Challenge Contests — by Justin Eleff
Odds and (tight) ends (and kickers)
Posted Aug. 26 at 07:30 AM
Took a week off between the last column and this one. I meant to reenergize these columns, come up with a blistering new approach to running down the same players in the same way ...
But, really, let's face it.
We've already talked quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers -- which leaves only tight ends and kickers. There are nearly as many interesting bits to mull over in revisiting the first three positions as in visiting the last two for the first time. I'll go quickly, I promise.
I've decided to carry Jason Witten ($1300) in the Football Challenge, the most expensive play I can remember making at this position in this game. Witten looks sure to be Tony Romo's No. 2 target again in 2008, and when No. 1 is Terrell Owens and the offense works as well as this one should, that's plenty to justify paying the guy like a second-tier WR. He's just that.
Depending on how the new offense works in D.C., I can see Chris Cooley ($1180) playing a similar role to Witten's, but his salary doesn't give you enough of a break to bother speculating. And Witten's either the No. 1 or No. 2 overall tight end at the moment, depending on Antonio Gates' health, so I won't bother going up the salary list, either. It's Witten or cheaper plays.
Part of what has driven me to Witten, though, is that I'm not happy with the next salary level down. Dallas Clark ($870) seems like the obvious play, but something tells me his production gets whittled down as Anthony Gonzalez comes into his own as the Colts' 3WR and eventual successor to Marvin Harrison. Clark and Gonzalez may cancel each other out completely, actually; I'm having misgivings about rostering the latter.
After Clark, Heath Miller ($850) is obviously an excellent player, but the PIT offense doesn't lend itself to big numbers from a tight end. He'll score some, but I doubt he reaches even 700 yards (which is less than 45 per game). Same comment for Ben Watson ($780), and that's that. None too thrilling, I know.
Of course, there are two bigger names I didn't mention just then, but that's no accident. Jeremy Shockey ($960) and Todd Heap ($800) are top-level TEs when healthy, but you can't expect either of them to play 16 games or anything close. So carrying Shockey or Heap demands carrying a reserve tight end, and I don't believe it makes sense to use a valuable taxi slot on a TE at the start of the year. Too many RBs and WRs I'd rather have on my teams, just in case. Carrying the third tight end may mean hamstringing yourself at a more important position.
So do I take the goose eggs when my only two TEs go on their byes?
The asterisk means this: If I'm really spending $1300 on Witten, I won't be especially pleased to waste that money come Week 10, when Dallas is off. By then I hope either to be comfortably out front in receiving yards and total scoring, such that the goose egg won't hurt, or to have identified a far cheaper alternative who'll do enough given his lower salary to offset the loss of Witten's production, and I'll dump Witten for the cheapo.
For now I'm skipping the mid-level altogether, rostering Witten and pairing him with the cheapo I think of as the very best bet. Not Vernon Davis ($640), who apparently, for all his measurables, can't catch. Not Greg Olsen ($630), who can catch but has Lesser Evil Kyle Orton trying to prove it. Not Kevin Boss ($480), replacing Shockey with the Giants and possibly running Shockey's old routes competently; Boss looked OK when Eli Manning targeted him in the postseason, but those targets were few and far between.
Two guys intrigue me more than this lot. Dustin Keller ($700) gets cut as the more expensive of my finalists, but judging by what I've found on YouTube alone, the guy may become what Vernon Davis was supposed to be. He looks like an animal on film, and he gets bonus points for being Brett Favre's TE. Then again, he loses points for being a rookie. Wait and see.
To start the year I'm carrying Zach Miller ($500) instead. Miller is truly cheap and has more going for him than Boss does; Miller was targeted fairly often down the stretch last year, catching 27 balls for 303 yards (11.2 per catch) in the second half of the season after 17-for-141 (8.3 per) in the first. More telling, perhaps, was his line in JaMarcus Russell's one start: 8 catches, 84 yards. Young QBs who aren't quite ready for the NFL as passers tend to lean heavily on their tight ends; I'm looking for the Vick / Crumpler relationship between Russell and Miller.
