Posts Tagged ‘2011’

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?

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.

Grouping the wideouts by situation

When I start to put my rankings together, every player evaluation starts with the same tried an true equation:

Talent + Opportunity = Success

It’s not enough to be talented. Just ask Michael Turner circa 2006. In addition to ability, a player also has to have an opportunity to rack up carries, catches or completions in order to be relevant in the world of fantasy football.

For players with character issues like Kenny Britt and Brandon Marshall, the equation looks like this:

Talent + Opportunity – Stupidity = Success

I had a Twitter conversation with Josh Moore of 4for4.com yesterday about one of his picks in the Draftmaster Invitational #3. He took Pierre Garcon in the 6th round (which is his current ADP) and I thought it seemed early for a WR3, assuming Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie are the Colts’ WR1 and WR2, respectively. He argued that Collie was injury-prone and Wayne is on the decline, so if things break the right way, Garcon could have a big year. I couldn’t disagree with that.

This got me thinking — as part of the ranking process, why not group wideouts by situation? This is something I’ve done in my head for years, but I’ve never really put it down on paper (or in this case, a blog).

All else being equal, it’s better for a wideout to have a good QB than a poor one, and that’s why I have six players ranked ahead of Larry Fitzgerald. If he had Aaron Rodgers as his QB, I’d have him ranked #1 or #2. When drafting, it’s also better to know if the player has a clearly defined role. For example, Jordy Nelson appears to be the Packers’ likely WR2 for the 2011 season, but the presence of James Jones (and Donald Driver) complicates Nelson’s outlook. Below you’ll find 11 groups to which I’ve sorted wideouts by their talent (WR1, WR2, WR2/WR3) quality of their QB situation (good, decent, poor) and whether or not they’re fighting for targets.

These aren’t written in stone, so if you feel strongly about one grouping or another, feel free to comment and maybe you’ll convince me to move a player or two around.

WR1 talent, good QB
Andre Johnson, Roddy White, Hakeem Nicks, Calvin Johnson, Mike Wallace, Reggie Wayne, Greg Jennings, Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams (TB), Stevie Johnson

WR1 talent, fighting for targets, good QB
DeSean Jackson, Miles Austin, Jeremy Maclin, Dez Bryant

WR1 talent, decent QB
Dwayne Bowe, Santonio Holmes, Brandon Lloyd

WR1 talent, poor QB
Larry Fitzgerald, Kenny Britt, Brandon Marshall, Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice, A.J. Green, Michael Crabtree

WR2 talent in WR1 role, good QB
Wes Welker, Marques Colston, Mark Clayton, Anquan Boldin

WR2 talent in WR1 role, decent QB
Mike Thomas, Johnny Knox, Jacoby Ford

WR2 talent, fighting for targets, good QB
Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, Mario Manningham, Steve Smith (NYG), Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem, Malcom Floyd, Deion Branch, Julio Jones

WR2 talent, poor QB
Davone Bess, Steve Smith (CAR), Mike Williams (SEA), Jerome Simpson, Greg Little, Steve Breaston, Anthony Armstrong, Ben Obomanu

WR2/WR3 talent, fighting for targets, good QB
Torrey Smith, Arrelious Benn, Emmanuel Sanders, Nate Burleson, Lee Evans, Randall Cobb, Jacoby Jones

WR2/WR3 talent, fighting for targets, decent to poor QB
Josh Morgan, Brandon LaFell, David Gettis, Brian Hartline, Mohamed Massaquoi, Louis Murphy, Brian Robiskie, Nate Washington, Leonard Hankerson, Eddie Royal, Jabar Gaffney, Jonathan Baldwin

Possession receivers (more relevant in PPR leagues)
Danny Amendola, Jason Avant, Jordan Shipley, Derrick Mason, Hines Ward, Donald Driver, Roscoe Parrish, Kevin Walter, Earl Bennett

Post-Draft 2011 TE Rankings

In the table below you’ll find my initial TE rankings for the 2011 season. For each player, I’ll list their strength of schedule (SOS), their 2010 points per game output adjusted for the 2011 SOS (i.e. if their 2010 performance was adjusted for their 2011 SOS) and their straight two-year average (schedule bias not removed). Keep in mind these aren’t actual projections, just additional info and the likely order that I’d draft these players given what we know now. Things will change as some of these free agents find homes for the season. Keep in mind these are rankings for standard (non-PPR) leagues.

