feel too bad.

RB: Chris Perry has been banished to the bench, but that won't keep the Bengals out of this space: Cedric Benson tied with Julius Jones of the Seahawks. Each scored a measly little 1.

WR: Technically, Laveranues Coles and Roscoe Parrish tied here with a 0, but it's hard to look at the numbers and say that Coles wasn't worse. Two yards gained in seven passes -- and one of those passes was an interception?! Now that's a loser.

K: Shaun Suisham and Rian Lindell each scored a -1 this week. Suisham missed one field goal in a blowout; Lindell missed two in a nail-biting loss. Bigger loser: Lindell.

Posted by: Vince Verhei and Ben Riley on 03 Dec 2008

28 comments, Last at 08 Dec 2008, 3:42am by Skinnz


by RoyFlip (not verified) :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 3:09pm

Cadillac Eldorado...luxury car...only in Buffalo or Detroit (Is there still a GM plant in Tonowanda?)
Cars that shift themselves(!) Maybe the Bills can get k-balls that kick themselves.

by Bobman :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 3:53pm

It's clearly dated and probably "regional" as well. I'm thinking from "Get Shorty" mainly because the hood (Travolta) ends up with a minivan he refers to as the Cadillac of minivans. Great visual at the end of the flick when the camera cuts to the Hollywood studio parking lot--filled with minivans.

If I am wrong, what the heck is it from?

by The Hypno-Toad :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 4:30pm

IMDB reveals that it's from Buffalo '66, a movie I really meant to see when it was out, then promptly forgot that it existed.
Get Shorty is completely awesome though, Dennis Farina in particular.

by RoyFlip (not verified) :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 5:02pm

Get Shorty was by Elmore Leonard, correct? That would usually put it in Detroit. The minivan was one of those lame wedge-shaped ones from GM. The name escapes me.

by RickD :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 8:06pm

Get Shorty was by Elmore Leonard, but it was set in Hollywood.

by Theo :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 12:20pm

He gets an Oldsmobile Silhouette.

by Doug Farrar :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 3:10pm

"Disturbingly excited?" Awww...

With that in mind, we'd advise Breaston to stay in the desert as long as he can.

At least until Tim Ruskell offers the Cardinals Seattle's entire 2009 draft for him and then signs him to a 9-year, $99 million, no-cut contract. Of course, he'll have to rack up a Super Bowl MVP award first.

No, I'm not bitter...

by Telamon :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 9:40pm

I think Breaston needs a more impressive injury history for this move to truly make sense.

by DGL :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 3:18pm

Michael Clayton also got a 0, with 3 catches for 29 yards and one fumble lost. The results pages are wrong, but Mr Laverty assures me they'll be corrected...

by Tom Gower :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 4:01pm

Ah, NO QB #2. I've said before that the reason I don't play fantasy football despite football fanaticism is simply that "Any system where Aaron Brooks [was] a good player must be wrong."

by The Hypno-Toad :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 4:26pm

I've never thought about it that way... This throws my whole perspective on fantasy football off. Hmmm, I'm tempted to stop playing fantasy... Like right now, even though I have two #1 seeds to defend in the playoffs. Hopefully this will pass by Sunday.

by starzero :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 4:49pm

than you very much for the buffalo 66 reference.

next: how do you work in the brown bunny?

by galactic_dev :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 5:26pm

You open your mouth and suck it down. :)

by ferarapan (not verified) :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 5:33pm

I have always thought that fumbles and interceptions should be -6 instead of -2. Not turning the ball over should be just as important as 60 yards of field position or being the player who gets the honor of running the last yard for a TD.

by DGL :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 5:52pm

OK, since I believe this has become the de facto fantasy thread: Numerous experts are ranking Thigpen higher than Rivers this week. Now, I know that OAK has a somewhat better pass defense than DEN, but... really? Thigpen over Rivers?

by dbostedo :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 6:02pm

Well :

Thigpen's points in my league the last six games : 11, 25, 24, 30, 23, 23, 8
Rivers' points in my league the last six games : 14, 29, 20, 2, 22, 6

