Thursday, September 25, 2008

Worried about Peterson, Moss, others?

Week 4 is the perfect time to take stock of your fantasy team and figure out which direction it’s headed.

By now we’ve got a good idea of which NFL offenses look like powerhouses and which are just plain offensive. We’ve seen how certain running back timeshares will operate, which quarterbacks’ jobs are in jeopardy, whose surgically repaired body parts are holding up and whose legs have too many miles on them.

Also, with six NFL teams enjoying a bye week, the depth of fantasy rosters will be tested. It’s time to examine your squad with a critical eye and see where you stand. Some players will hold up to the scrutiny despite some early season question marks and injury concerns, while others are in serious danger.

Here are some notable guys I’m not too worried about, and some who deserve a red flag:


LaDainian Tomlinson: His toe may be bothering him, but Tomlinson still rushed two touchdowns Monday night. That’s why I’d never sit LT – as long as he can stand on two feet, the San Diego Chargers will continue to feed him meaningful touches, no matter how good backup Darren Sproles looks.

Adrian Peterson: Even with a sore hamstring and the possibility he might sit out last Sunday, Peterson still started and gutted out a tough 17 carries for 77 yards against a good Carolina Panthers defense. Things get no easier this week against the Tennessee Titans, but Peterson is simply too dangerous and too valuable a fantasy commodity to leave on your bench if he’s active.

Brian Westbrook: He’s listed as day to day with an ankle sprain, but worse injuries than that haven’t stopped this tough little S.O.B. Westbrook is the most dangerous player in fantasy football and can never be benched unless he’s officially ruled out. Grab Correll Buckhalter or Lorenzo Booker as insurance if you feel compelled, but expect to see a Westbrook touchdown or two Sunday night in Chicago.

Brett Favre: The veteran QB’s numbers have been acceptable as a low-end fantasy No. 1 to this point (six TDs vs. three INTs) even as he’s learning on the fly with the New York Jets. Expect him to soar in the coming weeks (vs. Arizona, Cincinnati, Oakland, Kansas City).


Steven Jackson: From last season’s struggles to his holdout during camp, we had enough worries about Jackson entering the season. So far he and the miserable St. Louis Rams have done nothing to quell our fears, and the switch to QB Trent Green doesn’t help. This situation’s a mess.

Roy Williams: If the Detroit Lions can’t figure out Williams needs to get more than three targets a game, there’s no hope for them. With frustration mounting, Mike Martz gone and Calvin Johnson taking on a bigger role, I’m officially worried about our boy Roy.

Randy Moss: From Moss’ perspective, QB Matt Cassel looks a lot more like Andrew Walter than Tom Brady so far. Might it be that Moss is only as good as the quarterback throwing to him? If true, it could be a long year.

Braylon Edwards: We know his shoulder’s bothering him, but Edwards better start pulling down some catches starting this Sunday at Cincinnati, or he’s going to cost QB Derek Anderson and maybe coach Romeo Crennel their jobs. He’s got a long way to go in proving he’s a fantasy No. 1

Photos by The Associated Press.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Your 2008 Fantasy Baseball All-Stars

Let’s travel back in time about five months.

Imagine you’re sitting at your fantasy baseball draft, a fresh season on the horizon.

With your first pick, you confidently call out the name “Josh Hamilton!”

And everyone laughs.

You’re not done with your comedy routine. Next round you follow that up with Cliff Lee. Then Carlos Quentin. Then Aubrey Huff, Nate McLouth, Jhonny Peralta, Mark DeRosa and Brian Wilson.

When the laughter has subsided and the mocking has ceased, you sit back, look over your roster and smile. Little do your leaguemates know, but you’ve just assembled a near-unbeatable fantasy team that will have little trouble locking up the championship trophy.

Unfortunately, the whole time travel thing is still just a theory, and even the most forward-thinking gurus among us couldn’t have built such a rag-tag team of diamonds in the rough. It’s only natural to gravitate toward familiar names, and those superstars usually deliver, but it’s those draft-day afterthoughts and breakthrough performers who really shift the balance of power in a fantasy league.

With the season nearly complete, let’s honor this year’s best. Most are big names we expected to see on the list, but a few surprises snuck up on us with unbelievable seasons. Here are your 2008 Fantasy All-Stars:


Joe Mauer's a batting average beast, Russell Martin's got unnatural speed for the position (17 steals), rookie Geovany Soto looks like a keeper, and previously unknown Ryan Doumit has blossomed into a stud. But the tiniest edge goes to Brian McCann, who’s hovered around .300, leads the position with 23 homers and swiped five bases in his spare time.

