Friday, August 27, 2010

Shootout At The Fantasy Factory

I'll level with you: There is an ulterior motive to this, beyond the undeniable thrill of laying unadulterated smart-aleck comments on a fawning public. It's fantasy football.

The underlying premise of much of Football with 1 Stick Gum is that professional football teams have tendencies, and these tendencies cannot change overnight. Even in the age of free agency teams cannot simply be swapped out, the way you'd pop out Madden 9 and pop in Madden 10. Teams cannot transform; they can only evolve.

Furthermore, there are only so many plays that can be run in a game, and only so many yards that can be gained in a season. Yards gained in the NFL have increased season over season, but slowly. There has never been one season where everything simply exploded beyond the simple addition of games and teams, not even the post-AAFC and post-AFL merger years. It's not really possible. The laws of time and effort take over, and everything, as always, regresses to the mean.

As an aside, this tendency is even more pronounced the further down the football chain you travel. In the early ‘80s the University of Wisconsin hired Don Morton as its head coach. Morton made his reputation at the University of Tulsa as the progenitor of the veer offense, a sort of half-assed wishbone with a couple of pass plays. Morton came to Madison and tried to install the veer using the athletes who were running the Badgers’ patented crummy pro-style offense. It was enough to make the body-passers, the pot-smokers and the other miscellaneous faithful moon for the days of Mike “The Polish Rifle” Kalasmiki.

At that time I was moonlighting as a color commentator for the radio broadcasts of Wisconsin high-school football powerhouse D.C. Everest. They ran the veer too, and ran bubble screens and run-‘n’-shoot passes and plays that would never have showed up on Don Morton’s board if he had stayed at Madison a millennium.

The difference? The veer was D.C. Everest’s system, not the coach’s system. In Madison, the veer was Don Morton’s system, not Wisconsin’s system. The Badger players were the wrong ones to run the plays, and the plays were the wrong plays to boot. Wisconsin not only couldn’t flip a switch over to a new system, but the new system was a total botch. (Something to think about, Fighting Irish fans.)

What does this have to do with fantasy football? Basically, it means that everything the so-called experts think is special really isn't as special as they'd have you believe. If you read the magazines – and I've read a scad-load – you'd think that every player in the league is going to do 10 percent better than he did last year. And then there are the rookies – my Gawd, the rookies!

Well, it's bunk. It's not statistically possible. There are only so many plays in a game and yards in a season, there are only so many opportunities, and no single player or coach is capable of producing sea change overnight. Sam Bradford? Puh-leeze. No one to throw to, no line to protect him, and the game is going to look faster to him than Michael Phelps in a cheat suit. Mike Martz in Chicago? Martz has Johnny Knox, who does not equal Isaac Bruce, a couple of possession receivers who together don't add up to Ricky Proehl, a decent tight end that in the Martz scheme of things is as useful as a backup long snapper, and Jay Cutler, who resembles Kurt Warner the same way that Brett Favre resembles Bart Starr. There is no Torry Holt and no Marshall Faulk, and Soldier Field in December does not offer the same cushy consistency of the TWA Dome.

The way this game works is that players are slotted into roles, and it's those roles, not the players in them, that matter. The No. 1 receiver lines up here and does this, and ultimately it matters little whether it's Greg Jennings or Donald Driver.

The fantasy disconnect is that when you draft Greg Jennings you're not really drafting Greg Jennings. You're drafting the Packers' No. 1 receiver. And while roles don't change much over the course of the season, the players in those roles can, either through injury or performance. The Jets' No. 1 running back will be good for a ton of fantasy points this year, but at what point does that position gravitate from Ladanian Tomlinson to Shonn Greene?

All right, so here’s the first rule of drafting fantasy football players: Draft roles, not players. If the St. Louis Rams are going to be primarily a running team in 2010 – which they will – and you draft Steven Jackson, it’s not a bad idea to draft his backup as well. If you draft Tomlinson, save room to grab Greene. If things are really in a state of flux – read Buffalo – either save room for three RBs from one team or move on to a more settled situation. Besides, if you’re a fantasy-footballer who feels his team will not be complete without a Buffalo running back you’re beyond this column’s ability to help.

