Sunday, May 24, 2015

Of Black Olives and Kickers

I love pizza. But I do not like black olives.

Such is my attitude toward kickers and fantasy football. 

I love fantasy football. But I do not like kickers.

It's a constant struggle for me, tolerating kickers and their cheap points in fantasy football. But I've reconciled with the fantasy gods and have accepted the things I cannot change. And believe me, I've tried to change them.

I was introduced to this kicking menace during my first fantasy football dabbling in 1991. One of the team owners, a guy we called "Butterballs," drafted Chip Lohmiller in the first round of the draft. Butterball's rationale was that Lohmiller would make a ton of points (kickers received bonus points for performance) and he was a more reliable option than any other player in the draft.

Even though I was new at the fantasy football thing, I immediately deemed Butterballs an idiot.

A kicker in the first round? Ridiculous.

As it turned out, Lohmiller did, indeed, lead kickers in points in '91 and was a big time weapon. In fact, one of my running backs, the underrated and overlooked Earnest Byner, rushed for 1,048 yards (fifth best in the league), 308 yards receiving and five touchdowns and... you guessed it... Lohmiller had 21 more fantasy points than Byner at the end of the season.

Butterballs was right. And I felt I was subject to an incredible injustice.

The next year, 1992, I helped organize a formal league, the More Beer League, and we elected to adopt essentially the same scoring system as the previous year. Remember, these were the early days of fantasy football and we didn't have many resources; there was no internet, "mobile device" was not a phrase, and the average computer weight about 68 pounds; Paul Charchian's paperback "Guide to Fantasy Football" was our bible (and we still use Charch as a resource for many good fantasy ideas and tweaks to the league).

But I did not like the scoring system used for kickers.

Indeed, that nasty kicker issue was a thorn in my side and as a result, the owners of More Beer League have debated kickers and their worth at every pre-draft meeting for the past 23 years. I have a feeling the subject will come up for the 24th time this fall, considering the NFL has moved the PAT from the two yard-line to the 15 yard-line, essentially making the extra point equivalent to a 32-yard field goal.

Last season, kickers converted 99.6% of their PAT attempts. This is compared to "around 93%" accuracy from 32 to 33 yards out, according to NFL officiating chief, Dean Blandino.

"Surely," the average hollow-headed fantasy owner will think, "a PAT now must be worth more than a single, lonely point."


As far as I'm concerned, kickers have long been the scourge of this hobby I love. I have always maintained kickers score too many fantasy points and selecting a top kicker from year to year is akin to throwing darts at a wall; it is as arbitrary as you can get.

I call it "the great annual randomization."

When you draft a Peyton Manning or a Calvin Johnson or even a Chris Ivory, you basically know what you're getting year to year. There is a predictability there which is necessary in planning your draft strategy.

Even the predictable unpredictability of a Pierre Garcon is workable.

But when you select a Ryan Succop or a Mike Nugent or a Blair Walsh, it is like a box of chocolates. Accurately projecting their points is simply impossible. 

Despite this crap shoot mentality, kickers, on average, do score a lot of fantasy points. Yet most fantasy owners draft the position in the last couple of rounds (a practice recommended by most fantasy football "experts").


Because no one has a stinkin' clue what any kicker is going to do in any given year; therefore, no one wants to gamble on a kicker before the 13th or 14th round.

Yet, in a standard scoring league (three points per field goal, one point per PAT), top kickers score as many (or more) points as first tier tight ends and second tier wide receivers. This remains one of my main arguments for minimizing the kicker position, or simply eliminating it from fantasy football altogether and replacing it with an additional flex position. 

Wait a minute, did you read that right? Top kickers score more points than top tight ends?

Not possible.

Don't believe me? Let's take a look at 2015.
The dramatic antics of Martin Gramatica tipped the scales for me.
I went from disliking kickers to completely hating them.
Again, in a standard scoring league where no bonus points are awarded for distance or performance, last year's top three kickers were:

Stephen Gostkowski = 156 fantasy points
Cody Parkey = 150 fantasy points
Adam Vinatieri = 140 fantasy points

Compare this to some of the top fantasy tight ends from last year (based on 1 point per 10 yards receiving, 6 points per touchdown):

Martellus Bennett = 127 fantasy points
Greg Olsen = 137 points
Antonio Gates = 154 points 
(and it should be pointed out that Gates had a bounce back year with 12 touchdowns)

In fairness, I did not include Jimmy Graham's 148 fantasy points since he missed several games due to injury. But that being said, Graham still had 889 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns; a great year by tight end standards... and Gostkowski and Parkey still scored more fantasy points. 

