On the Wire: Waiver Wire Free-for-all from Week 9

It’s time for change, America.

Bring me your injured, your underperforming, your studs gone duds. Together, we can reshape your fantasy team for the future into a team without injustice, without phantom starts (see: Willis McGahee) and without any of Shanahan’s running backs — well, maybe just one.

Yes, we can. Yes, we can. YES, WE CAN.

And on that very original campaign note, Fools in 2012.

I hope you all voted yesterday, but while you were busy at the polls, I was busy collecting a vast array of pickups that could help you make it to the playoffs. In fact, this might the largest waiver wire column I’ve ever written, and upon finishing it, I just wanted to call my friends in to look at it before I unleashed it on the world.

This week in fantasy football, we have another free-for-all on quarterbacks as injuries took the fantasy lives of several recent stars. Going with our theme of “change,” a handful of very bad teams had quarterbacks show promise this week, and there’s no pork in that.

With all the turnover and surprises, we’re going very, very in-depth with a long list of names and fantasy fortunes because, short of a few quick fixes, I wouldn’t expect many fantasy studs to emerge for your playoff run. Gather the depth you need and take a few chances if you can afford the roster space.

There are four more wins to be had, and these guys could be the ones to get you there and keep you there through Week 16 or 17.

It could happen in ’08, people. You can still write yourself in on that final fantasy playoff spot ballot — that is, unless you already lost Ohio.

Worth Claiming

Ryan Torain, RB Denver Broncos – I said he might be the last man standing last week, but now he really is. Michael Pittman and Andre Hall were both placed on the IR after Week 9, so Selvin Young and whatever RB depth Shanahan finds in a back alley this week are Torain’s only competition.

Don’t be scared off by Torain’s one yard on Sunday in three carries. Shanahan wants to bring him along slowly, but if Selvin Young’s hamstring is still holding him back, Torain should get the start against the Browns this week.

Of course, after one series, Shanahan will probably make sure that 75 percent of the touches go to Peyton Hillis so that Hillis looks like the best fantasy back in Denver. Oh, how I hate you, Leatherface.

Ray Rice, RB Baltimore Ravens — McGahee hasn’t been healthy all season, and after disappearing off the map, Rice exploded in Week 9 with 154 yards rushing and 22 yards receiving.

In Week 10 against the Texans, Harbaugh says that both McGahee and Rice will carry the football, but I’d bet Rice sees more looks. The schedule is unkind to Baltimore running backs after this week, but we know they’ll run the football until the very end.

Jamaal Charles, RB Kansas City Chiefs — Much like Torain, Charles is the one and only for the Chiefs…until Larry Johnson returns at least. Charles had 100+ yards against the Bucs, a very tough defense, on only 18 carries.

Johnson remains suspended for Week 10, so Charles could handle a majority of the load against the Chargers. While the Chargers are right in the middle — 16 out of 32 — as far as run defenses go, many a team has had a problem containing Charles. I saw him play at Texas, and when he’s making the right moves and holding onto the ball, he can be deadly — “Let Booby spin!”

When Johnson returns in Week 11, it’ll be interesting to see where the Chiefs want the carries to go, but the rock could stay in Charles hands for a good while with a strong showing this week. We know L.J. is lacking in the gold stars and brownie points.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB New England Patriots — He’s a lock for a score at least once in every Patriots game until Sammy Morris’ or LaMont Jordan’s return. If both continue to sit, “Law Firm” is a decent option in week 10 against Buffalo.

After that, his production against the Jets, Dolphins and Steelers will probably trail off until Sammy Morris or LaMont Jordan make him irrelevant. For now, he’s a solid depth option, and he’s got such a cool nickname.

Maurice Morris, RB Seattle Seahawks — It’s a split, but I like his half better than Julius Jones’ half. A few good matchups still to come for the Seattle run game, and the passing game doesn’t provide much competition.

Ted Ginn Jr., WR Miami Dolphins – He’s still not reliable enough to put all your hopes in after his low-scoring Week 9 performance — that’s why I ignored you last week, Ginn — but don’t take him off your radar just yet.

He doesn’t play a solid secondary for the rest of the season, so Chad Pennington might find him again and again and again. You’ll probably have to get him on your roster now to have him when he goes off again, so add him for some depth if you can or if you’re desperately seeking a WR to stay in the hunt.

Just try not to start him until he has another good game.

Shaun Hill, QB San Francisco 49ers — Hill’s actually my top QB rec this week if you lost one or need a filler for a few more weeks. He’s a Mike Martz quarterback, and he faces the Cardinals, Rams, Cowboys and Bills before playoffs. Only two of those teams rank in the top half of passing defenses, and those same two (Cowboys and Bills) currently have banged up corners. In the fantasy playoffs, Hill faces the Jets, Dolphins and Rams again.

He showed good ball control last season in giving just one interception in three games, and with Martz backing him, he could more productive than he was last season. Maybe he can break the 200-yard mark more frequently, which he almost did in the last half of the game in Week 8.

Brady Quinn, QB Cleveland Browns — Yeah, so that happened. The Browns are making the switch to Brady. I am sure the Browns female fan base is excited, but frankly, I don’t like Quinn anymore than I like Derek Anderson. In fact, I might like him less.

Quinn looked iffy in the preseason, and I couldn’t quite form an opinion on him versus Derek Anderson. He’s not exactly a rookie with almost a full two seasons in the Browns system under his belt, but I expect him to make mistakes, force the ball to Braylon Edwards and maybe even lean on the tight end. Fortunately, the Browns have a pretty good one in Kellen Winslow.

Seems like this move is just one of those “okay, fans, we’re trying” efforts, and I don’t like it. Still, if you had Anderson on your roster, Quinn should produce similar numbers after overcoming growing pains in promising games against the Broncos, Bills, Texans and Colts.

Tyler Thigpen, QB Kansas City Chiefs — When you’re a young quarterback, you just have to hope you end up landing somewhere with a dependable tight end and a dominant wide receiver to target. Luckily for Thigpen, he’s got that, and it’s done him well the past two weeks.

He’s also got a few trick plays up his sleeves and some nice matchups over the next four weeks: Chargers, Saints, Bills and Raiders with fantasy playoffs against Broncos, Chargers and Dolphins.

It’s hard to recommend him with any certainty because he’s no lock to put up points, but he hasn’t turned over the ball and has Dwayne Bowe and Tony Gonzalez. I think he’s a sleeper to keep it up through the end of the season, but at least you know that he won’t hurt you too badly if he falls in production.

And for some reason, it disgusts me less to recommend young Thigpen than it did to point out Kyle Orton’s success this season. Is it all in the neck beard? Only time will tell.

Sage Rosenfels, QB Houston Texans — Matt Schaub was knocked out for a month with a knee injury. Now Texans fans can finally get that Sage they’ve been looking for this season?

What? They don’t WANT him to start after he helicoptered his way back in the backup role against the Colts?

Rosenfels takes over one of the most potent offenses in fantasy football this weekend, but he also faces the Ravens, Colts, Browns and Jaguars before Schaub returns. That’s not exactly the stretch you want to see for a guy who is known to lead big drives only to end them with a fatal mistake.

It’ll be risky picking him up and expecting studs like Andre Johnson to produce for him in tougher games, but at least the Ravens secondary isn’t at full strength for Week 10.

Claim him if you have Schaub and don’t want to chance other options, but if you are already a lock for the playoffs, why not take chance on someone like Thigpen to produce for you? (Wow, now I’m cheerleading for the guy. Someone virtual-slap me.)

Daunte Culpepper and/or Drew Stanton, QB Detroit Lions — I think the best part of Dan Orlovsky’s current thumb injury is that he had “zero” doubt about playing in Week 10. Maybe Orlovsky’s struggles are due to his misunderstanding of math and percentages? Perhaps he thinks the Lions 0 percent win percentage is a good thing.

Regardless, a thumb injury has him out for Week 10 and possibly much longer. We don’t really know how long at this point.

Drew Stanton knows the system but doesn’t have the confidence of the coaching staff, which is probably why they signed Daunte Culpepper. But Culpepper, a week into the job and almost a year removed from playing football, will be a shaky start in Week 10 against the Jaguars. Marinelli expected him to pick up the offense quickly but not this quickly.

If I had to choose one, I’d take Culpepper for the possible start in Week 10 and the more likely start long-term. Culpepper could develop into a nice No. 2 QB during fantasy playoffs. He plays the Vikings, Colts and Saints, and he has “Megatron” (Calvin Johnson) to throw to each week.

