East Coast Offense
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
"Once You Display a Skill, You Own It"
Ron Shandler of BaseballHQ coined some variant of that phrase, the idea being that when a baseball player has displayed a skill for a significant amount of time, that player retains that skill even if for some unknown reason (injury, bad luck, off-the-field problems) he isn't currently displaying it.
It's a bit trickier to apply that maxim to football where players operate in far more team-dependent environments. In other words, in baseball, it doesn't matter too much where you hit in the lineup, or who hits ahead of or behind you, when you're at the plate, you're one-on-one against the pitcher. But in football, running backs depend on their blockers, on the threat of the passing game to keep safeties out of the box and on their team's defense not to get too far behind and force the offense to abandon the run. Wide receivers are probably the most dependent players on the field (probably why they're usually the loudmouths of the team) - they need blocking up front, good quarterback play, a defense that's not sitting back in deep Cover 2, etc. And obviously quarterbacks depend heavily on conditions being bearable as well.
Still, for football players with unique talents, we should treat them in part the way we treat their baseball counterparts. A less unique player like Rudi Johnson produced at a high level in the Cincinnati offense (great passing game, good offensive line, lots of carries), but there's no reason to think that he wasn't mostly a product of those conditions. Randy Moss, on the other hand, is one of the most uniquely talented players in NFL history, and even though he did very little for two years with the Raiders, he apparently still owned the skill set he displayed in Minnesota. That might sound obvious now, but it wasn't prior to the season. Of course, injuries and mileage are factors, but barring strong evidence that a player is past his prime, e.g., Shaun Alexander, Ahman Green, we should always consider the possibility that a player still owns his previously displayed skills. Even if there were only a 40 percent chance that Moss would stay healthy, the possibility that he would display his Minnesota-type skill set with Tom Brady throwing him the ball should have made him a second-round pick. It's the type of risk that might win you your league.
Who are some of the other players who have displayed unique skills that under the right conditions would translate into huge numbers? How about Vince Young? As a rookie quarterback, he was tremendous down the stetch last year, always seeming to choose correctly between passing and running. And he had some of the league's worst receivers. My thinking heading into this year was that it could only get better - the receivers could develop, and Young would be in his second year. But a few things happened: (1) Albert Haynesworth decided to have a career year - this was a huge lift to the defense, and suddenly the Titans could win games with conservative play; (2) Young hurt his quad early in the year; and (3) It turns out that Young's father was recently released from prison, a situation that was weighing heavily on Young for much of the year.
While Young's results were terrible, I held onto him in my leagues because half a season of proving at the NFL level that his college skills translated completely was enough. And I had no idea why the Titans were calling so few running plays for him even before he hurt his quad, or why he was making so many mental errors. But if you watched him play at all in college or during the last half of 2006, there's no way you could think his performance was a fluke, even if you couldn't explain why he was doing so poorly this season.
So on Monday night in Denver, with Haynesworth out and after Young gets some of the weight off his chest by going public about the situation with his father, we see the player we remember from last year. And he should have had an even bigger day were it not for several bad drops on intermediate passes by his receivers. It's only one game, and there's no guarantee that the Titans won't go back into a shell, but I'm betting that if even decent conditions obtain, Young will be a star fantasy quarterback down the stretch.
A couple other players who own big time skill sets that could be on display over the last month if and when conditions permit: Santana Moss, Marc Bulger, Frank Gore, Jerious Norwood, Lee Evans, Javon Walker and Calvin Johnson. (Steve Smith, Plaxico Burress and Steven Jackson are also in that boat, but I assume most people have kept them active when relatively healthy all year).
Right now, Moss is dinged up, Bulger and Gore have terrible offensive lines, Norwood doesn't get enough carries, Evans and Johnson don't get enough targets and Walker's hurt. But things change drastically in the NFL, and you want to own the guys who can go off just in case conditions around them improve.
Let's make this one quick: Andre Hall looked good in relief of Selvin Young, but if Travis Henry beats the rap, all three could be in the mix. Hall's worth a look in deep leagues, perhaps, but it's hard to see him getting a ton of carries with Young's injury reportedly minor.
Brandon Jackson could get some carries this week with Ryan Grant nursing a sprained ankle. The Lions are tough against the run, though (3.6 YPC), and Grant might play yet.
Reuben Droughns would start Sunday against the Vikings if Brandon Jacobs (hamstring) can't go. Jacobs doesn't think his injury is serious, but we'll see what he does in practice this week. Keep in mind also that the Vikings allow a meager 2.8 yards per rush.
If Matt Schaub's available he's worth a look now that both he and Andre Johnson are healthy. The team's running game is unsettled, and the defense will allow points, so the conditions are good for Schaub to produce the rest of the way.
Kolby Smith should see the bulk of the carries for the Chiefs this week with Larry Johnson out and Priest Holmes likely hanging it up for good.
Anthony Gonzalez could start opposite Reggie Wayne Thursday with Marvin Harrison unlikely to play and Aaron Moorehead out for the year. Gonzalez will try to play through a hand injury.
Around the League
Beating the Book
We went 10-5-1 against the spread in Week 11, putting us at 79-72-9 on the year, but we were spectacularly wrong with the Bills here (luckily they don't charge you extra for margin of loss) to drop our record in this forum to 3-8.
Ravens +9.5 at Chargers
This is too obvious, so it makes me a little nervous, but the Chargers are terrible and should absolutely not be laying nine and a half against anyone. The Ravens might be even worse, but they can still stop the run, and Philip Rivers hasn't been able to win games with his arm this season. Back the Ravens who keep it close.
Article first appeared 11/21/07
Chargers 20 - 16
Surviving Week 12
Green Bay won fairly easily, but so did everyone else except the Steelers, and most people had probably used them already.
This week, we're probably going with the Cardinals at home against the 49ers. The worry here is that the Niners are so desperate after losing eight in a row, but Arizona plays better at home, and barring several turnovers, it's going to be hard for San Francisco to score enough points to keep up. We give the Cardinals a 78 percent chance to win this game.
The full article comes out on Thursday morning.
Article first appeared 11/21/07