Week 2 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders: And who plays the Lions this week again?

Ah, that was nice, wasn’t it? The start of the NFL season is just like taking a hot shower, and Week 1 is when someone flushes the toilet to give you that frigid, but refreshing, blast of unbearably cold water.

Once you’ve recovered from the shock, it’s lovely, just lovely.

This week, we’re looking for things to regress back to the mean — or for non-nerds, return to normal. I expect a few disappointments to bounce back, but we can’t always get what we want. Sorry, L.T. owners, but I think your ship is sinking.

Hot Hands Start of the Week

Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo Bills vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jackson was only supposed to fill time until Marshawn Lynch returned from his suspension, but he’s exploded out of the gates with a great game last week against New England’s rebuilding defensive line. Against the Tampa Bay defense, Jackson should have another good day.

Jackson’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield makes him a dynamic threat in Buffalo’s no-huddle offense, and he should see his fair share of receptions in addition to all the carries he’ll receive as the focal point of this attack. I’m starting him in every league in which I own him, even if it means I have to sit names like Steven Jackson to do it.

Others receiving votes:

  • Trent Edwards, QB, Buffalo Bills vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    The Bills should be firing on all cylinders this week as they take advantage of Ronde Barber and the Tampa Bay defense that just got lit up by Dallas in Week 1.
  • Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers
    The 49ers have come together nicely this season, but the Seahawks still have many threats in the passing game. I see John Carlson sneaking lose a few times and allowing Hasselbeck to be a sneaky play this week.
  • Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders vs. Kansas City Chiefs
    A mouth-watering matchup for a team who just ran all over the Chargers. McFadden could have a big day against the struggling Chiefs, and Michael Bush could join in the fun as well.
  • Justin Gage, WR, Tennessee Titans vs. Houston Texans
    The Jets abused the Houston secondary last week. Maybe it’ll be Gage’s turn this week.
  • Clinton Portis, RB, Washington Redskins vs. St. Louis Rams
    I know, obvious, but some people questioned him after last week. The Rams, much to their disappointment, are not the Giants.
  • Matt Schaub, QB, Houston Texans vs. Tennessee Titans
    I think shabby deserves one more chance…
  • Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions
    What Favre likes, Favre hits. He tackled Harvin after his Week 1 touchdown. Harvin is an interesting flex option this week and is likely to get another score as the Vikings test him out against the Lions.

Cold Shoulders Sit of the Week

Dwayne Bowe, WR, Kansas City Chiefs vs. Oakland Raiders
It’s a no-Bowe this week. What’s the guy’s name? Nani? Nadia? Not-gonna-let-Bowe-catch-any-passes, that’s what his name is. Nnamdi Asomugha has Bowe locked down. The Bowe Show has never had more than 100 yards or a touchdown against the Raiders.

If Matt Cassel returns this week, Richard Seymour should be giving his former teammate a few hugs throughout the game, and I don’t think the Chiefs offense will get off the ground.

Sure, Bowe might defy the odds. He might get out there and get himself a touchdown, but I don’t like betting on garbage-time scores and yardage. Best to sit Bowe if you have better options. At the very least, downgrade expectations. He rose above his expectations last week, but I doubt he’ll do it again.

Others receiving votes:

  • LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, San Diego Chargers vs. Baltimore Ravens
    Gasp! How could I? The LaDainian Tomlinson? But yes, he’s no good for you this week because the official word is that he is OUT. Not playing. E.T. no phone home. I’m not one to stand behind L.T. as a start, injury or no injury, but this week will be the start of a struggle for owners who need to decide when it’s appropriate to put him out to pasture.
  • Donnie Avery, WR, St. Louis Rams vs. Washington Redskins
    Avery has to prove that the Rams can do something on offense before I’ll give him a nod, but if he’s one of your best this week, he might surprise.
  • Laveranues Coles, WR, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Green Bay Packers
    The Packers defense and Coles’ Week 1 drops make Coles a must sit. Once he proves he has something left in the tank, feel free to return him to your roster.
  • Jeremy Shockey, TE, New Orleans Saints vs. Philadelphia Eagles
    Against the Eagles, me no likey.
  • Kyle Orton, QB, Denver Broncos vs. Cleveland Browns
    Not even the Browns are scared of this matchup. While good on paper, Orton shouldn’t be putting up gaudy numbers here, and you’re likely to have a better play.
  • Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
    You probably have to start him, but I’m a tad worried that he won’t get the touchdown required to make this matchup worthwhile. The Steelers should limit him, but Forte isn’t a dud this week.

And against my better judgment…

Sleeper of the Week

Devin Hester, WR, Chicago Bears vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s hard to recommend Hester against one of the most formidable passing defenses in the league and after his quarterback struggled with four interceptions in his first game, but Hester has some sleeper value this week. This game could come down to the final quarter, and I could imagine Hester being tasked with making a play by blowing by the Steelers and getting to the end zone.

The Titans were able to make plays through the air last week against the Steelers, and I think Jay Cutler and Hester are just as talented or more so than Kerry Collins and Justin Gage. If Hester pulls it off, he’s worth starting; if they completely shut him down…well, that’s why he’s a sleeper. Basically, all I’m saying here is that you aren’t completely done for if you find yourself needing to start Hester this week. We’ll see what happens.

For more start/sit recommendations this week…

As always, the comments are yours. If you want to talk about your roster, leave us a question below, and good luck this week.

On the Wire: Week 2 Pickups and Sleepers

Welcome to the first edition of our in-season “On the Wire” spectacular, coming to you every week from the sadness of your own heart. If you’re players are underperforming or injured, we’re here to pick you up for the low, low price of four installments of free.

We’ll keep it short and simple — listing a few players each week who could upgrade your team and a few sleepers who might perform well in the next week. If you like what you see, go get them on your waiver wire, and if there’s anyone else you are considering picking up for your fantasy squad, bring him up in the discussion in the comments below.

Here are a few potential fantasy free agents who could help your team this week:

Mike Bell, RB, New Orleans Saints: He’ll have a rough time this week against the Eagles, but as long as Pierre Thomas is out, he’ll get the bulk of the Saints workload.

