Cam Newton after scoring a touchdown

Takeaways from the 2011 Fantasy Football Season

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

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

So what are we to make of this?

1. Rookies CAN dominate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. To the Air.

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

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

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

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

4. Always Be Closing.

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

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

4. Darren McFadden is worth the risk

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

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

5. Handcuffs are a worthy investment.

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

Not so much anymore.

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

6. Inconsistency kills.

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

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

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

Why I Would Draft Jimmy Graham Over Rob Gronkowski

Those of you who follow me on Twitter have probably seen my running commentary on all of the ESPN Fantasy Football Roundtable discussions.

Many of ESPN’s Roundtables are pretty straightforward and were easy to discuss in just the 140 characters that Twitter allows, but a few are worthy of meatier discussion. That’s what I’d like to start today with this latest roundtable on tight end values at the top of the draft.


If you can’t see the embedded video, watch it here on ESPN.

Last season proved it was advantageous to own one of the truly elite tight ends, and Rob Gronkowski (1327 yds, 17 TDs + 1 rushing TD) and Jimmy Graham (1310 yds, 11 TDs) were SIGNIFICANTLY better than the rest of their counterparts at the tight end position. Gronkowski alone probably won many fantasy football championships last year.

These two provided such a nice edge last season and were so dominant that the fantasy football community was talking (and still is) about drafting Gronkowski and/or Graham in the first round this year.

There’s an argument to be made that their value justifies taking them that high, but there’s also plenty of depth at tight end for those who don’t feel comfortable with it.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s just assume you’re all in on these tight ends and don’t want to be left without a stud.

So if you want to go tight end early, many folks might be thinking Gronk is the unquestioned first choice. I disagree. Gronkowski was unstoppable last season, but if you want to spend a high pick on a tight end, I’d rather take Jimmy Graham. Why?

  1. The Patriots spent the offseason signing receivers and landed Brandon Lloyd as a new vertical threat in their offense. His presence should take away some of those vertical passes that made Gronkowski so great last year.
  2. New Orleans watched a target walk. Robert Meachem was no Jimmy Graham, and his loss could easily have no effect on Graham’s value. But having fewer targets to spread the ball around to can’t hurt Graham. That’s for sure.
  3. Rob Gronkowski’s points came largely from touchdowns, which are unreliable season to season. As defenses cover Gronk more closely or choose to take him out of a game, it’s less and less likely he’ll be able to reproduce those numbers, which would bring him a little closer to Graham statistically.
  4. The Saints offseason bounty scandal drama and suspension-fest should prevent them from making massive changes to the offensive game plans this year. Brees put up a fair amount of yards last year, so why change things?
  5. Meanwhile, the Patriots brought in a new offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels. While I’m sure he won’t do anything too drastic, he could easily make some changes in New England. And the Patriots have changed their system up in just one offseason in the past. There’s no guarantee they continue to make Gronk the most critical cog in the machine for 2012.

Maybe I’m just not as “Yo Soy Fiesta” as the next guy, but that’s why I’d shy away from taking Gronk as a high pick in my draft. I’d rather place my bet on Jimmy Graham. And honestly, I’d feel best if I could get one of them in the late second or third round rather than considering them in the first.

I wouldn’t be terribly upset if I ended up with Gronkowski on any of my fantasy teams this year, but I’d think long and hard before I took him as the first tight end off the board.

Evaluating Your Team’s Playoff Chances Before Fantasy Football Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early Value Picks

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

Vincent Jackson

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

As I tweeted…

Brandon Marshall

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

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

Mark Ingram

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

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

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

Sleepers

Matthew Stafford

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

Austin Collie

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

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

Reggie Bush

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

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

Lance Moore

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

Bernard Scott

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

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

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

Aaron Hernandez

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

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

Lance Kendricks

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

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

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

Deep Sleepers

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

Delone Carter

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

Danario Alexander

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

Denarius Moore

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

Victor Cruz

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

Eric Decker

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

How to Tier Your Player Rankings for a Fantasy Football Draft Day Cheatsheet

Tiering your cheatsheet is, in my opinion, the most critical of all draft day preparations you can make before your fantasy football season.

Sure, you can read injury reports all day long. That helps. No one wants to draft a guy on IR. But the real edge to draft a better team than the other obsessive football fans in the room is your ability to identify — quickly and quietly — the most valuable pick left on the board.

