print 2010ís Lessons Learned

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by John Hansen, Publisher

Published, 2/7/11 

I’ve recently been inclined to review some previous NFL seasons over the last 20 years or so, and what I’ve discovered is a National Football League that only vaguely resembles the current product. I see a league in which many QBs who threw for fewer than 20 TD passes finish in the top-12 for fantasy, and not exactly because they did their fantasy damage on the ground. I see a league in which a WR – in this case Denver’s Ed McCaffrey in 2000 – put up an impressive 101/1317/9 and barely cracked the top-10 at his position. And I see a league in which the #5 TE for a season caught only 36 passes and had only 5 TDs, and that’s all within the last 10-12 years or so.
Back in the day, many more RBs carried the load for their offenses, and the backs in general carried a heavier load, so handling the position was a lot easier. And when the QBs did throw it, they typically threw it to one of two featured receivers. These signal callers also didn’t throw to the TE as much, unless they had a stud talent, and there were few stud talents even 10-12 years ago. Today’s NFL is much different and much more challenging for fantasy football owners. It’s more of a passing league, but the production in the passing game is divvied up among more players, which makes handicapping the league tougher. And the overall week-to-week nature of the league is more prevalent than ever, which can make handicapping the league downright maddening.
As you’re likely aware, anyone can get lucky and win a championship in a single season, but my vision with this site is to help all our readers to become “Fantasy Gurus.” To achieve that goal, we need to continue to keep pace with the nuances of the league, and we need to take stock each year in the lessons we’ve learned from the recently completed NFL campaign.
That’s basically what I’m doing here.
Position Abundance Abounds
There’s a term used frequently in the fantasy baseball vernacular called “position scarcity,” and it essentially deals with the certain positions (2B, C, SS, etc) where the talent pool is quite thin, prompting fantasy players to place a higher emphasis on those positions in the draft while choosing to forego other positions (OF, 1B, etc.), where the talent pool is deep.
Well, I’m here to tell you that there is no position scarcity in the NFL for fantasy football. Yes, there may not be a high number of true workhorses at RB these days, and I’m sure what seems like great QB depth right now won’t seem as great come August, but there is no question that there are a high number of quality options for fantasy at all the key positions right now. I noticed this phenomenon this past summer, and I really warmed up to the notion that it would be wise to simply draft one stud at each of the key positions, in addition to my long-standing position that the early stages of a draft should be used to acquire as many studs as possible regardless of position and then taking it from there. In addition, I did correctly predict 2010 would be a wild and ultra-production year on the WW, due in large part to the great depth at the various positions.
Since I think there is such good depth, it’s silly to over-invest in one key position, like RB. Say you grab two backs with your first two picks. You’re not only passing on a stud QB or WR, but you’re also losing out on a potential value at the RB position a little later on. If that value falls to you in, say, the 4th round, you’re going to feel dumb using yet another early pick on the position, while you’re weak in another position or two. Since there is such good depth, you’re giving yourself so much better flexibility if you spread the talent around early in your draft. Thanks to that depth, you’re going to be able to get quality options at all positions a little later, if not on the WW once the season starts.
I think a great example of spreading this practice was a draft I did very late in the preseason, and it was, in fact, my final draft of the year. Picking 7th in this 12-team PPR – in the high-stakes Rotobowl draft – I took RB Frank Gore. I followed that up with WR Roddy White, TE Antonio Gates, and QB Tom Brady. Granted, Gore and Gates did end up getting hurt, but that was one heck of a start to a draft. I had a stud at each key position as the foundation of each position, and then I was able to fill in the rest of my roster later in the draft and on the WW.
I’ve taken the time already to survey the fantasy landscape for 2011, and I once again see excellent depth, so you can be sure I will continue to implement this strategy this coming season.
Don't Hold Grudges
If you drafted Ryan Mathews in 2010, this is a very important lesson learned: Don’t hold grudges with players. If there is one redeeming quality shared by all players who have grudges held against them, it’s that they’re usually options who don’t cost too much at the draft table. That always helps. And if you’re passionate about your grudge, it’s likely because you used a high draft pick on the guy and got burned – yet there was probably a reason you used an early pick on the player (i.e. he’s pretty good).
