by XL Staffer Rich McClellan
Preseason Game 1
What are the most important skills for a successful fantasy football owner to possess? A shrewd judge of talent, inside connections juiced with the next big tip or maybe the ability to compute and decipher Dynamic Value-Based Drafting, on the fly, in your head? All may be desirable skills but I believe there are two basic skills that are fundamental to fantasy success, pattern recognition and it’s psychic cousin, pattern precognition. What are they and how do they figure into your successful march to the top of the fantasy football mountain?
Football is the ultimate team sport and every player, even the superior ones, are affected by their surroundings, their teammates and the system in which they perform. The ability to recognize these effects, unravel the puzzle and decipher the pattern into predictable results is the foundation for all fantasy football success. If pattern recognition helps assess the results from these complex systems, pattern precognition is the skill of visualizing where a successful pattern is about to form, envisioning how pieces will fit together to create fantasy production where none existed before.
Opportunity Watch will examine and analyze the trends and tendencies inside the complex system we know as the NFL. Identifying and acting on these patterns before the pack can react is the key to being a winner and not a follower in any league you may compete in. Of course the trail is fraught with danger and failure is a constant companion but the alternative is to be timid and watch others gather the spoils. Each week we will examine three Positive and three Negative situations around the NFL in search of a hidden nugget worthy of our attention, while avoiding the fools gold that sparkles in false glory.
Training camp and preseason in 2004 have already dealt ugly starting hands to several teams around the league. Let’s check in and see how our fantasy prospects are affected, starting with number three and counting down; drum-roll please.
3) Denver Running Backs
Griffin, Hearst, Bell and Anderson present and accounted for. Mike Shanahan may be the only person in America who is currently enjoying the logjam of running backs competing for the coveted Bronco tailback position. Denver’s expertise in producing fantasy monsters under Shanahan is well documented and the fantasy nation is watching this dance with an eye towards choosing the winner to grace their starting lineup.
Griffin is the early leader, having been named the starter; Bell is the Portis-wannabe that many people think can be the home run hitter. Hearst is the wild card, a proven vet who is constantly under-estimated. Anderson is a team robot who does what he is told and is the type of player winning organizations need, selfless. Add in the fact that Shanahan is the league’s top liar, I mean strategist, and you can lose sleep trying to predict this.
Here are a few templates to choose which may help frame the situation.
Upside Duo: Choose Griffin and Bell, which will allow you to ride Griffin till Bell takes over. To choose this template you must believe in Bell as the ultimate starter.
Safeside Duo: Choose Griffin and Anderson. Bell never catches on, Griffin holds the starter job and Anderson will be the goal line back and vulture touchdowns.
The Dabbler: Ignore all the other options and draft Hearst late and watch as he steals the spotlight.
The Atheist: Look elsewhere for divine guidance.
MY CHOICE: I’d take Griffin/Bell to fill a # 3 RB spot but otherwise I’m an Atheist.
2) Miami Offense
Poor Dave Wannstedt. He didn’t like his quarterback so he went out and got a new one. A.J. Feeley showed up at mini-camp and in a very short period of time had observers noting that Jay Fiedler wasn’t as bad as they remembered. Way to leverage that second round pick, Dave. His offensive coordinator Norv Turner left to be a head coach and the transition to a new set of offensive coaches was a disaster. Next the team decided that David Boston was just the tonic to help out an anemic passing attack. Could you write this very sentence and have the self-control to not comment further?
Did I forget to mention that the locomotive that’s has been pulling the Wannstedt train went off to puff by himself? Don’t forget Wannstedt’s demotion where his owner showed a similar lack of judgement when he just didn’t fire Wannstedt. In short, they deserve each other. So what’s a fantasy owner to do? It’s simple, examine the train wreck and look for pieces that are still recognizable enough to turn back into something. Here’s what I would consider salvaging from the pile.
Chris Chambers: Has the talent, has been a TD producer on already anemic passing teams and his total targets just went up significantly with Ricky on walkabout. Sure he’ll double-teamed but he got doubled before. The team no longer can be bailed out of passing by an attempt at a power running game. Would be great as a #2 wide receiver on a fantasy franchise.
Randy McMichael: Add relief from not facing jail time over whacking his wife and the fact that he’s gotten a de facto field promotion up to the #2 target in the passing game and I see motivation. However this may lead to people reaching and taking him early.
Travis Minor: Minor was never going to replace Ricky in a power running offense, but those days are over and the Dolphins will have to open up into a more diversified attack. If they spread the field a little and give Minor some room both as a runner and a receiver he may surprise. There are worse options for your #3 running back spot.
MY CHOICE: Look for Chambers as a #2 wide receiver and maybe Minor if he falls late.
1) Arizona Offense
I would start with “Poor Denny” but I will shy away from any comparisons between Coach Green and Coach Wannstedt. Denny Green is a proven NFL head coach who has produced consistently good offenses with a pedigree that dates back into the Forty-Niner dynasty. When he took the Cardinal job he lent immediate credibility to a franchise that had none. Denny has a flair for the dramatic but don’t be put off by his lofty proclamations about his players and their Pro-Bowl futures. He sets high standards and expects results, when is the last time that was heard and enforced in Arizona?
Denny’s early decision to name Emmitt Smith as the starting tailback seems eerily prescient. Marcel Shipp was the unfortunate recipient of Green’s mental energy and is now gone for the year with a broken leg. Now Josh Scooby and Damien Anderson assume the dark horse roles behind the old warhorse Smith. To add to the comic relief surrounding the offense, Green cut Pete Kendall for being a snitch and possibly weakened an already suspect unit. Actually this is verging on being Wannstedtish, isn’t it?
