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20/20 Hindsight - Week 1

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.”

Week one is in the books, and among the many players that I’m riding high off their performances include Larry Fitzgerald, Jimmy Smith, Derrick Johnson, Preist Holmes, and Karlos Dansby. It was a great week—I won the opener in 8 of 12 leagues and posted the highest score in four, plus the second highest score in the other two. As for the FFTOC, my choices were a mixed bag, but it’s only week one, and I’m saving my more established stars for the future:

FFTOC Update
 Pos  Player  Pts  Comments
QB J. Harrington 20.08 Pretty good game for Harrington--a guy I wouldn't consider starting with the chips on the line…at least, not yet.
RB M. Anderson 0.5 Injured ribs in the first quarter.
RB W. Parker 26.9 Great example of the type of player to start early in the tournament.
WR A. Bryant 6.5 Okay day for Bryant, but I was hoping for Randle El's numbers.
WR C. Rogers 3.1 Maybe this means he'll start slow and finish healthy!
WR A. Randle El 15.5 At least one out of my three "unproven players" hit--that's all I need this early.
TE J. Peele -0.4 No huge loss, but he almost made a great grab for a score.
K Edinger 7.0 Culpepper's bad day meant a decent day for Edinger
DEF Broncos 3.0 Three turnovers, but a surprisingly disappointing day for Denver.
  Total 82.18  

Considering that none of the traditional stud RBs outside of Clinton Portis and Corey Dilllon had great fantasy outings, I didn’t waste a quality player this year. With the equivalent of fantasy also-rans, I still earned a respectable score.

Let’s move on to the week one files of 20/20 Hindsight.

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

You Can Put Larry Johnson And Priest Holmes In Your Starting Lineup And Be Successful
I’m not saying it’s a good idea to do on a consistent basis (yet), but Johnson looks ready to explode every time he carries the ball and Holmes certainly doesn’t look like he’s lost anything. In NFL history, have there been seasons where a fantasy owner would have benefited from starting two backs from the same team?

Fantasy History - Starting 2 RBs From The Same Team
Last Name First Name Team Year G Rush Atts Rush Yds Rush TDs Rec Yds Rec TDs FF Pts Rank
Mack Kevin cleve 1985 16 222 1104 7 297 3 200.1 15th
Byner Earnest cleve 1985 16 244 1002 8 460 2 206.2 11th
Cain Lynn atl 1980 16 235 914 8 223 1 167.7 13th
Andrews William atl 1980 16 265 1308 4 456 1 206.4 8th
Bleier Rocky pit 1976 14 220 1036 5 294 0 163.0 12th
Harris Franco pit 1976 14 289 1128 14 151 0 211.9 6th
Csonka Larry mia 1970 14 193 874 6 94 0 132.8 12th
Kiick Jim mia 1970 14 191 658 6 497 0 151.5 9th
Brooks James cin 1988 15 182 931 8 287 6 205.8 8th
Woods Ickey cin 1988 16 203 1066 15 199 0 216.5 6th

In 35 seasons, I only found five where starting two backs on the same depth chart was a worthwhile fantasy strategy. What do these examples have in common?

  • The backs complement each other’s style of play. Of each duo, one back was a power runner (Mack, Cain, Harris, Csonka, Woods), while the other was a multi-dimensional threat (Byner, Andrews, Bleier, Kiick, and Brooks).

  • The workload was evenly split. There was no more than a 5-carry per game difference among any of the tandems.

  • All five teams made the playoffs. In fact the Steelers tandem was Super Bowl bound.

  • Balanced offenses. All five tandems ran for teams with excellent quarterbacks with productive receivers in both the intermediate and deep game. Bernie Kosar (Cleve), Steve Bartkowski (Atl), Terry Bradshaw (Pitt), Ken Anderson (Cin), and Bob Griese (Mia) were among the most productive quarterbacks of their eras.

  • Different Era. The last time two backs from the same team were this productive in a season was 1988. The West Coast Offense was a cutting-edge philosophy and free agency was still on the horizon.

This tells me that the idea of starting the Chiefs backs in your lineup week in and week out still a big risk. Last week, Holmes had 22 attempts and Johnson had 9 attempts—far from an even split in carries. The Chiefs were well ahead in the second quarter, and it is unlikely in today’s NFL that Kansas City will have this luxury on a weekly basis.

Although the Jets should have called for an instant replay review of Priest Holmes’ touchdown, the run is a great example as to why KC will continue to use Holmes inside the twenty-yard line as long as the veteran remains healthy. It may be tempting to use Larry Johnson in future weeks, but until Dick Vermeil announces a change in the workload I am counting on Holmes and saving Johnson as an injury/bye week starter. I’ll consider starting Johnson and Holmes in the same fantasy backfield on a bye week, but I’d feel better about it if Johnson and Holmes were each getting an even number of attempts. For now, Johnson is terrific trade bait and depth.

