Week 10 Fantasy Football Pickups: Replace Your Quarterback? Rodgers That.

Corny title. Check.

It’s never fun when you lose your stud quarterback — or any stud for that matter — this close to the playoffs. It hurts.

But those unfortunate enough to lose Aaron Rodgers to injury can take solace in the wealth of quarterback options that have emerged to take his place. If you aren’t in one of those horrible deep bench leagues, you probably have a shot at making a run without your main mustachioed man.

I normally try to add notes about FAAB, or free agent acquisition budget, spending limits for each player, but this week, it’s really up to you.

There aren’t too many more weeks for you to play it conservative. It’s time to go big…or stay home while someone else goes to the fantasy football playoffs. I’ll suggest the minimum amount you probably need to acquire a player, but you can spend your whole bank if you have the conviction. Don’t let your favorite players end up on another roster. It’ll be doubly bad to see them started against you in these final, critical weeks.

So let’s get to it. Continue reading

5 Player Moves the NFL Owes Fantasy Football (And Me)

The first few days of NFL free agency are like sitting in Santa’s lap. You can ask for anything you want with the assumption that you’ll get it. And I do that every year.

Ask for things in free agency, that is. Not sit in Santa’s lap.

Since the NFL left us cold and alone for a whole offseason only to now bombard us all with free agency madness like we’re an ex-girlfriend waiting on-stage at Jerry Springer for a mystery announcement, it’s only fair that they see to it that these player moves happen just as I asked for them.

Some of these transactions require several planets and a few Belichicks to align in order for them to happen, but the NFL owes me, right? They can’t go Bad Santa on that.

1. Vince Young to Minnesota Vikings

I’ll admit that I’m a Longhorn. As such, I give VY more credit than he’s probably due. But he’s still a winning quarterback, and it doesn’t seem right for a winning quarterback to get cut loose by the team that drafted him and have a problem finding a reasonable starting gig with another franchise.

Minnesota has no quarterback right now. Rather than trade for McNabb and take their chances with a veteran who might fall apart too early for Christian Ponder, their rookie quarterback-of-the-future, to take the reins, why not put a player on the field that could really win a few games for you?

Young might even be able to fill in for more than one-year stint. Much like the Eagles did with Vick and Kolb, having a developed prospect waiting in the wings a little longer after he ripens isn’t so bad. Now Kolb’s some valuable trade bait.

Leslie Frazier seems like a reasonable coach, and there’s enough leadership in place to make sure that VY will be successful transitioning into his second starting job.

I can’t see VY in Minnesota being a bad fit, especially after hearing about VY and Adrian Peterson practicing together this offseason. During their college years, I always wondered what life would have been like if Adrian Peterson and Vince Young had ended up in the same backfield.

Now I’d like that dream to be made a reality.

2. Matt Leinart to Seattle Seahawks

I felt silly just typing that, and it’s not even that far-fetched since we’ve now heard that the Seahawks are chasing him. At this point, I have a strong feeling Leinart isn’t going to amount to anything unless Pete Carroll works some USC magic on him.

You’d think being paid to play football would be just another day at the office for Leinart, but apparently, he’s missing something else that he had in college. Perhaps it’s the hot tubs?

Maybe Carroll can get him back on track and make a decent No. 2 if not starter out of Leinart. If nothing else, Leinart would provide an interesting story line for Seahawks’ games besides “Can just give them Andrew Luck now?”

3. Braylon Edwards or Roy Williams to Chicago Bears

The Bears need a big receiver for Jay Cutler to make sweet, sweet aerial love to this season, and I don’t care too much about who that is.

Roy Williams will already be in play as soon as he’s released by the Cowboys. And he did have one great season in Martz’s offense during his time in Detroit. But Edwards has a similarly checkered past and need to prove himself.

Either big wideout would be a win for the Bears, and I’d like to see one of the two of them get a shot at being the No. 1 in Chicago. If that doesn’t work out, then I’ll take Malcom Floyd as a consolation prize.

Just give Cutler a shiny new toy. Is that so much to ask?

4. Steve Smith (CAR) to New England Patriots

Steve Smith has had it rough in Carolina these last few years. Since Delhomme, they haven’t been able to get any kind of stability at quarterback, and the Panthers are headed into a rebuilding phase with a new head coach and another new quarterback.

