AFC East and North Draft Recap

May 11, 2008

It has now been two weeks since the NFL Draft and most teams have either held or are now now holding rookie minicamps. As we inch closer to the start of training camp, let’s review what each team accomplished on draft weekend and how it will impact your fantasy team, both short term and long.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills:

Buffalo used their first pick on Leodis McKelvin, who they hope will step in and fill the void created when Nate Clements left last offseason. The team was smart not to pay market value for the overrated Clements and McKelvin could start at some point this season. Fantasy owners are more interested in their second-round selection, James Hardy of Indiana. With only Roscoe Parrish as competition, Hardy should be able to win the No. 2 receiver job in training camp. He is a great complement to Lee Evans, a speedy deep threat but lacks height. Meanwhile, James stands 6-5 but isn’t a true burner. Despite the fact rookie wideouts rarely produce consistently enough to warrant fantasy attention, Hardy has sleeper potential because he projects to be an excellent red zone target.

Miami Dolphins:

Although he doesn’t play a skill position, the selection of Michigan product Jake Long could be a huge boost to the fantasy value of more than one Dolphin. All you have to do is take a look at the impact Joe Thomas made last season to see why it is worth paying attention to offensive linemen when evaluating players for your team. Miami did use a pick on a skill position when they chose quarterback Chad Henne in the second round, but it will be a couple years before any dividends are paid on that pick. It looks like Henne will enter the season third on the team’s depth chart behind John Beck and Josh McCown.

New England Patriots:

The old saying goes, “cheating is only cheating when you’re caught” and that is exactly what happened to the Pats last season, costing them the 31st overall selection. If they had been able to keep the pick, they could have had their choice of any receiver in the draft or used it to upgrade the depth of their offensive line. New England had a solid draft, but they didn’t add much to their offense, and thus failed to catch the attention of fantasy owners.

New York Jets:

New York‘s selection of Vernon Gholston made sense on many levels, especially since he would have been an excellent fit for the rival Patriots one pick later. They also made a nice move by trading back into the first round to acquire tight end Dustin Keller, who could easily make the biggest impact of any non-RB rookie, especially since Chris Baker is threatening to hold out as a form of protest. Baker is drastically overestimating his value to the team and will experience a reality check this summer when his holdout is met with apathy, not concern.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens:

The Ravens played the draft board well this year. Once they lost the chance to draft Matt Ryan, they traded down with the Jaguars to get some extra selections and then trade back up with the Texans to get the 18th pick to ensure they got the next quarterback on their board, Joe Flacco. It remains to be seen if the Ravens throw Flacco to the wolves as a rookie or chose to groom him with a baseball cap and clipboard. Either way, fantasy owners shouldn’t expect any returns from him until 2009 or 2010 because he’ll be experiencing a huge jump in competition from lowly Delaware to the big leagues. Baltimore also added some quality depth at running back by selecting Ray Rice, whose stock has dropped a bit since the 2006 season but still was a very good value in the second round. He is Willis McGahee‘s handcuff.

Cincinnati Bengals:

The Bengals took a pair of wideouts with their first four picks, which is no surprise since they’ve already parted ways with Chris Henry and are currently in stare down with Chad Johnson that may result in him being traded. The problem, though, is that they picked two guys who won’t be able to make an immediate impact. Selecting Jerome Simpson ahead of Limas Sweed is a move that can euphemistically be described as interesting but really was just stupid, especially for a team that may call upon a rookie to start at some point this season. Andre Caldwell is a nice long-term prospect who probably won’t be a consistent fantasy producer until his third season at the earliest.

Cleveland Browns:

Cleveland spent their first three picks on Brady Quinn, Corey Williams, and Shaun Roger via trades, and each player was a good value, especially considering how late in the round the Browns’ picks were. The only skill position players they drafted were pass-catching tight end Martin Rucker, who will be behind Kellen Winslow on the depth chart but is a name to keep in the back of your mind because of K-2’s injury history, and wideout Paul Hubbard, whose 6-2 frame makes him a potential red-zone threat in the future.

