Foolish Thoughts: Forsett, Snelling, Scott, and McCoy offer instant gratification

When one of your fantasy football studs gets injured, fantasy owners usually face a tough decision. Should you go get that backup, the one who hasn’t seen more than five touches in any game this year? Or should you just find another running back or wide receiver on the waiver wire who’ll get it done until your stud returns?

Especially early in the fantasy season, I’ve often avoided taking the backups and gone the other way. Why? Well, I like instant gratification.

In rare cases, NFL backups outperform the former starter as Steve Slaton did last season, and it’s not easy to expect them to match the production of the starter they replace. Most of the time, backups need a week or two to get accustomed to their new role in the offense and to gain the trust of the rest of the team.

But in Week 11, you didn’t have to wait.

Ricky Williams, Justin Forsett, Jason Snelling, Bernard Scott, and LeSean McCoy all went off for the owners of Julius Jones, Michael Turner, Cedric Benson, and Brian Westbrook who were able to find some help on the waiver wire.

Even those who started desperation-play Jamaal Charles against the Steelers or Beanie Wells as a good-on-paper start against St. Louis were rewarded.

The only bad replacements this week were Chris Simms, who was pulled for a still-injured Kyle Orton after failing to score on the Chargers, and Ladell Betts, who tore both his ACL and PCL against the Cowboys and will miss the rest of the season.

In the case of Forsett and McCoy, this week could be a changing of the guard. Julius Jones has never lived up to expectations since signing with the Seahawks, and Westbrook might never see the field again this season after suffering his second concussion.

For Charles’ and Wells’ fantasy owners, this sets up a nice looking playoff picture.

Williams seems like he’ll be okay without his Wildcat partner Ronnie Brown as he secured the top spot for running backs in most fantasy scoring formats. His performance should serve as a reminder of how much you can benefit from stocking your bench with guys who are just one small injury away from a lucrative starting job.

Scott rushed for 119 yards and caught three passes for 32 yards against the Oakland Raiders defense in a loss, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll get a shot against the Browns and the Lions since Benson could return.

Snelling’s in the same spot. Despite scoring twice and coming in second in fantasy scoring for running backs, Snelling could see Jerious Norwood cut into his carries if Norwood’s healthier in Week 12. There’s also a chance that Michael Turner could make an early return.

But you can’t be disappointed with this kind of late-season “early bloomers.”

Maybe it’s a good sign for those owners who suffered more injuries this week.

Kurt Warner bowed out at halftime after suffering a couple of blows to the head. With that playoff schedule, Matt Leinart would be in high demand if Warner misses a game.

Big Ben “fall down, go boom” in overtime against the Chiefs with a hit to his noggin, and soon after, backup quarterback Charlie Batch injured his wrist enough to keep him out the rest of the regular season. That leaves Dennis Dixon sitting in the quarterback seat unless Big Ben is healthy enough to start on Sunday.

With Betts out, Rock Cartwright ran for 67 rushing yards and had seven catches for 73 yards in the loss to the Cowboys. The Redskins might soon regret not taking a shot at Larry Johnson. Without the services of Portis, Washington may be forced to go get Shaun Alexander as depth at running back.

Heaven forbid you were counting on Marc Bulger for your team, but he’ll miss the rest of the fantasy regular season with a fractured tibia. Kyle Boller takes over, which could be a blessing or a curse for Steven Jackson’s owners.

Just for the sake of noting a tree falling in the forest and not making a sound…Terrell Owens caught nine for 197 yards and a touchdown, most of that on one long touchdown strike. You leave that guy open and he’s dangerous.

But how often will the opposing team make that mistake against the Bills?

In what might qualify as a charity game, Matthew Stafford and Brady Quinn had multi-touchdown days. Stafford threw for five touchdowns; Quinn had four. It must have seemed just like practice for them to play against such terrible defense. At least leading receivers Calvin Johnson and Mohamed Massaquoi had a good time with it.

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.

Foolish Thoughts on Week 16: How much do you hate DeAngelo Williams?

Seriously, how much do you hate DeAngelo Williams right now?

Many a game was won or lost off the play of DeAngelo Williams Sunday night. While I thought he’d keep rolling as he has been the past several weeks, I didn’t think he’d get more than two touchdowns, and I never dreamed that he would get four touchdowns in a game where strong defenses let running backs go wild.

That’s just crazy talk … or tradition in the fantasy football playoffs.

Once again, I have to lament that I picked the wrong Carolina running back. Last year, I drafted DeAngelo Williams but didn’t spend a pick on DeShaun Foster, and I watched Foster roll slowly in several games while DeAngelo was bottled up for use during only flashy plays.

Surely, despite Foster’s absence in Carolina this season, Jonathan Stewart, drafted as the new power back rookie, would put Williams in the Robin seat of the Batmobile once again.

I followed my draft rankings and got Jonathan Stewart in two leagues only to watch another owner snag DeAngelo Williams a few picks later. Honestly, I only tried to get DeAngelo as well in one, but I waited too long. Thus, I can’t benefit from his production late this season.

I never thought I’d regret having Brian Westbrook instead of DeAngelo Williams…

Given their late season production, it’s no longer crazy to assume Thomas Jones and DeAngelo Williams will break into a top 10 or two next season. I think there’s a strong chance that they do, but it will also depend on their strength of schedule.

I think the Jets run game can produce big days next season with the offensive line they’ve built, but I worry that a full offseason with Brett Favre could lead to an improved passing game and that the aging legs of Jones could also yield even more to Leon Washington.

In Carolina, I think it’s only safe to draft a Carolina running back if you can get both of them. Assuming DeAngelo takes a top spot, the two will likely be drafted as Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall were this season, one in early rounds and one just before mid-rounds.

Stewart’s power and ability when healthy cannot be doubted, and I could easily see Williams and Stewart being the Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew for several years … while Jones-Drew becomes the Clinton Portis of 2007 … and Portis becomes the Shaun Alexander of 2007…

But look at us, talking about the future when there’s still one week left for some of you unfortunate souls that play a championship in Week 17 — the horror!

