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.

Jamaal Charles owners: How to replace your stud running back

If you lost Jamaal Charles on Sunday, you don’t have a lot of options. He was your first round pick, and unless you play in a very small league, it’s unlikely you have someone else of Charles’ caliber on your roster to pick up the slack.

You also aren’t going to find many first-round quality players on the waiver wire. So at this point, you are left with the desperation options.

It’s time to beg, borrow, cheat, or steal.

One note before we start — you don’t have to do these in this order. Begging is for the worst off of the Charles’ owners, but all of us could benefit from “stealing,” even if we didn’t lose Charles. In fact, “stealing” is probably a good place to start for the majority of you. That’s why I put it at the end…

BEG

A trade is the fastest way to fix your roster when you face a catastrophic injury like losing Charles. You won’t ever have as strong a team as you had before, but just like getting burned on a bad investment, you have to take stock of what you have, package your assets, and sell off what you can to improve your net worth (in this case, your team).

Now I’m assuming you’re in dire straits without Charles. You might not have another running back capable of even RB2-quality production. Maybe you were rotating a stream of flex-level running backs in alongside Charles. Maybe the only other stud on your roster was your top-5 quarterback.

If you can field a respectable roster in Week 3 without Charles, hold off and move on to the less drastic strategies below. But if you’re rocking back and forth in the fetal position while screaming “Jamaaaaaal. WHY?!?,” stay with me here…

Hopefully, you drafted some good depth at at least one position. It’s probably safe to assume it’s not running back, so let’s pretend you have a little extra talent at quarterback or wide receiver.

It’s time to start talking to every owner in your league who has a hole at wide receiver or quarterback and a running back worth starting every week. Package what you have and shop it.

Start your negotiations by making a reasonable offer, but if that goes south, beg. Beg like you’re life depended on it. Play the pity card, and maybe someone will grant you a chance at their prize running back.

Target the owners of Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson, Arian Foster, and Shonn Greene, who may be disappointed in what they’ve brought to the box score so far. You don’t have the luxury of being disappointed in them. You just need high-ceiling starters.

Chris Johnson would be the first player I’d target. Foster or Jackson might come at a discount since they are currently injured, and Greene owners might be convinced that he won’t rise to the occasion this season either.

For the right price, I’d take a chance at Greene.

Float your starting-quality backup quarterback out there packaged alongside one of your WR2 or WR1-level wide receivers. If you feel good enough about your QB2, try offering your stud-level starter to the guy that drafted Peyton Manning.

It’s a great time to trade Matthew Stafford to the highest bidder if you smartly drafted a quality alternative in case Stafford didn’t make it a full 16 games. Maybe you’ll miss out on his breakout season, but you could end up with a fantasy stud to replace what you lost in Charles.

BORROW

If trading for a stud or potential stud doesn’t work, it’s time to look at the lesser options and “borrow.”

You’re not actually borrowing in this situation. You’re still trading, but you’re looking at the potential to upgrade this player down the road.

If left with no other options, go ahead and look at trading depth for depth. Maybe you could deal a backup tight end, WR3, or your backup quarterback to give yourself some more depth at running back.

Nabbing someone like Joseph Addai, Marshawn Lynch, C.J. Spiller, or Ryan Grant could still prove valuable. Don’t write anyone off. But don’t take any terrible deals either just to add a running back to your squad. You have to get a decent value for the package you put together. A bad trade would pretty much sink your season.

You might try to sneak a deal for a promising up-and-comer.

Make a play for Ben Tate whose owner may not need his opportunistic play for the next several weeks while Foster heals up as much as you could. Look for James Starks, who is rising in Green Bay. Maybe the rest of your league hasn’t noticed yet. Finally, it pays off to have a guy in your league who lives under a rock!

While getting a running back out of the deal would be preferred, it’s okay to consider a trade that upgrades your other positions. Anything that improves your team will help, and maybe that additional strength at quarterback or wide receiver could be turned into running back depth at a later date.

While you might not start these running backs right away or have no need for the additional depth at another position, these players are good to have. You can hold onto them for now, start them when they have decent matchups, and maybe somewhere down the road, they’ll have a big enough game for you to deal them again.

On that next trade, that’s when you might land a stud to replace Charles.

