The Favre Effect on Fantasy Football Drafts

After the long, over-hyped saga of rumors and speculation, Brett Favre should turn in his request for reinstatement and show up to the Green Bay Packers training camp this weekend.

Even though Favre and the Packers administration are talking, the Packers haven’t changed their stance on backing Aaron Rodgers as the starter, so it looks like Brett Favre could now be traded to one of several suitors.

The New York Jets have received permission to talk to Favre — unlike Minnesota – while Tampa Bay also remains in the mix as a possible destination for the legend who can’t decide when to quit.

While Favre is likely to drastically improve the wide receiver (WR) production for any team hurting at QB, trade talks are having an effect on quarterbacks in fantasy football drafts and mock drafts.

Kellen Clemens, Chad Pennington, Tarvaris Jackson and Jeff Garcia are falling with the increased chatter of Favre coming to their respective teams. Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton aren’t being taken too high in the draft order either, but technically, they were pretty much on bottom with or without any Favre rumors.

In my recent expert draft with several fantasy football sites around the Web, Brett Favre went in the 12th round while Jeff Garcia fell to the 14th round and Tarvaris Jackson to the 15th round. Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens went undrafted.

It was surprising to see Favre go so high since he hasn’t even turned in his letter of reinstatement yet, but Favre was a fantasy stud last year and will be a strong QB choice this year if he returns to the NFL. If you don’t care about the Favre hype enough to consider drafting him yourself, you can still benefit from the situation because the scare of Favre taking starting role is pushing some semi-valuable QB2s down in drafts.

Garcia was no slouch last year at the QB position and would make a consistent QB2 or any team. You know what you get with him.

Tarvaris Jackson has been built up in the press this offseason for improving his skill set and continuing to win the confidence of the coaching staff. If Favre doesn’t come into Minnesota — seeming very unlikely at this point — Tarvaris has some sleeper potential. We know he’ll be forced to throw as teams load the box to stop the running game of Adrian Peterson.

The Jets QB battle is one to watch. Pennington has worked this offseason to change his throwing motion and will have a fully-healed ankle for the first time since the very first week of last season. He could take back the starting job if the Jets choose to go with a “win now” attitude. Clemens is young and raw, but if he has moved along come training camp and develops a better relationship with the receivers there, the job might be his for 2008. We likely won’t know where the battle is going until the end of training camp.

Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton seem like the two least likely to be affected by the Favre trade. Chicago hasn’t been mentioned in Favre talks except by fans, and Green Bay would probably not let Favre go to a division rival like Minnesota or Chicago. Don’t think one of them has a lock on the starting role just yet though; I still suspect the Bears might be waiting in the wings for Tampa Bay to release former starter Chris Simms closer to training camp.

If you wait late in the draft to take a QB, you could very likely be looking at one of these players as your QB2. Quarterbacks like Trent Edwards who had about the same value as these QBs last year are going higher now because they have a lock on the starting job, but I don’t like Edwards any more than Pennington/Clemens or Jackson this year. Garcia isn’t falling enough to make him a great bargain, but he’s a solid QB2 often available in later — but not the last few — rounds.

It’ll be interesting to see where Favre goes this season, but if you’re looking for a QB2 on the cheap or a QB3, wait until the last couple of rounds of your draft to snag one of these cheap bargain basement QBs. The only thing you have to worry about is the shadow of the Favre.

Fantasy Draft Strategy: Tiering Your Player Rankings and Cheat Sheets

Now that the players have settled into their teams for 2008, and overlooking the few free agents still bouncing from workout to workout, it’s time to start preparing your draft cheat sheets and practicing your draft strategy with a few mock drafts.

Tiering your draft cheat sheet is one very effective method of drafting a batch of strong contenders that I swear by — profusely. By tiering, you get a leg up on your fellow drafters because you can see the value when others cannot.

