Challenge Contests — by Justin Eleff
The wheat from the chaff at ... everywhere else
Posted Aug. 25 at 07:36 AM
If you've read along so far you're mostly up to speed at the glamour positions. You have a handle on which skill positioners will make my rosters in the various challenge games, subject to last-minute contorting over injuries and to get under the salary caps.
But skill positioners merely account for most of a challenge roster. Every self-respecting challenge requires you to carry at least a couple of tight ends and kickers, and many require team defenses as well.
Luckily or unluckily (depending on your degree of fondness for my longer columns), there isn't a whole lot of insight I can shed on making roster selections at these positions. Where running backs ate up two full columns by themselves, we'll dispense with tight ends and kickers and defenses all together, below. With the preseason about half over now, that will leave two more columns after this one to revisit the more drama-laden positions and make final tweaks to your opening teams.
The main considerations here are partly at odds with each other: you want TEs who'll get a good amount of work -- because all too few of them do -- but in Categories games you must remember that their catches, like RBs', tend to go for shorter yardage than WRs'. You can begin to ruin your receiving average here.
In Points games that's no concern, obviously, and there I'd focus largely on the volume of passes likely headed each tight end's way.
In either scoring format I like Greg Olsen for one of my TE slots; he'll get plenty of work because Jay Cutler's likely WR targets (Devin Hester and Earl Bennett) aren't exactly superstars, but he's fast enough (and Cutler's enough of a gunslinger) to keep his average well above 10 yards per catch and perhaps above 12.
I also like Dallas Clark in both formats. The Colts use him more like a receiver than a traditional tight end, but I do worry a bit about the volume of short-yardage work he'll get. In Categories games that probably means I'll use Olsen virtually every week but shuffle Clark with a cheaper option, either Brent Celek (who has an outside chance of matching Clark's scoring production at a deep discount, albeit while doing similar damage to the team's receiving average) or Dustin Keller (whose superior athleticism would make him a shoo-in but for Mark Sanchez's inevitable jitters; the sure-handed TE is the unsure QB's best friend, 5 and 6 yards at a clip). Categories dark horse: Vernon Davis (same comment as Keller).
In Points games the list of candidates grows by a couple at the very top, where I see Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez as the likeliest leading receivers among all tight ends. I wouldn't want 90-plus catches from any TE in Categories games; here, though, if you believe either player will mix in 8 or more TDs -- and I tend to believe Gonzalez will do exactly that -- you should probably take the plunge.
Last thing: many challenge owners are uncomfortable "going naked" (i.e., not carrying a backup) at any position. If you're so inclined, however, there's nothing wrong with doing that here. Tight ends contribute less than players at any other position (save DEF where it's indeed part of a challenge), and every once in a while a TE will lay a goose egg even though he plays much or all of a game. I hate to know going in that a player will do that to me -- and you know it twice when you do go naked, once for each TE's bye week -- but roster slots are semiprecious, and if you KNOW you want to carry one more QB or RB than you'd otherwise have room for, close your eyes and strip down.
I'm afraid I don't have a whole lot of value to offer you here. You want the players who happen to kick for the teams that will score the most points, but you also want to save as much salary as you can at the position. Most years that means you have limited options; this year you have almost none.
In Fanball's Football Challenge, for instance, the only upper-tier kickers (defined, again, in terms of their teams' expected scoring) I see as likely bargains are Ryan Longwell and Adam Vinatieri -- and at $1470 and $1430, respectively, they're only bargains in a relative sense.
I would've owned New Orleans' Garrett Hartley in half a heartbeat, but dude got himself suspended to start the season.
These are the teams I expect to score the most points in 2009, in alphabetical order, and wherever their kickers are cheap or relatively cheap, those are the kickers I'll own:
Bonus points for domes and mild climates; I suppose Nate Kaeding (SD) would be my top guy, but I'm not exactly taxing myself thinking about this.
Even less of value to offer here. Just scan the salary lists and pick the cheapest defenses that have a prayer of being OK.
Most challenges award points not only for what I'll call affirmative defensive plays -- sacks, turnovers forced, safeties, TDs scored on returns of various kinds -- but also for simply limiting the other team's scoring, by hook or by crook. (It's beyond goofy, but under most scoring systems it counts against a given team's defense when the opposing DEFENSE scores a return TD. You own the Patriots' D and Tom Brady throws a pick-six? That's 6 points scored against your defense, even though they were actually scored against your defense's offense. So to speak.)
Bottom line: you want a decent unit, not just one that has Josh Cribbs standing at the back of its special teams alignments. But defensive scoring isn't entirely predictable, season-to-season or (especially) week-to-week. Most return TDs are fluky events, but the 6 points typically awarded for them are enough to offset an otherwise poor week. So I leave a lot to chance at the position. I'm more concerned with saving salary than owning the very best DEFs; I just root about in the muck, hoping to unearth the occasional truffle.
In Fanball's Points games, from bottom to top I see the following DEFs as likely passable (or at least improved) units:
And I'll hold the line there. You may think Mike Singletary can whip SF ($1100) into better shape, and I'm inclined to agree with you, but there's a pretty good tiebreaker built into Fanball's scoring system: team defenses get the same 3 points per team win as individual players. Every team I listed above will win more games than SF in 2009.
So, then. We've plowed through the league and you know where I stand on the most relevant players at all of the relevant positions. Next week we'll get into the dirty work of putting a roster together, where some of my prejudices will have to be compromised in the name of squeezing under the various salary caps.
I'll tease that column with this:
I am not above renting a player I'd never consider owning long-term if his matchups are good enough at the start of the year. And there are some awfully tempting matchups in Week 1 -- even if I'm being tempted to own some truly awful football players.
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