Cadillac Williams, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: His knees seem better now, but what the hell did they put in there? He looked stronger than ever and bionic on Sunday. He’ll share time with Derrick Ward, but he’s a decent RB3 to consider at this point.

Michael Bush, RB, Oakland Raiders: Bush will be a short-yardage, goal line back for the Raiders, a team who will run the ball plenty this year. When he spells Darren McFadden, he could also be spelling your fantasy team.

Earl Bennett, WR, Chicago Bears: In his second season with the Bears, he’s finally emerging as a possession receiver for Jay Cutler.

Davone Bess, WR, Miami Dolphins: The receiver-by-rotation model the Dolphins are using makes him a risky pickup, but Bess was the Dolphins’ leading receiver this weekend. If that moves him up the Dolphins’ depth chart, he’ll continue to have value in PPR leagues, but he’s unlikely to score a lot of touchdowns.

Pierre Garcon, WR, Indianapolis Colts: If not Garcon, it’s Austin Collie, but whoever fills in for Anthony Gonzalez will have value and will face Miami this weekend.

Laurent Robinson, WR, St. Louis Rams: So they do have someone besides Donnie Avery? Robinson was a sleeper back when he was with the Falcons, but he has finally caught on in St. Louis. They could use the help.

Steve Smith, WR, New York Giants: If undrafted, the other Steve Smith could be a stud in PPR leagues this season as Eli Manning’s No. 1 guy.

Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings: Looks like they’ll use him in this offense. You could, too. Harvin’s explosive and could be Brett Favre’s new Chansi Stuckey.

John Carlson, TE, Seattle Seahawks: If no one in your league drafted him this year — probably unlikely — you should correct that. He’s a young tight end who should be one of the top two targets in the Seattle offense, and he’s a great red zone option for Matt Hasselbeck. His two-touchdown performance on Sunday could be repeated against other NFC West opponents throughout the season.

Jeremy Shockey, TE, New Orleans Saints: Don’t expect him to do that every week, but Shockey could be a solid tight end for you this season if your current guy was disappointing in the first week.

Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets: He won’t win you any games, but Sanchez could be a Joe Flacco-like rookie quarterback this season if the Jets continue to dominate Baltimore-style. He has potential as a backup.

Chaz Schilens, WR, Oakland Raiders: Write this one down. Schilens is out right now with a broken foot, but upon his return, he should be the No. 1 in Oakland, where JaMarcus Russell seems able and willing to make big plays. Louis Murphy stood out last night, but Schilens could easily take over that role very soon. Consider this one a longer-term investment.

Washington Redskins, D/ST: St. Louis meets Albert Haynesworth this week. Who wants a Bulger sandwich? How about a pancake?

For more pickups this week, check out FF Toolbox, The Fantasy Football Geek Blog and FF Report.

Week 1 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders: The “Are we there yet?” Edition

The kickoff cometh! In just a few hours, the NFL will return to that magic box in my living room and all will be right with the world. In the meantime, it’s time to make sure you’ve got your best fantasy football roster forward.

Much like our waiver wire recommendations have been shortened up to get with the times, I’ve taken the liberty of consolidating our start or sit feature, Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders, into a more compact version of its 2008 self. I’m focusing on just a handful of players that you may be on the fence about starting each week.

If you have questions about other players on your roster or whether you should give these alternatives the nod over your current starter, submit your questions in the comments. Our shortened features should open the comments up for more discussion, more Q&A and, of course, more cowbell.

Now back to this week’s good-looking starters…

Hot Hands Start of the Week

Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs
I might as well put my fantasy money where my roster spot mouth is. I have Rice on plenty of my teams this season, and rather than wait to see what you have in him this year, I’m all about jumping him into your starting lineup immediately. Kansas City won’t know what hit them.

Last season, the Ravens could run over any team in the NFL, and I expect them to do the same in this matchup. While LeRon McClain and Willis McGahee could be lurking in the wings to steal some touchdowns, the Chiefs’ defense should give Rice at least a handful of opportunities to break a big play.

Others receiving votes:

  • Chris Henry, WR, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Denver Broncos: Another sleeper with plenty to like this week in Palmer’s return
  • Zach Miller, TE, Oakland Raiders vs. San Diego Chargers: The Chargers had a weakness for tight ends last season
  • Cedric Benson, RB, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Denver Broncos: I just doubt the Broncos defense this much
  • Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots: He’s the guy for Buffalo until Lynch returns. How good can New England’s defense be after losing all those veterans?
  • Almost every Saint you can find vs. Detroit Lions: It’s a party, and all the fantasy players are invited

Cold Shoulders Sit of the Week

Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s hard to sit your first-round running back right after drafting him, but Johnson should be limited this week in the Titans’ debut against the defending Super Bowl champs. I like my running backs to have a shot at the end zone, especially a guy like “Every Coach’s Dream.” LenDale White should steal any short-yardage chances, and I don’t expect there to be many breakdowns in the Steelers’ defense.

The Super Bowl champs are rarely upset in their opening game, and I am sure the Steelers will control the clock. Unless you are lacking in the running back department — or you just like torturing yourself — try someone who has a bit more upside this week. Play Chris Johnson only if your alternative is Larry Johnson or Jamal Lewis.

Others receiving votes:

  • Santonio Holmes, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Tennessee Titans: Much like Johnson, Holmes should be bottled up in a low-scoring contest
  • Jamal Lewis, RB, Cleveland Browns vs. Minnesota Vikings: Very little chance he shows any more signs of life in this one…
  • Matt Schaub, QB, Houston Texans vs. New York Jets: Glad you’re back to full health, now dodge Jets for four quarters! Schaub’s risky this week.
  • All your Chiefs vs. Baltimore Ravens: Until Matt Cassel is 100 percent, the Chiefs can only play at 25 percent. No likey.

For more start or sit recommendations this week, read up at FootballDocs, Fantasy Football Xtreme, Fantasy Football Oasis (one of the more detailed out there), Fantasy Football Goat, The Fantasy Football Geek Blog and Fanhouse’s Week 1 Wake-Up Call.

