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10 Surprising Stats That Could Change Your Draft
Paul Sandy
June 12, 2006

1. Tony Gonzalez has scored a touchdown in just three of his last 24 games.

Gonzalez has been fantasy royalty for years, but the tight end position has a new king. Antonio Gates has surpassed him in all major categories.

Is Gonzalez still one of the premier tight ends? Sure. He caught 78 passes in 2005, second only to Gates. However, Gonzalez’s lack of touchdowns is troubling. He rewarded fantasy owners with 905 yards, again second-best in the NFL among TEs. Even so, he was only the seventh best fantasy TE under most scoring systems because he only crossed the stripe twice.

Players like Todd Heap, Jeremy Shockey, and Chris Cooley were more valuable to fantasy owners because they posted seven touchdowns each.

The bottom line is Gonzalez is overvalued entering the 2006 fantasy season. His TD total has dropped in each of the last two seasons. You’re probably better off letting someone else over-pay for him and grabbing a guy like Heap, Cooley, or Jason Witten a few rounds later.

2. Five of the top seven fantasy WRs in 2005 measured 6’0” or shorter and tipped the scales at 200 lbs. or less.

Most NFL scouts consider the prototypical wide receiver to be 6’3” 230 lbs. Don’t tell guys like Santana Moss, Steve Smith, Joey Galloway, and Torry Holt. Small wideouts were worth their weight in gold in 2005. Five of the top seven fantasy receivers and nine of the top 15 NFL leaders in receiving yardage were shorter than 6’0” and weight less than 200 lbs.

Why the spike in production for small receivers? Two years ago the NFL competition committee voted to ramp up the enforcement of the illegal contact rule. Most experts argued that big, physical receivers would be unstoppable. While the bylaw certainly hasn’t hurt guys like Terrell Owens and Anquan Boldin, two years later it’s clear that small, fast receivers have proven to be the biggest benefactors. Without the ability to hand-check burners like Smith and Galloway, defensive backs are forced to provide huge cushions.

The trend makes up-and-coming small, fast wideouts like Mark Clayton (BAL), Lee Evans (BUF), and Samie Parker (KC) sneaky picks for 2006.

3. Tom Brady is second only to Peyton Manning in passing touchdowns over the last two seasons.

Brady has long been considered one of the NFL’s premier quarterbacks. However, that respect hasn’t always carried over to fantasy football. It’s relatively common to see Brady drafted after QBs like Trent Green and Marc Bulger. Looking at his numbers, it’s clear that Brady is not only a capable fantasy starter, he has quietly become one of fantasy football’s elite players.

Brady has 54 touchdowns the last two seasons and he was one of only two NFL QBs to pass for over 4,000 yards in 2005. So why are owners leery of the NFL’s poster child? Brady’s lack of a top-flight wide receiver could have something to do with it. Deion Branch isn’t exactly Marvin Harrison. Yet Brady continues to find a way to get it done by spreading the ball around more than any QB in the NFL.

With promising young pass-catchers like rookie Chad Jackson and second-year TE Ben Watson to go along with veterans Deion Branch and Troy Brown, Brady has the potential to flirt with 30 TDs. 

4. Under most fantasy scoring systems, the difference between the #1 and #12 team defense in 2005 was just one point per game.

Think twice about drafting a team defense in the middle rounds of your draft. You don’t need one of the top performers at this position to succeed. In leagues that give the following points for sacks (1), fumble recoveries (1), interceptions (1), safeties (2), and touchdowns (6), the Chicago Bears were the highest scoring defense/special teams in 2005 with 104 points or 6.5 points per game. The St. Louis Rams scored 88 points or 5.5 points per game. Not a significant difference.

It’s also important to note that defenses are incredibly difficult to predict entering the season. The Colts, Vikings, Seahawks, and Titans were not picked by most to be quality fantasy defenses in 2005. Yet all finished in the top 10.  

5. In 2001, Dominic Rhodes averaged 4.7 yards on 233 carries as a starter for the Colts. It is more yards per carry than Edgerrin James has averaged during any season in his career.

Some experts are predicting that the offseason departure of Edgerrin James will sting the Indianapolis offense. I wouldn’t be so sure.

There’s no doubt James was a big component of the team’s success. He carried the ball over 300 times in four of his seven seasons with the Colts. But when James went down with an injury in 2001, Dominic Rhodes filled in admirably, racking up 1,328 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns. The Colts finished the season ranked second in points and yardage despite having James for fewer than six full games. 

