Monday, June 29, 2009

Fantasy: The Revolution Continues

Check out Fanball's Fantasy Football 2009 magazine. In "Darn the Luck! Fantasy Football Play Formats" (26-27), Danny Goldin discusses the flaws of head-to-head formats, and suggests a few alternatives. One of those alternatives will be familiar to Hazelweirders, and to regular readers of this blog:

"Another format that I personally recommend utilizes what is called a power scheduling system. In this format, every team plays every opponent every week. For example, let's say you play in a 12-team league. If you score the most points in the league on a given week, you'd accumulate an 11-0 record. On the flipside, if you end up with a lowest point total, you'd go 0-11."

Terrific! We call this cross-country scoring, but by any name I support the revolution. Thank you, Danny Goldin, for helping to spread the revolution.

However, Goldin's power scheduling system also includes "a creative playoff format." I believe the concept of fantasy football playoffs is absurd. In fantasy football, you have no control over your opponent's performance; the game is more like golf, where several competitors play independently and the best performer wins, without impacting each other's performance in a concrete way. A fantasy playoff, then, simply rewards a team for having a hot performance in week 15, 16, or 17, or for facing an opponent (or opponents, in Goldin's variation) that has a cold week. I understand a playoff in real football: the teams compete in a contest in which they directly engage with each other. But in fantasy football, why should week 15 be more important than, say, week 8? Or week 11? Or week 2? It's just random. Fantasy playoffs are another way in which luck gets injected into the system.

Luck will always be a part of everything. However, when devising a fair competition, you should attempt to limit hazard as much as possible. Awarding a fantasy team that had its best performances in week 15 and 16, but may not have been the best team over the course of the entire season, allows hazard too much control. With cross-country scoring, you can just eliminate the playoff entirely. The Hazelweird League has no playoff, and it's pretty rare for the champion to be determined before week 17.

A few other suggestions:

We've also developed a way to maintain interest and competition to the very end of the season. We now determine the next year's snake draft order by the order of the final standings the previous season. Not reverse order, but the same order. This will be the first season we try it, but it is an effort to prevent people from tanking at the end of the season for better picks (I've done it: in 2005 my entire week 17 lineup was Minnesota Viking players). We hope that people will compete with interest to the end of the season, partly for pride, of course, but partly to secure better picks the next season. I also don't think it will lead to a great competitive imbalance, since I'm not sure there's a direct correlation between early picks and winning a league.

I also have a recommendation for other leagues. Determine your snake draft order early, then allow for trading of draft picks. This can add a few months extra fun to your fantasy football league. It also allows for even more strategy and control. Of course an auction draft is preferable (it's fair and extremely fun), but if you must do a snake draft, allowing the trading of picks gives you a little more control. And why wouldn't you want to stretch out the fun of fantasy football?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Fantasy: Against Head to Head

I've already argued against the logical fairness of head-to-head standings here and here. But there's a better argument for cross-country scoring in fantasy football: fun.

Cross-country scoring works like this. Each week, you are essentially competing in a head-to-head matchup with every team in your league. If you are in a ten team league, and you score the most points, then you won each of your matchups to finish 9-0. If you had the second-most points that week, then you beat eight opponents, but suffered one defeat, to finish 8-1. Etc. You can use an online league to keep track of the scoring, and then you simply have one person in your league keep the standings based on that scoring.

This makes fantasy football incredibly fun because virtually every football game features fantasy interest. If you are playing head-to-head, the only games with a fantasy impact are games featuring your team's players, and games featuring your opponents' teams' players. But in cross-country scoring, you are competing against every starter in your league, and there is rarely a game that doesn't feature at least one starter.

Monday Night Football is particularly fun. Let me paint a simplified and imagined scenario. Going into a Monday Night game between the Jaguars and Steelers, you have 60 points, the fourth most of the week so far, and have Maurice Jones-Drew. Another opponent has Santonio Holmes, and he's going into the week with 61 points, third most of the week. The second highest score is 68, and the highest score of the week is 75. As you are watching the game, every play made by either MJD or Holmes is full of tension. Every point scored by one of these players pushes you ahead of or behind your closest opponent. Furthermore, you know that if MJD scores a TD and gets even a modest number of yards, you can catch the second-place finisher to finish 8-1. And if MJD runs wild, you could win the week with a 9-0 finish.

