The Things Change Checklist 2011
By Mike Herman
July 21st, 2011

It's an easy trap to fall into. Even though we know that things will change, it's easy to lose sight of that and just assume that things will go on more or less as they have been. It happens in the real world, and it happens in the football fantasy world. Although some players and teams will produce roughly the same as last year, many will not. Some will improve (anywhere from a little to a lot). Some will decline (anywhere from a little to a lot). From a fantasy perspective, the big goal is trying to predict who will change and by how much.

The following checklist is an attempt to outline the wide range of factors that could lead to a player's results varying from last year's. It obviously only addresses items known heading into the season, and does not account for factors that will invariably arise during the regular season.

Situation Changes

1. Promoted from backup to starter (or demoted the other direction).

2. Promoted from WR2 to WR1 (or demoted the other direction). Do they have the talent to handle being the top receiver, or were they better off as a WR2?

3. Promoted from part of a running-back-by-committee to feature back (or demoted the other direction). This is most commonly seen with running backs, but it can also apply to other positions.

4. Have they changed positions entirely? This is not very common among veteran players, although occasionally one will change from defense to offense, such as DB to WR or vise versa. It's more common among rookies, such as college QBs that have been or are being converted to other or multiple positions.

5. Do they have an increased or decreased workload in other areas? For example, will a WR, RB, or DB also be returning kickoffs or punts? Will the place kicker also be handling kickoffs?

Surrounding Player Changes

6. Changed teams. Is the new team better, similar, or worse?

7. Have there been significant changes to the offensive line (for better or worse)? No change can often have a positive effect for offensive lines, since the lineman typically need time to learn to work together as a unit.

8. Has the run blocking changed at the FB or TE position?

9. Has the passing or running game changed? Success of one often leads to improvement in the other.

10. Has the defense changed? A good defense might allow the offense to run more. A bad defense might force the offense into a passing shootout, or set them up to get some garbage time points.

11. Is a player being pushed by the backup? Will they respond by improving or wind up being pushed out?

12. Is there a high-priced early-round draft choice that's poised to take over the job?

13. Has the team been hit with multiple injuries, or conversely, are they now healthy after having been derailed by injuries last year?

Game Plan Changes

14. Has the coaching changed? New head coach or offensive coordinator?

15. Has a player's positional coach (often a mentor role) been added, deleted, or changed?

16. Will there be a new offensive system to learn? Has the player worked in a similar system before? Is the player suited to the system? How complex is the new system, and how much learning curve might be expected?

17. Is there an indication that the team wants to focus more on running or passing this year? Judgment call: is it legitimate or just coach-speak?

18. Is there an indication that the team wants to shift focus in the red zone? Judgment call: is it legitimate or just coach-speak?

19. Will a RB become more (or less) involved in the passing game?

20. Is a player being taught/forced to change his style or tendencies (e.g. a scrambling QB being pressed to stay in the pocket)?

21. Did the team get burned by some aspect of the game last year, so this year they are trying to overcompensate in the opposite direction?

22. Does the team appear to be in playing-to-win-now mode (more likely to use their experienced players), or in rebuilding-mode and looking to the future (more likely to use their younger inexperienced players with potential)?

Body Changes

23. Is the player getting old? Have they reached the typical age threshold of effectiveness for their position? Is he one of the exceptions to the "rule"?

24. Are they coming off an injury from late last year or the off-season? Is it one of those that take two years to truly recover from?

25. Have they recently picked up one of those nagging minor injuries which won't keep then from playing but that might decrease their effectiveness?

26. Have they altered their usual off-season workout routine? Are they in much better (or worse) shape than last year?

Mind Changes

27. Are they in a contract year and thinking about money?

28. Did they just sign a big contract?

29. Are they holding out during camp/pre-season?

30. Are they dealing with personal issues?

31. Do they have a renewed focus? Have they been putting in overtime studying the playbook and game films?

32. Team morale: what's the focus level of their surrounding team mates? It can be infectious (good or bad).

Misc. Changes

33. Does the schedule this year look significantly easier or harder than last year's?

34. Is there potential carryover from the end of last year? Did they end last year on a hot streak (and was that just luck or had they finally got it together)? Did they end last year in slump (and was that just luck or had the opponents finally figured out how to game plan for them)?

35. Are they in the coaching staff's dog house for some reason? Is the coach forceful enough to do something about it? Is the player talented enough that the coach probably has to play them regardless?

36. Has the player done something to gain (or lose) the respect of his team mates?

37. Are they dealing with legal issues?

38. Are they under the scrutiny of NFL Commissioner Goodell, and on the verge of a potential suspension?

When assessing and projecting a player's potential for the forthcoming season, keep the above list of questions in mind. You may want to look at all the players on an NFL team at one time, since many of the questions involve the surrounding team. After answering all these little questions, the potential big picture for the upcoming year will hopefully start to reveal itself.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to herman@footballguys.com.

© 2011 Footballguys - All Rights Reserved