In fact, Rob Gronkowski was the only starting fantasy tight end who outscored all three top kickers.

Let's take a look a few second tier wide receivers (same scoring system as tight ends):

Steve Smith = 142 fantasy points
Kelvin Benjamin = 154 points
Brandon Marshall = 120 points

I can assure you that every wide receiver listed here was drafted 8 to 10 rounds before the first kicker. Yet, the top kicker accrued more fantasy points than even Benjamin's outstanding rookie campaign. To me, that's contemptible.

And these numbers get even more vulgar when a kicker is awarded bonus points for distance.

When I digest this information, it is clear to me that leagues should employ some type of negative scoring system for missed field goals and extra points. If a kicker is going to save your fantasy tush, he should also burn it now and then.

Better yet, leagues should use a point-per-catch structure for the skilled positions. 

Or, in a perfect world, kickers should be completely banned from fantasy football. 

I know what the argument will be here: kicking is a part of the game (it is, after all, called football) and kickers should be represented with every right to score points as any other position.

But it's just absurd to see a kicker boot a 45 yard field goal, and (with bonus points) he's instantly scored as much as 50 yards rushing or receiving. That just doesn't sit right with me.

This brings me back to the new PAT rule in the NFL. There's no doubt that leagues across the country will have grotesque discussions about whether to make the PAT worth more than one point since it has been moved back an additional 13 yards.

I have an idea: let's just form all-kicker leagues and be done with it.

In the More Beer League, we came to a compromise a few years ago at our pre-draft meeting which left most owners satisfied (while an improvement on the past scoring system, I would still be happy to get rid of Caleb Sturgis, Kai Forbath and the whole damn bunch).

We made all field goals worth three points. For each yard beyond 30 yards, there is a 0.1 bonus point. In other words, a 35 yard field goal is worth 3.5 points; a 42 yard field goal is worth 4.2 points.

I made a motion for negative scoring for missed field goals and PATs, which was shot down like a low flying duck.

I also made a motion to eliminate the kicker position altogether. My league mates pelted me with beer and pistachios.

But this fall, for the 24th time, I will try again.


Because I still do not kickers.

...oh, and hold the black olives.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Goodbye, "Deflategate"

So the punishment has been handed down and the appeals process is in the works. Just another day in the NFL off-season.

A few final thoughts on "Deflategate," before I put the issue to bed and go on to other issues, like football. Specifically, FANTASY football.

I must say one thing: I'm glad I'm not in Roger Goodell's shoes. I knew before the Patriots' punishment was announced that if it was too lenient, Goodell would be accused of going too easy on his (now ex-) buddy, Robert Kraft.

If too harsh, Goodell would be accused of issuing a punishment based on circumstantial evidence. "More probable than not" is certainly not a smoking gun.

It was a classic "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario. 

In the interim, I have been able to read through a bit more of the Wells Report (which will go down in NFL history infamy; I really hope it is displayed in Canton one day, just as that patch of artificial turf from old Three Rivers Stadium, the very spot where Franco Harris made the [illegal] Immaculate Reception).

My guess is many of the people who dismiss the Wells Report as "garbage" haven't really read it.

If anyone takes the time to read the text message exchanges between Jim McNally (Officials Locker Room attendant, employed by the Patriots for 32 years) and John Jastremski (equipment assistant), it really is quite obvious that these two guys were knowingly doing something illegal. They exchanged many texts regarding inflation or deflation of game balls, with frequent references to "tom" which obviously is Tom Brady

After reading the text exchanges, any reasonable person (Patriots fan or not) can conclude that shady stuff was going down within the confines of Gillette Stadium and Brady knew very well what was up.

This is an actual text exchange between McNally and Jastremski in October (taken directly from the Wells Report), after Brady was angry about the over-inflation of the footballs against the Jets, and McNally's failure to "get them done." McNally apparently wasn't happy with Brady's outburst:
McNally: Tom going make that next ball a fuckin balloon

Jastremski: Talked to him last night. He actually brought you up and said you must have a lot of stress trying to get them done...

Jastremski: I told him it was. He was right though...

Jastremski:I checked some of the balls this morn... The refs fucked us...a few of then were at almost 16

Jastremski:They didnt recheck then after they put air in them

McNally: Fuck tom ...16 is nothing...wait till next sunday
When the two got the psi right, Brady awarded them with autographed memoribilia. On January 7, 2015:
McNally: Remember to put a couple sweet pig skins ready for tom to

Jastremski: U got it kid...big autograph day for you

McNally: Nice throw some kicks in and make it real special

Jastremski: It ur lucky. 11?