If you were one to hold a grudge this past year, it likely prevented you from drafting Bear RB Matt Forte, who was a top-12 fantasy back this year in points per game and a top-10 guy in total points. Forte wasn’t a stud, but he ultimately showed why fantasy owners were investing a top-5 pick on him in 2009; he’s pretty darn good. You’ll find no better example of why it’s unwise to hold a grudge this past year than Oakland’s Darren McFadden. Granted, I didn’t draft him once this past year, but I was at least ready to take him several times because his draft stock had slipped so much, and because I knew from talking to a source out there in the summer that the Raiders were hell-bent on using him a lot. I had no idea he’d be as improved as he was, but in his case, the value alone was enough reason to not hold a grudge. The payoff for McFadden was huge, so those who completely wrote him off learned a lesson.
It’s one thing to hold a grudge on an older player like Randy Moss, but especially when it comes to a young player like Mathews, things can change very quickly, so holding grudges can backfire. Heck, if you held a grudge against Moss in 2007, you missed out on the single greatest fantasy season ever enjoyed by a wideout. Unfortunately, the NFL has become more of a year-to-year proposition than it ever was, so holding grudges usually isn’t a wise move. A guy can fall off a cliff quickly, yet he can also rise to the top of the mountain in a flash, especially if he’s a young player whose light finally goes on, like McFadden this past year (and likely Mathews in 2011). I’ve seen posts on our MBs from people saying they view Mathews now as only a #3 fantasy RB in a keeper league. That is incorrect.
Fantasy owners need to stay objective and focus on the factors that typically enable a player to deliver the fantasy goods. In Mathews’ case, it’s high-end ability working hand-in-hand with a good situation. The past is the past, and in today’s NFL, it sometimes means absolutely nothing.
You Want Winners
As a general rule, you simply want winners in fantasy football. Said another way, it’s wise to avoid losers. Bad teams have a much higher likelihood of implosion, and that’s never fun for fantasy, as the Carolina Panthers basically showed us this year.
Fielding a winning team – or at least a winning offense – begins at the QB position, and 2010 clearly showed that if a team didn’t enjoy good QB play, they were going to kill people for fantasy. Arizona, Carolina, Cleveland, Miami, Oakland, Seattle, and San Francisco had the poorest QB play in ’10, and by no coincidence had few fantasy stars among them. To expand this concept a bit, teams that lacked a high-end QB were risky to invest in this past year, even if the players trying to catch the rock were pretty good, like Michael Crabtree in SF. We had no real qualms with Crabtree as a player this preseason – although we don’t think he’s elite – but we did have issues with his QB, and they came to the surface. Even if you’re literally the only viable receiver in an offense and get a ton of targets, poor QB will kill you, so in 2010 we learned that it can be better to be a secondary guy on a team with a good QB – like Pierre Garcon – than a primary guy on a team with a shaky QB like Crabtree.
Heck, we even saw less garbage time production this year, so there wasn’t even much of a reward for being on a bad team that is always playing from behind. It seemed this year there was a correlation between a team’s inability to put up GTP and the fact that they were often playing from behind in the first place, so it was more important to simply focus on competency. You’ll never get everything right (who saw Ryan Fitzpatrick coming this year?), but if you focus on drafting players from good teams and competent offenses, you’re likely going to do well. Conversely, if you thought Mohamed Massaquoi was a “value” because he was going to be the go-to guy, you quickly learned exactly why he wasn’t being drafted that high. For the record, I do like Massaquoi, but his situation the last two years has been horrendous.
Players Get – or Don’t Get – Chances for a Reason
I’m as disappointed as everyone else in Cardinal RB Beanie Wells this past year, but one of the reasons we pulled way back from him as the summer progressed was because it was clear something was up with the guy behind the scenes. He’s obviously very talented, while Tim Hightower is really “just a guy.” So why didn’t Wells get a chance to be THE guy? Clearly, HC Ken Whisenhunt had good reasons (other than Wells’ lingering injuries) that prevented him from fully committing to Wells, and those reasons likely stemmed from what he saw in practice on a daily basis. Most likely, what he saw wasn’t good. So just because all signs pointed to him being the starter, he never really was all year, despite Hightower finding himself in the doghouse due to his fumbling. Wells also had some fumbling issues, but the lesson learned here is talent can only take you so far. Players (especially younger players) have to constantly prove in practice and on game day they merit extensive playing time.
In this same vein, it’s worth mentioning the Chief backfield. I’m not a big Todd Haley fan, but fantasy players who ripped him for his usage of Jamaal Charles were off base. The fact of the matter was that Haley’s approach worked. Charles stayed healthy all season and was extremely effective. Sure, he could have been used a little more, especially early in the season, but just because fantasy owners think a coach should use a guy a little more or a little differently, doesn’t mean they’re right. In this case, the Chiefs had the best and most diverse running game in the league this past year with Charles and Thomas Jones, so there was no reason to change things up.
