Gronking for Rob Gronkowski Stand-ins: Replacing Gronk for the Playoffs

Let’s get this straight — there is no replacing Rob Gronkowski. Contrary to popular offseason belief, he has been on pace to reproduce his miraculous 2011 season, if not exceed it. He’s the head of the pack when it comes to tight ends, and you’re not going to find those kinds of points on the waiver wire floor.

But alas, you must because not even Gronkowski can “Gronk” his broken forearm back into game shape. So brace yourself. This isn’t going to be pretty.

Rather than guess who’s available in your league, I thought I’d take a look at who is available in several of mine. In one league, I see Joel Dreessen, Dwayne Allen, Marcedes Lewis, and  Anthony Fasano at the bottom of the pile. In a 10-man PPR league, the pickings are a little better: Kyle Rudolph, Dennis Pitta, Scott Chandler, Brent Celek, and Jared Cook.

Before we begin, obviously, the best of the bunch is Brandon Myers is you’re in one of those leagues that is sleeping on him, but everyone in my leagues has gotten smart to him by now. Greg Olsen is another name that gets tossed to the wire  occasionally  throughout the season, but he’s broken out as of late and probably got picked up. Martellus Bennett might have been dropped during Eli Manning‘s slump, and I’d be willing to take a shot with him coming out the Giants’ bye if you can get him.

Also not available in my league but worth consideration are Dustin Keller and Jermichael Finley. They would be just below Kyle Rudolph on my list if they were on the wire.

Barring a chance at any of those guys, you’re stuck with what I listed above. So let’s break them down.

Kyle Rudolph stands out as the biggest name of the bunch. He was a touchdown maker earlier in the season who went through a little bit of a slump before putting up points again just before his bye. I like him as a decent Gronk replacement, and perhaps the Vikings can fix their offensive troubles coming out of the bye. Unfortunately, he has game remaining against Chicago (twice) and the Texans in Week 16, which makes him a less promising option than he really should be.

Logan Paulsen‘s been a decent piece of the Redskins’ offense these last few weeks, and he scored his first touchdown last week coming out of Washington’s bye. He makes a decent play down the stretch in an offense that should continue to hum with Robert Griffin III under center and one that is playing for the future. The schedule doesn’t jump out at you, but playing the Eagles in Week 16 could be a fantasy points bonanza, assuming the Eagles pack it in for the year.

Jared Cook  was a sleeper to start the year. Many expected a breakout with Jake Locker under center, but the Titans just can be trusted to use Cook’s skills as a receiver. But I have to take the bait with him. Locker looked great in his return and hit Cook for a score. There’s promise here. And Cook faces the Colts and Jets in the fantasy playoff weeks.

Brent Celek doesn’t excite me, but the Eagles have a solid passing schedule with the Panthers, Bucs, Bengals, and Redskins on their slate. Unfortunately, I’d avoid Celek unless you can afford to stash him until we see one of the Eagles’ passers come to life. Nick Foles hasn’t been a spark for the Eagles offense, and Micheal Vick just hasn’t provided many  opportunities  for his playmakers to make plays. Go with Celek only if you can’t get any of the previous guys off the wire.

Dwayne Allen is a starting option only as long as Coby Fleener is out. When Fleener returns, the two will be frustrating owners as they  dilute  the tight end points you’ll get out of Andrew Luck throwing the ball. Allen gets to play the Bills this week without him, but Fleener will probably return before Week 16. If not, Allen will have the Chiefs all to himself.

Allen’s on my list because he’s a good starter for the next few games, but know that you’ll probably need someone else to support him in the playoffs.

While the above tight ends could be good weekly options, the remaining tight ends on this list are mostly spot starts. Dennis Pitta is currently concussed and hasn’t been very reliable since Week 3. He scored in Week 10 against the Raiders…but it was the Raiders. Joel Dreessen has way too many e’s in his name, and he splits his points with Jacob Tamme. While there was a three-game stretch earlier this season where you could count on Dreessen to find the  end zone   it seems that time has passed.

Dallas Clark hasn’t been as hot as the rest of the Bucs’ offense, but he’s benefited from their production. Still, it’s hard to trust him as a starting option in the fantasy playoffs, even if he faces the Saints in Week 15. Scott Chandler‘s schedule isn’t as scary as some, but he could get you 2 as easily as he could get you 9+ points. And Anthony Fasano has been a non-participant in the Dolphins’ offense lately.

That leaves us with Marcedes Lewis, who should be in this group as a matchups play if you look past his Week 11 performance with Chad Henne taking over at quarterback for the Jags. The schedule isn’t intimidating, which makes Lewis a promising option if you get this far down the list. Of all the guys after Allen, I’d probably consider Lewis the top of the group. I might even consider grabbing him over Celek if given the choice.

You’ll know after a few weeks whether Lewis can be counted on to produce. Just make sure you shore up your tight end position with another option in case Lewis returns to fantasy purgatory.

See, I told you it wouldn’t be pretty.

