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Friday, August 6, 2010
Updated: August 9, 11:35 AM ET
Just the facts, ma'am

By Matthew Berry
ESPN.com

Factually correct.

Fans of our two-time award-winning "Fantasy Focus" podcast know that is a popular phrase on the show. It started as a joke, because a listener noticed that I said "This is true" a lot. So I changed it up by saying "this is factually correct," and it has stuck.

The Talented Mr. Roto

I will tell you that every single thing you will read in this column is, in fact, 100 percent factually correct. Like, consider this completely true player profile I just wrote.

Last season, this running back had a career low in average yards per carry and almost 400 fewer rushing yards than he did in 2008. He lost yardage on 70 plays and was stuffed for the second-most times in his career. His team's offense is changing, as it passed the ball over 100 times more in 2009 than it did in 2008. And that's bad news, as this player failed to score a receiving touchdown for the second straight year.

His fumbles have gone up every year he's been in the league, and people are starting to notice, as his average draft position has already dropped from what it was at this time last year. His rushes of 20-plus yards dropped by 60 percent in 2009, and after having 10 100-yard rushing games in 2008, he had only three last season. You have to wonder if his team is losing confidence in him. He had 49 fewer carries last year than the year before, and after his team drafted a high-profile rookie running back in April, it appears the writing is on the wall for this player.

So whatever you do, avoid Adrian Peterson of the Vikings this year.

Yeah.

Now, everything I just wrote above is, in fact, factually correct. But, clever reader, as you've now figured out, stats can be misleading. More accurately, stats can be used to mislead you.

In fact, here's a secret that people who give analysis (in sports and everything else) for a living don't want you to know: All the stats we use are, technically speaking, misleading. Every single one of them. There's no such thing as a piece of fantasy analysis that is, to borrow a phrase, fair and balanced.

There's two reasons for this. The first and most simple is, frankly, time. We don't have enough of it. When I am on "SportsCenter," I get 45 seconds to tell you something. I need to save 15 of those seconds to promote "Fantasy Football Now," our Emmy Award-winning Sunday pregame show, running from 11:30 a.m. ET until kickoff, both here on ESPN.com and on TV on ESPN2. (See? That takes forever to read, let alone say).

I can't possibly give you a complete picture of a player in 30 seconds, let alone multiple players, which is what I'm usually doing. Even on the podcast (which runs about 30 minutes per day) or in a column (which, except for the Manifesto and Love/Hate, is usually around 2,500 words) I only have a finite amount of time. I can't speak/type/gesticulate wildly all day any more than you can listen/read/tolerate me. Ultimately, this is a hobby, and if you're not at least slightly entertained, you're going elsewhere.

Even if we both had all the time in the world for me to completely break down every facet of every single player and you had to the time to absorb it all, it wouldn't matter. Because here's the second thing: It's impossible -- and I mean impossible -- to get a complete statistical overview of a player. Once you start segmenting and measuring every possible action on every possible play, you'd have hundreds upon hundreds of stats for every player, some of which haven't even been invented yet.

There's the obvious things like touchdowns, passing yardage, targets and red zone looks, and more detailed things like stuff percentage, yards after contact and passing efficiency on plays of more than 25 yards. Then you get into things like percentage of runs on 1st down. Completion percentage from the shotgun. Rushing average after 15 carries. Air yards versus yards after catch. Yardage in two receiver sets. In three. With two tight ends. While trailing. While leading. At home. On the road. On grass. In a dome. In December. In the fourth quarter. With so-and-so as the offensive coordinator. Over the past three seasons. Months. Weeks. Since so-and-so went down with an injury. The permutations are nearly endless.

Impossible. A player's potential value changes with every game, every situation, every play, every personnel grouping, every scheme. And it's all dependent on everything else around it.

As I wrote about in the baseball version of this, let's pretend you were some sort of fantasy Rain Man who not only knew every single stat for every single situation, every personnel grouping, every scheme … but you were psychic and knew what the coaches on both side of the ball were going to call before even they did.