Fantasy players love to play head coach and general manager and think they know more than coaches and front office people do, but they usually don’t. So in the future, remember: Just because it seems as if a player should have a larger role, it doesn’t mean that increased role is necessarily beneficial to the football team. It may surprise or even offend some of fantasy’s most ardent fans, but Todd Haley – or any other head coach for that matter – doesn’t give a rat’s ass about fantasy football.
The Preseason Can Be Your Enemy
I wasn’t fully on board with Arian Foster when training camps kicked off in late-July – but I was 100% down with the Foster Program after watching him run in the preseason. I even lamented the 18/110/1 he put up running the ball in the third preseason game – and how the cat was probably out of the bag after that performance – because I was 100% sold after that second game. In Foster’s case, I knew the opportunity was there once Ben Tate was out of the picture, and I saw something special in Foster in the preseason games, so I’m glad I got to watch him play in August. In addition, the events of the preseason certainly helped us because we backed off guys like Beanie Wells, Kevin Kolb, and Jay Cutler, so there is certainly a ton of value keeping tabs on everything in August. Also, the preseason can be very valuable in terms of isolating potential deep sleepers, as it was for me this year with Saint RB Chris Ivory, who I was really impressed with in August.
However, I wish I didn’t lay eyes on Bill RB C.J. Spiller in the preseason, and to an extent Jahvid Best. Especially in Spiller’s case, I was very skeptical for the few months that followed the draft. I seriously questioned Buffalo’s ability to utilize his skills, and, of course, his shaky supporting cast. Yet, while I didn’t go nuts on the guy, Spiller’s active role and stellar play in the preseason swayed me, and I was also extremely impressed with Best’s football instincts, and, of course, his speed and quickness. When Best was drafted and in the months that followed, I severely questioned his durability and thought people were going a little overboard on him. Getting swayed by these two in the preseason isn’t quite as bad as when I actually thought Oakland’s Joe Aska – a preseason hero back in the day – was the real deal in 1996. After all, Spiller and Best were very high picks with exciting skill sets.
Some situations don’t come into focus until the preseason – like Arian Foster in Houston – so the preseason is still extremely important. But in the future, I will be careful not to be overly influenced by meaningless football, especially when I feel strongly about my initial reaction to a situation.
Teams That Don’t Have a Prototypical #1 WR Will Look to Find One on Their Roster
I actually made a very similar point in this article last year, but it’s worth mentioning again.
There were some people who thought I was down on Giant WR Hakeem Nicks this past year, but that was not the case. I loved Nicks the summer of 2009, and this year he was in our top-25 and was covered favorably in our “Values & Players to Target” article. What I did say was that I wasn’t 100% sold he was poised to have that dream breakout season on the Giants, and that was due to the presence of fellow wideout Steve Smith – who caught an amazing 107 passes in 2009 – and to a certain extent, Mario Manningham. That comment, of course, ended up being off-base. I didn’t truly go “all in” on Nicks because he was not only a tad unproven still, but also because I couldn’t ignore the excellent chemistry QB Eli Manning had with Smith, as well as the presence of the solid Manningham.
I still think it was reasonable to be somewhat cautious with a guy who fit Nicks’ profile this past year, but the lesson reaffirmed with his example is simple: If a team lacks a prototypical #1 WR, the odds are they will try to find one on their current roster. Smith’s a really nice receiver, but Nicks better fits the mold of a go-to guy in all areas of the field, including the red zone, and right out of the gates in 2010, the Giants went to Nicks as their featured receiver. Perhaps a better example from 2010 was Denver’s Brandon Lloyd. I actually really liked what I saw from him a few years ago in Chicago with QB Kyle Orton, but I didn’t see his amazing season coming in the preseason (no one did). His situation was unique because the Broncos had a ton of viable wideouts on the roster, and head coach Josh McDaniels’ background led everyone to believe he’d spread the ball around this past season. Yet, this hypothesis came to the surface here big time and Lloyd was “the guy” and a fantasy stud. Another great example from this past season is Buffalo’s Steve Johnson. We actually listed him as someone to draft with one of your last picks in our Mr. Relevant article in the preseason, but there’s no way anyone could have expected him to put up a the massive digits he did. It’s true he simply had excellent chemistry with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, but his emergence had a lot to do with the fact that the team lacked a legit #1 WR and go-to guy. They lacked one, but they found one in Johnson, and his numbers soared. Yet another good example from this past year was in Tennessee, where they desperately needed a single go-to guy to emerge. That’s exactly why I pushed Titan WR Kenny Britt hard once he started to slightly emerge as a factor. Granted, his QB situation wasn’t as good as Nicks’, but Britt’s production was very good, and he was a top-10 fantasy WR in points per game.
