Thursday, October 7, 2010

A blogger says goodbye

Well readers, this is goodbye.

I'm leaving the Herald after 5 years as an editor, page designer, and self-proclaimed fantasy expert.

It's been a pleasure to serve the community of Bradenton and everyone else out there in cyberspace with what I hope were entertaining and informative fantasy sports musings over the years.

In that time I've had a lot of ups (winning the Herald Newsroom Fantasy Football League championship last season!) and a lot of downs (multiple finishes in the bottom half of the fantasy baseball standings), but hopefully I've helped some of your teams along the way.

I'll still be out there in the Bradenton area, and still competing with my ex-Herald colleagues as long as they'll have me. And I'll still love dispensing fantasy advice and offering my two cents, so don't hesitate to ask me a question if you see me out and about. Maybe someday I'll be back out there on the World Wide Web to reclaim my fantasy guru status, but until then I bid you farewell. It's been fun.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Week 3 Sit 'Em: Eli, Greene, Wallace

- ELI MANNING vs. Tennessee: The Giants' offense is predicated on establishing the run, but it hasn't really worked so far. Even though Eli's got 5 TD passes in two games, figure on New York sticking to the ground game against a Titans secondary that's allowed just one passing TD and one play over 20 yards.

- SHONN GREENE at Miami: It was good to see Shonn getting more involved (15 carries) and being more productive (52 yards) in Week 2 after Week 1's bomb. Unfortunately, he hasn't been good enough, and LaDainian Tomlinson is still lurking in the Jets backfield.

- MIKE WALLACE at Tampa Bay: It sure looks like any value Wallace will have in 2010 will have to wait until Ben Roethlisberger's return - he has just 4 catches through 2 Big Ben-less games. The Steelers spun the wheel and came up with Charlie Batch at QB this week, and the Bucs' defenders haven't been pushovers this year.

Last week's picks

- Vince Young's stat line against the Steelers: 7-for-10, 66 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, one benching. Nailed it.

- Michael Crabtree's stat line against the Saints: One catch for 32 yards. Nailed it.

- Jahvid Best's stat line against the Eagles: 78 rushing yards, 154 receiving yards, 3 total TDs. Little off. I still stand by my prediction - the kid ran for 20 yards on 14 carries a week earlier in his debut! - but clearly I underestimated him.

The Associated Press

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Week 3 Start 'Em: McFadden, Moss, Favre

RB DARREN McFADDEN at Arizona: It’s time to take this guy seriously again after 145 rushing yards on 30 carries last week against St. Louis. He’s the NFL’s second-leading rusher, and the this week's opponents, the Cardinals, are second-worst against the run (153.0 a game).

WR SANTANA MOSS at St. Louis: The veteran has hit it off with new QB Donovan McNabb, catching 16 passes so far. The Redskins will look to pound the ball against a soft Rams run defense, but I still see Moss doing some damage through the air.

BRETT FAVRE vs. Detroit: Favre’s thrown 51 TDs in 30 career games against the Lions. Only his own Vikings (52 TDs) and the Bears (53 TDs) have been victimized more by the man that Father Time forgot. It’s been a rough 2010 for Brett, but he returns to form this week against the Lions.

Last week’s picks

- Ahmad Bradshaw had a commendable 89 yards on 17 carries against the Colts. Not exactly Arian Foster-level production, but solid, and the good news for Bradshaw’s long-term value is teammate Brandon Jacobs carried the ball only four times and suffered a helmet-tossing, possibly trade-demanding meltdown.

- Dwayne Bowe’s 4 catches for 45 yards against the Browns weren’t quite what I had in mind but are a step in the right direction.

- Dez Bryant recorded only 2 catches against Chicago, but he made them count (52 yards) and he added a 62-yard punt return for a TD to boot.

Photo by The Associated Press

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Week 3 Hot Pickups: Snelling, Thomas, Murphy


Michael Turner
(groin) says he’ll be fine for Week 3, but Snelling (186 total yards, 3 TDs) looked great in his absence and is an obvious handcuff with big-time upside.


The rookie made his presence felt (8 catches, 97 yards, TD) in his first pro game last week and will be an important part of the Broncos’ air attack again this week vs. Indy.


Murphy looks like the best wideout in Silver & Black, catching 6 balls for 91 yards and a TD vs. St. Louis. He should benefit if Bruce Gradkowski takes over at QB, as the two have some chemistry.

Week 2 Recap, Part II: Bucs worth owning

-Is Josh Freeman a fantasy star? Not yet, but he and WR Mike Williams (2 TDs in first two games) are on their way. Williams has to be owned at this point, and Freeman might be a darkhorse No. 2 QB worth a spot start somewhere down the road. He's got some mouth-watering matchups with St. Louis and Arizona during bye-week time.

-Only six QBs have thrown for more than 600 yards so far this season. The first five? Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Philip Rivers, Matt Schaub. Ho hum. No. 6? Kyle Orton, who’s also got 3 TDs to 1 INT. Unfortunately, he’s about to run a gauntlet of Indy, Tennessee, Baltimore and the Jets in the next four weeks.

-Only two catches for Rams WR Mark Clayton, one of last week’s Hot Pickups, but both of them went for TDs. Clayton had only one other two-TD game in his career, back in 2006 with the Ravens.

-Rookie TE Aaron Hernandez (6 catches, 101 yards, TD) continues to be a big-play threat for the Patriots. The Florida product had a 45-yard catch in Week 1 and a 46-yarder in Week 2 vs. the Jets. How about a 47-yarder this week against Buffalo?

-It’s been a rocky road for rookie RB Ryan Matthews of San Diego – 25 carries for 104 yards (4.2 average) but also 2 fumbles and 1 protective boot after Sunday’s ankle injury. Mike Tolbert stepped in to carry the ball 16 times for 82 yards and 2 TDs against the Jags in Week 2 and figures to hurt Matthews’ value even more, at least in the short term.

-Arian Foster goes from 231 yards rushing in Week 1 to 69 in Week 2. Matt Schaub goes from 107 yards passing in Week 1 to 497 in Week 2. What’s the real deal for these two Texans? Probably somewhere in the middle.

-Brandon Jacobs owners would like to toss their helmets or demand a trade too after their guy’s performance (4 attempts, 8 yards) against the Colts. He’s clearly benchable this week against Tennessee and until further notice.

-I’m loving what I’m seeing out of how the Saints are using Pierre Thomas so far. He touched the ball 26 total times on Monday night, and with Reggie Bush gone for the next six weeks with a broken fibula, Thomas should have even more opportunities.

Photo by The Associated Press

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Week 2 Recap, Part I: How 'bout them Cowboys?

- The Cowboys are a mess. The only ones who should undoubtedly be in your lineup each week right now are Miles Austin and probably Jason WittenTony Romo's got just 2 TDs in two weeks, and Marion Barber and Felix Jones are afterthoughts behind a shaky offensive line.

- Michael Turner was off to a fine start against Arizona (75 yards on 8 carries) before exiting against with a groin injury. Jason Snelling (129 rushing yards, 57 receiving yards, 2 TDs) got to reap the benefits of injuries to turner and second-stringer Jerious Norwood - but I'll give you a dollar if you actually started him.

- Two games and we're still waiting for top-five pick Ray Rice to find the end zone. Problem is, the Ravens have faced two very good Ds in the Jets and Bengals. Figure Rice will have his best day so far in Week 3 vs. Cleveland.