Also, don’t forget to enter for your chance to win free Dominator Service from Top Fantasy Football by commenting on yesterday’s post.

As always, the comments are yours.

On the Wire: Quick Week 1 Pickups and Sleepers

It’s time…

I’m almost giddy now that I can finally write up a few sleeper grabs that may have gone undrafted in your leagues this season. In less than 24 hours, the 2009 NFL season will be upon us. Are you ready? Probably not, but that’s why you’re doing your homework. Consider this your Week 1 bailout.

For the sake of being more easily absorbed in this 24/7, twittered news cycle, I’m tightening up the weekly “On the Wire” and making it a little more rapid fire — less bulky. If you don’t find what you crave in this handful of player mentions, leave a comment, and we’ll discuss. That’s what we’re here to do.

Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens
If no one drafted Ray Rice in your league, you should go pick him up immediately. Actually, first, you should slap yourself, and then you can go get Ray Rice off that waiver wire. Rice was a popular sleeper pick in the offseason, but he’s been climbing up draft boards all preseason, especially now that he’s officially the Ravens’ starting running back.

Anyone who hasn’t either missed their chance to draft him or secured him on their team’s roster needs to dust off the fantasy cobwebs and wake up before he does — probably this weekend against an incredibly bad Kansas City defense.

Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo Bills
For three weeks, Jackson will be the feature back of the Buffalo Bills offense while Marshawn Lynch serves his suspension. The Bills let Dominic Rhodes go just days before the season and confirmed their confidence in Jackson’s abilities.

Whether you own Lynch or not, Jackson’s worthy of a roster spot until Week 4.

Chris Henry, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Another of my favorite sleepers this preseason, the troubled young wide receiver is back with the Bengals and seems to be on the right track legally. Henry caught touchdown bombs in all four weeks of the preseason, even while Carson Palmer was out. I’d say that’s a good sign of things to come with Palmer healthy — at least for now.

Get Henry on your team this week before he shows his skills against the Denver Broncos.

Mike Bell, RB, New Orleans Saints
If Pierre Thomas misses the Saints’ Week 1 showdown against the Detroit Lions, who has two thumbs and all the carries near the goal line? THIS GUY. (I’ll admit, that was bad, but you should try to do better.)

Peyton Hillis, RB, Denver Broncos
The other Peyton is a dark horse fantasy back in Denver this season. While Knowshon Moreno gets all the hype, the ladies and the knee injuries, Hillis is the guy who should end up running with the team in two-minute drills and when it counts.

He catches passes, he runs the ball effectively and he’s deceptively known as a fullback on the Broncos’ roster, but you should keep an eye or a roster spot on this rookie standout from 2008.

Shaun Hill, QB, San Francisco 49ers
If Matt Schaub or Kyle Orton is making you nervous, Hill could cure just what ails you. He was productive enough to deserve a few fantasy starts when he finished out the season for the 49ers.

Confirmed as the starting quarterback for 2009, he should take full advantage of all the opportunities exposed when defenses stack the box to stop Frank Gore. Expect Hill to step up this week against the potent Arizona attack.

That’s all for this week. No droppable players to discuss this week, but we’ll revisit next week once we’ve seen how disappointing our fantasy teams can be in real life.

As always, the comments are yours. Have a guy you’re thinking about adding to your roster? Need help at receiver or quarterback this week? Just ask.

Foolish Thoughts: Rate My 2009 Team

No one can claim to be all-knowing when it comes to fantasy football, and one of the most valuable parts of blogging about it for me is the reader feedback I receive in the comments. Your competition will never share their inner thoughts or concerns about your team — not without offering you a trade based on their opinion. A neutral outsider can help you determine what the rest of your league is thinking about your squad after the draft.

Team managers, of course, always think their team is bound for a championship. That’s a tad biased.

Now that I’ve compiled several of my teams this year, I thought it’d be interesting to discuss one of them and my trading and waiver wire plans for it this season. If you have a team you’d like to share, drop it in the comments. We could all use a good “How’d I do?”

My Team

This 10-team league follows basic scoring rules with no points per reception, but passing touchdowns are six points rather than the normal four points. The starting lineup is QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, TE, K, DEF.

Here’s the team I trotted out of the bar with after our draft:

1.06 Randy Moss WR, New England Patriots
2.05 Greg Jennings WR, Green Bay Packers
3.06 Steven Jackson RB, St. Louis Rams
4.05 Aaron Rodgers QB, Green Bay Packers
5.06 Darren McFadden, RB Oakland Raiders
6.05 Ray Rice RB, Baltimore Ravens
7.06 Marshawn Lynch, RB Buffalo Bills
8.05 Devin Hester WR, Chicago Bears
9.06 Jay Cutler QB, Chicago Bears
10.05 Chris Henry WR, Cincinnati Bengals
11.06 LeSean McCoy RB, Philadelphia Eagles
12.05 Josh Morgan WR, San Francisco 49ers
13.06 Fred Jackson RB, Buffalo Bills
14.05 Dallas Cowboys DEF
15.06 John Carlson TE, Seattle Seahawks
16.05 Mason Crosby K, Green Bay Packers

My Initial Thoughts

I don’t love Steven Jackson, but even if you hate the guy, you can’t pass on him in the third round. He was worth the risk there, and I think I covered my tracks with McFadden, Rice and Lynch enough to fill in for Jackson’s inevitable injury or failings this season.

My selection of Jackson in the third round was a choice between SJax and Clinton Portis, but I chose Jackson for the upside. We know what we’re getting with Portis, and he’s already banged up this season. Jackson is healthy for now, and he’s bound to start off the season hot.

I made sure to build strength at wide receiver and quarterback in this league, where quarterbacks and wide receivers go early and often, and I like the players I ended up getting. Greg Jennings is one of my favorites going into this season, and Randy Moss should get plenty of touchdowns this year now that Tom Brady is back.

I felt a lot better about Darren McFadden before New Orleans destroyed Oakland in that blowout this weekend, but I like his chances to rebound from that poor performance. I was a big fan of running backs who caught passes in addition to getting carries, and most of my team shows that attraction. Hopefully, I won’t have many of my running backs shut out against tough run defenses because of their dual-threat nature.

