Week 12 Starts: Down for Antonio Brown

Matchups has it all.

Certified advice from Keepers says you can start Eli Manning this week and dislikes Antonio Brown’s chances against Joe Haden. Does Haden have an island yet?

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Week 1 lineup prep: A wealth of matchup analysis

The Week 1 prep is coming hot and heavy at this point. If you need help setting your roster, check what these experts have to say.

I like to start my preparations for start-sit decisions by reading full matchup analysis, and there’s a wealth of it to start the season. Continue reading

Believe it or not: Darren McFadden, Kenny Britt, Buffalo Bills blow up as Week 7 Scoring Leaders

The NFL makes no sense this year. Call it parity. Call it “le suck.” Call it whatever you want. Several of the teams we thought would be fantasy powerhouses are not (Cowboys, Chargers, Patriots) while many of the teams we wrote off as bad bets for fantasy are putting up good numbers (Browns, Rams, Bills). In the words of Chris Berman, I guess “that’s why the play the games.”

Oh, and it was brutal being a Dallas  Cowboys and Texas Longhorns fan this weekend.

Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders: 165 yards, 3 TDs, 2 catches for 31 yards, 1 TD vs. Broncos

I guess they replaced McFadden’s hamstring with a bionic leg because he showed no indications of any hamstring injury on Sunday. Michael Bush owners, myself included, have to be disappointed that McFadden chose this year to breakout of his early career slump when Bush was slotted as the starter for Week 1. But McFadden’s clearly come into his elite form as the No. 1 back here.

On the plus side, Bush did an equal helping of carries, but McFadden did more with his early in the game and got the first three rushing scores. McFadden will continue to be a must start while Bush could remain a reliable RB2 with upside if McFadden is injured again this year.

Kenny Britt, WR, Titans: 7 catches for 225 yards, 3 TDs vs. Eagles

So I guess there’s a trend when a player is forced to sit out at least one quarter. Just like Arian Foster, Britt didn’t need four quarters to blow us all away. Clearly, he’s the receiver to own in Tennessee and has finally earned his spot among the top of the fantasy wide receiver class. I don’t know that he’ll have another three-score performance this season, but he could definitely put up WR2 numbers the rest of the way.

As an added bonus, he seems to perform regardless of his quarterback. Both Vince Young and Kerry Collins can make him valuable. Just be on the lookout for any team punishment that comes down on Britt for the bar fight he was involved in last week (and for which he sat out that first quarter on Sunday).

Roddy White, WR, Falcons: 11 catches for 201 yards, 2 TDs vs. Bengals

White was due for a breakout performance, and he had it this week — probably just because I traded him away in a package that got improved my quarterback situation with…Romo. Bah, I lose again.

White will continue to be one of the top receivers in fantasy, even if he doesn’t have another 20+ point week this year.

Carson Palmer, QB, Bengals: 412 yards, 3 TDs vs. Falcons

The Bengals got in a hole early against the Falcons, which forced them to set Palmer lose. While he put up plenty of yards and touchdowns, they still didn’t win.

Since the Bengals only rely on Palmer when they get down by double digits, it’s hard to predict when he’ll have these big games. So it’s probably best if you look elsewhere for your fantasy quarterbacking.

Lee Evans, WR, Bills: 6 catches for 105 yards, 3 TDs vs. Ravens

Old-unfaithful just had a season’s worth of stats in one game. Lee Evans? Really? The Bills somehow pulled a fast one of the Ravens this week, and even though they let Baltimore come roaring right back, the Bills showed they have some fantasy weight to throw around. I guess we should take a chance starting Evans. His fantasy points have been on the rise ever since Fitzpatrick took over as the starting quarterback.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Bills: 373 yards, 4 TDs vs. Ravens

Speaking of Fitzpatrick, his stat line wasn’t too shabby either. He lost the game, but pride…he’s got plenty of that to go around.

Popular opinion seems to think he can’t keep this up. But people said the same thing about Orton earlier in the year, and Orton’s still chugging along despite a disappointing day against the Raiders.

Fitzpatrick could be this year’s Tyler Thigpen, a second-half stud.

Michael Turner, RB, Falcons: 121 yards, 2 TDs, 2 catches for 23 yards vs. Bengals

Turner benefited from Atlanta’s big lead this week against the Bengals, but he’s still not quite the fantasy back you drafted him to be. Feel free to sell if you get a good price after this two score performance.

David Gettis, WR, Panthers: 8 catches for 125 yards, 2 TDs vs. 49ers

Gettis emerged in Week 7 as the best Panthers’ receiver not named Steve Smith. He’ll be on a lot of waiver wires this week, but his big game can largely be attributed to Steve Smith’s time spent on the sidelines dealing with an injury.