Some fantasy football sites and sources will tier their cheat sheets for you. Whether you trust one source’s rankings or want to combine several intel sources into one power sheet or big board (like I do), it’s always best to look over your draft notes and adjust the tiers based on updated info and/or any personal, gut feelings.

Tiering provides you with a visual reference on draft day of where value is being overlooked, but the greatest benefit is that you separate players by value regardless of position and see when a top-tier player has been skipped over.

Why Bad Drafts Happen to Good People

Too often, bad drafts happen because friends let friends draft drunk. On that note, let’s go to a short public service announcement:

*Ahem* That’s not right, kids. Always take the draft boards away and make your drunk friends spend the night before someone gets behind a draft list and makes a bad decision. You only get to draft once every season, and you don’t want to end up picking the ugly one because they start looking good to you after beer five…

But that’s enough about LenDale White. PSA complete.

When alcohol isn’t involved, sometimes we focus too much on a specific position we are targeting rather than taking the best player on the board. Don’t get caught thinking about running backs into the third round when drafting a wide receiver would give you the stronger team.

The Benefits of Tiering Your Cheat Sheet

Without tiers, you might be looking at a quarterback in the second round when the market is richer for taking another running back since the top two or three quarterbacks are off the board.

Likewise, you might find yourself in the fourth round looking at running backs when grabbing the last of the top wide receivers would make your team a powerhouse or provide trade bait for the player who just spent a high pick on a quarterback and neglected to get a receiver early.

With a tiered cheat sheet, you can easily make the snap judgments and see when a first tier running back is still on the board in the third round or catch when the last top quarterback is about to go off the board in the fourth round.

These small details can keep you from missing a run on an important position in your draft or overlooking opportunity at another position.

Best Way to Tier It Up in Your Fantasy League

  • Tier your draft cheat sheet based upon how many points that player generated on average last season or how many points they are projected to generate this season.

I prefer to mix it up a bit here. I start with the top-ranked players from various fantasy football resources and then move players up or down based upon this season’s projections and last season’s performance — always being careful to notch down players who have inflated values because they outperformed their draft stock last season.

  • Once you have the rankings, place breaks where significant point differences occur, and if you can stand the level of detail, make these point breaks universal across the board for each position.

Depending upon your point system, you might have the top scorers — say 30+ points per week — in tier 1 while players that averaged or will average 25+ in tier 2. Tier 4 might be made up of players that only generate 10-15 points per week.

One easy way to start finding your tier divisions is by separating the RB1s from the RB2s and the QB1s from the QB2s. Once those lines are set, you can divide the QB1s into high-end and low-end options and so forth until you’ve created several tiers. The more tiers, the better.

At this point, you probably get the idea. (If not, just give up now and go with drafting drunk.)

It’s okay if Randy Moss, Tom Brady and L.T. are you’re only first-tier players. Just make sure you establish when the players projected to generate the most points are going off the board.

  • With this sheet, the fantasy football draft strategy is to snag as many top players as you can regardless of position. In other words, draft the best player available.

I don’t worry if I don’t have a quarterback before the fourth or fifth round as long as I have a stable of strong fantasy point generators. You can always snag a backup-quality quarterback later in the draft and put a trade together with some of your stronger talent at other positions for a starting-quality stud.

This “best player available” strategy tends to be the most successful in getting a team that will dominate throughout the regular season and into the playoffs. Even if you miss with a few top draft picks, you should have enough quality players spread out across every position to compensate.

By having tiers on your draft cheat sheet, you shouldn’t be distracted by need at a specific position until the final rounds of the draft, and the majority of the time, you get a balanced team covering every position without even trying.

Ever tried a tiered draft strategy and failed? Do you feel bad putting L.T. and A.P. in their own tier? Having a hard time drawing a line after Brady, Manning and Romo in the QB tiers? Talk back in the comments and you might get a response or discussion from me or, if you are lucky, a Shakespeare-typing monkey.

The Third-Year Breakout Wide Receiver Theory and Why It’s Coincidence

I don’t put much faith in the third-year breakout theory for wide receivers. It’s no perfect science but merely a common coincidence.

