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RP: Drafting NFL superstars – offense

Which positions in the draft give a team the best percentage chance of drafting a superstar? Let’s find out in this post about offense. (For drafting defensive superstars, check out this post.)

Last year leading up to the draft, we took on the project of analyzing which positions in the draft had the greatest boom and bust percentages in two posts (offense and defense). But as we did that project, we realized that there is another level we need to analyze. In the top 16 of the draft (top half of the first round), teams aren’t merely looking for good players – they’re looking for great players. So we are looking at superstar percentages by position this year.

Here’s the methodology: We looked back over the drafts from 1997 to 2008, analyzing the first 16 picks in each draft. We charted how many players were drafted at each position, and then we picked the guys at each position that have become superstars. We left out the 2009 draft, since it’s too soon to indicate that any of those players are superstars. After we make our calls about who the superstars are and find a percentage, we’ll list guys who we left off the borderline of superstars. We did this so that you can change percentages on your own if you disagree with a call about who’s a superstar and who’s not.

We also refigured the bust percentages from last year’s post on offense and included them below, for the sake of analysis.

Quarterbacks
Superstar percentage: 19 percent
Updated bust percentage: 31 percent (4 of 13)
Total picks:
21
Superstars: Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Donovan McNabb, Peyton Manning
Not-quite-superstars: Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, Michael Vick, Daunte Culpepper
What we learned: Do you have to take a quarterback at the top of the draft to find a superstar? Maybe not. The relatively low superstar percentage is in large part caused by the high bust percentage at the position, but the emergence of later draft picks like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Schaub, and the undrafted Tony Romo as upper-echeleon quarterbacks makes the risk of taking a quarterback at the top of the draft even starker. The risk is high, and these stats suggest the reward isn’t really worth it. That won’t stop the Rams from pulling the trigger on Sam Bradford with the first overall pick this year, of course, but it’s another reason that we feel like Jimmy Clausen fits better after pick 20 than in the top 16.

Running backs
Superstar percentage:
39 percent
Updated bust percentage: 17 percent (2 of 12)
Total picks: 18
Superstars: Adrian Peterson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jamal Lewis, Warrick Dunn, Edgerrin James, Ricky Williams, Fred Taylor
Not-quite-superstars: Jonathan Stewart, Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson, Thomas Jones
What we learned: Not many running backs make their way into the top 16 of the draft – usually 1 or 2 per year – but those who end up going in that portion of the draft actually have a pretty good chance of becoming superstars. In an NFL world where running backs now are more likely to split time, running backs are even less likely to move into the top 16 of the draft. But C.J. Spiller, who perhaps projects in that area this year, could become a terrific complementary back. But it’s hard to see that as a path to superstardom, unless Spiller is as killer as Chris Johnson, which means the superstar percentage at this position is likely headed downward.

Wide receivers
Superstar percentage: 15 percent
Updated bust percentage: 40 percent (8 of 20)
Total picks: 27
Superstars: Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Torry Holt
Not-quite-superstars: Lee Evans, Santana Moss, Plaxico Burress
What we learned: At another risky position, the number of high draft picks who actually turn into superstars is pretty low. Of course, when guys like Fitzgerald or the Johnsons become superstars, they are true game-changers, but the list is so short that teams rightfully are wary. The questions about Dez Bryant this year (or Michael Crabtree last year) demonstrate this wariness. We’ll see if Bryant can move into the top 16 in the draft or if he’ll find himself outside the top half of the first round.

Tight ends
Superstar percentage:
20 percent
Updated bust percentage: 0 percent (0 of 4)
Total picks: 5
Superstars: Tony Gonzalez
Not-quite-superstars: Vernon Davis, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow
What we learned: Most of the tight ends who find themselves in the first half of the first round have turned into at least good players, although only Gonzalez truly crossed the threshold into superstardom. Still, getting an athletic freak like these guys at the top of the draft seems to be a good bet. It appears unlikely that Jermaine Gresham will find his way into the top-16 this year because of his 2009 injury, but these numbers still indicate that Gresham could have a significant impact.

Offensive linemen
Superstar percentage:
26 percent
Updated bust percentage: 12.5 percent (2 of 16)
Total picks: 23
Superstars: Jake Long, Ryan Clady, Joe Thomas, Chris Samuels, Orlando Pace, Walter Jones
Not-quite-superstars: D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Jammal Brown, Jordan Gross, Tra Thomas, Bryant McKinnie, John Tait, Kyle Turley
What we learned: We noted last year that the vast majority of the offensive linemen picked in the top 16 are tackles, and many of those guys have made a huge impact at the position. While not all of them are true superstars, the trend is for these guys to become above-average starters if not borderline Pro Bowlers. We could have easily put three or four of the not-quite-superstars at this position into the superstar category, which would have made the superstar percentage at this position jump up. The bottom line is that offensive linemen are good bets at the top of the first round. So the teams that invest in Russell Okung, Bryan Bulaga, and Trent Williams (or any other lineman who sneak into the top 16) are making a very safe bet.

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Your turn: 2010 NFL Team Needs

What do NFL teams need this offseason? We asked you to answer that question for your favorite NFL team. Here’s what you came up with. And thanks, everyone, for the help. We gave shout-outs to the author of every entry.

By the way, if your favorite team isn’t represented, leave a comment and we’ll add your thoughts to the mix.

AFC East

Jets – Defensively, the Jets need a defensive lineman, more likely than not a rusher who can get to the quarterback. They also need to get another NT, since Kris Jenkins, while great, gets banged up a lot. They also need either Donald Strickland to hang out with Darrelle Revis a lot and get better as the other corner, or draft another one. Offensively, the Jets need to see what shape Leon Washington comes back in. They should be able to spread out the carries so that Thomas Jones doesn’t run out of gas at the end of the year like he did this year. I’d like them to get another interior offensive lineman, in case something happens to Alan Faneca, seeing as he’s been in the league since the famed Kordell Stewart era. We could also use a third receiver, Wayne Chrebet-type without all those pesky concussions. I should point out, as a Jet fan, that this next year of high expectations is typically when we crash and burn. I guess my point is that if by week 10 Mark Sanchez is still standing and in relatively good shape, I think we’ll be okay. But if he Testaverdes it in the first game of the season or Penningtons it in the preseason, we’re screwed. – Pete Z., Missouri

Patriots – The Patriots don’t need much to compete with the Jets, but in order to compete with the rest of the league, I think they need: 1. A pass rusher not named Julius Peppers; 2. More help in the secondary. I’m not sure whether Leigh Bodden will be back, and even though Darius Butler should be better and they have some decent young safeties, this is a big area of need. Of course, a better pass rush would help the secondary as well; 3. With the late-season injury to Wes Welker, the Pats need more depth at WR. Julian Edelman showed promise, but you can’t rely on Edelman and Sam Aiken to take the pressure off Randy Moss. I’d like to see more of Brandon Tate, but he’s still a relative unknown. With a ton of draft picks, I’d like to see them use a 2nd-round pick on a WR or to trade for a WR. I’ve seen speculation about Anquan Boldin, but I think his $$ demands would be too high for them to consider. The Patriots have some big decisions to make financially — what to do with Bodden, what to do with Vince Wilfork, and hopefully avoiding spending big money on Peppers. – Carl B., Virginia

