Fantasy Football used to be a lot simpler. Before VBD and auction drafts, owners showed up on draft day with a personal cheat sheet and an NFL schedule. Today, your competitors arrive with last-second injury reports and opinions from composite 'expert' rankings. Nobody is an unknown, and few players really qualify as sleepers. Today it is hard to get an edge.
Part of the problem is that everyone is seeking inside information about a player's performance on the field, or his role in the offense, to gauge where to select him in a draft. This means that everyone has essentially the same data to peruse. But there is a whole other knowledge set that can give you an advantage before a draft and during the season.
This data deals not with the skills a player shows on the gridiron, but rather with the circumstances he finds himself in off of it. Factors that affect a player, but aren't easy to track down, and don't show up in box scores; evidence that is more ethereal in nature - fantasy intangibles.
Intangible fantasy information comes in two types. Positive intangibles are conditions that could enhance a player's fantasy performance. Negative intangibles have the potential to pull overall statistics down. Both types can have equal impact and should be factored into any evaluation you make about the fantasy potential of an NFL player. Taking these intangibles into account can net you some major fantasy deals.
Positive intangibles range from geographical location to satisfactory contracts. Negative intangibles can be about rule infractions or friends and family. Let's get a brief and better take on these intangibles, and see how they might affect players this season.
This intangible is not to be confused with a supporting cast. Most stars need some talent around them in order to truly excel. Rather, this intangible occurs when good young players move into a situation where there is either a peer who is willing to teach them, or a special person to act as a mentor.
Think back to the rookie year that Randy Moss excelled. He had veteran Cris Carter to teach him the ropes and rein him in. The combination of talent and tutor led to a standout year by any definition, and a rookie campaign that was unheard of.
This year, Michael Vick is in a similar situation. He has been working during mini camps with Steve Young. As a fellow southpaw, Young will be able to relate to Vick in a way that others cannot. Vick has the talent to succeed. If he can make a mental leap forward, he could be a great quarterback more quickly.
Some players simply play better, and with more enthusiasm, in an environment they are familiar or comfortable with. When Jerry Rice was leaving the 49ers, the Seahawks and Lions were also very interested in his services. He had perhaps a better financial offer from those teams than he had from Oakland, but he ended up in the bay area because it was where he wanted to be. He was used to that portion of California, and he wanted to stay nearby.
This year, Charlie Batch, who grew up near Pittsburgh, turned down more money to sign as a backup with the Steelers. If Kordell Stewart should somehow be injured this year, the Steelers will have a very happy backup to promote.
Like players who perform better when they feel good about where they are playing, some standouts shine when they hook up again with former teammates or coaches.
This year Steve Spurrier is trying to recreate the good old Florida days in D.C. Will it work? That remains to be seen. He has a couple of his former quarterbacks to choose from. But, the player most likely to benefit is Jacquez Green. He is still young, and still fast. The problem for him so far in his career has been that he is also still undersized. He gets jammed at the line of scrimmage, or thrown off his routes by bigger defensive backs. Spurrier may be able to devise ways to free Green up again, this time in the NFL.
Show 'em the Money
For the most part, players perform well when they are paid what they're worth. Sure, you will occasionally find someone like Antonio Freeman dog it after a payday, but most professionals work as hard or harder when the money comes in.
This off-season Marty Booker signed a deal with Chicago for $28 million. He may see a drop in his catches as David Terrell improves, and might not grab more touchdowns with Anthony Thomas around, but Booker will probably be out to prove that he remains the top windy city Bear.
When a player is unhappy with his contract, it often contributes to poor play. It is hard for a person to go all out for his team when he feels like his team isn't doing the same for him. These players often skip mini camps or hold out during training camp, which generally sets them back physically and in the offensive scheme.
This year, the Redskins offered Michael Westbrook a very low amount of money to play for them. It was an offer that essentially said they didn't respect his skills. Westbrook has now signed on with Cincinnati, but if he had played for Washington, he probably would have been upset the whole year.
