Welcome to the "Original" Dynasty Rankings Fantasy Football Blog

This blog was born out of a Dynasty Rankings thread originally begun in October, 2006 at the Footballguys.com message boards. The rankings in that thread and the ensuing wall-to-wall discussion of player values and dynasty league strategy took on a life of its own at over 275 pages and 700,000 page views. The result is what you see in the sidebar under "Updated Positional Rankings": a comprehensive ranking of dynasty league fantasy football players by position on a tiered, weighted scale. In the tradition of the original footballguys.com Dynasty Rankings thread, intelligent debate is welcome and encouraged.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Quote of the Day | February 28, 2009: He Integrated the Redskins' Goal Line

Michael MacCambridge's 2004 America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation:

On the field, there was less room for segregation than ever before. During his first training camp with the Packers in 1959, Lombardi confronted his team about racism. "If I ever hear nigger or dago or kike or anything like that around here, regardless of who you are, you're through with me," he said. "You can't play for me if you have any kind of prejudice." Packers defensive back Willie Wood would call Lombardi "perhaps the fairest person I ever met." And his simultaneous commitment to and bullying of the players later prompted the lineman Henry Jordan's famous line, "He treats every man the same -- he treats us all like dogs."

Of all the instances of racism, the most embarrassing one was in the nation's capital. By the beginning of the 1961 season, there were eighty-three blacks on the NFL's fourteen clubs -- or, to be more precise, eighty-three on thirteen clubs, since the Washington Redskins, the self-professed Team of the South, which still played "Dixie" before all its home games, had abided by owner George Preston Marshall's edict not to use black players.

Even among Marshall's defenders, the best that could be said about him was that he was an opportunist rather than a racist, and that he kept his club segregated to avoid alienating the wide network of fans in the Deep South, where the Redskins barnstormed during the exhibition season, and broadcast their games during the regular season. The all-white Redskins were obviously at a competitive disadvantage due to the policy (the team suffered through a 1-12-1 record in 1961), but Marshall's vow -- "We'll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters starting signing whites" -- seemed steadfast in the face of public opinion.

Few were more vigilant or persistent in their critique of the blustery Marshall than the Washington Post's sports columnist Shirley Povich, who brought that criticism to a kind of apex in his account of a Redskins-Browns game in 1960:

For 18 minutes the Redskins were enjoying equal rights with the Cleveland Browns yesterday, in the sense that there was no score in the contest. Then it suddenly became unequal in favor of the Browns, who brough along Jim Brown, their rugged colored fullback from Syracuse. From 25 yards out, Brown was served the ball by Milt Plum on a pitch-out and he integrated the Redskins' goal line with more than deliberate speed, perhaps exceeding the famous Supreme Court decree. Brown fled the 25 yards like a man in an uncommon hurry and the Redskins' goal line, at least, became interracial.

By that fall, Marshall's stubborness had become a public embarrassment. The means for intervention first occurred to Kennedy's new secretary of the interior, Stewart Udall. The city's new D.C. stadium, where the Redskins would begin play in 1961, was built on federal land, as part of the National Capital Parks System, which as with all government buildings had clear rules forbidding discrimination in hiring. After checking first with Robert Kennedy to receive clearance from the administration to press the issue ("Go get him!" RFK told Udall. "Make him do it!"), Udall called a press conference in the spring, announcing that he had sent a warning letter to Marshall, advising the owner that the government was aware of the Redskins' reputation for practicing discrimination and to be aware of "the implications of this new regulation -- and our view of its import." After a couple of months of bluster from Marshall, during which Rozelle visited Washington for some private prodding, the owner finally capitulated, negotiating a compromise in late August that would allow the Redskins to play in D.C. Stadium in 1961, with the agreement that the team would be integrated by the beginning of the 1962 season.

It was a significant victory for the league, an important symbolic one for the administration, and another example in the growing tendency for the public to view the world of sports as a microcosm of the society at large.

Tags: Michael MacCambridge, America's Game

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Quote of the Day | February 27, 2009: The NFL Combine

Michael MacCambridge's 2004 America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation:

Change was already in the air a month earlier, at the Indianapolis scouting combine, where 300 of the nation's best seniors -- and one junior -- were sprinting, working out, and submitting to physical exams and interviews. The draft class of 1989 promised the deepest collection of impact players in years, and though the first pick would be the prototypical quarterback -- UCLA's Troy Aikman -- there were signs elsewhere that a new era was dawning.

Tony Mandarich, the burly, pile-driving tackle from Michigan State, whose tattooed biceps began a new trend in offensive lineman body art, seemed an utterly different breed of offensive lineman, and he would be the second player taken. Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders, who won the Heisman Trophy as a junior, had received permission to enter the draft, becoming the first true underclassman ever to do so. He would go third overall.

Though the first three players were on offense, much of the talk in Indianapolis was about the splendid group of prospects on the defensive side of the ball. And by the end of the week, it was clear that the real talisman of the draft, the symbol of the changing times, was a Florida State defensive back named Deion Sanders.

In the five years since 1984, when the Supreme Court had struck down the NCAA's control over college football telecasts, essentially deregulating broadcasts and allowing major schools like Notre Dame and Nebraska and Florida State to appear on national television seven or eight times a season instead of only twice, a sea change had occurred in the coverage of college football. Along with the rise of the cable sports network ESPN, the deregulation of college football broadcasts meant that widespread media coverage became a constant reality at the nation's major college powers, propelling college football's stars into a much more visible position in the American sporting pantheon.

Into that harsh light of publicity stepped the flamboyant Sanders, who carefully cultivated his "Prime Time" persona at Florida State, where he showed up for his final regular season game in a limousine, sporting a top hat and tails. He was the nation's best defensive back, but he was more celebrated for his outrageous, media-savvy personality.

At the combine, Sanders exuded an air of not just cocky confidence but easy familiarity with the NFL executives in attendance. Sauntering to the start of the 40-yard-dash timing area, he spotted Al Davis in a lower row of the observation area and proclaimed, "Okay, Al, we're gonna run this juuuust this once." It was lost on no one that just five or ten years earlier, none of the players at the combine would have had the confidence to approach Davis at all, much less to address him playfully by his first name.