AFC South

Jaguars – We need pass rushers! – @TouchdownJax, Florida

Titans – The Titans need consistency and spark on Special Teams. They missed Chris Carr as much as Albert Haynesworth last season. Defensively their secondary struggled mightily. I don’t know the ins and outs of this discussion, but I hope they can clean up their coverage woes. I’d also like to see a better answer to what happens if Chris Johnson goes down. I’m not convinced Javon Ringer is that answer. Obviously with Vince Young’s second half they are moving ahead with Vince… my fingers are crossed. – Hudson N., Tennessee

AFC West

Chargers – Some say a new GM, others a new head coach, but since they have extended contracts those changes are not happening. Local media have been reporting the shopping of Shawn Kemp, er Antonio Cromartie, for about a month in an attempt to get a RB to replace LaDanian Tomlinson. If this happens it addresses one need. The talk is they need to figure out what they are doing with Shawne Merriman. He wasn’t fully back this year and he and A.J. Smith do not see eye to eye. The major needs are interior defensive linemen (the Jamal Williams injury revealed a huge weakness in the D-line); a right tackle (still cannot believe they passed on Michael Oher last year for Larry English); a hitter in the secondary (look at the Shonn Greene run for this glaring need); and an every-down back if they do not acquire one via trade. Thank God they play in the AFC West so there is always a playoff chance. – Andrew H., California

NFC East

Cowboys – The Cowboys need a kicker who can make a clutch kick – or any kick period. Dallas’ offense lacked that weapon with both Nick Folk and his replacement. Dallas’ offensive line could probably use some youth as well. Many of the main cogs are getting up there in age, so starting to replenish now will only help for the future. – Mark R., Illinois

Eagles – The Philadelphia Eagles desperately need to upgrade their linebacking corps and pass rush. The offense (mostly) fired on all cylinders last season, as long as the Cowboys weren’t the opponent. But if they’re going to continue to implement the blitzing schemes of the late Jim Johnson, they need the personal to do so, and the likes of Jeremiah Trotter won’t get it done. I wouldn’t be opposed to the rumored Donovan McNabb for Julius Peppers swap, and then focus on linebackers in the draft and free agency. Kevin Kolb, with time to practice with the first team, seemed perfectly capable of running the offense, and it just seems time for the McNabb era to end gracefully. It’s been a good run, at times great, but a Super Bowl seems unlikely with McNabb at this stage of his career. – Rob W., South Carolina

Redskins – For my local Redskins, their big decision revolves around Jason Campbell, and whether you draft a QB in the first round or go with an OL to protect Campbell and/or whichever QB you draft later on. The Skins are the team most likely to be impacted by the uncapped season, because it impacts whether Campbell becomes restricted or unrestricted next year. Not to mention, they’d likely be the biggest spenders AND would be able to cut Albert Haynesworth without taking a cap hit in an uncapped year. – Carl B., Virginia

NFC North

Bears – I’m a Bears fan and first thing is we gotta get rid of that overrated crybaby little girl named Jay Cutler and either draft Colt McCoy or Dan LeFevour or trade for Donovan McNabb. Then draft nothing but offense linemen and then sign Terrell Owens. – Alex V., South Carolina

NFC South

Falcons – The Dirty Birds from the ATL still have question marks all around the defense. Beginning at the LB position, Mike Peterson definitely brought leadership to a struggling defense by replacing “douche-bag” Keith Brooking. However, he was average at best only recording 1 sack for the season and a mediocre 82 tackles. We STILL don’t have a left CB and we need more depth in the D-line. Julius Peppers would be a wonderful acquisition for the defense. However, like Peterson (who’s 33 years old) Peppers doesn’t make us very youthful. You have to be optimistic going into 2010 with Matt Ryan coming back from a turf-toe injury, as well as “hopefully” having Michael Turner back at full strength. Not to mention, having Harry Douglas back at WR and on special teams gives us a very overloaded target base for Ryan to throw to. It’d be nice to add a little more depth on the OL. However, leave it to Thomas Dimitroff to pull a rabbit out of his hat in the coming months in the free agent market, along with having a stelar draft class to go along with it, too. – Chris O., Georgia

Panthers – The Panthers need a clean bill of health from their front seven. On offense, they desperately need a second receiving threat to complement Steve Smith and some competition for Matt Moore in camp. They should probably resign Tyler Brayton, especially if they are going to let Julius Peppers walk. – Chase N., Texas

The Panthers need one thing and one thing only. A QB. The NFL is a quarterback league. We all know that. I don’t have the answer as to how to get one. I just know they need one. Let Peppers go. Too much drama. Go get a QB – Chad N., South Carolina

NFC West

Rams – For the St. Louis Rams – Where do we start? On offense: they have a great running back in Steven Jackson, but need a capable backup. They need a better QB, a true number 1 receiver (Donnie Avery is good, but probably not a true #1), a good TE to fit their attempt at the West Coast scheme. O-line needs a better tackle than Alex Barron, who has been a disappointment. Rookie Jason Smith was good in limited duty due to injuries. On defense: they have good safeties and a good MLB (rookie James Laurinaitis looks like a keeper). They really need depth and improvement at corner and better OLBs and their DL is particularly weak. Chris Long (#2 pick overall), looks like an above avg end, but not much more (not a bust, but close). Leonard Little doesn’t have much left, DTs feature nothing special and it looks like Ndamukong Suh is a great choice for #1 overall. – @TheTicketGuys, Missouri

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FR: Biggest what-ifs of 2009

As the NFL season draws to a close, I thought it would be interesting to play a game of what if? So we’re going to use our Football Relativity comparison to see which of these what-ifs could have impacted the fates of their teams the most this season.

10 – What if Troy Polamalu hadn’t gotten hurt? You could argue that no player more impacted a defense than Polamalu, the do-everything free safety who added a free-ranging scary element to Pittsburgh’s defense. But in Polamalu’s absence, the Steelers gave up late passing touchdowns and lost games to Chicago (Week 2), Cincinnati (Week 3), Kansas City (Week 11), and Oakland (Week 13). It’s impossible to say how many of those games the Steelers would have won with Polamalu in there, but there’s no way they would have surrendered leads in all of those games with 43 playing. Polamalu’s injury was a huge reason that the Steelers’ Super Bowl defense was so mediocre and ultimately ended with the team missing the playoffs.

9 – none

8 – What if Falcons QB Matt Ryan had been healthy for home games vs. Eagles and Saints in Weeks 13 and 14? The Falcons finished 9-7, and they were a terrific home team with the exception of the two games Ryan missed against Philly and New Orleans. Both were tough games, but if the Falcons pulled off a win in one or both of those games, they could have easily been a playoff team. (Beating Philly would have put both teams at 10-6 and given Atlanta the tiebreaker.) Those two home games were Atlanta’s playoff push, and not having Ryan for them ultimateky ended up being a killer.

7 – What if the Panthers had gotten simply average quarterback play instead of the multiple stinkers that Jake Delhomme gave them this season? If you had to pick the player who had the worst season, it might well have been Delhomme, who threw 18 interceptions in just 11 games and finished with an abysmal passer rating of 59.4. But if Delhomme had avoided just a couple of meltdowns – three interceptions vs. Buffalo in Week 7 or four interceptions vs. the Jets in Week 12 – perhaps the Panthers would have a couple more wins and would be in the playoffs instead of finishing 8-8.

