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|ESPN experts have a whole new set of rules for this season's fantasy football draft.|
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DROP YOUR CHEAT SHEET. The clock has ticked down on your second-round pick, leaving you mere moments to decide between two very different running back profiles. Who do you choose?
Player A: Over the past two years, among backs with at least 300 carries, he has the highest yards-per-carry average in the NFL (5.27). And in a league with so many running backs by committee, he is the unquestioned lead back, having averaged 19 touches per game last season. He's a touchdown machine, scoring in more than half his games, and he's a tough tackle too: His 5.4 yards per carry last season was better than the averages of Maurice Jones-Drew, Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster. Since he came into the league four years ago, no running back has a higher yards-per-catch average (10.3). Plus, he had only one fumble all of last year. In 2011, Peterson averaged 16.3 fantasy points per game in the games he finished. Our guy: 16.7.
Player B: He entered the league with a lot of hype -- he was the first back taken in the 2008 NFL draft -- but is it justified? Last year, he didn't get the ball much at the goal line (eight carries inside an opponent's 10-yard line) or anywhere else on the field (24 percent of his team's rushing attempts). Even one of his big calling cards, his pass-catching ability, took a hit, as his receptions and yards per reception (19 catches for 154 yards, 8.1 average) hit career lows in 2011. He seems to have an aversion to the end zone, scoring just four touchdowns last season (plus one receiving TD) and wasn't even a top-30 fantasy running back. After his team hired a new coach, the front office went out and traded for another rusher. Not exactly a vote of confidence.
|Last season's hamstring injuries behind him, Andre Johnson eyes a sixth 1,000-yard season.|
Time's up. Which player do you want? You want Player A, right? And you're avoiding Player B, correct? I mean, it should be clear that when you go into your draft, you definitely want to target Player A, Darren McFadden. And
Both of these McFadden profiles are, in fact, factual. I also intentionally made them wildly misleading to prove a point: Facts, when used selectively, are nothing but opinion. We all twist truths -- every fantasy analyst, every political pundit, every pop culture critic, every voice on every ESPN debate-style show. We can talk up or talk down just about anybody to strengthen our argument and shape your opinion. We just have to choose the right stats for the job.
Want me to talk about an injury-risk QB who hasn't played all 16 games for two straight seasons and now has to worry about a scaled-back offense (second-fewest pass attempts of his career last season)? Because I just described Aaron Rodgers.
Or perhaps you need me to talk up a promising young QB who's on the cusp of being the next big thing, having averaged 280 yards passing and 19 points in every full game he played last year. Because I just sold you Chad Henne.
As you prepare for a predraft stat bombardment of red zone targets, yards after contact, attempted air yards against five or more rushers, new offensive schemes, rumors of this guy being in the best shape of his life while this other guy is in the doghouse, average draft position and blah-blah-blah, it's vital that you understand just one thing: It's impossible -- and I mean impossible -- to get a complete statistical overview of a player. Potential value changes with every game, play, personnel grouping and scheme. So to make sense of the chaos and make a smart decision on a player, you must first figure out who you trust and who you don't and then make your own call. Because that's all any of us are doing: taking small pieces of the big picture and making a call.
Every statement that follows is 100 percent accurate. Some are about football players, some are about teams and some are about tendencies. And not one of the following 100 facts tells the whole story.
1. Over the first eight games of 2011, Cam Newton averaged 299 passing yards per game, fifth best in the NFL.
2. His 8.34 yards per attempt in those games was also fifth best.
3. Over the final eight games, Newton averaged 207 passing yards a game, 18th over that time.
4. Newton's 7.21 yards per attempt over the season's second half was 14th best in the NFL and worse than, among others, Matt Moore's average.
5. Quarterbacks who averaged more passing yards per game than Newton in
6. Since 1991, 21 quarterbacks have rushed for at least six touchdowns in a season, but only one has rushed for at least six touchdowns two years in a row: Tim Tebow (six in 2010 and 2011).