Cam Newton after scoring a touchdown

Takeaways from the 2011 Fantasy Football Season

Cam Newton after scoring a touchdownI pity the fool that doesn’t learn from his past mistakes, and 2011 broke a few of the fantasy football molds.

No Peyton Manning. The Texans made the playoffs. Rex Grossman is good? Okay…for a few weeks, he was good. And let’s not forget Reggie Bush was a feature back, and Cam Newton was a viable QB1 in his rookie season.

So what are we to make of this?

1. Rookies CAN dominate.

We can no longer claim that a rookie skill player won’t be a factor in their first season. Whether quarterback, wide receiver, running back or tight end, we’ve now seen rookies not only play well but absolutely dominate.

Cam Newton, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, and DeMarco Murray will convince fantasy managers to invest in rookies like Trent Richardson and Robert Griffin III this season, and we can’t say they’re foolish for doing so.

2. The Gronk Rule: Tight ends MIGHT not be deep anymore.

The tight end position was considered deep in recent years, and many experts advised you to ignore Antonio Gates and wait on the TE position in your fantasy football draft. Then Gronkowski happened. He was an absolutely unstoppable force for most NFL tacklers and set records at the tight end position across the board.

With Gronk and Jimmy Graham separating themselves from the rest of the tight end pack so significantly last season, it forces us to consider drafting one of those two in the early rounds to get a jump on the other team in our league out of the tight end spot. If you do, I’ve already covered which tight end I favor.

Some of you may draft a tight end and a quarterback this year before you even have a running back on the roster. That’s just how much the tight end values changed in 2011.

In fact, Gronk’s out of this world stats (as impossible to repeat as they may be) may impact NFL offenses just as the Wildcat did just a few years ago. We may see the mythical “Wes Welker-like receiver” NFL offenses (other than the Pats) have sought give way to the search for a “Gronk” as part of a tight end tandem.

3. To the Air.

Quarterbacks matter more than ever in the NFL today, and we saw in 2011 that fantasy teams built around an elite passer like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees could hang with any team in the league no matter who they were forced to start at running back.

Many fantasy footballers have experimented with drafting a quarterback in the first round with mixed results, but 2011 was the year that strategy paid off for a large portion of the fantasy community.

This year, you’ll have plenty of positions to consider in the first round, not just running back. But outside of the top three picks, you should definitely consider getting an elite passer.

I doubt we’ll see many teams make it to the fantasy football playoffs in 2012 without an elite fantasy quarterback on their roster.

4. Always Be Closing.

Despite a hot start, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson cooled off a bit at the end of the season. That’s not necessarily to say anything about their play in 2011 as much as it is to remind us all how important it is to constantly be looking for trade opportunities to help our team.

This year, I’m going to be a little more aggressive about trading players, regardless of status, when a deal comes together. And if the value is there, I may look to unload players who have particularly difficult late season schedules before I am forced to ride out their dry spell.

4. Darren McFadden is worth the risk

I’ve been too concerned about injury to consider Run DMC in drafts prior to 2011, but his performance up until his injury last season has changed my mind. The same might go for Ryan Mathews, even though he’s already hurt again.

As long as you fortify your roster with strong backups at running back, it’s worth considering taking the plunge on these injury risk studs.

5. Handcuffs are a worthy investment.

On that same note, I’ve often avoided guys who were stuck behind studs because I didn’t think it was very likely they’d see the field. I’ve always preferred players that were more likely to get a shot to shine or had a better chance of starting for me multiple weeks throughout the season.

Not so much anymore.

With the injuries last season, owners of Felix Jones, Michael Bush, and C.J. Spiller really reaped the rewards of holding onto  a handcuff all season long. When it comes to running backs, as long as the offensive line is solid, it’s worth investing in a handcuff here and there, whether you own the starter or not, in case we see injuries like we did in 2011.

6. Inconsistency kills.

It’s not necessarily a new lesson, but the Jacksons (Vincent and DeSean) had their ups and downs in 2011. Both were drafted as top receivers, but on any given Sunday, they were as likely to score 30 as they were to score 3 fantasy points.

It’s hard to win a league when you can’t put a solid week together. So even though VJax won me more than one game last season with his phenomenal performances, I’m looking at consistency in 2012 — at the players that give me a chance to win each and every week.

There is a lot of depth at the wide receiver position this year, but don’t fall in love with 2011 total points without considering what they really did each week of last year.

Aaron Hernandez

The Case for Aaron Hernandez as a Sleeper Tight End

Aaron HernandezIf I’m going to say Rob Gronkowski might not be all Yo Soy Fiesta in New England, I should probably explain where I expect those points to go. And besides the obvious choice in Brandon Lloyd, there’s another tight end in New England who had a not-too-shabby year in 2011.

For some reason, ESPN has disabled video embeds for the roundtable discussion they had on Aaron Hernandez, but you can watch it here on ESPN.

KC Joyner makes a compelling argument.

