Challenge Contests — by Justin Eleff
Pick 'Em: Quarterbacks
Posted Aug. 16 at 11:32 PM
On to the business of roster construction -- deciding which players will make our initial rosters in this year's national challenge games. In keeping with tradition I'll work through one position at a time, dividing each into separate discussions relating to games that use categories-based and points-based scoring.
With only a few exceptions, one thing I won't do this year is tell you exactly which players are the right ones to own at a given position in a given game. My own decision-making is hardly perfect, and I hate "helping" readers get things wrong. Kevin Dallas, an apology for each time I've done that to you through the years.
(If you, like Kevin, choose to ignore my hardly-perfection and ask specific questions about your rosters, I will try hard to answer you and try harder to be right. Kevin has my e-mail address and is entitled to unlimited free advice, good or bad, for life -- I've been wrong that many times; I owe him that much already. The rest of you can use the comments section that appears at the bottom of each column.)
My thinking is not entirely set with most of a month remaining until Kickoff Weekend, and another thing I hate is writing that I will own a certain player and then not putting my money where my fingers have been. This whole process is fluid; it has to be with another Thursday cheat game coming. I want you to have access to the same information as everyone else reading these columns, but I want you to put that information to your own use. If I'm dead wrong about something, I don't want all of you to be wrong about it. When I tell you I want to win these challenges myself or have you win them -- admittedly: in that order -- I mean it.
Last bit of preamble: We're trying something new here at Fantasy Index. Follow me on Twitter -- twitter.com/FantasyIndexJE -- for content you won't find (not that you'd want to) anywhere else.
Fanball's Football Challenge remains my favorite Rotisserie-style football game. The following (all the way down to the POINTS GAMES section) assumes you're playing either the Football Challenge itself or a game with an identical setup -- one in which your roster's three active quarterbacks control two of eight scoring categories by themselves and contribute in a third.
Because you have only three active QBs -- as compared to six RBs and six WRs -- each one is disproportionately important to your team's overall performance. The only comparable position in that respect is kicker, and three active Ks control only one scoring category by themselves.
Putting two and two together, then, you must own QBs who excel in two categories in particular: passing yards and passing average (yards per pass attempt). Rushing production is dramatically less important here than in points games; without a player like Mike Vick circa 2006 in the league at present, and with twice as many active RBs as QBs, you can safely ignore players' scrambling abilities.
Actually, you can all but ignore passing average, too.
The Football Challenge's dirtiest secret is that some of its stat categories are far less meaningful in real life than others. I might not go so far as to call passing average a meaningless stat, but consider some of the things that can drive a QB's number down: (a) his target can drop a pass; (b) his target can bobble a pass and thus slow himself enough to be tackled immediately; (c) his target can slip and fall after catching a pass; (d) his target can fail to elude a would-be tackler after catching a pass; (e) his target can be chased down from behind after catching a pass; (f) the QB himself can settle for a shorter completion when his would-be targets fail to get open downfield; (g) the QB himself can throw an incomplete pass intentionally to avoid a sack; and (h) the QB himself can throw an incomplete pass intentionally to conserve game time.
More succinctly, a huge number of factors the QB does not control can lower his passing average. Your best bet is to own accurate QBs whose receivers you believe in, and otherwise focus on total passing yards.
The Football Challenge QBs I am presently considering are as follows, grouped by their salaries in descending order:
Drew Brees ($4100)
Peyton Manning ($3770)
Save for the fact that the best ones all share a bye week, I have never been happier with the Football Challenge's selection of mid-priced quarterbacks than I am this year. I like the selection so much, in fact, that I may own nearly all of the players who comprise it.
Which might not seem immediately relevant, but remember that what we care most about at this position in categories games is how many total yards each player will throw for. So the most important question we can ask in comparing players is whether the extra yards we expect from one QB are worth the extra salary we'd have to pay to get them. In a year with a selection of should-be-good QBs who cost roughly half as much as these two, you own Brees or Manning only if you believe that (a) one of them will be in career-best form, or (b) shuffling cheaper QBs in and out of your starting lineup according to matchups will leave you well short of where these most expensive QBs get you with their week-in-and-out consistency.
I am increasingly convinced that we don't need either Brees or Manning in 2010. Not unless (until?) something goes wrong.
But in the interest of transparency, note: I thought the same thing a year ago, and I wound up buying Brees after a couple of weeks, and that improved my team, and it might have improved my team even more to buy Manning instead. These are great players. I can take enough comfort from knowing that they're here if we need them down the road -- but if you find that less than comforting, you are not wrong to own one of them from the start.