Since this was Matt Moore’s first game back as the Carolina starter, you should try to grab Gettis just in case this chemistry develops into true fantasy value.

Cleveland Browns D/ST: 17 points allowed, 4 INTs, 2 TDs (pick 6s) vs. Saints

Well, when you get four picks from Drew Brees, and you return two of them for touchdowns, even the Browns can make it happen.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings: 131 yards, 1 TD, 2 catches for 41 yards vs. Packers

In case you didn’t realize he was good…

Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys: 4 catches for 54 yards, 2 TDs, 93-yard punt return TD vs. Giants

In a horrible Cowboys performance, Dez Bryant was the lone bright spot. If Kitna continues to look his way, Bryant will make his owners proud in the second half of the season. He should be on a roster in every league, even without Romo around.

On the Wire: Week 17 Pickups and Holiday Leftovers

As most of you are probably riding the team that got you to the final week of the fantasy season or done for the year, there won’t be an official “On the Wire” post this week.

Instead, I’ll offer up some takes from around the Web.

As always, FF Librarian is another one-stop shop for your weekly fantasy football prep. You can also get some good fill-ins for Week 17 at The FF Geek Blog, Fanhouse, KFFL, Razzball, and Lester’s Legends.

Fantasy Joe even has some special one-week plays on defense, including the San Francisco 49ers, who had a solid outing last week against the Lions — solid enough to prevent me from my third championship this year.

As you go into this week, pay special attention to which teams are resting their players. Week 17 is more of a mess than any other week in the NFL. Maybe next year you can request that your commish kindly move the championship game to Week 16 instead.

On the Wire: The Must-Haves, Week 14 Pickups for Fantasy Football Playoffs

There aren’t many names out there that I haven’t mentioned previously, but if you’re strengthening your roster for a playoff run, some favorable schedules make these players more lucrative grabs than others.

If you didn’t secure a quarterback with a favorable schedule during the fantasy playoffs, or if you are worried about your starter sitting down a few weeks early (Peyton Manning owners), becoming senile (Brett Favre owners), or being further concussed (Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger owners), there are still a few quarterbacks available that could fill that void.

Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers
He won over the coaching staff and the team after replacing Shaun Hill midseason, but he’s won over fantasy owners in recent weeks after the 49ers installed a spread offense. In the spread, Smith has been deadly effective, and Vernon Davis, Josh Morgan, and Michael Crabtree should continue to benefit. Best of all? In Week 16, he faces the Detroit Lions in what could be your fantasy Super Bowl. You can’t ask for a sweeter matchup.

Vince Young, QB, Tennessee Titans
As I showed with the stat analysis I did on VY last week, he’s got one of the best schedules in the NFL in Weeks 14-16, and he’s got a running back that will keep defenses from every shutting down the passing game. If you’re in desperate need of a reliable starter with the potential for greatness, VY is the guy.

Others you might consider in the order I would consider them (if I were you, hoping not to have to consider them): Chad Henne, QB, Miami Dolphins; Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Buffalo Bills; Bruce Gradkowski, QB, Oakland Raiders; Brady Quinn, QB, Cleveland Browns.

All have schedules that could give them a boost in these final weeks, but none of them are quarterbacks I would want to bet my season on unless I had lost all hope. Also note that Joe Flacco gets to play the Detroit Lions this week, if you’re in need of a miracle and able to acquire him.

This week’s bright spots are led by a few running backs you may have forgotten.

Jerome Harrison, RB, Cleveland Browns
He’s scoring his points through the air thanks to Brady Quinn’s renewed effectiveness. As long as that keeps up, and as long as Harrison keeps the majority of the workload at running back, he is in line for a few big days in the coming weeks.

Correll Buckhalter, RB, Denver Broncos
Now that he’s healthy, he’ll get to share a lot more carries with Knowshon Moreno. While Moreno got the scores against Kansas City, Buckhalter’s explosive runs and his ability to catch passes makes him a threat to take any given play to the house. Even without scoring, he’s putting up enough yardage to contribute if your current starter faces a tough stretch. Matt Forte, we’re still looking at you.

Chris Brown, RB, Houston Texans
He’s a big brute, but a brute who scores touchdowns is never worth complaining about. Things are murky in Houston’s backfield, but I prefer Brown to Ryan Moats. His playoff schedule could give him plenty of chances to line up at the goal line for a score.

