Jamaal Charles owners: How to replace your stud running back

If you lost Jamaal Charles on Sunday, you don’t have a lot of options. He was your first round pick, and unless you play in a very small league, it’s unlikely you have someone else of Charles’ caliber on your roster to pick up the slack.

You also aren’t going to find many first-round quality players on the waiver wire. So at this point, you are left with the desperation options.

It’s time to beg, borrow, cheat, or steal.

One note before we start — you don’t have to do these in this order. Begging is for the worst off of the Charles’ owners, but all of us could benefit from “stealing,” even if we didn’t lose Charles. In fact, “stealing” is probably a good place to start for the majority of you. That’s why I put it at the end…

BEG

A trade is the fastest way to fix your roster when you face a catastrophic injury like losing Charles. You won’t ever have as strong a team as you had before, but just like getting burned on a bad investment, you have to take stock of what you have, package your assets, and sell off what you can to improve your net worth (in this case, your team).

Now I’m assuming you’re in dire straits without Charles. You might not have another running back capable of even RB2-quality production. Maybe you were rotating a stream of flex-level running backs in alongside Charles. Maybe the only other stud on your roster was your top-5 quarterback.

If you can field a respectable roster in Week 3 without Charles, hold off and move on to the less drastic strategies below. But if you’re rocking back and forth in the fetal position while screaming “Jamaaaaaal. WHY?!?,” stay with me here…

Hopefully, you drafted some good depth at at least one position. It’s probably safe to assume it’s not running back, so let’s pretend you have a little extra talent at quarterback or wide receiver.

It’s time to start talking to every owner in your league who has a hole at wide receiver or quarterback and a running back worth starting every week. Package what you have and shop it.

Start your negotiations by making a reasonable offer, but if that goes south, beg. Beg like you’re life depended on it. Play the pity card, and maybe someone will grant you a chance at their prize running back.

Target the owners of Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson, Arian Foster, and Shonn Greene, who may be disappointed in what they’ve brought to the box score so far. You don’t have the luxury of being disappointed in them. You just need high-ceiling starters.

Chris Johnson would be the first player I’d target. Foster or Jackson might come at a discount since they are currently injured, and Greene owners might be convinced that he won’t rise to the occasion this season either.

For the right price, I’d take a chance at Greene.

Float your starting-quality backup quarterback out there packaged alongside one of your WR2 or WR1-level wide receivers. If you feel good enough about your QB2, try offering your stud-level starter to the guy that drafted Peyton Manning.

It’s a great time to trade Matthew Stafford to the highest bidder if you smartly drafted a quality alternative in case Stafford didn’t make it a full 16 games. Maybe you’ll miss out on his breakout season, but you could end up with a fantasy stud to replace what you lost in Charles.

BORROW

If trading for a stud or potential stud doesn’t work, it’s time to look at the lesser options and “borrow.”

You’re not actually borrowing in this situation. You’re still trading, but you’re looking at the potential to upgrade this player down the road.

If left with no other options, go ahead and look at trading depth for depth. Maybe you could deal a backup tight end, WR3, or your backup quarterback to give yourself some more depth at running back.

Nabbing someone like Joseph Addai, Marshawn Lynch, C.J. Spiller, or Ryan Grant could still prove valuable. Don’t write anyone off. But don’t take any terrible deals either just to add a running back to your squad. You have to get a decent value for the package you put together. A bad trade would pretty much sink your season.

You might try to sneak a deal for a promising up-and-comer.

Make a play for Ben Tate whose owner may not need his opportunistic play for the next several weeks while Foster heals up as much as you could. Look for James Starks, who is rising in Green Bay. Maybe the rest of your league hasn’t noticed yet. Finally, it pays off to have a guy in your league who lives under a rock!

While getting a running back out of the deal would be preferred, it’s okay to consider a trade that upgrades your other positions. Anything that improves your team will help, and maybe that additional strength at quarterback or wide receiver could be turned into running back depth at a later date.

While you might not start these running backs right away or have no need for the additional depth at another position, these players are good to have. You can hold onto them for now, start them when they have decent matchups, and maybe somewhere down the road, they’ll have a big enough game for you to deal them again.

On that next trade, that’s when you might land a stud to replace Charles.

CHEAT

Okay, I realize most people don’t want to cheat. But some do. And I feel it’s my duty to cover this even if I don’t wholeheartedly endorse it. In fact, I’ll despise you if you pull it off. But hey, we’re in it to win it. So here goes…

This one’s the hard one. You might not have a chance at swindling an owner in your league, and even if you do, you might not get this trade past the rest of the owners in your league. But…rumors and misinformation might be a decent way to get a fantasy starter off another owner.

All it takes is a text, presumed to be a forward from Twitter, with “RT @AdamSchefter” in front, and you could have another owner thinking they need to sell high. (Kidding, of course. Who would do that?)

Haven’t you always wanted to be “that guy?”

You could make a play for Matt Forte by talking up Marion Barber’s upcoming return and his ability to vulture every touchdown from Forte the rest of the way. It is possible, even if it’s not probable. So it’s not a lie, MOM!

Sure, you still have to worry that it comes true, in some part, but Forte’s a decent recovery from losing Charles.

Steven Jackson owners might be willing to believe he’ll never be healthy again this season. He looked slow in the first game of the season, didn’t he? Might as well get a decent value for him rather than deal with his questionable status all season long.

Ryan Mathews certainly isn’t going to get enough touches to be worth anything in San Diego. So what if every analyst out there seems to believe he’s the better back. Tolbert is clearly the guy that’s going to get all the fantasy points, right?

Use rumors and speculation to your advantage, and you just might “negotiate” your way into a nice consolation prize.

