Hillis, Johnson, Peyton & Marshall lead Fast Forward year-in-review
Brandon Marshall did not meet the expectations of a top-5 fantasy wideout
Peyton Hillis and Michael Vick were easily fantasy's best value picks in 2010
Fantasy football remains a phenomenon, but one with much room for growth
There will be hundreds of columns looking back at the 2010 fantasy season. They'll try to figure out what went wrong with some guys, how they missed the signs with others, and crow about the ones they got right. We all do it, some better than others, but no one has ever really tried to quantify it. I'm no stats guy, but I believe we can learn a lot from them when presented properly.
What I've always wondered is in the game of football, where specialization is valued, why do we expect everyone to do everything in the fantasy game? Even projection systems need to be broken down and checked to see if they can be, in essence, platooned. Does this one get RBs better than this one? Does that one get yardage and points right? Can this one help you find matchups? Is that one just hype, bad jokes, and good self-promotion? What we need is someone to pick the pickers, but given the nature of the business, that's unlikely to happen. In Europe, there are sites with huge traffic that not only put out the latest rumors (or rumours, I guess) about their brand of football, but also rate the rumor-mongers. There's nothing like that here. I've had my hits and misses here, just like everyone, but back in 2006, Peter King and I were sitting in a Starbucks during the NFL Combine. It was the first time he'd met me and in the course of the conversation, which came during the heart of taking heat about saying Mark Prior was hurt and the Cubs flatly denying it, he offered a piece of advice that's stuck with me. "Do an honest day's work for an honest day's pay," he said. I hope I've done that, and I hope that all the time and effort you spent on fantasy this year paid you back with fun, camaraderie, and maybe a little bit of education.
Nik Bonaddio from numberFire has been awesome all year long, beating projections and giving us insight into how he did it. I asked Nik to give me his over/underachievers of the year. If you drafted Brandon Marshall, you probably weren't happy. According to Nik's research, we get these kind of ugly numbers:
Average draft position: #5 WR
Five-year average performance from that draft slot:
93.4 catches, 1283 yards, 9.2 TDs, 184.72 FP
81 recs, 917 yards, 3 TDs, 107.70 FP
Things were much better if you had Peyton Hillis, but not many people drafted him. I'll let Nik explain more:
Average draft position: #60 RB
Five-year average performance from that draft slot:
47.3 carries, 261.56 yards, 2.5 TDs, 39.45 FP
264 carries, 1,164 yards, 11 TDs, 232.32 FP
Every year, the fantasy gods and several mail-in contest winners convene in a hotel conference room just outside of Wolf Point, Mont. and roll a 186-sided die to determine who will be the out-of-nowhere star of that fantasy season. In the past years, we've seen stars like Kurt Warner emerge from the shadows of the average American life, and we've seen phoenixes like Mike Sims-Walker shine brightly and fizzle out like a Fourth of July sparkler. While time will tell what rich pageantry may come for Peyton Hillis, there is no denying that he was a phenomenon in 2010, a hard-hitting throwback that defined the style of the AFC North.
While it's true that no one player will define the NFL season more than Michael Vick, Hillis gets my vote for overachiever due to the base connotation of the word: Unlike Vick (or Brandon Lloyd, for that matter), Hillis is not blessed with a unique blend of generational talent, nor was he blessed with a roster flush with playmakers toiling in a system designed for their success. Instead, Hillis carried his team through a gauntlet of injury concerns, brutal scheduling, and perhaps above all, a persistent and haunting culture of losing and disappointment. Hillis brought the loyal, but long-suffering citizens of the Cleveland hope, four yards and several broken tackles at a time.
Is Chris Johnson a bust? If you picked him, you used no lower than the third pick in the draft. He finishes the season as the seventh-highest scoring RB in the league. That's not a huge dropoff in value, but where the dropoff was noticed was in perceived value. Johnson talked himself up all preseason, talking about going for 2,500 yards. After his previous season, that seemed possible (if unlikely), but it wasn't where he lost his value. It was in TDs, plain and simple, where he lost 100 points. In drafting Johnson so high, people were counting on Tennessee to be a playoff contender, for Vince Young to take a step forward, and for the passing game to give some support for Johnson. None of those events happened, leaving Kerry Collins throwing the ball in catch-up mode. (Quick -- who was worth more from a fantasy perspective - Collins or Young? Yes, it was Collins, but only by six points, 87 to 81! Together, they were worth a little less than Donovan McNabb. Ouch.) Johnson wasn't bad, and you could make arguments that he wasn't a bust; but heading into next year, it's possible that the pendulum swings a bit too hard. With a new coach and possibly a new QB and offense, Johnson could end up the new focus and a worthy No. 1 value. Before you call me crazy, look at the list of guys ahead of him. Do you really trust Arian Foster, Peyton Hillis, Darren McFadden, Jamaal Charles, or LeSean McCoy more than you do Johnson? Adrian Peterson's in there and I'd take him over Johnson, but Peterson and the Vikings will be facing much the same situation as the Titans offensively.