Every play matters; a touchdown at any point by your own player might give you 2-3 more wins that week. This is a frequent occurrence in the Hazelweird League: a bunch of teams are bunched together within five points of each other, and one player scoring a TD late in a Monday Night matchup can push his team past multiple other teams.

Of course, this is a simplified scenario. In a Monday Night game between the Steelers and Jaguars, typical fantasy starters would be MJD, Holmes, plus Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, the Steeler Defense, the Steeler Kicker, and possibly the Jaguar Defense, Willie Parker, Heath Miller, the Jaguar Kicker, and David Garrard. In a head-to-head league, you wouldn't care about most of those players. In a cross-country league, you care about every one of these players. You have to: every single fantasy starter in a game could impact your finish for the week.

Cross-country scoring means you're watching every game with fantasy interest. The Hazelweird League features 90 starting positions--that means there are 90 players out there impacting your fantasy finish. You can imagine how fun it is to follow stats and scores on a Sunday.

Any questions about our revolution?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


What If Sports simulates the 2009 season, and the Vikings run away with the NFC North (via Pancake Blocks).

At the National Football Post, Michael Lombardi has some negative things to say about Brad Childress (via SI).

Peter King typically sides (in strong language) with management against players in any contract dispute; at the National Football Post, Ray Gustini effectively takes down King's criticism of Nick Collins as "either laziness or disingenuousness" for "misrepresenting" the situation. I think it is a bad thing when a reporter is overly willing to accept management's line; it may make him unwilling or unable to look closer, and more likely to write in gross stereotypes. In this case, as Gustini notes, "King positions Collins as the prototypical straw man: the ungrateful young DB who won’t stoop to play football for a mere $3 million a year; unappreciative of the front office that worked so hard to provide him with a scrupulously fair rookie contract; and uncouth enough to demand 'monster money' from the publicly owned Green Bay Packers."

In the Pioneer Press, Charley Walters says the T-Wolves trade is bad, because "The No. 5 pick in the draft won't be as talented as Foye." Then the Wolves should probably pass on the pick, because Randy Foye kind of sucks.

At, Chase Stuart shows the awesomeness of Steve Smith.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Holy Shitballs

The Timberwolves are apparently giving us an interesting week (ESPN, Pioneer Press).

Irrelevant Controversy Season

During the summer, major football publications often create lists, rankings, and other such articles to pass the time. I heartily endorse the practice: it gives people some football discussion in the summer when not much is happening. I just try not to argue much about it, since stirring irrelevant controversy is really the entire point.

ESPN celebrates Irrelevant Controversy Season with All-decade week, featuring (so far) the All-decade defense and offense.

Coast Guard: Steven Jackson v. Frank Gore

The Coast Guard: policing the police. I judge writers' fantasy football arguments. I am assessing the quality of the argument, not the quality of the player being argued about. I keep my assessments of players closer to the 100% polyester vest, because those lascivious Hazelweirders read this blog.

At Yahoo!, Brandon Funston and Scott Pianowski debate the merits of Steven Jackson (Funston) and Frank Gore (Pianowski). I think Funston makes the better argument.

Pianowski's case for Gore over Jackson rests largely on a shaky argument: that "Fantasy production from running backs is generally tied to winning clubs, something the Niners have a good shot at being this year." I think it's a weak argument to tie an individual player's fantasy prospects to his team's prospects; furthermore, it's a double-weak argument to predict individual success based on a prediction of team success. If Pianowski is wrong about the Niners, he's wrong about Gore. It's not wrong to examine a player's team context when projecting his fantasy production; it's tenuous, however, to make the predicted team context your central argument.

