Challenge Contests — by Justin Eleff
Building a roster in the points games: WRs, TEs, Ks and DEFs
Posted Sep. 08 at 09:39 AM
Last time I wrote about two of the six positions in this year's points-not-rotisserie version of the CDM Football Challenge. Below I've written about the other four positions -- but have I done it in fewer than 10,000 words?
Again: scoring in this game is fairly standard. The only possible variations from what you may be used to are that quarterbacks get 1 point per 20 (not 25) passing yards and 3 (not 4) points per touchdown pass; all players get 3 points per game won by their teams; and defenses are scored mostly according to how many points they allow, not how many interceptions, fumble recoveries and sacks they record.
(6 active players)
There's a receiver I really like in almost every salary range this year, so unlike with running backs last time, I will not grumble about quality below. I will, however, grumble about quantity. In several cases, the guy I really like stands alone in his range.
Start at the top -- but not, you know, at the top. I can almost never justify paying the very most expensive receivers in the points games, and this year (with those quality problems at RB) is no exception. Start instead with the tenth player down the list, Hakeem Nicks.
Nicks is big and strong enough, and runs his routes well enough, and is good enough at catching the ball in traffic, that I see the reduction in the number of Eli Manning's viable targets (no Steve Smith, no Kevin Boss) as a good thing. Some WRs have a hard time when defenses can send extra players their way; Nicks should have enough extra passes coming his way -- and, again, he's good enough -- to cancel that out.
In the same salary range are Mike Wallace (slightly above Nicks) and Vincent Jackson (slightly below), and if I had to pick one of them it would probably be Wallace, but I hate spending even as much as he costs. Also might have considered Miles Austin and Jeremy Maclin (both below Jackson), but Austin's hamstring and Maclin's general health probably leave Nicks as my only high-priced WR for now.
Wes Welker sometimes sees enough passes to earn what he costs this season, but Welker has his own health worries and is fighting with a crowd of talented receivers and tight ends on his own team. So the next place I'm looking is farther down, where Brandon Lloyd and Kenny Britt carry nearly identical salaries. But even after last year, I believe Lloyd has less talent than most of the other players I'll name in this section, and while Britt wants for everything else (common sense, maybe common decency), he does not want for talent. So I may roster Britt. Reluctantly.
Next tier: Steve Johnson, Dez Bryant, Mike Williams Southeast. These three are all in a salary range (in this case, $2,440 down to $2,300) that I usually think of as a kind of no man's land, but I'll probably roster all three and start at least two of them often. In a year with so few sleepers at any position, cheapish-but-not-cheap players figure to form the core of my roster early on. Ain't happy about that, will absolutely do something about it once the sleepers wake up, but for now it is what it is.
And maybe it isn't so bad, anyway. Williams' quiet preseason doesn't concern me, and Bryant should outearn his salary considerably. The worry is Johnson, who may face as many extra defenders as Nicks in 2011 -- and may not be nearly as good. He makes the roster, but I will not be surprised if he makes an early exit.
Then comes Mario Manningham (maybe the only other option for Eli Manning after Nicks), and then comes a whole lot of nothing. Lee Evans? Mike Sims-Walker? Either could do good things for his new team. But I'd prefer to own one of several Packers and Saints in this general vicinity (from Lance Moore* at $2,290 down to Devery Henderson at $1,670, with four others in between), and have good things already on my active roster. Remember, Green Bay and New Orleans play in tonight's cheat game. If one of these receivers hits 15 points, he almost certainly makes the squad.
* On rereading this column, I see that I neglected to change this sentence after the Saints ruled Moore out of Thursday's game with his groin injury. Apologies; when you start a column one day and finish it two days later, sometimes you goof.
And what about the really cheap WR, the one we pretty much have to carry to make the salaries work at other positions?
Anthony Armstrong might have been that guy had he been cheaper, but considering the differences in salary and QB quality and team quality (remembering that each team win counts as 3 points for the player), Armstrong obviously loses out to bottom-of-the-list Antonio Brown. Not that I think Brown is great, but the benefits of playing with Ben Roethlisberger on a winning team make more than a marginal difference at this end of the salary spectrum. Not one of these receivers (Armstrong, Brown, Eric Decker, etc.) is a sure thing, but the Steelers may be.
Putting everything together, though, Nicks and Britt (I guess) and Johnson and Bryant and Williams and Manningham and Brown make a total of just seven WRs. So I will of course watch the cheat game closely, and will try to watch every early-season game closely, as I look to make an addition or two.