Rex Grossman, QB Chicago Bears – See how that happens? All this outpouring of Kyle Orton love coming out before his game against the Lions, and then a fat Lion takes out his ankle.

With Orton out for four weeks, Grossman is your starter. He’s a shaky start against the Titans, Packers and resurgent Rams defense with his tendency to throw interceptions, but he’s not a bad desperation play.

At least he’ll be able to lean on Matt Forte outside of this week against the Titans.

Kevin Boss, TE New York Giants — Two touchdowns in the past two games, and even though he’s a little banged up with a bad ankle, he faces a Philly defense in Week 10 that’s admitted to having a problem covering tight ends. How’s that sound?

Dan Carpenter, K Miami Dolphins — He’s not on many radars, but Carpenter has put up 29 fantasy points in the last two weeks with seven field goals made and four extra points in that span. The best fantasy sign is that the Dolphins are lining him up deep. Three of his attempts in Week 9 were more than 40 yards out, but he hasn’t been asked to kick one longer than 50.

If he continues to get this many long field goal chances or more extra points once the Dolphins’ offense starts scoring left and right against a bunch of weak fantasy defenses (Seahawks, Raiders, Patriots, Rams, Bills, 49ers, Chiefs), then he could be one of the best kickers to own in the second half.

Guys you probably should have already picked up:

Visanthe Shiancoe, TE Minnesota Vikings — Three touchdowns in his past four games.

Derrick Mason, WR Baltimore Ravens — PPR monster with 130+ and a score in Week 9, but a rough schedule from here.

Anthony Gonzalez, WR Indianapolis Colts — Two TDs in Week 9.

Greg Camarillo, WR Miami Dolphins — More reliable than Ginn and 100+ yards in Week 9.

Kevin Curtis, WR Philadelphia Eagles – Finally showing up with 83 yards, but tough schedule the rest of the way.

Tim Hightower, RB Arizona Cardinals — Now starting and eating touchdowns for breakfast.

Matt Ryan, QB Atlanta Falcons — Not blasting you out of your seat, but good QB2 production and getting better.

Marc Bulger, QB St. Louis Rams — He’s sort of back and has an easier schedule in the second half.

Ones to Watch

Pierre Thomas and Aaron Stecker, RB New Orleans Saints — We’re getting close to Deuce McAllister’s appeal, so we’ll know soon enough whether he’ll be leaving the Saints’ services. If so, both are likely to produce numbers until the return of Reggie Bush, who might throw things out the window again.

Week 11, the Saints have the Chiefs followed by the Packers, and if for some reason Bush isn’t back by Week 14, then the Saints backs have Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit. Playing the Lions in the fantasy championship game? Check and mate.

Selvin Young, RB Denver Broncos — If he’s healthy, the starting could be his…or Peyton Hillis’…or it might belong to the guy that guy in a cubicle next to you. Regardless, he has value when healthy, and if someone was silly enough to drop him, he could fight for you in games against the Browns, Falcons, Raiders, Jets, Chiefs and Bills.

The playoff section of that run isn’t great, but his return in Week 11 could help you get there. Keep in mind that the Broncos are now a pass-first offense, and pick him up as you see fit.

J.J. Arrington, RB Arizona Cardinals — The speedy back has taken the No. 2 spot in the RB depth chart now that Tim Hightower is the starter. Edgerrin James is not likely to get more than handful of carries in any game, and on Sunday, Arrington was involved in 11 plays with 62 rushing yards and 57 receiving yards.

As long as he’s being used as the compliment to Hightower, Arrington could post similarly impressive numbers, but he’s boom or bust as a third-down, big-play back. Let’s see what he can do against the 49ers in Week 10 before he goes on a roster.

Sidney Rice, WR Minnesota Vikings — The Vikings have been more productive passing the ball, but Rice is just now returning from injury and might not have a chance to make an impact. Even though he caught a TD on Sunday, that was his only catch. Still, if you are preparing for the playoffs, he gets the Lions, Cardinals and Falcons in Weeks 14-16. That’s promising if he gets back in this offense by then.

Mark Bradley, WR Kansas City Chiefs — A former QB and emerging star in the Kansas City offense. He’s been a big part of Thigpen’s success and might be worth jumping on now if you can afford to chance it. Bowe and Tony Gonzalez can both pull double coverage at times to leave Bradley open for a play.

Byron Leftwich, QB Pittsburgh Steelers — If Roethlisberger misses any time with his bruised AC joint, Leftwich should be a capable filler QB in Week 10 against the Colts. Don’t underestimate the Colts passing defense, but to win, the Steelers might have to put some points on the board.

An even better matchup looms large in Week 11 against the Chargers, but I doubt fantasy owners can expect Big Ben to miss that much time. If you just can’t find a QB this week or want to take a chance, keep your eye on the QB situation in Pittsburgh.

Joe Flacco, QB Baltimore Ravens — If you need a quarterback, there are plenty of options this week (see above), but Flacco should be one of the best. He has put up a very good two weeks, and he faces the Texans.

After Week 10 though, he’s probably not worth a roster spot with an intimidating run against the Giants, Eagles, Bengals, Redskins, Steelers and Cowboys.

Yeah, if you don’t need him this week, just keep an eye on him in case miracle juice starts spraying out of his arm after Week 10.

Brent Celek, TE Philadelphia Eagles — So he’s more than just a backup…maybe? Celek, much like Billy Miller, now makes an intriguing fill as long as L.J. Smith is hurt. Smith is expected to make his return in Week 10, but he is currently still listed as questionable.

If he doesn’t go, Celek could get the start against the Giants, ranked second against the pass, and even if Smith is healthy, we’ll have to see how much the Week 9 franchise record-setting performance helped Celek’s stock with the Philly coaching staff.

Consistency is hard to find in the Philly offense, but Celek is worth keeping an eye on if you need depth at the tight end position.

Desmond Clark, TE Chicago Bears — Greg Olsen is to Kyle Orton as Desmond Clark is to Rex Grossman. Rexy just likes the big guy better, and word on the street is that the Chicago passing game might move back to using the tight ends more as short-range options.

Keep your eye on Clark to see how much he factors in. We know Rex will have to escape quite a bit against the Titans in Week 10 and the Vikings in Week 13 until Kyle Orton comes back under the helm.

But even if he finds success with Rex, Clark’s not a playoff depth option when Kyle Orton returns.

Derek Fine, TE Buffalo Bills — Fine is one “fine” tight end (Forgive me) if you just look at his 43-yard, one touchdown stat line from Week 9, but the rest of this season, he’s put up blanks.

If Buffalo involves him in the offense more frequently than the other TEs now that they are lacking a dependable No. 2 receiving threat, Fine could continue to be “fine.” (Sorry, again — they flow out like candy.) Keep your eye on him in Week 10 against the Patriots.

Defenses to watch for the fantasy playoffs:

Arizona Cardinals D/ST — STL, MIN, @NE for a defense that has been deadly at home.

Miami Dolphins D/ST — @BUF, SF, KC with a sack machine coming on strong and an improving secondary.

Ignoring

Cedric Benson, RB Cincinnati Bengals — 100+ yards?!? And a score? The saddest part of Benson’s Week 9 performance was that it was only the third 100+ yard game of his career. THIRD. That’s just crazy.

Unfortunately, unless your playoff bound, he probably won’t ever do it again for you. He faces off against the Eagles, Steelers and Ravens after returning from a bye in Week 10. Sad but true.

The only good matchups remaining on his plate are the Colts in Week 14 (who just got back Bob Sanders) and the Browns in Week 16 — come on, you playing Benson for your championship game. If you have a Week 17 championship game though, he does face the Chiefs, and that could be a worthy start.

Unless you’re going to the playoffs, you can probably safely drop this one-week wonder or wait to see what happens against the Titans. Geesh.

Peyton Hillis, RB Denver Broncos — He caught a lot of passes in Week 9 (116 yards and a TD), but it’s hard to see that happening again this season.

Then again, I guess I said the same thing after Leonard Weaver had his day for Seattle. Shanahan could use his evil force powers on this one and make Hillis the feature back in Week 10, but I still stand by ignoring him as a waiver wire pickup.

If Shanahan makes him worth something, he’s likely to be gone as quickly as he came…I hope. Torain is the guy I would grab from Denver.

Koren Robinson, WR Seattle Seahawks — I think that was a miracle play for the Seahawks, and lightning is not likely strike twice in the same spot. That’s a fact.

Droppables

Rather than make this article cross any further into the 3000+ word realm, I’ll end here, but if you have any questions about who you should drop to get any of these guys, you know what to do!

