May 26, 2009

There's an old fantasy football adage which stipulates the following: Championships are never won in the first round, they can only be lost in the first round. I am a firm believer in this piece of ancient wisdom (believed to have been brought down from the mount by Moses) -- last year, it wasn't the selection of Adrian Peterson in the first that brought you that elusive fantasy trophy, but rather DeAngelo Williams in the sixth.

Heading into a draft, every fantasy owner has a list of players that he feels will have bounce-back seasons. Some of the players on the list are coming off an injury (see Jeremy Shockey), some have switched teams (see Derrick Ward) and still others will be playing in a new system (see Chris Long) or with a new teammate who will elevate their stats (see Lee Evans). While the preparation of a "bounceback list" is a sound strategy, it is largely driven by human intuition. As a computer geek, I find that prospect worrisome -- isn't there some way to inject some cold, hard logic into the process?

Enter Mighty Max, the supercomputer to add some order to the chaos. I asked Max to see if there was some way we could use formula to find two or three players who had a high probability of a bounce-back season. Here's some of the criteria we used to whittle down the pool of candidates:

• Minimum of four years in the league

• Considered "draft-worthy"

• Increasing fantasy production from 2004-2007

• Performance in 2008 below that of 2007

• They are not past the age of effectiveness for their position

We want to look at four-year veterans, because anything less than that is not enough to establish a reputation for being productive; "draft-worthy" would mean players likely to be on a fantasy roster; increasing fantasy production would indicate a positive fantasy reputation; a drop-off in production last year would indicate a devaluing in fantasy owners' eyes; and finally, we want to make sure that they have not hit the infamous "wall" for their position.

Max chugged through the data and came up with the following:

Max zeroed in on five offensive players:

T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Wes Welker seem like they are WR1 candidates anyway, as their name recognition would likely mean that they will not be devalued in most drafts. But Max seems to be indicating better performances in 2009 than in '08, so there may be an opportunity for a slight value proposition here. Welker gets Brady back, and should easily see an increase in TD receptions (fromthree in '08), while Houshmandzadeh will be the top dog in Seattle as opposed to option 1b (like he was in Cincinnati).

Maurice Morris is an interesting case, as his history in Seattle would indicate someone who could be a low-end contributor; however, he'll start the season as the backup to Kevin Smith in Detroit, so his upside is limited.

• The two true value propositions for bounce-back players in 2009 are Patrick Crayton and Jamal Lewis. Crayton is slated to start opposite Roy Williams in Dallas this season, and the fact that Williams is not as loud and selfish as Terrell Owens might mean that Crayton will have a few passes thrown his way during games. Lewis had a drop-off after two solid seasons in a row, and several owners will look at his age and fall into that "30 is the RB Wall" trap. But alert readers of Fantasy Forecast know that the RB "wall" is not at 30 -- it is actually at 32. Drafting Lewis as your RB3 might just be the boost your team needs to get that Trophy.

Note: many readers will object to the absence of Tom Brady on this list, but I've left him off for one reason -- there isn't an owner alive who has Brady ranked below the top three fantasy QBs for 2009; thus, there is no value proposition with him.

For IDP participants, take heed of the following:

Jared Allen got to the QB in 2008, but his overall tackle numbers fell; let's see if he has settled into his new role for 2009.

Brian Urlacher posted the lowest totals of his career (for a 16-game season). While LBs tend to gradually slow down beginning at age 32, his drop in '08 was much larger than could have been expected. I expect a slight bump in production from Urlacher this year, but I would only pick him up as an LB2 -- anything higher than that destroys the value proposition.

• I'd discount Shaun Phillips as a bounce-back candidate, because I think his 2008 performance is more his level -- 2007's production was due to two INTS and a defensive TD, something that has to be considered a fluke. His core numbers -- tackles, assists and sacks -- have remained fairly steady. A good player, but certainly not one who will be devalued come Draft day.

• Andre Carter is a curious case. Last season was not kind to the veteran he saw declines in both tackles and sacks. Big declines. And at 31, he may be starting to slide. I can almost guarantee that Carter will be undrafted in your IDP leagues but he may be someone to keep an eye on. With man-beast Albert Haynesworth in the middle of the Redskins' defensive line and pass-rushing rookie Brian Orakpo listed at LB, Carter may find some opportunities to pad his stats. And since Carter will likely be on the waiver wire, a good Week 1 performance should alert you to his potential bounce-back season, and then you can pounce on him.

There you have it ... just a little extra ammunition for your Draft. Use this information in context and you should be able to nab a bounce-back player in 2009!

John T. Georgopoulos is the publisher of Sports Grumblings, a fantasy sports portal providing strategy, articles and online tools to help you DOMINATE your leagues. John's Fantasy Forecast® series won the prestigious Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) award for Best On-Going Series. Visit Sports Grumblings today and get on the path to DOMINATING your fantasy football league!

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