As we all know Hindsight is 20/20. This weekly column is devoted
to learning from common mistakes and serves as FFToday’s “Fantasy
Ray Rice was a great start: One
of my close friends called me at 12:40 p.m. on Sunday afternoon
to ask me a “Who do I start?” question: Kolby Smith,
Leon Washington, or take Ray Rice off the waiver wire. My answer
was to follow my lead: add Rice. I only started him in one league,
but it did pay dividends as a replacement for Larry Johnson and
Jamaal Charles (who wasn’t so bad, either). I should have
started Rice in a second league where I was fortunate to grab
him, but it didn’t cost me a victory.
Lesson Learned:: Rice was the second-best back in my 2008 Rookie
Scouting Portfolio ratings for runners. Over the years I have
learned that we don’t always see a player display his skills
right away. I had a conversation in September with a well-connected,
individual affiliated with the NFL and a show that contains some
quality analysis of the game. He would not let me use his name
because he does have some fantasy industry connections elsewhere,
but he also liked Ray Rice out of college. We spoke at the start
of the season and he told me that he didn’t think Rice looked
very quick in those early games, which wasn’t a good sign.
It appears it took Rice a little longer to get adjusted to the
speed of the game or the former Rutgers star was hurt and the
dings slowed him down. Clearly he demonstrated some quickness
against the Browns and for the past three weeks has looked like
the kind of talent the Ravens expected to get when they drafted
him. Rice has 29 carries for 218 yards and 6 receptions for 59
yards in the past two games against the Raiders and the Browns.
Cleveland’s defense is by no means a great unit, but they
are better than say, the Kansas City Chief’s when Darren
McFadden and Michael Bush tore holes through that AFC West unit.
With Houston next on the schedule, Rice could have an opportunity
for another nice day. The true test will come in the following
weeks against the Giants, Eagles, Redskins, and Steelers bookending
one easier match up versus Cincinnati in the middle of the next
five weeks. I would hold onto Ray Rice if your backfield is shaky
on depth, he could be that fantasy player that could win you a
championship if your league has the game in either week 15 (Dallas)
or 16 (Jacksonville).
Another point to remember is you want to keep an eye on players
with talent and in situations where the backfield hasn’t
been producing well with the incumbent. I’ll discuss this
in more detail later.
Mark Bradley would make such a difference
for the Chiefs offense: The Chiefs pushed the Buccaneers
to the limit on Sunday and they served fair warning in week seven
against the Jets that something has offensively clicked with the
team. One symptom of this improvement has been the sudden emergence
of Mark Bradley, the former Chicago Bear and Oklahoma Sooner,
who was regarded as one of the next big-play threats to take the
NFL by storm when he first broke into the league. Knee injuries
and inconsistency derailed his path to starter status in Chicago.
In just two weeks, Bradley, and his 9 grabs for 107 yards and
a score, has helped jump-start the Chiefs offense by giving Kansas
City a second, viable receiving threat on the outside. This balances
the offense because Bradley has demonstrated to opposing defenses
that he can burn them if they become too preoccupied with Tony
Gonzalez or Dwayne Bowe. It doesn’t appear this way because
of his 12-yard per catch average, but he had a 56-yard reception
on Sunday in addition to his perfectly thrown touchdown pass to
his quarterback. You have to give the Chiefs credit for not being
afraid to abandon their use of Devard Darling and Will Franklin
and go after a player with unfulfilled potential.
Lesson Learned:: When a receiver misses time due to injury, it’s
very difficult for that player to get back into rhythm with a
quarterback. As a receiver recently mentioned in the media this
week, you can catch balls from a JUGGS machine all day, but it
doesn’t replace the timing and feel of live action. It appears
Bradley never got his feet under him upon his return from injury.
When you consider the number of quality prospects who dealt with
nagging injuries and never made an impact with a change of scenery,
it’s a credit to Bradley that he’s making things happen.
It would be Derek Stanley’s turn
to be the Rams’ big-play receiver: Donnie Avery has
been the flavor of the week for three weeks. But his must-start
status against the Cardinals yielded 2 receptions for 26 yards.
The big play – and a great reception at that – went
to little-known Derek Stanley for an 80-yard touchdown. In fact,
it was Stanley’s first career reception.
Lesson Learned:: Fantasy football has aspects that seem similar
to day trading. It’s the people ahead of the game and willing
to take risks that stand to gain the most in the short term. But
you have to know when to cash out when investing short term. It’s
a thin line between investing and gambling. I think Donnie Avery
will rebound, but if you didn’t begin starting Avery two
weeks ago and instead attempted to take a conservative approach
with a player we should consider a gamble (an undersized rookie
on a bad team who right now mainly a one-dimensional deep threat)
then you’re the only one to blame. It’s ok - sometimes
you have to be willing to lose big if you want to win big.
