Friday, June 26

Big 12 WR/TE Preview

In 2008, the Big 12 was known for its quarterbacks, but the wide receiver/tight end crop was equally deep. Some stars such as Michael Crabtree and Chase Coffman are gone, but the conference will still be strong at these positions in 2009.

Wide Receivers

1. Dez Bryant, OSU
In addition to hauling in 1480 yards and 19 TDs in 2008, Bryant chipped in as a punt returner, recording 305 yds ret and 2 TDs. He's on the outskirts of most Heisman lists, and should be your #1 WR pick from the Big 12.

2. Jordan Shipley, Texas
After a few seasons hampered by injury, Shipley finally had a chance to show Texas fans what they had heard since his recruitment - this guy is an elite college receiver. He produced nearly identical stats as Quan Cosby, but with Cosby gone in 2009 Shipley could easily catch 100 passes and further improve his yardage total. He also scored special teams touchdowns against Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

3. Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas
Briscoe had a great 2008 season, hauling in the next-most yards in the conference after Dez Bryant. I don't know if he will duplicate those numbers - that was a jump of nearly 1000 yards compared to 2007; I'd almost think something's gotta give. But regardless, he's easily in the preseason top 3 for the conference.

4. Detron Lewis, Texas Tech
It'd be criminal not to put a Tech receiver in the top five. Of TTU's three top receivers from 2008, Lewis is the only one returning. He's likely to be the #1 target in 2009, and therefore top 1000 yards.

5. Kerry Meier, Kansas
Meier completed the transition from backup QB beautifully, hauling in 1045 yards and 8 TDs in 2008. I don't see any real reason for improvement nor decline in 2009, short of problems with the new offensive line.

6. Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
Putting up just 687 yards in 2008, Broyles could be Sam Bradford's top outside target (ie, the guy he looks at after Gresham) in 2009 as he is the only one of OU's top four WRs returning.

7. Edward Britton, Texas Tech
Britton had three big games down the stretch - against Texas, Kansas, and Mississippi. For the last two seasons he's produced decent stats while Crabtree shined, now's his turn to join the first line of the Air Raid.

8. Kendall Wright, Baylor
If Griffin is going to have a huge season shredding defenses, and you'd better believe he is, he's going to need someone to throw to. Kendall Wright was his #1 target in 2009 -- bonus that (unlike Gettis), he hauled in some TDs as well.

9. Danario Alexander, Missouri
Alexander has produced minimally at Missouri thus far, but should easily earn one of the top two spots on the team. His size makes him more difficult to cover than Perry, which could affect who the pro-style recruit at QB targets first.

10. Jared Perry, Missouri
Perry's snagged 91 passes in his career at Mizzou despite being pretty far down on the depth chart. In 2009, he could be the primary receiver.

11. Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M
Tannehill pulled in 844 yds and 5 TDs on a struggling Aggie offense in 2008. He's competing for the starting QB position in 2009, but in the likely event that Jerrod Johnson wins out, Tannehill should put up similar numbers.

Other Receivers (in no particular order):

John Chiles, Texas - Athlete converting from QB to WR. We'll see how his hands hold up against game-level defenses, but his open-field abilities are already proven. I consider this a high risk-high reward pick.
Brandon Collins, Texas - Hauled in 13 passes in the final two games, and had a 6 rec outing against Missouri. No more than 2 rec in any other game, however, and right now it's looking like he's 4th on the depth chart.
Darius Darks, Iowa State - Darks had a strong season as a freshman, finishing second in receiving yards on the Cyclones. The top receiver (RJ Sumrall) graduated, so Darks has a good chance to shine here.
Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M - 630 rec, 9 TD in 2008. If you're not opposed to drafting Aggies on offense (in which case, why aren't you?) then you might look for him to duplicate this.
James Kirkendoll, Texas - Had 12 rec in his final three games (DNP against A&M), after recording just 9 in the first nine. The departure of Cosby will mean McCoy is looking his way far more often.
Tramain Swindall, Texas Tech - Hey! Texas Tech WR! Alright!
Adron Tennell, Oklahoma - Tennell was a big-time recruit but has contributed minimally in three seasons. He will likely be the #2 receiver on the depth chart in 2009.
Malcolm Williams, Texas - Nearly a third of his receiving yards in 2008 came on an awesome 91-yard bomb against Texas Tech, where he basically ran past the cornerback, then ran past the safety. I'm excited to see this speedster on the field more in 2009.