Heretofore, many in professional football had been ignorant of the changes occurring in popular culture, especially the increased influence of rap music and hip-hop on mainstream America. Coaches for generations had routinely squelched the players' right to self-expression for the sake of the larger good. But with Sanders, and others like him, players were arriving on the scene who were products of that culture, and to understand them meant understanding something of the context from which they emerged. Speaking from his home on the day of the NFL draft, after Atlanta selected him fifth overall, Sanders boasted, "I'm gonna ask for so much money, the Falcons are gonna have to put me on layaway."

Tags: America's Game, Michael MacCambridge

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Quote of the Day | February 26, 2009: I Have Never Met Satan . . .

From Chuck Klosterman's 2001 Fargo Rock City:

I have never met Satan, but he actually sounds like a pretty cool guy. A bit geeky, perhaps, but I'm sure we could still hang out and play Scrabble or something.

I've never been to Satan's apartment, so I can only guess how it's decorated. However, certain aspects of his personality have been well-established by the media: He obviously likes to play AD&D. He obviously owns a Ouija board. He obviously likes to smoke angel dust. And he obviously has an awesome stereo with kick-ass speakers, and he obviously plays nothing but heavy metal. In fact, he probably has a framed poster of Ronnie James Dio on his living room wall.

To paraphrase the insightful sock puppet stars of The Sifl & Olly Show, all the really cool rock bands are from hell. Ever since Lucifer and chain-smoking bluesman Robert Johnson made a deal "down at the crossroads," Satan has been the finest A&R rep who ever existed. The Rolling Stones had sympathy for the devil; the Eagles stayed at his hotel; Van Halen went jogging with him. Styx named their band after a river that flowed next to hell, which probably explains how they managed to stay cool for about twelve weeks in 1978.

If you believe Hammer of the Gods, Satan's favorite band of all time was Led Zeppelin, a group who only occassionally sang about hell but copiously mentioned Valhalla (which would probably be just as frustrating). During the band's heyday, Jimmy Page lived in a castle near Loch Ness, where he supposedly spent all day sitting in the dark, taking drugs, and dabbling in the occultist work of Aleister Crowley (the estate's former owner). It can safely be argued that this is the most awesome thing anyone has ever done in the history of rock. If I ever get to the point where my daily routine revolves around shooting junk in a rural Sussex castle and talking about black majik, I will know I have made it.

Tags: Chuck Klosterman, Fargo Rock City

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Quote of the Day | February 25, 2009: The Aim of All Nations

From Fyodor Dostoevsky's 1872 novel The Possessed a/k/a Demons.

"Not one nation," he began, as if reciting line by line, and at the same time still looking menacingly at Stavrogin, "not one nation has ever set itself up on the principles of science and reason; there has never been an example of it, unless perhaps only for a moment, out of foolishness. Socialism by its very essence must be atheism, because it has precisely declared, from the very first line, that it is an atheistic order, and intends to set itself up on the principles of science and reason exclusively. Reason and science always, now, and from the beginning of the ages, have performed only a secondary and auxiliary task in the life of nations; and so they will to the end of the ages.

Nations are formed and moved by another ruling and dominating force, whose origin is unknown and inexplicable. This force is the force of the unquenchable desire to get to the end, while at the same time denying the end. It is the force of a ceaseless and tireless confirmation of its own being and a denial of death. The Spirit of Life, as Scripture says, the 'rivers of living water,' whose running dry is so threatened in the Apocalypse. The aesthetic principle, as philosophers say, the moral principle, as they also identify it. 'Seeking for God' -- as I call it in the simplest way. The aim of all movements of nations, of every nation and in every period of its existence, is solely the seeking for God, its own God, entirely its own, and faith in him as the only true one. God is the synthetic person of the whole nation, taken from its beginning and to its end.

It has never yet happened that all or many nations have had one common God, but each has always had a separate one. It is a sign of a nation's extinction when there begin to be gods in common. When there are gods in common, they die along with the belief in them and with the nations themselves. The stronger the nation, the more particular its God. There has never yet been a nation without a religion, that is, without an idea of evil and good. Every nation has its own idea of evil and good, and it own evil and good. When many nations start having common ideas of evil and good, then the nations die out and the very distinction between evil and good begins to fade and disappear. Reason has never been able to define evil and good, or even to separate evil from good, if only approximately; on the contrary, it has always confused them, shamefully and pitifully; and science has offered the solution of the fist."

Tags: Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Quote of the Day | February 24, 2009: Loyalty

From Nick Hornby's 1992 Fever Pitch:

I had discovered after the Swindon game that loyalty, at least in football terms, was not a moral choice like bravery or kindness; it was more like a wart or a hump, something you were stuck with. Marriages are nowhere near as rigid -- you won't catch any Arsenal fans slipping off to Tottenham for a bit of extra-martial slap and tickle, and though divorce is a possibility (you can just stop going if things get too bad), getting hitched again is out of the question. There have been many times over the last twenty-three years when I have pored over the small print of my contract looking for a way out, but there isn't one. Each humiliating defeat (Swindon, Tranmere, York, Walsall, Rotherham, Wrexham) must be borne with patience, fortitude and forbearance; there is simply nothing that can be done, and that is a realization that can make you simply squirm with frustration.

Tags: Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Quote of the Day | February 23, 2009: Toughness?

From David Harris' 2008 biography The Genius: How Bill Walsh Reinvented Football and Created an NFL Dynasty.

At the same time he was continuing to grow up, Walsh was learning a lot about what kind of coach he wanted to be. "There was this religion of 'toughness' in coaching circles those days," he explained, "and all coaches were trying to be like marine drill sergeants and scare people into playing well. I got caught up in that for a while but I concluded it didn't come close to working. It was a kind of mass delusion. All the coaches thought the players loved them despite how badly they treated them, and all the players were doing was putting up with the coach so they could play football. Instead of loving and revering the coach, they couldn't stand him and were disgusted with him but they wanted to play football. They wanted the fellowship, they wanted the association, they wanted the excitement, and only put up with the bullying because they had to. Most played football in spite of the coach. By the time I left Cal I had decided that if you taught people to play the game better, that was real coaching -- being a teacher rather than a thug." Sports psychologists would later describe Walsh's new approach as "nonaversive," and once he tried it out and found it worked, it would be one of his trademarks.

