Fantasy Football Players You Hate, Twitter

Last weekend, I asked all my Twitter followers what players ranked in the top 50 they didn’t want to touch in their fantasy football drafts.

I’m sure each one of you is hoarding some dark feelings towards one of the top 10 players in fantasy, but even knowing the hatred you hold in your hearts for some of the NFL’s best, I received a few curveballs in the responses. (Does that count as a mixed metaphor?)

So who does Twitter hate this season? Turns out they’re all running backs.

Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia Eagles RB
Current ADP: RB3, 3rd Overall

Brian Westbrook is not a hard man to dislike in fantasy football, and I am not even talking about that time he stopped short of an easy touchdown against the Cowboys last season. No matter what he does, Westbrook’s never good enough to please fantasy football fans when the draft comes around.

Last season, only eight players scored more fantasy points than Westbrook in standard, non-PPR scoring, and of those eight, only one of them was a running back. I am sure you have no idea who that running back was, so we’ll move on.

The No. 1 reason that many people stay away from Westbrook is that he is “injury prone.” Westbrook went down late in the season in 2004 and 2005, and no fantasy player wants to forget it even though Westbrook has only missed one game each of the past two seasons.

Missing the one game last year, Westbrook still scored 12 total touchdowns (7 TDs running, 5 TDs receiving) with more than 2000 yards rushing and receiving. Those numbers are pretty epic. He averaged more than 18 fantasy points per week in standard scoring and never scored less than 14–of course, overlooking the game he missed.

You can hate the guy or avoid him if you want, but I like him this season because he’s proven he can stay healthy for at least 15 games, and with few weapons, the Eagles are going to use him a lot. He has the same workload concerns as LaDainian Tomlinson since he has had so many carries in recent years, but I don’t see anyone backing off of L.T. because of that, do you?

I say you give Westbrook a chance this season. He’s a top five RB, no question, and I’d feel safe taking him before the Purple Jesus that is Adrian Peterson.

Larry Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs RB
Current ADP: RB10, 13th Overall

L.J. is less of a puzzle than Westbrook. He is feared this season because he looked terrible last season.

He missed most of training camp with his holdout in 2007 and, once he was paid, started slow against a tough early schedule. Owners held out until he got to the chewy center of his rushing opponents only to see Johnson injure his foot and get knocked out for the season.

Not much has changed with L.J. He has a fully-functioning foot–or so I am told–but his offensive line is still going to be inexperienced.

Don’t count on Brodie Croyle to step in and take pressure off the running game. The offense will look about as inadequate as it did last season.

Best case, Johnson overcomes all and records a top five fantasy season, but with so many question marks, I understand why you all doubt him. I don’t see it happening.

Stay away from him in the first round, but if you see him floating by in the middle or end of the second round, he could be worth a shot.

Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins RB
Current ADP: RB18, 34th Overall

Brown’s also a pretty easy one to figure out since he is also coming off injury.

While Ronnie Brown was just starting to look like the new L.T., his knee injury in Week 7 stole him away from fantasy owners.

While he was out, Cam Cameron left town and in came Bill Parcells. The new coaches like Brown as their starter, but they have enough confidence in Ricky Williams to let him carry the load while Brown eases back into things. A plus for both RBs is the addition of Jake Long on the offensive line.

You can’t expect a lot of Brown until later in the season. If only someone would tell that to every other owner in your league, you could draft him at his real value. As the prodigal son of 2007 fantasy football, too many hype-drinkers are jumping on him early. Brown currently carries a late third round price tag on average, and that is reasonable if you can get it.

I like him more in the fourth round, but frankly, I have to agree that I would rather avoid him. A better option if you want a piece of the Miami running schedule (easy as pie according to strength of schedule) is Ricky Williams in the later rounds. He’ll face some easy opponents in the first weeks of the season.

Ryan Grant, Green Bay Packers RB
Current ADP: RB12, 19th Overall

So you think he is a one-year wonder? You probably pin half his performance on the respect defenses gave to Favre’s big arm, or maybe you just like Brandon Jackson to emerge this year.

Well, whatever you think, don’t be so worried. Now that he has signed his contract extension, Grant should be the starter for Green Bay, a team that is more oriented toward solid defense this season and starting a first-year quarterback. That formula equals a commitment to the running game and plenty of opportunities for Grant.

If you put faith in strength of schedule, Grant ends the season on a hot streak (see: fantasy playoffs). He may not put up the numbers he did at the end of last season, but the Seattle playoff game proved that he can struggle through adversity and come out on top.

