Challenge Contests — by Justin Eleff
Last thoughts: building a roster in the rotisserie challenge
Posted Sep. 10 at 06:44 PM
On Monday this past week, I finally started to write specifically about which players we should own in this year's challenge games. This is already my fourth column on the subject -- and despite the first three having come to more than 8,000 words, I still have new things to say.
The first two columns this week pertained to the points version of the CDM Football Challenge. If you missed either of those, go catch up right now.
Click here for QBs and RBs.
Click here for WRs, TEs, Ks and DEFs.
I refer you to those earlier columns because I will not repeat myself below. Although those columns dealt with one game and we will now consider a different one (the rotisserie version of the Football Challenge), my general opinions on which players will be good in 2011 and which players will not be good have changed very little in a week.
(One thing that did change some of my opinions was Thursday night's cheat game, but I have already covered that about as thoroughly as I have ever covered anything in this space; click here.)
As I finally get cranking on today's column, it's a few minutes after midnight where I live, just now Sunday morning, so we're less than thirteen hours from the roster submission deadlines.* So, again, I will not repeat myself below. No time.
* It is also September 11, my mother's birthday and in some senses the tenth anniversary of the death of the world I grew up in. Happy birthday, mom. I still miss you, world.
Quickly, by position, here are the ways my thinking about the rotisserie game differs from my thinking about the points game:
The big difference in the structure of this game is that players are scored not only on their bulk statistics, but also on their passing and rushing and receiving averages. At quarterback, despite the considerable other-category contributions of the position's best runners, the passing average is the one that really matters. Teams start half as many QBs as RBs, so a flubbed pick here has twice the impact of a flubbed pick there.
Michael Vick, therefore, is not the must-own player in rotisserie that he is in points -- or he won't be unless he passes as well in 2011 as he did in 2010, anyway, and I count that as unlikely. He'd never been as good a passer before, and I'm not even sure he was as good as his numbers seem. I remember a lot of possessions that went something like this: incompletion, 5-yard run by LeSean McCoy, 17-yard scramble, incompletion, near interception, 48-yard touchdown to DeSean Jackson.
So I'm playing defense with Vick this year. He'll open on my taxi squad, and I probably won't start him against any team (like the Rams in Week 1) with a decent pass rush. But if he's going to pull the same routine as last season, he'll do it for me, not to me.
The passing averages of more traditional quarterbacks tend to bounce around. Witness Peyton Manning, who buried me last year with his season-long dinking and dunking (final yards per attempt: 6.9), after posting a perfectly acceptable number in the category in 2009. So for the most part, I'll just own really good passers and take my chances that their averages will be fine. You know who the really good passers are, and if you don't, again, refer to my earlier columns.
I prefer Matthew Stafford to the other relatively cheap starting QBs -- same here as in the points game -- but with Kevin Kolb a bit closer to Stafford here because he looks like he'll take some chances downfield, which could buoy his passing average. Of course, whether that means we should own Kolb or Larry Fitzgerald (and, for that matter, whether we should own Stafford or Calvin Johnson) is for you to decide.
One player I feel strongly about in this format: Ben Roethlisberger. In an earlier column I wrote that Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan are the two QBs most likely to join the truly elite in 2011; despite a sizable salary difference, I think Roethlisberger is the one you want more in this game.
The reason for that is simple: Roethlisberger's passing average has generally been excellent (career number: 8.0; higher in each of the last two seasons), and Ryan's has not. And now Ryan's best hope for a higher average rests on the rookie shoulders of Julio Jones.
Mind you, Jones is an awesome talent. But like every other member of the class of 2011, he's way behind where he might have been but for the lockout.
Back to Roethlisberger.
You'd never get Al Davis or anyone who roots for Pittsburgh to admit this, but the modern Steelers are running a modified version of the old Raiders offense from the '70s. Roethlisberger is the Kenny Stabler of his day; in 1974 Stabler averaged 8.0 yards per attempt despite a completion percentage of just 57.4. Mike Tomlin may strike you as a conservative head coach by today's standards, and the Steelers continue to cultivate the image of a rugged, smashmouth team on offense. But their last finish among the league's top 10 rushing teams came in 2007 -- and meantime Roethlisberger has been bombing away. More on this below.
The only other thing I can tell you at the position is this: if you followed the back-and-forth between reader Richard Loppnow and myself in the comments section of my last column, you should be careful to understand that I was never arguing that Aaron Rodgers had to be rostered in this game. I was arguing that Rodgers' cheat game performance was genuinely great in fantasy terms, nothing more.
If Rodgers were a lower-salaried player, of course we would all own him. As things stand, however, you can own him and be quite confident that the numbers he has already banked are worth what he costs, or you can not own him and be equally confident that there are excellent ways to put the salary you've saved to use.
The only strong feelings I have about whether Rodgers belongs on a rotisserie roster are these:
One, while I'd love to be able to fit him onto my active roster -- because banked numbers are exactly that, and because he has always been a kind of good luck charm for me -- I will not perform any roster contortions to do so. If he fits at the end, terrific. If not, I'll take my chances with the salary I save.