Especially when the receiver in question has a very good QB like Manning, it’s fair to expect big things, which is why I’ll be watching a guy like St. Louis’ Danario Alexander closely in 2011. I spoke with QB Sam Bradford on 2/1/11, and he spoke highly of Alexander, and the wideout clearly has the tools to emerge as his go-to guy in 2011.
At the very least, the lesson learned is that if you’re looking to get aggressive in your draft, targeting receivers who have the talent to be featured and play for teams without an incumbent featured receiver is a wise move – and it’s an even wiser one when the receiver in question has a capable QB.
NFL Draft Status Can Mean Very Little
It’s certainly very important for the QBs, other than Tom Brady. Not including Brady and Matt Schaub (3rd round pick), the rest of this year’s top-10 fantasy QBs where either drafted in the 1st or 2nd round, and the large majority of them were drafted in Round One.
But especially for RBs, the round drafted can sometimes mean very little. An obvious case in point is Arian Foster, who was undrafted in 2009. Granted, there were some issues with Foster that prompted teams to shy away, but there’s no way in hell guys like Cedric Peerman (Bal), Gartrell Johnson (SD), and Javarris Williams (KC) should have been selected in the ’09 draft ahead of Foster, as they were. I actually would have made that statement this time last year, based on what little Foster showed in 2009, which was still way more than those other guys showed. Through one season, it’s safe to say that RB LeGarrette Blount(undrafted this past spring) is a better player than Toby Gerhart (51st overall selection in this past April’s draft). And look what James Starks showed in the post season for the Packers. He was a 7th-round pick. How about that Donald Brown, Indy’s #1 pick in 2009? The undrafted Danny Woodhead, released by the Jets this summer, is a better player.
It is true that oftentimes a lack of special qualities will cause a RB to drop significantly on NFL draft boards, if not completely off the board, but what we’ve learned this past year with Foster is that a player’s qualities should be considered – not his draft position. The RB example kind of reminds me of the issues some NFL people have handicapping the QBs. There is a certain skill set that translates well to the NFL, yet guys like Vince Youngcontinue to get drafted high, despite not having that skill set.
For the RBs, if you have that skill set, it doesn’t matter when you’re drafted – or if you’re drafted at all. 
Opportunities Can Be Spotted a Mile Away
The Waiver Wire has always been important, but it’s been absolutely paramount for well over 10 years now, and a lesson learned this year regarding the WW is that opportunities can be spotted early if you’re proactive. A good example would be in Tampa Bay, where the Bucs were rolling with the pedestrianCadillac Williams yet again and were not getting any real contributions from anyone else. We saw the opportunity with LeGarrette Blount, and even when he had played in only one game and had 6 measly carries to his NFL credit, we suggested a proactive pickup. Blount looked pretty good on those 6 carries, but we didn’t envision his doing as well as he did. It didn’t matter, however, because those who saw the opportunity early and grabbed him reaped the rewards. In Washington, the moment the team activated Ryan Torainfrom its practice squad on a Friday, we sent out a tweet talking about how significant that move was. When Torain got just 7 carries that week, we wrote how he could be in a very active timeshare with starter Clinton Portis, and how he could be the guy if Portis went down. Keiland Williams complicated matters a little, but it was easy to see Torain’s potential, and those who were proactive were able to get him before his 18-carry Week Four game, after which it was blatantly obvious he had a chance to get a ton of carries. I also actually listed Green Bay’s James Starks as someone to grab in deep leagues on 10/6, and that was simply because, while his talent was intriguing, it was crystal clear Brandon Jackson wasn’t cutting it. It took a long, long time, but Starks did finally get the job.
In today’s competitive fantasy marketplace, one in which the WW is more important than ever, it’s not good enough to look at the week’s surprise performers to grab off the WW. Fantasy players need to look into the future to find the next great WW option, and we saw in 2010 that could be done if one paid attention and used a little common sense. It’s a young man’s game, so especially if a team is rolling with a veteran who’s not getting the job done, there’s usually an opportunity.