He’s a top ten talent you can get outside of the first round. Why would you pass that up?

Selvin Young, Denver Broncos RB
Current ADP: RB29, 65th Overall

Selvin Young doesn’t have a bad name for himself. Unfortunately, his team does. When it comes to RBs, Denver is a crapshoot.

Shanahan gets a kick out of torturing fantasy fans. He’s admitted that under oath. The man just makes no allegiances when it comes to the running game.

Still, Selvin Young is the man to start the year. Rookie Ryan Torain is now out 6-8 weeks with an elbow injury, so he is no longer a challenge. It looks like a committee might form from Young, Andre Hall and Michael Pittman, but Young should see the bulk of the open field work.

Being drafted at 65th overall, Young’s not too expensive, but I’ve seen him going earlier than the sixth round in many mocks. If you can get him fifth round or later after all the sure thing RBs are off the board, he could potentially be a starter for your fantasy team.

Denver’s rushing opponents don’t give me anything to get excited about and doubt surrounds the Broncos offense, but they should improve this year with Cutler maturing under center and managing the diabetes that weakened him at the end of last season.

Young’s in a committee, possibly an injury risk and in Denver. I leave it up to you whether you want to avoid him, but make sure you get him at a good price.

Now that we’ve talked these guys over, I open it up to you non-Twitterers…what players are you willing to avoid this year? Explain why in the comments for bonus points.

INCOMING TWITTER PSA…

If you’re not on Twitter, get with the program and start following my updates (@jacobsloan)!

Twitter is one of the easiest ways for us to harass each other about our fantasy teams during NFL games no matter where your opponent may be hiding…curled in a corner…crying under a pillow…or just screaming “WHY WESTBROOK? WHY!?!?!” into the sky.

If you don’t know what it is, check out this video for a simple explanation. Try it out even if you don’t “get” it. You’ll come along eventually and be talking fantasy football with me in no time.

Go sign up now and follow me (@jacobsloan) to talk fantasy football and possibly be included in a future article just like this one.

Thanks to @timdnew, @bbille, @timothompson and @dreamented for their input on this post.

Thank you for this moment of your time. PSA out.

The Incredible Depth at Running Back in 2008

If you followed along with my recent expert draft, you saw me pass on taking a lot of depth at running back (RB) in the early rounds. Only in the later rounds did I really flesh out the RB position on my team.

Taking Tom Brady in the first round certainly didn’t help me snag several elite RBs, but he fell to me at the 10 spot. Come on, I had to do it.

In the first seven rounds, I only took two RBs, Ryan Grant in the second round and Jonathan Stewart in the fifth round.

I don’t hate the idea of taking two or three RBs at the beginning of your draft this year. In fact, I have in several mocks I’ll be posting about soon. It just so happened that each time my pick came up in the expert league draft, I saw RBs who I expected to be available at my next pick that I was fine waiting to get. I never felt compelled to take a RB because there were always more. There are ALWAYS more this year! Did you hear that?

Unfortunately, since this was an expert league, many of the other drafters also saw these RBs falling and snagged them before it was my chance. So much for catching fatty LenDale White where I wanted him.

As a result of the running back by committee (RBBC) system and the high number of casualties at the RB position, there is a wealth of RBs in 2008 drafts. Once you get beyond the elite and a few more starters, there is quite a large plateau of talent that could at least operate in a rotation for your fantasy team.

I probably would have taken more RBs early in this expert draft, but my average draft position (ADP) stats were all over the place compared to where many of the RBs were taken. Expert leagues operate a little off the norm.

If you aren’t taking elite backs, I found better value in snagging elite and solid wide receivers and elite quarterbacks early in my draft. I’ll toy with my strategy a bit in the mocks I am doing this month, but I have to say, don’t sweat not talking RBs early. There’s plenty to go around this year.

The Difference Between a RB1 and RB2

When we talk about players as being RB1 or RB2 caliber, we are not trying to confuse you.

Okay. Okay. Well, maybe we are just a tiny bit, but that’s a small satisfaction of mine. I have to compensate for all the spammy emails I get from Russia that make me feel “small,” okay?

There exists in the fantasy football lexicon a set of definitions that helps in classifying your expectation for players. These definitions break down the projected performance of a player over the course of a season. “RB2″ is just one of many.

Associating these tags with players on your cheat sheet — maybe by tiering them off into RB1 and RB2 categories — you can better prepare for the kind of team you want to build and better evaluate potential trades.

