If William Shakespeare played fantasy football, he might begin his soliloquy with the words "Michael Turner...To draft or not to draft: that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the curse of 370...". I received an email from one of our users this morning on this topic and thought that I'd post it here because it's a question that someone in every single draft has to consider.
Message from: James Morris
Email: [email protected]
I just checked back in to see if you had your rankings up and noticed Michael Turner up at #3. His 377 carries last season, the addition of Tony Gonzalez, and the emergence of Jerious Norwood make for an elevated injury risk and carries more in the 300 range this season.
I know you have a formula, but Turner is not going to be the same back he was last season as the Falcons want to pass more and he caught what... 6 passes ALL last season?
Here's my response:
I am in complete agreement with you. In the NFL, only 27 backs have carried the ball at least 370 times in a season. Only LT managed to increase his production the following year. I think Turner's fantasy production will go down this year. If you look at it from a historical perspective, there's something to be learned from guys like Larry Johnson, Shaun Alexander, and Jamal Lewis. They each carried 37x and then basically tanked the following season. Can Turner buck the trend? I don't know, but statistically it's unlikely.
But, that's not what the Nerd is designed to do and I never, ever influence the rankings with my opinions and thoughts. It's strictly mathematical based upon the consensus of those 20 websites. The assumption is that those 20 experts are contemplating the exact same scenarios as the one you propose. Even when I look at the individual rankings for Turner by site, there's a pretty good consensus that he belongs in the Top 5. Personally, I'd take MJD or Forte ahead of Turner without thinking twice. Unfortunately, I don't have a pick higher than 5th in any of my drafts this year. :-(
Thanks again for the question and good luck this season!
Now, here's where it gets interesting. I've had only 1 other email exchange with James in the past, and I've found him to be very intelligent. He makes a good case here and I can't fault his logic. He responded quickly and that response is below:
Mathematics is fine, but even Bill James is often wrong with his highly revered math formula for baseball predictions. Why... because math doesn't account for injuries, new players, lost players, etc. We do somewhat similar things in our respective field... project fantasy football value. So, let me give some advice, fantasy sports is all about trust and numbers. You have the numbers down... but when you rank a guy that is clearly not the same back this season as he was last season at #3, you will lose that reader trust. We all have the same stats and damn near EVERY site has some kind of ranking system now. What distinguishes the contenders from the pretenders IS the ability to influence the rankings with knowledge. Based on a purely mathematical outlook, we can just filter last seasons fantasy leagues by where they finished and just say "Ok, here is your draft order", but we both know that isn't accurate.
What makes teams want to add my content is my ability to project without bias and look outside the numbers as well as inside them.
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I absolutely love this because rarely do we touch on the reasoning behind the rankings. James highlights the importance of doing your research and thinking beyond just the numbers. I have actively encouraged (and will continue to do so) every person to visit each site within the Nerd's index. FFN's algorithm is very good, but it's purely based on numbers. Those numbers are provided by folks that take into account the types of factors that James highlights.
The only area that I disagree with him on is the idea that "What distinguishes the contenders from the pretenders IS the ability to influence the rankings with knowledge." He has a fantastic point, but keep in mind that FantasyFootballNerd.com was created by me to serve a single purpose. I wanted a convenient way to gauge the rankings of players from among all the sites that I actively look at. It serves a very specific niche. I have no intention of ever influencing rankings based on my opinions. That's simply not why I created FFN.
Marc Caviglia from BrunoBoys.net provided the following quote: "Fantasy Football Nerd's ability to take over 20 expert fantasy football rankings and compile them into one master ranking is a tool that is second to none. It gives you a true indicator of what the fantasy football industry is thinking about specific players."
That's precisely the mission of FFN. I want to know what the industry thinks about certain players, however I combine the rankings with my own opinions and research when making both my draft and sit/start decisions. As Sara Holladay pointed out in the NY Times Fifth Down blog last year, there's an element of gut instinct involved. Sometimes it's right. Sometimes it's wrong.
Back to Michael Turner though. I agree with virtually everything that James has said. The only question that I have is "Where would you rank him?" I'll check with him and post the answer here.
A quick check on ESPN.com gives the following projections for Michael Turner (ranked #2):
2009 Prediction: 358 carries, 1,574 yards, 14 TD's, and 4 receptions for 27 yards
"2009 Outlook: In his first season as a Falcon, Turner exceeded even the most wildly optimistic expectations, scoring 17 times and rushing for 1,699 yards. Because he sat in San Diego for four seasons, Turner is a young 27, and Atlanta's offensive line was a revelation that should only get stronger in '09. Turner is a terrific player. We like him, but he's not without risk because of his usage. Turner had a league-high 376 regular-season carries in '08, which renders him vulnerable to the "Curse of 370." Startlingly few backs have submitted great seasons after a single year with that many carries. Larry Johnson, Shaun Alexander, Curtis Martin, Ricky Williams and Jamal Lewis have all fallen prey to the curse in the past five years. So while Turner looks terrific, don't be fooled into believing he's not without risk."
ESPN agrees with James as well but is a little more optimistic about his production this year. His projected numbers are lower than last year, but I think the primary reason they give him such a high ranking is because he isn't on the backside of his career. He doesn't have a lot of miles on those legs yet.
Before you sign on to your draft or decide who to sit/start, make sure you're combining the Nerd's rankings with the insight and advice from the sites we search as well as experts like James Morris. I have a funny feeling that if you're a Bengals, Jaguars, or Chargers fan, you're already doing this! Thanks again James!