- Todd Haley is messing with us. The Chiefs coach gave Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles an equal number of carries in Week 1, then Jones gets twice as many (22 to Charles' 11) in Week 2. That makes both of those guys a questionable play this week against San Francisco, unfortunately.

- Michael Vick bailed out those who picked him up this week with 284 yards passing and 2 TDs. Unfortunately it's now back to the bench with Kevin Kolb returning to starting duty for the Eagles. You may want to keep Vick on your bench, too, if Kolb should falter.

- Packers TE Jermichael Finley is a big play waiting to happen. Four catches for 103 yards for the big fella on Sunday, and he had one more target than both Greg Jennings and Donald Driver.

- You may want to think twice about starting your RBs against the Steelers defense after they limited both Turner (42 yards) and Chris Johnson (34 yards) in consecutive weeks. The Bucs' Cadillac Williams is up next - good luck with that.

- Just when you were about to declare Brett Favre (1 TD, 4 INTs in 2010) a bust, he gets a crack at the Lions in Week 3.

Photo by The Associated Press

Friday, September 17, 2010

Week 2 Sit 'Em: Young, Crabtree, Best

QB VINCE YOUNG vs. Pittsburgh: VY gets no Heisman Trophy, and he gets no fantasy love here in Week 2. Yes the Titans QB looked good in Week 1, tossing 2 TDs, but he also attempted a mere 17 passes and finished with 154 yards. And Pittsburgh ain’t Oakland.

WR MICHAEL CRABTREE vs. New Orleans: Thought this guy was supposed to be the truth – last week’s stats (2 catches, 12 yards) must have been a misprint then. Seriously though, I still like Crabtree’s long-term potential this year, but you have to avoid him if possible this week, especially against a Saints defense that bottled up Brett Favre and the Vikings’ passing game in the opener.

RB JAHVID BEST vs. Philadelphia: Hey, Best’s 2 TDs in his first-ever NFL game were great, but if you’re expecting the same in Week 2 you’re a sucker. If you were paying attention you noticed he rushed for just 20 yards on 14 carries, a miniscule 1.4 yard average, against the Bears. There’s considerable risk here with Best if the Shaun Hill-led Lions can’t get near the goal line against a usually stout Eagles run D.

Fantasy Focus podcast: Vick's value

Go here for the latest installment of the Fantasy Focus weekly podcast.

This week we're debating the fantasy values of Michael Vick, Brandon Jackson, Legedu Naanee, Reggie Bush, Ahmad Bradshaw and more.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Week 2 Start 'Em: Bradshaw, Bowe, Bryant

- RB AHMAD BRADSHAW at Indianapolis: Bradshaw looked like the best runner in the Giants’ backfield Sunday, rushing 20 times for 76 yards and a TD while Brandon Jacobs mustered just 44 yards on 12 carries. Now Bradshaw gets to face a reeling Colts D that was terrorized by Arian Foster in Week 1.

- WR DWAYNE BOWE at Cleveland: His season debut was forgettable (1 catch, 14 yards), and though he was targeted only five times, that led all Chiefs receivers on what was a rainy Monday night. Bowe is still a dangerous WR1 and K.C.'s best option, and this matchup should help him prove it.

- WR DEZ BRYANT vs. Chicago: The rookie was targeted a team-high 12 times by QB Tony Romo in Week 1. Just so we're clear, that's more than Miles Austin and more than Jason Witten. There's a good chance these boys will tear up Chicago, which makes Bryant a pretty good WR2 or Flex option.

'The League' is back on TV tonight

If you're a fantasy football player and have a sense of humor, you owe it to yourself to check out the comedy "The League," which premieres its second season at 10:30 tonight on FX.

It's a pretty hilarious, somewhat true-to-life look at a bunch of guys competing in a fantasy football league. There's a good chance you'll see someone you recognize from your own league represented on screen, from the guy who traded for Plaxico Burress last season without realizing he was in jail, to the guy who has a personal vendetta against Antonio Gates for knocking him out of the playoffs (and then actually runs into Gates at a day spa, and hilarity ensues).

I have to warn you the show is "iffy" for viewers younger than 16, as my TV likes to remind me, but other than that I highly recommend it.

Worried about Randy Moss?

You drafted Randy Moss in the first round.

Then he goes out and catches 5 balls for 59 yards and 0 TDs in the Pats' Week 1 rout of the Bengals.

OK, you can live with that, I suppose. Not what you want out of your top wideout, but not unforgivable.

Then, after the game, Moss starts yapping about his unhappiness with his contract situation.

Uh oh. If you remember his days as a Raider, you know an unhappy Moss can be an unproductive Moss. The mercurial wideout has said you won't hear another peep out of him on the subject this year, though, and he's happy to be a Patriot and is "still going to play some football."

That's reassuring. Only problem: this week the Pats face the Jets, and that means Moss can expect a heavy dose of his new nemesis, Darrelle Revis. New York plans to match up its lockdown cornerback exclusively with Moss, who was held to a total of 9 catches and 58 yards (and 1 TD) in two trips to Revis Island last year.

In other words, expect another so-so showing from your best wideout this week.

Things should get better after that, especially with a tasty matchup with Buffalo looming in Week 3, but until then it could be a rough couple weeks for Moss supporters.

Photo by The Associated Press

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hot Pickups, Week 2: Jackson, Vick, Clayton


Fourth-year understudy gets his chance with starter Ryan Grant (ankle) lost for the season. Jackson has won his coaches' confidence and should be ready to roll vs. Buffalo.


Assuming Kevin Kolb's concussion keeps him out, Vick's legs (103 rushing yards in Week 1) make him valuable against the Lions in relief.


Former Ravens underachiever had a career-high 10 catches in his 2010 debut, and with Sam Bradford slinging it so much (55 attempts), there should be more.

Week 1 Recap, Part II: Kolb toast?

- So much for Kevin Kolb’s big debut as the official Eagles starting QB (5-for-10, 25 yards, concussion). I’m not ready to declare him a fantasy bust, but hopefully you already recognized the risks with a largely untested QB and have a capable backup ready. If not, it might be time to look Michael Vick’s way.

- Running to the waiver wire to get Jaguars TE Marcedes Lewis? Not so fast. Sure, he had two catches, both for TDs. But this is also the same guy whose career high for TDs in a season is two, and who didn’t catch more than 4 passes in a game last year. Maybe he’s worth a grab, but temper your expectations.

- Sam Bradford sure aired it out in his first pro game (55 attempts). But he connected on just 32 of those (4.6 yards per completion), threw 1 TD and 3 picks, and finished with a 53.1 QB rating. He’s not a fantasy option at this point.

- Good luck making sense of the Seahawks’ backfield rotation. Justin Forsett was the most impressive (7 carries for 43 yards, 6.1 average), but Julius Jones and Leon Washington each had 1 more carry apiece. You’ll want to avoid this situation until it gets a little less murky.

- Remember all the hullabaloo about Redskins TE Fred Davis being a fantasy sleeper this year? Davis wasn't even targeted on Sunday night, but starter Chris Cooley caught 6 passes for 80 yards to lead all Skins receivers. Cooley could be in line for a big year if he stays healthy and the synergy with Donovan McNabb continues.

- OK, maybe LaDainian Tomlinson's got some fantasy life left in him (11 carries, 62 yards). But you have to figure Shonn Greene can't be that miserable again (5 carries, 18 yards, a fumble, a dropped pass and a second-half benching). That wasn't how Gang Green drew it up.