Yes, you could always jump into a draft expecting to take the next stud available, but there comes a time in every fantasy football players life when they realize that they can’t just fill an entire team with studs of unending potential. You’ll run out. Some of us have more than 6 teams in our league.

You have to decide whether you want to go after a RB1 or take a stud at another position and take two RB2s when you get the chance. Now, that’s getting crazy, but sometimes crazy works. Just try it in a bar fight. No one messes with the crazy guy…

Notch this one on your fantasy football reference manual and clear a spot for your merit badge. These definitions are talking standard scoring (6 point TDs, 1 point for every 10 yards).

RUNNING BACK 1 (RB1)

The king of the “1″ positions. RB1 is your workhorse and one of the most dependable (hopefully) players on your roster. Expectations can vary greatly, depending upon whether you have LaDainian Tomlinson or not, but you always want your RB1 to be a touchdown machine or a dependable yardage beast.

At the top, you can usually pray for 10+ touchdowns in a season and 1500-2000 yards. Not too many full-load running backs out there nowadays who can put that up though.

Usually, there are only about 10-12 true RB1s to even draft, and the number of stud RBs has been dropping ever since the dreaded running-back-by-committee system (RBBC) came into place — another dastardly effect of global warming…

Good examples: LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook, Joseph Addai
Weekly expectations: 100+ yards and at least 1 TD with occasional bonus TDs

RUNNING BACK 2 (RB2)

In contrast, your RB2 is a complimentary back — and the “all you got left” for picks near the end of a big league — here’s to you, picks 11 and 12.

These days, any running back scoring around 8+ touchdowns with around 500 yards or reaching 1000 yards with fewer TDs is pretty exceptional as a RB2. Many of the top RB2s are of the TD-vulture variety.

Any running back that finishes in the top 30 is obviously a pretty decent RB2. You want to collect a couple of these guys if you can to sub in and out on a weekly basis and play those match ups.

Good examples: Brandon Jacobs, Deuce McAllister, Chester Taylor, DeAngelo Williams
Weekly expectations: 100+ yard and, frequently but not always, a TD

RUNNING BACK 3 (RB3)

As a BONUS — aren’t you lucky? — let’s talk RB3s. If you are in a league that plays three, you are probably looking to snag quite a few running backs and get two RB2-caliber guys. Technically, RB2 guys are the last ones you want to start on a regular basis.

A RB3 would be someone you expect to keep on the bench for a stretch — a new rookie perhaps. If they end up making waves and parting seas to the endzone, you could move them into your starting lineup. Otherwise, they are there if you get in a bind and for potential big games a few times in the season.

Good examples: Jerious Norwood, Tatum Bell, Leon Washington
Weekly expectations: 50 yards and occasional TD unless “special sleeper powers” activated by alien meteor or starting running back injury

PARTING NOTE

There is always some room to play here with these projections. If the league suddenly gets flooded with Adrian Petersons — or more likely, nine or ten Travis Henry types with all the kids he is producing — the RB2 position expectations will fluctuate.

Having trouble classifying a running back for this upcoming season? Post the players in the comments if you want a foolish expert opinion.

Look forward to  more foolish differences explored for the QB and WR position as the offseason’s “Are we there yet?” period continues.

Drafting Your Fantasy Running Backs: The Details to Consider in 2008

If breaking down the details for this year’s fantasy running backs doesn’t make you want to take LaDainian Tomlinson first overall in your re-draft league, I don’t know what will. Seriously, people.

When you’re talking fantasy running backs, what separates the vets from the noobs is consideration of a few minor factors beyond how high-powered a running back’s offense was last year and where the running back ranks on cheat sheets this season. Looking at the slight details like what defenses they face, contract lengths and ages can help you make the call between two closely-ranked RBs in your draft.

Let’s jump into how these factors will affect some top fantasy running backs this season with some good ol’ plus or minus analysis — and we go with negative first around these parts.

The Age Old Rule

First, let’s talk age. When you’re an old running back, you’re like a hot potato. No one wants to get stuck holding you when you crack.

Fantasy Football Toolbox told all with a list of all the running backs age 29 or older. There won’t be any pluses in this category, so we will have Big/Mini shades of Minus — a very scientific method, fingers crossed.

