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20/20 Hindsight - Week 3
9/23/08

As we all know Hindsight is 20/20. This weekly column is devoted to learning from common mistakes and serves as FFToday’s “Fantasy Football Confessional.”

Weeks three and four are typically a comeuppance for most fantasy managers. There are tons of intelligent people who play fantasy football and give compelling reasons as to why a player is on the rise or in decline. Very few of these people demonstrate the wisdom to see what is coming, and the patience or judgment to make the right call. I am often one of them. Winning fantasy football games in the last half of September is making fewer choices detrimental to your team than your opponent.

I can attest. I am 2-1 in my long-running local league, but I have left points on the bench for the first three weeks. I left approximately 35 points on the bench this weekend when I subbed Mushin Muhammad as a last-minute, ‘safe pick’ over T.J. Houshmandzadeh (a lesson I forget several times a season – ‘play to win’, don’t play ‘not to lose’). Also chose Jake Delhomme over Jason Campbell – but at least I was able to scoop Campbell off the waiver wire where I left him the week before due to my overreaction to his dismal first week against the Giants.

In most of my leagues I generally sport an 85%-90% lineup efficiency rating – the percentage of ‘correct’ choices I make to field the highest scorers in my lineup. In this league, I’m having more difficulties out of the gate.

Although I won this match up, I had a chance to draw even with the point-leader in our league. My opponent lost big, but he left 125 points on his bench, including normal starters Ronnie Brown and Carson Palmer. If he started Ronnie Brown over Sammie Morris, he beats me by seven. As I said before, the last half of September is about having less clumsy choices than your competition.

Lesson Learned: You can do a great job of grocery shopping but if you don’t know how to cook, all you have is garbage.

Would've (From The Who Would Have Known File)

Brandon Lloyd would show signs of life: The Chicago Bears starter gained 124 yards from six grabs and made a vintage, highlight reel grab in the end zone that was expected of him regularly just three years ago. All week, you’re going to read whether Lloyd’s game is a mirage.

Lloyd is the type of player who can change the complexion of your fantasy team for better or worse. Talent wise, there may be a dozen receivers in the history of the NFL that possessed the body control Lloyd has. The only one I can think of who was as good at adjusting to the football and making a sick grab was Cris Carter. If you haven’t seen him make this catch (4:09), then check it out.

Those who have seen these plays from Lloyd and were disappointed when he was a complete non-factor in Washington learned that he didn’t see much of the field due to deficiencies with his game: route running and toughness over the middle. He was pegged as a receiver who operates best on the perimeter and the red zone where he can use his athleticism to make plays.

Why did Lloyd go from potential stud to dud and is it possible Lloyd has a chance to get his career back on track?

I read in a variety of places that Lloyd was not a team player while he was with the Redskins. I trace back to his days as a 49er. Rumors were Lloyd was too focused on making a hip-hop album and his work ethic suffered. It only took a year for Joe Gibbs to see the Lloyd wasn’t performing on and off the field as expected, and he was promptly buried on the depth chart.

Remember, Lloyd was learning from Terrell Owens just as Owens’ behavior began to become intolerably ‘me-focused’. Coming out of college, a guy can be highly impressionable when he enters his first professional environment. You learn from through observation. If you’re in a locker room where it is divisive and the best players are selfish, it is easier to behave in kind. This is why a team with character can take in ‘characters’ and bring out the best in them on the field while minimizing their worst qualities. It is rare for a young player to possess this kind of leadership and ability. It is why Frank Gore – as a rookie – yelling at veterans after a loss because they didn’t see to care about losing or Matt Ryan taking charge in the huddle is a rare and prized commodity. Talent in the NFL is a dime a dozen, character and leadership paired with it is rare.

Lloyd’s career has mostly been one where he has been paired with young quarterbacks. This is not the ideal environment for a receiver to develop. Combine this fact with the likelihood Lloyd learned how not to handle adversity (Owens and other Niners) and it is easy to see how he might have turned into a player some considered a clubhouse cancer in Washington. If the reports out of Washington were true, then Lloyd was confronted with the fact that in San Francisco he learned what you’re not supposed to do as a professional.

This year, Lloyd has been reunited with his former college coach, Ron Turner. He also came into camp with a much lower profile and saying the right things in this ChicagoBears.com report.

“I’m not going to say it all wasn’t my fault and it was all somebody else’s fault. But I just look forward to not necessarily starting with a clean slate but coming in and earning my spot and just getting the opportunities that I feel I deserve and really stepping up and making those plays and helping the team win. That’s really all it comes down to.”

The question that needs to be answered is has Lloyd learned what it takes to be a professional? I haven’t seen the Bears play in weeks two and three, but Lloyd has make his presence felt. In week two, he returned a blocked punt for a score and this week he exploded with most of production in the second half of the game.

