Archive for May 2011

The curious case of Peyton Hillis

As I’ve been participating in the Draftmaster series of mock/real drafts, it has been strange to see last year’s #2 RB (in PPR formats) slip all the way to the 3rd round. His current ADP is 3.02, but I have been able to snag him in the middle of the third in three straight drafts.

In fact, I took him at 3.06 in a Fantasy Football Experts Mock Draft and it generated quite the email chain as it appears that people are very split on whether or not Hillis will be a bona fide RB1 in 2011. I drafted him as my RB2 (behind LeSean McCoy) after taking Mike Wallace at 2.07. I think he’ll make a terrific second RB for those owners lucky enough to have a pick in the top 5, who take him late in the 2nd or early in the 3rd.

The main knock on Hillis seems to be workload-related, given the return of Montario Hardesty, whom the Browns selected in the 2nd round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Hardesty amassed 1,647 total yards and scored 14 TDs in his senior year at Tennessee after gaining just 1,131 total yards in his previous three seasons. He tore the ACL in his left knee in the preseason and missed the entire 2010 season. He also missed 27 days of training camp with a bone bruise in his right knee, which is the same knee that he injured (torn ACL) in college in 2005.

So barring the addition of a legit free agent (Ronnie Brown, DeAngelo Williams, Ricky Williams, etc.) the biggest threat to Hillis’ touches is a guy who has torn ACLs in both of his knees in the last five years.

Another issue affecting Hillis is the change at the head coach, where Pat Shurmur takes over for Eric Mangini. Shurmur was the offensive coordinator for the Rams for the last two seasons and will likely calling the plays for the Browns in 2011.

Will Shurmur give Hillis the same number of touches this season? Or will the workload be more spread out? Some of this will have to do with the personnel available at the RB position, but by looking at Shurmur’s history as an OC, we can get a feel for how he typically divvies up the work.

The table below shows the workload of the lead back for the 2010 Browns (Hills) and the 2009 and 2010 Rams (Steven Jackson).

[table id=14 /]The general consensus is that Hillis’ workload was too heavy last year, yet the numbers show that it was right in line with the way Shurmur used Steven Jackson the last two seasons.

Still, Hardesty’s talent (and the draft pick that the Browns used to get him) will demand that he get more touches than Kenneth Darby did as Jackson’s backup in St. Louis. But how much will Hardesty eat into Hillis’ workload? That’s the real question, and we won’t know for sure until training camp starts and the coaches start defining each player’s role.

There is reason to believe that Hillis will remain the Browns’ feature back. Amongst RBs, he ranked #9 in Football Outsiders’ DYAR (which measures total value) and #13 in DVOA (which measures value on a per play basis). Both rankings indicate that Hillis is above average amongst starting RBs and it’s doubtful that Hardesty will be able to outplay him, at least initially. He also averaged 4.4 yards per carry, which ranked #10 amongst RBs with 200+ carries.

And let’s not forget how good he is as a receiver out of the backfield. According to Pro Football Focus, he had just one drop out of 62 catchable balls in 2010, and finished the season with 61 catches for 477 yards and two TDs. While he wasn’t particularly dynamic after making the catch (his 7.82 yards per catch ranked #16 out of 27 RBs who caught 30+ passes), he was definitely solid. If the Browns add a third down back like Darren Sproles or Brian Westbrook, Hillis’ reception total would no doubt drop. Hardesty could also be a factor in the passing game — he caught 25 passes as a senior at Tennessee.

So what does this all mean? Well, I can’t say for sure, but Hillis’ workload is likely to decrease. That’s why last year’s #2 RB is slipping into the third round. The question is whether or not Hillis is going to get enough work to justify being the #14 RB taken off the board.

Below you’ll find a table adjusting Hillis’ 2010 workload by three different percentages (90%, 80%, 70%) along with Mike Clay’s projections (from Pro Football Focus) which look like they’re close to the 80% assumption. To the right, you’ll see where each level of production would have ranked in both 2009 and 2010.