- Legedu Naanee had the nicer stat line Monday among Chargers WRs (5 catches, 110 yards, TD), but it was actually Malcom Floyd (3-48) that was targeted a team-high 12 times to Naanee's eight, including three of San Diego's four shots at the end zone on a 1st-and-goal series to end the game. Read into that what you will.

- Saints RB Pierre Thomas might have tough sledding against the 49ers' D this week, but it was good to see him get the lion's share of the carries (19 of the team's 25 rush attempts) as New Orleans pounded the rock last Thursday against the Vikings. That equaled his season high from last year, which came in Week 4.

Photo by The Associated Press

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Who's buried in Grant's tomb? Brandon Jackson

OK, maybe the title of this blog post is a little misleading. Ryan Grant is not dead. He's just dead to me and the rest of his fantasy owners.

Grant is out for the year, reports, after suffering an ankle injury that didn't look that terrible on Sunday against the Eagles. But it's still a terrible blow for anyone who made Grant their No. 1 RB or took him in the first or second round this year (yours truly included).

The obvious replacement is Brandon Jackson, Grant's backup, who carried the ball 18 times for 63 yards in relief of Grant on Sunday. Jackson does have the backing of head coach Mike McCarthy, who believes Jackson can be an every-down back. The fourth-year RB was actually once considered for the Packers' starting job as a rookie in 2007 before injuries and ineffectiveness eventually caused him to lose out to Grant. But he's improved since then and had time to learn the system.

Jackson's a little smaller than Grant but may be a better receiver (2 receptions for 12 yards on Sunday), and in Green Bay's offense he has a chance to at least be a 1,000-yard rusher. I've never considered Grant a supremely skilled guy to begin with; most of his value came from the consistent number of carries he's received and the benefits of the great passing game around him. Slot Jackson into that role and the production shouldn't suffer all that much, provided Jackson's up to the task.

Photo by The Associated Press

Week 1 Recap, Part I: Foster's for real

A few musings from Week 1's action while I thank the football gods for DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket free preview:

- Welcome to fantasy stardom, Arian Foster (231 yards, 3 TDs). We’re waiting with baited breath to see what you do in Week 2.

- Somebody slow down the C.J. Spiller bandwagon. Seven carries for 6 yards isn’t going to cut it as a fantasy star yet.

- For those who were wondering who would be Mike Martz’s most utilized wideout in Chicago (Devin Hester? Johnny Knox? Devin Aromashodu)?), the surprising answer was his RB, Matt Forte, who led the team with 7 catches for a whopping 151 yards and 2 TDs. The other three combined for 9 receptions.

- Roll on, Chris Johnson (27 carries, 142 yards, 2 TDs).

- Guess Wes Welker is OK – 11 targets, 8 catches, 2 TDs. Those who got him at a discount price this year because of the injury concerns have to be smiling right about now, especially with the Jets up next on the Pats’ schedule. In his last four games vs. Gang Green, the Welk Man has averaged 7 catches for 92 yards.

- Giants WR Hakeem Nicks established himself as a fantasy force with 3 TDs against Carolina. Granted, he only had 4 catches, but Eli Manning targeted him 8 times, as many as Steve Smith.

- Roddy White’s stat line against Pittsburgh was strong (13 catches, 111 yards), but the most eye-opening number was the whopping 23 targets. With those kind of looks he could demolish Arizona this week.

- Could Peyton Hillis be a factor in the Browns’ backfield? Sure, given the fact he had 9 carries (as many as starter Jerome Harrison) and also scored a TD.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Week 1 Sit 'Em: Owens, Mason, Jackson

- TERRELL OWENS at Patriots: T.O. hasn't fared well historically against New England. In four career meetings with the Pats he's averaged just 48 yards a game, his third fewest against any opponent - and he's played 'em all. Sure, this year's Pats' secondary is largely untested, and the Bengals will probably want to feed T.O. enough passes to keep him happy, but I just have a hard time believing he'll be a consistent performer anymore. I'm not getting any popcorn ready this week.

- DERRICK MASON at Jets: T.J. Houshmandzadeh's arrival in Baltimore is bad news for Mason. Now Ravens QB Joe Flacco has two aging possession receivers to choose from. There's a decent chance they'll consistently cancel each other out for fantasy purposes, and that's not even mentioning the arrival of big-ticket WR import Anquan Boldin. Mason has gone from undervalued fantasy commodity to a risky play. Factor in the possibility of Mason spending some time on Revis Island this weekend, and he has to stay on your bench until further notice.

- FRED JACKSON vs. Dolphins: I happen to like Freddie Jax a lot, but this isn't the week to use him. Not with Jackson still nursing a broken hand that cost him a month of the preseason and with rookie C.J. Spiller being named the starter. Jackson might have some fantasy value this year, but this isn't the week.

Photo by The Associated Press

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Week 1 Start 'Em: Harvin, Forte, Wells

It’s time once again for the Fantasy Focus weekly features, Start ‘Em and Sit ‘Em. The concept is pretty simple: Each week, in preparation for that Sunday’s action, I’ll offer three guys I recommend for your starting lineup, then three guys I think you should stay away from.

I’m not going to waste your time, or mine, by telling you to start Peyton Manning and sit Sam Bradford. Duh. Instead I’ll be focusing on borderline guys, backups, flex players – because that’s where fantasy matchups are won or lost.

Just to keep me honest, I’ll also check in on my previous week’s picks so you can track my recommendations and hold me to them. Sound good? Alright, then here we go:

- PERCY HARVIN at Saints: Harvin says his doctors have found the cause of the debilitating migraines that have plagued him for years and put his 2010 season in jeopardy. The Vikings aren't sharing this medical breakthrough with the millions of other migraine sufferers, but I guess we can let that slide if Harvin can contribute to our fantasy teams. The Vikes seem to have no doubt that will be the case, as they traded away kick returner Darius Reynaud to give the job to Harvin. Minnesota would be wise to go to Harvin early and often with Sidney Rice on the shelf. He's an optimal flex play this week.

- MATT FORTE vs. Lions: If only Forte could've played Detroit 16 times last year. The Bears RB only cracked the 100-yard mark twice in an otherwise dismal 2009, but both came against the Lions: 121 yards and a TD in Week 4, 101 yards in Week 17. I'm not totally sold on a Forte comeback in 2010, but this is one week I'm buying.

- BEANIE WELLS vs. Rams: I'm still not sure how coach Ken Whisenhunt envisions splitting up the work this year between Cardinals RBs Beanie and Tim Hightower. But with Derek Anderson piloting the offense (yikes!) I expect to see a heavy workload for Wells. In his two meetings with St. Louis last year, Beanie ran for 74 yards and a TD and 64 yards and a TD, so we could very well see a repeat.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Week 1 Hot Pickups: Williams, Gaffney, Taylor


Former Southern Cal bust is reunited with old coach Pete Carroll and sits atop Seattle’s depth chart with T.J. Houshmandzadeh gone. Grab and observe.


He’s probably not a true NFL No. 1 WR, but he’s the best Denver’s got in Week 1. And he had 14 catches for 213 yards in his last regular season game.

3. RB FRED TAYLOR, Patriots

You never know what New England will do with its backfield, but formerly fragile Fred, age 34, will never be fresher this season than he is right now.

Photo by The Associated Press

What roster cuts mean to you

The finalization of NFL rosters creates a number of new questions for fantasy fans to ponder.

