The League S03E01: The Lockout with your Dirty Randy out

All this season, just like last season, I’ll be recapping episodes of FX’s The League, a tribute to fantasy football culture in sitcom form. Stop by every Friday to discuss the highlights of each episode and commemorate the best trash talk and one-liners. Bang-bang! What’s the hang?

What better way to begin a season of The League than with The Shiva Bowl Shuffle from Ruxin and his entire fantasy team from last season? I especially enjoyed the Sidney Rice bit: “I’m hip to IR.”

But do you guys see the “George Clooney stubble” on Ruxin? I don’t think I do. Then again, I don’t think I could say I did…even if I did.

At last The League has returned to us like a prodigal son going to Vegas and only giving us periodic, seasonal updates on his winnings who finally comes in the door stinking of booze, bankruptcy, and bad decisions.

In the season premiere, we got caught up with what’s happened in the offseason — mostly just the guys punishing Andre as much as possible for winning The Sacko while Taco walked the earth — and we pushed ahead into how the league is going to screw Ruxin and get away with it. I don’t think they will…do you?

We should all be so lucky as to steal a few moves from The League penance playbook. For being last in the league, Andre had to grow out his hair, play a flute at a bus stop for strangers, take last pick int he draft, AND draft from an alternate location while the league held a draft party at his house. That’s just cold…but so good.

Andre, your life is terrible, but I want to steal all of these ideas for my own leagues.

Taco would be the one to find himself cast as the American cautionary tale on Algerian television, wouldn’t he? He may make all Americans shamefaced in Algeria, but at least he blessed the world with his music.

I’m not sure what a Kevin baby would look like, but the entire time he was talking to Kate about having one, I was imagining what a “rankings slave” baby would look like. Would it try to get out of the womb first, before its peers? Or would it rather stay in the womb until after the due date and be a sleeper baby? Also, would it be as susceptible to dog training as Kevin?

My leagues always talk about a cool way to pick the draft order each year. Personally, I think it should involve some kind of unrelated and uncontrolled competition like a turtle race or a WNBA game. In that regard, Season 1’s No Child Left Behind foot race remains the best way to determine draft positions that I’ve ever seen.

Inevitably, my leagues always end up drawing names or numbers out of a hat like the league did this season with the cobra box. So sad.

How the hell did Ruxin know exactly how they screwed him in picking the draft order? He walks in and called it like he had a mic in the room. And who is Chuck? So many questions! WHEN DO THEY OPEN THE HATCH?

Kevin’s always the weak one. It kind of makes you feel worse for him than Andre because he has the perception of power. He gets trained by half the league through various forms of mind weakness — dog training tricks, pen clicks, and high-notizing. If he wins the league, it might only be because someone guides him to the Shiva like a puppet.

To cheer Kevin up after the draft, the league turns to the dirtiest of Randys, Dirty Randy. And Seth Rogen is perfect for the part. I can actually imagine him being a porn director in between his mainstream movies, but maybe that’s just the Zack and Miri Make a Porno effect on his image.

Before we talk about the porno, by the way, I must say I did not understand how it would have been feasible to draft online with only one computer like Ruxin had planned.

In a perfect world, people would walk up, make a pick, and sit down, but this is not a perfect world. Stickers and a paper draft board I get, but I’ve never seen an online draft go well without everyone having their own computer on which to queue players.

Unfortunately for all, the draft plans go awry as Ruxin’s celebration of self runs long on his rooftop shrine. While he rants about LinkedIn and league rules, Taco lets the Dirty Randy crew into Andre’s place to start shooting, and in classic Taco fashion, he locks the rest of the league on the roof.

The highlight of the porn shoot for me — well, besides the porn star screaming “You have hair! It’s awesome!” to Dr. Nodick — was the Taco, Rafi, and Dirty Randy discussion of middle eastern politics and culture. There’s a color analyst among those three. I just know it.

I’d say it was a successful first episode from the writers this season. There’s plenty of drama to be had now that the entire league — other than Andre and the mysterious outsiders like Chuck — autodrafted. Maybe we’ll see some more trading this year? Yes, please.

For now, we got our The League fix, plus a little porn and plenty of terrible ideas to punish those who finish last in our own league. What more could you ask for in a season premiere? No, really? I’d like to know.

Memorable quotes from Episode 1:

PETE: “It’s definitely less creepy when you follow them onto the bus.”