Hint: Drop them in the comments!

On the Wire: Waiver Wire Winnings from Week 8

There have been many injuries this season in the NFL. Unfortunately, that’s not really anything new to this sport. Some fans might call for increased player protection, more fines or more pads, but it’s hard to see that making any difference.

In truth, the waiver wire in fantasy football exists as a result of the casualties in football. More often than not, it’s the guys that aren’t on the field that open the door for new faces and stat lines.

In my moonlighting gig as the fantasy football community leader for Bleacher Report, I was sent one particular article on the rampant injuries this season, and I thought my comments on this article summed up my view of the game well enough to present here for my foolish Fools readers. Enjoy.

Injuries happen. Such is the NFL.

It may seem like there are more this year, but it’s not really that much different from last year…or the year before. Just last year, we had players like Trent Green, Ronnie Brown, Larry Johnson, Cadillac Williams and Jeremy Shockey all go out with injuries.

Sadly, we don’t even notice when supporting cast members get hurt, but many more names we don’t know are cut or moved to IR everyday.

The NFL can fine players all they want, but accidents do happen. It’s a tough game to play. You can’t fine someone for every play that goes wrong. Sometimes freak things just happen and people get hurt.

For example, if you go to make a tackle on a QB at his waist and the RB (Sammy Morris) lurches onto your back, you’re going to sink down and hit the QB low (on Brady’s knee). It happens, but you can’t fine anyone for playing the game the way it is meant to be played.

You can strap bubble wrap and padding around every joint of a players body, but at the end of the day, they’re still going to be flying at each other at best-in-the-world speeds and trying to bring each other down. That’s the game. That’s how it’s played, and in a game like this, you’re going to have a player twist the wrong way, hit the wrong spot or just have a fluke fracture or sprain alone in the field.

To get even more deep on you, I think part of what makes football so electrifying, so inspiring and so breathtaking is that every game might be a player’s last.

Every time they step on that field, football players know they are going to leave it all out there. It’s why they are emotional when they leave the game and why they will have a finger removed just to stay out there.

We are watching the best in the business compete at their peak performance level every second of every quarter, and that’s what makes football so special.

Now, how about we see if you can get some of the best on your fantasy football team?

Worth Claiming

Marc Bulger, QB St. Louis Rams — If you gave up on him earlier this season, you might want to reconsider as he heads back into the soft part of his schedule. Donnie Avery is his new love child.

Chad Pennington, QB Miami Dolphins — He’s efficient, and he’s got playmakers around him at last. If Ted Ginn Jr. emerges as a legitimate deep threat, Pennington could find himself in the top end of fantasy QBs during the second half. He’s no Drew Brees, but he’s had at least 15 fantasy points the last four weeks and put up 250+ yards and at least one TD in the last three weeks.

Shaun Hill, QB San Francisco 49ers — JTO oh no! Shaun Hill is now Mike Martz’s QB Voodoo doll, and he’ll take over things in Week 10 after the bye. He was decent in relief of Alex Smith last season with five touchdowns in that three game span, and Mike Singletary hopes he’ll be less of a turnover machine than JTO. Be cautious with him; JTO might be back sooner rather than later.

Ryan Torain, RB Denver Broncos — He’s back on the field, and with Michael Pittman suffering from bruised ribs and Selvin Young/Andre Hall still banged up, he might see a significant amount of carries in Week 9. Leave it to Shanny to figure out how to screw you for picking him up down the line, but as the last man standing, Torain could actually be reliable for at least a few weeks.

Aaron Stecker and Pierre Thomas, RB New Orleans Saints — If Deuce McAllister misses any time because of this water pill controversy, Stecker and Thomas would share the load for New Orleans. Stecker was a stud filling in for Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister at the end of 2007, and I like him to be the power back if anything were to happen with Deuce. Both backs are seeing some limited touches with Reggie Bush out. The Saints are on bye in Week 9.

Kolby Smith, RB Kansas City Chiefs — If Larry Johnson doesn’t stop assaulting women, Smith might be the starter for the rest of the season. For this week at least, he’s the only RB that Kansas City has, but I wouldn’t expect him to do much.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB New England Patriots — Kevin Faulk is seeing most of the work, but Green-Ellis is the short-yardage workhorse for the Patriots. He could vulture a touchdown or two but his value will be squashed when Sammy Morris and/or LaMont Jordan return.

Nate Washington, WR Pittsburgh Steelers — Santonio Holmes is back from his “high” time as an inactive player, so Washington is back to being the No. 3 man in Pittsburgh. He’s good for the occasional long score, which he’s gotten in each of the Steelers’ last three games. Take a chance on him if you need him when he faces a weaker secondary several times in the second half of the season.

Mike Walker, WR Jacksonville Jaguars — He is practicing with the team this week, and while Matt Jones is suspended, Walker should reclaim a significant portion of the receptions for the Jags.

St. Louis Rams D/ST — In the last three weeks, the Rams have gotten more turnovers than any other team in the NFL, and they are getting to the quarterback as much as the top handful of teams. That’s fantasy value right there even if they do let teams get a lot of yardage on them. Just don’t start them this week against the Cardinals.

Quick fixes for this week:

Warrick Dunn, RB Tampa Bay Buccaneers — The best way to recover from a loss to the Cowboys is to run all over the Kansas City Chiefs this week. Earnest Graham and Dunn are bound to take turns running laps to the end zone in this one, and Dunn might even be able to get a score.

Ricky Williams, RB Miami Dolphins — If Ronnie Brown has another slow week, Williams could get to run the good runs against the Broncos, the silk curtain of run defenses.

Antonio Pittman, RB St. Louis Rams — He had 83 yards rushing and 22 yards receiving in Week 8 but only because Steven Jackson was injured. If you own Jackson, Pittman should probably make your roster for next week as the Rams head into a rushing-friendly portion of their schedule unless you’re deep at running back.

Guys you should probably have already picked up:

David Garrard, QB Jacksonville Jaguars — The Titans are going to win the division, and the Jags are passing. The world has flipped. If Garrard can tear it up against the Browns like no other QB has and set season highs in every category, he’s definitely going to be able to rip into the Bengals and Lions for the next two weeks. His playoff schedule guarantees that the Jags will have to put points on the board.

Donnie Avery, WR St. Louis Rams — Eventually, teams are going to figure out that they need to cover Avery too instead of just swarming all over Torry Holt. Until that happens, he’s burning everyone with at least one long pass for 40+ yards.

Kevin Walter, WR Houston Texans — How many times does he have to score two touchdowns in a game before you pick him up? How many times?!?

Greg Olsen, TE Chicago Bears — Anyone is nuts to drop this guy. Olsen has become one of the primary targets for the Bears, especially in the red zone. In the last two weeks, he’s had more targets than every Bear outside of the running backs; Forte is still a beast in the receiving game.

Ones to Watch

Leon Washington, RB New York Jets — He continues to make big plays for the Jets, but it’s hard to trust him to keep it up when he gets less than 10 carries per game. If he ever becomes more involved, he’s worth acquiring.

Chaz Schilens, WR Oakland Raiders — Since taking the starting job from Ronald Curry, Schilens has just been chizilen. He had his first big-sizzle game in Week 8 with one long 60-yard pass from JaMarcus Russell. We know JaMarcus can pass-izzle ‘em deep standing on his knees, so if Schilens becomes the deep threat in this unpredictable offense, he’s got our blessing, fo shizzle. I, for one, really hope he makes it big so I can keep saying his name.

Mark Bradley, WR Kansas City Chiefs — He scored! That’s the best way to get noticed in the Chiefs’ offense, and if Thigpen can hit him when Dwayne Bowe is getting doubled, the Chiefs might just make a fantasy player out of him. For now, he looks to be a developing deep league option at best.

Ignoring

Ted Ginn Jr., WR Miami Dolphins — Okay, 175 yards. Where the hell did that come from? He’s come on strong these last few weeks with a good portion of the receptions, but I am not buying this fantasy candy you’re selling, Ted, until I see another performance like that. If you are hurting at WR, he’s worth getting now before some other rookie does, but I won’t hype him until I see him in the game plan for next week.

Droppables

Cedric Benson, RB Cincinnati Bengals — I’m afraid the good days are gone for Benson. His only remaining game to circle on the schedule is a Week 14 game against the Colts, but is Benson really the best thing you have in the playoffs? He’s a starting running back, but he hasn’t proven to be very useful even in his easier matchups.