How does T.J. Houshmandzadeh's relocation to Baltimore affect his fantasy value? Is the RB situation in Washington any clearer? Is there a new dark horse RB to watch in Denver?

Get the answers to these burning questions and more in this week's edition of the Herald's Fantasy Focus podcast.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Lamenting a lost league

This will be the first season in at least 8 or 9 years that my dad and I won't be sharing a fantasy football team.

The tradition started back when I was in college. Dad got invited to join a league run by some of his younger colleagues at his office back in New Jersey, where he's a supervisor. Dad's always been a big football fan - a standout prep player in his day and a lifelong Giants fan, he taught me most of what I know about the game, and even a little on how to bet on it - but he wanted my help with picking the team. So we came to an agreement: He'd front the league entry fee, and I'd handle the draft and weekly lineup, acting as a kind of GM. And thus, Ace in the Hole was born.

Now, this was no run-of-the mill fantasy league. First off, the yearly league entry fee has always been at least $100, plus anywhere from $2 to $5 for every transaction. And instead of just a 10-team league, it was actually set up with TWO divisions of 10 teams apiece, with the two division champs ultimately meeting in the fantasy super bowl. The divisions (in reference to Dad, we were placed in the "Old People" division, as opposed to "Young People") each held separate drafts, so the same players could be owned in both. You'd play all the teams in your division during the season, but you'd also face some cross-divisional opponents as well, which always led to some interesting dilemmas. For instance, you might own Priest Holmes but end up facing another team that had Holmes in its starting lineup. Would you start Holmes as well in the hopes of canceling each other out? Or would you risk starting some other running back in his place in the hopes of outscoring the "other" Holmes?

The drafts were always a good time. They were usually held on a Friday night in late August at somebody's house, with the "Young People" set up in folding chairs in the backyard and the "Old People" huddled around a converted poker table inside enjoying the AC. The beer flowed freely from a keg, and some of Central Jersey's finest cuisine, from tomato pie to hoagies to wings, was on the menu.

In our first couple years of competing I was able to attend with Dad, with draft day coming before I went back to college to start the semester. But in subsequent years, when the real world called and I held newspaper jobs that kept me in the office on Friday nights, I had to draft long distance, with Dad attending in person to make the picks and me strategizing with him via cell phone. I spent many a Friday night with one eye on my work on the computer screen (my editors will love reading this) and another on our cheat sheet, with my right earlobe and my cell phone minutes burning up. A couple years ago I even picked the whole team on the phone while on a 7-hour road trip from Columbus, Ga., to Bradenton, much to the delight of the other four people trapped in the minivan with me.

There are a lot of other fond, and not-so-fond, memories that stick out from Ace in the Hole's existence. Like the time we only needed one stinking catch from Shannon Sharpe on a Monday Night Football game to clinch a fantasy playoff spot and didn't get it (we still haven't forgiven him). Or the time Daunte Culpepper's awesome 39-TD season in 2004 led us to the postseason; we had him again in 2005 and his injury-plagued debacle that year destroyed us.

I'll always remember the guys who played well for us (Tiki Barber, Mike Alstott) and the guys who didn't (LaMont Jordan, Matt Forte). And I won't forget the Sunday afternoons when Dad and I would call each other to rejoice over those guys or curse them out. We're both men of few words, so Ace in the Hole always gave us something easy to talk about and helped us stay in touch, especially these past few years with me living in Florida and him back in the Garden State.

Dad decided to pull the plug on Ace in the Hole this year. He wasn't really thrilled about fronting the entry fee, economic times being as they are. Maybe it would have helped if we made the playoffs more than the few times we did over the years and at least won our money back. But also, the sad truth is most of the guys he worked with and made up our league over the years got laid off when Dad's company went through some massive downsizing and outsourcing recently. Much of the enjoyment he got from being in the league came from ragging on those guys during the week around the office, telling them his kid was going to build a championship team that would kick their butts. Now most of those guys aren't around anymore, and a lot of them dropped out of the league too.

I'll still play in other leagues of course, but I don't think it can ever be the same. If you're in one this great, enjoy it. If you share a team with your dad or your son, cherish it while it lasts.

I know I do.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

2010 preview in Sunday's Herald

You can find my 2010 Fantasy Football preview in the sports section of Sunday's edition of the Herald.

Herald readers can also look for my weekly Hot Pickups in print throughout the season.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hard times for Hardesty owners

Montario Hardesty was a popular sleeper entering 2010. Unfortunately, he won't have a chance to awaken this year after suffering an ACL tear that will cost him his rookie season.

Hardesty, taken by the Browns in the second round out of Tennessee, had a chance to be the primary runner for Cleveland this year. Instead, that part is now likely be played by Jerome Harrison, whom you may recall from a blistering three-game run last season. In Weeks 15-17, Harrison rushed for 561 yards and 5 TDs and helped a lot of lucky owners win fantasy championships. Granted, he did his damage in meaningless games against the Chiefs, Raiders and Jaguars - not exactly three defensive powerhouses - and the Browns still felt compelled to go out and spend a high pick on another RB in the spring.

That being said, Harrison has a shot to prove he's not a fluke, and he's definitely someone to target if he hasn't already been claimed in your league. He's a solid receiver, too, and he should get first crack at being the Browns' feature back, with Peyton Hillis and James Davis waiting in the wings if he's not up to the task.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Matt Leinart out, Derek Anderson in?

Matt Leinart's out in Arizona. Derek Anderson's in.

At least that's the early indication from Cardinals camp, with reports surfacing that Leinart is on the trading block after failing to grab the starting QB job.

Leinart wasn't a very intriguing fantasy prospect this year thanks to some poor showings in preseason action and an ongoing clash with head coach Ken Whisenhunt. The former USC party guy has had multiple chances to prove he's the Cardinals' answer at QB but failed. Leinart's only fantasy appeal came from the fact he'd be throwing to All-Pro talent Larry Fitzgerald and a few other solid receivers in Arizona. But with Leinart on the trading block - and facing the possibility of being cut by Saturday - it's looking like he'll end up riding the pine somewhere else to start 2010.

That leads us to the Cardinals' next best option at QB, Anderson, a man last seen getting run out of town in Cleveland. Think about that for a second. CLEVELAND didn't want him! That's how bad Anderson was last year (3 TDs, 10 INTs, 42.1 QB rating) and in 2008 (9 TDs, 8 INTs, 66.5 rating). But it's easy to forget DA had an improbable Pro Bowl season in 2008 with the Browns, when he threw for more than 3,700 yards and 29 TDs with 19 INTs. He also helped WR Braylon Edwards join him on the AFC Pro Bowl squad and led Cleveland to a 10-6 record.

Alright, so he's no Bernie Kosar. Derek Anderson isn't even Ken Anderson. But maybe DA still has a few tricks up his sleeve and could come close to reproducing those '07 stats. Having Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, Early Doucet, Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells around him will help. Do I think you need to run out and add Anderson to your team? Not so fast. The situation in Arizona is still too volatile. But Anderson's somebody to keep tabs on and possibly consider at the first sign of trouble if you're in the market for a fantasy No. 2.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Derrick Ward sent packing

Hope you didn't draft Derrick Ward this year.

At least not if you figured he'd be a factor with the Tampa Bay Bucs, who cut Ward on Tuesday, one year after signing him to a four-year, $17.5 million contract. It's also two years after he rushed for more than 1,000 yards with the New York Giants.

