Posted on: October 4, 2008 1:10 pm
Edited on: October 4, 2008 8:07 pm

Buying Selvin Young

One year ago today, Denver Broncos starting running back Travis Henry was leading the NFL in rushing yards.  Indeed, a cocaine dealer was leading the league in rushing.  Now he is in jail, and his replacement, a truly talented player, can be found on the waiver wire in numerous fantasy leagues, and Project Halo smells a buying opportunity.

That player’s name is Selvin Young. And despite being a more talented back than Henry, fantasy rookies and experts alike are selling Selvin four games into the season. Here's what those experts said this week:

Damon Hack from Sports Illustrated labeled Young one of this year's most disappointing fantasy players saying, "He's Denver's leading rusher, but Young has gotten the ball on a mere 35.6% of Denver's running plays this year, with Andre Hall taking away carries and, even worse, Michael Pittman stealing scores near the goal line."

CBS Sports wrote, "It seems the Broncos are just fine with a three-headed back and Young won't get goal-line carries, either. He still always has the chance to break a long run but he's looking like a weaker and weaker Fantasy option with each successive week."

During weeks 3-5, Project Halo recommends sifting through the players that the experts are downgrading and fellow owners are dumping in search of undervalued assets.  In these early weeks, many fantasy players jump to conclusions despite a small sample size of games played, which provides opportunities for more rational fantasy players to exploit. But many players on a scrap heap are there for good reason, so while you are reviewing buying opportunities, ask the following questions:

1. Is the player's starting job in jeopardy?
2. What is this player's overall skill set?
3. How potent is the offensive system that he plays in?
4. Is he being put in a position to make big plays?
5. How good is this player's quarterback?
6. Is the player having off-the-field issues?
7. Is the player hurt or injured?

After asking these questions, it is understandable that fantasy owners would be putting Torry Holt (bad QB, bad offensive system), Plaxico Burress (off-the-field issues), Jeremy Shockey (injured hernia), Donald Driver (declining skills, hurt QB), Carson Palmer (bad elbow, impotent offense), Steven Jackson (bad QB, few big play opportunities), Chris Perry (job in jeopardy), or Darren McFadden (bad toe, bad QB, impotent offense) on the block.

Now let's take a look at Selvin Young through the prism of those 7 important questions:

1. He is in no in danger of losing his job, because he is better all-around and healthier than the alternatives.  Michael Pittman is well past his prime; Andre Hall is less talented and currently has a bad wrist; Ryan Torain is not an overly talented athlete, evidenced by his 4.64 forty yard dash at the Combine. And like most rookies, Ryan is well behind the curve with pass protection and will be a non-factor this year.
2. Selvin Young is sporting an impressive 6.2 yards per carry this season.  His speed is compared to Willie Parker, and his strength is compared to Thomas Jones. He has respectable hands and has improved his pass blocking. Texas coaches have commented that he was the more talented running back on the Longhorns, not Cedric Benson.
3. Denver is leading the NFL in total yards with 436 per game.
4. Denver has a good, but not great offensive line that runs screen and stretch plays very effectively, which provides Young with numerous opportunities to break runs and score touchdowns.
5. Jay Cutler currently ranks amongst the top 3 quarterbacks in the NFL.
6. Selvin has not experienced any off-the-field issues.
7. He is 100% healthy.

Given the data presented, Project Halo believes that Young is the best buying opportunity of the season.  He can be acquired at this point in the season for close to nothing and will begin producing significant fantasy points in the near term. Run, don't walk, to your fellow owner or nearest waiver wire and grab a Selvin Young.

Posted on: September 27, 2008 1:40 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2008 2:57 pm

Winning the Lottery

Project Halo's first blog was titled: Wide Receivers are the New Running Backs.  The premise of the blog entry was that 

A major paradigm shift, years in the making, has finally occurred in the NFL.  The passing game has surpassed the running game to such an extreme degree in so many offensive systems that running backs are no longer the most coveted position in fantasy football. 

This paradigm shift provides the primary reasoning for shifting the strategic focus of a fantasy team to quarterbacks and wide receivers, and away from running backs, in fantasy football drafts.  Running back production is still required to win fantasy leagues, however. So when spending only a small fraction of your draft budget on running backs, which RBs provide the most bang for the buck?  