Funston brings stronger statistical evidence to his argument. He shows a table listing Jackson's rankings among RBs in fantasy points per game the last four seasons, and also lists the Rams' records in those seasons. He shows that Jackson's productivity is not tied to the success of the Rams' team. While Pianowski bases his argument on his prediction that the Niners will be good, Funston shows that the quality of the Rams is irrelevant to Jackson's productivity. Funston is also able to note that "not once in those four years did Frank Gore average more fantasy points than Jackson."

Funston is able to base his argument on track record; he examines the past, shows Jackson's strong production in fantasy points per game, and argues that since Jackson is good no matter how bad the Rams are, we can expect further production in 2009. It's stronger, I think, to base projections on past production; while Funston can argue that things will be the same for Jackson in '09, Pianowski has to argue that Gore is preferable because something will be different in '09. It's a safer pick to take the player who has proven he's better in the past. And it's a safer pick to take the player whose production is (based on Funston's and Pianowski's arguments) dependent on himself, not on his team.

The argument for Gore over Jackson that both writers acknowledge is concern over durability. I'd give the edge to Pianowski on that fair argument, but it's not a weighty argument. Considering that all running backs have a high injury risk, when you're guessing at a RB's 2009 durability, you're judging relative durability, and you're still relying on luck.

Jackson v. Gore is a very close fantasy argument, and on the merits of the two players, I'm not convinced (yet) which player is preferable. As players, I like both Jackson and Gore. But based on the respective arguments, I give the win to Funston.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Vikings: '09 and Beyond

While signing Brett Favre would be a one-year fix for the Vikings, signing Brett Favre would not make 2009 "Super Bowl or bust." The Vikings have a nucleus of talented young players who should be playing at a high level for several years, and a well-run organization can add talent to build around such a nucleus. In today's NFL, no season should be Super Bowl or bust for any team.

However, the Vikings aren't going to be a serious Super Bowl contender until they resolve their issues at the quarterback position. Resolving it for one season, then going into 2010 with the position again a dilemma, does not help the Vikings. That means if the Vikings do sign Favre, they're making 2009 a very critical season. To set back finding a long-term quarterback, the Vikings are banking that a 40 year old quarterback with a penchant for throwing crazy interceptions, a recent history of wearing down in the second half of a season, and a history of unreliable playoff performances can transform a playoff team into a Super Bowl contender.

I'm skeptical. Favre might make the '09 Vikings better than Sage Rosenfels would. But how much better? And at what cost?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Timberwolves

Valjean: Yes, it means I'm free.
Javert: No!

We're free. On the other hand, if we care at all about being free of this, it means we're still rooting for the T-Wolves and the mess McHale made. We got our yellow ticket of leave, but we're not exactly free.

Monday, June 15, 2009

How a passing threat helps AP

In the previous post, I suggested Brett Favre would open things up for Adrian Peterson to have a career year, and Jason wondered how much more we can really expect from AP. I can certainly be more specific: I believe a passing threat would help Peterson to be a more consistent runner.

Adrian Peterson
averaged 4.8 yards per rush in 2008, and this hefty average was buoyed by a lot of long runs. Peterson led the league with 20 runs of 20+ yards. But according to Football Outsiders, Peterson had a success rate of 46%, which ranked 23rd in the league. Peterson had a lot of dazzling runs, but he also got stuffed at the line of scrimmage a lot. This was most evident in the final two games; here are the yards Peterson gained on each of his carries.

versus Giants: 1, -4, 1, 4, 3, 0, 3, 3, 67, -1, -1, 3, 7, 2, 6, 5, -2, 0, 7, 1, -2

versus Eagles: -1, -1, 2, 2, 6, 2, 40, 6, 0, 6, 1, 3, 0, 2, 0, 3, 0, 5, 5, 2

Perhaps the immensely talented Peterson tries to break too many runs to the outside and thus gets stopped quickly (I sensed this in the second half of 2007, but not 2008). Or perhaps Peterson gets stuffed a lot because defenses fear the Viking run but don't fear the Viking pass. The defense is crowding the line, focusing on stopping Peterson, because he's been more likely to beat the opponent than Tarvaris Jackson, Kelly Holcomb, Brooks Bollinger, or Gus Frerotte.

