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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Stat Story
Joe Levit
September 27, 2006

There is a sports saying that goes “the stats don’t lie.” It is appropriate in most cases. While statistics don’t always tell the whole story, they more often than not mirror reality. That means you can learn a great deal about the actual production of fantasy football players right now in an effort to attain or retain the right guys in your league and your lineup.

Gone are all the preseason projections, and the reasons for them. Now, three weeks into the regular season, we can reasonably gauge how certain players will perform, barring injury, for the remainder of this season. Since most owners are primarily concerned with the “big three” fantasy positions of quarterback, running back and wide receiver, we’ll look at some interesting sets of statistics to show just how valuable certain players are this year. I will be focusing here on actual production. Looking at goal line attempts and the number of times particular players were targeted can be helpful in determining where value lies, but often it is better to base judgments on facts, not potential.

Also, keep in mind that players for Dallas, Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego have only played two games, while the players everywhere else have completed three contests. That can skew their statistics for the positive or negative.

Quarterbacks

Touchdown/Interception Spread

Clearly, a quarterback who can score tons of touchdowns is a coveted commodity for fantasy owners. It is the reason that Peyton Manning went in the first round of many drafts, and the incentive behind many owners taking a chance on Carson Palmer in the early rounds of their drafts without being positive about the status of his knee.

But, although sheer volume can be impressive in this category, a comparison that more greatly benefits fantasy owners is the number of touchdowns thrown versus the interceptions. This spread can make a quarterback more valuable in fantasy football than his ranking on an overall stat sheet may show.

Three weeks into the season, here are the best spreads in the NFL:

Quarterback Touchdowns Interceptions Spread
Donovan McNabb 7 1 6
David Carr 6 1 5
Peyton Manning 5 1 4
Chad Pennington 5 1 4
Eli Manning 8 5 3
Brett Favre 6 3 3
Rex Grossman 6 3 3
Alex Smith 3 0 3

Nobody is going to blanch at seeing Donovan McNabb, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning or Eli Manning on this list, though it is interesting to note that Eli is currently three touchdowns ahead of Peyton on the season.

The other men in this analysis are interesting. David Carr, while down the list in total passing yards (19th at 635) has the second-best spread. He and the three other quarterbacks (Pennington, Grossman and Smith) clearly deserve, at least at this point, to be starting for fantasy teams, as strange as that may sound.

Quarterback Rating

The rating system for quarterbacks, though not flawless, is another place to determine fantasy value for quarterbacks. So far this season, only five quarterbacks are above a 100 passer rating, though the Manning Bros. and Carson Palmer are not surprisingly within striking distance.

Here are the top passer ratings:

Quarterback Rating
David Carr 113.6
Philip Rivers 107.4
Donovan McNabb 105.3
Chad Pennington 103.4
Rex Grossman 100.9

Not surprisingly, four of the five passers are also in the aforementioned table. But, here David Carr has jumped to the top of the list. Even without a solid running game in the absence of Domanick Davis, Carr is carrying himself quite nicely this season in Gary Kubiak’s offense.

The other surprise, and a player to keep tabs on in the coming weeks, is Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. Rivers has played a sort of caretaker role in two games this season while LaDainian Tomlinson and also backup Michael Turner have run all over opposing defenses. It is possible that having only played two games has helped Rivers maintain a 100+ rating, but it is just as likely that the game he missed during the bye kept him from being much more highly ranked among fantasy quarterbacks. He has two touchdowns so far, and no picks.

Running Backs

Attempts

Heavy-duty running backs consistently pile up yardage week after week. It is a product of the workload allowed them. Even mediocre running backs can really rack up the fantasy points if their coaches insist on feeding them the ball more than 20 times a game. Wise fantasy owners grab the guys they know will get the opportunity to tote the rock downhill against linebackers as often as Sisyphus pushes the proverbial rock uphill. Currently, only four players have over 70 carries on the season. Here they are for our perusal:

Player Attempts (Carries)
Chester Taylor 75
Rudi Johnson 73
Willis McGahee 71
Willie Parker 71

McGahee leads all rushers in the NFL after three weeks with 311 yards. He has not scored a rushing touchdown however. Rudi Johnson has been a very steady fantasy force so far this season. Willie Parker has scored twice, and Chester Taylor once. It was quite clear before the season began that Johnson and McGahee would be workhorse backs, but not everyone was sure about Parker or Taylor. Both now appear ready to bear the load for fantasy owners. Taylor, currently averaging 25 carries per game, would amass 400 carries if he continues at his current pace. At 3.7 yards per carry, that comes to 1480 yards, a strong showing under any scoring format.