[table id=15 /]

As the #14 RB off the board, Hillis wouldn’t be a big disappointment even if he produces at 70% of his 2010 levels. Hillis is just 25, so a 30% drop in production doesn’t seem likely, especially since Shumur has shown the ability to make an offense more productive. Keep in mind that he took over a Rams team that posted just 709 total rushes and receptions in 2008. That number improved to 723 in 2009 and 783 in 2010. The Browns posted just 709 rushes and receptions in 2010, so there is plenty of room for improvement. There’s also the matter of his strength of schedule, which projects to be 3.5% better in 2011. His fantasy playoff schedule — PIT in W14, BAL in W16 — isn’t pretty, but on the whole, his schedule should be easier.

So yes, Hardesty will eat into Hillis’ touches, but some of that may very well be offset by the overall improvement of the Cleveland offense and an easier projected schedule. I would expect Hillis to finish somewhere in the 80%-90% range as compared to his 2010 production, which means he should finish the season in the #6 to #13 range, making him a good pick in the late second round and a great pick in the early third.

The Big Board: WRs

QB | RB | RB (PPR) | WR | WR (PPR) | TE | TE (PPR)

[table id=13 /]

Updated 6/19/11

SOS: 2011 projected strength of schedule (change from 2010)…so 4 (-3) would indicate a generally favorable schedule, but one that is tougher than the previous year. QBs and WR/TE (std) use pass SOS, WR/TE (PPR) use receiving SOS and RB (std/ppr) use a combination of rush, pass and receiving SOS. Std uses 75/25 rush/pass while PPR uses 60/40 rush/receiving. This is due to receiving SOS including one point per reception.

2010: Per game fantasy points in 2010

2-yr Avg: Straight two-year per game average

Late-Season Bloomers: QBs

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One good way to identify potential sleepers is to take a closer look at the late-season game-by-game stats. Oftentimes a player will make a splash, major or minor, in the final few weeks of the season and then take that momentum into the following year. Sometimes this is a product of an injury to a player ahead of him on the depth chart, and sometimes a team is just ready to give him an opportunity for one reason or another.

A couple of weeks ago, I looked at wide receivers, but now it’s time to tackle the QB. Below you’ll find the 41 fantasy-relevant QBs who participated in games both in the ‘first 11’ (F11) and ‘last 6’ (L6) weeks of the season, and scored at least 10 fantasy points per game during one of those spans. Why choose the final six games? Everyone is past their byes at that point and the sample size is not too small nor too large.

DIFF represents the difference between their fantasy points per game in the L6 weeks versus their performance in the F11 weeks. The bigger the number, the better they did down the stretch.

A few things to note:

— Tim Tebow really produced in the final three weeks of the season and is a sleeper in 2011, but as Josh McDaniels leaves, so does his pass-happy offense. Enter John Fox and his run-oriented attack. I like Tebow’s upside as a fantasy player, especially given the value of his rush TDs, but temper those expectations.

— Rex Grossman deserves mention for his play in relief of Donovan McNabb over the last few weeks. It’s not clear whether or not he’ll have a shot to win the Redskins job, but if he does he could be useful as part of a Quarterback By Committee (QBBC).

— Jason Campbell played a lot better late in the season. He accounted for seven TDs (six pass, one rush) over the final five games after scoring just seven TDs in his first eight games. If the Raiders do not address the QB position in free agency, he could be a decent fantasy QB2 who will be available in the later rounds.

— It’s interesting to see how well Tom Brady played after the Randy Moss affair was well behind him. His schedule is quite a bit better this season which is why I have him ranked as my #3 QB.

— Can David Garrard hold off Blaine Gabbert? Probably. Can the Jags win early? That will determine whether or not Garrard continues to start throughout the season. I would normally recommend Garrard as a very solid QB2, but the Gabbert pick is worrisome.

— There are some big names — namely Sam Bradford, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers — who did not fare very well down the stretch. Keep in mind that these per game numbers do not take SOS into account. A quick glance reveals that the schedules for Rivers, Roethlisberger and Eli Manning were significantly tougher down the stretch, so that’s a little worrisome for Bradford, Brees, Flacco and Ryan. Conversely, Josh Freeman’s schedule was 1.4 points easier in the L6 games, so take his improvement with a grain of salt.

The always underrated Eli Manning

I don’t know what it is about Eli Manning that turns fantasy owners off, but every year it seems like his ADP is a lot higher than it should be. Currently, he’s going 8.10 in Draftmaster drafts and is the 13th QB off the board. This is a guy who has thrown for 4,000+ yards in each of the last two seasons and has 58 TDs over that same span. He was QB7 last year and QB10 the year before.