For fantasy’s sake, here’s who is getting to be old bones:

BIG Minus -

  • Warrick Dunn – Tampa Bay: I know you thought he was a spring chicken.
  • Ahman Green – Houston Texans: His knees show his age like the rings in a tree trunk.
  • LaMont Jordan – Oakland Raiders: Age and injury have punched Jordan’s ticket out of Oakland.
  • Thomas Jones – New York Jets: Things could go either way for Jones in 2008 with a new O-line.
  • Ricky Williams – Miami Dolphins: It’s hard to make a comeback with just a couple of years left in the tank.
  • Deuce McAllister – New Orleans Saints: Coming off injury AND old. Not pretty. “Little Deuce” Aaron Stecker (32) isn’t getting younger for the Saints either.
  • The New England Trio: Heath Evans, Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris – New England Patriots: Most of New England’s backfield is over 30. The Patriots can get production out of the old guys, but these guys have got to be breaking down this year. Maybe they will remember that they have Laurence Maroney.

Mini Minus -

  • Jamal Lewis – Cleveland Browns: I think he was reborn when he became a Brown because he certainly did his owners right last year.
  • Fred Taylor – Jacksonville Jaguars: Everyone keeps calling for Maurice Jones-Drew, but Taylor seems to find gas in the tank.
  • Edgerrin James – Arizona Cardinals: Old with flashes of youth still left.
  • Brian Westbrook – Philadelphia Eagles: Only 28 but backup is Correll Buckhalter (29). No wonder the Eagles wanted Lorenzo Booker, a spry 24, from Miami.

Strength of Schedules: Running into Brick Walls

NFL.com’s Michael Fabiano ranked the rushing schedules of fantasy running backs last week while we were just sitting around chatting about the free agents of 2009, which is the next section.

Fantasy Football Xtreme’s Smitty also put together a strength of schedule analysis earlier this offseason, showing L.T. is the set to be at the top in 2008.

Pouring out a little link love for my homies, Fantasy Football Librarian noted that Fabiano’s breakdown makes Laurence Maroney look pretty favorable, and Football Jabber singled out the top and bottom five teams. Frank Gore has his work cut out for him, and no one in Houston’s backfield has it easy this year.

Here’s who’ll be hurting on and who’ll be hurting from run defenses this year:

Minus -

  • Frank Gore – San Francisco 49ers: Even if he isn’t the focus of the offense, he will still be the focus of the defense. It’s not looking good. I might go Tom Brady over Gore in the first round, but I’m not totally quitting on him yet.
  • Brandon Jacobs – New York Giants: Long road back to the top against some of the best defenses out there at stopping the run. Giants will have to keep it dynamic in the run game to say ahead.
  • Edgerrin James – Arizona Cardinals: Notch Edge down another point for this one.
  • Ahman Green (and friends) – Houston Texans: No one will have an easy time running for Houston. With a pack of inconsistent backs, I’d avoid them all in your drafts this year.
  • Jamal Lewis – Cleveland Browns: Age AND a schedule full of stacked run defenses. That hurts.
  • Julius Jones – Seattle Seahawks: Jones can’t improve his stock much in Seattle against the best in the biz of stopping him.
  • Marion Barber and Felix Jones – Dallas Cowboys: A huge offense makes this a minor point. Does this stat mean they will throw more? PLUS to Romo if that’s the case.

Plus +

  • LaDainian Tomlinson – San Diego Chargers: You couldn’t really ask for much more than L.T. having the best schedule of any RB. For the most part, Tomlinson will be running against the bottom-of-the-barrel run defenses.
  • Laurence Maroney – New England Patriots: Will the Patriots use him with the easiest rushing defense schedule? I think they might just let Brady throw all day again, but he could run easy when they let him.
  • Thomas Jones – New York Jets: If his new O-line can block for him, Jones has it free and clear this season.
  • Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams – Miami Dolphins: Two bounce backs is possible. My money’s on Brown more than Ricky.
  • Travis Henry – Denver Broncos: Easy street should win him some points with Shanny.
  • Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush – New Orleans Saints: The Saints offense is in line for a big year. Bush is the probably the better back to snag.
  • Marshawn Lynch – Buffalo Bills: The second-best rookie of 2008 gets forgotten at times, but he should have a nice 2008 season with an easy rushing schedule and an improved offense. I’m high on this kid and owned him last year.
  • Larry Johnson – Kansas City Chiefs: Rebounds abound? Maybe. Johnson has an easy schedule to redeem himself for last year.
  • Michael Turner – Atlanta Falcons: All that postseason hype won’t weigh down Turner much in Atlanta when he faces mostly low-end or middle-of-the-pack run defenses. In an offense based off the run this year, Turner could be more productive than people think.