The writing was on the wall for Ward, who failed to impress last year or this preseason and whose release will only cost the Bucs about $3 million this year. He was outplayed in 2010 by Kareem Huggins, a 24-year-old Hofstra product who didn't get a carry last year as a rookie with the Bucs but who should be Cadillac Williams' backup on Week 1. And if you know anything about Caddy's injury history, you know that Huggins is just a snapped tendon away from being Tampa Bay's starting tailback. Both Williams and Huggins should be moved up on your draft board accordingly.

As for Ward, I suppose he's still worth keeping tabs on, depending on where he ends up, as the season progresses. Granted, he's 30 and came to Bucs camp out of shape ... but Ward doesn't have a lot of mileage on him for a back his age after spending much of his career as a practice-squad player/third-stringer. He proved what he can do as a change-of-pace back when paired with Brandon Jacobs in '07. I could see him being a fantasy factor later this season if he lands in the right situation, but for now he's not worth a roster spot in all but the deepest of leagues.

Photo by The Associated Press

Draft recap: How my team looks

We held the 5th annual Newsroom Fantasy League draft over the weekend at Buffalo Wild Wings (highly recommend their draft party deal, by the way). We expanded from 10 to 12 teams this year, and by random draw I ended up with the 10th overall pick. I'm also the defending champion.

We have to carry 2 QBs, 4 RBs, 4 WRs, 2 TEs, 2 Ks and 2 D/ST. Regular scoring rules and a snake draft.

Here's how my squad turned out, with round of selection in parentheses and commentary below:


QB Tony Romo (3)
QB Chad Henne (11)

RB Ryan Grant (2)
RB Felix Jones (4)
RB Marion Barber (6)
RB Donald Brown (8)

WR Randy Moss (1)
WR Hakeem Nicks (5)
WR Mike Wallace (7)
WR Mike Williams (9)

TE Owen Daniels (10)
TE John Carlson (14)

K Ryan Longwell (13)
K Matt Bryant (16)

DEF Steelers (12)
DEF Browns (15)

Chose Randy Moss over Steven Jackson with my first pick at No. 10 overall. The running backs were flying off the board and S-Jax was probably a good value at that point, but I just don't have a good feeling about him this year.

Wasn't planning to have so many Cowboys on my team, but that's the way it worked out. I had to go RB with my second pick (Ryan Grant) and then sweat it out until the third round to grab the last elite QB (Tony Romo) left. That made Felix Jones a little more appealing to me as my second RB, and Marion Barber was the best remaining RB in Round 6. I'm very aware of the Cowboys' offensive struggles this preseason, thank you.

I could tell I was a little higher on my WRs than the rest of the league. I got Hakeem Nicks in the fifth round and Mike Wallace in the seventh, and I believe they can both produce like solid WR2s.

Mike Williams of the Bucs was kind of a sleeper in the ninth round. Ditto for Donald Brown in the eighth as my RB4 - he was the one remaining back that offered the most upside if his team's No. 1 (Joseph Addai) were to miss any time.

A little concerned about my No. 1 TE (Owen Daniels) since he's coming off a torn ACL and he could be questionable for Week 1 of the regular season. But I decided to wait on a TE until the 10th round after some of the others I was targeting (Brent Celek, Zach Miller) were swiped from me. But I still think Daniels offers huge upside if he can put the injury behind him, and I feel like I have a solid, top-15 backup (John Carlson) as insurance.

I have Ryan Longwell as the No. 2 kicker on my board but I believe he was the fifth one taken. Matt Bryant is just a flier since he'll kick in a dome in Atlanta for a decent offense.

Defenses are a crapshoot, but the Steelers are usually a safe pick. I don't particularly like the Browns, but I do like the idea of Josh Cribbs returning kicks.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

8/28 Sleeper of the Day: Arian Foster


I see this guy as an ideal RB3. He's got the potential to be a steal, but if he falls flat on his face it won't absolutely kill you.

Foster, a rookie in 2009, didn't get a carry until mid-December, and it wasn't until a few games later that he really got rolling. Then he couldn't be stopped. He rumbled for 97 yards and a TD on 19 carries in Week 16 against Miami, then sliced up the Patriots for 119 yards and 2 TDs on 20 carries in Week 17.

The Texans had been searching for a ground game all year behind a disappointing rotation of Chris Brown, Ryan Moats and major fantasy bust Steve Slaton, and Foster was arguably their most effective back, the only one to average more than 4 yards a carry. Yet Houston decided to go out and draft big Ben Tate from Auburn in the second round to compete for a starting position.

The good news for Foster is Tate suffered a season-ending ankle injury this preseason, so the job is his to lose. He's shown he can compete at the NFL level, but since those big performances came during the traditional fantasy playoffs and/or championship week last year, a lot of owners might not have noticed them. Couple that with the heavy preseason touting of Tate by a lot of publications, and you a have a recipe for a fantasy sleeper. Start looking for Foster in the fifth or sixth round.

Photo by The Associated Press

Friday, August 27, 2010

8/27 Bust of the Day: Chad Ochocinco

I'm torn over everybody's favorite reality star. On one hand, it's almost hard to take him seriously as a football player because of all the Twittering and self-promoting off the field and silliness on it. He's also 32 years old and appears to be past his prime, when he was catching 90-plus passes a year with regularity.

On the other hand, Ocho did have 72 receptions, 1,047 yards and 9 TDs in 2009, numbers that are nothing to sniff at and which represented a bounce-back year for him. The flip side is that 2008 was a real clunker - 53 catches, 540 yards (10.2 yards a reception) and  just 4 TDs.

So what can we expect this year? Ocho's still the Bengals' No. 1 option, but his supporting cast is much improved with the additions of Terrell Owens, Antonio Bryant and rookie Jordan Shipley. Can QB Carson Palmer keep them all happy? Will Palmer's arm hold up all year? Or will Cincinnati lean on workhorse back Cedric Benson?

My gut tells me Ochocinco still has some life left in him, his rapport with Palmer will still be there, and the addition of T.O., while a potential headache-inducer, will also loosen up some coverages. I think he'll have fantasy value. But I believe people will overpay for him on draft day because of his name and past reputation alone. He's being selected, on average, as the 15th WR off the board in ESPN leagues right now, which sounds OK, but I wouldn't go any higher than that. I could see younger wideouts like Hakeem Nicks, Mike Wallace, Pierre Garcon or Michael Crabtree outperforming him, or at least equaling his best-case-scenario stats, while coming at a lower price.

Ochocinco's a low-end No. 2 for me, and a risky one at that.

National nightmare: Strasburg needs Tommy John surgery

Stephen Strasburg likely needs Tommy John surgery.

That's a terrible blow to the Washington Nationals' franchise pitcher and to the game of baseball, who counted Strasburg as its most electrifying rookie in recent memory.

It's also a killer for fantasy owners who were counting on Strasburg to be their savior during the stretch run of the season. And even if you aren't close to contending for a championship in 2010, you may have at least been looking forward to keeping Strasburg and building your squad around him next year. Unfortunately, TJ surgery comes with at least a 12- to 18-month recovery process, meaning Strasburg won't be available until 2012.

We saw red flags when the phenom had a DL stint a month ago with shoulder inflammation. Then he came back, made three starts, got pulled from Saturday's game against Philadelphia, and the rest is history. If you were able to capitalize on all the hype and trade Strasburg at his peak value, good for you. If not, I'm sorry.

