we all know Hindsight is 20/20. This weekly column is devoted to
learning from common mistakes and serves as FFToday’s “Fantasy
Another regular season for most fantasy leagues has drawn to
a close. As I say goodbye to my teams that didn’t make the
cut and focus on the remaining three still with a shot, I’m
taking stock of 2005. Here’s the highlights, lowlights,
and what I think I learned about these events as I look towards
2nd Year Signal Callers Generally Improve
At A Significant Rate If They Get At Least Half A Season Of Starts.
Case and point—Carson Palmer and Eli Manning are currently
the 1st and 4th rated fantasy quarterbacks in standard scoring
leagues. Both made significant improvements from their first season
as starters and I chose to downplay the numbers that told me in
July this might be the case. When I did my Crank Score projections,
Palmer and Manning originally came out 5th and 10th respectively.
In July I thought these results were too optimistic, but in hindsight
they’re actually too pessimistic!
Lesson Learned: When the numbers
point to something you don’t expect, take notice. It would
have been ballsy to project either quarterback as high as the
figures proposed, but I should have at least done more research
to find a supporting argument for these numbers that turned out
to be truer than I imagined. Palmer’s 2004 season ended
much like his 2005 season has been all year long. In all honesty,
I was very slow to see the light on Palmer. Taking a more studious
approach with college games will help me remedy this problem.
Manning is a bigger surprise from the standpoint the Giants didn’t
seem ready to make the kind of leap expected from Cincinnati.
Nor did Manning show the same level of promise during his rookie
games as his older brother, or Carson Palmer at the end of his
season. In addition, you can add WR Plaxico Burress to the list.
I figured it would take at least a year for them to have the type
of season they initially experienced together.
Randy Moss And Daunte Culpepper Both Suffered
From The Trade
Argue all you want that injuries derailed both players. Technically
you are correct, but winning arguments on technicalities hollows
the victory in this case. The contrast between Culpepper and Brad
Johnson illustrates just what I mean. Among other personnel, Brad
Johnson and his skills as a consistent game manager that performs
within the system has kept the Vikings from flushing their season
down lake Minnetonka. This isn’t to say Culpepper isn’t
as good a quarterback—he’s a drastically different
style of player.
Brad Johnson is succeeding because he has more than a decade
of experience reading pro defenses and producing with receiving
corps that never had a player with Randy Moss’ once in a
generation talent. Johnson learned his craft and is applying it
well within the Vikings system. If a play breaks down, Johnson
gets rid of the ball before the defense may put he and the Vikings
in a worse situation. When Culpepper had Moss, he could regularly
turn a busted play or a bad play call into a positive, game-changing
play. When Moss left town, Culpepper encountered unfamiliar defensive
looks and didn’t have that bail out option when the play
failed. The Vikings may have been the only team in history to
have a 50-yard fly pattern as the bail out option. Eventually
Daunte Culpepper will return to health and make the post-Moss
adjustment to his game.
On the Left Coast, Moss had a great start with Kerry Collins.
Yet even before Randy the Raider got hurt, something about the
Collins-Moss connection was beginning to fall apart. I think that
something were defenses coming to the realization Kerry Collins
may have as strong of an arm as Daunte Culpepper, but only when
comparing them heaving the pigskin flat-footed. In other words,
keep Collins from setting his feet, or flush him out of the pocket,
and Randy Moss is negated from the game plan. Think back to Moss
as a Viking, and you’ll remember that many of his long scores
result from Culpepper rolling out and buying time for Moss to
outrun his man.