But yes, if you pull this off, several people in your league will call you out for it. You’ll be cursed for the rest of the season, and you probably won’t even make it to the championship game due to karma. All wins have their price.

STEAL

There’s not going to be a lot on the waiver wire, but there’s enough. Now that you’ve lost Charles, it’s time to take everything you can and “steal” value for free off the wire.

First, your Kansas City replacements. Unfortunately, they’ll cost the most and probably produce the least.

Thomas Jones + Dexter McCluster + Le’Ron McClain

I covered this in this week’s waiver wire post, but Jones probably assumes the lead back duties here. He’s not exciting; in fact, he’s looked totally finished so far this season. But he’s the guy listed second on the depth chart, and he’s likely to get the goal line looks, at least initially.

Jones is the running back I’d try to pickup first, but don’t break the bank to get him. He’s not worth it, especially with how lackluster the Chiefs offense has been thus far. Thomas Jones is not going to spark anything for them.

Dexter McCluster’s been used as a gadget guy by the Chiefs and has gotten more touches than Jones so far this year up until Charles was injured. With his ability to act as a receiver or running back (not to mention his eligibility as both a WR and RB on some fantasy sites), McCluster may actually see the most productive touches in Charles’ absence. He’ll also come at a lower cost than Jones if you’re having to bid on McCluster in a FAAB.

The dark horse in this is Le’Ron McClain. We’ve seen him take more than his fair share of the work during his time in Baltimore, and now he’s in the mix in Kansas City.

Jones is old, and McCluster is undersized. So the bulk of the workload could easily land in McClain’s lap. Again, he’s not going to blow the doors off anyone, but he could be productive if the Chiefs pick themselves up off the floor.

Assuming you miss out on Jones and McCluster, stash McClain. You never know.

And here’s where the real stealing comes in. If you have the roster space, I’d claim every single decent handcuff back still on waivers that you can. That list includes Deji Karim in Jacksonville, Kendall Hunter in San Francisco, Delone Carter in Indy, and Michael Bush in Oakland.

Bush and Carter have carved a role of sorts on their offenses for now with the potential to do more, especially if there’s an injury. Hunter’s not getting a lot of touches, but he certainly looks like he could do plenty with them after leading the league in rushing during the preseason. And Karim will continue to protect Maurice Jones-Drew’s long-term health by taking a few touches each week until MJD suffers a setback or another injury.

If they’re out there, I’d go get Willis McGahee, who could end up winning John Fox’s favor if Moreno can’t stay healthy, and LaDainian Tomlinson, who still might be the most productive back on the Jets, first.

You’re goal with these backups is to be first in line to benefit when the next devastating injury hits fantasy owners. And in the meantime, you can tell your tale of woe over a campfire to the rest of your league to scare them into trading you for their own handcuff.

It’s not going to make you any friends, but this strategy is an act of desperation.

And if you can’t “steal” your way back into fantasy relevance, well…you better start trolling the waiver wire and maximizing every spot on your roster. You’re going to need every point you can get the rest of the way.

RIP Jamaal’s ACL. Pour some out for your homies’ knees. And fingers crossed this doesn’t happen to any other first-round picks this season.

http://youtu.be/dqHKf5NuVtg

And seriously, what’s going on in KC? Charles is their third ACL tear this season.

Friends don’t let friends draft Ben Tate

It happens in almost every draft. It’s the magazine curse. Some league member — let’s call him Pete — is convinced that Ben Tate is going to be the next superstar after they read a profile of him that was written in June. Pete is excited. Pete gets busy with other things until draft day. And then…the unspeakable happens.

It’s kind of like watching a slow-speed accident — like watching two cars back into each other in a parking lot. Nobody wants to see that, but it’s also impossible to stop.

Approaching the draft board, Pete pulls a player sticker and slaps it up on the wall. As he turn around, he’s a little confused that he didn’t hear the gasps and sighs of a thousand voices as he took a “steal” in the mid-rounds. He was sure everyone was waiting for Ben Tate to fall to their next pick, but instead of sighs and complaints, all he gets are a few shocked faces, laughter, and a hand to the forehead.

“Ben Tate is out for the year.” Someone had to say it. Then you just feel bad for Pete. Really bad. It’s hard to watch that happen.

Sometimes in life you can save a buddy from this kind of shame and humiliation. You can take him away from the dance floor when he’s starting to think every girl in the room is attractive. You can warn him not to take that class with the crazy dictator of a professor. You can tell him when he has spinach stuck in his teeth.

That is, you have the option if you so desire, not that you HAVE to take that road. You still have the ability to jump in there and take them out of that situation. But when it’s a missed draft pick? He’s screwed. He just burned a mid-round pick on a guy that won’t play a single down in 2010. With the exception of this being a keeper or dynasty league, he just wasted a pick.

Depending on your league, you may get a chance to make amends. They may let you pick again over that “Ben Tate” you just burned, but in all fairness, you really shouldn’t get another chance. You struck out. Just sit down.

So don’t be that guy. I witnessed it firsthand in my draft this past weekend, and it’s not cool for anyone involved.

Here’s a list of other IR players you don’t want on your team this season unless you’re tucking them away in a dynasty league.