7. The Panthers have DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert on their roster.
8. Peyton Manning has played 111 games indoors.
9. In those games, he has 230 touchdowns (6.2 TD percent) and 97 interceptions (2.6 INT percent).
10. Peyton Manning has played 97 games outdoors.
11. In those games, he has 169 touchdowns (4.9 TD percent) and 101 interceptions (2.9 INT percent).
12. Assuming he plays all 16 games this season for the Broncos, Peyton Manning will play 15 games outdoors.
13. In his last eight starts last season, Carson Palmer was fifth in passing yards, seventh in completion percentage, ninth in completions, 10th in attempts, fourth in yards per attempt, tied for second in passing plays of more than 25 yards and tied for 12th in touchdown passes, and he had Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey on the field at the same time in only five games.
14. Palmer was also tied for eighth in interceptions, and Oakland has a new offensive coordinator and head coach. But still, Palmer is going 21st among QBs in early drafts on ESPN.com.
15. In the two years with Mike Shanahan as head coach, the Redskins have been in the top five in passing attempts each season.
16. If you combined the stats of Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman and John Beck over the past two years and made them one quarterback, that QB would have averaged 3,843 passing yards and 20 touchdowns.
17. In 41 games at Baylor, Robert Griffin III had 2,254 yards rushing and 33 touchdowns.
18. Understand this for the rest of the season in everything you read, hear and see from me: I am not rational when it comes to Robert Griffin III.
19. This offseason, Bills coach Chan Gailey revealed that Ryan Fitzpatrick played the final nine games with two cracked ribs.
20. Prior to that injury, Fitzpatrick averaged 248 passing yards and two touchdowns for 15 fantasy points a game. He also completed 67.7% of his passes.
21. After that injury, he completed 58.2 percent of his passes.
22. Mark Sanchez had 84 overthrows last season, fourth most in the NFL.
23. Jets wideouts had 18 drops as a group, tied for seventh fewest in the NFL.
24. Tim Tebow is currently the "backup" quarterback for the Jets.
25. Since 2008, Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked an NFL-worst 168 times.
26. He has been sacked at least 40 times in three of the past four seasons.
27. Over the final five games last season, no quarterback had a higher QBR than &133; Philip Rivers (94.4).
28. Last season, Mike Tolbert and Vincent Jackson had 12 drops in 186 targets.
|Don't let the highlight film influence your perception: in the second half last season, Cam Newton's passing game was nothing to write home about.|
29. The rest of the Chargers had six drops in 354 targets.
30. Mike Tolbert and Vincent Jackson are no longer with San Diego.
31. Michael Vick missed (under- or overthrown passes) on only 14.8 percent of red zone attempts last season.
32. Among quarterbacks with at least 50 red zone attempts, the only one with a lower miss percentage was Drew Brees (13.7 percent).
33. Only seven of Josh Freeman's 22 interceptions were on under- or overthrown passes (31.8 percent).
34. There were only four quarterbacks last season with a lower percentage of interceptions due to missed throws: Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
35. Before his 172-yard, two-TD game against the last-ranked Tampa Bay run defense in Week 17, Michael Turner averaged 56 rushing yards over his five previous games.
36. He had single-digit fantasy points in four of his final six games.
37. He scored only once from Week 12 to Week 16.
38. Six of Turner's 11 touchdowns last season came in just three games: Week 4 at Seattle, Week 6 vs. Carolina and the aforementioned Week 17 vs. Tampa Bay.
39. Turner had only six 100-yard games last season. Half of those were when Julio Jones was out.
40. Since Marvin Lewis took over as Bengals coach in 2003, his lead running backs have averaged 1,124 yards, eight touchdowns and 282 carries a season.
41. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has never had more than 229 carries in a season.
42. He has also never fumbled.
43. Those Bengals averages (1,124 yards and eight scores) combined with no fumbles and assuming no receiving yards would have been worth 160 fantasy points, or 15th among running backs, just 10 points out of the top 10.
44. Among running backs with at least 30 red zone carries last season, only Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster and Marshawn Lynch had a higher yards-per-carry average in the red zone than Green-Ellis (2.72).