That's why I think a legitimate passing threat would make Adrian Peterson a more successful runner. I don't know that his yards per rush would be higher, and I certainly doubt his total yards would be higher. But Peterson could become a more consistently productive runner. My hope would be that those runs of -1, 0, or 1 yard could more frequently turn into runs of 3, 4, or 5 yards. Those types of runs don't make Peterson look like a stud, but they do help the Vikings pick up first downs and drive down the field.

I do think Brett Favre would provide this passsing threat so that the Viking running game could become more productive by becoming more consistent. By threat, I mean the potential for positive passing plays, enough to force the defense to account for the pass (I still recognize the potential for negative passing plays, too).

But while I don't believe Tarvaris Jackson provides this thread, I do think Sage Rosenfels could. That's why I'd prefer the Vikes start Rosenfels and see what he can do.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Brett Favre: Pros

I'm a Favre skeptic that would prefer the Vikings start Sage Rosenfels. I hope, then, that when I address the positives of adding Brett Favre to the Vikings, I'm able to offer a modest, sober assessment. But there are some on-the-field benefits to having Favre at quarterback.

Spreading the field for AP
It's hard to believe that the following two statements are true:

A. In his career, Adrian Peterson's starting quarterbacks have been Tarvaris Jackson, Kelly Holcomb, Brooks Bollinger, and Gus Frerotte.
B. Adrian Peterson has averaged 5.2 yards per rush.

In 2007 I watched the Chicago Bears occasionally put nine players in the box. Eight in the box is a regular occurance. Could a team do that with Brett Favre as the opposing QB? I don't know, and that could mean a career year for AP.

Low sack rate
Favre's career sack percentage is 4.8%. He led the league with 2.2% in 2004 and was as low as 2.7% in 2007. The Vikings have a good running game, but for years have been bad in 3rd and 11+ situation. A low sack rate will put the Vikings in fewer terrible situations.

Third and long?
Then again, perhaps a strong-armed quarterback like Favre will give the team a better chance of converting on third and long, too. I feel the Vikings have struggled in third and long since the days of Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss.

Two-minute offense
The Vikings haven't had much of a hurry-up offense at all in the Childress reign; Favre would make the Vikings better when they need to drive quickly.

I do not know that these positives outweight the various glaring negatives. I also do not know that Sage Rosenfels would not provide some of the same things. But these are some potential benefits to Brett Favre at quarterback.

Friday, June 12, 2009

On cheering for Favre

My objections to Brett Favre as a Viking are sincere. As a one year fix he makes 2009 a Super Bowl or bust year, thus setting the team back a season in finding a long-term starting quarterback. And that would be worth it, if Brett Favre was the QB to get the Vikings to the Super Bowl; however, Favre's playoff history suggests to me that he's not going to make a good team a transcendent playoff team. It would also be worth it if the Vikings had an heir apparent ready to watch a year then step in, but they don't. All this makes me think it's just not worth the emotional maelstrom that comes from seeing the long-time Packer nemesis in a Viking uniform and actually rooting for him.

But...if he becomes a Viking, root for him I will. I am not a sports columnist; if I were, I might grit my teeth all season thinking "I hope Favre and the Vikings fail in the playoffs so I can be proven right." But I'm a Viking fan. I want to see the Vikings win a Super Bowl, even if that means it is Favre that leads the team there. I'd rather see the Vikings win a Super Bowl and be proven wrong than see Brett Favre choke another playoff game and be proven right.

And that is why, if the Vikings do sign Brett Favre, I will be on board rooting. I will have hope. I'll make a distinction between hope (an irrational believe that good things will happen) and optimism (a rational belief that good things will happen). I'll root for the Vikings all year, hoping they can get to the playoffs and win their playoff games and win a champion (granted, I distrust Favre enough late in a playoff game that my hope will be something like "Maybe the defense, running game, and first-half Favre will build up such a lead it won't be on Favre to win the game in the fourth quarter or overtime").

