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.

Week 9 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders: Any Given Sunday

I watched Any Given Sunday last night. Twice.

No matter how many times you watch that movie, it makes you want to run through a wall, and then a pack of linebackers, followed by another wall. Every. Time.

I didn’t even need to drink coffee this morning. I’d already run out of walls. (Okay, that’s a lie. I still drank my coffee, but I didn’t HAVE to drink it.)

Rather than give you some silly intro into this start or sit article, let me leave you with the immortal words of Coach Al Pacino. I yell this at my fantasy teams every time they lose.

How many Pantheon Cups do you want to win now?

Oh, and if you missed this week’s Fourth & 1 Debate due to yesterday’s incredibly lame and un-Pantheon-Cup server downtime, you should definitely read up. It’s a must-read for anyone bound for the fantasy football playoffs.

And if you’re a big fan of my work here on the starts and sits each week, show your gratitude by voting for Fantasy Football Fools in the Fantasy Football Librarian’s first annual Reader’s Choice Poll. I’m not sure what we win, but I will start planning a parade to rival the one the Yankees are getting this weekend.

Hot Hands Starts of the Week

Ray Rice, RB, Ravens vs. Bengals – I could not love this little running back more. Most of the time, the picks everyone likes in the preseason blow up in your face, but Rice has blown up on the field. I think Rice should have a good day — atypical when facing a top run defenses, but this is a perfect storm of fantasy goodness.

Brandon Jacobs, RB, Giants vs. Chargers – They don’t have a nose tackle. That’s like a hole in the middle of your face. If Jacobs can’t run through that, it will only be because he is too big. After some devastating losses, the Giants better bring it, and Jacobs better be carrying the load.

Kevin Boss, TE, Giants vs. Chargers – He came back to life against the Eagles last week in an abomination of a performance by the Giants. Now he gets one of the sweetest tight end matchups out there. Let’s hope Eli Manning remembers he still exists.

Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs vs. Jaguars – I have reasons to doubt Charles — fumbles, offensive line play, the Chiefs, for crying out loud — but it’s very likely that I’ll be forced to rely on his services in at least one league this week. Against the Jags run-friendly defense, that doesn’t seem so bad.

Greg Jennings, WR, Packers vs. Bucs – At last. November is a good month for Jennings, and the Bucs can’t stop him. The Bucs also couldn’t stop me going out for a pass this week. You know, if I ever felt like running for one.

Cold Shoulders Sits of the Week

Derrick Mason, WR, Ravens vs. Bengals - It’s creepy how good the Bengals have gotten at taking away the top receiver from their opponents. They’ll do it again against Mason this week. More reason to like Ray Rice.

Michael Crabtree, WR, 49ers vs. Titans – Some will point to the Titans’ passing yard atrocities and claim this is a great week to play Crabtree; I’ll point to the Titans’ win last week against the Jaguars and say it is not as good as people may think.

While the Titans have been terrible — fantastically terrible — against the pass, they’re finally getting healthy in the secondary. Cortland Finnegan returned just last week, and the difference was noticeable.

I’d be concerned about taking the chance on starting Crabtree. He has the potential to do well with the number of targets he’s received the last two weeks, but I have to worry about him. If you start him, know what you’re getting into. This is not your early-season Titans’ secondary.

Cedric Benson, RB, Bengals vs. Ravens – Is anyone else worried that the Ravens will be better prepared and out for revenge in this one? No? Just me? Well, I certainly wouldn’t jump into this one expecting the same 100+ yard performance.

A good game for Benson is possible, but the Ravens looked more like themselves last week.

Matt Forte, RB, Bears vs. Cardinals - Hard to trust Forte against the Cardinals, even after Arizona has been torched by DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The Bears’ offensive line might just not have enough to open holes for Forte in this one. But at least you got your points from him last week.

Devin Hester, WR, Bears vs. Cardinals – I love the matchup, but I hate the injury. Hester is supposed to be breaking ankles, not spraining his own.

Unlike Anquan Boldin, I am not sure he can still be effective while hobbling 30 yards down the field. Not worth benching unless you have another solid option.

Snooze-Button Sleeper Pick of the Week

Malcom Floyd, WR, Chargers vs. Giants – Now, let’s talk about this name for a second. Is there a second “L” in it or not? I see “Malcolm” on almost half the other sites out there, and yet, the Chargers’ official site has no “L.” Get your act together, people.

