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NFL lockout and league meetings: What’s the effect on fantasy football?

The Huddle has been hibernating since late December, crunching numbers and statistics in a dark cave by oil lamp, fretting over its No. 1 pick in 2011’s fantasy football draft. But now we fantasy fiends clearly have more to worry about than whether to select Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson or Aaron Rodgers (I hope I just started a debate) this fall.

The NFL lockout is threatening to derail our beloved NFL season, and though September seems a long ways away, if we’re into June and July and the season is still in jeopardy, fantasy football lovers like me will be climbing the walls, trying to figure out how to spend their Sunday afternoons in October without Philip Rivers throwing lasers across the TV screen at 4:05 p.m. on CBS.

The good news is we’re not at that point – yet. But we’ve still seen developments in the past few months that will affect the upcoming fantasy football season – if we have one, that is:

KICKOFFS MOVE UP, TOUCHBACKS INCREASE
Tuesday’s news from the NFL meetings in New Orleans causes the fantasy values of your special teams playmakers to plummet.

On the final day of the NFL meetings in New Orleans, owners voted 26-6 in favor of moving kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35 in an attempt to cut down on violent collisions and reduce injuries and concussions.

This decision is positive for player safety, and I’m glad the voters recognized that. But for fantasy owners, Brad Smith (Jets), Jacoby Ford (Raiders) and Brandon Tate (Patriots) are no longer hot commodities.

The extra five yards will allow NFL kickers to boom more and more touchbacks. This doesn’t mean kickoffs will be taken out of the game entirely – not yet, at least – but it does mean that in total yardage leagues, the running backs and receivers who do most of their damage on special teams may not be worth your time at all.

Some players, like St. Louis wideout Danny Amendola, returned punts (40 returns. 452 yds) as well as kickoffs (50 ret., 1142 yds) in 2010. So those players will still have some special teams value. But what about the Vikings’ Percy Harvin?

Minnesota put Harvin out on kick returns last season (40 ret., 933 yds, 1 TD) but kept him off punt return duties. Obviously he is one of the team’s top receivers, but this rule change could lead to Harvin’s special teams value disappearing almost entirely.

Receivers will be forced, therefore, to score their fantasy points the traditional route – the old catches-touchdowns combo.

THE 16/18-GAME SCHEDULE DEBATE
The owners’ final proposal before the union decertified contained good news for the fantasy faithful – the owners had agreed to remain at the current 16-game schedule for 2011 and 2012 and not increase the schedule’s length to 18 games after that without the players’ union’s consent.

If this holds when the new collective bargaining agreement is struck, this helps out the fantasy world. As the Huddle speculated in November, the initial proposal of an 18-game schedule and a roster increase had the potential to alter the fantasy landscape drastically in four major areas: player value, roster size, draft strategies, and season length.

A two-game increase in the regular season would force us to alter the length of the fantasy season, to re-value our positions and players based on the grind of a longer schedule, and probably to require more bench slots on our rosters due to the likelihood that each NFL team would receive two bye weeks in that format.

So if we’re sticking with the 16-game schedule, good for player safety, and good for fantasy owners.

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