RUXIN: “Andre, do you see yourself more as like a rapist who does magic or a magician who also likes to rape?”
ANDRE: “With me, magic always comes first.”

RUXIN: “A little Shiva-lingus? Come on, Kevin, find out if it tastes the same.”

ANDRE: “You are Sauron.”

TACO: “Bang-bang! What’s the hang?”

TACO (as Cowboy of Algerian TV): “Back in the USA, we get venereal disease from our cell phones, and homeless people know karate and carry guns.”

JENNY: “I, as much as I wish I could, cannot give birth to a Shiva.”

KEVIN: “It hurts so bad when I pull hard!”

RUXIN: “And then we’ll let the other three lemmings keep their act together as long as they can without exploding with the shame of diarrhea that is currently soaking their pants.”

RUXIN: “Why don’t you put the guns away, anorexic David Crosby?”

TACO: “Blood oath. Kevin, give me your penis.”

RAFI: “I am day drunk. (In song) Get ready to SEE my dick!”

DIRTY RANDY (to Ruxin): “You, though…I’d film the SHIT out of you.”

DIRTY RANDY: “Puns are as vital to the porn industry as they are to the pet shop industry and the child hair salon industry.”

RAFI: “It’s like a white rain of 1,000 loads.”

TACO: “PUMPERNICKEL!…High-notized.”

RUXIN: “You don’t do morally bankrupt…but me? I swim around in it like Scrooge McDuck in a pile of coins.”

RUXIN: “Don’t invite me to join LinkedIn. It just reeks of dudes with cell phone holsters.”

ANDRE: “You have have two kickers? I don’t even have ONE. I KNEW it was a kicker year!”

KEVIN: “You know, I’ve been watching football my whole life — I don’t even know who this person is.”

RUXIN: “Oh, Shiva ring, forever UNCLEAN!”

JENNY: “This porn is disgusting, you guys. Is this what you like?”
OTHERS: “NO!”
KEVIN (softly): “No…”

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.

5 Pieces to Winning Your Fantasy Football League

You’ll read a lot of fantasy football draft tips this time of year preaching that there is only one way to win, one quarterback worth grabbing in the first round, or one player that could change the outcome of your championship game. While there may, in fact, be one quarterback this season who could win it all for you, that’s not the only way to win.

Your fantasy football draft strategy is only the beginning, and it’s quite possible that the one player who contributes the most to your championship might not even be on your roster the day after you draft.

In this time of absolutes and must-haves pre- and mid-fantasy football draft, consider this a quick reminder that there’s more to it than the players you draft. It’s how you play the game.

Here are five ways to win that you must master to take home a championship this season. It’ll be hard to win it all unless you manage to top your league in more than one.

1. Draft the best team

Listing the draft as just one out of five ways to win your league might seem a bit ridiculous. But the draft is only the beginning, and even if you have a horrible team when you look up at that draft board, your season is not over.

The perfect roster doesn’t guarantee you’ll win, and there’s no way to predict injuries.

I’ve looked at draft boards after every draft I’ve ever completed, and the team that “wins” the draft rarely gets the championship trophy.

2. Win the waiver wire

Early in the season, there’s a ton of talent on the waiver wire. Some of the best players will go undrafted in most fantasy leagues, and they’ll be saviors for those who snag them up and start them the rest of the way. How many people won a league last season with Peyton Hillis or Michael Vick?

If you don’t draft a perfect roster, all is not lost. Just make sure you pay attention each week, and keep your eye on improvement.

Whether you’re in a league that uses a waiver wire or not, it’s also not a bad idea to put some thought into your free agent system  so that you don’t reward the lazy or punish the strong. Not too severely, at least.

Every good league has a solid system in place to award free agents.

3. Make a great trade

Some fantasy players never trade. They never trust a deal, even if it improves the quality of players they put in their starting roster each week. The truth is that almost every trade involves someone losing at least temporarily. You’re taking a chance that what you’re given ends up being more valuable than what you gave up.

If a trade can make the team you start each week better, it’s often worth the risk, even if you have to overpay. That upgrade at receiver could be the difference between a win or loss in the playoffs.

Don’t be afraid to let go of your most expensive assets. Your top quarterback or stud running back might seem like they’re carrying your team, but if you can cash them in for a more balanced roster, do it. Just make sure you get the return you deserve.

4. Play your matchups perfectly

No owner gets 100 percent efficiency out of their rosters. It’s just impossible to know when your players will have their best performances. But you can try.

