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

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

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

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

CAM NEWTON to CAROLINA

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

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

A.J. GREEN to CINCINNATI

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

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

JULIO JONES to ATLANTA

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

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

JAKE LOCKER to TENNESSEE

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

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

BLAINE GABBERT to JACKSONVILLE

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

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

CHRISTIAN PONDER to MINNESOTA

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

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

NICK FAIRLEY to DETROIT

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

JONATHAN BALDWIN to KANSAS CITY

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

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

MARK INGRAM to NEW ORLEANS

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

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

FIRST ROUND OF THE 2011 NFL DRAFT

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

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

Believe it or not: Jags, DHB, LeGarrette Blount come alive while Jamaal Charles, Foster, Lloyd showoff in Week 8

There are a few head-scratchers in this mix. So don’t get too excited on the waiver wire, but here are a few of the week’s top performers.

David Garrard, QB, Jaguars: 260 yards, 4 TDs, 1 fumble, 2 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD vs. Cowboys

Unfortunately, you can’t trust Garrard. Ever. He’ll have a game like this against the now-quitting Cowboys and follow it up with a stinker against a pitiful defense. If this performance convinces any owner to pay a decent price for his services, SELL SELL SELL.

Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions: 9 catches for 101 yards, 3 TDs vs. Redskins
Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions: 212 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT vs. Redskins

A huge fantasy day for these two young Lions’ stars made plenty of owners happy. The good news: Stafford should keep getting the ball to Megatron on a regular basis. Shaun Hill was putting up numbers like a top fantasy quarterback until he went down, and Stafford is more talented. Next week against the Jets, the Lions will face a greater challenge, but Stafford’s a clear must-own the rest of the way.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Patriots: 112 yards, 2 TDs, 1 catch for 11 yards vs. Vikings

Just when we thought Danny Woodhead was the back you wanted to own in the Patriots’ offense, they change things up and go back to the “Law Firm” (BenJarvus Green-Ellis). It’s impossible to know what Belichick is thinking, but those in need can take a chance on Green-Ellis until the next Belichick tinkering hands off the ball to someone else.

Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs: 177 rushing yards, 61 receiving yards (238 total) vs. Bills

He’s capable of much more if only he didn’t have to share the rock with Thomas Jones. Maybe this lack of opportunity is all to keep Charles fresh for the playoffs, but it’s got to be incredibly frustrating for Charles and his fantasy owners. He’s bound to see increased touches as the season goes on. Haley’s got to be thinking the same, right?

Brandon Lloyd, WR, Broncos: 7 catches for 169 yards, 1 TD vs. 49ers

It’s always good to see your studs get back on track. Lloyd put together another amazing performance in this one after a couple of quiet weeks. Clearly, Orton only has eyes for Lloyd in this offense, and that’s a good thing for all the Lloyd owners out there.

Arian Foster, RB, Texans: 102 yards, 1 TD, 9 catches for 65 yards vs. Colts

Speaking of back on track, this stat line was not quite as amazing as Foster’s last performance against the Colts, but he didn’t disappoint any owners. Foster should keep on rolling unless he gets injured enough to give way to Derrick Ward.

LeGarrette Blount, RB, Bucs: 120 yards, 2 TDs vs. Cardinals

I told you that you should grab him. Now, it’s probably too late. It looks like Blount will be the workhorse running back for the Bucs from here on out.

Mike Sims-Walker, WR, Jags: 8 catches for 153 yards, 1 TD vs. Cowboys

With Garrard returning to the field, Sims-Walker returned to fantasy relevance. His owners have to hope this will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship — between their Sims-Walker and the end zone. But keep in mind that Marcedes Lewis remains in the mix when the Jags get in the red zone, and he scored twice on Sunday against the Cowboys. His emergence as a touchdown machine will hurt Sims-Walker’s production all season long.

Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals: 6 catches for 72 yards, 2 TDs vs. Bucs

Yes, he’s alive.

Dan Carpenter, K, Dolphins: 5/5 FGs, 1 XP vs. Bengals

A kicker among the scoring leaders? It seems to happen every week. The Dolphins’ Carpenter has a great leg, if you’re looking for that kind of thing. It’s just hard to get excited about fantasy kickers.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Raiders: 5 catches for 105 yards, 1 TD vs. Seahawks

DHB was really the only Raiders’ receiving target left standing this week, and with no one to compete with for catches, he actually did something. His Week 8 performance showed us what he’s capable of if the stars align and if he catches the ball. More to come? To be determined. But he’s worth a grab as stash/sleeper play going into Week 9. The Raiders are likely to keep Louis Murphy and Chaz Schilens out until after their bye week in Week 10.

Believe it or not: Brandon Lloyd, Hakeem Nicks Prove They Are Legit and More Top Scores from Week 5

This week’s top performers weren’t too surprising. A few of them we’ve heard of before, and a few of them have already been consistently working their way towards greatness over the first four weeks of the season. Then, there are the defenses.

Matt Forte, Bears RB: 166 yards, 2 TDs, 2 catches for 22 yards

Surprise, surprise, Forte can still run the ball. With Cutler out, Martz finally let them keep the ball on the ground, and Forte produced. It was the only possible strategy with Todd Collins starting at quarterback, but only time will tell if Martz ever lets it happen again.