I know Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers have the same bye week, but I liked them both this year. I plan on trading away the one I use less after the bye week, and I’ll be left with a stronger team because I’ll be able to choose between the two.

By the time their Week 5 bye approaches, I’ll be able to drop Fred Jackson and pick up an undrafted quarterback to fill in at quarterback. There are plenty of quarterbacks still on the board after just 16 rounds in this league. No one even touched Brett Favre.

In the later rounds, I tried to snag a few sleepers and backups to tighten up my team. Chris Henry and Josh Morgan could be value grabs, or I might be able to drop them after the first two or three weeks of the season. We’ll see how they work out.

After waiting until the very end of the draft to select a tight end, I was very pleased to get John Carlson. He could finish as a top-five or at least top-seven tight end, and I didn’t pay anything for him at all.

Your Thoughts

So what do you think? Where are the weaknesses (risky running backs) and strengths (proven wide receivers and upside quarterbacks) on my team? As always, the comments are yours. If you have a team that you’d like to share with the Foolish community, leave it in the comments with some notes about your starting lineup and scoring rules.

Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: Cutting Out the Middle Men from Best Player Available

I’ve been a complete subscriber to the “best player available” school of thought when it comes to fantasy football draft strategies, but in 2009, I’d argue in favor of a more enlightened form of drafting a starting roster. Regardless of who you take in the first two rounds of your draft, most fantasy draft strategies boil down to one of two plans: “best player available” or “drafting a starting roster.”

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let me explain the difference.

Best Player Available Strategy

By drafting the most valuable player, regardless of position, this fantasy football draft strategy aims to load a roster full of the most productive fantasy studs possible.

In order to prepare for your draft, you must tier your rankings and cheat sheets in advance. The tiers allow you to see the most productive fantasy studs across all positions and draft accordingly. For example, rather than continuing to draft running backs in the fourth round, you might notice that all the running backs are gone from your top two tiers while three wide receivers in your second tier are still available. These receivers would be more valuable to have at that point in the draft. The schmucks who don’t have their rankings tiered will just keep following their running back rankings down the board while there is a run on running backs and lose value with every pick they make.

Tiering your rankings is fairly simple. Here are the basic steps:

  • First, create your rankings. I often combine many sources into one consensus ranking, much like Fantasy Football Nerd does for you, and then adjust based on my own gut feelings and predictions.
  • Start dividing your rankings into levels, or tiers, by separating starting-quality players from backups. Separate your RB1s from your RB2s and your QB1s from your QB2s.
  • Keep dividing your rankings by position down to the point level, or projected scoring for the 2009 season — players who you expect to produce ungodly point totals each week in the first tier, those who produce five points less in the second tier, 10 points less in the third and so on. The more tiers you can create, the better you’ll be in you draft.
  • When you’re done, layout your draft notes and align the tiers in such a way that you can see your draft tiers across every position in just a glance. The first tier would be one row, and the tiers go down the page from there. When your cheat sheet is compiled, you’re ready to draft.

In theory, this best player available draft strategy ensures that your team is well-rounded, but it doesn’t guarantee you strength at any one position. If the draft follows a certain path, you could end up with strong wide receivers and running backs but an incredibly weak quarterback situation. When there’s a run on running backs early, you could end up with a slew of wide receivers from which you can only start two each week.

As long as you keep balance in mind near the middle and late rounds of the fantasy football draft, you can usually field a solid team with this draft method, but in recent years, I’ve often found myself wishing I had more superstars on my roster. Consistent point totals can only get you so far when you get to the playoffs, and this draft strategy often discourages you from starting the runs on the top tight ends or quarterbacks.

Starting Roster Strategy

Often practiced by fantasy football newbies who don’t know any better, the starting roster method fills every starting position for your Week 1 lineup before drafting any backups. The reasoning is simple: pick the best player to start at every position so that your starting roster is as strong as possible. This method receives plenty of criticism if players go as far as to select a kicker or team defense with their middle-round picks rather than waiting until the final rounds of the draft.

Players employing this strategy are usually the first to draft a quarterback, a defense, a tight end and a kicker. Most of the time, that proves to be a fatal move in their draft because they lose out on depth at running back and wide receiver.

The major flaw in this system is that not all positions are created equal. A starting tight end isn’t worth grabbing over a strong backup wide receiver or running back when there are 10 more tight ends of equal value still available.

The Sleepers Complication

But what if you could take a little from column A and a little from column B?

As a bit of a fantasy veteran at this point in my career, I usually identify several late grabs who could pay off in a big way for me on my fantasy roster. Depending on the experience of my draftmates, and their own sleeper picks, it’s usually possible for me to get a few, if not all, of my guys. While they may not all hit for me, I believe enough in my track record to continue to rely on my sleepers late in drafts, so what’s the harm in betting hard on my fantasy knowledge?

With this all-in thinking applied, I constructed a new draft strategy this season.

The “Cut Out the Middle Men” Draft Strategy

If you know what you are doing, you can adapt the starting roster strategy to your advantage with a little influence from the best player available draft strategy.

  • To begin your draft, pick the best players available — running back, wide receiver or quarterback — in the first two rounds. Select the guys that will produce the most fantasy points early and fill your starting positions with who you believe are the strongest options overall.
  • In the third round, start thinking about your starting lineup. For example, if you already have two stud running backs for your two starting slots at that position, draft a top-tier tight end or quarterback to guarantee that you’ll have elite production across your roster. By breaking away from the best player available strategy and starting the run on these other positions, you reach for your top choices but maximize the chances that you’ll end up with the strongest starters.
  • Once you have all your starting roster spots filled, excluding a kicker and a team defense, begin to draft backups for each position once again basing your picks on the best player available mindset, but lean on your sleepers rather than middle-of-the-road picks. Consistent veterans may be the “best players” on the board, but a sleeper who could quickly become a startable fantasy stud is worth more on your bench since your starting roster is already so strong.
  • In the final two rounds, draft your team defense and kicker. If you have a defense you absolutely love, you could still include them in drafting your starting roster, but I find that most defenses drafted early don’t perform well enough to deserve the pick.

