Challenge Contests — by Justin Eleff
Building a roster in the points games: QBs and RBs
Posted Sep. 04 at 05:52 PM
My condensed preseason schedule leaves no more time for preamble. So today we get down to the business of building a roster in CDM's points-not-rotisserie version of the Football Challenge. As you read, you'll come to many opinions and principles that apply equally to all points-style challenge games.
The scoring system used by this particular game is exactly what I think of as standard: all players, regardless of the positions they actually line up at, get 1 point per 20 passing yards, 10 rushing yards or 10 receiving yards; 3 points per passing touchdown; 6 points per rushing, receiving or return touchdown. Players also get 3 points each time their real teams win.
So picking players here works the same way as picking them in most draft leagues (you may be more accustomed to getting 1 point per 25 passing yards, or 4 points per passing touchdown, but neither of those variations should alter your thinking dramatically), except that, as in all challenge games, you pick players here according to which ones fit under a salary cap. The points version of the Football Challenge uses a $60,000 cap; player salaries are here.
(3 active players)
With Peyton Manning's status ever more uncertain, I count only five elite QBs heading into the season. And seeing how the cheapest of the five was the best one to own in a points format in 2010 (by an enormous margin, at least on a per-game basis), there's just no sense in getting cute; Michael Vick should be on your roster. An offensive line that looked horrible in the preseason and a style of play that gets his clock cleaned often say Vick is not especially likely to hold up for 16 games, but in the challenges any injured player can be replaced with any other player. Using a high pick in a draft league is like entering into a season-long marriage; picking a player in a challenge game is more like going on a single date -- almost no commitment is required.
After Vick I like Aaron Rodgers best (with a similar don't-really-care caveat about his style of play), but Rodgers is the most expensive of the five elite QBs. Tom Brady is cheaper than Rodgers by a lot more than Drew Brees is, and I expect their numbers to be similar, so I prefer Brady. The one player among the five who may have some upside remaining is Philip Rivers, but Norv Turner has made a lot of noise in recent weeks about wanting to restore balance to his offense, so Rivers' numbers could be down slightly for as long as it takes Turner to decide if Ryan Mathews can play.
Bottom line: I'll probably start the year with Vick and Brady as my only elite QBs.
The easiest decisions below those two are at the other end of the salary spectrum, where I count only four QBs with salaries under $4,000 as worth considering. One of those is automatic: Josh Freeman may not progress much as a passer this year, but as Ian has pointed out throughout the preseason, odds are good that he'll finally score a couple of rushing touchdowns. Add even two trips to the end zone to his overall production from last year and Freeman is a solid start almost every week at $3,940. And if he does progress as a passer, he's most of what Vick was last year.
The other three relative cheapos I will consider are Sam Bradford, Matthew Stafford and Kevin Kolb. I fully expect to believe that Bradford is the best of the three heading into 2012, but I suspect we'll see some wildly uneven performances between now and then. Similar story with Kolb; I'm convinced he can play, not convinced we can make regular use of him yet. Stafford strikes me as the best bet, for two reasons:
One, the Lions attempted the third-most passes in the league in 2010 -- and all but 96 of those passes were attempted by QBs other than Stafford, their franchise guy (or so they continue to hope). A team this committed to the pass will always bear consideration, especially when ...
Two, a less-than-wholehearted attempt to fix the running game this offseason already appears to have failed. Detroit's second-round pick, Mikel Leshoure, was felled by an August Achilles injury, and last year's first-rounder, Jahvid Best, is nursing a concussion after a freshman year that can only be described as underwhelming. Mind you, I have not yet given up on Best -- I made an agonizing decision to keep him for 2011, in fact, in my most competitive draft league -- but all signs point to Stafford having a real opportunity to break out this season.
You say: right, until he hurts himself again.
I say: right, when we replace him with whichever of Bradford and Kolb looks better at that point.
Between the top of the salary list and the bottom (at least: the bottom of the list of NFL-caliber starters) I would usually let the early-season schedule make my decisions for me. I'm not even opposed to deciding which guys to own based in large part on who they'll play in Week 1, when we have more control over our rosters than we ever will thereafter. Problem: the Week 1 schedule is just ridiculous for picking QBs.
