Say Helu to Week 13 Pickups

Watching the Giants get utterly destroyed by the Saints on Monday Night Football forced me to dwell on one of my mistakes this season — I never should have dropped Victor Cruz.

While he looked like a fluke after his big breakout performance, Cruz has come through the byes as one of the best wide receivers in fantasy football. If you started him in Week 12, I’m sure you’re happy with the result.

Unfortunately, at this point in the season, a lot of the pickups are like Cruz. You may have dropped them, but if you’re lucky, you’ll find them on the waiver wire this week as you move towards the playoffs. Rather than divide the pickups by position, I’ll include them all in one list this week since we don’t have too many to talk about.

ROY HELU (Redskins)
Could it be? Has Shanahan finally handed the lead back duties to his most productive back? It certainly seems that way, and Shanahan is at least saying what we’d expect him to say if he was going to give Helu his chance to shine.

At first glance, you’d still want to be skeptical about Helu’s chances, but Shanahan might as well see what Helu can do with consistent touches every week now that the Redskins have nothing to play for but next year. His quarterbacks aren’t going to win Washington any games down the stretch on talent alone.

Helu should have his chance to shine, and he should excel in his remaining favorable matchups with his involvement in the passing game. While he might never reach sure-thing RB2 status, Helu could be a strong flex option in the fantasy playoffs.

GREG LITTLE (Browns)
He finally found  pay dirt  in Week 12, and while he’s not likely to do that again…at all…the rest of the season, he is one of the most targeted receivers over the last few weeks. If Colt McCoy puts up a fight in the tough stretch the Browns are about to enter (and tries to convince the Browns that they already have their quarterback of the future), Little could finish the year on a high note. Little faces Arizona’s weak pass defense in Week 15. At the very least, he should be a useful fantasy backup if you need him then.

DAMIAN WILLIAMS (Titans)
I’m not a huge fan of the Titans passing game, but you can’t argue with a playoff schedule that includes the Bills, Saints, Colts, and Jaguars. Williams has been getting the looks that count in Tennessee for the past few weeks.

MARION BARBER (Bears)
The Bears will continue to run the ball even more than they have been to keep Caleb Hanie from losing games for them. As a result, Barber should be more reliable as a fantasy flex play. He’s been getting the touchdowns, and now he might get enough yardage to make it worth retaining him for the fantasy playoffs. If Matt Forte were to get hurt, Barber would be a great asset to have.

KYLE ORTON (Chiefs)
We can’t know for certain when he’ll take over in Kansas City, but Orton’s got a nice schedule when he does. If you’re looking for a QB2 who could potentially spot start for your team during the fantasy playoffs, Orton’s not a bad stash right now.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS D/ST
They play the Colts. That is all.

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.

Foolish Thoughts: Magical phone refresh voodoo makes Vernon Davis score touchdowns

I got stuck watching the New England Patriots abuse the Tampa Bay Buccaneers across the pond in London during the early games. I thought we sent this game overseas so that no one here would have to watch it?

While the action was riveting, oh, so riveting, I found myself checking my fantasy football scores on my phone. About halfway through the early games, I noticed Vernon Davis had scored me a touchdown. Nice work. I went against the stats in starting him, but, as ESPN pointed out, the tight ends who had been shut down by the Texans weren’t exactly in the elite class.

So happy in my good choices, I hit refresh, only to discover that Davis had another touchdown. Now, at this point, I had not seen any cutaways to the San Francisco game yet to show me what was happening in Houston. All I knew is that every time I refreshed my phone, Vernon Davis scored a touchdown.

Oh, this is getting good. I was mopping my opponent with my early starters, and I’d discovered a magical wishing well of fantasy points.

So I refreshed again, getting greedy this time. And once again, touchdown. Had I discovered a voodoo trick for fantasy football? Would it work on anyone else besides Vernon Davis?

I had no idea what I was doing, but I found myself hitting refresh again. But this time, nothing. My fantasy luck had run out. Game over.

But next week, I’m definitely refreshing my phone a few times during the San Francisco game to see if I can get it to work again.

Dear Patrick Crayton, I’d be the first one to tell you, so here goes: Miles Austin is legit. Your best chance of getting back in the starting lineup is by replacing Roy Williams. Sadly, that might not be that hard to do with as many key passes as Williams dropped on Sunday.

The Cowboys finally looked like the team that won 13 games in 2007 again on Sunday, but it’s not time for celebration just yet. It’s still hard to trust Tony Romo, who has one of the hardest schedules of any quarterback in the league the rest of the way. As long as Miles Austin keeps scoring two touchdowns per game, that view on Romo may change.

Donald Brown went out with a shoulder injury and left Joseph Addai to share the load with Chad Simpson. If Brown misses any length of time, it would increase Addai’s value since Simpson’s no threat to cut into Addai’s touches, but this injury was minor. Expect Brown to be back on the field and scaring Addai’s fantasy owner this week.

Ryan Grant finally went off with 148 rushing yards and a touchdown against the Browns. Let me repeat that: Against the Browns. Green Bay won’t face pushover run defenses all season, but Grant abused this one when given the chance. The Packers remain a pass-first team, but Grant could see his usage rise as the weather turns colder. Don’t give up on him if you’ve holding onto him this long.

Steven Jackson had 134 rushing yards against the Colts. Maybe the Rams should just put him and the offensive line on the field together and run the flying V all day. Might make for some interesting football. The Rams certainly aren’t in their current incarnation.

What do Vernon Davis’ 93 yards and three touchdowns mean? It means he’s a legitimate every week starter. Davis has been a key part of this passing offense all year, and even with the addition of Michael Crabtree, he’ll get lots of looks. If nothing else, his chances at the goal line look very promising.

Speaking of Alex Smith, his three touchdowns and 206 yards in the second half seem to be more than just a lucky break off the bench. He faces the Colts this week, but moving forward, he’s go upside. Sometimes those bench-warming first-round draft picks pay off after all. Eh, Vince Young?

Owen Daniels. Best tight end in football? It’s possible.

Brett Favre loves him some Sidney Rice, proven by the 11 catches Rice took for 136 yards against the Steelers. Favre may not make many more big games out of these receivers, especially after his return-to-form breakdowns against Pittsburgh this week, but it’s never a bad idea to own his favorite target. Rice has definite talent, and skills the ability to hover five feet off the field until Favre can get him the ball.

The Steelers’ defense showed up late to the party against the Vikings, but at least they showed supreme mastery of the flying V in both their interception return and fumble return. If they can contain the beast inside of Adrian Peterson without run-stopper Aaron Smith, they can stop anyone. Feel confident if you have them as your defense at this point in the season. Very confident.

I think the league would be a better place if JaMarcus Russell were benched. I’d be interested to see two teams trade quarterbacks in a given week just to see whether it’s the quarterback or the team causing all the problems. Jason Campbell for Russell anyone? Jake Delhomme for Russell? Marc Bulger for Russell? That’s the kind of trade that could heat things up in a season where every team is great, very good or horrifyingly terrible.

Could the NFL just institute a takebacks trade option so that teams can exchange players for two weeks at a time? It’d be just like pickup football.

Andre Johnson has a lung contusion. I have no idea what that is, but I do know he spit up blood. Regardless, he doesn’t need lungs to play out of his mind against the Bills. The Buffalo secondary has been good, but top receivers can find a way. Jake Delhomme just gets paid to make secondaries like the Bills’ look good.

After losing Leon Washington for the season with a nasty broken fibula, the Jets put in Shonn Greene in garbage time to finish off the Raiders. That 144 yards and two touchdowns will likely draw a crowd on the waiver wire, but Greene probably won’t duplicate a performance like that until he starts to eat into Thomas Jones’ role as the lead back.