Smith deserves a chance to play for a contender again before he retires, and the Patriots could be that contender if they could work out a trade with Carolina. I have a feeling his passion for the game and desire for a championship would fit in perfectly within Bill Belichick’s organization.

And what new head coach wouldn’t take a piece or two of the Patriots’ draft pick war chest for a veteran they won’t have much longer? Smith’s not going to do them a lot of good while Carolina develops Cam Newton, and the Patriots could give the Panthers some draft picks to build the future wide receiver corps.

On the Patriots side, Smith would be an upgrade at wide receiver and a fighter–literally at times.

5. Kyle Orton to Miami Dolphins

Orton’s on the trading block already, and rumor has it that Miami is one of the teams looking to acquire him. I don’t think I have to sell too hard on this one.

In Miami, Orton would take the team in the right direction, whether Chad Henne ever develops or not. At least they’d be able to move forward as an offense. And Orton would be reunited with Brandon Marshall, who had success with Orton in Denver.

Orton’s got a little more left in the tank than a veteran like Hasselbeck, and he’s got plenty to prove after being ditched by both Chicago and Denver.

So Dear NFL Santa, let’s make these moves happen. If nothing else, they’ll make for a more exciting 2011 season.

If they don’t happen, I’ll have to pretend to hold a grudge against you when the season starts…and we both know I’m not going to be able to keep that up for long.

What free agent signings or trades do you still want to see happen? Sound off in the comments.

Believe it or not: Jahvid “THE” Best, Jason Snelling, LeSean McCoy, Jay Cutler and More Top Scorers from Week 2

This week was not a good week to bench Jay Cutler or Jahvid Best. I have Jay Cutler as my QB1 in two leagues, but I chose to bench him in one of the two to “play it safe” with Favre. I hate it when I play it safe. I hate it even more when it backfires. Uh, needless to say, I won’t do that again.

We knew Jahvid Best was going to be good, but THIS good…against the Eagles. Surprise! Hate yourself for doubting him. I loathe myself because I was already high on the kid.

Here are the rest of the unusual top scorers from Week 2, a week that will haunt me for a lifetime.

Jahvid Best: 78 yards, 2 TDs, 9 catches for 154 yards, 1 TD

Believe It — Best was excellent, especially on the short pass from Shaun Hill that he turned into a 75-yard touchdown. Some were comparing him to Brian Westbrook and Chris Johnson going into this season, and this Week 2 performance certainly shows hints of that kind of ability. I don’t think you’re going to be able to “buy low” on him anymore this season, and I doubt you’ll really want to “sell high” on him either.

Best proved this week that he can score plenty of fantasy points against even the toughest of defenses and without his starting quarterback Matthew Stafford. That makes him a must-start in my book for the rest of the season, and we’ll see if we can confirm that next week when he faces Minnesota.

Jason Snelling: 129 yards, 2 TDs, 5 catches for 57 yards, 1 TD

Believe It (When He Plays) — We’ve never forgotten about Snelling’s abilities, and when Michael Turner went down with a groin injury in this one, Snelling jumped right into his role to reap the rewards. I don’t think the Cardinals put a defense on the field as they allowed the Falcons to run up 41 points. Ouch.

Unfortunately for Snelling, the Falcons have said that Michael Turner’s groin injury is not severe and that he could have gone back into the game if it was close. So while Snelling was awesome this week, it’ll be hard to predict when the Falcons will next have to rely on his talents. He will at least continue to spell Turner, but he really only has value when the full load is put on his back.

Still, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add him to your bench if you own Michael Turner. You’d definitely want a piece of this action if Turner were to reaggravate his injury later in the season.

LeSean McCoy: 120 yards, 3 TDs, 4 catches for 8 yards

Believe It — No Leonard Weaver and a banged-up Mike Bell makes McCoy a happy boy. Of course, this stat line was against the Lions, which really makes it like saying Neil Armstrong had a great vertical when he was jumping in zero gravity on the moon.

I am not a huge fan of McCoy, but he appears to have stumbled into more of a workload that I expected him to have this season. If he makes the best of it, he should be a solid stud. We’ll get another chance to see what he can do against a slightly more difficult defense next week when he faces Jacksonville.

Jay Cutler: 277 passing yards, 3 TDs

Believe It — Look at that stat line. No interceptions? None? Cutler put his critics on notice this week. It’s physically painful to me knowing that I sat Cutler in one league, but at least I started him in another to benefit from his huge day in Dallas.