CHEAT

Okay, I realize most people don’t want to cheat. But some do. And I feel it’s my duty to cover this even if I don’t wholeheartedly endorse it. In fact, I’ll despise you if you pull it off. But hey, we’re in it to win it. So here goes…

This one’s the hard one. You might not have a chance at swindling an owner in your league, and even if you do, you might not get this trade past the rest of the owners in your league. But…rumors and misinformation might be a decent way to get a fantasy starter off another owner.

All it takes is a text, presumed to be a forward from Twitter, with “RT @AdamSchefter” in front, and you could have another owner thinking they need to sell high. (Kidding, of course. Who would do that?)

Haven’t you always wanted to be “that guy?”

You could make a play for Matt Forte by talking up Marion Barber’s upcoming return and his ability to vulture every touchdown from Forte the rest of the way. It is possible, even if it’s not probable. So it’s not a lie, MOM!

Sure, you still have to worry that it comes true, in some part, but Forte’s a decent recovery from losing Charles.

Steven Jackson owners might be willing to believe he’ll never be healthy again this season. He looked slow in the first game of the season, didn’t he? Might as well get a decent value for him rather than deal with his questionable status all season long.

Ryan Mathews certainly isn’t going to get enough touches to be worth anything in San Diego. So what if every analyst out there seems to believe he’s the better back. Tolbert is clearly the guy that’s going to get all the fantasy points, right?

Use rumors and speculation to your advantage, and you just might “negotiate” your way into a nice consolation prize.

But yes, if you pull this off, several people in your league will call you out for it. You’ll be cursed for the rest of the season, and you probably won’t even make it to the championship game due to karma. All wins have their price.

STEAL

There’s not going to be a lot on the waiver wire, but there’s enough. Now that you’ve lost Charles, it’s time to take everything you can and “steal” value for free off the wire.

First, your Kansas City replacements. Unfortunately, they’ll cost the most and probably produce the least.

Thomas Jones + Dexter McCluster + Le’Ron McClain

I covered this in this week’s waiver wire post, but Jones probably assumes the lead back duties here. He’s not exciting; in fact, he’s looked totally finished so far this season. But he’s the guy listed second on the depth chart, and he’s likely to get the goal line looks, at least initially.

Jones is the running back I’d try to pickup first, but don’t break the bank to get him. He’s not worth it, especially with how lackluster the Chiefs offense has been thus far. Thomas Jones is not going to spark anything for them.

Dexter McCluster’s been used as a gadget guy by the Chiefs and has gotten more touches than Jones so far this year up until Charles was injured. With his ability to act as a receiver or running back (not to mention his eligibility as both a WR and RB on some fantasy sites), McCluster may actually see the most productive touches in Charles’ absence. He’ll also come at a lower cost than Jones if you’re having to bid on McCluster in a FAAB.

The dark horse in this is Le’Ron McClain. We’ve seen him take more than his fair share of the work during his time in Baltimore, and now he’s in the mix in Kansas City.

Jones is old, and McCluster is undersized. So the bulk of the workload could easily land in McClain’s lap. Again, he’s not going to blow the doors off anyone, but he could be productive if the Chiefs pick themselves up off the floor.

Assuming you miss out on Jones and McCluster, stash McClain. You never know.

And here’s where the real stealing comes in. If you have the roster space, I’d claim every single decent handcuff back still on waivers that you can. That list includes Deji Karim in Jacksonville, Kendall Hunter in San Francisco, Delone Carter in Indy, and Michael Bush in Oakland.

Bush and Carter have carved a role of sorts on their offenses for now with the potential to do more, especially if there’s an injury. Hunter’s not getting a lot of touches, but he certainly looks like he could do plenty with them after leading the league in rushing during the preseason. And Karim will continue to protect Maurice Jones-Drew’s long-term health by taking a few touches each week until MJD suffers a setback or another injury.

If they’re out there, I’d go get Willis McGahee, who could end up winning John Fox’s favor if Moreno can’t stay healthy, and LaDainian Tomlinson, who still might be the most productive back on the Jets, first.

You’re goal with these backups is to be first in line to benefit when the next devastating injury hits fantasy owners. And in the meantime, you can tell your tale of woe over a campfire to the rest of your league to scare them into trading you for their own handcuff.