I’ve liked Greene all along this year. He’s big and hard-running, just like a little Marion Barber in the making, but the Jets have not sought to limit Jones or replace him with Greene just yet. For now, Greene is nothing more than an 8-10 carry guy to share the load with Jones and take garbage time. Still, he’s definitely worth stashing because of the strength of the Jets’ running game and the chance to eventually replace Jones if anything were to go down.

Carson Palmer looked like the Carson Palmer that dominated the league before his knee injury. Five touchdowns, two to Chad Ochocinco, have me hoping that he keeps that alive through the end of the season.

Palmer’s arm also opened things up for Cedric Benson, who took full advantage of the revenge bowl in Chicago with a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown. If Palmer had jacked all the touchdowns, Benson could have had more. The Bears just looked like they though they were playing last year’s Bengals.

Despite Benson’s beating, Ricky Williams won the spite battle this week with three touchdowns and just 80 rushing yards against his former team, the Saints. It’s not like Ricky has any bad blood. I’m pretty sure with the amount of pot he’s smoked, he’s made peace with everybody, including dead people, but he certainly wanted to win against the Saints on Sunday.

Unfortunately, the Saints took some 5-Hour Energy at halftime, woke up and realized they were behind. Then, Drew Brees went to work. The Saints defense returned two picks for touchdowns, again proving they are a legit fantasy defense as long as Darren Sharper is roaming around out there. I completely called Tracy Porter’s interception return at the end of the game, mostly because I needed it to win a fantasy football game this week, but you know.

Somehow I managed to make it through the entire Monday Night Football excitement of the Eagles and Redskins. In short, DeSean Jackson scored both rushing and receiving the football, and when he wasn’t in the game, neither was the Philadelphia offense. Brian Westbrook got knocked out. Chris Cooley broke his ankle and could be out for the season.

DeSean Jackson was scared he broke something, but after X-raying it, they determined that his only ailment was being awesome and unstoppable. Sometimes that feels like an injury when you play the Redskins I guess.

At what point do we consider farming the Redskins, Rams, Chiefs or Raiders out to the UFL?

On the Wire: Week 4 Pickups and Sleepers [Insert Coffee Joke Here]

Ah, I just love the sweet smell of bacon in the morning. What? You thought I was going to say coffee, as in Glen Coffee? That would be silly. Silly like little kids who talk like big people.

Now, get your Coffee while it’s hot. Burn!

Glen Coffee, RB, San Francisco 49ers: With Frank Gore set to miss about three weeks, Coffee should get most of the work against the Rams and the Falcons before the 49ers go on bye in Week 6. If you’re lucky, Coffee could see more work than usual against the Texans and Colts post-bye. I’ll take a double shot of that.

Tashard Choice, RB, Dallas Cowboys: He took over the Dallas run game on Monday night. If Felix Jones’ knee keeps him from hitting the field in Week 4, Choice could be the lone back for the Cowboys until Marion Barber returns, and he can handle that job. Dallas faces Denver and Kansas City before their bye in Week 6.

Pierre Garcon, WR, Indianapolis Colts: The French name with another the solid game, Garcon has stepped it up in Anthony Gonzalez’s absence. Peyton Manning trusts him, and until Gonzalez returns, you can, too.

Nate Burleson, WR, Seattle Seahawks: Burleson has been posting decent stats while T.J. Houshmandzadeh runs his mouth and fails to impress with his bad back. Maybe T.J., as I’ve felt all along, is just average. Burleson’s worth a look as a WR3 even without Hasselbeck under center.

Brent Celek, TE, Philadelphia Eagles: He’s getting plenty of looks in this offense, especially with Kevin Kolb doing the passing.

Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers: Two touchdowns? Now that’s almost enough to convince me that he’ll stick around. Incubate him for a game or two unless you’re desperate at tight end and see what develops. Unlike many of the most targeted players this week, Davis came down with the majority of the passes thrown his way. That’s promising.

Fred Taylor, RB, New England Patriots: Brady was saved by his ground game in this one, and Taylor is that ground game. He’s got plenty left in the tank, but just when we start to trust him, the Patriots will mix in someone else out of that backfield and throw the ball 60-plus times each game. Taylor adds good depth as we head into the bye weeks.

Correll Buckhalter, RB, Denver Broncos: He’s fighting every week to get his yards even if Knowshon Moreno keeps the hype and the goal line touches.

Maurice Morris, RB, Detroit Lions: We might see more Morris if Kevin Smith misses time with his injury. Smith can’t heal that fast, but don’t expect the same production you get from Smith out of Morris.

Donnie Avery, WR, St. Louis Rams: Maybe without competition from Laurent Robinson, who is now out for the season, Avery will finally step his game up. He’d probably have better luck if Kyle Boller takes over at quarterback.

Josh Johnson, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: As we’ve seen from the Byron Leftwich appearances this season, the Bucs are bad, and they are going to be throwing often. Johnson has the potential to be better than Leftwich, and he’s certainly faster and more agile. I broke down some of his background in this week’s Foolish Thoughts. If you’re desperate or digging for trade bait, grab him while he’s an unknown.

Chad Henne, QB, Miami Dolphins: Same first name, different starting Miami quarterback. Sadly, this injury may be the end for Pennington. Due to Pennington’s bionic shoulder capsule explosion in the game this week, Henne takes over a tad early and tries to right this Dolphin ship in 2009. Please, sir, may we have a deep ball?

Jerome Harrison, RB, Cleveland Browns: I wouldn’t suggest that he’s better than your current benched players, but if Jamal Lewis stays out, Harrison could be in line for a big game or two when Cleveland faces weak run defenses. There aren’t many of those on the schedule, but maybe you just have a bench spot that’s completely empty and in need of a warm body. Yeah, you can slot Harrison there.

Denver Broncos D/ST: Who knew? The Broncos have a defense. Leave it to Josh McDaniels to teach them how to repel people. I’m still not sure I believe.

Sidney Rice, WR, Minnesota Vikings: Maybe he will break out after all? Only if Favre keeps passing like he did on Sunday, but I’m a fan of Rice’s potential.

Bryant Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions: It was Bryant, not Calvin Johnson, that had the important touchdown catch against the Washington Redskins this week. If Megatron gets shut down, look for Bryant to reap the benefits. He’s been on my watch list since he left the Arizona Cardinals, but he’s never produced consistently. This year may finally be his time if he can stay healthy.

Guys from Week 3’s On the Wire that should be owned in all leagues by now (but I’ll list them here anyway just to drive home the point):

  • LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles: Without Westbrook, he’s just as good and maybe even more explosive.
  • Mike Sims-Walker, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: He is David Garrard’s favorite target, and the Jags are going to put the ball in the air this season.

For more waiver wire grabs, talk to the geeks at The Fantasy Football Geek Blog, get the list from Fanhouse, sweat it out with Lester’s Legends, get the pickups of the week at FF Toolbox, add Coffee to your list at USA Today’s Fantasy Joe, see through the haze at The Hazean, and check out both the first and second collection from Fantasy Football Librarian this week.

Get out there and make your team better this week. Try toying with some handcuffs and consider the rises and falls of Sunday at Fanhouse, prepare for the bye weeks as noted by The Fantasy Football Geek Blog , sell off a few high-performing pretenders at FF Toolbox and cut the dead weight with the Bruno Boys.

As always, the comments are yours. I’ll be answering questions all week if you don’t know who to claim and who to drop on your waiver wire. Just leave a message below.