Daunte Culpepper Would Struggle
Tampa Bay had the top-ranked passing defense in 2004, and were a top-five defense overall. I believe Culpepper will get better, but from an X’s and O’s standpoint it could take a more than a couple of games. First, the Buccaneers only allowed Culpepper to complete two passes of over 20 yards—one a catch and run by Moe Williams for 25 yards, and the other a 25-yard reception by Travis Taylor. As I’ve stated before, Randy Moss is a big reason why the Vikings passing game was effective in the past. Nate Burleson and company should expect much tighter coverage now that opposing defenses no longer have to keep one eye Moss on every play. Culpepper will complete passes to his tight ends and backs, but a short to intermediate passing game to keep a defense off balance takes more effort and consistency than having one guy that can out-run, out-leap, or out-fight double coverage. Just the threat of Moss changing the game on one play takes away a tremendous amount of pressure from an offense.

In contrast, Tampa Bay’s offense completed three passes over 20 yards, and one over 40 yards. The Vikings will need to find a way to stretch the field in order for the running game and short to intermediate passing game to work efficiently. At this point, a fantasy owner may not want to consider giving Culpepper special status as an every week must-start. He’ll improve, but taking away Moss was the football equivalent of someone pruning a plant to force its growth.

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

The 49ers Would Dominate The Rams
In hindsight, it makes sense that San Francisco coach Mike Nolan would know what to do with talents like Julian Peterson, Andre Carter, and Bryant Young. The Ravens former defensive coordinator put his 49ers in the right position to sack Rams QB Marc Bulger six times in route to a 28-25 victory that wasn’t as close as the score indicates. Defense and special teams were the catalysts in the victory—St. Louis’ first five drives in the half started on the 1, 28, 14, 19, and the 9. Field-position like that places the advantage with the defense. If LB Julian Peterson is only 90% and he can accumulate 4 tackles, 4 assists, and 2 sacks, I’m a happy IDP owner.

The 49ers passing game clicked with Rattay going 11-16 for 165 yards and 2 Tds. Arnaz Battle and Brandon Lloyd performed well even without a viable receiving threat at TE on the field. The one player to keep watching is rookie RB Frank Gore. Kevan Barlow had 22 yards on 14 attempts and lost a fumble. The veteran’s best run was a 9-yard touchdown that occurred after Frank Gore soften up the defense earlier in the drive with an 9-yard run and 18-yard reception. No coach is going to put up with low production and turnovers from a player at a key skill position.

Remember, the Rams are well known as an inconsistent team capable of playing down to their level of competition. Week Two’s match up with the Eagles will be a better indication of the 49ers progress. If the offense can hold its own against Philly, I’ll be much more optimistic about their fantasy prospects for the remainder of the season. At this point, Brandon Lloyd is the only offensive player I’d consider starting most weeks. But defensively, I think Nolan could be on his way to making this a respectable unit. Julian Peterson is certainly a must-play.

Drew Bledsoe Could Play Like He Was Ten Years Younger
The Cowboys new QB was 18/24 for 226 yards and 3 scores. Sure he was sacked five times and fumbled twice, but he was poised and accurate. I think Bledsoe could be in for a good season, but if you drafted him as your #2 or #3 QB, I would consider trading him rather than promoting him to your starting lineup.

The Chargers were only ahead of Kansas City in pass defense last year—not necessarily a ringing endorsement of Parcells’ most recent QB re-tread—so I’m not too excited about his prospects just yet. San Diego had the fourth-lowest sack total in the NFL last year and I didn’t see any new faces on the Chargers defense that made a difference. I watched the game and a couple of the sacks had nothing to do with Bledsoe holding onto the ball too long. Yet, the defenses in the AFC West haven’t been nearly as strong as those in the NFC East in recent years.

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

Starting Cadillac Williams Was A Great Choice
This may change as the season wears on, but did anyone see Michael Pittman on the field holding a football during the game? I didn’t, nor did I place much stock in the idea of Pittman taking away opportunities from Carnell Williams once the season began. Cadillac carried the ball 27 times against Minnesota and his last run was his best—a 71-yard jaunt for a game-sealing score in the 4th quarter. Jon Gruden made it clear all preseason that Cadillac would be the Bucs offensive bell cow. First, he made him the starter within the first week of training camp. Next, he wouldn’t allow Williams the opportunity to see significant playing time in the training camp games because the coach said he saw all he needed to see out of his rookie back. Gruden’s frame of reference was enough to believe him—he gushed over Williams at the senior bowl, the combine, and the draft. By the time he anointed Cadillac the starter, there should have been little doubt.

