Megatrick: The argument against drafting Calvin Johnson in 2013

Drafting Calvin Johnson in the first round is a risky proposition this year. There’s no doubt he’s the top of the wide receiver heap, but with running backs as scarce as they are this season, can you survive if you miss out on a running back in the first round? Continue reading

Decisions, Decisions: Who to Start in Week 13

If your head’s swimming with stats and rankings this morning deciding who to start with playoff implications on the line, here’s a study aid.

PlayThisGuy.com has provided us with their consensus rankings for Week 13 quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers. You may not have these top 10 players, but dig deep to see what the fantasy ranking masses recommend.

If it came down to a coin flip or a consensus rank…I’d choose the rankings.

Good luck this week.

Week 13 Consensus Rankings

1. Michael Vick (PHI vs. HOU)
2. Aaron Rodgers (GB vs. SF)
3. Philip Rivers (SD vs. OAK)
4. Kyle Orton (DEN @ KC)
5. Peyton Manning (IND vs. DAL)td>
6. Drew Brees (NO @ CIN)
7. Matt Cassel (KC vs. DEN)
8. Eli Manning (NYG vs. WAS)
9. Jay Cutler (CHI @ DET)
10. Mark Sanchez (NYJ @ NE)
For Complete Rankings Click Here

Week 13 Consensus Rankings

1. Arian Foster (HOU @ PHI)
2. Peyton Hillis (CLE @ MIA)
3. Maurice Jones-Drew (JAX @ TEN)
4. Michael Turner (ATL @ TB)
5. Steven Jackson (STL @ ARI)
6. Jamaal Charles (KC vs. DEN)
7. LeSean McCoy (PHI vs. HOU)
8. Matt Forte (CHI @ DET)
9. Chris Johnson (TEN vs. JAX)
10. Mike Tolbert (SD vs. OAK)
For Complete Rankings Click Here

Week 13 Consensus Rankings

1. Dwayne Bowe (KC vs. DEN)
2. Brandon Lloyd (DEN @ KC)
3. Roddy White (ATL @ TB)
4. Reggie Wayne (IND vs. DAL)
5. DeSean Jackson (PHI vs. HOU)
6. Marques Colston (NO @ CIN)
7. Greg Jennings (GB vs. SF)
8. Andre Johnson (HOU @ PHI)
9. Calvin Johnson (DET vs. CHI)
10. Jeremy Maclin (PHI vs. HOU)
For Complete Rankings Click Here

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?

5 Reasons to Drop Sidney Rice

If you’ve stashed Sidney Rice away on your bench waiting for his triumphant return to fantasy football studliness, it’s time to drop him. Let him go. Let someone else burn that candle, sacrificing a roster spot for almost the entire season in hopes that he will return to dominance for their playoff push.

You need reasons? Oh, I got reasons.

1. Brett Favre is a broken man.

In case you haven’t heard, Brett Favre is not 100 percent. He’s hurt. He’s old. He’s got just a little bit left in the tank, and unfortunately, that little bit isn’t getting it done for the Vikings. Even with Randy Moss, he’s not that excited about life. Do you really want to trust Favre to make Sidney Rice valuable enough to hold on to for almost an entire season of no production? Favre could start the retirement talk by Week 8.

2. The Vikings don’t look good.

Last season, Rice was dominant because the Vikings were great. Percy Harvin was available to distract the secondary. Visanthe Shiancoe was making plays across the middle and down the field. And then there’s that little known workhorse named Adrian Peterson there to churn out yardage. Even Chester Taylor contributed by protecting Favre as well as any back in the game could. This year, they’re not looking so hot. The offense is struggling, Favre isn’t performing as expected, and Percy Harvin is on and off the field with migraines. Without all those playmakers at 100 percent, can Sidney Rice get anything done? Look at Calvin Johnson. Sometimes he’s excellent…and sometimes he’s non-existent. You need a supporting cast.

3. Randy Moss

But wait…Sidney Rice has a supporting cast. He’s going to share the field with Randy Moss. Well, about that…Randy Moss will get his. I don’t know that Sidney Rice will have enough leftover for his fantasy owners. As the veteran, well established in the offense by the time Rice takes the field, Moss will remain the No. 1 guy. Being in the mix with Harvin and Shiancoe, Rice could end up being the No. 3 or 4 target in this offense when he is healthy. And just trading for Moss in the first place might be a hint that Rice’s recovery isn’t on schedule for a Week 9 return.

4. Week 10

A roster spot is a terrible thing to waste. Even if Rice returns in Week 9, stashing him for an entire season is going to cost you waiver wire pickups. It’s going to cost you bye week adjustments. And it’s going to cost you wins. Is he worth it? If the Vikings don’t make a lot of progress over the next few weeks, Brad Childress could decide to put Rice on IR and shut Rice down for the rest of the season to rest up for 2011. That would free up a roster spot for the Vikings to work with until the end of the year and make your Sidney Rice stash worthless.