Manning, Colts D on Fire as Cards Misfire

Week 3 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders: Why worry?

You don’t want to be Mr. Worry. For one, that wrinkled forehead will be stuck that way forever. And two, he carries a purse.

So back down from that ledge there. Pause a second before you put on that lipstick and trace over the names of your fantasy studs turned duds. They turned on you, yes, but there’s still Week 3 when maybe (but probably not) things will settle back to the way we said they would go — you know, like Thanksgiving after all the yelling.

If you’re 0-2, stop worrying. Don’t get so desperate for a win that you find yourself dropping Anquan Boldin for Mario Manningham or Clinton Portis for Justin Forsett. It’s only Week 3. Things can get far worse than they are right now.

I had to do some traveling this week, and, boarding my return flight, I found myself staring at a guy in first class while I shuffled back to the rows where the “sorry people” were permitted to sit. Who was it you ask? Herschel Walker. Unfortunately, my survival instincts and prodding from other passengers prevented me from asking him about his new sport, but he looked like he could take a hit and give one or two in exchange. Hot hands? I think so.

Hot Hands Start of the Week

Tim Hightower, RB, Arizona Cardinals vs. Indianapolis Colts
I know I’m daring, but I wanted to go with a less obvious start this week. I really like Trent Edwards and Matt Forte as well, but I’ll give Hightower the nod because of what the Dolphins did against the Colts last week. If the Cardinals are going to beat Peyton Manning, they are going to have to take some time off the clock. With Beanie Wells fumbling every chance he gets, Hightower is the Cards’ most reliable runner.

Whether he gets his yardage and a score early or in garbage time, I think that Hightower could have a big day. Give him a second look unless you have some proven studs ready to go this week.

Others receiving votes:

  • Trent Edwards, QB, Buffalo Bills vs. New Orleans Saints
    Don’t expect it to be a beautiful game for him, but Trent Edwards should be throwing all day against Drew Brees and the Saints if the Bills are going to stay in this one. Look for him to get a few touchdowns and a few interceptions, but I think it’ll balance out in his favor.
  • Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears vs. Seattle Seahawks
    This week isn’t the most encouraging matchup for Forte since the Seahawks do have some heavy linebackers, but he deserves a chance this week. With all the injuries to Seattle’s defense, I project this could be the beginning of his return to fantasy relevance. He’s faced the Packers and the Steelers so far this season, and I won’t fault him for that. Don’t give up on him just yet.
  • Reggie Bush, RB, New Orleans Saints vs. Buffalo Bills
    Mike Bell is hurt. Pierre Thomas isn’t quite 100 percent. A perfect storm for Reggie Bush? Probably not. But I do expect to see Bush involved in this game, and against the Bills I wouldn’t be surprised if he scored at least once. He’s a good flex option, and I like him even better in PPR leagues. I’m not too worried about Lynell Hamilton.
  • Clinton Portis, RB, Washington Redskins vs. Detroit Lions
    The bone spurs in his ankles aren’t good news, but this oh-too-sweet matchup against the Lions should have been a slaughter for Portis. I put him here only because I feel I have to plug every running back facing the Lions, but it’s acceptable for you to doubt him this week. If you have a better option, I wouldn’t blame you for taking it, but give Portis one more chance this week.
  • Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns
    Hard to say why I hate myself so much, but this week (again) might be one of Rice’s best chances to score from 20 yards out before that jackass Willis McGahee comes in to vulture the touchdown.
  • Brent Celek, TE, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Kansas City Chiefs
    Kevin Kolb finds him hard to miss. No clue why. Great PPR play as long as Kolb starts.
  • Steve Smith, WR, New York Giants vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    The Bucs don’t even know that opposing teams start wide receivers yet this season. Truth.

Cold Shoulders Sit of the Week

Brandon Marshall, WR, Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders
You might remember that Oakland has that corner named Not-gonna-catch-anything Nnamdi Asomugha. This week, he will be shadowing the once-great Brandon Marshall. Add to that Marshall’s lackluster start to the season, Kyle Orton’s short range and Josh McDaniels’ statements that Marshall is just part of the rotation since he hasn’t grasped the offense and what you have is a bad matchup.

Until further notice or proof that he’s still breathing, I don’t think you can trust Brandon Marshall this season. Start him only if you must, and make him prove his worth before returning him to your starting lineup.

Others receiving votes:

  • Carson Palmer, QB, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
    A tough game against a bitter rival isn’t the best place to put your fantasy hopes. Plus, you could die. For serious.
  • Larry Johnson, RB, Kansas City Chiefs vs. Philadelphia Eagles
    Angry Eagles do not give up a lot of running yards, especially to a guy that only has 98 of them this year. Abort.
  • Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings vs. San Francisco 49ers
    The swine flu and the 49ers defense have me doubting Harvin continues his touchdown streak into Week 3. He’s a decent flex if you gotta.

Sleeper of the Week

Tashard Choice, RB, Dallas Cowboys vs. Carolina Panthers
Supposedly, Marion Barber is going to come to play this weekend, but even if he does, Choice could steal more touches than usual. The Cowboys currently lead the league in rushing yards, and the Panthers haven’t been able to stop any running backs this season. There should be plenty to go around for both Felix Jones and Tashard Choice.

Barber’s quad is still going to be bothering him, and the Cowboys trust Choice to carry the rock even in critical situations. I love Choice if Barber sits, but he’s a desperation play even if Barber takes the field. If the game gets away from the Panthers, Choice should have an even better day than expected.

For those of you who missed it, you can glean some fantasy nuggets from Trey Wingo’s latest chat from Buffalo Wild Wings. I’m going strong after Week 2 of the BWW All-Star Blogger League. Thanks, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson.

For more fantasy football goodness, visit Fantasy Football Librarian’s weekly roundup, Fantasy Football Xtreme, Fantasy Football Goat’s picks, FF Toolbox’s Week 3 starts and sits, The Fifth Down’s matchup breakdown and NFL.com’s recommendations.

As always, the comments are yours. Leave us your questions and concerns — and feel free to share your worries, Mr. Worry.

Guest Post: Three RBBCs to Target in Fantasy Football Drafts

This second guest post comes to us all the way across the pond from Ross Mooring of Never Kick a Gift Horse in the Teeth. This article is a follow up to his first guest post on three RBBCs to avoid in your drafts this season.

It’s now time to look at the running-back-by-committees (RBBC) that fantasy owners should try to monopolize in drafts this year. In most cases, fantasy players should study RBBC situations and draft only the favorites to receive the most carries when the time is right, but some teams possess running backs who collectively are undervalued or that, when drafted together, increase the value and reliability of those players.

Dallas Cowboys

A fit (well, fitter) Marion Barber is a surefire fantasy workhorse. One of the toughest running backs in the game, Barber is not only a threat on the goal line but also receiving out of the backfield. He will get every yard available.

MBIII has shockingly been falling to the beginning of the third round in 12-team drafts, mainly because of the presence of Felix Jones. This fall makes Barber an absolute steal given his propensity to carry the rock into the end zone on a weekly basis.

Jones still represents draft value at the very end of the sixth round, but here’s the clincher: the two of them offer different skill sets, don’t mutually deplete fantasy value very much and will be given enough touches to produce fantasy points.

Barber cannot carry the ball 25 times per game without breaking down while Jones is a threat in space, not in short-yardage situations. Take both with glee, and if you smell an injury, Tashard Choice won’t be waiver-wire fodder for long.

Indianapolis Colts

I’m making a joke, right? The Colts’ backfield, the very same backfield that struggled immensely in 2008, is one of the top three to target in 2009? Yes, it is!

