FANTASY FOOTBALL ARTICLES

Under the Numbers: Preseason Edition
Alessandro Miglio
August 16, 2012
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Numbers have been a major part of my work as a senior writer, analyst and editor in the fantasy industry. Though they do not paint a full picture, they provide an interesting insight and a snapshot into a player’s potential for fantasy good or evil. Here are some intriguing statistics from the 2011 season that can inform your fantasy decisions this year.

1. Michael Turner – 3.3 yards per carry (YPC)

Yes, Michael Turner ran amok during Atlanta’s final regular season game, but that was a against a Buccaneer bunch that had mutinied against head coach Raheem Morris. In the five games before the cakewalk against Tampa Bay, the Turner averaged just 3.3 YPC and scored one rushing touchdown. Even if you include his Week 17 romp, his average was still a meager 3.8 YPC over his final six games.

Not only did he wear down as the season wore on, Turner turned 30 in the offseason.

The cherry on top of this is the coaching decree that will purportedly limit his carries. Turner is not taking that news lying down, but it is a good bet he will see a reduction in the 18.8 carries per game he had last season. His ADP reflects the risk you are taking if you draft him, but there are too many red flags here.

2. Torrey Smith – 16.8 yards per reception (YPR)

Looking for a deal at wide receiver? Look no further than Torrey Smith of the Ravens, whose NFL baptism involved 152 yards, three touchdowns and a fire hose to cool him off after the game against St. Louis last season. He was known as a burner coming out of college, but his biggest backers might have been taken aback by that performance.

That game certainly helped his averages, but his 16.8 YPR is still healthy over 50 catches. If he can get somewhere near that and catch 80 or 90 balls, he will be putting up some fantastic fantasy numbers.

Of course there is the small problem of Joe Flacco tossing the football. As good as he thinks he is, he has been a slightly better version of Jeff George thus far in his career—big arm, small game. If Flacco can take another step forward or three in his fifth year in the league, Smith will be the biggest beneficiary.

3. Cam Newton – 207.3 yards per game (YPG) , 59.1% passing, 7.2 yards per attempt (YPA), 1.25 touchdowns per game (TD/G)

What? Where are these numbers coming from?

These are actually Newton’s averages over his final eight games. After throwing for 862 yards in his first two games in the NFL, things simmered down in the passing game for the rookie of the year.

Imagine that he begins the season on a similar passing pace. That would put him around 3,400 yards and 20 touchdowns on the season. Now imagine he scores less than half the 14 rushing touchdowns he scored in 2011 during his sophomore campaign. Does that sound like a top-round quarterback?

“Heresy!”

All right, Newton will not regress that much, but the red flags are in place and flying surreptitiously. He might reward your second-round choice with another fantastic campaign.

4. Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall – 4,526 passing yards and 25 touchdowns; 104 receptions and 1,265 receiving yards, respectively

Things were looking up offensively for Denver in 2009. Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall had paired up for this fantastic season, and they were only three years into the league. Then new head coach Josh McDaniels decided to pursue Matt Cassel, putting Cutler into a bad mood. Cutler demanded a trade, and the Broncos were able to extort two first-round and a third-round pick out of the Bears.

Unfortunately, Cutler had a pooh platter—not even worth a second pooh—at wide receiver over the past few seasons, not to mention an offensive line resembling the entrance to a theme park (i.e. lined with turnstiles).  His limited arsenal caused a fantasy regression over the past couple of seasons, and his hot/cold fantasy performances have frustrated owners all around.

Marshall, in the meantime, was banished to quarterback purgatory in Miami, where he still managed to exceed 1,000 yards receiving with the likes of Chad Henne and Matt Moore at the helm. He has had some well-publicized drop issues—he dropped seven touchdowns in 2011 alone—but his talent was still evident in his ability to separate.

The Bears finally sprung for a quality receiver, and it will be a major boon for Cutler and that offense. The last time these two were together they posted some good fantasy numbers. It’ll be interesting to see if they can put together another great run now that they are both in their primes.

5. Larry Fitzgerald – 2.5 targets per game and 6 touchdowns

If you had to pick a quarterback for Larry Fitzgerald, would it be John Skelton or Kevin Kolb?

Well, the answer may be obvious, but those are the stat bumps Fitzgerald got when Skelton took over for Kolb last season. It might be increasingly clear that Skelton is the better man for the job, but Fitzgerald’s fantasy owners have to hope he wins the job outright.

Also of note, the addition of Michael Floyd should eventually help Fitzgerald—the Cardinals have had to dream up more and more ways to get him the ball in recent years while he has had Larry, Moe and/or Curley to “take the pressure off.” 

6. Aaron Rodgers – 6,094 passing yards and 59 touchdowns

Those would have been Discount Double Check’s passing numbers had he thrown 157 more passes last season, at least if he would have kept up his 9.2 YPA and 8.96 percent touchdown rate the rest of the way. Rodgers had a terribly efficient season for the Packers last season, which is the biggest reason why he is now the reigning MVP.

He is also the reigning fantasy MVP for similar reasons. His 26.9 PPG and 0.42 points per snap (PPS) dusted his closest competitors. He is heading into his prime this season at 28 years old and his offense has changed minimally. Aside from some concussion issues in the past—most of which have hopefully been remedied by his fancy helmet—Rodgers is just about the safest draft pick you can make.

7. Jamaal Charles – 6.1 YPC

He might be coming off a torn ACL, but Jamaal Charles has looked good thus far in the preseason. He and his ridiculous career 6.1 YPC should be good to go to start the season.