Mike Martz has made this offense into a force to be reckoned with, and Cutler made all the right throws Sunday. Looks like those who counted on Cutler to put it all together this season in Chicago have hit it big. I believe in him going forward.

Mark Sanchez: 220 passing yards, 3 TDs

Not Buying It — “Sanchize” went from one of the worst games of his career to one of the best in just one week, but it’s hard to say he’ll do this on a regular basis. Sanchez may have the tools, but he’s still very young. He outplayed Tom Brady with the help of the Jets’ non-stop attacking defense.

New York will frequently rely on their running game and defense this season and allow Sanchez to do just enough not to lose. He’ll be better when Santonio Holmes gets on the field, but he won’t be matching Brady’s and Peyton Manning’s numbers every week.

Sanchez owners  should expect stats similar to what Matt Ryan has posted over the last couple of years.  Just be pleasantly surprised when he puts together a game like he did Sunday.

Shaun Hill: 335 passing yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs

Not Buying It — Clearly, Hill can run the offense in Stafford’s absence, but he’s not going to create any quarterback controversy. Take away the 75-yard score by Jahvid Best, and this stat line reads 260 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, which is a little more ordinary.

Kyle Orton: 307 passing yards, 1 TD

Believe It — The Broncos are a passing team, and even though he didn’t take great advantage of that with passing touchdowns this week, Orton once again put up big yardage. Expect him to be a solid QB2 this season with QB1 upside depending on the matchup.

Mike Tolbert: 82 yards, 2 TDs, 1 catch for 13 yards

Believe It — Mike Tolbert got the rock in Ryan Mathews absence, but unlike Snelling, he could be gunning for a larger share of the carries even when Mathews is healthy. Tolbert punched in 2 touchdowns and seemed adequate enough in the running game for San Diego. Meanwhile, Mathews seems to have a fumble problem.

The Chargers appear more apt to use Tolbert over Darren Sproles if Mathews were to miss any time or shows that he is too green to start at running back for a playoff contender. So take note of this stat line and waiver wire accordingly if you want to protect your Mathews investment or if you want to snipe a LeRon McClain-type talent to keep in reserve.

Kevin Walter: 11 catches for 144 yards, 1 TD

Not Buying It — The hype train is still rolling out of Jacoby Jones’ station. Jones also had a touchdown, but he didn’t rack up more than 100 yards like Water did. Expect these two to battle it out for a good while, similar to the way Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson seem to battle it out beside Marques Colston for the Saints.

It’s hard to predict who will be the most solid No. 2 fantasy wide receiver beside Andre Johnson on the Texans this season, but keep your eye on both Walter and Jones. Walter received a good amount of targets while Johnson was being attended to in the locker room, and I don’t believe his bigger game this Sunday means he’s won the competition.

Not mentioned for the sake of obviousness, Matt Schaub, Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, Steelers D/ST, Peyton Manning, and Andre Johnson.

Week 2 Hot Hands, Cold Shoulders: Bradshaw FTW, Bench Benson and Think Twice Before You Take Out the Cadillac

It’s that time again. Time to dust off the old lineups and see what you’ve got for Week 2. Lucky for us, we now have one week of games to look at and make judgment calls, but it’s still pretty hard to tell whether the Bucs and Chiefs are good…or whether the Browns and Chargers are just that bad.

If you got your hands on Brandon Jackson this week off the waiver wire, you’re sitting pretty with his too tempting matchup with the Buffalo defense. Gotta love it. Start that hot hand.

And I’m giddy that Ahmad Bradshaw gets a chance to go up against the Indy run defense that just surrendered 3 TDs to Arian Foster in Week 1.

But it’s feeling pretty chilly in Miami for Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, whose cold shoulders have to face the stout Minnesota Vikings D/ST.

Chad Henne doesn’t quite provide the same threat to pass as Drew Brees. Without a substantial threat, the Vikings will be able focus on stopping the run and keep Brown from unleashing the Wildcat in Week 2.

I really want to like Cadillac Williams like TMR does this week. I really do. But I’m having a hard time. Something about not scoring against the Browns just rubs me the wrong way, and this talk of getting the other running backs more involved from Bucs’ coach Raheem Morris doesn’t help.

