When you’re known as Beanie, it either means most people don’t like you and you spend your days getting wedgies or you’re really good at football and no one knows why the heck they call you Beanie. Either way, the football-playing alter ego of Arizona’s Chris Wells has plenty of fantasy folks excited about his 2010 prospects, including Chet “Doc” Gresham, sheriff of Footballtown at Razzball.com. Matt Schauf of RapidDraft.com, however, much prefers Pierre Thomas in point-per-reception leagues. As a result, the two recently took their paces, turned and fired …
Schauf: I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, Doc (if that’s your real name), but it seems as though someone has hacked into your site and swapped out your PPR rankings for a muddled facsimile. At least, that’s all I can assume when I see Chris Wells ranked 12th among the running backs … five spots ahead of my guy Pierre Thomas. I’ll be happy to get into my thoughts on the two players, but first I’m curious to find out your reasoning. Does “Beanie” simply appeal to your well-documented affinity for propeller hats?
Doc: My propeller hat fetish has nothing to do with this! Christopher Wells is, how do you say, a bad ass. I think the crux of my Beanie love comes from his ability to be a feature back, whereas Pierre St. Thomas will always be part of a committee in Sean Payton’s offense and really, that is what PST needs to stay somewhat healthy. If you think, want, hope, dream of him consistently getting 20 touches a game he won’t last all season and will continue his history of nagging injuries.
Schauf: If it’s a history of nagging injuries what scares you off, then Wells is definitely your man …
I have no problem with Wells the player. I like him and agree with the consensus that he’s clearly the better runner in Arizona’s duo. His draft position, however, doesn’t seem to be in line with realistic expectations for his numbers. Allow me to whip out the nerdulator for a moment and geek this place up: According to FootballOutsiders.com, the Cards’ offensive line sat in the middle of the league in run blocking last year, performing particularly poorly in “Power Success” and “Stuffed” percentage. It’s possible those refer to utilities and baked-potato performance, but I believe they also point to a line that basically couldn’t do its job when most needed. Arizona made some changes, but will they be enough. Even if that group gets better, we’re still talking about an offense that ranked 11th in scoring last year with a good quarterback. Seems unlikely to me that the whole team scores as much this time around, which simply means fewer touchdowns to spread around. And speaking of spreading around, how many touches can we really expect from Wells – 220 carries, 20-25 catches? Putting aside who’s technically the starter, Tim Hightower will continue to get plenty of work. He has 18 rushing scores through two seasons and caught more passes than any back not named Ray and/or Rice last year.
I’d go on to Pierre Thomas right now, but I must take a drink before I continue.
Doc: Interesting link you have there. I see the Tennessee Titans were ranked 22nd overall in run blocking. I feel sorry for whoever their running back was last season.
Yes, the Beanster has had the nagging injury label, but not all labels are made the same. Think George’s wedding invitations. Last season Wells played all 16 games and had 176 carries even though he started the season with only 23 in the first 4 games. Your man P.T. has never played in every game and never topped 147 carries. P.T. Bruiser, he is not.
As long as we are nerding out, lets see what Football Outsiders says about Wells in short yardage situations last season, “The Cardinals haven’t been aces in goal-line situations in years past, but Wells changed all that with the highest red zone rushing DVOA among backs with at least 20 red zone carries (45.2%).” Now I ain’t no Alfred Einstein, but that sounds good.
With the loss of Warner and Boldin you are going to see a reversion to a more run oriented game. Take Ken Whisenhunt’s first two seasons as offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers where they ran for 2464 and 2263 yards. This was with a young and not particularly effective Ben Roethlisberger. Last season with Warner, the Cardinals, as a team, ran for just over 1400 yards. That number will rise, and Beanie will rise with it.
Schauf: Curses, my own resources turned against me! And then you rub it in by reminding me I was never invited to George’s wedding! Actually, Whisenhunt’s time in the pilot seat for the Pittsburgh offense serves as an interesting frame of reference. The only one of those three years in which the Steelers produced a No. 1 fantasy running back was 2006, when Willie Parker decided to spend all his football lives and then steal some from his teammates Contra-style. With Dookie Davenport striking a fitting pose as the team’s No. 2 back, Parker took 337 handoffs before his career tragically died sometime in 2007. In 2005, Parker got the kind of carry total that Wells can realistically aspire to this year: 255. Should he reach that level, I’d expect more than the four touchdowns that Parker produced, but the fact that Parker managed only four while his team totaled 21 is a lesson either in splitting the pie or Pi. (Not sure which; I never got past 3.14.) Plus, those 2004 and 2005 Pittsburgh teams each led the league in carries while throwing the ball fewer than 380 times. I’m with you on Arizona running the ball more this year, but I’m apparently away from you on just how much more.