McNally: 11 or 11 and half kid
Essentially, this is like listening to a one-way phone conversation. One can assume knowledge of what is happening on the other end of the line, but there is nothing absolute. An investigative report is supposed uncover the facts, not make assumptions. 

In essence, this is what the Patriots are most upset about.

Text messages from Brady are unknown because Brady did not hand over his private phone to Ted Wells. In fairness to Brady, he did not have to. He refused to turn over his phone "on behalf of the rights of all future players who could face investigation by the NFL." Essentially, Brady was setting a precedent.

Another reason he did not turn over his text messages, I am guessing, is because there was direct evidence that he was definitively involved with and had knowledge of the deflating of the game balls. 

But there I go, making assumptions.

Then again, I'm not an investigator. I think any reasonable person can conclude that Tom Brady knew what was going on. Even the most ardent Patriots fans.

In all fairness, as I mentioned in an earlier post, three of the four Colts game balls tested at halftime were also under-inflated, according to one gauge used by officials, but this was brushed off by the Wells Report and was certainly never reported by the media.

There is no report on what Andrew Luck knew or what Colts locker room attendants knew.

But we do have knowledge regarding what Jim McNally knew.

There is video evidence which shows McNally entering a bathroom with the game balls after they had been checked by NFL officials. McNally was in the bathroom for one minute, forty seconds. After the game, McNally was interviewed by NFL Security and he denied taking the game balls into the bathroom with him. He stated he went directly to the field (as required by NFL rules).

Video evidence contradicts those statements. 

Still, the Patriots have fought back. The organization claims no wrong doing. And yes, it has gotten ridiculous. Much of the Patriots rebuttal to the Wells Report reads like a column from Onion Sports.  

The Patriots contend that 100 seconds is "enough time for a gentleman to enter the bathroom, relieve himself, and wash his hands." There is no explanation why said gentleman must bring a bag of 12 footballs with him. Still, it is good to know he has proper hygiene.

I would also argue that a one minute, forty second whizz constitutes a monstrously full bladder.

Perhaps the most laughable portion of the Patriots' reaction is the explanation of the word "deflator," which McNally calls himself in the following text exchange:
McNally: You working

Jastremski: Yup

McNally: Nice dude....jimmy needs some kicks....lets make a
deal.....come on help the deflator
McNally: Chill buddy im just fuckin with you not going to espn........yet
Apparently, the Patriots argue, McNally was on a weight loss program and had been losing weight (good for him). He was, therefore, the "deflator" because he wasn't has large as he used to be. 

But there is no explanation for the line: "I'm not going to ESPN.... yet."

At the end of the day, there is no doubt in my mind that Tom Brady knew exactly what was going on. HOWEVER, he is not the only player who has tried to gain a competitive advantage on any given Sunday. 

It's only illegal if you get caught, and Brady (or at least his minions) were caught. 

Do I think this tarnishes Brady's legacy or last year's Super Bowl championship? Not at all. If anything, this will ultimately enhance Brady's legend.

Brady's four game suspension will likely be reduced to two or three games. Bill Belichick has four months to have Jimmy Garoppolo ready to play his guts out in those games, and you know that Garoppolo will be more prepared than any other starting quarterback in the league.

The Patriots $1 million fine is window dressing (yes, it seems like a lot of money, but Robert Kraft has that in his couch cushions). Hopefully that money is donated to a worthy cause.

What burns the most is the forfeiture of next year's first round pick and 2017's fourth round pick. The draft is any NFL team's life blood and taking away those picks was probably punishment enough.

The biggest losers in this fiasco are Jim McNally and John Jastremski. The Patriots lengthy rebuttal to the Wells Report centers around rationalizing and justifying McNally's and Jastremski's texts and behaviors. Yet both have been "suspended indefinitely without pay" from the Patriots organization. 

If they've done nothing wrong, why have they, in essence, been fired?

I'm still trying to figure that one out. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

More Probable Than Not

We live in a world of unfair news reporting. Let's face it, we no longer have Walker Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow to rely on for accurate, unbiased, factual reporting with integrity. "News" now equals entertainment. It is one-sided, tilted left or right, and the truth is usually substituted for a catchy byline.

Americans have been conditioned to believe what they hear (or read). We have become lazy and we like to be spoon fed "facts." Critical thinking, questioning the "truth," challenging authority, is considered rebellious today. It is all a part of the great Dumbing Down of the United States.

So it should come as absolutely no surprise to any thinking person that what the media is reporting on the Wells Report, the NFL's independent investigation of the Patriots' "Deflategate" scandal, is not fair and unbiased fact-telling.