6 – none

5 – What if the Titans had won in overtime in Pittsburgh in Week 1? The season opened on a Thursday-night in Pittsburgh with the Titans putting up a valiant effort against the Steelers, only to fall short and lose 13-10 in overtime. But that loss started a slide that didn’t end until the Titans found themselves 0-6. Tennessee staged a valiant comeback, and fought back to finish at 8-8, but the early-season hole was too deep to dig out of, and Tennessee missed the playoffs. But a Week One win might have helped Tennessee pull out a couple more close games early on, and that would have been enough for this talented team to become a scary opponent in the playoffs.

4 – none

3 – What if Cleveland took Mark Sanchez with the fifth overall pick in the draft? Instead of taking Sanchez, the Browns traded down twice, gaining two marginal starters and a sixth-round pick in the process. But the Browns’ future might look better with Sanchez playing with Braylon Edwards, Jerome Harrison, and Josh Cribbs around him (not to mention Joe Thomas protecting him). They could have gained almost as much as the pittance they got in exchange for moving down by trading Brady Quinn, Derek Anderson, or both. Instead, the Browns’ future roster is a big question mark. Meanwhile, the Jets would have played with Kellen Clemens at quarterback. Would they still be a playoff team? (Thanks to Chase for this idea.)

2 – What if the Broncos hadn’t gotten a miracle win in Week 1? Few teams had as much offseason controversy as the Broncos, who traded away QB Jay Cutler after a spat with head coach Josh McDaniels and then weathered plenty of petulance from WR Brandon Marshall. But in Week One, the Broncos caught a huge break when Brandon Stokley caught a deflected Hail Mary pass around midfield and took it for an 87-yard touchdown in the game’s final minute for the Broncos to beat the Bengals in Cincinnati 12-7. That win loomed large as the Broncos started 6-0. Without that early success, it’s quite possible that McDaniels could have lost his team early, and a bad start would have led to huge questions about the decision to trade for Kyle Orton instead of hanging with Cutler. Instead, the Broncos had a solid first season under McDaniels despite a slow finish, and McDaniels’ gruff ways didn’t lose all of the locker room (only part of it).

1 – What if the Ravens had kept Matt Stover at PK instead of trusting Steven Hauschka? – Hauschka, whom the Ravens moved up from kickoff specialist to full-time kicker at the start of the 2009 season, missed a 44-yard potential game-winner in Week 6 at Minnesota and a 38-yarder in that would have gotten Baltimore within one score against Cincinnati the next week. The Ravens still snuck into the playoffs, but one more win would have made them more comfortable and also given them a playoff game in Cincinnati instead of Baltimore.

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FR: Pro Bowl-less teams

Pro Bowl rosters were announced this week, and in this process six teams had no representatives. So instead of trying to assess snubs, which so many others do, I thought it might be more unique and productive to look at the six teams without a Pro Bowler and determine who might become a Pro Bowler in future years. We’re going to do this via a Football Relativity comparison, in which the team with the most Pro Bowl prospects is at the 10 level of the list and the team with the bleakest future is at the 1 level.

10 – Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals are AFC North division winners, but they don’t have a Pro Bowl representative at this point. But Cincy has several players who can earn those honors in the future. Chad Ochocinco has reestablished himself as an elite wide reciever this year – he was just caught in a numbers logjam at the position. The same was true for Cedric Benson, who had a fine season running the ball but missed a game and ended up with numbers just a tick below others at the position. And while Carson Palmer isn’t a top-5 AFC quarterback this year, he has the talent to put up the kind of numbers in the future that will get him the nod. OT Andrew Whitworth could also emerge as a sleeper Pro Bowl candidate with another good year. On defense, MLB Dhani Jones got some pub as a snub this year, but at his age he will be hard pressed to break onto the roster. The better chance comes from CBs Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph, who have emerged as supersolid cover guys this year. Each has six interceptions, and if they do that again next year one will sneak onto the team. The other prime candidate in Cincinnati is DE Antwan Odom, who had eight sacks in six games before getting injured. With a full season, he would have made it this year.

9 – none

8 – Atlanta Falcons – The Falcons slipped out of the playoffs this year, although they still have a chance to notch a second consecutive winning season for the first time in franchise history. And while they have no Pro Bowl players this year, the Dirty Birds should in the future. TE Tony Gonzalez is a periennial Pro Bowler who was caught in a numbers game this year moving to the NFC, while WR Roddy White and RB Michael Turner both have put up Pro Bowl numbers in the past and should continue to do so in the future. Matt Ryan may be a little harder case, simply because he’ll be hard-pressed to put up the massive numbers that normally put a quarterback in the Pro Bowl. On defense, DE John Abraham has just 5.5 sacks after posting 16.5 last year, but another big sack season should put him back in the Pro Bowl. MLB Curtis Lofton, a tackling machine, could also emerge as a Pro Bowler with a few more impact plays.

7 – none

6 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The Bucs are rebuilding, but they do have a few good pieces. OG Davin Joseph made the Pro Bowl last year as an injury replacement, and he continues to play well. TE Kellen Winslow is also an impact player, although the number of top tight ends in the NFC is significant. On defense, Barrett Ruud is a productive middle linebacker who performs at a high level, and he could easily become a Pro Bowl guy in the future. CB Ronde Barber has played well this year, but his Pro Bowl seasons are probably behind him at this point in his career. However, S Tanard Jackson is a playmaker who could make enough of a splash to make the Pro Bowl in the future.

5 – Detroit Lions – The Lions have just two wins, but the future is looking far brighter than it did last year at this time. That’s because Detroit got big-time players with its first three draft picks this year. QB Matthew Stafford and TE Brandon Pettigrew could turn into Pro Bowlers, but second-round S Louis Delmas may be the surest bet of the three. Combine those three with uber-talented WR Calvin Johnson, and it looks like the Lions are starting to collect at least a few elite players.

4 – none

3 – none

2 – Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs simply don’t have many (if any) elite players. OG Brian Waters, a multiple-time Pro Bowler, is on the decline, and top offensive performers WR Dwayne Bowe and RB Jamaal Charles are closer to good than great. Top-5 picks on the defensive line, Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson, haven’t panned out yet. OLB Tamba Hali is a good pass rusher, but he too falls short of great. When P Dustin Colquitt is your best chance for a Pro Bowler both this year and looking at next year, your roster needs help and fast. That’s the situation the Chiefs are in.

1 – Seattle Seahawks – The Hawks’ future looks pretty bleak when you see the absence of playmakers on the roster. Former stalwarts like OT Walter Jones, CB Marcus Trufant, QB Matt Hasselbeck, and MLB Lofa Tatupu have been slowed by injuries and age or both, and youngsters like OLB Aaron Curry have yet to emerge. Seattle’s most productive players this year have been S Jordan Babineaux and LB David Hawthorne, neither of whom has Pro Bowl chops. Given the state of this roster, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Seattle back on this list next year.

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The 2009 All-Jersey Number Team

Over the past few weeks, we’ve analyzed the best players in the league at each position by jersey number. Now we’re combining those lists to create our 2009 all jersey-number team. From 1 to 99, here are the best players at each jersey number.