It’s Week 2, but even though I own him in one league, I don’t see myself starting him (That’s what Brandon Jackson is for). I’d rather have more than 8-9 points out of my RB2.

Jabar Gaffney is another hot hand in Denver. He faces the Seattle Seahawks this week, and I’m not convinced that the Seahawks played the real 49ers in Week 1.

Strangely enough, I want to give the Chiefs D/ST a chance this week. That Monday night performance against the Chargers was miraculous. Dexter McCluster looks like a touchdown waiting to happen everytime he’s in the game. With him returning kicks, what’s not to like? I like it all, especially against the Browns.

KC’s defense might just outperform expectations as long as you have a sub for them when they visit the Colts and the Texans in back-to-back weeks. That won’t be pretty.

I am doubting the Vikings this week. As I said earlier in the week, they haven’t shown me anything in the passing game that excites me. I have no confidence in them.

So why am I going to start Brett Favre over Jay Cutler? I just fear the Dallas pass rush vs. a Mike Martz offense that much. Favre is the safe play, and I guess I am playing it safe. I hate it when I do that.

Razzball has my back on sitting Cutler.

FFXtreme loves DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart while they be hating on Cedric Benson. I am not part of the DeAngelo Williams fan club, but there is a lot to like about anyone facing Tampa Bay’s run defense.

If you want to play the Williams and “The Daily Show” (Jonathan Stewart) game, this week is as good as any to play it. Fingers crossed the one you pick gets the TDs.

On the Benson front, I know he tore up the Ravens last season, but I think they’ll remember him for that. The Ravens weakness is in the secondary, where they are without Ed Reed and have suffered a lot of injuries this preseason. The front seven will have to compensate, and priority No. 1 of that compensation plan is accounting for Benson. Much like the Jets-Ravens game last week, this game will probably come down to who capitalizes on their possessions and takes care of the football. Look elsewhere if you have any more exciting options.

Fanhouse’s got some sleepers for you like Mike Bell and Seneca Wallace, and I’m seriously considering starting Legedu Naanee.

USA Today’s Fantasy Joe is one of the few places I see recommending Todd Heap. If he can stay healthy, I tend to agree with them.

For more sit/start advice, check out FF Librarian, Sports Illustrated’s projections, Fanhouse’s rankings, The FF Geek Blog rankings, and FF Toolbox’s collection of starts, sits and sleepers. Good luck this week.

Now about that Calvin Johnson catch

Was a touchdown (and, therefore, six fantasy points, which is really what we care about here) stolen from Megatron this week by the refs?

I know there has been plenty of discussion this week about how goofy the rules are surrounding completing a catch in the end zone, and I agree that those rules could be clarified. But  I also have to take the side of the NFL officials in this one. It was not a catch.

It’s the receiver’s job to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he caught the football, even if you have to use your helmet to do it.

In Calvin Johnson’s case, he didn’t hold up his end. It’s a technicality, but it’s part of the game. You must protect and secure the football. Slamming the ball into the ground was unnecessary. If he had pulled it into his body, it would have spared us all this drama.

In case you just escaped from under a rock, here’s the tape…

Watch a high-quality replay on NFL.com

Bill Polian explains (via Pro Football Talk):

And, ultimately, Polian said it was Johnson’s mistake to put the ball on the ground, rather than keep it in his hands and show the officials that he had it. Polian said it’s on the receivers to demonstrate to the officials that they’ve completed a catch, and not on the NFL to change the rule.

I have to agree with Polian here. Megatron clearly could have tucked his arm with the ball against his body, slid to a stop, and come up with the ball to show the refs. Instead, he spun into the ground and launched himself, using the ball, back to his feet.

Sure, he easily maintained possession all the way to the ground, and, sure, there is no question that he had control of the football. But you can’t call it a catch just because it seems that he had the chance to do it the right way.

To me, this whole incident isn’t much different from when DeSean Jackson prematurely dropped the football on his way into the end zone in 2008 — just a young receiver neglecting the small details when he makes a big play.

I’m sure this won’t ever happen again to Megatron. His fantasy owners can count on that.

THERE IS FOOTBALL TONIGHT

I’VE BEEN TYPING IN ALL CAPS FOR THE LAST 12 HOURS. I CAN’T STOP. TONIGHT IS FOOTBALL. THE NFL IS BACK…BACK, BABY!