And if you’re receivers have become garbage (Devin Hester owners) or suspended (Dwayne Bowe owners), there are a few young guns to add to your roster.

Davone Bess, WR, Miami Dolphins
Better than he seems in the stat line, Bess has been a PPR stud all year and finally got a chance to shine in the Miami passing frenzy that overwhelmed the Patriots. If it keeps up, Bess will, too.

Devin Thomas, WR, Washington Redskins
Okay, so the Redskins do have an offense. Jason Campbell found Thomas for two touchdowns this past week, and he could be in line for more down the stretch as Campbell fights to remain relevant in Washington (and the NFL in general) and while Thomas proves he’s no bust.

Josh Morgan, WR,  San Francisco 49ers
See Alex Smith. In the spread offense, Morgan has become a favorite target, and again, fantasy Super Bowl vs. Detroit. That’s worth a shot-in-the-dark start.

Garrett Hartley, K, New Orleans Saints
Last week, I had to make last-minute swaps to get Hartley in for John Carney when the Saints finally decided to switch back to their younger leg. But it paid off big. As TMR points out, he plays all but Week 17 indoors, where it is nice and cozy.

D/STs for the Playoff Run

Sports Data Hub pointed out how good the New Orleans Saints D/ST is looking for the fantasy playoffs. Hopefully, you, like me, were able to stash them in Week 5 and ride them all the way to the end of the season. Looks like the good times haven’t come to an end yet.

But if you didn’t listen then or had already missed your chance at owning Brees’ boys, The FF Geek Blog has a short list of defenses to plug into your lineup this week. Out of that list, Green Bay is another favorite to set and forget for your run at the championship, especially coming off their Monday night performance against Baltimore.

If you need more, compare notes with KFFL, ESPN’s Talented Mr. Roto, FF Toolbox, Fanhouse, The FF Geek Blog, Lester’s Legends, and Fantasy Joe.

For an extensive list of additional waiver wire resources, check out the linkage by the Fantasy Football Librarian.

On the Wire: Week 12 Pickups, Playoff Prep, and Matt Leinart

Is there anything sadder than two coaches from the worst teams in the league arguing about who cheated? There are sad clown faces, and then there are SAD CLOWN FACES, people.

I’m pretty sure half the NFL wishes that this game wasn’t even televised. It might fool some people into believing that the Browns and the Lions are good teams.

Despite their big fantasy days Sunday, the downward-trending Browns and unfortunate Lions are not fantasy starters. They only get to play each other once this year.

Obviously, last week’s running back pickups look like fantastic grabs this week if your league neglected to snatch them up. Look to get Jason Snelling, Beanie Wells, and Jamaal Charles before anyone else on this list, but here are a few additional notes on some of the guys from last week and some new names.

No long-term investments this week as we approach the end of the fantasy season.

Hot Claims

Justin Forsett, RB, Seattle Seahawks — The receiving game made him a stud last week, and now he gets to face the Rams. I still don’t love his situation, but he makes a solid starter for your lineups this week.

Chris Chambers, WR, Kansas City Chiefs — He’s filling in adequately for Dwayne Bowe and would be a great receiver to add for depth if you are making a push for the playoffs.

Vince Young, QB, Tennessee Titans — While it seemed optimistic at first to consider him a dark horse stud for the fantasy playoffs, it’s looking more realistic than optimistic now. His consistent production and the confidence he showed in Houston have compelled me to rate him as a solid backup quarterback if you’re current starter doesn’t have a kind schedule in Weeks 14-16.

Kevin Boss, TE, New York Giants — Eli Manning just realized how to use Boss again this season, and he’s making up for lost time. If your tight end hasn’t lived up to expectations, it might be time to show him who’s the Boss.

Rock Cartwright, RB, Washington Redskins — He gets to start in Washington by process of elimination. Portis won’t return in Week 12, and Betts is out for the season. Look for Washington to bring in some veteran depth as support, but for now, Cartwright is your starter against the Eagles.

Bernard Scott, RB, Cincinnati Bengals — He impressed against the Raiders, and this week, he gets the Browns. Best hope Cedric Benson sits one more week.

And if you’re really having trouble filling up that roster…

Matt Leinart, QB, Arizona Cardinals — If Warner were out for the rest of the season, I’d say you must own Leinart. Right now, Warner might not even miss a game, and that’s a good thing considering how terrible Leinart looked replacing Warner at the end of the game against the Rams. And yes, let me repeat that was against the RAMS. I shudder to think what Leinart could do to ruin the fantasy playoff plans of many a Larry Fitzgerald owner if Arizona is forced to start him for a few weeks.

Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo Bills — Marshawn Lynch injured his shoulder Sunday. Lynch could be ready to go in Week 12, but there’s a chance Jackson gets to carry the full load. During Lynch’s suspension, Jackson was a beast, but he’ll face the Dolphins on Sunday and Jets (in Canada) next Thursday if he gets the call.

Robert Meachem, WR, New Orleans Saints — He’s suddenly become a reliable red zone target for the Saints and for fantasy teams. That’s worth stashing on your bench if you’re prepping for a playoff run.

Danny Ware, RB, New York Giants — His value increases if Brandon Jacobs sits, but it looks like that won’t happen. Just keep an eye on this situation.

Larry Johnson, RB, Cincinnati Bengals — Johnson didn’t shoulder much of the load on Sunday, but he could take on more of the offense in the coming weeks against the Browns and the Lions. I think Scott would have to show some inexperience or an inability to make the play for the Bengals in order for L.J. to take over as the starter during Cedric Benson’s absence.

Daunte Culpepper, QB, Detroit Lions — Looks like he’ll be facing the Packers since Matthew Stafford injured his shoulder against the Browns on Sunday, but something tells me you won’t be thankful for his performance on Turkey Day.

Kyle Boller, QB, St. Louis Rams — Matchups are good, but Boller is not. He will have to prove himself for me to trust him, and I am just hoping that he doesn’t cut into Steven Jackson’s value.

Mike Bell, RB, New Orleans Saints — Pierre Thomas just can’t win. With Reggie Bush out, the Saints let Mike Bell get two touchdowns while Thomas was held scoreless. While he’ll never be a lock for any points, Bell could vulture more touchdowns down the stretch as the Saints have one of the weaker schedules against the run.

Jason Avant, WR, Philadelphia Eagles — He’s not the first or second receiver on the depth chart, but the Eagles throw enough to keep him productive. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t trust him to keep it up when it counts.

Mohamed Massaquoi, WR, Cleveland Browns — Massaquoi can certainly tear up the Lions’ secondary, but unless you’re desperate for a starter during one of his two easy-as-cake matchups in the fantasy playoffs, you might find better use for a roster spot than a Browns receiver.

Brandon Gibson, WR, St. Louis Rams — He’s getting a lot of targets, and St. Louis has some favorable matchups down the stretch. But don’t forget that he’s still a Ram. Kyle Boller also takes over as the starter this week.

A Note on Fantasy Defenses for the Playoffs

If you’re in the hunt, David Dorey of TheHuddle.com put together an excellent preview of how defenses should perform in the fantasy playoffs. If you, like me, took a chance on picking up the New Orleans Saints and hanging onto them all year in Week 5, you should be pretty happy with his top four: New Orleans, Philadelphia, Minnesota, and Green Bay.

Owners of the Jets’ defense probably won’t like the read as much.

For more waiver wire action, compare notes with The FF Geek Blog, Fanhouse, and Fantasy Joe.

Week 10 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders: Thursday Night Football is for Lovers

It’s good that it only comes after bye weeks are over when rosters have, for the most part, been figured out. Otherwise, Thursday Night Football would be a real pain.

Instead, it’s just kind of a pain because you have to remember in the middle of the week, just after setting your waiver wire claims and receiving said claims on your team, that it’s time to set your roster again.

The NFL is just training us to watch professional football every night of the week. First came Sunday and Monday nights. They own those now. We will never have them back — not that anyone does besides crazy people and girlfriends.

Now, they’re encroaching on Thursday nights, setting up shop and planning to stay around.

What will they take from us next? Wednesday nights? Tuesday nights? Yes, please. And why not?

If there was any way an NFL game could kill Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance? I’m all for it. I don’t think I can dance, and I don’t care if the stars think they can either. The NFL is the only TV worth watching.

So thank your NFL overlords and set your lineups today.

As usual, we’ll cover a few players to start or sit who may or may not be on the fence of startability this week.

Hot Hands Starts of the Week

Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs vs. Raiders – Oh, Charles, I just can’t quit you. Really, I wish I could. You made me look bad last week, but this week, you get the Raiders and complete job security knowing that Larry Johnson is off somewhere tweeting about how gay you are.

The Raiders are terrible against the run. They are second in points allowed to running backs behind only the Bills. The Raiders are also terrible against bees — they always get stung — and light bulbs. Oh, do light bulbs give them a hard time. Llamas could run for 100 yards against them.

You’re better than a llama, right, Charles?

One can only hope if you chose to start him again this week.

