Change happens every year in the NFL, this is no secret. Fantasy owners bet on which rookie running back will be the next Emmitt Smith or L.T. They debate whether the one or two first round quarterbacks will end up more like Ryan Leaf or Matt Ryan. They wonder if the new environment will suit the latest superstar free agent to swap teams, or if he’ll lose his superstar status. These things happen in small doses every year, it is part of the game…until it isn’t. Every once in a while there is a year that transcends ‘normal’, a year that turns almost everything on its ear, a year when the fantasy world ‘resets’, a season when everything you knew a year ago – to a great extent – has change, a year like 2010.
In a series of articles over the next few weeks I will break down the various skill positions, not from a prognostication standpoint, but rather simply to discuss the state of affairs, where people are, where the uncertainty lies and various other things to help primarily the guys (and girls!) who play fantasy football, but might not pay as much attention as the diehards. Things are going to be very different this year in fantasy football than they have been in quite a few years, this is hard to debate. Whether it is the tilt back toward more teams being built around quarterbacks and receivers due to the almost league-wide RBBC approach that has become epidemic of late, or more fantasy leagues experimenting with things like starting two quarterbacks, this is not the fantasy football environment you knew even a couple of years ago. However, knowledge of the situations at hand will go a long way when making the tough decisions on draft day, so buckle up and hold on, because this is going to be a lot to digest!
Reset for Running Backs | Reset for Receivers
Reset Year in the AFC
Going into the 2010 season there are only six AFC teams (out of sixteen) who will have what can be considered a ‘constant’ at quarterback. That is six teams if you include Jacksonville’s David Garrard, who is always a bad pass away from losing his spot it seems. This year will be no different as he tries to stave off Luke McCown. By ‘constant’ quarterback I mean a veteran who has been the starter for his team regularly for a number of years, arguably three or more as full time starter, not riding the pine. The five teams other than Jacksonville include New England (Tom Brady), Pittsburgh (Ben Roethlisberger), Cincinnati (Carson Palmer), Indianapolis (Peyton Manning) and San Diego (Philip Rivers). Even in Pittsburgh there is some change, as Big Ben won’t be starting at least the first four games, and possibly more, due to a suspension. So, when drafting, there are only four teams with bonafide, proven starters who can be considered top options for fantasy teams for the entire season. This is almost unprecedented. So, if those are the things you can count on, what about the other ten teams?
AFC EAST – While Mark Sanchez is a well known name as starter for the Jets the fact remains that he’s still only entering his second season in the league and is anything but a sure number one fantasy option. Most preseason rankings list him in the high twenties, solidly in second or third tier range. Outside of Brady, mentioned earlier, the only other starter who’s solid in his job is Chad Henne in Miami, but he only has one full year as a starter in the NFL, so is anything but a guy most fantasy owners would be comfortable going into the season with as their starter. Finally, in Buffalo, the uncertainty is taken to the extreme. Will Trent Edwards be the starter again? Probably when all is said and done, but there is just as much chance that Ryan Fitzpatrick or Brian Brohm will be behind center for most games. The reality is that all three may get a fair chance. This is definitely not somewhere you want to be looking for help on draft day.
AFC NORTH – The names here are a bit better known, but when you look at the experience level, there is little history to assure fantasy owners of solid performance. Joe Flacco is quickly becoming a popular fantasy pick, but it must be remembered that his best season, last year, only saw him throw 21 touchdowns and about 3,600 yards. This was an improvement over his first year, and the future looks good, but two years of experience classifies as less than certain. Of course, remember much of the ‘love’ Flacco’s getting this year has to do with his new ‘stud’ receiver, Anquan Boldin. Carson Palmer is solid, as mentioned earlier, as is, to an extent, Big Ben in Pittsburgh, but Cleveland is another story. Whether the team ends up going with Seneca Wallace or Jake Delhomme, either way they’ll be going with a veteran new to their team, one with a ton of question marks regarding his health (Delhomme) and the other without a ton of starting experience – ten starts to be exact (Wallace). This one is going to be almost as scary as Buffalo.
