Aug 02, 2010

Doug Farrar of Football Outsiders discusses the opening of NFL training camps, the state of the Redskins and previews the 2010 season.

Hello, all -- ready to talk Redskins, NFL, fantasy questions, whatever you have in mind. Let's go!

At one OLB spot, the Redskins have a stud in Orakpo, who can clearly pass rush and has the athletic ability to improve in pass defense. But in terms of pass coverage at the other OLB position, can the Skins really rely on former d-linemen Andre Carter and Lorenzo Alexander?

It’s a good question. According to FO metrics, Carter was targeted in pass plays 22 times last season and did pretty well. The Redskins didn’t run a lot of zone blitzes under Greg Blache, and Carter didn’t feel totally comfortable in a 3-4 back in his San Francisco days, but he’s said that he’s better-suited to the new scheme. He’s aid that Haslett’s designs put him in fewer reading situations – he’s able to react more and decide where a play goes. Alexander really isn’t that coverage guy. It’s quite possible that you’ll see the linebackers doing more of that intermediate coverage – I have questions about London Fletcher’s ability to fit as a true downhill 3-4 ILB, but he’s still great against the pass. Re: Orakpo … I love his motor going forward, but he’s got a lot of work to do when it comes to coverage. Understandable, since he was pass-rushing so much in college.

Many fans and commentators seem to have unbounded optimism about this season. I don't. Two specific reasons which I don't hear much talk about. McNabb has missed 2 or more games due to injury in 4 of the last 5 seasons. His health is being put into the hands of an iffy offensive line, with a rookie left tackle and a completely new blocking scheme. It would not surprise me if Grossman started more games this season than McNabb. The switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4.

This isn't just about Haynesworth - Haslett is trying to put lots of square pegs into round holes. What's the recent success rate for other teams switching schemes? I hope the offense is planning to score lots of points, because they'll probably have to.

On McNabb: The good news is that only Aaron Rodgers had a higher DVOA (FO’s per-play efficiency metric) than did McNabb in 2009. The bad news is that McNabb looks to be hurried quite a bit behind an offensive line with the question marks you mentioned. Trent Williams has great potential, but it’s going to take him a while as he has just one year at left tackle in college. You have to hope Jammal Brown stays healthy as well – the overhanging issue from the Cerrato regime is that after a decade of ignoring the line, getting real depth in there isn’t a one-year fix.

On the 3-4: Success percentage isn’t really a valid metric because there are so many different types of 3-4 defenses and coaches will move their personnel in different ways. If Haslett wants to run a hybrid 3-4 like the 49ers and Cards run, and move to a 3-4 base over time, that could work. A full-on switch from day one could prove disastrous. They’re just not ready for that, personnel-wise.

Hi Doug -- what are the numbers telling you as far as which team should play above expectations this season, and which is most likely to disappoint?

According to our preseason projections, the Chiefs are the main surprise this year – we’re projecting the AFC West to be a sinkhole, and we’re not bullish on the Chargers at all. Personally, I like the 49ers to make a big noise based on their ability to mix a power running game with Alex Smith’s efficiency in the shotgun. And although we’re still a little unclear about how the Redskins will reconcile all their scheme/personnel issues, we project them to have a major upturn – 8 to 9 wins.

If the Redskins were to trade Albert, what do you think is his legitimate trade value?

At this point, not much. He can still be a fairly dominant 4-3 nose or one-tech, but the conditioning issues just add to hs declining value overall. Other teams know that the Redskins will have to bail at some point if they dangle Haynesworth and there's no interest.

Requisite fantasy question: What's your top 5 and who are your favorite sleepers?

My top 5 would be Ray Rice, Maurise Jones-Drew, Rashard Mendenhall (there's a slight  sleeper for you), Peyton Manning, and Steven Jackson. Sleepers would include Pierre Thomas, Shonn Greene, Beanie Wells, Michael Crabtree, and Ricky Williams.

What do you expect from him in terms of yards, TD/Int, etc., this year?

Slightly higher pick total because of the unstable line. The good news is that he's in an offense he understands. We're projecting him with a 61.3 completion percentage, over 3700 yards,  and 25-10 TD/INT. I'd take downthe yards a few hundred and move the INTs up to 13-15.

You haven't mentioned him yet -- is that a good thing or a bad thing?

I like his receiving totals -- Shanahan loves to take backs out of the backfield and motion them out wide. Portis is onbviously familiar with this concept and he did it well in Denver. From a fantasy perspective, you want to stay away from any Shanahan-coached RB, and it's been the case since Terrell Davis retired. He'll be a good cog in that offense.

Who are you most excited about? Favorites for ROY? Any chance Bradford has a Flacco/Ryan-like rookie year?

I love Bradford as a pure QB -- his long accuracy is quite rare. But he has very few playmaking targets and a line in transition. Also, he took exactly one snap under center in 2009. We have to see whether Pat Shurmur forces Bradford into a WCO or bends to a bunch of shotgun sets. The latter would be a wise move for a number of reasons.

As far as overall ROY, if Ndamukong Suh doesn't hold out too long and doesn't get hurt, he'd be my bet. Great line coaches and his skil set is just freaky. On offense, C.J. Spiller has the potential to make the most difference to his team because the Bills have NO quarterbacks. I mean, NONE. it's really bad up there. Watch out for Eric Berry, too. He could be the next Ed Reed.

Should Ravens fans be worried with the rash of defensive secondary injuries and injuries along the offensive line? A lot of prognosticators have the Ravens going far this year, but the first couple days of camp are pretty troublesome.