In Week 16, we saw the weather come into play in a big way as it always seems to right around playoff time, but Matt Cassel was unaffected. I’m impressed. If Kurt Warner breaks down in the passing game and you don’t, that’s some solid ability.

In Week 17, the Patriots go into another must-win game, and Cassel is a must-win start against the Bills. I think he’ll be able to make it happen.

Peyton Manning came through in a pinch to secure third place for me in my main league. I set the high score of the week in Week 14, the first week of the playoffs, and Week 16, the championship week. It’s a shame that I had to drop the ball in Week 15.

Speaking of which, Brian Westbrook officially joins my “Avoid” list after his performances these past two weeks. A guy that is as integral to an offence as Westbrook is usually a great pick, but injury scares and no-show games in the playoffs are good enough reasons for me to skip him next season.

Rumors that Andy Reid might step down from his position with the Eagles don’t help much either. Surprisingly, this was my first season to own Westbrook, but I’m done — or at least saying I am for now. Sorry, Westy.

In a season where a lot of teams seemed to escape the trend, touchdown vultures reared their ugly head this week for several big playoff games. I’ve always accepted that any coach utilizing a different running back in goal line situations doesn’t play fantasy football.

And what’s the deal with Saturday Night Football? Can the NFL just stop pretending and put football on every night of the week? It’s fine. I am sure you can find a channel to show it.

Just when you get used to watching Thursday Night Football, the NFL throws another wrench in the gears to goof up your Saturday night.

I’ll admit, I was actually glad it was a Saturday so that I could go out to blow off some steam after I watched the Dallas Cowboys get rolled by Baltimore in the final game at Texas Stadium.

The Cowboys have been one of the most unpredictable offenses this year when it comes to fantasy. Terrell Owens, normally a staple of the offense, hasn’t been productive for fantasy owners, and the Roy Williams trade just added  more confusion to the mix.

At this point, the only people I trust are Tony Romo and Jason Witten — and no, it’s not because they have a love affair going on behind T.O.’s back.

Well, that’s enough foolish thoughts on football for this week. Merry Christmas and/or happy holidays, everyone. If you haven’t had the chance yet, I hope you get a championship for Christmas.

Remember that any acts of violence against DeAngelo Williams can and will be used against you when it comes to naughty/nice list sorting.

Foolish Thoughts on Week 13: Tell me when it’s over

What was happened to the NFL this weekend? After the miserable Tennessee Titans clobbering of the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys butchering of the Seattle Seahawks, I thought at leas the Thursday Night Football matchup of the Philadelphia Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals might be mildly interesting.

Of course, I thought it would be mildly interesting because the Eagles would struggle along and try to put up a fight against the Cardinal’s powerful offense. I didn’t know that Brian Westbrook was going to blow up for four touchdowns and lead the Eagles to a stomping of the NFC West sensation. Taste the burn, Arizona. You are what we thought you were.

In reality, that game was all about Donovan McNabb. He made his statement, and all he really wanted was for Brian Westbrook to hold him.

That pretty much sealed the deal for a boring weekend. The most we could have hoped for was a decent game with Atlanta facing the Chargers and the Packers facing the Panthers. Eh, not so much.

DeAngelo Williams should be buying Steve Smith’s lunch all week for setting him up on those two easy scores. Would it have been so hard to get another yard or two, Steve? Really?

As for the Falcons-Chargers, well, if the Falcons were a more mature team, the score would never have been as close as it was. Rookie mistakes left the door open, and sadly, the Chargers are no longer a team that can capitalize on every mistake.

The fireman down below are inflating the big bouncy pad for Rivers inevitable fall from fantasy grace. It’s too bad they couldn’t get there before LaDainian Tomlinson took his fateful dive. Rivers was my pick to fall off in the second half of the season, so even though it took a while for it to happen, I can’t say I’m surprised to see Phil lose that fantasy glow he had around him. I just can’t trust a man that still trash talks like a seven-year-old child.

I toyed with myself the Vikings-Bears game could be another unforeseen shootout. Wouldn’t that just save the day on Sunday? Forte versus Peterson?

Instead, it looked more like Bernard Berrian versus Devin Hester. These long plays through the air for the Bears and the Vikings are just out of character. It’s good to see that the Vikings can score points since they might not have such a stout defense for the remainder of the regular season.

I guess there was one interesting game. Shanny’s Broncos took out the Jets and quieted the resurgence of the Brett Favre hype.

How terrible is your defense when they just start assuming players are down without hearing the whistle blow? You have to actually tackle the guy, Broncos, not just assume that the other guy’s got ‘em. Terrible.

That was just a sloppy game overall, and not all of it was because of the weather. Both the Broncos and the Jets were giving up big plays — Broncos on the ground, Jets through the air. Suddenly, I don’t think I care who the better team is between the Jets and the Patriots.

Monday Night Football, save me. Wait, Houston Texans versus Jacksonville Jaguars? Oh noes.

Coolest play of the game: Garrard passing to himself. He might actually be the best receiver on the team — those quick hands. Just awesome.

So, now that the Jags are done for the season, please sub them in for one of the Lions’ last three opponents so that the Lions won’t go 0-16 and/or so we can watch (or not watch) the most miserable game of football in the history of the sport.

It would really take away from the game if the Lions DO finally hit the 0-16 mark. If they achieve it, then we won’t be able to hold it over their heads next season … or the season after. And how will we stop the Cincinnati Bengals from doing it if it’s been done?

The Jags were nice enough to give the Bengals a win, so why can’t they do it for the Lions, too? Come on, Goodell. Make it happen — just this once. Afterwards, you can go back to testing urine for traces of water pills.

I’m so glad this weekend is over. I would have rather watched this on loop for a day. I don’t understand what’s going on in there, and I can’t decide which is better: stache or no stache? All I know is that I cannot look away.

Is it Week 14 yet?

On gun control laws
The one thing that I cannot get over from this weekend is how stupid Plaxico Burress was to strap a loaded, unlicensed gun to his thigh. Didn’t you see what happened to Adam Jones? And that gun wasn’t even in his hands.