Martz’s offense is really all about the passing game, and Forte’s doing well enough in that. But it’s always good to see that, if called upon, he can run the ball, even against a defense that expects him to be the entire offense and focuses on stopping him.

Malcom Floyd, Chargers WR: 8 catches for 213 yards, 1 TD

When Vincent Jackson decided to sit out 2010, Floyd owners hoped he’d be able to step right into Jackson’s shoes as the big play threat. While Antonio Gates has gotten most of the fantasy points thus far, Floyd finally had a “breakout” level performance against the Raiders in a loss. Let’s hope he keeps getting the looks.

Ray Rice, Ravens RB: 133 yards, 2 TDs, 4 catches for 26 yards

If you’ve been waiting for the Ray Rice you drafted to show up for your fantasy team, I think it’s safe to say he’s back.

Detroit Lions D/ST: 6 points allowed, 2 INTs, 1 fumble recovery, 2 TDs

Unfortunately, they don’t get to play the Rams every week. The important thing to note here is that the Lions’ defense isn’t without its playmakers, and they are hungry for wins this season. They may not be a top dog in the NFC North just yet, but they are beginning to turn the corner.

Oakland Raiders D/ST: 27 points allowed, 3 fumble recoveries, 1 TD

The much-feared Raider defense? No, not so much. But they did turn in a big day as the Chargers’ gave the ball away, even while putting points on the board. The Chargers really shot themselves in the foot in this one.

Brandon Lloyd, Broncos WR: 5 catches for 135 yards, 2 TDs

I hate, hate, HATE that I missed on Lloyd, especially after seeing a week like this one. The Broncos may not have a consistent No. 1 receiver, but Kyle Orton is definitely looking Lloyd’s way each and every game. He’s been huge, and this week’s performance was his biggest yet.

I was offered Lloyd for Michael Bush during the first two weeks of the season, but I passed…and laughed it off, in fact. Now it seems that might have been a bargain. (To my credit, the owner who offered him to me dropped him the very next week. They didn’t see it either. I’m still not sure if I should believe.)

Hakeem Nicks, Giants WR: 12 catches for 130 yards, 2 TDs

So I guess this is going to happen more than once this season. Nicks is finally the Plaxico Burress replacement that the Giants needed out there, and Steve Smith will have to take a backseat in the touchdown department. That’s the good and the ugly of it.

And the ones we expect to be up there: Chris Johnson, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, Miles Austin, Josh Scobee (There is nothing more to be said when a kicker makes this list.), Shaun Hill, and Kyle Orton.

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.

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.

Brett Favre made me do it

I told myself I wasn’t going to do this.

After the Saints won the Super Bowl, I wanted to take a little more time off than usual from blogging this offseason. So I decided to wait until Brett Favre had officially let his inner child back out of the bag and committed to one more season with the Vikings before I got back on the horse. Easy, right?

Sure, I caved right around the draft for a bit, but I held strong. I wanted to ramp up right after Old Man Winter let the news slip. Surely, he can’t drive us insane all offseason again.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like Favre’s presence in the NFL shakes up my rankings or my draft strategy. It doesn’t. It’s safe to assume he should be ranked, and I wouldn’t want to draft him for any of my teams no matter how good — or old — he looks on paper. I just thought it’d be nice to know that it was settled…that the Favre mess that happens every offseason was out of the picture.

I didn’t make it…and I’m blaming Favre.

It’s not like it’s a secret. Was that ankle injury really enough to end his career? No. We know it. He knows it. We all suspect he’s milking this injury for all that it’s worth so that he can stay out of training camp.

Favre’s turned into your grandpa who always moans and groans about  his war wound…or his erectile dysfunction. Oh, it’ll never be the same. That’s life, pops. You play football. Talk to grandma or a medical professional about that. Let’s move on.

We all know Favre gets a special childlike pleasure out of beating the Green Bay Packers every year — so much so that he’d probably play for the Detroit Lions on one good leg as long as he got to see the Packers twice a season. There’s no way he’s going to leave  unfinished business on the table, especially after tasting the playoffs last season.

So I beg of you, Mr. Fav-rah, suck it up. The rest of your team is   fighting for a roster spot or coming to terms with your last-minute airdrop on the Vikings a year ago. Just stop practicing with high school kids in your Wranglers and commit already. Go to camp. I’m sure you can get out of the drills you don’t want to do or even sit camp out altogether. You’re an “exception” on your team.

Maybe you need your  own ESPN primetime special to talk through the decision. That’s never blown up in anyone’s face.

Regardless, you won’t stop. You can’t. We know it. You’re all about the football. You’re addicted to this stuff.

But…I guess I’m the one who’s truly addicted here. I couldn’t wait it out with you. This blogging thing is half of what I live for every NFL season. Hell, I’d blog for the Detroit Lions with one leg as long as I get to keep going. So you win this one.

Here we go. 2010. Buckle up. (I always wanted to say that at some pivotal moment. “Buckle up.” Typing it…not so much the same.)

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.