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News or Noise? Where There’s “Smokey,” There’s Fire

As fantasy players, we spend the offseason under a constant barrage of news. Under assault from stories, anecdotes, rumors, soundbites, coachspeak, and hot takes, it’s difficult for even the most diligent analyst to sort out the useful information from the meaningless noise for every player. In this series, I’ll take a look at some recent news items and try to determine if they’re meaningful, or just more noise that needs to be filtered out.

John “Smokey” Brown Healthy Again

JohnBrownNews

The John Brown hype train has left the station as reporters have been gushing about his speed and explosiveness at training camp. As someone who was heavily invested in Brown last year, it’s hard to forget the sting of his injury-plagued 2016, but he’s currently being drafted much later than he was at this time last year.

A healthy Brown should accumulate at least 100 targets, and many of those targets will be deep. With the volume of air yards he is likely to see, Brown could be a bargain if he’s truly past his health issues.1

My Verdict: Mostly News

I say this is “mostly” news because the lead here is that Brown “bulked up to 185 pounds.” Throw that crap out the window. Every offseason we read about players that put on muscle, gained weight, lost weight, trained harder than ever, or showed up in the best shape of their careers. Come the regular season, none of that makes a damn bit of difference for the majority of players. Logically, there are probably cases where improved fitness actually makes a difference, but in a league full of elite athletes, it’s mostly just noise.

The real story here is that Brown appears to be past his chronic health issues. However, we’ve all seen other players have down years that are blamed on injuries, and then not bounce back when supposedly recovered. How do we filter out the noise in this case?

Changes in a player’s health and the resulting “injury discount” must be approached carefully. Jordy Nelson won a lot of fantasy championships last season for those who risked taking him at his discounted ADP. On the other hand, taking a chance on Jamaal Charles with a high pick early in the 2016 offseason was a killer, like attaching a giant knee-shaped anchor to your team and watching it drag you down to the bottom of the standings.

One thing I typically look for is a definitive diagnosis and action to remedy it. If all we have is a vague statement that a guy “played hurt last year” and the offseason “gave him time to recover,” it should usually be treated as noise. In Brown’s case, we know that doctor’s found a cyst on his spine and drained it, a clear diagnosis and remedy. While his sickle-cell condition may have also played a part in his struggles, it didn’t hold him back in previous seasons. I treat the sickle-cell diagnosis as a positive in that he will be better able to manage his previously undiagnosed condition.

Actionability

We know Brown can be an effective receiver when healthy:

PLAYER SEAS GMS RECS TRGS YDS TDS YPT PPR
John Brown 2014 16 48 102 696 5 6.8 147
John Brown 2015 15 65 101 1003 7 9.9 209.5
John Brown 2016 15 39 72 517 2 7.2 103.7

His 2015 was good enough for a WR25 finish.2 Brown will play the 2017 season at age 27, right at the peak age for wide receiver performance. Cort Smith calls John Brown the Discount DeSean Jackson and Brian Malone thinks he should be a crucial part of the Cardinals passing attack. Drafters are starting to notice the positive buzz:

JohnBrownADP

Brown’s ADP is currently hovering in the middle of the eighth round as a mid-range WR4. His recent quad strain in camp might help to slow his rise and keep the buying window open a little longer.3 I will be adding Brown to my portfolio in this range, particularly in best-ball formats, at least until he rises up into the WR3 territory.

Carson Palmer Has a Fresh Arm

CarsonPalmerNews

Carson Palmer followed up his amazing season in 2015 with a disappointing performance in 2016:

PLAYER SEAS GMS ATTS YDS AYA TDS INTS
Carson Palmer 2015 16 538 4671 9.1 35 11
Carson Palmer 2016 15 599 4231 6.8 25 14

This blurb suggests that Palmer’s struggles were the result of a tired arm and that his late-season success was due to fixing that problem. If true, the narrative suggests we should expect to see Palmer rebound in 2017.

My Verdict: Noise

Remember how I said I look for a definitive diagnosis? A self-reported “tired arm” does not count. In fact, the narrative that Bruce Arians is trying to peddle breaks down under scrutiny almost immediately:

CarsonPalmerSplits

Palmer saw an uptick in TD rate,4 but the underlying stats don’t suggest that he was actually playing any better.

Actionability

Despite the report about his fresh arm probably being noise, there are reasons to believe Palmer will improve in 2017 anyway. A healthy Brown would add a weapon that he couldn’t rely on last year. Any improvement in the Cardinals offensive line would also benefit Palmer, one of the league’s oldest and least mobile QBs. Pressure statistics from Football Outsiders show that the Cardinals depleted line left him facing significantly more pressure in 2016 than he faced in 2015. Palmer actually led the league in knockdowns in 2016, a much more likely cause for his struggles than a tired arm.

But there is still plenty of risk with Palmer. Larry Fitzgerald has been effective but also trending downward slightly with age. Palmer isn’t getting any younger either, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a natural dropoff in production in his age 38 season. The Cardinals line may not improve, and his disappointing 2016 could repeat itself.

Overall, I think Palmer is being fairly priced at his current ADP of QB20:

CarsonPalmerADP

He is starting to creep up the board though, and if he starts to approach Eli Manning or Tyrod Taylor, then count me out.

  1. Note that he’s currently dealing with a quad strain in camp. The strain is said to be minor, but it’s worth noting that he’s not currently 100 percent.  (back)
  2. His 2014 wasn’t as impressive, but he was a rookie and was dealing with a condition known as, “Playing 10 games with Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley.“  (back)
  3. After last year there seems to be a narrative that Brown is injury prone, however, he’s still only missed two full games in three seasons.  (back)
  4. a number which is subject to high variance  (back)

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