OH, THERE IS A BUTTON TO TURN THIS OFF? Ahhhh, well,  that is better. I just thought it was an adrenaline thing.

Welcome to Week 1. Tonight, the Saints and the Vikings play for the honor of being the first explosive, on-top-of-it-all team and battle the letdown of being the first surprising loser of the season. I don’t think the Vikings will appreciate being the first team to disappoint.

As a fantasy GM, I’m sure you’re sweating who you’re going to start, so let’s have a mini-”Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders” huddle up.

You can start your studs. That’s perfectly acceptable; in fact, I highly recommend it.

Even though Ray Rice and Michael Turner don’t have the best matchups on paper, I have a hard time  benching either one of them. You used a first round pick to get these guys, so one would assume they are the best you have.

Look at the positive side. Rice is fairly matchup-proof with his involvement in the passing game, which is why you drafted him, and Turner could, at the very least, get to the goal line for you. That’d be sweet of him.

But if you are one of the lucky few who drafted a stacked team, which you are because you followed my advice, and you have a phenomenal matchup on your bench this week, don’t be afraid to take it.

Cadillac Williams is this week’s golden boy. He faces an unproven Cleveland defense with his young quarterback, Josh Freeman, nursing a broken thumb. I’m guessing the passing game might suffer as a result. If Freeman does pass, expect the fact that he threw less than 10 passes this preseason to show a little bit.

All of this makes Week 1 a perfect week to test the Cadillac experience. Get the leather interior. Worth it.

On the sleeper side of things, Arian Foster gets to start his breakout campaign against the Colts poor run defense, and Ryan Mathews sees the Chiefs, who won’t hold him back much this week as one of the worst defenses in the league. These two were high on plenty of radars during the peak of fantasy football drafting, so I’d expect that you drafted them to start if you got ‘em.

I really dislike Shonn Greene and Pierre Thomas more than I dislike Turner and Rice this week. Baltimore and Minnesota’s run defenses are stingy. Since Greene and Thomas may not have been first-round picks for you, you may not feel as risky starting Cadillac/Foster over them to see what your bench depth can do. I’d take that chance this week.

It also might be nice to give Greene and Pierre a chance to show you how they are going to split up the carries in New York and New Orleans. L.T. is old, but he could touch the ball far more than he needs to if Rex Ryan allows it.

Other than Rice, I’m not a big fan of the Baltimore offense this week. Revis Island and the rest of the Jets’ defense is no place to go for broke passing the ball, which will keep the Joe Flacco “sleeper” train in the station for one more week. They may open things up, but not enough for me to embrace him as a good start. He’s definitely a cold shoulder. And that means Housh, Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin will start quietly as well.

Chicago gets to play Detroit. You know what that means. They’re all superstars. No matter how good the Detroit offense has become, their defense still has a lot to prove.

If you’re really digging deep, there are  sleepers out there. But come on, are you really going to go digging for a starting roster in Week 1? Not a good sign if you are. Not a good sign.

For the most part, I’d stick with the studs who you drafted this week. Have faith that you built a good team, and enjoy the fact that FOOTBALL IS BACK TONIGHT.

NOW I NEED ONE ORDER OF WINGS AND A TV REMOTE. STAT!

Martz be crazy: Why you should draft your Bears this season

As we await the Chicago Bears debut tonight in preseason action, I can’t wait to see if their little offseason experiment worked.

When it comes to offense, Mike Martz is a kamikaze. His “leap of faith” system is as likely to blow up on a game-by-game basis as it is to succeed. While respected at first for his work in St. Louis, in recent years, NFL coaches seem to feel that bringing him in to run an offense is the equivalent of waving a white flag, a last-ditch effort to get their teams on the scoreboard.

Still, Martz’s system shows results. He built the “Greatest Show on Turf,” revived the Detroit Lions passing attack with Jon Kitna, and made J.T. O’ Sullivan fantasy relevant for a time in San Francisco. But one thing he hasn’t had to work with since his days with Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger in St. Louis is a true franchise quarterback.

Why, hello there Jay Cutler. Whatever you think of the shruggy Vanderbilt product, Cutler has an arm, and he’s shown the characteristics of a franchise quarterback in Denver. Granted, he no longer has a true No. 1 receiver like Brandon Marshall to throw to now that he’s in Chicago, but don’t count out Devin Hester and Johnny Knox just yet.