Now, the Wells Report is there for you to read, all 243 pages of it, if you have the time (and interest). But the media knows that most people, even the most intense football fans, don't have that kind of time in today's world. We'd much rather play Madden 15 or Candy Crush Saga.

I've tried to wade through the Wells Report myself and it is hardly stimulating material. War and Peace is far more riveting.

But I will let you in on a little, personal secret. When I want excellent, unbiased reporting, I check out These guys check their facts twice and report them in a straight forward manner. They are like the South Park of football sites: no one is safe and everyone is treated with equal disdain.

I will refer you to this article, written by Kerry Byrne, which reveals (directly from the Wells Report, no less) that three of the four Indianapolis Colts footballs checked at halftime in the AFC Championship game were also under-inflated. I instantly wondered what Andrew Luck know about this?

The reason all 12 of the Colts game balls were not checked was because the officials "ran out of time" before the start of the second half.

Hold on.

To me, this seems quite odd. As Byrnes points out, if integrity for the game was truly at the heart of the matter, the officials should have delayed the start of the second half to check the remaining eight Colts game balls (which would have taken, I'm guessing, 90 seconds at most).

It seems reasonable to extrapolate that at least 75% of the Colts game balls would have been found to be under-inflated. If that were true, I wouldn't be writing this article right now.

Now, I am no more a Patriots fan than I am a Packers fan. I am neutral on this matter. I respect Tom Brady, but I don't necessarily like him. However, getting sh*t right is important to me. It seems "more probable than not" that the Wells Report is hardly impartial on this matter.

But it's an absolute fact that the media - this includes Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen - is not reporting the findings in a fair, accurate manner. Keep that in mind if (when) Tom Brady is suspended for the findings concluded in the Wells Report.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A First Look at the First

I had read somewhere that the NFL draft is like the "ultimate murder mystery dinner theater." Perhaps an odd analogy, but I get it; all of the diversions, all of the smokescreens, all of the half-truths are finally revealed. Everybody comes clean over the course of 32 rounds.

Like every other NFL fan, I watched in anticipation to see what my team was going to do and what, in general, was going to shake down. The 2015 draft was not as dramatic as others, but still as entertaining as ever. 

Now everyone is grading teams, debating what they should've done, declaring busts and sleepers. Basically, the talking heads need something got talk about. 

Naturally, as I watched the draft unfold I had one ear to the fantasy football ground. I'm constantly wondering which college prospects - now NFL rookies - are going to have the biggest impacts on 2015 fantasy football rosters. Who should you avoid? Which players are all hype and which are all hope? Who should you grab if you can?

Well, let's take an abbreviated initial gander at the good, bad and ugly. Time limitations (unfortunately, this isn't my full time job) prohibit me from going through pick by pick, so just the first round highlights will be covered for now (there will be much more to come). Remember, these opinions reflect the state of mind on May 6th; obviously things will change as we get closer to August.


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers surprised no one when they drafted Jameis Winston first overall. I've told friends and family (and everybody else) exactly what I think of Winston, but I don't think I've gone on record.  So I will now.  

Yes, I know Winston has won the Heisman and he's won a national championship. But my lasting image of him is looking God-awful, even foolish, against the Oregon Ducks in this year's semi-final playoff game. He met his match that game and he didn't know how to respond.

That's precisely how he see his first NFL season evolving. Winston is accustomed to being the big man on campus. Now he's a small fish in a big pond. I don't know if he knows how to work hard. I don't know if he's ever had to work hard. 

But that's just half of it. Winston was a freaking idiot in college. He did enough stupid things to earn the label "Moron." To drive home my point, during his post-draft party on April 30th, after wearing a Buccaneers ball cap for about an hour, Winston celebrated with crab legs and posted a picture on Instagram.

There's no report on whether these crab legs were bought or stolen.
Now, football fans everywhere know the association between Winston and crab legs. One would think he would pause for a moment and realize the negative connotation before posting the picture on social media.

But no.

Someone (perhaps his agent) quickly put two and two together and the post was taken down, but once something is posted on social media, there's no going back.

My point here is Jameis Winston has gone from being a college idiot to already being a professional idiot. The Buccaneers will regret this pick. There, I'm on record. Winston is one stupid decision away from a suspension or worse and goodness knows he excels at stupid decisions.

Color me unimpressed.

The Titans have not had the best luck drafting quarterbacks in the last decade. Vince Young was taken third overall in 2006. 
The last two times the Titans spent an early first round pick on a quarterback, it didn't work out so well. Most recently, Jake Locker was taken eight overall in 2011. But this spring, at the ripe old age of 26, Locker announced his retirement due to "lack of passion for the game." Interpretation: professional football was nothing like high school or college. Everyone was better than him and that just wasn't fun.