Tags: Bill Walsh, The Genius, David Harris

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Quote of the Day | February 22, 2009: A Teacher in the True Sense of the Word?

From Frederick Exley's 1988 Last Notes from Home:

Was it worth it all? To this day I don't honestly know. I do know that we won and we won and we won. I also know that to win and to win and to win leaves little time for anything or anyone else, including Wiley. I did not learn to play a musical instrument or join the glee club. After that Stetsoned son of the prairie I'd produced in kindergarten, I never did another watercolor. I never tried out for the school play. Even today my ignorance of music appalls me. Writing a speech for President Reagan would be beyond me. I could list the gaps in my education until the reader slumbered. One might well ask, then, if being a jock cost me so dearly in other disciplines, why my feelings are in the least ambivalent. When after World War II we arrived in the presence of the coach, his whole bearing tacitly articulated to his players what he doubtless could not have put into words: Listen to me. Do what I ask. Give me your regard. And I in turn shall show you the way to the world's regard.

"How could you learn anything from a tyrant like that?" Robin said. "And I don't see the bloody relationship between going cold turkey and that bully." Of course Robin knew everything about the Depression, to which we players had been born, from her father and couldn't comprehend the "abhorrent ambivalence" that forced us old farts into speaking of a period of "economic deprivation" -- academic claptrap -- with such loving and mawkish sentimentality.

In my senior year, I told Robin, as starting offensive center and, depending upon who was hurt, either nose guard or linebacker on defense, I cost Watertown an undefeated season. In our fourth game at Auburn High School in gale-like winds and rain, I was called for holding on their one-yard line on fourth down. We scored, had the play nullified, were penalized fifteen yards, and on the replay from sixteen yards out, we failed to put the ball in.

. . .

Because our third game was at Rome Free Academy under the lights on a Friday night, the coaches from the five teams remaining on our schedule were in the stands scouting us. We won 21-0, and the next morning we picked up the newspaper to learn that Dave Powers of Oswego -- he was this venerable white-haired dude who'd been coaching upstate forever -- was quoted as saying we were the best high school football team he'd seen in ten, maybe twenty damn years. I sighed. "Boy, was Auburn waiting for us."

. . .

"That's it, Robin. We blanked the rest of the teams on our schedule, Oswego, Massena -- they came down undefeated with an all-state halfback, Gilbert "Gibby" Granger -- Onondaga Valley of Syracuse, and Lackawanna of Buffalo."

"So every time you go straight, you're making penance for a mistake made in a dumb football game thirty years ago. Jesus, Ex!"

"Not at all."

"If that's not true, when you go on the wagon and start walking, you invoke some mental image of this coach that sustains you?"



"That's easy. When I'm walking, I remember the coach chasing us up the street-light boulevard and snapping our asses with his belt. You see, Robin, he was a teacher in the true sense of the word in that he taught us all we could be someone we never thought we could be."

"Jesus, Exley, I swear you make me want to puke."

Tags: Fred, Frederick Exley, Last Notes from Home

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Quote of the Day | February 21, 2009: The Cooler

Excerpts from FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal's 2005 piece on A-Rod:

Alex Rodriguez scores on Hideki Matsui's bases-loaded double, and Gary Sheffield follows him down the third base line, ready to give the Yankees a 5-0 lead in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.

"Run him over! Run him over!" Rodriguez yells at Sheffield, imploring him to barrel through Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek.

Sheffield scores, and Varitek turns to Rodriguez. "You would never do it," Varitek replies sneeringly.

The incident reveals two Rodriguez traits that infuriate opponents -- his irritating rah-rah act and his perceived pretty-boy approach. Then there's the biggest reason Rodriguez is openly disparaged by his peers: Many view him as a phony whose polished media act is anything but sincere.

. . .

The difference in how they are perceived is illustrated by the plays that defined them in 2004 -- Jeter's startling dive into the stands to catch a foul ball in a July 1 game against the Red Sox and Rodriguez's desperate attempt to slap the ball out of Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo's glove in Game 6 of the ALCS.

"People in the media and fans don't get the look that we get on the field," says Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, perhaps Rodriguez's most outspoken critic. "There are things he's done and said that I've heard -- I've seen -- that I have a huge problem with, and I think other guys do, too."

Judging from the views of former teammates, opposing players and rival executives interviewed for this story, Schilling appears to be right. When asked about Rodriguez, players often roll their eyes in silent disapproval.

. . .

Jealousy almost certainly fuels part of the distaste for Rodriguez. Few thought of him as disingenuous until he bolted the Mariners in December 2000 for a record 10-year, $252 million contract with the Rangers. After three last-place finishes, Rodriguez politicked his way to the East Coast, landing with the Yankees, baseball's most storied franchise, after a trade to the Red Sox fell through.

Ripken spent his entire career with the Orioles, often taking below-market contracts to remain with his hometown team. Though he was certainly image-conscious, hardly anyone thought he took himself too seriously or accused him of being artificial and overcoached. Such are the criticisms that dog Rodriguez. At times, he gives the impression he is Boras' Frankenstein creation, a superstar hatched in a laboratory and programmed by computer.

Ripken, by contrast, seemed more grounded.

. . .

"If you say the truth, you're a jerk. If you're political, you're a phony," Rodriguez says. "You tell me -- what's the right thing to do? All I really care about is guys who have been around me for a long time, guys who go to war with me -- my teammates, my manager. Anything else is a nonissue."

. . .

Rangers players nicknamed Rodriguez "The Cooler" last season, a wry observation on how he cools off every team he joins. Even shortstop Michael Young, perhaps the Rangers player with whom Rodriguez was closest, admits the team chemistry improved dramatically after Rodriguez was gone.

