Written by DFW Contributor Nic Dolas
In Part 1, we discussed how to make your rankings and tiers. Now that you have had some time to work on your own sheets and rankings, we need to dive deeper into some key areas to help you stay ahead of your competition. We are going to look at coaching philosophy, offensive trends, and other “scouting” methods and apply them throughout the league. Staying on top of these changes in the offseason will help you spot teams that are poised to breakout and provide solid fantasy starters.
Scouting – Teams and Players
Scouting begins with analyzing what teams have done to improve their offense for the upcoming season. Has the team added a highly touted rookie skill player, a stud offensive lineman or a big name free agent? By adding these players, how much impact can you expect?
Few rookies have a big fantasy impact in their initial season. Last year there were several exceptions. Cam Newton, AJ Green and Julio Jones all had above average rookie campaigns. This season Trent Richardson is receiving all of the hype.
Other factors to keep in mind come all the way down to the team’s offensive line; how well they pass block, run block, and prevent quarterback sacks. Each of these can have a big impact on fantasy production.
The chart I made below lists the top 10 offensive lines by using average yards per rush and pass in combination with sacks allowed and final scoring rank. The Panthers are atop this chart with a top five scoring team despite not having a top RB. They did, however, have a top ten QB and WR. Also, this chart gives you a breakdown of each team by position and where they had players ranked at the end of the season. Two teams that stand out to me are the Oakland Raiders and the Houston Texans. The Raiders added a Quarterback after five weeks and lost their top RB but still managed to score in the top half of the league. The Texans lost their QB and top WR, yet still managed a top ten scoring finish powered by running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate.
Another trend to follow is knowing if a team is pass oriented. This could make their WR’s more valuable come draft day.
Let’s look at the Atlanta Falcons for example. Matt Ryan has improved every season since he came into the league in passing yards and touchdowns. The only area where he went backward was interceptions. Another year with Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez should get them back down into the 10-12 range and solidify Matt Ryan as a top quarterback for this year and years to come.
Another helpful tool to look at is a team’s pass vs. run ratio. Which teams will be passing more this season and which teams will be running the ball more? Below is the breakdown of each team based on pass vs. run for 2011.
The teams highlighted in Orange are expected to pass more than the previous year. The teams highlighted in Green are expected to run more than the previous year.
2011 Pass vs. Run Ratio
Courtesy of NFL.com
Teams I see with an increase in passing
Atlanta – Another year of growth from Matt Ryan along with weapons named Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Julio Jones. I see them using Turner less this season
Oakland – Simply put, a full year of Palmer almost guarantees an increase in passing. The Raiders could offer some great fantasy value this season
Chicago – I’m buying into the reunion of Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall as well as the addition of Alshon Jeffery.
San Francisco – You don’t go out and add Mario Manningham and Randy Moss just to pound the ball all day.
Houston – With the return of Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson (should they remain healthy) this team will throw the ball more and more. Arian Foster just makes it that much easier.
Denver – Peyton Manning… enough said…
Teams I see with an increase in running
Tampa Bay – The addition of Schiano as head coach and the team trading up for Doug Martin screams out they will run the ball to set up the pass. Also, pairing Martin with Blount should be a solid ground and pound combo.
Washington/Indianapolis – With each having a rookie quarterback these teams will look to protect them by using the run to set up the pass.
Buffalo – Now that management knows C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson can be effective you will see them used more often to take pressure off of Fitzpatrick.
Cleveland – You don’t add Trent Richardson to your team and not give him the ball.
Jets – The addition of Tim Tebow along with coach Tony Sporano’s coaching style will lead to more rushing this season.
Kansas City – Jamaal Charles is back from injury and Peyton Hillis was added during the offseason. The front office is losing faith in Matt Cassel. No shock there. You will see more running in 2012.
Today very few teams run more than they pass. More teams are using the pass to set up their running attack. Below are last seasons top four scoring offenses.
These teams have several things in common. First, note that all of these teams made the playoffs. Next, you’ll notice how each team has an elite quarterback, a stud wide receiver and above average tight end(s). Looking at the following chart will help you determine which offenses to target come draft day.
Another part of your scouting process should be spotting the true RBBC (Running Back by Committee). The Carolina Panthers are one of the best examples. The following chart shows the statistics of both Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams (both being very capable backs). As you will see I excluded 2010 due to an injury to DeAngelo Williams that limited him to only 6 games.
The only drawback is that they play on the same team so they end up hurting each other’s value. Both of these players on different teams would be considered solid RB1 options. Until this happens both of these guys are solid RB2’s with a ton of upside should one or the other get injured.
Other teams that have similar setups going into 2012 would be Buffalo, Washington, Tampa Bay, and Kansas City.
Over the last few seasons the emphasis on the passing game has also increased the value of pass catching running backs like Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles. These two are prime examples of running backs whose value goes up in a PPR (Point per Reception) format. On the other hand, Michael Turner would be a running back whose value is diminished in this format.
Websites are the most valuable source of fantasy information that we have access to because they are regularly updated. Many sites offer up to date information ranging from players recovering from injury to ongoing contract talks. These sites will offer unique articles from various writers which give you different perspectives on various fantasy topics.
Websites like DynastyFootballWarehouse.com offer you forums where you can post questions regarding trade offers, draft questions or general player information to help you make decisions throughout your fantasy season. These types of forums allow you to read posts from members. They can offer valuable insight on various fantasy topics from who recently got arrested to training camp fliers. You will also see sites offering staff rankings for your review. They often have rankings based in different formats which include redraft leagues, dynasty leagues and IDP (Individual Defensive Player) leagues.
Another good source is Twitter since this is the age of instant access. Twitter is a minute by minute update on everything fantasy.
Beyond your fantasy websites you can also access information on players, teams or other NFL related information at www.Nfl.com and www.pro-football-reference.com. Both sites offer great stats and information to help with your upcoming season.
Magazines are another source of information that your average fan uses when starting out in this hobby since they are readily available. These magazines can be fun bathroom reading material, however they will offer very little to most people reading this. There are reasons to read these magazines. They do offer some information on basics fantasy trends, coaching changes and contain some well written articles on Fantasy Football. They normally contain information from last season that is useful from individual player production to defensive stats. Beyond that, most of the player information is outdated the day it hits the shelves. Still, there are fantasy owners that are too lazy to come up with their own rankings so they will fall back onto these magazines as their draft bible.
As we wrap up Part 2 I hope you now have a better understanding of how to look for trends in the NFL as they apply to your fantasy team(s). You should have a good idea on how key acquisitions, coaching changes, and even offensive and defensive line play affects a team’s performance. Being able to stay one step ahead of your competition will give you that edge and hopefully win you a few championships. In Part 3 we will be discussing mock drafting, draft planning, and in-draft decisions.