* Four Texas receivers in the "Other Receivers" list is more indicative of the status of Texas' depth chart than anything else. Shipley is the sure #1 receiver. Whoever solidifies the position of #2, and perhaps #3, will have a good season, but there's no reason to believe Texas will produce five receivers of any meaningful fantasy value.

* Colorado, Kansas State, and Texas A&M should have poor passing offenses in 2009, and I would avoid WRs from their teams. Nebraska is more of a question mark - their projected starters are Menelik Holt and Niles Paul, but as both are first-year starters with little experience, also working with a QB who has thrown just a handful of passes in his college career, I cannot recommend either one unless you believe Nebraska's offense will be better than expected.

Tight Ends

1. Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma
Gresham is essentially a gigantic wide receiver. A year ago, he put 950 yards and 14 TDs in the stat books. The departure of most of OU's receiving corps may hurt Bradford's stats, but it'll make sure that that many more passes are coming Gresham's way. He's good for 1000, a rare luxury in a TE.

2. Blaine Irby, Texas
I'm looking down the list of B12 TEs, and I cannot justify putting many of these other names second -- there is simply no player to compete with Gresham nor replace Coffman. Irby caught 10 passes for 95yd 2TD in 2008 despite playing just three games (injury), stats that would project out well over a full season. Texas threw the ball a lot to TEs in 2004-07, and with Cosby's absence felt by the offense I expect McCoy to look to the big guy over the middle once again.

3. Mike McNeill, Nebraska
McNeill just set a Nebraska school record for receiving yards by a tight end (442). With such talent, we could see the system modified to get him the ball a bit more often in 2009, as the Huskers are breaking in several new starting WRs.

4. Jamie McCoy, Texas A&M
McCoy had 500 rec yards in 2008 and should again be the #3 target of this passing game in 2009. Bonus that A&M QBs typically have a good enough arm to dump off to the TE/RB.

5. Jeron Mastrud, Kansas State
Mastrud has seen steady improvement by about 100 yards a season for his three years at KSU. The effect that Snyder's return will have on the system remains unknown, but Mastrud is one of the productive TEs returning to the conference.

6. Justin Akers, Baylor
Akers is a converted WR playing TE, which is always good for fantasy stats. Two years ago, he caught passes for 480 yards despite being on a pre-Cream Baylor offense. With Griffin requiring all 11 defenders to contain, Akers could have another solid season.

Big 12 RB Preview

We take things for granted in Big 12 country, but not every team in America has a 4000+ yard passer, and 65% completions isn't universally considered an off week. In many of these other conferences, they have such a lack of confidence in the quarterback's ability to find even one of his five receivers open, that they just give the ball to someone standing behind the line of scrimmage, and say "have at it!" Most fantasy leagues reflect this passing deficiency, and have several starting spots reserved for such "rushing-backs."

1. Kendall Hunter, OSU
Hunter is the #1 back on the #1 rushing offense in the Big 12. In 2008, he was the only back in the conference to average over 100 ypg on the ground (1555 yds, 16 TD rush) and with most of the key ingredients returning in 2009, he should minimally duplicate those numbers. I'd look for him to break 1700, as the loss of TE Brandon Pettigrew may force the offense to shift plays over to the ground game.

2. DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
DeMarco Murry was on pace to lead the Sooners in rushing in 2008, were it not for missing the Big 12 Championship Game and the BCS Championship game, a player that was sorely missed in a close setback against the Florida Gators. While the two may produce similar ground totals, Murray caught passes for 395 yards and 4 TDs to Brown's 109 yards and 1 TD - his use as an outlet receiver make him the better fantasy pick.

3. Chris Brown, Oklahoma
Brown led the Sooners in rushing and in TDs scored in 2008. I only have him behind Murray as that is his spot on the depth chart - if Murray stays healthy, I expect slightly better numbers from him. However, Brown is the preferred back in goalline situations. Might be more valuable in leagues awarding bonus points for tasteless Rihanna jokes.

4. Roy Helu, Nebraska
Helu put up 803 yards despite starting 2008 in Marlon Lucky's shadow. Now Lucky's gone, and new QB Zac Lee has minimal experience. The Huskers should be looking to lean on their back with some experience while the offense gels.

5. Jay Finley, Baylor
People who doubt my bold calls for a Bears Breakout in 2009 may shy away from this one, at least for one or two more picks in the conference. But let's look at the facts: Finley rushed for just 207 yards and 3.8 ypc in 2007 before Hope arrived on campus, then exploded for 865 (5.8) and 7 TDs in 2008. He also caught a pair of sweet tosses to the end zone from The Creamster. Folks, Baylor is the storm nobody sees coming in 2009, not only are they going to finish with a winning record but they will produce a pair of 1000 yard rushers. By technicality, they cannot both be Griffin, so this in the next logical choice.

6. Jake Sharp, Kansas
Sharp quietly ran for 860 and 12 in 2008, and should be good for the same this season. If you have your doubts about The Epic Rise of the Bears, draft Sharp 5th.

7. Keith Toston, OSU
Toston largely played mop-up duty in 2008, gaining 686 yards on 6.7 ypc. Towards the end of the season, his ratio of carries relative to Hunter's were increasing, and I expect OSU to focus their offense even more around the ground attack in 2009. Toston might not reach 1000, but he should top 800.

8. Derrick Washington, Missouri
Washington was a 1000-yard rusher in 2008, but he's all that returns of the once-mighty Tigers' offense. He'll get his carries, as Missouri tries to protect sophomore Blaine Gabbert, who's moving up from third on the depth chart to starting QB. But defenses won't be scrambling like mad to cover Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman with Chase Daniel's precision passing, so expect the fronts to be a lot sturdier.

9. Darrell Scott, Colorado
Scott had a limited 2008 due to injury problems, and carried just 87 times. Nonetheless, the former #1 RB recruit is expected to be the starter in 2009 for an offense that can't do much other than run the ball.

10. Baron Batch, Texas Tech
Texas Tech had their best rushing year in... forever?... in 2008. Really, the air attack was so good, even for Tech's lofty standards, that teams had to sacrifice run support to contain Harrell's barrage. With a new QB, Michael Crabtree taking off for the NFL, and three new starters on the OL, look for Tech's ground game to falter a bit.

11. Alexander Robinson, Iowa State
Robinson was a 700 yard rusher in 2008, and with Arnaud returning at QB the offense will probably put up about the same numbers.

12. Vondrell McGee, Texas
I feel compelled to mention again that the Big 12 is not a running conference. McGee gained 376 yards in 2008, sharing the workload with now departed Chris Ogbonnaya. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, while McGee's carries should improve, the Texas offense will still be centered around Colt McCoy, and jumbo back Cody Johnson will still be the short yardage specialist. McGee may be looking at 500-700 yards rushing this season, but more would require a fundamental change to the offense like like Greg Davis deciding to limit McCoy's rushing attempts.

13. Cody Johnson, Texas
Johnson was one of four Texas RBs to gain between 250 and 400 yards in 2008, a sign of the offensive philosophy. (giving the ball to the RB is what we do when we not only want to mix things up by not passing, but want to trick the defense even more by not having McCoy run it) Johnson shouldn't put up big yards -- I think Foswhitt Whittaker is going to take over half of Ogbonnaya's carries, and the rest by McGee - but this is the goalline back, and he punched the ball in 12 times last season. In the scheme of things, Johnson scored 12 rush TD, McCoy 11, and all other Texas RBs combined for 10.