The gun goes with the entourage, not taped to your thigh, Plax. You have to have security or a good jail-comfortable friend to take that kind of a fall for you. It’s bad policy to pack one yourself, and you pay the price every time you start grinding in some club. Your history of catching is not going to go over well for you in jail.

Plaxico is probably on his way out of New York after this season, but that’s no big deal. I like Domenik Hixon, and the Giants have a nice group of young wide receivers to bring into the mix. I hope Plax ends up on the Raiders.

On fashion
Jack Del Rio may be classy, but I think he needs a “Battle Red” power tie if he’s going to get the Jags back in shape. Exhibit A. Now that’s classy AND scary powerful.

On failing to make your fantasy football playoffs
If you didn’t make the playoffs, you don’t have to stop reading Fantasy Football Fools. We’ll let you stick around. In fact, we encourage it.

But, in order for us to do the most good for you, you should subscribe to our updates for zero dollars, also known as FREE.

By subscribing, you’ll get every single one of our soberly-written posts about fantasy football throughout the offseason through RSS or email, and you’ll be in much better shape next season. Besides, how can you pass up our foolish musings?

If you, at any point in the season, owned Cedric Benson, David Carr, Shaun Alexander or Ahman Green, subscribe. No questions asked. I will admit that I know how you feel.

On tardiness and schedule deviations
If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’ve been doing many and several things the last two weeks. Now that Fantasy Football Fools headquarters — not dissimilar to The Batcave — has been moved to its new home and all other matters of family and health seem to be taken care of — not in the horse heads in beds way … promise — our schedule should be back in line for the rest of playoffs. Stay tuned.

On incredibly well-planned finishes
I think we’re good here. Same time next week?

On the Wire: Week 11 Pickups and Waiver Wire Veterans from Week 10

By now, your season may be over, but there’s no reason to start cutting players like the Raiders unless they are still underperforming. Now is the time to grab up all those players the teams that beat up on you want to cripple them for their playoff run! That’s right. Bitterness breeds competition.

Of course, if you are in a keeper or dynasty league, you should be a little more responsible, but for the re-drafters out there, let the bitter waves of hate flow.

Here’s a few guys that might help you in the playoffs or help you assist you in hoarding talent from your worthy adversaries.

Worth Claiming

Tyler Thigpen, QB Kansas City Chiefs — Of all the backup quarterbacks starting this season, Thiggy might be the best of the bunch. He’s worth mentioning again. He has six touchdowns and 710 yards in his last three starts, and the Chiefs are running a large majority of plays from the shotgun. Is this still a running team?

Brady Quinn, QB Cleveland Browns — I’ve also mentioned Quinn previously, but if you passed on him in his first start, he proved himself with two touchdowns and no turnovers in his first start last Thursday. I don’t think he’ll win games for you down the stretch with a touch Week 13-15 schedule, but his efficient passing should beef up Kellen Winslow’s stats and keep him in the middle of the road as a fantasy quarterback.

Shaun Hill, QB San Francisco 49ers — To prevent you from having to go back to last week’s “On the Wire,” we’ll just complete the trifecta of quarterback options after Week 10. Hill had two touchdowns, a pair of interceptions, a fumble and 217 passing yards in this debut, but his turnovers were not as bad as they seem. His two interceptions came when the Arizona defense intensified in fourth quarter at home, and the fumble was caused by a bad snap that was knocked loose by a bumbling guard behind the line. His ability to avoid sacks and make plays will keep him fantasy-worthy in the upcoming games in which the 49ers will have to pass to stay competitive.

Ladell Betts, Shaun Alexander and Rock Cartwright, RB Washington Redskins — Don’t hate me now if you didn’t trade away Portis when I suggested he was an injury risk. It sounds like Clinton Portis has a painful MCL tear that is preventing him from even straightening his leg, so expect him to be limited or out against the Cowboys. Betts would be the favorite to fill in for Port, but he’s been banged up as well and might not be good enough to return despite what Jim Zorn is saying. If that were the case, Shaun Alexander and Rock Cartwright would probably share the carries. If you’re a Portis owner, I’d snag Betts just to be cautious moving forward.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB New England Patriots — “Law Firm” has overtaken the power back role in Sammy Morris’ absence with 100+ yards and a score in Week 10, and even with LaMont Jordan threatening to return, I see him having some flex value until Morris is ready to get back on the field. Add him if you need depth at running back, but you might not start him until fantasy playoffs (Jets, Dolphins, Steelers in next three weeks).

Justin Fargas and Michael Bush, RB Oakland Raiders — So Fargas is not completely dead, but the Raiders failing offense is going to limit his ceiling. He had 80+ yards in a garbage game against Carolina. Michael Bush has about the same value as the No. 2 back and getting about the same amount of yardage. Both of them make decent flex plays or low-end No. 2 options against weaker run defenses until Darren McFadden returns from injury.

Mark Bradley, WR Kansas City Chiefs — Riding the Thigpen train to success, we can safely say that Bradley is a legitimate No. 2 receiver beside Dwayne Bowe. He had nine catches for 81 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers this past week. He may be the third read behind Bowe and Tony Gonzalez, but he has a touchdown in each of his last three games, even if he did throw one of them. The schedule looking forward makes him very claim-worthy (Saints, Bills, Raiders, Broncos, Chargers, Dolphins).

Peyton Hillis and Tatum Bell, RB Denver Broncos — If you were, heaven forbid, starting a Denver running back, these two are the flavors of the week. Bell has just been signed but knows the system, and Hillis had 24 yards after Ryan Torain was injured Thursday night. No one knows how ol’ leather-faced Shanahan is going to handle this one, but I’d rather have Hillis than Bell at the moment because of his versatility.

Cadillac Williams, RB Tampa Bay Buccaneers — The Bucs are excited about Williams’ return, and they should be. Both Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn are still licking wounds. If you can afford the bench room to hold on to him for this week against the Vikings, Williams is worth claiming to see how he factors into the Bucs’ running game. Only a Week 14 Panthers matchup stands in the way of a return to fantasy relevance in the final games of this season. (Note for the fantasy n00bs: “Cadillac” is also known as Carnell Williams.)