Freebirds in Free Agency of 2009

Who’s looking to bust a move? Running backs who have a payday coming are always more likely to impress, but those who just got paid can be slowed by their wallets.

Plus +

  • Steven Jackson – St. Louis Rams: The big man might get money before the season, but if not, stay out of his way.
  • Brandon Jacobs – New York Giants: He’s got his work cut out for him, but boy, he wants to work.
  • Ricky Williams – Miami Dolphins: The “Freebird” title of this section was purely unintentional — I promise. Ricky probably has to make enough money over the next two years to rebuild his straw hut in a foreign country and smoke away the pain…That might not be very much though.

Minus -

  • Marion Barber – Dallas Cowboys: Likely to have just signed a major deal by the time the season starts even though he is a free agent now. Hopefully, money won’t weigh him down like it did Shaun Alexander.

In Closing

When it’s all said and done, these three factors paint a picture for who looks better than they might have beforehand and worse now than ever before. Some older backs may make nice RB2s, but don’t fall for drafting them as RB1s again this season.

Ricky Williams is still risky, but he has a lot going in his favor. Ronnie Brown is the more dependable guy to have for Miami, but Ricky cold be a good value pick. On the other hand, Marion Barber might have two strikes against him going into the season. Jamal Lewis looks like a player to avoid in the worst way possible.

Take all these factors into your noggin this offseason and remember to factor them in when you are choosing between two running backs in your draft. Upside is hard to find with running backs since the RBBCs are forming everywhere in the league, but make sure you get the most out of your running back picks. Don’t get stuck making the wrong call. Some rookies with young legs might be worth betting on over solid veterans.

Let me echo this again: L.T. looks good overlooking the age effect. In my mind, these factors put him clearly up there in the No. 1 overall spot. Take him first in your re-draft leagues, and call me in the morning.

Agree, disagree or explode in the comments below.

NFL Free Agents of 2009: Play Me Before They Pay Me

Whether or not you put any stock in the third-year receiver theory, players on the last year of their contract always put up big numbers before a team shows them the Benjamins.

Players who have just been paid should be suspect the next year — like a Shaun Alexander — but the year they earn their keep is the year to have them. If a player is set to put on a show this season, you should make sure to target them in your fantasy draft.

While an extension could come between now and the coin flip of 2008 for these players, here are a few of the top players that will be looking to upgrade to a Bentley this season:

The Running Backs (RB)

Steven Jackson. St. Louis Rams.
The grinder of the offense is coming off injury and a horrible Rams showing in 2007. With his contract up, Jackson will be willing to put his team on his back and run with it. While I still consider SJax damaged goods, he might be worth a second look after mini-camps and training camps show back to true form. I don’t see any way St. Louis lets him leave, but for the moment, Jackson’s looking like a relatively safe bet.

Brandon Jacobs. New York Giants.
The Giants have a full stable of RBs, but Jacobs was the man for most of the season that led them to the Super Bowl. With that victory under his belt, Jacobs might be one of the few Giants who will fight the Super Bowl slump and earn his weight in gold — that’s no little pile of gold either. It’s tough to say he is a must grab since the ball is passed to so many hands in the Giants’ offense, but keep his contract year in mind if it comes down to picking between runners who share the ball. Jacobs should at least fight through any injuries this season to impress and keep the necessary, hefty amounts of food on the table.

Marion Barber. Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys current focus is on getting a long-term deal signed by this man. Barber should share time with rookie Felix Jones this year. He probably won’t Wow with huge games, but he is consistent and guaranteed to be a first rounder in your fantasy draft. His extension will likely come before the season starts, but if not, do not miss the chance to stamp your ticket for this train.

Ricky Williams. Miami Dolphins.
Ricky’s gotta eat. Coming off his one-game-wonder — if wonder is breaking yourself in a handful of downs — performance in the muck of Pittsburgh last year, Williams will have to improve on the field if he wants Bill Parcells to keep him employed. He’s likely to share carries with Ronnie Brown, but if Ricky can finally pull his head out of the clouds, he could be a factor running behind Jake Long and stick around for his NFL paycheck a little longer.

Note that this list doesn’t include the currently homeless and unemployed — Shaun Alexander and Kevin Jones. Both will likely find homes where they will be earning their keep day-to-day. Jones could come back from his injury to a decent situation, but I don’t expect much of Shaun.