Especially because this is true: When you make a new player purchase in any of the challenges, you'll often wind up making two purchases together. Any time a new super-cheap star emerges at almost any position, it makes sense to add him to your team -- but the value of doing so is in the extra salary he allows you to spend elsewhere. If you don't already have a super-expensive star waiting on your taxi squad, you'll be tempted to add one to make maximum use of the extra salary. But new player purchases are precious, whether the challenges give us 12 of them per season, or 16, or 20. It makes sense to stash at least a couple of players you can't really afford on your initial taxi squad. When the season's first cheapo presents himself, be able to use a single purchase to add both the cheapo and Brees -- or Manning, or the stud of your choice at some other position.
Philip Rivers ($3460)
Tony Romo ($3230)
Matt Schaub ($3160)
Aaron Rodgers ($2970)
Tom Brady ($2860)
Another reason I think we can get away with passing on Brees and Manning, apart from the selection of mid-priced QBs: I like all of these guys, too. A lot. In fact, if you consider all of the QBs named above as a single group (including Brees and Manning), I think there's only so much we can get away with. You must own at least two of the seven players, and I'll try for three.
Which two or three?
I can see the arguments for all of these cheaper five.
Rivers may be the best pure passer among them (although the race is close enough that it hardly matters whose nose is out front), and once Vincent Jackson returns to the roster and the field Rivers will be working with a stellar cast of catchers.
Romo is in almost exactly the same spot, only waiting for Dez Bryant to return instead of Jackson.
Schaub is my least favorite of the bunch, but he led the NFL in passing yards in 2009, so my prejudice may be wholly irrational.
Rodgers is my most favorite of the bunch, and he may have the best set of targets. Ian Allan has me nervous about Rodgers' chances of making it through the season in one piece -- and Ian is not alone in making me nervous; the Pack's offensive line was a horror show last year -- but it must be noted that Rodgers has made every start (preseason, postseason, everything) since Brett Favre's departure.
And Brady -- just say that Brady at his best makes a preference for any other quarterback seem absurd.
I suspect you all have slightly different opinions of the seven QBs named so far, and many of you will own different combinations of two or three of them. None of us can tell the others they're clearly wrong.
Jay Cutler ($2360)
Eli Manning ($2160)
Joe Flacco ($1950)
Matt Ryan ($1870)
Carson Palmer ($1780)
Bye weeks of these five players, in order: 8, 8, 8, 8, 6. Someone in the league office hates us -- or really likes Palmer.
Still, when I wrote about liking this year's selection of mid-priced QBs, this was the selection I meant. Again I can see the arguments for all five players, but here I think the separations between them are clearer.
Cutler is the best choice if Mike Martz's offense works the way it usually does: too much passing and too little rushing to keep defenses honest; heavy emphasis on deep passes. This has not worked optimally in real games since Martz had Marshall Faulk at his disposal, but for fantasy purposes Martz remains a near-genius. Especially if the Bears' receivers prove to be competent, which seems more likely all the time.
Either Manning or Ryan is next-best, with the decision between them coming down to what you most believe in: Manning's improvement a year ago, or Ryan's manifest destiny.
Manning looked like a new man working with his new receivers in 2009, and Hakeem Nicks should be better by enough in 2010 to keep the QB at least where he was. Ryan is a superstar, surely -- we all see that coming -- but last year's numbers were far less than superstellar. I suppose the most important question is one I asked about Mark Sanchez (although not in so many words) in my last column: Is Ryan more Troy Aikman or Brett Favre -- more a guy whose numbers will happen to come while he wins, or a guy who'll win in large part because of the numbers he produces? I see Sanchez as Aikman and Ryan as some mix of Aikman and Favre. This season should hint at what the exact mix is; I will almost certainly own Ryan while getting the hint.
Flacco could yet develop into the best of this bunch, and Palmer used to be just that. I have less confidence in them than in the others, but something tells me neither guy is losing sleep over my confidence.
Kevin Kolb ($1530)
Matthew Stafford ($1460)
There's at least one other defensible pick down here among the truly cheap -- I mean Chad Henne ($1470), although this weekend may have raised your opinion of Josh Freeman ($1400) -- but two is already one more than I needed. I have very little doubt that Kolb will make it big in Andy Reid's offense. Until he lets me down I'll own him in all challenges and have him active frequently. (Including, as promised to reader Carlos Jackson, in Fanball's Pre Game Warm-Up contests.)
So I think of Stafford -- and Henne if you prefer him, and Freeman -- the same way I've come to think of Brees and Peyton Manning. We can open the season with other players; these guys are here if we need them.
The following assumes you're playing either Fanball's $35,000 Fantasy Football or a game with an identical setup -- one in which your roster's three active quarterbacks merely contribute to your points total, same as your players at every other position. In other words, a game that works much like your office league.
Here we mustn't overlook QBs' rushing abilities, because rushing yards and touchdowns are twice as valuable in the Fanball points games as passing yards and touchdowns. I still want big throwing numbers from my QBs, but the extra points Aaron Rodgers scores with his legs do matter.