– I’ve seen a few fantasy experts lump Antonio Gates in with the next three or four TEs, but Gates is in a tier all by himself. When he’s healthy, no TE is better. His 13.8 unadjusted PPG in 2010 was 4.2 points better than the next guy (Jason Witten). I suspect that Value Based Drafting (VBD) will tell us to draft Gates in the third round, but he’s been going in the fourth and is a tremendous value there. The only issue is his durability. He missed six games last season, but played 15+ in seven of his eight seasons.

– Jason Witten, Jermichael Finley and Dallas Clark make up the next tier. Witten is more dependable, but Finley has more upside. He averaged 5.3-75-0.25 in the four full games before he injured his knee in 2010. Those are TE2 numbers. I’d be careful with Clark. He’s 31 and has had injury issues in the past, including last year’s wrist problems. Still, in the 5th round he’s a nice weapon at TE.

– I’d put Davis, Graham, Daniels, Gronkowski, Z. Miller and Lewis in the next tier. Davis has a much tougher projected schedule, but the arrival of head coach Jim Harbaugh should offset that.

– Graham was dynamite down the stretch for the Saints, and with Jeremy Shockey gone, he should get plenty of targets in 2011. He posted 26-307-5 over the final eight games of the season, which are TE5 numbers (and don’t take into account the uptick in targets he should see with Shockey gone).

– Daniels got off to a slow start in 2010, but came on at the end of the year after missing five games in the middle of the season. He averaged 5.5-68-0.5 in the last four games, which was enough to convince the Texans to re-sign him to a four-year deal.

– Gronkowski was terrific for the Patriots in his rookie season and there are those that believe that he’s elite. He’s a threat to finish in the Top 5, but just when you think you can predict the Patriots’ offense, they go another direction. Still, I am probably higher on him than most, and given his 8th-round ADP, he should be a nice value on draft day.

– Zach Miller was my sleeper pick last season and he got off to a strong start with 33 catches in his first seven games before a foot injury hobbled him midseason. He didn’t seem to get healthy until the final four weeks, when he caught 22 more passes. He’s a free agent this summer but should re-up with the Raiders for the 2011 season.

– After Marcedes Lewis, who should be good once again as long as David Garrard is under center, there isn’t much difference between the #11 TE and the #21 TE, as Chris Cooley and Jared Cook could easily swap spots by season’s end. For that reason, I’d try to grab one of the Top 10 guys. Lewis is going the latest (in the 9th), so if you find yourself without a TE after he’s gone, it may pay to continue to load up on talent at RB and WR (or work your QBBC) and wait to grab a pair of TEs later on in the draft.

– We’re already hearing that Josh McDaniels is tweaking his offense to feature the TE more, which makes sense since the Rams drafted the talented Lance Kendricks to give Sam Bradford a target over the middle. Along with Cook, Kendricks is shaping up to be a nice sleeper at the TE position.

Post-Draft 2011 WR Rankings

In the table below you’ll find my initial WR rankings for the 2011 season, assuming we have one. For each player, I’ll list their strength of schedule (SOS), their 2010 points per game output adjusted for the 2011 SOS (i.e. if their 2010 performance was translated to their 2011 SOS) and their straight two-year average (schedule bias not removed). Keep in mind these aren’t actual projections, just additional info and the likely order that I’d draft these players given what we know now. Things will change as some of these free agents (hopefully) find homes for the season. Keep in mind these are rankings for standard (non-PPR) leagues.

– Who has the highest 2011 PPG projection when applying 2011 SOS adjustment to 2010 actual 2010 performance? Mike Wallace, that’s who. He had the 9th-highest point per game average last season, but his schedule looks a lot easier and he has a few great matchups in the fantasy playoffs. I’d say his value should be solidly in the 2nd round, and he’s currently going WR10. I’d take him WR5, depending on who Arizona gets to throw the ball to Larry Fitzgerald.

– While I do like Dwayne Bowe, his SOS looks to be about 9% tougher than last year, and he has a couple of bad matchups during the fantasy playoffs. Right now, I project him to have eight tough matchups and zero easy ones. That could change, but as it stands — not good.

– Both Philly WRs should have productive years, though it’s tough to tell who’s the better value. DeSean Jackson is probably the better pick in standard leagues, while I’d seriously consider drafting Jeremy Maclin first in PPR formats.