To see how we selected our finalists, you can review the jersey number project with wide receivers in this post and then with tight ends in this postand quarterbacks in this post and running backs in this post and offensive linemen in this postand kickers/punters in this post and defensive linemen in this post and linebackers in this post and defensive backs in this post.

1 – PK Neil Rackers, Cardinals

2 – QB Matt Ryan, Falcons. Other position winner: P Dustin Colquitt, Chiefs

3 – PK Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots. Other position winner: QB Derek Anderson, Browns

4 – QB Brett Favre, Vikings. Other position winner: P Andy Lee, 49ers

5 – QB Donovan McNabb, Eagles. Other position winner: P Mike Scifres, Chargers

6 – QB Jay Cutler, Bears. Other position winner: PK Joe Nedney, 49ers

7 – QB Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers. Other position winner: P Jason Baker, Panthers

8 – QB Matt Schaub, Texans. We originally gave the position nod to Matt Hasselbeck, but as Hasselbeck continues a steep decline, we’re switching to an ascending player in Schaub. Other position winners: QB Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks; PK Ryan Longwell, Vikings

9 – QB Drew Brees, Saints. Other position winner: P Shane Lechler, Raiders

10 – QB Eli Manning, Giants. Other position winners: WR Santonio Holmes, Steelers; PK Nate Kaeding, Chargers

11 – WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals. Other position winners: PK Sebastian Janikowksi, Raiders; QB Daunte Culpepper, Lions

12 – QB Tom Brady, Patriots. Other position winner: WR Marques Colston, Saints

13- QB Kurt Warner, Cardinals. Other position winner: WR Johnny Knox, Bears

14 – WR Brandon Stokely, Broncos. Other position winner: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills

15 – WR Brandon Marshall, Broncos. Other position winners: QB Seneca Wallace, Seahawks; P Craig Hentrich, Titans

16 – WR/RS Josh Cribbs, Browns. Other position winner: QB Charlie Batch, Steelers

17 – QB Philip Rivers, Chargers. Other position winners: WR Braylon Edwards, Jets; PK Shayne Graham, Bengals

18 – QB Peyton Manning, Colts. Other position winners: WR Sidney Rice, Vikings; P Jeff Feagles, Giants

19 – WR Miles Austin, Cowboys

20 – S Ed Reed, Ravens. Other position winner: RB Thomas Jones, Jets

21 – CB Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders. Other position winner: RB LaDanian Tomlinson, Chargers

22 – CB Asante Samuel, Eagles. Other position winner: RB Matt Forte, Bears

23 – RB Ronnie Brown, Dolphins. Other position winners: CB DeAngelo Hall, Redskins; WR Devin Hester, Bears

24 – CB Darrelle Revis, Jets. Other position winner: RB Marion Barber, Cowboys

25 – RB Ryan Grant, Packers. Other position winner: S Ryan Clark, Steelers

26 – CB Antoine Winfield, Vikings. Other position winner: RB Clinton Portis, Redskins

27 – RB Ray Rice, Ravens. Other position winner: CB Rashean Mathis, Jaguars

28 – RB Chris Johnson, Titans. Originally, we opted for Adrian Peterson over Johnson, but as Johnson continues his historic season, and as Peterson continues to struggle, we’re going to make a switch. Other positional winners: RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings; S Gibril Wilson, Dolphins

29 – CB Leon Hall, Bengals. Other position winner: RB Joseph Addai, Colts

30 – S Mike Brown, Chiefs. Other position winner: FB John Kuhn, Packers

31 – CB Cortland Finnegan, Titans. Other position winner: RB Jamal Lewis, Browns

32 – RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars. Other position winner: S Eric Weddle, Chargers

33 – RB Michael Turner, Falcons. Other position winner: CB Charles Tillman, Bears

34 – RB Ricky Williams, Dolphins. Other position winner: S Dominique Barber, Texans

35 – CB Zack Bowman, Bears. Other position winner: RB Jerome Harrison, Browns

36 – S Nick Collins, Packers. Other position winner: RB Brian Westbrook, Eagles

37 – S Yeremiah Bell, Dolphins. Other position winner: FB Jason McKie, Bears

38 – S Dashon Goldson, 49ers. Other position winner: RB Samkon Gado, Rams

39 – RB Steven Jackson, Rams. Other position winner: CB Brandon Carr, Chiefs

40 – TE Jim Kleinsasser, Vikings. Other position winners: RB Brian Leonard, Bengals; S Marquand Manuel, Lions

41 – S Antoine Bethea, Colts. Other position winners: FB Lorenzo Neal, Raiders; TE Spencer Havner, Packers

42 – S Darren Sharper, Saints. Other position winner: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots

43 – S Troy Polamalu, Steelers. Other position winner: RB Darren Sproles, Chargers

44 – TE Dallas Clark, Colts. Other position winners: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants; S Jarrad Page, Chiefs

45 – FB Mike Sellers, Redskins. Other position winners: TE Leonard Pope, Chiefs; DB De’Von Hall, Colts

46 – RB Ladell Betts, Redskins. Other position winners: TE Daniel Fells, Rams; LB Vinny Ciurciu, Lions

47 – FB Lawrence Vickers, Browns. Other position winners: S Jon McGraw, Chiefs; LB Brit Miller, 49ers

48 – S Chris Horton, Redskins

49 – FB Tony Richardson, Jets. Other position winners: LB Zack Follett, Lions; DB Rashad Johnson, Cardinals

50 – LB Curtis Lofton, Falcons. Other position winner: OG Ben Hamilton, Broncos

51 – LB Barrett Ruud, Buccaneers. Other position winner: C Dominic Raiola, Lions

52 – LB Ray Lewis, Ravens

53 – LB Keith Bulluck, Titans

54 – OG Brian Waters, Chiefs. Other position winners: LB Andra Davis, Broncos; DE Quentin Groves, Jaguars

55 – OLB Terrell Suggs, Ravens. Other position winners: DE John Abraham, Falcons; C Alex Mack, Browns

56 – LB Brian Cushing, Texans

57 – LB Bart Scott, Jets. Other position winners: C Olin Kreutz, Bears; DE James Wyche, Jaguars

58 – DE Trent Cole, Eagles. Other position winner: LB Karlos Dansby, Cardinals

59 – LB London Fletcher, Redskins. Other position winner: OG Nick Cole, Eagles

60 – OT Chris Samuels, Redskins. Other position winner: DT Joe Cohen, Lions

61 – C Nick Hardwick, Chargers. Other position winner: DT Gerard Warren, Raiders

62 – C Casey Wiegmann, Broncos

63 – C Jeff Saturday, Colts

64 – C Jake Grove, Dolphins. Other position winner: DT Kedric Gholston, Redskins

65 – OG Andre Gurode, Cowboys

66 – OG Alan Faneca, Jets. Other position winner: DT DelJuan Robinson, Texans

67 – C Jamaal Jackson, Eagles

68 – C Kevin Mawae, Titans. Other position winner: DE Jonathan Fanene, Bengals

69 – DE Jared Allen, Vikings. Other position winner: OT Jordan Gross, Panthers

70 – OG Leonard Davis, Cowboys. Other position winner: DE Kendall Langford, Dolphins

