Challenge Contests — by Justin Eleff
Pick 'Em: Wide Receivers
Posted Aug. 27 at 05:09 AM
Back to the national challenge games before (next week) I finish defending my thesis on RBBC and first-round running backs. Meantime, here's something AJ Smith understands and Vincent Jackson, apparently, does not: Wide receiver is not primarily a skill position. Not really.
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I have no doubt that Jackson worked hard to make himself the player he was as recently as 2009, and I have no doubt that his hard work indeed developed and refined many skills -- most fundamental among them the ability to catch a football.
But skill had no part in making Jackson 6'5" tall, or allowing him to carry 230 lbs. and still be very fast. Nor did skill (at least, not his skill) put him on a team with Philip Rivers, who throws perhaps the best lofting deep ball in the league -- a ball perfectly suited to a player of Jackson's attributes. None of these things are skills; they're gifts.
And don't tell me that if we downgrade wide receiver from skill position to gift position, we have to do the same with running back. The best RBs in the league are hugely creative; they make maximum use of their gifts by diagnosing plays instantly and finding any possible path to extra yards. That's brainwork as much as instinct; RBs needn't be geniuses, but the best ones are indeed geniuses on the field.
The best WRs? Many of them are great in large part because they aren't especially creative -- because they run the exact lines drawn up for them by their coordinators. Precise route-running may derive as much from skill as gift, but, really, where's the life in it?
I know this is a gross oversimplification, and I know there are WRs with phenomenal skills in addition to their gifts. Whichever of the preceding points apply to Larry Fitzgerald, they apply less to him than to the rest of the NFL.
He's the disposable superstar. He's the supremely gifted player who just happens to be on the other end of Rivers' passes. He is -- or was -- the old Malcom Floyd.
At no other position in our games is the system a player finds himself in as essential as at WR. Players assigned deeper routes are worth much more to us in categories games than other players (and may be worth much more to us in categories games than in points games). Players working with the best quarterbacks in the league have an enormous advantage. And players working with the worst quarterbacks in the league -- well, for the most part you won't see their names below. No Larry Fitzgerald, no Steve Smith South.
We can move on to discussing the players without much preamble here. Just remember that the Football Challenge and its ilk count receiving average as a category, and you'll need to guard your team's average more closely as you add more pass-catching running backs. Do use Michael Turner and Calvin Johnson together. Do not use Ray Rice and the Giants' Steve Smith together. Et cetera.
The following are the wide receivers I'm considering in the Football Challenge at the moment; all things considered, there really aren't many of them:
Randy Moss ($2160) I can't see spending $130 more than any other WR costs on a 33-year-old Moss, so I won't own him. If one primary player in the Pats' passing game should be picked for his price in 2010, it's Tom Brady.
Andre Johnson ($2030) Johnson is the safest WR in your draft league, but in the Football Challenge we don't need his kind of safe as much as we need the more specialized abilities of others. Like, for instance:
DeSean Jackson ($1980) You already know this, but Jackson averaged 18.6 yards per reception in 2009. In any game in which receiving average counts as a category, that means you consider owning him -- and if you decide not to, you make extra certain to favor the deep threats among your other roster candidates. I can't fit Jackson in at the start of the season; luckily, I like someone else even better as a deep threat in 2010:
Calvin Johnson ($1690) Before we get to Johnson, note that this is not an instance in which I've broken from salary order to get comparable players next to each other. I skipped the players between Jackson and Johnson because I won't consider them -- not Reggie Wayne, whose lack of top-end speed makes him just another guy among the top-salaried WRs, and not Larry Fitzgerald or Steve Smith South, who both find themselves working with good college quarterbacks.
Megatron is special. He combines most of Vincent Jackson's gifts -- he actually improves on the size and speed, but obviously misses out on being Philip Rivers' teammate -- with mostly top-end skills, and he has the considerable advantage of not being likely to miss six or perhaps ten games at the start of the season. Jackson's numbers from 2009 -- 1,167 yards at 17.2 per reception, 9 touchdowns -- are Johnson's floor for 2010.