Reader James Baker commented recently that he has considered rostering 12 RBs and only 7 WRs in this game. I'd prefer not to do such a thing for any length of time, but I can see the temptation to do it at the start of the year. We have no idea which of the cheap RBs will prove to be best, and I think we know exactly which very small number of WRs we're picking from.
(2 active players)
Underappreciated fact this preseason: every tight end generally regarded as elite has something working against him in 2011.
Antonio Gates has the foot problems, sure, but ignore those. Last season might have been the very best of his Hall of Fame-type career had he stayed healthy -- but why?
As I wrote several times a year ago, I believe Malcom Floyd can do most of what Vincent Jackson does. But most is not all. Floyd proved to be something like 85 or 90 percent of Jackson during the latter's holdout -- while Floyd himself was healthy, anyway; you may recall that Philip Rivers seemed to lose a target per week to some malady or other -- but 85 or 90 is not 100. This season, whatever shape his feet may be in, Gates should yield more touchdowns to Jackson than he did to Floyd. He should still be elite (perhaps still the top tight end in virtually every format), but not monumentally elite like he was early in 2010. So he's too expensive.
Jason Witten also benefitted from a teammate's absence last year: counterintuitively, he was a lot more productive when Jon Kitna was passing to him than when Tony Romo was. Actually, that isn't counterintuitive at all; it's next-level intuitive. Romo is much better than Kitna, true, but one big reason why is that Romo has more arm. He commands a vertical passing game -- the kind of offense that should (in 2011) take full advantage of the talents of Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. Witten benefitted in part from Kitna's limitations. Now he should be limited by Romo's return.
Vernon Davis is working with a subpar quarterback, and suddenly Dallas Clark is, too. Which leaves only Jermichael Finley among the unquestioned elite -- and Finley, for various reasons, has played only two seasons' worth of games in a three-season career. Still, among the five players I've named so far, I'm most confident that Finley will earn his salary. So the question is whether I want to pay that kind of salary ($1,970, at least a good deal cheaper than Gates and Witten) to any player at this position.
Answer: not if I can help it. And I see two potentially excellent ways of helping it in Aaron Hernandez ($1,360) and Jimmy Graham ($1,170). I love both; last night I risked a good part of my fantasy season by drafting the pair relatively early in my most competitive league (we start two tight ends).
There is risk with each of these guys; neither is elite yet, obviously. But Hernandez gets himself open faster than any player I can remember -- he's just amazingly quick to shed defenders in close range (note that, despite his reputation as a vertical threat, all 6 of his TDs last season came from ten yards and in; dude is a beast in the red zone). And Graham is the next Gates, I think, although I could be a year early in saying so.
Would have been much more comfortable for challenge purposes had I been able to mix those two into a rotation of three cheapos, but that plan took a hit last week when my next-favorite player in this range, Tony Moeaki, wound up on IR. There are other intriguing names down here -- Lance Kendricks, Jared Cook, maybe another gamble (despite the shambling offense around him) on the immense God-given talent of Jermaine Gresham -- but at the moment I'm tempted to start Hernandez and Graham and stick Finley in a taxi slot. Still thinking.
(3 active players)
No magic here. At all. You pick four cheap players working for good offensive teams (remember, again: each team win is worth an extra field goal), and you hope for the best. Except that, as you're picking the four, you pay attention to bye-week coverage.
Automatic for me at the moment: Alex Henery (Eagles) and Shaun Suisham (Steelers). And how, you ask, did we arrive at this place where the words "automatic" and "Suisham" go together? At the end of the movie -- SPOILER ALERT -- we find out we've all been dead the whole time.
Henery's bye is Week 7, Suisham's Week 11. I can see filling in around them with Connor Barth (Bucs, Week 8) and Jason Hanson (Lions, Week 9), but I will consider climbing the salary list to sub Matt Bryant (Falcons, Week 8) in for Barth. Garrett Hartley (Saints, Week 11) might have made a nice sub for Suisham, but the perennially vexing S.O.B. is already hurt.
DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS
(2 active players) (A defense is a player. Ask Mitt Romney.)
No magic here, either. I wrote about this at length a year ago (scroll down to the section headed OTHERS in this column from last September). Final tallies for the Jets and Dolphins in 2010, including the 3 points per team win: Jets 158, Dolphins 97. A difference of 61 points in 16 games. So I rest my case.