71 – OT Michael Roos, Titans. Other position winner: DE Kroy Biermann, Falcons

72 – DE Osi Umenyiora, Giants. Other position winner: OT Vernon Carey, Dolphins

73 – OG Jahri Evans, Saints. Other position winner: DT Jimmy Kennedy, Vikings

74 – C Nick Mangold, Jets. Other position winners: OLB Aaron Kampman, Packers; NT Jacques Cesaire, Chargers

75 – NT Vince Wilfork, Patriots. Other position winner: OG Davin Joseph, Buccaneers

76 – OG Steve Hutchinson, Vikings. Other position winner: NT Jamal Williams, Chargers

77 – OT Jake Long, Dolphins. Other position winner: NT Kris Jenkins, Jets

78 – OT Ryan Clady, Broncos. Other position winner: DE Jacob Ford, Titans

79 – NT Ryan Pickett, Packers. Other position winner: OT Jeff Otah, Panthers

80 – WR Andre Johnson, Texans. Other position winner: TE Bo Scaife, Titans

81 – WR Randy Moss, Patriots. Other position winner: TE Owen Daniels, Texans

82 – TE Jason Witten, Cowboys. Other position winner: WR Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs

83 – WR Wes Welker, Patriots. Other position winner: TE Heath Miller, Steelers

84 – WR Roddy White, Falcons. Other position winner: TE Benjamin Watson, Patriots

85 – TE Antonio Gates, Chargers. Other position winner: WR Chad Ochocinco, Bengals

86 – WR Hines Ward, Steelers. Other position winner: TE Todd Heap, Ravens

87 – WR Reggie Wayne, Colts. Other position winner: TE Brent Celek, Eagles

88 – TE Tony Gonzalez, Falcons. Other position winner: WR Isaac Bruce

89 – WR Steve Smith, Panthers. Other position winner: TE Daniel Graham, Broncos

90 – DE Julius Peppers, Panthers

91 – DE Will Smith, Saints. Other position winner: OLB Tamba Hali, Chiefs

92 – OLB Elvis Dumervil, Broncos. Other position winner: DT Albert Haynesworth, Redskins

93 – DT Kevin Williams, Vikings. Other position winner: OLB Anthony Spencer, Cowboys

94 – OLB DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys. Other position winner: DE Aaron Schobel, Bills

95 – OLB Shaun Phillips, Chargers. Other position winner: DT Jonathan Babineaux, Falcons

96 – OLB David Bowens, Browns. Other position winner: DE Tyler Brayton, Panthers

97 – NT Kelly Gregg, Ravens. Other position winner: OLB Calvin Pace, Jets

98 – DE Robert Mathis, Colts. Other position winner: LB Brian Orakpo, Redskins

99 – OLB Jason Taylor, Dolphins. Other position winner: DE Andre Carter, Redskins

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Fantasy Football Applaud or a Fraud – Week 16

Each week, we dive into the stat sheets to see which weekly performers fantasy owners should applaud and which fantasy owners should write off as frauds. You can read past applaud or a fraud analyses in the category listing. And you can also check out our fantasy football thoughts during the week via our Twitter feed here on the blog or here.

This week we’re going to focus purely on players who should be starting for your team in the fantasy playoffs. That’s a higher standard than we’ve traditionally had in this post, but at this point in the season it’s the info you need to know.

Quarterbacks

Matt Moore, Panthers – Moore has thrown three touchdown passes in each of the last two weeks, and against a Saints pass defense that is banged up and could be resting key players like Darren Sharper next week, he could be in line for another big week in the season finale. If you’re looking for an emergency starter, look no further. Verdict: Applaud

Matt Ryan, Falcons – After missing two games, Ryan was back for the second game, and for the first time he was a fantasy factor with 250 yards and three touchdowns. That’s a good sign in terms of Ryan’s health, and with a game in Tampa Bay slated for the season finale, Ryan becomes a starting option for fantasy owners in leagues of 12 teams or more once again. Verdict: Applaud

Running backs

Arian Foster, Texans – Foster was supposed to get his shot as the Texans’ top running back last week, but an early fumble left him in the doghouse with just three touches. Against the Dolphins, though, Foster delivered a 97-yard performance that included a touchdown. Foster has talent, and if he gets the bulk of the carries this week against the Patriots more production could be in the offing. But Texans head coach Gary Kubiak is so wishy-washy in terms of which running back plays when that you simply can’t count on Foster to get enough touches. He’s not more than a flex option, and that’s the case only in leagues of 12 or more. Don’t rely too heavily on Foster; there’s simply too much risk of a nothing game. Verdict: A fraud

Jerome Harrison, Browns  – Maybe, finally, the Browns are sticking to something with Harrison, who followed his epic Week 15 performance with 148 yards and a score against the Raiders. The competition level gets harder against the Jaguars in Week 17, but Harrison looks like a hot hand that you’ll want to stick with. Verdict: Applaud

Brandon Jackson, Packers – Jackson scored three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) against the Seahawks, but two of those came in garbage time of a blowout win against the Seahawks. Given that Ryan Grant is still the bellweather back, Jackson isn’t a guy fantasy owners should turn to in the final week of the regular season. Verdict: A fraud

Chris Johnson, Titans – Week 17 is usually marked by star players getting rest before the playoffs. But now that Tennessee’s playoff hopes are flatlining, the goal in Tennessee will be getting Johnson to 2,000 yards rushing and beyond. The fact that he’s just 233 yards from the all-time single-season rushing record held by Eric Dickerson should encourage the Titans to feed Johnson early and often. He’s one fantasy football star who will play like one in the season’s final week. Verdict: Applaud

Darren Sproles and Mike Tolbert, Chargers – Sproles had three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) in the Chargers’ 42-17 victory over the Titans on Christmas night, and he’s an interesting play in Week 17. You have to figure that San Diego, now that it has locked down a first-round bye, will sit LaDanian Tomlinson for most if not all of the game. The question is whether Sproles is so valuable that he too sits. It’s worth a shot to start Sproles and see, but Tolbert (who had 11 carries for 60 yards in Tennnessee) may end up being the most used fantasy back in the final week of the season. That makes both backs worth a flier as flex plays in 10- to 12-team leagues. Verdict: Applaud for both Sproles and Tolbert

Jonathan Stewart, Panthers – Stewart exploded for 206 rushing yards and a score against the Giants, and if DeAngelo Williams sits out the final week of the season, Stewart will be a top-15 fantasy back once again. Even if Williams plays, you can still count on Stewart as a passable flex option. Verdict: Applaud

Cadillac Williams, Buccaneers – Williams has been one of the feel-good stories both from a human-interest perspective and from a fantasy football viewpoint. After Sunday’s 129-yard performance against the Saints, he’s now run for 781 yards and scored seven total touchdowns. Don’t overlook him as a potential starter this week against the Falcons, because he should be productive one more time. Verdict: Applaud

Wide receivers

Austin Collie, Colts – Collie had six catches for 94 yards against the Jets, and with the Colts in shut-down mode at the end of the season, he’s the youngster who stands to benefit. Don’t put too much on Collie, but if you’re looking for a third receiver he remains an option. Verdict: Applaud