Last year, not only did Joseph Addai have injury problems, but so did three of his offensive linemen and Peyton Manning. All have returned to good health this season. One must remember that Indianapolis is an offensive machine — always has been, always will be. At least while Manning is around…

Between Addai and rookie Donald Brown, we either have one back who will produce RB1 stat lines or two backs who will post RB2 and RB3 numbers. At the very worst, drafting both guarantees you will have insurance against an Addai injury.

You can wait on taking a second back through the first three or even four rounds — yes, Addai has been falling that far (ADP: 5.08!) — and secure the most undervalued RBBC in all of football in the sixth or seventh round.

Just make sure you don’t get arrested for robbery at the end of the year.

San Diego Chargers

The word on the grapevine is that last year was an offensive hiccup for San Diego, not in terms of total output but in the fact that the Chargers succeeded by passing the football and not running it.

With an improved defense (Shawne Merriman single-handedly improves this unit), why not control the game by slowing it down on the ground and letting Philip Rivers air it out with play action when necessary?

With LaDainian Tomlinson hitting the big 3-0 and Darren Sproles not yet a seasoned pro, one could be forgiven for doubting them, but L.T. is a once-in-a-decade back. A single season of wear and tear is not going to bring him down. A pick in the latter half of the first round — anywhere after that is a steal — represents value.

The kicker is that Sproles, who is playing under a franchise tag, is not going until late in the eighth round. If you’re in the right draft slot, take them both and sleep well knowing you have guaranteed yourself some big production at running back.

And one more bonus RBBC…

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Editor’s Note: Tampa Bay was originally the third team to target until recent news revealed the 2-2-1 split they plan to use with Earnest Graham, Derrick Ward and Cadillac Williams. Take these words as you will now that we know this committee will be very divided...

Tampa Bay is one of a couple of backfields that will be drafted late, mainly because of the lack of standout names but also because the statistical ceiling isn’t quite as sexy as it is elsewhere.

Make no mistake, Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham will consistently notch points for fantasy owners in 2009 — the former with the bulk of the carries and the latter with the bulk of the touchdowns.

The advantage of this RBBC is that Tampa Bay does not have much of a passing game to hang its hat on. Antonio Bryant is unpredictable and potentially unreliable, and the same could be said of Kellen Winslow and his health issues. On top of that, the quarterback situation is confusing, and there seems to be little reason for Raheem Morris to do anything but lean on the run.

Ward has been drafted right at the end of the fourth round (steal), and Graham has seen his number called as late as the end of the tenth round (bigger steal!).

Do you agree or disagree with Ross on these RBBCs to target? As always, the comments are yours. Read more of Ross’ writing at Never Kick a Gift Horse in the Teeth.

Random ESPN Mock Draft: Results May Vary

Last week, in the process of participating in a mock draft with several other fantasy football writers from the Interwebs, I got stuck inside of a random ESPN draft outside of the one we were using for the official mock draft. After the first couple of picks, which I made as quick reactions since I was simultaneously participating in another draft, I had to set it over to ESPN’s autodraft feature and let it ride. Several of the other drafters had to do the same. Here’s what I ended up with when it was all over.

Starting Lineup
QB Kurt Warner
RB Adrian Peterson
RB Ryan Grant
RB/WR Willie Parker
WR Steve Smith (CAR)
WR Santana Moss
TE Kevin Boss
D/ST Miami Dolphins
K Neil Rackers

Bench
QB Matt Schaub
QB Eli Manning
QB Matt Hasselbeck
RB Marshawn Lynch
RB Fred Taylor
RB Tim Hightower
WR Eddie Royal

First reactions
Wow, ESPN’s autodraft bot is really overreacting to the quarterback injuries from last season. Four quarterbacks? Really? This bot must have drafted Tom Brady last season.

Some huge value and tradebait in having guys like Schaub and Hasselbeck on the bench, but this drafted roster would likely force me into making an early-season trade for some more wide receiver depth.

Speaking of wide receivers, receiver is the one position where I feel this draft was the weakest. Steve Smith is a great foundation, but Santana Moss, even after his stellar run last season, can’t be depended on to produce WR2 numbers. On the bench, I only have Eddie Royal, who may or may not benefit from the change to Kyle Orton at quarterback in Denver. That’s just dangerous.

At running back, Peterson/Grant at running back should be a useful duo. Willie Parker and post-suspension Lynch should also add some punch to the roster if Grant disappoints. Fred Taylor has some spot-duty, emergency running back value, but Hightower is almost a waste of a pick unless he turns into the LenDale White to Chris Wells’ Chris Johnson. I have a feeling Hightower is more likely to become the Brandon Jackson to Chris Wells’ Ryan Grant though.

Tight end could be stronger and so could defense, but for an autodraft, it’s hard to complain about those positions when the overloading of quarterbacks is such an issue.

The full, unabridged mock draft is below with analysis on each round for those of you who are interested. I was drafting under the team name “Power Down” because at the time, I was trying to exit this mock draft … before it started with me still logged into it.

Feel free to share your observations below. The comments are yours.

The Entire Draft

**- Represent my picks

Round: 1
** (1) Power Down – Adrian Peterson RB
(2) The Team To Beat – Chris Johnson RB
(3) Bruno Boys.net – Michael Turner RB
(4) Team McGill – Matt Forte RB
(5) Team Harmelink – Larry Fitzgerald WR
(6) Team hoyos – Maurice Jones-Drew RB
(7) Team g – Andre Johnson WR
(8) Team Hogg – Steven Jackson RB
(9) Team Johnson – LaDainian Tomlinson RB
(10) Team O – Frank Gore RB

I went A.P. with the No. 1 pick because it was easy. Personally, I don’t like the guy, but I’d gladly take him if someone will trade me a Forte or Gore and some parts for him before Game 1 of the season. Someone REALLY likes Chris Johnson and took him as the No. 2. I don’t feel that strongly about him, but he is a worthy first round pick if he’s your guy.

Fitz makes an appearance as the No. 1 wide receiver off the board at the No. 5 pick, which is a little high to go with a WR in my opinion. Andre Johnson went No. 7, which also seems high for a 10-team league. Jackson, Tomlinson and Gore round out the first round as expected.

Round: 2
(11) Team O – DeAngelo Williams RB
(12) Team Johnson – Brandon Jacobs RB
(13) Team Hogg – Drew Brees QB
(14) Team g – Calvin Johnson WR
(15) Team hoyos – Randy Moss WR
(16) Team Harmelink – Steve Slaton RB
(17) Team McGill – Peyton Manning QB
(18) Bruno Boys.net – Clinton Portis RB
(19) The Team To Beat – Tom Brady QB
** (20) Power Down – Ryan Grant RB

The top running back from 2008 kicks off the second round — still too high for my tastes with Jonathan Stewart breathing even closer down his neck this season. The league was operating under standard scoring with 4-point passing touchdowns, so Brees going early second round makes sense. Does the pick of Calvin Johnson over Randy Moss signify some doubt in Tom Brady or just a Detroit fan?

I went with Ryan Grant over Marion Barber to end the round because I believe he’ll be much improved in Aaron Rodgers second season and fully recovered from his groin injury.