Kevin Boss, TE New York Giants — A touchdown in each of his last three games is enough for me to be sold on the Shockey filler. Boss should have even had two touchdowns if he had caught the ball. Obviously, Manning is looking for him in the red zone, so you should, too.

Matt Spaeth, TE Pittsburgh Steelers — He’s merely a fill for an injured Heath Miller, but the Steelers haven’t been putting enough emphasis on utilizing the tight end position this season. This week gives him some added value as the Steelers face the tight-end-friendly Chargers, but I only endorse him as a one-week play or a sleeper grab.

Dustin Keller, TE New York Jets — Keller was hot to start the season and then fell off the map. If you held on to him, he finally had his biggest game of the season with six catches, 100+ yards and a score. We know how Brett Favre likes to use the tight ends, so a hot streak after this game wouldn’t surprise me.

Guys you probably should have already picked up:

Matt Ryan, QB Atlanta Falcons — He’s doing well in just his first year and has a great schedule for passing to end the season.

Kevin Smith, RB Detroit Lions — Despite Rudi Johnson’s brief interruption, Kevin Smith is still the back you want from Detroit, even if the schedule is garbage for rushing until the fantasy playoffs. He collected 96 yards and a score against the Jaguars.

Ricky Williams, RB Miami Dolphins — Williams was actually the better back with 100+ yards and a touchdown against the Seahawks, but most of his yardage came off one big play run out of the Wildcat formation with Ronnie Brown. He’ll continue to see his fair share of looks in the easy matchups to come.

Dominic Rhodes, RB Indianapolis Colts — It appears that the Colts will continue to give Rhodes carries even with Joseph Addai in the lineup. He’s got some depth and flex value with the easy running matchups left on the Colts schedule. If it’s true that Addai reaggravated his injury, Rhodes could be huge in the coming weeks.

Lance Moore, WR New Orleans Saints — The third-year receiver continues to catches even with the return of Marques Colston and had 76 yards and a score against Atlanta this past week.

Malcom Floyd, WR San Diego Chargers — The backup that won’t go away! Floyd has had his days while Chris Chambers is out with injury. If Chambers remains out, he could be a favorite long-ball target for Philip Rivers (after the pass-hating Steelers this week, of course).

Josh Morgan, WR San Francisco 49ers — He got his second touchdown and some job security Monday night and is likely to see a lot of looks come his way as the 49ers enter a favorable passing schedule.

Ones to Watch

Kerry Collins, QB Tennessee Titans — The Titans’ strength is in the running game, but they proved that they could throw the ball as well with Collins in Week 10. If teams can stop the run like the Bears did, Collins is capable of having fantasy-worthy stats, and it’s likely that will happen against the Jets and possibly the Jags in the next two weeks. I’d rather have someone more dependable like Thigpen or Shaun Hill though.

Justin Gage and Brandon Jones, WR Tennessee Titans — Jones and Gage are completely dependent upon Collins, but they could be worth desperation grabs if you have no depth at wide receiver. Gage is the more reliable option, but Bo Scaife, as a tight end, still gets most of the receptions on this team.

Jason Hill, WR San Francisco 49ers — When backup quarterbacks get promoted to the starting squad, they don’t forget the second-string receivers they worked out with at the beginning of the year. Enter Jason Hill, who had seven catches for 84 yards on Monday night against the Cardinals and came just short of a touchdown. He’s more of a possession guy, but he’s definitely got chemistry with the new quarterback.

Mark Clayton, WR Baltimore Ravens — If Derrick Mason missed time, Clayton could step up into his shoes as a productive receiver for Joe Flacco.

Jerry Porter, WR Jacksonville Jaguars — Porter has his first touchdown in Week 10 and could stand to gain when Matt Jones is suspended, but is that every going to happen? He’ll have to prove he’s coming along in this offense in future weeks to be worthy of an add.

Shaun McDonald, WR Detroit Lions — McDonald inherited the starting role opposite Calvin Johnson when Roy Williams was traded, but it’s hard to do much with it without a reliable quarterback. He’s had his ups and downs. If the Lions get the passing game in order, McDonald could see more action since we know the Lions will be behind in the tough matchups to come.

Ignoring

Todd Heap, TE Baltimore Ravens — His two touchdowns both came in the fourth quarter of a blowout, and one even came from the backup quarterback, Troy Smith. I don’t rely on a guy like Heap unless he shows consistency, and this game was the only fantasy-worthy one he’s had all season. Do it again, you heap of…

Droppables

Don’t flush all your talent, but if you’re looking to trim the fat on your team, these guys might not be waiting on for you. Of course, you can always run drops by me in the comments if you can’t make the call between a new waiver wire gem and your current benchwarmer.

Jeremy Shockey, TE New Orleans Saints — Brees is not relying on Shockey when they need a play as long as Billy Miller is around, and Shockey doesn’t even look like the best tight end of his team. He can’t stay healthy, and unless you have no need at any other position, I wouldn’t even carry him as a backup tight end at this point.

Felix Jones, RB Dallas Cowboys — He’s about to return from his hamstring injury, but he’s also one of those players who relies on the big play to produce in fantasy. If you have managed without him, I doubt you’ll need him with only two more starts that look promising (49ers, Seahawks).

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.

A Fool and His Money in Week 1

Now that we have the explanation out of the way, let’s talk Week 1 picks.

Jacob’s Ed. Note: Note that due to some compulsive gambling this weekend, we didn’t get the Week 1 picks up before the games. If you didn’t notice, congratulations — you rock. Starting Week 2, picks should be up prior to the weekend’s festivities. Now, on with the show…

Enter the Chadam

Hi. My name is Chadam, and I’ll be half of the two-headed team that will be leading you through the crazy world of picking NFL spreads.

Make no mistake; I am hardly what you would call an “expert.” My resume consists of a gambling addiction formed in my high school years, the borderline drinking problem that graces plagues most males in their twenties and the unlawful possession of irrational reasons for loving or hating certain teams and players.