It still wouldn't matter. Because there's stuff we don't know. There always is. Players hiding (or even being unaware of) injuries, off-the-field distractions, a quarterback deciding he really likes (or hates) one particular player, how each guy on the field will react to the noise or cope with the pressure of the moment -- there's a human element at play that no mathematical equation can capture.

And so, in order to try to make sense of the chaos and to force ourselves to make a decision on a player, we have to make choices.

I study all the stats, do the research and talk to as many folks as I can, then I choose which stats I want to show/discuss/butcher. If I like the guy, I tell you positive stats. If I don't like the guy, I highlight the negative. Just like I showed in the Peterson example, I can talk up or talk down anyone; I just have to choose the right stats for the job.

Every single person who does analysis, be it in sports, politics, pop culture or whatever, does the same thing. Every single time.

Your job is to decide who to trust, who not to, find out whom you agree with and whom you think is a moron. Take it all in and make your own call because you're the one who has to live with it.

Everything that follows is absolutely true. They all are facts. Some are about football players and teams; some are about me; not a one of them tells the whole story. There are 100 in all. What you do with them is up to you.

100 things you need to know before you draft

1. Last season, only seven running backs had more individual rushes of 20-plus yards than Michael Turner.

Turner & Snelling
Fact: If you mash their name and their stats together, Jacheal Turling rushed for 1,484 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2009.

2. Discounting Week 15, when he had only one carry, Turner played in only 10 games in 2009.

3. Jason Snelling actually had six individual rushes of 20-plus yards last season.

4. It's not exactly the same, but it's worth noting that if you combined Turner and Snelling's individual rushes of 20-plus yards, you'd get 15, more than anyone in the NFL last season other than Chris Johnson.

5. Last season, the San Francisco 49ers ran only 39 rushing plays in the red zone (to 57 passing).

6. Only two teams attempted fewer running plays overall last year than the 49ers.

7. Their best offensive tackle, Joe Staley, missed seven games.

8. Frank Gore missed, for all intents and purposes, three games last year. And yet …

9. Gore was the sixth-best fantasy running back last season.

10. When I started my career, I decided there were a lot of people writing about stats and why you should start this guy and bench that one. I wanted to differentiate myself from the pack. So I decided that I would write about the one thing that no one else could: me. I decided, in my full narcissistic glory, that there was no one more interesting to my readers than me. Whether that's true, it's worked out well and I continue to believe that. It also explains why, in this column, when I am not giving you facts about football players, I'm giving you some about me.

11. Last season, Chad Ochocinco had only one 100-plus-yard game in the team's final nine contests.

12. He has scored double-digit touchdowns only once in his career.

13. The Bengals, who added Terrell Owens and Antonio Bryant in the offseason, were 27th in the NFL in pass attempts last year.

14. In the four games that the Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith and Matt Moore both started, Smith had 20 receptions for 378 yards and three touchdowns, including a score in three separate games.

15. Last season, including the playoffs, there were three games in which Shonn Greene had at least 19 touches.

16. In those games, he never rushed for fewer than 128 yards and scored in all three.

17. More Jets: No team had more rush attempts than Gang Green's 607 rushing attempts. Six hundred and seven. Rushing attempts.

18. Only three other teams had more than 500, with none more than 525.

19. Only two teams had more rushing touchdowns.

20. Only three teams attempted fewer passes in the red zone than the New York Jets.

21. According to our ESPN Live Draft Results, LaDainian Tomlinson is currently going in the 10th round.

22. The 10th.

23. Six hundred and seven.

LaDainian Tomlinson
Fact: LaDanian Tomlinson was born June 23rd, 1979, but the date of his death is yet to be determined.

24. OK, fine, not a fact, just an opinion here, but say we lessen it by 100 because they throw more this year with Sanchez and Holmes, etc., give some of the Leon Washington carries to Joe McKnight, fine. Still. That's still some 425 carries to account for, and Greene won't get all of them. 10th round. Dude. He's not dead.