  • Ben Tate, RB, Houston Texans — Fractured right fibula AND torn right ankle ligaments, which sounds as serious as it is.
  • Sinorice Moss, WR, New York Giants — Groin injury
  • Jim Sorgi, QB, Indianapolis Colts — Apparently, patting Peyton/Eli Manning as they come off the field can get you a shoulder injury
  • Donnie Avery, WR, St. Louis Rams — Knee injury, and a general lack of the ability to stay on the field
  • Malcolm Kelly, WR, Washington Redskins — Hamstring injury from McNabb’s “Hell Week” will put him on IR, which, on the plus side for him, keeps him on the roster *technically* since he was on the bubble at the beginning of the preseason
  • Leigh Bodden, CB, New England Patriots — If you play IDP or if you were considering drafting the Patriots D/ST, which isn’t quite as good without its best corner

And some cautionary warnings…

  • Sidney Rice, WR, Minnesota Vikings — Out for at least half the season with a hip injury. Draft accordingly.
  • Vincent Jackson, WR, San Diego Chargers — Missing at least three games as of now and at least six if he doesn’t show up to sign and play by this Saturday
  • Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers — For generally being a creeper and getting himself suspended for four to six games to start 2010
  • Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver Broncos — Some reports have him suiting up; others have him nowhere close. Either way, he’s not going anywhere quick with a hamstring injury.
  • New York Jets D/ST — Without Darrelle Revis and without Calvin Pace to start the sesason, this defense may not be the No. 1 unit everyone thinks it’s cracked up to be. I am not on this bandwagon without those two.
  • Brett Favre, QB, Minnesota Vikings — You probably like him less already with an ankle injury and without Sidney Rice, but hearing that the Vikings are going to “manage the pain” on a bone spur they recently discovered as well makes Favre even less safe as a QB1 this season.

Consider yourself warned. Don’t be that guy.

Bye, Bye Ronnie Brown: Foot injury takes RB to IR

The Miami Dolphins have placed Ronnie Brown on IR with a foot injury to end his season. Adam Schefter filed the story this afternoon, and ESPN now has the official word. Apparently, his foot injury was much more serious than we all feared.

What does this mean for the Miami Wildcat?

“Who knows? May not even run it,” a coy Sparano said. “Never know.”

But don’t order your coffins yet, fantasy owners. There’s still hope, right? Even though this is most definitely now your fault.

Well, there’s always Ricky Williams, who now assumes the duties as starting running back. With increased carries, we can’t expect him to take over both Ronnie Brown’s and his own production, becoming some sort of “double your pleasure, double your fun” bargain back, but it’ll be something more than what he’s doing for owners right now.

Williams has already had his fair share of big days even while sharing with Brown, and for at least the next two weeks, he gets to run the ball against the Panthers and the Bills. No complaints there.

Even if the Miami offense takes a step back without Brown’s Wildcat wrinkles and burst, Williams should be an adequate replacement. Plus, there’s no frustration when the other part of the RBBC gets all the touchdowns, right?

Well, if that didn’t get you smiling, you probably didn’t get Williams as a handcuff or backup to Brown this season. It’s okay. I wouldn’t have done it either. But you got options, kid.

You do have the good fortune of losing your starting running back when a great deal of the best running backs in fantasy went down with injury and left replacements littering the waiver wire.

Bernard Scott would be the most lucrative grab of the multitude available out there, but only if Cedric Benson ends up missing time (and if Larry Johnson really does just ride the bench as depth). My gut feeling is that Benson misses at least one game.

The Bengals could at least do us a favor and hold him out a week for the sake of keeping him fresh. It’s only the Raiders after all, and then the Browns, and then the Lions…

Yeah, Scott’s a good grab.

And if you can’t get your hands on him for a one-week tour of duty, try to seek out Beanie Wells, Jamaal Charles, or Jason Snelling. Wells and Charles, in particular, have two of the best playoffs schedules around.

So don’t punch your ticket to miss the playoffs…yet. Just remember the good times you had with Brown–two-touchdown days against the Colts, the Bills, and the Jets, and those fall days when he didn’t just walk beside you. He carried you.

I think I just got something in my eye.

Foolish Thoughts: Magical phone refresh voodoo makes Vernon Davis score touchdowns

I got stuck watching the New England Patriots abuse the Tampa Bay Buccaneers across the pond in London during the early games. I thought we sent this game overseas so that no one here would have to watch it?

While the action was riveting, oh, so riveting, I found myself checking my fantasy football scores on my phone. About halfway through the early games, I noticed Vernon Davis had scored me a touchdown. Nice work. I went against the stats in starting him, but, as ESPN pointed out, the tight ends who had been shut down by the Texans weren’t exactly in the elite class.

So happy in my good choices, I hit refresh, only to discover that Davis had another touchdown. Now, at this point, I had not seen any cutaways to the San Francisco game yet to show me what was happening in Houston. All I knew is that every time I refreshed my phone, Vernon Davis scored a touchdown.

Oh, this is getting good. I was mopping my opponent with my early starters, and I’d discovered a magical wishing well of fantasy points.

So I refreshed again, getting greedy this time. And once again, touchdown. Had I discovered a voodoo trick for fantasy football? Would it work on anyone else besides Vernon Davis?

I had no idea what I was doing, but I found myself hitting refresh again. But this time, nothing. My fantasy luck had run out. Game over.

But next week, I’m definitely refreshing my phone a few times during the San Francisco game to see if I can get it to work again.

Dear Patrick Crayton, I’d be the first one to tell you, so here goes: Miles Austin is legit. Your best chance of getting back in the starting lineup is by replacing Roy Williams. Sadly, that might not be that hard to do with as many key passes as Williams dropped on Sunday.

The Cowboys finally looked like the team that won 13 games in 2007 again on Sunday, but it’s not time for celebration just yet. It’s still hard to trust Tony Romo, who has one of the hardest schedules of any quarterback in the league the rest of the way. As long as Miles Austin keeps scoring two touchdowns per game, that view on Romo may change.

Donald Brown went out with a shoulder injury and left Joseph Addai to share the load with Chad Simpson. If Brown misses any length of time, it would increase Addai’s value since Simpson’s no threat to cut into Addai’s touches, but this injury was minor. Expect Brown to be back on the field and scaring Addai’s fantasy owner this week.