There are always more factors at play (injuries, coach doghouses, trades, breakout performances) than we can predict, but if you follow the news on every player on your roster, you can maximize what you get out of them to take advantage of their best games and avoid their worst.

5. Get lucky

Finally, yes, you can just get lucky. Maybe you have the easiest schedule of all your leaguemates and a clear road to the championship game. Maybe the one guy you held onto all season comes back from an injury and destroys other teams during the playoffs.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and fantasy football is one playing field that can always be leveled with a little good luck.

So why did I waste a post on this? I have to agree that it’s pretty basic. But why give you such a simple reminder (or primer) on how to play the game?

For one, a lot of people never understand all that goes into playing fantasy football each season, or they lose sight of options when their team starts to fade down the stretch.

Maybe by reading through this quick list, you’ll find a little more creativity and/or work harder this fantasy football season, even if the team you draft doesn’t immediately blow everyone out of the water. Maybe you’ll focus more on using your waiver wire pickups, even when your team is strong, or seek out trade opportunities when you need to improve your roster rather than phoning it in the rest of the way.

As you sit down at your draft table, remember that you won’t win a championship in one day. But if you manage to keep a handle on all five of these pieces to winning, you’ll have a good chance to take home a trophy.

The League S02E01: What Happens in “Vegas Draft”

Yes. This season, in honor of fantasy football’s only sitcom…and really, fantasy football’s only TV show outside of ESPN, I’ve decided to recap each episode of “The League,” which comes on Thursday nights at 10:30 p.m. EST on FX, in case you missed the announcement.

This recap for Episode 1 ran a bit behind because I just decided to do this, but expect future editions to be on Fantasy Football Fools the same week that the episode airs, maybe next day. Who know? Am I supposed to…?

In case it’s not immediately obvious, these recaps will contain spoilers so make sure you’ve caught up on your DVR before you check these out each week if you want to be surprised.

First, a quick refresher course from Hulu on Season 1, a six-episode teaser that got us interested in “The League.”

Now on to the goods…

Episode 1: “Vegas Draft”

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, here’s the cast of characters once again: Kevin’s married to Jenny, who is the brains behind his team, Ruxin’s the Mike Martz-esque evil mad scientist of the league, Pete’s almost “The Dude” if the “The Dude” played fantasy football, Andre dresses like a woman and talks like a prepubescent boy, and Taco lives a vagabond lifestyle while surviving off ringtone sales and Eskimo brothers. The only reason we really know that Taco still “walks the Earth” is that he sets his lineup every week.

This season begins with the “verbal game” at what appears to be a post-work (post-bong for Taco, I’m sure) happy hour. Ruxin has no idea how to play, and Pete and Kevin plan to torture him until he figures it out. [SPOILER: Find out how to play the game.]

UPDATE: It seems the powers that be have removed the video from YouTube with Pete and Kevin explaining the word game. Instead, here’s a general explanation of the verbal game, also known as “snaps.” Thanks, eHow.

Andre shows up just in time to rub in his championship victory and to name the draft location for this coming season, his right as last champion. Unfortunately for Andre, Pete cuts him off, offers up the idea to go to Las Vegas, the home of strippers, gambling, and ultimate happiness, just before Andre can get the words out and steals Andre’s thunder.

So begins Andre’s slow freefall back to the bottom.

While packing for the trip, Kevin is confronted by Jenny, who wants to join the league this year. She calls out those three “out-of-town dudes” who were mysteriously never really named in the first season and who never seem to win. That’s a good point.

It made sense with just six episodes in the first season to limit the number of characters, but I do hope, given a full slate of 13 episodes, we hear about at least one of these long-distance competitors winning a game against the show’s stars. Otherwise, I don’t see how this can be a very entertaining eight-man league.

Back to Jennygate, Kevin won’t go for it, even when she cuts him deep by calling out his skills as a team manager. Even her help and sleepers can’t prevent Kevin from screwing up his chance at a championship every season, which is true. Kevin explains that “No one drops out. It’s like the Supreme Court. People just die on the bench.” Poor example. As Jenny points out, the Supreme Court has nine judges…

Oh well. Too bad. So sad. OFF TO VEGAS!

At the airport, we finally learn how Kevin plans to set the draft order this season: Homeland Security. He tells the league that they’ll decide who gets the first pick by racing through the metal detector at airport security.

