Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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When the Stats Deceive

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fantasy rankings are often made based on how players scored the previous year. But those rankings -- and the statistics that lead to those final ranks -- are often deceiving.

The goal of this column is to identify fluky, unrepeatable, and unsustainable trends and statistics that may cause fantasy owners to over-draft or under-draft a particular player. Dwayne Bowe murdered flimsy pass coverage for a seven-game stretch last year, but his numbers were ordinary otherwise. Larry Fitzgerald remained an elite NFL wide receiver, but finished with his worst fantasy ranking since 2006 because the Cardinals couldn't score.

Editor's Note: The 2011 Rotoworld Fantasy Football Draft Guide is now live. Bang it here for a head start on domination of your league.

1. Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe's midseason touchdown run.

Taking nothing away from Bowe's breakout year -- his work ethic and desire to be great have most certainly paid off -- the 27-year-old's string of 13 TDs in seven games beginning in Week 4 last season is as unrepeatable as it gets. Supplemented by the NFL's easiest pass defense schedule (five of the seven opponents ranked 23rd or worse against the pass), Bowe's streak bettered any seven-week run put together by Randy Moss in 2007, when Moss set the NFL record for single-season touchdown receptions. (Bowe scored two TDs in his other nine games.) With promising tight end Tony Moeaki improving entering his second year and future red-zone stud Jonathan Baldwin now starting opposite him, Bowe's scoring production is sure to take a hit this season.

Bowe's 2010 Fantasy WR Rank: WR2
Rotoworld's 2011 WR Rank for Bowe: WR15

2. Patriots RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis' "keep the lead" scoring binge.

In 2010, Green-Ellis was the definition of a "keep-the-lead back," a term referring to a running back used to kill clock, keep his defense off the field, and wear down opponents late in games. The early-down back in a dominant offense, Green-Ellis scored 10 of his 13 TDs with New England ahead on the scoreboard. On average, the Pats had already built near a full touchdown advantage before "Law Firm" found pay dirt. After taking over as the team's lead runner in Week 3, Green-Ellis averaged over 16 carries per game in New England's wins. Conversely, he never topped 10 attempts in any of the Pats' losses. Especially after New England drafted two tailbacks, this production won't be repeated.

Green-Ellis' 2010 Fantasy RB Rank: RB15
Rotoworld's 2011 RB Rank for Green-Ellis: RB43

3. Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald's touchdown drought.

In the first six years of his career, Fitzgerald scored a touchdown every ninth reception. With Derek Anderson, John Skelton, and Max Hall at quarterback last year, Fitz needed an average of 15 receptions to reach pay dirt. There's an obvious remedy to this. Fitzgerald is already one of the game's all-time great playmakers, and it's incredible that he still managed to finish fifth in the NFL in catches and eighth in yards despite that cast of QBs. Really, Fitzgerald enjoyed one of the most underrated wide receiver seasons in recent memory. Consider him a top-three wideout again.

Fitzgerald's 2010 Fantasy WR Rank: WR16
Rotoworld's 2011 WR Rank for Fitzgerald: WR3

4. Bucs WR Mike Williams' touchdown-to-reception ratio.

Williams was a godsend for Tampa's offense as a rookie, emerging immediately as Josh Freeman's go-to man and finishing as the No. 11 fantasy receiver. But his reception-to-touchdown ratio is an awfully dicey metric. Williams reached pay dirt on every sixth catch, which is a Jerry Rice kind of pace. Larry Fitzgerald, one of the great touchdown scorers in this generation of wide receivers, has never averaged more than one receiving TD every 7.25 catches, The good news is that Williams should have more receptions this season. The bad news is that Kellen Winslow, Arrelious Benn, and Dezmon Briscoe are all likely to score more, and Williams' TD rate will fall by the wayside.

Williams' 2010 Fantasy WR Rank: WR11
Rotoworld's 2011 WR Rank for Williams: WR18

5. Jaguars TE Marcedes Lewis' contract-year TD explosion.

Lewis had never finished better than 20th among fantasy tight ends entering the final season of his rookie deal. Suddenly, Lewis was a top-four scorer due in very large part to an unprecedented touchdown surge. The 27-year-old's previous career high was two receiving TDs, but he exploded for ten to tie for most in the league among tight ends. We don't doubt that Lewis makes for a splendid red-zone target; he's 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds. We do question whether he can continue to score 40 percent of his team's receiving touchdowns, and if his production has any chance to improve with a quarterback controversy brewing in Jacksonville. The Jags are sure to struggle on offense this year.

Lewis' 2010 Fantasy TE Rank: TE4
Rotoworld's 2011 TE Rank for Lewis: TE9

6. Seahawks WR Mike Williams' ownership of Arizona.

Williams finished second to Michael Vick for NFL Comeback Player of the Year, receiving deserved recognition in a storied return for the former draft bust. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound wideout racked up 65 catches for 751 yards and two TDs on the season. But 22 of the receptions, 232 of the yards, and one of the scores came in two games against Arizona, meaning Williams scored 33.5 percent of his standard league fantasy points in 12.5 percent of the season. (33.7 percent in PPR.) Under old OC Jeremy Bates, the Seahawks used Williams like a power forward, and against Arizona he manhandled Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the NFL's least physical defensive back. The rest of the league held Williams to an average of three grabs for 37 yards a game. Oh yeah, and the Cards took steps to remedy their secondary by drafting physical cornerback Patrick Peterson at No. 5 overall.

On the bright side, Williams should definitely score more touchdowns this year.