Steven Jackson, RB, Rams vs. Saints – Sometimes people get cute against a high-powered offense and sit the dependable running backs who could get taken out of the game early. Don’t. Do. That.

Coming off a bye and two straight 100+ yard performances, Jackson should have plenty of room to run against the Saints defense, currently without run-stopper Sedrick Ellis. Running backs have been able to hurt them, which explains why the Saints have been so fond of getting behind in the first half of their games lately.

Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Lions vs. Vikings – Against a pass rush that wants to eat his lunch, Matthew Stafford would be well-served by passing the ball off to Brandon Pettigrew more than once in this game. Pettigrew reached the end zone last week, and the Vikings rank first in points allowed to tight ends.

The opportunity is there if the Lions can take advantage.

Alex Smith, QB, 49ers vs. Bears – Don’t get me wrong. Smith is not Kurt Warner. He will not throw for five touchdowns, but he should get his fair share against this Bears defense with receiving options like Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis.

This game is more important to the 49ers than the Bears. While the 49ers have fallen back just two games in their division, the Bears are almost completely out of the race. For that reason, I think the 49ers will take it as long as they can keep it close.

Braylon Edwards, WR, Jets vs. Jaguars – The Jags have laid down like kittens in road games this year, and the Jets are coming off a bye. Two signs that point to a big day on offense for the Jets. Edwards should get his fair share of targets, and he has a very good chance of scoring in this one.

Cold Shoulders Sits of the Week

LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers vs. Eagles – Dead to fantasy football until further notice.

Mike Sims-Walker, WR, Jaguars vs. Jets – He’s having such a nice season, but this week, he gets covered by The Darrelle Revis Effect. It’s like The Butterfly Effect, but you don’t wake up until the game’s over. And you didn’t change anything on the scoreboard.

Ladell Betts, RB, Redskins vs. Broncos - So you’re walking along thinking “You know, I got that Betts guy this week off waivers. He’s replacing Clinton Portis while Portis recovers. I think that’s a pretty solid start.” You’re buddy says “I dunno, Bob.” (Your name is Bob. I assume these things.) You say “How could it go wrong? Washington’s got no one else, and Betts looked good against the Falcons last week. He even scored a touchdown.”

And then your friend tells you, as any responsible person would, that that’s the point, Bob. The Redskins have no one else. Even Jason Campbell got banged up last week. Don’t you think the Broncos will get after him? The Broncos may have given up yards to running backs against Baltimore and Pittsburgh, but the Redskins are not on a roll in the running game like either of those teams. At this point, you stop listening, Bob, because you realize that your friend is a real talker.

As impactful and suspenseful as that little side story was, that’s how productive Betts will be this week against a motivated Broncos defense that knows the Redskins will pose a small threat to their dream-season hopes. The Broncos need to get back on track, and the Redskins are llama pathetic, in keeping with the theme.

Trent Edwards, QB, Bills vs. Titans – One quarterback who won’t take advantage of the Titans’ secondary? This guy. I just don’t see it happening, and I don’t have much confidence in any of the Bills this week.

Green Bay Packers D/ST – They fell apart against Tampa Bay, and I have a hard time imagining them doing any better against Miles Austin and the Cowboys. They might even be without Aaron Kampman, one of their best defenders, as he recovers from a concussion.

Snooze-Button Sleeper Pick of the Week

Zach Miller, TE, Raiders vs. Chiefs – One of those rare games in which JaMarcus Russell does not seem completely incompetent, only slightly. The Chiefs are actually pretty average against tight ends, but Miller is the only target Russell can hit with any consistency.

As a side note, I’m so glad I never have to clean a toilet that JaMarcus Russell uses. Can you imagine how bad his aim is in that arena?

Song to Ease Your Pain While Setting Lineups

Hawthorne Heights – “Ohio Is For Lovers”

I know what you’re thinking. What does this screamy song have to do with fantasy football? Well, I like to imagine Ted Ginn Jr. singing this song to his own hands.

“And I can’t make it on my own…because my heart is in Ohio.”

“So cut my wrists and black my eyes, so I can fall asleep tonight, or die. Because you kill me. You know you do. You kill me well. You like it, too, and I can tell.”

That’s practically out of Ted Ginn Jr.’s pregame diary. I feel like we violated him just by listening to it. He’s obviously convinced cutting off his hands is the only way for him to be happy again, but don’t do anything that drastic, Ginn. Just make them work for you in something other than kick returns.

At least you can take solace in not having Ted Ginn Jr. on your team this week.

More fantasy football goods…

Compare notes with Fantasy Football Goat, Fantasy Joe, Fantasy Football Xtreme and ESPN’s rankings.