A wide receiver’s breakout year has more to do with when the receiver becomes comfortable in the offense than when they hit year 3 of their career.

Receivers–unless they fall into a good situation–usually don’t start their first year in the league. Some like Steve Smith (New York Giants) and Craig Davis (San Diego Chargers) may earn a role as a third receiver off and on throughout their rookie season, but overlooking exceptions like Marques Colston and Ted Ginn Jr. who start right away out of talent or necessity, a receiver’s second year is the first time most of them are hitting the field game after game.

By the third year, receivers actually feel comfortable in the NFL and should start to show their true talent. They get more playing time and, with fresh legs and some kind of NFL-worthy moves, they can shake cornerbacks better than the weak receiver or aging veteran they are replacing.

So there’s the average path of your third year “breakout.” The third year is simply when they see the field the most, know the plays and get a relationship with the quarterback.

If you look at a receiver that starts right away–Calvin Johnson, Dwayne Bowe or Marques Colston–they might see their breakout year in the first or second year of their career.

Marques Colston had a huge rookie campaign and came up big again this year even with the Saint’s slow start. He can hardly be considered a breakout following traditional third-year rules. Greg Jennings, in just his second year, posted numbers any fantasy team manager would like. Calvin Johnson performed early on but didn’t finish well, but he might still be on target for a nice 2008 though with a new offensive coordinator.

You just can’t say that the third year for these already starting receivers will be any different or more “breakout” than this season.

While you should watch which young receivers are becoming comfortable in the offense they are running, I would never take a chance on someone expecting the third year to be a breakout season. At the same time, I would never overlook a younger second-year receiver because they haven’t reached that coveted third year mark.

That’s my take. Watch their comfort level and relationship with the quarterback.

Smitty at Fantasy Football Xtreme put together an analysis of the third-year receivers from 2007 and list of breakouts for 2008. As the stats show, only 2 out of 9 receivers in their third year really showed breakout stats this year–Braylon Edwards and Roddy White. D.J. Hackett probably would have been up there if he hadn’t been plagued by injury, but for the most part, the third year receivers of 2007 were only worthy of subbing when they had great match ups.

The top 5 breakouts for 2008 look very solid. I wouldn’t even call them breakouts for 2008 since they already showed both talent and stats in 2007–and for some, 2006.

Smitty’s 2008 Third-Year Breakout WRs

  1. Marques Colston (NO)
  2. Santonio Holmes (PIT)
  3. Greg Jennings (GB)
  4. Brandon Marshall (DEN)
  5. Lance Moore (NO)
  6. Ben Obomanu (SEA)
  7. Jeff Webb (KC)
  8. Sinorice Moss (NYG)
  9. Jason Avant (PHI)
  10. Demetrius Williams (BAL)
  11. Derek Hagan (MIA)
  12. Maurice Stovall (TB)
  13. Brad Smith (NYJ)
  14. Chad Jackson (NE)
  15. Travis Wilson (CLE)
  16. Bennie Brazell (CIN)

The rest of the list is a bit sketchy. If you put a lot of stock in the third-year theory then you might consider going after them late in the draft or putting them on your watch list for 2008 for a snag on the waiver wire.

Impact wide receivers on the move this off-season

Many a team in the NFL could use a game-changing wide receiver. Several teams are stuck with either aging veterans or a bunch of young butterfingers running routes each Sunday.

Lucky for them, numerous top receivers are up for free agency or wanting a trade this offseason, and several of them might be moving if they aren’t secured by their current teams. While these players’ value is likely to stay the same, wide receivers who jump ship impact your fantasy quarterback selection come draft time–just look at what the Patriots did in free agency this past offseason.