Carson Palmer, QB Cincinnati Bengals — If your team is really hurting and you need the depth and “play now” guys, I think you are okay leaving Palmer on the wire. Obviously, he’s got huge upside, and it’s likely that some other team will stash him on the bench. But we don’t know when he’s going to play again right now. More than likely, you can find someone who’ll do enough for you now to make up for any value you lose down the road. Feel free to debate who to replace Palmer with in the comments if you are struggling with this one.

Matt Hasselbeck, QB Seattle Seahawks — Hasselbeck is an anchor of this offense, so Seattle’s struggles are to be expected without him. They still aren’t a terrible team. His schedule is very easy to end the year, but you probably won’t need him in the playoffs unless another quarterback can get you there while Hasselbeck is banged up. I’m going to go out on a limb and approve dropping him for now, but I’d actually try and hold onto him if you are a playoff-bound team.

Foolish Thoughts on Week 7: Wade Phillips would make a great Mall Santa

I feel a bit like Mike Nolan this morning. A heart-wrenching, late pass to Eddie Royal caused me to lose by 0.10 points last night. A tenth of a point — seriously brutal.

My fantasy team chose Week 7 to look like the Cowboys — full of talent but not producing.

Speaking of Big D, I can’t tell the difference between the Cowboys and the Bengals anymore since they played each other.

Is there any kind of FTD (Football-ually Transmitted Disease) that could have jumped off Chad Johnson and Carson Palmer and into the Cowboys? I am sure Adam “Pacman” Jones could have contracted it…

Or perhaps Pacman was the carrier all along. He could have passed it on to Vince Young before leaving the Titans despite Vince’s best efforts to stay clean. There’s evidence.

The Bills are for real, and Kawika Mitchell was an extra in “The Beastmaster.” Believe me.

Sorry if you are Chargers fan, but Philip Rivers just can’t carry his team all season without the usual from a healthy LaDainian Tomlinson or a fully recovered Chris Chambers and Antonio Gates. He might not get either one.

The Bears-Vikings shootout serves as a great example of how unpredictable the NFL can be — especially when you try to predict the outcome of games on a weekly basis. I would have expected that score for the Cowboys-Rams game or Saints-Panthers game but not the Bears-Vikings game.

Of note, Jonathan Stewart had the score this week against a better-than-you-think-no-really Saints run defense. I think he’ll see his best games when DeAngelo Williams is slowed by stout run stoppage. The trend continues.

Ravens crushed that silly ‘Wildcat.’ FINALLY. Miami is going to have to dig deeper with that play.

The Lions are just terrible, but Calvin Johnson will make it up to his fantasy owners by getting one of those long bombs every now and then.

I’m shocked that Tennessee could run on Kansas City. Really, I am.

Okay, okay, I’m not really serious, but I am shocked that the big boy LenDale White was able to make it all the way to the end zone on that long scamper without being run down from behind. He’s not going to miss out on scoring opportunities even if Chris Johnson looks like the better back.

Make sure White’s on a roster as he goes into a fairly juicy piece of schedule.

So Peyton Manning isn’t quite back to normal production, but he’s not as terrible as this score makes it look. The receivers weren’t helping him out in Green Bay. Take away the two pick-six returns for touchdowns, and the final score would have only been 20-14.

Peyton and Eli just need to work on their tackling. That’ll be a great Thanksgiving for the Manning family.

Who called for a Browns resurgence? Yeah, not this week. Maybe the reason they have been sluggish to start the season is that nasty staph outbreak

WAIT, it just came to me. The FTD the Cowboys caught is a staph infection from playing the Browns in Week 1. It just took a few weeks to flare up.

Did anyone think it was hard to run on Cincinnati?

Just checking.

Seattle and Tampa Bay was one of the lamest performances on Sunday Night Football that I’ve seen in awhile. Seneca Wallace fumbling the snap when they finally had a chance to score was just fate hitting them in the mouth again. Did the Seahawks dump the lavatory over an Indian burial ground on their flight to Buffalo in Week 1?

Matt Cassel should thank Champ Bailey’s hamstring and Andre Hall’s horrible, fumble-fury hands for his successful Monday night. Cutler’s throwing strength was never right again after he slammed his finger into that helmet, and it’s hard to lead a gimpy comeback when every run play is a turnover.

Do you think Andre Hall will see a carry for the Broncos again?

I don’t. Bring on Ryan Torain!

I guess it’s a plus that the Broncos get to go into the bye and work out these kinks. The return of that Patriot-style offense would be nice, Cutler, but make sure it’s the Brady Patriots and not the Cassel Patriots. I know where you keep the insulin.

Beers and cheers to those of you starting Steven Jackson. I hate you…but only because I played against a team led by Steven Jackson and Clinton Portis this week. I guess you might look forward to that Week 15 and Week 16 performance from Jackson if you make it into the playoffs — WHICH I HOPE YOU DON’T.

I didn’t mean that. It’s the foolish anger talking…

On the Wire: Waiver Wire Hardships from Week 6

As I listened to the end of the Texas-OU game while hunched over in a car on my way to a wedding this weekend, two things occurred to me: 1) people REALLY shouldn’t get married the same weekend as the Texas-OU game and 2) there could be a large amount of rookie quarterbacks coming into the NFL next year.

This season has been brutal to quarterbacks. It’s like they are the running backs this season — drafted highly by fantasy owners but very prone to season-ending injuries because of the abuse they take. Those fantasy footballers who drafted a quarterback high this year more often than not paid the price — yes, I’m looking at you Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Derek Anderson. At least we can all hate the guy that drafted Drew Brees.

On a brighter note, I thought I was going to be very clever in one of my pay leagues this past week in picking up Fred Taylor against a weak Denver run defense. Someone had dropped Taylor because of bye week issues. It was the perfect crime, but we all saw how that turned out.

Fine, waiver wire. You won that one by throwing me a curveball injury, tricky mistress, but there are a few “hardships” to be had this week.

From now until the end of the season, unfortunately, the best waiver wire grabs are starting to stem from surprise injuries, not exceptional or surprising play. It may pain you to pick some of these guys up, but it’s how you play the game. Players put in the same role/situation have equal opportunity to succeed — just look at Correll Buckhalter.

Worth Claiming

Jeff Garcia, QB Tampa Bay Buccaneers — He’s a valid spot start his week against Seattle and faces a Dallas secondary in Week 8 that should be starting two rookie corners. It’s only Kansas City in Week 9. Even for Garcia, those could be productive days with the exception of Dallas if the Cowboys come to play. If he can produce more than 10 points in those outings, he might be worth holding onto for short while. Hear that, Hasselbeck/Romo owners? If you wait out his bye and the Vikings, his next two decent starts come against the Lions and the Saints.

Brad Johnson, QB Dallas Cowboys — If Romo decides not to go it the Brett Favre way — hoorah — Johnson gets the call to manage the Dallas offense. With the addition of Roy Williams, he has a good chance to be successful as a pocket-passing statue. Sadly, after a warm, cuddly start against St. Louis this week, he faces Tampa Bay and the Giants. Romo owners, pad your roster with Johnson if you can, but you’ll probably want to look elsewhere after this week. Unless he dominates Week 7, there should be better options out there on your waiver wire.

Derek Anderson, QB Cleveland Browns — Was someone silly enough to drop a player like Anderson after his slow, pathetic start to the season? He had a coming out party in Week 6 — and no, Nick, I’m not talking about Brady Quinn. Anderson has five more games on his schedule that look like he could put up the gaudy numbers of last year, and if he can maintain his play against tough opponents with Braylon Edwards, you’re set. For now, you’ll want to bring him into a QB committee so that you don’t have to start him every week.

Sammy Morris, RB New England Patriots — After all the carnage in the backfield in New England, Morris is “the guy” again for the moment. He might be bouncing around the wire with several other Patriot RBs since Belichick went all Shanahan this year, but he’s worth putting on a roster for his game against Denver, St. Louis and Indy these next three weeks. We all know it’s in Belichick’s best interest to run the ball rather than let Cassel attempt to throw — oops, I mean, underthrow. At least he’s not Dan Orlovsky.

Dominic Rhodes, RB Indianapolis Colts — Rhodes resumed his duty as the Colts RB in Week 6 after Addai injured his hamstring. Hamstrings don’t just go away, so expect Rhodes to get a start or at least get an increased workload in Week 7. The Packers have failed to stop the run lately, so he makes a good play here. If Rhodes can justify holding onto the workload as the season continues, he could be a nice guy to have around come playoffs — Bengals (W14), Lions (W15) and Jags (W16).