The targets were there last year. As you hear in the ESPN video, Hernandez ranked highly when it came to targets and, unlike Gronkowski, not the vertical balls that Brandon Lloyd should cut into this year as a Patriot.

He did run the ball, but I doubt that adds much to his value for fantasy. New England has two young running backs, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, who should step it up this year now that Law Firm isn’t there to hog carries.

For Hernandez to meet and exceed his draft position this year, he only needs to be more effective with his targets this season versus last.

Hernandez looked like THE tight end to own in fantasy for several weeks early in 2011, but after Hernandez’s injury, Gronkowski seemed to take over and never let up for the Pats.

So while you might not be looking for a “sleeper” tight end in the middle of your draft as the No. 6 or No. 7 tight end on the board (and yes, I realize this isn’t truly a sleeper draft position), Hernandez could surprise you with what he gives you this year and could jump into the top 3 tight ends if given the opportunity.

I’ll certainly look to target him if I miss out on the best of the best, Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham.

Why I Would Draft Jimmy Graham Over Rob Gronkowski

Those of you who follow me on Twitter have probably seen my running commentary on all of the ESPN Fantasy Football Roundtable discussions.

Many of ESPN’s Roundtables are pretty straightforward and were easy to discuss in just the 140 characters that Twitter allows, but a few are worthy of meatier discussion. That’s what I’d like to start today with this latest roundtable on tight end values at the top of the draft.


If you can’t see the embedded video, watch it here on ESPN.

Last season proved it was advantageous to own one of the truly elite tight ends, and Rob Gronkowski (1327 yds, 17 TDs + 1 rushing TD) and Jimmy Graham (1310 yds, 11 TDs) were SIGNIFICANTLY better than the rest of their counterparts at the tight end position. Gronkowski alone probably won many fantasy football championships last year.

These two provided such a nice edge last season and were so dominant that the fantasy football community was talking (and still is) about drafting Gronkowski and/or Graham in the first round this year.

There’s an argument to be made that their value justifies taking them that high, but there’s also plenty of depth at tight end for those who don’t feel comfortable with it.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s just assume you’re all in on these tight ends and don’t want to be left without a stud.

So if you want to go tight end early, many folks might be thinking Gronk is the unquestioned first choice. I disagree. Gronkowski was unstoppable last season, but if you want to spend a high pick on a tight end, I’d rather take Jimmy Graham. Why?

  1. The Patriots spent the offseason signing receivers and landed Brandon Lloyd as a new vertical threat in their offense. His presence should take away some of those vertical passes that made Gronkowski so great last year.
  2. New Orleans watched a target walk. Robert Meachem was no Jimmy Graham, and his loss could easily have no effect on Graham’s value. But having fewer targets to spread the ball around to can’t hurt Graham. That’s for sure.
  3. Rob Gronkowski’s points came largely from touchdowns, which are unreliable season to season. As defenses cover Gronk more closely or choose to take him out of a game, it’s less and less likely he’ll be able to reproduce those numbers, which would bring him a little closer to Graham statistically.
  4. The Saints offseason bounty scandal drama and suspension-fest should prevent them from making massive changes to the offensive game plans this year. Brees put up a fair amount of yards last year, so why change things?
  5. Meanwhile, the Patriots brought in a new offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels. While I’m sure he won’t do anything too drastic, he could easily make some changes in New England. And the Patriots have changed their system up in just one offseason in the past. There’s no guarantee they continue to make Gronk the most critical cog in the machine for 2012.

Maybe I’m just not as “Yo Soy Fiesta” as the next guy, but that’s why I’d shy away from taking Gronk as a high pick in my draft. I’d rather place my bet on Jimmy Graham. And honestly, I’d feel best if I could get one of them in the late second or third round rather than considering them in the first.

I wouldn’t be terribly upset if I ended up with Gronkowski on any of my fantasy teams this year, but I’d think long and hard before I took him as the first tight end off the board.

Thank you Murray much, Week 7 Pickups

If you were hurting for a tight end, Week 7 is the week to snatch one up off the waiver wire. Don’t sleep on these options.

Tight End Party

FRED DAVIS (Redskins)
With Chris Cooley shattering his finger (ouch) on Sunday, Davis stands to see a lot more passes his way in this Redskins’ offense. Assuming John Beck takes over, he may have less of a tendency to throw a cannon downfield like Rex Grossman was prone to do.

JAKE BALLARD (Giants)
The Giants found themselves a tight end this season. After two solid weeks of top-10 production, Ballard is a must-add for any tight end needy team. He’s on bye this week, which might make him more costly to grab in a popular bye week, but I believe he’ll be worth the sacrifice.

LANCE KENDRICKS (Rams)
An early-season sleeper of mine, Kendricks finally flipped the switch this week and had a nice game with 70+ yards. We, of course, would like to see more out of him before we buy-in completely again, but he’ll cost you a lot more to add once he goes off for a big game. We’ll have to see how Brandon Lloyd changes the passing game in St. Louis and how much of a drop it takes while A.J. Feeley fills in for Sam Bradford (high ankle sprain).

