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East Coast Offense: How I Made the Mistake of Drafting Chris Johnson

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

The Gravitational Pull of the Marketplace and How It Rots Your Brain Like a Fungus

I have an entry in two NFFC high stakes leagues, and I drafted sixth in one and seventh in the other. In both leagues, I took Chris Johnson. I'm not going to lie some part of me hopes that by writing this I'll reverse-jinx him into having a good season. But barring that, I already feel the pick was a mistake.

Some background is in order. The leagues are 12-team PPR that start one QB, 2RB, 3WR and a flex. In that format, I was against taking a QB like Tom Brady or Drew Brees (despite that it's six points per TD pass) because (1) I knew I'd get a good QB late (Rivers in one (5th round), Romo in the other (7th)); and (2) because the PPR and six starting RB/WR favor waiting on QB. In short, I was hoping Calvin Johnson would fall to me which he didn't and then when you remove the QBs, my choices were Chris Johnson, an injury-prone Darren McFadden and who else? Julio Jones, A.J. Green or Larry Fitzgerald at No. 6 overall? Matt Forte, despite the presence of Michael Bush? A TE? A holding-out MJD, an injured Ryan Mathews, a yet-to-be tested Adrian Peterson? DeMarco Murray coming off a broken ankle and less than a season of NFL experience? A gimpy Trent Richardson on a terrible team?

Okay, so the options weren't great, but that doesn't excuse my losing sight of an important fact: in my heart of hearts I never thought Chris Johnson was a top-10 pick. Not after last season, not during the spring and not even during the summer when I routinely put him in the top-10 on my cheat sheets. Considering his body of work last year if you could call it that and the arrival of a new, unproven quarterback, he should have been a second-round pick.

So how did he find his way into my top-10 and onto two of my rosters? Because at some point, probably during the writing of the RotoWire magazine in June and even more so during the many drafts and mock drafts in which I participated in July and August, I allowed my brain to become corrupted. No, I didn't take a bribe from someone wanting to push up his stock price so he could deal Johnson to an unsuspecting owner in his keeper league it was more subtle than that. I simply observed my industry colleagues valuing Johnson as a first-round pick, and his stock kept rising as Jones-Drew's holdout, Peterson's absence from preseason games and Marshawn Lynch's DUI made headlines. For players about which you have a strong opinion I liked A.J. Green, I didn't like Matthew Stafford the industry consensus isn't likely to sway you. But for those about whom your valuation is more vague, it seeps in slowly and invisibly like a fungus. One day you have no idea where to rank the guy, and certainly aren't reaching for him in the first round, and the next, you can see the argument for him being in the late first round. A week later, you'd probably take him late in the first and can see the argument for middle of the first, and eventually you just think that's where he belongs because everyone's drafting him there, and you don't know who else to take in that spot.

But I never had an actual basis for believing Johnson belonged in the first round, let alone the middle of it except that other people seemed to see it that way. And other people's opinions, no matter how strong, simply have no causal effect on a running back's production. The quality of the offensive line, the quality of the offense generally, the coach's trust in him, the coach's run-friendly system, the back's skill set these are things that cause your running back to have a good year, and as such are factors relevant to evaluating him.

Now it's possible other smart people have considered these factors, and that's why they believe in Johnson, but you have no access to the inner workings of their minds. Maybe like me they got swept up by the gravitational pull of the consensus and didn't think it through as much as they should have. Or maybe they're just not very good at aggregating disparate facts about a player and his team context into an accurate draft slot. It's impossible to know. What is possible, however, is to consider the factors for each player for yourself and consult ADP only insofar as it prevents you from taking a player in Round x when ADP says he'll be there in Round x + 1.

And in retrospect, McFadden was probably the play.

The Preseason Means Nothing, But First Let Me Tell You What We Learned From It

There was an article by Daniel Kahneman in the New York Times last year about his stint as an Israeli army psychologist who evaluated candidates for officer training. Essentially, he and his colleague watched men perform various drills together and evaluated their potential leadership skills based on their observations. At the time, it seemed clear to them which men would succeed as officers and which would fail.

As it turned out, Kahneman's and his colleague's evaluations had almost zero correlation with the candidates' actual success rates. But even after learning that, they still took their predictions seriously when faced with a new group of candidates. Kahneman wrote:

The statistical evidence of our failure should have shaken our confidence in our judgments of particular candidates, but it did not. It should also have caused us to moderate our predictions, but it did not. We knew as a general fact that our predictions were little better than random guesses, but we continued to feel and act as if each particular prediction was valid. I was reminded of visual illusions, which remain compelling even when you know that what you see is false. I was so struck by the analogy that I coined a term for our experience: the illusion of validity.