Ryan Howard started slow but is finishing at an MVP’s pace. Lance Berkman had a torrid start but has tailed off in September. Howard’s way ahead in homers and RBIs; Berkman’s .322 average puts Howard’s to shame and has contributed a most unexpected 16 steals. It’s tight, but give the honor to Howard, only because we live in a “what have you done for me lately?” world.

Maybe the least debatable position, because Chase Utley contributed in all five major rotisserie categories (.289, 31 homers, 95 RBIs, 102 runs, 12 steals).
You’d like to get more speed out of your second baseman ideally, but Utley gives you corner infield power at a weak-hitting position.

Another great debate here: Jose Reyes or Hanley Ramirez? Ramirez has double the homers and 16 more runs scored; they’re almost dead even in RBIs and average; and Reyes has 17 more steals. It’s Ramirez by a hair.

Alex Rodriguez is another five-category cat who helps you across the board. This year he also became the first player with 35 home runs and 100 RBIs in 12 seasons - one more than Babe Ruth. That's called consistency, and it's why A-Rod will probably be the No. 1 player on next year's board.

Josh Hamilton’s remarkable personal story warms the heart, but the cold, hard stats matter most in fantasy, and he doesn’t disappoint there either. Manny Ramirez’s L.A. renaissance (.396, 14 homers, 40 RBIs in 38 games with the Dodgers) have kept him in the fantasy spotlight. And Carlos Beltran’s .282 average isn’t all that, but he’s reached the magical plateaus of 100 runs, 100 RBIs, 20 homers and 20 steals for a remarkable seventh time.

If I had to pick one ace, it comes down to Cliff Lee vs. Tim Linceum. The difference in ERA and WHIP is negligible, and while Lee does have 22 wins, Lincecum is only five behind … and has 80 more strikeouts. Lincecum’s my guy.

If you’re simply looking for saves, Francisco Rodriguez, who set the single-season record, is an obvious choice. His 2.38 ERA and 74 strikeouts won’t make you regret it.

Photos by The Associated Press

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hot pickups - Week 3

RB Darren Sproles, San Diego Chargers: Remember how people used to handcuff Michael Turner to LaDainian Tomlinson and almost never need him until the end of the season? Sproles is this year's Turner, with one difference: the Chargers' backup has already come in handy (53 rushing yards, 72 receiving yards, TD last week). With LT questionable for Sunday (he practiced in a limited role Friday), the sprightly Sproles is a wise pickup for both the short- and long-term. FOUR STARS (Out of five)

RB Tim Hightower, Arizona Cardinals: No relation to the Police Academy character, Hightower's taken hold of goal-line duties for the Cards' and scored in Weeks 1 and 2. Maybe the rookie can do it again this week against Washington. THREE STARS

WR Amani Toomer, New York Giants: With Jeremy Shockey out of the picture, the Giants have some more passes to dish out, and instead of going to TE Kevin Boss (catchless through Week 2), they're hitting receivers Steve Smith and Toomer (67 yards and a score last week). The vet is a good gamble this week against the Bengals. THREE STARS

QB J.T. O’Sullivan, San Francisco 49ers: We've seen some poor quarterbacking from the likes of Derek Anderson, Matt Hasselbeck, Tarvaris Jackson, Jeff Garcia and others, but O'Sullivan, a guy who likely didn't get drafted in a lot of leagues, has outperformed them. If you're disgusted with your QB's play, a spot start by O'Sullivan against the awful Lions defense might be just the pick-me-up you need. THREE STARS

WR Koren Robinson, Seattle Seahawks: Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald once said there are no second acts in American lives, but Robinson is evidence to the contrary, since the troubled receiver is on about his fifth act in the NFL and second with the Seahawks. But it'd be a nice story for the former Seattle No. 1 pick to make a productive comeback and bail out an offense in trouble. He's familiar with Mike Holmgren's system and Hasselbeck, so that's a plus. So is the fact that he's playing the Rams this week. TWO STARS

Photos by The Associated Press

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Time to hit the panic room

Ever see that movie "Panic Room?"

Jodie Foster's house has this tricked-out, burglar-proof room with four-inch-thick steel doors and security monitors where she can hide and keep tabs on the bad guys in case of a home invasion.

I have a similar room in my house, except mine has DirecTV's NFL package on the screens. It's where I go when I'm panicking about my fantasy teams, and I felt compelled to lock myself in there this past weekend after watching a few frightening performances.