Tags: Ken Rosenthal, A-Rod, The Cooler

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Quote of the Day | February 19, 2009: Anticipation

From Richard Ford's The Sportswriter, 1986:

To the extent that it's incompletely understood or undisclosed, or just plain fabricated, I suppose it's true that history can make mystery. And I am always vitally interested in life's mysteries, which are never in too great a supply, and which I should say are something very different from the dreaminess I just mentioned. Dreaminess is, among other things, a state of suspended recognition, and a response to too much useless and complicated factuality. Its symptoms can be a long-term interest in the weather, or a sustained soaring feeling, or a bout of the stares that you sometimes can not even know about except in retrospect, when the time may seem fogged. When you are young and you suffer it, it is not so bad and in some ways it's normal and even pleasurable.

But when you get to my age, dreaminess is not so pleasurable, at least as a steady diet, and one should avoid it if you're lucky enough to know it exists, which many people aren't. For a time -- this was a period after Ralph died -- I had no idea about it myself, and in fact thought I was onto something big -- changing my life; moorings loosed, women, travel, marching to a different drummer. Though I was wrong.

Which leaves a question which might in fact be interesting.

Why did I quit writing? Forgetting for the moment that I quit writing to become a sportswriter, which is more like being a businessman, or an old-fashioned traveling salesman with a line of novelty household items, than being a genuine writer, since in so many ways words are just our currency, our medium of exchange with our readers, and there is very little that is ever genuinely creative to it at all -- even if you're not much more than a fly-swat reporter, as I'm not. Real writing, after all, is something much more complicated and enigmatic than anything usually having to do with sports, though that's not to say a word against sportswriting, which I'd rather do than anything.

Was it just that things did not come easily enough? Or that I couldn't translate my personal recognitions into the ambiguous stuff of complex literature? Or that I had nothing to write about, no more discoveries up my sleeve or the pizzaz to write the more extensive work?

And my answer is: there are those reasons and at least twenty better ones. (Some people only have one book in them. There are worse things.)

One thing certain is that I had somehow lost my sense of anticipation at age twenty-five. Anticipation is the sweet pain to know whatever's next -- a must for any real writer. And I had no more interest in what I might write next -- the next sentence, the next day -- than I cared what a rock weighed on Mars. Nor did I think that writing a novel could make me interested again.

Though I minded like all get out the loss of anticipation. And the glossy sports magazine promised me that there would always be something to look forward to, every two weeks. They'd see to it.

Tags: Richard Ford, The Sportswriter

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Quote of the Day | February 18, 2009: Not Mindless Adherence?

SI's Jeff Pearlman on A-Rod's embarrassing press conference:

They sat like lemmings, one alongside the other alongside the other, nodding with Alex Rodriguez's words, showing that-good or bad-he is one of them. That he is a New York Yankee.

And then, I vomited my Honey Nut Cheerios back into the bowl.

Will someone please tell me what, in the name of Steve Balboni, were ARod's teammates doing at today's press conference? Why were they there? Why were they supporting this man and his actions?

. . .

The answer, of course, is simple: Baseball players are dolts.

Admittedly, I am not that bright. I attended the University of Delaware. I am a sports writer. I liked Charles In Charge. But when Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass were outed as the worst kind of journalists (not mere plagiarists or mis-quoters, but inventors of reality), I didn't show up for their farewells in a display of support. I didn't have anyone's back or stick up for a peer. No, I saw the massive damage they did to our profession … and I was royally pissed off.

So, once again, why?

In my 15 years of covering sports, I've heard hundreds of athletes talk of "being a real man" A real man plays hard. A real man shows up on time. A real man admits his mistake. A real man ... blah, blah, blah. Truth be told, being a real man (if one must use such a stupid phrasing) means having guts to go against the uniform and the expected behavior. Of course the Yankees stood behind Rodriguez-because 95 percent of these boobs have never taken a stand in their lives. The foundation of their existences centers around repetition and precision; doing as told and being robotic in response and output. That, more than anything, is why I'd rather my daughter and son become bowling shoe cleaners than pro athletes. I want them to be blessed with conviction and decency, not mindless adherence.

Tags: Jeff Pearlman, SI, Deadspin, A-Rod

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Quote of the Day | February 17, 2009: The No-Stats All-Star, Part 3

From Moneyball author Michael Lewis' latest New York Times piece on Shane Battier, "The No-Stats All-Star."

Bryant is one of the great jawboners in the history of the N.B.A. A major-league baseball player once showed me a slow-motion replay of the Yankees' third baseman Alex Rodriguez in the batter’s box. Glancing back to see where the catcher has set up is not strictly against baseball’s rules, but it violates the code. A hitter who does it is likely to find the next pitch aimed in the general direction of his eyes. A-Rod, the best hitter in baseball, mastered the art of glancing back by moving not his head, but his eyes, at just the right time. It was like watching a billionaire find some trivial and dubious deduction to take on his tax returns. Why bother? I thought, and then realized: this is the instinct that separates A-Rod from mere stars. Kobe Bryant has the same instinct. Tonight Bryant complained that Battier was grabbing his jersey, Battier was pushing when no one was looking, Battier was committing crimes against humanity. Just before the half ended, Battier took a referee aside and said: “You and I both know Kobe does this all the time. I’m playing him honest. Don’t fall for his stuff.” Moments later, after failing to get a call, Bryant hurled the ball, screamed at the ref and was whistled for a technical foul.

Just after that, the half ended, but not before Battier was tempted by a tiny act of basketball selfishness. The Rockets’ front office has picked up a glitch in Battier’s philanthropic approach to the game: in the final second of any quarter, finding himself with the ball and on the wrong side of the half-court line, Battier refuses to heave it honestly at the basket, in an improbable but not impossible attempt to score. He heaves it disingenuously, and a millisecond after the buzzer sounds. Daryl Morey could think of only one explanation: a miss lowers Battier’s shooting percentage. “I tell him we don’t count heaves in our stats,” Morey says, “but Shane’s smart enough to know that his next team might not be smart enough to take the heaves out.”

. . .

