Greetings, yankee-types! This is the Phantom, writing to you from God’s country south of the Mason-Dixon. After a sixer of Natty Lite, I was cruising the web the other night (yes, we do have the Internet down here,) when I came across Fantasy Sharks and said to myself, “For Philly boys, these guys Dolfi/Walls don’t tell it half bad.” After that, all it took was a short email to Rob to persuade him of my talent—that, and a game worn Bill Gramatica jersey to help grease the cogs of bureaucracy.
Allow me a brief introduction. While I might live among them, I don’t consider myself a redneck. I prefer to think of myself as a sort of white trash, Renaissance man who enjoys scrawling quotes from Camus and Machiavelli on bathroom stall walls at truck stops. I also get a bang out of watching my cat—Boner—steal fish from my neighbor’s koi pond, making beer-can helicopters for the youth groups’ fundraisers, and, of course, fantasy football. And that’s what we’re here to talk about—well, unless you’re Betbot 6000, who spends more time talking about Dom DeLuise’s bowel movements than he does Randy Moss’ move to Oakland. But I hope we hear more out of Betbot. He reminds me of the kegerator I kept in my dorm back at the tech school.
From the get-go, let me tell you that the Phantom’s a straight shooter, because, Lord knows, there are plenty of crackheads out there who aren’t. (Yes, in addition to the Internet, we also have crack down here in the South… the kids just smoke it in corncob pipes, ala Huck Finn.) I’m not even talking about those crackheads that try to sell you Ginsu knives late at night or that shot-out, slot machine turned sportswriter. I’m talking about those corporate wankers who charge you seven or eight bucks for a fantasy football magazine not worth wiping your can with.
In my humble, and wholly accurate opinion, there are two major fallacies prevalent in most fantasy magazines on the stands today: hype and repetition.
Given, we’re talking about the media, so some hype is to be expected. Hell, in the offseason, hype is all us hardcore fantasy junkies really have to keep the shakes away. But I’m not talking about the run of the mill hype that keeps me watching Sports Center—Stuart Scott’s jacked-up eye and all. No, the hype I’m fed up with is the ridiculous kind that asks questions like, “Number One TE: Gonzo or Gates?” Give me a break! I don’t care if Antonio Gates did set a record for TE touchdowns. Tony Gonzalez led the NFL in receptions (102) and came in seventh in total receiving yards (1258). He’s missed one game in his eight-year career, and excepting his rookie year, he’s never dropped below 59 receptions. The man is money, and he’s not even thirty years old! Gates, only four years Gonzo’s junior, has never played all sixteen games and needed Drew Brees’ flash-in-the-pan year to get him where he is now. Don’t get me wrong, Gates is good, but I’ll bet my PBR can signed by Merle Haggard against any magazine publisher’s Heineken bottle stained with Gwen Stefanie’s lipstick that Gonzalez finishes ahead of Gates this year.
Being the reputable fantasy site this is, forgive me for devoting so long an example to a position like tight end. There are other examples at positions that count, such as Michael Vick at QB and Domanick Davis at RB. 2003 was supposed to be the year of Vick, and the same fools who were asking “Gonzo or Shockey” were also asking “Gannon or Vick.” Well, they were wrong on 3 out of 4 counts. Cut Vick some slack, since that was the year he broke his leg in preseason. But Vick has never had potential to be the top-rated fantasy QB, and even the magazines are starting to figure it out. In average magazine rankings, he slid from among the top 2 in 2003 to the top 5 in 2004 and now sits somewhere between 7th and 10th overall in most of the 2005 projections I’ve seen. This is most likely where he belongs, and I’ll even stick my neck out and say he might crack the top 5 tier by the end of the season, given another year of experience in the West Coast offense and Atlanta’s increased talent at wide out. But let some other fool in your league buy the hype that comes with shoe commercials and a trendy alias. Spend a later pick on a guy with more consistency who won’t be walking bow legged in a couple of years. ‘It’s all about suppression,’ Mr. Mexico.
At the end of last year, CBS Sportsline was touting Domanick Davis as a top 5 RB for the next year. They’ve since tempered their optimism and are projecting him to go in the first two rounds of seasonal drafts. I’m not arguing with what the guy did in 2004; he was amazingly consistent down the stretch, if not incredibly explosive. No, the reason I don’t have much faith in Davis is because the Houston Texans doesn’t seem to have much either. Remember, they had Davis splitting carries with Jonathon Wells earlier last year. Jonathon Wells!!! This year, the Texans went out and spent a third round pick on Vernand Morency. Dom Capers is always finding ways to push Davis, and when you consider this fact, alongside Davis’ diminutive size and injury history, it only makes sense to spend your first two picks elsewhere.
The second great evil in fantasy magazines, repetition, needs less explanation. Basically, the slackasses who make projections for fantasy rags sometimes do no more than take the stats from the end of last year and pass them off as what will happen this year. My earlier example of “Who is your No. 1 fantasy QB: Gannon or Vick” from Pro Football Weekly 2003 is the perfect example. While Vick was all hype, Gannon was all about his previous year’s numbers, when he set a record for pass completions (418) and most games with 300 yds. passing (10). I know all about Gannon’s 2002 season; I had him on my roster. I also knew to get rid of a 37-year-old QB coming off an over-achieving year with a falling team that ended its season in a SuperBowl blowout. Next year, when he only threw 6 touchdowns in the 7 games he was healthy enough to play, I was reaping the benefits of a well-timed trade. The moral? Research the reasons behind the stats, recognize the trends, and know when to cash out.
And along those lines, what players should you be looking to send packing in keeper leagues or pass on in seasonal drafts while their value is still high? I may turn a few heads here, but Daunte Culpepper is near the top of my list. Short of cutting off his right arm, it’s difficult to overstate what losing Moss does to Culpepper’s fantasy value. The entire Minnesota offense, not just its QB, lost the best wide receiver in the NFL. Defenses will now approach the Vikings more aggressively, shutting down the run and cutting off passing lanes to less talented receivers. Add to this, Minnesota has taken huge strides in the offseason to improve their defense, meaning Culpepper and the Vikings will be playing less catch-up than in previous years (good for the team/bad for fantasy numbers.) ESPN’s 2005 inaugural fantasy magazine has Culpepper ranked #1—right where he finished in their stats last year. I don’t think he’ll be in the top 3.
Another notable player due for a dropoff in numbers is Ahman Green. This one is a little more obvious than Culpepper. Green had a down year last year, fighting injuries to his Achilles’ tendon, hamstring, and ribs. These are all red flags, since Green is 28—an age when running backs’ bodies sometimes begin to break down. Equally disconcerting, Green Bay lost two of its starting offensive linemen, Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera, and star DB, Darren Sharper, to free agency. All of this spells bad news for the running game, since the Packers will not only have difficulty making holes for Green to run through, but they will also have to throw the ball more to catch up because of a weaker defense. Green’s days among the top 5 fantasy backs are over, perhaps even his time among the top 15.
And the big bust at wide receiver? Muhsin Muhammad. If you have to ask, then you probably deserve to have him as your #1 WR.
That’s about it for the Phantom this week. Just remember to take everything you read out there with a grain of salt. Sports writers get paid for being entertaining, not for being right. Study the facts from a couple of different angles, otherwise, you could be watching your chances of recouping the beer money you put in the league pot go up in flames like my uncle’s double-wide insulated with last Christmas’ wrapping paper and copies of the National Enquirer. We lost my aunt, but thank God he was able to get the still out.
Good luck with your drafts,