To rig the game, he’s given Ruxin a belated birthday present, AKA a fake bomb. “It’s a joke bomb!” (Never works. Believe me.)

Every league member has a scheme, but none of them are very successful. Andre tries the “I’m a doctor” excuse but fails when his outfit (designed by Santana) gets called out for being un-doctorish.

It comes down to Pete and Kevin, but Pete drives for the hard yardage with a granny in a wheelchair running blocker through the security line to secure Chris Johnson and guarantee at least three people will feel around inside his anal cavity before takeoff. *Shivers*

Why is it that the season always starts with someone invading Pete’s asshole? Seriously, why? Moving on…

The league members arrive in their suite, which Andre has put together, and discover that Chad Ochocinco will be the guest commissioner. Ochocinco’s going into the fake calves business with Andre, and this appearance is part of the deal.

Andre ends up clearly destroying the cool factor of Chad’s signature line, “Child Please.” Even rookies know you shouldn’t do that.

When tasked with coming up with his own line, all Andre can muster is “Try the veal!” That’s just creepy enough to work in a “It rubs the lotion on its skin” sort of way, but no one buys it. Best line award goes to Ruxin, who offered: “I’m an adult virgin!”

After talking to Ochocinco, the guys move to another room in the suite, only to find that Andre has converted the Shiva into the “Dre.” If you remember, Shiva didn’t quite make it through Season 1 in the best of shape, but they pieced her back together and made do. Andre’s defiled the classic league emblem with a Heisman-esque image of himself in wrestling/dancer gear at the top. Douche move, for sure, but hey, what are you going to do?

Why not give it a silly name to undermine his bragging rights? And so, the “ShiDre” was born, a name that works for both the trophy and Andre himself.

The guys go out to a strip club, where, lo and behold, one of the strippers happens to be Ms. Adam Schefter — so named because, as a stripper, she has insider knowledge from NFL players who stop through for a lap dance and to tell her everything they know. Hopefully, they don’t give her the full Big Ben treatment. That’ll just ruin it for me.

Kevin and Pete fight over who gets to take her back to the champagne room and talk about sleepers — that almost sounds like some suave way of saying “bang her” unless you read it in context.

Since Pete has the No. 1 overall pick, Ruxin sacrifices his own money to screw him over and pays for Kevin to have dibs on the stripper. So Kevin takes her back to the champagne room to pick her brain about taking Felix Jones in the second round. So wrong…about Felix Jones…not the champagne room.

The sickest part of this whole scene is that “The League” has now further perpetuated the stereotype that smokin’ hot strippers who know everything about fantasy football exist. It’s really a crime against humanity. How many young men will spend sleepless nights searching for this hottie that rarely, if ever, appears in the wild? Why “The League”? WHY?!!?

For their own sake, I hope the viewing public realizes the truth sooner rather than later.

The next day, we find the guys getting ready to draft around the pool. Unlike last season, when they drafted in the middle of a party at Andre’s place, only Kevin brings any kind of notes to the draft. Pretty impressive if you asked me, pretty impressive indeed. But maybe that’s the reason their draft seems a little…off. More on that later.

Ruxin drops a bomb on the rest of the crew by revealing that “Vince,” one of the mysterious out-of-towners, isn’t going to make it to Vegas and quit the league. That punishable by death in five states, and it leaves a big hole in an already small league. Even if a league member is comatose, he should still find a way to draft his team and set his starting lineup each week. I recommend using the “verbal game” and a system of twitches and blinks to draft and manage your team. Totally works.

To fill the hole in the league roster, Ruxin has secretly invited his brother, Rafi, to be in the league and has him waiting in the wings to drop his “penis beard” on them.

This guy seems like a very, very hairy and constantly intoxicated version of Taco, which is hard for me to take. I mean, when they come into contact, will the world end? Isn’t he Taco’s evil twin from another, hairier and more corny galaxy?

But before he’s confirmed in the league, another problem arises. Bikini-clad Jenny shows up to nominate herself for inclusion in the league this year. Time for a vote on who gets in and who gets left out.

Unfortunately for Kevin, as commish, he has to break the news to his own wife after the vote that Rafi is the newest member of the league, which probably guarantees Kevin will be slowly poisoned throughout the season. This confirms that if they are going to kill off a character this season, it’ll be Kevin.

But this betrayal also forces Jenny over to the dark side of the force, and she joins Ruxin to draft the perfect team.

TIME TO DRAFT! At last!