15. Rodney Stewart, Colorado
Stewart actually ran for 622 yards in 2008, although he was a non-factor in the non-existent passing game. However, the Buffs' leading back ran for just two TDs. That's because Colorado doesn't score touchdowns - they punt. The Buffs offense is in such disarray, this rushing total may well decrease, and in any case the team certainly isn't putting points on the board.

Things to note:

* Colorado has talent at the RB position and a creative coach who can design plays to open up the field... but star receiver Josh Smith is transferring, and with him go the Buffs' ability to stretch the field.

* Kansas State was a devastating option team under Bill Snyder up until his retirement. The trademark slate of FCS schools is back on the schedule; if you're feeling risky, gamble that the ground stats are back with it.

Wednesday, June 17

Fantasy Football - Big 12 QB Preview

The Big 12 was the conference of quarterbacks in 2008, combining talent at the position behind beefy offensive lines in a conference where some phenom receivers outclassed the skill in the secondary. To recap, Sam Bradford threw for 50 TDs and won the Heisman, Colt McCoy set an NCAA completion % record at 77%, Graham Harrell threw for over 5,000 yards, and Chase Daniel topped 4,500 - for the first few weeks having thrown more TDs than incompletions. The conference was documented as having the best passing season for a conference in the BCS era, beating out the 2002 Pac 10.

2008 Statistics, with returning players bolded:
Graham Harrell: 442/626, 71%, 5111 yds, 45 TD, 9 INT, -15 yds rush, 6 TD
Sam Bradford: 328/483, 68%, 4720 yds, 50 TD, 8 INT, 47 yds rush, 5 TD
Colt McCoy: 332/433, 77%, 3859 yds, 34 TD, 8 INT, 561 yds rush, 11 TD
Chase Daniel: 385/528, 73%, 4335 yds, 39 TD, 18 INT, 281 yds rush, 1 TD
Todd Reesing: 329/495, 67%, 3888 yds, 32 TD, 13 INT, 224 yds rush, 4 TD
Zac Robinson: 204/314, 65%, 3064 yds, 25 TD, 10 INT, 562 yds rush, 8 TD
Josh Freeman: 224/382, 59%, 2945 yds, 20 TD, 8 INT, 404 yds rush, 14 TD
Robert Griffin: 160/267, 56%, 2091 yds, 15 TD, 3 INT, 843 yds rush, 13 TD
Joe Ganz: 285/420, 68%, 3568 yds, 25 TD, 11 INT, 258 yds rush, 5 TD
Austen Arnaud: 247/401, 62%, 2792 yds, 15 TD, 10 INT, 401 yds rush, 5 TD
Jerrod Johnson: 194/326, 60%, 2435 yds, 21 TD, 10 INT, 114 yds rush, 3 TD
Cody Hawkins: 183/320, 57%, 1892 yds, 17 TD, 10 INT, -23 yds rush, 3 TD

2009 will not be a duplication of those conference-wide numbers. However, there will be about a half-dozen really potent offenses in the conference, led by QBs that will be putting up strong fantasy values.

1. Colt McCoy, Texas
Sure, I'm a homer. But Texas returns every major receiver except for Quan Cosby - importantly, including Jordan Shipley (there was some concern about this after the Fiesta Bowl). Athlete/backup QB John Chiles has decided he's tired of waiting in McCoy's shadow, and converted to WR during the offseason. He will be a real playmaker in the open field assuming his hands make him a viable target. Williams and Kirkendoll became more involved in the offense later in the season and are back as well. Up front, the Horns return 4 starters on the offensive line - the lone new starter is Michael Huey, a junior right guard who was a top 10 prospect at that position. The pieces are all there - Texas will have a stronger offense in 2009 if McCoy even stays at the same level he was at in 2008.