Ryan Torain, RB Denver Broncos — If there was ever a time to take him, it’s probably now. Yes, you’re risking it. No, we have no idea if Shanahan will use him. Yes, he did talk a lot about him in the preseason, but no, I don’t trust a man that looks like an outlaw from a Clint Eastwood movie.

Devin Hester, WR Chicago Bears – Hester has proven himself to be a legitimate receiver in the Bears offense. With his potential to get you a returning score as well, there’s a lot of upside to be had in starting him each week. Vikings may limit him before the Bears’ bye, but in Week 9, they get the Lions again.

Kevin Curtis, WR Philadelphia Eagles — He didn’t get back on the field this week, but he’s close. With DeSean Jackson there to take some heat of him in the passing game, he could retake his role as the No. 1 option in Philly. Make sure he’s on your roster if no one has him on their bench yet.

Marcedes Lewis, TE Jacksonville Jaguars — He scores touchdowns with Garrard and has one for each of his last two games. If he keeps it up against the Browns, Bengals and Lions, he could be deadly for a stretch here and a stretch in the fantasy playoffs. You could sleep on him a week though considering he is on bye unless someone else in your league will be after him.

Ones to Watch

Tashard Choice, RB Dallas Cowboys — Felix Jones injured his hammy, which leaves Choice as the best “choice” to spell Marion Barber — I know that I am cheesy. Choice could get Jones’ carries for now, but don’t expect the big plays Jones has broken this season.

Ahman Green, RB Houston Texans — Steve Slaton is the guy to have in the Texans backfield, but Green is getting a share of the touches as well. He could share in the fantasy points against Detroit this week and/or carry some value in the Texans’ good running matchups in Weeks 10-14, but he’s more of a deep league option or depth if you own Slaton.

Kenny Watson, RB Cincinnati Bengals — Chris Perry can’t hold onto the ball, and Benson hasn’t done much better. Neither back has done anything to justify or hold a starting job. Watson was the guy to own in the Bengals backfield last year and could return to the lineup after he heals up. Unfortunately, I don’t think you really want to own any Bengals this year, but keep an eye on him or add him if you are looking for potential upside in deeper leagues.

Donnie Avery, WR St. Louis Rams – Avery, the first WR taken in this year’s draft, had a big game for the Rams in Week 6 with four catches for 73 yards. If he remains involved in the offense when Drew Bennett returns from his injury, he might be a key element in improving the Rams’ record in the second half of 2008. The Rams end the season with some nice passing matchups — Seattle in Week 15 and San Fran in Week 16. Still, he’s not worth jumping on except in deeper leagues unless he can keep a hold on the starting job.

Vernon Davis, TE San Francisco 49ers — Six catches for 75 yards? A 57-yard bomb? Is this the Vernon Davis that every preseason analyst talks about? It’s unfortunate that it’s probably all a trick. Davis is a huge, athletic talent, but the 49ers just aren’t using him consistently enough to warrant a starting spot on any roster. All that could change if the other tight end in San Fran who had been showing Davis up in several games, Delanie Walker, has to move to fullback to replace the injured Zak Keasey, but unless Davis posts numbers against the Giants this week, I’m not buying.

Miami Dolphins D/ST — The Dolphins defense has quietly been showing signs of life since being thrashed by the Cardinals in Week 2. They are decent against the run, and Joey Porter has had a resurgence of sorts getting to the QB. They have a hard time against big, playmaking wide receivers (like Andre Johnson), but otherwise, they can put up some fantasy points for you. They have sleeper status going into this week against Baltimore, who just got destroyed by the Colts, and a nice playoff schedule with St. Louis and Kansas City in Weeks 15-16.

New Orleans Saints D/ST — The Saints streak of double-digit fantasy performances continue. As long as Brees keeps putting the ball in the air, he forces the opposing teams to take risks that give this defense opportunities to make big plays. They were even able to shut down the run against Adrian Peterson. Keep watching them as they go into a potential rough patch before their bye facing Carolina and San Diego. Their playoff schedule ain’t too shabby — Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit. All those offenses would have to take big risks to compete.

Ignoring

Warrick Dunn, RB Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Just a note here for all of you jumping on Dunn expecting him to be the dominant runner for the Bucs: The reason Dunn had so many yards was because Earnest Graham volunteered to fill in for the injured fullback, thus earning the praise of both Dunn and Jon Gruden. Barring Graham filling in for the fullback on a permanent basis, he’s still going to get half of the carries in Tampa Bay and a lot more praise. Don’t go after Dunn like he’s taking over, okay?

Patrick Cobbs, RB Miami Dolphins — What do you know, another wrinkle in the ‘Wildcat’ offense. I’m not completely blowing off his Week 6 performance, but Cobbs has done absolutely nothing up until now. He might be a worthy gamble play one of these days, but there’s no promise that this ever happens again.

Shaun Alexander, RB Washington Redskins — Woohoo! Alexander’s back, baby! Well, he’s also sitting behind one of the best backs in fantasy right now, Clinton Portis, and he only got a job because Ladell Betts sprained his knee. If it took Alexander this long to get signed by a team, I’m guessing he’s nothing more than a temporary handcuff to Portis. Do what you will, Portis owners.

You should have already picked up:

Michael Pittman, RB Denver Broncos — He had a pretty nice week as the main guy in Denver. Who knows how long that will last with Ryan Torain on the horizon, but at least he gets goal line carries regardless.

Droppables

Laurence Maroney, RB New England Patriots — I’m sorry if you drafted this guy. Even Belichick may have forgotten who he is. Not sure his potential productivity with that many RBs in the mix makes him worth waiting on at this point.

Sage Rosenfels, QB Houston Texans – Schaub’s got this under control, okay? Thanks.

Michael Bush, RB Oakland Raiders — Bush almost got traded before the deadline, which means the Raiders don’t consider him a big part of their offense. As long as Fargas and Darren McFadden stay healthy enough to play, Bush shouldn’t see much action. The Raiders might not even have that much action in the running game if they try to pass the ball more often like they did in Week 6.

On the Wire: Waiver Wire Grabs from Week 5

In 2006, I drafted Clinton Portis as my lead running back. I don’t even remember who my second running back was, but, in the late rounds, I picked myself up a rookie with too many names, Maurice Jones-Drew.

When Jones-Drew blew up with his big rookie season (1300+ yards and 15 TDs), I thought I was going to dominate with the Portis/Jones-Drew tandem until Portis broke his hand in Week 10 and killed my playoff chances. I had no viable replacement for Portis’ consistent point production because I had filled my bench with a few filler wide receivers and running backs that had poor schedules to end the season.

Fantasy owners who are sitting pretty right now have to start building for the playoffs. You want to balance your roster, strengthen your studs if you can by trading up and acquire a bench of players that, if nothing else, will have dominant performances in Weeks 14-16, when it matters most.

The waiver wire is critical from here on out because it can shift the power among the top teams and bring in the depth and talent that you need to win your league. Don’t think that you can become complacent now just because your team is sitting on top or sulking on the bottom.

Last year, in one of my veteran leagues, the playoff contenders were pretty evenly matched heading into the last part of the regular season until a team that was winning with the duo of Terrell Owens and Randy Moss picked up Kurt Warner and Ryan Grant off waivers.

Well, you can guess how that worked out for him. What a lucky jackass smart guy.

Here are a few potential fantasy free agents that could help you do that same in 2008.

Worth Claiming

Bobby Engram, WR Seattle Seahawks
If no one picked him up last week or if your league remains unimpressed by his eight catches for 61 yards against the Giants, make sure you put him on your roster this week. His schedule gets MUCH better, and if Branch is injured, that means even more balls coming his way — and that’s what she said. I prefer Engram to Branch, even when neither of them have foot pain. After Green Bay and the Bucs, Engram will open it up against the 49ers, Eagles, Dolphins, Cardinals…it keeps going from there. He’s just the kind of guy you want on your playoff team as well with matchups against the Rams and Jets in Week 15 and Week 16.

Devin Hester, WR Chicago Bears
Remember experimenting with him as a wide receiver? It’s happening now…and working. Without Brandon Lloyd, Hester is the homerun threat, and Orton is making him dangerous for opposing defenses. Enjoy him while the Bears go through the soft, chewy center of their schedule.

Greg Camarillo, WR Miami Dolphins
Some people just jump out on you when they finally get a touchdown. Pennington won’t open it up down the field that much, but he’s got to start throwing to someone other than his tight ends as he matures in the Dolphin’s offense.  Camarillo has 17 catches through four games, his bye has already passed and he’s got a sick playoff schedule with the 49ers and Kansas City in Weeks 15 and 16. If you currently have Ted Ginn, Jr. on your roster, first of all, slap yourself. Second, pick up Camarillo instead.