45. Only five teams ran the ball in the red zone more than the Bengals last season.
46. Green-Ellis had 11 and 13 touchdowns, respectively, the past two seasons, with all but one coming from the red zone.
47. He is currently going in the sixth round.
48. Over his final three years at Tennessee, new Rams head coach Jeff Fisher's teams had 6,518 rushing yards, fourth best in the NFL.
49. The Titans had 56 rushing touchdowns (second in the NFL), a 4.6-yards-per-carry average (third in the NFL) and 1,413 rushing attempts (eighth in the NFL).
50. Of course, the Titans also had Chris Johnson. But still, what are the Rams going to do, throw it?
51. Steven Jackson is just 29 years old and has missed only two games for the Rams in the past three seasons.
52. From 2006 to 2010, Frank Gore averaged 14 games played and 51 receptions a season.
53. Last season, Gore played all 16 games.
54. He had 17 receptions.
55. Over the past six seasons, Gore has averaged 254 rushes and 45.3 receptions a year.
56. The only player in NFL history to have seven seasons with at least 254 rushes and 45 receptions is LaDainian Tomlinson.
57. Frank Gore is not LaDainian Tomlinson.
58. Brandon Jacobs, LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter are not blocking backs.
59. Over the second half of last season, Donald Brown had 492 rushing yards, 16th in the NFL and more than LeSean McCoy, C.J. Spiller, Frank Gore and Roy Helu had.
60. Last season, the first that both Arian Foster and Ben Tate were healthy, the Texans ran the ball 52.2 percent of the time, second most in the NFL.
61. Through Nov. 15 of last season (the last week Matt Schaub played), the Texans had 292 pass attempts, ninth fewest in the league.
62. Andre Johnson has missed 12 games the past two seasons.
63. Johnson has never had double-digit touchdowns in a season.
64. Jeremy Bates coached quarterbacks for the Broncos in 2007 and 2008.
65. In 2007 and 2008, with Jay Cutler as his quarterback, Brandon Marshall had 351 total targets, the most in the NFL and 31 more than second-place Larry Fitzgerald.
66. Marshall hasn't had fewer than 1,000 yards receiving since 2006, when he had 309.
67. In 2007, Marshall had 102 receptions for 1,325 yards and seven TDs, and in 2008, he had 104 receptions for 1,265 yards and six TDs. They were the two best seasons of his career.
68. Since 2007, Marshall has played with nine different quarterbacks.
69. His quarterback this season is Jay Cutler. And the Bears' quarterbacks coach is Jeremy Bates.
70. Dwayne Bowe had seven drops and seven interceptions on passes intended for him last season.
71. The 14 combined drops/interceptions were tied for second most in the NFL.
72. Since 2008, there have been 20 receivers with more than 65 targets of at least 21 yards downfield. The only one not to drop a deep ball? Brandon Lloyd (88 targets).
73. Over the past two seasons, with Josh McDaniels as his head coach or primary offensive coordinator, Lloyd was the most targeted receiver on throws deeper than 20 yards downfield, with 73 such targets.
74. Calvin Johnson was second with 64.
75. Lloyd has done this with Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley and Kellen Clemens as his quarterbacks.
76. Lloyd's quarterback this year is Tom Brady. And his offensive coordinator is Josh McDaniels.
77. A.J. Green was fourth in the NFL last season with 12 receptions of at least 30 yards.
78. Of Green's 19 end zone targets, he caught only five (26 percent).
79. If his rate went up to, say, just 53 percent of caught end zone balls, Green would have finished with at least 174 fantasy points, seventh most and two more than Roddy White.
80. Roddy White led the NFL last season in third-down receptions for a first down.
81. The second-most third-down catches for a first down? Antonio Brown.
82. Starting with his Week 7 breakout game against Arizona (seven catches, 102 yards), Brown was 12th in the NFL in targets and
tied for 17th in
83. Over that same time frame, Mike Wallace was tied for 40th in targets, tied for 44th in receptions and 32nd in receiving yards.
84. Wallace did have more touchdowns than Brown over that time frame.
85. Four touchdowns to two.
86. Wallace is going, on average, four to five rounds ahead of Brown.
87. Last season, Torrey Smith was targeted at least 30 yards downfield 20 times. He caught just five of those balls, with two touchdowns.