Texas also has an embarassingly easy nonconference schedule for a title contender (ULM, Wyoming, UTEP, UCF) while Oklahoma faces BYU, Idaho State, Tulsa, and Miami FL - in all, Oklahoma has Steele's #3-toughest schedule in the country while Texas is just #40. With the easier schedule and with more starters returning, McCoy should have the better season of two great choices at QB.

2. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
I think a lot of people will argue Bradford is the #1 B12 QB pick. However, Oklahoma is returning just five starters on offense. Every player on the offensive line is new save for Trent Williams at LT. Juaquin Iglesias and Manuel Johnson are both gone, as is Quentin Chaney the #4WR. That is just shy of 2400 receiving yards between the three of them. Now, super tight end Jermaine Gresham is returning, and Adron Tennell was a big recruit who will now get the chance to step up as a senior. But I'm expecting Oklahoma to go a little more back to the running game this year as they are returning two 1000-yard rushers. A more balanced attack may be good for the Sooners, but that and the loss of so many WR/OL will probably see Bradford's numbers drop in 2009. Not that he won't be a strong pick regardless. Bradford has a monster arm and Gresham is a coverage nightmare.

3. Taylor Potts, Texas Tech
(ie, generic Tech QB)
In his final two years at Tech, Graham Harrell threw for over 5000 yards both seasons. Michael Crabtree is gone and that will be a huge, huge loss. In fact just four starters are returning on this offense, including two on the offensive line. In the two seasons before the Harrell/Crabtree duo started terrorizing defenses, Texas Tech threw for about 380 ypg. In something I'd only do for Texas Tech, I'm just going to assume that Potts can throw for at least 350 ypg, plug that in and get 4200 yards for the season. In fact, 350 is probably conservative for Leach's offense. Syyyssssstemmmm.

4. Robert Griffin, Baylor
You'll want to check out your fantasy scoring if he and Robinson are still on the board. How much rushing counts compared to passing, and possibly rush TDs vs pass TDs, could sway this one. To me, this comes down to Griffin being a sophomore (biggest season for improvement) and Baylor returning 8 offensive starters. Losing the #3WR (Thomas White) isn't a big deal, but Griffin may miss LT Jason Smith, who went second in the NFL Draft. Fortunately he is a fast, mobile QB (All-American Baylor track team, specializing in hurdles) so that will be somewhat negated. You will also note that Griffin does not turn the ball over. He only completed 56% of his passes because of drops, this guy is dead-accurate. If the receiving corps has improved at all, this should go up to 65%.

5. Zac Robinson, Oklahoma State
OSU is returning seven offensive starters, but TE Brandon Pettigrew will be sorely missed. He was one of just two players to catch over 22 passes, the other being darkhorse Heisman candidate Dez Bryant. Keith Toston was kinda discovered in midseason, so OSU may run the ball a little more aggressively this year with that plus the losses to the receiving corps. Robinson's numbers could go either way, as he's more experienced and his two most talented offensive teammates are returning, which could offset some of the losses as well as the upgrade from Troy to Georgia in the nonconference schedule.

6. Todd Reesing, Kansas
Kansas returns seven offensive starters, but just two on the line and will be starting a pair of redshirt freshmen there. This will be a case of high experience at the skill positions versus low experience in protection, as even the tight end is new. I'm also concerned about the loss of three 90+ tacklers weakening the defense enough to cost this offense some time of possession, as the entire linebacker corps is being replaced and those were the defensive leaders in 2008 - a season in which KU already gave up 80 ypg more than in 2007. Reesing had 400 yards more in 2008 than 2007, perhaps due in part to Meier fully switching over from QB to WR, but at the cost of another 6 INT and 1 fewer TD. With the new line I don't see an improvement in offensive production - the question is will it even be as good?