All we're left with is some impressive 2010 stats (5-3, 2.91 ERA, 92 strikeouts in 68 innings) and the hope that he'll someday realize his potential. Tommy John surgery isn't a death sentence for a career - current aces Chris Carpenter, Francisco Liriano and Josh Johnson have all made successful recoveries in recent years. But all those comebacks took time, and that's what Strasburg needs right now.

Good luck, kid.

Photo by The Associated Press

2010 TE Rankings

The tight end position is deeper than ever. Long gone are the days of praying for Shannon Sharpe or getting stuck with somebody who spends most of his time blocking.

Sure, you had Dallas Clark (100 catches, 1,106 yards) and Vernon Davis (13 TDs) putting up WR-caliber numbers last year, but if you miss out on the top couple guys, all is not lost. Check this out: In 2009, eight TEs had 800 or more yards, and 11 had six or more TDs. In 2008, there were five and five, respectively. In 2007? Four and seven. Feel me?

The TE ranks are loaded, so you should adjust your draft strategy accordingly. You can grab one of the top-tier guys starting around Round 5 if the big WRs are off the board, or you can wait out a run on TEs not suffer that much of a drop-off.

As you peruse my rankings you'll notice a few things:

I put young guns Jermichael Finley and Brent Celek in the top five, at the expense of stalwarts like Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten. I just think they both have more upside, but I'd be content with just about everyone in the top 11 as my starter.

It'll be interesting to see how the Chris Cooley/Fred Davis pass distribution works out with Donovan McNabb taking over as QB in Washington. Those guys could hurt each other, or one could emerge as a top-10 fantasy TE. We'll just have to wait and see.

You'll notice I'm not too high on Greg Olsen, who I tabbed as one of my busts a few weeks back. Mike Martz won't do any favors for his fantasy value.

Remember when Jeremy Shockey was among the cream of the crop? If the guy could stay off the trainer's table, he might still be there. But even if he can't play 16 games, he'll get enough good looks in New Orleans to be a solid fantasy backup.

Looking for a really deep sleeper? How about Jared Cook in Tennessee? He had a rough rookie year (9 catches, ankle injury, residence in coaches' doghouse), but he's 6-foot-5 and 242 pounds with 4.4 speed, for gosh sakes, he's only got Bo Scaife ahead of him on the Titans depth chart. He could do something.

1. Antonio Gates
2. Dallas Clark
3. Jermichael Finley
4. Brent Celek
5. Vernon Davis
6. Tony Gonzalez
7. Jason Witten
8. Zach Miller
9. Visanthe Shiancoe
10. Kellen Winslow II
11. Owen Daniels
12. Chris Cooley
13. Heath Miller
14. John Carlson
15. Kevin Boss
16. Greg Olsen
17. Dustin Keller
18. Jeremy Shockey
19. Tony Scheffler
20. Fred Davis
21. Anthony Fasano
22. Todd Heap
23. Marcedes Lewis
24. Ben Watson
25. Bo Scaife
26. Jermaine Gresham
27. Brandon Pettigrew
28. Aaron Hernandez
29. Jared Cook
30. Shawn Nelson

Photo by The Associated Press

Thursday, August 26, 2010

8/26 Sleeper of the Day: Mike Bell


Here's an offseason move that flew under the radar. Bell signed a 1-year, $1.7 million deal with Philly after compiling 654 yards and 5 TDs for the Super Bowl champion Saints. He began the year as a feature back in New Orleans, running for 143 yards on 28 carries in Week 1, but after that he settled into a rotation with Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia last year, Brian Westbrook got hurt, rookie LeSean McCoy had some growing pains, and the Eagles were forced to give fullback Leonard Weaver a career-high 70 carries in an attempt to solve their short-yardage woes.

Fast-forward a year and Westbrook's gone, McCoy's the No. 1 back and Bell was brought in to back him up and handle some of those short-yardage/goal-line duties. With McCoy still getting his feet wet in the NFL and largely untested Kevin Kolb taking over at QB, I can foresee Bell getting a good amount of work this year, especially in the red zone. At 220 pounds he's a power runner and a good complement to McCoy's skill set, and though the Eagles aren't a run-heavy team, Bell will have his fair share of opportunity. He'll make a sneaky good fill-out-your-roster RB at the end of your draft and a great insurance policy for McCoy owners.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

8/25 Bust of the Day: C.J. Spiller


Fantasy geeks are going ga-ga over Spiller this preseason, and I can't say I blame them. If you've seen the speedster play at Clemson, caught the preseason highlight in the video above, or heard the news about fellow Buffalo backs Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson being injured, there's much to be excited about.

I don't doubt that Spiller has the talent to be a future NFL star, and I believe he'll be a worthwhile fantasy choice this year. I'm just cautioning that the rookie deserves to be an RB3 at the start of the year, no higher. Yes he's got a chance to be Buffalo's No. 1 back in Week 1 - but it's Buffalo! The offensive line was terrible last year and the QB play was subpar, and they've done next to nothing to improve either in 2010. The versatile Jackson did manage a 1,000-yard rushing total last year with the Bills, but is Spiller ready to take on that kind of workhorse role? He was originally slotted in as a "hybrid" player, a change-of-pace back, and he may still play that role when Jackson returns somewhere by Week 2. But I question whether new Bills head man Chan Gailey (who hasn't been an NFL head coach since 1999) even knows what he's doing here and will be able to maximize Spiller's potential.

Again, I believe in the talent, but I can't elevate Spiller to being a top-20 RB yet. I like him as a No. 3, but even then I'd be more inclined to take another rookie runner, Jahvid Best, a Spiller clone who has a better supporting cast around him in Detroit.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

2010 RB Rankings


This year's top four are more or less no-brainers for me, but then you'll spot a few surprises. I have Frank Gore of the run-heavy 49ers, the rejuvenated Michael Turner and the always dangerous Steven Jackson in the next tier of runners. I do have my annual concerns about S-Jax, who still has a weak supporting cast around him.

Next up are a few feature backs I expect to see a ton of carries, Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Grant, and a surprise at No. 10, Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs. The breakout star of the second half of 2009 is going a lot later than many of the other backs on this list. but I believe he has the talent to produce like a top-10 RB.

I have Arian Foster ranked higher than many other experts, but with the season-ending injury to Ben Tate and the Texans' glaring need for a feature back, I think the rookie has a real opportunity in 2010.

You may also be surprised to see Michael Bush ahead of Reggie Bush, and I don't know if that says more about how much I like Michael or how much I dislike Reggie this year. Either way, I think they're best suited to be No. 4 fantasy backs in most leagues. Move Reggie up a bit in PPR leagues, of course.

I'm pretty high on Ahmad Bradshaw this year because I like his talent, I believe he's healthy, and I wouldn't be shocked to see him outperform Brandon Jacobs this year for the Giants.

I don't believe the Cardinals will be stubborn enough to favor Tim Hightower over Beanie Wells for the majority of 2010, and I've ranked the two players accordingly.

Looking for a deep, deep sleeper? The camp reports haven't been great and he's battling a shoulder injury, but I'm a fan of Steelers rookie Jonathan Dwyer. It might take him a year, but I think he can evolve into a good goal-line back. Stay tuned.