I'm out now, I've analyzed their performances, crunched the numbers, and I'm ready to tell you if it's really time to panic about these guys:

Larry Johnson is not a happy camper in Kansas City after he received just 12 carries (and rushed for just 22 yards) in Sunday's loss to the Oakland Raiders. Johnson accuses the franchise of phasing him out, although critics would argue the Chiefs had to bench him and start throwing the ball once they were down by two scores and the Raiders had shut down the run.

Is this just a case of LJ being his usual disgruntled self? Coach Herm Edwards says he'd like Johnson to touch the ball 20-25 times a game, and we saw that in Week 1 (22 rushes for 74 yards against a good New England Patriots run D). I expect to see a similar workload this week at Atlanta, but I also have concerns about a passing game no one respects and an offensive line that's a shadow of its former run-blocking self. In other words, if Johnson's one of your starting RBs, I hope you have some good alternatives for later in the season.

Cleveland Browns QB Derek Anderson looks nothing like the Pro Bowl quarterback of a year ago, having thrown just one touchdown and two interceptions with a dismal 57.1 QB rating. Part of that can be blamed on the remnants of Hurricane Ike, which created less-than-ideal conditions in Sunday night's game and made Anderson's counterpart, Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers, look almost as mediocre.

I'm not ready to declare Anderson's 2007 season a fluke yet. Last time I checked, he still has Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow to throw to, and the forecast for this week's game in Baltimore looks clear. I'm not looking for a replacement QB for at least two more weeks - after the Ravens, Anderson plays the Cincinnati Bengals, who he torched for five TDs in Week 2 last year.

Matt Hasselbeck's another struggling QB, but you can hardly blame him now that the Seattle Seahawks' receiving corps has been decimated. The team's lost Bobby Engram, Deion Branch, Nate Burleson, Seneca Wallace and Logan Payne to injury and replaced them with Billy McMullen, Courtney Taylor, Keary Colbert and Koren Robinson - not exactly the most reliable group of pass-catchers.

I don't particularly like any of those guys for fantasy purposes, although Robinson, a former Seahawks No. 1 draft pick, is intriguing. Still, I'm willing to bet Hasselbeck makes them look like stars this week against the lowly St. Louis Rams. The schedule gets tougher from there, so you'll want to have a spot starter in place, but I believe Hasselbeck can weather the storm and still be a viable No. 1 once Engram and/or Branch returns.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hot pickups: Week 2

WR Eddie Royal, Denver Broncos: Perhaps you saw him abuse the Oakland Raiders on Monday night, finishing with a league-high 146 receiving yards and a TD. Remember, Brandon Marshall will be back in uniform this week, and the Broncos won't be playing the Raiders every week. ... but I'm still nabbing the rookie from Virginia Tech, because he looks like a contributor. FIVE STARS (Out of five)

QB Matt Cassel, New England Patriots: You know the deal here. Cassel is no Tom Brady (yet), but he still has Tom Brady's teammates and Tom Brady's coaches. A must pickup if you owned Brady, or just want to tick off a Brady owner. FOUR STARS

RB Sammy Morris, New England Patriots: Looks like we didn't learn from last year's game of musical chairs at RB for the Pats. Check out last Sunday's stat sheet: 10 carries for Morris, 10 carries for Laurence Maroney, with Morris getting a short-yardage TD. The Pats played around like this in the early part of last year too - yet Maroney was going in the second or third round of most drafts this year and Morris likely didn't get his name called. Time for that to change. FOUR STARS

WRs David Patten and Robert Meachem, New Orleans Saints: With Marques Colston (thumb) out 4-6 weeks, Drew Brees will be looking for some new targets. Patten, who caught a 39-yard TD in Week 1, will probably make a more immediate impact, though Meachem (inactive last week) is worth a look in deeper leagues as a contributor later down the road. FOUR STARS

QB Damon Huard, Kansas City Chiefs: The veteran is starting again with Brodie Croyle out for up to four weeks. Huard is only a stopgap of course, and K.C. may even take a look at untested Tyler Thigpen at some point. But Huard does get to face the Oakland Raiders this Sunday, and in case you didn’t see them in their opener, the Raiders aren’t so good this year.FOUR STARS

QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: Ryan made a heck of a debut for the Atlanta Falcons. But take away the 62-yard touchdown on his first NFL pass, and the rookie was 8 of 12 passing for 99 yards against the Detroit Lions. Granted, he didn’t have to do much besides hand off to Michael Turner (220 rushing yards), but he was also throwing against the league’s 31st-ranked pass defense from a year ago. I like Ryan, but things are going to get tougher, and he’s not an every-week fantasy starter at this point. THREE STARS