Roddy White ($1650) Nothing to dislike. If the Falcons are run-first, and it looks like they may be, that dampens my enthusiasm for Matt Ryan but not my faith that he'll continue to feed the ball to White in heaping spoonfuls. I see Tony Gonzalez slowing down and no second WR to pick up much of the slack; if pressed, I might rank White as my No. 1 fantasy receiver for 2010.
Miles Austin ($1590) I like Austin less than Megatron and White by exactly the difference in their salaries. Most likely they'll be the three most expensive WRs I roster to start the season.
Brandon Marshall ($1580) I believe Marshall will have a bigger role in Miami than either Batman or Robin splitting catches in Cincinnati ($1570 and $1550, in whatever order; I forget which is which), but that could be wrong. To what extent do the Chad Henne Dolphins become throw-first in 2010?
Mike Wallace ($1280) I hate it when hyped sleepers pan out; that gives the challenge masses an early edge, and makes owning other players in place of the sleepers more risky. So I'm rooting against Wallace, because under no circumstances will I spend $1280 to own Byron Leftwich's top target on a run-first team.
Percy Harvin ($1200) Much more attractive with Sidney Rice laid up, but not nearly as attractive as he'd be if I had any confidence in Harvin's own health. Could be this year's DeSean Jackson; could make us nervous waiting for active/inactive updates every week; could do both. Luckily the cheat game can decide for us. If his numbers are worth starting, he makes my team. If not, someone else does.
By the way, do Harvin's headaches and Rice's hip make Bernard Berrian ($1210) a play? I say no, but barely. The cheat game could change my mind.
Pierre Garcon ($1190) Peyton Manning was visibly upset about Anthony Gonzalez's knee injury a year ago, and what I've seen of the Colts this preseason suggests that Manning is intent on reestablishing Gonzalez as a comer. That could make a nasty hash of the Colts' receiving corps for fantasy purposes. Dallas Clark would still figure to get his looks, but I can see Gonzalez taking balls away from Austin Collie and even Reggie Wayne. The thing Garcon has that the others lack is real deep speed, which Manning has never needed but can of course use. Garcon has at least an outside chance of turning something like 55 catches into 1,000 yards -- which would make him, not Percy Harvin, the DeSean Jackson of 2010. Still thinking this one through.
Hakeem Nicks ($1150) Awesome talent, now refined? If so, it should be a fun season. If not, expect a smattering of huge games and a smattering of hugely frustrating ones. I say Nicks is worth the risk to start, but be prepared to go in a different direction if need be.
Mike Sims-Walker ($1140) Remember that S-W missed Week 5 last year because he'd missed a Friday night bedcheck, because he'd lost track of the time he was spending in the company of a lady friend. Good for him, bad for me. I haven't forgiven him, and I consider $1140 very close to the top end of what he can earn back anyway. Pass.
Michael Crabtree ($1130) A hearty bah to Crabs and V.D. alike. I'm letting other owners bank on them -- and Alex Smith -- in 2010.
Malcom Floyd ($1110) There ought to be a dot between the Mal and the com.
Putting two and two together, you've probably already guessed that I think Floyd's 2010 season will be worth much of what Vincent Jackson's 2009 was. I don't see them as wholly interchangeable, but Floyd has all of the gifts, so only a difference in his skills can stop him. Or, I suppose, Jackson's return could.
Steve Smith North ($1000) The safest option for yardage below Marshall, says me, and I included him on my Pre Game Warm-Up roster for that reason, but another 107 receptions at 11.4 yards per will hurt as much as help. And since Smith isn't a burner, I'll look elsewhere first. Like to Hakeem Nicks, and/or:
Jeremy Maclin ($890) He's on the team. I think he's a dead setup to break out in 2010. But I liked him just a little more before last Friday, when he caught a pass, got hit, dropped the ball and frantically called for the training staff. His reaction was so immediate, and he seemed to be in so much pain, that Twitter exploded with speculation about a broken arm.
Instead: a shoulder contusion.
I hope it really, really hurt, because otherwise he's a baby and he'll miss three games this season, minimum.
James Jones ($840)
Jordy Nelson ($720) Not quite yet. But watch closely.
