As some of you may have already noticed, our updated player projections have been up since last week. Now I know I probably just lost half of you as you jumped right to the rankings. For those of you that have stuck around or made your way back, I wanted to share with you the inner workings of our player rankings and projections.
We let our projections dictate our rankings. And our philosophy has been to project each and every player to determine just how stats will be distributed throughout the team. So while a majority could care less how many balls a third string receiver for Houston is going to catch, it greatly impacts how many balls Patrick Edwards and Tyron Carrier will see coming their way. So we take no short cuts.
Russell Wilson has been a hot topic this off-season, and he recently settled on joining the Wisconsin Badgers. Which of course has thrown a complete monkey wrench in our Badger rankings and projections released this spring. But it has also given us the opportunity to give you a sneak peek into our preseason projection process that we do for each and every team.
Who Starts at Quarterback?
The first question we ask when starting a team projection is who is going to start at quarterback? We are going on the assumption that Wilson will beat out Jon Budmayr in fall camp. Obviously this has yet to be determined.
Previous Year Comparison
The offensive coaching staff has remained stable with Bret Bielema and Paul Chryst, and we don't expect any major changes from what they've done in the past. So looking at prior year statistics is a good start.
Wisconsin 3-Year Per Game Pass Avg: 15-of-24, 200 yards, 1.1 TDs and 0.75 INT Rush: Negligible
Of course the major change here is the addition of Wilson who has trumped the Badgers' passing numbers the last two season. Let's take a look...
Wilson 2-Year Per Game Pass Avg: 20-of-35, 253 yards, 2.3 TDs and 0.95 INT Rush: 9.5 atts, 27 yards and 0.5 TDs
How Many Passing Attempts?
As you can see there is a large discrepancy between Wilson's pass attempt average and Wisconsin, so this is where the projection process becomes subjective. The Badgers aren't going to deviate greatly in what they do -- pound the football -- just because Wilson is behind center. Keep in mind Wilson will have a little over four weeks to learn a new offensive system.
While the answer to the question above rests somewhere in the middle, the Badgers average has a slightly larger pull, so we've settled on 28 pass attempts per game.
Wilson's completion percentage the last two seasons hovers around 57 percent. However, Wisconsin quarterbacks are typically over 60 percent -- Scott Tolzien completed 72.9 percent of his passes last fall -- and Wilson will benefit from working in a balanced offense. We settled on 60 percent completion percentage which gives us 17 completions per game.
Most stat columns you see will show yards per attempt. This is good way to determine the overall effectiveness of an offense, but in my opinion is not good way to calculate projections. I prefer to use yards per completion. Based on the averages above, we settled on 13.2 yards per completion. This is on the high end of what we typically see, but right in line with what the Badgers have previously done and only slightly higher than Wilson's average. It is not uncommon to see run-heavy offenses have higher than normal yards per completion. Pass-heavy offenses typically rely on the a short passing game, while run-heavy units like to go deep off play action.
Touchdowns and INTs
Wilson won't match his touchdown totals from the past two seasons; there are too many mouths to feed in the backfield. But it is safe to say the Badgers will throw more passing touchdowns in 2011. This is probably the toughest and most critical stat to project, as it greatly effects the fantasy projections of the receivers, tight ends and running backs. We settled on 1.8 touchdowns per game, which is right in line with pass attempts and yardage for a run-heavy team.
Interceptions were relatively easy at 0.7 INTs per game. Wilson has had a consistent INT-to-attempt ratio the last two seasons, which we basically followed.
This is an interesting one as in the past when projecting rushing stats for Wisconsin quarterbacks it was really a matter of asking how many times they'll get sacked. Not the case with Wilson. He's a legitimate rushing threat and adds an interesting dynamic to the Badgers' offense. I don't see Wilson matching his the amount of attempts he's had in either of his last three seasons, but I can see his average staying on the higher end. So we end up with 6.7 attempts, 21 yards and 0.3 touchdowns.
Effect on White and Ball
Of course these projections trickle down to each skill position player, but we'll save the boring details. You can pick them apart in our draft kit. However, on everyone's mind is how does Wilson effect running backs James White and Montee Ball? Certainly if you're going to increase the passing and rushing attempts from the quarterback, that leaves less touches for your running backs. But this is not a 1:1 relationship as the Badgers' ability to move the chains and keep the offense on the field increases with Wilson at quarterback. So overall, their offense should see a boost from our spring numbers. White and Ball do see their carries decreased and hence their projections decreased in the latest round of projections, but it shouldn't be a major concern.
Overall Wisconsin's offense will be much more balanced with Wilson. And while White's and Ball's respective ceiling might be reduced, so is the risk that they'll be one-dimensional and won't be able to move the ball.
One thing to keep in mind is Tolzien was no slouch at quarterback. We commented in 2009 that he had the look of a future NFL quarterback, and it turned out to be correct. So expecting a major change is probably not realistic. That said, Wilson is a different type of quarterback. He needs to be active to be effective. It wouldn't shock me to see Wilson blow the doors off our projections or fall well short of them. Same with White and Ball. Both have potential to put up HUGE numbers. But you could also see one back steal the spotlight leaving you hanging.
White and Ball are definite first or second round selections, with or without Wilson. Their potential is too great. Wilson, on the other hand, has some question marks. Based on our projections, he's a QB2/QB3 in BCS-only leagues. But scanning the quarterbacks around, he clearly has more potential than others in his range. I'd call him a late QB2 with upside.