Average

Only four of the top 30 running backs sport a 5.0-yards-or-better rushing average. A high average is a sign of explosive running by a back. This propensity for gaining extra yardage can lead to big plays. Here are four men to think about in this context:

Player Average Yards per Attempt
Michael Turner 7.6
Brian Westbrook 5.8
Ladell Betts 5.3
Tatum Bell 5.1

Brian Westbrook is leading every other fantasy player by two scores this season. His five touchdowns, coupled with big yardage for the Eagles, have him atop the fantasy rankings. He will be a valuable player as long as he stays healthy – always a tenuous proposition. Of note is that Tatum Bell received an increased workload against the Patriots, and performed well. Consistent carries at his 5.1-yard average would mean big outings for his owners, especially because Bell is adept at breaking off long runs. Now might be a good time to consider trading for him.

Two backups grace this group as well. Both have a fantasy stud in front of them, so will normally be marginalized. Still, Ladell Betts gained 124 yards to Clinton Portis’ 86 on the same 16 carries in week three. And before the bye Michael Turner out-gained LaDainian Tomlinson 138-71 in clean-up duty during the team’s 40-7 whitewashing of Tennessee. Clearly, should either elite player go down, there is a worthy fantasy player waiting in the wings. It makes sense to stash these guys on your roster now, using them in bye week scenarios and hoping they get a crack at the starting gig.

Wide Receivers

Average

Men who can muster more than a few receptions at a high average are dangerous players – on the field and on fantasy rosters. Once again, the big play means some serious points when it is executed. Touchdowns happen often on huge passing plays, and these exciting moments mean big bonus points in a number of scoring formats. In 2006, five receivers are averaging over 20 yards per catch, with only Plaxico Burress near the mark. Here are the players:

Player Average Yards per Catch
Antonio Bryant 23.4
Javon Walker 22.7
Braylon Edwards 22.6
Reggie Wayne 20.3
Donte’ Stallworth 20.2

Antonio Bryant has been a pleasant surprise for fantasy owners this year. Both Bryant and Braylon Edwards will have wildly fluctuating performances this year since each is working with still-green second-year quarterbacks. On the other hand, as the only real wide receiver option on either team, they also will get the bulk of the deep attention.

Javon Walker and Reggie Wayne should be more consistent. They have both put up a year with a high number of catches in the past. Donte’ Stallworth benefits from now playing with Donovan McNabb, a consummate professional who exhibits calm and consistency rather than the unfocused frenetic play of Aaron Brooks. Stallworth was a late scratch last week for Philadelphia, which kept him lower in the fantasy rankings.

All of these guys are players who are worth working to trade for. They are difference-makers, plain and simple. Because they are sometimes hit-or-miss, it is better to think of them as a WR2 however, and best to start them in leagues that require starting three receivers.

Long Receptions

For both running backs and wide receivers, figuring out who can create big plays is an important component of evaluating talent. In this short segment of the 2006 season, four wide receivers have caught a pass for over 70 yards. So who are these magic men?

Player Long Reception
Javon Walker 83 yards
Braylon Edwards 75 yards
Antonio Bryant 72 yards
Jerricho Cotchery 71 yards

Familiar faces, for the most part. Walker, Edwards and Bryant are all big-play problems for opposing defenders. The last man on the list seems an unlikely entrant. Cotchery though has 15 catches for 219 yards and two touchdowns. He is working to mutual benefit with Chad Pennington for the shocking 2-1 New York Jets.

All of the players we have discussed here are making a strong case for themselves this season. It is a good idea to hold onto these men if you already have them, and work the phones for them otherwise. It is especially a  good time to go grab the players like David Carr, Chester Taylor, Michael Turner, Antonio Bryant and Jerricho Cotchery, before owners are certain they will not part with them.


Joe Levit provides fantasy football presentations for corporate outings or client appreciation events. Go to www.FantasyFootballSpeaker.com and find out what this service is all about. Joe can be reached at joelevit_writer@yahoo.com.