Unlike fantasy analysts, Floyd should have his act very together against the very vulnerable secondary of the Giants. The G-Men just don’t get a break, do they? Saints, Eagles, Chargers? Pains cometh, New York, and their names are Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates and Malcom “One-L” Floyd.

I almost refused to pick Floyd as my sleeper since he’s been pointed out by many others, but I plugged him so highly in the waiver wire post this week that I have to double down.

If you were lucky enough to snag him off the waiver wire, feel free to clear a spot on your roster. A score might be a little greedy, but there should be plenty of yards to go around this Sunday.

Song to Ease Your Pain While You Set Your Lineups

2 Unlimited – Twilight Zone from the soundtrack of Any Given Sunday.

Of course, this post has to stay with the Any Given Sunday theme.

Wow, that chorus is hot. It just makes you want to scream “MORTAL KOMBAT!” at the top of your lungs into fan blades. That’ll put hair on your chest. (Watch out, ladies!)

I’m out. It’s time for another cup of coffee. And maybe I can watch Any Given Sunday again while you leave happy little sit-start questions and comments below.

Don’t trust me? First of all, I’m hurt. Second, try out these fools for more fantasy starts and sits: The Fantasy Football Geek Blog, Fantasy Football Xtreme, FF Toolbox’s starts and sits, Matthew Berry’s sitting thyself love/hate, The Fifth Down, Fantasy Football Goat, Fantasy Joe and Fantasy Football Librarian.

Week 4 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders: Rookie of the Year?

Chadam of contributing writer to Fantasy Football Fools fame has this theory about Chad Pennington that he asked me to share. He says they broke Pennington’s shoulder on purpose so that he can have surgery and come back next season like Rookie of the Year with a cannon that can throw 70-yard bombs.

Maybe he’s wrong, but I think it sounds legit. Pennington’s going to lock up that third “Comeback Player of the Year” award in 2010.

This week’s a tough one for many owners out there. Frank Gore is hurt, Willie Parker is looking doubtful, L.T. is still questionable, Wes Welker is a game-time decision, and as if that wasn’t enough, Week 4 is the first bye week. Now that’s rough.

Hopefully, you have the depth to weather this storm. It ain’t going to be pretty.

Hot Hands Start of the Week

Glen Coffee, RB, San Francisco 49ers vs. St. Louis Rams
Well, you got him off the waiver wire and made all the other members in your league jealous. What did you think you were going to do with him? Coffee gets a breezy little matchup against the St. Louis Rams this week, which should help him get his NFL legs under him.

Coffee hasn’t impressed in limited time, but keep in mind that he took over last week against the Minnesota Vikings defense. They have some very, very fat men that don’t like to let you run the ball past them. The Rams don’t quite have those same fat men.

So pour yourself a cup of Coffee this week – Cha-ching! (I hope this guy starts all season. I could go all day with these coffee jokes.)

Others receiving votes:

  • Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders vs. Houston Texans
    McFadden hasn’t had it easy these first few weeks, but against the Texans, who couldn’t stop a Chihuahua running the football, he should shine. The only way he fails this week is if the Texans really run away with it, forcing the Raiders to throw, but I’m guessing the Raiders will figure out JaMarcus Russell can’t do that very well. Please tell me: Why aren’t the Raiders just running McFadden’s college offense? The Wildhog is the only way to save this team — that or a league change to the UFL.
  • Devin Hester, WR, Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions
    Did you read that? The Lions. The End.
  • Mike Sims-Walker, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans
    The Titans have let everyone throw on them this year, and Sims-Walker has become the big-play threat for the Jags. Don’t hesitate to use him this week. The Titans should keep a lid on Maurice Jones-Drew and force David Garrard to the air. And no, that doesn’t mean he will fly, silly. I’m talking passing yards.
  • Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions
    If he doesn’t show up this week, I’ll be wearing a permanent sad face for the rest of the season, Jay Cutler style.
  • Santana Moss, WR, Washington Redskins vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    He’s got at least one more good week left in him before he goes in the toilet again.
  • Julius Jones, RB, Seattle Seahawks vs. Indianapolis Colts
    What’s wrong with me? I actually like the J.J. this week. The only way the Seahawks stay competitive in this one is a heavy dose of the run game, but as we saw in the Dolphins game, Peyton Manning only needs 15 minutes to kill all your dreams.
  • Ronnie Brown, RB, Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills
    Without Chad Pennington, the Wildcat could be the offense of choice in Miami. Plus, it’s the Bills, and everyone likes to beat up on them because they’re practically Canadian.
  • Jerricho Cotchery, WR, New York Jets vs. New Orleans Saints
    He’s becoming a legit No. 1 receiver and a phenom fantasy steal for where you drafted him. Keep him in the lineup this week.
  • Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers vs. St. Louis Rams
    I swear if he fails now after I finally put him in this list…

