Cam Newton after scoring a touchdown

Takeaways from the 2011 Fantasy Football Season

Cam Newton after scoring a touchdownI pity the fool that doesn’t learn from his past mistakes, and 2011 broke a few of the fantasy football molds.

No Peyton Manning. The Texans made the playoffs. Rex Grossman is good? Okay…for a few weeks, he was good. And let’s not forget Reggie Bush was a feature back, and Cam Newton was a viable QB1 in his rookie season.

So what are we to make of this?

1. Rookies CAN dominate.

We can no longer claim that a rookie skill player won’t be a factor in their first season. Whether quarterback, wide receiver, running back or tight end, we’ve now seen rookies not only play well but absolutely dominate.

Cam Newton, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, and DeMarco Murray will convince fantasy managers to invest in rookies like Trent Richardson and Robert Griffin III this season, and we can’t say they’re foolish for doing so.

2. The Gronk Rule: Tight ends MIGHT not be deep anymore.

The tight end position was considered deep in recent years, and many experts advised you to ignore Antonio Gates and wait on the TE position in your fantasy football draft. Then Gronkowski happened. He was an absolutely unstoppable force for most NFL tacklers and set records at the tight end position across the board.

With Gronk and Jimmy Graham separating themselves from the rest of the tight end pack so significantly last season, it forces us to consider drafting one of those two in the early rounds to get a jump on the other team in our league out of the tight end spot. If you do, I’ve already covered which tight end I favor.

Some of you may draft a tight end and a quarterback this year before you even have a running back on the roster. That’s just how much the tight end values changed in 2011.

In fact, Gronk’s out of this world stats (as impossible to repeat as they may be) may impact NFL offenses just as the Wildcat did just a few years ago. We may see the mythical “Wes Welker-like receiver” NFL offenses (other than the Pats) have sought give way to the search for a “Gronk” as part of a tight end tandem.

3. To the Air.

Quarterbacks matter more than ever in the NFL today, and we saw in 2011 that fantasy teams built around an elite passer like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees could hang with any team in the league no matter who they were forced to start at running back.

Many fantasy footballers have experimented with drafting a quarterback in the first round with mixed results, but 2011 was the year that strategy paid off for a large portion of the fantasy community.

This year, you’ll have plenty of positions to consider in the first round, not just running back. But outside of the top three picks, you should definitely consider getting an elite passer.

I doubt we’ll see many teams make it to the fantasy football playoffs in 2012 without an elite fantasy quarterback on their roster.

4. Always Be Closing.

Despite a hot start, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson cooled off a bit at the end of the season. That’s not necessarily to say anything about their play in 2011 as much as it is to remind us all how important it is to constantly be looking for trade opportunities to help our team.

This year, I’m going to be a little more aggressive about trading players, regardless of status, when a deal comes together. And if the value is there, I may look to unload players who have particularly difficult late season schedules before I am forced to ride out their dry spell.

4. Darren McFadden is worth the risk

I’ve been too concerned about injury to consider Run DMC in drafts prior to 2011, but his performance up until his injury last season has changed my mind. The same might go for Ryan Mathews, even though he’s already hurt again.

As long as you fortify your roster with strong backups at running back, it’s worth considering taking the plunge on these injury risk studs.

5. Handcuffs are a worthy investment.

On that same note, I’ve often avoided guys who were stuck behind studs because I didn’t think it was very likely they’d see the field. I’ve always preferred players that were more likely to get a shot to shine or had a better chance of starting for me multiple weeks throughout the season.

Not so much anymore.

With the injuries last season, owners of Felix Jones, Michael Bush, and C.J. Spiller really reaped the rewards of holding onto  a handcuff all season long. When it comes to running backs, as long as the offensive line is solid, it’s worth investing in a handcuff here and there, whether you own the starter or not, in case we see injuries like we did in 2011.

6. Inconsistency kills.

It’s not necessarily a new lesson, but the Jacksons (Vincent and DeSean) had their ups and downs in 2011. Both were drafted as top receivers, but on any given Sunday, they were as likely to score 30 as they were to score 3 fantasy points.

It’s hard to win a league when you can’t put a solid week together. So even though VJax won me more than one game last season with his phenomenal performances, I’m looking at consistency in 2012 — at the players that give me a chance to win each and every week.

There is a lot of depth at the wide receiver position this year, but don’t fall in love with 2011 total points without considering what they really did each week of last year.

Keep Calm and Drink Beer Poster - Etsy

Week 1 Start/Sit Advice: Don’t Get Cute

Keep Calm and Drink Beer Poster - Etsy

It’s Week 1. I have to assume that you like the team you drafted, and you don’t have enough evidence to give up on your sleepers yet.

So when it comes to setting your lineup, don’t make it complicated.

Start your studs. You have no reason to doubt them yet. Even if they have a tougher-than-most matchup, you drafted them because they can outplay expectations, right?

If you have an extremely juicy matchup…consider it…for your flex spot or your WR3. But your starting QB, RB1, RB2, and at least your top WR1 should all be worth starting this week to kickoff the 2011 NFL season.

It’s not until Week 2 that we can begin to freak out on studs who have not lived up to expectations or face a defense that’s improved over the offseason. That’s when we can worry. Can’t wait.

For now, just relax. FOOTBALL’S BACK, BABY!

(Photo via keepcalmcollection on Etsy)

Evaluating Your Team’s Playoff Chances Before Fantasy Football Season

I just finished a draft this week and after rosterbating to the obvious championship quality of my lineup for the past several days, I needed something more. I could get no more satisfaction without the endorsement of a neutral third party.

I see people ask  “How does my team look?” all the time. Some people even ask me. But it’s tough to evaluate a team without knowing all the facts — the scoring, the roster size, the league size, and the bonus yardage rule the commish just created on a whim.

That’s where Footballguys.com  Rate My Team tool comes into play. They don’t give me any money to talk about it. I just like it, and Footballguys.com provides it for free to the fantasy football community.

It’s a quick and dirty way to get an expert opinion about your fantasy football team’s playoff chances and weaknesses — yes, you need to hear about those, too. I highly recommend running your team through it before you start the season.

On top of just telling you your best draft values and riskiest picks, Rate My Team also helps identify potential waiver grabs that would strengthen your roster and suggests the perfect schedule combo for your quarterback-by-committee, which helps you envision how you’ll split their starts all season long.

Try out more than just the first expert opinion Rate My Team provides. Some of their experts are more willing than others to put their faith in sleepers, and there are three opinions available to you once you’ve entered your team.

I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t get it to stop giving me a 99 percent chance of making the playoffs in my leagues. Something’s gotta be broken, right?

My Much-Too-Late 2011 Fantasy Football Sleepers and Value Picks List

I’ve been a slacker this season when it comes to posting my sleepers and value picks. I tweeted about quite a few of them throughout the offseason and preseason, but if you weren’t following me there, you might have missed out.

On the plus side, the majority of my true sleepers are low on the draft board in 12-team leagues and quite possibly undrafted in 10-team leagues. You still have some time to make these moves, and if these sleepers continue to nap in Week 1, you might be able to buy low on them.

Early Value Picks

It’s probably too late to act on these recommendations, but consider this my not-so-bold predictions for this season. I expect these players to outplay their draft position.

Vincent Jackson

VJax is a highly ranked wide receiver on most boards, but I think he has as good a chance as any to be a top three fantasy wideout this season. I’ve targeted him as my WR1 or a high-level WR2 in all my drafts, and I really like his chemistry with Philip Rivers this preseason. This offense likes to throw the ball, and I expect Jackson to prove himself in another contract year.

As I tweeted…

Brandon Marshall

When you start to look at WR2-level receivers, I like Brandon Marshall quite a bit more this season. Henne held him back last season, but hopefully, Henne’s great ability to audible the offense and the Dolphins’ determination to put points on the board will help Marshall return to his 100+ catch standard this year. He’s got his head on straight, which should, if nothing else, keep him on the field as the Dolphins’ biggest weapon.

I expect him to bounce up the rankings from his current draft stock, and if everything breaks the way it could, he could produce more like a WR1 as a WR2 or WR3.

Mark Ingram

Yes, I buy the hype. I wasn’t even an Ingram fan when he was in college, but now that he’s in the NFL on a team that gets to the goal line as much as the Saints, it’s hard not to like his potential. He could have an early-career Marion Barber-type season of 20+ touchdowns, and the Saints have looked to him at the goal line all preseason.

Here’s to hoping the split between Ingram and Pierre Thomas ends up being slanted towards Ingram in a big way.

Extras: I also really like Darren McFadden to come close to last year’s numbers this season, and he’s falling into the second round in most drafts. I like Peyton Hillis more than most, but I think you should have a “Plan B” rookie to step in for him if he starts to wear down (Mark Ingram qualifies here).

Sleepers

Matthew Stafford

My favorite value pick this season, Stafford’s due for some good luck staying healthy, right? He’s being drafted late as a QB2 in most leagues, but I believe he has the potential to be a top-three quarterback if he stays healthy. His performance in the preseason only reinforced that belief. It’s safest to take him a QB2 and hope for the best, but I have taken him as a late QB1 in at least one league.

Austin Collie

Collie is risky. There’s no escaping the fact that he had some very severe concussions last season. One more could put his season in doubt. But, at least for now, he’s cleared to play, and his efficiency last season before his injury was off the charts.

Collie might miss Week 1 due to a foot injury, but you won’t want to play him Week 1 anyway without Peyton Manning in the lineup for the Colts. When Manning returns to the field, Collie should be a huge factor. While everyone else is considering drafting Sidney Rice, you can draft Collie and expect WR2 numbers at a middle to late round price.

Reggie Bush

This is Reggie Bush’s last real chance to be a lead back in the NFL. Rookie Daniel Thomas hasn’t wowed the coaching staff. Instead, they’ve been busy praising Bush’s work to be the feature back. He’s been effective when given the full load in New Orleans, even if he didn’t hold up all season. What you’re getting if you draft Bush is a quality flex/RB3 with the upside of being a RB2 some weeks.

I wouldn’t draft Bush in the early rounds, but a starting running back with upside on a team that’s determined to become more high-scoring sounds like a perfect bargain to me in the seventh round and on.

Lance Moore

He always had his best games when Bush was out of the lineup, and now Bush is out of New Orleans. An ailing Marques Colston just pushes me more in Moore’s direction. He could catch everything Drew Brees throws past Jimmy Graham.

Bernard Scott

I’m avoid Cedric Benson and drafting Scott this year because I think he’ll finally get his time to shine. Benson’s a workhorse and will probably carry most of the load for the Bengals this season, but led by a rookie quarterback throwing to a rookie wide receiver, the Bengals need as much running support as they can get.

Scott fits the West Coast system Jay Gruden brought to Cincinnati better than Benson, and he’s more explosive than Benson when give the ball. Whether he gets a chance to play over Benson this year or whether he’ll have to wait for Benson to wear down through the course of the season, Scott will see the field this season, and he’ll take advantage of that opportunity as best he can with little else going for the Bengals.

My two favorite true sleepers this season are actually tight ends, but hey, it’s that kind of that season.

Aaron Hernandez

The Patriots loved to use their tight ends last season after they traded away Randy Moss, and I don’t think Chad Ochocinco’s going to change that philosophy. Tom Brady’s going to throw to the open man, and the Patriots’ tight ends are two of their most difficult to cover receiving options. Rob Gronkowski will probably get more touchdowns than Aaron Hernandez, but not many.

Hernandez is a bargain as a late or not-even-drafted tight end. I’ve been bold enough to take him as my starter in one league, but I feel even better about him as a late-round TE2 or as a possible flex fill. He could produce like a WR3 or better.

Lance Kendricks

It’s hard to know what this guy even looks like because none of the fantasy football sites have his picture yet. He’s the St. Louis Rams rookie tight end, and he was a force in the preseason, especially around the end zone.

Josh McDaniels should use him just as the Patriot’s use their tight ends, and with few reliable pass catchers on the roster, the Rams could make him their leading receiver. If Sam Bradford takes the next step this season, it will be because of Lance Kendricks.

Best of all, he’s going undrafted in most leagues. Feel free to pick him up as a TE2 or just as a last-round sleeper. If the bet doesn’t pay off, he won’t cost you much. But I have a feeling it will.

Deep Sleepers

Here are a few you won’t see getting drafted often, but I’m a fan…

Delone Carter

The Colts newly named No. 2 running back could be a huge factor if Addai is injured this season — and possibly even if he’s not if Peyton Manning’s injury forces the Colts to lean on the running game. He’s become the favorite over Donald Brown and could vulture a few touchdowns in Indy this season. The Colts did let last season’s vulture, Javarris James, go in their recent roster cuts.

Danario Alexander

I’m a sucker for Danario. I loved his potential last season when he got a chance to start, and I think he’ll be able to make an impact as a deep threat on a Rams team that just let Donnie Avery walk. He would only be drafted in the deepest of leagues since he’s not even a starter for the Rams right now, but he’s definitely one I’ll have my eye on.

Denarius Moore

I still like Jacoby Ford this season, but Moore is his rookie twin. The coaches and team love him, and if he ends up a starter, I could see stashing him for those games the Raiders will open up the passing game. The offense there is, however, supposed to run through Darren McFadden this year. Derek Hagan‘s another to watch in Oakland if he ends up a starter. Hagan has made plays all preseason.

Victor Cruz

Last year’s preseason darling for the Giants has been quiet this year, but he’s healthy and probable to start in the slot for New York. Eli Manning hasn’t had a good preseason, but if he brings it together (or if there’s an injury to either of the Giants’ starting wideouts), Cruz would definitely be in line for some stellar performances. For now, he’s just one to watch or stash in deeper leagues.

Eric Decker

Decker is a big possession guy that made a lot of noise this preseason for the Broncos. Unfortunately, they’re move to a conservative John Fox offense probably means he’s not worth owning…for now.

Pondering Christian Ponder: NFL Draft 2011 First Round Fantasy Football Gut Reactions

I don’t get excited about who “won” the draft. I get excited about who I’ll draft for  my fantasy football team.

When it comes to fantasy relevance, the first round didn’t overwhelm us. The 2011 draft set a record for defensive linemen taken in the first round with 12, but it’s hard to say that one defensive end or nose tackle will change the whole dynamic of a team defense. If you play IDP (Independent Defensive Players), those guys will matter to you, but the majority of fantasy players haven’t embraced IDP yet.

In the full list of draftees below, I’ve highlighted a few names in bold that I believe WILL have fantasy value sooner rather than later. Values may change as we (hopefully) enter into a free agency period and as teams decide how soon some of these “quarterbacks of the future” will start. Until then, I only have my gut reactions to the first round.

CAM NEWTON to CAROLINA

The Panthers desperately needed a quarterback that the team could get behind. Sorry, Jimmy Clausen. Cam Newton should get a chance to start soon, but he will have a hard time moving the ball through the air if Steve Smith forces a trade out of Carolina. Newton could start the year in a more limited role, perhaps even as a package quarterback running options and more Wildcat-style plays.

When he does get the chance to start, I could see Cam Newton having some fantasy relevance in 2011 alongside running back Jonathan Stewart, but I’d bank on Stewart carrying the load for this team with some help from Mike Goodson until Newton 1) masters the offense and 2) has some weapons around him in the passing game.

A.J. GREEN to CINCINNATI

Green was a huge get for the Bengals, who may or may not lose Chad Ochocinco this offseason in a trade. As the most talented receiver in his draft class, he’s destined to become an impact player for the Bengals, whether Carson Palmer sticks around or not. If Ochocinco  gets  traded, Green’s fantasy stock will obviously rise, but with the Bengals current roster, he’s worth drafting as a WR3 with WR2 upside.

That said, don’t forget about Jerome Simpson in Cincinnati.

JULIO JONES to ATLANTA

At first glance, you might say that Atlanta overpaid for this pick, and I don’t think anyone would disagree with you. But when you consider what Atlanta needed in this draft and their current roster, it makes sense. In an interview with ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike in the Morning, Falcons GM Thomas Dimitrioff pointed out how young the Falcons are as a team. They don’t need a bunch of new blood and roster turnover. They just need to fill some holes on defense and to get another playmaker alongside Roddy White on offense.

Obviously, if it works out, no one will complain, and I could see Jones having significant value in the Atlanta offense if they really give Matt Ryan the reigns. I’m a little concerned that Jones’ presence might prevent Roddy White from being the lock for 100 yards and a touchdown he was last season, but if White balances out any Reggie Wayne-like disappearing acts with multiple-touchdown games thanks to Jones, his fantasy owners won’t  complain.

JAKE LOCKER to TENNESSEE

While the Titans drafting Locker is surprising, we don’t yet know if Locker will start right away. Much like Newton, Locker might work behind a veteran quarterback this season while he learns the playbook and the masters the speed of the game at the NFL level. And if he does get a chance to start with a limited playbook, Chris Johnson won’t mind carrying the load for the Titans like he has the past two seasons.

So Locker’s fantasy value is largely dependent on whether he starts this year or not. I don’t see him as a must-draft this season unless you’re looking for a QB2 in a two-quarterback league, but he should be on your radar for 2012.

BLAINE GABBERT to JACKSONVILLE

Some experts say Gabbert will be the best quarterback in this class, but I don’t think we’ll see him on the field for a year, or maybe two, while he learns the Jacksonville offense. I believe it was on ESPN’s draft coverage that they said Jacksonville intended to take the Aaron Rodgers approach with him. I assume that doesn’t mean they’ll keep David Garrard around for a several more years and then trade him to the first team that promises Garrard ample opportunity to text genitalia to female reporters. What do you think?

Dynasty leaguers and keeper leagues might keep an eye on Gabbert, but I doubt he’ll have any fantasy value in 2011.

CHRISTIAN PONDER to MINNESOTA

A bit of a head scratcher, but Ponder will have to be the quarterback of the future now that he’s in Minnesota. They don’t have much else. There’s still some question about whether Sidney Rice will return to the Vikings, and that could greatly affect Ponder’s value.

Of all the rookie quarterbacks with the potential to start right away, Ponder would be last in my rankings. He’s also got Adrian Peterson in the backfield, so there’s no rush as long as he’s got a good hand off. Much like Locker, you might look at Ponder if you’re in a two-quarterback league, but he’d be very, very low on my list.

NICK FAIRLEY to DETROIT

In general, I try to stay away from saying one player will change the value of a team defense, but Detroit’s building on an area of strength by taking Fairley, who some considered to be the best player in this draft up until a few weeks ago. Next to Suh on the Detroit Lions defensive line, Fairley will put up some numbers. If the Lions offense holds up their end, and the defense gets to the quarterback with Suh and Fairley, they’ll be worth consideration as a team defense in 2011.

JONATHAN BALDWIN to KANSAS CITY

I don’t know a whole lot about Jonathan Baldwin, but I’ve seen mixed reactions to him being taken in the first round. According to some analysts, he’s not necessarily a perfect fit for what Kansas City does on offense. Bowe had a huge last half in the 2010 fantasy season, but Baldwin may not immediately share in the fantasy points there.

If you read any of my posts last season, you know I’m not a huge fan of Cassel. I’m probably selling Baldwin a little short just because I see Cassel regressing from his 2010 season. But if you’re looking to draft Baldwin, I’d take him as nothing more than a late-round stash with the potential to be a WR3.

MARK INGRAM to NEW ORLEANS

Depending on who you ask, Ingram will either be a fantasy stud or be just another fantasy dud. Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory are both still in New Orleans. Reggie Bush may or may not get a deal done to return to the Saints. That’s a lot of mouths to feed in an offense that ALSO likes to score points through the air from time to time.

Regardless, I think this eats into Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory’s value significantly. Only time will tell how the Saints adjust around Ingram, but he’s worth RB2 consideration and definitely worth drafting this season. I tend to believe the folks who say he might have RB1 upside. If you can get him for the right price in your fantasy draft, why not take the chance?

FIRST ROUND OF THE 2011 NFL DRAFT

  1. Carolina Panthers >> Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
  2. Denver Broncos >> Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
  3. Buffalo Bills >> Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
  4. Cincinnati Bengals >> A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
  5. Arizona Cardinals >> Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
  6. Atlanta Falcons (from Cleveland) >> Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
  7. San Francisco 49ers >> Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
  8. Tennessee Titans >> Jake Locker, QB, Washington
  9. Dallas Cowboys >> Tyron Smith, OT, USC
  10. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Washington) >> Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
  11. Houston Texans >> J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
  12. Minnesota Vikings >> Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
  13. Detroit Lions >> Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
  14. St. Louis Rams >> Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
  15. Miami Dolphins >> Mike Pouncey, C/OG, Florida
  16. Washington Redskins (from Jacksonville) >> Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
  17. New England Patriots >> Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
  18. San Diego Chargers >> Corey Liuget, DE, Illinois
  19. New York Giants >> Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
  20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers >> Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
  21. Cleveland Browns (from Kansas City) >> Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor
  22. Indianapolis Colts >> Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
  23. Philadelphia Eagles >> Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor
  24. New Orleans Saints >> Cameron Jordan, DC, California
  25. Seattle Seahawks>> James Carpenter, OT, Alabama
  26. Baltimore Ravens >> Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
  27. Kansas City Chiefs (from Cleveland, previously Atlanta’s pick) >> Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
  28. New Orlean Saints (from New England) >> Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
  29. Chicago Bears >> Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
  30. New York Jets >> Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple
  31. Pittsburgh Steelers >> Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
  32. Green Bay Packers >> Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State

I’ll have another wrap after the entire draft. Consider this the tease. What do you think of the draft so far? What teams have changed their fantasy value the most in the first three rounds? Let me hear it in the comment below.