– Santonio Holmes seems to be undervalued at this point in the offseason. It might be that his contract is up in the air, but if he re-ups with the Jets (which is likely) then he should have a great shot at finishing in the Top 20 this season. He’s definitely a Top 20 talent.

– Austin Collie is a great example of a boom/bust pick this season. He was hugely productive when he played in 2010 (#5 in PPG), but he’s a big injury risk. Kenny Britt is boom/bust for other reasons. If he plays a full 16-game season, he’s probably going to finish in the Top 10, assuming the Titans have a somewhat decent QB under center.

– Mike Thomas and Davone Bess are classic PPR guys, but they have been productive in standard leagues as well. Thomas should benefit from Mike Sims-Walker’s departure and become the Jaguars’ WR1 by attrition. Meanwhile, Bess has to fight Brian Hartline for targets and has Chad Henne at QB (right now).

– Don’t forget what Mark Clayton did before getting injured this season. The Rams didn’t do much to address the WR position in the draft, so if Clayton’s knee comes back strong, he should be the WR1 in Josh McDaniels’ pass-happy offense.

– Jacoby Ford and Michael Crabtree are a couple of younger sleepers who could emerge as bona fide WR1s for their respective teams. Hopefully, Jim Harbaugh features Crabtree in the passing game and can coax good QB play out of Alex Smith or whoever is under center for the 49ers. Ford was solid down the stretch for the Raiders and is probably the best WR in Oakland.

Post-Draft 2011 RB Rankings

It’s probably too early to start ranking players, but is it ever too early to rank players? Did I just blow your mind? I hope so.

In the table below you’ll find my initial (a.k.a. way too early) RB rankings for the 2011 season, assuming we have one. For each player, I’ll list their strength of schedule (SOS), their 2010 points per game output adjusted for the 2011 SOS (i.e. if their 2010 performance was translated to their 2011 SOS) and their straight two-year average (schedule bias not removed). Keep in mind these aren’t actual projections, just additional info and the order that I’d draft these players given what we know now. Things will change as some of these free agents (hopefully) find homes for the season.

– As far as the studs are concerned, Arian Foster, Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson all project to have easier schedules in 2011. QB play is a giant concern for both Johnson and Peterson, so we’ll keep an eye on that this summer. Christian Ponder may be the starter in Minnesota, while the Titans may bring in a veteran to hold down the fort while Jake Locker develops. Both players need a capable QB to keep defenses honest.

– LeSean McCoy is not just a force in PPR leagues. He finished RB5 in adjusted PPG in standard leagues, and I think he has a good shot at finishing in the Top 5 again in 2011. Jamaal Charles is arguably the better RB, but his schedule projects to be almost 11% tougher this season. I still think he’s a great RB1, but I favor McCoy a bit more at this point.

– While I like Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew, they have the toughest schedules of any of the top 15 RBs. Rice’s SOS is about 5% worse while MJD’s is almost 8% tougher. They’ll still be workhorses for their respective teams and solid RB1s for fantasy owners, but if my initial SOS bears out, they may find the going difficult most weeks.

– As usual, it looks like fantasy owners picking near the end of the first round will be able to snag a couple of solid if unspectacular RBs. Darren McFadden is the most explosive RB available at the end of the first round, but his injury history will keep him from being a Top 6 selection on draft day. Still, if he plays 15-16 games, he has a great shot to finish in the Top 5. Matt Forte, Rashard “The Truther” Mendenhall, Michael Turner, Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis and Steven Jackson should all be solid picks late in the first two rounds. Regarding Hillis, Montario Hardesty will eat into his touches, but Hillis is the better overall back right now and should be dangerous as a pass-catcher in Cleveland’s West Coast Offense. His workload will be lightened, but he should be able to be more productive with the touches he does get.

– Jonathan Stewart’s current ranking reflects the possibility that DeAngelo Williams is still in Carolina (booooo!) when the free agency dust finally settles. If Stewart is the RB1 for the Panthers, I’d probably have him at RB15 or RB16; if he’s still playing second-fiddle, then his value would fall in to the 30′s. Fantasy owners everywhere are hoping that Williams lands somewhere where he’s needed. Free the Daily Show already!