We would be saying Cedric Benson would
power the Bengals to a win in Jacksonville in 2008: In
2007 (or for that matter, after his mug shot in Texas this spring)
I doubt anyone would believe Benson would have a 100-yard day,
much less against the Jaguars, but it’s exactly what happened
on Sunday. Benson rumbled for 104 yards and a score on 24 carries,
helping them control the clock effectively and squeak out a win
against the Jaguars.
Lesson Learned:: The Jacksonville Jaguars are not the same defense
with only 50 percent of their 1-2 punch up the middle still on
the team. Throw in the fact that the defense is on the field far
too much due to a weakened offensive line and Benson’s 100-yard
effort is good, but not something that will make fans ready to
proclaim Benson’s career got back on track. I think Benson
can be a favorable match up play depending on your team’s
situation, but I’m not ready to overreact here.
Never to panic after the first month of
the season: Maybe I missed it, but I’m waiting for
Family Guy to use a joke involving “the Panic Button”.
You can go 0-4 in fantasy football and as long as you are involved
in some close games didn’t lose more than one superstar
to injury, you have a strong opportunity to bounce back. Just
look at the great options that were available on waiver wires
as recently as last week: Ray Rice, Jerious Norwood, Jamaal Charles,
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and Mark Bradley. Several of these players
were originally on teams, but someone panicked and dropped them.
Lesson Learned:: Some of my better performing teams are often loaded
with players salvaged from the waiver wire. Examples in addition
to Rice include Donnie Avery, Jamaal Charles, Antonio Bryant,
Matt Jones, and potentially Mike Walker. You need to stay patient
with players. It doesn’t always mean you hold onto them
no matter what, but it does mean you remain open to adding them
back to your roster later in the season. My best advice is to
always try to add them back a week earlier than you need them.
Ways to know you are adding a player a week early?
- If the player is scheduled to return from injury during a
specific week, add him a week earlier – even if it is
a bye week.
- If the player is a receiver or back and earning 5-10 opportunities
in a game and produces, add him. I did this with Rice after
his 8-carry, 64-yard performance. I didn’t know McGahee
would be limited, I just knew Rice was playing well, the depth
chart wasn’t solidified, and his schedule looked favorable
for the next two weeks.
- Add a player when he’s dropped after disappointing
another team: Ryan Torain’s much-anticipated debut didn’t
take off against the Dolphins. If he’s dropped this week
and you need a back, he’s worth considering. If he disappoints
next week and he’s dropped at that point instead, still
add him. The reason is it will probably take Torain at least
a few weeks to get adjusted to the speed of the game. Shannahan
already forewarned us through a press conference last week that
he didn’t like the idea of using Torain this soon. This
is another player where patience could pay dividends if you
need a decent starter in the championship round when your regular
starter is likely to see the bench by halftime.
Nagging Feelings—Week 9
C.R.I.P. (Career Rest in Peace):
I’m feeling like the coffin maker in the old-time westerns that
are sizing up the cowboys at the beginning of the movie as the
hero enters town, but I think it’s time to pronounce the death
of the following players’ careers as fantasy starters.
(1995-1998; 2002; 2005-2007): Galloway may be as fast as a member
of the feline species, but I don’t think he has nine lives. The
fact he had three decent periods in a 14-year career is impressive
enough. He’ll still have a few decent games here and there, if
he decides to continue playing after the season, but I have a
tough timing believing he’s healthy enough to withstand the rigors
of a full preseason and regular season. His best years were actually
his most recent, because he finally had a worthwhile quarterback
throwing him the ball and an offense that complemented his skills.
Is he Hall of Fame material? I don’t think so, but like Drew Bledsoe,
he had enough good seasons to garner instant respect among fans
and fellow players.
Edgerrin James career as a fantasy starter
James (1999-2007): I saw Tim Hightower play at Richmond and
though he looked pretty good against Appalachian State, the questions
surrounding him were whether he had the speed to be an NFL starter.
Hightower worked with a speed coach the summer after his junior
year and there were noticeable improvements according to the Spiders’
coaching staff. Although I wouldn’t get too excited about what
Hightower did against the Rams, the rookie has been playing well
enough to use for the rest of this year.