Rich Gannon had been in the news this off-season because he was unhappy about his contract. The team got something done with him recently, in time to avoid a problem with his performance this year.
Still waiting for his acceptable deal is Tony Gonzalez. This is a situation to watch closely. Gonzalez is widely regarded as the top fantasy tight end in the NFL, but a lengthy holdout would give the receivers on the team time to cut into his reception total should he return to the team late. He feels he accrues the statistics of a wideout, and should be paid accordingly. It will be interesting to see if he remains the top talent at his position.
It can be difficult to create the atmosphere that produces a team of players who work together. Especially when teams are losing, but even when they aren't, tempers flare and egos are strained as the season goes along. Players do or say things that anger others, and that internal strife leaks onto the playing field, and also affects fantasy statistics.
Last year, the New Orleans Saints had a decent season going until it ended in debacle. They lost their last four games by large margins and looked pitiful. Some outside factors were largely to blame. First, tackle Willie Roaf claimed that Joe Horn impregnated Roaf's wife. The ramifications of such an accusation are detrimental to the team no matter what actually did occur. Then, wideout Albert Connell was found guilty of stealing money from rookie Deuce McCallister. These are not normal circumstances, to say the least, but they very powerfully affected the team's fortitude.
During this off-season, the giants' Tiki Barber criticized teammate Michael Strahan for being greedy in his contract demands. Strahan isn't interested in fixing this problem, and this issue will likely carry over into the season. It could produce a classic defense versus the offense split, or it may only impact these two players as individuals. Both could remain frustrated and lose concentration. Each is an important fantasy player, so keep up with this clash.
Conflict with Management
Getting thrown in a coach's doghouse is never a good thing for a football player. Most of these off-season tiffs blow over when the games start, but it is nevertheless important to know about them, because they can lead to decreased opportunities in an offense, or a change in alignment on defense, which might lower the fantasy statistics for the appropriate players.
Terrell Owens' well-documented disagreements with Steve Mariucci might actually be a motivator for Owens. But, Mooch may decide to aim more of the pass attempts to J.J. Stokes or Tai Streets, and Owens wouldn't be able to do much about that.
Ike Hilliard has been on the bad side of Jim Fassell for a while now. Hilliard isn't quite as important to his offense as Owens is to the 49ers, so don't be surprised if Ron Dixon and some of the younger receivers, and top rookie Jeremy Shockey, cut into his totals.
Ravens' Coach Brian Billick has been upset with Ray Lewis during the summer break. Billick will be forced to scheme for Lewis anyway, because he is such a talent and because the team has lost so much other talent, but the animosity still doesn't bode well. You may want to move a few players above Lewis in your individual defensive player rankings.
Rules and Regulations
Every year the NFL suspends some players because they violate league rules. Depending on the number of games they are out, this can have a serious impact on their fantasy status. Also, the NFL prohibits rookies from practicing with their new teams in mini camps while their school is still in session. For players from schools that run a bit late into the summer, this can be a problem and set them back in their chance to develop in their first year.
DeShaun Foster and Jerramy Stevens will have to overcome that second rule this year. Both missed mini camps and will be fighting for a starting position during training camp. Each has the talent to win their respective battles, but might be a bit behind as the season starts.
Friends and Family
Sometimes players must face a friend or family member's illness or death. These life situations have a very real impact on the player. Detroit Linebacker Chris Claiborne had his father pass away a couple of years ago, and it stunted his growth on the field.
Losing friends in a different way has an impact as well. Keenan McCardell was cut by Jacksonville earlier this off-season because of the team salary cap. His absence is going to affect Jimmy Smith, who is a top fantasy receiver. Smith may not have the same success without his best friend and complementary receiver.
Many factors like injuries and draft selections obviously affect fantasy performance. But there are an even larger number of factors that are harder to find. Some positive intangibles predict increased success, and other negative ones could lead to impending fantasy implosions. Master the art of navigating these intangibles, and you will be yards ahead of your nearest owners.