Rafi drafts a kicker in the first round. This guy isn’t winning any points with me, and that’s before they move the draft to the pool, which is awesome but also means they’re all drafting without notes or rankings. Risky bidness.

Now about those draft picks…I know they film this show months in advance, and they have to guess who is actually going to be a first round pick, but Miles Austin in the fifth round? Really? Who would have let that happen? He went in the first or second round in all of my drafts. The fifth round seems impossible.

Ruxin and Jenny complete their draft with what appears to be one badass team, and the league provides us with a great new word for the fantasy football lexicon: “Rosterbate.”

Rosterbate is the act of masturbating (moaning and muttering sweet nothings to yourself) over your lineup in the midst of or after the draft.

Post-draft, the guys head out to a club, where Taco’s on the hunt for more ringtones, and Ruxin continues his cynical approach to the Vegas experience by insisting his wife is hotter than everyone there and reiterating that he has no reason to say “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

The gang finds Jenny in the VIP with Ochocinco, where she refuses to let Kevin into the party until Pete intervenes. But after that confrontation, the party rolls on…

In an attempt to impress Ms. Adam Schefter, the stripper who knows fantasy football, shows up to party with her clients in a hot dress, and does not exist in the real world, Rafi tries to bump “stuff” with Andre, which is apparently sexy in the bizarro world from which he came. This non-sanctioned league move causes Andre to fall backwards and Tiger Woods cocktail his own backdoor with his “ShiDre.” Yes, he brought the trophy to the club. Who wouldn’t?

To bring things to a wrap for Episode 1, the show jumps the shark a bit with a remix of Andre’s “I’m Inside Me” wail, as performed by Ochocinco and Taco. The musical stylings of Taco, while much appreciated, were slightly over the top, but hey, it’s Vegas. Go big or go home, which it looks like they will for Episode 2.

We’re only one episode in and we’ve already had two anal violations, and one blackmail photo op involving Ruxin. I won’t give it away, but it’s looking like Season 2 won’t disappoint.

Memorable One-Liners from Episode 1

RUXIN: “Oh and by the way, the term ‘What happens in Vegas…’ that should be like buried in a graveyard of overused expressions along with ‘You go girl!’ and ‘Show me the money.'”

KEVIN: “Why do you look like a backup dancer from ‘This Is It’?” (to Andre, of course)

RUXIN: “And then I snuck a little Eli Manning in there. That goddamn mouth-breathing dummy.”

Looking ahead at the next episode: I hope we see the guys return to trash-talking in their natural environment. They were good together there. And I hope we see less of the Ruxin brother, who reminds me of a hairy Taco, which is never tasty or enjoyable. Interpret that as you will.

[ Jump straight to Episode 2: "Bro-Lo El Cuñado" ]

How to Win Your Fantasy Football League on Draft Day – vers. 2010

When it comes to fantasy football draft strategy, I’ve tried almost everything. RB-RB? Of course. Draft a quarterback in the first round? Sure. WR-WR? Most definitely. But all this trial and error has paid off.

After hammering out what I think is my best strategy to date last season in the “cutting out the middle men” fantasy football draft strategy and deciding how to play the first round, I think I’ve finally refined the best way to win your league on draft day this season.

And I’m going to share it with you.

What you need to win

Traditionally, we all took running backs because they were scarce. Not every team had a workhorse running back, and in a 12-team league, we needed to start at least 24 of them.

But now, there are 50+ running backs available since every team in the NFL has a time share. So after the five elite running backs are off the board — Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, and Frank Gore — we don’t have to use a first-round pick on a running back.

Not to say that you don’t need a decent running back. You just don’t have to pay a first-round price for one. It’s always nice to have a promising guy like Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, Frank Gore, Shonn Greene, Ryan Mathews, Ryan Grant, or Cedric Benson on your roster. But you can make do if you miss out on them.

You’ll notice I didn’t list Steven Jackson or Rashard Mendenhall on that list. I did that on purpose. They are on the cusp of what I would consider the top, reliable running backs, but they scare me more than they excite me this season. And much like the ladies, that’s not going to work for me when it comes to running backs.

Quarterbacks, while valuable, aren’t as scarce as running backs because each team only needs one. I love me some quarterbacks. Don’t get me wrong, but only a select few — Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, and Tom Brady — are worth taking in the first three rounds. If you miss out on them, you should wait. (But DON’T miss out on them. More on this later.)