Questionable Players Offer Nothing but Questions
I think I’ve whined about the week-to-week nature of the league enough this year to cover two full NFL campaigns, but I do feel the need to stay in this vein for another lesson learned (or really reaffirmed) in 2010. Anyone can get shut down in a given game, but if you’re projecting a shaky player in the NFL right now, it can be damn near impossible to handicap him. By shaky I’m talking about QBs with limited arm strength, like Alex Smith. Or a RB who lacks ideal size, speed, or power, like Knowshon Moreno. I’m talking about wideouts like Mike Sims-Walker, who don’t move particularly well. I’m even talking about former studs like Tony Gonzalez, who appear to be running in cement.
I felt all year that the defenses were ahead of or right there with the offenses for the most part – despite the big offensive numbers – and that really mades projecting offensive performances tougher this year. Seriously, did anyone have a clue what Marshawn Lynch was going to do in a given week this past year? It’s especially tough when the players lack special qualities.
I’m not pretending that this point is particularly insightful, but it just goes to show that it’s usually worthwhile to focus on players with those redeeming qualities we always talk about such as “Zuzu” and “Juice.” In short, it’s probably best to stay aggressive and play to win by focusing on high-end talents and guys with upside.
Volume Is Still Good
We’ve been using the term “volume” quite a bit the last few years, and in 2010 we learned it can be useful for QBs, too. It may not be true in every case, but volume can be the solution to dealing with a questionable player. Lion QB Shaun Hill is far from special, but he is serviceable, and this past year he was attempting the forward pass 40+ times in most of his games, and solid digits followed. Hill’s volume meant that TE Brandon Pettigrew got volume, and that was a key to his breakout season. Pettigrew was better than expected, but his production had more to do with opportunity than his having an exciting skill set.
I did find it particularly difficult handicapping the league’s non-studs this year, but volume does help. It didn’t exactly work out for Cedric Benson (although he was still a top-20 back), but at least you knew each week Benson was going to get the rock. Volume did help guys like Ryan Torain and LeGarrette Blount, who shouldn’t be working on a rough draft of their Hall of Fame speech anytime soon. I don’t think the aforementioned Knowshon Morenois anything special at all, but he was getting major volume for a spell there in 2010, and he was putting up stud-like fantasy numbers. And of course, volume was a huge key to Peyton Hillis’ fantasy success this year.
It is important to note, however, that volume usually only comes when the player’s a key cog in terms of a team’s identity. Hill, for example, got volume because the Lions had to be a passing team. Brandon Jackson, on the other hand, didn’t really get volume on the Packers because they were a passing team. And some players are worthless without volume, like Marion Barber. If a player like Barber needs volume to get it done, yet he isn’t getting the volume, that gives you reason to part ways.
But in general, in a league in which the teams are more evenly matched, and with production usually being spread among more players than ever for each team, identifying volume is vital. It may be as important as identifying talent because opportunity is sometimes just as important.
QBs Have Their Guys
It’s always wise to look out for a fledgling “Bromance” between a QB and a WR, and we saw a lot of that in 2010. I had heard when the Ravens traded WR Mark Clayton to the Rams that he had worked with QB Sam Bradford in the recent past (they both played college ball at Oklahoma), and we certainly passed that along, but my jaw still dropped when Clayton put up 10/119 in Week One, just shortly after joining the club. Clayton was clearly Bradford’s guy, and QBs will throw to their guy, when they have a guy. The Ravens went out and brought in a marquee name at WR this year in Anquan Boldin, yet veteran Derrick Mason’s production was just as good, and actually more consistent. That’s because Mason’s Flacco’s guy.
Fantasy players should always be looking out for this kind of stuff. Like when a back-up QB type finds himself in the starting lineup and is has an opportunity to throw the ball to a back-up WR type he’s worked with in practice a lot. That’s exactly what happened this past year in Buffalo, as Steve Johnson and Ryan Fitzpatrick spent time extensively working together in practice before the 2010 campaign kicked off. I remember being blown away by Brandon Lloyd for about two weeks back in 2008, when he played for the Bears. His QB that year? Kyle Orton. I didn’t pay enough attention to it early this year because there were so many damn receivers in the mix for touches, but Lloyd is Orton’s guy. In Dallas, I immediately noticed QB Jon Kitna leaning heavily on TE Jason Witten, and we pointed out that, once Tony Romo got hurt in Week Seven, 10 of Witten’s 13 pass targets that day came from Kitna.