Lloyd appears to be on the right track, but there are still questions about him being a one-dimensional receiver. None of his catches were over the middle and five of his six grabs were on the left side of the offense. Kyle Orton went to him often in the second half and paired with a decent ground attack, Lloyd does have a chance to be a consistent presence in this offense.

Lesson Learned: I’m not sure there is a lesson learned yet – other than to have an open mind about players and their ability to grow up. The jury is still out, but if Lloyd can demonstrate at worst that he’s the same kind of player, but has a more professional attitude, he could be a 50-catch, 800-yard, 6-td receiver – and borderline starter in several league formats.

Delanie Walker would be the most productive TE in San Francisco: Three catches for 44 yards, including a 24-yarder for a score put Walker on the map in week three as a player to watch in San Francisco. Vernon Davis did have one grab for 17 yards, but that’s like saying his status rose from putrid to awful. Walker was a player Mike Martz singled out throughout the preseason as a bright spot.

Lesson Learned: Vernon Davis is a great athletic talent, but I have ignored the warning signs about him. Mike Martz made it clear prior to the season that Davis needed to focus on blocking and route running and if he didn’t, his expected production would be an unpleasant surprise. Davis was the same player who would give former Terp teammate Shawne Merriman fits in practice. But this isn’t minor league football anymore and if you took the gamble on Davis, it is time to fold. Davis is capable of getting his act together, but since it is more of mental/maturity issue, we won’t know it until we see it. On the other hand, Walker looks like a nice waiver wire option if you’re desperate.

Could've (From The Who Could Have Known File)

Ronnie Brown would crush the Patriots with a five touchdowns: From a grass roots perspective, my bet is at least 90% of fantasy owners with Ronnie Brown on their team had him on their bench. Although he had slightly better production than Ricky Williams, who started the first couple of games, the Dolphins running game was nothing more than a name plate on the door of an empty office. But this duo pasted the Pats with 212 rushing yards in a game that wasn’t close.

Lesson Learned: Brown showed a decent burst. His cuts weren’t nearly as sharp as they were pre-injury, but the offensive game plan made the most of his current physical skills, see below….

Bill Belicheck’s defense would look like a cupcake versus the ’07 Wild Hog formation: I saw this formation a lot when I studied Darren McFadden and Felix Jones on film. The Razorbacks got a ton or production out of McFadden’s straight line speed by forcing the defense to react to Jones coming in motion across the formation for a possible end around. This forced the linebackers and defensive backs to at least hesitate for a count or actually move in the wrong direction, which is all the offense needed to exploit a hole up the middle for a nice gain.

I never thought I would see this play successfully run at the NFL level in the way the Dolphins burned the Patriots this week. Miami allowed Brown to use his straight line speed – which generally comes back just fine after an ACL tear, it’s the change of direction that takes longer – to make those few (or desperate) fantasy owners lose their minds with joy on Sunday. It’s not as if Ricky Williams disappeared, he averaged over six yards per carry with 16 attempts for 98 yards and he made a great block on Mike Vrabel on Brown’s 62-yard score in the fourth quarter that caused a skirmish because Williams caught the linebacker with a 15-yard head start and put chopped his legs from under him in the open field.

Lesson Learned: CBS quoted Rodney Harrison as saying he didn’t know why they couldn’t stop that play. The fact that the Pats got beat by the single wing – an ancient formation – is embarrassing. Considering that rookie RB Jerrod Mayo saw this play for two seasons when his Volunteers faced the Razorbacks combo of McFadden and Jones, you would think Mayo would be ready. Then again, if you’re like me, and believe Ronnie Brown is a more skillful interior runner than Darren McFadden then maybe it’s more understandable that Mayo struggled.

One thing was certain, the Dolphins figured out how to use their best players. I personally didn’t think there was an NFL defense slow enough for the play to work. Mayo isn’t slow, but he is inexperienced at this level. I also believed the first team that would try this formation would have been the Raiders or Cowboys with their collection of backs. One thing is for certain: expect at least two to three other teams to try this package before the season reaches its halfway point.

Here’s my list of candidates:

  1. Atlanta Falcons (Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood) – Turner would be the man under center and Norwood the man in motion. Both have the burst to break a long gain. Considering the fact Atlanta and Miami have comparable offenses – Miami has more experience, but Atlanta may have more talent – this could be a package the Falcons consider.

  2. Dallas Cowboys (Marion Barber and Felix Jones) – Jerry Jones is the Al Davis of the postmodern NFL era. Although it is clear the management of an organization has passed Al by, Jones is a lot like the younger version of Davis (circa ‘70s and ‘80s). The owner as a well-publicized Razorback alumnus and its common knowledge that he coveted either half of the Arkansas backfield in the draft. You have to believe he’s in Jason Garrett’s ear to begin working on the single wing. With Terrell Owens’ skills as a runner in the open field, they have even more potential wrinkles to add to the play.