Rest of the Field

DEMARCO MURRAY (Cowboys)
Felix Jones will miss a few weeks with a high ankle sprain, and in his absence, Murray got the majority of carries. He’ll likely share time with Tashard Choice, but he faces a very nice schedule, starting with the Rams in Week 7.

CARSON PALMER (Bengals…RAIDERS!)
It looks like the Raiders have managed to pry Palmer out of the Bengals’ hands. While he’s faded as a starter in recent years, Palmer’s a big upgrade over Kyle Boller and possibly even an upgrade over Jason Campbell. We can’t be sure how he’ll do until we see him hit the field, but with Oakland’s receiving talents (Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford, and Denarius Moore) are hitting their stride and a running game to take the pressure off him, Palmer could have immediate QB2 value. I’d stash him for now until we know the trade is final and until we see him in real game action.

GREG LITTLE (Browns)
He started for the first time on Sunday, and Colt McCoy targeted him plenty. While the Browns aren’t the most potent of offenses, it never hurts to own a team’s No. 1 guy.

JEROME SIMPSON (Bengals)
A.J. Green’s getting a lot of attention in Cincinnati, but Simpson’s had a couple of nice weeks as well. If you’re looking for a WR3 with upside, take a chance on Simpson.

ARRELIOUS BENN (Bucs)
Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams has been a disappointment thus far, as has the entire Bucs’ passing game. But Benn’s shown promise with the few touches he’s received. In the last two weeks, he scored big against the Saints and had another near touchdown negated by penalty. He had a quiet first few weeks as he was returning from his injury last season, but now his run after the catch ability looks 100 percent. If you’re looking for a WR3 on the rise, Benn’s looking like a nice grab. Just note that he’s a boom-bust guy. You’ll have to play matchups with him.

MARK CLAYTON / DANARIO ALEXANDER (Rams)
Brandon Lloyd’s arrival in St. Louis makes Mark Clayton’s return from the PUP a tad less exciting. It also demotes Danario Alexander to a specialty role again. Still, both receivers should find a way to have an impact, and the Rams schedule gets easier down the stretch. Clayton was Sam Bradford’s favorite target before his injury last season, but unfortunately, it’ll be A.J. Feeley under center for several weeks until Bradford’s back on the field. We can’t be sure who Feeley will favor, but it’s likely we see Lloyd and Clayton as the starters in St. Louis after a few weeks. Alexander, for now, is back to being a stash in redraft until we know how much he’ll see the field with these two back, but he’s still got a huge ceiling when he’s healthy.

DEMARYIUS THOMAS (Broncos)
With Lloyd moving on to the Rams, Thomas should become a starter alongside Eric Decker. He’s returning from a broken finger he suffered in the preseason. Thomas has had a hard time staying on the field, but his measurables make him a worthy gamble. I wouldn’t drop Eric Decker for him, but I’d gladly stash him and hope for the best if all other waiver wire options were taken.

On the Waiver Wire: Remaining Week 11 Pickups, Fantasy Football Playoff Sleepers, Stashes

It’s getting to be that time when you just have to roll with what you’ve got, and there’s not much talent left on the waiver wire. So I took a few extra hours this week to peruse all the latest and greatest analysis to recommend just a few guys who I think should be owned in every league as we head down the stretch.

Some of these guys might help you in the playoffs. Some might help you right away. But the important this is that they are far more valuable than a backup kicker, second tight end or platoon of defenses at this point in the season.

If you have concerns about whom you should drop to claim these guys, leave your questions in the comments.

And don’t miss my roundup of waiver wire links at the bottom of this post. There were some great contributions this week from around the Web that offer up even more players than the ones I have listed here.

High Priority Adds

I bet these guys are on your radar, and in all likelihood, they’re on someone’s roster already. But if not, you need to make sure you get your hands on them because they should make an impact in the next few weeks.

Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers

I’ve mentioned Jackson the last several weeks as a player to add if someone dropped him while he was sitting out the season. By all accounts, he’ll be ready to go and in Pro Bowl form in Week 12 when he finally takes the field, and he’ll have Philip Rivers throwing to him plenty during those juicy fantasy playoff matchups. Get him while you can.

Mario Manningham, WR, Giants

As long as Steve Smith’s injury keeps him off the field, Manningham will be a true stud at wide receiver. His stat line in Week 10 with Smith out was no fluke. Make sure he’s on a roster.

Louis Murphy and/or Jacoby Ford, WR, Raiders

Murphy should return from his injuries this week to play the Steelers, but Ford was the wide receiver Campbell made into a superstar in Week 9, just before the Raiders’ bye. With Campbell remaining the starter, he could look to Ford again since he showed such trust for the speedster when the game was on the line. Ford could cut into Murphy’s snaps, but if the Raiders know what they’re doing, they’ll start Murphy and Ford at receiver, and push Darrius Heyward-Bey into the third receiver spot.