I don't want Brett Favre to be a Viking. But I can't foresee a situation in which I won't be rooting for the Vikings to win every game, where I won't be rooting for their quarterback to be successful, where I won't be desperately hoping this is the year they win the Super Bowl. I look forward to cheering for the Purple in 2009, whoever plays quarterback.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

But I never trusted Gus.

At the Vikings Locker Room at Rosedale Center, "In Gus We Trust" shirts are marked down, 50% of of $18.99.  But $9.50 is still way too much money for a shirt to wear ironically.

How many of these t-shirts have they sold in the last few months?  I know that non-sports-fan relatives sometimes pick out strange gifts for sports fans they know but don't quite understand--I doubt even they are buying this t-shirt.

But mark your prices down 75%, Vikings Locker Room, and I'll have a t-shirt to wear to a fantasy football draft.  

Against Favre

See "The Risk of Favre," where I argue that signing Favre means Super Bowl or bust in 2009, and probably just pushes the team's real QB decision back one year.

And see "Favre does not push the Vikings over the edge," where I argue that Favre is not a reliable playoff quarterback who makes a good regular season team a serious Super Bowl threat.

Let me bring it all together one more time before Favre joins the Vikings.

The Vikings should not sign Brett Favre.

Favre turns 40 years old this season.  He throws a lot of interceptions (20+ in three of the past six seasons, leading the league in two of the past four seasons).  He hasn't had a meaningful playoff run in a dozen years, and Favre's lasting playoff images of the '00s are interceptions and home losses.  Experience hasn't lowered his interception rate or made him reliable in the playoffs.

The Vikings, like the Packers and Bears, have an easy schedule in 2009.  Each of these teams gets four games against the NFC West, a home-and-home with the Lions, and the Bengals and Browns: each of these teams should go at least 6-2 against that slate (and if one of these teams goes 8-0 against this slate, then just splits the home-and-homes with the other division games, that team wins at least 10 games).  The Vikes have a good shot of winning at least 11 games in 2009, regardless of who is at quarterback.  In fact, if they are any sort of good team at all they should go at least 9-7, regardless of quarterback.

It just doesn't make sense to me.  Sage Ronsenfels' biggest demerits are lack of playing time and like Favre, turnovers.  But he's 31 years old, and in the last two seasons completed 64.2% and 66.7 % of his passes.  He's certainly an upgrade over Gus Frerotte, who went 8-3 with this Viking team in 2008 despite throwing a bunch of interceptions and generally sucking.

Certainly Brett Favre could lead the Vikings to an 11-5 season or better in 2009.  But so could Sage Rosenfels!  And since, as I believe, Favre is not a reliable playoff quarterback, I don't see any reason for the Vikings to sign him (except to boost ticket sales, and since the Vikings do risk blackouts, especially if they struggle early, that may be a significant factor).  Perhaps he gives the Vikes a slightly better chance in 2009, but then he probably retires, and then what?  The Vikes spend 2010 finding out if Rosenfels is good enough instead of 2009?  I'd rather find out about Rosenfels now.  He might be a good enough quarterback to make a team with a great running game and a great defense a contender over the next few seasons.  He might--I don't know.  But I don't really think he makes the 2009 Vikings significantly worse than Brett Favre would.  

Stay away, Vikings.  Set a deadline of yesterday, and move on.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Fantasy Crimson Banners: Wide Receivers

In fantasy football, you look at previous statistics to try and make reasonable projections about a player's future performance. Of course at any position, there will be players who were good fantasy producers in one year that produced little the next year. At Wide Receiver, there are a few numbers I look at to guess which WRs will disappoint.

I am not offering a statistical model: I am well aware that I am cherry-picking examples to support my conclusions. I'm not offering any empirical proof. I'm merely telling you what statistics make me shy away from drafting a fantasy wide receiver.

