Tarvaris Jackson Wearing Clear Jellies?

Nothing beats a rambling preamble.  By the time the tumbleweed stopped tumbling, Sam Elliot wrapped up his narration, and the Dude finished paying for his milk with a check for 69 cents, you knew you were about to witness greatness.   Circumnavigating the fantasy football world, you come across a lot of bizarre characters.  (When did douche become so ubiquitous and multi-faceted?  That’s not a name they’d self-apply where I come from.)  Of course, if there’s one thing uniting this motley band of fellow travelers, it’s this: The Sleeper List.

There’s only one problem.  The vast majority of the players mentioned aren’t real sleepers.  Can Jimmy Graham be a sleeper if he’s being drafted within a round of Vernon Davis and ahead of Owen Daniels?

A guy with exciting potential doesn’t morph into a sleeper just because he’s surrounded by overpriced veterans.  If you had to choose between Ryan Grant and James Starks in the fifth round (you don’t have to, thank God), Starks would be a no-brainer.  Sure, if you had the magical ability to average the results of the 2011 season across all existing parallel universes, Grant would finish with a lot more points.  Sadly, nobody who drafts Ryan Grant in the fifth round is going to make their league playoffs, so what’s the point?  On the other hand, in those rare instances where Starks breaks out, you actually have a legitimate starting running back.

On the third hand – possibly one of those hands emerging from the aliens and trying to molest Olivia Wilde – Starks has an ADP right at the tail end of the 7th round.  You’re spending starter dollars on a guy who won’t start on his own team in Week One and maybe not ever.  If the possibility of a breakout is already (over)priced into his ADP, can he really be a sleeper?

Trying to decide exactly who falls into what category is challenging but important.  You’ve got post-hype (Kevin Kolb, Ryan Mathews), breakout (Dez Bryant, Mike Thomas), rookies who are already overexposed and yet you try to convince yourself are sexy upside picks (A.J. Green, Mark Ingram), post-post-hype (Jay Cutler), and even boring veterans that might not actually suck (Fred Jackson).

Sleepers are different, a special breed.  They are Peyton Hillis, Brandon Lloyd, Steve Johnson.  If a guy’s being drafted anywhere in the first 10 rounds, he isn’t a sleeper.  He’s just somebody you’d rather have on your team than Joseph Addai.  After all, this isn’t Nam.  It’s fantasy football.  There are rules.  Any entry that violates this rule really requires only one response: Mark it zero.

A real sleeper is somebody most people will look at George Bluth-style and think, “Him?

Someone like Tarvaris Jackson.

Err . . . huh?  The guy who’s been the biggest punch line of the free agent period?  Fantasy value?  It’s down there somewhere.  Let me take another look.

Another Look

Jackson’s overall numbers are inauspicious but easy to discount.  Jackson didn’t play with the same Vikings that made Brett Favre the story of the 2009 season.  During his underwhelming sophomore campaign, Jackson’s best receiver was Bobby Wade.  His #2?  Robert Ferguson.  You can envision Jackson going to the sideline, asking Brad Childress for a little help, and being told the situation wasn’t that bad.  You can pardon Jackson for thinking, “Not that bad?  The goddamn plane has crashed into the mountain!”  Despite the sorry state of affairs, the Vikings were 8-4 with Tarvaris under center and 0-4 otherwise.

During his third season, Jackson experienced a mild breakout in somewhat limited reps.  He threw 9 TDs against only 2 INTs and notched an impressive 7.7 adjusted yards per attempt.

Since aypa is a very helpful stat in projecting the potential upside of a starting QB, it’s worth wondering what historical comparisons might exist for Jackson in his 3rd season.  If we restrict our query to non-1st round QBs, we find 13 guys have met that level in the last 30 years (minimum 100 attempts).  Interesting names pepper the list: Tony Romo, Jeff Garcia, Kurt Warner, Trent Green, Marc Bulger, Mark Rypien, Boomer Esiason.  Even a much-maligned guy like Elvis Grbac went on to have a 4000-yard, 28 TD season.

Of course, very few of those players probably had a WR as talented as Bernard Berrian when they accomplished the feat.