It’s not going to make you any friends, but this strategy is an act of desperation.

And if you can’t “steal” your way back into fantasy relevance, well…you better start trolling the waiver wire and maximizing every spot on your roster. You’re going to need every point you can get the rest of the way.

RIP Jamaal’s ACL. Pour some out for your homies’ knees. And fingers crossed this doesn’t happen to any other first-round picks this season.

http://youtu.be/dqHKf5NuVtg

And seriously, what’s going on in KC? Charles is their third ACL tear this season.

On the Waiver Wire: Brian Westbrook LIVES, Week 13 Pickups, and a Massive Collection of Advice to Get Your Team Right for the Fantasy Football Playoffs

I hate handcuffing. I always feel like handcuffs are a waste of a roster spot, and I’d rather have a starting running back from another team than carry a guy who doesn’t play just in case my starter goes down. The backups are rarely as good or as big a part of the offense as their starting counterpart anyway. At least that’s what I told myself until this week.

Apparently, karma chose to teach me a lesson this season. My top picks in two leagues, Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson, were both hit with the injury bug this week just before I start my playoff runs in Week 14. I don’t own either handcuff.

Obviously, I drafted these two teams on Indian burial grounds. My two starting tight ends in these leagues were Dallas Clark and Jermichael Finley.

Beyond snagging the fantasy fallout from these two studs’ injuries, waiver wire pickups for the rest of the season depend on matchups more than ever. You’d be surprised how many owners don’t look ahead and decide which players they should cut ties with and which ones they should stash for the playoffs. As we round out the regular season, you should fortify your roster for Weeks 14-16, assuming that’s your fantasy football playoff.

Regular season wins don’t matter anymore. It’s all about the playoffs.

I’ll hit the highlights on a few guys I like the most that are readily available this week. As a side note, this post will be our last traditional waiver wire post for the rest of the season. If you’re in the playoffs, I assume you’ve strengthened your roster. If not, look back the last few weeks of “On the Wire” posts.

If you’re not in the playoffs, I’m guessing you don’t want to hear anything more about players that could have made your team better, but you can look back at the archives all the same. It’s always nice to play spoiler at the end of the year, even if you have nothing to gain but pride and a new in-season rival. In-season rivals are the best.

Brian Westbrook, RB, 49ers – He’s obviously the most high-priority add to come out of Week 12. With Frank Gore done for the year, Westbrook will become the engine of this offense. Troy Smith hasn’t been able to learn the full playbook since joining the 49ers, which has forced them to feed the ball to their running game. You’ll hear some warnings out there that Anthony Dixon has more value as the rookie with fresher legs to replace Gore, but I’m still choosing Westbrook over Dixon if given the choice. They went with Westy all night against the Cardinals until the game was out of reach, and I think they’ll continue to do more of the same. San Francisco would rather play it safe with Westbrook and his experience than hand the majority of their offense over to a rookie.

Anthony Dixon, RB, 49ers — That said, Dixon isn’t a bad add if you miss out on Westbrook or get Westy and want to make sure you lock up the 49ers rushing attack. Dixon will at least see some goal line looks, and he’s the better North-South runner at this point. Westbrook, while impressive against the Cardinals, hasn’t seen much playing time and is injury prone late in his career. We’ll know more about how these two runners will split the carries after we see them face the Packers in Week 13, having had a full week to practice together and work on the game plan, but I’m betting Westbrook gets as much as he can handle before Dixon gets his chance.

Toby Gerhart, RB, Vikings — He’s next on the list even though I don’t believe he’ll have much value. The last reports on Adrian Peterson’s ankle injury say it’s only a sprain and that the Vikings fully expect to have him Week 13 against the Bills. Gerhart might see more work to give A.P. a light workload his first game back, but by Week 14 and 15, you won’t want to be relying on a backup running back. If you own Peterson, Gerhart is a must add. Otherwise, put him behind all the other backs listed as a stash in case Peterson’s injury ends up being more serious than what we’ve heard so far.