In the statistically insignificant sample of professional athletes I’ve come to know a bit, two patterns have emerged. The first is, they tell you meaningful things only when you talk to them in places other than where they have been trained to answer questions. It’s pointless, for instance, to ask a basketball player about himself inside his locker room. For a start, he is naked; for another, he’s surrounded by the people he has learned to mistrust, his own teammates. The second pattern is the fact that seemingly trivial events in their childhoods have had huge influence on their careers. A cleanup hitter lives and dies by a swing he perfected when he was 7; a quarterback has a hitch in his throwing motion because he imitated his father. Here, in the Detroit Country Day School library, a few yards from the gym, Battier was back where he became a basketball player. And he was far less interested in what happened between him and Kobe Bryant four months ago than what happened when he was 12.

When he entered Detroit Country Day in seventh grade, he was already conspicuous at 6-foot-4, and a year later he would be 6-foot-7. “Growing up tall was something I got used to,” he said. “I was the kid about whom they always said, ‘Check his birth certificate.’ ” He was also the only kid in school with a black father and a white mother. Oddly enough, the school had just graduated a famous black basketball player, Chris Webber. Webber won three state championships and was named national high-school player of the year. “Chris was a man-child,” says his high school basketball coach, Kurt Keener. “Everyone wanted Shane to be the next Chris Webber, but Shane wasn’t like that.” Battier had never heard of Webber and didn’t understand why, when he took to the Amateur Athletic Union circuit and played with black inner-city kids, he found himself compared unfavorably with Webber: “I kept hearing ‘He’s too soft’ or ‘He’s not an athlete.’ ” His high-school coach was aware of the problems he had when he moved from white high-school games to the black A.A.U. circuit. “I remember trying to add some flair to his game,” Keener says, “but it was like teaching a classical dancer to do hip-hop. I came to the conclusion he didn’t have the ego for it.”

Battier was half-white and half-black, but basketball, it seemed, was either black or white. A small library of Ph.D. theses might usefully be devoted to the reasons for this. For instance, is it a coincidence that many of the things a player does in white basketball to prove his character — take a charge, scramble for a loose ball — are more pleasantly done on a polished wooden floor than they are on inner-city asphalt? Is it easier to “play for the team” when that team is part of some larger institution? At any rate, the inner-city kids with whom he played on the A.A.U. circuit treated Battier like a suburban kid with a white game, and the suburban kids he played with during the regular season treated him like a visitor from the planet where they kept the black people. “On Martin Luther King Day, everyone in class would look at me like I was supposed to know who he was and why he was important,” Battier said. “When we had an official school picture, every other kid was given a comb. I was the only one given a pick.” He was awkward and shy, or as he put it: “I didn’t present well. But I’m in the eighth grade! I’m just trying to fit in!” And yet here he was shuttling between a black world that treated him as white and a white world that treated him as black. ‘‘Everything I’ve done since then is because of what I went through with this,” he said. “What I did is alienate myself from everybody. I’d eat lunch by myself. I’d study by myself. And I sort of lost myself in the game.”

Tags: Michael Lewis, Shane Battier, The No-Stats All-Star, New Journalism

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Quote of the Day | February 16, 2009: The No-Stats All-Star, Part 2

From Moneyball author Michael Lewis' latest New York Times piece on Shane Battier, "The No-Stats All-Star."

Having watched Battier play for the past two and a half years, Morey has come to think of him as an exception: the most abnormally unselfish basketball player he has ever seen. Or rather, the player who seems one step ahead of the analysts, helping the team in all sorts of subtle, hard-to-measure ways that appear to violate his own personal interests. “Our last coach dragged him into a meeting and told him he needed to shoot more,” Morey says. “I’m not sure that that ever happened.” Last season when the Rockets played the San Antonio Spurs Battier was assigned to guard their most dangerous scorer, Manu Ginóbili. Ginóbili comes off the bench, however, and his minutes are not in sync with the minutes of a starter like Battier. Battier privately went to Coach Rick Adelman and told him to bench him and bring him in when Ginóbili entered the game. “No one in the N.B.A. does that,” Morey says. “No one says put me on the bench so I can guard their best scorer all the time.”

One well-known statistic the Rockets’ front office pays attention to is plus-minus, which simply measures what happens to the score when any given player is on the court. In its crude form, plus-minus is hardly perfect: a player who finds himself on the same team with the world’s four best basketball players, and who plays only when they do, will have a plus-minus that looks pretty good, even if it says little about his play. Morey says that he and his staff can adjust for these potential distortions — though he is coy about how they do it — and render plus-minus a useful measure of a player’s effect on a basketball game. A good player might be a plus 3 — that is, his team averages 3 points more per game than its opponent when he is on the floor. In his best season, the superstar point guard Steve Nash was a plus 14.5. At the time of the Lakers game, Battier was a plus 10, which put him in the company of Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett, both perennial All-Stars. For his career he’s a plus 6. “Plus 6 is enormous,” Morey says. “It’s the difference between 41 wins and 60 wins.” He names a few other players who were a plus 6 last season: Vince Carter, Carmelo Anthony, Tracy McGrady.

. . .

Before the Rockets traded for Battier, the front-office analysts obviously studied his value. They knew all sorts of details about his efficiency and his ability to reduce the efficiency of his opponents. They knew, for example, that stars guarded by Battier suddenly lose their shooting touch. What they didn’t know was why. Morey recognized Battier’s effects, but he didn’t know how he achieved them. Two hundred or so basketball games later, he’s the world’s expert on the subject — which he was studying all over again tonight. He pointed out how, instead of grabbing uncertainly for a rebound, for instance, Battier would tip the ball more certainly to a teammate. Guarding a lesser rebounder, Battier would, when the ball was in the air, leave his own man and block out the other team’s best rebounder. “Watch him,” a Houston front-office analyst told me before the game. “When the shot goes up, he’ll go sit on Gasol’s knee.” (Pau Gasol often plays center for the Lakers.) On defense, it was as if Battier had set out to maximize the misery Bryant experiences shooting a basketball, without having his presence recorded in any box score. He blocked the ball when Bryant was taking it from his waist to his chin, for instance, rather than when it was far higher and Bryant was in the act of shooting. “When you watch him,” Morey says, “you see that his whole thing is to stay in front of guys and try to block the player’s vision when he shoots. We didn’t even notice what he was doing until he got here. I wish we could say we did, but we didn’t.”