Ryan Grant finally went off with 148 rushing yards and a touchdown against the Browns. Let me repeat that: Against the Browns. Green Bay won’t face pushover run defenses all season, but Grant abused this one when given the chance. The Packers remain a pass-first team, but Grant could see his usage rise as the weather turns colder. Don’t give up on him if you’ve holding onto him this long.

Steven Jackson had 134 rushing yards against the Colts. Maybe the Rams should just put him and the offensive line on the field together and run the flying V all day. Might make for some interesting football. The Rams certainly aren’t in their current incarnation.

What do Vernon Davis’ 93 yards and three touchdowns mean? It means he’s a legitimate every week starter. Davis has been a key part of this passing offense all year, and even with the addition of Michael Crabtree, he’ll get lots of looks. If nothing else, his chances at the goal line look very promising.

Speaking of Alex Smith, his three touchdowns and 206 yards in the second half seem to be more than just a lucky break off the bench. He faces the Colts this week, but moving forward, he’s go upside. Sometimes those bench-warming first-round draft picks pay off after all. Eh, Vince Young?

Owen Daniels. Best tight end in football? It’s possible.

Brett Favre loves him some Sidney Rice, proven by the 11 catches Rice took for 136 yards against the Steelers. Favre may not make many more big games out of these receivers, especially after his return-to-form breakdowns against Pittsburgh this week, but it’s never a bad idea to own his favorite target. Rice has definite talent, and skills the ability to hover five feet off the field until Favre can get him the ball.

The Steelers’ defense showed up late to the party against the Vikings, but at least they showed supreme mastery of the flying V in both their interception return and fumble return. If they can contain the beast inside of Adrian Peterson without run-stopper Aaron Smith, they can stop anyone. Feel confident if you have them as your defense at this point in the season. Very confident.

I think the league would be a better place if JaMarcus Russell were benched. I’d be interested to see two teams trade quarterbacks in a given week just to see whether it’s the quarterback or the team causing all the problems. Jason Campbell for Russell anyone? Jake Delhomme for Russell? Marc Bulger for Russell? That’s the kind of trade that could heat things up in a season where every team is great, very good or horrifyingly terrible.

Could the NFL just institute a takebacks trade option so that teams can exchange players for two weeks at a time? It’d be just like pickup football.

Andre Johnson has a lung contusion. I have no idea what that is, but I do know he spit up blood. Regardless, he doesn’t need lungs to play out of his mind against the Bills. The Buffalo secondary has been good, but top receivers can find a way. Jake Delhomme just gets paid to make secondaries like the Bills’ look good.

After losing Leon Washington for the season with a nasty broken fibula, the Jets put in Shonn Greene in garbage time to finish off the Raiders. That 144 yards and two touchdowns will likely draw a crowd on the waiver wire, but Greene probably won’t duplicate a performance like that until he starts to eat into Thomas Jones’ role as the lead back.

I’ve liked Greene all along this year. He’s big and hard-running, just like a little Marion Barber in the making, but the Jets have not sought to limit Jones or replace him with Greene just yet. For now, Greene is nothing more than an 8-10 carry guy to share the load with Jones and take garbage time. Still, he’s definitely worth stashing because of the strength of the Jets’ running game and the chance to eventually replace Jones if anything were to go down.

Carson Palmer looked like the Carson Palmer that dominated the league before his knee injury. Five touchdowns, two to Chad Ochocinco, have me hoping that he keeps that alive through the end of the season.

Palmer’s arm also opened things up for Cedric Benson, who took full advantage of the revenge bowl in Chicago with a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown. If Palmer had jacked all the touchdowns, Benson could have had more. The Bears just looked like they though they were playing last year’s Bengals.

Despite Benson’s beating, Ricky Williams won the spite battle this week with three touchdowns and just 80 rushing yards against his former team, the Saints. It’s not like Ricky has any bad blood. I’m pretty sure with the amount of pot he’s smoked, he’s made peace with everybody, including dead people, but he certainly wanted to win against the Saints on Sunday.

Unfortunately, the Saints took some 5-Hour Energy at halftime, woke up and realized they were behind. Then, Drew Brees went to work. The Saints defense returned two picks for touchdowns, again proving they are a legit fantasy defense as long as Darren Sharper is roaming around out there. I completely called Tracy Porter’s interception return at the end of the game, mostly because I needed it to win a fantasy football game this week, but you know.

Somehow I managed to make it through the entire Monday Night Football excitement of the Eagles and Redskins. In short, DeSean Jackson scored both rushing and receiving the football, and when he wasn’t in the game, neither was the Philadelphia offense. Brian Westbrook got knocked out. Chris Cooley broke his ankle and could be out for the season.

DeSean Jackson was scared he broke something, but after X-raying it, they determined that his only ailment was being awesome and unstoppable. Sometimes that feels like an injury when you play the Redskins I guess.

At what point do we consider farming the Redskins, Rams, Chiefs or Raiders out to the UFL?

Foolish Thoughts: Darren McFadden is dead to me, make the Brett Favre stop and other tales of horror

Darren McFadden is the biggest fantasy football tease in America. If Keith Olbermann were still doing his “Worst Person in the NFL” segment, it would be Run DMC. McFadden is the flirt that no one ever dates, and the bane of many a fantasy football team.

Draft him his rookie season? Oh, yeah, about that Justin Fargas fella, he’ll still get most of the carries while McFadden tiptoes around on his turf toe injury.

Draft him in 2009 after all the talk about the Raiders making him a multidimensional threat, receiving and running, capable of bending space and time to his will? Well, you get goose eggs every week and fumbles that cancel out any fantasy points he may happen to score.