The Raiders have some great, GREAT matchups in the fantasy playoffs in which their explosive rushing attack with Darren McFadden will open up opportunities for these receivers. I’d stash one on your roster and see what develops. They should start quietly this week against the Steelers. I’d assume Ford is no longer on waivers after his big week last week, but if so, I’d choose him first and Murphy second.

Fred Jackson, RB, Bills

C.J. Spiller went down with a thigh injury in Week 10 and gave Fred Jackson the stage to show off his skills against the Lions. He didn’t disappoint. It wasn’t too long ago that Fred Jackson was making a name as one of the top backs in fantasy. Remember that? His schedule isn’t fantastic, but if Ryan Fitzpatrick uses him in the passing game like he’s used Steve Johnson, Jackson will produce enough to remind us of his 2009 production. He’s a startable option this week against the Bengals.

The Ones I Have to Mention

I don’t love them, but these players made a splash in Week 10, and I have to mention them. Otherwise, I have to give up my fantasy football blogging license, and that cost me a whole $5.

Keiland Williams, RB, Redskins

Shanahan has never played fantasy football…or does he? Did his team need some points from Rex Grossman when he decided it was time to bench McNabb for the two-minute drill?

Was his opponent starting Ryan Torain going into Monday night when he decided Torain couldn’t see the field if his hammy wouldn’t loosen up? Sure, this decision might have been out of his hands, but maybe Shanahan kept the team’s locker room a few degrees colder to make loosening that hamstring that much more difficult on his prized runner.

It sounds like something a guy in my league might do.

In reality, I think it’s safe to assume he just doesn’t care about how his coaching decisions affect fantasy teams, and so we saw a huge helping of Keiland Williams on Monday night. His final numbers were impressive, but he was about the only thing working in the Redskins offense after a miserable defensive showing allowed the Eagles offensive to have a record-setting first quarter.

He could start in Week 11 against the Titans, but by Week 12, I would suspect that Ryan Torain and/or Clinton Portis would be back in the mix and taking away from Williams’ value. There’s always the chance that Shanahan takes a liking to Williams and makes him his new favorite, but Torain has always had Shanahan’s eye. When he’s healthy, I think he’s the best back to own in this offense.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots

Don’t go nuts about his three-touchdown performance in Week 10. The Steelers weren’t stopping him, so the Patriots kept going there. Aaron Hernandez is still there and will get catches too as long as the Patriots don’t shift their offense in Gronkowski’s direction.

Gronk got so many passing plays (with a nod to Sigmund Bloom for pointing this out) because it was a package designed for Gronkowski, not Hernandez that kept beating the Steelers. I trust that the Patriots will continue to adapt and move away from that package as the season continues.

But if you’re in a touchdown-only league or a deep league with so little on the waiver wire that you’re taking chances at tight end, Gronkowski is not a terrible play. I just don’t like the idea of betting on Patriots to win me a championship.

Mike Goodson, RB, Panthers

I don’t love any Panthers as long as Jimmy Clausen remains their starter. The offense just won’t move well enough until he’s matured as an NFL quarterback. But Good son remains the starter this week against the Ravens.

The Panthers placed DeAngelo Williams on IR today, which means Goodson’s probably the guy until Sutton or Jonathan Stewart returns from their injuries. So he’s a starting running back, but there isn’t much to go with here. His schedule is brutal down the stretch. Other than two soft ones against Seattle and Arizona, the Panthers face the Ravens, Browns, Falcons (twice)  and Steelers the rest of the season.

Overlooked Playoff Quarterbacks

So you’re still holding onto Brett Favre? These quarterbacks could produce top 10 numbers between now and your fantasy championship. Don’t let them waste away on the waiver wire.

Shaun Hill, QB, Lions

The Lions throw the ball plenty, and Hill is the likely start the rest of the way. The schedule isn’t so nice once the fantasy playoffs start, but it isn’t too shabby right now. If you’re outside the playoff bubble, Hill might be able to get you in there.

Jon Kitna, QB, Cowboys

Don’t love the idea of betting on any Dallas player in these critical weeks, but we have at least one week of evidence to support a Jason Garrett revival in Big D. You can’t go wrong stashing Kitna on the bench and seeing what he’s worth. Plus, this week’s matchup with the Lions could be a great time to use him.

Troy Smith, QB, 49ers

You may not be convinced of his talent, but his schedule is something to believe in: Bucs, Cards in next two weeks; Seattle, Chargers, Rams during the fantasy playoffs (Weeks 14-16). He’s one sleeper quarterback I’d try to put on my bench if there wasn’t much out there.

Jason Campbell, QB, Raiders

I’m digging a little deep with this one, but he does have a fantastic playoffs schedule. With Louis Murphy and Zach Miller returning to the field, he could be that extra push you need to make it to a championship. In Weeks 14-16, the Raiders face the Jaguars, Broncos, and Colts — the last two of those at home in Oakland.