Even less to say here. Nick Folk ($1340) and Josh Scobee ($1220) are as automatic as automatic gets, cheapish skilled kickers working for good-or-better offenses in warm climates. Along with them near the bottom of the salary list are four mildly attractive alternatives: Mason Crosby ($1340), Ryan Longwell ($1320), Shaun Suisham ($1100) and Brandon Coutu ($1000). Picking Folk nixes Suisham, though, as they share a Week 10 bye.
I'm already betting big on the Green Bay offense, carrying Aaron Rodgers and likely Ryan Grant, but I hate carrying a kicker in so decidedly adverse a climate, and why press my luck? So no to Crosby. And Longwell has the dome going for him, but I'm not sure I want to make even half as big a bet on MIN as on GB; I'm carrying Adrian Peterson and that's enough.
Yes. He looks good so far, and the offense is always dependable, no matter the pieces Mike Holmgren plugs in. I like Coutu better than the other rookies who have won or might yet win jobs, largely because I like this: 109 kicking points is the Seahawks' low total in the last five seasons. Last year the team had 127.
Folk, Scobee and Coutu have their byes in Weeks 10, 7 and 4 respectively; my only requirement for a fourth is that he not share any of those. Either Crosby or Longwell (Week 8, both) would work in that regard, but I think I'll creep up the salary scale some, perhaps to Mike Nugent ($1450; Week 5) but more likely to Nate Kaeding ($1690; Week 9). Kaeding's expensive but otherwise matches the Folk / Scobee description perfectly: able kicker, great offense, lovely weather.
I'm not rewriting the last few columns here, in either of two ways: I'm not taking back what I've said before, and I'm also not repeating it. But there are a handful of new developments worth exploring.
Mike Martz's QB is now J.T. O'Sullivan (salary unlisted and thus $1000), a development that has done exactly the opposite of piquing my interest. I'm off of Martz altogether now, off of him here and at WR, relying on Aaron Rodgers exclusively as a cheapo quarterback and waiting for a second salary saver to emerge.
Two additional cheap RBs look very good: LenDale White ($950), who I may simply have underestimated on my first pass, and Ricky Williams ($700), at least while Ronnie Brown lags in his attempt to come back from last year's major injury and this year's minor one.
White had the best 2007 line, by far, among the sub-$1000 RBs, and the Titans' ground game looks strong this preseason, somewhat lessening my concern over his plodding style and the 3.7 yards-per-carry average that came with it. I'll be less surprised if White ups that number to 4.0 in 2008 than if he drops down to even 3.5. Chris Johnson ($1000) looks phenomenal, too, at least in one sense -- he's phenomenally fast -- but I'll take White as the leading rusher in TEN at least early on.
Williams is an older back in technical terms only; he hasn't exactly racked up the miles over the last half-decade. He certainly seems to be the Dolphins' best bet for a competent running game (until October at earliest), and the offense has a chance -- albeit perhaps a slight one -- to be league-average overall in 2008. Chad Pennington has stabilized the roster despite his obvious physical limitations; if the passing game ranks even 25th in the league the rushing game could rank around 20th -- not bad considering that Williams looks like a possible workhorse for the first month or more.
In with one or both of those guys, maybe, out with Selvin Young (perhaps splitting carries from the opening kickoff in DEN) and possibly Matt Forte (behind what looks like a genuinely awful O-line in CHI).
At receiver I think the new Pennington competence in MIA makes Ted Ginn a play at his $550 salary; he looks like the clear No. 1 option among what is admittedly an otherwise bad bunch. Jerricho Cotchery is now very likely to make my squads -- his chemistry with Brett Favre is already fact more than rumor -- and I'm coming around on Brandon Marshall as his suspension looks likely to shrink and Jay Cutler's game seems to have grown.
We had a pretty good comments section going after last week's column (er, the one from two weeks ago). Please, let's continue that. As your thinking crystallizes, and mine does, maybe we make some smart decisions together.
I'll run down points games next week, go through any last-minute developments, and then we're into the season at long last.