Quick receivers who can get to their spots on time are all an offense like Martz’s really needs, and if you believe in the third year breakout for wide receivers and Hester’s quotes, Hester’s ready to make it big. But you don’t have to take his word for it.

Cutler has bought into Martz’s quarterback-friendly system. So even though we can’t expect Cutler’s interceptions to be drastically reduced when he starts firing passes before receivers are even in place, he should do some serious damage in the passing game–the good kind of damage.

Cutler threw a career high 26 interceptions last season pre-Martz, but he also threw a career high 27 touchdowns. His offensive line wasn’t doing him any favors last year either.

With Martz and a new offensive line coach in Mike Tice, Cutler may excel in the W column and fantasy point columns again just like he did in Denver.

So when it comes to drafting Cutler, I’m all for it. He’s currently going early in the seventh round as the No. 9 overall quarterback, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. While I’m okay with him there as a late starting QB1, I think I’d really love him as a QB2 behind an elite quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, Matt Schaub, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, or Tony Romo.

If he has a huge season, you can start him and trade away your elite guy or just trade Cutler for a high-performing running back to make your championship run.

And without having to rely on him completely as your QB1, you can play the ups and downs that are likely to strike the Bears this season. I expect there will be some growing pains in learning Martz’s system and putting it into action each week.

As for the wide receivers, there’s plenty of speculation out there about how to value them. Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Devin Aromashodu, and Earl Bennett could all see time on the field.

This offseason, the early favorite has been Devin Aromashodu, the tallest Bears wide receiver who came on strong at the end of 2009 and scored four touchdowns. But Aromashodu’s sleeper hype has him overvalued now. He’s being drafted before both Hester and Knox, and that just doesn’t make sense.

I’d much rather draft Hester, the forgotten man in this offense who was holding down the No. 1 role until late in 2009, or Knox, the rookie who picked up the offense and caught Cutler’s eye last season.

Hester worked in the offseason with Isaac Bruce to learn what he could from the Martz-made veteran wide receiver, and I think he’ll be ready to play come Week 1 like a top wideout, rather than just as a converted special teamer.

Now don’t get me wrong, Aromashodu shouldn’t be overlooked. He could play a big part in the red zone, but I just don’t think he’s worth a pick in the eighth round when you can get Hester in the tenth.

Martz isn’t really known for increasing the role of the running back in his offenses, but he has two skilled pass catchers in Matt Forte and Chester Taylor. Forte seems more like his old self now that he’s recovered from 2009′s injuries. Maybe we all just expected too much of him when we launched him into the first round rankings last season.

With injuries, a new quarterback, and a questionable offensive line, it was hard to live up to the hype around his impressive rookie season. This season, he could turn things around, especially if Martz makes him a big part of the offense. Even though Martz isn’t known for making running backs better, he certainly doesn’t neglect them.

Chester Taylor will take some of the work out of Forte’s hands, but that could be a good thing. Forte wore down late in his rookie season when he was carrying the full load, and as long as he gets to take the carries near the goal line, sharing might be caring for Forte. I can learn to love a timeshare that allows Forte to go full speed all season and keeps him free of injuries.

So think about Forte in the fourth round before you start looking at running backs who have the lesser half of a timeshare situation.

The one position we can’t predict with Martz is tight end. Greg Olsen is a star at the position, but Martz has traditionally left tight ends to block at the line while the receivers steal the show. Time will tell if Olsen can sway him. I am not taking that chance in my drafts right now.

So in short, don’t overlook your Bears this season. I expect to see some significant improvements in the passing game, and as late as Jay Cutler and Hester are being drafted, they’re definitely worth a look.

And while you’re kicking yourself for not drafting these guys in the first place

Here’s a look from Sports Data Hub at the top fantasy performers at each position as of the beginning of December. [Update: Link no longer available]

We all wish we could go back to the draft and change something, whether we want to draft Miles Austin or not draft Matt Forte, but looking at the cold, raw numbers after almost an entire fantasy football season shows us many of our mistakes (and in bar graph form, which makes it slightly less depressing).

Where did we get surprised?

Quarterbacks

The big surprise at quarterback this year for me was Brett Favre, who not only joined the ranks late but also became a fantasy stud down the stretch. He may be fading now, but he still established himself among the top at the position for another year. As much as I loathe him, I’ll give him credit for that.