Lottery Pick Wide Receivers

These are the high-risk receivers who make me wish I had enough bench spots to hold onto them all…

Danario Alexander, WR, Rams

Alexander was a favorite of mine when he finally got his chance to start for the Rams. I loved the guy. Not only because of the opportunity in that offense but also because of his work ethic.

He went down with injury, and that may have forced some owners to let him go during the byes. But now that he’s back on the practice field, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to grab him. He could shine again if he gets back on the field against the Broncos, Cardinals, Chiefs, or 49ers in the coming weeks.

Seyi Ajirotutu, WR, Chargers

Vincent Jackson’s the sure thing in the Chargers passing game, and Malcom Floyd is your second best bet. But if you can’t land either one of those receivers, I don’t think taking a chance on Ajirotutu is such a bad idea.

What if he stays on the field as the third receiver? We all know Naanee could stand to have someone push him for playing time. And the Chargers passing game is far too valuable to overlook with the Chiefs, 49ers, and Bengals on their playoff schedule Weeks 14-16.

Arrelious Benn, WR, Bucs

Benn was drafted higher than Mike Williams this year, even though it’s taken him longer to get on the field. He’s got plenty of talent, and he’s shown it through his efficiency.

I don’t believe he’s dropped a pass yet, and he’s gotten a touchdown for two weeks straight. If you take a chance on him, you could cash in when he faces the Redskins, Lions, and Seahawks in Weeks 14-16. He just needs to get more passes his way from Josh Freeman.

Sidney Rice, WR, Vikings

Sure, he’s talented, but Brett Favre is falling apart on the field. So Rice may just go onto IR rather than risk further injury in a lost season for the Vikings. Besides, that playoffs schedule is not kind.

Tight Ends to Tie Up Loose Ends

I fell victim to the double tight end curse this season by drafting both Dallas Clark and Jermichael Finley. I’ve managed to make it as far as I have with the likes of Marcedes Lewis, Tony Moeaki, and Brandon Pettigrew. If you’re hurting even worse and need some help at that position, here’s a list of names I like. I don’t necessarily have any favorites, but I’ll list them in order of my trust of them and their potential.

Benjamin Watson, TE, Browns, looks like Colt McCoy’s favorite target the rest of the way.

Anthony Fasano, TE, Dolphins, could be emerging and was once an understudy to Jason Witten when he was a Cowboy. Thigpen could show him some love throughout the fantasy playoffs.

Jermaine Gresham, TE, Bengals, one good week does not a stud make, but he’s got plenty of wide receiver talent around him that should prevent him from getting any defensive attention.

Delanie Walker, TE, 49ers, not quite the talent level of Vernon Davis, but Troy Smith has given him plenty of love lately. He’s got a chance to steal some of that production. (H/T to The Audible for bringing Walker to my attention)

More waiver wires I liked from around the Web:

  • The FF Geek Blog: One spreadsheet to rule them all.
  • The Scores Report: Goes deep at every position, including a few tight ends that could save you at that position for the playoffs and a great list of wide receivers ranked in the order you should pick them up.
  • Pro Football Focus: So many names, you’re bound to find an answer to your roster woes.
  • ESPN’s Matthew Berry: A great look at the players with playoff potential and whom you need to use to get you there.
  • The Hazean: Gives us a list of names that might be there to help you these next few weeks.
  • NFL.com: Hits the highlights.
  • Sports Illustrated: Scraping the barrel on running backs, and don’t neglect to check out the Fire sale, a hidden gem of players who are rising, falling, and the ones who could win for you this week.
  • Fanhouse and  Razzball suggest some names that may still be out there, even as teams start to strengthen their bench rosters and drop those bye week fills. (You should be doing the same!)
  • FF Librarian is boycotting Vick and compiling even more fantasy waiver wire links to enjoy.
  • Hatty Waiver Wire Guru: Building suspense by listing your waiver wire targets in video form.
  • FF Toolbox: Most of these names will be snatched up or were snatched up last week, but there’s always a chance, right?

On the Wire in Week 4: Lance Moore, Arrelious Benn and More Waiver Wire Wide Receivers Stepping It Up

Now that I’ve given you my list of running backs worth stashing off the waiver wire this week, it’s time to talk wide receivers.

When it comes to receivers, you might not have the room to “stash” them on your bench. Instead, there are guys you might like to add to your fantasy receiver rotation right away. Lucky for you, many of them have already had an impact, especially the first guy on my list.

Lance Moore, WR, New Orleans Saints

Well, he certainly snapped right back into his 2008 form this week. Moore had two touchdowns and a huge day against the Falcons. If you remember back in 2008, Moore went off in Reggie Bush’s absence. It looks like he’s doing it again here in 2010.

I should credit Sigmund Bloom of Footballguys.com for pointing that out on The Audible podcast last week. It almost made me go grab Moore out of the free agent pool before Week 3’s games, but I decided to give it one more week…now I’m out of luck. If you can get him this week or have him already, expect Moore to produce fantasy WR3 numbers as long as Reggie Bush is out with the upside to do what he did on Sunday again whenever Drew Brees locks onto him.

