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20/20 Hindsight - Week 9

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.”

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Joey Galloway (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

Edgerrin James career as a fantasy starter is done.

Edgerrin 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, respectively.

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.

Rudi Johnson (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.

Jamaal 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, and balance.

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.