The Wide Receivers (WR) and Tight Ends (TE)

The real value in this season’s contract players is at the WR spot.

Terrell Owens. Dallas Cowboys.
That’s right. The typically demanding T.O. has been uncharacteristically quiet this offseason looking at the final year of his deal with the Cowboys. In a recent interview, he even expressed his desire to retire as a Cowboy. Have Jerry Jones and the boys finally tamed the T.O. of old? Regardless, T.O. is already considered one of the top WRs going into 2008, so the added motivation of earning a new deal should keep him demanding the ball week after week. If you go WR early, go T.O. Randy Moss just got paid, and the Giants exposed the Patriots’ weakness. No, it’s not stealing their video camera batteries.

Lee Evans. Buffalo Bills.
He stung me last season, but Evans’ contract year couldn’t come at a better time. The under-hyped WR of Buffalo finally has a compliment in short-yardage target James Hardy. If Trent Edwards gets more comfortable in training camp, Evans can shame face a few corners in 2008. I can’t trust him right away since I am still in a sensitive emotional state after the empty points column he awarded me in 2007, but Evans is back on my radar. I just can’t quit you, Lee.

Roy Williams. Detroit Lions.
The inconsistent Roy Williams is rumored to be on the trading block this season, but if he makes it through training camps, look for him to try to show his skills. I am not sure what he can do in the Detroit offense no matter how many times Kitna guarantees 10 wins, but with Calvin Johnson to draw similar coverage and a new offensive coordinator, Roy could be back — at least for 2008.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Cincinnati Bengals.
Housh has got a mess up in Cincinnati this offseason while Chad Johnson demands a trade, but T.J. will still show up when it is time to play. Last year was a big season for him, so 2008 should be his time to shine. If he gets the Bengals’ No. 1 WR role, he is a must grab. Just make sure you say his name right so that you don’t embarrass us.

Amani Toomer. New York Giants.
Sad to say that I don’t think Toomer will be looking to have a huge year. His career is winding down, and a year more in New York might just be spent as a veteran mentor to Mario Manningham and the other Steve Smith. I think Toomer might be looking for a one-year extension, but don’t count on him fighting to go out on top.

Desmond Clark. Chicago Bears.
It’s hard for anyone to shine in the Bears offense unless your name is Devin Hester, but Clark will be pushing to stay employed despite the up-and-coming Greg Olsen. If he can maintain his playing time, Clark will use it to the best of his ability. It’s iffy which TE will be a better value for 2008 though. First, they need a QB. Clark will likely be looking to show other suitors what he can do.

Notable WR of circumstance:

Anquan Boldin. Arizona Cardinals.
Even though his contract is not up, Boldin looks to be playing for mo’ money this season since Larry Fitzgerald will be making almost 7x his paycheck in 2008. Neither Arizona WR is a raw deal, but Boldin’s got something to prove.

The Quarterbacks (QB)

Rex Grossman/Kyle Orton. Chicago Bears.
One of these two underwhelming QBs has to perform this year. There just has to be some law of probability that says that, right? The two have one-year deals to show it or pack their locker. These two may end up as a case study for the NFL that proves even you are playing for the big money and big contract, it doesn’t mean you can exceed expectations or take your game to a new, less mediocre level.

Jeff Garcia. Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Garcia was the leader of a Tampa Bay team that made it to the playoffs last year minus starting RB Cadillac Williams, but Garcia’s value isn’t the best being as old as he is and with so many QBs behind him. While Chris Simms is likely gone (and maybe Jake Plummer if they still consider him on the team), Garcia might not land a big money deal with the Bucs. He is already pushing for Tampa Bay to show him the money, but his performance this season might just be to show another QB-hungry team that he can still play a few more years. Hey, it worked when he was an Eagle.

Kurt Warner. Arizona Cardinals.
Could he fight for the spotlight to stay in the NFL? There’s no telling what Warner could show us this year since he became part of a QB-by-committee system at Arizona last year. I expect that Matt Leinart will get the starts, but don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard the last from Warner.

Did I miss anyone? Let me know by posting a comment down south.

The Third-Year Breakout Wide Receiver Theory and Why It’s Coincidence

I don’t put much faith in the third-year breakout theory for wide receivers. It’s no perfect science but merely a common coincidence.

A wide receiver’s breakout year has more to do with when the receiver becomes comfortable in the offense than when they hit year 3 of their career.