Granted, 6 weeks is kind of cherry picking, but seeing those numbers (even if not considering defenses faced), I wouldn't be surprised if "experts" rated Thigpen higher.

by Whatev (not verified) :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 6:16pm

Okay, assuming you wrote 23 twice by accident... it's worse than cherry picking, isn't it? Because the numbers are pretty similar except for that one game where Thigpen put up a 30 and Rivers put up a 2, and that could be a fluke.

by dbostedo :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 7:05pm

I did accidentally type that twice...sorry. Anyway, it's exactly cherry picking. I picked the weeks that made Thigpen look good. Granted, he wasn't the starter much before then.

I'm not sure what your overall point was, Whatev. I'm just trying to say that 1) Given Thigpen's and Rivers' numbers over the last few weeks, and 2) Given the defenses they are playing this week, 3) I don't find it surprising that some people would favor Thigpen.

Sure the 30 and 2 could be flukes, but that doesn't factor into my argument.

by DGL :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 1:21am

Using ESPN's scoring, Thigpen's had 21, 21, 24, 19, 17, and 8 points since he became a starter most recently; Rivers over his last six games has had 10, 23, 16, 2, 18, and 6. His 2 was against PIT, which has made a lot of QBs look bad, while Thigpen had the 24 against SD, which has made a lot of QBs look good. So not "flukes", but "worst team for QBs to get fantasy points against" versus "second-easiest team to get fantasy points against".

So I guess I can see the logic - if I take the ESPN average QB points against for the six teams they've played over the last six weeks, Thigpen's 29.7 points above average and Rivers is 6.7 above.

I'm just having a hard time convincing myself to start Thigpen over Rivers...

by MC2 :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 6:06pm

How could you leave out Michael Turner? He's been an absolute stud in fantasy, but just mediocre in reality.

by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 6:24pm

OK, with Brown Bunny references, I know the thread winner is already declared: Galactic__dev, come up to the podium to receive your prize!

Re what we call LaDanian Tomlinson's. Here are two suggestions: "LaDanian" and "Tomlinson." Why do we have to have a nickname for everyone? To save us valuable typing strokes? (uh, oh, venturing close to Brown Bunny territory again!) One of the most irritating things about Philadelphia sports talk radio (only one of many, admittedly) is the tendency to unimaginatively nickname everyone. Allen Iverson became "A.I." McNabb became "D. Mac." Westbrook became "B. Wes." etc. etc. It comes across to me as a pathetic attempt to be "in," to show that you have a relationship with the player, that you know the locker room lingo. "LaDanian" was good enough for Mama Tomlinson, it's good enough for me.

by White Rose Duelist :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 7:33pm

Can we start calling him Rusher McFumbles again now?

by Chainsmoker (not verified) :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 8:32pm

I'm all for calling Tomlinson "NoHeart VaginaFace"...I think it has potential to stick.

by B :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 9:35pm

Shouldn't Plaxico win the keep chopping wood award for this week? Actually, shouldn't Chris Hansen win the keep shooting yourself in the leg award? Edit: I mean Chris Hanson, obviously.

by Henrik Madsen (not verified) :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 6:58am

I thought this award was to go to a coadh taking a gutsy, calculated risk - not to the coach making the most absolutely idiotic call.

Though I do understand the need to bring up the incident for comical purposes.

by Theo :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 12:27pm

I missed the history on the award, but since we already have a KCW award, I'm for giving this award to a good call.

by zlionsfan :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 9:57am

I am slightly puzzled by the KCW award ... shouldn't it go to someone related in some way to the Lions game, whether it's Barry, Marinelli, or Millen (firing the GM doesn't get rid of the duds he signed)?

I mean, J.P. Losman. And it's not like the Bills would have won on those FGs anyway. On the other hand, the entire Lions game was an embarrassment to the organization, blah blah blah. We're taking this very seriously.

by Skinnz (not verified) :: Mon, 12/08/2008 - 3:42am

Interesting, I had matt schaub and dropped him for matt ryan once he went down too. I just got him back, but matt ryan has been great for my team in his absence. Now I have two very formidable qbs.