Challenge Contests — by Justin Eleff
THE REAL DOWNSIDE TO RBBC: I am not a genius, and I have failed you below.
Posted Aug. 13 at 04:11 AM
I said in the comments section after my last column that I wasn't looking forward to writing this one. Here's why:
I keep resisting the suggestion that owning cheaper (platoon) running backs with more expensive receivers is smarter than owning top-dollar RBs with cheapo WRs. That's an oversimplification, of course, and every challenge roster will feature expensive and inexpensive players at both positions, but there's a real debate to engage in here.
Give in to the RBBC, and spend the bigger bucks on generally more reliable big-buck receivers? Or stick with the classic arrangement that puts LaDainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson and maybe two other top-shelf backs on almost every roster?
Adding to the debate is the fact that the most expensive WRs are far cheaper than the most expensive RBs - in the Football Challenge, the difference between Tomlinson and Chad Johnson is $1220 in salary (exactly the same salary as Michael Turner, to give one easy illustration) - but the cheapest players at both positions cost about the same.
I keep resisting, though, for one reason alone: I don't see the cheapo RBs to make a bargain backfield work. I've already professed my devotion to Willis McGahee, Marshawn Lynch, Darren McFadden and maybe Selvin Young. I'll let Ian Allan talk me into Matt Forte. Otherwise? Slim pickings. And you'll almost never be able to play all of those guys together (let alone want to), what with bye weeks and injuries and terrible matchups. I'll carry 11 backs to start the season. I see almost no chance that four or five of them won't be verrrrrry pricy.
Of course, here's the rub - and the reason I didn't want to write this column.
Where, exactly, are the cheapo WRs?
Who will prove me right in 2008?
In the abstract, outside the context of the RBBC debate, think of it this way: The Football Challenge allows you $30,000 in salary for 20 players, $1500 each. If it weren't for expensive QBs and RBs, you'd have no problem piecing together a killer team; there are half a dozen or more receivers priced under $1500 who could easily be elite fantasy players in 2008. It is only the urge to carry costlier players elsewhere that forces us down the salary list here - and this year there doesn't seem to be a Brandon Marshall waiting at the bottom, a guy just itching to break all the way out, all at once.
I gave you Marshall a year ago.
This year, I hate to say it but I'm not giving you much.
By salary class:
$1500 AND ABOVE
Randy Moss ($2000) is the obvious top choice. The only argument against him is the same one I made last year - that the Patriots spread the wealth (usually, anyway), not keying on one player to the exclusion of others. The arguments for him come to this: One, there's 2007. Two, at 75% of his 2007 numbers he'd be more than useful. I see no reason to carry a moaning Ocho Cinco or an aging T.O. ahead of a player coming off the greatest year ever at this position.
My second choice at the very top of the list might be Reggie Wayne ($1960), but I'm hoping to use another player to capitalize on the Colts' prowess instead. Keep reading.
My second choice at or above $1500, subtle salary differences accounted for, is Braylon Edwards ($1740). Nearly as gifted as Moss, perhaps more gifted than T.O., and catching the mad bombs of Derek Anderson (to the tune of 16.1 yards per catch a year ago, right between Moss' 15.2 and Owens' 16.7), Edwards is the surest bet to step into the $2000 salary range for the first time in 2009.
Third choice might be Santonio Holmes ($1710), perhaps a surprise but one still coming into his own and coming off a season in which he averaged 18.1 (!) yards per catch. Ben Roethlisberger has some bomber in him, too.
Which concludes my shopping in this section of the store. Old favorite Steve Smith ($1700) punched his way out of consideration. Marques Colston ($1650) may work, but I want to see how frequently Drew Brees will target Jeremy Shockey before I buy. Greg Jennings ($1620) was phenomenal a year ago - I was wrong about him - but I still don't see him as the best receiver on the roster in Green Bay (again, keep reading), and there has to be at least some drop-off from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers. Poor Lee Evans ($1610) is better than he can show with the current quarterbacking in BUF - maybe I'm stubborn, but I swear that's true - and Anquan Boldin ($1500) is too fragile, physically and perhaps emotionally, to carry.
BETWEEN $1500 AND $1000
Here's where the bulk of the high-dollar temptation lies in 2008. No team will carry Moss and Edwards and T.O. and Wayne, say, and use them every week, but I suspect many will carry and use several of the following:
Andre Johnson ($1380) is the top choice, criminally underpriced if he lasts for more of the season than he did in 2007. If reading the stats bores you I apologize, but Johnson averaged 95 yards per game and scored 8 times in his 9 outings.
