As we all know Hindsight is 20/20. This weekly column is devoted
to learning from common mistakes and serves as FFToday’s “Fantasy
What a crazy, ugly, and entertaining game last night. Trent
Edwards played about as well as I did picking players for some
of my weekly line ups. At least the one where I picked Edwards,
I squeaked out a needed victory that should have been much easier.
Kevin Smith could be an effective starting
runner: Many owners drafted Kevin Smith in the first half
of their drafts upon FFToday’s recommendation that he would
be a decent No. 2 fantasy RB. He’s had his share of doubters.
In fact, many pronounced his season dead after “losing”
the starting gig to Rudi Johnson and the Lions placing Jon Kitna
on IR and trading Roy Williams to the Cowboys. But after week
11, Smith is the No. 18 fantasy RB, averaging 10.3 points per
Lesson Learned: This is a great example why you draft as many
running backs (and receivers) as possible. From strictly a re-draft
angle, Smith could be one of those guys with the potential to
make fantasy owners ecstatic in the playoffs. His 112-yard output
against a decent Carolina Panther run defense was a surprise to
many. But since Rod Marinelli has decided to hand the reins to
Smith, he’s averaged 23.5 carries for 104 yards and 25 yards
receiving against the likes of the other two cats this Lion has
faced (Panthers and Jaguars).
He’ll face three really tough run units to finish the month
- Tampa, Tennessee, and Minnesota – but if I contend he’s
a great player to have if you have back like Brandon Jacobs, Thomas
Jones, or Willie Parker in the fold. These three runners are on
teams that should be able to rest their players come weeks 15
and 16. Kevin Smith has become the gravy train and if he stays
healthy through the gauntlet of teams I mentioned earlier, he’ll
be rewarded with Indy and New Orleans in the final two weeks of
the fantasy playoffs.
Smith is the guy I touted in the
preseason as an instant impact player. I said he has the most
upside of any runner this year and enough untapped potential to
be a pro bowl runner if he continues to develop. This wasn’t
the consensus view, but I think the most difficult thing to do
when evaluating a player is to accurately see what a player is
capable of doing, but hasn’t fully demonstrated in the immediate
present. One of the things that impressed me about Smith at this
time last year was that it was clear without interviewing him,
seeing him practice, or talk to his teammates that this guy is
a warrior and loves the game.
I saw this when he carried the load against some tough defenses
like Texas or Mississippi State. He would take some hard shots,
get banged up, but get back on the field and run just as hard.
A lot of college stars aren’t used to getting hit hard and
when they take punishment and don’t average their gaudy
yards per carry, they lack the maturity and toughness to persist.
It’s pretty common and somewhat expected. Smith on the other
hand, would continue to grind it out.
So when Rudi Johnson “won” the job and Smith basically
responded by working harder on his game and challenging him self,
I wasn’t surprised. In fact, I made a deal for Smith in
a dynasty league to acquire him as my back up to Brandon Jacobs
and Brian Westbrook. Unfortunately, I didn’t use him this
week but the long term dividends have promise.
You have to be patient with players and you can’t write
them off if they don’t being their pro careers looking like
all stars. Otherwise, 60%-70% of you would probably have been
run out of your respective careers by week five in your first
office job upon graduation.
Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Ahmad
Bradshaw would take the Ravens defense to the woodshed:
Not I. In fact, I was ready to take ESPN’s NFL Countdown
team to the woodshed for basing their prediction on an inaccurate
argument. Tom Jackson told viewers on Sunday morning that the
Giants would have an advantage because they were able to run against
the Steelers’ No. 2 ranked run defense. When I checked the
stats I saw that Jacobs and Ward combined for 84 yards on 31 carries,
I could envision a similar effort against the Ravens and wagging
my finger at the countdown crew. Instead, the Giants backfield
did a much better job with 31 carries versus Baltimore’s
unit, gaining 210 yards and 2 scores in a 20-point blowout.
Lesson Learned: Sometimes the message is right, but the messenger
is wrong. The Giants put on a clinic at home against a terrific
defense. They were more physical with Jacobs early. Then they
were quicker with Ward and his slashing style. Finally, they finessed
them with a great counter play where Ahmad Bradshaw gained 77
yards and nearly scored. This is one of those games that’s
probably been on diagrammed by every former NFL lineman-turned-analyst
that has a gig on a sports network channel.
Kerry Collins and Justin Gage could torch
a defense with the deep ball: I still can’t believe
what I just saw Sunday afternoon. Seriously, I haven’t seen
Collins hit a player deep since he was throwing balls to Amani
Toomer in New York. After that, he was one of the accomplices
in the slow, torture-killing of the career of Randy Moss in Oakland.
But Sunday afternoon, I’m in my office, with my feet propped
up on my desk watching the game and I see Kerry Collins throw
a 56-yard score to Justin Gage. I just had some warm soup so I
thinking I must have been dreaming. The Titans were down 14-10
and Collins already threw a 13-yard score less than two minutes
But I was awake. In fact, I was doing some serious fist-pumping.