Isn't this what happens every year with the NFL preseason? We know, for example, that the Bengals who looked terrible last summer, lost their two top receivers (Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco from the year before) and were forced to start their second-round rookie quarterback because Carson Palmer refused to play made the playoffs last season. We know that even regular season games fiercely contested from start to finish by full-time starters on both sides like the Rams-Saints game in St. Louis last year don't always mean anything. How could a few preseason games, featuring many players who were cut before Week 1, with gameplans that were experimental mean anything about how a team will perform over 16 regular season games?

But yet, the Cardinals were left for dead and the Jets were considered an offensive disaster, and both won against two of this year's trendier sleepers. As an industry practice can we make an agreement not to hype up what happens in the fake games? Job battles and injuries are one thing, but the play of healthy veteran players assured jobs like Matt Ryan or Mark Sanchez means absolutely nothing.

Raiders-Chargers Fiasco

This was one of the worst-played games I can remember, and it had the added misfortune of being called by Chris Berman, who's like an old operating system that never got badly needed patches and updates, and Trent Dilfer, who did the game in what seemed like a depressive state, constantly reminding us how hard it is to play defense after a blocked punt or how bad penalties can ruin everything. Dilfer's constant and obvious haranguing of the Raiders was beyond intolerable, but I had to put up with it because I had Darrius Heyward-Bey and Malcom Floyd going in the fourth quarter while trailing Mark Stopa by four points in the Stopa Law Firm league (I lost). It was particularly frustrating to see the Raiders down two scores yet unwilling to throw the ball to anyone except McFadden when I needed Heyward-Bey to make just two plays. I haven't looked at the target tallies from Week 1, but I'd bet a fair amount McFadden leads the NFL in them, probably by a wide margin.

Things to Take Away from Week 1

DeMarco Murray looks like a top-5 back.

Stevan Ridley looks like a top-10 back. I'd probably trade Chris Johnson for him SU.

Maurice Jones-Drew is a top-7 back, possibly top-5 already.

Adrian Peterson looked great, but put him in the back end of the top-10 as he's not entirely out of the woods yet.

Alfred Morris ran with good power and looked nimble on some runs for a big man, even showing off a spin move. That said, he didn't catch a pass or show a whole lot of burst. Put him in the 20-25 range among backs.

Robert Griffin looked smooth, accurate and difficult to contain and probably would have had a much bigger day had the Redskins not nursed a big lead and taken their foot off the gas. I drafted him in Round 11 (ahead of Peyton Manning) in the 12-team, shallow-bench YF&F league, and after the Sunday night game, I'm still on the fence as to whether that was the right move.

Andrew Luck could be the king of garbage time this year, with Coby Fleener, Reggie Wayne and eventually Austin Collie also along for the ride.

The Giants run blocking is nearly as bad as the Titans', but even with a poor offensive line, the passing game is good enough to get Ahmad Bradshaw room to run when they spread it out.

Victor Cruz was still getting open at will he just has to hold onto the ball. Hakeem Nicks looked less than crisp coming off the broken foot, but apparently he's healthy and simply a little rusty.

Kevin Ogletree won't have Justin Tryon to pick on all season. But Miles Austin looked awfully gimpy, despite the TD, so there's a chance Ogletree becomes the de facto No. 2 the way Laurent Robinson did last year.

Peyton Manning looked like himself Sunday night, and it sure seems like Demaryius Thomas was the guy to draft, not Eric Decker. Thomas looks like a bigger, stronger, faster version of Hakeem Nicks, the type of receiver Manning never had in Indy. The solid-looking Denver defense might be the only thing keeping Manning from a top-5 finish as he might find himself handing off a fair amount.

I had Stephen Hill and C.J. Spiller on my bench in several leagues. The problem with a huge game from guys like that in Week 1 is that you'll rarely have them active. If Hill were to have nine TD on the year, that would be huge for a rookie, but now I can only get seven in 15 games at best. And that's assuming I'm willing to start him next week against the Steelers, something about which I'm not sure.

Spiller, of course, is a different story. With Fred Jackson out at least a few weeks with a sprained LCL, Spiller's probably a top-10 back until Jackson returns.

I was beside myself that the Lions and Eagles came back, allowing those who took them in Week 1 to survive.

Matt Stafford is just not a great NFL quarterback. He'll throw the ball a million times and get his yards, but I'd take Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Michael Vick, Matt Schaub and maybe even Joe Flacco over him in real life. I also think Stafford will regress in fantasy and finish outside the top five.