That leaves wide receivers. If you’re following me so far, you understand that wide receivers are the new running backs. Receivers have become more reliable and valuable as the NFL becomes more and more passer-friendly. The top receivers are worth building a team around and can give you an advantage if you know how to draft your running backs late.

Guys like Andre Johnson and Greg Jennings are more consistent than the rest of the pack you’ll be able to draft later. My list of elites for this season also includes Randy Moss, Reggie Wayne, Miles Austin, Roddy White, DeSean Jackson, Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Marques Colston, and Sidney Rice with Larry Fitzgerald right on the edge of greatness. (I’m not a fan of Matt Leinart at quarterback this season.)

So draft your elite wide receivers early and often, and you’ll have an advantage.

Every team needs at least one of these top wideouts to “win” their draft, but you’re even better off if you can nab two of them to fill your starting roster. Of course, that’s assuming that you start two wide receivers. If you start three wide receivers, I’d still limit myself to taking two elites early because you can wait on the third just to make sure you don’t miss out entirely on running back value.

I’ll explain the strategy I recommend to make this happen, but before I do that, a side note.

Plans: Made to be broken

No draft ever goes exactly to plan. You can’t know whom the rest of your league is going to draft. Several teams could draft quarterbacks in the first round, or no one could draft a quarterback for three rounds. We really don’t know. So you have to be able to adjust to what your league is giving you. That’s why I recommend the tiered draft cheatsheets, and that’s why I can’t tell you exactly how to draft each position.

So much like my first round strategy from last season, this strategy is just a starting point. Deviate from it as you have to in order to draft the best team possible.

Strategy on draft day

In 2010, I believe a championship team needs one of the elite quarterbacks and at least two of the elite wide receivers. If you get a reliable running back, more power to you.

And it’s all about how you play the first three rounds.

If you have a shot, go with one of the elite five running backs. You can build a solid team around a guy that is highly involved in the offense. While you might miss out on an elite quarterback because you’ll have to look at wide receivers in the second and third rounds, you can recover from that.

If you don’t get a shot at one of the elite running backs, you have you’re pick of WR-WR-QB, WR-QB-WR, or QB-WR-WR in the first three rounds. I like these sequences this season, and I think they maximize the value you get in the first three rounds.

Don’t use QB-WR-WR unless you really want Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Peyton Manning this season and your league scores passing touchdowns at six points. I don’t think any of the other elite quarterbacks should be considered until the second round.

In the fourth round, when it comes time to draft running backs, try to take the two best guys on the board right away. More than likely, other members of your league have moved on to drafting what’s left of the wide receivers and quarterbacks. You’ll have your pick of a good group of mid-level running backs who have the potential for greatness.

As you enter the chewy center of your draft, I’d suggest using the “cutting out the middle men” fantasy football draft strategy principles. Draft value and aim for sleepers rather than “safe” and “dependable” guys. You got your safe picks at the top of draft. For example, I’d rather have Jamaal Charles than Joseph Addai. I’d rather have Beanie Wells than Clinton Portis or Ricky Williams.

Make a special effort to get a lot of running backs. Since you didn’t draft them high, you’ll best protect yourself by drafting more of them. You want to load your roster with as many guys as possible who have the potential to be a top performer even if they’re currently a backup on their NFL roster.

You can also draft a few sleeper wide receivers later in the draft to compliment your studs. These wide receivers could become trade bait or free you up to trade your studs for one of the elite RBs you missed out on earlier in the draft. You can find a few good ones in Chris Harris’ article on “moneyball” wide receivers at ESPN.

With this strategy, you’ll “win” your draft just like I won mine.

Should you draft Chris Johnson at No. 1?

Yes. So much yes. Don’t get caught up in the hype of this Adrian Peterson vs. Chris Johnson debate.

Sure, Chris Johnson had a phenom year. He broke 400 touches in 2009. He may not do that in 2010; in fact, he probably won’t. There’s a good chance he could suffer a setback or injury this season.

You could say all of that. You can even use history to back it up, but why not give him a chance? The Tennessee Titans offense, other than their center, is returning, and the offense can do nothing but improve around “Every Coach’s Dream.”

Vince Young will be the starting quarterback from Week 1, which should allow Chris Johnson some more freedom. The offense really didn’t open up last season until V.Y. went under center. Johnson won’t have to do everything. The offense will support him, not be all about him. That means his numbers might go down, but I’d still take a drop in production from Johnson over an unknown quantity from someone else.