I could keep going with many more examples – including how Carson Palmer found it much more viable to throw to Terrell Owens compared to the freelancing Chad Ochocinco – but the point has been made: You can clearly gain an edge on your competition by closely monitoring the QBs and who they like throwing the rock to.
RBs Need to Be Decisive
This is an underrated trait for RBs, but it’s time fantasy players pay more attention to it. Arian Foster’s all over this article, but one of the reasons I became 100% sold on Foster in the preseason was his decisiveness. Since Foster’s not exactly elite physically, his decisiveness stood out, and it really help his production. On the opposite end of the equation, Laurence Maroney doesn’t have a decisive bone in his body. That’s why Maroney, a former #1 pick, has no career, while the undrafted Foster’s going to be fantasy’s #1 pick in 2011.
If a RB has elite skills, being decisive can mean greatness, like LaDainian Tomlinson in his prime. If a back has some physical limitations, being very decisive can really help. Denver’s Knowshon Moreno was more decisive this past year, and his production increased dramatically. In Philly, LeSean McCoy was incredibly decisive, and that’s one of the main reasons he was so improved and basically got almost every yard available to him on the field this year. Darren McFadden was more decisive this year and obviously much improved.
Just like coaches who love QBs who get rid of the ball quickly, coaches love decisiveness in a running back, which means fantasy players should, too. It can be the difference between seeing a lot of playing time and riding the pine. Most important, if a player has a smaller margin for error, being decisive can increase it.
Go with What’s Working
I fielded a ton of lineup questions this year on the radio, twitter, in chats, and even at the grocery store, and it seemed like I got the following questions 3-4 times a day: “Should I start Tampa’s Mike Williams?”
My answer was always “Yes.”
I understand part of the fun of fantasy is handling the matchups and starting guys with the best ones, but if a guy was getting it done in 2010, it was wise to keep going to him. Granted, there are always players who only produce for a short period of time due to injuries, changing roles, and perhaps an eroding situation around him. But if a guy’s getting it done in the present, I say keep going to him. One of my big mantras this year was to keep starting a guy until he proves you wrong for doing so, and it was good advice in a league that isn’t easy to predict from week-to-week.
In addition to going what’s working, it was also wise this past year to bail on what wasn’t working – at least until it started working. Momentum was a huge factor in this year’s playoffs, and it was big in fantasy this year, on the positive and negative side. With teams more evenly matched this year, playing the matchups was tougher than ever, so it behooved fantasy players to simply go with what was working, and to shy away from what wasn’t. 
Don’t Trust Everything You Hear from a Coach
Remember this past summer when Steeler head coach Mike Tomlin intimated that back-up RB Isaac Redman could be the team’s goal-line back over Rashard Mendenhall? It didn’t happen. In Tampa, head coach Raheem Morris made it pretty clear that Earnest Graham was going to be the goal-line back for the Bucs, but he wasn’t.
Now, in their defense, I’m confident in my thinking that many NFL coaches make those kinds of statements with honest intentions, yet it just doesn’t work out that way. I remember a MB post on our site this summer about the Redman stuff and people saying they weren’t going to touch Mendenhall with a ten football pole. I wrote there that avoiding Mendenhall because of this “news” would be a mistake. While I gave the notion that he could lose touches to Redman near the goal some credence, I also passed along how I just didn’t see it happening. I was just using logic. Mendenhall did have some ball security issues in 2009 (and in the Super Bowl), but otherwise, he was pretty damn good, and he was an effective goal line back. My thoughts were that I just didn’t see the Steelers riding Mendenhall to inside the five yard line only to pull him, and they didn’t.
While coaches are sometimes taken out of context or are misconstrued by shaky reporters, which can create confusion in the fantasy world, there usually are some coach-speak issues that fantasy players need to wade through to weed out the BS. But another point I’d like to make while I’m (kind of) on the topic is this: A lot of times, these coaches are almost as much in the dark about their personnel as we are. They don’t know what the future’s going to hold much more than we do. Trust me, Mike McCarthy didn’t know James Starks was going to do as well as he did in the playoffs. He knew enough to give him a shot, but he didn’t know he’d be that good. Coaches typically need to take things a week at a time and what they see and make any needed adjustments, and so do we as fantasy players.