Two, as I told reader Chris Metz via e-mail a couple of hours ago, the one place Rodgers does not belong is on a taxi squad in this game. If you cannot start him in a week in which he will throw for 312 yards and 3 touchdowns, he costs too much for you to own him at all. Really, what would the contrary argument be? That you'd only be willing to make room for him if you knew he'd do even more in a game? Knew that how, exactly?
Because the intellectually honest thing for me to do, after having written those columns, was to own an additional hands guy in the rotisserie game, I have rostered Darren McFadden. I picked him over LeSean McCoy, both because I think DMC is the better player and because I know he has the better opening matchups (at Denver, then at Buffalo, the two worst rushing defenses of 2010).
NOTE: I get McFadden wrong every year. You should almost certainly own McCoy instead.
Otherwise I'm picking from the same hodgepodge of non-sleepers I first identified weeks ago. After Thursday, I do wonder if I should just roster James Starks (perhaps in place of Tim Hightower) and try to save what I believe to be an inevitable eventual purchase. But little else has changed.
And by little else, I mean one thing and one thing only.
I don't have nearly the time I'd need to explain myself fully now (I'll do that in my next column, next week), but for present purposes you should know that I hit upon a new theory for identifying breakout running backs a few days ago, and that I will be testing the theory by carrying one of five players who fit a certain profile.
Alphabetically, the five are Jahvid Best, Ryan Mathews, Knowshon Moreno, C.J. Spiller and Beanie Wells. I'm not telling you to own any of them, necessarily, and I'm certainly not telling you which one to own ... because I have no idea. I don't love any of the five, and the theory itself runs contrary to my usual instincts; I've decided to test it only because those two things are true, and because I have nonetheless been unable to shake the idea that there might be something to this.
Why mention the theory at all?
I don't want you to see my final rosters and feel blindsided by the presence of a player I've only pooh-poohed in these columns.
Because I have no strong feelings for any of the five, and because Ian likes Wells in Week 1, I'll probably just hold my nose and go with him. You're welcome to join me. Either way, sorry for the mystery, and wish me luck.
I believe I made clear in my last column that Devery Henderson and Jordy Nelson will be active for me in Week 1 in the rotisserie game. Beyond those two, the list of candidates is roughly the same as in points, except that here I'll try to own one or two WRs priced higher than Hakeem Nicks. And I'm looking not only for bulk yards and touchdowns, of course, but also for receiving average.
Which means, in part, that I'm looking to the Steelers.
That bit about Roethlisberger playing Stabler works on both ends of every pass he throws downfield; I may not use the QB every week, but I will try to use at least one of his WRs. Mike Wallace is the obvious candidate after last season's 21.0 yards per catch (his career number now sits at 20.3), but all factors including salary considered, there might be a better pick in the same huddle.
As good a play as I think Antonio Brown is in the points game (because the Steelers figure to win often, and should thus give him a big head start on the other cheapos I happen to like as players), he's better here. Worst case, he will definitely make his share of big plays. His receiving average as a rookie (10.4) fails to make that obvious, but check how he was used in the preseason: long catches of 29 yards in the first game, 29 for a TD in the second game, 77 for a TD in the third game.
Best case, Brown in 2011 is something like Wallace in 2009. For $400. Which might mean that Wallace himself sees his receiving average drop a bit, but (a) it could drop a lot and still help you; and (b) Roethlisberger won't stop bombing just because his receivers are aligned differently. I want in on this offense.
No difference here from in the points game, except that my thinking has firmed up here. Starters are the same: Aaron Hernandez and Jimmy Graham. But while I'm still mulling over my options at TE3 there, here I'm set on giving a taxi slot to Jermichael Finley. He looked healthy Thursday, and I very much like his chances to beat every comparably-priced receiver as long as he stays healthy.
For the first time I can remember, I know exactly what I'm doing at a position but will not tell you. I just can't. I'm sorry. Here's why:
In writing the cheat game column, I decided to own John Kasay in this game but also decided that meant carrying five kickers instead of my customary four -- which I hated, because every way I looked at it I was leaving a player I really liked off of my roster as a result, or I was virtually certain I'd have to buy another kicker eventually anyway.
While I was struggling with this, however, long-time reader Kevin Dallas and I were bouncing roster ideas off of each other -- and I noticed that he was doing something with his kickers that had never occurred to me. It's just a brilliant bit of strategy, one simple idea that fixes the exact problem I had, and I've stolen it from Kevin for my own roster. But it's not my idea to give away.
The most I can offer you is what I've offered before, both when I wrote about kickers in general and when I wrote about Kasay's cheat game specifically. He's starting for me. There are two kickers on my taxi squad. I owe Kevin my sincerest thanks.
Except at kicker, you now know everything I do. We're picking from the same reduced-to-sludge pool of players, I believe, and from the end of this column to the start of Sunday's games, any one of us could pick the perfect team.
Thanks mostly to Michael Vick, I had a down season in the football challenges last year. It had happened before and it will happen again. But not in 2011 -- and not for you, either.