7. Austen Arnaud, Iowa State
This is the official borderline of acceptable Big 12 QBs to draft. Iowa State is horrible, but like the Baylor situation, that doesn't rule out one QB to account for most of their offense and be a decent fantasy pick. ISU returns 9 offensive starters. Arnaud had over 3000 total yards last year and should be able to duplicate that. The Cyclones avoid both Texas and Oklahoma. I'm not really recommending Arnaud, so much as saying watch out for the train wrecks below...

8. Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M
Johnson plays for Texas A&M. TAMU is terrible. They're going to duplicate the failures of 2008, and offense is a big reason why (along with defense, God's hatred of Aggies, etc). 10 offensive starters return, but at some point that means more of the same. TAMU also faces Texas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State - three teams that will keep the ball away with their offenses and play solid defense.

9. Zac Lee, Nebraska
Is Zac Lee the #9 QB in the Big 12? I have no idea. I'd be shocked if he's in the top 6, and anything beyond that is largely speculation. Joe Ganz had a reasonably strong season here last year, and some of the starters return - notably, not the top two receivers or the #2 rusher.But hey, three starters on the line, including C and LT. Ehh....

10. Cody Hawkins, Colorado
Hawkins was terrible in 2008. He was decent but inconsistent in 2007. Contrary to what some magazines say, Josh Smith has left, so receivers #2-4 are all gone. Darrell Scott and Rodney Stewart return at RB, so maybe the spread option has some hope. Ehh...

11. Daniel Thomas / Whoever Starts at Kansas State
Bill Snyder has returned, and with him a nonconference schedule including two FCS schools. Brandon Banks was a 1000 yard receiver in 2008, so at least he has someone to throw to...

12. Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
... as opposed to Gabbert, who will watch the Missouri offense flounder without Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman, and Tommy Saunders. Chase Daniel's backup, Chase Patton, also graduated - this guy wasn't even getting clean-up time last year. On top of all that, OC Dave Christensen took the HC job at Wyoming. Missouri is going to complete the fall from a team who should have been in the BCS to mid-level ranked to complete fail, all in consecutive seasons. For what it's worth, Gabbert was actually a top 10 QB prospect, but the Tigers have just lost so much there can't not be a rebuilding year.

Tuesday, June 2

Nats Junk Randy St. Claire, Entire Rotation

So in the annals of "shit only I care about", the Nats fired pitching coach Randy St. Claire today. I'm not terribly surprised - the rotation has been god-awful, so someone was going to be the fall guy - I'd be lying if I said this makes any sense to me. I'm pretty sure Lookout Landing nailed it with their post - what the hell was he going to do with a shit sandwich. (I say "pretty sure" because for some reason I can't figure out if he's being sarcastic or not.)

Seriously, what the hell do you want your pitching coach to do when the GM basically decides in 2007 "screw it, we're going all replacement-level pitchers and it's open season for anyone to try out in Spring Training"? How does he react when the two most talented starters he's coached - John Patterson and Shawn Hill - can't throw their best pitch without getting injured? How about when both guys are just released at the end of Spring Training? How does he prevent injuries to a bullpen where most guys are getting 60+ appearances a season? How does the pitching coach have anything to do with a .321 BABIP and the outfielders resemble a Vaudeville act every other night? What about a 65% strand rate?

I mean, maybe St. Claire sucked. But canning him during this season from hell is a bit of a waste of time. There are far more problems with this team than their ability to throw a decent changeup. Rob Dibble apparently wasted no time ensuring that he ran the truck over St. Claire while he still had shit in the office. On the other hand, I think St. Claire might've quit anyway:

"The pitching isn't performing up to where it needs to be to win, and I think a lot of factors go into it, but I guess I'm easier to replace than 12 guys," [Randy St. Claire] said. "Easier to replace and cheaper to replace. But that's the game. When the team doesn't perform, they're bound to make changes."

At least everyone ended up pissed off. Bet it won't matter, though.