Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fantasy Football

Have you ever watched a paranormal show on television? You know, the ones where investigative teams often times brings in a psychic medium to get a "sense" of what might have happened in the past to stir spirits at a present location? Well, sometimes in the realm of fantasy football, we too can learn from the past in an effort to predict what will happen in the here and now. These prognostications don't require a famous psychic like Nostradamus, either. Instead, we can use trends and simple common sense to build a compelling argument for our predictions.
In 2009, Chris Johnson broke Marshall Faulk's single-season record for scrimmage yards and finished with a ridiculous 342.90 fantasy points. Whether you use plain common sense, trends or the law of averages, CJ2K had little to no chance to duplicate those totals in 2010. Coincidently, he finished with "just" 228.90 points. Now let's go back a few more years to 2007, when Randy Moss posted an NFL-record 23 touchdown catches and found the end zone on every 4.2 catches. That's a ridiculous pace and one that wasn't likely to occur again. As expected, Moss scored a touchdown once for every 6.3 times he caught the football over the next two years as a member of the New England Patriots.So, if we can play the role of psychic medium by looking at the past, what can we learn for 2011?
Here's a look at 10 statistical nuggets that fantasy owners should keep in mind on draft day.
Michael Vick's 28 fantasy PPG average:
In the 11 games where he played the majority of the Eagles' offensive snaps, Vick's point-per-game average was unbelievable. Aside from the historic six-score beat down he laid on the Redskins, the versatile quarterback lived in the 20-30 point range from a fantasy perspective. By comparison, Tom Brady averaged 23.5 points in 2007 -- the season he threw for 4,806 yards and scored 52 total touchdowns. Here's another thing to keep in mind before you take Vick in the first round. Not only did he average just 14.1 fantasy points in the final 46 regular-season starts as a member of the Falcons, but his style of playing makes Vick more prone to injuries.
Drew Brees' career-worst 22 interceptions: Brees wasn't a bust last season, finishing sixth in fantasy points among quarterbacks on the strength of his 4,620 yards and 33 scoring strikes. However, the fact that he threw 22 interceptions (-44 fantasy points) did hurt his overall numbers in standard scoring systems. Part of the reason Brees committed so many turnovers was the injured MCL he played with for a good portion of the year. He also finished with a career-high 658 pass attempts, which was a result of the team's injury-riddled backfield. But with Mark Ingram now in the mix and Brees back at 100 percent, the superstar quarterback should produce better numbers this season than in 2010.
Arian Foster's 326 total fantasy points: The reigning king of fantasy football Foster came out of nowhere to produce 326 points on the strength of his 2,210 scrimmage yards and 18 total touchdowns in 2010. But if we've learned anything in fantasy land over the years, it's that producing 300-plus fantasy points in consecutive seasons as a running back is difficult -- unless your name is Marshall Faulk or LaDainian Tomlinson. Foster is a talented running back to be certain, but I'm not putting him on that level at this point. Also remember that the last runner to hit the 300-plus point mark in a single season, Chris Johnson (2009), scored 114 fewer fantasy points the following year.
Peyton Hillis' 233.92 total fantasy points: I was bullish on Hillis as a sleeper last season, but even I was surprised at the level of success he found as the Browns featured back. Looking ahead to 2011, Hillis is almost destined to see fewer carries with Montario Hardesty back in the mix. The Browns are also expected to add another runner once player movement starts, so the 331 touches Hillis saw last season will see an imminent dent. And for those of you who are superstitious, it doesn't help his value to be on the cover of Madden '12. So while he put up numbers like an elite fantasy back in 2010, I wouldn't draft Hillis as more than a No. 2 option heading into this season.
Larry Fitzgerald's six touchdown catches: From 2007-2009, Fitzgerald scored a combined 35 touchdowns and averaged one score for every 8.3 receptions. Last season, with the terrible trio of Derek Anderson, John Skelton andMax Hallunder center, the talented wideout found the end zone just six times and scored every 15th catch. Assuming the Cardinals go out and trade for Kevin Kolb or acquire a veteran like Donovan McNabb or Matt Hasselbeck, Fitzgerald's production and fantasy stock will rise back to that of an elite wideout. In fact, I plan to move him up to No. 4 behind Andre Johnson, Roddy White and Calvin Johnson once the Cards do secure a major upgrade at quarterback.
Dwayne Bowe's 15 touchdown catches: Bowe is coming off a breakout season that saw he record career bests across the board while also finishing second in fantasy points among wide receivers. But when we look inside the numbers, we find a touchdown streak that will be almost impossible to duplicate. From Week 6 to Week 12, Bowe scored 13 of his total touchdowns -- that made up for a ridiculous 87 percent of his total end-zone visits, and it's not something that's likely to happen again. Also keep in mind that the Chiefs selected standout wideout Jonathan Baldwin in April, Tony Moeakishould see more targets, and lastly, Charlie Weis is no longer calling the offensive shots.
Brandon Lloyd's 209 total fantasy points: When we tell owners that Lloyd came out of nowhere to lead all wide receivers in points last season, we mean nowhere. In fact, the veteran put up 32 percent of his career catches, 38 percent of his career yards and 42 percent of his career touchdowns in 2010. A huge part of his production came from two factors. First, the Broncos threw the football more than most teams under former coach Josh McDaniels, Second, Lloyd was the fourth-most targeted wideout in the entire league. With John Fox now at the helm, the team's reliance on the run will rise while passing attempts plummet -- likely, much like Lloyd's numbers and value.
Mike Williams' 11 touchdown catches:
Despite all the talk surrounding Ryan Mathews, Jahvid Best and C.J. Spiller, it was Williams, a wide receiver, who scored the most fantasy points among rookies last season. The question now is will he endure the dreaded sophomore slump? That remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain -- the Syracuse product has very little chance to score 11 times and record a touchdown every 5.9 receptions again. As we mentioned earlier, even a stud like Fitzgerald only averaged a score for every 8.3 catches during a three-year stretch where he found the end zone 35 times. As a result, it's wide to temper expectations for the Bucs wideout.
Sidney Rice's overall fantasy value: Clearly, Rice will be one of the most coveted wide receivers on the free-agent market once player movement is allowed. But is he a lock to make a major impact? in 2011? Remember, Rice has had knee issues in the past and also missed most of the 2010 campaign while recovering from hip surgery. While he does possesses a ton of upside, Rice has only had one truly productive fantasy season at the NFL level -- that came in 2009 with Brett Favreunder center. In 20 career games in which Favre wasn't with the Vikings or didn't play the majority of the team's snaps, Rice has averaged 2.9 receptions for 37 yards. Those are awful numbers.
Jason Witten's nine touchdown catches: No one can argue that Witten is one of the elite tight ends in fantasy football, but he's almost certain to see his touchdown numbers drop in 2011. In his four previous seasons, he averaged just over three scores a year. So what was the reason for his sudden increase? The answer is Tony Romo's absence. While the two do have a nice rapport, Romo takes more chances downfield than the two quarterbacks who replaced him, Jon Kitna and Stephen McGee. In fact, Witten averaged almost two more catches and half a touchdown more per game without Romo. Look for Miles Austin, not Witten, to benefit most from Romo's return to the offense.