He’s terrible, but it’s not all his fault. It’s Oakland. Right now, nothing can rise out of the fantasy pit that is the black hole of California.

JaMarcus Russell and his inability to hit a receiver is killing the fantasy value of all the Raiders. He looked impressive enough to start the season against the Chargers, but since that loss, he’s fallen off a cliff.

Russell is a murderer of dreams. Every time he throws the ball, an angel loses its wings and slaps Al Davis back to life. I’d say that a puppy dies every time Russell catches a snap, but let’s not get into the Michael Vick drama.

Instead, let’s focus on the good things. At least the Raiders have a talented backfield with McFadden and Michael Bush…if ever the defense would be threatened enough by the Oakland passing game not to stack up eight or more men in the box.

For now, Darren McFadden should be benched in all leagues until further notice. He made sure of that by getting hurt. He should miss the next two to four weeks while recovering from surgery for a torn meniscus in his right knee.

While I might hold onto him a few more weeks, it’s safe to consider dropping him in all but deep leagues. The Raiders face the Giants, Jets and Eagles over the next three weeks, which gives them plenty of time to become even more miserable or develop some sign of life in the passing game.

The smart bet is on the miserable side of things.

Wish I could find that pic of Philip Rivers with grass in his helmet
I heard several people on either side of the fence of my “pass” on Philip Rivers in my preseason “pick or pass” for quarterbacks, but I stand behind my statements that he will not live up to his draft stock this season.

Last year was an extraordinary one for him stat-wise, and you should not expect him to repeat. He didn’t look good against the Steelers until the final quarter, and he’s been alternating between decent 20+ fantasy point weeks and mediocre point totals in the teens.

Don’t expect him to be able to expose a defense with that many big plays in his games moving forward.

Mark Sanchez de-poised
It took four weeks, but the rookie who couldn’t be cracked finally lost his poise this week against the New Orleans Saints.

Now, rather than his poise that had stolen the headlines for weeks, all anyone can talk about are his turnovers.

Yes, on the season Mark Sanchez has five interceptions and five fumbles with three of those picks coming in Sunday’s game, but thus far, the Jets have been able to overcome his mistakes with solid defense.

Against the Saints, his turnovers cost them by giving away 14 points.

Despite his lack of poise (for once), Sanchez remains the rookie quarterback to own this season, especially now that Matthew Stafford is day-to-day with a knee injury.

He’s no Matt Ryan, but he’ll do if you need a backup.

Titans not so Titan-y
Four games into the season, the Titans are winless, and they’re looking worse in every contest. I can’t say that I’m not rooting for Kerry Collins to be replaced, but that said, he’s not the problem.

The Titans defense isn’t what it used to be, and the only explosive player on offense is Chris Johnson.

They’ll have to get Johnson more involved in the passing game if they’re going to be behind in games all season, but right now, he’s still a must-start fantasy stud.

In Other News…

  • Tom Brady felt like the real thing again in his fourth appearance, and the Randy Moss connection is still good to go. Me likey. Welcome back, Patriots.
  • In I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-it news, the Cowboys aren’t looking too promising if they keep getting the play calling they did Sunday. Tony Romo owners around the nation agree. He’ll be boom or bust all season.
  • Jay Cutler is the next Tom Brady? No, really? I didn’t get that memo, but he is playing very well in his new uniform.
  • The Indianapolis Colts are looking just fine with Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon. Both could have decent fantasy value moving forward, and Collie got his first NFL touchdown on Sunday.
  • Is anyone tired of hearing Brett Favre’s name tonight yet?

Injury Concerns: Are Reggie Bush and Brian Westbrook worth your draft pick?

Brian Westbrook convinced the world that a smaller, shifty back could make it work in the NFL. In recent years, he’s become a fantasy points factory, churning out production each season, but he’s also never been one to rely on for all 16 weeks of your fantasy season.

With Westbrook’s production come injuries. Someone who moves as well and as uniquely as Westbrook is bound to get caught or banged up by the end of the season when a team leans on him as much as the Eagles have over the years. His injuries have landed Westbrook on some fantasy blacklists when it comes time to draft. Owners would just rather not deal with his questionable status every Sunday and one or two zeroes in the weekly fantasy point column for the games he misses.

When Reggie Bush entered the NFL as a rookie, he was one of the most hyped fantasy prospects of the season. NFL analysts projected he would be an impact player at running back despite his shifty, “dancing” ways, but, much like Westbrook, he’s also proven that it was going to be difficult for him to stay on the field for 16 games in a row.

Bush and Westbrook 2009 Outlook

Bush and Westbrook are truly two of the most unique players in the NFL. If either is in the game for their respective teams, they change what their team can do on the field.

The Eagles without Westbrook have lacked that explosion out of the backfield. Correll Buckhalter was a fine stand-in last season, but he couldn’t do all the things that Westbrook could do. Defenses don’t fear him as much, and he can’t make everyone miss.

This season, Westbrook finally has a backup who is worthy of carrying his torch, rookie LeSean McCoy. McCoy should cut into a few of Westbrook’s carries, but the coaching staff still promises that this is Westbrook’s job.

When available to the Saints, Reggie Bush found a role as a gimmick back last season. He took short passes out of the backfield, running back carries up the middle or to the outside and sometimes he even split out wide just like a receiver. This dynamic play earned him plenty of fantasy points…right up until he went down with an injury.

He’s been training this offseason, and beat writers have claimed this year is the most committed he’s been to the game since he first came in as a rookie. Bush knows this is a make-or-break year for his career. If he can’t prove that he can stay healthy and contribute, his role — and contracts — will be limited in the future.

Bush and Westbrook Fantasy Football Value

When it comes to these two backs, owners question every year whether they are worth drafting.