Matt Ryan and the Falcons receivers had a good game in Kansas City, a tough venue in which to play even though the Chiefs were missing some key starters on defense. I'm still going to fade the Falcons ATS most weeks, but I'm starting think Ryan could be a top-7, if not top-5 fantasy QB, given his schedule, team context and environment. I was never that soured on his fantasy prospects, and actually have a bet with DDD SU on him vs. Romo, but I was also not on board with people taking him in the top-five rounds, either. Plus, I've been arguing he's overrated in real life for years now. We'll have to see how he does against tougher defenses.

The Saints and Packers didn't look crisp. The Giants seemed to set the template for beating the Packers last January by eliminating big plays and getting them to dink and dunk, and the 49ers did a good job of that, too. The Saints were unbeatable at home last year, and this simply isn't the same team.

Randall Cobb and Michael Crabtree look like potential PPR stars. Crabtree in particular looked quicker and more elusive than I'd seen in the past (maybe his foot is finally better), and Cobb was lining up in the backfield and getting tons of targets. Randy Moss also looked pretty smooth in that game, but he was on the field for so few snaps it's hard to know what to make of that.

Frank Gore is still good. He might not stay healthy, and Kendall Hunter will get some carries, but there's no sign Gore's turned into an Eddie-George-at-the-end-of-his-career plodder.

The Panthers are smart not to overuse DeAngelo Williams given what an expensive asset he is.

The rookie QBs ranged for abysmal beyond abysmal (Brandon Weeden) to terrible (Ryan Tannehill) to bad (Russell Wilson) to okay (Andrew Luck) to great (Griffin). Only Luck and Griffin are guaranteed to be starting if healthy, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Matt Flynn, Colt McCoy and Matt Moore under center by Week 4. Flynn in particular has some upside with a healthy Sidney Rice and Braylon Edwards on the outside.

I didn't see much of the Browns game, but I can't imagine Trent Richardson looked good getting 39 yards on 19 carries. I don't suppose it's easy to start your first NFL game coming back from knee surgery with passing game the defense knows is incapable of moving the ball. While McCoy might be a below average starting QB in the NFL, he did play well at times during his rookie year, and last year was playing while concussed. A change there could help Richardson.

Michael Vick attempted 56 passes Sunday. If Jeremy Maclin could ever stay healthy, he'd catch 90 balls.

Things to Look for in Week 2

The 0-1 Packers at home against a more balanced Bears team

The Ravens get an early test on the road in Philly

The Jets off a decisive home win against the Bills go to Pittsburgh

The 49ers off an impressive road victory against the Packers host the Lions

A healthy Peyton Manning in the dome against the pass-happy Falcons

Beating the Book

Cowboys -3 at Seahawks

The Cowboys looked good against the Giants on opening night, but New York's secondary was in shambles, and its offensive line was at less than full strength. The Seahawks laid an egg in Arizona last week, but they're a much tougher team at home, and now Russell Wilson has a game under his belt. Back Seattle who wins outright.

Seahawks 20 - 17

Last week we lost with the Chiefs to go 0-1 in this forum, 9-7 overall. Last year we went 10-7 in this forum and 124-125 overall. Over the last five years we've gone 50-34 in this space. You can read the full Week 1 column here.

Surviving Week 2

Last week, we sailed through fairly easily with the Texans. Let's take a look at this week's slate:

Team Opponent % Picked* Vegas ML** Vegas Odds
PATRIOTS Cardinals 48.40% 800 89%
GIANTS Buccaneers 13.10% 350 78%
BENGALS Browns 11.40% 305 75%
TEXANS Jaguars 7.60% 330 77%
CHARGERS Titans 4.50% 253 72%
49ERS Lions 2.60% 287 74%
Home Team in CAPS
* according to
** average of the two moneylines

The big question is whether to go with the obvious favorite, the Patriots, at 48 percent picked, or someone else. If we assume a 100-person hypothetical pool with a $10 entry fee, the Pats lost, and you got through, there would be 52 people left. Your equity share in the pool would go from $10 to $19.23 in that case.

If on the other hand, the Giants lost, and you took the Pats, 87 people would be left, and your equity share would go to $11.49. So the Giants offer a payout of 19.23/11.49 over the Pats, or 1.67 to 1.

On the other hand, (according to Vegas) the Pats have an 89 percent chance of winning (11 percent chance of losing), while the Giants are at 78 percent (22%). In other words, the Giants are twice as likely to lose as the Pats. But they're only offering a 1.67 to 1 payout.

Based on that and the Texans would also be close to (and probably ever so slightly higher than) the Giants with a 77 percent chance to win, but only 7.6 percent of pools on them I'm taking the Pats.

Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind when the full article comes up Wednesday night.

Follow Chris on Twitter at @Chris_Liss