What I wasn’t ready for was the 38-yard dagger with 4:05
left that put the game away. I thought I was having flashbacks
of McNair flashing is frat symbol as he ran towards the end zone
to congratulate his receiver. Instead, I’m watching Kerry
Collins stick the fork in the Jaguars with 230 yards and 3 scores.
And Justin Gage had stats like a real NFL primary receiver –
4 grabs 147 yards and 2 scores.
Lesson Learned: Don’t make the mistake of thinking Jeff
Fisher is a conservative coach. He has an aggressive take on the
game, but believes in building a franchise in the trenches which
leads the casual observer to think the Titans are conservative.
Dull sometimes? Oh yeah, but not conservative.
The plays Gage made this weekend are indicative of his strengths
– out-running and out-jumping the competition on the perimeter
of the offense. Because the Titans are known for making protracted
drives and sticking to their game, the Jaguars were ripe for Tennessee
to hit the big play. It’s the corollary to what we saw in
New England last year: every team was expecting Randy Moss to
by them and Tom Brady to throw it over them. Next thing you know,
Wes Welker is nickel and diming them down the field for a long
scoring drive that took as many minutes off the clock as Phil
Simms/Jeff Hostetler, Ottis Anderson, and Mark Ingram did for
the Giants of the 80s-90s.
Most teams possess enough self awareness to see how the opposition
is game planning them. If they have the horses, they can counter
it with plays like we saw on Sunday. The horses weren’t
Gage or Collins. It was the offensive line. If Collins had this
type of line in Oakland, we might still be talking about Randy
the Raider. Of course, if they had this type of line in Oakland,
I’d think wouldn’t be talking about Al Davis every
That the Falcons-Broncos match up could
have been billed the best game of the weekend: Think about
what was happening with these two teams last year and you would
have laughed with me if I mentioned that these two organizations
would be one of the more entertaining games of the weekend, much
less have winning records. The Broncos, despite using the backfield
tandem of former Arkansas fullback Peyton Hillis and Bowling Green
runner P.J. Pope, were able to edge the up and coming Falcons
24-20 in Atlanta.
As good as the Falcons have played I find it incredible that
they did not run the ball up the middle of the Broncos defense
earlier in this game. Instead of attempting to pound the Broncos
into submission, they tried to use Michael Turner on the edge
of the defense. C’mon Atlanta, you have a bull in a china
shop – we want to see some broken dishes! Instead, they
tried to get too cute with all their pre-snap formation movement
and by the time they got serious running the ball, Denver was
What we learned: Although Michael Turner had a good day, this
should have been a great day. Sometimes a team can coach themselves
out of a win. I think this week the Falcons did just that.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be going
“Back to the Future” with their backfield:
Jon Gruden told Anwar Richardson of the Tampa Tribune that he
does not foresee RB Earnest Graham returning this season after
sustaining an ankle injury. This means the remaining two backs
on his roster are Warrick Dunn, who has shown he still has something
left upon his return to Tampa after a six-year stay in Atlanta,
and Carnell “Cadillac Williams” who had 1178 yards
and six scores during his 2005 rookie campaign.
What we learned: Throw in Tatum Bell’s return to Denver
and you see that even in the NFL where there’s an extremely
short career span for the average RB that if you play long enough,
what comes around truly does go around.
Start T.J. Houshmandzadeh: Speaking
of coaching one’s self out of a win, I did just that this
weekend when I decided the Eagles defense was a bigger challenge
than the Rams and inserted Jason Hill in the place of T.J. Houshmandzadeh
with the hope of some upside points. Instead, I had to shut down
my Internet browser as I watched the Bengals’ go-to guy
pile on the points with a sick feeling that my lead wasn’t
good enough to maintain against my opponent and his corps, led
by Anquan Boldin. I was right.
Lesson Learned: Good players have bad games. Good possession receivers
shouldn’t be benched even if they have a backup QB slinging
them the ball. Some ideas are only good on paper.
Donovan McNabb would be a lightning rod
for controversy: Unless you’ve been on the space
shuttle (like one of my high school classmates is right now) or
you have a life (unlike most of us this time of year), you’ve
already heard a dozen times about Donovan McNabb’s post
game interview where he admitted he didn’t know regular
season overtime games end in a tie if the 15:00 period ends without
a score. Based on the reaction, you would have thought McNabb
was the biggest idiot ever. When it comes to the talk show wonks
that never strapped on a helmet in the NFL, I’m not surprised.
But when Cris Carter said that he doesn’t believe for a
minute that McNabb’s ignorance didn’t cost the Eagles
the game, I got annoyed. Carter says McNabb would have played
with a greater sense of urgency or done something different if
he knew the game could end in a tie.
Cris Carter, you’re going to have to try a different way
of making your argument because it didn’t fly. You’re
telling me that McNabb would have tried harder to win? How? Would
he have called some super secret play he drew up in the dirt with
Brian Westbrook? Would have told the Philly receivers, who are
among the league leaders in drops, that this time they really
need to catch the football because it means the game if they don’t?
Maybe Carter expected McNabb to press a button on his utility
belt that would make the Eagles wings pop from his helmet and
propel him over the Bengals defense for a long touchdown run.