– Just when you think you can pinpoint the value of a Patriot RB, the backfield is once again a mess thanks to New England’s selection of Shane Vereen in the draft. He’s a smallish back, but can run between the tackles, which threatens Danny Woodhead as much as BenJarvus Green-Ellis. We’re going to have to wait for the Patriot beat reporters to dig into the team’s plans for this group, but it smells like a classic New England RBBC and that’s not good for Woody or the Law Firm.

– I expect Ryan Williams will start for the Cardinals, but he’s no sure thing. He’ll need to get his pass protections down if he’s going to fend Tim Hightower off for third-down back duty. Then there’s the matter of Beanie Wells, who has obviously lost the confidence of the coaching staff but is still dangerous.

– The Redskins, Packers, Cowboys and Bills all have muddy RB situations that will hopefully clear up as we get into training camp. One great side effect of the explosion in fantasy football is that beat writers know that people across the country want to know who’s going to be the feature back, so they (hopefully) ask that question over and over until they get a satisfactory answer. Certain coaches (like Bill Belichick) never tip their hands, but most do offer some kernel of information for fantasy owners to go on.

Falling in love with Ryan Fitzpatrick all over again

One of the big winners coming out of the NFL Draft was Ryan Fitzpatrick. The fact that the Bills didn’t take a QB with any of their nine draft picks was a vote of confidence for their current starter. Had Buffalo picked a QB in the first round or two, he may have begun the season as the starter, but chances are that he would have been benched as soon as the losses started piling up. That would have made Fitzpatrick a risky pick in fantasy drafts.

Fast forward a few days and he’s suddenly looking like a great value pick once your draft gets into the middle rounds (10th-12th). According to the #Draftmaster ADP over at Pro Football Focus, Fitzpatrick is currently the 20th QB off the board in the middle of the 12th round. I suspect that his ADP will rise to the 10th or 11th rounds given the Bills’ draft, as he could pass David Garrard, Matt Cassel and Mark Sanchez, creeping up into the QB17 range. That’s where I have him in my initial QB rankings for 2011.

Let’s take a look at Fitzpatrick’s per game numbers as compared to those three QBs, because I bet there are still some nonbelievers out there:

As you can see, Fitzpatrick compares pretty favorably to the aforementioned three QBs in almost every category. On a per game basis, he scored the second-most fantasy points in this group. (Keep in mind that I did remove Garrard’s Week 6 game against the Titans, when he was knocked out in the second quarter. I also removed Mark Sanchez’s Week 17 game against the Bills, where he started but left the game without attempting a pass.)

Considering the Jaguars drafted Blaine Gabbert in the first round, and have been toying with replacing Garrard for some time now, it certainly appears that he may have a short leash heading into 2011. If the Jaguars start losing, I’d expect they’d plug Gabbert in to get him some experience heading into 2012. Garrard’s strength of schedule looks to be about 5% tougher this season, while Fitzpatrick’s projects to be 4% easier. For what it’s worth, Matt Cassel’s schedule looks 7.6% tougher while Sanchez’s projects to be 3.9% easier.

To me, Ryan Fitzpatrick is a no-brainer when picking from this group, which is why I have him ranked #17. The Bills have a tendency to fall behind in games, so assuming he plays a full season, I could easily see him finish in the QB12 to QB14 range. I actually think he should be placed a tier higher, with Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford and Joe Flacco. Let’s take a look at how his numbers compare to those players:

Note that I used Matthew Stafford’s last eight games, which includes six games from the 2009 season, and excluded his Week 1 game against the Bears in which he was injured.

Again, Fitzpatrick compares favorably to the other players in this group. He has the second-highest fantasy points per game average, the most rushing yards and is right there with the leaders in passing yards and touchdowns. In fact, given his running ability, it’s a little surprising that he didn’t run for a TD or two last season — I’d expect that to change in 2011. The only characteristic that these other four players have that Fitzpatrick doesn’t is a first-round arm. It is highly unlikely that Stafford, Flacco, Cutler or Bradford (all drafted in the first round) are going to get benched at any time this season, but Fitzpatrick, a seventh-round pick, no doubt has a shorter leash.

(For what it’s worth, Stafford, Flacco, Cutler and Bradford all have similar (within 1.7%) schedules as 2010, while Fitzy’s projects to improve by 4%.)