Lessons Learned: The Raiders
either need to find the modern day equivalent of Art Shell and
Gene Upshaw to complement the needs of their current statuesque
QB, or they need to find a more mobile signal caller with a great
arm. It wouldn’t hurt if Fred Biletnikoff could teach Moss
how to become half as good of a route runner as he is a pass catcher—that
would probably make as big of a difference, but if it hasn’t
been demanded of Moss to get better in all phases of his game
then it probably won’t happen in year nine. To put it bluntly,
Randy Moss is probably the best “incomplete player”
at his position the NFL has ever seen. He has the best combination
of speed, leaping ability, and hands of any receiver in the game
but just watch him run routes and you see the effort, crispness
and accuracy of the route is not there. In fact, the biggest complaint
among coaches of Moss is his tendency to freelance on routes to
the extent his quarterback can’t predict where he’s
going to wind up next.
This is also why Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb worked out
so well in their first season—Owens can run routes as well
as McNabb can keep a play alive. If Collins returns to Oakland,
maybe Moss will realize he has to take his game to the next level
in order to help his team succeed. If Collins is gone, Moss better
hope a strong-armed, somewhat fleet of foot veteran like Steve
McNair or Aaron Brooks finds his way to Oak-town…I doubt
either possibility happens. I hope it doesn’t, either. Moss
is too talented to avoid honing this area of his game. Someday
he’s going to lose his speed and if he hasn’t learned
how to run good routes, his decline will be as sharp as his ascent.
Veteran quarterbacks that served significant duty as “the”
starter for a team have an easier time jumping into a new system
and succeeding right away—Rich Gannon as a Raider, Drew
Bledsoe in his first year as a Bill, and Brad Johnson as a Viking
on his second tour all fit this description. Kurt Warner and Jeff
Garcia don’t match this statement, mainly because…
Offensive Line Play Means Too Much To
The Success Or Failure Of Skill Positions To Ignore—Even
In Fantasy Football. There has to be a better way to predict
offensive line play than just assigning grades or highly subjective,
numerical rankings. The Gut Check did his version of offensive
line rankings in 2004, but these were more after-the-fact rankings
based on the prior year’s stats. Continuity is obviously
important—look at the Colts, Chiefs, Broncos, and Steeler’s
lines. Coaching can have a significant impact in the short term.
San Diego went from bad to great in 2004, and Hudson Houck almost
did the same when he moved to Miami this year. The Falcons have
a great run blocking line thanks to landing Denver’s previous
line coach, Alex Gibbs. The key is figuring out the impact of
individual players arriving or departing from a unit.
Lesson Learned: Rating offensive
lines may be an imperfect pursuit, but it is still beneficial
to do. Especially when you downplay a change to a line like Green
Bay, and tout Ahman Green regardless of that situation. The leagues
I drafted Green were a struggle all year.
Guys I’m Kicking Myself for Passing Up
- Tiki Barber in the 2nd round —
I originally had Barber as a top five back. I downgraded his
projections to the point that he was a mid-second round pick,
just a few places below Curtis Martin. I took Curtis Martin
as my second back to Edgerrin James. I have the second-best
record in the league only because I also have Larry Johnson.
The owner with the best record in our league is the guy with
Shaun Alexander and Tiki Barber. When I think I might have had
Edgerrin James, Tiki Barber, Cadillac Williams, and Larry Johnson
I begin to twitch.
- Steve Smith — when
the training camp reports say a guy coming back from a broken
leg is faster than he was prior to the injury, it’s time
to pay more attention. I also thought the Panthers would miss
Mushin Muhammad more than they did.
- Carson Palmer — Palmer
is one of the reasons I bought a TIVO and decided to scout college
games. If I can’t watch a good player, it’s tough
to invest in his potential. Palmer has impressed me more than
any quarterback I’ve seen this year not named Peyton.
- Warrick Dunn — The
Falcons starter had 8 more yards than LT after week 12 but on
24 fewer carries! I know LT has 14 more rushing touchdowns,
but I could have picked Dunn in many leagues at a bargain basement
price and acquired more sure things at WR. I’d take Dunn
as #3 RB/Flex option any day.
Guys I’m Glad I Passed Up
- Terrell Owens — If
he played, he was going to play well. But as NFL fans, have
we ever seen a player behave this way before? You just had to
figure it was going to crash and burn sooner than later.