So what gives?

I think this is a case of fantasy owners not liking Eli’s personality, body language, looks, game…whatever…so much so that they discount his abilities as a fantasy QB.

Over the past three seasons, he has averaged the 12th most fantasy points (17.7) of QBs who have started at least 30 games. If we look at just the last two years, he is 8th in fantasy points per game (19.0). Plus, he hasn’t missed a start in six years, so you know you can probably count on him being healthy enough to play.

One thing working against him is his lack of upside. Last season was the first time that he cracked the 30-TD milestone. Otherwise, he has oscillated in the 21 to 27 range for his entire career. I suppose fantasy owners see the upside of Matthew Stafford, Josh Freeman or even Matt Ryan (who now has Julio Jones to throw to) and they like the idea of having a player with top 5 potential instead of Eli, who is pretty much guaranteed to finish in the 7-12 range.

The great thing for savvy fantasy owners is that since Manning is currently the 13th QB off the board, he’s often available a round or two longer since there is just one team still without a QB at that point in the draft. There aren’t too many fantasy owners who want to burn two picks in the first eight (or nine) rounds on the QB position. They usually want to build depth at RB or WR or take one of the last starter-quality TEs that remain. So the #11-#14 QBs are usually good value in the 8th-10th rounds.

Another plus for Eli is his projected strength of schedule. I rank the Giants’ passing schedule fourth behind the Dolphins, Cowboys and Eagles (though it should be noted that his W16 matchup against the Jets is not as good as the numbers say due to Darrelle Revis’ absence early in the 2010 season).

As I start to participate in mock drafts, I have found myself approaching the QB position this way:

1. Wait until the 6th round and draft Ben Roethlisberger, if available.
This is a topic for another post, but I am very high on Big Ben this year, so if he’s there in the 6th after I’ve drafted two RBs, two WRs and a very good TE, then I’ll snatch him up. He has been going 6.08, so it is far from a sure thing. In my last two mocks, I drafted in the middle of the 6th and he was already gone both times.

2. If Big Ben is gone, wait until the 8th (or even 9th, depending on draft position) and pick Eli Manning.
By the end of the 7th round, it’s likely that 11 of 12 owners in your draft will already have their QB. That means there’s a great chance that Eli will slip to you in the 8th, and if you pick early in the 9th, you can probably wait until then if there’s another player you like on the board.

Currently, once the top 16 QBs are off the board (the last being Jay Cutler, per ADP), there aren’t a ton of trustworthy options available. I really like Ryan Fitzpatrick in the 10th or 11th, but he has the same bye week as Eli, so he’s out as a QBBC option with Manning. Matt Cassel has a much tougher schedule in 2011 and the rest of these QB situations are unsettled. This should clear up as the summer wears on, but right now my plan would be to draft Eli in the 8th or the 9th and then use the 9th or 10th round pick on another QB like Joe Flacco, Sam Bradford or Jay Cutler. Those three players have schedules that combine well with Eli’s, so fantasy owners can get a nice QBBC going in those middle rounds.

So we have a durable, 30-year-old, Super Bowl-winning QB who has thrown for more than 4,000 yards the past two seasons and as averaged 29 TDs per season over the same span. Moreover, he has a stud WR in Hakeem Nicks at his disposal along with several other good options — Steve Smith 2.0, Mario Manningham, Ahmad Bradshaw and Kevin Boss — to throw to. And he has a pretty favorable schedule to boot.

What’s not to like?

The Big Board: RBs (PPR)

QB | RB | RB (PPR) | WR | WR (PPR) | TE | TE (PPR)

[table id=12 /]

Updated 6/19/11

SOS: 2011 projected strength of schedule (change from 2010)…so 4 (-3) would indicate a generally favorable schedule, but one that is tougher than the previous year. QBs and WR/TE (std) use pass SOS, WR/TE (PPR) use receiving SOS and RB (std/ppr) use a combination of rush, pass and receiving SOS. Std uses 75/25 rush/pass while PPR uses 60/40 rush/receiving. This is due to receiving SOS including one point per reception.