Brian Westbrook

With Westbrook, the answer is certainly a “yes,” but there is some qualification. Westbrook is still not back on the field from offseason injuries, but that doesn’t worry me about the impact he will have in this year’s improved Eagles’ offensive attack. He’s a safe pick in the second round, where he’s currently fallen due to injury concerns and age, but be sure to draft his backup and rookie standout LeSean McCoy if you get Westbrook on your roster.

Westbrook is bound to miss games, but McCoy looks good enough to jump in without missing a beat in this offense. McCoy’s average draft position (ADP) has him going in the eighth round of most drafts, so it should not be difficult to secure him a tad early with your pick in the seventh round.

If he warms your bench all season, you may feel a little upset, but Westbrook will have proven a lot of doubters wrong for your fantasy team.

Reggie Bush

Reggie Bush is a bit of a different story. Outside of points-per-reception leagues, he’s not as much of a beast as Westbrook. Pierre Thomas is looking like the primary back out of the Saints’ backfield this season, which would further limit Bush’s potential.

Bush worked on becoming a better football player this entire offseason, and he will attempt to return from his injuries this weekend against Oakland. That’s promising. Then again, he’s also rumored to be getting back together with another famous back, Kim Kardashian. We’ll see how that works out.

While he’s still worth drafting, he’s only worth drafting in the sixth round or later and after more promising young backs like Felix Jones are off the board. If Bush pays off, you’ll be glad to have him aboard. If he’s bothered by injury, you won’t have paid a significant price to get him.

In PPR leagues, he could be a stud, and you may feel better about taking him earlier in your draft when the payout is higher. That said, there’s just too much risk to make him a star on your fantasy team. Have a contingency plan for Bush if he goes down.

Pairing Darren McFadden and Bush together by taking them in your draft and rotating them based on health could make a deadly combo.

This year is a turning point for both these players. While Bush and Westbrook are both worthy of drafting at the right values, they are also full of risks. Prepare accordingly if you take that chance.

As always, the comments are yours. Would you draft Westbrook or Bush this season?

Carson Palmer, Marc Bulger already on the sidelines

This is why we can’t have nice things. After just one week of preseason football, both Carson Palmer and Marc Bulger need to see some time on the shelf.

Palmer suffered a high ankle sprain on his left ankle in the team’s first preseason game against the New Orleans Saints. The injury will keep Palmer out of tonight’s showdown with Tom Brady, another quarterback who missed the 2008 season.

After taking three sacks in the preseason opener against the New York Jets, Bulger managed to injure his wee little pinky in practice, which will put him down for at least two weeks.

Both Palmer and Bulger will be fine missing some work in the preseason. In fact, Bulger’s probably grateful to be out of the line of fire for a few weeks. But these injuries serve as a sign that these veteran quarterbacks shouldn’t be trusted this year. If you’re looking to snag Palmer or Bulger this season as a backup quarterback expecting them to shock and amaze by returning to form, don’t bet on it.

I question whether Palmer was even back at 100 percent at the start of this season after he sat out the majority of 2008 and chose not to undergo surgery this offseason. It might not take much of a hit for him to miss several weeks of the 2009 season.

Bulger, while productive when upright, doesn’t have the protection he needs to do much for the Rams this year. Bulger takes more sacks than any starting quarterback in the league — not counting David Carr, of course, since he’s now a backup. Without a reliable receiving target, Bulger could get caught trying to do too much early this season and go down in a hurry.

While you can hope for whatever you wish out of these two this season, I would recommend avoiding them both as fantasy quarterbacks. Palmer and Bulger’s best days may be behind them, and their future could be very frustrating.

Saving Your Season: How to replace that Tom Brady guy

Well, that just sucks. Thanks, Week 1. Today being Patriot Day just seems to be an even more depressing reminder of the losses in real life and our slightly much less important fantasy football losses.

Screen capture from ESPN.com of Patriot fan on Brady injury

Screen capture from ESPN.com of Patriot fan on Brady injury

If you were one of the lucky fantasy footballers who lost Tom Brady this past weekend, I assume I just caught you wallowing in your own self-pity, eating a cheeseburger off the floor between fits of crying, alcoholism and throwing Cheetos…

Don’t get up. I’ll squat down to your level.

You probably don’t even feel like waking up anymore. You thought you had this incredible season of fantasy football coming together — Tom Brady leading an UNSTOPPABLE fantasy force — but it’s all come crashing down. We should have known better when Bernard Pollard started dating Tonya Harding.

This Matt Cassel kid doesn’t exactly have the resume to jump right into replacing your first round fantasy draft pick, and you might have even missed out on him in your waiver wire this week. Have you looked at the waiver wire besides Cassel? Neckbeard (A.K.A Kyle Orton) and Damon Huard don’t exactly inspire confidence.

If you’re wire was full of guys like Jake Delhomme, Kurt Warner, Jon Kitna or even Trent Edwards, you’re lucky and have earned the hatred of us all. Pick up a couple of them or pair one with a capable backup, and you’re not out of the hunt just yet.

For the rest of us, we may need to take a more desperate path. Even if you do snag Cassel off the wire, he’s no guarantee to make your fantasy season. I don’t care if he is throwing to Randy Moss.

The Free Agent Quarterbacks

Looking through the rest of this season’s matchups, I’ve identified a few QBs that are probably floating around as free agents that you can platoon — yes, platoon — to save your season.

By checking the waiver wires in my deepest leagues, I am guessing your options look something like this list: Matt Cassel, Chad Pennington, Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Ryan, Damon Huard (filling in temporarily for Brodie Croyle), Kerry Collins (filling in temporarily for Vince Young), Joe Flacco, J.T. O’Sullivan, JaMarcus Russell and…yes, I’m going to list Kyle Orton. You may be left to rely on Neckbeard.