Pittsburgh Steelers:

The Steelers had one of the most fantasy-friendly drafts in the league. They used their first-round pick on Rashard Mendenhall, who will immediately become Willie Parker’s primary backup. Even if Parker stays healthy all season, Mendenhall has a chance to be a productive option because the team has said they will implement two-back sets with Rashard and Parker. Plus, Mendenhall and his 225 pounds of muscle will get a chance to win the short-yardage job from Najeh Davenport. The other big addition on draft day was Limas Sweed. The Texas product would have been the first wideout off the board, and probably a first-round pick, if he hadn’t suffered a wrist injury during his senior season that still isn’t 100%. He should be fully recovered by the time the season begins and will be Santonio Holmes’ backup at the “X” receiver position. It is always risky to expect a wideout to have a huge impact prior to his third season and Limas will likely follow that timeline. I believe Sweed will be the first wideout from this year’s class to gain 1,000 yards, although the depth Pittsburgh has at receiver with Holmes and Hines Ward may prove to be detrimental to Limas’ fantasy prospects.


Best Case Scenario

April 26, 2008

With the NFL Draft less than 24 hours away, it is time to take a look at the best-case scenarios for each of the running backs projected to go in the first-round. Keep in mind these are the best-case reasonable projections, so each player will go to a team close to where the established draft experts have him going in their mocks. Also, I’m not looking for the highest point a player could go. I don’t care if his best-case fantasy landing spot is the result of him falling a few spots; let his accountant worry about that.

Darren McFadden, Arkansas New York Jets – The Jets feature two things that make them a prime spot for McFadden, an improving offensive line and Thomas Jones. The latter is coming off a season which saw him score only one rushing touchdown and average 3.6 yards per carry. Jones would likely split carries with Darren if he ends up in Gotham City, but that beats landing in St. Louis or Kansas City and having to share time with Steven Jackson or Larry Johnson. Ending up in Oakland might result in more carries for McFadden, but I wouldn’t wish having to run behind that offensive line on even my worst enemy.

Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois Detroit Lions – Mendenhall would get a chance to start right away in Motown if he could beat out Tatum Bell, which wouldn’t be too difficult a task. And even if Tatum manages to hold onto the starting job in training camp, it would only be a matter of weeks until Bell cracks. The Lions don’t have much of an offensive line, but landing in Detroit would give Rashard a chance at 200 carries as a rookie.

Jonathan Stewart, Oregon Arizona Cardinals – The end of the Edgerrin James era is coming in Arizona, and the team would be very wise to select a running back to join their stable of young offensive talent. Waiting until the second round to pick up a back may be their best move, but grabbing Stewart here would be the best move for his fantasy value, especially long-term. His rookie year would be spent as Edge’s caddy, but he could be an explosive change-of-pace option in 2008 and would be the heir apparent in an offense that could yield lots of points over the next few seasons.

Felix Jones, ArkansasDallas Cowboys – There is no point in playing the “best case” game here because Jerry Jones is going to take Felix because they share both a last name and alma matter. This isn’t a bad thing, however, because Jones will see plenty of touches as the new Julius Jones in Dallas’ two-back offense. Felix should also be heavily involved in the passing game, which gives him a shot at fantasy relevance as a rookie even if he never cracks the starting lineup.


Wide Open

April 23, 2008

Jake Long. Matt Ryan. Chris Long.

At some positions in this year’s draft there are clear-cut No. 1 guys. And at others there has been so much movement you’d think the draft board was studying the Kama Sutra. One of those latter positions is wide receiver, due to a variety of interesting reasons.

During the college football season, it was widely believed that Limas Sweed of Texas was the top player in this year’s class. Sweed stands at almost 6-4 and is a polished route runner. However, he is now labeled as injury prone because of a wrist problem which has caused his value to fall. It has actually fallen too far, in my opinion, and whichever team ends up with him in late first round (or even early second) will be getting a potential No. 1 at a nice discount. The best case scenario for him might be to land with Dallas, where he could get his feet wet under T.O. and Patrick Crayton. And when TO moves on, Sweed and Crayton could constitute a formidable one-two punch themselves.

After Sweed’s injury caused his stock to sour, Cal’s DeSean Jackson briefly emerged as the top receiver. Not only did he have a big junior season in 2006, but he is also considered the best return man in the draft. However, those return skills won’t really help your fantasy team and Jackson’s production took a step back last season. Imagine him as a light version of Ted Ginn Jr., which means he’s probably on the three-year plan to fantasy relevance.

That led us to the Malcolm Kelly era of the draft. From around the combine until very recently, Kelly was the consensus top receiver and frequently prognosticated to join the Bills via the 11th pick of the draft. Kelly’s star began to lose its shine when he tested poorly at the combine and then again at the Oklahoma Pro Day. That has opened the door for Michigan State’s Devin Thomas, who has good size and is a playmaker with the ball, to become the popular pick to be the first wideout off the board on Saturday despite a college resume that isn’t exactly eye-popping.