Continuity is King
It’s usually wise to be skeptical of an offense when a new coaching staff and/or system is put into place, but in 2010 we also once again saw how important continuity can be for an offense. It was continuity (and great QB play) that allowed the San Diego Chargers to put up huge numbers, despite dealing with a laughably high number of injuries at receiver. It’s continuity that helped the Eagles start a guy who was their 3rd-string QB the year before, and that guy was in the running for the NFL’s MVP award. And continuity enabled the Falcons to bounce back in a big way in 2010, despite being a little thin in terms of impact skill players.
On the other hand, the lack of continuity in Chicago stifled their offense all season, and we saw what losing QB Kurt Warner did to the Cardinals. And in Seattle, there was zero continuity this year and very little fantasy production. This lesson should almost go without saying each year, but with radical change typically the norm in today’s NFL, it’s worth mentioning how fantasy owners should always recognize continuity as a major positive.
It’s continuity that may help Super Bowl star Jordy Nelson truly break out in 2011.
We’re Wrong for the Right Reasons
I’ve been doing this so long that I’ve been able over the last several years to severely reduce the number of egregious errors and miscalculations we make. Oh, we’ll be wrong on things, but I’ll be happy if we’re just wrong for the right reasons, and I think we are about 90% of the time.
Being blatantly wrong is no fun, but it’s especially irritating when our preseason position on a player was completely logical. Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace is a great example this past year. The masses seemed to assume he was going to be great this year after catching only 39 passes as a rookie slot/#3 receiver. They turned out to be right, but I still think it was fair for us to be skeptical. As the preseason progressed, Wallace was making more big plays, so we did warm up to him a bit (we ranked him as a low-end #3), yet we still felt fantasy owners were making unsafe assumptions about Wallace. Not only was he moving into a much more prominent role on the outside, but he also was a player with serious limitations in terms of his route-running, and in his spectacular rookie season, he make a lot of plays on nickel and dime corners. In addition, he was to be without his starting QB the first four games of the season.
Many fantasy owners seemed to ignore all these warning signs and Wallace’s inexperience and simply assumed Wallace would blow up. And while he did, I still think it was responsible for us to focus more so on his negatives. I don’t know what the Wallace supporters were saying about him other than that he’s really fast because that simple fact was the only real positive they could hang their hat on this summer. Unless you’re talking about Randy Moss in his prime, relying solely on big plays from a wideout seems dangerous to me.
As I said, I don’t want to ever be wrong, but without being able to see into the future, all we can do is formulate the most logical and fact-based opinions as we possibly can on players and let the chips fall where they may. I’ve missed out on plenty of breakout performances like Wallace’s in 2010, but over the long haul I’m still able to succeed in fantasy because sound reasoning tends to win out over speculation and “gut feelings.”
Random 2010 Musings:
·         Please, for the love of all things holy, do not take a fantasy defense too early ever again. I’ve been bemoaning how the fantasy DTs have been a joke for several years now, and it got even worse in 2010. I just knew the Jet D was going to disappoint this summer, and they did. I had no idea, however, that the Patriot defense would be good for fantasy, but they were. They ended up being fantasy’s #1 DT, and in the league I wanted to win most, I picked them up in like Week Thirteen. That just goes to show why being that guy or girl who takes a fantasy defense 2-3 rounds before everyone else is just dumb.
·         Injuries need to be handled on a case-by-case basis. It is true that current medical treatment is better than it was even 5-7 years ago, but that doesn’t mean we should expect an IR’d player with a serious knee injury to be good to go the next season. WR Wes Welker basically was, but TE Owen Daniels wasn’t. It’s good to know, how some players are returning quicker than others, but it doesn’t apply to everyone.
·         Obviously, it’s still all about the offensive lines. The Bear line/projection crippled their offensive this year, and Mike Martz deserves credit for adjusting. It’s always something we pay special attention to, especially in the preseason. But even during the season, it’s wise to monitor the play of the lines because, if a team is struggling due to poor line play, things may not get better, so you can lower expectations. A good example is Miami’s OL. They really underachieved this year blocking for the run, and that really hurt their offense.
·         You have to be patient. Granted, your guy’s day in the sun may never come, but if your player is talented and more than capable, patience will likely pay off. There was a time when fantasy players were benching Maurice Jones-Drew, and then he rushed for 100+ yards six weeks in a row. Sure, Johnny Knox never truly lived up to my hype this year (through no major fault of his own), but mid-season I did say your recollection of him might be fond if he gets it done for you in your fantasy playoffs, and he was the #3 fantasy WRs Weeks Fifteen and Sixteen, with 6/170/3. There’s a difference between an underperforming player and a guy who’s hosed. The former is what fantasy benches are for; the latter waivers.
