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NFL Barometer: Processing Error

Derek VanRiper

Derek VanRiper

Derek is the Senior Baseball Editor for RotoWire.com, where he's been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also co-hosts RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210) from 11a-2p ET on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

"Process this, rubber that."

Last week, I spent five days at a seminar in Arizona called First Pitch Forums. It's an event that Baseball HQ has put on for 18 years, and it currently overlaps with the weekend of the Rising Stars Game of the Arizona Fall League.

At First Pitch, a group of the industry's leading and long-standing fantasy baseball analysts discuss the happenings of the past year, engaging the attendees with large and small group talks focused on fact-fluke debates, minor league prospect outlooks, and various strategic topics.

During a fact-or-fluke panel where the subject of the conversation was Fernando Rodney, part of our breakdown included mention of the Rays' decision to move him from the third-base side to the first-base side of the pitching rubber. Todd Zola - one of the great fantasy baseball players and minds in the industry - isn't ready to buy Rodney's significantly improved control as a sustainable skill (he opened his commentary on Rodney with the, "Process this, rubber that," line above).

It's easy to bet on a long-term history when evaluating a player's skill set, regardless of the sport at hand. Todd's reluctance to buy into Rodney might be comparable to the collective apprehension toward anointing Reggie Bush as a steady Top-20 running back.

Not surprisingly, Mike Trout was a large focus of conversation throughout the event. Trout, who turned 21 in August, hit .326/.399/.564 with 30 homers and 49 stolen bases over 559 at-bats (139 games) as a rookie last season. In one camp, there are those playing the odds and leaning on historical production to project regression (with suggestions of something more in line with a .280 average, 15 homers and 35-40 stolen bases). In the other, much smaller camp, there are some (including our own Bernie Pleskoff) who believe that Trout is Mickey Mantle.

Both arguments are plausible, and time will only reveal which side is actually right in this particular case, but the debate about Trout has encouraged me to take a step back and review the process behind previous upgrades and downgrades this season to determine if the premise was right, even when the results following the write-up may have been wrong.

Realizing that there are some readers out there more interested in the names of a half-dozen or so players trending in each direction than the analytical components of this column, I will indulge you with some brief thoughts before going into Report Card mode below.

Upgrades

C.J. Spiller, RB, BUF - Be ahead of the curve. If you wait for Chan Gailey to wise up, or for a Fred Jackson injury, Spiller will be much more difficult to acquire. It's not a typo - Spiller is averaging 7.2 YPC, and it has to become clear that his legs are more likely to win games for the Bills than Ryan Fitzpatrick's arm. Even with his shameful workload patterns, Spiller ranks eighth among running backs in fantasy points scored this season in non-PPR formats.

Ryan Mathews, RB, SD - I'll take Confused NFL Head Coaches for 300, please. Sorry, I'm still not taking Jackie Battle seriously. If you don't own Mathews, but thought he was a potential top-five back going into the season, this is your time to make your move.

Marcel Reece, RB, OAK - Reece is hardly your typical running back; most of his value will come from contributions in the passing game. Think more along the lines of Aaron Hernandez or Chris Cooley. Without Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson, the Raiders are going to lean even more heavily on their passing attack, hence the interest in Reece as a waiver-wire pickup this week. Particularly in PPR formats, he's intriguing, while Taiwan Jones is something of a lottery ticket.

Mike Williams, WR, TB - Williams has taken part in the Bucs' recent surge, hauling in 18 of his 33 targets for 285 yards and three touchdowns in the last four games. In non-PPR leagues, Williams has outscored Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Steve Smith and Dwayne Bowe on a per-week basis to this point.

Emmanuel Sanders, WR, PIT - With just nine targets over the last three games, Sanders may be floating around on the waiver wire in your league, but he'll get a favorable matchup against the Chiefs on Monday night with a chance to start in place of Antonio Brown (sprained ankle), who is expected to sit out Week 11.

Brandon Myers, TE, OAK - Myers ranks 12th among tight ends in targets (50), is tied for fourth in receptions (39) and is fifth in yards (442). Steady opportunity on a team that will reliably be forced to throw - even more in the aforementioned absence of McFadden and Goodson will give Myers are realistic chance of finishing the season as a top-10 player at his position.

Downgrades

Joe Flacco, QB, BAL - Flacco has attempted 30 or more passes just once in the last four games, while delivering a 3:3 TD:INT during that span and going over the 200-yard mark one time. Through eight games, Flacco is on pace for a career-high 3,980 yards and a 20:12 TD:INT (identical to his 2011 numbers). I'm still underwhelmed here.

Chris Johnson, RB, TEN - Johnson's value continues to fluctuate on a weekly basis, but the post Week 9 datapoint may prove to be one of the final peaks as the Titans' schedule is tough in two of the next three games around a Week 11 bye: @MIA, BYE, @JAC (good) and HOU. Everyone runs on the Bills (18 for 195, two scores in Week 7) and Johnson's 80-yard TD run against the Bears on Sunday came during a 51-13 deficit (prior to that run, he had 54 yards on 14 carries). Even without that play, he'd rank fifth among running backs in fantasy points since Week 5, but can his value go up any higher at this point?

Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, NYG - Bradshaw hasn't eclipsed 3.6 YPC in a game over the last three weeks, and he's battling another foot injury to boot. His carry volume during that span has gone 12, 22, and 15, while Andre Brown has been given five touches inside the five-yard line compared to Bradshaw's one. It seems to be a pain-tolerance issue for Bradshaw regarding his availability and as a player with a reputation for reliably gutting it out at less than 100 percent, owners are left to wonder if he will be healthy enough to shoulder more than 15 carries each week when the situation arises.

Hakeem Nicks, WR, NYG - Ordinarily, Nicks would be a buy-low for me given his elite skill set, but reports that he's still dealing with swelling in his knee and was forced to miss practice Wednesday are a concern. It will be very interesting to see if the Giants hold him out for a game with the luxury of a late-season bye in Week 11.

Jeremy Maclin, WR, PHI - Maclin is mired in a five-game stretch where his production in Week 6 against Detroit (six catches, 130 yards and a TD) has ultimately exceeded his totals from the other four games combined (107 yards, no TDs). It's hard to score when you play in an offense that coughs up the ball around the stripe. With a career-low 7.1 YPT through seven games, there is genuine concern that Maclin is not a top-25 receiver the rest of the way.

Kyle Rudolph, TE, MIN - With just 12 catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns over the last five games, Rudolph still has a bye week coming up (Week 11) and has killed owners willing to entrust him in recent weeks. My reaction to this sudden inability to produce is covered around :19-:20 in the clip below:



Why not downgrade Eli Manning? He's currently ranked 17th in fantasy points per game this season between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Joe Flacco. Jay Cutler, Matt Schaub and Alex Smith are also in the same neighborhood in terms of weekly production. Around a Week 11 bye, the Giants face the Bengals, Packers, Redskins and Saints.

Report Card

Mikel Leshoure was a downgrade before Week 9, before going out and picking up three scores against Jacksonville. The lost value was rooted in his limited carries since Week 3, and that did not change Sunday. Joique Bell remains a bit of a concern as well.

Back on Oct. 11th, I wrote the following about Jamaal Charles as an upgrade:

"Charles is second only to Arian Foster in fantasy points among running backs. Peyton Hillis is becoming an afterthought, and YPC marks of 7.1, 5.2 and 4.5 over the last three games are very impressive. Even more impressive, is that Charles has tipped the 30-carry mark twice during that span."

I was implying that the Chiefs would continue to give Charles plenty of touches. Thanks to Romeo Crennel, pulverized. Limited workload.

In the same column, Doug Martin was downgraded:

"Martin is probably the least crushing of these downgrades, but 3.5 YPC and very few holes to run through behind the Bucs' offensive line have limited his effectiveness to this point. To make matters worse, head coach Greg Schiano has suggested the potential for LeGarrette Blount to take on an increased role. Tampa Bay's offense currently ranks 30th in the NFL in yards per game (276.0)."

Nothing inherently flawed in Martin's skill set at that time either, but Blount has played his way out of a share of the role and the Bucs' offense has been one of the biggest surprises of the last month-plus. Over the last four games, Martin has averaged at least 4.7 YPC in each contest while piling up 54 carries for 386 yards and five TDs over the last two weeks.

Something very clearly changed, either in the trenches or the Bucs' playcalling. Was it something that we could have seen coming?

Remember the hype around Kevin Ogletree after Week 1? Thinking the Cowboys' offense could be a simple plug-and-play scenario where the third receiver immediately picks up value, I considered him an upgrade:

"Actionable information is limited throughout August, but Wednesday's season opener quickly provided a Week 1 FAAB darling as Ogletree turned a team-high 11 targets from quarterback Tony Romo into eight catches, 114 yards and two touchdowns. Considering that Laurent Robinson ranked 15th in fantasy points among wide receivers last season as the third option on the depth chart for the Cowboys, there's plenty of reason to be intrigued. Keep in mind, however, that Jason Witten was very limited (three targets) after making the leap from doubtful to play in Week 1, and that Miles Austin (four targets) was coming off of a hamstring injury that cost him most of the preseason. Combined, Austin and Dez Bryant have missed 11 games over the last two seasons, and Witten's spleen injury could make him vulnerable to an absence throughout the year..."

The second part of the breakdown was more appropriate and could have been justification for a "pump the breaks, I'm not upgrading him because," but it was clearly a bad read on Ogletree's skill set as he went six games after the opener without a touchdown before a three-catch, 96-yard effort with a score against the Falcons on Sunday night. Ogletree hasn't eclipsed seven targets in a game since the big Week 1 showing, and to make matters worse he's been targeted five or fewer times in six of his last seven.

Again, there should be more emphasis placed on the process behind the results than the raw numbers, especially when we're looking at a limited number of weekly datapoints where a few valuable goal-line touches or targets can radically skew the perception of a player's value.

Hopefully, it's something I can continue to improve while utilizing this space.

Follow me on Twitter @DerekVanRiper.