In other words, I’m might be just like you and a large majority of the fantasy football community.

I’m a diehard Texans fan and will never bet against them under any circumstances, so take my analysis of their games with a grain of salt.

Elisha Manning is my sworn enemy and his older brother is a close second, which won’t affect my picks but will almost certainly rear its head in my commentary.

Finally, I’ll be bringing a few stats to the table. I won’t bore you with numbers, but merely alert you to some statistical trends that everybody can utilize, whether you’re in a friendly office pick ‘em pool or a regular weekend gambler.

My goals this year are to correctly pick 54 percent of the spreads, which is my rough estimate of the percentage that will guarantee you a profit against Vegas after taking into account the vigorish on bets, and to finish with a better record than Nick, the other guy.

It’s more than likely that my record will hover around .400, which allows you to insure a profit by choosing the opposite of whatever I do.

Enjoy our lighthearted analysis on the spreads, may your fantasy teams stay healthy this year and all of your sleepers pan out.

Pick Nick (Ed. Note: Get it?)

My name is Nick, and I’m the other guy making picks along with Chadam.

Chadam claims we are not experts, but I disagree. Do we not place our own hard-earned money on the line every week making bets? Did we not go to Vegas last year for the NFL Wild Card playoffs and steal some loot back from Caesar’s Palace?

We put our own money on the line, so I think that makes us experts. That being said, we aren’t experts that you should trust blindly, but we’ll do our best to point out what we think are the best bets each weekend and, hopefully, drop a little gambling knowledge on a few of you sports book virgins.

Consider this week’s picks my first step towards dominating Chadam this year. Enjoy!

A Fool and His Money…

Today, we’ll start with our predictions on the NFL opener Thursday between the Redskins and Giants and the rest of opening weekend.

Washington Redskins at New York Giants

Chadam Takes: GIANTS (-4) over Redskins

Talk about a lack of respect for the defending champs. I am in the camp that believes in the year-after curse for Super Bowl champs (The Steelers in 2006 are a good example) unless they prove otherwise.

That defense is a shadow of last year’s squad, and I can see Plax not trying as hard to stay on the field for all 16 games this year. That being said, Jason Campbell looked awful this preseason, and I think he’s another year from breaking out.

The Giants’ offensive cogs haven’t played enough games yet to be injured (I’m looking at you, Brandon Jacobs), so I think they’ll put enough points on the board to stay comfortably ahead the entire game.

Nick Takes: Redskins (+4) over GIANTS

I like the Redskins with points in the game tonight. I’ve been pretty high on Jason Campbell lately and expect him to have a breakout year despite his shoddy preseason performance. The Giants won’t have anything close to the pass rush they had last year, and I think that’s just what the doctor ordered for Campbell.

He does have one of my many personal sworn enemies on his team, Keenan McCardell, but hopefully, nobody will be counting on anything from him for the rest of his life. That guy cost me a playoff spot in one of my fantasy leagues a few years ago, and I will never forgive him for it. Ever.

Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens

Chadam Takes: Bengals (-1.5) over RAVENS

I think the record of rookie QBs in their first game has to be like 0-23968, right? With McGahee questionable, I don’t see where the Ravens’ offensive assault is going to come from in this one — unless, of course, Ray Lewis stabs somebody again.

Nick Takes: Bengals (-1.5) over RAVENS

I don’t like trusting the Bengals defense, but they are going up against an injured running back and a Division II QB who has never played a game in the NFL.

Detroit Lions at Atlanta Falcons

Chadam Takes: Lions (-3) over FALCONS

Did I mention that I hate rookie QBs? You know the Lions are putting up at least 24 points. Do you really believe the Falcons will score 20?

Turner could run for 230 yards in this one though.

Nick Takes: Lions (-3) over FALCONS

I think both teams will do better than they did last year, but the Falcons have too many new faces to mesh together right away.

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins

Chadam Takes: Jets (-3) over DOLPHINS

Poor Pennington. Everywhere he goes people seem to knock him for his girlish arm strength. What a crappy stigma to have.

Can anyone think of a worse fault to have (that’s NFL scouting report related)? Help me out in the comments if you have any ideas.

Nick Takes: DOLPHINS (+3) over Jets

Chad Pennington is going to be mad. The Big Tuna is always mad. Dolphins’ head coach Tony Sparano always looks mad, and Ricky…well, he’s at peace with himself and everybody around him.

I think the Jets need a little more time before Favre is comfortable, and I’m guessing Bill Parcells has no moral problem with asking Pennington about the Jets’ offense. I pick Miami in an upset.

Houston Texans at Pittsburgh Steelers

Chadam Takes: Texans (+6.5) over STEELERS

This pick is more of a homer pick. I think the Steelers have a legit chance of blowing this game wide open. Sadly, since Houston is such a popular sleeper this year, they’re being overhyped in the spreads. Nick might be benefiting this year from my automatic Texans picks.

Nick Takes: STEELERS (-6.5) over Texans

I feel like I know what I’m going to get from the Steelers. I like that.

I don’t feel like I know what I’m going to get from the Texans. I’m going to predict they put just enough points on the board in garbage time to make me nervous but still lose by seven.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans

Chadam Takes: Jaguars (-3) over TITANS

The most ridiculous line of the day. I love the Jags this year, and hopefully, after creating their fifth turnover of the day, people might respect their defense a little more. Besides, you know the whole team will be JACKED UP to play if Matt Jones is back in the locker room.

Nick Takes: Jaguars (-3) over TITANS

Vince Young is my hero, especially after I saw him down on Sixth Street (in Austin) the other night and because of that whole National Championship thing, too, but I do learn from my mistakes. I’m not betting again on a QB who had a horrible preseason with a new offensive coordinator.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints

Chadam Takes: SAINTS (-3.5) over Buccaneers

I almost chose the Bucs in this one, but I love the Saints’ offense this year. So does Nick apparently — he drafted four Saints in the fantasy football league Jacob and I share with him.