Greg Olsen, TE Chicago Bears
Tight ends are a big hit on the waiver wire this week. Olsen is the first one on the list. Other than Marty Booker and his “spider-sense” hands, Olsen is one of the best pass catchers the Bears have on their roster. He’s getting some big plays down the field and has been more productive in Brandon Lloyd’s absence. Matchups like this week against Atlanta shouldn’t hurt his chances to get a second TD either. Orton is targeting him rather than Desmond Clark these days, and as Orton goes, so goes Greg Olsen.

Dustin Keller, TE New York Jets
Brett Favre and Keller connected almost immediately this season, and Favre is throwing out touchdowns like candy in a parade. You want this guy on your roster. Say it with me now: I want this guy on my roster. If you don’t have a top tight end on your roster or Dustin Keller after reading that paragraph…well, then there is no hope for you, buddy. You’ll never improve your tight end situation, quit smoking or hypnotize yourself into losing weight. I give up.

Visanthe Shiancoe, TE Minnesota Vikings
I was hoping I wouldn’t have to mention this guy. His name is just so freaking hard to type. It’s like his parents named him by looking at a QWERTY keyboard and choosing letters that were really far apart. No, really, Shiancoes, I’m on to you. As long as Frerotte is starting, the Vikings will need a red zone target. Otherwise, every defense just stacks the box to keep Adrian Peterson out of the end zone when they are close. Shank-o is a red zone man. He’s got two TDs this season including the TD pass from Chester Taylor this past weekend. Since we’re so big on playoff schedules this week on the wire, how about Lions, Cardinals and Falcons?

Kyle Orton, QB Chicago Bears
If I mentioned two of his best options, I guess that means I have to mention him again…doesn’t it? Orton tied for the top spot at QB in Week 5. In Week 6, he faces Atlanta. It makes me sick to think of him as a fantasy-worthy QB as well, but I’m starting him this week. When is Orton going to get his first endorsement for Gilette or Norelco?

Warrick Dunn, RB Tampa Bay Buccaneers
He looked better than Earnest Graham in Week 5 against the Broncos. Graham should have had a field day on that defense. I’m worried if I am a Graham owner.

Justin Fargas, RB Oakland Raiders
Back at full health, he’s the starting running back for one of the best rushing offenses in football. McFadden might demand more touches at this point, but Fargas will still get some cred since he had the job first. It’s a rule of the workplace. Haven’t you ever had a steady corporate job with a ladder to nowhere?

Cedric Benson, RB Cincinnati Bengals
As I mentioned previously in my thoughts from Week 5, Chris Perry’s hold on the starting job in Cincy isn’t going to get much weaker than it is right now. Benson will obviously play a larger role in Week 6, but he could take over the reigns completely. I mean, what’s he got to beat? Averaging less three yards per carry and leading the league in fumbles? Even for Benson, that’s doable.

Ones to Watch

Mike Walker, WR Jacksonville Jaguars
Also revealed in my thoughts from Week 5, Walker is one of a handful of sleepers I had on a list to start the season. He hadn’t quite woken up yet and flirted with close to 50 yards in the Houston game, but he came alive against the Steelers with six passes for 107 yards. He’s worthy of putting on a roster at this point in the season. If he turns into a go-to possession and red zone receiver, Walker could become a staple of your starting lineup. He may have gotten a little torn up on Sunday night, so watch the reports before you make a grab. If healthy, I see nothing but upside, but he’s so small time as a Jacksonville WR that you might be able to wait on him.

Kevin Curtis, WR Philadelphia Eagles
I really want to see Kevin Curtis take the field this season, and he could be close to it. McNabb is stalling out a bit as of late, but he was firing away the first two weeks. I’m sure he’d get a boost throwing to Curtis alongside DeSean Jackson and Reggie Brown. Keep an eye on him.

Nate Washington, WR Pittsburgh Steelers
Washington fills a role similar to Devery Henderson on the Saints or Chansi Stuckey on the Jets. He’s the third WR who goes for a lot of big plays. He’s not always hit with lots of passes, but when he gets one, he can take it to the house. Washington has looked more solid than Santonio Holmes over the last several weeks, and he’s not a bad start when the Steelers are going to be passing frequently. Washington had 95 yards and a touchdown against Jacksonville this past weekend.

Vince Young, QB Tennessee Titans
It pains me to only be able to list VY as a “one to watch,” but the Titans are on a bye. I know Young isn’t supposed to take back the reigns on the starting job, and more than likely, it won’t happen in Week 7, BUT (I like big buts…) I believe that his return to the starting lineup is inevitable. He’s too talented with too much invested in him for the Titans to pass it off to Kerry Collins. If VY returns and hits his stride in the NFL, he finishes up against the Jets, Lions, Browns and Texans before facing the Steelers in Week 16. In a free agent pool of substitute QBs, VY has the greatest upside. Don’t let that get away from you.

Correll Buckhalter, RB Philadelphia Eagles
He’s a sufficient Westbrook substitute, but just like Splenda, he’s nothing like the real thing. It’s just got that twang that makes you know it’s not the real stuff, you know? I believe Westbrook will go in Week 6 against the 49ers, but if they hold him back until after their Week 7 bye, Buckhalter is the guy you want to fill in for your roster.

Ryan Torain, RB Denver Broncos
Mike Shanahan couldn’t stop raving about Torain before the season started, and then Torain got hurt and missed out on the season up until now. I’m going to start mentioning him as a watch for now, but he’s probably going to jump into the grab-worthy category once he is cleared to practice. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if Shanahan never gave him a single carry after talking so much about him just to make fantasy owners waste a spot on their roster? < — Not a joke.

Maurice Morris, RB Seattle Seahawks
When he comes back from injury, he could challenge Julius Jones for carries or the starting role. That’s not the most valuable starting fantasy RB job in the NFL, but you might seriously be contemplating putting Cedric Benson on your team. Call me a Julius Jones hater, but I just like Morris better. Watch him.

Ahman Green, RB Houston Texans
Old bones is back in football pads. It’s sort of anticlimactic now that he isn’t even catching a whiff of the starting role, but Green is bound to be somewhat productive…until his next injury. He’s worth watching only if you need a bye week fill or if you just really like the Texans. Crickets? No one?

Flukes or Droppables

Hank Baskett, WR Philadelphia Eagles
Reggie Brown has stolen back his starting spot, so Baskett is back on the bench. At least he sort of, maybe, in gossip blog terms dated one of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends. Say goodbye to Kendra, Hank. Your fifteen minutes seconds are up.

Ray Rice, RB Baltimore Ravens
I still hate LeRon McClain, but he totally sniped Rice’s job from him. Maybe he ate Ray Rice. Has anyone checked? Oh, God.

Andre Hall, RB Denver Broncos
Hall is about to be swallowed up by the Torain train and/or the black hole that is the running back depth chart in Denver. His injury just provides one more reason to let him go.

Chris Perry, RB Cincinnati Bengals
Don’t just ditch him on the side of the road. He’s still a starting running back for a *potentially* high-powered offense, but it’s very possible that he could lose his job just like his lost all the marbles over the last five games. I’d seek greener, better gripping pastures.

Q&A QB: Which Rookie Running Backs Are Worth Drafting?

Q&A QB is a head-smacking, hard-hitting, name-taking question and answer series where Jacob assists readers and his Twitter followers in perfecting their draft strategy and winning their league. If you’d like to be featured in a future Q&A QB post, send Jacob an email or tweet him (whatever that means).

QUESTION: What are your thoughts on some of the rookie running backs in the later rounds?

I have a feeling someone in my league will jump on the McFadden bandwagon and take him second or third round. I’m not sold on him that high, but what about Matt Forte in the later rounds (sixth or seventh)? Maybe Jonathan Stewart and Rashard Mendenhall? A sleeper pick I am looking at for the tenth or eleventh round is Ray Rice. What are your thoughts on him?

To answer this question, let’s just break down all the rookie RBs worth drafting. Rankings are at the bottom for those of you who like to cheat.

Darren McFadden RB Oakland Raiders

Darren McFadden is going earlier than I think he deserves. He’s not going to put up Adrian Peterson numbers this year. I think fourth round is really the best round to snag him in for value. Any sooner than that is expecting more than you are going to get.

I am not a fan of the crowded backfield in Oakland. He will eventually be the starting running back there, but the Raider offense is still very weak and unproven in the passing game. They will lean heavily on their running game and get McFadden decent numbers with a few exceptional performances. He won’t be breaking any rookie records.