Mohamed Massaquoi ($830) My second-favorite name at the position, after Legedu Naanee, so I'm rooting for him. Stranger things have happened, but lest my anti-Matt Moore take from a few weeks ago be read as pro-Jake Delhomme, I'll pass on Mo Mass for now.
Jacoby Jones ($790) Ugh. The Texans have "three starters" at WR, in the opinion of Gary Kubiak, and since one of the three is Andre Johnson, that means Kevin Walter will continue to suppress Jones' numbers for the time being. I say this all the time, and I mean it: I never root for an injury.
But I am rooting for Walter to declare his candidacy for political office somewhere in Latin America, be kidnapped by a rival's supporters and then released safely early next year.
Johnny Knox ($710) Owning any part of the Chicago offense is risky, as our man Ian Allan is exactly right: Mike Martz's scheme could get Jay Cutler killed at any time. Also, Martz is a known fibber where players' roles are concerned, so who knows if what we've seen in the preseason is anything to go on -- but Cutler seems to be looking for Knox, and all indications are that Knox is a first-teamer, and you know how fast he is. I don't want to own both parts of the tandem, so either Cutler or Knox may make my final roster, but not both.
Donte Stallworth ($510) Not much has to go right for a fast WR to earn back $510. If it did I'd say no way, but from the looks of things, Stallworth is still fast.
Legedu Naanee ($400) If I have the right read on the situation in San Diego, Naanee should emerge as a useful player across fantasy formats in 2010. I see him mostly working the slot, with Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates on the other end of most of Rivers' deep throws -- which means that I see Naanee as a kind of Wes Welker Lite. That isn't as valuable here as in points games (notice that I didn't mention Welker above, wherever he is in his rehab), but since Naanee would also be Wes Welker Cheap, he could end up as the very best Football Challenge salary-saver. Just, again, be sure my read is right.
The big difference here is that receiving average does not count on its own -- but it's hardly bad for a points WR to catch long passes, so I won't write about the players listed above a second time. Instead I'll relist them with their Fanball points games salaries and tell you that the only omissions -- the two guys I consider to be strict yards-per-catch specialty plays, such that their potential Football Challenge value far outstrips their points games value -- are Pierre Garcon and Donte Stallworth.
I will write separately about the few inclusions who didn't make the Football Challenge cut. And, remember, here and not there, use expected team wins (worth 3 points each) as a tiebreaker between roughly equal roster candidates.
The following are the wide receivers I'm considering in points-based challenges:
Randy Moss ($4020)
Andre Johnson ($3860)
Reggie Wayne ($3750) Worth more here, where his missing top gear is not a problem, but remember what I wrote in the Pierre Garcon blurb above.
DeSean Jackson ($3720)
Roddy White ($3610)
Brandon Marshall ($3580)
Greg Jennings ($3540) I like Jennings better in the Football Challenge format than here -- he's an excellent deep threat -- and while he may appear to be a relative bargain here, that just isn't the case. Remember that there are two more active roster slots in the points games (occupied by team defenses), so the $60000 salary cap isn't really two times the Football Challenge's $30000. Rather, but for the fact that I always go for cheap defenses, the points games' salary cap would be the equivalent of $54545: the actual $60000, divided by 22 roster slots, multiplied by the 20 roster slots the formats have in common.
So instead of comparing Jennings' salary in the Football Challenge ($1890) to twice as much ($3780), we ought to compare it to more like 54545/30000 (or roughly 1.8 times) as much. And $1890 times 1.8 equals $3402 -- less than his points games salary.
Also, note: Based partly on the math in the preceding paragraphs, I generally try not to own any WR with a salary above the low $3000s in the points games. This year that means that the first guy in my price range is probably:
Calvin Johnson ($3320)
Wes Welker ($3130) I won't really consider the rehabbing Welker carrying this kind of price tag. I've listed him simply to remind you that while we don't want high-volume, relatively-low-yardage WRs in the Football Challenge, it takes a salary this high to make Welker overpriced in the points games. So don't be afraid of Steve Smith North, farther down this list.