People often say that Kobe Bryant has no weaknesses to his game, but that’s not really true. Before the game, Battier was given his special package of information. “He’s the only player we give it to,” Morey says. “We can give him this fire hose of data and let him sift. Most players are like golfers. You don’t want them swinging while they’re thinking.” The data essentially broke down the floor into many discrete zones and calculated the odds of Bryant making shots from different places on the court, under different degrees of defensive pressure, in different relationships to other players — how well he scored off screens, off pick-and-rolls, off catch-and-shoots and so on. Battier learns a lot from studying the data on the superstars he is usually assigned to guard. For instance, the numbers show him that Allen Iverson is one of the most efficient scorers in the N.B.A. when he goes to his right; when he goes to his left he kills his team. The Golden State Warriors forward Stephen Jackson is an even stranger case. “Steve Jackson,” Battier says, “is statistically better going to his right, but he loves to go to his left — and goes to his left almost twice as often.” The San Antonio Spurs’ Manu Ginóbili is a statistical freak: he has no imbalance whatsoever in his game — there is no one way to play him that is better than another. He is equally efficient both off the dribble and off the pass, going left and right and from any spot on the floor.

Bryant isn’t like that. He is better at pretty much everything than everyone else, but there are places on the court, and starting points for his shot, that render him less likely to help his team. When he drives to the basket, he is exactly as likely to go to his left as to his right, but when he goes to his left, he is less effective. When he shoots directly after receiving a pass, he is more efficient than when he shoots after dribbling. He’s deadly if he gets into the lane and also if he gets to the baseline; between the two, less so. “The absolute worst thing to do,” Battier says, “is to foul him.” It isn’t that Bryant is an especially good free-throw shooter but that, as Morey puts it, “the foul is the worst result of a defensive play.” One way the Rockets can see which teams think about the game as they do is by identifying those that “try dramatically not to foul.” The ideal outcome, from the Rockets’ statistical point of view, is for Bryant to dribble left and pull up for an 18-foot jump shot; force that to happen often enough and you have to be satisfied with your night. “If he has 40 points on 40 shots, I can live with that,” Battier says. “My job is not to keep him from scoring points but to make him as inefficient as possible.” The court doesn’t have little squares all over it to tell him what percentage Bryant is likely to shoot from any given spot, but it might as well.

The reason the Rockets insist that Battier guard Bryant is his gift for encouraging him into his zones of lowest efficiency. The effect of doing this is astonishing: Bryant doesn’t merely help his team less when Battier guards him than when someone else does. When Bryant is in the game and Battier is on him, the Lakers’ offense is worse than if the N.B.A.’s best player had taken the night off. “The Lakers’ offense should obviously be better with Kobe in,” Morey says. “But if Shane is on him, it isn’t.” A player whom Morey describes as “a marginal N.B.A. athlete” not only guards one of the greatest — and smartest — offensive threats ever to play the game. He renders him a detriment to his team.

Tags: Michael Lewis, Shane Battier, The No-Stats All-Star, New Journalism

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Quote of the Day | February 15, 2009: The No-Stats All-Star

From Moneyball author Michael Lewis' latest New York Times piece on Shane Battier, "The No-Stats All-Star."

Here we have a basketball mystery: a player is widely regarded inside the N.B.A. as, at best, a replaceable cog in a machine driven by superstars. And yet every team he has ever played on has acquired some magical ability to win.

. . .

The virus that infected professional baseball in the 1990s, the use of statistics to find new and better ways to value players and strategies, has found its way into every major sport. Not just basketball and football, but also soccer and cricket and rugby and, for all I know, snooker and darts — each one now supports a subculture of smart people who view it not just as a game to be played but as a problem to be solved. Outcomes that seem, after the fact, all but inevitable — of course LeBron James hit that buzzer beater, of course the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl — are instead treated as a set of probabilities, even after the fact. The games are games of odds. Like professional card counters, the modern thinkers want to play the odds as efficiently as they can; but of course to play the odds efficiently they must first know the odds. Hence the new statistics, and the quest to acquire new data, and the intense interest in measuring the impact of every little thing a player does on his team’s chances of winning. In its spirit of inquiry, this subculture inside professional basketball is no different from the subculture inside baseball or football or darts. The difference in basketball is that it happens to be the sport that is most like life.

. . .

Alexander wasn’t alone. It was, and is, far easier to spot what Battier doesn’t do than what he does. His conventional statistics are unremarkable: he doesn’t score many points, snag many rebounds, block many shots, steal many balls or dish out many assists. On top of that, it is easy to see what he can never do: what points he scores tend to come from jump shots taken immediately after receiving a pass. “That’s the telltale sign of someone who can’t ramp up his offense,” Morey says. “Because you can guard that shot with one player. And until you can’t guard someone with one player, you really haven’t created an offensive situation. Shane can’t create an offensive situation. He needs to be open.” For fun, Morey shows me video of a few rare instances of Battier scoring when he hasn’t ­exactly been open. Some large percentage of them came when he was being guarded by an inferior defender — whereupon Battier backed him down and tossed in a left jump-hook. “This is probably, to be honest with you, his only offensive move,” Morey says. “But look, see how he pump fakes.” Battier indeed pump faked, several times, before he shot over a defender. “He does that because he’s worried about his shot being blocked.” Battier’s weaknesses arise from physical limitations. Or, as Morey puts it, “He can’t dribble, he’s slow and hasn’t got much body control.”

Battier’s game is a weird combination of obvious weaknesses and nearly invisible strengths. When he is on the court, his teammates get better, often a lot better, and his opponents get worse — often a lot worse. He may not grab huge numbers of rebounds, but he has an uncanny ability to improve his teammates’ rebounding. He doesn’t shoot much, but when he does, he takes only the most efficient shots. He also has a knack for getting the ball to teammates who are in a position to do the same, and he commits few turnovers. On defense, although he routinely guards the N.B.A.’s most prolific scorers, he significantly ­reduces their shooting percentages. At the same time he somehow improves the defensive efficiency of his teammates — probably, Morey surmises, by helping them out in all sorts of subtle ways. “I call him Lego,” Morey says. “When he’s on the court, all the pieces start to fit together. And everything that leads to winning that you can get to through intellect instead of innate ability, Shane excels in. I’ll bet he’s in the hundredth percentile of every category.”