Project Halo research has found the following:
1. Strong offensive lines drive running back production
2. Potent offensive systems that emphasize screen plays increase RB yards, receptions, and TDs
3. Most starting running backs missed games last year: Ronnie Brown, Brian Westbrook, Stephen Jackson, Shaun Alexander, Lawrence Maroney, Travis Henry, Willie Parker, Frank Gore, Joseph Addai, Larry Johnson, Brandon Jacobs, Marshawn Lynch, Reggie Bush, Jamal Lewis, Kevin Jones, Cedric Benson, and Lamont Jordan.  Specifically, Ronnie, S-Jax, Salexander, Henry, LJ, Jordan, and Jacobs missed significant portions of the season.

Playing all 16 games has become a rare feat for a running back.  As Ladanian Tomlinson once said, "there is only one Ladanian Tomlinson." This fact emphasizes the risk of injury inherent in the role, and in addition to the NFL's overall shift to the passing game, further devalues the position.

After reviewing the historical data, identifying trends, and examining the 2008 running back class, Project Halo crafted a winning running back acquisition tactic: Play the Lottery.  Playing the running back lottery means acquiring inexpensive, explosive running backs playing behind strong offensive lines in potent offensive systems, who could become top 10 RBs in the event of an injury.

When the Powerball jackpot goes over $100 million ticket sales skyrocket.  Similarly, when playing the Running Back Lottery, fantasy owners should run out and horde cheap running backs with maximum payout.  Jackpot RBs to focus on include:

1. Committee backs, who would excel if given the lion's share of carries. Examples this year included: Chris Johnson, Jonathan Stewart, Ronnie Brown, Julius Jones, Selvin Young, Justin Fargas, and Sammy Morris.
2. Pure back-ups who will become the undisputed starter if the current starter were injured.  Examples this year include: Chris Perry, Steve Slaton, Derrick Ward, Correll Buckhalter, Felix Jones, Darren Sproles, Rashard Mendenhall, and Brandon Jackson.

The running back lottery allows fantasy owners to focus exclusively on top ten WRs and QBs during the early rounds while still retaining a high probability of good to great running back production throughout the season.  And after drafting top flight QBs and Wide Recievers, fantasy owners should stock their benches with five to seven RB lottery tickets.  This tactic has proven fruitful in 2008, as just three weeks into the season, many have already hit: Stewart, Julius, Ronnie, Slaton, Perry, Mendenhall, and Sammy. Project Halo guarantees that more jackpots in week 4 so buy your tickets now!

Posted on: September 20, 2008 10:48 am
Edited on: September 27, 2008 12:02 pm

Science of Match-ups

The buzz around the office as the weekend approaches centers around fantasy match-ups, match-ups, match-ups... "Who am I playing?" "Who are you playing?" "Who are my players playing?" Who are my players player's playing?" "I have a bad match-up." "You have great match-ups."

What constitutes a good vs. bad match-up? Project Halo has a few rules of thumb to consider (in order of importance):

1. Home vs. Away - this is the most important aspect of a running back's match-up. It has been statistically proven that running backs perform much better at home than on the road.  Wide receivers and quarterbacks, however, only fair slightly better at home.

Why is this? Well, Project Halo believe that the nature of offensive and defensive line play determines much of what running backs are able to accomplish.  Home conditions are much more conducive to run blocking as home team lineman control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.  At home, offensive linemen are able to hear the snap count clearly and get off the ball quickly.  On the road, offensive lineman cannot get off the ball as quickly due to the crowd noise.  Offensive lineman are positively motivated by their home crowd, and conversely, are more susceptible to discouragement by hostile fans on the road, especially as the game wears on and the home team accumulates a lead into the fourth quarter.

Pass blocking, on the other hand, does not require explosion off the ball, and is made easier for road teams with the silent count.  And with the advent of the West Coast Offense, passing attacks emphasize more short drops and timing patterns, which allows offenses to execute on the road even when their offensive lineman are being routinely beaten by good defensive lineman.

2. Opponent Defense - this is not ranked number one in importance because of uncertainty.  Home vs. Away is a fact, but figuring out which teams have a "good defenses" vs. "bad defenses" is not a perfect science.  In fact, it is often wrong.

Why is this? Well, early in the season, figuring which teams have good defenses is impossible, because year to year defensive personnel changes dramatically due to free agency, the draft, and aging.  When the season starts, many unrelated factors can impact the number of points and yards allowed during the first three or four games: offensive personnel, offensive execution, weather, field position/special teams. 

