Saturday, October 16, 2004

Fantasy: The Ten Zone


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Who the heck is Chris Baker and how can he possibly help your fantasy team? What do you mean Duce Staley might actually score some short-yardage touchdowns? And how can Byron Leftwich possibly compare favorably with Daunte Culpepper?

Simple. It's all about the "ten zone," people. Forget all this talk about the red zone. What players do inside their opponents' 10-yard line (i.e. the ten zone) is the difference between you high-fiving your wife (she could care less, by the way) and scaring the dog off the couch when you start screaming at the television screen.

I've become fond of using the "Internets" (What, you didn't know there was more than one Internet? Heck, even George W. Bush knows that!) to track how many runs, passes or receptions individual players get inside the ten. It's the reason I picked up Daniel Graham off waivers and (unfortunately) kept Ron Dayne on my roster much longer than I should have. And while it's not a guaranteed indicator of fantasy success, finding out which players are getting the most opportunities inside the 10-yard line gives you a better feel for who will get the touchdown looks and who won't. Below is a position-by-position review of what's been going on in the ten zone so far.

Quarterbacks

It should not shock anybody that Daunte Culpepper (13 TD passes so far) is leading the NFL with 19 pass attempts inside the 10-yard line. More importantly, Daunte leads all quarterbacks with seven rushes there too.

Now the shocker: The guy who has thrown the second-most passes in the ten zone is none other than Byron Leftwich (16). That puts him ahead of studs like Peyton Manning (13), Marc Bulger (10) and Donovan McNabb (4). Granted, Leftwich has only five passing TDs so far, but the fact that he's throwing so often when the Jags get near the goal line means two things - he's eventually going to start racking up lots of short TD passes and Fred Taylor owners will continue cursing him.

Running Backs

The top three should be no surprise: Edgerrin James (17 runs inside the 10-yard line), Priest Holmes (13) and LaDainian Tomlinson (10). Next are Domanick Davis (10) and Clinton Portis (9).

Now, the part that makes you spit out your Cheerios: Traditional "yardage backs" Curtis Martin, Tiki Barber and Warrick Dunn all have nine runs in the ten zone this year. Meanwhile goal line specialists (and fantasy archenemies of the players mentioned above) LaMont Jordan, Ron Dayne and T.J. Duckett are standing on the sideline looking for something to do (or eat). And while Martin, Barber and Dunn have combined for a ton of total yards, just like we expected, what's put them to the front of the fantasy landscape is that the trio has already racked up an eye-popping 14 rushing touchdowns so far. This coming from a group of runners that few (if any) of us were very excited about coming into the season.

In Pittsburgh, goal line specialist Jerome Bettis has seven runs (and five touchdowns) in the ten zone, but teammate Duce Staley has actually gotten five tries in the ten zone too. What this means is that Duce is getting a chance for those short-yardage scores. The problem is he either gets stuffed or else takes it down to the one or two-yard line, and then Bettis waddles in, falls over the goal line and gets all the glory. So don't give up on Duce being a touchdown threat just yet.

Finally, a disturbing trend: St. Louis superstar-in-training Steven Jackson has more runs (7) in the ten zone than superstar-in-fading Marshall Faulk (5), making for the beginnings of an ugly committee situation. Can't Faulk just go down already (Everyone say it with me: "Knees, knees!") so we can anoint Jackson the next great fantasy back?

Wide Receivers

Vikings Coach Mike Tice has said in the past he believes Randy Moss can set the record for single-season receiving touchdowns, and it's hard to argue with that thought when Minnesota keeps force-feeding Moss the ball near the goal line. He's got seven touchdowns in four games and the Vikings have already thrown 13 passes his way inside the ten.

After Moss, Torry Holt is second (5), then of all people is Miami's Chris Chambers (4). (Remember him?) After that nobody has more than three passes, and perhaps most shocking of all is that Philadelphia's Terrell Owens only has one pass attempt inside the ten zone. Maybe TO needs to stop scoring from so far away.

Tight Ends

New England's Daniel Graham has been doing his best Ben Coates impersonation, scoring five times on only twelve catches. His yardage is nothing to write home about, but it's obvious that Graham, with five passes in the ten zone, is the guy when it comes to getting those little one and two-yard TD flips.

Surprisingly, Detroit's Stephen Alexander (58 yards receiving, 0 TDs in four games) is second to Graham with four passes coming his way inside the ten. After that everybody from Tony Gonzalez to Chris Cooley has had 2-3 looks in the ten zone. One guy to keep an eye on is the Jets' Baker, who has a pair of short TD catches and has apparently replaced Anthony Becht as New York's short TD guy.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to wrap up this column up. It's time to try and find that other Internet George was talking about.

HOT BOX

Gotta Play: Mewelde Moore, RB, Vikings. Halloween comes early for the latest Vikings' stud back, because the Saints have already started their trick-or-treating, dressing up in costumes that make them look like real NFL defenders.

Stay Away: Fred Taylor, RB, Jaguars. Used to be all you had to worry about with Fraud was his annual season-ending injury. Now that Taylor's actually healthy, he stinks. Not only doesn't he get any goal line carries, he also hasn't had a 100-yard rushing game through five weeks. If he doesn't light up Kansas City on Sunday, you should officially sound the panic alarm.

Worth Watching: Reuben Droughns, RB, Broncos. Yes, everyone already went ape and grabbed him off the waiver wire this week. But before we get all Mike Anderson about the guy, let's see if he can do it for more than one game. If he does well against Oakland and keeps Quentin Griffin and company at bay on Sunday, then it's time to say Denver's done it again.

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John Nemo has been writing his nationally syndicated fantasy football column since 2001. Reach him at nemofreelance@yahoo.com




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