The third point on drafting backups and sleepers could probably use a little more explanation.

Say you have your starting lineup finalized and are now looking at backups. Rather than draft a fantasy backup like Ricky Williams or Fred Taylor, you would look to grab Shonn Greene or Jonathan Stewart. Instead of having a mediocre backup wide receiver like Torry Holt, pass for a few rounds until Chris Henry looks like a reasonable selection.

By the time many backups are being drafted, the players you’re taking won’t be much better than what you can find on the waiver wire throughout the season. While you’re sacrificing depth in loading up on sleepers, you could end up with a stronger roster if many of them pan out for you.

Assuming these guys, sleepers and mediocre starters, are all going to be drafted, you’re loading up your roster with players who have the potential to be top-10 players at their position for the few weeks they may see time on the field rather than reliable players you may never start. If the sleepers pay off, you get to trade them for positions of need or sub them into your lineup. If they don’t, you can easily drop them and await a waiver wire gem midseason.

What’s your draft strategy?

I believe that this “cut out the middle men” fantasy football draft strategy will allow me to compile a more boom or bust roster that should free up some roster positions early in the season and, hopefully, allow me to get more of my top picks on my roster.

My gripe with the best player available method is that you often sit back and never start the runs on any given position during your draft. While that allows you to build great depth on your roster, it doesn’t mean you’ll put together the most points each week since the bench only helps you out in a tie.

I’ll be experimenting with this draft strategy in a few of my final drafts this season.

Would the “cut out the middle men” work for you? What’s your draft strategy this season? As always, the comments are yours.

Forget Them Not: Ten Dynasty Running Backs for Keepers and Sleepers

We covered the quarterbacks and the wide receivers, but the position you really should watch closely heading into this year’s draft is running back. These runners have worked their way into the favor of their current coaching staffs and may stand a much greater chance of seeing the field than that guy that gets taken in the second or third round this year. Are there any Ray Rice hype machine victims in the audience? Moving on…

Jalen Parmele – Baltimore Ravens
Taken by the Dolphins in the sixth round of the 2008 draft, Parmele didn’t have a lot of press despite his productive junior and senior seasons. The Ravens plucked him off the Dolphins’ practice squad to support their running attack in the last game of the regular season against Jacksonville, and he remains with the team entering 2009. He’s comparable to Tashard Choice, who tore it up in huge games down the stretch for the Cowboys. If the RB situation in Baltimore changes and Parmele gets pack of backs, you might hear his name again in 2009.

Ryan Moats – Houston Texans
Moats grabbed headlines this offseason for his incident with a certain overly-demanding police officer, but he could be in the spotlight once again if he lands a role with the Texans running game in 2009. Steve Slaton need someone to keep him durable during the regular season, and veteran journeyman Chris Brown is more fragile and injury-prone than Slaton. Moats could see some time if injuries come into play, and he wasn’t too shabby in 2008 when needed.

Mike Hart – Indianapolis Colts
Hart didn’t have much of a debut this season as he was quickly injured once he got his chance to play for the Colts, but he still ranks very high on a lot of dynasty lists. His production at Michigan may lead some to doubt how much he has left in the tank, but his intangibles and heart for the game have led many to stand behind him. With Dominic Rhodes out of the picture, Hart could have a real shot at stepping into a big role with the Colts this season and sharing time with Joseph Addai.

Chris Henry – Tennessee Titans
Though Chris Johnson has largely stolen his thunder–or lightning, as the case may be since LenDale White owns the copyright on “thunder”–Henry still has a chance to play a part for the Titans. If anything were to happen to White, he’s the likely candidate to step into Tennessee’s potent running attack, and he may have more chances this season if the Titans move to more of a three-back system to keep Johnson fresh and injury-free for the playoffs. Without a healthy Johnson, the Titans just didn’t look the same.

Jacob Hester – San Diego Chargers
With LaDainian Tomlinson approaching his golden years, many folks are looking for the Chargers to draft a running back this season to help Darren Sproles. But do they really need someone else? Given the production of fullbacks turned running backs like Peyton Hillis, Hester might be an adequate partner in the running game to support Sproles and Tomlinson as L.T. approaches the end of his career. We’ll see if the Chargers think he is enough come draft day.

Danny Ware – New York Giants
With a stall of running backs that could dominate any team in the league, you’d think that the Giants would be willing to sell off some of their surplus at the position, but surprisingly, the Giants have been very protective of Ware. If the team who was okay letting Ryan Grant walk and Derrick Ward sign elsewhere likes this guy, dynasty owners have to agree. He sits just behind Jacobs on the depth chart, and he might become part of the new Earth, Wind and Fire if Jacobs needs help in the run game.

Lorenzo Booker – Philadelphia Eagles
When he was traded to the Eagles from the Dolphins, Booker was touted as the likely backup to Brian Westbrook, but despite Booker’s comparable skills, he didn’t ever find his way onto the field last season. With Westbrook’s contract extended and Correll Buckhalter going over to the Broncos in free agency, Booker could be the guy we thought he was going to be in 2009. Then again, the Eagles could get greedy and take another running back in the draft to support Westbrook.

Justin Forsett – Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks drafted Forsett in the seventh round of the draft only to waive him early in the 2008 season. After a short stay with the Indianapolis Colts, Forsett was again waived and returned to the Seahawks practice squad to sign as the punt specialist. Considering the lack of depth at running back on Seattle’s current roster, he could play a larger role than expected this season if the injury plague in Seattle moves from the wide receivers to the running backs. Forsett scored 15 touchdowns in his final season at Cal after sitting behind J.J. Arrington and Marshawn Lynch for most of his time there.

Kregg Lumpkin – Green Bay Packers
With a name like that, what else could you be but a running back? Lumpkin started to gain some ground on the Green Bay depth chart just before he injured his hamstring early last season. With Ryan Grant looking more human and less like the hero he was in 2007, it’s possible the Packers give guys like Lumpkin and Brandon Jackson more opportunities in 2009. I don’t expect Grant to lose his job, but if Lumpkin gave it his all, he might jump over Jackson on the depth chart.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis – New England Patriots
The man we so lovingly called “Law Firm” in 2008 is likely to find himself back on the sidelines as we enter the 2009 season, but while he may be gone, he should not be forgotten. Green-Ellis, like many other Patriot backs, was successful when given the opportunity. If Laurence Maroney fails again this season, which is likely, Green-Ellis might even get another chance to work his way into the rotation for Bill Belichick.