Posted by Richard Loppnow | Aug. 26 at 01:57 PM
As a Wisconsin boy, just let me add that the weather for December day games is usually alright. And Grant and Rodgers are not a 'big bet' on the GB offense. They're just about a minimum bet, as almost all of us are going to have them.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 27 at 12:36 AM
Owning any team's QB and RB is a big bet; that's betting that the whole offense works. I hear you about the certain popularity of Rodgers (at least), but at present my second-cheapest QB is Jay Cutler at $2730. If Rodgers craps out, that means I have to buy a replacement pretty much immediately - and I may not have any idea who makes the best buy. That's a big bet, at least in context. So what to do about it? One possible change could come from the opening WAS @ NYG cheat game. Both of those QBs are cheap enough that if either happened to have a big game, say 250+ yards at a decent average and 2 TDs, I'd probably own him and start him for the hobbled Brady Week 1. It may backfire vis-a-vis Brady, but it would allow bigger salaries at other positions and would at least give me a stopgap in subsequent weeks if Rodgers was/is bad. That's where I am right now, waiting for the cheat game to button everything up.
Posted by MARK MALONEY | Aug. 27 at 03:01 AM
Welcome back Justin. But it's not like I was checking this site daily for the last 2 weeks or anything..... I expect that Rodgers is close to 100% owned, so there's a huge risk in not owning him, at least until any other super cheapo QBs emerge. And any of those guys (e.g. JTO) are likely going to play as one-week wonders as opposed to salary savers you can count on to have someone like Brady going most weeks. Right now my QB's are Brady, Romo, Cutler, Rodgers, and either Garrard or Schaub. Subject to change if Brady is really going to be less than 100% for any length of time. On TE's, you didn't mention Winslow one way or another. In the Fanball Game, he's about the same price as Witten; both less than Gates. I like those 2 guys for a lot of targets. I would take Cotchery instead of Welker now I suppose given recent events. I still got a feeling that most people are over-estimating the sheer impact of Favre on the Jets and I might go against the grain. I'd rather bank on the Cutler/Marshall combo. Isn't Ginn almost automatic now? Toss in a kick return TD or 2 and he's the best/only cheapo WR to me. I can't tell how much Hester will be on the field in CHI and Orton does nothing for me. In my game, L. White, Grant and Jacobs are at the same price point and I will have all 3. I think Ricky Williams is a 4 week fulltime back, then a committee on a lousy 3 or 4 win team. The salary is compelling though. As always, thanks for the forum.
Posted by MARK MALONEY | Aug. 27 at 03:07 AM
Oops - I meant Delhomme instead of Schaub.
Posted by Richard Loppnow | Aug. 27 at 02:28 PM
In these challenge contests, a 'big bet' is any player you have who most no one else has, or any player you don't roster who most everybody else has. Rodgers will start off close to 100%, and Grant not much behind. If so, rostering them will be a CYA move. Dispensing with either would be muy cojones.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 02 at 01:14 AM
I agree that Rodgers will be nearly 100%, but I don't see Grant that way. Maybe he's 60%, even 70%, but among the good challenge players I think you'll see a significant movement to leave him off at the start. Certainly no one's going to use him Week 1 against MIN, and I'd say there's a fair chance he'll look bad enough against that defense that most players will plan on holding him back in Weeks 3 (vs. DAL) and 4 (at TB) as well. So owning Grant is using a roster slot on a player who might go one time before Week 5 - that's a pretty substantial bet in my view that it'll be worth having Grant long-term, and I'm not so sure I'm sold. Funny enough, though: I'm pretty sure I WILL own Crosby now after the Seahawks rostered both Mare and Coutu.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 02 at 01:16 AM
Didn't mention Winslow because I don't like the look of the CLE offense, and - more to the point - don't see a reason to crawl up the salary scale when doing so probably means losing 4+ TDs to Witten.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Sep. 02 at 01:27 AM
I'm going back and forth on a lot - a LOT - of backs from Jacobs on down. Not just Jacobs and Grant; also Lewis, McGahee, Turner, White, Graham, Forte. I've even tossed around Kevin Smith; as little as I like the player, there could be real value in the role. Since Ronnie Brown made it back for the last preseason game I think Ricky Williams is probably off the board. My thinking right now: Avoid the worst lines and quarterbacks. Only problem: Which guys does that leave? Jacobs, maybe Lewis, Graham and no one else. Grant has an iffy line and a question mark QB, plus those matchups. McGahee has Joe Flaccid, Turner has Matt Ryan and a dreadful line, White has Vince Young, Forte has Kyle Orton and a possibly dreadful line, Smith has a possibly dreadful line. It's ugly or uglier; I'll probably carry Portis if he has a big game Thursday.
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