Michael Salfino

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Michael Salfino provides quantitative player and team analysis for the Wall Street Journal and Yahoo! Sports.

  • Scouting Notebook: Gordon going gonzo

    Josh Gordon has risen above the limitations of his QB. (USAT)Josh Gordon has risen above the limitations of his QB. (USAT)Josh Gordon is back and the NFL is his playground. He’s on one of the most epic wide receiver runs ever, one unfairly interrupted by outdated NFL policy designed to prevent off-field conduct that few, if any, still consider worthy of a suspension.

    Gordon has eight games of at least 120 receiving yards since 2013, which for him is only 15 games (thanks, Roger Goodell and NFLPA). That’s the most in football in that span, tying Gordon with T.Y. Hilton, who has played 12 more games. A.J. Green, DeSean Jackson and Demaryius Thomas have seven each. Calvin Johnson (more on him later) has four. So 120 receiving yards for Gordon is above his median and thus his projection. That's insane.

    Gordon doesn’t have Peyton Manning so maybe Demaryius Thomas is the top fantasy wide receiver going forward. But Gordon is No. 2. What receiver in the history of our game has had this kind of floor? And he gets 15 targets every game, too.

    Brian Hoyer is a big problem but even he can’t screw Gordon up. If not for

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  • Splitsville: Gray's big day

    Jonas Gray, flash in the pan? (Getty)Jonas Gray, flash in the pan? (Getty)Let’s see if a model will help us forecast the likelihood of Jonas Gray being a flash in the pan versus a star.

    I’ve set the single-game thresholds at 175 yards rushing and three rushing TDs. Of course, Gray had 199 and four last week. That gives us 18 names since 2000: Shawn Alexander, Mike Anderson, Tiki Barber, Marshall Faulk, Arian Foster, Eddie George, Gray, Jerome Harrison, Larry Johnson, Julius Jones, Jamal Lewis, Doug Martin, Alfred Morris, Adrian Peterson (three times), Clinton Portis, Fred Taylor (twice), LaDainian Tomlinson (four times).

    So how many of the 18 were flashes in the pan? I’ll give you Anderson, Harrison, Jones, Martin (I know it’s early but I’m calling it). The other guys were/are good. So that’s four pan flashes of 18 or a 22% chance that Gray is the stiff most thought he was. In other words, odds are about 3.5-to-1 in favor of Gray being some degree of good (which would make him a top projected back for the remainder of the season).

    We could say it’s less

    Read More »from Splitsville: Gray's big day
  • Scouting Notebook: Anderson takes charge in Broncos backfield

    Expect big fantasy returns from Anderson the rest of the way. (USAT)Expect big fantasy returns from Anderson the rest of the way. (USAT)To paraphrase Tolstoy (though this is way better than anything he ever wrote), all NFL weeks are crazy but Week 11 was crazy in its own way.

    If you would have asked me 20 questions about the week, I would have gotten 18 or maybe 19 wrong. But the one I got right arguably made up for all the misses because it was Jonas Gray and the Patriots desire to pound the snot out of the Colts with the run.

    Yes, I meekly said “at least 80 yards and a touchdown” for Gray on Twitter @michaelsalfino. And, yeah, the writing was on the wall if you make any note of the postseason games after our fantasy years are over. The Patriots did exactly the same thing to the Colts last year. So clearly they were going to at least try it. So I played Gray in all my leagues on Sunday, though to be fair I don’t really care much about running backs so his downside was pretty meaningless.

    Ranking Gray going forward is tough. I’ll say top 12, which is a very low bar this season. Alfred Morris is the 12th running back in

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  • Splitsville: Strong to the finish

    We’re entering the homestretch in fantasy football now and setting our rosters with the playoffs in mind. Many of us are trading depth that the passing bye weeks have mostly made obsolete and, of course, our desired targets are the players who’ve had the greatest impact thus far in 2014.

    Unfortunately, the season that’s before us is unlikely to bear much resemblance to the one in the rear-view mirror. Old stars will fade. New ones will be born.

    To help quantify this, I looked at the players who had the most impact the first 10 weeks of 2013, according to Pro-Football-Reference’s default fantasy football scoring, to see how they fared the rest of the season. And I also charted the top 20 fantasy scoring non-QBs the final seven weeks of 2013 to see if they were top-scoring non-QBs in weeks 1-through-10, too. (I wanted to eliminate the QBs completely because I don’t really care much at all about them but I get that’s a minority opinion.)

    I debated whether to lop off the non-week for us, Week

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  • Scouting Notebook: Forecasting limitations

    Big Ben fell well short of expectations in Week 10. (USAT)Big Ben fell well short of expectations in Week 10. (USAT)When you have the hottest quarterback ever (Ben Roethlisberger) facing the all-time worst pass defense (NY Jets) and the result is nothing close to a fantasy football points explosion, you have to stand back and assess our forecasting limitations.

    Players are volatile. Even the quarterback, who is able to express his skills more completely than other players, can be overwhelmed by his environment. Roethlisberger had no time to throw and was hit on most plays, sometimes even after the whistle. All the momentum that had been in his favor the prior two weeks went against him. And this was at the hands of the team setting new records for inept play versus opposing quarterbacks, having yielded 24 touchdown passes with only one pick.