Bottom line: I love Fitzpatrick as the second QB taken in a committee-approach, possibly with one of the aforementioned players. He’s a great value once the rounds hit double-digits, and with no other viable QB to threaten his job, we can draft him with confidence that if he’s healthy, he’s probably the starter in Buffalo.

The Bills didn’t do anything to improve their receivers in the draft, but with the up-and-coming Stevie Johnson anchoring one side, Lee Evans on the other, Roscoe Parrish and David Nelson over the middle, and C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson out of the backfield, Fitzpatrick should have plenty of weapons to utilize. The Bills’ offense isn’t good enough to press the Patriots or Jets for the division crown, but they’re certainly good enough to put up points in garbage time, and that’s all you need in fantasy football.

Post-Draft 2011 QB Rankings

With the NFL Draft behind us, it’s a good time to start thinking about the 2011 rankings. I’ll start with the quarterback position. Below you’ll find a table with my Top 35 fantasy QBs along with their current team (if they have one), their 2011 strength of schedule, their 2010 points per game output adjusted for the 2011 SOS (i.e. if their 2010 performance was translated to their 2011 SOS) and their straight two-year average (schedule bias not removed). Keep in mind these aren’t actual projections, just additional info and the order that I’d draft these players given what we know now. Things will change as some of these free agents (hopefully) find homes for the season.

– I think Mike Vick has a good chance to outscore Aaron Rodgers on a per game basis, but he also is the favorite to miss more games in 2011 given his playing style. He takes a lot of hits, while I think Rodgers learned his lesson about putting his head down when he missed a couple of games with a concussion in 2010.

– Tom Brady’s schedule is quite a bit better this season and I see no reason why he would start to decline given the nature of his offense and the quality of his receiving corps. He could use a playmaker out wide, but he has plenty of weapons to utilize over the middle and he’s one of the best at taking what the defense gives him.

– Ben Rothlisberger is underrated again. He was QB4 in adjusted PPG for 2010 and his schedule looks easier in 2011. Plus, he has a great fantasy playoff schedule.

– I put Big Ben and Peyton Manning in the same tier as Tony Romo, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees. I put Romo ahead of Rivers due to his favorable schedule. His SOS projects to be about 5% easier in 2011 (though he didn’t even play a majority of the season) while Rivers’ looks to be almost 6% tougher.

– The next tier runs from QB9 to QB17 and is a great example of why QBBC could be very successful again in 2011. I might grab Big Ben in the 5th or 6th (his current ADP is 5.8), but if there is another good value available at RB, WR or even TE, I may pass on Roethlisberger and go QBBC in rounds 8-12 instead. There are nine QBs in this tier and I’d be happy to have two or three to use in a committee. Eli Manning seems like a good value in the middle of the 7th.

– Ryan Fitzpatrick is currently going in the 12th round, but that’s going to rise into the 9th-10th range (I think) now that Buffalo passed on a QB in the draft. That vote of confidence for Fitzy, coupled with a much improved schedule, could vault him into the Top 12 by season’s end.

– Right now, indications are that Tim Tebow has the inside track to be the Bronco’s starting QB, though we need to keep in mind that Josh McDaniels is no longer running the offense in Denver. John Fox is far more conservative, so we need to take Tebow’s fine fantasy performances late last year with a grain of salt. Also, keep in mind that his adjusted numbers include those games where he only appeared in the Broncos’ goal line offense. He averaged 27.8 points per game in his three starts last season.

– I’m not sure what to make of the next 10 or so guys. There will be a lot of shakeup here as free agency hopefully commences and some of these players find new homes. Kevin Kolb could move up a few spots if he’s given a starting job somewhere, though he wasn’t impressive when he started for the Eagles in 2010. I’d have more confidence in Marc Bulger and Carson Palmer, who have proven they can start in the NFL. Matt Cassel’s schedule is a lot (7.6%) tougher in 2011, so he could take a step back from his respectable 2010 numbers.

– The only rookie (besides Cam Newton) on the list is Christian Ponder, because he seems the most likely to be the starter on opening day. The same can’t be said for Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker and Colin Kaepernick, who are each likely dealing with veterans they will have to usurp.

Early Strength of Schedule: RBs

Yesterday, I posted early SOS for the quarterback position, so now it’s time to look at running backs. If you’re interested in a list of caveats, check out the QB post.