Defenses I'll consider in 2011, working up from the bottom of the salary list:
Denver, which should have a vastly better pass rush and could thus be vastly better in general -- which is to say, the Broncos might not be terrible;
Detroit and St. Louis, about as toothy a pair of defenses as I can remember for the money (both under $1,200);
Washington, which has some good players and might also have a really pathetic offense -- which could hold their opponents' scoring down, as game plans go conservative in a bunch of boring second halves;
Cleveland, which plays a schedule front-loaded with easier games -- so use the Browns, maybe, but don't be relying on them come Week 13, when they enter a brutal stretch run: vs. BAL, at PIT, at ARZ, at BAL, vs. PIT;
Miami, still better as a unit than it gets credit for; and
Dallas and San Francisco, both built around some very talented players, but I'll probably go cheaper with all three units I carry.
Admit it: that took me many, many, many fewer words than you would've guessed.
Two more columns coming before Sunday: one focusing on the differences in my approach to the rotisserie version of the Football Challenge, the other reacting to tonight's cheat game. Keep checking back, and meantime follow along as I live-blog Saints-Packers on Twitter.
Posted by MARK MALONEY | Sep. 08 at 09:50 AM
Thanks Justin. Here's hoping we don't get sucked in by two Ryan Grant TDs or something similar. FWIW we're pretty close on opinions here; I'm likely to carry one bigger WR and see how it goes. And although the hype is out of control, I secretly hope Graham throws up a goose egg tonight to discourage the masses.
Posted by RICK WEBER | Sep. 08 at 10:24 AM
I'll be watching Jordy Nelson. He could be this years Stokley
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 08 at 05:18 PM
Mark: For the sake of my beloved Mississippi Queens, very happy you didn't get your goose egg.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 08 at 05:19 PM
Rick: Through one game, anyway, you called it. Much more on the cheat game coming soon.
Posted by James Baker | Sep. 08 at 11:16 PM
Justin: Randall Cobb may not score 18 points the rest of the season. Rodgers said he ran the wrong route on the touchdown reception and he was 8 yards deep in the end zone on the td return. The top wr, Roddy White, averaged 15.1 ppg last year, so 18 at the wr position is a must start. He's only a one week play and a buy should be worth more than 18 points, but I remember Anthony Gonzalez and losing the Budget Challenge in '09 by only 20 points. Maybe I'm in the minority but I'm starting him... unless you change my mind.
Posted by Chris Metz | Sep. 09 at 12:01 AM
What do you think of Andre Roberts and Antonio Brown for the roto game? Was considering Brown, and forgoing Wallace in lieu of Jackson...and I was thinking Larry Fitz as my other expensive WR and Manningham as another. However, I could go Nicks/Roberts instead, since I don't want two guys on the same team if possible.
Posted by MARK MALONEY | Sep. 09 at 01:12 AM
I was wondering the same thing on Cobb, but would like to have hope for more than a one-week play. 18 points is a lot, but kick returns (going forward) aren't really bettable this year. I mean how many targets is Cobb going to get? I know Jones was only on the field for garbage time, but isn't he ahead of Cobb, not to speak of the targets that Jenning, Nelson, Driver and Finley already command? Nelson @ $1,950 vs. Cobb @ $1,800 is clearly the cheat game play for me. Gosh - what about Starks? He's already the preferred choice there. Grant will be an afterthought by mid-year. Not saying (yet) that he's a Challenge play, but even Sproles showed something at Beanie Wells type salary ;-) I'm just so glad this thing is on, let's go win some money!
Posted by RICK WEBER | Sep. 09 at 02:49 AM
The Steelers have Jericho Cotchery and Emanual Samders. Brown isn't a clear number 3
Posted by James Baker | Sep. 09 at 03:54 AM
Brown and Decker are both on my radar but I doubt I'll roster either. I'm leaning toward Meachem because he should have a better year than Henderson and Henderson becomes the 4th option when Moore gets healthy. Mark: Nelson makes my team for sure, he could've had 3 tds. Starks looks like he'll be the back in GB, but he doesn't catch passes and that limits his upside. I'll go with Cobb as a band aid 'til I find a sleeper... I hate to do it, but 18 points isn't bad at 1800.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 09 at 04:59 AM
All: Cheat game column coming later today. Instead of stealing my own thunder, I'll just ask you to wait for that.
Posted by Richard Loppnow | Sep. 09 at 08:24 AM
If he was $1000, signing Cobb would probably be nuts. He's their 6th receiver. Maybe. And absolutely no higher than that. You're buying one week. No way you play him next one.
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