In the heat of the moment, we often lose sight of where players have been missed. You’re looking ahead to decide when you can draft a quarterback…or maybe you’re focused on following your RB-RB-RB strategy for the first three rounds. That’ll keep you from noticing a WR1-level fantasy wide receiver falling into the third round, ripe for your picking.

Worst of all, if you don’t have a consolidated rankings sheet, you might miss out on a top-tier wide receiver simply because your wide receiver rankings were underneath your quarterback and running back rankings when it was your pick.

Regardless of the reason, you can only blame yourself for not tiering your cheatsheet if you miss out on draft day bargains.

It’s been a few years since I visited the topic, and in prepping for 2011, I thought it’d be worthwhile to revisit the best way to tier your player rankings  for your fantasy football draft.

Step 1, Start with rankings you like.

I don’t care if you prefer the rankings or projections from ESPN, NFL.com, Fleaflicker, or Yahoo!. What matters is that you’re comfortable with the rankings you choose.

I often prefer to start with aggregate or consensus fantasy football draft rankings from sites like FantasyPros or Fantasy Football Nerd. These give you a good starting point since the outliers are reigned in a bit when averaged together.

But if you prefer to go with the player rankings or projections of just one man and one man only…that’s your call. More power to you. Go you — and him, whoever that analyst or blogger may be.

One note: It will be a huge help if you choose a set of rankings or projections that includes an average points per week or total points for each player, either based on last year’s fantasy football scoring, several years of scoring, or projected points for the current season. If you don’t, you’ll have to do a little more legwork in Step 2.

Step 2, Add an average point per game projection or total points projection to each player in your rankings.

Foreshadowing. See, if you read my note on Step 1, you already know what you’ll need to do for this step.

If you don’t have any kind of average projected points per week or total points projection listed for each player on your current cheatsheet, it’s time to go get that info. You can pull these total or per week averages from sites like FF Today, CBSSports, or ESPN.

If they don’t provide a per game average, you don’t have to drill down to it. But you can just divide the total projected points for the 2011 season by 16. There are, after all, 16 games in an NFL season.

Step 3, Separate your rankings by position, if they aren’t already separated.

Pulling out just the running backs and just the quarterbacks into one ranking column will help you when you start locking in your tiers.

Step 4,  Adjust your rankings to your liking.

Now that you have your list, it’s time to make it your own.

With a points total or average attached to each player, start modifying those points as you see fit. Here’s where your research comes into play.

Upgrade the players who will excel, and downgrade the players that won’t meet expectations.

If your points total or average is based on a player’s performance in previous seasons and especially if it’s based off just the last season, be sure to update it based upon offseason moves and team system adjustments. If you like Matt Hasselbeck more as a Titan than a Seahawk, for example, make sure you adjust his point total accordingly.

Furthermore, if you’re player points are based off projections for the current season, feel free to bump them higher or lower depending on how you feel about players. Just be realistic. Micheal Vick will NOT score 500 points in a single season.

Look at a player’s schedule for the upcoming season, estimate the number of points they could realistically score, total those estimations up, and divide by 16 to get your average. You, of course, don’t have to adjust this for every player, but feel free to do so for the ones you feel are under  or over-projected.

Once you have your average points per game or total points has been adjusted for each player, sort by your projections and then adjust your rankings some more based on rankings alone.

You don’t have to be as rigid with the stat adjustments here. Spot a player a point or so to their per game average or 4-5 total points for a full season projection when you feel like they should move up a couple of spots in the rankings.

But like I explained when talking about adjusting projections, be realistic. Crazy cheatsheets make for a crazy draft.

Step 5, Tier it up!

It’s time to start assigning players to tiers. Look at your average points per game projections and start dividing whenever there’s a significant difference.

For example, you’ll probably section off all the quarterbacks averaging more than 17 points per game in your projections into your first tier. Then you might make those quarterbacks scoring between 17 and 15 points per game your second tier.

Just look for the significant breaks and run down your list. You want to have a few tiers of top players at each position, but leave everyone averaging 5 points or less in the final tier.

Step 6, Align your tiers

So you’ve got your players segmented by position, but how do you know when to take a quarterback in your second quarterback tier over a receiver in your top, or first, wide receiver tier?

Look at the tiers you’ve created and make the tier scoring universal across all positions. So, all of your players projected for 17 points per game or more would make up your top tier.