Six Well-Received Dynasty Wide Receivers for 2009 Sleepers and Keepers

We started our dynasty talk with a look at the quarterbacks on benches you may have forgotten as the NFL draft approaches, but now it’s time to refresh your memory about a few receivers that could be valuable for keeper leagues and dynasty leagues. Some even have a shot at fantasy stardom in 2009.

Demetrius Williams – Baltimore Ravens
Despite his flashes as a playmaker since joining the Ravens in 2006, Demetrius Williams hasn’t stayed healthy enough to earn his way out of the slot receiver role in Baltimore. Just as he emerged in 2009 with a 70-yard touchdown grab against the Raiders, Williams had to be shut down for surgery on a bone spur that had limited him all season. The Ravens need to get younger — and better — targets for Joe Flacco, and Williams could be the guy to stretch the field for Flacco in 2009 even if Baltimore addresses the position in the draft.

Lavelle Hawkins – Tennessee Titans
Hawkins was supposed to be the answer to Tennessee fans’ prayers when he was drafted last season even though he wasn’t a first-round receiver selection as many had hoped. Though he outshined college teammate DeSean Jackson in the stats department during his last season at California, he spent his rookie season in the shadows while Jackson played his way into a starting role with the Eagles. To his credit, Hawkins struggled to master the Titan’s playbook with all the distractions and challenges of being a rookie in the NFL. In his second season, he’d prefer that his teammates hold the mayo. With Justin McCareins now a free agent, Hawkins could bring a much-needed infusion of young talent to the passing game for Tennessee opposite newly acquired Nate Washington or Justin Gage.

Earl Bennett – Chicago Bears
Much like Hawkins, many Chicago fans jumped aboard the Bennett train expecting him to contribute early and often in a season where Chicago had no receivers to brag about on their starting roster. Bennett must have missed the memo. In 2009, he finds himself in a very intriguing situation with his former college quarterback, Jay Cutler, in town. Cutler could easily make his favorite target from Vandy into a standout in this offense, so watch for Bennett to find his way into the third receiver role or even the No. 2 spot beside Devin Hester if he can make the jump with this offense.

Mario Manningham – New York Giants
As disappointing as his entrance to the NFL was, Manningham has done a whole lot of nothing on the Giants roster so far. The release of Plaxico Burress and departure of Amani Toomer this offseason will give each of the Giants’ young receivers a chance to climb the depth chart. With Steve Smith quickly becoming Eli Manning’s most trusted target, the Giants would love to see Manningham prove his draft stock and push Domenik Hixon, the No. 1 receiver replacement-of-the-moment. Maybe he can defy that 6 on the Wonderlic and grasp the playbook a little sooner than expected.

Davone Bess – Miami Dolphins
His troubled past in college at Oregon State didn’t stop Hawaii recruiters from picking up on Bess’ talents, and despite going undrafted, he still made the Dolphins roster in 2008. When Greg Camarillo went down with an injury, Bess filled his role as Chad Pennington’s most reliable wide receiver, and Bess finished the season with more receptions than all but two rookies, Eddie Royal and DeSean Jackson. With Camarillo returning from his injury, Bess may find himself back in the slot receiver role, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Pennington looked Bess’ way a little more often in 2009.

Mike Walker – Jacksonville Jaguars
While Matt Jones caught most of the nose candy praise and passes in 2008, David Garrard showed that he had a lot of faith in Mike Walker by looking to him to make a big play when they needed it. If Walker can stay healthy in 2009, he might be a big factor now that Jones and Jerry Porter are out of town. His only major competition for the most looks in Jacksonville is an aging Torry Holt unless the Jaguars take a receiver early in the draft.

And if crazy things happen…

Brad Smith / David Clowney – New York Jets
Without Laveranues Coles, the Jets have a hole opposite Jerricho Cotchery. Chansi Stuckey appears to be at the top of the depth chart, but Brad Smith and David Clowney are two of the lesser-known and possibly more promising wide receivers in the Jets’ arsenal. Smith has talents as both a quarterback and receiver, and Clowney sat out most of 2008 with a broken collarbone after blowing up in the preseason. If either takes hold of No. 2 spot or slot position for whichever quarterback steps into the pocket for the Jets, they stand a chance of becoming a household name. Clowney, in my opinion, is currently the more intriguing of the two.

Early Doucet – Arizona Cardinals
It would take an Anquan Boldin trade for Doucet to become relevant, but the coaching staff praised him and his ability after drafting him just last year. Even though Steve Breaston is ahead of him on the depth chart, it’s a proven fact that the Cardinals passing game produces numbers for everyone who gets involved. Watch for Doucet to earn his spot as the No. 3 receiver if any draft-day deals move Boldin from the sunny desert of Arizona.

Steve Johnson – Buffalo Bills
Unfortunately for Steve, who looked promising in the short time he played near the end of 2008, the Terrell Owens signing in Buffalo limits his potential for at least the 2009 season. Second-round selection James Hardy still sits ahead of him on the Bills’ depth chart, and Johnson will be lucky to lock down the fifth receiver spot behind Lee Evans, Owens, Josh Reed and Hardy if Roscoe Parrish stays in Buffalo. He’s still worth keeping an eye on, but it would take some roster moves for Johnson to make an impact anytime soon.

A Six-pack of Quarterbacks to Remember in 2009 for Dynasty Teams, Keepers and Sleepers

As the NFL draft approaches, we all get a little antsy for football season to start. We start salivating over the latest and greatest rookie talent and their the flashy 40-yard dash times, and we forget about all the players from last year’s draft, the ones we talked up to our buddies every Saturday watching college football, the guys that were going to make our fantasy team as a sleeper pick or a bench-rider on our dynasty squad.