Jay Cutler, on the other hand, bottomed out more than expected. Clearly, the receiver situation in Chicago isn’t to his liking, and he’s not comfortable in that offense just yet.

Time will tell whether the team takes a new direction by getting a new offensive coordinator or makes a move to acquire a top talent at wide receiver like Anquan Boldin. The only problem with the latter solution is all the picks they gave away to get Cutler in the last offseason.

Cutler’s performance against the Vikings on Monday Night Football could be a good sign that they’re getting on track for 2010.

Running Backs

Chris Johnson was an iffy top running back prospect to start the year. Some took the chance and were greatly rewarded. Others warned that LenDale White would still steal all his scoring opportunities. It’s clear he’s become a fantasy force, one who will continue to be highly drafted. He’s probably the No. 1 overall pick in your draft next season.

But the big surprise was Ray Rice (even though I predicted he’d be good, I didn’t know he’d be this good). He jumped from a murky Baltimore running back situation to become one of the top backs in fantasy, and he’ll probably stay among the elite with Willis McGahee on his way out.

Ricky Williams and Thomas Jones certainly have more staying power than any of us realized. They’re still getting it done, even at their advanced age. Williams owes his scoring chances early in the year to Ronnie Brown, who made the Wildcat a legitimate threat at the goal line throughout his reign of terror until he was injured.

It’ll be interesting to see what Miami and New York do in the offseason. Ronnie Brown is likely to assume the starting duties again once he is healthy, but New York could part ways with Jones if they so choose, opting instead to ride Leon Washington and rookie pounder Shonn Greene.

In recent weeks, they’ve given Greene more than his usual number of carries to see what they have behind Jones for next season.

Wide Receivers

DeSean Jackson came up in the world in a big way as McNabb’s favorite target this season. Is it finally safe to start a Philadelphia receiver? It seems that way for 2010.

The hot names to add to the list of the elite are Miles Austin and Sidney Rice. Both were touted for their physical attributes and explosive talents, but neither had lived up to expectations, falling victim to injury or being buried on the depth chart the past two seasons.

Rice broke out this season as the Vikings’ biggest threat in the passing game, and he’ll only get better, regardless of who comes in to quarterback Minnesota once Favre finally leaves — but will that EVER happen?

Austin should continue to be one of Tony Romo’s favorite, most trusted targets, and that’s extremely valuable with a quarterback as determined to make a play as Romo is every down.

Tight Ends

Vernon Davis, we hardly knew ye. He did it. He finally did it. All it took was a new coach and a new offense geared around his ability to separate from mismatches. Well done, sir.

Brent Celek also proved that the Eagles had really been missing L.J. Smith’s contributions in recent years when injury and ineffectiveness kept Smith from playing the part. Celek’s role at tight end in the Philadelphia offense only adds to the stockpile of weapons at Andy Reid’s disposal.

Kickers

Ha, just kidding. Nothing’s drastically shifted here, but there was a lot of musical chairs being played around the league as certain kickers lost their leg and teams were forced to make a change.

This year has been a surprising one once again, at least for me. A lot of players that we’d looked forward to seeing finally made a show of themselves. It’s safe to say I wish all my leagues were keeper leagues. The young talent we’ve seen this year should be a factor in fantasy football for years to come.

So now, armed with the knowledge of what’s altered the fantasy landscape this season, what can we say? Better luck next year?

Foolish Thoughts: Marc Bulger and Sunday Night Sadness

Baseball stole our Sunday Night Football. How is that fair? Give it back, World Series. I demand it.

I’m fine with baseball as long as I don’t have to sit through an entire game. In my opinion, it should be played in highlight form, jumping to the major parts and leaving out all the rest.

Pitching change? No, sir. You should only be able to make a change between innings. You play yourself out of your own mess, pitcher.

We could also probably speed things up by not using a third baseman. If you get past second, you have to beat the catcher to home plate or get caught trying.

Yeah, yeah, I know that ruins all that “for the love of the game” stuff, but baseball hasn’t done it for me for several years now. I am all for going to a game in person, but watching a game on TV is just…not the same.

And besides, the first minute baseball interferes with my football, it violates my rights. I think it’s fair to hold a grudge. I was forced to watch the Favre-Favre-Favre-fest in Green Bay, and then it was just over. Done.