Very Low Yards Per Reception
If a possession receiver is in a good offense, he may be a productive fantasy receiver. Take away the good offense, and you're left with an underwhelming fantasy producer. A possession wide receiver also requires the rest of the offense to produce in order to get touchdown opportunities.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh: Houshmandzadeh was a good fantasy producer in 2006 (90-1,081-9) and 2007 (112-1143-12) with Carson Palmer guiding the offense, despite low yards per reception (12.0, 10.2). Take away Palmer, and Houshmandzadeh still had 92 catches, but for only 904 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Wes Welker: Welker's 2007 and 2008 reception and yardage numbers were nearly identical (112-1,175, 10.5 average, 111, 1,165, 10.5 average), but his touchdown production dropped from 8 to 3.

Disproportionate Touchdown Receptions
If a player's touchdown numbers far exceed his reception and yardage numbers, I stay away from him.

Braylon Edwards: In 2007 Edwards had an outstanding fantasy season, with 80 receptions, 1,289 yards, and 16 touchdowns. But 80-1,200 seasons are not that uncommon; 16 TD seasons are. 1 out of every 5 of Edwards' receptions went for a touchdown. In 2008 his total production declined significantly, and the TDs dropped from 16 to 3.

Reggie Williams: Always stay away from a WR who has mediocre reception and yardage totals with a bunch of touchdowns: chances are he's a mediocre player that was in a lot of good situations, and is unlikely to repeat. Williams had a 38-629-10 season in '07, a 37-364-3 season in '08. Granted, that's a lot like Cris Carter's 1989 season (45-605-11), but Carter actually followed that up with a dud 1990 season (27-413-3), and required a change in teams and a few years to pass before he became a dynamite fantasy football producer.

Up-and-down Game Logs
I'm not trying to fetishize consistency. But if a player's total numbers are boosted by a couple of monster games, all it takes is a few small things to go wrong for the monster games to disappear, and the player's total numbers become much less impressive.

Lee Evans: his '06 season was a corker: 82-1,292-8. But he only went over 100 yards in three games, and in one of those games he went for 11-265-2. In '07, Evans only went over 70 yards 5 times, and he dropped down to a 55-849-5 season. I would like to note, however, that I think Evans is a terrific receiver, and his numbers probably reflect the shaky quarterbacks he's had throwing to him. In '08 his production was more consistent, and I'm very curious to see how the Terrell Owens/Lee Evans experience takes off.

Santana Moss: '05 was a gargantuan season for Moss: 84-1,483-9. Moss was actually pretty consistent (50+ yards in 15/16 games, 70+ yards in 11/16 games), but his total numbers included a 5-159-2, a 10-173-2, and a 5-160-3. Put it another way, Moss failed to score a TD in 11 of 16 games. In '06, Moss had 55-790-6. But this doesn't mean such a player can never be consistent: in '03 Moss scored TDs in 7 straight games. It just makes me leery of paying the high price such a player might command in a fantasy draft.

And here are some crimson banners I've abandoned: these things used to sway me, but now don't.

Very High Yards Per Reception
Since my days of playing Tecmo Super Bowl, I've loved big play wide receivers with high yards per catch. But I've feared that big play wide receivers get their fantasy production on few receptions, meaning fewer opportunities to get fantasy points. It also means if things go a little bit wrong, that WR might end up with very inconsistent production. For example, in '04 Ashley Lelie had 54 catches for 1,084 yards and 7 touchdowns. He led the league with 20.1 yards per reception. In '05 he once again led the league in yards per reception (with 18.3), but the numbers fell off to 42-770-1.

But I also noticed that the league's leaders in yards per reception are rarely among the league's top fantasy producers anyway; they aren't players people were going to overpay for in a fantasy draft. I also observed a lot of examples of WRs following a very high yards-per-reception season with a very good overall season (Javon Walker, Greg Jennings, Plaxico Burress). There doesn't seem to be a reason to hold a bias against players with high yards per reception.

WRs on New Teams
I used to have a bias against a WR in his first year on a new team. But Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Plaxico Burress, and Santana Moss had outstanding seasons in a first year with a new team. Laveranues Coles and Bernard Berrian had similar production in a year-to-year change of teams. Javon Walker, Keenan McCardell, Derrick Mason, Keyshawn Johnson were decent in their first year with a new team.