AFC SOUTH – Peyton Manning. Beyond him there is a lot of ‘resetting’ going on in this division. Some will say ‘what about Matt Schaub and Vince Young?’ Sure, their names are known, and Schaub is one of the best fantasy options at quarterback, a top ten pick in most quarterback rankings, but he has had some injury trouble and has only started 40 games. In fact, until last year he was all promise and little delivery, so there is plenty to be wary of here. Young, though he’s been around a while, has only started 39 games and even quit the game a couple of years ago. For a long time it didn’t look like he’d ever amount to anything as a starter, but now there is at least a ray of hope, though fantasy owners won’t be looking towards Music City for help until late in the draft. This is a running team and will remain so for as long as Chris Johnson stays healthy. We mentioned Jacksonville and David Garrard earlier, so it can be argued that there is only one out of four teams here with an absolute fantasy certainty.
AFC WEST – Philip Rivers has only played in the league six seasons, but he’s the grizzled old vet in this division now. Jason Campbell is new to the Raiders this year, and while he’ll be much better than JaMarcus Russell the jury is out as to how much better. There is a lot to like, a great tight end, a couple of solid young running backs and some good young receivers, but Campbell has a lot to prove and won’t have fantasy owners running to him on draft day. Kyle Orton is only in his second year in Denver, and only has been a starter for three total years, but he’s got Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn barking behind him and it is anyone’s guess as to who will end up starting – and whomever gets the job won’t have Brandon Marshall or Tony Scheffler to throw to this year. This team screams ‘stay away’ to fantasy owners. Finally, Matt Cassel brings a sense of calm in some ways as far as job security, but stat wise fantasy owners are in trouble here. He’s a solid two quarterback but he’s not top tier material and is a relatively new face in a new place one year removed.
FINAL AFC ASSESSMENT: 16 teams, 4-6 old vets/same teams, 6 first or second year starters, 3 old vets/new teams, and 3 teams with a ton of chaos and uncertainty (includes two of the teams with old vets/new teams.
Reset Year in the NFC
The NFC also has six ‘constant’ quarterbacks, at least from the standpoint of solid veterans playing in the same place they have been for a while. There are some well known veterans like Donovan McNabb, who we’ll talk about a bit more below, that will be suiting up in a new uniform this year, bringing a good amount of change with it. The guys here that you can count on are from Dallas (Tony Romo), the Giants (Eli Manning, Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers), New Orleans (Drew Brees), Seattle (Matt Hasselbeck) and Minnesota (Brett Favre) – well, depending on the day you may want to scratch that last one from this section. So, if you take the ‘constants’ from the AFC and add them to the NFC you get between 10 and 12 – barely enough to cover a solid starter for each team in most fantasy football leagues, and not even forty percent of the starters at quarterback in the NFL. Yes indeed, this is most certainly one of the biggest ‘reset’ years we’ve had in quite some time. So let’s take a look at the rest of the NFC.
NFC EAST – Half of this division is going to look just like it has for the last few years. Tony Romo is going to be doing his same ole-same ole in Dallas, so nothing new there. Eli Manning will remain one of the most underrated quarterbacks out there, fantasy speaking. On the other half of the division, however, things will be quite different. Long time Philly starter Donovan McNabb is wearing the Redskin’s colors this season, and while he has had plenty of experience making so-so receivers look better than so-so, he’ll be playing behind a line that has trouble getting the job done, so will have plenty of challenges. Considering the overall situation in Washington, thinking of McNabb without thinking of a good number of uncertainties is not an option. Replacing McNabb in Philadelphia is Kevin Kolb. Kolb is, for all practical purposes, a rookie, having played in only 12 games in his three years in the league, with only two starts. He, like Aaron Rodgers a couple of years ago, has been learning from one of the better quarterbacks of the last decade, but there are few expectations that he’ll see the same kind of success as quickly as Rodgers did.