88. Smith dropped only one pass (5 percent of targets, better than Calvin Johnson, Hakeem Nicks and DeSean Jackson).
89. Joe Flacco had 18 overthrows on deep balls.
90. From 2008 to 2010, Flacco averaged just nine overthrows, and he had just six in 2010.
91. The Packers wideout with the best receptions-per-target percentage last year: Randall Cobb.
92. Cobb caught 25 of his 31 targets (80.6 percent) and led Packers receivers with 7.5 yards after the catch.
93. He's currently going outside the top 160.
94. Since 2008, only Drew Brees has thrown more balls and completed more passes to a tight end than Peyton Manning.
95. Manning's 71.8 percent completion rate to tight ends is second among quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts to tight ends.
96. Jacob Tamme, Manning's former teammate in Indianapolis, is now on the Broncos.
97. Among tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham were tied for first in end zone targets last season with 17. Third in the NFL with 15 end zone targets? Brandon Pettigrew.
98. Pettigrew dropped only one pass in the end zone, the same as Gronkowski, Graham and Jermichael Finley.
99. Had Pettigrew had the average completion percentage for a tight end in the end zone, that alone would have made him the eighth-best fantasy tight end last year.
100. Only Jimmy Graham had more games last season with five or more catches than...Tony Gonzalez.Matthew Berry is the handsomest, kindest, smartest man in the world (according to his wife). Another good rule about "facts": Check the source.
CHECK OUT THE MAG'S POSITION PREVIEWS BELOW
IS THE ELITE CLUB WELCOMING A FEW NEW MEMBERS?
Christopher Harris VS. Tim Hasselbeck
A fantasy guru matches wits with a former NFL QB -- and enlightenment ensues.
CH: Last year, eight of the top 10 fantasy points producers were QBs. How early can you take a quarterback, given the volatility of the other positions?
TH: With the way the NFL rules are now set up, it's not unusual for someone to complete close to 70 percent of his passes and throw 40 times a game. And then you have a guy like Cam Newton, who might be the best goal-line running back in the NFL.
CH: So how many should go in the first round?
TH: Two, maybe three.
CH: I'd go with three. Rodgers, then Brady, then Brees.
TH: What about Cam? His rushing touchdowns are amazing. Until someone says, "This is going away," he could be more valuable than Brady and possibly Brees. You might get 40 touchdowns from Cam, with 15 coming from rushes. That's more valuable.
CH: So Cam is the big question. No quarterback who has run for more than eight touchdowns in a season has ever run for eight or more the next season.
TH: Yeah, but those quarterbacks didn't have the designed runs like Cam. Carolina's best play when it gets to the goal line is a run-pass option.
CH: I'm not too worried about Sean Payton's absence. Are you?
TH: It bothers me. Last year, Brees wanted those records and Payton wanted those records as much as anybody. They're throwing the ball when they have no business throwing. Now it's a different situation.
CH: What about Peyton Manning?
TH: I just think there are so many guys who are good with less risk. I'd rather just take Philip Rivers or Tony Romo.
CH: If you don't get Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Newton or Stafford, I think you should just wait.
KC JOYNER'S COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: DON'T DRAFT MICHAEL VICK EARLY
Vick was third in the NFL last season in QB rushing yards (behind Cam Newton and Tim Tebow) while playing just 13 games. But if you prorate his points over 16 games, he's still not a top-five QB. That's because Vick is not close to the 600-pass-attempt threshold that separates elite QBs from the rest. (Exceptions to the rule: Newton, whose rushing TDs are planned plays, and Aaron Rodgers, whose 502 attempts were goosed by an unreal 9.25 yap.)
Christopher Harris breaks down this season's top QB battles.
Mark Sanchez vs. Tim Tebow (Jets): This is not what Sanchez needed. He'll start Week 1, but if the Jets get off to a slow start, fans and the inevitable media maelstrom will beg for Tebow Time. And for fantasy, Tebow would be the more attractive starter because of his potential for rushing scores and yards.