Second, realize that every gain has to be matched with a loss somewhere. Okay, so Jay Cutler throws for 10 percent more yards in 2010. He throws on more downs, which means fewer rushing opportunities for Matt Forte and Garrett Wolfe, and fewer rushing yards, more than likely. Since the Bears defense is projected to be worse than last year, the Bears will probably not gain any offensive opportunities. Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that Jay Cutler will pass for 10 percent more yards and Bears running backs will rush for 10 percent more yards.

Here’s another way of approaching the same question. Was Adrian Peterson a worse running back after Brett Favre’s arrival than he was before? Of course not, that fumbling thing aside. However, there were fewer situations in which handing the ball to Adrian Peterson was the No. 1 option. And what of all those pundits who figured that Brett Favre’s arrival would make Peterson even better, because it would keep the defenses honest? They forgot three immutable facts: 1) there are only so many plays to go around, 2) keeping the defenses honest also means keeping the offenses honest, and 3) Brett Favre is an incorrigible ball-hog.

Saying that Favre and Peterson could both bump their numbers proportionally by playing together would be like saying that Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James will all increase their scoring averages now that they’re Heats, and no one is saying that. Instead, they’re laying bets on whose average will suffer most. Anyone with a milligram of hoops sense knows that there can be only so many trips down the court in a basketball game, and there’s only one ball. Football thinkers would be wise to pay attention.

This is the long way ‘round to the key question: Which roles will produce the most points in 2010? Here are my calculations, based on a specially weighted average of past years and a projection of trends and performances this year. The league gives six points for each touchdown scored, three for each TD pass, and half a point for each reception.

I can tell you this: I ran these same numbers last year and scored the most points of anyone in my league. This is the way football works. Ignore it at your peril.

1 Green Bay QB
2 San Diego QB
3 New Orleans QB
4 Indianapolis QB
5 New England QB
6 Tennessee RB 1
7 Dallas QB
8 Jacksonville RB 1
9 Minnesota QB
10 Houston QB
11 Minnesota RB 1
12 New York J RB 1
13 Miami RB 1
14 Pittsburgh QB
15 Baltimore RB 1
16 New York G QB
17 Philadelphia QB
18 Baltimore QB
19 Arizona QB
20 Carolina RB 1
21 Washington QB
22 San Francisco QB
23 Atlanta QB
24 Denver QB
25 St. Louis RB 1
26 Cincinnati QB
27 Dallas RB 1
28 Indianapolis WR 1
29 San Francisco RB 1
30 Atlanta RB 1
31 Chicago QB
32 Houston WR 1
33 Seattle QB
34 Philadelphia RB 1
35 Jacksonville QB
36 Green Bay RB 1
37 Arizona WR 1
38 Green Bay WR 1
39 Houston RB 1
40 Washington RB 1
41 Kansas City RB 1
42 Seattle RB 1
43 Chicago RB 1
44 Carolina RB 2
45 Philadelphia WR 1
46 Cleveland RB 1
47 San Diego RB 1
48 New England WR 1
49 New England RB 1
50 Detroit RB 1
51 Miami QB
52 Pittsburgh RB 1
53 Kansas City QB
54 New Orleans RB 1
55 Tennessee QB
56 Arizona RB 1
57 Dallas WR 1
58 Detroit WR 1
59 New Orleans WR 1
60 Minnesota WR 1
61 Oakland RB 1
62 Indianapolis WR 2
63 New York G RB 1
64 San Diego WR 1
65 Pittsburgh WR 1
66 Denver RB 1
67 New York J RB 2
68 New York G WR 1
69 New England WR 2
70 Green Bay WR 2
71 Cincinnati RB 1
72 New Orleans WR 2
73 Buffalo RB 1
74 Atlanta WR 1
75 Indianapolis RB 1
76 Tampa Bay RB 2
77 Houston WR 2
78 Cincinnati WR 1
79 San Diego WR 2
80 Detroit QB
81 Pittsburgh WR 2
82 Minnesota WR 2
83 Washington WR 1
84 Baltimore WR 1
85 Kansas City WR 1
86 Carolina QB
87 New Orleans K
88 Buffalo RB 2
89 Oakland QB
90 Dallas WR 2
91 New York G WR 2
92 New York J QB
93 Tampa Bay RB 1
94 Chicago WR 1
95 Detroit RB 2
96 Miami WR 1
97 Denver WR 1
98 Jacksonville WR 1
99 Miami RB 2
100 San Diego K

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