Of course, the biggest reason why scouts haven’t been able to settle on which receiver is this year’s cream of the crop is because each one is tragically flawed. In the end, I expect this year’s draft class to look very much like the 2002 draft, which saw no wideout taken among the top 10 picks and only three go in the first round. And the biggest problem for fantasy owners is that they can’t really count on any of these guys to contribute much early in their careers, and especially in their rookie season.


Quote the Ravens

April 6, 2008

Believe it or not, I don’t have any say in where Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan lands in the draft. Shocking, isn’t it? But considering his talent and the needs of the teams in the top 10, it seems pretty clear to me that Ryan won’t make it past the Ravens with eighth selection. And if this fantasy owner has his druthers, that is exactly where he will end up. Let me explain.

First off, the Patriots, Rams, and Raiders have been disqualified from this discussion because they are already set at quarterback. I’m also dismissing the Chiefs because it appears they are comfortable going forward with the dynamic duo of Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard atop the depth chart. And the Jets are out because they appear dead set on having Kellen Clemens and Chad Pennington battle in training camp, a decision which will likely allow them to select near the top of next year’s draft board as well.

Of the teams remaining in the top eight, Baltimore is the lesser of the evils because it is the only franchise which features both a proven running back and a 100-catch receiver already in place. Atlanta is a close second on this list because of the potential of players like Michael Tuner, Roddy White and even the seemingly forgotten Jerious Norwood; however, there are too many questions surrounding their offensive line and tight end position for me to declare them the optimal landing spot for any rookie quarterback. The Dolphins are in even worse shape, as Ronnie Brown still has to prove he’ll be healthy enough to be a factor in 2008, and unless Ted Ginn develops at a rapid pace, there is no receiver on the team that will strike fear in the heart of a major college team’s secondary.

Baltimore isn’t Ryan’s best destination just because the other options are atrocious, though. With Willis McGahee and his 1,200 rushing yards in the backfield to provide balance, Matt wouldn’t be counted on to immediately carry the offense on his broad, catholic-school educated shoulders. He will also be aided by the presence of veteran wideout Derrick Mason, who is not much of a fantasy option outside of PPR leagues but could be a big help to a rookie quarterback. Baltimore also has one of the top pass-catching tight ends (when healthy) in Todd Heap, which provides a nice security blanket for a young signal caller. The Ravens receiving corps also includes a couple of intriguing youngsters in Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams who could one day replace Mason atop the depth chart and grow up with Ryan if all goes according to plan.

Of course, even if Ryan ends up with the Ravens it will be a couple of years before fantasy owners can reasonable expect consistently solid numbers from him. But of the teams picking at the top of the draft, Baltimore offers the best chance of preventing him from having to endure a short learning curve.


About Time

February 18, 2008

Late last week, there was a report on ESPN that the Panthers were looking to trade DeShaun Foster. As a man who has loved fellow Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams ever since he was in college, I can only say, “What took you guys so long?”

Now don’t get me wrong, I think Foster is a solid back, but Carolina has been making a big mistake by not letting Williams, who left school with the NCAA record for career 100-yard rushing games (34) and 7,573 all-purpose yards. Heck, DeAngelo doesn’t need me to tell you about him, he has created his own website to do that. I will use this handy chart to help illustrate how good he has been in Carolina Blue.

DeAngelo Williams, Panthers

RUSHING RECEIVING
Year G Rush Yds Yds/G YPC TD Rec Yds TD
2006 13 121 501 38.5 4.1 1 33 313 1
2007 16 144 717 44.8 5.0 4 23 175 1

Need visual evidence of his elusiveness?

Assuming the Panthers can find a trade partner and don’t end up pairing DeAngelo with another back to split the load, Williams should get about 275 carries in 2008. Even his per-carry average falls half a yard from last season to 4.5 a carry, he will end up with over 1,200 rushing yards, and that doesn’t even count his receiving yardage. Heck, even if he drops to 4.0 yards per carry, he will still end up with over 1,000 yards.

As much as I love DeAngelo (and any long-time reader of Fantasy Football Weekly knows my love for him is endless), I still have too many concerns about the Panthers to include him in my running back top-10 if Foster is dealt. First off, he w is yet to prove he can handle the load of being a featured back for an entire season. Secondly, the interior of their line is very suspect. While their tackle situation is in good shape with Travelle Wharton and Jordan Gross (assuming he stays), guard Mike Wahle has been a titanic disappointment andcenter Justin Hartwig can’t stay healthy. Also, several serious questions remain about the passing game, not the least of which is, who will quarterback the Panthers in 2008? Without a reliable passing game to distract defenses, Williams’ ability to consistently post excellent yardage numbers will be limited, as will his chances to score touchdowns. Of course, Carolina can address some, if not all, of those concerns with an aggressive offseason. If they accomplish that and ship out Foster, Williams suddenly emerges as one of next season’s most popular sleepers, and you can bet I’ll be leading the charge.