Jabar Gaffney, Broncos – Gaffney has been under the fantasy radar most of the season, but he popped his head up with two touchdowns among seven catches vs. the Eagles. But this performance had a lot to do with Eddie Royal’s absence, and that means Gaffney isn’t becoming a true fantasy threat. Verdict: A fraud

Roddy White, Falcons – This just in: White is good – really good – and he’s in a good offense for him. His eight-catch, 139-yard, two-touchdown day against Buffalo is just a reminder to leave him in your lineup for Week 17. Verdict: Applaud

Tight ends

Todd Heap, Ravens – Heap had just two catches this week against the Steelers, but both went for touchdowns. The season finale against the Raiders is appealing, especially since the Ravens must win to get in the playoffs, but Heap is still outside the top 12 fantasy tight ends. Owners simply can’t afford to count on touchdowns this heavily. Verdict: A fraud

Zach Miller, Raiders – After missing the Week 15 game, Miller returned against the Browns and had nine catches for 110 yards. It’s a good sign that Miller continues to produce even with Charlie Frye in the lineup. In the last 10 games in which he’s played, Miller has had at least four catches and at least 43 yards in eight. Although he doesn’t find the end zone much, if you’re  in need of a tight end in a massive league (14 teams or more), Miller remains a nice option. Verdict: Applaud

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Jersey Numbers: Quarterbacks

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at several different positions (I can’t yet promise all) to identify the best players wearing each jersey number at each position. If this goes as planned, we’ll then compile a list of the best player wearing each jersey number in the league.

If you have quibbles, or want to add someone I forgot, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.

We started this project with wide receivers in this post and then with tight ends in this post. Now we move to quarterbacks, who wear numbers between 1 and 19.

1 – None – Sorry Warren Moon and Jeff George, but no significant quarterback in the NFL is currently wearing No. 1.

2 – Matt Ryan, Falcons – Two young quarterbacks wear No. 2, and Ryan, who is the future of the franchise in Atlanta, is an easy choice over JaMarcus Russell, who apparently cannot be the future of the franchise in Oakland. Other notable 2s: Brian St. Pierre, Cardinals; Chris Simms, Broncos, Sage Rosenfels, Vikings

3 – Derek Anderson, Browns – Anderson is no good and is having an even worse year, but he’s the only quarterback who has seen the field this season that wears No. 3, so he wins this by default. But you can go ahead and expect Anderson to lose to a kicker or punter in the final jersey number comparison. Other notable 3: Matt Moore, Panthers

4 – Brett Favre, Vikings – There’s no question that Favre is not only the most significant No. 4 currently playing now; he may be the best No. 4 in the history of the league. Part of that is that 4 was never a popular number before Favre, and part of it is of course Favre’s longevity and production. Other notable 4: Kevin Kolb, Eagles

5 – Donovan McNabb, Eagles – When McNabb first started wearing No. 5, it seemed like a bit of a novelty for a quarterback. But now this is a popular number. Still, McNabb remains the standard-bearer, both for his current play and his long and storied career. But it’ll be interesting to see how long McNabb can hold off up-and-coming Joe Flacco to keep the claim on 5. Other notable 5s: Kerry Collins, Titans; Trent Edwards, Bills, Josh Freeman, Buccaneers; Bruce Gradkowski, Raiders

6 – Jay Cutler, Bears – Cutler narrowly wins this number’s honors over rookie Mark Sanchez, simply because Cutler has a little longer pedigree. At the end of the year or next year, the decision could be different. Other notable 6: Pat White, Dolphins

7 – Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers – Big Ben wears 7 in honor of John Elway, one of the greatest 7s of all time. Now Roethlisberger is writing his legacy at the number with two Super Bowl titles very early in his career. The fact that Big Ben seems to be emerging as a passer is a sign that his career may actually be starting an upswing just now. Other notable 7s: Matt Cassel, Chiefs; Chad Henne, Dolphins; Byron Leftwich, Buccaneers; Matt Leinart, Cardinals; Tarvaris Jackson, Vikings; Michael Vick, Eagles

8 – Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks – This was a tough call. Matt Schaub of the Texans is having by far a better year than Hasselbeck, but Hasselbeck has a much better career at this point. So we’ll side with experience over the present, knowing full well that we might want to flip the tables on this number very soon. Other notable 8s: Kyle Orton, Broncos; David Carr, Giants; Brian Hoyer, Patriots

9 – Drew Brees, Saints – Brees may be for the early 2010s what Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were for most of this decade. He’s at the top of his game, piling up numbers with great accuracy and providing great leadership to boot. And if he can get a Super Bowl ring this year, his status will only grow. As good as Dallas’ Tony Romo, Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer, and Jacksonville’s David Garrard are, they aren’t in Brees’ league. Other notable 9: Matthew Stafford, Lions

10 – Eli Manning, Giants – Manning isn’t a perfect quarterback, but he’s good and he’s won his share of games and then some. That’s enough to earn him the 10 spot over declining players like Marc Bulger of St. Louis and Chad Pennington of Miami. Other notable 10s: Matt Flynn, Packers; Brady Quinn, Browns; Vince Young, Titans; Troy Smith, Ravens

11 – Daunte Culpepper, Lions – There are no current star quarterbacks wearing 11, so we’ll give this honor to a former star in Culpepper who has started a couple of games this year. Other notable 11s: Josh Johnson, Buccaneers; Alex Smith, 49ers; Mark Brunell, Saints; Kellen Clemens, Jets

12 – Tom Brady, Patriots – It’s an easy call to give the honors at 12 to Brady, who’s already got the resume of an all-time great. Plus, Brady continues to perform at the highest of levels. He remains the real deal. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is a good quarterback, but he’s outside Brady’s echelon. Other notable 12s: Brodie Croyle, Chiefs; Kyle Boller, Rams; Josh McCown, Panthers; Jim Sorgi, Colts

13 – Kurt Warner, Cardinals – This is another easy call, as Warner is playing at a high level 10 years after he burst on the scene in St. Louis. His career has been a little up and down, but at his best there are few better than Warner. Other notable 13: Shaun Hill, 49ers

14 – Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills – Fitzpatrick isn’t great, but he’s the only QB wearing 14 who has even played this year. Dan Fouts must be ashamed.

15 – Seneca Wallace, Seahawks – This is another slow number, as Wallace and Washington backup Todd Collins are the only quarterbacks wearing 15. We almost gave this to Tim Tebow in advance, but we’ll stick with NFL players for now.

16 – Charlie Batch, Steelers – At least we had a choice at 16 between Batch, the former Lions starter who’s now Big Ben’s backup, and Tyler Thigpen, who had some good games in K.C. last year before going to the Dolphins via trade this year.

17 – Philip Rivers, Chargers – Rivers isn’t on the Brees-Manning-Brady level, but he may be the best of the next batch of quarterbacks. He’s productive and continuing to grow as a leader and late-game threat. Other notable 17s: Jason Campbell, Redskins; Jake Delhomme, Panthers

18 – Peyton Manning, Colts – There’s no question here that Manning is by far the best 18 not only at quarterback but at any position in the league. No player is doing more to elevate his team this season than Manning, who is carrying his team to the top of the pack once again.

19 – NONE – No quarterbacks are wearing 19 this year either. Apparently young QBs need to see more Johnny Unitas highlights.