But at least they put on National Treasure.

Fantasy Football Fools has a new enemy.

Patrick Crayton gets a pass this week. He’s settled in nicely to his role as the slot receiver and returner for the Cowboys.

No, the new bane of my existence is one Marc Bulger, quarterback of the St. Louis Rams and the only human incapable of throwing a touchdown pass against the Lions.

It was a bit of a sleeper pick — okay, a lot of a sleeper pick — to toss him into my starting lineups this week, but it was out of necessity in one league.

Believe it or not, the blogger league I am in was smart enough to stock up on quarterbacks this year. I got hosed in the draft at quarterback and ended up with only Carson Palmer and Trent Edwards. Edwards has since been dropped for bench depth and pure worthlessness.

Palmer’s bye week in Week 8 left me wanting, so I went to the waiver wire only to find that Bulger was the best it had to offer. I almost pulled off the victory, even with Bulger’s pathetic 5.3-point performance, but the Saints defense butchered me in the end.

In the Buffalo Wild Wings All-Star Blogger league, I went with Bulger over Mark Sanchez, mostly due to a fear that Sanchez would do just enough to win. Surely, Marc Bulger, facing the defenseless Detroit Lions, could put up a touchdown, maybe even two touchdowns.

How could I be so foolish…

Luckily, I pulled off the win without Bulger in the BWW league thanks to a clutch performance from Tony Gonzalez and a low-scoring week for my opponent, but Bulger is still not to be trusted.

It’s not like you own him in any leagues, but Bulger is all that is wrong with mankind. When the time arises to do what is necessary, he fails miserably, even with the odds in his favor. Bulger is Mr. Glass to everyone else’s unbreakable Bruce Willis. He’s the even more obscure movie reference to that movie reference.

To his credit, he’s not getting a lot of help out there from his offensive line, but he does have Steven Jackson fighting like a champ for extra yards on every play.

In short, he’s not going to be on my team come Week 9, and I’ll be a better man for it.

Okay, okay. I agree that starting Beanie Wells wasn’t the smartest move. But if the Cardinals hadn’t been forced to pass after going down early — what happened to that run defense? — we might have seen a completely different outcome for Beanie.

As it happened, Andre Johnson was definitely the stronger start, but neither player blew anybody out of the water this week. The Texans were slowed by the Buffalo Bills’ passing defense, but the Bills’ run defense was pathetic, just as advertised.

Ryan Moats, most known for being abused by police, took over the running duties after Steve Slaton was benched for fumbling, and Moats tried his best to earn a larger portion of the duties moving forward. He scored three touchdowns, and if you own Slaton, he probably caused you a minor aneurysm.

The best part? It’s anybody’s guess what this means for Slaton and Moats going forward. Moats could be in line for the starting job. Slaton owners better just try to lock up both backs while they can.

Slaton’s been disappointing enough, but there’s no sense allowing the Houston running game to slip from your grasp by ignoring Moats’ big day.

Apparently, we shouldn’t have been so worried about LaDainian Tomlinson, but for a two-touchdown day, the yardage wasn’t there. Just 56 yards and not a single reception? That doesn’t have me screaming “He’s back” in the street anytime soon.

I loved Matt Forte last season. He was my best pick in the draft last year, and I rode his consistency all the way into the fantasy playoffs. But he’s just not getting the job done this year.

The offensive line isn’t helping him in the running game, and Jay Cutler has the ability to make plays through the air when the game is close rather than checking down to Forte like Kyle Orton was fond of doing last year.

Without those check-down passes, Forte suffers against tough run defenses. He has only shown up against the Lions and this week against the Browns.

If you have the opportunity, I wouldn’t hesitate to trade him, but try to get the greatest value you can for a guy who was drafted with a top-five pick this year.

Is the AFC East the most unpredictable division in football? Just when you think that you know how a game is going to turn out, they spin it on you.

I lucked into starting the Miami defense in one league, but how we were to expect the Dolphins would beat the Jets again? And this time off the returning skills of Ted Ginn?

The Patriots need to get back to form to make everything normal again.

Steven Jackson finally scored a touchdown. The world shook. The seas parted, and it’ll probably never happen again in 2009. Single tear. He deserves many more for the way he’s been running this year, but the schedule is not in his favor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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