Tashard Choice, RB, Cowboys — Choice is the running back of “choice” in Dallas now that Marion Barber will be out for at least two weeks. Fantasy veterans will remember how he exploded late in 2008 when Felix Jones and Barber both missed time. While Felix hasn’t shown any signs of slowing, Choice has talent and could carve out a portion of the running game for himself even if Jones continues to start for the Cowboys. He’ll at least see the goal line looks for two weeks with Barber out, and that makes him worthy of being added to rosters this week. You might hit the jackpot if Barber has a setback and if Jones is injured in the next two weeks. The Cowboys’ schedule is inviting with Indy, Philly, Washington, and then the horrible, horrible defense of the Cardinals in Week 16.

Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers — Like a brokeback cowboy, I just can’t quit The Daily Show. Mike Goodson’s been an awakening for the Panthers are running back, but Stewart was more effective with his carries in Week 12. Maybe some of Goodson’s workmanship productivity will rub off on Stewart. He wasn’t able to do much of anything prior to his concussion, but The Daily Show should earn back more and more of the running game as the season winds down.

Goodson will stay involved and has some value since he’s been so productive during Stewart’s absence, but both Stewart and Goodson are interviewing for jobs next season. DeAngelo Williams will be gone, and it’s probably going to be a split backfield with Stewart taking the lead duties and Goodson providing a burst on third downs and catching passes out of the backfield like Williams used to do. The schedule isn’t too kind in Week 14 or Week 16 for either Carolina back, but you’ll definitely want to start either Stewart or Goodson in Week 15 against the Cardinals.

Chris Ivory, RB, Saints – People keep saying that the Saints touchdown vulture is about to fall off the fantasy value cliff, but he’s stuck around. Even with Reggie Bush back on Thanksgiving, he got the touchdowns where it counted and put up decent yardage. I’m sure he’s owned in most touchdown-heavy leagues, but I’d consider picking him up in standard leagues for the fantasy playoffs.

Pierre Thomas may come back in the next two weeks, but with Thomas’ injury taking so long to heal, I don’t think they’ll want to put him in harm’s way near the end zone when they have a proven weapon like Ivory, who hasn’t disappointed. The Saints’ remaining schedule through Week 16 has them facing the Bengals, Rams, Ravens, and Falcons. Those last two are tougher than most, but I’d snag Ivory for this week against the Bengals and next week against the Rams. If the Saints’ offense can deliver him to the goal line for multiple scores in those two, I might even consider giving him a chance in Week 15 against the Ravens as well.

Danario Alexander, WR, Rams — I went on and on about Alexander when he had his first breakout game earlier this season. I loved his potential, and I still do. In his first game back, he was the leading receiver, even though he was only playing 20 snaps. He added that spark the Rams have needed. Outside of PPR leagues, he’s the Rams wide receiver I want to start, and if you look ahead at his matchups (Cardinals, Saints, Chiefs, 49ers), he’s not looking so bad outside of that Week 14 in New Orleans.

Take Alexander’s schedule, add that the Rams like to throw the ball, that Bradford emerged for his first 300+ yard game in Week 12 (with Alexander leading in yards and tied with two other receivers for most targets), and that the tight end Bradford loved the most, Michael Hoomanawanui, is now out with a high ankle sprain, and you have a recipe for another fantasy breakout for the young Rams’ talent.

I’d play him this week against the Cardinals, but all that said, I do have to caution that he is playing on borrowed knees–literally. His injury risk is red on the advisory system, but I’ll still give him the green light if you need that extra something for the playoffs at wide receiver.

Earl Bennett, WR, Bears — When Jay Cutler first got traded to Chicago, Bennett received a lot of talk as a sleeper. They were teammates at Vanderbilt, and Cutler, in a way, made Bennett into a star. In the NFL, the two have not connected as often. Bennett has been the second or third wide receiver on the Bears’ depth chart for some time, but the passing game has never been reliable or explosive enough to make Bennett a fantasy star. It looked like it was getting there in Week 12 against the Eagles.

Mike Martz may have finally settled into a playbook that suits the Bears. All of their weapons, including Devin Hester and Greg Olsen, got involved. Bennett scored twice. If you look at the remaining schedule for the Bears (at the Lions, Patriots, at the Vikings, Jets), they have a nice road ahead until Week 16 against the Jets. And even in that game, Bennett is less likely to get shut down as the No. 3 guy in many sets. If I’m short a wide receiver for the playoffs, Bennett is my second choice after Alexander. Johnny Knox is more reliable, but Bennett should get his looks, too.