Playing with the Saints receivers may be a bit of a shell game, but Moore is probably the most reliable option beside Marques Colston, who hasn’t been much more than a glorified possession receiver in the first three weeks of this season.

Roy E. Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys

Everyone wanted to write off Williams this season. He’s disappointed since coming to Cowboys via trade, and the Cowboys drafted Dez Bryant to challenge Williams for his starting job this year.

So far, it looks like Williams is going to be keeping that, and dare I say, he might even excel in it. Williams had the biggest game of his Cowboy career Sunday with two scores against the Texans. If he can make it happen again, he just might start to win back the fans in Dallas.

Dexter McCluster, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

Chris Carbonell of  RotoExperts.com had a  great piece about Dexter McCluster this week as part of his slot receiver series at Fantasy Joe.

He had a nice game in Week 3, but, as is the case with Jamaal Charles, the Kansas City coaches haven’t shown a commitment to getting their best, most explosive playmakers on the field with any consistency. You’d think that’d go hand-in-hand with winning, but alas, it does not.

McCluster should, hopefully, be a larger part of what the Chiefs do moving forward. There was no life in the passing game until Week 3, but McCluster helped liven things up with his big play ability. He’s worth a stash now because if and when the Chiefs do understand how best to use him in the offense, he could put up the kind of numbers that Percy Harvin did in 2009.

Arrelious Benn, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Benn was touted as the more talented receiver than Mike Williams (TB) when they were both drafted this year, but until now, he wasn’t getting on the field.

News out of Tampa Bay this week reveals that they will be working him into the offense as the starting flanker over the bye, which makes him an interesting stash for this week. We’ve seen what the Bucs could do with Mike Williams, a rookie who scored in each of his first two games and had a strong performance against a tough Steelers secondary.

With Benn in the mix on a team that has to play from behind as much as the Bucs do, Benn could get his as well. Feel free to take a chance on the rookie as I stand behind my belief that they will continue to look to their young playmakers this season.

And since he’s more or less a wide receiver playing tight end…

Aaron Hernandez, TE, New England Patriots

Aaron Hernandez may not be the tight end that Tom Brady targets in the red zone — that’s Rob Gronkowski — but he does have a big role to play in this offense. He’s made big play after big play as the Patriots go down the field, and he should continue to be a factor there.

If you need a tight end or have the option of playing a tight end in a flex spot, consider using Hernandez from time to time or just saving him for a rainy day. Maybe he’ll even do you a favor and make it to the end zone sometime soon. Right now, he’s producing borderline WR3 numbers.

More waiver wire goodness:  FF Librarian, The FF Geek Blog,  FF Toolbox,  The Hazean,  Football Jabber,  TMR,  The Big Lead,Razzball,  Sports Illustrated, and  Fanhouse.

And while you’re kicking yourself for not drafting these guys in the first place

Here’s a look from Sports Data Hub at the top fantasy performers at each position as of the beginning of December. [Update: Link no longer available]

We all wish we could go back to the draft and change something, whether we want to draft Miles Austin or not draft Matt Forte, but looking at the cold, raw numbers after almost an entire fantasy football season shows us many of our mistakes (and in bar graph form, which makes it slightly less depressing).

Where did we get surprised?

Quarterbacks

The big surprise at quarterback this year for me was Brett Favre, who not only joined the ranks late but also became a fantasy stud down the stretch. He may be fading now, but he still established himself among the top at the position for another year. As much as I loathe him, I’ll give him credit for that.

Jay Cutler, on the other hand, bottomed out more than expected. Clearly, the receiver situation in Chicago isn’t to his liking, and he’s not comfortable in that offense just yet.

Time will tell whether the team takes a new direction by getting a new offensive coordinator or makes a move to acquire a top talent at wide receiver like Anquan Boldin. The only problem with the latter solution is all the picks they gave away to get Cutler in the last offseason.

Cutler’s performance against the Vikings on Monday Night Football could be a good sign that they’re getting on track for 2010.

Running Backs

Chris Johnson was an iffy top running back prospect to start the year. Some took the chance and were greatly rewarded. Others warned that LenDale White would still steal all his scoring opportunities. It’s clear he’s become a fantasy force, one who will continue to be highly drafted. He’s probably the No. 1 overall pick in your draft next season.

But the big surprise was Ray Rice (even though I predicted he’d be good, I didn’t know he’d be this good). He jumped from a murky Baltimore running back situation to become one of the top backs in fantasy, and he’ll probably stay among the elite with Willis McGahee on his way out.

Ricky Williams and Thomas Jones certainly have more staying power than any of us realized. They’re still getting it done, even at their advanced age. Williams owes his scoring chances early in the year to Ronnie Brown, who made the Wildcat a legitimate threat at the goal line throughout his reign of terror until he was injured.