Fantasy owners no longer have to worry about Todd Haley holding JC Superstar’s hostage. The Chiefs have openly spoken about getting Charles and Peyton Hillis 500 combined carries. Even if Hillis will garner more carries in that tandem, this should be music to his owners’ ears. Charles’ career high in carries is 230 in 2010, and it sounds like he should hit that mark if he stays healthy this season.

All he did that season was average standard 15.1 PPG. Even if he is in a true timeshare with Hillis, that is simply par for the course for the dynamic running back. Of course his knee injury douses all this in water. Coming back from a torn ACL is no small feat, but he was hurt at the beginning of the season, giving him a few more months to recover than his counterparts Adrian Peterson and Rashard Mendenhall. Charles showed no ill-effects from the injury in his first game back, but the Chiefs might ease him into action to start the season.

8. Reggie Bush – 15 PPR PPG

The Dolphins have a new coaching regime in town, one that might have you scared to draft Reggie Bush – that and you might think Bush’s breakout fantasy season was a fluke. Joe Philbin comes over from the Packers, who have not been known for rushing the football over the past couple of seasons. Take a closer look and you will notice that is not necessarily the case. Ryan Grant was lost for the season

That point is largely irrelevant anyway because Mike Sherman will be running the offense. His highest-producing running backs have averaged 15 PPG in PPR leagues at his various stops as an offensive coordinator or head coach in college and the pros.

Bush may have cracked 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career – much of that having to do with staying healthy after an injury-marred stint with the Saints – but do not be surprised if he does it again.

9. Darren McFadden – 11.25 games per year

Granted the number was negatively impacted by playing just seven games in 2011, but Darren McFadden has basically been good for three-quarters of a season on an annual basis. Proceed with caution if you plan on taking McFadden with a high draft pick. (Translation: make sure to have good depth at the position.)

Bonus Raiders Stat: Carson Palmer - 2,753 yards and 13 TDs

For a guy coming out of retirement and getting thrown to the wolves with little practice, Carson Palmer had some pretty good statistics last year. He started nine games and managed over 2,700 yards, though he had roughly half that number of interceptions. The latter should be somewhat rectified now that he has had a chance to learn the offense and really shake off the rust. (Let’s pretend the first game of the preseason didn’t happen for Palmer.)

He has some nice weapons to boot.

10. LeSean McCoy – 81.2 snap percentage

Per Pro Football Focus, no running back got close to LeSean McCoy last season in terms of offensive snap counts. At 894, McCoy was in on 81.2 percent of Philadelphia’s offensive snaps. While he did not have as many carries and targets as some of the other top backs in the league, being on the field that much still takes a toll. It would be interesting to see if the Eagles continue that trend or if they spell him more in 2012. If they do get him off the field more often, will that mean a reduction in fantasy scoring? Considering he is likely due to regress from his 20-touchdown total from a year ago as well, a lower fantasy output seems like a decent bet.

He is still worth a top pick, but mitigating expectations is in order.

11. Ben Roethlisberger – 261 sacks since 2006

If you thought that is the number of sacks the Steelers defense had gotten over the past six years, you would be close – that number is actually 255. Ben Roethlisberger has actually been sacked more times (261) in that span, leading the league in the department. He has done a decent job of scoring fantasy points during that span, as have some of his teammates. Imagine what he could do if he was not running for his life every other time he dropped back to pass.

Pittsburgh set out to remedy this problem by drafting tackle Mike Adams and guard David DeCastro this season, moving Max Unger to the other guard position as well. It has not been pretty thus far in the preseason, however. Hopefully that line gels for Big Ben’s sake; otherwise he may as well be a cast member on The Walking Dead.

12. Philip Rivers – 4,624 passing yards and 27 touchdowns

For all the hullaballoo about Philip Rivers having a bad season, he actually put up some fantastic volume numbers. His 4,624 passing yards were the second-most he’d thrown in his career, and 27 touchdowns on par with his career average. The 20 interceptions he threw are the biggest concern for Rivers.

Hopefully having a quality tackle like Jared Gaither going forward will be the medicine he needs. Rivers was sacked just twice and threw just three interceptions after Gaither joined the Chargers in Week 13, and that included games against the Ravens and underrated Jaguars defenses.

13. Sam Bradford – 8.7 percent passes dropped

Sam Bradford had a rough go during his sophomore season in the NFL, but his receivers did him no favors. They dropped at least two passes in all but one of Bradford’s starts, ultimately tallying 31 on 358 pass attempts. Had all of those drops been caught, Bradford’s completion percentage would have jumped to 62.1 percent last season.

Granted, drops are a part of the game, but Bradford had a particularly brutal set of receivers outside of Brandon Lloyd. The Rams did their best to replace Lloyd and upgrade the position, and they get Danny Amendola back from injury. Bradford has not looked particularly great in the preseason thus far, but he has the ingredients on offense to bounce back in 2012. It remains to be seen if he truly has the talent to do so.

He is not even being drafted in most leagues, so this is more of a “keep an eye on him” deal when the season begins.

Bonus Statistic No. 2: LeGarrette Blount – 4.2 YPA

LeGarrette Blount might have gotten into Raheem Morris’ doghouse last season, but that ship has sailed. All things considered, Blount did not have a bad statistical year when he was on the field. He is in a contract year and Greg Schiano likes to run the ball. If his performance as the starter early in the preseason is indication, Blount will see plenty of productive playing time along with rookie Doug Martin.


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