1. Chris Johnson
2. Adrian Peterson
3. Maurice Jones-Drew
4. Ray Rice
5. Frank Gore
6. Michael Turner
7. Steven Jackson
8. Rashard Mendenhall
9. Ryan Grant
10. Jamaal Charles
11. Cedric Benson
12. DeAngelo Williams
13. Ryan Matthews
14. Shonn Greene
15. Beanie Wells
16. Knowshon Moreno
17. Pierre Thomas
18. Jonathan Stewart
19. Felix Jones
20. Ronnie Brown
21. LeSean McCoy
22. Joseph Addai
23. Arian Foster
24. Brandon Jacobs
25. Justin Forsett
26. Matt Forte
27. Ricky Williams
28. Jahvid Best
29. C.J. Spiller
30. Marion Barber
31. Ahmad Bradshaw
32. Jerome Harrison
33. Clinton Portis
34. Michael Bush
35. Reggie Bush
36. Donald Brown
37. Fred Jackson
38. Cadillac Williams
39. Thomas Jones
40. LaDainian Tomlinson
41. Darren Sproles
42. Darren McFadden
43. Montario Hardesty
44. Tim Hightower
45. Steve Slaton
46. Chester Taylor
47. Laurence Maroney
48. Willis McGahee
49. Correll Buckhalter
50. Kevin Smith
51. Anthony Dixon
52. Mike Bell
53. Fred Taylor
54. Rashad Jennings
55. Toby Gerhart
56. Larry Johnson
57. Tashard Choice
58. Bernard Scott
59. Leon Washington
60. Jonathan Dwyer

8/24 Sleeper of the Day: Mike Williams


The Bucs are desperate for some playmakers. Why not this kid?

Williams has been a revelation in training camp so far, starring in two preseason games and already capturing a starting job at split end. He’s easily been the most impressive Bucs wideout in a group that includes vets Michael Clayton, Maurice Stovall, Reggie Brown and Sammie Stroughter, plus fellow Class of 2010 draftee Arrelious Benn, who was taken a whole two rounds earlier than fourth-rounder Williams. The Syracuse product - not to be confused with the bust from USC who's attempting a comeback in Seattle - fell that far in April mostly because of character issues, but the Bucs have faith he’ll be a solid citizen in Tampa Bay. He’s rewarded them by looking like a star in the making and a possible go-to guy for franchise QB Josh Freeman.

Let’s not kid ourselves here, of course: The Bucs will have their struggles this season, and it’s always risky to count on a rookie wide receiver. Williams would also lose most of his value if Freeman’s thumb injury doesn’t heal quickly. But when you’re digging for that WR4 or WR5 at the tail end of your draft, this 6-2, 204-pounder is the kind of intriguing option that should catch your eye. I placed him at a generous 40th in my WR rankings for 2010, which would make him one of the last receivers taken in a 10-team league.

Monday, August 23, 2010

2010 WR Rankings


There are a lot of familiar names in the top 10, but after that things really get interesting. Old standbys like Terrell Owens and Roy Williams have been replaced in the top 20 by some exciting newcomers (Michael Crabtree, Hakeem Nicks, Mike Wallace to name three) who look like they could be fantasy No. 1s in the near future.

There's also a lot of uncertainty because of injury (Wes Welker), suspension (Santonio Holmes) or contract disputes (Vincent Jackson). You'll want to remain flexible in the case of late breaking reports on any of these players before your draft.

Unfortunately, we may have to wait for the regular season to see how the distribution of passes plays out as teams like Chicago (Johnny Knox/Devin Hester/Devin Aromashodu/Earl Bennett), Oakland (Louis Murphy/Darrius Heyward-Bey/Chaz Schilens), Arizona (Larry Fitzgerald/Steve Breaston/Early Doucet) and Denver (Demaryius Thomas/Jabar Gaffney/Eddie Royal) figure to have new looks on offense. There are likely to be breakout WRs lurking in all those situations, but your task is to find them in the later rounds. Good luck.

1. Andre Johnson
2. Randy Moss
3. Calvin Johnson
4. Larry Fitzgerald
5. Roddy White
6. Reggie Wayne
7. Greg Jennings
8. DeSean Jackson
9. Brandon Marshall
10. Marques Colston
11. Steve Smith (Panthers)
12. Anquan Boldin
13. Sidney Rice
14. Steve Smith (Giants)
15. Michael Crabtree
16. Dwayne Bowe
17. Chad Ochocinco
18. Hakeem Nicks
19. Mike Wallace
20. Mike Sims-Walker
21. Hines Ward
22. Pierre Garcon
23. Wes Welker
24. Vincent Jackson
25. Robert Meachem
26. Donald Driver
27. Santana Moss
28. Kenny Britt
29. Jerricho Cotchery
30. Derrick Mason
31. Dez Bryant
32. TJ Houshmandzadeh
33. Jeremy Maclin
34. Johnny Knox
35. Steve Breaston
36. Lee Evans
37. Percy Harvin
38. Braylon Edwards
39. Santonio Holmes
40. Mike Williams (Bucs)
41. Early Doucet
42. Terrell Owens
43. Louis Murphy
44. Devin Hester
45. Nate Burleson
46. Kevin Walter
47. Malcolm Floyd
48. Golden Tate
49. Chaz Schilens
50. Mohamed Massaqoi
51. Demaryious Thomas
52. Donnie Avery
53. Bernard Berrian
54. Mario Manningham
55. Devery Henderson
56. Anthony Gonzalez
57. Jabar Gaffney
58. Chris Chambers
59. Eddie Royal
60. Laurent Robinson
61. Arrelious Benn
62. Dexter McCluster
63. Devin Thomas
64. Austin Collie
65. Jacoby Jones
66. Lance Moore
67. Jacoby Jones
68. Joey Galloway
69. Antonio Bryant
70. Nate Washington

8/23 Bust of the Day: Larry Fitzgerald


I don't doubt Fitzgerald's talent. I'm not saying he won't be a No. 1 fantasy wideout this season. But to quote just about every character in the Star Wars movies, I have a bad feeling about this.

Maybe it's the fact Matt Leinart is taking over the reins as Cards QB from the prolific Kurt Warner. Maybe it's the sprained right knee Fitzgerald's already dealing with this preseason. Maybe it's the residue of the Madden Curse that never really struck him last year (but cost co-cover boy Troy Polamalu most of his season). You know what they say about karma ...

But seriously, there are plenty of reasons to worry about Fitzgerald this year. He's not going to have Anquan Boldin around anymore to put pressure on opposing secondaries. And you may remember Fitzgerald's last subpar season (946 yards, 6 TDs in 13 games in 2006) just happened to be the year Arizona was trying to break in Leinart as their starting QB. Now, Leinart is a better QB today then he was as a rookie (presumably) - but can he replace Warner's production? Will more targets come Fitzgerald's way with Boldin out of the picture, or will Arizona just lean more heavily on Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower in the running game?

That's an awful lot of question marks for a WR who I've seen go in the first round in some mock drafts. I still don't have a problem making Fitzgerald my No. 1 WR ... but I'm not sure I'd take him over Andre Johnson or Randy Moss, or even Calvin Johnson. I'm labeling him a bust because I don't think he's the shoe-in for 1,300 yards or double-digit TDs many are tabbing him to be.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

8/22 Sleeper of the Day: Aaron Hernandez


One of Tim Tebow's favorite targets in college, Hernandez now has the chance to be Tom Brady's boy in New England. The 2010 fourth-rounder won the Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end in his junior season for the Gators and offers the Pats a much-needed offensive threat at the position.