It’s okay to have one or no players from a particular position in a tier. For example, you might slot Aaron Rodgers as the only player in your top tier if you project him higher than anyone else at more than 19 points per game. That’s fine. Just make the tiers align as best you can.

(Bonus) Step 7, Tag your sleepers

You’re more of less done creating your cheatsheet at this point, but I do like to throw in this tip just for the more savvy drafters out there. Once you’ve got your tiered cheatsheet created, I usually go back and mark the players I feel are “sleepers” or undervalued at their current position.

I know we adjusted our projections and rankings in the previous steps to our liking, but if I feel one player in the third or fourth tier has the potential to be a top-tier player if circumstances break his way — Jonathan Stewart, for example, or Ben Tate — I’ll be sure to mark him as the one I want to look to draft in that tier.

If I like a guy more than a lot of experts, but I can’t reasonably increase his projected points enough to make him a second tier player, I’ll mark him as a priority for the third tier.

As long as you don’t go homer-happy, you can also take a second to tag your favorite players in each tier at this point since part of the fun of fantasy football is drafting the guys you REALLY wanted to draft.

Just make sure you use a different mark for favorite players than your sleepers. You’ll need to know the difference quickly when you’re making your picks.

Time to draft

When you’re finished creating this tiered cheatsheet, you’ll be able to see, in one quick glance, that four players projected to score 15 points per game or better are still available as your pick approaches in the middle of the third round.

And you’ll be able to use your tiers to determine position scarcity. For example, when it’s your pick and you see one second tier wide receiver and six second tier running backs remaining on your cheatsheet, you will be able to jump on that last second tier wide receiver knowing that one of the second tier running backs will make his way back to you.

Rather than panic during a run on tight ends and start looking only at your rankings for that position, you’ll continue to collect value and steal picks at higher tiers for other positions.

The value picks are the entire reason you tier your player rankings, and the tiers work wonders. Just give it a try.

Best Player Available Strategy

As far as your draft strategy goes, tiers work best when you go into your draft targeting the best player available in each round.

Let your need at QB, RB, or WR steer you when there are several players available at the same tier, but when there’s only one or two top-tier running backs left on the board, it’s time to draft them. Don’t let someone else capitalize on those value picks that fall to you.

Of course, you don’t want to draft five quarterbacks just because no one else was jumping on the second tier signal callers, but I might consider taking four receivers in my first six picks if they were the only players remaining in my first or second tier. Assuming your rankings system and projections are solid, you’ll be able to make deals to improve your running back or quarterback struggles once the season begins.

If you want to get tricky, you can also try tiers with the draft strategy I have used since 2009, my “cutting out the middle men from best player available” strategy.

As a final note, I always feel like I don’t have to say this, but just in case there are any first-timers out there, you should always know the scoring and roster rules of your league!

Some leagues restrict the number of quarterbacks you can keep on your roster or the number of running backs you can draft. You’ll need to know this to take full advantage of the best player available strategy without botching your draft.

When you’re ranking players and preparing your cheatsheet, keep in mind your league’s scoring rules and the value placed on each position.

So that’s how you tier your fantasy football draft cheatsheets. Any questions?

Leave ‘em in the comments, and if you’re lucky, someone amazingly intelligent will answer you. Otherwise, you’ll just get me.

Friends don’t let friends draft Ben Tate

It happens in almost every draft. It’s the magazine curse. Some league member — let’s call him Pete — is convinced that Ben Tate is going to be the next superstar after they read a profile of him that was written in June. Pete is excited. Pete gets busy with other things until draft day. And then…the unspeakable happens.

It’s kind of like watching a slow-speed accident — like watching two cars back into each other in a parking lot. Nobody wants to see that, but it’s also impossible to stop.

Approaching the draft board, Pete pulls a player sticker and slaps it up on the wall. As he turn around, he’s a little confused that he didn’t hear the gasps and sighs of a thousand voices as he took a “steal” in the mid-rounds. He was sure everyone was waiting for Ben Tate to fall to their next pick, but instead of sighs and complaints, all he gets are a few shocked faces, laughter, and a hand to the forehead.

“Ben Tate is out for the year.” Someone had to say it. Then you just feel bad for Pete. Really bad. It’s hard to watch that happen.