    There’s nothing bankable about Roethlisberger or any player. What was and remains bettable about him, though, is that he’s a great player. But understand this has little currency if his teammates let him down. Look what happened to Tom Brady earlier this year. And

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  • Splitsville: Passing up, QB down

    Luck is the top fantasy QB, but what's that worth? (USAT)Luck is the top fantasy QB, but what's that worth? (USAT)Three items on the menu in Splitsville this week: the passing explosion, quarterback scoring and the rumored demise of the big wide receiver theory.

    The passing game in the NFL this year is like Coors Field with hitting. The numbers are crazy inflated. Passing accounts for 68.7% of total yardage this year, up from 64.4% in 2005 and 60.6% in 1980. And don’t think running backs are getting the rest as rushing yards by quarterbacks has increased to 11.7% of the total rushing yardage, up from 8% in 2005 and 7.5% in 1980. So it’s an explosion in passing yards and rushing yards by quarterbacks. And they’re siphoning off 11.1% of all rushing attempts now vs. 9.4% and 7.2% in 2005 and 1980, respectively. Man, it must suck to be a running back these days.

    So quarterback scoring is through the roof. But I believe that devalues the entire position.

    Andrew Luck has 25.6 fantasy points per game, according to Pro-Football-Reference. That’s an incredible-sounding total, but it’s less than two points

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  • Scouting Notebook: Pocket presence

    Mobile QBs like Cam Newton and Russell Wilson didn't gain much traction in Week 9 (Getty)Mobile QBs like Cam Newton and Russell Wilson didn't gain much traction in Week 9 (Getty)So much for running quarterbacks being the kings of fantasy football at the position. We seek these running bonuses, but in Week 9, we paid the price in volatility as Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson ranked 17th, 18th and 21st in QB scoring.

    Meanwhile, six of the top seven were passers that hardly move outside the pocket in Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Carson Palmer. Ryan Tannehill is the new hybrid flavor of the month, averaging 22.1 points per week the past four, which is sixth best and slightly better than Drew Brees.

    The running quarterbacks are explosive, for sure, but so up and down. When the run is taken away by opposing defenses, schematically, they don’t have much to fall back on because they play on low-volume passing teams that lack the talent and chemistry needed to succeed in a more structured offense within the pocket. So if you don’t need the QB position to win, and you really should not, it’s generally the best practice to

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  • Splitsville: Remarkable rookie receivers

    Let’s start this week’s Splitsville by looking at the historically great rookie receiver class of '14. Last week, according to the NFL, nine rookies had at least 75 receiving yards, the most in a single week in NFL history. The list includes everyone on the list below except Odell Beckham (bye), Jordan Matthews, Allen Hurns, Jarvis Landry and TE Jace Amaro.


    Amaro was put in there by the database and not by me, but let’s leave him in because I think this pace is more of a floor in the second half. Bryant is so clearly the leader because he’s only played two games and we pro-rate for 16. That’s not fair, I know, relative to some receiver like Donte Moncrief who was merely active other games while receiving negligible snap counts. I would rank them Benjamin, Watkins, Moncrief, Bryant, Beckham, Brown, Cooks, Matthews and Evans the rest of the way. But this is a nice group to choose from. Whoever is cheapest is probably the best play and my guess is that’s Brown.

    John Brown reminds some of Marvin Harrison. (USAT)John Brown reminds some of Marvin Harrison. (USAT)I’ve liked Brown since

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  • Scouting Notebook: Brady still elite

    An expert, I’ve long said, is someone who’s made every mistake that can be made in a narrow field. So I’m a fantasy football expert for sure.

    When I talk now about what went right with some calls, it’s not to pat myself on the back or knock people who went the other way. It’s to focus on the thought process that went into these calls, a process that was shaped by prior mistakes.

    So we start in New England with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

    [Join FanDuel.com's $3M Week 9 fantasy league: $25 to enter; top 26,405 teams paid]

    My confidence in Brady when many were dumping him was based on the convergence between fantasy QB scoring and QB play in reality. That was step one: if Brady was a good real-life QB, he should be a good fantasy QB. There are exceptions, of course, as with all things, but this is the rule.

    But another question was whether Brady was still a good QB. But what I learned from prior mistakes, some many years ago, is that saying a player has lost it isn’t good enough. You need

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  • Splitsville: Dealing with defenses

    In Splitsville this week, we’re going to break down the defenses to help us determine which of our offensive players to start.

    There are seven weeks in the books and we have enough of a sample now to bet on these statistics in making roster decisions.

    Offenses generally control outcomes. One game never means anything by itself but, just for illustration purposes,, consider the Cowboys vs. Seahawks where the strength of the Seattle defense didn’t matter, even in the running game, because the Dallas offense dictated that day. So do not go overboard with this information and bench a No. 1 receiver with a bad matchup in favor of a borderline starter with a great one. This guidance is for breaking ties between similarly tiered players.

    I prefer these all-encompassing numbers to the statistics that break down defenses by how they fare against against tight ends, wide receivers, running backs and QBs. For example, what if a defense is giving up points to running backs as receivers but your

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