Then the injury gods saw fit to deal last year’s prodigy wide receiver Anquan Boldin a knee injury, which will sideline him for 8-12 weeks. I guess they didn’t like the fact that Denny took another prodigy wide receiver number one in the draft, the much-ballyhooed Larry Fitzgerald. Just to get Larry’s attention they quickly zapped him with an ankle injury to make sure he didn’t think this was going to be too easy. (Cue a sideline shot of wide receiver Bryant Johnson who is also sidelined with an injury). So what’s left of the playoff-bound offense juggernaut that Denny Green has been promising all summer?
Freddie Jones: Jones has always been a strange combination of pretty good yet not quite top shelf as a fantasy tight end. He should see more targets now that Boldin is out for an extended period and he has slimmed down to 260 from 275 last year to gain more quickness. This may be Freddie best chance for a trip to Hawaii.
Larry Fitzgerald: He supposedly will miss a week with his ankle sprain so he should have plenty of time to get ready for the regular season. Many scouts said Fitz was ready to step right in and play at the pro level and now we will all find out together. With Boldin gone as the season open don’t be surprised if Green sets out to prove how good Fitzgerald is. He will certainly face a stiff learning curve against the number one corners he will encounter but is it a stretch to see him catch 75 passes. I think not.
The Running Game: Now I’m really an Atheist!
MY CHOICE: Even as a #3 wide receiver, Fitzgerald will produce good numbers, maybe even as a borderline #2. Grab him.
Not everything is dark and dreary in the NFL; let’s peek in on a few rosy scenarios that you can ride into the sunset.
3) Houston Offense
Three years in the making the Texans are about to display some surprising offense prowess this year as Dom Capers once again has an expansion franchise on the rise. Starting quarterback David Carr has paid his dues and earned respect for weathering two years of beatings that would have sidelined Mike Vick for the rest of the decade. Team sacks have dropped from 76 in year one to 36 in year two. Houston’s focused attention on the offensive line will pay dividends this year as the foundation for a marked team improvement.
Last year’s edition of the Texans began the season featuring the explosive moves of running back Stacy Mack (insert sarcastic tone) to compliment a passing game anchored by a rookie wide receiver named Johnson. The Mack Attack flopped and a precocious youngster named Domanick Davis jolted the running game into this century. Meanwhile rookie Andre Johnson used his size and speed to serve notice to the league’s defensive backs that he would be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. The difference in offensive firepower available to David Carr in just one year is astounding.
Carr is ready to drive this newer, shinier offense up into the middle of the NFL’s offensive rankings. Davis is backed by another bright prospect in Tony Hollings, which gives the running game depth. There are decent options in the passing game after main man Johnson and the Texas defense may well find it’s way into the top ten. Carr will be a good backup quarterback on any fantasy squad, Davis handcuffed with Hollings will provide spark as a great number two fantasy tandem and Andre Johnson may start rumors of the second-year Breakout Receiver trend. Watching Carr carve up the 1st-string Dallas defense in the first preseason game is just a portent of things to come.
MY CHOICE: Andre Johnson will be a star at wide receiver and it starts now. Get him as a #2 and he may even act like a ONE!
2) Tennessee Running Game
For fantasy fans the Titan running game is looking rosy because of the departure of grizzled and fizzled Eddie George. Eddie did the Titans proud during his stay there and was a positive influence on the team but all good things must come to an end. Eddie’s exit leads to a new beginning and the Titans are showing confidence in second-year starter Chris Brown.
Brown missed the preseason in his rookie year and slowly worked his way into consistent playing time as the season wore on. He took over the third-down job for the latter part of the season and showed flashes of the pop and explosiveness that George no longer possess. He scored a touchdown in both playoff games and averaged 5.3 yards per carry in limited action. There are many skeptics about Brown’s prospects but that goes with the territory. Why should you be positive towards him?
In the past three seasons Eddie George averaged 320 carries while the team has averaged 11 rushing touchdowns. In the prior three seasons, 1998-2000, Eddie averaged 357 carries and the team averaged 15 rushing touchdowns. If Brown has moderate success and gets 300 carries with a pedestrian 4.0 average, he’ll put up 1200 yards rushing and score 7-9 touchdowns. That is a solid number two running back on any roster. Did I forget to mention that Eddie also averaged 47 catches and 2.3 touchdowns in that same 1998-2000 period?
Brown is entering the season with a good team, a great quarterback and a productive system. He will add some spice back into the running game instead of running into his blockers from behind. Naysayers will say he’s never done it and been nicked with injuries but I’ll be laughing in mid season when his star beings in rise.
MY CHOICE: Draft Chris Brown as your number two back and he still has upside.
1) Prove it to me!
The preseason is young and to tell you the truth I haven’t had any shivers down my spine about any situation worthy of this week’s Numero Uno for Good Vibrations. I need someone to step up and claim this spot before I start a slow drool. Where should I be looking? What situations are you excited about? Tell me where you want me to point my critical eye and we’ll consider it for next week’s article. Good or bad, beautiful or ugly, give me an idea of what you’d like to see analyzed. You can email me at mailto:RichM@XpertSports.com
, comment at the end of this article or Private Message me on the site. Until next time, may all your draft picks be worthy!