Skeptics will point out that Williams had a pedestrian 77-yards on 26 carries prior to his game-ending jaunt. If you watched the game, Cadillac had several runs where he was very close to breaking one for a significant gain. It’s the rookie’s first full game and he faired as well against a defense that showed it was improved from last year. Plus let’s look at some other backs and how they faired week one:

Cadillac By Comparison:
Player Opp Atts Yds TDs Rec Yds TDs
C. Williams MIN 27 148 1 0 0 0
L. Jordan NE 18 70 0 5 40 0
P. Holmes NYJ 22 85 1 1 5 0
K. Jones GB 25 87 0 2 9 0
S. Alexander SEA 14 73 0 0 0 0

Not one of these backs would be considered a worse choice than Cadillac going into week one, but even taking away Williams’ final run, he was about on par with more heralded fantasy starters. Look for Williams to continue to be a good start this year.

Willie Parker Would Go Off On Tennessee
Parker had an impressive day, but I’m more inclined to believe fantasy owners can attribute his performance to not only his skills but also the Steelers’ offensive system and the Titans defense quitting on the team in the second quarter. Pittsburgh has one of he best offensive lines in football, period. I’m confident back up Verron Haynes would have had a good fantasy game if he started instead of Parker.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not denying Parker’s talent. He had some nice runs. I just don’t want to deny the offensive line their great performance, either. They opened some huge holes and wore out the Titans defense.

Speaking of the Titans, I’ve never seen this team quit in the middle of a game like they did on Sunday. LB Keith Bulluck was chewing out players as they left the field after Steeler scores because he saw the same thing we all did—poor tackling and lack of effort. This is an inexperienced Titans defense—one of the youngest in the league. Look for Parker to come back to earth a bit in future weeks, but Cowher will still ride him until his main stable returns to health. The longer Parker can produce enough for the Steelers to win, the less wear and tear on his big guns for the stretch run.

Nagging Feelings—Week 2

I don’t know about you, but I’m anticipating offensive fireworks when the Jaguars face the Colts in the RCA Dome. The Colts defense looked excellent against the Ravens, but we all know the Baltimore passing offense is below average—and pass blocking isn’t Baltimore’s strong suit. The Jaguars are actually a better pass-blocking unit and they employ the play action game, which Baltimore doesn’t do as effectively. I anticipate Byron Leftwich and Peyton Manning to each have 300-yard days and the game to be won on the last drive.

The same goes for Arizona and St. Louis. Kurt Warner has some weapons capable of rivaling Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce so this year’s duel should produce more points. Neither defense looked good last week against competition they were suppose to dominate, so expect an intense game. I’m not convinced Kansas City and Oakland will be as much of an offensive display, but I’d still take my chances here with offensive players from either team.

The Chiefs defense was impressive against a Jets offensive line that’s one of the better units in the league. Chad Pennington fumbled the ball 6 times, so he made life easier for Kansas City by placing the Jets offense in tougher situations from the start. Nonetheless, the Chiefs placed a lot of pressure on Pennington. Kerry Collins has been known to make poor decisions under duress, although he played a fairly poised game against the Patriots. Still, the Patriots’ are without two of their best LBs and the Chiefs linebackers are very athletic and dangerous. Trent Green only threw for 200 yards against the Jets, plus he didn’t find the end zone. This could be a get healthy game for the Chiefs, but I thought the Oakland Raiders defense actually held their own against the Patriots running game so don’t be surprised if the match up isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Frank Gore is going to win the San Francisco starting job this week. The Eagles are a defense that tries to scare offenses away from stretching the field, which is the exact opposite thing they should to. If the 49ers receivers get over matched by the Philly secondary, Kevan Barlow is going to need to play mistake-free football and gain 4-5 yards on early down runs. Based on Barlow’s recent history of underachievement, I think the coaching staff is keeping a close eye on his play. Any reasonable manager that inherits an under performing member of a team will want to give that person a fresh start. At the same time that manager knows every member of the team is waiting to see what the new leader will tolerate. Don’t expect Mike Nolan to tolerate much from Barlow.

There are five wide receivers that had significant showings last week that were collegiate quarterbacks: Drew Bennett, Matt Jones, Patrick Crayton, Arnaz Battle, and Frisman Jackson. Most fantasy owners know about Bennett and Jones. But which of the remaining three should you choose if you were only to select one from the waiver wire this week?

Crayton was the most consistent receiver for Dallas. He has the best combination of size, speed, and toughness among the receivers on the roster. The problem is Crayton will also be sharing time with Peerless Price as the former Falcon gets acclimated to the system. Dallas is also primarily designed as a running team.

I like Crayton the most, but if I were to choose one it would be Arnaz Battle. This is an athletic receiver that looks like he’s developing into a great complement for Brandon Lloyd. In the 49ers offense, Battle should see a lot of looks because I don’t anticipate the defense playing quite as well for the rest of the season as they did in the opener.

Frisman Jackson is a guy The Gut Check mentioned last year as an Under the Radar candidate. Jackson has freakish tools, but he’s been slow to develop. This was a nice game for the Cleveland Brown, but I don’t think the game plan is going to be designed around him any time soon. Bryant and Edwards should be the main threats with Northcutt and Jackson getting the scraps.