Over the past few days, the Yahoo! fantasy team has worked feverishly to update our position ranks for 2011. (Please, there's no need to express your gratitude for our tireless efforts — your vicious, denunciatory comments are all the thanks we need). Soon after going through this exercise, I like to compare my ranks to Yahoo! ADPs (average draft position), just to see where I'm in clear disagreement with the fantasy community.
Then, having identified the places where so many of you stumbling lemmings go astray, I try to steer you away from the cliff edge. This doesn't always work, but it's a noble goal.
Here's a list of five players you've been overdrafting so far, at least according to my recently revised cheat sheet ...
QB Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
First of all, just so we're clear, this is a discussion about fantasy value. We're playing the game within the game. We're not talking about which quarterback you'd like to see behind center for your favorite real-life team over the next decade ... because if we were having that conversation, then Freeman's name would clearly be in the mix. This guy's sophomore NFL campaign was as impressive as any you're likely to see at his position. He delivered the sixth-best passer rating in the league (95.9), despite the fact that he was surrounded by castoffs and low-ceiling vets. His top receiver was a rookie, and his team's leading rusher was an un-drafted rookie. Freeman was incredibly efficient, rarely reckless with the football, and he led a disrespected team to a 10-win season. He's great. No complaints here about Josh Freeman the real-life quarterback.
But Josh Freeman the fantasy asset is another matter. Fantasy is a numbers game, a volume game — and with Freeman, the volume is low. Of the 12 quarterbacks who played a full 16-game season last year, this guy had the fewest total pass attempts (474). Sam Bradford, as a rookie, attempted 116 more throws. Ideally your starting fantasy quarterback will direct a high-volume, high-scoring passing game. The Bucs don't fit that description. Freeman only exceeded 40 pass attempts twice last season, he never topped 300 passing yards, and he never rushed for 50. Only once did he pass for more than two scores in a game. (In fact, Freeman's one big game — Week 16 vs. Seattle — produced 20 percent of his total TD passes). He was a terrific story last year, but that fact doesn't make him a fantasy starter in the season ahead.
RB Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns
Hillis was an absolute monster for the first two-thirds of the 2010 season, no doubt. He was the only Cleveland skill player worth starting in fantasy, and he almost never disappointed. If he wasn't vaulting over tacklers, he was steamrolling them. And of course we all enjoyed those 12-minute Peyton Hillis TD celebrations. He was, without question, a breakout star.
If you owned him in fantasy, however, you might also remember the fact that he abandoned you in the most important weeks of the season. Hillis averaged 3.8 yards per carry over the final five weeks, he became a non-factor in the passing game, and he failed to cross the goal line. It was a rough end to an otherwise terrific year; it also left a fair number of observers thinking that Hillis could benefit from a job-share. The Browns will get former second-rounder Montario Hardesty back from injury in 2011, and they've added Brandon Jackson as depth, too. Cleveland has hired a new head coach/offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur, and he's discussed the possibilities of a tandem backfield.
Plus, in any conversation about the fantasy value of Browns, we should probably mention that the team's offense was brutal last season (16.9 PPG, 289.7 total yards).
Bottom line: Hillis is the No. 12 running back selected in standard fantasy drafts; in order to justify that pick, he'll again need to dominate the scoring for a thoroughly unimpressive attack. And he'll probably need to convince his coaches that he deserves a full workload, despite fading after 200 carries in 2010.
RB LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
So McCoy is somewhat tricky, a terrific weapon tied to a Tecmo offense. There's little question that you'll again love him in point-per-reception formats; he led all running backs in targets and catches last season (90, 78). If you're playing in a PPR league, he's an easy top-five pick.
Of course Yahoo! public leagues are not PPR, so this is where McCoy gets tricky. When your league tilts toward yards and TDs, you generally want your early-round running backs to have A) huge workloads and B) ownership of the goal line/red zone carries. McCoy comes up a bit short in both areas. He ran the ball 207 times last season over 15 games, and quarterback Michael Vick actually rushed for more scores (9 vs. 7). The Eagles recently signed Ronnie Brown to a one-year deal, so he adds another inside-the-five complication for McCoy.
My position rank on LeSean won't seem like much of an outlier (ninth among the RBs), but I can't sign off on his current Yahoo! ADP (13.4). On my overall draft board, he's at No. 20, behind a group of elite receivers and QBs. I basically have him priced as an end-of-Round 2 fantasy commodity, which means I'll never own him in standard leagues.
WR Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs
I'm certainly not the first to arrive at this party, but I'll help carry the keg (and the awful undergrad metaphors). Dwayne Bowe is going to have a very difficult time repeating last year's touchdown total. He went on an epic TD binge at mid-season, grabbing 13 scores over seven weeks against a convenient string of miserable defenses. For the year, he finished with 15 touchdowns on 72 catches — that's a TD/REC rate of nearly 21 percent. Crazy season ... and incredibly tough to repeat. The Chiefs led the NFL in rush attempts last year, at 34.8 per game, and head coach Todd Haley has given no indication that he intends to change the mix.
When asked recently about his team's offensive identity, Haley had this to say...
"Our identity as an offense is to be a good running team. We want to be a running team first and build from there. That part of it is not going to change."
...so let's not assume that Bowe will get substantially more chances than he had in 2010. It's also not unreasonable to fret about the departure of last year's OC, Charlie Weis. As soon as Weis' departure became public knowledge last season, all the air went out of Kansas City's attack. The team lost its final two games by a combined score of 61-17, and Bowe was shutout by a double-teaming Baltimore secondary in the home playoff loss.
WR Brandon Lloyd, Denver Broncos
Lloyd obviously had a fantastic season in 2010, but it's not often that we see an eighth-year/fourth-team breakout. He's now being selected ahead of a few receivers who have substantially more impressive resumes, and who are tied to better offenses. (Marques Colston and Wes Welker, to name two).
I'll give Lloyd credit for surviving the Orton-to-Tebow switch last year — that miraculous TD catch against Oakland helped his cause — but you have to be concerned about the coaching change in Denver. The Broncos didn't exactly run a balanced offense under Josh McDaniels, passing over 59 percent of the time in 2010 and 56 percent the prior year. John Fox is much more of a run-first, defensive-minded coach. Even if Lloyd remains healthy (big if) and continues the high-level play, it's tough to forecast another 150-target season. Dial down the opportunities and you'll generally dial down the fantasy stats.
Photos via US Presswire