Miles Austin ($3080)
Bernard Berrian ($2360) Same situation as Greg Jennings. He's usually (although not in 2009) more of a yards-per-catch specialist than a points play, and 1.8 times his Football Challenge salary is $2178.
Dwayne Bowe ($2280) Slow and obnoxious, but if he makes it back to 86 receptions, why not?
Steve Smith North ($2120)
Percy Harvin ($2040)
Mike Sims-Walker ($1990)
Michael Crabtree ($1890)
Dexter McCluster ($1800) I've never started with a rookie WR who didn't blow me away in the preseason, and if that fact had derived from a hard-and-fast rule, this year I'd start without any rookie WRs. But McCluster used as a cross between Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk can earn this salary. It's worth considering, anyway.
Mike Wallace ($1800)
Hakeem Nicks ($1780)
Jabar Gaffney ($1750) Superstar Jabar has been anything but that as a pro, but can we afford to pass on any WR carrying a $1750 price tag as the likely No. 1 for a throw-first team -- especially one who's certain not to be widely owned? A big early edge for us if it works.
(Note: I didn't list Gaffney as a candidate in the Football Challenge (at $950) because I worry about his receiving average given both his legs and Kyle Orton's arm.)
Austin Collie ($1700) Only if used like Wes Welker and Steve Smith North. Stuck in a mix with a healthy Anthony Gonzalez, no.
Jeremy Maclin ($1640)
James Jones ($1630)
Jordy Nelson ($1410) As in the Football Challenge, these are names for later on only. Donald Driver's 2010 season must go the way of Chris Chambers' 2009 first.
Mal.com Floyd ($1580)
Johnny Knox ($1540)
Mohamed Massaquoi ($1510)
Jacoby Jones ($1490)
Anthony Gonzalez ($1390) Karma would deal Austin Collie a Week 1 knee injury in 2010. Again, I am in no way rooting for this.
Legedu Naanee ($1000)
Several more positions to cover -- tight end, kicker, team defense -- and they ain't fun. I know many of you believe it must be this way already, but right now I wish I were being paid by the word.
Posted by MARK MALONEY | Aug. 27 at 06:38 AM
No problem here with the length of your posts. I'm toying with a points game lineup that allows BOTH CJ and Peterson most weeks, and it involves capping WR salaries at Megatron level. It makes a lot of sense to me given early season schedules. My bias is against the top salaried QBs in favor of quality RB's. It does hurt however to go without AJ or Moss. Strangely I'm anxious to see your take on D/ST to see if we're seeing the same "value" picks.....keep it coming and best of luck in the DC.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 27 at 07:02 AM
Mark: Thanks for the luck. I agree that favoring top-salaried RBs over top-salaried QBs makes sense in the points games, especially with Schaub just hanging out in the low $4000s. But one ultracheap RB and one ultracheap WR would allow us to climb the list with one QB, too. DEFs? Honestly haven't looked yet except to lock in my Pre Game Warm-Up rosters, and I don't remember what I would up with there. But my clear impression is that there was no SF on the list this year. I may just pick according to expected team wins. More in a week.
Posted by Chris Metz | Aug. 28 at 07:41 AM
Bye weeks are really nasty this year. Three potential cheap WRs that I can easily envision owning have week 8 byes. Knox, Maclin and Nicks. Any strategies for this type of thing? Is this a good reason to not own all three of them? The same thing is with QBs, week 8 is going to be interesting.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 28 at 09:00 AM
Chris: We've already talked about Week 8 in context of QBs. With cheap WRs I think it's less of a problem, for one (important) reason only: I'm just not afraid to eat a bye week every once in a while from a cheapo there or at TE. I'd rather not do it, of course, but if lots of people will be in the same boat in Week 8, and many of them will contort their rosters to play more expensive WRs, or will use extra purchases to avoid the byes, one possible winning move is to eat the bye, make up for doing so with the extra salary you can spend elsewhere and keep the extra purchases. Of course, Fanball is giving us more purchases to start with this year, and Week 8 is a long way off. So I guess the answer is, let's not worry about it too much, and see how things go. At QB, on the other hand, I am worried. I may carry an extra one, or may go away from a Week 8 guy I want, to buy myself some peace of mind.
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