Saturday, January 10, 2009

Breakdown of 2008 fantasy football picks

For two years now, I've written a brief article where I selected a few football players who I didn't think would perform to the level that they were being selected in fantasy football drafts. Last year, I chose Shaun Alexander, Randy Moss, Clinton Portis, Frank Gore, Matt Hasselbeck, Eli Manning, and Antonio Gates. I was basically right on four of those seven, which is average, I guess.

This year, I only picked five players, but I think I did a little bit better. Those five were Michael Turner, Carson Palmer, Willis McGahee, Derek Anderson, and Laveranues Coles.

Let's get to the breakdown, which follows the same format as the last one:

Michael Turner

Basically, what I'm trying to say is this: the Falcons probably won't be very good on offense, and Turner will be looking to give away at least a significant portion of his carries to Norwood. Norwood also appears to be the favorite in the passing game, which the Falcons will be in often. Jordan surprised many people with his strong season in 2005. No one knows exactly what Turner can do, and if he's in part-time duty, selecting him in the first few rounds might just not be worth the risk.

2007: 16 games, 71 carries, 316 yards, 1 TD
2008: 16 games, 376 carries, 1,699 yards, 17 TD

Wow, was I wrong about Turner and the Falcons this year. First of all, Turner did not split carries with Jerious Norwood. Norwood had just 95 carries in 2008; Turner had 376. Norwood was definitely a factor in the passing game though; he caught 36 passes out of the backfield for 338 yards, and Turner had only six catches for 41 yards.

But the receiving yards don't really matter much. Turner finished second in the NFL in rushing yards (behind Adrian Peterson), first in carries, second in rushing touchdowns (behind DeAngelo Williams), and tied for ninth in yards per carry (4.5). (Also: Notice that I don't say/write "National Football League" every single time like every football analyst out there. How annoying is that?)

For me, though, the surprise wasn't that Turner played well but that the Falcons' offense dramatically improved so quickly. The Falcons, shockingly, ranked 10th in the NFL in scoring with 24.4 points per game. I didn't think that both Matt Ryan and the team's offensive line would perform as well as they did, but they got the job done (until the playoffs) and allowed Turner to run for so many yards and touchdowns.

At the end of the season, Turner was the second-highest scoring running back in fantasy football, and he'll surely be a top five pick in drafts next year.

Verdict: Wrong

Carson Palmer

I think Palmer is a very good quarterback, but I don't think he'll have that great of a season to warrant being the fifth-best fantasy football quarterback, which he currently is being selected as. With 4,131 passing yards, 26 touchdown passes, and 20 interceptions, Palmer scored just the ninth-most points out of all quarterbacks. Palmer also has two solid receivers in Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and he really should have better numbers.

Also, the Bengals have a schedule that may be more difficult than last season: at Baltimore, Tennessee, at NY Giants, Cleveland, at Dallas, at NY Jets, Pittsburgh, bye, Jacksonville, at Houston, Philadelphia, at Pittsburgh, Baltimore, at Indianapolis, Washington, at Cleveland, Kansas City. Besides the two games against Cleveland and the games against Washington and Kansas City, a lot of question marks remain as far as facing questionable defenses. The only good thing, or bad thing depending on how you look at it, is that the Bengals will probably be behind a lot and will have to throw the football. Still, Palmer could struggle against good defensive teams.

2007: 16 games, 4,131 yards, 26 TD, 20 INT
2008: 4 games, 731 yards, 3 TD, 4 INT

This breakdown is pretty simple because Palmer's season was shut down by a right elbow injury after only four games. Obviously I didn't know he would get hurt, but the Bengals just weren't very good this year anyway -- even with Palmer in the lineup to start the season. If he's truly healthy next year, he could have a solid season. But having to play the Steelers' and Ravens' defenses a combined four times each season doesn't help his fantasy football value at all.