What appears evident is that Edgerrin James career as a fantasy
starter is done. It has to be a bitter pill for such a great player
to have the team that drafted him let him loose the offseason
before they win a championship. James was part of the Colts foundation.
His rookie year was best fantasy performance by a first-year back.
Prior to his knee injury, James had no peer in the NFL. You can
argue that Ladainian Tomlinson was a better back, but a pre-torn
ACL version of James was as good of back as you could want.
He was a great receiver, pass- blocker, inside runner, and had
speed around the corner to break some long runs. He averaged nearly
10 yards per catch during his first two seasons with the Colts
and had plays of 72, 60, and 54 yards – averaging 4.3 yards
per carry on an average of 378 attempts. When you threw in his
receiving yards, he was besting Jim Brown and Barry Sanders for
many years afterwards in yards per touch. He was just as good
in his final two seasons as a Colt, with 1200- and 1500-yard seasons,
But his yards per attempt dropped dramatically with the Cardinals.
Some of this decrease in production can be attributed to the switch
from Indy’s elite offense to Arizona’s rebuilding
unit however, from what I have seen from both Cardinals’
backs Tim Hightower on his best days to come will never approach
Edge in his prime. This tells me the beginning of the end is already
occurring for James.
It’s likely we’ll see James as a situational player for a few
more seasons and I have no doubt he’ll put together some good
performances, ala-Stephen Davis late in his career, but the days
of James playing any better than a fifth-round fantasy pick are
gone. This one is probably the saddest for me, because he had
Hall of Fame talent but I’m not sure his stats will meet current
Hall of Fame expectations if he were to retire in the next year.
If he hangs on for a few more years, the media may begin to develop
an inaccurate perception of James – focusing on this period of
his career rather than his hey day with the Colts. Some may argue
that James was exposed as a mediocre runner after he left Indianapolis.
I would argue James took a lot of the heat off Manning and it
was a true 50/50 partnership in terms of who benefitted.
(2003-2006): In case you missed it, I pronounced Johnson’s career
as a fantasy starter dead prior to the 2007 season. Now the body
is decomposing in the open casket that Detroit has used in the
funeral parlor known as Ford Field. Sad to see, but it is just
the natural order of things in the NFL. Johnson was a tough runner
and a bit of an overachiever out of Auburn. The fact that he had
the opposite attitude of his counterpart Corey Dillon won his
teammates over in Cincinnati. For a few years (2004-2006) he was
money in the bank for at least a 1300-yard, 12-score season. It
was a respectable career as a fantasy starter in a league where
three years is about average for an NFL runner.
Deion Branch (2005): He can’t stay healthy and I don’t
know many seven-year veteran receivers who never had a 1000-yard
season begin producing at that rate from year eight, forward.
Brad Johnson (1999; 2002-2003): Now if Branch were a quarterback,
I could cite Johnson as an example of a seven-year vet who produced
a 4000-yard, 20-plus touchdown season in year eight. But we all
have become familiar with Johnson as a fine player who brought
more to the team by doing less. He knew when to throw the incompletion
to avoid the sack or the interception. Brad Johnson was the anti-Favre.
He had only one season with more than 15 interceptions in a 17-year
career. Brett Favre only has five seasons as a starter in 17 years
where he threw 15 or less. To his credit, Johnson has as many
championships as Favre. But no one could reasonably argue he had
near the career as the grizzled #4.
Charles has the vision and elusiveness to be an elite back
in the NFL. He needs the discipline and wisdom to maximize his
talent. Otherwise, he’ll be an up and down player for the bulk
of his career. And if you have a deep dynasty league, keep and
eye on Dantrell Savage. He’s undersized and not a track-fast kind
of player, but he’s a tough runner with good vision, patience,
If the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line needs to make adjustments,
I understand why they expect the same in return from Ben
Roethlisberger. If you watched last night’s game, Roethlisberger
holds onto the football way too long for an NFL quarterback. He’s
good at moving in the pocket, but even a player like Jeff Garcia
gets rid of the ball quicker than Big Ben. Just for his continued
development as a player, he needs to avoid sacks not only for
the problems with field position a sack creates, but also for
the morale of his teammates. Thankfully for Pittsburgh, the team
has a defense that can be a catalyst for its offense.
My first thoughts after watching Falcons wide receiver, Michael
Jenkins, catch two touchdowns on the Raiders? If Jenkins were
to become a free agent this winter, I could imagine Al Davis sinking
deeper into the abyss of his own dysfunctional madness of personnel
decisions and overpaying for Atlanta’s underachieving receiver.
If only the Falcons’ organization would be so fortunate.