That's what I thought when I gave it a quick look, anyway, so then I ran the numbers. Below are the worst pass defenses of 2010 (in terms of fantasy points allowed by way of passing yards and passing touchdowns only) and the QBs they'll face this coming week:
32. HOU, 313 points -- Kerry Collins, one presumes, in place of Peyton Manning
31. DAL, 293.7 points -- Mark Sanchez
30. SEA, 292.7 points -- Alex Smith
29. JAX, 284.2 points -- Matt Hasselbeck
28. NE, 281.8 points -- Chad Henne
27. WAS, 278.35 points -- Eli Manning
26. TEN, 270.6 points -- David Garrard
25. DEN, 267 points -- Jason Campbell
24. PHI, 266.45 points -- Sam Bradford
23. SF, 259.85 points -- Tarvaris Jackson
22. CLE, 254.55 points -- Andy Dalton
21. ATL, 250.25 points -- Jay Cutler
20. ARZ, 248.7 points -- Cam Newton
19. BAL, 245.95 points -- Ben Roethlisberger
18. KC, 244.95 points -- Ryan Fitzpatrick
17. DET, 243.9 points -- Josh Freeman
Meh is too good a word for this bunch. Assuming Peyton is indeed unable to go, there are only three players I like after Freeman (who's certain to start for me in Week 1, essentially by default):
Eli Manning, whose value is considerably higher in draft leagues, where you pick him expecting a full 16 games, than in challenges, where you pick him believing that you alone (unlike the legions who've tried before you) will be able to avoid his randomly distributed egg-laying games;
Bradford, who might have been worth rostering now (as opposed to when Stafford goes down) with a truly favorable Week 1 matchup ... but his matchup comes against the one team that added the best players to a leaky 2010 secondary; and
Ben Roethlisberger, one of only two QBs I believe will join the ranks of the truly elite this season -- the other being Matt Ryan -- but Roethlisberger is already carrying a price tag between those of Brady and Vick.
So no help, at all, there.
The two QBs with middling salaries who look like the best bets to me are Ryan and Matt Schaub. Perhaps you feel more strongly than I do about what Joe Flacco can do with an upgraded set of weapons; I like him, but I worry that his refusal to throw incomplete passes instead of taking sacks puts him in the turniplike mental company of Jay Cutler.
Q: Would it thrill me to enter the season with Brady, Vick, Schaub, Ryan, Freeman and Stafford as my QBs?
A: Of course not. So I may continue to tinker. Add Rodgers, subtract Schaub and I'd be happier -- but until Arian Foster is back to full health, that might not even be a lateral move. I'm still mulling all of this over.
One thing we definitely have working in our favor: Thursday night's cheat game pits Rodgers against Brees. If either of them has a big enough game we can sidestep most of the crummy Week 1 schedule by cutting salary at other positions. I'll definitely weigh in again, whether with a new column or in the comments section of my last pre-cheat game column, Friday or Saturday.
(6 active players)
Similar story here, actually. A few really elite backs -- yes to Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles, probably to Ray Rice and Chris Johnson -- and another one whose status, like Peyton Manning's, is simply unknowable at this point. No way will I roster Arian Foster to start the season, because I definitely won't use him until after his first monster game. Hamstrings are tricky, and $5,500 is a lot to pay for any player.
As it happens, two of the yes-or-probably backs have excellent Week 1 matchups: C.J. and especially J.C., who faces a Bills front that needed a lot more than Marcell Dareus to approach respectability. But I may not be able to afford them together -- again, let's see how the QBs do in the cheat game -- and in any event a Football Challenge team starts six RBs per week. We need a bunch of other bodies.
There are plenty of defensible plays under $3,000 this year, but no one who stands out the way Foster did a year ago. I suppose you'd want to know that Felix Jones is the one guy I like best in this salary range, but you should also know that I don't like him anywhere near as much as I liked Foster, and that even if I did, the difference between Foster's salary then ($1,170) and Jones' salary now ($2,540) wipes a lot of the like off my face. So to speak.
Other cheapos who might make my Kickoff Weekend roster:
LeGarrette Blount, who'd be a sure thing if he could catch;
Knowshon Moreno, who has John Fox's tendencies working for him but would only be a sure thing if he were a much better player;
Shonn Greene, in exactly the same position vis-a-vis my roster as Blount;
Tim Hightower, who impressed me throughout the preseason but carries the substantial drawback of being Tim Hightower;
Ryan Mathews, alone among last year's three first-round rookies, not because of anything he's done in the NFL but because of things Norv Turner has done; and
any of the RBs involved in the cheat game, the most expensive of whom is Ryan Grant, but none of whom will make my roster without scoring at least 15 points in that game. I'll take what the Football Challenge gives me, in other words, but only if the cheat game indeed gives it to me.
If I seem less than thrilled with this year's crop of RBs, perhaps you'd like to spend yet another hour of your life reading my first column of the preseason. It's here. It's long. It doesn't paint any rosier a picture.