TE John Carlson, Seattle Seahawks: The rookie is one of the few healthy pass catchers on Seattle's roster right now. Carlson was one of the few bright spots at Notre Dame last year, leading Charlie Weis' team in receptions (40) and scoring three TDs. He caught four balls for 52 yards in his pro debut last week, and I have a feeling Matt Hasselbeck will be looking for him this Sunday against the 49ers, and in the weeks to come. THREE STARS

Photos by The Associated Press

Monday, September 8, 2008

Brady blues

Week 1 is in the books, and you may have heard the big news:

Tom Brady is done for the year.

It's a crushing blow for anyone who reached for Brady in the first round and built their team around him. It's also bad news for anybody counting on big points from Randy Moss or Wes Welker.

If you own Brady, now what? Is Matt Cassel the answer? You've probably got to pick him up - although I see him as more of a low-end No. 2 QB than anything else. Granted, he's got weapons to throw to and a scheming genius calling his plays, but he's also a guy who has not started a game since high school (You read that correctly - Cassel was a career backup at USC), and the Pats were concerned enough to bring in Tim Rattay and Chris Simms for workouts. Cassel's a huge unknown - he could be a diamond in the rough (much like Brady once was, as you'll recall), but more than likely he's just an average fantasy QB.

Hopefully, you've drafted well and have a capable backup or are already putting together a trade proposal; you can bet the rest of your league is thinking about making an offer to take advantage of you while you're down. There are only a handful of QBs in the league who could replicate Brady's expected numbers, though, so expect to take a step backward no matter who you turn to.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The fantasy expert speaks

A few weeks ago I chatted with the guys from Point After Live on 89.1 FM in upstate New York ... We talked about some of my preseason rankings and a lookahead to the 2008 season. You can listen to it here if you like.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Watch Chris Cooley's fantasy draft

Not only is the Washington Redskins' Chris Cooley an excellent fantasy tight end, he's also a big fantasy fan. He's been cool enough to document his own draft from a league he started with some of his Skins teammates, and it's pretty entertaining. Check out the video, courtesy of Cooley's blog:

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Overlooked talent

Ever get finished drafting your team, look back over your roster and realize it sucks?

That probably happened to a lot of people this past weekend. Maybe you noticed you have four receivers with the same bye week, or a quarterback who didn't win his team's start ing job, or a running back who isn't on an NFL roster.

Or maybe your team just plain sucks.

Before you declare your season a lost cause, take a gander at your league's free-agent pool. There's probably a good amount of overlooked talent available to help reshape your team.

Here are some sleepers who didn't get much love on draft day:

• The Washington Redskins change coaches like the rest of us change our car's oil, but their commitment to QB Jason Campbell hasn't wavered. Campbell was making strides as a starter last year before hurting his knee, and now he gets another fresh start in Jim Zorn's West Coast scheme, which worked wonders for Matt Hasselbeck's career in Seattle. Campbell has plenty to work with, including Clinton Portis, Santana Moss, two talented rookie receivers (Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas) and a healthy offensive line. He could make the leap this year and is worth a serious look as your No. 2 QB.

• When was the last time you owned a Cincinnati Bengals tight end on your fantasy team? That should change this year with Cincy's signing of Ben Utecht, who caught 68 passes in the past two seasons as Dallas Clark's sidekick for the Indianapolis Colts. Utecht provides Carson Palmer with another target and adds a new dimension to what was a top-10 passing offense a year ago.

• Everyone seems to assume the Atlanta Falcons' Michael Turner will shine in his first season as a feature back, and they may be right. But LaDainain Tomlinson's former understudy has never carried the ball more than 80 times in a season. That's why I expect Atlanta's new coaching staff to also utilize third-year back Jerious Norwood, who's averaged more than six yards a carry in his pro career and is also a fine receiver out of the backfield and can also line up out wide.

Jerry Porter spent more time butting heads with coaches than catching passes in his eight seasons with the Oakland Raiders but signed a big-money deal in the offseason to be the Jacksonville Jaguars' top receiver. A torn hamstring kept him out of training camp and all preseason, but Porter is finally practicing again and aims to be ready for Week 1. An injury like that can sometimes linger, but if he can recover, Porter has the potential to supplant Reggie Williams as QB David Garrard's first option.