Cold Shoulders Sit of the Week

Marshawn Lynch, RB, Buffalo Bills vs. Miami Dolphins
Oh, he’s burning a hole in your bench, isn’t he? You’ve waited so long, and now you’re reunited and it feels so good. You gotta feeling that he’s ready to go off, blowing up like some sort of high voltage explosion and starting a party in the U.S.… Yeah, I’m not going there. Well, I ran out of song titles to plug, but Lynch is not a good option this week.

The Dolphins have been shutting down opposing running backs, and Lynch is likely to be worked in slowly while Fred Jackson continues to take the majority of snaps in this one. Avoid both backs if you can because even half of Buffalo’s earnings on the ground this week shouldn’t be worth starting.

Others receiving votes:

  • Tashard Choice, RB, Dallas Cowboys vs. Denver Broncos
    That was one helluva sleeper last week, huh? This week, Marion Barber is fated to make his return, and the Cowboys face the surprisingly stout — at least, thus far — Broncos. I don’t know what to think of the Broncos defense, so I’ll treat them the same way I do anything I don’t understand, stare at it until it goes away or avoid it entirely. Change is evil! Right? No? Well, whatever folks. The point is that you don’t want to take a chance on Choice if you have better options — if you have a better Choice, that is. (Seriously, Coffee and Choice are my favorite running backs this week simply for the annoying joke quality. I’m sure you disagree…)
  • Knownshon Moreno, RB, Denver Broncos vs. Dallas Cowboys
    Let’s just sit all the running backs in this game just to be fair. Moreno splits the load and faces a Dallas defense that kept Brandon Jacobs under wraps in Week 2 and DeAngelo Williams tied up in Week 3. Wade Phillips will sellout to stop the run, and I expect him to do the same in this one. Moreno is a better start than Choice but expect a less than spectacular performance.
  • Marques Colston, WR, New Orleans Saints vs. New York Jets
    Just kidding, fools. You can’t sit Colston, but don’t expect a big game. Darrelle Revis should blanket Colston all day. To alter the quote Revis game after the Patriots game, that means Revis will go to the restroom every time Colston does. I hope it’s not to cross swords…
  • Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans vs. Oakland Raiders
    Same as Colston above. Just substitute Revis for Nnamdi Asomugha.
  • Larry Johnson, RB, Kansas City Chiefs vs. New York Giants
    But why would you even do that to yourself? Seriously.

Sleeper of the Week

Davone Bess, WR, Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills
Chad Henne targeted him seven times in the second half of Week 3, and he’s the best receiving target Henne has no matter how fast Ted “Stone hands” Ginn is. In Henne’s first game, he may look for Bess often enough to give him some good yardage and you never know, maybe a touchdown. Buffalo does have a hurting secondary right now, and they could be out of this one quickly if the offense struggles and demoralizes the T.O., I mean team. I like Bess’ changes this week if your desperate for some help and willing to lay it down on the rookie quarterback.

For more advice this week, visit the Fantasy Football Librarian’s stacks, see who Matthew Berry is loving and hating, check yourself against the Fanhouse rankings, hit and miss with The Fantasy Football Geek Blog, tend your herd with Fantasy Football Goat, see clearer with The Hazean, take the advice of Fantasy Football Xtreme, comb through the FF Toolbox starts and sits, and check out the “4-4″ from The Right Brain Fantasy Report by @JoeFortenbaugh.

Now I know you have some questions, so leave them in the comments below, and you’ll get an answer by Sunday as long as they are up Saturday night. I can make no promises about Sunday morning, but I sometimes respond to questions on Twitter if you tweet me @jacobsloan. Good luck this week.