Before you start dropping them on your team to pick up the Chris “Beanie” Wells of the world, maybe you should consider all those good times you still might have…

Now is not the time to forget the players that everyone loved last offseason. They’re still on NFL rosters, and some of them are moving ever closer to an impact role. Even though they may look like last year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover — and hey, that’s not too bad looking — you shouldn’t stop watching them.

Before you clear a spot for Matthew Stafford, consider these quarterbacks who could be impact players in 2009 or 2010.

Chad Henne – Miami Dolphins
While not flashy, Henne has the admiration of the Bill Parcells-led Dolphins, and as soon as Chad Pennington decides to get away from the sticky beach weather in Florida or Parcells decides he needs to take a seat on the bench, Henne is the favorite to be the starting quarterback. Current rumors have him set to go in 2010. One can only hope the Dolphins have developed receivers by then.

Brett Ratliff – New York Jets
Kellen Clemens isn’t scaring anyone in New York except his agent — a 59.3 quarterback rating will do that. The pressure of being an NFL starting quarterback didn’t suit him too well when he got the chance pre-Favre, and the door is standing open for Brett Ratliff to jump into a starting job. Wouldn’t it be fitting for both starting quarterbacks who replace Brett Favre to come from Chico and Butte? [See Rodgers, Aaron]

Matt Moore – Carolina Panthers
One of the most promising backup quarterbacks in the game, Moore showed poise when he took the field in relief of Jake Delhomme and David Carr in 2007. He sits behind Jake Delhomme this season with no Carr in sight. Delhomme could easily lose his job in 2009 if he is as sloppy with the football as he was in his playoff game against the Cardinals, and the Panthers, while supporting him as the starter, haven’t moved to extend his contract yet. All eyes are on Moore to steal the show — as long as the Panthers don’t surprise us in the draft.

Josh Johnson – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Johnson has the skills and the intangibles to match. Best of all, the opportunity is there as the Bucs roll into this season with Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich competing for the starting job. Footballguys.com’s The Audible brought Johnson to my attention before the 2008 draft, and those guys know their rookies. Before being drafted, Johnson was named the offensive MVP of the 2008 East-West Shrine Game and excelled at the NFL Combine, where he recorded the best 40-yard dash (4.55), broad jump and vertical jump among quarterbacks. If Leftwich struggles in the starting role in 2009, Johnson could come along quickly.

You don’t have to be young to be worth watching this season — so says the cougar motto — but these potential studs could find new life depending on where they rank after training camps.

Sage Rosenfels – Minnesota Vikings
Rosenfels might be overlooked since he’s no new kid on the block, but he can still play with the best of them as long as a helicopter spin is involved. Rosenfels was considered one of the best backups in the league with the Houston Texans, and his arm gave the team plenty of chances to win. Captain Turnover’s move to the Vikings this offseason will probably allow him to win the starting job over Tarvaris Jackson, and his daring feats with the football might be just what Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice need to be productive.

Vince Young – Tennessee Titans
Kerry Collins may be the Susan Boyle of the NFL, but he can’t last forever. Despite his strong showing in 2008, the Titans are unlikely to get across the hump in the AFC unless they somehow unleash the true talents of Vince Young. Whether he gets his chance with the Titans as a starter or specialty weapon or he moves to another team, VY will be an impact player if he regains the confidence he had at Texas. With the right coaching, Young should be productive when combined with some emerging receivers. While you might take him off your draft board for now, don’t let him stray too far.

And don’t forget…

In the incubator: Dennis Dixon (Pittsburgh Steelers), Kevin Kolb (Philadelphia Eagles), Colt Brennan (Washington Redskins), Matt Leinart (Arizona Cardinals)

[H/T and thanks to @kennethlim and @AboveAverageJoe for suggesting additional QBs]

Week 11 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders

I didn’t rush to publish the starts and sits before Thursday Night Football because I wasn’t planning on mentioning any of Jets or Patriots this week. It’s times like these that you should follow me on twitter for any news updates or sit/start recommendations you might need.

Last night, I expected a defensive slugfest with a lot of Thomas Jones, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and some short passes to Wes Welker. Nothing to write home about, so nothing worth covering in Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders.

I pegged Brett Favre and Matt Cassel as bubble starts, but they’ve been matchup plays for several weeks now. I wrote off Randy Moss as a lost cause, even though you have to start a stud like him every week. While BenJarvus Green-Ellis wouldn’t do much, he’d get his carries and maybe a touchdown when they got in close.

Thomas Jones would continue to ride his hot streak behind such a solid offensive line. Wes Welker would be a solid play to collect yardage in this one, and if you wanted to take a chance on Jerricho Cotchery or Laveranues Coles, more power to you.

The fact that the weather might take a turn for the worst sold me on those predictions. Despite Brett Favre’s ability to succeed in harsh weather, it was going to be a running game. It would come down to who had time of possession, but it wouldn’t be close — Jets win.

Call it the Brett Favre factor, but sometimes Favre’s teams (and his opponents) can do a lot with just a little.

Your leading passer from Thursday night, Matt Cassel. With 400 yards passing and three touchdowns, Cassel might have just won a lot of battles for owners this weekend, but I’d really like to hear from anyone who started him (or even anyone in a league where someone started him).

In three out of my five redraft leagues, he’s a free agent on the waiver wire, and he only went off like that because I just dropped him this morning. Dick.

Do it again, and I owe you a coke, Cassel. (And not the kind you’re thinking, Matt Jones, so quit calling me.)

Hot Hands

Aaron Rodgers, QB Packers vs. Bears — I’m not afraid of the Bears passing defense, so they can feel free to stack the line for Ryan Grant like they did against the Titans. I’d still start Rodgers in what could be a lucrative return to his early-in-the-season success.

Matt Ryan, QB Falcons vs. Broncos — Against a potent passing offense, the Falcons are going to need big plays, and without Champ Bailey, the Broncos are very QB-friendly. As long as Michael Turner doesn’t explode in some kind of white-hot fantasy flame and rack up the touchdowns — it’s possible — Ryan is set for a good day.