The key number to look at is DIFF which represents the incremental change in a team’s RB schedule from 2010 to 2011. As we get through the draft and free agency, and the schedule order is released, we can further refine SOS. For now, let’s take a look at a few players that will be impacted by a change in schedule. Keep in mind that this is for standard (non-PPR) scoring. I’ll release PPR SOS in a few days.

– There’s another reason to like Jonathan Stewart, provided DeAngelo Williams moves on. Carolina’s schedule should be substantially better in 2011, which means Stewart could be in for a huge year assuming the Panthers’ O-line can stay healthy and Ron Rivera can find a decent QB.

– Speaking of Williams, if he lands in Miami, watch out. The Dolphins’ RB schedule projects to be much easier in 2011 so whoever is Miami’s lead back has a chance to put up some numbers.

– Chris Johnson was a slight disappointment in 2010, finishing the year as RB5 after being drafted RB1 or RB2 in August. His schedule projects to be significantly easier in 2011, so if the Titans can find a solid QB, Johnson could vie for RB1 status again.

– In addition to the aforementioned players, Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner, Matt Forte, Fred Jackson, Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant/James Starks and BenJarvus Green-Ellis/Danny Woodhead look to have easier schedules in 2011.

– Now the bad: Steven Jackson finished as 2010′s RB14 and the schedule appears to be much tougher in 2011. Unless Josh McDaniels can turn around the running game, this sure looks like a reason to be down on Jackson heading into the draft.

– Maurice Jones-Drew, Jamaal Charles and Ray Rice are a few other RB1-types that project to have tougher schedules in 2011. I love Charles’ skill set, but with Thomas Jones still around and a much tougher schedule, I’d be a little worried about taking him in the Top 5.

– I really like LeSean McCoy this season. He finished RB8 last year in standard leagues with a tough schedule and should find the going a little easier in 2011.

– Steady as she goes for Peyton Hillis, Arian Foster, Pierre Thomas, Ahmad Bradshaw, Darren McFadden and Rashard Mendenhall, who project to have comparable schedules in 2011.

Click on the table to download it in CSV format.

If you like this kind of information, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@FantasyShrink) and “like” the site on Facebook. I will be publishing a lot of content over the next few months and throughout the season.

Early Strength of Schedule: QBs

The NFL released each team’s schedule (without order) a while ago, so we do know which defenses each QB will face in 2011. This allows us to calculate an early Strength of Schedule (SOS) for each team, and by comparing it to the SOS of 2010, we can get an idea of how much tougher (or easier) a particular player’s schedule will be in 2011.

Of course, this assumes that defenses don’t change from year-to-year, so after the draft and (hopefully) free agency, we can further refine these numbers.

For now, the key column to look at is DIFF, which is the difference between 2011 and 2010. This will give us an idea how much better or worse a particular player’s schedule is when compared to the year before. If the number is positive, the player should have an easier time scoring fantasy points, all else being equal.

A few takeaways:

– Two of the biggest gainers in 2011 project to be the Bengals and Dolphins, but those are two QB situations that are very unsettled. Whoever ends up QBing those teams will have an opportunity to shine against a fairly easy schedule.

– Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo are the three “stud” QBs that look to have much easier schedules in 2011. As it turns out, Brady didn’t have a single above average matchup in 2010, so even his average schedule (18.3) looks pretty good. Roethlisberger was QB4 in adjusted points per game in 2010, so he has a good chance to crack the Top 5 even though he’s currently going QB8 in mock drafts.

– Matt Cassel finished QB14 last year, but projects to see the biggest jump in schedule toughness of any starting QB in 2011. David Garrard, Kyle Orton/Tim Tebow and Philip Rivers join Cassel as the only QBs that see a 1.0-point jump in schedule difficulty.

– Keep your eye on Ryan Fitzpatrick, even if the Bills draft a QB. He’ll likely start the season as the starter and he finished as 2010′s QB17 (QB9 in adjusted points per game) even though he didn’t play in the first two games. With an easier schedule, Fitzpatrick should put up some nice numbers. Though if the losses pile up, the Bills will likely turn to whichever rookie they draft to get him some experience.

– Steady as she goes for Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Sam Bradford and Josh Freeman, who won’t see much of a difference in SOS in 2011.

Click on the table to download it in CSV format.

If you like this kind of information, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@FantasyShrink) and “like” the site on Facebook. I will be publishing a lot of content over the next few months and throughout the season.

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