- Willis McGahee — It’s
not like McGahee has been horrible. Entering week 13, he was
the 16th-rated runner in standard scoring leagues. But the Bills
running back went being touted as the next great running back
to a player whose effort is questioned by his coach. I only
avoided him because J.P. Losman was a first-year starter. When
Holcomb was in the lineup McGahee looked a lot better for at
least a stretch.
- Jamal Lewis — I watched
ESPN’s fantasy draft special this summer. After a half
hour, I knew there was a huge gap between the participants that
understood football and understood fantasy football. Especially
when Nick Lachay was out-drafting Susie Kolber and Tom Jackson
was questioning the sanity of several smart fantasy picks. The
only ESPN staff member that truly understood the difference
between what makes a good fantasy player and a good football
player was Mark Schlereth. But back to the subject. Susie Kolber’s
explanation for drafting Jamal Lewis was the clincher. She felt
Lewis would be hungry to prove himself after a horrible off-season
in a federal penitentiary. No mention at all of his injury or
the Ravens team’s woes. Plus I’m sure the top-notch
physical therapy Lewis was getting in the joint beat what he’d
find in the free world. Kolber is a terrific reporter, yet when
ESPN gave us the forum to observe the decision making their
staff used to draft players, I was not only entertained but
duly informed that I wouldn’t have to worry about getting
stuck with Lewis—most of the general public was going
to overrate him.
- Nate Burleson — the
second coming of Darrell Jackson fulfilled those expectations—both
missed several weeks of time this season. Burleson has a chance
to be a good fantasy receiver for years to come, but after watching
Koren Robinson slowly piece is career back together and Troy
Williamson show moments I wonder where that leaves Burleson…
Guys I Wished I Passed Up
- Michael Clayton —
I thought Clayton was one of the safer bets I could draft: a
receiver with a great attitude coming off a terrific rookie
season in an offense that likes to throw the ball. Clayton gains
too much weight, hurts his shoulder, and looses primary looks
to a rejuvenated Joey Galloway. He was a big-time fantasy killer.
- Drew Bennett — Poor
early season play and injury did in my choice as the underrated
primary WR in my fantasy drafts.
- Charles Rogers — I
didn’t waste early picks on this guy, but it was still
a wasted pick. My 2000’s version of Michael Westbrook.
- Ahman Green — With
Green officially on my list, I’m officially through with
my season-long self-flagellation for this horrible choice.
- Reggie Williams —
Just watching this guy celebrate over a six-yard catch is disgusting.
I hope he develops to the point where he has something more
appropriate to congratulate himself for achieving.
- Kerry Collins — He
did all right by me until the very weeks I’m about to
need him most…
Guys I Wish I Didn’t Drop or Trade Away
(Re-Draft & Dynasty Leagues)
- Ernest Wilford — I
acquired this guy last year for practically nothing in return.
I then dropped Wilford as the season began, and promptly lost
a quality receiver for cheap.
- Thomas Jones — I traded
away Jones in a dynasty league last spring. I had a ton of quality
backs on my roster—or at least I thought so. By mid-season,
half my runners on this team were in the infirmary and Jones
was a solid #2 RB.
- Roydell Williams —
I told everyone I knew that I thought Williams would be the
best of the three receivers the Titans drafted and though he
was the last to get significant playing time, I think he’s
been the best all-around rookie wide out to see the field for
them in 2005 and will be a sneaky good player in the NFL for
years to come.
Guys I’m Glad I Acquired
- Heath Miller — I picked
this guy up late in most re-draft or auction leagues, and he’s
been a terrific bargain at this position.
- Kurt Warner — He’s
playing great down the stretch and was a big reason my 11-2
squad was able to afford two stud RBs (Edge and Priest) and
one waiting to shed the diapers…
- Larry Johnson — He’s
Eddie George with Fred Taylor’s speed. There is nothing
more I love as a fantasy football owner than to have a back
that gets the ball early, often, and always as he wears out
a defense and fills up my side of the scoreboard.