Allow me a DeLorean ride, though, as I’m tired of living in the past – which is where you and your Pierre Thomas projections seem to reside. Thomas’ injured nag cost him a whopping three games over the past two seasons, which is one fewer than Frank Gore missed. Larry Johnson totaled a mere 16 games and 140 carries through two seasons before his 2005 breakout. Thomas Jones spent four years being nagged before putting it together in Chicago. DeAngelo Williams was a nicked-up smallish guy with a high of 144 attempts before his 2008. With my precedential campaign out of the way, I’ll go back to FO numbers and something I recently wrote. Like-minded nerds can click that link for the full array of abbreviations, but basically, when you look at things on a per-play basis and adjust for opponent, Thomas has performed like a top-five running back the past two years. Touchdowns are also easier to come by in the offense that has led the league in scoring the past two years. All that’s been missing for Thomas is the touches, and I want to be around when the proper level of touching starts. Wait, I didn’t mean …
Doc: Dookie knew how to squeeze through a tight hole! Anyway, back to Sir Pierre (fancy pants) Thomas and all of these extra carries he’s going to get. Have you discussed this with Malcolm in the, uh, Sean Payton? He doesn’t seem to be the, give one guy a shot at making it big in the fantasy football world, business. Since you opened the gate and let the Football Outsiders in, I’ll take another dip in the well(s). In discussing P.T. they say, “He’ll get more opportunities with Mike Bell gone, but he’s never going to handle a 20-carry workload in the Saints offense: The scheme is built around a mix-and- match approach in the backfield, and Thomas is more a system product than a featured back.”
I don’t doubt that IF Thomas gets the bulk of the carries and IF the Saints don’t grab a short-yardage back at cutdown time and IF Pierre can withstand short-yardage carries and the wear and tear of 20 touches a game, he could easily be a second-rounder and win you a whole mantle full of fake-football, fake-pewter trophies, but I don’t like all those ifs sniffin’ around my business.
As far as Beanie’s workload goes, he’s already won the starting job in practice by having more looks from Week 13 on — both overall, 92 to 66, and in the red zone, 17 to 7. Last season was his rookie year and even though he had the superior raw talent, he didn’t have the experience of Hightower in blitz pickups and in doing all the little things you need to know to stay on the field in different situations. But with a full season, OTAs and training camp under his belt, he has learned those things and is getting praise from the coaching staff for just that. We will see him in more passing situations and near the goal line more often this season. Hightower is the starter in name only. Whisenhunt is all about seniority and pride and all that military motivational mumbo jumbo, but when it comes down to it, Beanie is the one who will help him keep his coaching job.
P.T. has had his chance. Reggie Bush proved he can’t be the go-to guy, Mike Bell, is well, Mike Bell, and Thomas couldn’t break out as the main guy. Is it his size? His nagging injuries? Payton’s offense? His totally French name? I don’t know, but I do know Wells is ready to roll and you, Mr. Matt Schauf, if that is your real name (just go ahead and switch that F out for a B), better get on board or get out of the way!
Schauf: It’s clear you’re getting more soused with every fictional carry, so I feel the need to cap this bottle. I’m not giving Thomas 20 carries a week, at least not until the Texans trade me there. (Damn … my cover.) In fact, I think if both players are healthy all season, he and Wells should finish about the same in that category. I do, however, expect more receptions and touchdowns for Thomas – something along the lines of the totals that made Ricky Williams the sixth-ranked running back in the PPR RapidDraft scoring system.
Chet Gresham (that’s me!) flaunts his fantasy doctorate as often as possible at Razzball.com. Matt Schauf is the senior football writer for World Fantasy Games. Challenge him anytime in free fantasy football at RapidDraft.com. Follow both on Twitter (Chetrazzball) and (mschauf63).