It sure seems like some Eagles fans and local talk radio hosts
feel this way. It leaves me to wonder if they are on (or need)
some mood-altering substances when they watch Eagles football.
You have to be on something (or need something) to boo Santa Claus.
You definitely have to be on something (or need something) to
have booed McNabb when he was drafted because some of these fans
(most) wanted Ricky Williams. I think there’s a common link
Before Cris Carter was known as a great receiver with Hall of
Fame credentials – and equal part locker room legislator
– he was kicked out of Philly because he had too great an
affinity for the snow on the street. He was welcomed to Philly
to start his career.
Come to think of it the first guy to really criticize McNabb to
a national audience was Rush Limbaugh during his short-lived stint
with ESPN’s NFL Countdown. Soon after they canned him, he
checked into a drug treatment facility after getting arrested
in an illegal prescription drug sting. I think Limbaugh said something
to the effect that McNabb wasn’t really an elite QB and
the NFL was propping him up because he’s black. All I know
is that when McNabb was getting shot up with painkillers, he actually
performed well in his job despite not having anyone to catch the
When he did get someone who could make big plays that player got
jealous and began acting like an ass. From what I recall, that
same ass was on the sideline nursing a bad leg while McNabb finally
got the Eagles over the hump and into the Super Bowl. Sure, the
ass played well in the Super Bowl, but he made up for his good
behavior by the next summer. Wasn’t it a year or two later
that this ass’ publicist had to correct a statement she
made to 911 when her client swallowed too many mood-altering substances
and say he had $20 million reasons to live?
Lesson Learned: McNabb was ignorant about this rule, but if you
think it really impacted his effort in Sunday’s game stay
off the drugs, turn off the TV/radio/Internet, and get a life.
Nagging Feelings—Week 12
I’m still slow to come around on rookie back Steve Slaton.
He’s proven to be a more decisive runner than he was at
West Virginia and I can’t bring myself to say “well
if it weren’t for that 71-yard score, he’d have…”
because he’d have “still a hell of a lot of yards.”
I have the feeling Marvin Harrison watches ESPN. Every time they
predict his demise, he has a nice game. Keep talking ESPN; Harrison
might go on a hot streak.
Tim Hightower has 24 carries for 57 yards and no scores since
his 109-yard day versus the hapless Rams in week nine. The Cardinals
have squeaked by in both these games. Maybe I gave the fantasy
R.I.P. to Edgerrin James a bit too soon. Honestly, I hope so –
it’s hard to believe James can’t do better than what
Hightower is doing right now.
Not everything is wrong with ESPN’s NFL coverage –
a lot is actually pretty good. Ron Jaworski was the best possible
pick they could have made as their Monday Night Football analyst.
I think I learn something new about the game every week because
John Standeford (2 receptions, 48
yards) of the Lions: Standeford was the main target of
Drew Brees at Purdue, and as you can imagine, he was the Big Ten
as the conference’s all-time receptions and receiving yards
leader when he left. He’s a tall, skinny guy with excellent
hands and concentration. He’s bounced around a bit, never
getting any real time – although he was with the Colts for
their Super Bowl Season. This could be a bottom of the barrel
excavation that Rod Marinelli is engaging, but it could also mean
that Standeford showed him something that he liked enough to consider
with his other options. We’ll see if Standeford remains
on the Lions’ bill next week.
P.J. Pope (4 carries, 35 yards) of
the Broncos: Pope was the runner for Bowling Green when
Urban Meyer was the head coach. As you can imagine Pope was not
featured prominently with in Meyer’s spread offense that
had Omar Jacobs at the helm. Still he compiled decent career stats,
showing a tough, straight ahead running style, decent hands, and
good balance. Not extremely big, fast, or agile, Pope bounced
from the Bears to the Packers, back to the Bears, and then to
the Broncos. I don’t foresee a reason for anyone to consider
this Pope for your roster.
Ken Darby (11 carries, 59 yards and
8 receptions for 83 yards in two games) of the Rams: I
know, I know, I keep bringing up Ken Darby, but after 8 receptions
for 83 yards and 11 carries for 59 yards in the past two games,
don’t you think the Bucs wish they kept him on their practice
squad (maybe not if you see who beat him out for the roster spot).
Antonio Pittman looked sharp enough that he’ll keep starting
job for as long as Steven Jackson is out. Nonetheless Darby continues
to show he can play at this level and I think he’ll get
a chance to back someone up as early as next year.
Clifton Smith (7 carries, 38 yards and
3 receptions for 15 yards in three games) of the Bucs:
He’s a kick returner out of Fresno State- their MVP - and
he’s a Warrick Dunn clone in dimensions: 5-8, 190-lbs. Gruden
initially called him “Little Dunn.” He’s heavier,
and he sure looked
good against Georgia Tech – even without the editing.
Gruden says they may look elsewhere for a back. Considering Dunn
and a not quite ready for prime time Cadillac are options one
and two, Smith will get some looks at least next week, but not
enough to add him especially with three fumbles in as many weeks