Foolish Thoughts: Rate My 2009 Team

No one can claim to be all-knowing when it comes to fantasy football, and one of the most valuable parts of blogging about it for me is the reader feedback I receive in the comments. Your competition will never share their inner thoughts or concerns about your team — not without offering you a trade based on their opinion. A neutral outsider can help you determine what the rest of your league is thinking about your squad after the draft.

Team managers, of course, always think their team is bound for a championship. That’s a tad biased.

Now that I’ve compiled several of my teams this year, I thought it’d be interesting to discuss one of them and my trading and waiver wire plans for it this season. If you have a team you’d like to share, drop it in the comments. We could all use a good “How’d I do?”

My Team

This 10-team league follows basic scoring rules with no points per reception, but passing touchdowns are six points rather than the normal four points. The starting lineup is QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, TE, K, DEF.

Here’s the team I trotted out of the bar with after our draft:

1.06 Randy Moss WR, New England Patriots
2.05 Greg Jennings WR, Green Bay Packers
3.06 Steven Jackson RB, St. Louis Rams
4.05 Aaron Rodgers QB, Green Bay Packers
5.06 Darren McFadden, RB Oakland Raiders
6.05 Ray Rice RB, Baltimore Ravens
7.06 Marshawn Lynch, RB Buffalo Bills
8.05 Devin Hester WR, Chicago Bears
9.06 Jay Cutler QB, Chicago Bears
10.05 Chris Henry WR, Cincinnati Bengals
11.06 LeSean McCoy RB, Philadelphia Eagles
12.05 Josh Morgan WR, San Francisco 49ers
13.06 Fred Jackson RB, Buffalo Bills
14.05 Dallas Cowboys DEF
15.06 John Carlson TE, Seattle Seahawks
16.05 Mason Crosby K, Green Bay Packers

My Initial Thoughts

I don’t love Steven Jackson, but even if you hate the guy, you can’t pass on him in the third round. He was worth the risk there, and I think I covered my tracks with McFadden, Rice and Lynch enough to fill in for Jackson’s inevitable injury or failings this season.

My selection of Jackson in the third round was a choice between SJax and Clinton Portis, but I chose Jackson for the upside. We know what we’re getting with Portis, and he’s already banged up this season. Jackson is healthy for now, and he’s bound to start off the season hot.

I made sure to build strength at wide receiver and quarterback in this league, where quarterbacks and wide receivers go early and often, and I like the players I ended up getting. Greg Jennings is one of my favorites going into this season, and Randy Moss should get plenty of touchdowns this year now that Tom Brady is back.

I felt a lot better about Darren McFadden before New Orleans destroyed Oakland in that blowout this weekend, but I like his chances to rebound from that poor performance. I was a big fan of running backs who caught passes in addition to getting carries, and most of my team shows that attraction. Hopefully, I won’t have many of my running backs shut out against tough run defenses because of their dual-threat nature.

I know Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers have the same bye week, but I liked them both this year. I plan on trading away the one I use less after the bye week, and I’ll be left with a stronger team because I’ll be able to choose between the two.

By the time their Week 5 bye approaches, I’ll be able to drop Fred Jackson and pick up an undrafted quarterback to fill in at quarterback. There are plenty of quarterbacks still on the board after just 16 rounds in this league. No one even touched Brett Favre.

In the later rounds, I tried to snag a few sleepers and backups to tighten up my team. Chris Henry and Josh Morgan could be value grabs, or I might be able to drop them after the first two or three weeks of the season. We’ll see how they work out.

After waiting until the very end of the draft to select a tight end, I was very pleased to get John Carlson. He could finish as a top-five or at least top-seven tight end, and I didn’t pay anything for him at all.

Your Thoughts

So what do you think? Where are the weaknesses (risky running backs) and strengths (proven wide receivers and upside quarterbacks) on my team? As always, the comments are yours. If you have a team that you’d like to share with the Foolish community, leave it in the comments with some notes about your starting lineup and scoring rules.

Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: Cutting Out the Middle Men from Best Player Available

I’ve been a complete subscriber to the “best player available” school of thought when it comes to fantasy football draft strategies, but in 2009, I’d argue in favor of a more enlightened form of drafting a starting roster. Regardless of who you take in the first two rounds of your draft, most fantasy draft strategies boil down to one of two plans: “best player available” or “drafting a starting roster.”

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let me explain the difference.

Best Player Available Strategy

By drafting the most valuable player, regardless of position, this fantasy football draft strategy aims to load a roster full of the most productive fantasy studs possible.