Matt Flynn vs. Tarvaris Jackson (Seahawks): Despite learning the QB art from Aaron Rodgers, Flynn is still almost totally untested. Meanwhile, Jackson has the arm strength and the athleticism advantage in this battle. But Flynn signed for $10 million guaranteed this winter, which makes him the favorite.
Matt Hasselbeck vs. Jake Locker (Titans): Hasselbeck had a great start to 2011, then faded in October. Locker has major accuracy questions. The winner will have fantasy weapons in hand, but this true training camp battle really is too close to call.
Blaine Gabbert vs. Chad Henne (Jaguars): Yuck. Gabbert needs a huge second-year leap to maximize Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson. He'll still start, if only because Henne has yet to throw more TDs than INTs in any of his four seasons.
Kevin Kolb vs. John Skelton (Cardinals): Arizona needs to prove its O-line is fixed before you think about investing here.
Stephania Bell's QB intel in 140 characters or fewer.
WHERE HAVE ALL THE GREAT RUSHERS GONE?
Christopher Harris VS. Tim Hasselbeck
CH: I think this might be the worst year ever for fantasy running backs. There are so few guys you can trust.
TH: I'd trust Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice. Those are the big three. But I'd also believe in MJD and Matt Forte. Forte is as complete a back as there is in the NFL. There's separation after the first three and then again after the top five.
CH: Forte is not a good goal-line back. I'd rather have Ryan Mathews.
TH: Don't forget that Mike Tice is calling plays now. That will be a very good thing for Forte. He will run more.
CH: Do you see Chris Johnson bouncing back? People who had him last season were burned.
TH: I can't imagine it can possibly be as bad as it was last year, when he was talked about as the No. 1 overall pick. He's healthy and has been part of the offseason program. Plus, he's bruised by the embarrassment of how bad last season went. Most of all, he plays for a team that wants to run the ball.
CH: How good is Trent Richardson? Is he the next Adrian Peterson?
TH: No. He's a really good player who will touch the ball a lot, but you have to look at that team, where they are up front, what they are defensively and the other defenses in that division. When are they going to be winning and running the ball? They'll be running for three quarters, not four.
CH: What should people do about Jamaal Charles and Peterson, two stars with torn ACLs? I don't think they should be grouped together, because their injuries came at different times.
TH: I'm skeptical of these guys. Delay your draft any way possible. Have a family wedding. Get more information.
KC JOYNER'S COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: DRAFT TRENT RICHARDSON
Afraid to pick the Crimson Tide wunderkind because the Browns were next to last in 2011 with just 3.7 ypc? Don't be. These four running backs had impressive fantasy numbers last season behind terrible blocking.
* Good blocking rate (GBR): The percentage of running plays in which the offense doesn't allow the defense to do anything to disrupt the rush attempt.
Christopher Harris breaks down this season's top RB battles.
Fred Jackson vs. C.J. Spiller (Bills): It's tough to imagine Spiller seeing only 3.1 offensive touches per game this year, as he did in 2011 before Jackson got hurt. Jackson could wind up being severely overdrafted in fantasy leagues as a result.
Roy Helu vs. Tim Hightower (Redskins): Don't be shocked if Hightower winds up starting games for flaky Mike Shanahan. Helu is another player who will be overdrafted this summer.
Jahvid Best vs. Kevin Smith vs. Mikel Leshoure (Lions): Detroit will baby the oft-injured Best, which means Smith and Leshoure (once his suspension ends after Week 2) will create a frustrating rotation.
Jonathan Stewart vs. DeAngelo Williams (Panthers): Another year, another fantasy mess in Carolina. But Cam Newton gets so many rushing TDs, there's no urgency to start either Stewart or Williams.
Stevan Ridley vs. Shane Vereen (Patriots): The Pats mess with fantasy owners. Ridley is the favorite for goal-line work, but you never know how New England will use these guys from week to week.
Doug Martin vs. LeGarrette Blount (Buccaneers): Blount fizzled as a starter in 2011, but the Bucs won't give the rookie Martin a pure starting role either. Expect a split of early-down work in Tampa.
