OpinionJune 20, 2009

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Lance Moore: The Single Most Undervalued WR of 2009

By Ken Chun

New Orleans had the #1 offense in the league last year, both in yardage and points scored. We all know that Drew Brees had over 5,000 yards and nearly broke Dan Marino’s record. But how good were they as a team? New Orleans was a full 50 yards per game and more than two points per game ahead of the similarly built #4 ranked Arizona offense. By comparison, the Washington Redskins were 50 yards per game better than the lowly Detroit Lions in 2008, and the Indianapolis Colts were 2+ PPG better than the San Francisco 49ers! Now answer me this, where are Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin going in drafts in comparison to Marques Colston and Lance Moore? The answer: astronomically higher. Why?

New Orleans as an offense last year was better than some of the best in the league by a good margin. And here is the disturbing part: none, I repeat none, of the major players on the offense played the full year outside of Drew Brees. Drew Brees is what makes this offense great, and he is proceeding to turn all the players on that offense into fantasy studs, similar to what Peyton Manning has been doing for the past decade in Indianapolis. Drew Brees is a stud. But again, what does that mean?

Remember how good Clinton Portis was in Denver? The guy was consistently one of the best in the league and deservedly a repeat top-three fantasy draft pick. Clinton Portis is still a top-ten caliber RB, but he has seen significant declines in production ever since he became a Washington Redskin. Drew Brees is in the exact opposite situation. Brees has moved into a much more productive offensive philosophy going from San Diego to New Orleans, and now instead of a borderline top-ten QB he is arguably the #1 fantasy QB in the league at this point (excluding healthy Brady + Moss). Brees has kept up his consistently good rate of production over the past several years and New Orleans has passed the ball more than any other team. The result: back-to-back 4400/28 and 5000/34 seasons. Peyton Manning, the longtime QB1 in fantasy leagues, has a career average much closer to 4000/28. That looks to me like Drew Brees’ floor in his current situation. That leads me up to the point of this article. While Peyton Manning had Marvin Harrison for most of his career, and Reggie Wayne was a borderline stud as his WR2 for a number of years as a second fiddle to Harrison, Drew Brees has Marques Colston and Lance Moore. Moore was the leading WR for the Saints in 2008.

Lance Moore has the potential to win fantasy championships in 2009. We’ve seen same-team fantasy WR1s in Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, and Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, and I think we are seeing it again in Marques Colston and Lance Moore. In fact, we already saw it in the second half of last year! Colston and Moore together were dynamite in the Saints system in 2008. Colston is being drafted worthy of his potential stud ability in 2009, yet Moore has quickly become a “one-year wonder,” a good-but-not-great also-ran. Of course, it’s still early for this data, but I looked at one prominent mock draft site just now and noticed Colston as WR9 and Lance Moore as WR29. WR9 can potentially drafted you studs such as Steve Smith, but at WR29 you are looking at complete gambles such as Donnie Avery and even rookies like Michael Crabtree. Why such a large difference?

Here are Colston and Moore’s stats in the second half of the season last year. I didn’t include the games before the bye because presumably Colston was still limited in those games, but it is interesting to note that Lance Moore also had a very good statistics in those games.

Colston: 8 games – 42/678/5 (prorated 80/1350/10 = stud)
Moore: 8 games – 41/497/7 (prorated 80/1000/14 = stud)

Break down the numbers. Lance Moore was on a prorated 1000/14 run in the second half of the season. These numbers are very similar to what Colston put together. But we also have an even bigger sample to work with for him. Lance Moore effectively only played in around 14 games last year (he was buried as backup in the first two games), so his overall numbers are misleading. On a PPG basis, Lance Moore could be considered a 1100/11 WR last year; in other words, a borderline top-five stud. And again, these are similar numbers to what Marques Colston has put up in the past.

On paper that looks good, but could he also be just another 1000/10, third-year WR that benefited due to injuries to other key players? Wait, just another 1000/10 third-year WR? Huh? 1000-yard, 10-TD WRs don’t fall out of the sky last time I checked. WRs don’t break out and disappear as often as RBs do, right? And looking at the game tape, anybody that watched this guy play saw a player with good hands, good speed, separation ability, and incredible ball awareness. There is a reason this guy had a lot of impressive TD catches. He can get deep, he can make catches in traffic, and he allows Drew Brees to put the ball on a spot. I would argue that Lance Moore is one of the single best WRs in the league at adjusting his body right before the catch. And I think Drew Brees is the best QB at putting the ball through a tight window. Bottom line: not too many guys are out there running 20-yard post-corner patterns and then making over the shoulder basket catches in the end zone. Not many WRs have that kind of skill and even less have a QB that can consistently deliver that kind of pass. Moore’s career arc to me is strikingly similar to another third-year breakout WR who also dabbled in special teams: Steve Smith. Moore is a 5′9″, 175-pound WR that has the ability to catch TDs on fade passes. How rare is that?

I don’t think there is any other WR in the league like Lance Moore this offseason. He comes with some risk and has a large range of potential production. Some people expect this guy to fade into the background and regress back to a backup role on his own team. In fact, based on Moore’s 2009 draft position, the majority of fantasy GMs are predicting that Lance Moore will take a significant step back in production in 2009. Many look at Moore’s and/or Drew Brees’ outstanding years in 2008 and expect a regression for Moore back to an average WR2/WR3, maybe at a 70/1000/7-type level. I look at this guy and see a breakout player who excelled without Colston on the other side of him, and I see a guy that kept his playing time when Colston came back and still competed to be the #1 WR on that team. Lance Moore is the potential #1 fantasy WR in New Orleans when all is said and done and has potentially the singular best fantasy situation for any WR in the league, even as a WR2 in New Orleans, as the potential is there to have multiple fantasy studs at the WR position on a prolific offense. The best part with Moore though is that the guy goes for about one-third the cost of Marques Colston. Most WRs will be drafted ahead of their past production based on potential improvements in their game DNA situation. Some people call these guys gambles or fliers. Lance Moore is being drafted well behind his past production based on theories that don’t even relate to his play on the field. Some people would call that value. I go further and call this guy the Single Most Undervalued WR in 2009.

One caveat: watch for Lance Moore’s injury status leading up to the season. Moore is currently out of commission after having undergone surgery to repair his torn/dislocated shoulder that was injured in mid-April. Moore’s draft status is somewhat up in the air due to the injury, as he may or may not be ready to participate in training camp or available to play until the start of the season. But strangely, Moore’s draft status has remained for the most part unchanged before and after the injury. The one thing that should make any owner hesitant (injury), has not been met with any reaction at all. Personally, I think that just points to the amount of value that Lance Moore brings to the table. The guy suffers a significant injury before the start of training camp and people don’t even bother to downgrade him. The majority of fantasy football owners don’t care whether or not Moore is injured, but instead believe that he just can’t do it again. Being a good owner in fantasy football means staying on top of all the latest developments, and therefore the injury is definitely one to watch. But once the green light is given and Moore is cleared to play with no setbacks, Lance Moore should be a go for the Saints and for fantasy drafts.

Ken Chun is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Ken in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of Kensat30.
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