Myth Buster

February 15, 2008

Sorry I have been so absent lately. I decided to join the Dharma Initiative , but things got a little dicey when a plane crashed on our island and now I have returned.

Previously on this blog, I promised to explore the question of if aces consistently face other aces during a season. The idea for this test hit me while I was listening to a recent CBS Sportsline podcast where the guys insinuated that fantasy owners should care that a pitcher is the No. 1 hurler on his team because it would result in more matchups against aces from other squads. After watching baseball for about 20 years, I’ve noticed a thing or two, and my keen intuition has never picked up a noticeable trend of aces consistently facing other aces, at least not any more frequently than they face pitchers in other slots in the rotation.

Test: I chose to examine a sample size of 10 teams, which is one-third of the league. To ensure it was random I simply went down the list of teams alphabetically until I got five teams from each league. In this experiment, an “ace” is defined as the team’s Opening Day pitcher because he is the man on the top of the rotation at the start of the season.

While on many teams these pitchers will not end the year with the best statistics, the purpose of this test was not to see how often a team’s best statistical starter faced off with another team’s because that is not helpful to fantasy owners in the preseason as we prep for drafts. Obviously, it is impossible to know for certain who every team’s top pitcher in 2008 will be before the year begins. Instead, this experiment was to see how often a pitcher slotted at the top of his team’s rotation went up against another hurler in that same position.

Hypothesis: Aces will face other aces roughly 20 percent of the time because they have an equal opportunity to pitch against any of the five members of the opposing team’s rotation.

Data:

Team Player Starts vs. Ace Percent
ARI Brandon Webb 34 5 14.7
ATL John Smoltz 32 8 25
BAL Erik Bedard 28 7 25
BOS Curt Schiling 24 2 8.3
CWS Jose Contreas 32 3 9.4
CHC Carlos Zambrano 34 6 17.6
CIN Aaron Harang 34 10 29.4
CLE C.C. Sabathia 34 6 17.6
COL Aaron Cook 24 7 29.2
DET Jeremy Bonderman 28 6 21.4
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
         
       
       
       
TOTAL   304 60 19.7

Conclusion: Aces faced off with each other 19.7 percent of all starts, almost exactly one-fifth of the time. This confirms my hypothesis and makes sense since, statistically, every time they take the hill they have a one-in-five chance of battling the opposing team’s top starter. This is important to fantasy baseball players to know as we prepare for upcoming drafts because it proves that there is no reason to downgrade any starter because of his location in his team’s rotation. So while there are a variety of reasons (new ballpark, run support, ect…) to adjust your rankings for Erik Bedard, Dan Haren, and other hurlers who switched teams this winter, do not do so because he now occupies a different rotation slot than he did a year ago.


TUESDAY LINKS

February 5, 2008

It looks like the Erik
Bedard trade is almost complete.
And kudos to the Baltimore Sun for using a timely reference for the title of the story.

Once the deal is complete I will be back with a breakdown of the players involved and compare what Baltimore received for Bedard with the package the Twins got in return for Johan Santana. Is it possible the Orioles actually got a better deal?

Speaking of the Santana deal, Fanball’s Christian Peterson takes a stab at defending the Twins in a blog entry.

If you are looking for a very good mock fantasy baseball draft, check out the latest one
from Mock Draft Central. You should recognize the man who is drafting out of the No. 5 because he is Chris Bracke, whose blog 108 Stitches is linked on my blogroll. You can also check out MDC’s Top 30 Prospects, also done by Mr. Bracke.

CBS Sportsline has posted another fantasy baseball podcast. There is nothing groundbreaking in this edition (unless you are privy to their inside jokes perhaps), but they say one thing that caught my attention enough to conduct an experiment. Do No. 1 pitchers really face other team’s aces on a consistent enough basis that it should worry fantasy owners? Check back to the Pooch Report on Thursday for my conclusion using mounds of data from the 2007 season.

When they construct a Hall of Shame for terrible announcers, there will be a wing dedicated to Emmitt Smith’s rookie season.

Scott Wright’s NFL Draft Countdown has a mock draft that was posted Friday and it looks like it takes all the right things into account. We’ll be all over the NFL Draft here like stink on a hobo.