They mattered a lot in 2009, when Rodgers was the high scorer among all players in Fanball's points games. And they matter a lot in 2010, when I can't see much reason to own a QB priced higher than Rodgers. Here's why -- and, please, pay attention; this is a crucial point that far too few challenge players seem to understand:
While it's true that the most valuable QBs outscore the most valuable players at other positions (13 of last year's 15 highest scorers were QBs), that doesn't matter as much as this does: The most valuable QBs are closer in value to many less valuable, less expensive QBs than the most valuable players at other positions are to other players at those positions.
Say you had to choose between owning (a) the most valuable QB of 2009 and the fourth-most valuable RB, and (b) the fourth-most valuable QB of 2009 and the most valuable RB. I've already told you that the most valuable QBs score more points than the most valuable players at other positions, but watch how quickly that ceases to matter.
Choosing (a) gives you Rodgers (373.3 points) and Ray Rice (252.1 points). Which is good: 625.4 points total.
Choosing (b) gives you Peyton Manning (322.7 points) and Chris Johnson (348.9 points). Which is considerably better: 671.6 points total. Granted, this second pair is also considerably more expensive in 2010, but the larger point is that while QBs are the most valuable players in these games, that relates more to the design of the games than to the value of any individual quarterback.
There are many more 3,000-yard passers than 1,500-yard rushers or receivers. Because Fanball's scoring system values all three accomplishments equally, the system essentially guarantees that quality scorers will run out faster at RB and WR than at QB. And, indeed, the fourth-most valuable RB scored only 72 percent as many points as the most valuable RB in 2009; Manning scored 86 percent as many as Rodgers.
Which is not to say that you should ignore high-priced QBs altogether. I want in on those mid-300s points totals as much as you do. But it is to say that until you have exactly the right mix of players at the other positions, you must be willing to cut salary at QB. Owning the most expensive players here makes little sense when cheaper players will score nearly as many points -- especially because there is no guarantee that Drew Brees and Manning will be the highest-scoring QBs in 2010. They weren't in 2009.
So the points games QBs I am presently considering are as follows, again grouped by their salaries in descending order:
Tony Romo ($5610)
Aaron Rodgers ($5400)
Philip Rivers ($5240)
Tom Brady ($5160)
I can't imagine snubbing Rodgers after he won last year's points championship and still came in at $1040 less than Brees. My second choice here is either of the cheaper guys, precisely because they are cheaper than Romo.
Jay Cutler ($4820)
Eli Manning ($4590)
First big difference between Football Challenge pricing and points games pricing: Cutler and the younger Manning have drifted into no-man's-land here. I consider their Football Challenge salaries much more reasonable given the yards I expect from them.
Note, however: With what we saw from Detroit's secondary last year, it might be painful not to own Cutler in Week 1.
Matt Schaub ($4150)
A class all his own. Any time the fourth-most valuable player in one season's points games carries a middling salary into the next season's points games, you own him and thank your stars for Fanball's mistake.
How to explain the salary? Schaub missed five games each in 2007 and 2008. But the challenges are the one place in fantasy sports where it's easiest to cover for injuries -- and Schaub is worth a lot more than $4150 when he plays.
Joe Flacco ($3950)
Matt Ryan ($3840)
Carson Palmer ($3730)
Last year I owned a bunch of QBs with salaries around $3500. These were three of them, and notice that their salaries are still bunched, but the three together are roughly $1000 more expensive. I may own one or two of them again anyway, with the rest of the preseason key to deciding which one(s). What will Flacco's job be like with Anquan Boldin now in Baltimore? And Palmer's with T.O. in Cincy?
One benefit we have this year that we lacked in 2009 ...
Chad Henne ($3190)
Matthew Stafford ($2930)
Kevin Kolb ($2900)
... is that if I'm right about Kolb, some of the decision-making pressure is off. I see Kolb as a most-weeks starter in the points games, Schaub as an every-week starter. That means I only need a few other QBs to shuffle around them, and hopefully it means I only need a few other QBs with somewhat higher salaries than Flacco, Ryan and Palmer.
Unlike in the Football Challenge, I've listed Henne along with Stafford here because the points games award players 3 points for each game their teams win, and those points do add up. Miami should be four or more wins better than Detroit in 2010. That gets Henne nearly an extra point per week -- perhaps enough to pull him even with Stafford if he wasn't already there.
Running backs next time.
Posted by Chris Metz | Sep. 06 at 02:34 AM
Before preseason started I felt very strongly about Cutler and Kolb. That they would both be on my team. Now though, I am having major second thoughts. I think Kolb will probably still be on it because he's so cheap and the system is a good one for fantasy. He just won't be Aaron Rodgers v2. He also has some really nice matchups in the first few weeks I'd like to take advantage of. Cutler has a great system too. I still am not a huge fan of the other options, Flacco, Eli or Carson Palmer at that price range. I may just bite the bullet and get both of them still.
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