Jacoby Ford, WR, Raiders — If no one picked up the speedster in Oakland, you should make a run at him this week. His playoff schedule is nice (Jaguars, Broncos, Colts), and he seems to be the only receiver who can inflict massive damage for the Raiders. As long as Jason Campbell looks his way in Week 13, I’d consider starting him in the playoffs as a WR3.

Blair White or Austin Collie, WR, Colts — Whichever one of these Colts’ receivers starts in any given week will have value. A very angry Peyton Manning will be suiting up against a decent but not formidable schedule in the fantasy playoffs (Titans, Jags, Raiders) and trying to destroy the world to get into Indy into the  real NFL playoffs. I wouldn’t want to stand  in his way. Both of these receivers have a nose for the end zone, and Manning will go to them without hesitation. The only issue I have with them is that they could just as easily have one catch for 7 yards and a touchdown as they could have five catches for 70 yards and three touchdowns.

Davone Bess, WR, Dolphins — Bess is very reliable as a PPR receiver as long as Chad Henne is the Dolphins’ quarterback, but his matchups are tougher than they look for the fantasy playoffs (Jets, Bills, Lions). I’d still consider starting him down the stretch if you need someone consistent, but as  a Marshall owner, I’m still hoping Marshall’s return will steal some of Bess’ thunder and production. Bess outperformed Marshall for a good part of this season, but the Dolphins best matchups in the playoffs (Bills, Lions) could become statement games for Marshall to prove trading for him was not a waste of the Dolphins’ draft picks–fingers crossed. Still, there could be scraps for Bess regardless of the matchup or Marshall’s contributions.

I dug deep for fantasy football advice all over the Web this week since I was trying to turn a dead but playoff-bound team (the one that just lost Frank Gore) into a fantasy zombie for Weeks 14-16. Now 21 waiver wire claims later, I feel pretty good about the team.

Below is my compiled list of waiver wire pickup recommendations, fantasy football playoff advice, and matchup analysis. It’s all worth a read if you have the time, but pay special attention the analysis previewing playoff potential and which players are getting hot at the right time, especially Fantasy O Matic’s look at defensive trends over the last five weeks, which I found especially interesting. H/T to FF Librarian for bringing it to my attention.

  • If you’re looking for something along the lines of an add/drop for the fantasy playoffs, SI’s Fire Sale column by Thomas Casale is it. It’s a great read, and you know I believe in Alexander’s and Bennett’s potential. It also may be time, as Casale notes, to give up on Vincent Jackson. He’ll miss two games, which puts him back to Week 15 as an effective start, and that’s assuming that his injury will heal right back to 100 percent. There are too many targets in San Diego, but if you have the room to keep him on your bench and wait, you might as well see what you have in him.
  • The FF Geek Blog hammers out another spreadsheet this week that lists more quarterbacks than most of the other waiver wire posts I’ve seen. If you’re in need of a playoff passer, take a look at their thoughts.
  • FF Toolbox touches on several of the big name adds, but I imagine most of these guys are taken in competitive leagues.
  • I think he sells a few of these guys short, but Lester’s Legends offers up his Get ‘em or Don’t Sweat ‘em for Week 13.
  • I like everyone Fanhouse and The Hazean tout as an add this week.
  • You’ll always find great links from the Fantasy Football Librarian.
  • NFL.com has some risky quarterback adds but, otherwise, presents a solid lineup of pickups.
  • Hatty Waiver Wire Guru talks through the week’s top pickups and players to watch if you’re still left wanting.
  • To think, last week I almost dropped Jay Cutler, and this week, he’s among the top adds on the waiver wire at Razzball. Glad I didn’t make that mistake.
  • I doubt most of SI’s “Decision Time” players for Week 13 are on the waiver wire, but a few like Jonathan Stewart might be available. Get them on your roster if you’re still trying to make the playoffs this week. SI’s waiver wire column also has some names to target.
  • Be aware that those “Points Against” rankings you’ve been looking at all season may not tell the whole picture. Fantasy O Matic broke down the defensive performances over the past five weeks and compared it to the season-long rankings to give a more accurate picture of who should flourish and who should suffer in the fantasy playoffs. It’s a must read for anyone playoff bound alongside their previous post on the best playoff matchups.
  • Rotoworld’s Chris Wesseling loves him some Westbrook this week and believes he’s capable of RB2 numbers the rest of the way. I missed out on Westbrook, so I’ll have to hope Dixon gets a piece of that.
  • The Fifth Down thinks Sam Bradford is ripe enough to start. I can’t really disagree with them this week as he faces the Cardinals.
  • Matthew Berry, ESPN’s TMR, pays tribute to Leslie Nielsen and plays back all the pickups he’s recommended over the last several weeks as well as the new guys like Westbrook and James Davis.
  • Pro Football Focus runs down all the hot prospects down to the sleepers and ones to watch the rest of this season.
  • The Scores Report may have covered every player that’s out there on waivers right now. Impressive.