Stephania Bell's RB intel in 140 characters or fewer.
MEGATRON AND EVERYBODY ELSE
Christopher Harris VS. Tim Hasselbeck
CH: So it's Calvin Johnson and a bunch of guys.
TH: We have to put Larry Fitzgerald up there too.
CH: True, but only if he had Matthew Stafford throwing to him.
TH: That will sort itself out. Fitzgerald had 80 catches with terrible QB play by John Skelton and Kevin Kolb. One of these guys has to play better.
CH: That's my concern. He won't repeat that with the same bad quarterbacks.
TH: I think the situation will improve, and then he'll be even better.
CH: Maybe, but Johnson and Fitzgerald are definitely the top two. There are great receivers after them, but there isn't much difference. Why reach?
TH: I think you may see almost half of the first 50 picks be receivers.
CH: I agree there will be a lot taken in the top 50 but not so many in the top 20. You don't need to take a guy like Greg Jennings that early.
TH: You're going to be playing three of them, since most likely you'll be flexing a receiver.
CH: Two guys I'm worried about are Victor Cruz and Jordy Nelson. I'm just not sure if those big plays are repeatable.
TH: I'm not worried. I just think that's who Victor Cruz is, a big-play guy. And Aaron Rodgers always gave Nelson that signal to go when he saw press coverage. Nelson never lost. It was crazy. And he'll play more with Driver getting less time.
CH: Do you have any sleeper receivers? It happens every year.
TH: Denarius Moore is a guy I'm excited about. He's so fast. And he can track the ball. There is so much upside.
CH: I love Titus Young opposite Johnson in Detroit. I can see him being a top-15 fantasy receiver.
KC JOYNER'S COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: DON'T SHOOT FOR TARGETS
Bulk chances may be the most important stat for picking running backs and QBs. But when it comes to wide receivers, target totals often deceive. Don't believe us? In each of the following cases, the players with the fewer targets scored more fantasy points last season.
Christopher Harris breaks down this season's top WR battles.
Stephania Bell's WR intel in 140 characters or fewer.
WHEN DO THE TIGHT ENDS GO?
Christopher Harris VS. Tim Hasselbeck
CH: Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham had the two greatest tight end seasons ever, for fantasy or otherwise. But I don't think they should be first-round draft picks.
TH: They're off the chart. These guys have a unique skill set. They are both so big and still so athletic and strong. Patriots trainers would have to cut off Gronk's leg to keep him from playing. The matchups they create have become a huge problem that opposing coaches haven't figured out how to deal with. How do you stop Jimmy Graham when the Saints isolate him? You can't send a linebacker. You can't send a safety; he's too athletic. You can't do it with a corner because he's too strong and long.
CH: Yeah, but do you think they're first-round picks?
TH: If you're sitting there and the quarterback you like and the receiver you like and the running back you like are all gone, then going for Jimmy Graham is not horrible.
CH: I generally don't take a backup tight end no matter what. Free agent tight ends will be okay if Tony Gonzalez gets hurt.
TH: This idea about flexing tight ends, it sounds great. But if you take the 40th receiver, he'll probably get 100 points. The 10th fantasy tight end is going to have 100 fantasy points.
CH: Exactly, so the top 15 TEs aren't available, that's okay. No. 16 is Kellen Winslow. No. 17 is Martellus Bennett. If you get one of the top 12, you're not carrying another one. No question about it.
TH: Yeah, but people now will start to own two.
CH: With Gronkowski and Graham being so much better than the baseline tight end, maybe we can justify second or third round. But if you don't get one of those two guys, wait. They're all the same.
TH: Yeah, if you have Jermichael Finley or Vernon Davis, who cares?
KC JOYNER'S COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: GRONK HAS DEEP ISSUES
Think twice before passing up a top-five wideout for Gronk. Last year, the lockout toned down blitz packages, but teams now have a full summer to perfect schemes to exploit one hole in Gronkowski's game. While he was the NFL's top TE on short routes, he stumbled the farther he went downfield.
Christopher Harris breaks down this season's top TE battles.
Stephania Bell's TE intel in 140 characters or fewer.
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