Second pick in this range is a matter of taste - as, by extension, are picks three through whatever. The best plays, in descending order by salary and without meaning to suggest that I've split all of the hairs, are probably Roy Williams ($1480), T.J. Houshmandzadeh ($1430) and Brandon Marshall ($1360) when not in jail. Calvin Johnson ($1210) will be on almost every roster, and I suspect he'll also be on almost every winning roster; like everyone else, I expect a substantial breakout.
For sleeping purposes - not that anyone priced this high is really a sleeper - consider what Favre did for Jennings a year ago, and then consider Jerricho Cotchery's track record with bubblegum-armed Chad Pennington throwing to him. Cotchery ($1260) is probably 50/50 to make my roster as the last receiver I settle on. He strikes me as that kind of play - last minute, yea or nay, won't really surprise myself with either decision.
Wes Welker ($1200) will be popular but I say no at this year's price, given the likelihood that he'll repeat last year's awful 10.5 yard average over the full damage of 112 catches.
Dwayne Bowe ($1150) outproduced Calvin Johnson last year, but a vote for Bowe is also a vote for Brodie Croyle behind an offensive line that ranks with the game's worst; you can't seriously consider Bowe without considering Roddy White ($1300) as well, and I refuse to do that.
Which brings us to the prestige part of the column, wherein Justin waves his magic wand, reaches into the hat and comes out with ...
He comes out with ...
I'm trying to make it work, readers, I really am. I want to find a Marshall down here. It's just ... really ... hard.
My basic approach at this end of the list is to focus on yards-per-catch first. You're unlikely to find 10 TDs or 1,000 yards down here, but you can help yourself (and, more importantly, not hurt yourself) in the ratio category. If a guy's only catching two or three balls per game, make them count.
Devin Hester ($680) strikes me as automatic, because you may well get 10 (combined) TDs from him and you can be sure his catches will average 14 yards or more. Last year's average was 15.0; you won't be surprised to learn that his long reception went for 81 yards.
Anthony Gonzalez ($820) averaged 15.6 yards per catch, which does surprise me, and he's probably next-most automatic as the No. 3ish target in Indy. Dallas Clark was useful a year ago. Brandon Stokley had been before. If Marvin Harrison were to miss significant time in 2008, Gonzalez would be on every roster as the Colts' No. 2.
When I said I didn't think Greg Jennings was the Packers' best WR, I wasn't thinking of Donald Driver but of James Jones ($830), who averaged 14.4 YPR as a rookie. I can even see Rodgers-to-Jones becoming one of those signature Young-to-Rice exactas in a few years - a sentence guaranteed to look either prophetic or absurd within a few months.
Vincent Jackson ($940) still moves me a little, and 15.2 per catch is more than solid, but 623 total yards with 3 TDs is not what I expected a year ago.
Otherwise we're looking at Ted Ginn ($550), maybe, and I liked him much better before Pennington was his QB.
Everyone else is badly flawed. Andre Davis ($850) was brilliant in 2007, but his brilliance came when filling in for Andre Johnson. All of Davis' best games came during Johnson's absence in Weeks 3 through 9; much of his production goes back to Johnson now. In the same vein, David Patten ($800) was good but some of his numbers go to Shockey now. Nate Burleson ($900) scored 9 TDs but has thrived in some roles and not others in years past - paradoxically, Bobby Engram's injury could hurt him more than it helps.
The last name I could get excited about is probably that of Bryant Johnson ($870), but it's faux excitement, Mike Martz excitement, system excitement. Johnson was just OK filling in as a starter when Larry Fitzgerald or (more often) Anquan Boldin missed time during his days in Arizona. He's good, maybe, no better than that. And Martz is now working with some of the saddest sack QBs in the league. And - and this is no small and, so to speak - it's not like Martz has always worked miracles for his best receivers, anyway. Mike Furrey. Shaun McDonald. Best case: Maybe Johnson has a season something like Welker's from a year ago - better in terms of bulk production than receiving average. Or maybe Arnaz Battle ($830) does. Or maybe my brother Brandon, who'd look deathly ill in a football uniform, but then you'd never heard of Furrey when Martz broke him out, either.