My Office League 2008: A Real Draft in Review

I’ve been mock drafting and really drafting for a few weeks now, but it’s hard to judge a draft when the season still hasn’t even started. For some added perspective and lessons learned, I took a look back at the team I managed last year in my office fantasy football league — one of my more disappointing teams last year.

For the record, most of the managers in this league know their football, even though they may have drafted kickers and defenses early like uninitiated fantasy footballers. Maybe a few of you will find this league more representative of your regular office league and less like the fantasy mock drafts I’ve recently done. I have removed the names of the other teams — besides my own “Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour,” that is — to protect the innocent, er … non-blogging fantasy footballers.

The Draft

Round: 1
(1) LaDainian Tomlinson RB
(2) Adrian Peterson RB
(3) Tom Brady QB
(4) Tony Romo QB
(5) Brian Westbrook RB
(6) Joseph Addai RB
(7) Steven Jackson RB
(8) Marion Barber RB
** (9) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Terrell Owens WR
(10) Randy Moss WR

I went with a receiver this round, which, knowing what I know now, wasn’t the best plan. T.O. was fairly disappointing last season without Romo for three games and with the lackluster Cowboys’ offense bringing him down. I would have been much better off drafting Frank Gore or Clinton Portis in this spot, but hey, that’s what I get when I look back on a draft one year later.

Round: 2
(11) Peyton Manning QB
** (12) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Reggie Wayne WR
(13) Frank Gore RB
(14) Clinton Portis RB
(15) Marshawn Lynch RB
(16) Drew Brees QB
(17) Ryan Grant RB
(18) Maurice Jones-Drew RB
(19) Ben Roethlisberger QB
(20) Larry Johnson RB

As if I hadn’t made enough of a mistake by taking an unfortunate receiver in the first round, I doubled down by taking another in the second. I needed a running back but went with a receiver while banking on my sleeper running back picks to save me later in the draft. My run on receivers was largely ignored by the rest of the league.

I can’t completely denounce the WR-WR draft strategy, but it certainly didn’t work for me in this draft. To my credit, Wayne and Owens had been two of the more consistent and productive receivers in the game … until last season.

Round: 3
(21) Braylon Edwards WR
(22) Plaxico Burress WR
(23) Willis McGahee RB
(24) Dallas Clark TE
(25) T.J. Houshmandzadeh WR
(26) Andre Johnson WR
(27) Carson Palmer QB
(28) Larry Fitzgerald WR
** (29) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Marques Colston WR
(30) Reggie Bush RB

And I tripled my mistake by taking Colston. This league started two receivers, one running back and one RB/WR flex. At this point in the draft, I was planning on having three receivers and one running back start for me each week. I believed that Owens would produce more points than a second running back might have gotten for me at my draft position. I just picked the wrong receivers for this strategy … as we saw with Colston’s injury, Owens’ disappointing season and Wayne’s struggles while Manning recovered from his surgeries.

Round: 4
(31) Darren McFadden RB
** (32) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Willie Parker RB
(33) Michael Turner RB
(34) Chad Johnson WR
(35) Wes Welker WR
(36) Brandon Jacobs RB
(37) Thomas Jones RB
(38) Torry Holt WR
(39) Jason Witten TE
(40) Santonio Holmes WR

I passed on a chance to take Michael Turner, Brandon Jacobs or Thomas Jones to snag Willie Parker, who was a super stud right up until he got himself injured early in the season. I’m starting to notice a trend here with my picks so far…

Round: 5
(41) Philip Rivers QB
(42) Roy Williams WR
(43) Antonio Gates TE
(44) Marvin Harrison WR
(45) Kellen Winslow TE
(46) Brett Favre QB
(47) Laveranues Coles WR
(48) Calvin Johnson WR
** (49) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Jay Cutler QB
(50) Anquan Boldin WR

Making sure I didn’t lose any ground at the quarterback position, I took Cutler, who was a nice anchor on my team in 2008. His performance week-to-week kept me in this league, but his lackluster games really hurt when I needed him most.