The biggest knock against Jackson – aside from those bizarre leaping-into-the-line-of-scrimmage interceptions – was an inability to make Sidney Rice a superstar.  In 2008 Rice caught a measly 15 passes for 141 yards.  Favre rode into town like Harrison Ford rescuing his kid from aliens – not a spoiler, a Crystal Skull reference – and Rice exploded for a line of 83 and 1312.  That Rice was an unpolished, oft-injured, rarely-played second year player in 2008 probably had nothing to do with it.  It’s a good thing the Bills got a new QB in 2010 after the failed Ryan Fitzpatrick experiment of 2009, or Steve Johnson never would have broken out.

I have a sneaking suspicion Tarvaris Jackson might thwart his team’s attempt to land Andrew Luck in next year’s draft.  As faithful Razzball readers, you are in a unique position to confirm or disconfirm that suspicion.

The Case for Tarvaris Jackson:

1. Supporting Cast

With Sidney Rice, Mike Williams, Golden Tate, and Zach Miller, the Seahawks have surrounded Jackson with a ton of talent.  Rice belongs to a very elite group with a 1300-yard receiving season before turning 24.  Miller survived JaMarcus Russell and emerged as a star.  Even Ben Obomanu is better than anybody Jackson played with in 2007.

2. Schedule

Fantasy pundits have widely varying takes on the role you should give opponent strength in your preseason prognostications.  I tend to think regression renders it mostly irrelevant, but that doesn’t mean you can’t leverage small advantages.  If a player goes into the season with one of the easiest projected schedules, it’s unlikely he ends up with one of the hardest.  And vice versa.

It’s worth noting that the Seahawks have one of the easiest passing schedules in 2011. Their slate of opposing rush defenses is among the hardest.

Enter Marshawn Lynch and the epic overhype.  We’re not even talking Scott Pippen overrated.  Pippen may not have been one of the Top 500 players in NBA history much less Top 50, but at least he was a marginally valuable starter for his team.  No, we’ve got to go mixed media and seek out examples like Saving Private Ryan to find a truly analogous level of overrated suck.

I can hear you thinking, well, that’s just like your opinion, man.  But it’s not.  While I can’t point you to game-charting data on employing blatant sentimentalism or failing to deliver on your story’s essential premise, I can tell you Pro Football Focus, Football Outsiders, and Advanced NFL Stats unanimously confirm Lynch’s travails.  The downgrade from Justin Forsett to Marshawn Lynch was so significant you might have expected someone who gets paid to make decisions for the Seahawks to have noticed it with the naked eye.  It’s almost as though Lynch has compromising pictures of Pete Carroll’s special lady friend.

3. Projected Pass Attempts

Counter-intuitively, having a mediocre QB on a bad team isn’t a death knell in fantasy.  Ask Kyle Orton and Ryan Fitzpatrick owners.  Three essential factors place Jackson in a perfect position for fantasy success.

  • The schedule is heavily tilted toward the pass.
  • The running game is going to be putrid.
  • The Seahawks will be playing from behind.

In such a scenario, Tarvaris should easily reach 550 attempts and become the prototypical mediocre reality QB who excels in fantasy.  But just focusing on passing still understates his scoring potential.

4. Rushing Value

Michael Vick has inspired genuflection among fantasy owners and become the undisputed king of fantasy QBs by process of acclamation.  Why?  Rushing points.   Tim Tebow’s fantasy cult following has nothing to do with his potential as a passer.  Jackson doesn’t possess nearly the upside of Vick, nor the goal line ability of Tebow, but he’s a good bet for 400 rushing yards.  That’s the equivalent of nearly 7 extra passing touchdowns.  If you add 3 rushing TDs, Jackson would need only 20 passing TDs to rival a 30 spot from Drew Brees or Tom Brady.

I’ll turn you back over to the Stranger to bring it home.

Sometimes there’s a man, I won’t say a hero, but sometimes there’s a man – I’m talking about Tarvaris Jackson here – well, he’s the man for his time and place.  And if he does return huge value, you will have seen something just as stupefying as Brandon Lloyd emerging last year.  And in English too.



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