There are too many successful WRs switching teams for me to suspect a WR will have a poor year just because he switches teams. One rule still applies, of course: if a productive #2 WR leaves a good #1 WR to become another team's #1 WR, do not draft this player under any circumstances. I call this the Alvin Harper Rule; others may know it as the Peerless Price Principle.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Fantasy Running Back Criteria

There were many, many quality running backs in the 2008 season, and looking ahead to 2009, there are many, many potential fantasy running back studs. Which of these many potential studs will be actual studs? Frankly, I think that's mostly guesswork and luck, which is why I wouldn't use a first round pick on a running back (maybe not a second round pick, either).* If you saw DeAngelo Williams coming in 2008, bully for you (I wrongly saw him coming in 2006 and 2007). Some of these guys will be bums, and some will be studs, and I can barely guess which will be which (not that I'd tell you what my guesses are anyway).

What I will tell you is what statistical criteria I use to evaluate running backs. I'll use Adrian Peterson's statistics as an example of what I look for.

1. games with 100+ yards from scrimmage
Total yardage numbers can be deceiving; it is important to examine game logs. Consistency matters, especially with the Hazelweird League's cross country scoring (far superior to head-to-head standings: see here and here. I will develop this point again this summer). I want to see see how many productive fantasy games each player has. Adrian Peterson had 100+ yards from scrimmage in 11 of his 16 games, meaning he's a very reliable fantasy running back (he actually had 75+ rushing yards in 15 of 16 games). He's always going to get you points, and he's often going to get you a lot of points.

This number is probably the most important number I look at. It tells me who is regularly getting quality fantasy production, and who is producing too many damaging dud games (0-2 points). You can also check game logs to see how many games the player scored touchdowns in.

2. rushing yards
Totals do still matter. Peterson's league-leading 1,760 rushing yards tell us he is a stud running back.

3. receptions
One reason running backs are great fantasy football producers is because they can contribute points with receiving yards, too. A running back's receiving yards may fluctuate based on a variety of factors; however, if a running back has a lot of catches, that tells me he's a targeted receiver in his team's offense. A lot of receptions means a lot of opportunities to add fantasy points with receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. I like to see a starting running back with at least 40 receptions, preferably 50+. There are two reasons I like running backs with a lot of receiving yards. First, they have a better chance of providing you monster weeks (say, 150+ yards from scrimmage and 2 TDs). Second, they are more consistent: even when they have terrible rushing days, they can still end up getting you solid fantasy production.

Peterson was mostly a nonfactor in the passing game for the Vikings last season, catching 21 passes (Chester Taylor had 45 catches for 399 yards and 2 TDs--I do think it's possible that at some point those receiving numbers will be Peterson's but I don't think that will be 2009). That's the one thing that turns me off of him: I'd rather my #1 RB be a productive pass catcher.

4. yards per rush
Very few fantasy leagues award points for yards per attempt, so why do I bother looking at it? It's simple: a running back with poor or average yards per attempt relies on his teammates and on situations to get good fantasy numbers. A running back with high yards per attempt can make things happen on his own. Adrian Peterson averaged a beefy 4.8 yards per attempt. He's going to be a productive running back.

5. yards from scrimmage
Again, total numbers do matter, and yards from scrimmage is a better indicator of a running back's fantasy production than rushing yards. Adrian Peterson led the league with 1,885 yards from scrimmage, but that was mostly because of his exceptional rushing total.

Notice what I'm not looking at: touchdowns. The Hazelweird League awards six points per touchdown and one point per 20 yards rushing/receiving, so it's not that touchdowns aren't important. Why am I ignoring them? I explain why in detail here, but the theory is simple. I think touchdown numbers can be a distraction: good fantasy players are going to get touchdowns, and other numbers can do a better job of telling me who is a good fantasy player. By ignoring touchdowns, I might find holes in the conventional wisdom, discovering some overrated and underrated players.

*The Hazelweird League is returning to its Auction roots, which makes deception and subterfuge an utter necessity. Everything I say about fantasy football may be a lie. But that doesn't matter: I'm proposing ideas, and it's the idea that's worth considering, not whether or not I believe it or not.