• In case you didn't pay attention last year, it's good to have New England Patriots on your fantasy team - even if they're the team's No. 3 wide receiver. That will be Jabar Gaffney's role this year, one he took a liking to last season, especially late, catching four touchdowns in the Pats' final six regular season games. Gaffney's gotten extra reps with Tom Brady this preseason with Wes Welker sidelined, and though he won't be an every-week contributor in New England's spread-the-wealth offense, he'll be worth a spot start here or there as the matchups dictate.

Photo by The Associated Press

Monday, September 1, 2008

Want to check out my teams?

I know you are intensely interested in my fantasy teams' rosters, so I thought I'd share them with you. I had two football drafts over the weekend - one in person, and one via phone while I was making a seven-hour drive from Columbus, Ga., to Bradenton. Luckily I wasn't behind the wheel at the time.

Here's my roster for the NITTANY LOINS in my 12-team, standard-scoring office league. I had the second overall pick:

QB Derek Anderson
QB Matt Schaub

I have some concerns regarding Anderson (Is he a flash in the pan? How's that concussion?) but at least 10 or 11 other QBs were already taken, so I had to roll the dice. Thought Schaub was pretty good insurance - I've got him ranked 14th among QBs.

RB Adrian Peterson
RB Larry Johnson
RB Brandon Jacobs
RB Chester Taylor

I couldn't pass up Peterson with the second overall pick. I'm usually looking for another RB with my second pick but decided to go receiver this time, so I was glad to see LJ still on the board in the third round - I had him ranked 11th. Obviously it's a creaky group so I decided to get another somewhat injury-prone but studly back (Jacobs) next. I filled out the position with Taylor, mostly as insurance for AP.

WR Reggie Wayne
WR Roy Williams
WR Roddy White
WR Reggie Brown

Went with Wayne in the second round after the elite receivers started getting scooped up. Very happy with Williams as a No. 2 and thrilled to get White later. I think Brown's got some potential, mostly by default since he'll be starting for the Eagles with Kevin Curtis hurt.

TE Tony Scheffler
TE Kevin Boss

Content with this group. Scheffler will be fine and Boss has some upside - though not Jeremy Shockey upside.

K Robbie Gould
K Brandon Coutou

I'm OK with these guys. Didn't reach for Gould but got him very late. Hoping Coutou can beat out Olindo Mare for the Seahawks job. Honestly, I didn't know who he was until about a week ago.

DEF Colts
DEF Eagles

I'm happy with these two, both of which I consider to be top-10.

Now, onto my other team, ACE IN THE HOLE, for which I've shared management duties with my dad for about six years now. It's two divisions of 10 teams (each division drafts separately), points-per-reception scoring and a $100 entry fee. In other words, it's pretty serious.

QB Ben Roethlisberger
QB Matt Hasselbeck

Easily the best QB tandem in our division. I consider Big Ben to be at the top of the second tier of QBs and Hasselbeck right below him. Couldn't believe Hasselbeck was still available in the 10th round (and made me regret taking Ben in the fifth) but I couldn't pass him up. One of them will probably be trade bait at some point, especially when we have the inevitable "star QB gets injured in Week 1" moment.

RB Adrian Peterson
RB Ryan Grant
RB Kevin Smith
RB Chester Taylor

As you can see, I'm on the Peterson bandwagon this year. Wasn't really planning on it - I had the third overall pick here, but Brian Westbrook went second (we're playing PPR scoring for the first time this year) after LaDainian Tomlinson. A lot of people seem down on Grant since he had such an unproductive camp, but I still like him as a No. 2, and I'm thrilled with Smith as a No. 3. And once again, I've got Taylor as insurance. Only problem is Peterson, Taylor and Grant all have the same bye week, so I'll be making a roster move before then I'm sure.

WR TJ Houshmandzadeh
WR Roy Williams
WR Laveranues Coles
WR Donte' Stallworth

I don't have too many worries about TJ or Williams. I like Coles a lot, assuming he clicks with Brett Favre. And I could see Stallworth going off with a big game here and there; it's just a matter of picking the right weeks to start him.

TE Tony Scheffler
TE Dustin Keller

Once again it's Scheffler (he better not let me down), and I reached a bit for Keller. But I like the kid as a sleeper, so it was the right move.

K Robbie Gould
K Jason Hanson

Gould again - it's weird how these things work out. And Hanson's a safe No. 2.

DEF Seahawks
DEF Bucs

I foresee a lot of turnovers from this tandem.

Photos by The Associated Press