Round: 3
** (21) Power Down – Steve Smith WR
(22) The Team To Beat – Marion Barber RB
(23) Bruno Boys.net – Greg Jennings WR
(24) Team McGill – Brian Westbrook RB
(25) Team Harmelink – Roddy White WR
(26) Team hoyos – Reggie Wayne WR
(27) Team g – Kevin Smith RB
(28) Team Hogg – Ronnie Brown RB
(29) Team Johnson – Anquan Boldin WR
(30) Team O – Thomas Jones RB

The autodraft took over at this point and took Steve Smith for me at the top of the third round. I would have liked to take Barber and really lock up my running backs, but hey, the bot thought differently. Taking Barber would have also limited me to receivers like Housh and Roy E. Williams on the next turn.

The general run was on wide receivers by this point. No one really jumps out as being out of place. Look how far Reggie Wayne is falling — lack of confidence in Indy without the coaching staff they have had these past seasons? The Colts lost a little of their fantasy luster when Peyton Manning struggled last year.

Round: 4
(31) Team O – Brandon Marshall WR
(32) Team Johnson – Marques Colston WR
(33) Team Hogg – Terrell Owens WR
(34) Team g – Pierre Thomas RB
(35) Team hoyos – Jason Witten TE
(36) Team Harmelink – Jonathan Stewart RB
(37) Team McGill – Wes Welker WR
(38) Bruno Boys.net – Dwayne Bowe WR
(39) The Team To Beat – Derrick Ward RB
** (40) Power Down – Marshawn Lynch RB

Brandon Marshall before Colston? Do people remember that Kyle Orton is now the quarterback in Denver? Terrell Owens apparently has no doubters either as he goes off the board among the second/third tier despite being in Buffalo and competing for catches with Lee Evans.

Notice that not just Pierre Thomas but also Jonathan Stewart, Derrick Ward and Marshawn Lynch are coming off the board before Reggie Bush. Round 4 is still too rich for a tight end in my mind, but if you want to get Witten, you might have to go there.

Round: 5
** (41) Power Down – Kurt Warner QB
(42) The Team To Beat – T.J. Houshmandzadeh WR
(43) Bruno Boys.net – Philip Rivers QB
(44) Team McGill – Reggie Bush RB
(45) Team Harmelink – Tony Romo QB
(46) Team hoyos – Aaron Rodgers QB
(47) Team g – Matt Ryan QB
(48) Team Hogg – Roy E. Williams WR
(49) Team Johnson – Darren McFadden RB
(50) Team O – Tony Gonzalez TE

Kurt Warner in the fifth round? I’ll take it. (I guess my bot isn’t so confident with this decision judging from the number of backup QBs he drafted for me after this pick.) Housh would have been a solid pick here now that he’s the No. 1 guy in Seattle.

Romo’s going in the fifth as well and before Aaron Rodgers, closely followed by his main target, Roy E. Williams.

Round: 6
(51) Team O – Braylon Edwards WR
(52) Team Johnson – Larry Johnson RB
(53) Team Hogg – Joseph Addai RB
(54) Team g – Chad Ochocinco WR
(55) Team hoyos – LenDale White RB
(56) Team Harmelink – Vincent Jackson WR
(57) Team McGill – Antonio Gates TE
(58) Bruno Boys.net – Antonio Bryant WR
(59) The Team To Beat – Dallas Clark TE
** (60) Power Down – Willie Parker RB

Parker and Addai were first round picks at one point. I’d take Addai as late as you can have him this season. Donald Brown doesn’t scare me off of a guy who gets to score touchdowns for Peyton Manning and has starting duties.

Willie Parker, while recovering this offseason, is still going to work hard for the Steelers. I don’t think he’ll lose his starting job in training camp to any of the other backs, and one should never forget that the Steelers like to run.

Round: 7
** (61) Power Down – Matt Schaub QB
(62) The Team To Beat – DeSean Jackson WR
(63) Bruno Boys.net – Knowshon Moreno RB
(64) Team McGill – Jamal Lewis RB
(65) Team Harmelink – Greg Olsen TE
(66) Team hoyos – Bernard Berrian WR
(67) Team g – Kellen Winslow TE
(68) Team Hogg – Donovan McNabb QB
(69) Team Johnson – Matt Cassel QB
(70) Team O – Lee Evans WR

Schaub is a great backup this season and a borderline starter, so I don’t mind getting him on the turn into the seventh round.

Apparently, the move to Tampa Bay hasn’t scared enough people away from Kellen Winslow for him to fall much from last year’s draft stock.

Round: 8
(71) Team O – Le’Ron McClain RB
(72) Team Johnson – Owen Daniels TE
(73) Team Hogg – Ahmad Bradshaw RB
(74) Team g – Darren Sproles RB
(75) Team hoyos – Kevin Walter WR
(76) Team Harmelink – Hines Ward WR
(77) Team McGill – Jay Cutler QB
(78) Bruno Boys.net – Anthony Gonzalez WR
(79) The Team To Beat – Steelers D/ST D/ST
** (80) Power Down – Santana Moss WR

Consider Kevin Walter noticed. He goes off the board before Ward, Gonzalez and Moss. People always think Houston is bound to have a big year because they finish every season strong. Will this year be the season they finally keep it together?

Santana Moss is a sketchy WR2, so I’d like to have more depth at receiver behind him. The bot thinks differently.

Round: 9
** (81) Power Down – Eddie Royal WR
(82) The Team To Beat – Ted Ginn Jr. WR
(83) Bruno Boys.net – Chris Wells RB
(84) Team McGill – Jerricho Cotchery WR
(85) Team Harmelink – Cedric Benson RB
(86) Team hoyos – Giants D/ST D/ST
(87) Team g – Santonio Holmes WR
(88) Team Hogg – Chris Cooley TE
(89) Team Johnson – Ben Roethlisberger QB
(90) Team O – Willis McGahee RB

Eddie Royal seems like a silly pick by the bot with Holmes still on the board. I don’t love Holmes, but it’s not like Royal’s going to have the chance to reproduce the same numbers with Cutler now in Chicago. Royal’s not terrible, but he’s not going to be the same guy as last season.

The Giants defense goes off the board in the ninth round, even though they weren’t a great fantasy defense last season. I’m not sure they’ll be too great this year either playing tough teams like the Cowboys and Eagles with their star defensive coordinator coaching in St. Louis.

Willis McGahee’s obviously not the starter in Baltimore anymore, so I’m surprised to see him go here rather than three rounds later when someone will finally take Ray Rice, who I’d definitely take a chance on this season considering how much Baltimore runs.

Round: 10
(91) Team O – Carson Palmer QB
(92) Team Johnson – Donald Driver WR
(93) Team Hogg – Earnest Graham RB
(94) Team g – Torry Holt WR
(95) Team hoyos – Donald Brown RB
(96) Team Harmelink – Laveranues Coles WR
(97) Team McGill – Felix Jones RB
(98) Bruno Boys.net – John Carlson TE
(99) The Team To Beat – Lance Moore WR
** (100) Power Down – Fred Taylor RB

I have to hope that the bot was going to get me Lance Moore before he went off the board one pick earlier. Everyone will forget the Lance Moores and Kevin Walters of the world in the draft this year. Make sure you don’t. Fred Taylor is a decent backup, but I hate to draft any players in New England’s backfield.

Carson Palmer in the tenth round could be a huge steal if he ends up returning to glory this season.

Round: 11
** (101) Power Down – Eli Manning QB
(102) The Team To Beat – Ravens D/ST D/ST
(103) Bruno Boys.net – Kyle Orton QB
(104) Team McGill – Titans D/ST D/ST
(105) Team Harmelink – Michael Crabtree WR
(106) Team hoyos – Fred Jackson RB
(107) Team g – Julius Jones RB
(108) Team Hogg – Steve Breaston WR
(109) Team Johnson – Derrick Mason WR
(110) Team O – Donnie Avery WR

Eli Manning? Was that really necessary Mr. ESPN bot? I would have much rather had Devin Hester, Derrick Mason (if he doesn’t retire after all) or even Julius Jones. Apparently, I have met my quota for running backs and wide receivers for now though.