There are other things Morey has noticed too, but declines to discuss as there is right now in pro basketball real value to new information, and the Rockets feel they have some. What he will say, however, is that the big challenge on any basketball court is to measure the right things. The five players on any basketball team are far more than the sum of their parts; the Rockets devote a lot of energy to untangling subtle interactions among the team’s elements. To get at this they need something that basketball hasn’t historically supplied: meaningful statistics. For most of its history basketball has measured not so much what is important as what is easy to measure — points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots — and these measurements have warped perceptions of the game. (“Someone created the box score,” Morey says, “and he should be shot.”) How many points a player scores, for example, is no true indication of how much he has helped his team. Another example: if you want to know a player’s value as a ­rebounder, you need to know not whether he got a rebound but the likelihood of the team getting the rebound when a missed shot enters that player’s zone.

There is a tension, peculiar to basketball, between the interests of the team and the interests of the individual. The game continually tempts the people who play it to do things that are not in the interest of the group. On the baseball field, it would be hard for a player to sacrifice his team’s interest for his own. Baseball is an individual sport masquerading as a team one: by doing what’s best for himself, the player nearly always also does what is best for his team. “There is no way to selfishly get across home plate,” as Morey puts it. “If instead of there being a lineup, I could muscle my way to the plate and hit every single time and damage the efficiency of the team — that would be the analogy. Manny Ramirez can’t take at-bats away from David Ortiz. We had a point guard in Boston who refused to pass the ball to a certain guy.” In football the coach has so much control over who gets the ball that selfishness winds up being self-defeating. The players most famous for being selfish — the Dallas Cowboys’ wide receiver Terrell Owens, for instance — are usually not so much selfish as attention seeking. Their sins tend to occur off the field.

It is in basketball where the problems are most likely to be in the game — where the player, in his play, faces choices between maximizing his own perceived self-interest and winning. The choices are sufficiently complex that there is a fair chance he doesn’t fully grasp that he is making them.

Tags: Michael Lewis, Shane Battier, The No-Stats All-Star, The New Journalism

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Quote of the Day | February 14, 2009: But I, Being Poor, Have Only My Dreams

William Butler Yeats' "He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven."

Had I the heaven's embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Tags: William Butler Yeats, W.B., Valentine's Day

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Rotoworld Article: Top 15 Dynasty League Sells

My latest Rotoworld article went up last week. The Cliff's Notes version is below, but you can click here for the full article.

Last week, we looked at the Top 20 Dynasty League Buys for the 2009 offseason. This week, we'll tackle the sells.

One of the keys to Dynasty leagues is to accurately gauge which players have staying power as reliable starters. Many different players come and go each year with good or even great seasons, but you have to be able to tell the truly gifted from the player simply performing well under ideal conditions. You have to know the difference between a group like LaDainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson, Steven Jackson, and Chris Johnson vs. Joseph Addai, Willie Parker, Chester Taylor, and LaMont Jordan.

The Dynasty league owner's offseason job is similar to that of a major league baseball GM evaluating which prospects to keep and build around and which ones to flip for key pieces while in contention. While it's important to target the right fit on another owner's roster, it's equally important to evaluate your own players and decide who is nucleus and whose value is fleeting. It's just as important to have your finger on the pulse of your own roster as it is to target the right players on other rosters.

With that in mind, let's take a look at 15 players worth selling this offseason.

1. Brian Westbrook, RB, Eagles
2. Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys
3. Eli Manning, QB, Giants
4. Steve Slaton, RB, Texans
5. Marion Barber, RB, Cowboys
6. Antonio Bryant, WR, Buccaneers
7. Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs
8. Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins
9. Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens
10. Thomas Jones, RB, Jets
11. Domenik Hixon, WR, Giants
12. Matt Forte, RB, Bears
13. Willie Parker, RB, Steelers
14. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers
15. Michael Turner, RB, Falcons

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Quarterback Rankings | February 13, 2009



1. Peyton Manning, IND | Age: 33.5 | Contract: Thru 2012 | Value Score: 99

2. Drew Brees, NO | Age: 30.6 | Contract: Thru 2011 | Value Score: 99

3. Jay Cutler, DEN | Age: 26.3 | Contract: Thru 2011 | Value Score: 97


4. #Tom Brady, NE | Age: 32.1 | Contract: Thru 2010 | Value Score: 91

5. Aaron Rodgers, GB | Age: 25.8 | Contract: Thru 2014 | Value Score: 88

6. Philip Rivers, SD | Age: 27.8 | Contract: Thru 2009 | Value Score: 87

7. Matt Ryan, ATL | Age: 24.3 | Contract: Thru 2013 | Value Score: 86

8. Tony Romo, DAL | Age: 29.4 | Contract: Thru 2013 | Value Score: 86


9. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT | Age: 27.5 | Contract: Thru 2014 | Value Score: 80