It’ll be interesting to see what Miami and New York do in the offseason. Ronnie Brown is likely to assume the starting duties again once he is healthy, but New York could part ways with Jones if they so choose, opting instead to ride Leon Washington and rookie pounder Shonn Greene.

In recent weeks, they’ve given Greene more than his usual number of carries to see what they have behind Jones for next season.

Wide Receivers

DeSean Jackson came up in the world in a big way as McNabb’s favorite target this season. Is it finally safe to start a Philadelphia receiver? It seems that way for 2010.

The hot names to add to the list of the elite are Miles Austin and Sidney Rice. Both were touted for their physical attributes and explosive talents, but neither had lived up to expectations, falling victim to injury or being buried on the depth chart the past two seasons.

Rice broke out this season as the Vikings’ biggest threat in the passing game, and he’ll only get better, regardless of who comes in to quarterback Minnesota once Favre finally leaves — but will that EVER happen?

Austin should continue to be one of Tony Romo’s favorite, most trusted targets, and that’s extremely valuable with a quarterback as determined to make a play as Romo is every down.

Tight Ends

Vernon Davis, we hardly knew ye. He did it. He finally did it. All it took was a new coach and a new offense geared around his ability to separate from mismatches. Well done, sir.

Brent Celek also proved that the Eagles had really been missing L.J. Smith’s contributions in recent years when injury and ineffectiveness kept Smith from playing the part. Celek’s role at tight end in the Philadelphia offense only adds to the stockpile of weapons at Andy Reid’s disposal.

Kickers

Ha, just kidding. Nothing’s drastically shifted here, but there was a lot of musical chairs being played around the league as certain kickers lost their leg and teams were forced to make a change.

This year has been a surprising one once again, at least for me. A lot of players that we’d looked forward to seeing finally made a show of themselves. It’s safe to say I wish all my leagues were keeper leagues. The young talent we’ve seen this year should be a factor in fantasy football for years to come.

So now, armed with the knowledge of what’s altered the fantasy landscape this season, what can we say? Better luck next year?

Foolish Thoughts: Foolish Fantasy Football Draft Kit

With most of you hunkering down to conduct your drafts this week, if you haven’t done them already, let me remind you about our handy rankings and strategy recommendations.

2009 Foolish Fantasy Football Draft Kit

Now that our “draft kit” of sorts is out of the way, let’s talk football, shall we?

A Kick and a Prayer

For starts, did you see Chad Ochocinco kicking field goals last week? The fantasy football world will never be the same…

The first time Ochocinco kicks it into a screen at Cowboys Stadium, there’s going to be hell to pay. I can’t believe all the fuss about a television screen. Yes, it can be raised out of the way, so why are we so concerned that it will change the game? The Titan’s punter was gunning for it. That’s my story.

Chad Ochocinco might be better on your fantasy team as a kicker this year. Chris Henry has looked sharp this preseason and was drawing compliments from Carson Palmer in the offseason workouts. For the second straight week, Chris Henry scored a touchdown, even with J.T. O’Sullivan throwing the ball.

There may be better sleepers out there, but Chris Henry is the only Bengals receiver I would want to own on my fantasy team this year. He’s in a contract year, which means he won’t disappoint, and with Palmer looking like he’s one more sack away from sitting out 2009, it’s good to see that Chris Henry can play nice with backup quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan.

Rusty Tom-bone

On the Patriots side of the ball, Tom Brady looked a bit off Thursday night. As I’ve warned in the past, he could be a slow starter this season, and I wouldn’t blow an early pick on him unless you’re in a passing touchdown or quarterback heavy league.

Jag Snag?

Can Troy Williamson be a legit receiver? That’s what the Jaguars are starting to think while Mike Walker is missing time.

Williamson was supposed to replace Randy Moss when Minnesota drafted him. He didn’t. Now he looks like he could be a deep threat. Then again, Williamson might just be putting on a show until the regular season starts so that he can disappear in a cloud of fantasy owner frustration.

I’m interested in what he has to offer this season for the moment, and you can probably look for him as a late-round flier in most drafts or simply keep an eye on him on the waiver wire.

Now About that Hot-lanta Run Game

Anyone who is worried that the Falcons won’t run as much with Michael Turner this season should have watched the Falcons game against the Rams. I’ll give you that it was the Rams, but Turner looked like he was in regular season form.

Contrary to Popular Belief

Willie Parker can still score touchdowns. He proved that this week. Rashard Mendenhall is great and all, but he’s just not spectacular enough to find his way on the field for many snaps this year unless something happens to Parker.

Packing It In?

The new-and-improved Packer defense doesn’t look half bad. Actually, they don’t look even one-third bad. If this continues, I’ll have to look to snag them as a sleeper team defense. They certainly have looked exceptional at causing turnovers in the preseason. The Baltimore Ravens are not too shabby in that category either.

Cutler 1, Neckbeard 0, Denver -1

And, for the record, Jay Cutler looks much better than Kyle Orton. Sorry, Broncos fans, you’ve been ruined this season by the neckbearded left hand bomb.

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.