Michael Turner, RB Falcons vs. Broncos — Turner has a delicious matchup against the weak Broncos run defense. And yes, I’m hedging my bets a little bit by recommending both the passing game and running game of the Falcons. Just like the Saints matchup last week, the Falcons could be primed to put up numbers in this one as well.

Joseph Addai, RB Colts vs. Texans — Assuming any rumor of his injury flaring up again are false, Addai is actually starting the chewy, cream-filling goodness of his schedule here at the end of the season. The Texans run defense has a bad habit of looking like Swiss cheese, and with the Colts offense hitting stride, I foresee a high ceiling for Addai this week.

Greg Jennings, WR Packers vs. Bears — You have to start Jennings even though he’s been through a rough stretch. Fortunately, he should break out of the hard times against a weak Bears defense. Surely, the Bears won’t stack up against the run and make Rodgers beat them through the air like they did against the Titans, but will they? Please?

Hines Ward, WR Steelers vs. Chargers – Even if I have my doubts about who is throwing the ball, I gotta have faith in Ward. He came up with over 100 yards last week while Ben was hurting, and he should be able to do that and more this week against the Chargers terrible pass defense, even if it’s Byron Leftwich under center.

Tony Scheffler, TE Broncos vs. Falcons — Welcome back, Scheff. If he is finally off the sideline bike this week and back to 100 percent, watch out for a big day. Cutler still really likes to get him the ball.

Jason Elam, K Falcons vs. Broncos — This one has revenge game written all over it, and the Broncos are best friends with any kicker they face. Elam will be wanting on the field as much as possible. What if this one comes down to a long kick for the win? Epic.

Bubble Boys

Ben Roethlisberger, QB Steelers vs. Chargers — Any QB is a good start against the Chargers, but Big Ben is banged up and out of it. I would hold off on starting him if you have acquired a decent backup. While he is likely to have a better game than his Week 10 performance, it’s unlikely that he’ll notch as many fantasy points as other QBs have against the Chargers.

Matt Hasselbeck, QB Seahawks vs. Cardinals — If he starts, he upgrades the entire Seahawks passing game and saves them from the Seneca Wallace experience, but how much rust is on that arm? And how healthy is his back? Several questions around “the Hassel” make him a risky play this week, even against a questionable pass defense like the Cardinals. Beating the Seahawks with Hasselbeck under center would be another statement game for the Cardinals to show their legit in the NFC West this year.

Larry Johnson, RB Chiefs vs. Saints — He returns, but how much of this offense is now in the hands of Tyler Thigpen? I am not sure how much we’ll see of Johnson, and I’m also have my doubts that we do see would be worth starting.

Willie Parker, RB Steelers vs. Chargers — Shoulder injury? What shoulder injury? Willie Parker don’t know ’bout no shoulder injury! Parker’s probably playing this week, but this start could definitely become a McGahee-esque phantom start in a hurry. Parker in a shoulder brace just doesn’t sound great to me, so even with this soft matchup, I like Mewelde Moore better for the Steelers run game this week.

Plaxico Burress, WR Giants vs. Ravens — I am not Plax fan. I’ll admit it. I’ve never liked him since I started playing fantasy football. Maybe it’s all these character problems we hear about, or maybe I just like Domenik Hixon better. Regardless, Plax is not putting up big numbers lately, so even when it looks like a great matchup for him, I question whether he’ll get the touchdown needed to push his fantasy score over the edge.

Bernard Berrian, WR Vikings vs. Buccaneers – And just like that, poof, the hot streak dies with a zero. I question whether he can do much better against a Bucs defense that shuts down more reliable receivers everyday.

Kellen Winslow, TE Browns vs. Bills — Not that you would sit him, but Winslow might see more coverage coming his way now that the Brady Quinn game plan has been exposed. He’ll produce adequate fantasy numbers for a tight end, but I’m not sure that he’ll produce elite numbers against a very aware Bills defense.

Cold Shoulders

Brady Quinn, QB Browns vs. Bills — He surprised me with his big day early in the Thursday nighter against the Broncos, but Quinn is still a young quarterback. Against a Bills defense with their playoff hopes on the line, he’ll probably regress a bit. You weren’t starting Quinn until a week ago, so it’s probably pretty likely that the other guy on your roster is looking better this week. If Quinn blows up in this game, I’ll give him credit for being more than I thought he was.

David Garrard, QB Jaguars vs. Titans — While he’s been putting it all out there, Garrard hasn’t gotten much help from his teammates. It’s hard to see them being much use in this one against the stingy Titans defense. Any big plays are likely to be countered by picks and other mistakes.

LaDainian Tomlinson, RB Chargers vs. Steelers — L.T. hasn’t had his best weeks lately, and I don’t expect him to make a push for a top-five spot against the Steelers this week. Unless Big Ben’s arm, shoulder, and achy gallbladder go bionic in the next two days, they’ll need to slow a powerful Chargers offense and keep this game close. I think L.T. will have another disappointing week, so if you have another guy that you started while he was questionable/out, how about giving him a shot? Just think about it…

Willis McGahee, RB Ravens vs. Giants — I’m so angry that I drafted McGahee as a top RB in one of my leagues this year — my first and most likely last autodraft. His big game last week may have you thinking he could do some more good for you in this matchup. While the Ravens do run a lot, the Giants smash faces a lot. I don’t like it one bit, and considering how often the revolving door at RB swings in Baltimore, I don’t think McGahee warrants a start this week. He’s a flex option at best.

Vincent Jackson, WR Chargers vs. Steelers — He’ll ride that hot streak right into a poor day against the Steelers pass defense. Knock your expectations down a couple of notches if you are forced to start him.

Kevin Walter, WR Texans vs. Colts — Sage is under center against a strong pass defense. The Colts won’t let this one get away from them, so despite Sage’s great desire for revenge and redemption, I don’t think Walter will get a touchdown in this one. The Texans are better off looking to Steve Slaton.

Visanthe Shiancoe, TE Vikings vs. Buccaneers — The Bucs are going to take away big yardage plays here, and unless he scores a touchdown, Shiancoe will have another slow day. The run game should be the Vikings’ emphasis on offense in this one.