Receivers–unless they fall into a good situation–usually don’t start their first year in the league. Some like Steve Smith (New York Giants) and Craig Davis (San Diego Chargers) may earn a role as a third receiver off and on throughout their rookie season, but overlooking exceptions like Marques Colston and Ted Ginn Jr. who start right away out of talent or necessity, a receiver’s second year is the first time most of them are hitting the field game after game.

By the third year, receivers actually feel comfortable in the NFL and should start to show their true talent. They get more playing time and, with fresh legs and some kind of NFL-worthy moves, they can shake cornerbacks better than the weak receiver or aging veteran they are replacing.

So there’s the average path of your third year “breakout.” The third year is simply when they see the field the most, know the plays and get a relationship with the quarterback.

If you look at a receiver that starts right away–Calvin Johnson, Dwayne Bowe or Marques Colston–they might see their breakout year in the first or second year of their career.

Marques Colston had a huge rookie campaign and came up big again this year even with the Saint’s slow start. He can hardly be considered a breakout following traditional third-year rules. Greg Jennings, in just his second year, posted numbers any fantasy team manager would like. Calvin Johnson performed early on but didn’t finish well, but he might still be on target for a nice 2008 though with a new offensive coordinator.

You just can’t say that the third year for these already starting receivers will be any different or more “breakout” than this season.

While you should watch which young receivers are becoming comfortable in the offense they are running, I would never take a chance on someone expecting the third year to be a breakout season. At the same time, I would never overlook a younger second-year receiver because they haven’t reached that coveted third year mark.

That’s my take. Watch their comfort level and relationship with the quarterback.

Smitty at Fantasy Football Xtreme put together an analysis of the third-year receivers from 2007 and list of breakouts for 2008. As the stats show, only 2 out of 9 receivers in their third year really showed breakout stats this year–Braylon Edwards and Roddy White. D.J. Hackett probably would have been up there if he hadn’t been plagued by injury, but for the most part, the third year receivers of 2007 were only worthy of subbing when they had great match ups.

The top 5 breakouts for 2008 look very solid. I wouldn’t even call them breakouts for 2008 since they already showed both talent and stats in 2007–and for some, 2006.

Smitty’s 2008 Third-Year Breakout WRs

  1. Marques Colston (NO)
  2. Santonio Holmes (PIT)
  3. Greg Jennings (GB)
  4. Brandon Marshall (DEN)
  5. Lance Moore (NO)
  6. Ben Obomanu (SEA)
  7. Jeff Webb (KC)
  8. Sinorice Moss (NYG)
  9. Jason Avant (PHI)
  10. Demetrius Williams (BAL)
  11. Derek Hagan (MIA)
  12. Maurice Stovall (TB)
  13. Brad Smith (NYJ)
  14. Chad Jackson (NE)
  15. Travis Wilson (CLE)
  16. Bennie Brazell (CIN)

The rest of the list is a bit sketchy. If you put a lot of stock in the third-year theory then you might consider going after them late in the draft or putting them on your watch list for 2008 for a snag on the waiver wire.

Balance saves you on low-scoring fantasy weeks

Hopefully, your team wasn’t counting on Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Randy Moss or even Peyton Manning this week. In some sort of crazy upside-down week, the top fantasy performers were horrible–besides LT–while the worst teams in the league took home victories.

Strangely enough, this week both the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins won. I think I might go buy a lotto ticket or something. Today, a Dolphin loss would have actually gotten them something–locking up the first pick in next year’s draft. Despite the win, I doubt they are in danger of losing that coveted achievement when they face the Patriots next week.

The Patriots were stuck in horrible weather and learned how to run again–congrats Maroney owners, you got one good game this season. The Cowboys looked completely harmless against the rival Philadelphia Eagles with Romo throwing no TDs. Manning threw just one touchdown against the Oakland Raiders with one INT, and Joseph Addai didn’t even get one TD against the defense that has handed them out like Halloween candy all season. Worthless.

On a lesser note, the Bills were completely shut out by a Cleveland team that put up just 8 points in a frigid showdown. The game could have been a high-scoring showdown for the playoff wild card spot, but instead, it was two teams bumbling around in the snow. No one besides Jamal Lewis put up decent fantasy numbers in the showing that could have saved your season. Thanks a lot, Mother Nature. Don’t expect a Christmas card.

The takeaway from this whole mess is BALANCE. When your studs have bad games, you must have the depth to back them up with quality production from your supporting staff. Weeks like these are where kickers and defenses can make the difference and where paying attention to weather conditions can save your season if they are going to be as severe as they were this weekend.

On my own team, I was led in scoring by Tony Scheffler (TE DEN) and Mason Crosby (K GB) while getting just single-digit production from Ryan Grant, Joseph Addai, Wes Welker and Lee Evans. I picked both these position players up on the wire in the last four weeks. Yes, there wasn’t really a way to see their great performance coming this week, but sometimes you just get lucky by having some great support in a week where studs are duds–or maybe I got skills.

You just might be looking across the scoreboard at huge numbers put up by Fred Taylor and Aaron Stecker or maybe the first kick return ever for the Tampa Bay defense and special teams. You probably had just as good of a chance of grabbing these players as your opponents did. The waiver wire can be the great equalizer. Next season, draft your studs then look for balance and support throughout the season–just like after happy hour.

Playoff Tips: Play the Match Ups

One of the biggest tricks to playoffs is being smart about match ups. Watch the trends on what kind of scoring opposing defenses are giving up, and don’t be afraid to bench a stud if he is destined for failure. Even the greatest players have rough weeks and substituting a nobody could save you playoff run–just don’t make silly moves like benching a Tom Brady, Joseph Addai or L.T., okay?

If you are having a tough time making a call this week, check the rankings from Fantasy Football Xtreme. While there might be risky plays at WR, there may be potential in playing any WR playing the Browns (Lee Evans), Lions (Antonio Gates) or Bengals (Arnaz Battle, Vernon Davis). I could also say to start any RB facing the Raiders (Joseph Addai), Dolphins (Willis McGahee) or Bears (Adrian Peterson, Chester Taylor), but unfortunately for you, most of those names I just mentioned are studs and not sleepers.

Check the list for other stats, and leave a comment if you need assistance–keep in mind that I am not Adult Friend Finder though.

Questions Answered: What am I to do with Tom Brady?

This week I decided to take a little looksey in my search logs and answer the questions you were asking Google instead of asking me. It seems several people are scared about what to do if they have Tom Brady here at the end of the season. I am sure you are all quaking with fear here at the end of the season with losing record with that unpredictable rascal Brady on your team? Sure you are.

What you wondering is whether they are going to start sitting Brady for the playoffs pretty soon–don’t count on it. The Patriots have already stated more than once that they want to focus on playing complete games. Whether they have a bunch of pent up aggression from the spy camera scandal at the start of the season or whether they just don’t want to blow a game to the Colts like they did last year, the Patriots are not going to let themselves fall into complacency here at the end of the season.

Now the smart move, if you are still listening rather than jumping up and down fist pumping because Brady just scored another touchdown–I hate you, by the way–you should pick up Matt Cassel–not because of his dashing Brady-like appearance but because he gives you two strong plus points.

If anything were to happen to the force that is Tom Brady this season, Cassel would be the guy to step in and throw those lazy shots over the middle to Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth and the speedster Wes Welker. If you don’t think Brady’s nagging shoulder is going to take him out this season, then the second bonus of having Cassel on your team is that if they do start sitting Brady, you have a decent play to fill in at QB until the Brady-ster returnsl to glory. If the Patriots’ contract with the devil expires and they LOSE a game this season, they just might sit Brady for playoffs and let Cassel get some reps in to boost the ol’ confidence.

Of course, if you want to avoid having to make a call altogether about whether Brady will sit/start, the easy solution is to carry a second starting QB on your roster and plug them in when necessary–say a sly old dog like Kurt Warner or even a chippy young thing like a turning around Vince Young or J.P. Losman could even give you some decent fantasy points down the stretch. These QBs just might still be on the wire in your leagues, and have mostly easy match ups to close the season.

ONnetworks’ The 5 Minute Drill for your weekly run down of fantasy info

I realize that Fantasy Football Fools may not be the greatest visual masterpiece in the fantasy football space. We may be informative, but a lot of text isn’t pretty ALL the time.

I offer you something better to stare at as you try to hold back the tears of this week’s fantasy loss: The 5 Minute Drill.

Cecil Lammey and Sigmund Bloom‘s video podcast gives you analysis and long-term predictions outside of their usual gig at Footballguys.com where they charge to give you the insider edge. I can’t even count up the number of unique predictions they made early in this fantasy season that have now come to fruition. I’m also completely envious of Cecil’s hair–you know, in case I ever get mugged.

Unfortunately, they only produce one podcast per week, but check them out as a compliment to our obsessive 24/7 offerings.

Note: Links changed to Footballguys.com and embedded video removed since ONnetworks’ site shut down.