Sometimes in life you can save a buddy from this kind of shame and humiliation. You can take him away from the dance floor when he’s starting to think every girl in the room is attractive. You can warn him not to take that class with the crazy dictator of a professor. You can tell him when he has spinach stuck in his teeth.

That is, you have the option if you so desire, not that you HAVE to take that road. You still have the ability to jump in there and take them out of that situation. But when it’s a missed draft pick? He’s screwed. He just burned a mid-round pick on a guy that won’t play a single down in 2010. With the exception of this being a keeper or dynasty league, he just wasted a pick.

Depending on your league, you may get a chance to make amends. They may let you pick again over that “Ben Tate” you just burned, but in all fairness, you really shouldn’t get another chance. You struck out. Just sit down.

So don’t be that guy. I witnessed it firsthand in my draft this past weekend, and it’s not cool for anyone involved.

Here’s a list of other IR players you don’t want on your team this season unless you’re tucking them away in a dynasty league.

  • Ben Tate, RB, Houston Texans — Fractured right fibula AND torn right ankle ligaments, which sounds as serious as it is.
  • Sinorice Moss, WR, New York Giants — Groin injury
  • Jim Sorgi, QB, Indianapolis Colts — Apparently, patting Peyton/Eli Manning as they come off the field can get you a shoulder injury
  • Donnie Avery, WR, St. Louis Rams — Knee injury, and a general lack of the ability to stay on the field
  • Malcolm Kelly, WR, Washington Redskins — Hamstring injury from McNabb’s “Hell Week” will put him on IR, which, on the plus side for him, keeps him on the roster *technically* since he was on the bubble at the beginning of the preseason
  • Leigh Bodden, CB, New England Patriots — If you play IDP or if you were considering drafting the Patriots D/ST, which isn’t quite as good without its best corner

And some cautionary warnings…

  • Sidney Rice, WR, Minnesota Vikings — Out for at least half the season with a hip injury. Draft accordingly.
  • Vincent Jackson, WR, San Diego Chargers — Missing at least three games as of now and at least six if he doesn’t show up to sign and play by this Saturday
  • Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers — For generally being a creeper and getting himself suspended for four to six games to start 2010
  • Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver Broncos — Some reports have him suiting up; others have him nowhere close. Either way, he’s not going anywhere quick with a hamstring injury.
  • New York Jets D/ST — Without Darrelle Revis and without Calvin Pace to start the sesason, this defense may not be the No. 1 unit everyone thinks it’s cracked up to be. I am not on this bandwagon without those two.
  • Brett Favre, QB, Minnesota Vikings — You probably like him less already with an ankle injury and without Sidney Rice, but hearing that the Vikings are going to “manage the pain” on a bone spur they recently discovered as well makes Favre even less safe as a QB1 this season.

Consider yourself warned. Don’t be that guy.

Fourth & 1 Debate: How to avoid fantasy disappointments next season

Ah, the sadness comes in larger puddles of tears every week as we approach the fantasy playoffs. That first-round pick sure screwed you, didn’t he? But how, oh how, do you keep it from happening again next year? (Like it always does?)

Last week’s fantasy football roundtable covered that and covered it well. The question:

Thinking back to the players that you targeted in drafts at the beginning of the season, which one or two players have been the biggest disappointments? What kind of additional information do you think you could use to avoid selecting this type of underachieving player in 2010?

My answer:

The biggest two disappointments in my book are Matt Forte and Calvin Johnson. Both were drafted in among the top-three at their position, and both have been miserable for most of the season.

In Forte’s case, there was good reason to believe his role in the offense might be threatened. Chicago traded for Jay Cutler, bringing an arm to Chicago and taking away Kyle Orton’s compulsive checkdown passes. But that alone was not enough to scare off fantasy owners.

The decline of the Chicago defense, an unexpected factor this season, has also hurt Forte’s value. When the Bears get behind, they have put the game in Cutler’s hands and reduced Forte’s chances. Forte’s turned it around in recent weeks, but the damage has, for the most part, already been done to the owners who drafted him and their fantasy hopes.

Calvin Johnson was regarded as “quarterback-proof” coming into this season. No matter who was throwing the ball, he would get his yards and probably a score. He still ranked as one of the elite wide receivers in fantasy despite news that a rookie quarterback, Matthew Stafford would start for the Lions. With no legitimate threat on the other side of the field, defenses tried to take Megatron out of games, and a few times early in the season, they were successful. Even if you’re quarterback-proof, you can’t be “team-proof,” and the Lions were doing him no favors.