5. Packers, Redskins, Bills, Giants, Bears, Eagles (Lions W17)

That’s the schedule the Vikings face after Week 10. So if you’re saving Sidney Rice, you’re saving him for these matchups. Sure, the Redskins and Bills might look good on paper. The Giants and Packers have the potential to be shootouts, but none of these games are pushovers. Even the Bills have a decent secondary — enough to give a team like the Vikings trouble unless they’re firing on all cylinders. Week 16 vs. the Eagles is no game to hang a championship on either. If the Eagles get their defense back in shape, they’ll be coming after Favre all day.

So it’s time, my friend. Time to let him go. Maybe you can trade him to the highest bidder for a quality backup wide receiver. Don’t let his value go to waste if you don’t have to, but please don’t keep him on your bench if you need that roster spot. It won’t do you much good.

That Little F-er Danny Woodhead plays WR on ESPN

Get this: ESPN Fantasy Football has Rex Ryan’s favorite Little F-er Danny Woodhead classified as a wide receiver for the entire year because he started the season as a wide receiver on the Jets’ practice squad.

I neglected to mention Woodhead in the waiver wire recs this week because he’s on a bye, and well, he didn’t seem all that exciting after just two games with the Patriots in the Kevin Faulk role. He just managed to score in both games. That’s watch list material but not necessarily worth a stash.

But if you could pick him up as a WR3 who just happens to run the ball at least a handful of times each week? Now that’s not a bad deal.

If you have a totalitarian commish who never allows for a flex spot and, instead, requires you to start three receivers and two running backs (not to name any names), you could create a flex spot of your own by picking up Woodhead, who is really playing as a running back, and starting him as a wide receiver. Want a guarantee that your WR3 gets at least 5-6 touches each week?

If you play on ESPN, it’s worth stashing Woodhead to see if his wide receiver designation becomes even more of a competitive advantage.

H/T Kissing Suzy Kolber for the NSFW “Hard Knocks” highlight reel and the ESPN Fantasy Focus Football podcast for bringing this to my attention.

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.

Martz be crazy: Why you should draft your Bears this season

As we await the Chicago Bears debut tonight in preseason action, I can’t wait to see if their little offseason experiment worked.

When it comes to offense, Mike Martz is a kamikaze. His “leap of faith” system is as likely to blow up on a game-by-game basis as it is to succeed. While respected at first for his work in St. Louis, in recent years, NFL coaches seem to feel that bringing him in to run an offense is the equivalent of waving a white flag, a last-ditch effort to get their teams on the scoreboard.

Still, Martz’s system shows results. He built the “Greatest Show on Turf,” revived the Detroit Lions passing attack with Jon Kitna, and made J.T. O’ Sullivan fantasy relevant for a time in San Francisco. But one thing he hasn’t had to work with since his days with Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger in St. Louis is a true franchise quarterback.

Why, hello there Jay Cutler. Whatever you think of the shruggy Vanderbilt product, Cutler has an arm, and he’s shown the characteristics of a franchise quarterback in Denver. Granted, he no longer has a true No. 1 receiver like Brandon Marshall to throw to now that he’s in Chicago, but don’t count out Devin Hester and Johnny Knox just yet.

Quick receivers who can get to their spots on time are all an offense like Martz’s really needs, and if you believe in the third year breakout for wide receivers and Hester’s quotes, Hester’s ready to make it big. But you don’t have to take his word for it.

Cutler has bought into Martz’s quarterback-friendly system. So even though we can’t expect Cutler’s interceptions to be drastically reduced when he starts firing passes before receivers are even in place, he should do some serious damage in the passing game–the good kind of damage.

Cutler threw a career high 26 interceptions last season pre-Martz, but he also threw a career high 27 touchdowns. His offensive line wasn’t doing him any favors last year either.

With Martz and a new offensive line coach in Mike Tice, Cutler may excel in the W column and fantasy point columns again just like he did in Denver.

So when it comes to drafting Cutler, I’m all for it. He’s currently going early in the seventh round as the No. 9 overall quarterback, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. While I’m okay with him there as a late starting QB1, I think I’d really love him as a QB2 behind an elite quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, Matt Schaub, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, or Tony Romo.

If he has a huge season, you can start him and trade away your elite guy or just trade Cutler for a high-performing running back to make your championship run.

And without having to rely on him completely as your QB1, you can play the ups and downs that are likely to strike the Bears this season. I expect there will be some growing pains in learning Martz’s system and putting it into action each week.

As for the wide receivers, there’s plenty of speculation out there about how to value them. Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Devin Aromashodu, and Earl Bennett could all see time on the field.

This offseason, the early favorite has been Devin Aromashodu, the tallest Bears wide receiver who came on strong at the end of 2009 and scored four touchdowns. But Aromashodu’s sleeper hype has him overvalued now. He’s being drafted before both Hester and Knox, and that just doesn’t make sense.

I’d much rather draft Hester, the forgotten man in this offense who was holding down the No. 1 role until late in 2009, or Knox, the rookie who picked up the offense and caught Cutler’s eye last season.