I'd love to tell you I'm sure I'll look like a genius in time, and I'd really love to tell you that I've just named the biggest bargain WR of 2008, but I won't, and I probably haven't. Sit up and pay attention early in the year. Look for roles, not performances. Look for guys getting balls thrown their way more than guys happening to catch a slant and take it 60 yards on freak chance. Buy guys who seem to be breaking out in ways they might sustain rather than guys on pace to do ... well, anything. Someone will lead the NFL in yards-per-catch after Week 1, and it won't be Moss or Edwards or Calvin Johnson. Be smart about whether that guy is really worth burning a purchase for.
My likeliest mix of receivers to start the year - there will probably be eight of them - is Moss, Edwards, Andre Johnson, Cotchery, Calvin Johnson, Jones, Gonzalez and Hester. I know I'm about to hear how much better the mix would look minus Cotchery and Jones, plus Wayne and Houshmandzadeh, and I can't say you're wrong about that. But you'd better find the right RBs to beat my Tomlinson and Joseph Addai.
Posted by MARK MALONEY | Aug. 13 at 05:13 AM
Justin - Kind of expected this, at least for the CDM/Fanball game. Right now there just isn't any super salary saver at WR, but there a few situations that might materialize by week 3 ir 4. I agree that Engram gone hurts Burleson; he's the kind of guy that could make hay but not as the main guy. The Obomanu/Taylor/Branch mess might yeild someone cheap. Hagen/Ginn sort of cancel each other especially given the QB. Not going to bury Gates, but some reciever their might step up - I like V. Jackson too. The other Steve Smith (NYG) interests me a little given what's in front of him, but not until an injury. I like Cotchery a little better than White, but would lean toward Welker over either at the same relative price. What about Curry? Same bad QB argument but maybe he's the main target after a game or two of Walker not getting open. I've only looked at the CDM salaries, but would assume that Moss, Edwards, A. Johnson, Welker and C. Johnson will be close to 100% owned in most of these games. So in a way, picking the right guy(s) from Bowe, Curry, V Jackson, A. Gonzalez, B. Johnson et. al. is going to make a huge difference. On the bargain/committee RB - I won't start that way. But will pounce on the likes of Ricky Williams, Maurice Marris, A. Bradshaw if someone gets dinged because they could make a burn worth it, even if it were for a few weeks as the main man. As much as I love watching MB3 demolish tacklers, I just don't see him as a consistent, every week guy, and he's too expensive to call a real bargain when he's priced more ($3460) than Lynch ($3000). I really want to roster guys like Turner, Graham and S. Young but fear they're going to evolve into committees. Great stuff as always Justin. Hey, you didn't invent the player prices...
Posted by Richard Loppnow | Aug. 13 at 06:25 AM
Additional reason for cheapo running backs over cheapo wide receivers: You know when to play the RB, against lousy teams. With WRs, who knows who they'll get their catches against. Any reason for the love Calvin Johnson gets aside from the fancy draft position of last year? Is he actually looking better? Particularly with Stanton throwing ducks up there come November (or so I'm guessing), Johnson looks pricy to me for a 2nd option on a team that wants to run the ball. Pretty many $$$ to pay just for a pedigree. Philosophically speaking, I'll settle for a cheapo WR with decent yards along with a weak YPR. A guy with a 15-yard average on 2-3 catches a game isn't going to lift your team YPR up all that much anyway. Thanks for the article, Justin. I do find it helpful.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 14 at 04:10 AM
Every team in the league threw for 2300+ yards last year, and all but one of them (SF) threw for 2600+. Think about some of the horrible teams that put up those yards, and tell me there won't be enough to go around for ANY two receivers on ANY two teams. That's especially true when the two are as good as Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson, and "wants to run the ball" probably helps, not hurts, in that regard. You won't see nearly as many three- and four-WR sets in DET this season. RW and CJ will be on the field all game every game, and as bad as Kevin Smith looks I'm guessing the Lions are going to be trailing in the second half a lot. That's almost the perfect recipe: capable QB, great WRs, consistent deficits. I'll stake what's left of my reputation on Calvin Johnson in 2008, no hesitation. Remember that one of the things I was most right about a year ago was avoiding Reggie Brown; I know a clothesless emperor when I see one, and I like to think that I also know greatness when I see that. Barring injuries, CJ is indeed great.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 14 at 04:25 AM
You're right, of course, that two or three catches at 15+ doesn't do a ton to HELP, but the whole idea behind saving salary wisely is not hurting your team in the process. Think about the damage Wes Welker does. You spend the same on him as you'd spend on CJ, he catches 100+ balls and he drives your average down, not up, as he does it. I'm not saying that 1,100 yards from Welker is useless, but I am saying I'd rather have 700 yards from Devin Hester, salaries considered ... especially if he breaks even 4 or so return TDs over the course of the year.