10. Matt Schaub, HOU | Age: 28.2 | Contract: Thru 2012 | Value Score: 79

11. Kurt Warner, ARI | Age: 38.3 | Contract: [UFA] | Value Score: 78

12. Donovan McNabb, PHI[T] | Age: 32.7 | Contract: Thru 2013 | Value Score: 75

13. #Carson Palmer, CIN | Age: 29.7 | Contract: Thru 2014 | Value Score: 71

14. Eli Manning, NYG | Age: 28.6 | Contract: Thru 2009 | Value Score: 68


15. Joe Flacco, BAL | Age: 24.7 | Contract: Thru 2012 | Value Score: 57

16. Matt Cassel, KC | Age: 26.3 | Contract: Thru 2009 | Value Score: 55

17. Matt Hasselbeck, SEA| Age: 34.0 | Contract: Thru 2010 | Value Score: 53

18. Trent Edwards, BUF | Age: 25.9 | Contract: Thru 2010 | Value Score: 47

19. David Garrard, JAX | Age: 31.5 | Contract: Thru 2014 | Value Score: 46

20. Brady Quinn, CLE | Age: 24.9 | Contract: Thru 2011 | Value Score: 42


21. Jason Campbell, WAS | Age: 27.7 | Contract: Thru 2009 | Value Score: 33

22. JaMarcus Russell, OAK | Age: 24.1 | Contract: Thru 2012 | Value Score: 29

23. Chad Henne, MIA | Age: 24.2 | Contract: Thru 2011 | Value Score: 28

24. Sage Rosenfels, MIN | Age: 31.5 | Contract: Thru 2009 | Value Score: 28

25. Matt Leinart, ARI[T] | Age: 26.3 | Contract: Thru 2011 | Value Score: 26

26. *Michael Vick, ATL[x] | Age: 29.2 | Contract: Thru 2013 | Value Score: 25

27. Shaun Hill, SF | Age: 29.7 | Contract: Thru 2010 | Value Score: 24

28. Kyle Orton, CHI | Age: 26.8 | Contract: Thru 2009 | Value Score: 23


29. Vince Young, TEN | Age: 25.3 | Contract: Thru 2011 | Value Score: 14

30. Luke McCown, TB | Age: 28.2 | Contract: Thru 2010 | Value Score: 13

31. Chad Pennington, MIA | Age: 33.2 | Contract: Thru 2009 | Value Score: 12

32. Jake Delhomme, CAR | Age: 34.6 | Contract: Thru 2009 | Value Score: 11

33. Marc Bulger, STL[x] | Age: 32.4 | Contract: Thru 2013 | Value Score: 11

34. #Derek Anderson, CLE[T] | Age: 26.2 | Contract: Thru 2010* | Value Score: 10

35. Kevin Kolb, PHI | Age: 25.0 | Contract: Thru 2010 | Value Score: 9


36. Brett Ratliff, NYJ | Age: 24.1 | Value Score: 6

37. Kellen Clemens, NYJ | Age: 26.3 | Value Score: 6

38. Kerry Collins, TEN | Age: 36.7 | Contract: Thru 2010 | Value Score: 6

39. Daunte Culpepper, DET[x] | Age: 32.7 | Contract: Thru 2009* | Value Score: 6

40. Byron Leftwich, PIT | Age: 29.6 | Contract: [UFA] | Value Score: 6

41. Josh Johnson, TB | Age: 23.4 | Contract: Thru 2011 | Value Score: 5

42. Drew Stanton, DET | Age: 25.4 | Contract: Thru 2010 | Value Score: 4

43. Colt Brennan, WAS | Age: 26.0 | Contract: Thru 2011 | Value Score: 4


44. Tarvaris Jackson, MIN | Age: 26.4 | Contract: Thru 2009 | Value Score: 3

45. Tyler Thigpen, KC | Age: 25.4 | Contract: Thru 2010 | Value Score: 3

46. Jeff Garcia, TB | Age: 39.5 | Contract: [UFA] | Value Score: 3

47. Seneca Wallace, SEA | Age: 29.1 | Contract: Thru 2010 | Value Score: 3

48. Alex Smith, SF[x] | Age: 25.3 | Contract: Thru 2011* | Value Score: 2

49. Matt Moore, CAR | Age: 25.1 | Contract: Thru 2009 | Value Score: 2

50. Brian Brohm, GB | Age: 23.9 | Contract: Thru 2011 | Value Score: 2

51. Kevin O'Connell, NE | Age: 24.5 | Value Score: 2

52. Dennis Dixon, PIT | Age: 24.7 | Contract: Thru 2010 | Value Score: 2

53. Jon Kitna, DAL | Age: 37.0 | Contract: Thru 2009 | Value Score: 2

54. Chris Simms, TEN | Age: 29.0 | Contract: [UFA] | Value Score: 2

55. Dan Orlovsky, DET | Age: 26.1 | Contract: [UFA] | Value Score: 2

56. J.P. Losman, BUF | Age: 28.5 | Contract: [UFA] | Value Score: 2


57. Brett Favre, NYJ[*] | Age: 39.9 | Contract: Thru 2011 | Value Score: 1

58. Troy Smith, BAL | Age: 25.2 | Contract: Thru 2009 | Value Score: 1

59. Brian Griese, TB | Age: 34.5 | Contract: Thru 2010 | Value Score: 1

60. Kyle Boller, BAL | Age: 28.3 | Contract: [UFA] | Value Score: 1

61. Billy Volek, SD | Age: 33.4 | Contract: Thru 2010 | Value Score: 1

62. Rex Grossman, CHI |Age: 29.0 | Contract: [UFA] | Value Score: 1

63. John David Booty, MIN | Age: 25.2 | Value Score: 1

64. John Beck, MIA | Age: 28.1 | Value Score: 1

65. Charlie Whitehurst, SD | Age: 27.1 | Value Score: 1

66. #Brodie Croyle, KC | Age: 26.5 | Contract: Thru 2009 | Value Score: 1

67. Josh McCown, CAR | Age: 30.2 | Value Score: 1

68. David Carr, NYG | Age: 30.1 | Value Score: 1

69. Damon Huard, KC | Age: 36.2 | Contract: [UFA] | Value Score: 1

70. Cleo Lemon, JAX | Age: 30.1 | Value Score: 1

71. Ryan Fitzpatrick, BUF | Age: 26.8 | Contract: Thru ? | Value Score: 1

72. J.T. O'Sullivan, SF | Age: 30.0 | Contract: [UFA] | Value Score: 1

73. #Patrick Ramsey, DEN | Age: 30.5 | Contract: [UFA] | Value Score: 1

74. Quinn Gray, KC | Age: 30.3 | Value Score: 1

75. Andre Woodson, NYG | Age: 25.4 | Value Score: 1

76. Joey Harrington, NO | Age: 30.9 | Contract: [UFA] | Value Score: 1

77. Andrew Walter, OAK | Age: 27.3 | Value Score: 1

78. Gus Frerotte, MIN | Age: 38.2 | Contract: [UFA] | Value Score: 1

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