Getting ready for some football


August 03, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER

Iwas going to write a column spinning off of Monday's trade-deadline shenanigans. But as usual, that orgy of speculation didn't pay off with many happenings of consequence.

Carlos Lee might hit a few more homers in Texas, and Bobby Abreu might score a few more runs in New York. If you're in a league limited to American League players, you obviously want to get those guys. Francisco Cordero should pick up saves in Milwaukee and B.J. Upton is finally clear to play in Tampa Bay.

But the fantasy implications of all that activity simply aren't profound. So I'm back to writing about the old pigskin, aka America's favorite sport.

I didn't start this fantasy gig until after the football season had begun last year, so I never got a chance to tout my favorite preparation materials.

I had heard for years that was a terrific fantasy site and after subscribing recently, I'm happy to confirm it.

These guys take you as deep into the game as you want to go.

One of my favorite features is one in which they spotlight a player and have two staff members debate his merits. As someone who's not a crazy, diehard NFL fan, I like to read an argument between guys who've thought a lot about these things. The Football Guys also send daily e-mails commenting on the most recent news.

They offer downloadable draft software that looked splendid during a test run. They call it the Draft Dominator, and it gives you projected standings and weekly scores every time an owner makes a pick during your draft. It also spits out optimal picks based on what you need and how thin the talent pool is at a given position. I've always avoided the high-tech route at drafts, but I think I might take the Dominator for a spin in at least one this year.

The site also features an excellent Top 200 list that highlights players whose perceived value is either much higher or much lower than their projected production. I found the $25.95 price for an annual subscription very reasonable.

My other favorite source is the Pro Football Prospectus 2006. Now, I'll be the first to admit that football is a much harder game to track statistically than baseball. There are so many contributing parts on any play that it's terribly difficult to parse out the credit.

I think that's one of the reasons I've always liked baseball more. I like measurement.

Anyway, the guys behind the Prospectus have taken it upon themselves to deepen football's analytical canon. They've developed a statistic called DVOA that looks at every play in the context of all the other plays like it. Thus, a running back is not the best because he accumulated the most total yards but because he excelled more than his peers in a wide array of situations. I'm not sure I summarized that well, but they do.

The Prospectus isn't geared specifically to fantasy players but offers projections and a list of fantasy values based on those numbers. This year's edition also features articles on 10 fantasy risers and sinkers, on selecting a fantasy defense and on projecting the performance of rookie quarterbacks.

The Prospectus guys missed on one of their big projections last year, saying that Detroit's Kevin Jones would lead the league in rushing. But I thought he was on the rise as well, so I can't rip on that.

I like the book because it makes me think about football in ways I wouldn't otherwise. For example, the authors note that Edgerrin James' 2006 will be a useful data point in determining the value of an offensive line to a big rushing season. James is switching from one of the league's best lines in Indianapolis to one of the worst in Arizona. That's not a direct point about fantasy, but I know I'll be thinking about it if I have the fifth pick in a draft and he's still on the board.

Interesting tidbits abound. In the blurb on New England receiver Deion Branch, the authors mention how closely his career compares to that of former Rams late bloomer Henry Ellard. Ellard had his career year at the age Branch will be this season: 27

The comments on former Maryland star Vernon Davis point out that few elite tight ends produce much fantasy value as rookies.

Anyway, I won't give away any more of the book's wisdom, but if you're a serious fan of football and/or sports statistics, it should give you hours of joy.

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