For example, Tennessee has played two jungle cats with no claws thus far.  In week one, the Titans played the Jaguars who started Matt Jones and Dennis Northcutt at wide receiver. To no one's surprise, Garrard struggled to convert third downs and the Titans won 17-10.  In week two, the Titans beat an undisciplined Bengals team in 50 mph Hurricane Ike winds. Neither game tells you much about Tennessee's defense.

Two weeks into the season, some "experts" are advising fantasy owners to sit Matt Schaub (!), because "the Titans have a great pass defense."  Maybe they do, maybe they don't, but based on weeks one and two, it would be a fools errand to make a start 'em/sit 'em decision based on the strength of the Titans defense, because pinpointing good defenses early on is impossible.  Start your best players (at home if possible) during the early part of the season and ignore their opponent.

As the season wears on, however, the opposing defenses begin to accumulate a number of games played sample size that allows fantasy owners to identify good vs. bad opposing defenses and factor that into start/bench decisions.  Similar to home vs. away, statistics show that running backs fantasy production is significantly impacted by the opposing defense while wide receivers and quarterbacks are impacted only marginally.

Why is this?  Well, Project Halo has found that the answer lies in the game situations faced by offensive players.  In week one, the Texans were blown out at Pittsburgh, but Schaub, Walter, and Johnson all put up good fantasy numbers, because home teams with good defenses stop the run first and foremost, and often accumulate a double digit lead going into the fourth quarter.  In that situation, even great defenses relax into a more preventative mode as the losing team begins passing exclusively. A couple meaningless touchdowns later, a losing quarterback or wide receive has put up a good fantasy day.  Meanwhile, the losing team's running back ends the day with little production, barely seeing the field in the fourth quarter.

3. Weather - this is the most underrated factor.  Bad weather (see Bengals vs. Titans) can inhibit teams from moving the ball up and down the field and ruin a fantasy day. If you see high winds or driving rain forecasted, bench that player if you have a suitable replacement. 

4. Turf vs. Grass - this is an almost meaningless match-up factor.  All stadiums have installed some form of synthetic/grass composite that provides for maximum drainage, traction, and cushion.  So don't bench Torry Holt, because he is playing on "grass" and don't think that Steve Smith will be even quicker, because he's playing in a "dome." Be ware that there are rare exceptions, however.  Last year, Heinz field was forced to install new turf grass after the field was destroyed by consecutive high school championship games.  Therefore there are special cases where the playing surface can impact fantasy production.

In summary, match-ups matter, but not as much as many experts think.  Project Halo recommends that you start your best players and not over-think things. Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson will be just fine whether the Titans are good or not.
Category: NFL
Posted on: September 16, 2008 12:24 am
Edited on: September 27, 2008 1:41 pm

Wide Receivers are the new Running Backs

A major paradigm shift, years in the making, has finally occurred in the NFL.  The passing game has surpassed the running game to such an extreme degree in so many offensive systems (ARI, DEN, GB, DET, SD, DAL, etc.) that running backs are no longer the most coveted position in fantasy football. 

Gone are the days when you "have to take a stud RB with your first pick." A look at the numbers shows Calvin Johnson, Anquan Boldin, Brandon Marshall, Plaxico Burress, and Terrell Owens outscoring Joseph Addai, Ladanian Tomlinson, Steven Jackson, Marshawn Lynch, and Clinton Portis.  In point per reception (PPR) leagues, the predominant scoring system for high stakes leagues, the difference is even more extreme.  In fact, in PPR leagues, Barber and Westbrook are the only RBs to crack the top 10!  Moving forward this year, fantasy owners need to trade their top RBs for explosive WRs before other owners catch on.  Looking ahead to next year, fantasy owners must modify their draft strategies -- stocking up on impact WRs while ignoring the ultra-expensive "stud backs."  A fantasy owner is much better off with a team configuration that looks something like this: Romo, T.O., Fitzgerald, Brandon Jacobs, and Julius Jones, rather than a configuration that looks like this: Ladanian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson, Brees, Cotchery, and Coles.

Incredibly, with the running back disease currently plaguing fantasy football, you were better off with the last pick in the draft than the 1st pick this year!!!

Note: auction drafts are replacing "snake drafts" nation wide, but even in auction drafts, running backs were going for irrational prices.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com