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How great is Favre, really?

My brother Kam sent me an interesting link this week that tried to argue that Brett Favre is even better than we think. Basically, this blogger argues that Brett Favre’s career interception percentage of 3.3 percent is much better than most of the QBs in the Hall of Fame — thus undercutting the big argument against Favre as an all-time great.

It’s an interesting theory, but as my brother and I discussed it, we quickly came to the conclusion that there’s an era gap here that the blogger tried to gloss over. Current-era Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Dan Marino, John Elway, Joe Montana, and Steve Young are all below Favre in terms of interception percentage. Only Warren Moon and Jim Kelly (both of whom started in the NFL about five years before Favre) are above him in this stat.

And as we look at the career passer rating list, this change in eras bears out. Favre is just 18th on this list, behind many the great QBs of the eras in which he’s played — Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Steve Young, Joe Montana, Drew Brees, and Dan Marino. Meanwhile, the only QB from before the Bill Walsh era in the top 20 is Otto Graham, who is an all-time great who always seems to get lost in the discussion.

So while the interception stat doesn’t tell us much about Favre in the end, it does indicate how much the game changed when Bill Walsh came on the scene as a head coach around 1980. (We’d say that the Walsh era began with the Niners’ first Super Bowl win in the 1981 season.)

Kam said this in the discussion…
Most people think of interception stats vis-a-vis the TD to interception ratio.  nteresting here to consider it as pass attempts to interception, although I wonder what Favre’s completion rate in general is compared to other QBs with comparable yardage and TDs. You’re right that completion rate and TD-interception ratio would be skewed now in the post West-coast era. Fewer and fewer QBs who can actually throw the ball down the field. 

 In my mind, I still don’t see Favre on the same level as modern standout QBs like Peyton, Brady or Drew Brees (potentially Matt Ryan). You can’t help but admire Favre’s passion, but he has lost his teams many games, too, with his cavalier approach to the quarterback position. Might be the difference between one and three Super Bowl wins.    
 
So where do we compare Favre among the great quarterbacks of his era (1992-on)? I’d put the following guys above Favre:
*John Elway
*Steve Young (won his Super Bowl in the Favre era)
*Peyton Manning
*Tom Brady
*Troy Aikman (this one is close, because Aikman never piled up monster numbers, but the three Super Bowls vs. one makes the difference)
 
I’m reserving judgment today on Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees. They’re too young right now to say where their careers will truly end up.
 
I’d put Favre before Warren Moon, Donovan McNabb, and Kurt Warner, though Warner and McNabb could pass Favre with huge late-career spikes.
I’m not considering Joe Montana, Dan Marino, or Jim Kelly in Favre’s era, because they were more 1980s guys than 90s guys.
 
That makes Favre a great quarterback but not among the top-5 quarterbacks ever. In fact, when you add in old-timers like Otto Graham and others, Favre would have to push to make the top 10. That doesn’t diminish his greatness, but it does show that his numbers – even his interception numbers – don’t tell the whole story.

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Applaud or a Fraud – Top 15 Quarterbacks

Over these midseason weeks, we have taken our preseason draft board and break down the top players at each position in an effort to determine which players are living up to their draft status, which are surpassing their draft status, and which are falling below their draft status. We’ll use our Applaud or a Fraud titles to compare these players vs. preseason expectations, but you’ll want to read each player’s report to see what the verdict means for him.

We’ve already done this with the top 35 running backs and emerging running backs; with the top 35 wide receivers and emerging wide receivers; and with the top 10 tight ends and emerging tight ends.  Now we turn to the top 15 quarterbacks from our preseason draft board.

As a companion to this piece, we’ll look at the top quarterbacks who weren’t in our top 15 before the season and try to determine whether we should applaud them or consider them frauds for the rest of the season. Watch for that post tomorrow.

1. Drew Brees, Saints – So far, too good. Brees has been ridiculous thus far this season with 14 passing TDs and two rushing TDs in six games, plus nearly 1,700 passing yards (283 per game). Those who made Brees the No. 1 fantasy QB haven’t been disappointed in the least. Verdict: Applaud

2. Tom Brady, Patriots – Tom Terrific had a bit of a slow start, but he has been gangbusters the last two weeks with 10 combined touchdowns. On the season, he has 15 passing touchdowns (2.5 per game) plus one via the ground. He is also passing for 290 yards per game, which is a great total. He’s back to being an elite fantasy quarterback. Verdict: Applaud

3. Peyton Manning, Colts – Before the season, we saw Manning slipping a notch below Brady and Brees. That hasn’t happened. Peyton has 15 passing touchdowns in the first six games of his season, and he’s averaging a whopping 313 passing yards per game. Once again, Peyton is the kind of quarterback who can carry a fantasy team. Verdict: Applaud

4. Kurt Warner, Cardinals – Warner’s total of nine touchdowns in six games is a little below the elite guys, but he’s throwing for 279 yards per game, which is more than fine. He’s not the fourth overall quarterback from a fantasy standpoint, but he’s an above-average starter, and that’s good enough for applause, even if it isn’t a rousing round. Verdict: Applaud

5. Philip Rivers, Chargers – Rivers was a revelation for fantasy owners last year, but so far this year he’s been a little more ordinary than extraordinary. The numbers are fine – 10 passing touchdowns and one rushing TD in six games, plus 298 passing yards per game, but that’s not enough to move him among the elite. Still, if you drafted Rivers to be an upper-to-mid level starting fantasy quarterback, you got what you wanted. Verdict: Applaud

6. Aaron Rodgers, Packers – Rodgers has gotten the crap beaten out of him behind a horrendous offensive line, but he’s still produced 11 passing touchdowns (plus a two-point conversion) and one rushing TD while averaging 283 passing yards per game. Those are numbers on par with Rivers and Warner, so you can’t really complain about what Rodgers has given you. He’s a young quarterback who continues to establish himself as a solid fantasy starter. The offensive line problems make you a little nervous going forward, but Rodgers has survived them so far. Verdict: Applaud

7. Tony Romo, Cowboys – Romo’s numbers aren’t as good as the other Rs (Rodgers, Rivers, and Roethlisberger), but he’s been OK with nine passing TDs, one rushing TD, and 275 passing yards per game. He’s more of a mid-pack fantasy starter than an upper-end guy, but that’s where we rated him. We won’t complain about his production. And now that Miles Austin is emerging, Romo might actually have an elite target again, which is a good sign going forward. Verdict: Applaud

8. Donovan McNabb, Eagles – McNabb’s injury history caused us to rate him a tier below the other elite producers, and that’s proven to be wise. He missed two full games, leaving fantasy owners in the lurch. When McNabb has played, he’s been fine – nine passing TDs, one rushing TD, and 192 passing yards pr game. But there are guys below him on this list – namely Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Schaub – who have been better options even when you leave out the games McNabb missed. That has pushed McNabb to the borderline of fantasy starters, and that’s the reason we’ll give him a slight thumbs down. We just don’t feel wholly comfortable throwing our lot in with McNabb as a starter going forward. Verdict: A fraud