Their line was so in tune last year, a bit of regression can be expected. And they did so well last year despite an underperformeing secondary. Baltimore uses a lot of six-man fronts -- a lot of power. And Ray Rice is so good at finding the gaps. They're going to have to lean more on Flacco this year - -that's why they got Boldin inh there. They will have to outscore more teams. That said, they're still my early pick to win it all.

Last year you guys turned me onto both Chris Johnson and Vincent Jackson. Thanks! Who are your underrated guys that the stats say will explode this season?

One guy to wtach out for is Texans rookie running back Ben Tate -- his Speed Score (one of our draft projection metrics) was off the charts. I talked with Houston RT Eric Winston about a month ago, and that team is very aware that they must shore up the red zone issues.

Other prospects to watch this year: Mike Wallace of the Steelers, Tashard Choice of the Cowboys (one of my favorite players), Early Doucet of the Cards, Justin Forsett of the Seahawks,  Jared Cook of the Titans, and Legedu Naanee of the Chargers.  

Anything new you guys worked up over the summer that you're particularly excited about?

Two receiving stats that I think are interesting -- Bill Barnwell came up with a stat called +/-, which drills down and helps adjust a receiver's performance from that of the league.

And Vince Verhei came up with Playmaker Score, which, along with SackSEER (our new way to project busts out of college among pure pass-rushers), endeavors to find new ways to project college to pro success. Right now, we're looking a lot of performance above and below expected in different situations and field zones so that we can find better indicators of what actually constitutes on-field success.

What are your thoughts on the Redskins trading for QB John Beck? Who's the odd man out in the QB rotation?

I have to wonder what it means for Colt Brennan. He's been working out with McNabb, but between scheme and durability questions, I just don't know.

Got to say, Doug- I was more than a little surprised about the warm greeting Roethlisberger got at Latrobe. What made it even worse were the flocks of young women angling to get a picture with him- like it validates all of his behavior.

I found it unsettling as well, but I can't say I'm surprised. Without going off on one of those "What's wrong with us as a society?" rants (which we can all do without), the culture of fame is what it is. Roethlisberger has led his team to two Super Bowl wins (well, he participated in XL), and that puts him on a higher pedestal with the home fans. It's wrong -- in his case, it's kinda creepy -- but it is what it is. I just hope he's done with whatever it is that he has or hasn't been doing; there haven't been too many people telling him "no" in the past few years. Will a suspension rectify that? Hard to say.

Are there any cornerbacks out there that can help the Ravens? Or are they stuck with the poopoo platter?

Yeah, they are, pretty much. At this point, anyone out there is out there for a reason. The thing is, the Ravens still had a very good defense last year without a dominant pass rush, and ongoing questions in the defensive backfield. Pittsburgh has proven just recently that you can win a Super Bowl with a killer pass rush and a really creaky secondary (Polamalu excepted). Ed Reed is obviously the million-dollar question there.

Do you think the NFL owners are planning to lock out the players in 2011?

Unfortunately, yes. Unless the union is willing to concede more than they want to, the owners have some guaranteed TV money to play with in 2011, and I believe that many of them are happy enough to risk a lockout to a.) get half the money they would in an actual season; and b.) drastically reduce their overhead. Plus, there's the side "benefit" of trying to break the union as the players panic over time. This thing is going to get worse before it gets better. I have talked to people in the know on labor matters, and nobody's really encouraged right now.

Thanks for all the great questions, everyone – be sure to check out www.footballoutsiders.com and the 2010 Football Outsiders Almanac. Enjoy the upcoming season, and best of luck to your favorite teams!

Why do you guys see the Chiefs improving?

Weak division, the NFL's easiest schedule per our metrics, a better line and running game, injury luck, better coaching.

Many have been critical of Shanahan's conditioning test for Haynesworth. But seeing how his knee flared up this weekend, does't that just prove that the coach was right? He even said the fact that Albert's knee hasn't held up shows something about his conditioning. Not that being here this summer would have prevented - but perhaps it would have given him more of a chance not to have the injury occur by having run through countless drills/etc. to better condition it.

Okay -- maybe I'm not done! Would like to address this issue. It is comon practice among NFL teams to put their players who do not participate in facility-run offseason programs to undergo conditioning tests when they report. Now, those players don't train at the facility for different reasons -- some like to train in a posse (like the Miami U guys), some are holding out, some have been hurt. There are now those who are saying that the ongoing tests are punitive, making Haynesworth some sort of sympathetic figure, and in my mind, nothing could be further from the truth. Shanahan has an obligation to the team that employs him to make sure that all his players are in what he (and his training staff) deems to be football shape before they hit the field.

The forecast from FO for the 'Skins this season is good in terms of the number of wins. But the longterm forecast, not so good. Can you elaborate? My contention is that even with Snyder out of the way, it's still 'Skins business as usual since he wants a big-name coach, and such a coach is usually on the elder side, meaning he probably wants a championships NOW and will be willing to mortgage the future by exchanging young players for vets. Is this FO's argument? I'm hoping Shanahan will keep his son in mind since supposedly he plans to hand off this team to his boy. Wouldn't be a good idea to give him a team with aging vets.

There's still a potential disconnect whe it comes to building through the draft. As much as Cerrato was rightly slammed for not knowing how to do it, Shanahan and Allen have each had their stints running personnel in the NFL where they favored free agents to long-term team development to the detriment of the franchise. Hopefully, the new Redskins are smarter than that.   

Okay, everyone -- thanks again for the questions. Take care!

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Doug Farrar
Doug Farrar is a senior writer for Football Outsiders and a contributor to The Post's The League blog.
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