Williams' 2010 Fantasy WR Rank: WR50
Rotoworld's 2011 WR Rank for Williams: WR38

7. Packers WR Greg Jennings' post-Finley receptions tear.

Jennings opened the season as a clearing-route runner, distracting attention from Jermichael Finley and others over the middle. During the first month, Jennings averaged just three receptions for 37 yards per game. Finley suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 5, however, and coach Mike McCarthy adjusted his offense to feature Jennings. The 28-year-old racked up six grabs for nearly 93 yards per game the rest of the way. Jennings is the only true vertical wideout in the Packers' receiver corps, so he figures to resume his deep threat role with Finley now back healthy. Expect a dramatic downturn in consistency from Jennings. You'd be wise to avoid him in the second round.

Jennings' 2010 Fantasy WR Rank: WR4
Rotoworld's 2011 WR Rank for Jennings: WR12

8. Cowboys WR Miles Austin's post-Romo plunge.

Austin is one of the most effective receivers in football, but Tony Romo's season-ending collarbone injury in Week 5 was a near death knell for his production. Austin's averages plummeted from seven receptions for 97 yards in five games of Romo to just over three grabs for 50 yards in Jon Kitna's starts. Lacking aggressiveness and a strong arm, Kitna simply preferred Jason Witten, whose fantasy scoring average thusly leaped from 6.6 points a game with Romo to 11 points with the 38-year-old backup and Stephen McGee under center. Romo is back, so this one's self-explanatory.

Austin's 2010 Fantasy WR Rank: WR12
Rotoworld's 2011 WR Rank for Austin: WR7

9. Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew's love affair with Shaun Hill.

Matthew Stafford's luck ran out again, suffering twin shoulder injuries that cost him all but three starts. There were no bigger fantasy beneficiaries than Pettigrew and Hill, who also happened to form an impressive rapport. Whereas Stafford preferred speedy tight end Tony Scheffler, the Lions' noodle-armed backup found comfort throwing to 6-foot-5, 270-pound Pettigrew on short routes over the middle. Pettigrew averaged eight targets and 62 yards in Hill's starts, compared to just four intended passes and 18 yards with Stafford and Drew Stanton under center. We don't doubt that Pettigrew is an improving player, but a stronger-armed, aggressive QB won't suit his style of play.

Pettigrew's 2010 Fantasy TE Rank: TE12
Rotoworld's 2011 TE Rank for Pettigrew: TE19

10. Bears RB Chester Taylor's one-yard touchdown vulturing.

As a 213-pound third-down back, Chester Taylor is no one's idea of a short-yardage pounder. But after paying him $7 million in the first season of an ill-advised four-year deal, the Bears saw fit to keep Taylor involved by using him at the goal line. Taylor scored five touchdowns on the season (including playoffs), and every last one was from a single yard out. Taylor remained one of the least effective backs in football. We're not certain that he'll even make the roster this season.

Taylor shouldn't have been on any 2010 fantasy rosters. But his unlikely "vulture" role did cost starter Matt Forte precious goal-line touches.

Honorable Mentions:

Bucs QB Josh Freeman's touchdowns to interceptions.

Freeman did well to slash his rookie-year turnover rate as an NFL sophomore, but his 25:6 TD-to-INT ratio is unsustainable and inflated by a five-score, no-pick Week 16 game against the hapless Seahawks pass defense.

Broncos WR Brandon Lloyd's eighth-year breakout.

It is extremely rare for NFL players to suddenly become All-Pros in their eighth seasons, and Lloyd's breakout year had a lot to do with sheer volume. Only six teams threw more passes than Josh McDaniels' Broncos, and just three NFL receivers saw more targets than Lloyd. Denver's pass attempts will plummet under run-minded John Fox.

Rams WR Danny Amendola's receptions/yards-per-catch.

Amendola capitalized on the old adage, "Somebody has to catch the passes." The Rams' 590 pass attempts tied for fifth in the NFL, and Amendola was the team's only consistently available wide receiver. St. Louis will continue to air it out under new OC Josh McDaniels, but when it comes to a featured pass catcher, the Rams can do much better than a receiver who averaged 8.10 yards per reception last year and 7.93 in his career.

Chiefs RB Thomas Jones' 10 starts and 259 touches.

We elaborate on the Chiefs' running back situation in the 2011 Rotoworld Fantasy Football Draft Guide. But to keep it brief, Jones won't have another 250-touch season in his career, and the Chiefs acknowledged as much by getting the ball more to an exponentially more effective Jamaal Charles down the stretch last year. The Chiefs gave a putridly ineffective Jones five carries in their playoff loss to Baltimore.

Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski's high-scoring rookie year.

With Aaron Hernandez fading due to a hip injury, Gronkowski racked up 28 receptions, 398 yards, and seven TDs in the final eight games. Gronk's 10 touchdowns on the season rank second all-time to only Mike Ditka's 12 in 1961 among rookie tight ends. (Ditka never again topped eight scores in his 12-year Hall of Fame career, and just once had more than five.) After offseason surgery, Hernandez is healthy and will command more snaps and targets.

Bengals RB Cedric Benson's YPC inflation against soft defenses.

Benson racked up 418 yards on 79 carries (5.29 YPC) in three games against opponents who ranked 27th or worse versus the run (Browns, Bucs, Bills). In his other 13 games, Benson managed 693 yards on 242 rushing attempts (2.86 YPC). The stats say this is a player in danger of falling off the proverbial cliff.

Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
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