Scratching That Fantasy Football Itch: The Formula for Nailing Your Picks

The wait is finally over. NFL training camps kick off a few weeks ago, which means it’s time to start compiling statistics, scrutinizing every off-season transaction, debating projected depth charts and formulating a plan for your pending fantasy football draft.

The wait is finally over. NFL training camps kick off a few weeks ago, which means it’s time to start compiling statistics, scrutinizing every off-season transaction, debating projected depth charts and formulating a plan for your pending fantasy football draft.

I’ve personally had a fantasy induced chubzilla for a few weeks now, as I anticipate this will be one of the more interesting fantasy football seasons in recent memory. The upcoming football season has been filled with fascinating new variables as a large number of headline players have switched teams and the NFL coaching carousel makes one more revolution.

How will the New York Jets, a team with more undeserved hype than “Jersey Shore,” fare this season? Will the McNabb/Shanahan combination have a higher approval rating in D.C. than Obama/Biden (sadly, an 8-8 season would probably do it)? How many beer bottles are going to be hurled at Jake Delhomme when he throws five pickles in the Dog Pound (an inevitable occurrence, in my opinion)? Will Mike Vick show me something this season, or was his recent disappointing appearance on “Pros Vs. Joes” a foreshadowing of things to come? After signing Terrell Owens, how long is it before somebody confuses the Bengals with VH1?

The fantasy implications of this NFL-wide roster turnover are far-reaching, and there are some players that benefit significantly more than others. What is generally lost in all of this fantasy football madness is why certain players are better fantasy options than others. As your dedicated fantasy football guide, I have developed a system of rating players over the years that have yielded great results – and it all begins on draft day. Here’s a quick guideline on what to look for, position-by-position, when it comes to formulating your fantasy draft strategy.

Quarterbacks

Depending on your scoring system, the value of a quarterback can vary considerably. Are points rewarded for completions? Is a passing touchdown worth the same as a rushing touchdown? More than anything else, I am a firm believer of not drafting a quarterback in the first three rounds. There’s simply too much depth at this position (in a fantasy perspective, anyways) in today’s pass-happy league to warrant drafting a QB with a valuable high-draft pick.

Now check out these statistics:

Player Comp. Att. Pct. (%) Yards Att./Game Yds./Game TD Int TD/Game
Matt Schaub 396 583 67.92% 4,770 36.44 298.13 29 15 1.81
Drew Brees 363 514 70.62% 4,388 34.27 292.53 34 11 2.27
Jay Cutler 336 555 60.54% 3,666 34.69 229.13 27 26 1.69
Tony Romo 347 550 63.09% 4,483 34.38 280.19 26 9 1.63
Eli Manning 317 509 62.28% 4,021 31.81 251.31 27 14 1.69
http://www.espn.com

Schaub was last year’s passing yards and completions leader. Brees was the 2009 passing touchdown champion. Now take a look at the last three players. Cutler placed 10th in 2009 in passing completions, Romo placed 10th in passing touchdowns and Eli placed 10th in passing yards. The statistics prove that the quarterback depth in fantasy football is relatively deep. Considering most fantasy football leagues field 12 teams, the odds are good that you will land a solid quarterback, regardless of where you pick, and when you pick. There were 12 quarterbacks that threw for over 26 touchdowns last season, with the leader (Brees) tossing 34 of them. That means over the course of a 16 game season, the 12th best fantasy quarterback will yield you 8 less touchdowns than the best fantasy quarterback. That equates out to a measly 3 fantasy points a game (considering a passing touchdown to be worth 6 points). Now are 3 fantasy points worth grasping for a quarterback early?

Running Backs

Running backs will always be the heartbeat of the modern fantasy team. The whole key to compiling a ridiculous stable of running backs is to juxtapose opportunity vs. skill set. There are plenty of backs out there that have the requisite skills to stuff the stat sheet, but for some reason or another, their playing time is held in check.

For example, the value of a running back like Fred Jackson is in serious jeopardy this upcoming season. Establishing himself as a fantasy workhorse early in the 2009 season, Fred Jackson played in roughly 70.9% of the offensive snaps for the Bills last season. That percentage is good enough to place 7th among all NFL running backs in 2009. With the acquisition of first rounder CJ Spiller, look for that percentage to decrease, resulting in lesser statistics. As a reference, here are the top six most heavily used backs in 2009:

Chris Johnson – 86.1%

Matt Forte – 82.4%

Maurice Jones-Drew – 81.4%

Steven Jackson – 80.6%

Ray Rice – 75.1%

Frank Gore – 73.8%

http://www.jsonline.com/sports/packers/

Now among these backs, Matt Forte was the only one to post a very disappointing fantasy season (considering he was a top five pick in most leagues). Expect his numbers to climb with the Bears bringing Mike Martz into the fold. Known as a pass-happy offensive coordinator, people tend to forget that Marshall Faulk posted ridiculous fantasy seasons with Martz in St. Louis. Forte is a back that can easily reel in 60+ catches in this offense, and that only equates to more opportunities.

With more teams running multiple-RB offenses, opportunity at this position is more important than ever. Target these workhorse backs early, and draft overlooked all-purpose type backs in the later rounds. A back like Clinton Portis will be on the field more often than not because of his strong blocking abilities. Somebody like Beanie Wells will see his value skyrocket with the retirement of passing guru Kurt Warner and the acquisition of aging road-grader, Alan Faneca. In PPR (points-per-reception) leagues, focus on bringing in 3rd down, scat-back, receiver types in later rounds to fill out your roster – players like Justin Forsett, Jahvid Best and Felix Jones can be acquired for relatively cheap, and all of them give you incredible flexibility in setting lineups week in and week out.

NEXT INSTALLMENT: WIDE RECEIVERS, TIGHT-ENDS, DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS

Forte photo by Jauerback

Lheep Kim is a writer and entrepreneur in the field of fantasy sports, based in Washington, D.C. His fantasy league expertise coupled with an engineering background allows Lheep to offer a unique perspective on sports based on quantitative and statistical analysis. His goal is to retire by the age of 30 and live a simple log-cabin life in the woods, Walden Pond style (provided he can still get NFL Network, of course).