LEAST LIKELY TO MAKE A MOVE

  • Chad Johnson, WR Cincinnati Bengals

    Starting with the loudest and least free of the bunch, Ocho Cinco A.K.A. Chad Johnson is probably less likely to move than many of the receivers on this list. Despite his moaning and groaning, it would cost the Bengals quite a bit to get rid of him, and he will stay unless the Bengals can’t stand him anymore. If he does move, look for him to make a big impact since he will feel like the eyes are all on him wherever he may go. Johnson has expressed interest in going to Carolina to play with his former junior college teammate Steve Smith or taking the trek down to Miami.
  • Randy Moss, WR New England Patriots

    Almost every team will wish they could get their hands on Randy Moss this offseason. Unfortunately, Tom Brady confessed his undying love for Moss before the Super Bowl, and the Patriots will likely sign him for a smaller paycheck than he could fetch elsewhere so that he can continue to help Brady break records.
  • D.J. Hackett, WR Seattle Seahawks

    After his breakout 2007 season, the Seahawks are sure to bring D.J. Hackett back. Had he not suffered an ankle injury that plagued him throughout 2007, his stats would have been even better. Hackett is the deep threat that the Seahawks need to utilize now that Matt Hasselbeck is Seattle’s main offensive weapon. I don’t see him moving.

BUSTING OUT OF TOWN?

  • Bernard Berrian, WR Chicago Bears

    After a turbulent season with quarterbacks in Chicago, Bernard Berrian actually improved his breakaway stats this season despite having less touchdowns. That stat looks good for him as he enters free agency. The Oakland Raiders are very interested in him–and they should be after giving up Randy Moss just before JaMarcus Russell arrived on the scene. Unfortunately, rumors are that the Bears will at least lock him up with a franchise tag. Berrian is definitely one of the prime target receivers for this offseason.
  • Andre Davis, WR Houston Texans

    When Andre Johnson of the Texans went down, Andre Davis showed up with several big performances–3 TDs receiving and 3 TDs as a returner. The “other” Andre could very easily find himself on another team for 2008 as both a receiver and a special teams performer considering the low price tag he carries. Look for him to find an option elsewhere and maybe earn a starting job. If so, he is worth considering as a sleeper and could definitely improve some quarterback situations. Depending upon coach opinion, Davis could end up in a role almost anywhere.
  • Javon Walker, WR Denver Broncos

    After the emergence of Brandon Marshall during his injury, Javon Walker made a lot of noise that he wanted to get out of Denver. Considering his history of griping, his agent probably advised him to shut up, and now he seems to be happy again. If Shanny decides that he’s not worth the spot–and this could definitely happen–look for him to move to a team with a few old veterans and many inexperienced hands like a Miami, Oakland or Baltimore. For a cheap price, he could even go to Tennessee or could end up in Pittsburgh as a new target for Big Ben.
  • Bryant Johnson, WR Arizona Cardinals

    With Anquan Boldin out late this season, Bryant Johnson stepped up–at least a little bit. He had so-so stats but still showed he has the talent to be a decent WR3 and improve to become a starter. As part of the high-scoring Arizona offense this season, I am sure he showed someone his worth and can get re-signed for 2008 with another team looking for fresh blood. Johnson is an unrestricted free agent.

PROBABLY STAYING PUT (BUT DOES IT MATTER?)

  • Justin Gage, WR Tennessee Titans

    The Tennessee Titans didn’t have much of a passing game this season, but Justin Gage was one of two receivers at the top of it. He is in talks to renew his contract with the Titans as an unrestricted free agent, but he still could go elsewhere considering the Titans might find better options and new blood by bringing in a receiver from the draft and/or free agency.
  • Jabar Gaffney, WR New England Patriots

    The Patriots buried Jabar Gaffney until late in the season in 2007. Although at times he looked better than Donte Stallworth, he will remain a bench reserve. He will likely sign again with the Patriots to make another run at the Super Bowl even if he could fetch a higher tag elsewhere. Maybe–just maybe–he could take on a larger role in the offense in 2008 if the Patriots mix it up a little more.

For more on free agents, stay tuned to our offseason fantasy football–and only football–coverage.