In order to prepare for your draft, you must tier your rankings and cheat sheets in advance. The tiers allow you to see the most productive fantasy studs across all positions and draft accordingly. For example, rather than continuing to draft running backs in the fourth round, you might notice that all the running backs are gone from your top two tiers while three wide receivers in your second tier are still available. These receivers would be more valuable to have at that point in the draft. The schmucks who don’t have their rankings tiered will just keep following their running back rankings down the board while there is a run on running backs and lose value with every pick they make.

Tiering your rankings is fairly simple. Here are the basic steps:

  • First, create your rankings. I often combine many sources into one consensus ranking, much like Fantasy Football Nerd does for you, and then adjust based on my own gut feelings and predictions.
  • Start dividing your rankings into levels, or tiers, by separating starting-quality players from backups. Separate your RB1s from your RB2s and your QB1s from your QB2s.
  • Keep dividing your rankings by position down to the point level, or projected scoring for the 2009 season — players who you expect to produce ungodly point totals each week in the first tier, those who produce five points less in the second tier, 10 points less in the third and so on. The more tiers you can create, the better you’ll be in you draft.
  • When you’re done, layout your draft notes and align the tiers in such a way that you can see your draft tiers across every position in just a glance. The first tier would be one row, and the tiers go down the page from there. When your cheat sheet is compiled, you’re ready to draft.

In theory, this best player available draft strategy ensures that your team is well-rounded, but it doesn’t guarantee you strength at any one position. If the draft follows a certain path, you could end up with strong wide receivers and running backs but an incredibly weak quarterback situation. When there’s a run on running backs early, you could end up with a slew of wide receivers from which you can only start two each week.

As long as you keep balance in mind near the middle and late rounds of the fantasy football draft, you can usually field a solid team with this draft method, but in recent years, I’ve often found myself wishing I had more superstars on my roster. Consistent point totals can only get you so far when you get to the playoffs, and this draft strategy often discourages you from starting the runs on the top tight ends or quarterbacks.

Starting Roster Strategy

Often practiced by fantasy football newbies who don’t know any better, the starting roster method fills every starting position for your Week 1 lineup before drafting any backups. The reasoning is simple: pick the best player to start at every position so that your starting roster is as strong as possible. This method receives plenty of criticism if players go as far as to select a kicker or team defense with their middle-round picks rather than waiting until the final rounds of the draft.

Players employing this strategy are usually the first to draft a quarterback, a defense, a tight end and a kicker. Most of the time, that proves to be a fatal move in their draft because they lose out on depth at running back and wide receiver.

The major flaw in this system is that not all positions are created equal. A starting tight end isn’t worth grabbing over a strong backup wide receiver or running back when there are 10 more tight ends of equal value still available.

The Sleepers Complication

But what if you could take a little from column A and a little from column B?

As a bit of a fantasy veteran at this point in my career, I usually identify several late grabs who could pay off in a big way for me on my fantasy roster. Depending on the experience of my draftmates, and their own sleeper picks, it’s usually possible for me to get a few, if not all, of my guys. While they may not all hit for me, I believe enough in my track record to continue to rely on my sleepers late in drafts, so what’s the harm in betting hard on my fantasy knowledge?

With this all-in thinking applied, I constructed a new draft strategy this season.

The “Cut Out the Middle Men” Draft Strategy

If you know what you are doing, you can adapt the starting roster strategy to your advantage with a little influence from the best player available draft strategy.

  • To begin your draft, pick the best players available — running back, wide receiver or quarterback — in the first two rounds. Select the guys that will produce the most fantasy points early and fill your starting positions with who you believe are the strongest options overall.
  • In the third round, start thinking about your starting lineup. For example, if you already have two stud running backs for your two starting slots at that position, draft a top-tier tight end or quarterback to guarantee that you’ll have elite production across your roster. By breaking away from the best player available strategy and starting the run on these other positions, you reach for your top choices but maximize the chances that you’ll end up with the strongest starters.
  • Once you have all your starting roster spots filled, excluding a kicker and a team defense, begin to draft backups for each position once again basing your picks on the best player available mindset, but lean on your sleepers rather than middle-of-the-road picks. Consistent veterans may be the “best players” on the board, but a sleeper who could quickly become a startable fantasy stud is worth more on your bench since your starting roster is already so strong.
  • In the final two rounds, draft your team defense and kicker. If you have a defense you absolutely love, you could still include them in drafting your starting roster, but I find that most defenses drafted early don’t perform well enough to deserve the pick.

The third point on drafting backups and sleepers could probably use a little more explanation.

