Challenge Contests — by Justin Eleff
The wheat from the chaff at ... quarterback
Posted Jul. 23 at 04:40 AM
For the last couple of weeks these columns have run through my thoughts about each NFL team heading into training camp. For some teams I wrote broadly about how their offensive personnel should interact; for some I zeroed in on a single player.
Now we’re on to the business of actually constructing a challenge roster, using what we know so far -- and, admittedly, it’s early -- to comb through the salary lists at each position. This will take a few weeks; QBs now, RBs next week, then WRs, then TEs and Ks together. Which gets us to mid-August, and by then we’ll have new things to think about. Preseason injuries, reordered depth charts, on and on.
As we work through the positions, you’ll need to remember that the analysis can change significantly depending on which challenge game(s) you’re playing. Most are scored in one of two ways: by total points accumulated or category-by-category performance. Some players are equally valuable either way, but I’ll try to note where that isn’t the case -- and that means splitting each position into two sets of notes, labeled below as POINTS and CATEGORIES.
If the only thing that matters is accumulated bulk -- more yards, more touchdowns -- one thing that matters is, well, accumulated bulk. More attempts. The right play-calling can make a useful challenge commodity out of what would otherwise be the wrong quarterback.
NFL teams averaged 516 passes attempted in 2008; 14 teams were within 5 percent of that number. The exceptions:
New Orleans (636)
Tampa Bay (562)
San Diego (478)
The second list may be more interesting than the first. Of course it isn’t wrong to consider Philip Rivers or Matt Ryan this year, but note that both are starting way behind even Donovan McNabb, who tried 571 passes despite being yanked for Kevin Kolb in Week 12.
New coaching staffs in Denver and Tampa Bay may shake up those teams’ numbers (or may not), but otherwise the most interesting team up top is Houston. I’ve been critical of Matt Schaub in this space, but the Texans have ubertalented receivers and kept throwing even as their nifty new running game emerged.
I don’t mention that for my health, either. Check the shared salary list for Fanball’s points games:
Ryan may be due for an uptick in his second season, but -- again -- Schaub comes in with a big head start.
If you’re thinking I’ve missed something obvious -- that the best QBs need fewer passes to get their numbers -- at least give the High list another look. Without factoring in rushing stats, and scoring passing numbers as 1 point per 20 yards, 3 per TD, the best points quarterbacks in football in 2008 were Drew Brees, Kurt Warner, Rivers (indeed making the most of his attempts), Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, McNabb and Tony Romo. Matches up pretty well, no?
(Schaub, remember, only appeared in 11 games. You get a discount now, and he should throw all of Houston’s passes as long as he stays healthy.)
Also: Cutler leaves a coaching staff that called 620 passing plays for one that called 528. I recognize that the latter staff wasn’t calling its plays with a top QB in mind, but it still doesn’t have much at receiver.
Bulk attempts don’t hurt here, either, unless a whole lot of them fall incomplete. The difference between valuing a QB in a points game and valuing the same QB in a categories game is that you have to worry here about two new numbers: passing average and rushing average. In theory, anyway.
In practice, you can probably ignore one of those.
Passing average -- yards per attempt -- is not a good indication of quarterbacking skill. The best quarterbacks do three things, often, that can hold their averages down.
One, they look at multiple options downfield. This helps when they complete their long passes, obviously, but long passes are low-percentage passes as a rule; the more of them you attempt, the more incompletions you throw; incompletions = 0.0 yards per attempt.
Two, they throw incomplete passes instead of taking sacks.
Three, they throw very short complete passes instead of taking sacks.
So two merely passable passers, Schaub and Jake Delhomme, finished 2008 as the second- and fourth-best regulars in terms of yards per attempt. Chad Pennington was sixth; his career number (7.26) is marginally better than those of Tom Brady (7.24), Brees (7.19) and Brett Favre (7.02), and nearly half a yard better than McNabb’s (6.81).
Check Peyton Manning’s numbers for the past five seasons:
Do you believe he’s gotten worse in any real sense?