2010: Per game fantasy points in 2010

2-yr Avg: Straight two-year per game average

The Big Board: RBs

QB | RB | RB (PPR) | WR | WR (PPR) | TE | TE (PPR)

[table id=10 /]

Updated 6/19/11

SOS: 2011 projected strength of schedule (change from 2010)…so 4 (-3) would indicate a generally favorable schedule, but one that is tougher than the previous year. QBs and WR/TE (std) use pass SOS, WR/TE (PPR) use receiving SOS and RB (std/ppr) use a combination of rush, pass and receiving SOS. Std uses 75/25 rush/pass while PPR uses 60/40 rush/receiving. This is due to receiving SOS including one point per reception.

2010: Per game fantasy points in 2010

2-yr Avg: Straight two-year per game average

The Big Board: QBs

QB | RB | RB (PPR) | WR | WR (PPR) | TE | TE (PPR)

[table id=4 /]

Updated 6/19/11

SOS: 2011 projected strength of schedule (change from 2010)…so 4 (-3) would indicate a generally favorable schedule, but one that is tougher than the previous year. QBs use pass SOS.

2010: Per game fantasy points average from 2010

2-yr Avg: Straight two-year per game average

Combine Comparisons: RBs

I thought it would be interesting to take this year’s combine results and compare them to the results of the past six seasons to see if we can make some kind of athletic comparison for each individual player. So I built an Excel spreadsheet that has all of the results and automatically compares them when I input a player’s name. There are eight potential categories that could be used to compare prospects: height, weight, 40 speed, 3-cone, shuttle, vertical jump, broad jump and bench press.

Below is a look at five of the first six running backs taken in the draft, along with their closest athletic comparisons. (Daniel Thomas only participated in the 40-yard-dash, so I skipped him.) Keep in mind that the Similarity Score on the far right is how close of a match the two players are — the lower the score, the better the match.

This is by no means meant to be an absolute comparison. There are a number of factors that may lead a player to post subpar (or better) numbers at the combine than they do on the football field. Some players are beasts at the combine and can’t cut it on the field, while others look dreadful in shorts, but once the pads go on, they’re productive. Still, it’s interesting to see how different prospects compare to current NFL players.

Mark Ingram, Saints


Ingram is not the type of back that is going to impress people at the combine. His 40-yard dash is only average, and none of his other numbers stand out. He was drafted in the first round because he’s a strong, natural runner who has great vision.

Ryan Williams, Cardinals

Again, Williams’ speed is not that impressive, though his three-cone, vertical and broad jump numbers are all above average. Side note: It’s hard to believe that Marion Barber once had sub-4.50 speed.

Shane Vereen, Patriots


Vereen’s measurables say that he’s more of a scatback, but in reality, he’s only an inch shorter and five pounds lighter than Green-Ellis. His presence certainly muddies the waters in the New England backfield, as he’s a player who could threaten both BGE and Danny Woodhead.

Mikel LeShoure, Lions


Leshoure showed average speed, but was above average in the three-cone drill and has good leaping ability (for what it’s worth). For a big guy, he showed pretty good quickness. He’ll probably play Thunder to Jahvid Best’s Lightning.

DeMarco Murray, Cowboys

Murray is like Ryan Torain with a lot more speed. His numbers are pretty similar to Ronnie Brown as well.

Late-Season Bloomers: WRs

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One good way to identify potential sleepers is to take a closer look at the late-season game-by-game stats. Oftentimes a player will make a splash, major or minor, in the final few weeks of the season and then take that momentum into the following year. Sometimes this is a product of an injury to a player ahead of him on the depth chart, and sometimes a team is just ready to give him an opportunity for one reason or another.

I’m working on a larger targets study, but thought it would be useful to parse out fantasy points per game and targets per game for the final six weeks (L6) of the season and compare it to the first 11 weeks (F11). Why choose the final six games? Well, everyone is past their byes at that point and the sample size is not too small nor too large.

In the table below, you’ll find the 25 WRs who saw their fantasy points per game (in PPR formats) increase the most from W1-W11 when compared to W12-W17.