Some great upside bargains at receiver in this round as some people start to look at defense early. Orton as a backup quarterback is a sneaky pick. He may not be as flashy as Cutler, but he could be more efficient.

Round: 12
(111) Team O – Devin Hester WR
(112) Team Johnson – Chester Taylor RB
(113) Team Hogg – Zach Miller TE
(114) Team g – David Garrard QB
(115) Team hoyos – Sammy Morris RB
(116) Team Harmelink – LeSean McCoy RB
(117) Team McGill – Domenik Hixon WR
(118) Bruno Boys.net – Ray Rice RB
(119) The Team To Beat – Percy Harvin WR
** (120) Power Down – Tim Hightower RB

I think Hightower could end up going undrafted in many drafts, so I’m not too happy with the bot making this one for me. All the tight ends with good upside have jumped off the board here now that Zach Miller is gone, which leaves me with slim pickings late in the draft.

Look at how late David Garrard finally goes off the board. The guy had a Swiss cheese line last season and still surprised people with his finish among the top 12. This year he has Torry Holt and some other new blood at receiver. Anyone think we may be selling him a little short?

Round: 13
** (121) Power Down – Matt Hasselbeck QB
(122) The Team To Beat – Stephen Gostkowski K
(123) Bruno Boys.net – Vikings D/ST D/ST
(124) Team McGill – Chris Chambers WR
(125) Team Harmelink – Bobby Engram WR
(126) Team hoyos – Leon Washington RB
(127) Team g – Eagles D/ST D/ST
(128) Team Hogg – Kevin Curtis WR
(129) Team Johnson – Patrick Crayton WR
(130) Team O – Rashard Mendenhall RB

Hey bot, how bout another quarterback? Sure, buddy. No problem … *sigh* So unnecessary.

Do you really need the best kicker in fantasy? No, they all work. Someone out there wants to make sure they don’t miss getting the top one. It’s worth considering that if New England turns back into the touchdown pinball machine they were in 2007, Gostkowski will be a glorified extra point machine.

Chris Chambers might be the steal of this round if he can still contribute in San Diego. He had to go down last season before Vincent Jackson finally emerged.

Round: 14
(131) Team O – Ricky Williams RB
(132) Team Johnson – Trent Edwards QB
(133) Team Hogg – Jerious Norwood RB
(134) Team g – Jets D/ST D/ST
(135) Team hoyos – Michael Bush RB
(136) Team Harmelink – Muhsin Muhammad WR
(137) Team McGill – Justin Gage WR
(138) Bruno Boys.net – Mark Clayton WR
(139) The Team To Beat – Dustin Keller TE
** (140) Power Down – Dolphins D/ST D/ST

Mostly backups and upside in this round. I like Trent Edwards this late and Norwood. Mark Clayton is the starter in Baltimore if Derrick Mason does retire. Keller could increase his stock this season if he becomes a security blanket for Mark Sanchez.

And look at the clever bot, snagging the Miami defense. At least I can agree that they come at a good price in this round.

Round: 15
** (141) Power Down – Kevin Boss TE
(142) The Team To Beat – Jake Delhomme QB
(143) Bruno Boys.net – Tony Scheffler TE
(144) Team McGill – Laurence Maroney RB
(145) Team Harmelink – Panthers D/ST D/ST
(146) Team hoyos – Nate Kaeding K
(147) Team g – Patriots D/ST D/ST
(148) Team Hogg – Ryan Longwell K
(149) Team Johnson – David Akers K
(150) Team O – Mason Crosby K

It’s kicker time … so my bot takes a tight end at last.

Delhomme gets no respect these days. Scheffler gets even less. For all the hurt that Josh McDaniels has brought to Denver, the Broncos still have plenty of nice things to say about one of the most underrated pass-catching tight ends in the game. (Yes, I would rather have him than Kevin Boss.)

If Maroney does anything, I guess his selection in this round is a good deal, but I find it hard to believe that he’ll live up to expectations this season with Brady back under center.

Round: 16
(151) Team O – Redskins D/ST D/ST
(152) Team Johnson – Bears D/ST D/ST
(153) Team Hogg – Packers D/ST D/ST
(154) Team g – Jason Elam K
(155) Team hoyos – Joey Galloway WR
(156) Team Harmelink – Rob Bironas K
(157) Team McGill – John Kasay K
(158) Bruno Boys.net – Nick Folk K
(159) The Team To Beat – Shaun Hill QB
** (160) Power Down – Neil Rackers K

Packers and Bears defense in the final round? Not too shabby. We know Green Bay is rebuilding, but they have some of the key parts in place to do good things if they grip the system.

Remember how high Donte Stallworth was drafted when he was a Patriot. Look at Joey Galloway. He’s the No. 2 receiver in New England — with Wes Welker playing the slot — and he may do great things flying down the side of the field across from Randy Moss. He’s a little less likely to disappear than Donte Stallworth was and an interesting last-round selection.

Shaun Hill brought some life back to San Francisco when he came under center. Getting him in the last round is a daring way to backup your quarterback, but he’s not a terrible bye week fill. Just hope Alex Smith doesn’t return from the great beyond to take his job back.

Of course, my bot hooks me up with Neil Rackers. Thanks, bud.

Fantasy Draft Day Pick or Pass: Top 24 Running Backs by ADP

Many a fantasy football site will give you rankings. Most of the time, that’s enough for you to make your decisions when drafting a fantasy team, but I like to add a little depth to my rankings by incorporating the “players to avoid” tag.

You see, not every player is desirable, even if they are the No. 5-ranked running back on the board. Some bad situations may not compel experts to rank a player lower, and at times, there’s no logical reason behind disliking a player other than that icky feeling you get when he’s the next player in your rankings. Regardless, we still have every right to avoid a guy in the draft.

If I had only listened to that inner “pick or pass” feeling when it came time for me to make my first round selection in 2007, I might have never taken Larry Johnson with a mid-first-round pick … and that would have made all the difference.

For this first addition of “pick or pass,” I gathered the top 24 running backs ranked by average draft position (ADP) over at Fantasy Football Calculator to break down. The rankings were current as of July 15, 2009. If you have any more reservations about players that I don’t touch on here or just find yourself wanting to share your agreement, please tell me about your concerns and tips in the comments.

Pick or Pass: Top 24 Running Backs as Drafted in Mock Drafts

1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings – ADP: 1.01 – PICK
So what if he is the unanimous No. 1 running back? Some guys still don’t love him first overall. No one says you have to take him — even if you league boos (and they will). Despite my personal distrust of Peterson, I would “pick” Peterson at the No. 1 because of his explosive potential and the huge tradebait he becomes if you want to do a little preseason maneuvering before the first game of the season. You can’t go wrong with the player everyone expects to be the best, right?

2. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars – ADP: 1.03 – PICK
Everybody loves the bowling-ball receiving back from the Jacksonville Jaguars. While I dislike him here at the No. 2 spot, he’s still a “pick” for me somewhere in the top five. Unless the offensive line pulls another Humpty Dumpty routine, Jones-Drew should have all the chances in the world to put up RB1-worthy stats. Then again, if you’re not a Jacksonville fan … you may hold off on Jones-Drew at the No. 2 because we all know he’ll still share the rock with Greg Jones this season, even if it’s not as much as he shared it with Fred Taylor.

3. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons – ADP: 1.03 – PICK
He’s just barely a “pick” because he’s such a safe choice. Yes, his schedule is tougher. Yes, he ran many, many times last season. Yes, his quarterback’s other weapons are improved this season, but look again at how many chances Michael Turner had near the goal line last year. Turner can only benefit from more movement up and down the field, so don’t be afraid to pull the trigger on him anywhere in the top five.

4. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears –   ADP: 1.04 – PICK
The little rookie back that could last season, Forte was the definition of consistent. If he didn’t get a touchdown, he got 100+ yards — and he always got 100+ yards. Jay Cutler under center should shake things up, but much like Turner, making the weapons more dangerous only makes me like Forte more. He’s a “pick” anywhere in the top five as well.

5. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams – ADP: 1.06 – PASS
Ah, the first “pass” of the running back class rears its ugly head at No. 5. Steven Jackson is one of the most talented backs in the league, and the Rams plan to make him a workhorse this season. Still, I’m just not feeling his health and the team play in St. Louis. The Rams have very little receiver talent, a banged-up veteran at quarterback in Bulger and not much to make opposing defenses look at anyone but … you guessed it … Jackson. He may get plenty of carries and quite a few yards, but I’ll “pass.”

6. LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers – ADP: 1.08 – PASS
Sermons have been written on why LaDainian Tomlinson faded last season and how much you need to believe in him this year, but they’re all blasphemy, my friend. If it looks like the end of his career and it talks like the end of his career, it’s probably a duck … and perhaps I missed something in the argument I was trying to make there. Here’s the point: he’s aging, Darren Sproles is franchise-tagged and looking to impress his way out of San Diego and the Chargers window for a Super Bowl victory is closing faster than Tom Brady can buy new flower boxes. If L.T. stays healthy for the entire season, he’s likely to put up numbers close to his old averages, but this high in the draft, I’d still “pass.”

7. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans – ADP: 1.08 – PICK
The reason you’d pass on a guy like Steven Jackson or L.T. is right here at No. 7. Chris Johnson has the speed to burn you, and the team to grind you into the ground. I’m not scared of LenDale White unless I’m covered in donut glaze. Johnson is just the kind of young running back in a run-oriented offense that I would want to lead me into battle each week — fantasy battle, that is. I’d pick him before Jackson, L.T. or DeAngelo Williams.

8. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers – ADP: 1.11 – PASS
“Pass, pass, pass.” I went into more detail about how painful DeAngelo’s second season as a starter could be when I compared him to Michael Turner in Truth or Fiction. Here’s the short version: a better Jonathan Stewart means fewer carries to go around, a tougher schedule means it’ll be more difficult to score touchdowns and a weaker offensive line means less holes to run through. I’ll “pass” on Williams this season because he’s just not worth the risk.

9. Steve Slaton, Houston Texans – ADP: 1.11 – PICK
Slaton had a solid amount of carries close to the red zone just as Michael Turner did last season, but Slaton was basically the only running back left standing in Houston for most of the season. With bigger backs like Chris Brown and the new guy, Jeremiah Johnson, around, he may lose those touches, but he won’t lose that speed that kept him on the field last season. Slaton was one of the best surprises of 2008, and I’d “pick” him again in 2009.

10. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers – ADP: 2.01 – PICK
It’s all a bit of a toss up when it comes to the 49ers. All those words from the coaches about a running-based offense is great, but I want to make sure they’re actually going to put points on the board this season. Gore should tote the rock without too much sharing, and unlike the Rams and Steven Jackson, the 49ers should have enough other weapons to make Gore productive. I’d “pick” him.

11. Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia Eagles – ADP: 2.04 – PASS
Westy’s been an injury concern for several seasons, but this year, I might actually count that against him. His offseason surgeries and the addition of LeSean McCoy are just enough to make me want to hold off on him this year. I’d take him as a mid-range RB2, but I’ll “pass” here with bigger fish still left in the sea.

12. Brandon Jacobs, New York Giants – ADP: 2.05 – PICK
If the word “pick” could sound more intimidating and bulky, I would use it here. Jacobs is a quality pick for the second round. Without Derrick Ward, he should have more yardage than he did last season. Regardless, we know he scores touchdowns. Without Plaxico Burress, one can only hope that the Giants forget how to do anything but run this season.

13. Clinton Portis, Washington Redskins – ADP: 2.07 – PICK
Portis took his shots last season and still came out on the other side. I’m not exactly sure how he managed to play through all his injuries, but the man is consistent — one of the most consistent at his position over the years. I like him a tad less this season just because of his workload, even though I don’t think that it will slow his productivity. What does concern me is the team around him coming into this season. Jason Campbell is in his “make or break” year in Washington after all the trade talks this offseason, and there’s talk of Colt Brennan getting a shot before season’s end if Campbell can’t prove his worth. That spells a hard year for Portis, and it’s just enough to tempt me to take Barber instead. Portis still deserves a “pick.”

14. Marion Barber, Dallas Cowboys – ADP: 2.11 – PICK
The touchdown machine in Dallas runs only for this man. Barber could be in line for more this season if the Cowboys move towards a more run-focused attack. Even if they don’t, the running game has always made Barber productive. Normally a first round back in the parts where I draft (Texas), I see no reason not to make him a “pick.”

15. Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins – ADP: 3.04 – PASS
For being the quarterback in the Wildcat and the “starting” running back for Miami, I expected more from Ronnie Brown last season. By the end of 2008, he was practically worthless. Ricky Williams is still around to demand some carries, and now there is talk of letting Patrick Cobbs get more touches. I just don’t feel Brown here in the second/third round. I like my starting two running backs to be dependable. Sorry, Brown, I’ll “pass.”

16. Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints – ADP: 3.06 – PICK
I’m surprised to see Thomas trending this high in ADP since most rankings project him as a fourth-round acquisition. He’s a quality running back and deserving of the ranking … but really? No. 16 at running back? With the scoreboard the Saints put together and the struggles of Reggie Bush, I don’t expect Thomas to disappoint. He’ll be worth this “pick.”

17. Ryan Grant, Green Bay Packers – ADP: 3.09 – PICK
Oh, how low the mighty have fallen. Grant was thought of as a top-10 with upside that could make him a top-five last season. Then injury struck. Grant’s still high on my list, and I’ll give him credit for finishing strong in 2008. I’ll “pick” him here and consider him better than the likes of Ronnie Brown.

18. Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions – ADP: 3.11 – PASS
This is it! This is Kevin’s year to carry the rock. Can’t you hear the screams right this moment? If Matthew Stafford gets the nod, the Lions are definitely going to be running the ball this season, but I haven’t become a Smith believer just yet. That doesn’t mean he won’t blow up this year, but it does mean I’m willing to take my chances elsewhere. The move to a new style of running offense, away from what Smith is used to, doesn’t make me feel good about his chances this season. “Pass.”

19. Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo Bills – ADP: 4.05 – PICK
Suspension or not, Lynch is one of the grinding backs in this league. No. 19 is still a little rich for my tastes with those games missed at the beginning of the season, and Fred Jackson has a great deal more upward mobility as the guy who will start those games and contribute all season. But Lynch is the guy in Buffalo, and with an improved offensive attack — even if their O-line has taken a step back — he’s worthy of a “pick.”

20. Reggie Bush, New Orleans Saints – ADP: 4.06 – PASS
He’s a better receiver than a running back, so unless you have a sucker who would trade you a real gem in a package for this circus show, I’d “pass” outside of PPR leagues. I am not convinced he can stay healthy enough to fill the role of a running back, and as a gimmick player, his value is limited. But if he falls into a bargain round, I can’t say I would still refuse him.

21. Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos – ADP: 4.10 – PASS
I’m not a believer in the new Denver coach, and I’m not a fan of rookie running backs when they are accompanied by a real pack — and I do mean “pack” — of veterans. Even if Moreno wins the starting job, how much of it will he win? I’d rather take the “wait and see” approach with KnowMo. (Does anyone call him “KnowMo” now? Because I really want to now … I won’t pick him “KnowMo.”)

22. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders – ADP: 4.12 – PICK
He didn’t get his shot last season with all the injury trouble and that dastardly Justin Fargas, but with a season under his belt, I’d “pick” him to earn his place among the high-performing rookies from last season. No one likes to fall behind, and McFadden has plenty of ground to make up.

23. Derrick Ward, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – ADP: 5.02 – PICK
All alone in Tampa Bay with no “Earth” or “Fire” for his “Wind,” Ward should have plenty of opportunities to show why the Giants used him as much as they did last season. Ward is a “pick,” even if he ends up getting a “change of pace” tag and yields red zone chances to Earnest Graham. He’ll earn his time just like he did with Brandon Jacobs.

24. Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Colts – ADP: 5.03 – PICK
From top-five to No. 24? Even with rookie Donald Brown breathing down his neck, I have no fear in taking Addai in the third round and beyond. The Colts’ offensive line was pretty terrible last season without Jeff Saturday. A healthy Peyton and a healthy Saturday make for a good Sunday for Addai. He’s a “pick” in my book.

Agree with my picks and passes or disagree? The comments are yours.

Without T.O., is Romo still an elite fantasy quarterback?

It’s the debate that began as soon as the Cowboys released Terrell Owens: Where does Tony Romo rank without his prized target in the passing game? I’ve exchanged emails with fellow Fools writer Chadam and several other fantasy football compatriots since my post on the release of the infamous No. 81, but I’ve been reluctant to pass judgment…until now.

T.O. was the big target, drawing the most balls from Romo, even when he couldn’t catch them all, and striking the most fear in opposing defenses. Sure, the Cowboys still have tight end Jason Witten, who is likely to be the leading receiver again anyway, but will he be open across the middle without a legitimate playmaker demanding coverage on the outside? Hard to say.

The Hole T.O. Leaves Behind
Romo’s hopes for fantasy glory this season rest in newly-promoted No. 1 receiver Roy Williams, a playmaker during his days at Texas who has had just one dominant season in the NFL. Williams spent most of his time in Detroit putting up mediocre numbers and suffering from injuries before falling into the shadow of Calvin Johnson.

After being traded to Dallas, Williams never seemed to get on track, either due to unknown injuries or an inability to get in sync with Romo. While the talent may be there for him to be a true No. 1 in the Cowboys’ offense, Williams will have to duplicate or exceed his best season in the NFL to make it happen.

Finding Stability at the No. 2 Position
As if it wasn’t enough to have a questionable No. 1, the Cowboys also have a hole on the other side of the ball. While he currently ranks No. 2 on the depth chart, Patrick Crayton has been inconsistent and untrustworthy as a No. 2 wide receiver for the Cowboys. Without T.O. drawing coverage, his No. 3-ish talents just won’t cut it. The promising but oft-injured Miles Austin has a chance to snag this spot in 2009, but, once again, we’re looking for a player to have a breakout year, better than any of his previous seasons. Crayton, if he keeps his starting spot, can do little to help Romo remain at the top of the fantasy charts.

More Running, More Problems
Romo’s chances to put up those fantasy points may also be limited this season by adjustments to the offense. The emergence of Tashard Choice late last season gives the Cowboys the opportunity to put the Giants’ three-headed beast running attack into place. The New York Giants ran over almost every team in the league last season thanks to Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw playing Earth, Wind and Fire. Carries slotted for Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice will balance out the Cowboys’ attack but would also take the ball out of Romo’s hands more than in the past two seasons, which will further limit his chances for fantasy success.

Slotting Romo for 2009
In short, Romo’s got a question mark for a No. 1 receiver, a battle for the No. 2 spot and a potential shift in the offense towards the running game. He may still have his tight end in Witten, but all of these uncertainties don’t bode well for him remaining among the best of the best in fantasy.

It takes a lot for a Cowboys fan to admit that his quarterback has been taken down a notch, but all signs point to a downgrade.

Last season, the Cowboys aerial attack suffered because teams would shade towards Owens and keep him from getting open, a problem Roy Williams was brought in to combat. Without Owens, Williams will get the same treatment. Miles Austin or Sam Hurd could breakout this season and raise the talent level at the No. 2 spot, but that’s expecting a lot of players who haven’t shown they can carry a starting load just yet.

I still expect Romo to finish in the top 10 at his position, but gone, at least for this season, are the days when you could safely draft the Cowboys’ quarterback in the first round and build a team around his production. He’s a high second-tier quarterback selection at best but a solid starter, and I still have him among my top seven fantasy quarterbacks going into 2009. Depending on your location — I’m out of luck in Texas — you might just be able to talk him down enough to get him at a bargain rate this season in the fourth round of your fantasy draft or later.

If you agree to disagree, do it up in the comments. I’m certainly open to keeping this talk going. After all, Tony Romo is my quarterback — single tear.

Marion Barber Redux: Introducing Shonn Greene

He’s a power back and strong between the tackles. He’s tough to bring down, especially late in games, and his offensive line might be one of the best in football when it comes to run-blocking.

It’s not just Marion Barber III anymore. Shonn Greene could be the next Barbarian.

Drafted in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the New York Jets, Greene is a big, 227-pound back built for tough running. A beast in the backfield for Iowa, he rushed for more than 100 yards in every game and 20 touchdowns last year.

Whether rookie Mark Sanchez or almost-rookie Kellen Clemens starts under center, the Jets need a strong rushing attack to support their young starter this season. The Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens enabled their rookie quarterbacks, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, to find success sooner than expected by giving them all the help they needed in the run game.

Luckily for the Jets, they almost had to deal with this situation last season before Brett Favre fell into their lap. As a result, they assembled one of the more dominating offensive lines in the league, a line that enabled Thomas Jones to lead the AFC with 1,312 yards and set the Jets’ single-season touchdown record with 15 scores.

Put Shonn Greene behind a line like that and the rest of the AFC will have to take notice.

Thomas Jones has reached the dreaded 30-year mark, an age where running backs typically start to break down — see Shaun Alexander. While Jones has been demanding an extension this offseason, it’s unlikely the Jets will give it to him. His backfield partner, Leon Washington, already won the hearts of the fans and the coaching staff last season with his more explosive runs and pass-catching ability. Expect Washington to play a bigger role in 2009 with some help from Shonn Greene, and perhaps, if he returns to the fold before they tire of him, whatever Thomas Jones has left in the tank.

Julius Jones and Marion Barber were a daunting duo in Dallas — yes, I came up with that myself — until Julius Jones began to lose his burst. Jones could pick up the quick yardage while Barber, especially late in the game, punished defenses and controlled the clock. Barber has always been a hard player to keep out of the end zone. I expect Greene to be the same.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Greene matches or overtakes Thomas Jones’ touchdown record for the Jets in his rookie season, especially if he gets the red zone touches over Jones. Much like Marion Barber won over hearts in fantasy footballers everywhere early in his career with his touchdown numbers, Greene could be the next touchdown champion of fantasy football.

Greene hasn’t become a household name in fantasy football just yet since being drafted on the second day kept him out of the early round festivities, but we’ll see how long that lasts.