- Antonio Gates — I
reached for him a bit and selected him over Tony Gonzalez. Plus
I knew Gates was going to miss the first week of the season.
Turns out he has been the best TE by far—even with “two”
Guys I Wish I Reached For Because It Was Worth
- Larry Fitzgerald —
He’s the next great receiver in the NFL. He has awesome
hands, decent speed, and a terrific work ethic. It doesn’t
hurt that Anquan Boldin makes it impossible for teams to double
cover either of them. Fitzgerald is catching over 70% of the
balls targeted to him. For the amount of targets he gets, this
is a great stat.
- Lamont Jordan — I
saw with my own eyes how good Jordan is as a runner. I just
forgot that there would be several others in every league that
would reach a bit for him because they saw the same skills.
Jordan has been a top five runner at the price of a borderline
- Plaxico Burress —
I thought Burress was significantly over valued in most drafts.
He’s a quality starter/primary fantasy receiver and no
other pass catch has been targeted more this year.
Deshaun Foster Would Be A Force
Fosters performance against the Falcons was more along the lines
I expected from him all season. Of course, John Fox gets sentimental
just prior to the season and gives Stephen Davis the reins to
the running game. Ten weeks later, Davis begins to look his age
and Foster gets a shot. The UCLA alumnus has excellent hands,
breakaway speed, and fights hard for extra yardage. What is not
to like? Foster has some fumbling problems earlier in his career
and he doesn’t posses the patience of Stephen Davis. Foster
should get better with more carries.
Lesson Learned: I’ve
been targeting the Falcons run defense all year long. I touted
Foster this week as a good start. After the perfunctory carries
to Davis established that the veteran still wasn’t going
to get the job done, Foster took the opportunity and made the
most of it. I can think of a lot worse options to have at running
back if he is on your depth chart behind a stud that you might
have to bench in the playoffs due to his team earning home field
Lee Evans Would Finally Play Like Many
Expected From The Beginning
Three touchdowns in one game for a hot and cold player is crazy,
but all three coming in the first quarter is too much to fathom.
Evans clearly has the talent, but much like 49er, Brandon Lloyd,
neither receiver has a good enough quarterback to get them the
ball on a consistent basis. Evans and Lloyd are fit the mold of
another physically talented big ten alumnus that has to cope with
maddeningly inconsistent play from their quarterback—Chris
Lesson Learned: Quarterbacks
make or break most receivers. So much so, you can have a healthy
debate whether it’s more advantageous for a fantasy owner
to have a mediocre receiver on a team with a good quarterback
instead of a good-to-great receiver on a team with a mediocre
Larry Johnson Would Be The Irresistible
Force Against Denver’s Top Rated Run Defense
I had some healthy doubts about Johnson running roughshod over
Denver’s defense prior to the game, but with some help I
came to my senses. This runner will likely be responsible for
more great fantasy stretch runs than any other player this year.
Lesson Learned: Johnson has
been terrific, but it’s the KC offensive line and the return
of Welborn and Roaf to the lineup that is the reason one should
ride Johnson until he’s through or your season is…
Nagging Feelings—Week 13
Expect the Raiders offense to take a nosedive with Collins out
of the lineup. Marques Tuiasosopo
has some nice athletic tools and he could find Randy Moss deep
a bit more often (as I explained about buying time with an athletic
QB), but there’s a big reason why they got Collins instead
of handing the job to the former Washington Husky. I’d be
worried about Lamont Jordan’s
production with this change as well.
I think Jimmy Smith suddenly
comes back to fantasy life with David Garrard in the lineup. Garrard
targeted Smith 24 times in the last two contests. Garrard’s
ability to keep a play alive should match up well with Smith,
a receiver that had plenty of good years finding ways to get open
for a scrambling Mark Brunell in his prime.