25. I love columns like this. The whole "just the facts ma'am" part of it and letting the reader decide what to do with the information without me totally saying do this or don't do that. I wrote a column during baseball season called Fun With Splits that I really liked. I just presented a lot of split stats (like how guys pitched at home) and the ownership percentage of the players, the idea being (without me explicitly saying it), "Hey, here's guys available in lots of leagues that you should start when they are at home." I did a lot of research for it. Loved it. Everyone else? Hated it. I mean … HATED IT. By far the most negative reaction to any column I've done this year. But I don't care. I write for me. If you like it, all the better. If not, oh well. Go read someone else. But I love columns like this.

26. I've toyed with doing a weekly version. The problem is they take forever to research and write. But I love them. So we'll see.

27. Last season, Eli Manning set career highs in passing yards and touchdowns, getting more than 4,000 yards and more than 24 touchdown passes for the first time in a six-year career.

28. In addition, the Giants had 443 rushing attempts, their lowest total since 2004.

29. Last season, the Giants gave up more than 40 points five different times.

30. They gave up more than 30 points seven times.

31. Of running backs that had at least 100 rushing attempts last year, no runner averaged more yards after contact than Felix Jones and his 3.2.

32. Chris Johnson and DeAngelo Williams were tied for second with 2.9.

33. And third, with 2.8? Shonn Greene.

34. Seriously. Six hundred and seven.

35. We all have our pet peeves. Among mine is flakiness. Drives me up a wall. Not sure why, but recently I've discovered a lot of people in my life who are flaky. Don't return calls/texts/e-mails, make plans and bail, don't do what they say they are going to. Maybe it's the way I'm wired, but I freak out and worry if I'm not able to follow through on something I'm supposed to. In the meantime, I'm slowly trying to weed out the flakes.

36. As Christopher Harris noted in one of the 600-plus player profiles he wrote, in the 13 games Larry Fitzgerald has played with Matt Leinart as his starter, he has five touchdowns.

36. As Keith Hawkins of ESPN Stats & Information noted, Matt Leinart has made 17 starts; in two of those, Anquan Boldin was not active (Weeks 4 and 5 of the 2007 season).

37. Week 4 versus the Steelers, Fitzgerald had 10 receptions, 120 yards and zero TDs. … However, only two of those receptions were from Leinart. He had 50 receiving yards with Leinart, and the other eight receptions and 70 yards were from Kurt Warner.

38. Week 5 at the Rams: Fitzgerald had nine catches, 136 yards and one TD. … However, only three receptions were from Leinart (for 55 yards). From Warner, he had six receptions, 81 yards and the TD.

39. So, in short, in the two games that Fitzgerald and Leinart started and Boldin nowhere to be found, Fitz had just five receptions for 105 yards, and Leinart needed to be pulled in each game.

40. It's a super-small sample size and three seasons ago, but still. It can't warm the cockles of your heart.

41. This one and the last one aren't actually facts, but come on. You get a chance to use "cockles of your heart," you take it.

42. Duh.

43. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, while Mike Shanahan was the coach (1995 to 2008), the Broncos ran the ball 46.8 percent of the time (fourth-highest percentage in the NFL).

44. Over that same time period, he ran the ball in the red zone 56.9 percent of the time (third-highest percentage in the NFL).

45. Clinton Portis is going in the eighth round.

46. More Shanahan: According to Michael Lynch of ESPN Stats & Information, in the 14 years he was the coach of the Broncos, the No. 1 wide receiver on the team had at least 1,000 yards in all but two seasons.

47. The average was 1,141 yards and seven touchdowns.

48. Santana Moss is going in the ninth round.

49. I am amused and appreciative of the interest surrounding the story about my friend and the famous actress from this year's Love/Hate. Some help for the internet sleuths. My first job in Hollywood was actually in 1993 and my last job, a rewrite of a Tim Allen comedy for Disney, was in 2006. IMDB is a terrific website, but by no means is it a complete one.

50. One hint, however, since I just made it harder. The film the actress won this particular Academy Award for (and you can win in many different categories, I remind you) was not the highest-grossing film she appeared in. That came after.