It’s a win-win. I either get a correct pick, or I watch Nick’s fantasy team suck it up and start 0-1.

Nick Takes: Buccaneers (+3.5) over SAINTS

I like the Saints this year, but they are going to be playing in a relatively empty stadium against a very underrated defense. I like the Bucs with the points in this one.

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers

Chadam Takes: Cardinals (-2.5) over 49ERS (NINERS)

Every year, the Cardinals are a sleeper, and this year is no exception. I don’t think they’ll come close to the playoffs, but for this game, I’m being suckered in by the Cardinals.

Arizona’s passing game is going to make Martz wonder why he picked such a terrible team for his system (No QB, WRs or offensive line).

Nick Takes: Cardinals (-2.5) over 49ERS (NINERS)

I like this bet a lot. I’m not convinced Mike Martz can fix the 49ers’ sorry offense, and even if he could, it still couldn’t compete with the weapons they are packing in Arizona.

Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots

Chadam Takes: NO ONE

Jacob Ed. Note: Chadam, being the smart guy that he is, failed to turn in a pick in this contest. Apparently, he figured it was such a lock for the Patriots that he blocked it out of his mind when he turned in picks this week. Clever, but for the sanctity of his pick record, mark this one up as a miss for Chadam.

Nick Takes: PATRIOTS (-15.5) over Kansas City

I absolutely hate giving anybody 15.5 points, but it’s tough not to like the Patriots in a slaughter over the Chiefs.

Seattle Seahawks at Buffalo Bills

Chadam Takes: BILLS (-1) over Seahawks

I kinda feel bad for Holmgren; his offense will be Bears-esque this year.

Let’s see. He’s lost four of his top-five WRs from last year (Deion Branch, D.J. Hackett, Bobby Engram and Ben Obomanu), replaced the inept Shaun Alexander with the equally-inept Julius Jones, lost two offensive lineman in camp and now Matt Hasselbeck has back problems?

Holmgren’s probably counting down the days until retirement.

Nick Takes: Seahawks (+1) over BILLS

I would have expected to see Seattle favored in this game. Normally, that would make me excited, but for some reason, I’m nervous.

Oh well, you gotta have nerves to be a gambler.

St. Louis Rams at Philadelphia Eagles

Chadam Takes: Rams (+7.5) over EAGLES

Which QB will be injured first? I actually think the Eagles will be great this year, but a healthy Rams team is no pushover either. I say Philly wins by three.

Nick Takes: EAGLES (-7.5) over Rams

I like the Eagles this year and think they could do some damage in the NFC. The Rams are going to have to prove to me that they are capable of staying close with opponents before I even think about betting on them.

Carolina Panthers at San Diego Chargers

Chadam Takes: Panthers (+9) over CHARGERS

How many passing attempts will there be in this game from both teams combined? 20? 25?

With Smith out and Gates not likely to make a significant impact, I’ll go with the underdog and hope I’m right.

Nick Takes: Panthers (+9) over CHARGERS

Not too much to say here. I like San Diego to win, but I don’t feel comfortable giving up nine points.

Dallas Cowboys at Cleveland Browns

Chadam Takes: Cowboys (-5.5) over BROWNS

What a bad matchup for the Browns. Anderson, Edwards and Lewis are all banged up while Dallas is completely healthy with a motivated Pacman (Ed. Note: Now, Chadam, he goes by Adam) Jones?

Money in the bank. God, I hope Nick chose the Browns.

Nick Takes: Cowboys (-5.5) over BROWNS

I hate any team that has anything to do with the flamer that is Brady Quinn, but I don’t need to make this bet out of spite.

Cleveland finished horribly last year, and all their studs are coming of injuries. I’m laying down quite a few bucks on this game and in anticipation of a blowout.

Chicago Bears at Indianapolis Colts

Chadam Takes: COLTS (-9.5) over Bears

I hate to say it, but I think Manning’s knee problems are overblown. Harrison’s problems, however, are not, and my constant drafting of Anthony Gonzalez backs up my assertion. I think this will be a really low-scoring game — like 17-7. And yes, the only points for Chicago come from a Devin Hester punt return.

Nick Takes: Bears (+9.5) over COLTS

To be honest, I don’t like this bet at all. I’m not really sure what to expect in this game.

The Colts will be pumped up in the new stadium but will be missing Jeff Saturday. The Bears have a good defense, special teams and running game, but they have no passing game whatsoever.

When in doubt, I like to take the points.

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers

Chadam Takes: PACKERS (-2.5) over Vikings

My dark horse NFC champion against the terribly overhyped Vikings? Only three points?

I’m betting my rent money on this one.

Nick Takes: PACKERS (-2.5) over Vikings

Good luck, Aaron Rodgers. You’re going to need it. The Vikings are going to be coming after you hard, but I predict Rodgers will calm down after a miserable first half and bring the Packers back to win it by a field goal.

Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders

Chadam Takes: RAIDERS (+3) over Broncos

Nnamdi Asomugha, cornerback (CB) for the Raiders (Ed. Note: FYI, Chadam didn’t sneeze), should be a household name. He is so filthy-good I think he was created in a lab with DNA from Champ Bailey.

Anyways, Brandon Marshall should be glad Asomugha is not schooling him Monday night…and Shanahan will torture my soul by starting Selvin Young but letting Andre Hall get 30 carries.

Nick Takes: Broncos (-3) over RAIDERS

I like Oakland’s young nucleus and head coach, but I still think it will take them awhile to learn how to win games. Look for Selvin Young to save the day in this one.

UPDATE: Friday Morning Trash Talkin’

Chadam: This Season: 1-0-0. Games Ahead of Nick: 1.

Nick: So I started off on the wrong foot by picking the Redskins on Thursday night’s opening game. No problem.

I’ll let Chadam brag because it will be the only time this whole season that he will be ahead in the picks.

So congratulations, Chadam. Maybe you and your mom, who you still live with, can go out and celebrate. I’m just going to concentrate on making more money this weekend.

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.