The highest upside player is, of course, J.T. O’Sullivan. He COULD be the next Mike Martz QB — high risk, high reward — or he could remain a miserable fantasy failure just like Week 1. As a sign of hope, he did complete more than 70 percent of his passes, even if they were only to the tight ends and Frank Gore.

Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and JaMarcus Russell are all new blood at the QB position. They won’t have much flare for the spectacular, but they won’t bomb either. All there QBs value is dependent upon them gaining confidence and becoming a larger part of the game plans.

Damon Huard and Kerry Collins are both guys that can be counted on in a pinch, but they have timers hanging over their heads. Once their respective starters return, they go back to the bench, and you go back to the waiver wire to grab Brodie Croyle (Yikes!) or Vince Young, who might find his happy place while he is sitting the next few weeks.

Chad Pennington might have one of the lowest ceilings of this whole group, but he showed that he can put up fantasy points in Miami in Week 1. I thought he was worth a few starts last year, and I think he will be worth more this year now that he is fully healed with a coaching staff that respects him.

Kyle Orton and Tarvaris Jackson are not game changers. Each has a run game that will take the ball out of their hands, so unless you get points for handoffs, don’t plan on either one exploding each week. Orton is a game manager who might have weeks where he throws a touchdown or two followed by droughts of no TDs at all. Jackson, if he can improve his decision making, could be a decent sleeper several weeks out of the season with Sidney Rice and Bernard Berrian, and his ceiling is obviously higher than Neckbeard’s.

Throw in this Matt Cassel kid, who could become a Philip Rivers-ish or Brodie Croyle-ish type of starter, and that’s a pretty good mix of potential — would have use the word talent here, but I am under contract not to use that word when Kyle Orton is involved.

Building Your Platoon

Now that Brady is done, I would assume that most of you have dropped him off your roster and picked up at least one of the QBs listed above (unless you are in a keeper league, which makes this even tougher).

Without Brady, you’ll still need two more spots for QBs. Assuming you have a backup — you drafted a backup for Tom Brady, right? — you’ll only need to drop one more guy from your bench to pickup another QB.

Obviously, don’t let one of your studs go, but if you have a guy that you were just waiting on to be productive, it might be time to give up hope. If you really don’t have anyone you can stand dropping, you might be able to wait this out — these guys aren’t flying onto rosters anytime soon unless they have a huge game. HUGE.

Try to vary your QB selections based upon their matchups. Pick three who work well together for the rest of the season. You’ll want a third QB to fill in the gaps when your first two have bad matchups or incredibly good running matchups.

Matchups to Target

These matchups are loosely based on team defense projections, cornerback ratings and Week 1 performances. Note that if one of these teams like St. Louis (unlikely), Miami, Kansas City, Oakland, Houston or Seattle rebound against the pass attacks, you might want to rethink your strategy going into that week.

Week 2: Flacco vs. Texans, Huard vs. Raiders, Russell vs. Chiefs, Collins vs. Cincinnati, O’Sullivan vs. Seahawks

Obviously, the best matchups in Week 2 are Flacco and Collins. O’Sullivan is a high-risk here, but he could payoff huge.

Week 3: Flacco vs. Browns, Huard vs. Falcons, Collins vs. Texans, Ryan vs. Chiefs, O’Sullivan vs. Detroit, Cassel vs Dolphins

Martz’s revenge game? If O’Sullivan shines, this week would be the week to do it. Huard against ATL corners is promising as is Collins. When the Titans play the Texans, it is usually a good show.

Week 4: Collins vs. Vikings, O’Sullivan vs. Saints

The matchup drought starts here for a few weeks. Flacco or Jackson might be the best options in your platoon to help you weather the storm.

Collins will have to pass against the strong Vikings run defense, so he makes the best pick here. O’Sullivan, if on a roll by now, could also light up the Saints in a high-scoring affair.

Week 5: Orton vs. Lions, Jackson vs. Saints, Cassel vs. 49ers

It’s the Lions. Even Neckbeard should put one up on the Detroit defense. Cassel against the 49ers is a smart play as well.

Week 6: Orton vs. Falcons, Jackson vs. Lions, Pennington vs. Texans

Pennington is my pick for this week, but it’s hard to say who has the better outlook since all three teams could end up just running the ball through these defenses all day.

Week 7: Flacco vs. Dolphins, Collins/Vince Young vs. Chiefs

If Vince Young returns to the starting role, despite his lack of valid WRs, I’d put him as one of the highest potential QBs from here on out. Clearly, 2008 is becoming a make or break year for his career, and sooner or later, the shine he had at Texas is going to prove he is star-worthy in the NFL. (Dear Vince, Don’t you go retiring just to make sausage now that I said that.)

Week 8: Flacco vs. Raiders, O’Sullivan vs. Seahawks, Cassel vs. Rams

O’Sullivan could be heaven-sent by now or out of work. Cassel will probably be able to score at will against the Rams while Flacco might not have the accuracy just yet to expose the Raiders slacking secondary.

Week 9: Flacco vs. Browns, Huard/Croyle vs. Buccaneers, Russell vs. Falcons, Ryan vs. Raiders, Orton vs. Lions, Jackson vs. Texans

By Week 9, we should see what we have in these prospect QBs. One of them might be a worthy starter. I like Russell against the Falcons and Jackson against the Texans.

Week 10: Pennington vs. Seahawks, Ryan vs. Saints

Pennington could be surprising folks with Miami by this point in the season, and Ryan might have found enough of a rapport with his receivers to open up the playbook. They’ll have to against the Saints.