The point here is that in 2006, we won’t be seeing a doomsday scenario unfold in Indy. Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Dallas Clark, and Reggie Wayne will be just fine. Plus, fantasy owners might also find a new gem at RB in either Rhodes or rookie Joseph Addai.

6. Willie Parker has two career carries inside his opponents’ five yard line for a total of zero yards.

The retirement of Jerome Bettis has many owners bullish on Parker this season. The thinking is that with Bettis gone, Parker should get more touches and have little difficulty building on his impressive 1,202-yard season last year. It’s exciting to consider the possibilities, but the reality is that with Bettis out of the picture, Parker may not see much of an increase in production at all.

Fast Willie averaged 17 carries per game last season, in-line with similar backs like Warrick Dunn. Plus Parker isn’t likely to get Pittsburgh’s all-important goal-line carries. Instead, head coach Bill Cowher will likely rely on a bigger back like Verron Haynes. The lack of touchdowns will likely frustrate fantasy owners all season. 

7. The Arizona Cardinals had 162 plays go for negative yardage last season.

The Cards scored a coup d'état this offseason when they signed RB Edgerrin James to a four-year contract. It’s hard not to get a little giddy when looking at all the talent the Cardinals now have on offense. With the collective firepower of Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, Kurt Warner, and James, Arizona has the potential to cause a carpal tunnel syndrome outbreak among the NFL’s scoreboard operators.

However, before you get carried away, it’s essential to note how pitiful the team’s offensive line was last season. The team ranked last in every major statistical rushing category. Most telling is that the Cardinals lost yardage on 162 plays last season and only 45 of them were sacks. That means they had about 1/3 of their 360 rushing plays lose yards.

What did the team do to address this obvious team weakness? Very little. They drafted USC guard Taitusi Latui in the second round and signed a free agent guard from Houston.

Edgerrin James brings a lot of potential to the Arizona offense. The question is will that potential go unrealized because of the team’s mediocre offensive line?

8. Donald Driver has more receiving yards over the last two seasons than Marvin Harrison.

If you were to make a quick mental checklist of the top 10 fantasy receivers, Donald Driver probably wouldn’t make the cut. He’s not arrogant or controversial. He’s not flashy and he isn’t likely to post a three-touchdown game. For these reasons, he rarely makes headlines.

Yet what Driver lacks in flamboyance, he makes up for in consistency. Since 2004, Driver ranks third in the NFL in receiving yardage with 2,429 yards, behind only Torry Holt (2,703) and Chad Johnson (2,706). With Brett Favre returning for at least one more season, count on Driver once again quietly posting solid stats. He’s a steal after the first few rounds of any fantasy draft.

9. The Carolina Panthers have had a different leading rusher in each of the last six seasons.

Looking at the revolving door that is the Carolina Panthers backfield, you have to wonder if head coach John Fox is schizophrenic. Fox, along with former coach George Seifert, has shuffled running backs in and out of his lineup each season. The list includes Tim Biakabatuka, Richard Huntley, Lamar Smith, Stephen Davis, Nick Goings, and DeShaun Foster.

The depth chart dance that Fox likes to play bodes well for first-round draft pick DeAngelo Williams. Williams will compete with Foster for the starting role. Look for Williams to win this important training camp battle. Foster’s injury history suggests he is better suited to provide a spark coming off the bench for an occasional series rather than be a full-time starter. If it plays out that way, Williams could easily be a top 10 RB in 2006. 

10. Tiki Barber has more yards from scrimmage than any player in the NFL over the last two seasons.

With Larry Johnson, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Shaun Alexander locks to be the first three draft picks in 99% of fantasy leagues, the big debate is about who you should take fourth. Let’s end the debate right here. Tiki Barber your man.

There’s always been a lot of skepticism surrounding Barber. Many experts argue he’s too small. Some point to his fumbling issues. Some consider him to be too old. Still others figure he won’t get enough touchdowns. Hogwash. Barber is a workhorse.

Over the last two seasons, he’s been healthier than Tomlinson. He gets more carries than bigger backs like Rudi Johnson. He fixed his fumbling issues, coughing the ball up just one time last year. And he’s scored double-digit TDs in three of the last four seasons. It’s time to stop disrespecting Barber and start mentioning him in the same breath as the league’s elite running backs.