Round: 6
(51) Earnest Graham RB
** (52) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Jamal Lewis RB
(53) Donovan McNabb QB
(54) Tony Gonzalez TE
(55) Steve Smith WR
(56) Anthony Gonzalez WR
(57) Brandon Marshall WR
(58) Greg Jennings WR
(59) Sidney Rice WR
(60) Selvin Young RB

Here I pay the price for drafting receivers in the first three rounds. Jamal Lewis was a consistent running back last year but hardly the guy you wanted to put in your roster over a stud receiver or hot hand.

Round: 7
(61) Nate Burleson WR
(62) Santana Moss WR
(63) Edgerrin James RB
(64) Fred Taylor RB
(65) Patrick Crayton WR
(66) Laurence Maroney RB
(67) Hines Ward WR
(68) Jerricho Cotchery WR
** (69) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Lee Evans WR
(70) Jonathan Stewart RB

It’s torture looking back on all the receivers I took in this draft knowing now how my first picks would turn out. I wish I had taken Matt Forte with this pick. At least I’m stocking up tradebait at the wide receiver position.

Round: 8
(71) Matt Forte RB
** (72) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – LenDale White RB
(73) Chris Cooley TE
(74) Ronnie Brown RB
(75) Heath Miller TE
(76) Derek Anderson QB
(77) Donald Driver WR
(78) Roddy White WR
(79) Jeremy Shockey TE
(80) Todd Heap TE

This draft wasn’t full of a lot of rookie scouts. Even though I lost out on Forte, I knew that I could snag Chris Johnson later in this league. I took LenDale here to secure the handcuff in advance of the stud — risky … but successful.

Round: 9
(81) Eli Manning QB
(82) Vince Young QB
(83) Julius Jones RB
(84) David Garrard QB
(85) Alge Crumpler TE
(86) Matt Hasselbeck QB
(87) Ricky Williams RB
(88) Dwayne Bowe WR
** (89) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Chris Johnson RB
(90) Matt Schaub QB

As predicted, I stole “Every Coach’s Dream” here in the ninth round. This move keeps my running backs respectable, but I still bet on the wrong receivers in the early part of this draft.

Round: 10
(91) Ted Ginn Jr. WR
** (92) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Tony Scheffler TE
(93) Felix Jones RB
(94) Seahawks D/ST D/ST
(95) Chester Taylor RB
(96) Chargers D/ST D/ST
(97) Vikings D/ST D/ST
(98) Bears D/ST D/ST
(99) Cowboys D/ST D/ST
(100) Colts D/ST D/ST

Other managers started to make an early run on defenses here. I chose to lock up the quarterback-to-tight-end connection by getting Tony Scheffler to pair with Jay Cutler.

Round: 11
(101) Stephen Gostkowski K
(102) Nick Folk K
(103) Javon Walker WR
(104) Shayne Graham K
(105) DeAngelo Williams RB
(106) Giants D/ST D/ST
(107) Mason Crosby K
(108) Marc Bulger QB
** (109) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Kurt Warner QB
(110) Patriots D/ST D/ST

Most of the league shows their not-so-veteran backgrounds by drafting a starting lineup before taking their fliers at the end of the draft. I pass on taking a kicker here — because you only take those in the last round — and grab Kurt Warner to backup Jay Cutler. I now have on of the strongest quarterback sets in this league, and, in the preseason, the best wide receiver corps.

Round: 12
(111) Owen Daniels TE
** (112) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Chris Chambers WR
(113) Adam Vinatieri K
(114) Justin Fargas RB
(115) Kevin Curtis WR
(116) Joey Galloway WR
(117) Aaron Rodgers QB
(118) Vernon Davis TE
(119) Rudi Johnson RB
(120) James Hardy WR

By this point, I’m just drafting for value. I know I probably need to trade some receivers for running backs, so I might as well stock up on receivers now so that I have plenty of depth.