Hester worked in the offseason with Isaac Bruce to learn what he could from the Martz-made veteran wide receiver, and I think he’ll be ready to play come Week 1 like a top wideout, rather than just as a converted special teamer.

Now don’t get me wrong, Aromashodu shouldn’t be overlooked. He could play a big part in the red zone, but I just don’t think he’s worth a pick in the eighth round when you can get Hester in the tenth.

Martz isn’t really known for increasing the role of the running back in his offenses, but he has two skilled pass catchers in Matt Forte and Chester Taylor. Forte seems more like his old self now that he’s recovered from 2009′s injuries. Maybe we all just expected too much of him when we launched him into the first round rankings last season.

With injuries, a new quarterback, and a questionable offensive line, it was hard to live up to the hype around his impressive rookie season. This season, he could turn things around, especially if Martz makes him a big part of the offense. Even though Martz isn’t known for making running backs better, he certainly doesn’t neglect them.

Chester Taylor will take some of the work out of Forte’s hands, but that could be a good thing. Forte wore down late in his rookie season when he was carrying the full load, and as long as he gets to take the carries near the goal line, sharing might be caring for Forte. I can learn to love a timeshare that allows Forte to go full speed all season and keeps him free of injuries.

So think about Forte in the fourth round before you start looking at running backs who have the lesser half of a timeshare situation.

The one position we can’t predict with Martz is tight end. Greg Olsen is a star at the position, but Martz has traditionally left tight ends to block at the line while the receivers steal the show. Time will tell if Olsen can sway him. I am not taking that chance in my drafts right now.

So in short, don’t overlook your Bears this season. I expect to see some significant improvements in the passing game, and as late as Jay Cutler and Hester are being drafted, they’re definitely worth a look.

Everybody’s got a Wes Welker

He’s quick. He’s nimble. He’s the envy of every team in the NFL, which is why every team in the NFL has got to get their hands on one.

Wes Welker is no longer just one NFL wide receiver recovering from a knee injury using Playboy-endorsed rehabbing techniques. No, he is more than one man. A LEGEND! His name gets thrown out so much by every other team in the NFL, I think it’s time we recognized him as an actual position on the field.

When Welker first became a Patriot, he was just a scrappy, quick-legged little wide receiver who excelled in the return game, but now…he’s so much more. He’s the one who makes everything in the Patriots’ offense possible. He’s Tom Brady’s running back equivalent. If running backs were sugar, he’d be Splenda.

Welker’s ability to provide the outlet option for Brady almost serves as a second running game. He has that rare talent for finding the open space over the middle and on short routes that you cannot simply replace with another good athlete. There’s a reason why Welker catches so many passes; he gets thrown to a lot (162 targets in 2009, 150 targets in 2008). [via Fanhouse]

See? He’s the icing on the cake. He’s all a man, or coach, really needs to be happy.

But contrary to popular belief, you CAN actually replace Wes Welker with “another good athlete.” Just find your own! Let’s just stop calling that No. 2 wide receiver a “WR” altogether; instead, it’s now “WW” for Wes “the Welker” Welker, the position commonly played opposite Randy Moss or other dominant WR and specializing in turning short passes into significant gains.

Despite bans against cloning, it appears Welker is easily reproduced in almost every offense the NFL has to offer. WWs are the new Pokémon — gotta catch ‘em all (which, oddly enough, is Welker’s slogan when it comes to footballs).

I know…I know, you had no idea this was a phenomenon, but it’s truly become the time for WWs in the NFL. Every team’s gotta have a WW now, and it was a hot season for them during this year’s NFL draft since many teams were stuck with a depth chart full of WRs and no WWs in sight.

If an NFL franchise didn’t have one already, they have one now. Hell, the Patriots have TWO. Just look at Julian Edelman.

Indianapolis thinks they have a WW in Sam Giguere. In Baltimore, there’s David Reed. In Cincinnati, there’s Jordan Shipley.

In Denver, they have Eddie Royal, who was supposed to be Denver’s Wes Welker last year and failed to live up to expectations. But you can bet he’s going to be one this year!

In Atlanta, their Wes Welker isn’t recovering quite as fast as the original edition, but Harry Douglas is expected to fill the spot if he can manage to get back to 100 percent. (I guess the one thing they can’t clone is Welker’s Wolverine-like healing ability.)

But who’s the hottest WW of them all? The Chiefs are plenty excited about Dexter McCluster, their running back and WW clone, and I’d say he’s gotten the most press this offseason for filling the WW role in the offense.

Even though he spent most of his time as a running back in college, the Chiefs plan to use him all over the field and, most definitely, to fill the gap they have at slot receiver.

So get ready, folks. WWs are about to take over a roster spot on all 32 NFL franchises. And since WWs have become such a big part of the NFL experience, it might just be time to petition our commissioners to add a WW to fantasy rosters this season. Who needs a flex spot when it could be a Wes Welker!?

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?