Week 11: Russell vs. Dolphins, Collins/Young vs. Jaguars, O’Sullivan vs. Rams

Russell should slice up the Dolphins if he’s got his long ball locked in by Week 11, but Young and O’Sullivan present explosive options. I know Young faces the Jags, but it’ll probably be a competitive game since both might be struggling for top positions in the AFC. Young will have to make things happen through the air.

Week 12: Ryan vs. Panthers, Orton vs. Rams, Cassel vs. Dolphins

Can Neckbeard unleash his beast on the Rams? (That’s what she said.) Cassel against the Dolphins is my pick here, but Ryan and Orton are potential slam dunks as well.

Week 13: Flacco vs. Bengals, Croyle vs. Raiders, Russell vs. Chiefs, Pennington vs. Rams

Finally, someone gets to play the BENGALS. Croyle is not likely to lace it in there against the Raiders, but Pennington should blow apart the Rams in Week 13. I don’t care if he launches the football with a rubber band.

Week 14: Young vs. Browns, Ryan vs. Saints, Jackson vs. Lions, Cassel vs. Seahawks

Dear Lord. Did you consider what you would do if you make the playoffs with this save? First of all, if you get here, make all checks payable to me and send immediately. Thank you.

Jackson and Cassel look like golden boys, but Ryan and Young could both expose the defenses if they are at the top of their game. I like Young being able to make some moves in this one and get a lot of time on offense from Cleveland turnovers.

Week 15: Young vs. Texans, Orton vs. Saints, O’Sullivan vs. Dolphins, Pennington vs. 49ers, Cassel vs. Raiders

Lights out in Houston when Vince Young returns to town. Pennington and O’Sullivan should both go off, and Orton might HAVE to get called into duty to get something to Devin Hester against the Saints.

Week 16: Croyle vs. Dolphins, Russell vs. Texans, Ryan vs. Vikings, Jackson vs. Falcons, O’Sullivan vs. Rams, Pennington vs. Chiefs

Huge amount of nice matchups, and it could matter to you considering this might be your championship game. The Vikings might be fighting for a Wild Card, but Ryan could still light them up in the secondary. Jackson could do the same to the two high school corners on the Falcons. If Mike Martz makes a man out of O’Sullivan, might he destroy the Rams and bring you a trophy?

Week 17 (Heaven Forbid): Croyle vs. Bengals, Ryan vs. Rams, Orton vs. Texans, Pennington vs. Jets (Rematch!)

If your commish schedules your championship week in Week 17, slap him/her. Open fist. Just slap ‘em.

At least you have a few decent matchups with Ryan against the Rams and Pennington against the Jets. Pennington will still want to show the Jets what they gave away, and I am sure he wouldn’t mind knocking the Jets out of the playoffs and/or taking their morale down a notch right before they go into the playoffs.

Now that you feel better…

How about a video that RotoHog just sent me? (Note: It’s graphic for Tom Brady fans. Look away and earmuffs!)

Yeah, that’ll pretty much bring you back down to previous levels of depression. Bummer, but hey, I have to stop you from getting too giddy before you start getting excited at the thought of an Eli Manning injury that would allow you to start David Carr.

Why did you take Brady off the injury report Belichick? Why Belichick? WHY?!?!?

5 Reasons I Still Won’t Draft Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning has now returned to practice, but there’s still too much bad juju around old buckethead for me to consider touching him for my fantasy team.

I can’t believe that I’m actually going to say it, but this season, it’s better to pass on the definition of a stud fantasy quarterback. I have my reasons…

1) The knee – I know he’s “on schedule” to return to start in Week 1, and truthfully, I believe he will start Week 1 against Chicago whether he is fully healthy or not. The Colts are opening a new stadium, after all, and Manning IS the franchise with a consecutive start record to uphold.

However, say the Colts get ahead early with some runs by Addai and maybe just one touchdown grab. That’s not out of the question against the Chicago Bears this season. Who thinks Manning might see sit early “just to rest a bit?”

Even past Week 1, Manning is just a big hit away from irritating his knee or having it swell back up on him. They’ll handle him with tiny little baby gloves to start the season, but he’s going to be in danger all year from the sound of it.

2) No Saturday – Don’t worry, college football fans; game day still exists.

I’m talking Jeff Saturday, starting center for the Colts. He looks like he’ll miss the season opener and maybe the entire season at this point with his knee injury. That means a lack of sync at the line, botched snaps and weaker protection for Manning.

3) Deteriorating Marvin Harrison – Harrison, sadly, will never be the same guy he was pre-injury last season. If he were going to be, he probably would have rushed back to the field faster. My gut tells me that Harrison has faded significantly.

Sure, Reggie Wayne isn’t exactly settling, but Anthony Gonzalez is just coming along as a rookie. The offense just won’t look the same as it used to with Harrison as the focus at WR, and I don’t like that.

4) Emergence of Joseph Addai – He was phenomenal last year, but this year could be the “Woah” year for Addai. With Manning a little gimpy, he won’t hesitate to dump passes to Addai when he gets into trouble. Plus, the Dominic Rhodes signing gives Addai some decent run support so that he can get his breathers. If Addai starts handling this offense, I think Manning sits back a bit and loses that little bit of production.

5) Idiots – Regardless of what I put here, everyone that doesn’t read this list is still going to really like Peyton Manning.

He sits near the top of all the quarterback rankings everywhere, and some people in your league may not even realize that he might not start Week 1. He’s going to go high in your drafts, and at a first or even second round price, he’s not worth it. There are other fish in the sea.

My recommendation if you want to go QB early? Draft Tony Romo or Drew Brees ahead of Manning.

Romo passed up Manning last year in scoring, and Brees led the league in passes attempted last year. Just imagine if more Saints receivers started catching the ball? I like both of them better going into drafts this week.

Just let Manning have a year off.