Round: 13
(121) Eddie Royal WR
(122) Bernard Berrian WR
(123) Packers D/ST D/ST
(124) Kevin Smith RB
(125) Phil Dawson K
(126) Rashard Mendenhall RB
(127) Donte’ Stallworth WR
(128) Steelers D/ST D/ST
** (129) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Eagles D/ST D/ST
(130) Rob Bironas K

I missed out on most of the defenses by sitting around until the final rounds, but it’s nice to land a solid team like the Eagles D/ST in Round 13 after almost everyone has their starters assembled. There was no reason to waste an earlier pick during that run on D/STs that most of the league made.

Round: 14
(131) Kevin Walter WR
** (132) Britney Spears’ Comeback Tour – Matt Prater K
(133) Kenny Watson RB
(134) Ray Rice RB
(135) Robbie Gould K
(136) Jerious Norwood RB
(137) Jerry Porter WR
(138) Nate Kaeding K
(139) Deuce McAllister RB
(140) Brandon Jackson RB

Prater was my pick at kicker last season since I had so much invested in Denver already. Might as well bet on them having a potent offense, right?

At Season’s End

Starting Roster

QB Kurt Warner
RB Warrick Dunn
RB/WR Chris Johnson
WR Reggie Wayne
WR Terrell Owens
TE Tony Scheffler
D/ST Jets
K David Akers

Bench

QB Jay Cutler
WR Lee Evans
WR Kevin Curtis
RB Jamal Lewis
RB Willis McGahee
RB Joseph Addai

Season In Summary

Injuries to Willie Parker and Marques Colston early in the season immediately ravaged my team. Peyton Manning’s injury and Tony Romo’s struggles kept Wayne and T.O. from being very effective, even though they were locked in as starters for me every week because of their high ceilings.

You can’t sit T.O. or Reggie Wayne when they are projected to explode every week, right? Well, that hurt.

Tony Scheffler’s injury after the first few weeks forced me to carry a second tight end for a good part of the season. Cutler ended up struggling in a few late games while Warner turned it on, so I switched to Warner as my workhorse. When bye weeks started, I took my chances dropping the Eagles D/ST and rotated through quite a few weekly plays before settling on the Jets D/ST to finish out my season.

By midseason, I was hurting for a stronger running back, but an injured Marques Colston wasn’t very convincing tradebait until I found a willing buyer with a banged-up Joseph Addai. I had picked up Warrick Dunn and Willis McGahee off the waiver wires to help my RB corps as well, but in the end, none of them could save my season.

My team finished the season 5-8 and missed the playoffs in this league, which was disappointing since I was looking for payback last year after taking my sleeper team of 2007 all the way to the championship game in this league.

Lessons Learned

1) Be careful with your first picks. Play it safe and avoid baggage.
You should be very careful about who you invest in during Round 1 and Round 2. T.O. and Reggie Wayne seemed like solid picks, but the baggage surrounding them — or at least Wayne — should have steered me towards a more solid running back.

2) WR-WR may be a good strategy, but don’t draft WR-WR-WR.
While drafting two wide receivers is all well and good, drafting three is usually going to catch up to you. If I had landed Forte and Johnson, I might have survived my risky move, but it’s hard to bet on landing all your best sleeper picks.

3) Reputation means nothing. Make moves when you need action.
Holding onto T.O. and Reggie Wayne all season was my greatest error. In a league like this one, I might have been daring and traded T.O. and a lesser running back for Greg Jennings and a running back with more opportunity. Most people would inflate T.O.’s value even in a slump, which would allow me to get out from under the burden of playing him every week while strengthening the running back group I had. There were plenty of trades I could have made, but I should have looked to unload my less productive players early. If you aren’t firing on all cylinders by Week 4 or Week 5, don’t be afraid to make something happen.

I hope diving into my past has been educational for you. It’s been painful for me. I invested some time in saving this league after injuries started to derail me, but I have to admit that I put more energy and effort into my more competitive leagues throughout the season. As you prepare to draft this season, make sure to be mindful of these lessons.

As always, the comments are yours.