As 20 teams have packed it in after Sunday's games, there's one last thing that most of the players will do on their way out. It's not something that gets much -- or any -- coverage, but it's one of the key things a team has to do each off-season. It's potentially a massive cost if not done properly and with a stoppage looming, it could be an even bigger task this year. It's the exit physical. Player health insurance is one of those topics that isn't very well understood. Let's face it -- it's boring and people for the most part don't care about the individual players, with the "rub some dirt on it" ethos having an entrenched home among the hardcore fans that feel they're owed a gladiatorial death for their StubHub sacrifice. I asked Dr. Neal ElAttrache, now with the Kerlan-Jobe Orthpaedic Clinic and formerly the team doctor for the old Los Angeles Rams, what went into an exit physical and what he looked for:
The exit physical is the season-end exam that gives the player and the team the opportunity to identify, document and possibly address injuries or conditions that have arisen during the season. Sometimes these require timely treatment as soon as the season is over.
It also provides a mechanism to assign liability and a team's responsibility for the treatment and any disability resulting from a football related injury that may have occurred with that specific team that season. It helps distinguish such an injury or condition from one which may occur afterward in the off-season in non-football or unsanctioned activities.
The exam is usually focused upon documented injuries that have occurred during the season or upon physical complaints a player may have which he reports on a player-questionnaire which is part of the exit physical.
That's pretty clear, but why is it so key? It's that "assignment of liability and responsibility" that Dr. ElAttrache referenced. A team is responsible for an injury that happened while a player was on the field for a team. Some players will milk the system, especially in states with strong Worker's Compensation rules, trying to draw out something to keep them going when a football career is fading. That's a small minority, to be sure, and it's important that players don't hide injuries as well, worrying that it will make it into their personnel file and cost them another chance, another year on the roster. It's a tough balance that is made tougher in situations where the team physician is seen as more of a team employee than a treating physican. It's a behind-the-scenes thing that can cost millions of dollars for a team, so it's very important. Like so many things on the sports medicine side of the game, it's the new hidden game of football.
First and 10, first offensive play for the Colts. Peyton Manning drops back, looking for Jacob Tamme on a long out. The Titans blitz a couple and while Joseph Addai picks it up as best he can, Manning sees that he's still got a guy coming off the edge unabated. He drops in a modified slide, taking the seven-yard loss, moving to second down, and commences to move his offense down the field. Later, on 2nd and 7 at the Titans' 30, Manning is forced out of the pocket and can hear William Hayes coming behind him. He throws the ball at Blair White's feet and slides. Last week, we saw Manning on an end-of-game bootleg where he also felt a player coming from behind. Instead of fighting for a meaningless TD, Manning slid. All three of these plays are the kind of heady play that we're used to seeing from Manning, taking the smart play over a few extra yards. He avoids injury, doesn't get forced into mistakes, and heads to the playoffs despite a team around him that wouldn't look good in a preseason game. Sliding may not be a new idea, but it seems that the way Manning does it would be a new idea to most QBs around the league. It's not just QBs, but all players, fighting for the extra yard, that put ball control at risk. In a copycat league, here's something worth copying!
Could we make begging for pass interference a penalty?
Fantasy football is massive, but it's got room for growth. Part of the beauty is simplicity, but I still think we can find a "Goldilocks" system with better realism while still keeping it simple enough to keep the larger audience involved. One idea I've been working on is a system that uses both the popular head-to-head format and the more rational total-point system. The total would take out the high and low scores for each player, which eliminates the Week 17 problem, and would create a one- or two-win bonus to the highest-scoring league teams. In the tests I've run using some sample leagues, it works out more often than not, though it can surely be made better with more experimentation. Any added complexity can be hidden behind a simple, comfortable interface, after all. The danger of the runaway success of fantasy football is complacency and incumbency.
ESPN and Yahoo are the duopoly of the fantasy world and though there have been inroads by others and no shortage of contenders, there's room in the market for an innovation. Most of the steps forward in 2010 were made on the information side, but the potential for stoppage is holding back the pace of development right now. A deal on the CBA could help change that so Mssrs. Goodell and Smith? Please.