A few random thoughts:

— There he is at #1: Jerome Simpson. He was all set to be a hot middle round sleeper in fantasy drafts, but the Bengals’ decision to draft A.J. Green, coupled with Carson Palmer’s threats of early retirement have put a huge dent in his stock. He’s still a tantalizing young talent, but instead of being a WR1 with a decent QB throwing to him, he’s looking at WR2 targets from rookie Andy Dalton. He’s worth a flier in the later rounds, but he’s no longer a middle round talent.

— What’s lost in all the Greg Little talk is that Brian Robiskie turned in some solid play over the last six weeks with 20 catches and three TDs during that span.

— Pierre Garcon’s game really took off at the end of the season. He racked up 34-378-5 over the L6 games. Moreover, his reception rate (percentage of targets that he converted into catches) went from 48.5% in the F11 to 69.4% in the L6. Considering his Rec% was 51.1 in 2009, it’s not clear if the light truly went on or if he just had a hot streak. Either way, he’s a player to consider in the middle rounds since he has (the injury-prone?) Austin Collie ahead of him.

— Jason Hill posted 10-233-1 over the final four games for the Jaguars. He had 13 targets over the final two games and is primed to become Jacksonville’s WR2 since the team just re-signed the 26-year-old to a two year deal. Hill is a burner who ran a 4.32 40-yard dash and my combine comparison spreadsheet says he most resembles Johnny Knox, Devin Aromashodu and Pierre Garcon in terms of build and athletic ability. The Jags are a run-oriented team, but there aren’t too many WR2’s with his upside available in the 16th round.

— Deion Branch is currently being drafted WR40 after finishing 2010 at WR31. Plus, he was traded midseason so we have to account for his depressed numbers in his first four weeks in Seattle. When extrapolated to a full 16-game season, his pace after rejoining the Patriots was 70-1027-7, which are WR18 numbers. The downside? He’s 31 and has been injury-prone throughout his career.

— Jacoby Ford became fantasy relevant over the second half of the season, though his value was definitely enhanced in leagues that reward individuals for return TDs. Still, 8.5 ppg in a PPR league is nothing to sneeze at, especially for a rookie. If he can get his Rec% (46.3% on the season) up into the high 50’s or low 60’s, he’ll have a breakout season.

— Mario Manningham took advantage of Steve Smith’s absence and posted some very nice numbers as the Giants’ WR2. Smith underwent microfracture surgery on his knee, so if he isn’t 100%, Manningham could easily take over as Eli Manning’s second-favorite target. Smith’s contract situation is also up in the air, so Manningham is a high-risk, high-reward pick in the 7th round.

— If Ben Obomanu can win the WR2 job (and the Seahawks can find a capable QB to throw him the ball), he’d be worth a late-round flier in deeper leagues.

— Jordy Nelson actually saw a decrease in targets over the L6 games, but did more with them fantasy-wise by catching both of his TDs during that span. And let’s not forget the 21-286-2 that he posted in the playoffs. He’s currently being drafted in the 7th round, so fantasy owners are assuming he’s going to win the Packers’ WR2 job. At that price, he better.

— Anthony Armstrong could be the Redskins’ WR1 heading into the season if the team doesn’t re-sign Santana Moss. Washington drafted three WRs, so they appear to be going young at the position.

— One player not on this list that I’d like to discuss is Mike Wallace. His fantasy points per game decreased by 0.9 in the L6, but his targets per game rose from 5.6 to 7.0. For a player who is often used as a deep threat, Wallace had a terrific Rec% (61.2), but he was only targeted 98 times during the season. That’s the second lowest (to Manningham) of any of the WRs who finished in the WR20. One concern I have about Wallace is that his Rec% will fall back to his rookie levels (54.2%), so it’s good to see that his targets increased over the L6 games. If he gets 7.0 targets per game, that would be 112 for the season, which is much more in line (but still low) when compared to the other WRs in the Top 10.

Curse you, ADP!

I have a love/hate relationship with ADP. Every summer is the same. I start looking at the Average Draft Position for early fantasy football drafts and identify a few players at each position that look undervalued. This happened with Arian Foster last year. For most of the summer he was going in the 5th, 6th or even 7th rounds, and he looked like a tremendous value there. Then the hype machine started in earnest, and he ended up going in the 2nd or 3rd when fantasy leagues really started drafting in August. By that point, I felt like that was too steep of a price to pay, especially when I was getting him much later in the spring and early summer.