  3. Pittsburgh Steelers (Rashard Mendenhall and Willie Parker) – Pittsburgh was long known for gimmickry on offense under Bill Cowher. Mike Tomlin hasn’t been as prone to the novelty play, but the personnel is there for the Steelers to get execute the play. Throw in the running talents of Hines Ward and the Steelers also have enough personnel to make this a worthwhile play.

  4. San Diego Chargers (LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles) – Tomlinson as a great track record as a passer out of the option and Sproles has enough big play ability to challenge defenses.

  5. Jacksonville Jaguars (Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones Drew) – See the pattern here? Both runners have to possess the capability of taking it the distance. With the issues Jacksonville is having in the passing game, this might not be a bad wrinkle.

  6. Carolina Panthers (Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams) – Throw in Steve Smith and this could be another good trio of players that can make this a productive play.

Did I forget Oakland? Not with Justin Fargas and his groin injury. If he were healthy, it would be a no brainer with McFadden and Fargas.

Should've (From The I Knew I Should’ve File)

T.J. Houshmandzadeh and the Cincinnati offense would rebound: Nothing like 12 catches for 146 yards and an acrobatic grab in the back of the end zone to make a statement. Houshmadnzadeh looked like the same player I saw in the past two seasons that prompted me to draft him as my first receiver off the board.

Lesson Learned: 1) The Ravens defense is still tough and they are tougher than the vaunted Giants defense. 2) The Titans have the best defense in the league right now and couple it with those wind gusts during their match up. Based on the stat of overreaction that abounds in pro football and fantasy football the very best fantasy sharks were likely hitting up worried fantasy owners for Houshmandzadeh and Palmer for pennies in return. This was a clear case where you should have been patient with your healthy Bengals through a tough opening schedule and accompanying weather conditions.

My projections for Brandon Marshall were too low: All I can say is ‘wow’. Marshall looks like the player he did in the Hula Bowl – a physically dominant force.

Lesson Learned: If Mike Krueger – a Chiefs fan – is high on the guy, I should have listened.

Nagging FeelingsóWeek 4

Warrick Dunn continues to eat into Earnest Grahamís time. If you look at his performances with the Bucs and the Falcons ability to run the football, you should draw the conclusion that Bobby Petrinoís system was a horrible fit in Atlanta and Dunn was the fall guy.

From the superstition file: If youíre a promising middle linebacker and your first name is Dan, you donít want to get drafted by the Carolina Panthers. Dan Connor tore his ACL this weekend and will have season ending surgery. Dan Morgan was one of the more promising linebacker prospects in the NFL when he could stay on the field Ė which wasnít often with his rate of season ending injuries. If you really want to get creepyÖnah, I wonít go there. Some things are better not to mention.

Any other non-Matt Forte-owning fantasy manager notice the Bears rookie had 66 yards on seven grabs and a score this week? Eddie Royal and DeSean Jackson have been surprising and exciting. Jonathan Stewart looks likes beast in the making. Darren McFadden and Felix Jones have shown off their big play skills. But can you name another offensive rookie that has been as consistently good as Matt Forte? Chris Johnson has a solid argument, but even he hasnít been as integral a part of his offense as Forte.

Did you see Brian Grieseís box score? Sixty-seven passing attempts. Thatís a two for one special for fantasy owners last week. The Bears didnít allow Peyton Manning or Jake Delhomme what Griese, Antonio Bryant, and Michael Clayton earned. Call me skeptical, but this is a mirage (although I did pick up and start Bryant this week).

Same old Colts without Bob Sanders Ė the Jags dynamic duo made like Randy Couture: it was ground and pound from the beginning. They have two weeks to prepare for rookie Steve Slaton who I hear reached the century mark against the stout Titans defense. I havenít seen enough from the West Virginia rookie to be sold, but from a match up standpoint he sounds like a decent bye week play at the very least.

Iím sold on Eli Manning. Did you see that pivotal throw he made to Toomer down the sideline with a man in his face? Thatís a money play right there. He also completed 60% of his passes to eight different receivers and six of them had at least three catches. Heís also completing 60% of his passes to start the season. I donít expect Manning to be a future Hall of Famer like his brother, and his first three games were against the Skins, Rams, and Bengals, but he has made the next step. Itís amazing what success in the playoffs will do for your confidence. It gives you a sense of calm under pressure that you didnít have beforehand. Iím sure Giants fans will argue this out of pride, but that pitch and catch to David Tyree to keep the game alive was straight out of The Best of Times. Manning did a great job eluding the rush, but that catch is something I doubt Tyree Ė or anyone else for that matter Ė makes once in thirty attempts.