NFC NORTH – We spoke of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers early on, so no need to expound here. However, in the rest of the North division the certainty is anything but. First you have Brett Favre. It is simple here. If he plays, he does well. If he doesn’t play, almost his entire team suffers statistically. If he doesn’t play, then the question becomes is Tavaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels the starter? When there is a question like this on draft day, most guys should, and do, stay away. Jay Cutler in Chicago has only been with the team a year and will be learning a new system this year. Granted, that system is Mike Martz’ system – usually very quarterback friendly – and he should be successful with it, but there are still plenty of questions regarding the entire Bears offense, something that makes fantasy owners nervous. Finally, in Detroit, Matthew Stafford will be entering his second season in the league. While he showed signs of promise, he didn’t make it the entire season and still has some learning to do. While he is one of the quarterbacks who is more solid in his job, he still doesn’t offer top levels of surety for fantasy owners.
NFC SOUTH – The South is a study in opposites. On one side you have Drew Brees, arguably the number one fantasy quarterback playing today. He’s as ‘constant’ as they come these days. However, all three of the other teams in this division will be starting a guy who has been in the league either one or two years. Matt Ryan is the ‘veteran’ here in Atlanta. After a great rookie season he kind of hit a wall last year but should bounce back. The question will be how much he will bounce back. While his job is secure, he’s part of the new wave of quarterbacks, very much a part of the ‘reset’. Josh Freeman in Tampa Bay and Matt Moore in Carolina are also hoping to be part of the new wave, but both have a lot of work to do to ensure they retain their jobs. Freeman has a longer leash, but not by much. Neither of these guys offers much by way of statistical options, but Freeman has, possibly, better job security. Moore, on the other hand, has Steve Smith, a much better receiver than anything Freeman has. Moore will be fighting off rookie Jimmy Clausen, so it is possible he won’t even be the starter when all is said and done, but for now we expect Moore to have it for at least a little while. Bottom line here is that New Orleans has a seriously huge divisional advantage this year at this position.
NFC WEST – In many respects the West will mimic the NFC South, at least in relation to consistency and the correlations between the quarterbacks. In Seattle you have just about the only ‘constant’ veteran, Matt Hasselbeck, but he’s had two back to back, injury embattled seasons and at the age of 34 won’t likely be getting much better. Questions are plentiful as to how effective he will be going forward. On the other three teams you have basically one guy with more than a year of experience, Alex Smith of the 49ers. Smith has been San Francisco’s starter now for a total of two seasons, with a missed season due to injury sandwiched between. He’s started a total of 40 games, and could be labeled a ‘constant’, but shouldn’t be. No one is going to take his job, but his stats won’t be much of a help to fantasy owners just yet. Matt Leinart gets the starting gig for good in Arizona finally, but is another quarterback who will basically be, for all practical purposes, a rookie or something close. He’s been in the league a while, but he’s only started 17 games and has been benched quite a few times in favor of the now retired Kurt Warner. And then there is St. Louis. The Rams will start their new ‘quarterback of the future’, Sam Bradford, at some point in the season. However, until they feel he’s ready, A.J. Feely, perennial backup, will become the starter. Change is in the air in St. Louis, no question about it.
FINAL NFC ASSESSMENT: 16 teams, 5-6 old vets/same teams, 8 first or second year starters, 2 old vets/new or relatively new teams, and 1 team with a good bit of drama and uncertainty – That would have to be Green Bay
While many of the names listed as starters for this season are well known, only a few of these are still in situations where there are few if any serious questions about how they are going to perform. Then there are about sixty percent of all starters who are either very young or inexperienced, with a new team, or on a team where who will be the starting quarterback will only be answered a week or two before the season started. Only 37.5% of the teams in the NFL have (and this is counting Minnesota and Pittsburg) returning vets who have been with their team more than a year – and I’m giving Minnesota the benefit of the doubt considering who Brett Favre is. 40% of the teams in the NFL have a quarterback who has between 0 and 2 years starting experience in the league. At least 31% of the teams in the league have serious questions regarding their starting quarterback position as we enter the preseason. Knowing where everyone has landed, where the questions are and what the answers mean will go a long way in helping every fantasy owner have a successful draft.