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Addition by Subtraction
By Joe Levit
November 20, 2003
 

In the NFL, as in life, there are times when losing a productive part of the lineup can create a better overall team. This seeming inconsistency usually has more to do with the attitude of the departing person or portion, rather than with inherent talent. The lack of team spirit or mission by one individual can impede the morale of an entire group. From this fact comes the simple saying "addition by subtraction".

This fantasy season, we have seen the paradox played out a few times. Most recently, the Buccaneers deactivated Keyshawn Johnson for the rest of the season. This severe action highlights the importance that Jon Gruden bestows upon congruency within his teams. Tampa Bay has been the model of inconsistency this season, showing radical shifts in ability and execution. Coach Gruden and Johnson have been at odds all season, and Gruden has apparently decided that it will help the team in the long run to be without Johnson's production - and potent dissention. This change makes Keyshawn Johnson worthless in fantasy circles this season, and gives more fantasy value to Joe Jurevicius and perhaps Keenan McCardell.

In Cincinnati, the same type of situation may be occurring. Corey Dillon had been registering his displeasure with the losing ways of the Bengals for years, but was also the team's best offensive weapon and a consistent player. With a new head coach this year in Marvin Lewis, and a renewed desire to return to excellence, Dillon's distractions have been wearing thin in 2003.

When Dillon was injured a few weeks ago, hard-running halfback Rudi Johnson successfully replaced him. Since then, Johnson has been impressive in every game, and the team is winning with him as the tailback. Now there are speculations that Lewis will jettison Dillon in the off-season and go with Johnson full time next year. If the Bengals keep winning against quality teams, like they did last Sunday by prevailing against the previously undefeated Kansas City Chiefs, then Dillon will seem even more unnecessary to have around.

Another situation of subtraction could be a winning combination for two football teams and many fantasy football owners. The Cleveland Browns recently released wide receiver Kevin Johnson, their veteran wideout presence and a talented player who nevertheless had worn out his welcome with the club. Team officials apparently believed that they could not extract all from Johnson that they expected from him. In the first week without Johnson, the Browns beat up the Arizona Cardinals 44-6. It is possible that the Browns will continue to perform better with Johnson's receptions distributed among other receivers on the team. Johnson himself was quickly picked up by Jacksonville, where he could help immediately as a second target for rookie Byron Leftwich.

Fantasy owners might also become a beneficiary of Johnson's departure. Last year, and through 10 weeks this year, the Browns had four decent wideouts. That means that not one of them was guaranteed to do anything in a particular week, but any of them could. In fact, it seemed like most weeks it was a matter of rolling a four-sided die to see who would come up with starter's stats. Here are their totals in 2002 and through 10 weeks in 2003:

2002

Receptions

Yards

Touchdowns

Kevin Johnson

67

703

4

Quincy Morgan

56

964

7

Dennis Northcutt

38

601

5

Andre Davis

37

420

6


2003 - through 10 games

Receptions

Yards

Touchdowns

Kevin Johnson

41

381

2

Quincy Morgan

26

378

2

Dennis Northcutt

40

417

2

Andre Davis

28

348

4

These totals represent good production, but production spread out among too many players. This allocation has been frustrating many fantasy owners, who have been selecting a particular receiver to perform well. Below are the statistics for the receivers this last weekend.

2003 - Week 11

Receptions

Yards

Touchdowns

Kevin Johnson

0

0

0

Quincy Morgan

5

116

1

Dennis Northcutt

6

56

1

Andre Davis

7

117

1

The loss of Kevin Johnson clearly left a couple of more receptions for each of the remaining receivers. They all scored a touchdown against Arizona, and both Davis and Morgan gained over 100 yards. All three of the Browns receivers suddenly move from backup duty to potential third and second fantasy wide receivers. A lot of their success will depend upon the health of Kelly Holcomb, who played well in his return last weekend. Clearly, a team can improve when it rids itself of a player who is not working as hard as he should, or is overly critical of the direction coaches are coaxing a team. These circumstances also allow fantasy owners to find sudden new statistical support.

Joe Levit, based in Boston, writes for www.cnnsi.com and www.thehuddle.com. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a devoted Detroit Lions fan. He can be contacted at lavishjetpoet@aol.com.