Say you have your starting lineup finalized and are now looking at backups. Rather than draft a fantasy backup like Ricky Williams or Fred Taylor, you would look to grab Shonn Greene or Jonathan Stewart. Instead of having a mediocre backup wide receiver like Torry Holt, pass for a few rounds until Chris Henry looks like a reasonable selection.

By the time many backups are being drafted, the players you’re taking won’t be much better than what you can find on the waiver wire throughout the season. While you’re sacrificing depth in loading up on sleepers, you could end up with a stronger roster if many of them pan out for you.

Assuming these guys, sleepers and mediocre starters, are all going to be drafted, you’re loading up your roster with players who have the potential to be top-10 players at their position for the few weeks they may see time on the field rather than reliable players you may never start. If the sleepers pay off, you get to trade them for positions of need or sub them into your lineup. If they don’t, you can easily drop them and await a waiver wire gem midseason.

What’s your draft strategy?

I believe that this “cut out the middle men” fantasy football draft strategy will allow me to compile a more boom or bust roster that should free up some roster positions early in the season and, hopefully, allow me to get more of my top picks on my roster.

My gripe with the best player available method is that you often sit back and never start the runs on any given position during your draft. While that allows you to build great depth on your roster, it doesn’t mean you’ll put together the most points each week since the bench only helps you out in a tie.

I’ll be experimenting with this draft strategy in a few of my final drafts this season.

Would the “cut out the middle men” work for you? What’s your draft strategy this season? As always, the comments are yours.

Taking the Next Step: Matt Ryan Projections for 2009

Is Matt Ryan really all he’s cracked up to be this season?

I wasn’t much of a believer in the 2008 class of NFL quarterbacks. I even doubted that Matt Ryan would make it off the board among the top five picks, but I am sure the Falcons are glad they didn’t feel the same way. Ryan blossomed in his rookie season and drew comparisons to Peyton Manning by year’s end. Going into 2009, he’s got an enhanced set of weapons with Tony Gonzalez now in Atlanta and plenty of opportunity.

The obvious improvements in his game and the Falcons as a team have caused many fantasy football pros to raise him up as one of the future quarterback icons, and now drafters are taking him as a late QB1 selection — or sometimes far earlier than they should — expecting him to be a starting quality fantasy quarterback this year.

While there’s no denying that his rookie season was impressive, it’s hard for me to justify taking Matt Ryan as a starting fantasy quarterback with just one year under his belt and few multiple touchdown games to his name.

Tony Gonzalez’s late-season surge in Kansas City made him the top tight end in fantasy last season, but I don’t think he’ll carry that momentum right into his first season in Atlanta. The Falcons were a run-first team last year, and they’re not going to turn into Peyton Manning’s Colts just because they have a tight end who can catch. Atlanta will depend on Gonzalez’s blocking abilities to establish the run with Michael Turner before looking to pass with a mix of Roddy White, Gonzalez, Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas and Jerious Norwood.

While Gonzalez will be the new “hot route” in Atlanta, a designation that made Roddy White one of the most targeted receivers in the NFL last season, the shift to Tony Gonzalez shouldn’t make the Atlanta offense significantly more productive in “hot route” situations. The move is more a knock to Roddy White’s value than anything else.

In 2008, Ryan was a marginal to poor fantasy starter. He made Roddy White look like a true fantasy stud, but Ryan’s 16 touchdowns throughout the season were not enough to keep him at the top of many lineups. The games in which he did score multiple touchdowns came against struggling defenses like the Packers, Raiders, Saints and Chargers, except for, surprisingly, one game against the Eagles where he had two touchdowns. In my mind, that makes him largely unproven facing the NFC and AFC East this season.

The one bit of reasoning that I can buy for being optimistic with Ryan’s projections is that Ryan could see a need to put more points on the board this season if the Atlanta defense, largely unspectacular last season, fails to keep games close. Turner’s power running might have to be put aside for more of a throw-happy, play-from-behind offense if that is the case, but that could also prove dangerous for Ryan and doesn’t promise that the offense will be successful.

In order to justify a QB1 role, Ryan would need to increase his touchdown totals and his yardage significantly. Despite his skills, Tony Gonzalez is unlikely to give Ryan the 75 yards and a touchdown he needs each game to do that. I see Matt Ryan finishing the year with just over 3000 yards and 20-25 touchdowns.

While Ryan makes for a promising and reliable QB2, I would not plan on taking him as your starting quarterback this season. He still has more to prove, and it would be unfair to him and his talent to expect it of him in just his second season.

Think Matt Ryan is the next big thing? As always, the comments are yours.