A knee injury prevented Johnson from seeing the field for several weeks. Now that he’s back to full health, he is contributing, but with only one touchdown and one 100+ yard game this season, it’s safe to say owners were hoping to get more out of him by this point in the season.

What info could prevent us from making these same drafting mistakes in the future? We must pay close attention to change in the offseason, and give special attention to teams with new quarterbacks. The quarterback runs the offense, and changes at that position can often mean big swings in fantasy. In their first year with a new team, quarterbacks must spend time learning the playbook and finding their rhythm with the receivers and running back. There are many variables in play there, and it creates risks in fantasy.

In Chicago’s case, Cutler brought that “gunslinger” mentality and a powerful arm to Chicago, which has allowed the passing game to be more of a focus on offense. He didn’t avoid using Forte, but Cutler had to understand how and when he could use Forte, which led to Forte’s slow start.

A rookie quarterback always has a big learning curve in coming to the NFL, and Matthew Stafford was no different. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco’s exceptional rookie seasons may have warmed fantasy football players up to the idea of starting rookies, but the Lions were not nearly as complete a team as the Falcons and Ravens were last season. Stafford’s rookie struggles have held Calvin Johnson back, and an unexpected knee injury did the rest.

It’s unfortunate that new quarterbacks impact a team so much. Avoiding them as a rule can prevent you from finding some real value in your fantasy football draft (see: Vikings receivers like Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin), but taking a risk on teams with new signal callers can also cost you big, as we saw this year with Forte and Megatron.

The secret is to do your homework on them.

For the complete discussion and the rest of the debate’s answers, check out the full fantasy football roundtable on Junkyard Jake’s blog.

Foolish Thoughts: Are you ready for some football?

The final weekend of the preseason might be the worst week as an NFL fan. Starters play only a few minutes while coaches get a look at the rest of the depth chart to make final cuts, and we all know that in just one more week the games will actually mean something. While the Labor Day weekend appeased us with some college football action, real NFL football is now just days away.

Hopefully, you had a good draft without falling victim to many common mistakes. It won’t be long before we see all those third-year wide receivers breaking out and all those high-workload running backs breaking down, or will they?

Big News This Week

In a surprise move, the Detroit Lions declared Matthew Stafford their starter against New Orleans. I expected Stafford to get the call eventually this year, but Daunte Culpepper had outplayed him in camp and in the preseason until his foot injury — oh, the dangers of carpet. Culpepper was expected to at least start the year under center before handing it off to Stafford.

With the golden boy taking the heat right away, don’t expect a Matt Ryan rookie season out of Stafford. He’s a young rookie, and there will be plenty of hard times this season to go along with all the good ones. He actually takes a bit away from Calvin Johnson in my mind since he’s likely to turnover the ball as many times as he gets it down the field.

Tampa Bay also shocked us this weekend. Not by firing their offensive coordinator — there are plenty of people doing that — but by naming Cadillac Williams, the man with the bionic knees, as their starter. Williams will still be splitting time with Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham in some kind of sinful 2-2-1 RBBC combo, but on any given Sunday, he’ll get the first crack at the defense and the first chance to shine. That’s worth something.

Now that you’ve drafted

With your team assembled, this week’s a great time to take care of a few housekeeping issues. Have you checked out how well your backup quarterback fits your starter’s bye week? Have you looked at how your team stacks up for the fantasy playoffs?

These things are good to keep in mind heading into the season. Knowing you have a bad matchup in the playoffs will allow you to start shopping a player in the middle of the season and unload him for something of equal or greater value that can get you to the championship.

I am not too afraid of Green Bay’s tough road in the fantasy playoffs, but Washington looks more and more like a team to get rid of quickly this year.

Shots in the Dark

With the excitement of the preseason, bold statements come out of the woodwork. Unless you’re just looking at the facts and only the facts, you’re probably expecting one of the following predictions to come true. How good do you feel about it now that we enter into the first week of games that matter?

Well, we’ve read all about that. Now, we get to see what comes true. Look out for our starter recommendations and the rest of your weekly prep this week as we begin fantasy football season with a bang.

And so begins our fantasy football addiction…

[You can check in with Norm’s latest struggles with fantasy addiction over at Global Sports Fraternity.]