Verdict: Right

Willis McGahee

With a questionable passing game and the possibility of rookie Joe Flacco starting at quarterback, the Ravens are going to have to run the football this year. But McGahee already has some injury concerns with the same knee he injured in that gruesome injury in college against Ohio State. McGahee had 1,207 rushing yards and 8 total touchdowns last season in a relatively good year, but with some injuries and the retirement of Jonathan Ogden, the offensive line could struggle and fail to open up enough holes for McGahee. The Ravens also really like rookie running back Ray Rice, who could steal some carries and receptions on third downs as he tries to carve out a niche on the team.

2007: 15 games, 294 carries, 1,207 yards, 7 TD, 43 receptions, 231 yards, 1 TD
2008: 13 games, 170 carries, 671 yards, 7 TD, 24 receptions, 173 yards

McGahee still had seven rushing touchdowns for the second consecutive season, but he received 124 fewer carries in 2008 and caught 19 fewer passes out of the backfield. Rookie Ray Rice received 107 carries, but the big surprise was the addition of the bruising running style of 260-pound Le'Ron McClain. McClain went from running the ball eight times in 2007 to a whopping 232 times in 2008. Both McGahee and McClain had a yards per carry average of 3.9, but McClain did score three more rushing touchdowns.

If McGahee had the job to himself, he probably would have had a better statistical season. Unfortunately for him, but importantly for the Ravens, they had a more diversified attack this season and didn't need McGahee to carry the ball nearly 300 times. Again, this was/is good news for the Ravens and bad news for fantasy owners who drafted McGahee so early.

Verdict: Right

Derek Anderson

Anderson had a fantastic 2007 season; no one could say he/she saw that coming, except for maybe Anderson himself (probably not). He also has plenty of weapons on offense this year in Braylon Edwards, Donte Stallworth, Kellen Winslow, and Jamal Lewis. But as of right now, he is still recovering from a concussion that he suffered during the preseason. I just don't think Anderson will have the same kind of season he did last year, and I also think if he struggles, the Browns may cave in to some pressure to give Brady Quinn an opportunity at some point.

2007: 16 games, 3,787 yards, 29 TD, 19 INT
2008: 10 games, 1,615 yards, 9 TD, 8 INT

I basically nailed this one. The Browns really only looked solid in one game this season, against the Giants of all teams, but the offense as a unit severely underachieved -- especially Braylon Edwards. Anderson eventually lost his job to Brady Quinn before both quarterbacks got hurt and were lost for the rest of the season. According to new Browns Head Coach Eric Mangini, both Anderson and Quinn will fight for the job next season. Look for Quinn to win the battle.

Verdict: Right

Laveranues Coles

Brett Favre's presence should certainly help the passing game and the whole offense, but Coles's demeanor really leaves a lot to be desired. He's a professional and should still play hard, but I wonder if his heart is really still in it without his buddy in New York.

Jerricho Cotchery (82 receptions, 1,130 yards, 2 TDs) also seems like he's taken over the role as the team's best wide receiver from Coles (55 receptions, 646 yards, 6 TDs). Coles could still have a decent year, but he shouldn't be relied upon as a number two wide receiver option for any standard leagues with 10 or 12 teams.

2007: 12 games, 55 receptions, 646 yards, 6 TD
2008: 16 games, 70 receptions, 850 yards, 7 TD

Looking at the total numbers, Coles seemingly had a better season than last year. But really, he played in all 16 games, even if he wasn't 100 percent, and he more than likely would have surpassed this year's numbers last year if he'd played a full season.

Granted, that didn't happen. Another thing that didn't happen: Favre didn't throw the ball to Jerricho Cotchery enough. Cotchery finished the season with 71 receptions, 858 yards, and five touchdowns; I figured that he could have easily duplicated his 2007 numbers.

But rules are rules. I said that Coles shouldn't be relied on in either a 10- or 12-team league. He was essentially the 24th-ranked wide receiver, which would qualify him for a decent second wide receiver option. It's close, but I was just a bit off.

Verdict: Wrong

The final tally stands at three right and two wrong this year. I should have picked more players, which is what I'll try to do next time.

Two-year combined picks: seven out of 12.

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