In the second round, let someone else spend a high pick on him. Solid running backs that will out produce him for 2008 are still available there. You can find a better RB2. Make McFadden a FLEX or RB3.

Matt Forte RB Chicago Bears

Matt Forte is a reliable pick. He won’t put up any crazy stat weeks, but he should be good for some consistent yardage and a few scores.

He’s a nice pick because he is actually going at his value.

There is a slight scare now that Kevin Jones has returned from his injury that he will take Forte’s job away, but I think the Bears still want to put the ball in Forte’s hands as their back of the future. Even if they share time, I think I like the chances for Forte to be successful.

You can get Forte in the later rounds, and if he does end up producing more than consistent yardage and the occasional score, he’s has great value there.

Jonathan Stewart RB Carolina Panthers

I really Jonathan Stewart this year, but no one is sure whether he will get the start in Carolina.

Last season, Carolina screwed everyone by starting DeShaun Foster after consensus opinion was that DeAngelo Williams would have won the role. It could happen again with Stewart and Williams.

Depending upon who you ask, Carolina has one of the easiest rushing schedules in 2008. If you can get Stewart in the fifth round and DeAngelo Williams in the sixth or seventh, the pair creates a strong RB2 for any fantasy team.

If you draft Stewart in the fifth round or so, just make sure you get Williams or another solid start in case Stewart doesn’t win the starting job right away.

Rashard Mendenhall RB Pittsburgh Steelers

Rashard Mendenhall’s value isn’t really clear at this point.

He’s likely to steal short yardage looks for Willie Parker, but I don’t see him taking command of this offense this year as much as Jonathan Stewart could. He might be a bye week fill late in the season if he sees an increased role, but for now, he is merely a good backup to roster late for Willie Parker owners.

Some people are going to be really high on him like I am on Stewart, but I don’t buy him being a big fantasy producer in the Steelers’ offense this year. Take Mendenhall later in your draft if you get Willie Parker, but he should go off the boards only after all the RBs with the chance to start are gone.

Ray Rice RB Baltimore Ravens

Ray Rice is a smart pick to close out your draft — especially with McGahee returning slowly from his recent surgery. Rice could end up playing a larger role in this offense than we originally thought for 2008 if McGahee falters.

Cam Cameron knows how to make phenomenal RBs. If Rice has the job given to him, he will benefit, but I still think McGahee is the guy in 2008. He’ll get past his injury before the season gets going.

Steve Slaton RB Houston Texans

Steve Slaton is a better flier late in your draft than Ray Rice. He has a good chance to start by the end of this season.

Houston has Ahman Green in the starting role, but he is on his way out. They brought Chris Brown to play a stopgap role in case Green is injured again this season and to hold them over until Slaton can start, but Brown has injury troubles again as well.

Slaton is the future of the franchise at RB — unless Chris Taylor lives up to all that “coach speak” love from offseason last year. Luckily for fantasy owners, Taylor is being transitioned into a fullback. If Slaton shines enough, he could have the starting job.

If the Texans RBs are plagued with injury, Slaton will start and produce well. He could work his way into a role worth of a RB2 spot on your fantasy team. If you are willing to wait on him — and he’s a better one to wait on than Ray Rice or Mendenhall — he’s more likely than other rookies to have a significant role by the middle of the season.

Chris Johnson RB Tennessee Titans

The wild card rookie this year is Chris Johnson. He set the NFL Combine ablaze when he posted the fastest 40 time. That speed got him drafted in the first round by the Titans.

He’s sharing a backfield with LenDale White, but he also has explosive, big play potential. The Titans could use him like Reggie Bush was utilized in the Saints’ offense during his rookie season.

Johnson is already gunning for offensive rookie of the year and talking it up. With a crowded backfield for McFadden in Oakland and the absence of receiving playmakers in the Tennessee offense, it just might happen.

The only drawback of drafting Johnson is that he is skyrocketing up draft boards. He’s going ahead of LenDale in some drafts now. If he falls to the sixth or seventh in your draft, he is a steal there. Taking him as a RB2 is not advised, but a FLEX or RB3 is a perfect place to put him. Don’t pay too much for a guy you can’t be sure about.

Kevin Smith RB Detroit Lions

When Tatum Bell returned to the Lions, he thought he would be the starting Detroit RB. Too bad…

Kevin Smith almost broke the record for total yardage in a season while in college. He can handle a big workload. Plus, he ran in the Detroit Lions same system while in college. The Lions won’t be great this year, but as long as he has another strong showing in the Week 4 preseason game, the Lions are likely to declare him the starter over Bell. That means he’ll be worth something in fantasy.

He’s barely worth a RB3 spot right now, but taking him as a backup RB could end up being a smart move when Detroit faces weak run defenses.

Ryan Torain RB Denver Broncos

It’s no secret that Mike Shanahan is in love with Ryan Torain. He likes his physical size and abilities and compares him to Terrell Davis.

Torain could have overtaken Selvin Young before he injured his elbow in the preseason. Now, he should miss the first part of the season and return in a backup role, but don’t be surprised to see him get on the field.

Selvin Young, for all his talk this offseason, is not a feature back. While Young can carry the load early this season, he could easily struggle or suffer an injury. It’ll be hard for him to keep a guy like Torain on the bench as long as Mike Shanahan likes the new rookie RB.

He’s not worth drafting, but he’s a player to watch as the season progresses. Just like every other guy on Shanahan’s list, Torain could put up some fantasy points when he’s back on Denver’s RB depth chart.

Felix Jones RB Dallas Cowboys

To use the incredibly over-killed phrase, Felix Jones is the lightning to Marion Barber’s thunder. (I already feel cheaper for having said that.)

Unlike the fading Julius Jones, Felix Jones brings some impact speed to the Cowboys running game. He’ll likely play more snaps than Julius Jones did late last season and compliment Barber with some big yardage breaks and a few big touchdowns.

He doesn’t have the same super speed as Chris Johnson, but he is worth putting on your roster before you start going after some of the iffy starting RBs. Dallas’ offense is powerful, and Jones will put up points by just being in that machine. You could take him in the seventh or eighth round for a potent FLEX player or backup RB.

More rookie RBs that just aren’t worth drafting yet:

  • Tim Hightower, Arizona Cardinals (He won’t steal Edge’s job just yet)
  • Mike Hart, Indianapolis Colts (Addai and Rhodes in front of him)
  • Tashard Choice, Dallas Cowboys (He’ll give Barber breathers but not much else)
  • Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (Not impressive enough to steal much time from LJ or Kolby Smith)

Which rookie RBs are worth drafting and where?

Rankings go by who I would want on my team the most, not necessarily where you’ll have to draft them to get them on your team. Round recommendations are the earliest I would suggest drafting the rookie RB based on a 12-team, non-PPR league. Average draft position stats from Footballguys.com.

1 Darren McFadden ADP: 40 4th Rd
2 Jonathan Stewart ADP: 64 5th Rd
3 Chris Johnson ADP: 96 6th Rd to 8th Rd
4 Matt Forte ADP: 66 6th Rd
5 Felix Jones ADP: 98 7th Rd to 8th Rd
6 Kevin Smith ADP: 67 6th Rd
7 Steve Slaton ADP:153 12th Rd
8 Rashard Mendenhall ADP: 87 9th Rd to 10th Rd
9 Ray Rice ADP:114 12th Rd (Late Flier)
10 Ryan Torain ADP:198 Undrafted (Late Flier)

Fantasy Football Players You Hate, Twitter

Last weekend, I asked all my Twitter followers what players ranked in the top 50 they didn’t want to touch in their fantasy football drafts.

I’m sure each one of you is hoarding some dark feelings towards one of the top 10 players in fantasy, but even knowing the hatred you hold in your hearts for some of the NFL’s best, I received a few curveballs in the responses. (Does that count as a mixed metaphor?)

So who does Twitter hate this season? Turns out they’re all running backs.

Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia Eagles RB
Current ADP: RB3, 3rd Overall

Brian Westbrook is not a hard man to dislike in fantasy football, and I am not even talking about that time he stopped short of an easy touchdown against the Cowboys last season. No matter what he does, Westbrook’s never good enough to please fantasy football fans when the draft comes around.

Last season, only eight players scored more fantasy points than Westbrook in standard, non-PPR scoring, and of those eight, only one of them was a running back. I am sure you have no idea who that running back was, so we’ll move on.

The No. 1 reason that many people stay away from Westbrook is that he is “injury prone.” Westbrook went down late in the season in 2004 and 2005, and no fantasy player wants to forget it even though Westbrook has only missed one game each of the past two seasons.

