StrategyOctober 24, 2006

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Midseason Lessons Learned

By Jeff LaGrassa

We’re now almost halfway through the 2006 fantasy football season, and it’s time to ask ourselves the following question: what lessons have we learned? Much of this article may be of the “hindsight is 20/20″ mindset, but it will also help to identify trends and to develop strategies for the future.

Edgerrin James – All the fantasy football pundits warned us in the preseason about the poor offensive line in Arizona; they were right. Through seven weeks, Edge has yet to put up a 100-yard game, and he has scored only 2 TDs this year with none in the month of October. The Cardinals’ fantasy playoffs schedule is also brutal, with a week 15 matchup against the stout Denver defense and a week 16 (fantasy Superbowl) away game at San Francisco. “But it’s the 49ers!” you say; now consider that the Cards have yet to score more than 10 points outside the confines of their new space-age stadium. Lesson learned: no matter the talent, a bad offensive line will kill a running back’s fantasy value.

Chester Taylor – Remember when new coach Brad Childress predicted in the preseason that Taylor would be a workhorse back and receive 20+ carries per game? That wasn’t coach-speak. True to his word, Taylor has carried 20+ times in all but one game this season. Taylor, coupled with the best offensive line money can buy, yielded 590 rushing yards. This is currently 2nd in the NFL behind Tiki Barber. Taylor has also caught 3 or more passes in every game this year; a bonus for those in points-per-reception leagues. Lesson learned: a strong offensive line plus “guaranteed” touches can yield favorable fantasy results.

Ronnie Brown – Without Ricky Williams to share carries with, Brown looked like a sure-fire stud to the fantasy football experts. They didn’t count on the poor offensive line play, poor quarterback play, and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey’s questionable play-calling. Brown exceeded 20 carries in a game only twice this season. He also had 15 or fewer carries in four games, nearly all of which were close games where the Dolphins trailed by a touchdown or less. Against the Packers, QB Joey Harrington was called on to make a ludicrous 62 pass attempts. Fantasy owners may have been satiated by Brown’s receiving yardage, but he has exceeded 70 yards rushing only twice this season. Lesson learned: a bad offensive line and underutilization can kill a running back’s fantasy value.

Jon Kitna – Coming into this season, Kitna hadn’t been a full-time starter since 2003. The only action he saw since then was mop-up duty for Carson Palmer or late in the season after the Bengals had either been eliminated from playoff contention (2004) or guaranteed a spot (2005). After signing with the woeful Detroit Lions in the offseason, counting on fantasy prowess for Kitna in his new home was a tough pill to swallow. But after a slow start, Kitna trails only Donovan McNabb in passing yardage. The secret – offensive coordinator Mike Martz. The track record of “The Mad Scientist” in St. Louis with quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger is well known, and it shouldn’t have taken an enormous leap of faith to predict that Martz would work his magic with Kitna in Motown. Of course you’d like to see fewer INTs from Kitna, but after the bye week Kitna should continue to pay divedends for owners against the soft pass defenses of Atlanta, San Francisco, and Arizona. Lesson learned: an offensive coordinator with a proven track record can yield favorable fantasy results.

Oakland Raiders – Those fantasy football pundits again! They all tell you not to put too much stock into preseason action. True, it’s important not to elevate in your rankings players who excel against second and third string defenses. You also shouldn’t panic when teams like the Colts don’t win a single game in the preseason, but anyone who witnessed just a small amount of Oakland Raiders preseason play would surely have seen the writing on the wall. The offensive line play, quarterbacking, play-calling, and coaching have all been atrocious since the beginning of August, and fantasy owners were wise to recognize this and avoid these players in drafts. The only bright spots on the horizon have been some keen defensive play, and Lamont Jordan and Randy Moss owners can look forward to week 14, 15, and 16 matchups (fantasy playoffs) against Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Kansas City respectively. The latter two of which are at home – assuming Jordan and Moss owners actually reach the fantasy playoffs. Lesson learned: lousy preseason play can sometimes be a good indicator of what’s to come during the regular season.

Seattle Seahawks – With QB Matt Hasselbeck sidelined for two to four weeks with a Grade II right MCL sprain and Pro Bowl RB Shaun Alexander recovering from a broken foot, the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders defenses look to be excellent starts in the coming two weeks. Seneca Wallace and Maurice Morris have been less than adequate as replacements. Darrell Jackson owners, beware!

Jeff LaGrassa is a Steelers fan and Cafe regular. Besides fantasy football, he enjoys disc golf, skiing, winemaking, and playing the electric bass. You can catch him posting in the Forums as The Lung.

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