Marcus Mariota is the new hope in Nashville. He was an impressive college quarterback and won pretty much every collegiate award ever invented for his position. Many view Mariota as the anti-Jameis Winston both on the field and off. But the jury is out and I will never have a rookie quarterback on my fantasy roster. Give him a couple years. This ain't college anymore.

If I was in the Oakland Raiders war room, I would have been ecstatic to see Amari Cooper fall to me at #4 overall. I think Cooper will make an immediate fantasy impact as a flex play. James Jones, Oakland's "big" free agent acquisition last year, failed to light anything up once Aaron Rodgers was no longer throwing him the ball. The Raiders added Michael Crabtree to the mix this year, but he's an underachieving head case. As a rookie, Cooper will see plenty of targets from Derek Carr.

The Bears added Kevin White to their depleted receiving corps, but I'm not sure who is going to throw to him. A Jay Cutler sighting has been rumored in Chicago, but I think new head coach John Fox - who I think is a darn good coach - is going in the wrong direction. Then again, Cutler's ridiculous 2009 contract makes him untradeable (is that a word?). Fox says he's "committed" to Cutler. I say that's coachspeak for "I'm stuck with this goon."

Case in point: it has been revealed that the Bears called the Titans while Tennessee was on the clock at #2 overall and offered Jay Cutler in a package deal. How's that for commitment?

Kevin White will be paired with Alshon Jeffery, who had 10 touchdowns and 1100+ receiving yards last year (remember, Brandon Marshall was traded to the Jets in March). While he will see playing time, I don't know if White is worth more than a reserve spot on a fantasy roster at this point. It all depends if Jay Cutler remains under center in Chicago and there's no reason right now to think he won't be.  

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the first round was when the Rams selected Todd Gurley 10th overall.

Then they traded Zac Stacy to the Jets two days later.

Well, that escalated quickly.

Yes, Gurley has speed and power, but so does Trent Richardson, Mark Ingram and Darren McFadden. Gurley was suspended four games last year for accepting $3,000 to autograph memorabilia (Jameis Winston does not have a monopoly on the idiot factor). Then in his first game back, Gurley tore his ACL. That was on November 15, 2014, less than six months ago.  He also missed three games in 2013 due to an ankle injury.

Gurley will not be ready for any action whatsoever until the second week of pre-season and don't fool yourself: he will be pressured to play sooner rather than later because the Rams have Tre Mason and Benny Cunningham to fill the gap. This has got disaster written all over it. Unless he goes all Adrian Peterson, I won't come near Gurley from a fantasy perspective. Not this year.

On the other hand, San Diego rookie Melvin Gordon will hit the ground running. He was 48 yards shy of setting the FBS single season rushing record (still held by a guy named Barry Sanders) and San Diego is in dire need of a rushing game (Branden Oliver led the team with a paltry 582 yards rushing last year). Gordon is one of those rookies that could make an immediate impact on your fantasy team. I would strongly consider him after the fourth round. He could be a steal.

Devante Parker joins an entirely new group of wide receivers in Miami. Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings and tight end Jordan Cameron were all on different teams last year and it will take a while for Ryan Tannehill to gel with these guys, but there's plenty of talent here. It's a crowded field in Miami, but Parker can catch just about anything, and he will be a sleeper on plenty of fantasy rosters this fall.

The Colts add yet another receiver to Andrew Luck's arsenal. Philip Dorsett has sub-4.3 speed. Simply blinding downfield acceleration, although as any informed fantasy owner knows, speed isn't everything. Darrius Hayward-Bey also had blinding speed. The ability to catch a ball and run routes is also sort of important. For now, Dorsett will be able to rely on his speed and while the veterans (TY Hilton, newly acquired Andre Johnson and emerging Donte Moncrief) do the hard work.

While Dorsett will be good for a big play now and then, I'm not sure if he's valuable enough at this point to have him on a fantasy roster. However, this line-up will be a nightmarish scenario for defensive coordinators.

Lastly, a personal note...

When the Ravens drafted Breshad Perriman, I felt old. Very old. I remember ranking his dad, Brett Perriman, on my fantasy cheat sheets some twenty years ago. Now I'm ranking the son.

Young Perriman will see plenty of playing time in Baltimore; Steve Smith and Marlon Brown are pencilled in as the starters, but Perriman will be given every chance to get on the field. He probably isn't more than a fantasy reserve at this point, but still... he makes me feel really old.