Missing the one game last year, Westbrook still scored 12 total touchdowns (7 TDs running, 5 TDs receiving) with more than 2000 yards rushing and receiving. Those numbers are pretty epic. He averaged more than 18 fantasy points per week in standard scoring and never scored less than 14–of course, overlooking the game he missed.

You can hate the guy or avoid him if you want, but I like him this season because he’s proven he can stay healthy for at least 15 games, and with few weapons, the Eagles are going to use him a lot. He has the same workload concerns as LaDainian Tomlinson since he has had so many carries in recent years, but I don’t see anyone backing off of L.T. because of that, do you?

I say you give Westbrook a chance this season. He’s a top five RB, no question, and I’d feel safe taking him before the Purple Jesus that is Adrian Peterson.

Larry Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs RB
Current ADP: RB10, 13th Overall

L.J. is less of a puzzle than Westbrook. He is feared this season because he looked terrible last season.

He missed most of training camp with his holdout in 2007 and, once he was paid, started slow against a tough early schedule. Owners held out until he got to the chewy center of his rushing opponents only to see Johnson injure his foot and get knocked out for the season.

Not much has changed with L.J. He has a fully-functioning foot–or so I am told–but his offensive line is still going to be inexperienced.

Don’t count on Brodie Croyle to step in and take pressure off the running game. The offense will look about as inadequate as it did last season.

Best case, Johnson overcomes all and records a top five fantasy season, but with so many question marks, I understand why you all doubt him. I don’t see it happening.

Stay away from him in the first round, but if you see him floating by in the middle or end of the second round, he could be worth a shot.

Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins RB
Current ADP: RB18, 34th Overall

Brown’s also a pretty easy one to figure out since he is also coming off injury.

While Ronnie Brown was just starting to look like the new L.T., his knee injury in Week 7 stole him away from fantasy owners.

While he was out, Cam Cameron left town and in came Bill Parcells. The new coaches like Brown as their starter, but they have enough confidence in Ricky Williams to let him carry the load while Brown eases back into things. A plus for both RBs is the addition of Jake Long on the offensive line.

You can’t expect a lot of Brown until later in the season. If only someone would tell that to every other owner in your league, you could draft him at his real value. As the prodigal son of 2007 fantasy football, too many hype-drinkers are jumping on him early. Brown currently carries a late third round price tag on average, and that is reasonable if you can get it.

I like him more in the fourth round, but frankly, I have to agree that I would rather avoid him. A better option if you want a piece of the Miami running schedule (easy as pie according to strength of schedule) is Ricky Williams in the later rounds. He’ll face some easy opponents in the first weeks of the season.

Ryan Grant, Green Bay Packers RB
Current ADP: RB12, 19th Overall

So you think he is a one-year wonder? You probably pin half his performance on the respect defenses gave to Favre’s big arm, or maybe you just like Brandon Jackson to emerge this year.

Well, whatever you think, don’t be so worried. Now that he has signed his contract extension, Grant should be the starter for Green Bay, a team that is more oriented toward solid defense this season and starting a first-year quarterback. That formula equals a commitment to the running game and plenty of opportunities for Grant.

If you put faith in strength of schedule, Grant ends the season on a hot streak (see: fantasy playoffs). He may not put up the numbers he did at the end of last season, but the Seattle playoff game proved that he can struggle through adversity and come out on top.

He’s a top ten talent you can get outside of the first round. Why would you pass that up?

Selvin Young, Denver Broncos RB
Current ADP: RB29, 65th Overall

Selvin Young doesn’t have a bad name for himself. Unfortunately, his team does. When it comes to RBs, Denver is a crapshoot.

Shanahan gets a kick out of torturing fantasy fans. He’s admitted that under oath. The man just makes no allegiances when it comes to the running game.

Still, Selvin Young is the man to start the year. Rookie Ryan Torain is now out 6-8 weeks with an elbow injury, so he is no longer a challenge. It looks like a committee might form from Young, Andre Hall and Michael Pittman, but Young should see the bulk of the open field work.

Being drafted at 65th overall, Young’s not too expensive, but I’ve seen him going earlier than the sixth round in many mocks. If you can get him fifth round or later after all the sure thing RBs are off the board, he could potentially be a starter for your fantasy team.

Denver’s rushing opponents don’t give me anything to get excited about and doubt surrounds the Broncos offense, but they should improve this year with Cutler maturing under center and managing the diabetes that weakened him at the end of last season.

Young’s in a committee, possibly an injury risk and in Denver. I leave it up to you whether you want to avoid him, but make sure you get him at a good price.

Now that we’ve talked these guys over, I open it up to you non-Twitterers…what players are you willing to avoid this year? Explain why in the comments for bonus points.

INCOMING TWITTER PSA…

If you’re not on Twitter, get with the program and start following my updates (@jacobsloan)!

Twitter is one of the easiest ways for us to harass each other about our fantasy teams during NFL games no matter where your opponent may be hiding…curled in a corner…crying under a pillow…or just screaming “WHY WESTBROOK? WHY!?!?!” into the sky.

If you don’t know what it is, check out this video for a simple explanation. Try it out even if you don’t “get” it. You’ll come along eventually and be talking fantasy football with me in no time.

Go sign up now and follow me (@jacobsloan) to talk fantasy football and possibly be included in a future article just like this one.

Thanks to @timdnew, @bbille, @timothompson and @dreamented for their input on this post.

Thank you for this moment of your time. PSA out.

Travis Henry Gets the Shanny Shocker, Released

While there was speculation that Travis Henry wasn’t exactly welcomed back this season to the Denver Broncos, Mike Shanahan surprised us all by letting him go this early in the offseason workouts. After all, the guy has nine baby mamas with one child apiece. Eighteen mouths don’t feed themselves, and Shanahan has to have some heart inside that burned-brown, leather exterior.

Unfortunately for those 18 mouths, Henry injured his hamstring last month and most likely skipped out on treatments while he wasn’t showing up to OTAs. The situation didn’t win Henry any gold stars for effort and combined with Henry’s damaged rep from fighting a failed drug test suspension all of last season, the dogpile of problems probably caused Shanahan write him off as a bad influence on the litter of young running backs (RB) the Broncos currently have at quarterback camp practicing already (Selvin Young, Andre Hall, newly drafted Ryan Torain and last week’s new addition Michael Pittman).

Shanahan questioned Henry’s commitment to the game in his statement after the release. From ESPN.com:

“Although Travis has the ability to be one of the top running backs in the NFL, we have to make decisions that are in the best interests of our organization and its goal of winning a Super Bowl,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said in a statement. “We did not feel his commitment to the Broncos was enough to warrant a spot on this football team.”

Later Monday, Shanahan said the move was more about Henry’s personality than his play.

“He’s just too inconsistent as a person. When you’re too inconsistent as a person, you usually aren’t going to win championships,” Shanahan said during a spring workout later in the day.

With Travis Henry released, the Denver Broncos running game gets a little murky — and that’s clearer than it was before. The RB situation in Denver was a weak link in 2007, and along with an inconsistent stock of wide receivers (WR), the running game is one of the few elements keeping Jay Cutler from bringing his game together as a franchise quarterback (QB). (If you remember, I made some early offseason predictions for three Broncos stars in 2008, and I’m still standing behind them without Henry.)

Rising to the top, Selvin Young averaged 5.2 yards per carry last season but isn’t the type (at least at his current weight and skill) to carry the full load even if he claims he will hit 2,000 yards this season.

It’s likely Young will split time with Michael Pittman who obviously made Shanahan confident enough to let Henry go. Pittman, at 32, has past his prime, but he should contribute enough to spell Young and sub in on some passing plays until Ryan Torain, the powerful rookie, is ready to take on a larger role.

Until the starting role becomes clearer, the RB situation will be the talk of all the Broncos training camp reports. If Young becomes the starter, look for him as a risky RB2 or a promising RB3 in round 3 or 4.

Pittman might be worth a pick in late rounds if he gets a spot in a committee with Young. If not, he falls into the same indefinite boat as Andre Hall, but being lost in the RB depth chart in Denver doesn’t mean you won’t lead the team in rushing by the end of the year.

The real sleeper of this bunch is Ryan Torain. He could be the surprise RB to emerge for the Broncos this year and has nothing but upside. Stash him on your bench late or keep your eye on him on the waiver wire.

As for Henry, he is probably more likely to find work than Shaun Alexander, but there is not clear team interested in picking up him, his injury and his off-the-field problems right now. For now, he gets to stand in line with Alexander and Kevin Jones at the unemployment office.