51. Only two teams in the NFL (the Dolphins and the Ravens) had more rushing touchdowns last year than … the New Orleans Saints (who, if you've been paying attention to the previous stats, you can deduce were tied with the Jets).

52. Over the past two years, there are only two wide receivers that have had at least five 100-yard games each season: Andre Johnson.

Greg Jennings
Fact: Greg Jennings has caught a pass of at least 63 yards every season of his career.

53. And Greg Jennings.

54. With the exception of that crazy 50 touchdown career year, Tom Brady has never thrown for more than 28 scores in a season.

55. Last season, Brett Favre's completion percentage was 68.4 percent.

56. Tarvaris Jackson's career completion percentage is 58.7 percent.

57. Under Favre, the Vikings threw the ball 22 percent more than they did in '08, when their quarterbacks were Jackson and Gus Frerotte.

58. After not playing most of the season, Jackson played the final four games of 2008. In those four games, Visanthe Shiancoe had 15 receptions for 223 yards and three touchdowns.

59.

I'm on Twitter (as @MatthewBerryTMR) because I enjoy it and I like interacting with friends and fans alike. It's entirely for fun. I'm not paid or even required to do it. As a result, when people have something negative to say to me, I block them. Twitter is something fun and life's too short. On the site, hate away. It's part of the gig. But it's weird. People will throw a nasty insult at me, I'll block them and then I get these whiny e-mails asking why they were blocked and begging to be reinstated. Dude, if you hate me, why do you want to follow me? I don't totally get people's obsession with me. I thought I was the only one who believed fact No. 10.

60. For all his scoring, Vernon Davis was tied for only 13th in red zone targets among tight ends.

61. He was tied with Anthony Fasano.

62. Of quarterbacks that attempted at least 350 passes last year, no one threw a higher percentage of them (29.8) to his tight end than Alex Smith.

63. Last season, no quarterback was sacked more than Ben Roethlisberger.

64. Bet you thought I was going to say Aaron Rodgers, but no, they were tied at 50 a piece.

65. The Steelers lost starting right tackle Willie Colon for the year.

66. Roethlisberger is currently suspended for the first six games of the season.

67. Last year, Matt Ryan averaged 6.47 yards per pass attempt.

68. There were 20 quarterbacks that had a higher average.

69. Among wide receivers, only Brandon Marshall had more red zone targets than Steve Smith … of the Giants.

70. Speaking of wideout red zone targets, tied for eighth at the position, with 19 targets, were Calvin Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (along with Reggie Wayne).

71. Both caught only four of those 19, for three and two scores a piece. (Reggie caught 10, half for TDs.)

72. "Nowhere to go but up," is a popular cliché.

73. I struggle with happiness. It's a battle I'm finally winning, but it's taken a while to get here, starting with the career change. Throughout my extended family, there are a number of people who have been diagnosed with clinical depression. I continue to try and make choices that will make me happy (see chicks, crazy or fact No. 35). I don't always succeed, but I'm getting better at it.

74. I struggled for a long time as to whether I wanted to include that last one. Then I remembered fact No. 10. I try to be as honest as I can be given my current job and platform.

75. Not counting Weeks 16 and 17, when the Colts rested their starters for most of the game, Reggie Wayne had single-digit fantasy points in five of his final six games.

76. If you add the playoffs to that, Wayne had single digit fantasy points in seven of his final nine games.

77. Wayne's 12.6 yards per catch was his lowest since 2003.

78. He had only seven plays of 25-plus yards. In 2008, he had eight plays of 25-plus yards. In 2007, he had 16.

Pierre Garcon
Fact: In order to properly spell "Garçon," you need to use a "cédille". Otherwise it would be pronounced "Gar-Kohn."

79. Last year, Pierre Garcon had 12 plays of 25-plus yards.

80. That was tied for fifth best in the NFL.

81. He was tied with Randy Moss, Greg Jennings, Steve Smith of Carolina and Marques Colston.

82. One more: Coming out of last year's bye week, from Week 7 through the Super Bowl (but not counting Weeks 16 and 17), here's a comparison of the two wideouts.