Are you going to find a better deal at running back at the No. 1 pick? No, not really. Is Chris Johnson going to be the No. 1 fantasy player at the end of this season? Probably not. But do you know who is? No. You don’t.

You could guess that Adrian Peterson finishes the year at No. 1, but it’d be almost as risky as taking Johnson. Both backs will have the majority of the attention from opposing defenses, and both will see a lot of work this year. Now that Chris Johnson isn’t holding out, the main arguments for A.P. are Chris Johnson’s 400+ touches in last season and his size, even though reports claim that Johnson bulked up this season as well.

Forget these 10 reasons not to draft Chris Johnson No. 1 overall. Let’s talk 10 reasons not to draft A.P. instead…

  1. Brett Favre: Adrian Peterson had an 18-touchdown season with Favre at the helm, but what if Favre doesn’t return? Pre-Favre, in 2008 with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback, he had just 10 touchdowns. Sure, he had more yardage that season, but they didn’t get it done in the red zone. That’s worrisome, no? [BREAKING: ESPN reports that Brett Favre will retire. Believe at your own risk.]
  2. Brett Favre + Sidney Rice: If Brett Favre does return, he makes Sidney Rice one stud of a wide receiver. Rice happened to rack up the yardage last season while missing out on the touchdowns. He left the ball at the 1 or the 2 yard line fairly often, and he gave Adrian Peterson some easy touchdowns. In his second year with the legendary gunslinger, Rice’s likely to improve on those numbers and take away scoring opportunities from Adrian Peterson.
  3. Brett Favre: If Brett Favre does return, and he falls apart faster than anticipated throughout the 2010 season, he could turn back into old Brett Favre, turning over the ball too often for his team to handle, which would also take opportunities away from A.P.
  4. The Williams Wall: The pending suspension of defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams could have a drastic effect on the Vikings this season. If the four-game suspensions end up being enforced, the Vikings could spend the first quarter of the season playing from behind and unleashing Favre (or Tarvaris Jackson/Sage Rosenfels) to make it rain rather than grinding out the game with A.P. They won’t benefit from a strong defensive front.
  5. Running Style: Peterson still runs too upright, which makes him prone to injury throughout the season when defenses are gunning to stop him. While he didn’t miss any games last season or in 2008, that might mean he’s due.
  6. Fumbles: A.P. had 7 fumbles last season. He had 9 in 2008. I’d say the slight improvement inspires confidence, but it doesn’t. His fumbles are a consistent problem, and they won’t stop.
  7. Contract Issues: We’ve talked all offseason about Chris Johnson and the possibility he might hold out for a bigger contract, but A.P. was also absent from offseason workouts this year. Brad Childress’ lack of information about his absence suggests the relationship between coach and star running back might be turning sour. A.P. isn’t holding out, but a conflict with Childress or the team about the way he’s being used or his contract could lead to issues during the season.
  8. Rookie Competition: What kind of issues? Minnesota drafted Toby Gerhart, a ground-and-pound runner who won’t fill the void Chester Taylor left as the back on third downs. Instead, he could vulture a touchdown here and there, especially if Adrian Peterson has ball control issues. There’s no telling how he might creep onto the field right now, and when he’s on the field, A.P.’s not getting you any fantasy points.
  9. Involvement in the Passing Game: He’s not involved enough in the passing game. Both Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew excel at catching passes out of the backfield. Even without Chester Taylor, A.P. won’t have as big a role in the passing game, which cuts into his value. If you’re going to draft someone other than Johnson, you should at least consider MJD instead of A.P.
  10. College Allegiance: He’s a Sooner. Isn’t that enough?

In short, I’m not saying you have to draft Johnson. The first pick is yours to do with as you please. Draft a kicker if you want. That’ll go over well. But don’t take a pass on Chris Johnson just because history tells us he won’t repeat his 2009 campaign.

Whatever Johnson does in 2010 is probably going to be good enough to anchor your team at the RB1 spot, and that makes him a safe pick, worthy of being taken first overall in the draft. When you get first dibs, you have to make sure you get consistent points every week from that star player, and Johnson should do that.

If he does what he says he will and breaks 2500 yards…yeah, that’ll work, too.

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.)

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

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

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

Where did we get surprised?

Quarterbacks

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

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

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

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

Running Backs

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

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

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

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

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

Wide Receivers

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

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

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

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

Tight Ends

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

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

Kickers

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

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

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