nF Friday Questions Board Breakdown: 8/31/12

Editor Zach Warren takes a look at a few of your questions from the numberFire community a bit more in depth.

Every Friday on numberFire, editor Zach Warren is going to take a look at a few of the questions troubling football fans this week and add his numbers-filled take. Want to ask a question yourself? How about answering questions from your own point of view? Then hop on over to that questions board right now and become part of our numberFire community.

Are we there yet? Every year, it seems like these final two weeks of the preseason take an eternity and a half. The start of college football season is great, but South Carolina-Vanderbilt can only do so much when it's Cowboys-Giants or Packers-49ers that you're yearning for. Right now, I'd even willingly watch the entirety of the Jaguars-Vikings game: that's how much I'm ready for football. But unless you count NFL cut night tonight as the high-octane action that you're looking for (I don't), it'll be another five agonizing days.

The numberFire community must be as football-starved as me, because the questions board has been lighting up over the past week with fantasy owners conducting last minute drafts and making final cuts and roster additions. As somebody who has done two of his three drafts over this past week, I'm in full-on fantasy mode as well. I haven't spent as much time on the questions board as I should, but I plan on making up for that right here: how about some answers to the week's biggest questions, as powered by numberFire's analytics.

Question 1: Will Peyton Hillis become a number 1 RB?

For Peyton Hillis to become a #1 fantasy back, there would be two things that would need to happen. First, he would need to take over the definitive starting role in Kansas City. Then, he would need to parlay those increased carries into something significant. Let's tackle those one at a time.

According to Adam Teicher of the Kansas City Star, Hillis and Jamaal Charles are likely to be close in their number of carries by the end of the season. While many outlets have run with this story as "OMG Timeshare!", take a closer look at the wording that Teicher uses: "by the end of the year". Right now, there's no reason for the Chiefs coaching staff to go anywhere but Charles. At the beginning, fully expect to see him take the full-workload, much like he did in 2010 when he was splitting time with Thomas Jones. Considering that Charles has had a full year to recover from his ACL injury as well (as compared to Adrian Peterson's eight months), I don't see injuries as a concern. If anything, Hillis will start out being relegated to touchdown-vulture status.

Now, as for what he'll be able to do with those carries, I'm not sold that Hillis is as great of a back as he's made out to be. In his 2010 breakout year with the Cleveland Browns, Hillis ran for 1,177 yards and 11 TDs to go along with 477 receiving yards and 2 receiving touchdowns. Those numbers look great. The numbers that don't look so great, however, are Hillis's effectiveness numbers: he had a -0.10 NEP per rush value in 2010, which means that the Browns were actually losing 0.10 points of expected returns every time he rushed the ball. In addition, Hillis was only successful in converting 33% of rushes into a higher expected points value for the Browns that season. His NEP per rush was even worse in 2011, losing 0.13 points every time he touched the ball last season. By comparison, Charles in 2010 had a +0.18 NEP per play value along with a 47% success rating, the highest among all starting backs in the NFL that season. I'm not sure I trust Hillis at all this season with a starting job on my team unless he clearly gets the majority of carries from the outset. Only start him if the strategy is "quantity over quality" as it was for Hillis in 2010.

Question 2: What do you think of this team and who would you start at WR in week 1?

Well, for starters, the team is excellent. According to numberFire's rankings, you've got two top ten players in McCoy and Cam Newton, two of the highest-upside backs you could possibly grab in Run-DMC and DeMarco Murray, and a stable of excellent receivers. I think you already know this. I'm just wondering about who exactly you're playing with there. All I need to know is how early somebody took a kicker in your draft, and it will tell me everything.

As for the receiver quandary, let's took a look at the numbers. Hakeem Nicks faces off against a Cowboys defense that ranked #23 in opponent passing yards in 2011 but vastly improved their secondary with the additions of Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr. The numberFire projections don't have too high of expectations for Nicks against this improved secondary - 68.77 yards, 0.36 TDs and 9.01 fantasy points. But even with those additions, Nicks's two double-digit fantasy performances against these guys last season are hard to ignore; he went off for 13 and 16 points facing them late in the season when fully healthy. He's a must start here.

Eric Decker's going to be an extremely valuable receiver for Peyton Manning this season, especially in a PPR format, but I'm not so sure that week one against Pittsburgh is the time I want to test that out with your depth at receiver. Decker's 2011 catch rate was incredibly low, coming in at 46.81% of targets his way (the league average for receivers sits at about 60%). Some of that low number has to do with Rubber-Arm Tebow slinging him the ball, but until I get a week or two of skills confirmation with Manning throwing him the ball, I'm being extremely cautious. The numberFire projections are taking that cautious route too, only tabbing him for a projected 5.80 fantasy points week one.

Finally, we get to Dwayne Bowe. He didn't arrive into training camp until late this year, but considering the previous rapport he has already developed with Matt Cassel over the past three seasons, I see that as less of a problem than other holdouts. Bowe doesn't have the greatest catch rate in the world, sitting between 50% and 60% each of the past three years, but he makes up for that in targets: he's led the Chiefs by over 40 targets each of the past two seasons. He'll get his opportunities, and even with the Falcons' increased talent in the secondary, he'll get his catches. The answer for week one has to be Nicks and Bowe.

Question 3: What kinda year you think Sidney Rice will have?

A poor one is the easy answer to this question. I have about as much trust in Russell Wilson at the start of this year as I would in Yogi Bear's ability to pass by an unattended picnic basket. (For you non-cartoon fans, that means that I don't trust him at all. And you need to watch some more Cartoon Network.) It's not all on the QB though; a lot of it has to do with the receiver himself. Sidney Rice has only had one year where he was truly impressive: 2009, with Brett Favre at quarterback. That year, Rice went off for 1,312 yards, 8 receiving TDs, and 179 fantasy points. But man, do those 179 fantasy points look like an outlier. His rookie year total of 67 is second on his list, and the 63 fantasy points he put up in nine games last year would have only been around 110 if the number was spread out to an entire 16 game season. The main reason is his catching ability; other than a 68.8% catch rate during that 2009 year, Rice has not been able to put up higher than a 58% catch clip at any other point. I'm not trusting him with any position of importance on my fantasy roster this season.

Question 4: Week One Receiver 3 - Garcon or Washington?

The general consensus from the questions forum seems to be Pierre Garcon, but I wouldn't write off Nate Washington week one if given that choice. The stats say it's close.

Opposing secondary: Washington, Patriots (#31 pass defense in the NFL last year). Garcon, Saints (#30). Advantage: Push
Targets: Washington and first round pick Kendall Wright will be the main two options for Jake Locker. Considering that Washington has been taking first team reps with the new quarterback all summer and Wright has not, and that the Titans will likely be throwing a lot from behind, I think Washington will get his fair share. Of course, the same argument can be made for Garcon, who will likely be the deep threat for RGIII in a game where the Redskins may be coming from behind as well. Advantage: Push
Catch Rate: This one isn't close. Washington caught 61.6% of the targets thrown his way last season. Garcon would need a magic lamp to even think about hitting 60% (no higher than 57% in any of his three seasons with significant playing time). Advantage: Washington

The only reason that I'd go with Garcon is if you were banking on him having a good chance to bust one deep on the Saints secondary. Considering that he had only nine 20+ yard catches last season and seven in 2010 (with Peyton Manning!), I wouldn't call that a certainty in the least. By comparison, Washington himself had 13 20+ yard receptions last season. For me, Washington is the safer choice with Britt out in week one.