Wayne: 915 yards, seven touchdowns
Garcon: 800 yards, four touchdowns

83. Wayne is currently going six rounds before Garcon.

84. From Week 4 last year, when Chad Henne became the starter, until the end of the year, Davone Bess was 16th among wide receivers in receptions, with 59.

85. Among the haters, I get accused a lot of being jealous of one of my coworkers. And that's true. But it's not who you think. Look, I love my job and I'm ridiculously lucky to have it, but if I had a "switch jobs" day at ESPN and I got the first pick, I'd take Colin Cowherd's job. He gets to do a three-hour radio show. I started in radio and love it. But I don't get to do it much; the daily podcast is the closest I get. I wish I could do more radio. And Colin gets to do "SportsNation" every day. Knowing a bunch of the people on that show, I can assure you they are having the most fun of anyone here. Very jealous of Colin. The fact is that all his success is well deserved. I think he does a great job.

86. No quarterback had more 300-yard passing games last year than Matt Schaub. OK, fine, he was tied with some guy name Peyton.

87. In addition, Houston was fourth in the NFL with 63 pass plays of 20-plus yards or more.

88. It will surprise you not at all to know that Andre Johnson lead all Texans last year in receptions of 25-plus yards.

89. Tied for second on the team was Jacoby Jones, whose 16.2 yards per catch average actually led the team.

90. The Current Mrs. Roto, which is what I call the girlfriend, doesn't like my crazy chick dating stories. I tell her people like them, they are funny, they are always out of order, anonymous and often years away from the actual date, and with the amount of content I produce … I've got to write about something. The only other option, I tell her, is stories about her, which I assure her she will like even less. We literally had a fight about this. Anyways, she wants everyone to know I now have a girlfriend. Who so far doesn't seem that crazy, this fight excluded.

91. The Current Mrs. Roto happens to be pretty attractive. Ever talk to a really attractive woman about how other men talk/text/e-mail/interact (read: hit on) with her? Sometimes, I'm really embarrassed to be a guy.

92. Here's some players over the second half (Games 9 through 16) of last year:

Player A: 718 total yards from scrimmage, four TDs
Player B: 717 total yards from scrimmage, seven TDs

93. Player A is Rashard Mendenhall. Player B is Jerome Harrison.

94. Let's do that again with two other players from Games 9 through 16 last year.

Player C: 705 total yards from scrimmage, seven TDs
Player D: 706 total yards from scrimmage, five TDs

95. Player C is Ryan Grant. Player D is Justin Forsett.

96. Average draft positions: Mendenhall (13th overall), Ryan Grant (17th), Jerome Harrison (65th) and Justin Forsett (75th).

97. I didn't intend for as much of this column to be about writing as it was, but as long as we're discussing it, or as long as I am and you're reading it, I have one more. When I was "rising up," I often featured hate mail in my columns. It grabbed attention; it was funny; it made me controversial; and it helped raise my profile. It also started to become a crutch. I felt I went to that well too often. If I didn't have anything to write that week, I'd just grab a bunch of angry e-mails and away we'd go. Easy. Anyway, I challenged myself at the end of 2009 to go an entire year without any hate mail. So far, so good. So heads up if you've got something angry to say you want to see in print. It may have to wait until 2011.

98. Starting in Week 9 (the week after Chris Chambers was released) and going through the end of the season, Malcom Floyd had 525 receiving yards, tied for 27th in the NFL.

99. There were only five running backs last season who had more carries in the red zone than Knowshon Moreno.

100. When you are as narcissistic, egocentric and self-indulgent as I am, it helps to have an audience. So whether you love, hate or merely tolerate me, I appreciate your click and yes, your read. Thanks. I'm looking forward to this season and I'll try my damndest to help you more than I screw you and to be at least slightly entertaining along the way.

Matthew Berry - The Talented Mr. Roto - drinks his first Diet Coke by 10 every morning. And that's a fact. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend