Foolish Thoughts on Week 13: Tell me when it’s over

What was happened to the NFL this weekend? After the miserable Tennessee Titans clobbering of the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys butchering of the Seattle Seahawks, I thought at leas the Thursday Night Football matchup of the Philadelphia Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals might be mildly interesting.

Of course, I thought it would be mildly interesting because the Eagles would struggle along and try to put up a fight against the Cardinal’s powerful offense. I didn’t know that Brian Westbrook was going to blow up for four touchdowns and lead the Eagles to a stomping of the NFC West sensation. Taste the burn, Arizona. You are what we thought you were.

In reality, that game was all about Donovan McNabb. He made his statement, and all he really wanted was for Brian Westbrook to hold him.

That pretty much sealed the deal for a boring weekend. The most we could have hoped for was a decent game with Atlanta facing the Chargers and the Packers facing the Panthers. Eh, not so much.

DeAngelo Williams should be buying Steve Smith’s lunch all week for setting him up on those two easy scores. Would it have been so hard to get another yard or two, Steve? Really?

As for the Falcons-Chargers, well, if the Falcons were a more mature team, the score would never have been as close as it was. Rookie mistakes left the door open, and sadly, the Chargers are no longer a team that can capitalize on every mistake.

The fireman down below are inflating the big bouncy pad for Rivers inevitable fall from fantasy grace. It’s too bad they couldn’t get there before LaDainian Tomlinson took his fateful dive. Rivers was my pick to fall off in the second half of the season, so even though it took a while for it to happen, I can’t say I’m surprised to see Phil lose that fantasy glow he had around him. I just can’t trust a man that still trash talks like a seven-year-old child.

I toyed with myself the Vikings-Bears game could be another unforeseen shootout. Wouldn’t that just save the day on Sunday? Forte versus Peterson?

Instead, it looked more like Bernard Berrian versus Devin Hester. These long plays through the air for the Bears and the Vikings are just out of character. It’s good to see that the Vikings can score points since they might not have such a stout defense for the remainder of the regular season.

I guess there was one interesting game. Shanny’s Broncos took out the Jets and quieted the resurgence of the Brett Favre hype.

How terrible is your defense when they just start assuming players are down without hearing the whistle blow? You have to actually tackle the guy, Broncos, not just assume that the other guy’s got ‘em. Terrible.

That was just a sloppy game overall, and not all of it was because of the weather. Both the Broncos and the Jets were giving up big plays — Broncos on the ground, Jets through the air. Suddenly, I don’t think I care who the better team is between the Jets and the Patriots.

Monday Night Football, save me. Wait, Houston Texans versus Jacksonville Jaguars? Oh noes.

Coolest play of the game: Garrard passing to himself. He might actually be the best receiver on the team — those quick hands. Just awesome.

So, now that the Jags are done for the season, please sub them in for one of the Lions’ last three opponents so that the Lions won’t go 0-16 and/or so we can watch (or not watch) the most miserable game of football in the history of the sport.

It would really take away from the game if the Lions DO finally hit the 0-16 mark. If they achieve it, then we won’t be able to hold it over their heads next season … or the season after. And how will we stop the Cincinnati Bengals from doing it if it’s been done?

The Jags were nice enough to give the Bengals a win, so why can’t they do it for the Lions, too? Come on, Goodell. Make it happen — just this once. Afterwards, you can go back to testing urine for traces of water pills.

I’m so glad this weekend is over. I would have rather watched this on loop for a day. I don’t understand what’s going on in there, and I can’t decide which is better: stache or no stache? All I know is that I cannot look away.

Is it Week 14 yet?

On gun control laws
The one thing that I cannot get over from this weekend is how stupid Plaxico Burress was to strap a loaded, unlicensed gun to his thigh. Didn’t you see what happened to Adam Jones? And that gun wasn’t even in his hands.

The gun goes with the entourage, not taped to your thigh, Plax. You have to have security or a good jail-comfortable friend to take that kind of a fall for you. It’s bad policy to pack one yourself, and you pay the price every time you start grinding in some club. Your history of catching is not going to go over well for you in jail.

Plaxico is probably on his way out of New York after this season, but that’s no big deal. I like Domenik Hixon, and the Giants have a nice group of young wide receivers to bring into the mix. I hope Plax ends up on the Raiders.

On fashion
Jack Del Rio may be classy, but I think he needs a “Battle Red” power tie if he’s going to get the Jags back in shape. Exhibit A. Now that’s classy AND scary powerful.

On failing to make your fantasy football playoffs
If you didn’t make the playoffs, you don’t have to stop reading Fantasy Football Fools. We’ll let you stick around. In fact, we encourage it.

But, in order for us to do the most good for you, you should subscribe to our updates for zero dollars, also known as FREE.

By subscribing, you’ll get every single one of our soberly-written posts about fantasy football throughout the offseason through RSS or email, and you’ll be in much better shape next season. Besides, how can you pass up our foolish musings?

If you, at any point in the season, owned Cedric Benson, David Carr, Shaun Alexander or Ahman Green, subscribe. No questions asked. I will admit that I know how you feel.

On tardiness and schedule deviations
If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’ve been doing many and several things the last two weeks. Now that Fantasy Football Fools headquarters — not dissimilar to The Batcave — has been moved to its new home and all other matters of family and health seem to be taken care of — not in the horse heads in beds way … promise — our schedule should be back in line for the rest of playoffs. Stay tuned.

On incredibly well-planned finishes
I think we’re good here. Same time next week?

On the Wire: Waiver Wire Hardships from Week 6

As I listened to the end of the Texas-OU game while hunched over in a car on my way to a wedding this weekend, two things occurred to me: 1) people REALLY shouldn’t get married the same weekend as the Texas-OU game and 2) there could be a large amount of rookie quarterbacks coming into the NFL next year.

This season has been brutal to quarterbacks. It’s like they are the running backs this season — drafted highly by fantasy owners but very prone to season-ending injuries because of the abuse they take. Those fantasy footballers who drafted a quarterback high this year more often than not paid the price — yes, I’m looking at you Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Derek Anderson. At least we can all hate the guy that drafted Drew Brees.

On a brighter note, I thought I was going to be very clever in one of my pay leagues this past week in picking up Fred Taylor against a weak Denver run defense. Someone had dropped Taylor because of bye week issues. It was the perfect crime, but we all saw how that turned out.

Fine, waiver wire. You won that one by throwing me a curveball injury, tricky mistress, but there are a few “hardships” to be had this week.

From now until the end of the season, unfortunately, the best waiver wire grabs are starting to stem from surprise injuries, not exceptional or surprising play. It may pain you to pick some of these guys up, but it’s how you play the game. Players put in the same role/situation have equal opportunity to succeed — just look at Correll Buckhalter.

Worth Claiming

Jeff Garcia, QB Tampa Bay Buccaneers — He’s a valid spot start his week against Seattle and faces a Dallas secondary in Week 8 that should be starting two rookie corners. It’s only Kansas City in Week 9. Even for Garcia, those could be productive days with the exception of Dallas if the Cowboys come to play. If he can produce more than 10 points in those outings, he might be worth holding onto for short while. Hear that, Hasselbeck/Romo owners? If you wait out his bye and the Vikings, his next two decent starts come against the Lions and the Saints.

Brad Johnson, QB Dallas Cowboys — If Romo decides not to go it the Brett Favre way — hoorah — Johnson gets the call to manage the Dallas offense. With the addition of Roy Williams, he has a good chance to be successful as a pocket-passing statue. Sadly, after a warm, cuddly start against St. Louis this week, he faces Tampa Bay and the Giants. Romo owners, pad your roster with Johnson if you can, but you’ll probably want to look elsewhere after this week. Unless he dominates Week 7, there should be better options out there on your waiver wire.

Derek Anderson, QB Cleveland Browns — Was someone silly enough to drop a player like Anderson after his slow, pathetic start to the season? He had a coming out party in Week 6 — and no, Nick, I’m not talking about Brady Quinn. Anderson has five more games on his schedule that look like he could put up the gaudy numbers of last year, and if he can maintain his play against tough opponents with Braylon Edwards, you’re set. For now, you’ll want to bring him into a QB committee so that you don’t have to start him every week.

Sammy Morris, RB New England Patriots — After all the carnage in the backfield in New England, Morris is “the guy” again for the moment. He might be bouncing around the wire with several other Patriot RBs since Belichick went all Shanahan this year, but he’s worth putting on a roster for his game against Denver, St. Louis and Indy these next three weeks. We all know it’s in Belichick’s best interest to run the ball rather than let Cassel attempt to throw — oops, I mean, underthrow. At least he’s not Dan Orlovsky.

Dominic Rhodes, RB Indianapolis Colts — Rhodes resumed his duty as the Colts RB in Week 6 after Addai injured his hamstring. Hamstrings don’t just go away, so expect Rhodes to get a start or at least get an increased workload in Week 7. The Packers have failed to stop the run lately, so he makes a good play here. If Rhodes can justify holding onto the workload as the season continues, he could be a nice guy to have around come playoffs — Bengals (W14), Lions (W15) and Jags (W16).

Ryan Torain, RB Denver Broncos — If there was ever a time to take him, it’s probably now. Yes, you’re risking it. No, we have no idea if Shanahan will use him. Yes, he did talk a lot about him in the preseason, but no, I don’t trust a man that looks like an outlaw from a Clint Eastwood movie.

Devin Hester, WR Chicago Bears – Hester has proven himself to be a legitimate receiver in the Bears offense. With his potential to get you a returning score as well, there’s a lot of upside to be had in starting him each week. Vikings may limit him before the Bears’ bye, but in Week 9, they get the Lions again.

Kevin Curtis, WR Philadelphia Eagles — He didn’t get back on the field this week, but he’s close. With DeSean Jackson there to take some heat of him in the passing game, he could retake his role as the No. 1 option in Philly. Make sure he’s on your roster if no one has him on their bench yet.

Marcedes Lewis, TE Jacksonville Jaguars — He scores touchdowns with Garrard and has one for each of his last two games. If he keeps it up against the Browns, Bengals and Lions, he could be deadly for a stretch here and a stretch in the fantasy playoffs. You could sleep on him a week though considering he is on bye unless someone else in your league will be after him.

Ones to Watch

Tashard Choice, RB Dallas Cowboys — Felix Jones injured his hammy, which leaves Choice as the best “choice” to spell Marion Barber — I know that I am cheesy. Choice could get Jones’ carries for now, but don’t expect the big plays Jones has broken this season.

Ahman Green, RB Houston Texans — Steve Slaton is the guy to have in the Texans backfield, but Green is getting a share of the touches as well. He could share in the fantasy points against Detroit this week and/or carry some value in the Texans’ good running matchups in Weeks 10-14, but he’s more of a deep league option or depth if you own Slaton.

Kenny Watson, RB Cincinnati Bengals — Chris Perry can’t hold onto the ball, and Benson hasn’t done much better. Neither back has done anything to justify or hold a starting job. Watson was the guy to own in the Bengals backfield last year and could return to the lineup after he heals up. Unfortunately, I don’t think you really want to own any Bengals this year, but keep an eye on him or add him if you are looking for potential upside in deeper leagues.

Donnie Avery, WR St. Louis Rams – Avery, the first WR taken in this year’s draft, had a big game for the Rams in Week 6 with four catches for 73 yards. If he remains involved in the offense when Drew Bennett returns from his injury, he might be a key element in improving the Rams’ record in the second half of 2008. The Rams end the season with some nice passing matchups — Seattle in Week 15 and San Fran in Week 16. Still, he’s not worth jumping on except in deeper leagues unless he can keep a hold on the starting job.

Vernon Davis, TE San Francisco 49ers — Six catches for 75 yards? A 57-yard bomb? Is this the Vernon Davis that every preseason analyst talks about? It’s unfortunate that it’s probably all a trick. Davis is a huge, athletic talent, but the 49ers just aren’t using him consistently enough to warrant a starting spot on any roster. All that could change if the other tight end in San Fran who had been showing Davis up in several games, Delanie Walker, has to move to fullback to replace the injured Zak Keasey, but unless Davis posts numbers against the Giants this week, I’m not buying.

Miami Dolphins D/ST — The Dolphins defense has quietly been showing signs of life since being thrashed by the Cardinals in Week 2. They are decent against the run, and Joey Porter has had a resurgence of sorts getting to the QB. They have a hard time against big, playmaking wide receivers (like Andre Johnson), but otherwise, they can put up some fantasy points for you. They have sleeper status going into this week against Baltimore, who just got destroyed by the Colts, and a nice playoff schedule with St. Louis and Kansas City in Weeks 15-16.

New Orleans Saints D/ST — The Saints streak of double-digit fantasy performances continue. As long as Brees keeps putting the ball in the air, he forces the opposing teams to take risks that give this defense opportunities to make big plays. They were even able to shut down the run against Adrian Peterson. Keep watching them as they go into a potential rough patch before their bye facing Carolina and San Diego. Their playoff schedule ain’t too shabby — Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit. All those offenses would have to take big risks to compete.

Ignoring

Warrick Dunn, RB Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Just a note here for all of you jumping on Dunn expecting him to be the dominant runner for the Bucs: The reason Dunn had so many yards was because Earnest Graham volunteered to fill in for the injured fullback, thus earning the praise of both Dunn and Jon Gruden. Barring Graham filling in for the fullback on a permanent basis, he’s still going to get half of the carries in Tampa Bay and a lot more praise. Don’t go after Dunn like he’s taking over, okay?

Patrick Cobbs, RB Miami Dolphins — What do you know, another wrinkle in the ‘Wildcat’ offense. I’m not completely blowing off his Week 6 performance, but Cobbs has done absolutely nothing up until now. He might be a worthy gamble play one of these days, but there’s no promise that this ever happens again.

Shaun Alexander, RB Washington Redskins — Woohoo! Alexander’s back, baby! Well, he’s also sitting behind one of the best backs in fantasy right now, Clinton Portis, and he only got a job because Ladell Betts sprained his knee. If it took Alexander this long to get signed by a team, I’m guessing he’s nothing more than a temporary handcuff to Portis. Do what you will, Portis owners.

You should have already picked up:

Michael Pittman, RB Denver Broncos — He had a pretty nice week as the main guy in Denver. Who knows how long that will last with Ryan Torain on the horizon, but at least he gets goal line carries regardless.

Droppables

Laurence Maroney, RB New England Patriots — I’m sorry if you drafted this guy. Even Belichick may have forgotten who he is. Not sure his potential productivity with that many RBs in the mix makes him worth waiting on at this point.

Sage Rosenfels, QB Houston Texans – Schaub’s got this under control, okay? Thanks.

Michael Bush, RB Oakland Raiders — Bush almost got traded before the deadline, which means the Raiders don’t consider him a big part of their offense. As long as Fargas and Darren McFadden stay healthy enough to play, Bush shouldn’t see much action. The Raiders might not even have that much action in the running game if they try to pass the ball more often like they did in Week 6.

On the Wire: Waiver Wire Grabs from Week 5

In 2006, I drafted Clinton Portis as my lead running back. I don’t even remember who my second running back was, but, in the late rounds, I picked myself up a rookie with too many names, Maurice Jones-Drew.

When Jones-Drew blew up with his big rookie season (1300+ yards and 15 TDs), I thought I was going to dominate with the Portis/Jones-Drew tandem until Portis broke his hand in Week 10 and killed my playoff chances. I had no viable replacement for Portis’ consistent point production because I had filled my bench with a few filler wide receivers and running backs that had poor schedules to end the season.

Fantasy owners who are sitting pretty right now have to start building for the playoffs. You want to balance your roster, strengthen your studs if you can by trading up and acquire a bench of players that, if nothing else, will have dominant performances in Weeks 14-16, when it matters most.

The waiver wire is critical from here on out because it can shift the power among the top teams and bring in the depth and talent that you need to win your league. Don’t think that you can become complacent now just because your team is sitting on top or sulking on the bottom.

Last year, in one of my veteran leagues, the playoff contenders were pretty evenly matched heading into the last part of the regular season until a team that was winning with the duo of Terrell Owens and Randy Moss picked up Kurt Warner and Ryan Grant off waivers.

Well, you can guess how that worked out for him. What a lucky jackass smart guy.

Here are a few potential fantasy free agents that could help you do that same in 2008.

Worth Claiming

Bobby Engram, WR Seattle Seahawks
If no one picked him up last week or if your league remains unimpressed by his eight catches for 61 yards against the Giants, make sure you put him on your roster this week. His schedule gets MUCH better, and if Branch is injured, that means even more balls coming his way — and that’s what she said. I prefer Engram to Branch, even when neither of them have foot pain. After Green Bay and the Bucs, Engram will open it up against the 49ers, Eagles, Dolphins, Cardinals…it keeps going from there. He’s just the kind of guy you want on your playoff team as well with matchups against the Rams and Jets in Week 15 and Week 16.

Devin Hester, WR Chicago Bears
Remember experimenting with him as a wide receiver? It’s happening now…and working. Without Brandon Lloyd, Hester is the homerun threat, and Orton is making him dangerous for opposing defenses. Enjoy him while the Bears go through the soft, chewy center of their schedule.

Greg Camarillo, WR Miami Dolphins
Some people just jump out on you when they finally get a touchdown. Pennington won’t open it up down the field that much, but he’s got to start throwing to someone other than his tight ends as he matures in the Dolphin’s offense.  Camarillo has 17 catches through four games, his bye has already passed and he’s got a sick playoff schedule with the 49ers and Kansas City in Weeks 15 and 16. If you currently have Ted Ginn, Jr. on your roster, first of all, slap yourself. Second, pick up Camarillo instead.

Greg Olsen, TE Chicago Bears
Tight ends are a big hit on the waiver wire this week. Olsen is the first one on the list. Other than Marty Booker and his “spider-sense” hands, Olsen is one of the best pass catchers the Bears have on their roster. He’s getting some big plays down the field and has been more productive in Brandon Lloyd’s absence. Matchups like this week against Atlanta shouldn’t hurt his chances to get a second TD either. Orton is targeting him rather than Desmond Clark these days, and as Orton goes, so goes Greg Olsen.

Dustin Keller, TE New York Jets
Brett Favre and Keller connected almost immediately this season, and Favre is throwing out touchdowns like candy in a parade. You want this guy on your roster. Say it with me now: I want this guy on my roster. If you don’t have a top tight end on your roster or Dustin Keller after reading that paragraph…well, then there is no hope for you, buddy. You’ll never improve your tight end situation, quit smoking or hypnotize yourself into losing weight. I give up.

Visanthe Shiancoe, TE Minnesota Vikings
I was hoping I wouldn’t have to mention this guy. His name is just so freaking hard to type. It’s like his parents named him by looking at a QWERTY keyboard and choosing letters that were really far apart. No, really, Shiancoes, I’m on to you. As long as Frerotte is starting, the Vikings will need a red zone target. Otherwise, every defense just stacks the box to keep Adrian Peterson out of the end zone when they are close. Shank-o is a red zone man. He’s got two TDs this season including the TD pass from Chester Taylor this past weekend. Since we’re so big on playoff schedules this week on the wire, how about Lions, Cardinals and Falcons?

Kyle Orton, QB Chicago Bears
If I mentioned two of his best options, I guess that means I have to mention him again…doesn’t it? Orton tied for the top spot at QB in Week 5. In Week 6, he faces Atlanta. It makes me sick to think of him as a fantasy-worthy QB as well, but I’m starting him this week. When is Orton going to get his first endorsement for Gilette or Norelco?

Warrick Dunn, RB Tampa Bay Buccaneers
He looked better than Earnest Graham in Week 5 against the Broncos. Graham should have had a field day on that defense. I’m worried if I am a Graham owner.

Justin Fargas, RB Oakland Raiders
Back at full health, he’s the starting running back for one of the best rushing offenses in football. McFadden might demand more touches at this point, but Fargas will still get some cred since he had the job first. It’s a rule of the workplace. Haven’t you ever had a steady corporate job with a ladder to nowhere?

Cedric Benson, RB Cincinnati Bengals
As I mentioned previously in my thoughts from Week 5, Chris Perry’s hold on the starting job in Cincy isn’t going to get much weaker than it is right now. Benson will obviously play a larger role in Week 6, but he could take over the reigns completely. I mean, what’s he got to beat? Averaging less three yards per carry and leading the league in fumbles? Even for Benson, that’s doable.

Ones to Watch

Mike Walker, WR Jacksonville Jaguars
Also revealed in my thoughts from Week 5, Walker is one of a handful of sleepers I had on a list to start the season. He hadn’t quite woken up yet and flirted with close to 50 yards in the Houston game, but he came alive against the Steelers with six passes for 107 yards. He’s worthy of putting on a roster at this point in the season. If he turns into a go-to possession and red zone receiver, Walker could become a staple of your starting lineup. He may have gotten a little torn up on Sunday night, so watch the reports before you make a grab. If healthy, I see nothing but upside, but he’s so small time as a Jacksonville WR that you might be able to wait on him.

Kevin Curtis, WR Philadelphia Eagles
I really want to see Kevin Curtis take the field this season, and he could be close to it. McNabb is stalling out a bit as of late, but he was firing away the first two weeks. I’m sure he’d get a boost throwing to Curtis alongside DeSean Jackson and Reggie Brown. Keep an eye on him.

Nate Washington, WR Pittsburgh Steelers
Washington fills a role similar to Devery Henderson on the Saints or Chansi Stuckey on the Jets. He’s the third WR who goes for a lot of big plays. He’s not always hit with lots of passes, but when he gets one, he can take it to the house. Washington has looked more solid than Santonio Holmes over the last several weeks, and he’s not a bad start when the Steelers are going to be passing frequently. Washington had 95 yards and a touchdown against Jacksonville this past weekend.

Vince Young, QB Tennessee Titans
It pains me to only be able to list VY as a “one to watch,” but the Titans are on a bye. I know Young isn’t supposed to take back the reigns on the starting job, and more than likely, it won’t happen in Week 7, BUT (I like big buts…) I believe that his return to the starting lineup is inevitable. He’s too talented with too much invested in him for the Titans to pass it off to Kerry Collins. If VY returns and hits his stride in the NFL, he finishes up against the Jets, Lions, Browns and Texans before facing the Steelers in Week 16. In a free agent pool of substitute QBs, VY has the greatest upside. Don’t let that get away from you.

Correll Buckhalter, RB Philadelphia Eagles
He’s a sufficient Westbrook substitute, but just like Splenda, he’s nothing like the real thing. It’s just got that twang that makes you know it’s not the real stuff, you know? I believe Westbrook will go in Week 6 against the 49ers, but if they hold him back until after their Week 7 bye, Buckhalter is the guy you want to fill in for your roster.

Ryan Torain, RB Denver Broncos
Mike Shanahan couldn’t stop raving about Torain before the season started, and then Torain got hurt and missed out on the season up until now. I’m going to start mentioning him as a watch for now, but he’s probably going to jump into the grab-worthy category once he is cleared to practice. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if Shanahan never gave him a single carry after talking so much about him just to make fantasy owners waste a spot on their roster? < — Not a joke.

Maurice Morris, RB Seattle Seahawks
When he comes back from injury, he could challenge Julius Jones for carries or the starting role. That’s not the most valuable starting fantasy RB job in the NFL, but you might seriously be contemplating putting Cedric Benson on your team. Call me a Julius Jones hater, but I just like Morris better. Watch him.

Ahman Green, RB Houston Texans
Old bones is back in football pads. It’s sort of anticlimactic now that he isn’t even catching a whiff of the starting role, but Green is bound to be somewhat productive…until his next injury. He’s worth watching only if you need a bye week fill or if you just really like the Texans. Crickets? No one?

Flukes or Droppables

Hank Baskett, WR Philadelphia Eagles
Reggie Brown has stolen back his starting spot, so Baskett is back on the bench. At least he sort of, maybe, in gossip blog terms dated one of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends. Say goodbye to Kendra, Hank. Your fifteen minutes seconds are up.

Ray Rice, RB Baltimore Ravens
I still hate LeRon McClain, but he totally sniped Rice’s job from him. Maybe he ate Ray Rice. Has anyone checked? Oh, God.

Andre Hall, RB Denver Broncos
Hall is about to be swallowed up by the Torain train and/or the black hole that is the running back depth chart in Denver. His injury just provides one more reason to let him go.

Chris Perry, RB Cincinnati Bengals
Don’t just ditch him on the side of the road. He’s still a starting running back for a *potentially* high-powered offense, but it’s very possible that he could lose his job just like his lost all the marbles over the last five games. I’d seek greener, better gripping pastures.

On the Wire: Waiver Wire Super Snags from Week 4

Was 2008 the year to have the fifth pick in fantasy football?

So far this season, it would seem that the later draft picks have gone unscathed while the early drafters suffered some major blows to their studs. Owners have had to make due with their depth from the middle rounds, the true test of any fantasy football champion.

A handful of consensus top picks have already missed a game or been limited. LaDainian Tomlinson, slowed by his toe injury in Week 2, spooked some of his owners out of starting him in Week 3 even though he performed well. A.P. and Westbrook owners already have to play the “questionable or not” game each week, and Westbrook sat down in Week 4. Addai, who was banged up last season, isn’t inspiring confidence with his injury scares in just Week 1, and we all know what happened to Tom Brady.

All these injuries have already come up, and the Madden curse hasn’t even struck its cover boy yet. Is Brett Favre’s resilience strong enough to project the curse onto every other player in the NFL?

Marion Barber, Frank Gore and Clinton Portis owners may be sitting pretty for the moment, but owners that have made it through this rough patch for their stud with a winning record can feel good about their team going into Week 5.

If you haven’t been hit by injury, you are not safe yet. Karma can strike you down at any time. Now would be a great time to gather up some depth if you plan on making that playoff run, and if you haven’t gotten a win yet this season, maybe it’s time to completely drop all but your studs and start from scratch with waiver wire gems. As an alternative, you could just cry uncontrollably.

In addition to my take on who will make nice, happy point columns for your teams if you claim them this week, I’ll also start listing off a few guys worthy of being dropped (droppables) each week. Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to let them go unless there is a much better option. If you like a guy, who am I to judge? (A genius.) I didn’t stay in a Holiday Express last night.

Worth Claiming

Deuce McAllister, RB New Orleans Saints
The Deuce is back. After not utilizing him for three weeks, McAllister finally got to show what he was made of and wrecked shop with 20 carries and a touchdown. He might not be as good as he was two years ago, but he might be good enough if you need a situational to low-end RB2. McAllister is the hottest pickup of the week. Sorry, Pierre Thomas, you didn’t get it done.

LeRon McClain, RB Baltimore Ravens
It’s clear that Willis McGahee is not going to stay healthy. McClain is in control of the McGahee Voodoo doll, and he takes everything that opposing defenses give him — including a fantasy victory from me with that last TD Monday night. Out of anger, I’ll probably try to pick him up just so I can unceremoniously drop him Al Davis style.

Mewelde Moore, RB Pittsburgh Steelers
The Baltimore Ravens chewed up every running back that the Steelers sent at them on Monday night and left Moore, the fourth in line, as the last man standing. Do you think Willie Parker sat out just to save himself? Parker’s uncertain status means that Moore could be the starter in Steeler land for several weeks. Big Ben may rely more on the passing game, but Moore is worth snagging if you could use some bye week depth (or if you were counting on Willie Parker). The running game should still be effective for the Steelers.

Fred Jackson, RB Buffalo Bills
Another preseason lie: Marshawn Lynch will play all three downs. He’s not. Jackson’s in the mix, and he’s had nice fantasy outings throughout the early part of the season. Get him while he’s hot, and he’s a matchup start when the Bills face a weak defense.

Rudi Johnson, RB Detroit Lions
If no one has him yet, he’s worth getting if you need a RB since he has been named the starter. Kevin Smith is still not a guy worth dropping, and I don’t see the Lions running much when they are down by double digits.

Cedric Benson, RB Cincinnati Bengals
In a land of parole, the man with no charges is king. Benson finally found a home with the Bengals this week after being cleared of his boating/driving while intoxicated charges. The Bengals signed him for depth behind starter Chris Perry because they had to put DeDe Dorsey on IR, but we all know that a back can sneak up on you and take more prominent, shared role in the offense (see: Rudi Johnson).

Justin Fargas, RB Oakland Raiders
Remember that guy who was the starter before there was McFadden? Now that McFadden is slowed by his injury, Fargas might just have a chance to get his job back when he returns during the bye, but everything is still a little up in the air since the Lane Kiffin firing. To think, we had all given up on him. You probably have the bye this week to think about how much you like Fargas, but it wouldn’t hurt to grab him before games start this week so you don’t risk losing him to some schmuck who has a higher waiver than you next week (because your totally going to dominate this week, right?).

Leon Washington, RB New York Jets
While he’s supposed to be the change of pace for Thomas Jones, Washington is starting to see more time on the field in the faster-moving packages. He could mature into a situational starter if Brett Favre takes the Jets into a land that needs no solid run game. I expect Jones to return to fantasy relevance at some point in the next few weeks, but Washington could be a nice fill for you if you are out of options at RB. You might even be able to fool an owner or two into buying him at the price of a more solid performer if he has a big day with Brett.

Kevin Walter, WR Houston Texans
Moves like Wes Welker with better hands than Andre Johnson so far. Walter proved he was legit in Week 4. He’s even good at doing the “Hokey Pokey” with Matt Schaub. What a talent.

Bobby Engram, WR Seattle Seahawks
Returning this week from chipping his shoulder, Engram should be welcomed home by Matt Hasselbeck with open arms and lots of passes. Oh man, did he miss you, Engram.

Miles Austin, WR Dallas Cowboys
He’s worth it after another week (and another TD) if you have a spot for him. Austin’s likely to be more productive than Crayton this season, and he’s got that big play potential that you love to see in the No. 3 WR in an offense. The Cowboys are too powerful an offense for you to ignore Miles Austin, and outside of Crayton, his only competition for playing time is the hard-handed Sam Hurd.

Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith, WR New York Giants
Without Plax for Week 5, Hixon and Smith both get upgraded in the passing game. If Hixon really does assume the Plax role for this game, I like him much more than Smith. The passing game should be firing on all cylinders, and I think Eli likes and trusts Hixon after the preseason bombs he got to him. Smith and Toomer should both see increased targets in this one. None of the Giants WRs are bad starts this week against Seattle.

Lance Moore and Robert Meachem, WR New Orleans Saints
Unlike Matt Hasselbeck, whatever runs out there for Drew Brees this season gets productive before it gets hurt. I like Moore better than Meachem because he has the more reliable hands for Brees, but Meachem has that big play ability that keeps flaring up like a bad case of…well, let’s not talk about me. Until Marques Colston and/or Jeremy Shockey come back (at least two more weeks away), these two WRs will have nice games for you in a pinch. Brees will need to throw this week against a tough Vikings run defense and could expose the Raiders defense in Week 6 just like Cutler did.

Muhsin Muhammad, WR Carolina Panthers
Muhammad really fits in Carolina with Steve Smith and Delhomme. He’s valuable when the Panthers face a weak secondary, and he’ll take the heat off of Steve Smith each week. Muhammad makes for a great WR3 or even WR2 when the game plan calls for lots of passing.

Jerheme Urban and Steve Breaston, WR Arizona Cardinals
Boldin is very unlikely to play in Week 4. Getting popped in the head and shooting blood from your nose and mouth will do that to you. In his absence, I think Urban steps into the No. 2 spot in the Arizona offense. Everyone will tell you Breaston…but I still like Urban better. Breaston may have gotten the 100-yard game in Week 4, but Urban got the touchdown.

Justin Gage, WR Tennessee Titans
He’s not injured anymore and showed it with almost 100 yards this past week, but what happens when/if Vince Young comes back? For now, he’s a pretty good WR3 or WR3 with limited upside.

Anthony Fasano, TE Miami Dolphins
If he is available, he’s a great spot fill this week. Any team playing San Diego is promised a TE touchdown so far this season, and Chad Pennington already likes throwing to his tight ends. David Martin might not even be a bad play this week, but I like Fasano more.

Matt Schaub, QB Houston Texans
When he’s at the top of his game, he’s one of the best QB2s around and sometimes worthy of QB1 status. It might be a QB1 sort of day against he Colts. I imagine they’ll be playing from behind.

Kyle Orton, QB Chicago Bears
What has the world come to these days? NECKBEARD just became a decent fantasy play? He’s thrown multiple touchdowns and close to 200 yards in his recent games. You have to accept some turnovers, but he’s better than a lot of other risky plays on the wire. This week, he faces off against Detroit with a matchup against Atlanta in Week 6. If you are hurting at QB, maybe Orton is the answer. Hooray?

Guys you should already own by now (but if you don’t, maybe you should):
Steve Slaton (last man standing and with talent), Dustin Keller (Favre-to-TE TD bandwagon), Warrick Dunn (stealing value from Graham by the second)

Ones to Watch

Jerious Norwood, RB Atlanta Falcons
Along the same lines as Leon Washington, Norwood has seen his role increase this season. Michael Turner is by far the more dominant back in this offense, but when the running game is emphasized, Norwood gets enough of a piece to put up fantasy numbers. Unfortunately, Atlanta’s running game doesn’t have many more sure things on the schedule. (Yes, it might be time to worry, Turner owners.)

Kevin Curtis, WR Philadelphia Eagles
McNabb’s best target from last season should be back soon, but it might not be this week. Best skill: Running through the end zone before dropping the ball. Look for him to make an impact when he returns.

Deion Branch, WR Seattle Seahawks
While Engram is back this week from his chipped shoulder, Branch is just getting back to the field coming off knee surgery. He probably won’t see much playing time in Week 5, and with Bobby Engram back in the lineup, he might be a Casper even if he gets out there. Engram is the guy to own in Seattle from now on, but Branch could make a triumphant fantasy return if he can get comfortable on his knee again. Hey, Ronnie Brown did it.

Sidney Rice, WR Minnesota Vikings
Sidney Rice is another guy returning from a knee injury, but if he sees more time this week against the Saints, he should show what he’s worth. His TD in Week 1 against the Green Bay secondary was a sign of things to come, and I like him more than I like Berrian and cake…but not as much as cheese fries.

Devin Hester, WR Chicago Bears
He dropped out of our fantasy minds and hearts with his rib injury, but if Kyle Orton becomes a potential fantasy play, Hester is right up there with him. Oh, and please prepare a way to clip wings off pigs. It’s going to happen next.

Chris Henry, WR Cincinnati Bengals
Coming off suspension, Chris Henry will be working out with the team this week. There’s no promise that he plays on Sunday — or even makes the roster if he’s out of shape. Wait for some news out of the Bengals camp or a fantasy sighting in Week 5 before you go out to grab him. The Bengals offense just doesn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders yet this season.

Zach Miller, TE Oakland Raiders
Miller had sleeper status coming into the year, but he was almost non-existent for the Raiders earlier in the season. The big day in Week 4 might have people talking, but take away his TD catch and he had a slightly better day than usual (32 yards from four catches). It might have just been his week facing the Chargers. Was Shawn Merriman in charge of covering tight ends? If the chemistry continues between Miller and JaMarcus Russell, he’s got the talent to be a starting fantasy tight end.

Kevin Boss, TE New York Giants
He started slow but showed promise before heading into his bye week. Without Plax in Week 5, guys like Boss and Steve Smith might see more targets from Eli. If no one has him yet, keep your eye on him to see if he builds from that Week 3 performance, and if you’re tight end hasn’t performed yet, maybe you should switch it up and take a chance on Boss.

JaMarcus Russell, QB Oakland Raiders
The big boy out of LSU hasn’t blown up any stat lines in the NFL yet and just lost a head coach, but he’s still an interesting fantasy option. He’s got a cannon for the big play, and his ability to throw the ball across his body with just arm and some significant distance was impressive in Week 4 even when he was being swarmed. If you’re backup QB is lacking in the upside department, Russell could fill that role nicely. He looks like one of the most consistent options at QB even if his numbers aren’t spectacular. Upside is that he could come out of the bye week putting up better numbers, but you can probably wait to grab him until next week.

Marc Bulger, QB St. Louis Rams
Nothing much has changed, but Bulger has a new coach and his starting job back. He hasn’t done much yet this season to deserve a roster spot, but he could. He’s one of those “names” that people always give value in fantasy. That makes him worth consideration, but it’s still hard to pull the trigger. Wait until his first game back unless you really need him. The upside is there.

Carolina Panthers D/ST
The Panthers defense hasn’t exploded just yet, but they are keeping the running backs pinned down for low yardage. If they tighten up a bit more, they might just become an elite unit. They also have a nice stretch Weeks 10-12 against the Raiders, Lions and Falcons. Consider this your advance warning.

New York Jets D/ST
The Jets have quietly become a nice fantasy defense. Much like the Detroit Lions last year, you wouldn’t really think to consider them until they have a big week. Well, they had one this past week against Arizona, and after the bye this week, they face the Bengals, Raiders and Chiefs. None of those offenses make mistakes. Not ever. (Incredible sarcasm here as if you couldn’t tell.)

Flukes to Ignore or Droppables

Correll Buckhalter, RB Philadelphia Eagles
If you didn’t get him last week to fill in for your injured Westbrook, you probably missed your chance. Word is that Westbrook all but suited up on Sunday night, and I expect to see him take the field against Washington. Westbrook just missed his one game for this season, so if the trend holds true, Buckhalter has almost no value moving forward. His value stays put only if Westbrook sits again.

DeAngelo Williams, RB Carolina Panthers
If you have a guy with more upside, jump on him. Williams is on the losing end of a battle for carries since he doesn’t see the ball near the end zone. Unless you can unload him in a trade, it might be downhill from here. He’s still got value, but don’t hang onto him waiting for a miracle, okay? Promise me…

Vernon Davis, TE San Francisco 49ers
Mike Martz forgot he was on the roster after all that talk of TE passing sets, and it looks like he might even like the other guy better. Davis is not worth keeping on your roster until he proves something.

Dante Rosario, TE Carolina Panthers
While he had a great day in Week 1, Rosario has seen less action since the return of Steve Smith. Now that Muhsin Muhammad is getting looks as well, it’s just time to move on to another hot waiver wire TE or the guy you drafted. (Please don’t say Vernon Davis.)

Joey Galloway, WR Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Is it worth it for you to hold onto him for the two to three game stints that he will play this season? Not if you can pick up someone who is doing well now and not burning a hole in your bench.

Pierre Thomas, RB New Orleans Saints
Too French to push through the piles like Deuce can. Thomas is now mixed in there somewhere but not anywhere fantasy relevant for now.

Ray Rice, RB Baltimore Ravens
Obviously, we all missed a memo in thinking Cam Cameron was going to use this guy in place of Willis McGahee if McGahee stayed banged up. It was all a trick to hide the really BIG talent, LeRon McClain.

Ahman Green, RB Houston Texans
Really? Are you that much of a believer? Think about it. How desperate are you to have RB help down the road compared to what you can get right now? You should consider more immediate options. Green has likely lost his starting job and a significant role in the Houston offense this season. Deuce McAllister, LeRon McClain and Justin Fargas are all upgrades.

Javon Walker, WR Oakland Raiders
Wow, you are a believer.

On the Wire: Waiver Wire Saviors from Week 1

A disastrous and tragic Week 1 has left plenty of teams hurting for new talent. Was there a group shot on the cover of Madden this year?

Since Week 1 is always the best time to grab the waiver wire studs AND since this week was full of injuries and failures, this week’s waiver wire gems is pretty comprehensive. Next week, we’ll bring it down a notch. We’ll start things off at QB since I hear we lost one this week.

If these guys went undrafted in your league, make sure you correct that. Now.

Matt Cassel, QB New England Patriots

Jesus. If you don’t know why Cassel is going to be a top grab this week, GO BACK UNDER YOUR ROCK AND STAY THERE.

It’s possible if you are a Tom Brady owner — or former Brady owner, as the case may be — that you have other, better options than Cassel. In one league, for example, Delhomme is still out there somehow.

If you’re stuck choosing between a bunch of dangerous options, Cassel makes a nice replacement. At least, he has a great group of receivers to throw to this year even if his skill set is still in question.

Trent Edwards, QB Buffalo Bills

It’s good to know that Edwards knows Lee Evans is on the team now. They must have had some sort of Kumbaya camping trip this offseason.

Edwards looked good in the offense, and I might lean on him over Cassel knowing he has the skills to get his receivers the scores. He had 215 yards and a TD in Week 1, but I think he can do better. In Week 2, he’ll have Jason Peters back on the offensive line — and so will Marshawn Lynch.

Chad Pennington, QB Miami Dolphins

He has had fantasy success in the past — even last year when healthy — and he might have found a team in Miami that will come together around him.

With a strong Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown run game, Pennington looks like a QB2 and could contribute as part of a fantasy QB rotation.

He’s better than Damon Huard.

Kerry Collins, QB Tennessee Titans

Vince Young looks to be sidelined for a few weeks. If you need a stopgap, Collins could be your man. He’s very unlikely to be drafted by anyone in your league, but there is always the issue of who he will throw it to this season for the Titans…

If you can’t be picky, Collins could be a decent fill at QB for a few weeks.

Eddie Royal, WR Denver Broncos

Rookie sensation had THE BEST performance of any WR this week. Royal could be a slightly more productive version of Patrick Crayton last season, and he’ll always draw the weaker corner once Brandon Marshall returns in Week 2. He’s an excellent WR3 or more if he can keep catching Cutler’s eye once Marshall is back.

DeSean Jackson, WR Philadelphia Eagles

McNabb spread the ball in Week 1, but he liked targeting the rookie. As long as Kevin Curtis remains banged up, Jackson should be on a roster — and maybe even after. As an added bonus, he might return a kick or two for some additional TD points.

Jackson’s six catches for 106 yards isn’t too shabby, and Hank Baskett and Greg Lewis might even be worth stashing as well if both continue to see looks from McNabb.

L.J. Smith, TE Philadelphia Eagles

If McNabb is firing, Smith should see end zone looks. McNabb knows Smith is attached to a couple of the most reliable hands he can throw at this season, so look for Smith to continue to have nice games in good matchups. In Week 1, he posted 39 yards a score. He’s worth a TE2 spot if you carry two of them, or he could be part of a nice TE rotation with one of breakout TEs of 2008.

Dante Rosario, TE Carolina Panthers

The deep TE ranks get even deeper as long as Rosario remains a reliable target for Delhomme. He came down with seven receptions for 96 yards and a TD in Week 1. Worth rostering if you have a weak TE or want to trade away your stud to take advantage of the depth here this year, but be cautious. We don’t know how Rosario will be affected by the return on Steve Smith in Week 3.

Robert Royal, TE Buffalo Bills

Again, TEs look deep this year. The new offense in Buffalo smiled favorably on Royal, who caught six passes for 52 yards and a score against Seattle. After Jacksonville, the Bills schedule gets easier. I like Rosario better than Royal, but Royal is likely to see his fair share of looks this season unless rookie James Hardy starts to steal his end zone opportunities as Hardy gets more playing time.

Anthony Fasano, TE Miami Dolphins

We know Pennington doesn’t have a big arm (Girlish arm chant…Begin!), but he got his TEs involved early in the showdown against his former team, the Jets. Fasano practiced behind Jason Witten in Dallas, and look how Witten turned out. Fasano could be one of Pennington’s most reliable targets this season.

Matt Forte, RB Chicago Bears

Likely drafted in every league, Forte proved he could be a consistent fantasy starter in Week 1. He could put up a fight for offensive rookie of the year if he keeps it up. We know the Bears won’t have much on offense, so they’ll use their defense and Forte to control the game.

Felix Jones, RB Dallas Cowboys

I feel like THIS Jones will be far more effective than Julius Jones was last year for the Cowboys. His performance in Week 1 was worthy of a FLEX play (or even a low-end starter) with 62 yards and a TD. Barber bruised his ribs late in the game, and even though he is still expected to play in Week 2, look for Felix Jones to see increased action along with Tashard Choice against the Eagles.

Sammy Morris, RB New England Patriots

He’s the running back for the Patriots. I don’t care what the depth chart says. With Brady out, he could see an increased role in this offense. He’ll certainly be in the mix however the offense is rearranged to suit Cassel.

Pierre Thomas, RB New Orleans Saints

Thomas might make Deuce McAllister a ghost this season if he keeps stealing carries. He’s a must-grab for any McAllister owners and could be the workhorse back of the Saints offense this season.

Buffalo Bills D/ST

The Bills defense had a few shining moments last season, but being healthy this season and free agent additions (Marcus Stroud) have made them an emerging sleeper.

In Week 2, they get to play Jacksonville — suffering from a devastated offensive line. Their schedule gets pretty easy from there. Stash them now before the other teams in your league see them spark.

Ones to Watch

Carolina Panthers D/ST

I’m not entirely sold just yet, but the Panthers were on of my sleeper defensive units coming into 2008.

They kept L.T. tame in Week 1. That’s promising. Panthers face off against the Bears this week. I’m still a little worried about the 300+ yards that the Panthers gave up — Forte could tear them apart this week if he keeps his stud status. On the other hand, the Bears could look like…well, the Bears this week.

If you have a roster spot or lack confidence in your defense, it might be worth rostering Carolina this week to see where they go from this Week 1 performance.

J.T. O’Sullivan, QB San Francisco 49ers

Yeah, it’s a bit of a reach, but he still has upside. He got the ball to Frank Gore and Vernon Davis in Week 1, and he could expand on that in Week 2.

Hey, it’s Mike Martz, okay?

Matt Ryan, QB Atlanta Falcons

Still a rookie QB, but obviously, he’s going to have his good weeks every now and then. Worth a chance? Let’s see his Week 2 unless you desperately need QB help this season. Turner looks like the focus of this offense.

Tim Hightower, RB Arizona Cardinals

I didn’t see Hightower taking the goal line carries from Edgerrin James once the regular season got started, but apparently, they’re still doing that in Arizona. Edge is turning 30, but he still looks productive this season. Hightower might be worth rostering if you have the room, but he’s little more than a TD vulture. Other than his score, he only had 34 total yards.

Steve Slaton, RB Houston Texans

Slaton had more carries than Ahman Green, but Green went out with an injury in this one. Wait a sec, that makes Slaton look even better.

Regardless of the depth chart, the starting RB job in Houston is Slaton’s to earn if he performs well this season. While Green is sidelined, Slaton will probably share carries with the platoon of backs in Houston (Chris Taylor and possibly Darius Walker), but he should continue to see more and more carries.

Warrick Dunn, RB Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The wily veteran’s role in this offense might be worth getting. He put up 54 yards in just nine carries in Week 1. He could play a larger role in future games.

Yes, I just wanted to use the word wily.

Kevin Walter, WR Houston Texans

If the Texans get a potent passing game going, Walter could benefit from Andre Johnson pulling the better corner. He’s worth rostering in deep leagues and seeing how he pans out. Otherwise, keep an eye on how much he contributes to see if he could be worthy of your WR3 spot.

Ignoring, as in “LA LA LA, I can’t hear you!”

LeRon McClain, RB Baltimore Ravens

Let’s see where he goes when McGahee is back. My guess is somewhere behind Ray Rice. I don’t think he’s worth rostering unless he reappears in Week 2.

Dominic Rhodes, RB Indianapolis Colts

Probably going to be just as valuable as Kenton Keith last season. There are better options out there who will get more than yardage and a few scores. I think Addai comes back from his head injury in Week 1 with no problems.

Michael Pittman, RB Denver Broncos

Yes, you scored two touchdowns. Congrats. Not sure I trust any Denver back this season. Pittman’s a TD vulture — feast or famine. Too risky to roster in my opinion.

Damon Huard, QB Kansas City Chiefs

It’s Damon Huard in a pretty terrible offense in Kansas City. Plus, he’s only in there for a few weeks until Brodie Croyle returns. I think I’d rather have Kerry Collins. “The Bowe Show” is nice and all, but I don’t like the season premiere that much.

Matt Jones, WR Jacksonville Jaguars

They say dead people twitch sometimes.

See other waivers around the Internetz at Fantasy Football Goat, at The Hazean, at Yahoo! Sports, at Pancake Blocks, at The Fantasy Football Geek Blog, at CBS Sportsline, at Fantasy Football Toolbox (also with upgrades for this week), at Pro Football Weekly, at Football Docs, at Bruno Boys, and at Fantasy Football Librarian.

Q&A QB: Which Rookie Running Backs Are Worth Drafting?

Q&A QB is a head-smacking, hard-hitting, name-taking question and answer series where Jacob assists readers and his Twitter followers in perfecting their draft strategy and winning their league. If you’d like to be featured in a future Q&A QB post, send Jacob an email or tweet him (whatever that means).

QUESTION: What are your thoughts on some of the rookie running backs in the later rounds?

I have a feeling someone in my league will jump on the McFadden bandwagon and take him second or third round. I’m not sold on him that high, but what about Matt Forte in the later rounds (sixth or seventh)? Maybe Jonathan Stewart and Rashard Mendenhall? A sleeper pick I am looking at for the tenth or eleventh round is Ray Rice. What are your thoughts on him?

To answer this question, let’s just break down all the rookie RBs worth drafting. Rankings are at the bottom for those of you who like to cheat.

Darren McFadden RB Oakland Raiders

Darren McFadden is going earlier than I think he deserves. He’s not going to put up Adrian Peterson numbers this year. I think fourth round is really the best round to snag him in for value. Any sooner than that is expecting more than you are going to get.

I am not a fan of the crowded backfield in Oakland. He will eventually be the starting running back there, but the Raider offense is still very weak and unproven in the passing game. They will lean heavily on their running game and get McFadden decent numbers with a few exceptional performances. He won’t be breaking any rookie records.

In the second round, let someone else spend a high pick on him. Solid running backs that will out produce him for 2008 are still available there. You can find a better RB2. Make McFadden a FLEX or RB3.

Matt Forte RB Chicago Bears

Matt Forte is a reliable pick. He won’t put up any crazy stat weeks, but he should be good for some consistent yardage and a few scores.

He’s a nice pick because he is actually going at his value.

There is a slight scare now that Kevin Jones has returned from his injury that he will take Forte’s job away, but I think the Bears still want to put the ball in Forte’s hands as their back of the future. Even if they share time, I think I like the chances for Forte to be successful.

You can get Forte in the later rounds, and if he does end up producing more than consistent yardage and the occasional score, he’s has great value there.

Jonathan Stewart RB Carolina Panthers

I really Jonathan Stewart this year, but no one is sure whether he will get the start in Carolina.

Last season, Carolina screwed everyone by starting DeShaun Foster after consensus opinion was that DeAngelo Williams would have won the role. It could happen again with Stewart and Williams.

Depending upon who you ask, Carolina has one of the easiest rushing schedules in 2008. If you can get Stewart in the fifth round and DeAngelo Williams in the sixth or seventh, the pair creates a strong RB2 for any fantasy team.

If you draft Stewart in the fifth round or so, just make sure you get Williams or another solid start in case Stewart doesn’t win the starting job right away.

Rashard Mendenhall RB Pittsburgh Steelers

Rashard Mendenhall’s value isn’t really clear at this point.

He’s likely to steal short yardage looks for Willie Parker, but I don’t see him taking command of this offense this year as much as Jonathan Stewart could. He might be a bye week fill late in the season if he sees an increased role, but for now, he is merely a good backup to roster late for Willie Parker owners.

Some people are going to be really high on him like I am on Stewart, but I don’t buy him being a big fantasy producer in the Steelers’ offense this year. Take Mendenhall later in your draft if you get Willie Parker, but he should go off the boards only after all the RBs with the chance to start are gone.

Ray Rice RB Baltimore Ravens

Ray Rice is a smart pick to close out your draft — especially with McGahee returning slowly from his recent surgery. Rice could end up playing a larger role in this offense than we originally thought for 2008 if McGahee falters.

Cam Cameron knows how to make phenomenal RBs. If Rice has the job given to him, he will benefit, but I still think McGahee is the guy in 2008. He’ll get past his injury before the season gets going.

Steve Slaton RB Houston Texans

Steve Slaton is a better flier late in your draft than Ray Rice. He has a good chance to start by the end of this season.

Houston has Ahman Green in the starting role, but he is on his way out. They brought Chris Brown to play a stopgap role in case Green is injured again this season and to hold them over until Slaton can start, but Brown has injury troubles again as well.

Slaton is the future of the franchise at RB — unless Chris Taylor lives up to all that “coach speak” love from offseason last year. Luckily for fantasy owners, Taylor is being transitioned into a fullback. If Slaton shines enough, he could have the starting job.

If the Texans RBs are plagued with injury, Slaton will start and produce well. He could work his way into a role worth of a RB2 spot on your fantasy team. If you are willing to wait on him — and he’s a better one to wait on than Ray Rice or Mendenhall — he’s more likely than other rookies to have a significant role by the middle of the season.

Chris Johnson RB Tennessee Titans

The wild card rookie this year is Chris Johnson. He set the NFL Combine ablaze when he posted the fastest 40 time. That speed got him drafted in the first round by the Titans.

He’s sharing a backfield with LenDale White, but he also has explosive, big play potential. The Titans could use him like Reggie Bush was utilized in the Saints’ offense during his rookie season.

Johnson is already gunning for offensive rookie of the year and talking it up. With a crowded backfield for McFadden in Oakland and the absence of receiving playmakers in the Tennessee offense, it just might happen.

The only drawback of drafting Johnson is that he is skyrocketing up draft boards. He’s going ahead of LenDale in some drafts now. If he falls to the sixth or seventh in your draft, he is a steal there. Taking him as a RB2 is not advised, but a FLEX or RB3 is a perfect place to put him. Don’t pay too much for a guy you can’t be sure about.

Kevin Smith RB Detroit Lions

When Tatum Bell returned to the Lions, he thought he would be the starting Detroit RB. Too bad…

Kevin Smith almost broke the record for total yardage in a season while in college. He can handle a big workload. Plus, he ran in the Detroit Lions same system while in college. The Lions won’t be great this year, but as long as he has another strong showing in the Week 4 preseason game, the Lions are likely to declare him the starter over Bell. That means he’ll be worth something in fantasy.

He’s barely worth a RB3 spot right now, but taking him as a backup RB could end up being a smart move when Detroit faces weak run defenses.

Ryan Torain RB Denver Broncos

It’s no secret that Mike Shanahan is in love with Ryan Torain. He likes his physical size and abilities and compares him to Terrell Davis.

Torain could have overtaken Selvin Young before he injured his elbow in the preseason. Now, he should miss the first part of the season and return in a backup role, but don’t be surprised to see him get on the field.

Selvin Young, for all his talk this offseason, is not a feature back. While Young can carry the load early this season, he could easily struggle or suffer an injury. It’ll be hard for him to keep a guy like Torain on the bench as long as Mike Shanahan likes the new rookie RB.

He’s not worth drafting, but he’s a player to watch as the season progresses. Just like every other guy on Shanahan’s list, Torain could put up some fantasy points when he’s back on Denver’s RB depth chart.

Felix Jones RB Dallas Cowboys

To use the incredibly over-killed phrase, Felix Jones is the lightning to Marion Barber’s thunder. (I already feel cheaper for having said that.)

Unlike the fading Julius Jones, Felix Jones brings some impact speed to the Cowboys running game. He’ll likely play more snaps than Julius Jones did late last season and compliment Barber with some big yardage breaks and a few big touchdowns.

He doesn’t have the same super speed as Chris Johnson, but he is worth putting on your roster before you start going after some of the iffy starting RBs. Dallas’ offense is powerful, and Jones will put up points by just being in that machine. You could take him in the seventh or eighth round for a potent FLEX player or backup RB.

More rookie RBs that just aren’t worth drafting yet:

  • Tim Hightower, Arizona Cardinals (He won’t steal Edge’s job just yet)
  • Mike Hart, Indianapolis Colts (Addai and Rhodes in front of him)
  • Tashard Choice, Dallas Cowboys (He’ll give Barber breathers but not much else)
  • Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (Not impressive enough to steal much time from LJ or Kolby Smith)

Which rookie RBs are worth drafting and where?

Rankings go by who I would want on my team the most, not necessarily where you’ll have to draft them to get them on your team. Round recommendations are the earliest I would suggest drafting the rookie RB based on a 12-team, non-PPR league. Average draft position stats from Footballguys.com.

1 Darren McFadden ADP: 40 4th Rd
2 Jonathan Stewart ADP: 64 5th Rd
3 Chris Johnson ADP: 96 6th Rd to 8th Rd
4 Matt Forte ADP: 66 6th Rd
5 Felix Jones ADP: 98 7th Rd to 8th Rd
6 Kevin Smith ADP: 67 6th Rd
7 Steve Slaton ADP:153 12th Rd
8 Rashard Mendenhall ADP: 87 9th Rd to 10th Rd
9 Ray Rice ADP:114 12th Rd (Late Flier)
10 Ryan Torain ADP:198 Undrafted (Late Flier)

Expert League Team Retrospective: Fantasy Website Drunken Pirate Slapfight Expert League

Fantasy Website Drunken Pirate Slapfight Expert League

About a month ago, I completed an expert draft with several fantasy football analysts and bloggers. The draft took almost the entire month of July because it was conducted with a 10-hour timer for each pick on MyFantasyLeague.com for those of us with day jobs. Psh, day jobs.

The results of this draft, although mentioned in passing, have yet to be fully explained for all you fools. I waited because the draft was so early in the offseason, and I thought it would be best to let my picks mature…like a fine wine.

Matured they have. Now that my roster has had some time to digest, I can safely brag about it.

You can view the draft in its entirety here, and you can also read about what Smitty, the very distinguished expert representative from Fantasy Football Xtreme, thought of the first seven rounds of the draft.

This 12-team league uses standard scoring with all touchdowns counting for six points. For those of you tracking stats in the audience, here is the complete scoring setup.

A starting lineup consists of 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 K and 1 team defense (D/ST), but we have nine bench spots to hold backup players. Don’t reach for a calculator. That means 18 players on our teams and an 18-round draft.

Now let’s talk through it.

You’ll notice that I went heavy on wide receivers because this draft is the one that convinced me that there is plenty of depth at running back this year.

I got shafted with the tenth overall pick in the expert draft — one of the more difficult spots to be in this year — but somehow managed to put together what I feel is a strong contender for this year.

1.10 Tom Brady QB New England Patriots

With the first pick, I really, really wanted to take a running back. Pinkie swear. Brady just fell into my lap.

At the tenth overall pick, Brady has some nice value. Someone is about to draft Randy Moss, and by taking Brady, I get credit for every single one of those Moss TD throws plus every other Patriot TD through the air.

For the record, I think Brady is best drafted in the ninth overall spot or later. Drafting him any earlier puts you in a bad spot to make up lost ground on running backs and wide receivers.

Note: I’ll disprove that statement about drafting Brady with another one of my upcoming draft breakdowns, but I’m not sure how I did it.

2.03 Ryan Grant RB Green Bay Packers

I was scheming for Marshawn Lynch to fall to me here.

Actually, part of my brilliant strategy in taking Brady in the first round was that I expected to catch Lynch, a potential first-round talent, here.

Unfortunately, JunkYard Jake spoiled my plan by taking Lynch at 2.02, just before me. The audacity.

I had to settle on Ryan Grant, which isn’t a bad “settle” considering he could end up being a top-five or at least top-10 running back this season. I am not worried about Aaron Rodgers affecting his production. Not at all.

3.10 Chad Johnson WR Cincinnati Bengals

When my pick came back around, I was hoping there would be some tiny morsel of a top wide receiver left for me to take since I was set back taking Brady in the first round.

I was nearly heartbroken when all the elite quarterbacks and the top receivers were flying off the board around the end of the second round and beginning of third round.

Luckily for me, most of the other experts didn’t want to touch Chad Johnson. This draft was taking place during his talky-too-much phase of the offseason. He fell all the way to 3.10, and that’s some insanely good value if he ends up producing his usual season totals or better.

I’d take Chad Johnson just before the fourth round any day.

Smitty from Fantasy Football Xtreme called this pick as “probably the steal of the entire draft.” Yes…I agree.

4.03 Brandon Marshall WR Denver Broncos

Keep in mind that this pick was pre-suspension. Some reports still thought he would get off with just a slap on the wrist for his offseason debauchery and flirtation with the law.

Now we know, of course, but at the time, I thought I might just be snagging two potential top-five receivers in the third and fourth round.

To be honest, I’d still take “Baby T.O.” in this spot even with the suspension. He should get lots of targets from Jay Cutler, and Cutler is looking like he is ready to show off this season.

5.10 Jonathan Stewart RB Carolina Panthers

Alright, I went a little receiver-crazy in the early rounds, but I was set on establishing one of the strongest receiver groups in this league.

By the fifth round, it was time to take another running back before they dropped off in value. Due to the hype surrounding his projected rise to the starting role and Carolina’s nice schedule for running, I liked Stewart a lot going into this draft.

I got screwed last year when the Panthers stuck with DeShaun Foster after all the “DeAngelo Williams’ time to shine” talk. In taking Stewart, I was counting on him to win the starting job. Still am.

It’s not completely out of the question that he gets to start this season (at some point), but it’s not looking good right now. DeAngelo Williams has looked impressive in preseason showings and is running hard.

Even before knowing what I know now, I knew I was taking a risk here with Stewart and planned on making sure I acquired Williams a few rounds later. Unfortunately, I underestimated how much other drafters were interested in him…

6.03 Jerricho Cotchery WR New York Jets

I was not too fond of any running backs at this point in the draft, and I thought it was too early to take DeAngelo Williams. I stuck with drafting receivers — you know, for my super, amazing receiving group.

I liked Cotchery as a WR3 before Favre, but I like him even more now.

Cotchery looks like he has already developed a nice relationship with the old gunslinger. Sorry, you must use “gunslinger” when referring to the man formerly known as a Packer — it’s a rule and much better than “Jet Favre.” Cotchery should benefit from Favre’s much more powerful arm this season.

This pick would have paid off without the Favre trade, but with it, Cotchery now looks like he can hold me off as a WR2 until Brandon Marshall returns in Week 3 or Week 4. With Brandon Marshall in my lineup, Cotchery should complete a fearsome three-receiver set for my team.

7.10 Santana Moss WR Washington Redskins

I wanted to take DeAngelo Williams here. Epic fail.

Phil from UltimateFFStrategy.com either sensed my plan or really liked Williams despite the Stewart hype and snagged Williams at the end of the sixth round.

After missing my chance to lock up the Carolina running game, I couldn’t even stand to look at any of other running backs available here.

Knowing Marshall was no lock to start every game because of his suspension concerns, I decided to pad my receiver corps.

Santana Moss hasn’t played up to his potential the last few seasons, but the new offense and Jim Zorn should give him some wind under the sails. Adding two rookie receivers behind him on the depth chart is what I call motivation.

Jason Campbell having another season under his belt doesn’t hurt Moss either. He’s worth packing onto my roster at this point in the seventh round. If he pays off big, he could be my best trade bait once Brandon Marshall returns.

8.03 Deuce McAllister RB New Orleans Saints

The running backs were about to drop off by this round, and I liked Deuce McAllister the best of the ones remaining. McAllister should — fingers crossed — return from his knee injury to once again be the center gear of the Saints’ high-powered scoring machine.

I expect solid production out of him once he gets back on the field. Reggie Bush dances. Deuce keeps the Saints moving forward. Not a bad back to acquire this late.

9.10 Nate Burleson WR Seattle Seahawks

I hadn’t abandoned receivers just yet. The good No. 1 options were mostly off the board, but the upside of receivers was about to drop off considerably.

I already had four wide receivers, but I wanted to make sure I stockpiled any receivers with big upside and the potential to be top fantasy studs in 2008. If nothing else, they become trade bait to fix my running back problems if I run into any.

At the time of this draft, Bobby Engram was still expected to be the pseudo-No. 1 receiving option for the Seattle Seahawks. I lucked out — another maturing pick on my part — when Engram injured his shoulder.

It looks like I now have the most experienced receiver the Seahawks have to start the season in Burleson. Here’s to you, Nate. Do me proud, and catch everything Hasselbeck throws to you.

10.03 Tony Scheffler TE Denver Broncos

Most of the top tight ends were off the board by this round, and I wanted to make sure I got someone solid.

Last year, I ran my teams off rotating sleeper tight ends. Tony Scheffler was one that stuck in my rosters, and I like him this season as more than a sleeper pick.

You know what other tight end is best buds with his quarterback? Jason Witten. That’s all I’m saying.

11.10 Ahman Green RB Houston Texans
12.03 Chris Brown RB Houston Texans

These two injury prone “starters” fell pretty far down from their preseason rankings. Since I failed to catch my DeAngelo Williams to lock up two solid running back starters, I decided to take the plunge. I knew that I could get them both with these two picks.

Green and Brown are last resorts to use as starting running backs on your roster since they both could end up losing their job to Steve Slaton before the year is out. Regardless, one of them is going to be the starter for at least a good part of the 2008 season.

I took them as my “safety net” starters. If both Deuce McAllister and Jonathan Stewart fail me as RB2s, I’ll flip a coin (Lovie Smith style) and throw one of these battered guys into my starting lineup.

13.10 Devin Hester KR/WR Chicago Bears

I don’t get points for kick returns, but Devin Hester is the only Chicago Bear likely to be making big plays on offense this year.

I took a chance he’d develop into a receiver that the coaches liked. He has thus far apparently.

I’m satisfied taking him late in Round 13 to add more receiver depth. If he starts looking like something special fantasy-wise, he gets a spot in my starting lineup or packaged in a trade. Big risk, big reward.

14.03 Warrick Dunn RB Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Earnest Graham was still holding out of camp, and Warrick Dunn was gaining ground and attention in Tampa Bay. I felt good taking him as another backup running back option at pick 159.

Judging by the size of Dunn’s contract, Tampa Bay brought Dunn in to do more than just backup the undrafted Graham. He should see action each week.

I’d much rather have Dunn, who could develop into a consistent but not spectacular fantasy option or drop-worthy dead weight, than lock up my bench with a one of my starters’ backups.

I had already missed out on Pierre Thomas (McAllister) and DeAngelo Williams (Stewart) if I was going to snag backups anyway. Brandon Jackson hadn’t and still hasn’t shown he’s worth rostering behind Ryan Grant just yet. There are too many backs there to confuse the situation if Grant was injured.

15.10 Tarvaris Jackson QB Minnesota Vikings

The majority of the starting quarterbacks were off the board at this point — even the retired and dramatic Brett Favre at pick 142.

I didn’t really need to put emphasis on a backup quarterback since I drafted Tom Brady. When you draft any quarterback in the first two rounds, you shouldn’t be looking to back him up until VERY late in your draft unless you run across some great value.

When I drafted Jackson, I knew several good things about him. Tarvaris Jackson wasn’t going to be replaced by Favre, the coaches love him and he seems to be improving with a nice supporting cast.

I know I took a chance on him here, but he could put up some solid numbers this year. I also know that I can replace him with someone off the waiver wire if need be for Week 4, Brady’s bye week.

Speaking of that, J.T. O’Sullivan doesn’t seem like a horrible free agent to pick up at this point. He faces New Orleans in Week 4.

Jackson’s opponent in Week 4 is Tennessee. As long as their run defense is as stout as last year, he’s going to be forced to make some plays or swing some passes out to Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. I’ll buy one ticket for that ride and see where it takes me.

16.03 Green Bay Packers D/ST

Green Bay coaches say they are going to play it more aggressive this year. They have the young defense to do it well. More sacks could mean more fantasy points, and they don’t face too many offensive powerhouses.

Green Bay is an up-and-coming defense that finished in the top 10 in 2007. Plus, they come cheap. I felt better about them than the Giants defense, facing tough NFC East foes all season, in the sixteenth round.

17.10 Mason Crosby K Green Bay Packers

Why not go Packer crazy?

Mason Crosby was the top kicker last season. Even though Green Bay may not be as high scoring as they were in 2007, I think they will move the ball well enough to get Crosby into range a few times a game.

I picked him to see if my prediction comes true. If they are inefficient at getting the ball to the end zone every time, I get all those field goal points.

18.03 Ben Utecht TE Cincinnati Bengals

I made a slight mistake here drafting a second tight end with the same bye week as my first, Week 8, but I’ll admit that I didn’t really care what his bye week was.

I am really interested to see what Ben Utecht will do as a starter and with Carson Palmer under center. Utecht looked ferocious getting that touchdown in the preseason game.

The bye week problem shouldn’t come back to bite me. I am hurting Week 8 anyway since many of my players share that same bye. I will probably free up some room on my roster through trades or add/drops by halfway through the season, and I won’t have to lose one of my tight ends to sub in a starting tight end that week.

Whichever tight end performs better between Tony Scheffler or Utecht will win my starting job. The other gets to be…did you guess it? Trade bait!

According to MyFantasyReport.com’s draft recap, I had the third best draft.

Coach Jacob had an excellent draft in the recent 2008 Fantasy Website Drunken Pirate Slapfight Expert League draft. Their FantasyFootballFools.com franchise came away with the number 3 ranked draft (out of 12) in the league based on analysis by MyFantasyLeague.com.

FantasyFootballFools.com made their best pick of the draft in round 1, selecting Tom Brady with the 10th pick of the draft, as compared to the 6th spot he should have been selected in, according to ADP rankings. “Brady should be in line for a great season even if it is not another monster one,” FantasyFootballFools.com coach Jacob said.

FantasyFootballFools.com made their worst pick of the draft in round 8, selecting Deuce McAllister with the 87th pick of the draft, as compared to the 125th spot he should have been selected in, according to ADP rankings. “I heard he got the bionic knee this time,” FantasyFootballFools.com coach Jacob said.

Starting in week 8, FantasyFootballFools.com won’t be able to submit a full lineup, due to having 2 tight ends on bye.

FantasyFootballFools.com nabbed Tom Brady in the 1st round, which reflects the fact that he was the number one ranked quarterback for the 2007 season, based on this league’s custom scoring rules.

FantasyFootballFools.com nabbed Mason Crosby in the 17th round, which reflects the fact that he was the number one ranked place kicker for the 2007 season, based on this league’s custom scoring rules.

With a little bit of work on the waiver wire this season, or a few strategic trades, coach Jacob should be able to turn their 3rd ranked draft effort into a championship fantasy team this year.

I might have altered the quotes there…

It seems that MyFantasyReport.com puts a lot of weight on the final 2007 rankings. The draft recap function is only in Beta, so what does it really know anyway?

Now that I’ve put my bleeding heart out here for you with my expert league draft (and first draft of this fantasy season), I am sure you want to tell me what you think of it. I see you there just bursting with a compliment.

What do you think? How does this team weigh in against the competition? Do you like or dislike my picks?

Berate or compliment profusely in the comments, and my trained monkey will respond.

I’m dead set on making the coveted drunken pirate trophy mine.

How to Draft (or Not Draft) the Houston Texans Running Backs

My first draft of this article was just “AVOID THE HOUSTON RUNNING BACKS AT ALL COSTS. The end.”

While contemplating whether to put that in bold or change the text to some nice shade of red, I realized my very intelligent warning doesn’t help you much. Many people, through bad luck, absent-mindedness or sadistic desires, will be in need of a running back and have to choose between drafting a member of the Houston backfield at some point in their fantasy drafts or skipping over them.

While they’re not ideal roster grabs, the Houston running backs make a decent bye week fill for your fantasy team in a pinch and might even become a low-end starter. The only drawback is that they come as a pack.

Even though the most senior members of the backfield in Houston all have some kind of injury concern, there’s still some upside to be seen.

The Texans have brought in Alex Gibbs and his highly touted zone blocking expertise to put some fire in the running game this year and strengthen the offensive line. With his help, the running game could flourish.

Ahman Green is the big name and the supposed starter, but coming off a knee injury last season, he is likely to share a lot of carries with Chris Brown, the frequently injured former Tennessee Titan. Green is on what’s left of his last legs, and Brown has already been banged up in training camp.

Behind those two, the Texans have rookie Steve Slaton and the recently signed former Bronco Mike Bell.

Bell impressed enough in Denver’s zone-blocking system a couple of seasons ago to beat Tatum Bell for the starting job, but then again, that was Tatum Bell. With the same last name, smooth-as-leather Mike Shanahan might have just gotten them confused.

Despite being buried on the depth chart in Denver last season, Bell must have impressed his former coach at Denver, Gibbs, enough for Gibbs to bring him into Houston with a two-year contract. Like Chris Brown, Bell has had success in a zone running system, but it’s unclear where he fits in the depth chart now.

Rookie Steve Slaton has all the upside with the potential to take over Houston’s patched-together run game. Still, it might not be his year in 2008 unless the RBs are ravaged by injuries. Slaton would have to learn to pass block like a veteran–a necessity with Matt Schaub getting knocked around under center last season.

The two unknowns in the Houston backfield are Darius Walker and Chris Taylor.

Taylor got love in the offseason from the coaching staff, but had received similar praise last year before his season-ending injury. He hasn’t seen the field enough to earn a spot in the run game just yet, so don’t expect him to be a Ryan Grant this year. He is a super, SUPER sleeper–so sleeper he’s comatose.

Darius Walker filled in when needed last season but failed to blow anyone away. He bounced into the active roster from the practice squad last year only because of injuries to Chris Taylor and Ahman Green. He’ll probably bounce to the practice squad by the end of camp.

How do you play this one if you are in need of a running back late in your fantasy draft?
Treat the Houston RBs like Pokemon. You gotta catch ‘em all!

The good thing about the Texans running game is that it comes cheap. If you want another backup or, heaven forbid, need a second starter but waited too long, take both Ahman Green and Chris Brown somewhere near the 11th round or later. You will likely be able to draft both RBs as back-to-back picks and, at the very least, have a decent bye week filler between the two of them.

If you miss on Brown and Green or want a sleeper pick, take Steve Slaton late and sit on him. As injury prone as Chris Brown and Ahman Green tend to be, it wouldn’t surprise me if Slaton starts a game or two late in the season. Even if you don’t look at Green for your roster, Slaton’s probably worth a flier.

It’s a murky situation and difficult to predict this far out, but the Houston running backs still have some value.

In short, AVOID THE HOUSTON RUNNING BACKS AT ALL COSTS. Maybe that is the best way to say it.

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.

Off-season Update: Running backs take focus this week, QBs and WRs stink it up [NFL News]

Everyone took pity on quarterbacks this week. Atlanta saw fit to bring back Joey Harrington after releasing him–even though we all know they will probably pick a QB up in the draft *cough* Matt Ryan *cough*. The Rams chose Trent Green to be the back up to Marc Bulger, but is it good practice to pick a concussion-prone quarterback as the best back up for an oft-injured Bulger? Me thinks the Rams will need a solid third quarterback on the roster if they plan to make it through the season.

Sadly, the New York Giants, not to be seen as uncharitable, decided they had enough money leftover from the Super Bowl blow parties to bring back the white-gloved wonder David Carr. I really thought we were going to get rid of him this year. Apparently, my gut feeling doubted the power of the gloves.

But enough about that. The real meat of this week’s free agent moves was in the running backs.

While the hot buzz item is Shaun Alexander‘s likely boot from Seattle after the signing of Julius Jones, Detroit made the big cut in axing Kevin Jones. Due to Jones’ brittle nature, Tatum Bell will finally get more carries in Detroit. Maybe Tatum can finally escape his “journeyman” label in a Detroit offense re-making the run game–Hashmarks sees his potential–but Detroit still has a long way to go. In short, Bell may be fantasy relevant this season, but he won’t be at the top of any lists.

With draft implications, Jesse Chatman of the one-win Miami of 2007 moved over to the New York Jets to act as a back up and potential change of pace back for Thomas Jones. Behind the offensive line that the Jets built this offseason, both RBs could see fantasy relevance, but it could be Darren McFadden replacing Jesse Chatman as the second man in that rotation after the draft.

Note: I don’t believe that the Jets will pass on McFadden if he falls to them. Jones is no astonishing talent, and McFadden could work miracles behind the O-line the Jets have put together.

The Houston Texans–who everyone thinks will also not be passing on any RBs in this year’s draft–seem to be set on taking free agent running backs from now on. Even though they are “really high” on this Chris Taylor kid who didn’t see a down due to injury in 2007, the Houston Texans went out and signed Chris Brown, formerly of the Titans. Depth charts are definitely uncertain in Houston now as they could still take one more RB left in the draft and then, hopefully, release a lot of their broken has-beens like Ahman Green and Ron Dayne. In addition, we now know that Chris Brown never likes to be the only Chris in his position on any team [see: Chris Henry of Titans].

Warrick Dunn found new life in Tampa Bay with their oodles of extra money this offseason. Even with rumors of Cadillac Williams not being able to return though, I can’t see Dunn being more than a back up or lightly used back behind Earnest Graham to start 2008.

The Bucs also saw fit to invest in Antonio Bryant, the troubled receiver that hasn’t found a place to call home since being shipped out of Dallas. He is likely to not be much of an impact.

Non-impact seemed to be a theme in any area besides running backs this week. Drew Carter signed with the Raiders after posting a fantasy footnote in Carolina last year. I expect him to be third behind Javon Walker and Ronald Curry, but he could surprise me if he ever lives up to his “burner” status. I just haven’t seen it.

One receiver that could be of use is Justin McCareins, back in Tennessee after his stint with the Jets last season. The Titans know how to use him, and he has to catch better than the core group of slippery-fingered banana-handlers they have now. I might actually look to snag Vince Young as my QB2 this year in a later round if they can rebuild the receiving game this offseason. A rookie WR in the draft could give it some edge.

With free agency winding down, look for a newly updated mock draft and more fantasy offseason list making than you could ever desire from a fantasy site coming in the next several days.