Posted by Richard Loppnow | Aug. 14 at 05:59 AM
We can run this by Ian, but my impression was that teams that are down mucho points dink, and dink and dink. Safeties way deep, no biting by corners on run fakes or double-moves. I always figured I wanted my WRs (and QBs) in close ballgames, especially with roto scoring. What do WRs typically produce in games where their team gets crushed, especially with regard to YPR?
Posted by Richard Loppnow | Aug. 14 at 06:06 AM
Multiple comments/questions 'cuz I can't paragraph these things out. Given CJ's cost, he has to be great to return value. Merely good, and he's only returning what we're paying to play him. I might end up rostering him. But how many times in NFL history have 2 WRs from a lousy team each finished top 20 production wise, especially figuring YPR as being almost half their value? With a guy like Stanton QBing6 or so games?
Posted by Richard Loppnow | Aug. 14 at 06:21 AM
Final comment, then the 'Richie' portion of this thread will be done (hold applause to the very end). Anyone who rostered Welker last year was very happy with what they got out of him. At his low price, his great yards and TDs overwhelmed the YPR damage he caused. Just seems to me you're more likely to find a poor man's Hines Ward than a poor man's Santonio Holmes rifling through the bargain bin. Nothing wrong with a WalMart WR - 'pretty good Yds./kinda bad YPR' - if the price is low, low enough. Again, thanks for the columns Justin! I do find them helpful.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 15 at 02:45 AM
I think we'll have a hard time - even Ian would - picking real patterns out of the numbers, trying to figure out whether we want our WRs in close games or trailing big. One team skews things a bunch. Think of it this way: Last year's Pats refused to stop passing even when up 14+, like a good college team; they produced the best passing numbers ever, particularly for Brady and Moss individually; does that mean we want WRs whose teams will be up big in the second half? I don't want teams that get CRUSHED, because those teams tend to be (a) horrible, (b) having horrible days or (c) horrible and having horrible days. I want otherwise (mostly) competitive teams - 7-9 type teams - that happen to go down by 10 some time in the 3rd quarter. And happen to have two great WRs when it happens. I figure DET is ideal in that regard - getting better but not fast enough, capable-not-excellent QB who knows where his bread is buttered. If I were forced to carry two receivers from any one team in 2008, all factors considered, I'd carry RW & CJ ahead of Moss & Welker or Ocho Cinco & Housh or even Wayne & Gonzalez. Don't get me wrong; awful teams have to pass but can't do it well. These Lions will have to pass, and with RW & CJ it will often work. That, and not Kevin Smith or any other back, is how this team gets to 7-9.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 15 at 02:47 AM
Of course, if you're right that Kitna doesn't hold the job, the numbers change. But to start the season I think CJ's one of the top four plays at the position, after Andre Johnson, Edwards and Moss in that order.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 15 at 02:59 AM
I bought Welker last year myself, and of course I wasn't unhappy. But he's half a million salary dollars more now, and that makes all the difference. I won't carry Housh either; their numbers were nearly identical and their salaries ain't so different now. Problem is, who's the out-of-nowhere guy to put up 100ish catches for less than a million bucks in '08? I don't see him coming from anywhere other than SF, and the QBs there look soooooo bad that I've soured on the whole idea of cashing in on Martz. Also: It's not like the receptions leaderboard is typically littered with surprise cheapos. Welker and Engram last year, Furrey the year before ... otherwise, the names at the top are ones you'd expect. Bottom line: This looks like a lousy year for cheapo RBs AND cheapo WRs. Aaron Rodgers may start 16 games for me, because otherwise there are few salary savers I believe in at any position.
Posted by MARK MALONEY | Aug. 15 at 05:11 AM
Justin- Don't feel so bad about Rodgers starting a lot; I'm planning on it as no other low priced QB is in the position he is to succeed with the WR's, great running game, solid D, etc. I don't think it's a skim type play; just solid numbers most of the time. The bad QB angle is compelling, but someone's going to catch passes in SF. The Martz Kool Aid is strong..... You've avoided the Oakland situation. Better or worse (for pass catchers) than SF? Appreciate your insights. When does the d*** season start anyway?
Posted by Richard Loppnow | Aug. 15 at 06:55 AM
Just a "head's up" from a Packer fan. Don't count on Rodgers starting anything like 16 games. In his very limited time thus far guy's gotten hurt a whole lot.
Posted by michael rivera | Aug. 23 at 08:59 AM
what happened to this weeks article?
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