NFL Free Agents of 2009: Play Me Before They Pay Me

Whether or not you put any stock in the third-year receiver theory, players on the last year of their contract always put up big numbers before a team shows them the Benjamins.

Players who have just been paid should be suspect the next year — like a Shaun Alexander — but the year they earn their keep is the year to have them. If a player is set to put on a show this season, you should make sure to target them in your fantasy draft.

While an extension could come between now and the coin flip of 2008 for these players, here are a few of the top players that will be looking to upgrade to a Bentley this season:

The Running Backs (RB)

Steven Jackson. St. Louis Rams.
The grinder of the offense is coming off injury and a horrible Rams showing in 2007. With his contract up, Jackson will be willing to put his team on his back and run with it. While I still consider SJax damaged goods, he might be worth a second look after mini-camps and training camps show back to true form. I don’t see any way St. Louis lets him leave, but for the moment, Jackson’s looking like a relatively safe bet.

Brandon Jacobs. New York Giants.
The Giants have a full stable of RBs, but Jacobs was the man for most of the season that led them to the Super Bowl. With that victory under his belt, Jacobs might be one of the few Giants who will fight the Super Bowl slump and earn his weight in gold — that’s no little pile of gold either. It’s tough to say he is a must grab since the ball is passed to so many hands in the Giants’ offense, but keep his contract year in mind if it comes down to picking between runners who share the ball. Jacobs should at least fight through any injuries this season to impress and keep the necessary, hefty amounts of food on the table.

Marion Barber. Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys current focus is on getting a long-term deal signed by this man. Barber should share time with rookie Felix Jones this year. He probably won’t Wow with huge games, but he is consistent and guaranteed to be a first rounder in your fantasy draft. His extension will likely come before the season starts, but if not, do not miss the chance to stamp your ticket for this train.

Ricky Williams. Miami Dolphins.
Ricky’s gotta eat. Coming off his one-game-wonder — if wonder is breaking yourself in a handful of downs — performance in the muck of Pittsburgh last year, Williams will have to improve on the field if he wants Bill Parcells to keep him employed. He’s likely to share carries with Ronnie Brown, but if Ricky can finally pull his head out of the clouds, he could be a factor running behind Jake Long and stick around for his NFL paycheck a little longer.

Note that this list doesn’t include the currently homeless and unemployed — Shaun Alexander and Kevin Jones. Both will likely find homes where they will be earning their keep day-to-day. Jones could come back from his injury to a decent situation, but I don’t expect much of Shaun.

The Wide Receivers (WR) and Tight Ends (TE)

The real value in this season’s contract players is at the WR spot.

Terrell Owens. Dallas Cowboys.
That’s right. The typically demanding T.O. has been uncharacteristically quiet this offseason looking at the final year of his deal with the Cowboys. In a recent interview, he even expressed his desire to retire as a Cowboy. Have Jerry Jones and the boys finally tamed the T.O. of old? Regardless, T.O. is already considered one of the top WRs going into 2008, so the added motivation of earning a new deal should keep him demanding the ball week after week. If you go WR early, go T.O. Randy Moss just got paid, and the Giants exposed the Patriots’ weakness. No, it’s not stealing their video camera batteries.

Lee Evans. Buffalo Bills.
He stung me last season, but Evans’ contract year couldn’t come at a better time. The under-hyped WR of Buffalo finally has a compliment in short-yardage target James Hardy. If Trent Edwards gets more comfortable in training camp, Evans can shame face a few corners in 2008. I can’t trust him right away since I am still in a sensitive emotional state after the empty points column he awarded me in 2007, but Evans is back on my radar. I just can’t quit you, Lee.

Roy Williams. Detroit Lions.
The inconsistent Roy Williams is rumored to be on the trading block this season, but if he makes it through training camps, look for him to try to show his skills. I am not sure what he can do in the Detroit offense no matter how many times Kitna guarantees 10 wins, but with Calvin Johnson to draw similar coverage and a new offensive coordinator, Roy could be back — at least for 2008.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Cincinnati Bengals.
Housh has got a mess up in Cincinnati this offseason while Chad Johnson demands a trade, but T.J. will still show up when it is time to play. Last year was a big season for him, so 2008 should be his time to shine. If he gets the Bengals’ No. 1 WR role, he is a must grab. Just make sure you say his name right so that you don’t embarrass us.

Amani Toomer. New York Giants.
Sad to say that I don’t think Toomer will be looking to have a huge year. His career is winding down, and a year more in New York might just be spent as a veteran mentor to Mario Manningham and the other Steve Smith. I think Toomer might be looking for a one-year extension, but don’t count on him fighting to go out on top.

Desmond Clark. Chicago Bears.
It’s hard for anyone to shine in the Bears offense unless your name is Devin Hester, but Clark will be pushing to stay employed despite the up-and-coming Greg Olsen. If he can maintain his playing time, Clark will use it to the best of his ability. It’s iffy which TE will be a better value for 2008 though. First, they need a QB. Clark will likely be looking to show other suitors what he can do.

Notable WR of circumstance:

Anquan Boldin. Arizona Cardinals.
Even though his contract is not up, Boldin looks to be playing for mo’ money this season since Larry Fitzgerald will be making almost 7x his paycheck in 2008. Neither Arizona WR is a raw deal, but Boldin’s got something to prove.

The Quarterbacks (QB)

Rex Grossman/Kyle Orton. Chicago Bears.
One of these two underwhelming QBs has to perform this year. There just has to be some law of probability that says that, right? The two have one-year deals to show it or pack their locker. These two may end up as a case study for the NFL that proves even you are playing for the big money and big contract, it doesn’t mean you can exceed expectations or take your game to a new, less mediocre level.

Jeff Garcia. Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Garcia was the leader of a Tampa Bay team that made it to the playoffs last year minus starting RB Cadillac Williams, but Garcia’s value isn’t the best being as old as he is and with so many QBs behind him. While Chris Simms is likely gone (and maybe Jake Plummer if they still consider him on the team), Garcia might not land a big money deal with the Bucs. He is already pushing for Tampa Bay to show him the money, but his performance this season might just be to show another QB-hungry team that he can still play a few more years. Hey, it worked when he was an Eagle.

