Challenge Contests — by Justin Eleff
TIGHT ENDS AND KICKERS. STOP ME IF YOU GET TOO EXCITED.
Posted Aug. 15 at 02:34 AM
Hell is a wall of TVs playing preseason football on a loop. There's nothing worse, not because there isn't any other lousy programming but because none of it so nearly suggests something better. Preseason football is football, for crying out loud. But it isn't.
OK, and if there's a literary equivalent of the preseason – and, mind you, I am using the word literary verrrrrry loosely – it's this column, this week. Wherein we run down the scourge of all fantasy challenge rosters: tight ends and kickers.
I know I haven't exactly sold what follows with that lead, and I can't, really. Not much to sell. You have to own TEs and Ks in every challenge I can think of (unlike team defenses, which are not required at least in a couple of games), so you have to get your information somewhere. Reading it here is like taking vitamins in pill form; I'll try to give you everything you need in the most condensed form possible.
It'd be nice – and too easy, of course – if you could own Antonio Gates and Jeremy Shockey (or some other second … Tony Gonzalez or Todd Heap or Chris Cooley) and call your decisions made. But salary caps demand otherwise – especially in games where the top tight ends are priced almost like the top wide receivers. Gates' $1740 salary in the CDM Football Challenge makes little sense compared to Steve Smith's $1800, for instance:
Gates, 2006: 924 yards receiving; 13.0 average; 9 touchdowns.
Smith, 2006: 1,166; 14.0; 8.
Alge Crumpler's $1660 (780; 13.9; 8) makes even less sense compared to Anquan Boldin's $1600 (1,203; 14.5; 4). Remember that receiving TDs are not even their own category, but rather count toward Total Scoring. Even if you couldn't make up a few TDs elsewhere, the difference between Boldin and Crumpler is 400-plus yards at a markedly better average rate – a quarter of a season's worth of yards for the very best receivers in the NFL.
I'm not saying you can't consider Gates (although you probably can't consider Crumpler, what with scatter-armed Joey Harrington apparently his guy for all 16 games of 2007). I'm saying you can't consider him until you know where to cut salary among the other positions – and that means you probably can't consider him to start the season, at least.
Instead of starting at the top of the TE salary lists, then, I suggest you start at the bottom. Think cheap, then see what else (and more) you can afford.
Think cheap, start at the bottom … and look for what?
Two schools of thought:
One, look for the guys who will be most involved in their teams' offenses, and thus will catch the most passes for the most yards.
Two, look for the guys who are most athletic, and thus, however many passes they catch, will not ruin your receiving average.
Beggars can't be choosers, of course, and the truly cheap will rarely combine lots of catches with a solid average. Most years you can find a cheapo to post a solid average and get more catches higher up the salary list; this year I think you can do it the other way.
Eric Johnson looks indispensable to me at a mere $500. This is a guy who caught 82 passes just a few seasons ago, and now he's Drew Brees' security blanket. I figure 48 catches are a cinch if he stays healthy, and given the Saints' questionable WR stable a new career high in TDs (it stands at 3 now) is nearly certain.
But Johnson's career average is a putrid 9.4 yards per catch, so I'm not teaming him with a second plodder. The mid-salaried guy who strikes me as most likely to post a healthy average is Vernon Davis, Johnson's teammate a year ago, at $760.
After that, it's own to taste. Many teams will carry only two tight ends, freeing an extra taxi spot for a QB or RB. I like to shuffle my players at every position, so I'll go for bye week coverage and own a third, probably Shockey at $910. There are other viable plays in the same range, notably L.J. Smith ($840) and Heap ($830), but note: I suspect Kellen Winslow will be very widely owned at $770. I don't think he's a bad play, exactly, if healthy, but I don't want him anywhere near Johnson with his 89 catches at 9.8 per. In fact, 89 catches are frankly too many at that low an average, particularly when they're coming with only 3 TDs. There's a limit, I guess, to how involved I really want my TEs to be.
So start at the bottom and work up, but be smart about it.
Here, on the other hand, there's little sense to starting at the bottom; very few legitimate cheapos (and by that I mean: cheapos confirmed to be their teams' regular kickers) exist at the moment.
My general rule in selecting kickers is to own the cheapest players who (a) clearly have jobs and (b) play for teams with good-to-great offenses. This year those cheapest players fall into a range that ain't really so cheap: Josh Brown (SEA) and David Akers (PHI) cost $1530, and it won't get too much cheaper from there. I'll likely own one of those two with Olindo Mare (NO) at $1490 and Stephen Gostkowski (NE), my one lock at $1400.
So call it Brown / Mare / Gostkowski – do I then try to go cheaper with my fourth? I might like to in theory, but the pickings are the very definition of slim. So ...
Adam Vinatieri (IND) looks very reasonable as the kicker I expect to lead the NFL in scoring in 2007, especially given that his $1690 is only the seventh-highest number at the position. Which means, I suppose, I'll go with my first-ever high end kicking mix, and I'll look to save salary elsewhere.
Two final tips before (next week) we turn to actually playing the challenge games:
- I never have the right mix of kickers. Ever. So there's something wrong – probably lots of somethings wrong – with Vinatieri / Brown / Mare / Gostkowski, and you should own some other combination.
- Ideally you wouldn't use any of your new player purchases on a kicker. Famous last words, of course, but at this position more than any other you want to be certain your guys have different bye weeks. It's far better to start a tight end on his bye – most years doing so won't cost you anything, really – than to lose even one-third of a week's kicking points. Trust me. I'm the only S.O.B. who didn't own Robbie Gould a year ago, so I was scrambling all season long.
Next week we put all of these columns together and actually start building some challenge rosters. The season's getting close, kids. Just three more weeks of hell.
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