9. Matt Schaub, Texans – Everybody knew that Schaub could put up numbers if he stays healthy, and thus far this season Schaub has done both of those things. The results have been stunning – in 7 games, Schaub has 16 passing touchdowns and is throwing for 296 yards per game. Those numbers actually are a little better than what even Drew Brees and Peyton Manning are producing. The injury risk is still there, but owners are getting so much upside for taking that risk right now that it’s more than worth it. Verdict: Applaud

10. Jay Cutler, Bears – Cutler’s gross numbers have been OK so far – 11 passing TDs, a two-point conversion, and a rushing TD in seven games, plus 207 yards per game – but he’s not a fantasy starter when you compare him to guys below him on the list like Ben Roethlisberger (or guys off the list like Joe Flacco). Cutler still has upside, and his receivers are improving, but right now he hasn’t earned this ranking as a starting fantasy quarterback. Verdict: A fraud

11. Matt Ryan, Falcons – Ryan’s numbers are OK – 11 passing touchdowns and one rushing TD in six games, plus 227 passing yards per game. If you’re starting Ryan in a larger league, you have a lower-level starting quarterback, but that’s what this ranking foretold. Ryan hasn’t exceeded our expectations, but he has met them, and he should continue to do so with Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez on board. Verdict: Applaud

12. Carson Palmer, Bengals – Palmer’s 5-touchdown game against the Bears this week makes his numbers look much better. On the whole, in 7 games he has 13 passing touchdowns, a two-point conversion, and a rushing touchdown, plus 230 yards per game. Those numbers, like Matt Ryan’s, are OK for a marginal starter in a larger league or for a top-quality backup. Palmer’s performance has been more up and down, but on the whole he was ranked pretty much in the right spot. Verdict: Applaud

13. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers – Big Ben has been better than a fantasy backup this year, with 11 passing TDs and two rushing touchdowns plus 295 passing yards per game. The Steelers are relying on Big Ben’s big arm much more this year than they have in past years, and his corps of targets is better than ever. He’s a fantasy starter now, and that means he’s surpassed the ranking we gave him before the season. Verdict: Applaud

14. Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks – Injury risk caused us to rank Hasselbeck lower than we thought his production might merit this season, and that caveat saved us from an even bigger mistake. In the four games he’s played in, he has seven passing touchdowns and 182 passing yards per game, but that’s just OK, even at this level. Plus, his offensive line is still beaten up, which doesn’t bode well. If you have a marginal quarterback and Hasselbeck as your backup, you’re not feeling too secure right now. And that means we must give him a thumbs down in fantasy terms. Verdict: A fraud

15. Brett Favre, Vikings – It was hard for us to decide where to rank Favre before the season, and we finally settled at this spot – a mid-level producer among NFL starters. He’s been a little better than that with 12 touchdowns in seven games plus 240 yards per game. Favre is still only a marginal fantasy starter, but given this rating he’s lived up to expectations. So the 40-year-old Spanx gets a hand clap. Verdict: Applaud

 

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Panthers/Falcons thoughts

A few thoughts on the Week Two game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers, both from an on-field perspective and a fantasy football perspective. The Falcons won 28-20 in the Georgia Dome.

On-field
*The Falcons continue to show that they’re a solid team across the board. Even though Michael Turner hasn’t yet had a huge game, the offense is moving well.The addition of Tony Gonzalez has been absolutely huge, because he gives Matt Ryan another elite-level target along with Roddy White. That mitigates the fact that Atlanta’s other receivers are average.
*Even without Jerious Norwood for most of the game, Atlanta’s running game was terrific. Jason Snelling stepped right in with 47 yards from scrimmage, including a TD catch, while Turner got stronger as the game went on and finished with 105 yards and a late touchdown.
*A lot of that offensive success is due to Atlanta’s solid offensive line. Guard Harvey Dahl has a mean streak that you need, and the fact that Julius Peppers and Everette Brown were stonewalled says something about second-year OLT Sam Baker. Atlanta held Carolina without a sack in this game.
*Atlanta’s defense isn’t great, but it’s good. OLB Mike Peterson has added an edge and some play-making ability in pass coverage that Keith Brooking didn’t provide, while second-year MLB Curtis Lofton continues to emerge as a force. DE John Abraham is a factor whenever he’s in the game as well, and backup DE Kroy Biermann has flashed ability in the first two games of the season. Young CB Chris Houston and veteran Brian Williams are a nice duo as well. This D isn’t going to completely shut anyone down, but it’s good enough to make the Falcons a dangerous team.
*For Carolina, Jake Delhomme was OK, and the offense moved the ball accordingly. As long as Delhomme avoids meltdown mode, the Panthers can move the ball thanks to a mauling offensive line and terrific RBs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.
*Steve Smith is a great receiver, Muhsin Muhammad is still a good receiver, and TEs Jeff King and Dante Rosario are OK. But the Panthers don’t have any WR depth, and that hurts when they’re trying to come back as they were in this game.
*Carolina’s defense really struggled for the second week in a row. The lack of DT depth hurt, as Turner was able to wear down the interior of the defense. And without any pass rush, Ryan did pretty much whatever he wanted. LBs Jon Beason and Thomas Davis played well, but they can’t be expected to snuff out the run game by themselves.
*I really like Carolina’s CB duo of Richard Marshall and Chris Gamble for their aggressiveness and their tackling, but they don’t get to show their skills off fully in the Panthers’ cover-2 scheme. I liked the Ron Meeks hire as defensive coordinator in the offseason, but I’m starting to waver on that.
*The Panthers have some serious special-teams problems. Already this season, they’ve given up a blocked punt and a punt return for a touchdown, along with some sizable kickoff returns. That has to change if they’re going to crawl out of their 0-2 hole.

Fantasy Football thoughts
*Steve Smith is going to be OK. If you picked Smith early in your draft, you undoubtedly had some fears after Week One. But with Jake Delhomme rebounding, Smith showed that he can still be highly productive for fantasy owners.
*Aside from Smith, none of the Panthers’ receivers is worth owning. Muhsin Muhammad gets some looks, but everyone else is a bit player for fantasy leagues. Likewise, Delhomme is not really a major fantasy threat. He might end up being an OK backup in larger leagues, but don’t count on him for more.
*The Panthers have three decent receiving tight ends in Jeff King, Dante Rosario, and Gary Barnidge. But even though Rosario caught a touchdown in this game, he’s not a fantasy factor. Rosario plays as the movement tight end in two-TE sets, but King is on the field more. So while Rosario looks good catching the ball, he doesn’t get enough playing time to be a top-20 fantasy tight end.
*Both Panthers running backs are really good. DeAngelo Williams will end the season as a top 8 or top 10 back, and Jonathan Stewart will be a yardage force with limited touches. This game is actually going to be pretty typical of the workload spread between the two players and the production you can reasonably expect.
*Michael Turner is not a dynamic back like Adrian Peterson, but he’s a very good back who, like Williams, will end up being a top guy this year.
*Jason Snelling had a good game, but he’s not a fantasy factor because he’s below Jerious Norwood in the pecking order, and Norwood is barely ownable in most leagues. So let Snelling lie on your waiver wire this week, despite the talent he displayed this week.
*Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez are both fantasy starters, and Matt Ryan may be as well. The addition of Gonzalez is going to help Ryan grow his TD numbers from 16 last year into the 20s this year. He’s growing as a fantasy option.

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