·         There really aren’t as many break-out guys as there used to be, so during the season, view the fantasy environment like day traders view stocks. Many viable fantasy options are good for only a certain amount of time. Use them while you can, and if they don’t work out, move on to the next guy. I feel like we made a ton of good call this year. Problem is a lot of them didn’t stick. They’re good for a week or two, but then things change and adjustments need to be made. It’s all about the here and now and getting points for THIS week. Sometimes, you can worry about next week, next week.
·         Unless you’re talking about the Steeler run defense or the Packer pass defense, I’m not sure the matchups mean as much as they used to, so consider other factors like talent, trust level, health, role, weather, success of the offense and offensive identity, flow of the game, etc.
·         Trust is a fluid thing. I’m big on trust, but unfortunately your trust level in some players may fluctuate wildly. A substantial career is a fine thing to look at when calculating a trust level, but unless you’re talking about the top 25% of skill players in the league, one’s trust level may only need to be obtained by only the previous 3-4 weeks, and it could change in 1-2 weeks.
·         It still is a young man’s game. There will usually be a few older guys who surprise with their production, but for the most part, it’s prudent to be skeptical about aging players. Falcon TE Tony Gonzalez actually finished high for fantasy, but did you like having Tony G on your side this year? No, you didn’t, and he was in a great situation. The guy’s clearly hitting a wall. Anquan Boldin moved into a great situation in Baltimore, and while I’m not giving up on him, the fact that he’s 30 years old and plays so physically probably had a lot to do with his poor season. Experience is nice, but youth tends to rule in fantasy, especially these days in the NFL.
·         Watch out for smaller RBs who bulk up in an effort to handle a larger rushing role. It rarely works out. Smaller guys like Jamaal Charles and Chris Johnson are great because of their speed and agility, and they’re wise not to mess with a good thing. In 2009, Steve Slaton decided to bulk up and it probably ruined his career. In 2010, Felix Jones did the same thing and his yards per carry dropped from 5.9 to 4.3. Jones is expected to drop some weight this off-season, which is probably a wise move.
·         Once again, it’s sensible to wait until the last possible moment to make your lineup decisions. You can never discount how important a key defensive inactive can help your offensive guy, or how important it might be for your guy if his team has to deactivate a player or two he’s usually sharing the ball with. Despite his doing nothing for the season, we moved Charger WR Vincent Jackson up to #7 in our WR rankings late in the season when WR Malcom Floyd and TE Antonio Gates were made inactive. I would have been thrilled with a single TD that week, but he scored 3 TDs.
·         QBs who play too fast need to be avoided. That’s really what happened to Kevin Kolb this year. Things were going fine, but early in the preseason the OL was terrible, and it got Kolb playing too fast. He never recovered. This is why I will continue to support Joe Flacco; he does not play too fast. Josh Freeman doesn’t play fast at all.
·         Josh McDaniels is a damn good offensive coach. It may take a season for him to get rolling in St. Louis – and I hope he sticks around – but that guy did a lot with a little in Denver this past year.
·         Let’s leave Charger HC Norv Turner alone going forward. The man is a fantasy legend. He’s great at scheming and designing, and that’s why TE Antonio Gates is always wide-ass open. I know that for sure because Gates himself told me as much this past fall.
·         I’m kind of done with Jay Cutler. I know the OL and protection was laughably bad early in 2010, and that certainly killed the offense. I’m not even really talking about the controversy in the NFC title game. Cutler still has elite talent, but it’s just not happening for him. It’s probably unfair for me to wax poetic about why I think it’s just not happening for him, but I do think that’s the case. If Cutler has 6-7 peak seasons left, he’ll probably end up having a couple of monster years, but he’ll disappoint more often than not, as he has the last two seasons. Basically, I just don’t think he has what it takes to be consistently great, and his elite physical abilities no longer cut it for me.
·         Can we please stop accusing NFL analysts of being racist and specifically anti-Caucasian when it comes to pro football players? I’ve been around a ton of NFL beat writers and analysts, and I’m 100% sure these people are simply calling it like they see it. I heard a lot of comments from fans this past summer about how the media was discriminating against Viking RB Toby Gerhart because he was white, citing his stellar numbers in college. No, they were discriminating against him because he runs like he has a load of crap in his pants – a very large load. I understand how it seems like people are always comparing white athletes to other white athletes, which can seem disconcerting at times. But it’s usually simply a matter of convenience of comparison, not racism.

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