Posted by Carlos Jackson | Sep. 10 at 09:23 PM
Justin: Thanks again for the help. I finally finish my team. Man this was very hard to put this hot mess of a team together. I have players on my team that I wouldn't have no were on my team. Hope to see you on the top.
Posted by Chris Metz | Sep. 10 at 11:32 PM
I think I can deduce the strategy, my guess is it concerns having two kickers with the earliest bye week.....
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 11 at 02:14 AM
Carlos: Likewise; good luck all season.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 11 at 02:15 AM
Chris: Still scrambling to lock my rosters down. I'll reveal the strategy -- it's not THAT big a deal -- just after the deadline.
Posted by Chris Metz | Sep. 11 at 02:22 AM
It did give me an idea for kickers outside of the box..so all is good....
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 11 at 03:12 AM
Maybe this is because of the cheat game, or maybe I feel this way every year, but my final rosters look incredible to me. Very, very pleased. I'll post them soon, but first ...
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 11 at 03:14 AM
... Kevin's idea was to roster both Kasay and Hartley. So it isn't just one week's worth of numbers; we locked in the Saints' kicking points. Which had the added benefits of getting me off of Suisham in the rotisserie game, and letting me own Matt Bryant instead of Connor Barth to boot. Win, win, win.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 11 at 03:21 AM
ROTISSERIE: D.Brees T.Brady M.Stafford (M.Vick B.Roethlisberger T.Romo) / C.Johnson J.Charles D.McFadden S.Greene T.Hightower B.Wells (A.Peterson R.Rice F.Jones) / A.Hernandez J.Graham (J.Finley) / L.Fitzgerald H.Nicks M.Williams D.Henderson J.Nelson A.Brown (M.Wallace D.Bryant) / J.Kasay A.Henery J.Hanson (M.Bryant G.Hartley)
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 11 at 03:28 AM
POINTS: D.Brees M.Vick M.Stafford (A.Rodgers T.Brady) / C.Johnson J.Charles D.McFadden P.Hillis K.Moreno B.Wells (A.Peterson R.Rice L.McCoy F.Jones) / A.Hernandez J.Graham (J.Finley) / H.Nicks M.Williams M.Manningham J.Nelson R.Cobb D.Henderson (V.Jackson D.Bryant A.Brown) / M.Bryant A.Henery S.Suisham (J.Hanson) / CLE HOU (DET)
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 11 at 03:38 AM
Surprised myself twice, both times in points: by deciding to pair Henderson with Cobb (which meant rostering an extra WR and one fewer QB), and by picking HOU as my third defense. That's a (mostly) blind bet on Wade Phillips and Johnathan Joseph, although I do like the Texans' matchups during my other defenses' bye weeks. Also decided I like HOU (vs. IND) better than DET (at TB) today.
Posted by James Baker | Sep. 11 at 06:21 AM
Points: Brees, Vick, Rodgers (Stafford, Bradford, Freeman)/C. Johnson, Charles, McFadden, Best, Blount, Hightower (Peterson, Rice, F. Jones) / Hernandez, Graham (Finley)/ Meachem, Nelson, Cobb, Henderson, Manningham, M. Williams (D. Bryant, Fitzgerald, V. Jackson) Hanson, Suisham, Henery (Bryant)/ Hou, Den (Det)
Posted by James Baker | Sep. 11 at 06:25 AM
I almost started Peterson over CJ. Switched them in the last few minutes.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 11 at 07:37 AM
James: Yep, the Titans' whole offense sucked. Really just the one good play. Seems like there's always a should-be stud who lays an egg in Week 1 -- that's another good argument in favor of banking the cheat game.
Posted by Chris Metz | Sep. 11 at 09:28 AM
How could I have overlooked Cam Newton?
Posted by James Baker | Sep. 11 at 10:54 AM
Blount 1.5... 5 touches for a guy projected 1200+ yrds 12+ tds. Cam plays GB next and their secondary is better than the Sun Devils.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 11 at 01:56 PM
James: I actually went off of Blount at the last minute, partly on a hunch and partly because I had to dump someone to test my new theory. Of course, I didn't get much more than 1.5 from C.J. -- and I'd gone out of my way to fit him in. Whatever, nothing that happens in Week 1 is tragic. Everyone playing every one of these games is disappointed in some player right now.
Posted by MARK MALONEY | Sep. 11 at 02:23 PM
I'm not so thrilled with Hillis. Went with him over McFadden.
Posted by James Baker | Sep. 12 at 05:11 AM
Hillis will lose some carries that's what kept me away. Blount irritates me because I only started him because he made 3 catches in the first half of a preseason game. He looked good doing it too and I thought that meant something.
Posted by James Baker | Sep. 12 at 05:24 AM
Justin: it looks like I'm 13-14 points up on you in points with Moreno left for you and Denver left for me. We'll be about even, I hope, but I think I like your roster better. Good call on Stafford, I feared he'd go down in week one. The Raider Line will open up some holes for McFadden. I think we'll both do better next week.
Posted by Sonoma Night owl | Aug. 26 at 08:44 PM
Is Justin doing this great feature this year? That and Ian's mailbag always bring me to this site
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