Nor are things much better between the elite backs and the cheapos. A bunch of good-but-not-elite backs are sandwiched between Foster and Charles salarywise, actually, so unless you happen to love one or two of them, you can probably find better ways to spend your money. I like Frank Gore to some degree (immediately below Charles on the salary list; ideal in challenges as opposed to draft leagues because his inevitable injury will hurt so much less here), but the only guys who really jump out at me are Darren McFadden and Peyton Hillis. And I have doubts about each.
DMC I never get right. So far my preseason columns have said own him, own him again and don't own him in three years, and each time the best reply was to do the opposite. So when I say that he jumps out at me now, know that you're probably better off just flipping a coin on the guy.
And when I say that Hillis jumps out at me? Really, could anything say more about the strange state of the fantasy world in 2011 than the fact that Peyton F. Hillis places so high in our preseason rankings?
There are no sleepers in 2011 -- or if there are any, their alarms will not sound for another week or three. Maybe we'll get some help from the cheat game; maybe we'll all have to pick some established mediocrities to use early in the season and just hope we've picked the right ones. Probably the owners who happen to have picked Beanie Wells in Week 1 will beat our brains in. If so, here's hoping they start him again in Week 2.
The other positions next time, then rotisserie-style games later in the week.
Posted by Steven Torres | Sep. 05 at 03:23 AM
Wow, can't beleive you left Romo off that list, I put him as reliable as Brady or Rivers.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 05 at 06:37 AM
Steven: They're neck-and-neck-and-neck by the numbers; last two years: Rivers 19.95 points per game in this format, Romo 19.80, Brady 19.57. But I discount Romo slightly for last year's injury (want to see him in at least one game that counts), and for the team's collapse (I do expect both NE and SD to win more games, and remember that those count as 3 points each here -- I didn't account for that in my "by the numbers" comparison above), and for the tiniest bit of uncertainty over how Jason Garrett might work the passing/rushing split as HC with Romo on the field. Big difference? No. Enough to offset the smallish salary difference? I think so right now, especially with Romo at the Jets in Week 1. I guess the better comparison is to Schaub, not to Brady or Rivers; I can see rostering Romo over Schaub, but I do like Schaub more than I usually would while Foster is dinged. Possibly a different story in a roto format, where Romo has often been a good choice for passing average and seems to have the weapons in place for 2011 ... at least, assuming Miles Austin's hamstring is better than Foster's.
Posted by MARK MALONEY | Sep. 06 at 01:40 AM
Justin - No Beanie Love? That $1,870 goes a long way toward keeping Brady, Vick and AP active every week. Subject, of course, to what you're playing at WR. I like Brown as a cheapie - any other sub-$1,500 WR worth rostering?
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 06 at 04:57 AM
Mark: I'll get to receivers in the next column, coming either tonight or tomorrow. On Beanie, read my Hightower sentence again and recall that TH was clearly better than BW last season. Jobs have value, yes. But that job lost much of its value when Ryan Williams went down.
Posted by James Baker | Sep. 07 at 11:11 AM
I'm rostering Vick, Brady, Freeman, Bradford, and Stafford. I always roster 5 QBs because there's only 3 spots to fill. I'd rather have the extra spot for a 10th runningback like Wells. I seriously considered 12 backs and 7 wideouts but I'm not sure that's the best strategy. I'm looking at Vick, Freeman, and Brady for week 1, but I really like Stafford and Bradford. Any thoughts on Joseph Addai? He's the one Colt I might start.
Posted by James Baker | Sep. 07 at 11:31 PM
Justin, you didn't mention Jahvid Best. Tampas run defense was poor last year and Best is the primary back, catches passes, and gets the goal line carries what's not to like. Concussed???
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 08 at 02:45 AM
James: I don't think Addai is very good, and anyway that offense has serious Carolina-in-2010 potential in Week 1. Kerry Collins can't be more than halfway up to speed, right? What's not to like about Best? Maybe -- I'm not saying this is settled, but maybe -- he just isn't any good. He's *fast*, but so is Darrius Heyward-Bey. Best had a really big game last year, sure. But 3.2 yards per carry, with his speed especially, says something is less than great here.
Posted by James Baker | Sep. 08 at 10:19 AM
Justin: What's your thoughts on defense? I only ask because last year I noticed teams that were near the top were rostering PIT/NYJ/GB/NE. I was considering WAS/DET/STL... maybe SD or MIA, but like I said I noticed top teams had elite defenses last year.
Posted by Richard Spinella | Aug. 23 at 06:08 AM
What year is this..is this last year 2011?
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