Kurt Warner. Arizona Cardinals.
Could he fight for the spotlight to stay in the NFL? There’s no telling what Warner could show us this year since he became part of a QB-by-committee system at Arizona last year. I expect that Matt Leinart will get the starts, but don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard the last from Warner.

Did I miss anyone? Let me know by posting a comment down south.

Fantasy Losers of the 2008 NFL Draft

My apartment management decided that I was so excited about the NFL draft this weekend that they needed to shut off the hot water this morning to calm me down. That’s okay though. I’m not bitter. I’ll just take those lemons and…

…and who am I kidding? I’m going to throw them at the door of the office in protest tomorrow.

In retrospect, there’s nothing like a cold shower to make you think about who really got the shaft in this year’s draft. For these players, the 2008 draft cooled off their fantasy value:

Willie Parker. Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers didn’t desperately need a running back, but when Rashard Mendenhall fell to them, they had to take him. Parker immediately enters into the twilight of his career. Returning from injury and with a much less Steeler-smash style of play, Parker will probably shift towards a supporting role to Mendenhall’s “I break ‘em, I bought ‘em” running. Something tells me Parker will not get a lot of chances for TDs now — he only sealed the deal twice last season — and begins his decline out of fantasy popularity.

Tatum Bell. Detroit Lions.
“You are what we thought you were,” Tatum. Just when it seemed like Tatum Bell was going to get his shot, Detroit grabbed Kevin Smith. Now Bell will end up being the compliment back in another RBBC alongside the yardage monster in Detroit. Considering the number of yards Smith ran up last season, he warrants being a big part of this offense next year and looks to be the better fantasy play.

Vince Young. Tennessee Titans.
The Titans have a great need at wide receiver. While Chris Johnson might be able to split out occasionally and be a playmaker, the Titans weren’t concerned with bringing in any new weapons. While it’s possible they were hoping that Limas Sweed, Young’s big target at Texas, would fall to them in the second round before the Steelers snagged him one pick too soon, no drastic moves were made to get that receiver help. Young will have to work with what the Titans grabbed in the fourth round in Lavelle Hawkins. He’s got talent but will likely be another project just like the mix of young WRs and older veterans that VY has now. It’s not looking very good again for Young in 2008.

Cedric Benson. Chicago Bears.
Coming off injury and a very weak showing in 2007, Benson’s likely to share carries with Matt Forte in 2008 and could even lose his starting role. The weak fantasy projections for Benson in 2008 just got weaker.

DeAngelo Williams. Carolina Panthers.
This year was supposed to be Williams’ time to shine with DeShaun Foster finally booted. When Carolina drafted Jonathan Stewart in the first, that all got thrown into doubt. Stewart is a big, power runner with a bruising style. Williams may start the season, but he is likely to lose carries to Stewart — especially in short yardage situations. That means less TDs for Williams and a knock to his fantasy value for 2008. Both RBs could have some fantasy impact this season, but Williams big chance is no more.

Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El. Washington Redskins.
Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly are now breathing down the necks of the two current WRs in Washington. Moss had a bad 2008, and Randle El wouldn’t be too upset to move to a slot role. The WR pool is not going to be friendly to a Moss bounce back in 2008 if one of these rookies breaks out. Pre-season will show how these rookies take to the game, but Moss might be one to avoid.

Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay Packers.
Oh yeah, Aaron, you just have to fill the shoes of this guy named Brett Favre. He didn’t break any big records or get much media attention with his retirement. Hey, he never even made the cover of Madden. Go ahead and take over his job in front of thousands of Favre-missing fans, Rodgers. If that shadow’s not big enough for you to overcome, we’ll put this guy Brian Brohm — possibly the most NFL-ready QB in this draft — behind you. That cool? Great. Oh, and this Matt Flynn kid from LSU is just hanging out here for a bit. He’ll keep your seat warm while your trying to win some games. Just don’t let those first-year jitters get to you. I don’t think Rodgers fantasy value is over and done, but it’s definitely on thin ice heading into his first season under center. The pressure is on, and pressure might not be what this young QB needs to get you fantasy points.

Amani Toomer. New York Giants.
With Mario Manningham under his wings and last year’s rookie WR Steve Smith already biting at his heels, Toomer’s days at the two spot in New York are numbered. Chances are he sees this one coming though, and I think he’s probably okay spending less time on the field. He’ll still start in 2008, but he won’t have much fantasy value once these guys get going and take his catches.

Dominic Rhodes. Oakland Raiders (until Monday).
It was hard not to see this one coming, but with Darren McFadden going to Oakland, someone had to get out of that backfield. The Raiders cut Rhodes Monday after he did a whole lot of nothing last year. They still have LaMont Jordan who seemed more likely to get bumped after the draft, but he might still be in danger of losing his job considering the Raiders now have McFadden, Michael Bush and Justin Fargas. Rhodes gets to go stand in line with Shaun Alexander and wait to be picked up by a team lacking in the veteran RB department.

Josh McCown and John Beck. Miami Dolphins.
Not that he thought he was a long-term solution in Miami — no one else did — but McCown became even more short-term with Bill Parcells snagging Chad Henne. Parcells obviously can’t trust his current developing QB John Beck. The starting job is likely to go to Henne before too long. McCown is just going to be a stand in until one of the younger guys is ready to go, and that’s never a good feeling. McCown and the loser will be left to battle for the backup role. Let the QB struggle begin.

Tarvaris Jackson. Minnesota Vikings.
You got some Booty behind you, Tarvaris. John David Booty has the potential to really threaten Jackson for the starting job if Jackson doesn’t show significant improvement this season. There’s no security in his fantasy value.

Chris Simms. Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With no spleen and no playing time last year, Simms is now on the cut list with Josh Johnson drafted into the pack of QBs already in Tampa Bay. Johnson is no sure thing — especially if you ask Jon Gruden — but he has some good stats even if it was just at San Diego. He’ll make the team, and at least one of Tampa Bay’s current QB collection will have to find a new place.