Well, you know the rest of the story: Arian Foster led the league in rushing and was fantasy’s #1 RB, while I ended up with Pierre Thomas.

What’s my point? It’s all right to look at ADP, but don’t think that these numbers aren’t going to change drastically as the season (hopefully) grows closer.

For obvious reasons, one part of the draft that probably won’t change too much is the first round. There’s nowhere to go but down, and players that are currently going in the first round are the best of the best, and barring an injury, they’ll be the best of the best when the season starts.

Below you’ll find a few general thoughts about the ADP we’re currently seeing. Keep in mind, I’m using the ADP over at Pro Football Focus, which is part of the #Draftmaster (PPR) series. A couple of things to note here: People who are drafting now are typically ‘in the know’ so sleepers may actually go around their current ADP in your local draft, though they’ll probably go a round or three earlier as the camp battles shake out. The ADP for established players should be more consistent barring some major change in their situation (i.e. they change teams, get a new QB, etc.)

ROUNDS 1-2

To me, the sweet spot in the first round is the #5 pick. You’re guaranteed one of the top 5 RBs — Arian Foster, Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy or Jamaal Charles — and you get to pick first in the second round, so you have a great shot at my favorite underrated stud WR, Mike Wallace (ADP: 3.01).

The first four picks appear to be about as good, but you’ll have to decide amongst those five RBs, which can be tough. Picking late in the round isn’t a terrible proposition, either. I really like Darren McFadden (2.03) and Matt Forte (2.04) in PPR formats, so if you came away with those two after picking 1.11 and 2.02, you’re not in bad shape. You could also grab a very good WR like Andre Johnson (1.08), Roddy White (1.09), Calvin Johnson (1.10) or Hakeem Nicks (2.01).

ROUNDS 3-5

Of the Top 10 QBs, I really like Ben Roethlisberger as a value pick in the 5th or 6th round. His current ADP (6.08) may not last, but if a few players move into rounds 3-5 as expected, it may stick. I’m planning to look to take him in the 5th or early 6th. If he’s not there, then I’ll go QBBC in rounds 8-13.

So in rounds 3-4, I recommend looking for more talent at RB or WR, or even grab Antonio Gates (4.07) in the 4th. I’d be happy to come out of the first three rounds with two RBs and one WR (or one RB and two WRs) then grab Gates in the 4th and Big Ben in the 5th. If you’re picking early in the 6th, Roethlisberger could wait (especially if the owners picking between your 5th and 6th round picks already have QBs), and you could potentially grab Kenny Britt or Santonio Holmes in the late 5th. (This probably won’t be an option for fantasy owners picking in the Top 5.)

ROUNDS 6-10

There seems to be a big dropoff in dependability in the WR ranks at the start of the 6th round. I would draw a pretty thick line between Percy Harvin, Kenny Britt and Santonio Holmes and the next few players (Pierre Garcon, Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree). So ideally I’d like to get two WRs by the 6th round. If I only have one, I’ll probably avoid the WR position for a while unless circumstances change and players like Mario Manningham (7.05), Steve Smith 2.0 (7.05), Jordy Nelson (7.12), Julio Jones (8.02) or A.J. Green (6.12) emerge as legit 6th round talents.

This is due to the talent — Mike Thomas (8.12), Davone Bess (9.03), Deion Branch (9.10), Jacoby Ford (10.06), Mark Clayton (11.04) and Greg Little (11.04) — that’s available later on. I’d rather use those 6th or 7th round picks on a second or third RB like Cedric Benson (6.05), Marshawn Lynch (6.12), Joseph Addai (7.03) or BenJarvus Green-Ellis (7.03) because the middle round dropoff is typically more severe at RB than at WR.

To round out the 10th or 11th, I plan to grab Ryan Fitzpatrick either as Roethlisberger’s backup or as part of a QBBC.

Picking early? Here are your top 6 picks: Top 5 RB, Mike Wallace, RB/WR, Gates, Roethlisberger and Benson/Lynch/Addai/BGE.

Picking late? Your team could look like this: McFadden, Forte, WR, Gates, Britt/Holmes and Roethlisberger.

Just try not to end up with Pierre Thomas.



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