Look, if you want truly brilliant analysis of all of this, you’re reading the wrong column and the wrong columnist. As near as I can tell, the best strategy is to exclude passing average from your thinking and focus mainly on the best points QBs.
Do not, however, ignore rushing average. The passer who occasionally runs for 10 or 15 yards is doing you a real favor compared to the one whose only carries are the kneeldowns at the end of a win.
So points QBs = categories QBs, with a small bonus here to the still-starting QBs who rushed for 10+ yards per game in 2008: David Garrard, Matt Cassel, Jason Campbell, Rodgers, Cutler, Joe Flacco.
Before we get to the next bit, let me be clear: You should take all of this with a slab of salt for now. It is very, very early to be thinking about ultimate roster selections. Odds are good that several projected-to-start QBs will not make it through the preseason in one piece. But.
But I’m using a new gimmick to sort through the position, assigning a rating from 0 to 100 to each likely starter.
A rating of 100 means you must own the player, assuming nothing disastrous happens between now and Kickoff Weekend. Said a different way, a rating of 100 means the player is Tom Brady.
75 means you should plan on owning the player, but there are obvious ways he could fall out of my favor.
50 means I plan on owning the player, but you might like a different guy better.
40 attempts to collect the acceptable alternatives to the players at 50. The best example of how this works at present is with Aaron Rodgers’ 50 rating and Matt Ryan’s 40. I actually like Ryan a lot. It’s hard not to like him. I can see owning both of them, but I’d clearly take Rodgers first if I had to make the decision today.
25 means the player could conceivably wriggle his way into your plans.
0 means exactly that.
And within each rating the players are ranked, top to bottom, except that the players at 0 are listed alphabetically.
I hope this all makes sense to you. It was this or letter grades, and it felt funny giving Brees a C+.
All rankings apply equally to points and categories games, except as noted:
Kyle Orton (if starting)
Peyton Manning (if you can afford him)
Kurt Warner (points, given his salaries)
Matt Schaub (points, given his salaries)
Kurt Warner (categories)
Matt Schaub (categories)
Vince Young (points, if starting)
Sage Rosenfels (if Favre stays retired)
Vince Young (categories, used only as described below, if starting)
Mike Vick (categories, used only as described below, if Wildcatting somewhere)
Mike Vick (points)
* I’m demoting Romo, and somewhat promoting Edwards, over Terrell Owens’ change of address. Hate him or really hate him, T.O. stretches the field in ways that not only lead to more bulk passing yards, but also more yards per attempt.
** Ideally you’d use either Young or Vick once, maybe twice, and then drop him. He’d put up big rushing numbers while some other bye-filler had a crappy passing day, and you’d not only gain on other teams but also have a roster slot just waiting for your next purchase. Picking a player to drop is often tougher than picking one to buy.
Full disclosure: I tried this with Vick once, a few years ago, and wrote about it here. Didn’t work.
But, note: That was before the Wildcat. Eventually some slash-type QB will have a year worth owning in the categories challenges, much like a pitcher listed as a starter in baseball challenges who eventually slips into closing. It’s not just that his numbers are useful in the abstract; they’re coming from a roster slot where you couldn’t usually get those particular numbers. Or so the theory goes.
Your feedback is more than welcome on any of this.
Running backs next week.
Posted by Ken Gaffney | Jul. 23 at 11:13 PM
This is some good stuff, but how do you justify Orton being more desirable than QBs like Rodgers, Manning, and Warner. In many of the mock drafts I have seen Orton isn't even taken. You got some splainin to do.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Jul. 29 at 08:56 AM
You have to remember that we're talking about CHALLENGE GAMES here, national fantasy contests in which you own whatever mix of players you like given a certain roster structure and a salary cap. That's what boosts Orton - he's cheap. I'm not saying he's better than Manning, Rodgers, Warner or maybe half a dozen others (though he IS nicely set up to succeed in DEN); I'm saying he's a better pick in most games given the huge salary difference between him and more established players. Context is everything in these ratings. I'd be nuts otherwise, no?
Add a Comment
Already a registered user? Please sign in to add comments.
To add comments, you must become a registered user of our site. To register, please click here.