Now, anyone who's had a New England player not named Brady or Randy Moss on their fantasy squad in the past few seasons can tell you the team's offensive philosophy can be maddening. They alter their gameplans so much from week to week and utilize such a variety of players in many different ways that it's hard to see any kind of consistency. Consider this year's stable of TEs: Hernandez, fellow rookie Rob Gronkowski and former fantasy star Alge Crumpler have lined up all over the field this preseason for the Pats (split out wide or in the slot as receivers; as wing backs and fullbacks; plus at the traditional TE spot) and will all be vying for catches this year.

For those reasons, none of those guys is going to be a weekly fantasy contributor you can count on in 2010, but I'd be willing to bet they all have their moments. And I bet Hernandez, the most physically gifted receiver of the three, will have the most moments that are fantasy relevant. He already has seven catches for 72 yards and a TD through two preseason games and has started both contests. I predict a few big games out of the rookie when the matchups dictate, and he could be a sneaky No. 2 TE pick at the end of 12-team drafts. At the very least he'll be someone to watch on the waiver wire.

Photo by The Associated Press

Friday, August 20, 2010

8/20 Bust of the Day: Mike Sims-Walker


Sims-Walker's emergence in 2009 was one of those pleasant surprises that pops up every year in fantasy. The second-year receiver was an afterthought at the start of the year but finished with 869 yards and 7 TDs, proving to be one of the season's best waiver wire pickups.

Skip ahead to 2010 and Sims-Walker is being touted as a solid WR2 and a breakout candidate according to the third-year receiver theory. But before we get carried away, let's think this through, shall we?

MSW wasn't a big-time prospect when he was taken in the third round of the 2007 draft out of UCF - not that that's a prerequisite for fantasy success, but it does have some bearing. He was able to take a lot of people by surprise last year but won't have that advantage now that there's a full season of tape on him for opponents to study. The Jags are also still searching for another credible WR to line up opposite MSW. Second-year pro Mike Thomas might be that man - reports are that he's actually outplayed Sims-Walker at times this camp, another troublesome development - but the jury's still out. And Jacksonville QB David Garrard also has to be considered a question mark as he hasn't shown much improvement since becoming a full-time starter.

A closer look at Sims-Walker's numbers last year reveals he had just three 100-yard games (against Arizona, St. Louis and Kansas City), and he trailed off badly in the second half as he was plagued by nagging injuries. He also had a puzzling habit of playing much better at home than on the road, averaging 5.5 catches, 80 yards and .75 TDs a game in the J-A-X and 3.2 catches, 37 yards and .16 TDs per road game.

In short, I'm just not sold on this guy as a No. 2 fantasy receiver I can count on, and I think there are others with more upside.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

2010 QB Rankings

A surprise at the top: Aaron Rodgers is the No. 1 QB in my preseason rankings.

Drew Brees got more pub last year - winning a Super Bowl will do that - but it was actually Rodgers who had more pass attempts and more yards than the Saints star. The Other A-Rod threw 30 TDs, four fewer than Brees, but he also rushed for 5 TDs to Brees' 2, and he tossed four fewer INTs than New Orleans' leader.

Rodgers isn't sneaking up on anyone like last year, and he certainly won't come as cheaply in your fantasy draft. But he's younger than Brees, is a more dangerous rusher and has his full complement of weapons back this year. Plus, he put up last year's excellent numbers despite taking a league-high 50 sacks, a number that's sure to drop with the healthy returns of veteran tackles Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton and the addition of first-rounder Bryan Bulaga.

Some other notes:

Tom Brady falls out of the top 5, mostly because I like some of the league's younger QBs better. Brady's still a bona fide fantasy starter, but I just can't pencil him into the top 3 like I used to anymore.

Brett Favre's value is tough to predict, but it's all about his health, I have to believe that ankle will be healed by Week 1 since he's already joined Vikings camp. Last year's miraculous numbers will be hard to duplicate, but he should still be a top-10 guy if he can last through the season.

I put Kevin Kolb just outside the top-10, which means he's not a starter in your typical 10-team league, but it would not shock me to see him finish there.

1. Aaron Rodgers
2. Drew Brees
3. Peyton Manning
4. Matt Schaub
5. Tony Romo
6. Tom Brady
7. Philip Rivers
8. Brett Favre
9. Jay Cutler
10. Joe Flacco
11. Kevin Kolb
12. Eli Manning
13. Matt Ryan
14. Donovan McNabb
15. Ben Roethlisberger
16. Matthew Stafford
17. Chad Henne
18. Carson Palmer
19. Vince Young
20. Matt Cassel
21. Matt Leinart
22. David Garrard
23. Alex Smith
24. Jason Campbell
25. Mark Sanchez
26. Josh Freeman
27. Kyle Orton
28. Matt Hasselbeck
29. Matt Moore
30. Trent Edwards
31. Michael Vick
32. Sam Bradford
33. Charlie Whitehurst
34. Jake Delhomme
35. Seneca Wallace
36. Byron Leftwich
37. Tavaris Jackson
38. Brady Quinn
39. Derek Anderson
40. Ryan Fitzpatrick

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

8/18 Sleeper of the Day: Michael Bush


Darren McFadden and Justin Fargas might have been the more familiar names occupying Oakland's backfield, but it was Bush who ended up leading the Silver & Black in rushing last year.

Granted, it was a paltry 589 rushing yards, but still - Bush averaged a more-than-respectable 4.8 yards a carry while getting nothing close to regular playing time in 2009. The Raiders would be wise to let Bush, a tough, inside-the-tackles runner with speed, play a bigger role this year. And all indications are they will do just that, with Fargas getting released in the offseason and the disappointing McFadden nursing injuries again this preseason.

We're probably looking at a timeshare here, unfortunately, with the quicker McFadden serving as a complement to the 247-pound Bush. But with Fargas out of the way I could see Bush getting a few more goal-line looks, and with Jason Campbell under center instead of a JaMarcus Russell/Charlie Frye combo the Raiders should at least have a more respectable passing game to keep opponents from stacking the box. I like Bush as an underrated RB4 who might be able to come close to 800 or 900 yards and 5 or 6 TDs.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

8/17 Bust of the Day: Clinton Portis


I’m sorry, but I’m not buying some of the hype surrounding Portis this offseason. I know he’s reunited with his old coach, Mike Shanahan, who coaxed two 1,500-yard seasons out of him at the start of his career back in Denver. I know Shanny’s worked wonders for running backs over the years. And I know Portis showed up to camp in shape and serious about football for a change (no Choo Choo sightings so far).

That’s all well and good, but the fact remains Portis is a 29-year-old back with more than 2,100 carries in his career, and he’s coming off a severe concussion problem that limited him to eight games last year. There’s a reason Denver brought in Larry Johnson, Willie Parker and former Shanahan draft pick Ryan Torain over the offseason, and it wasn’t simply to motivate Portis. Shanahan is a pioneer in the running-back-by-committee system that’s all the rage around the NFL these days, and I fully expect him to utilize a RB rotation in 2010. Portis may be No. 1 on Washington’s depth chart, but I think he’ll struggle to reach 1,000 yards this season with a limited workload. I’d cap his value at the RB3 level to begin the season.

Monday, August 16, 2010

8/16 Sleeper of the Day: Chad Henne


The young man from Michigan was nearly a top-20 QB last year, and that was in just 14 games (13 starts) and with essentially no receivers. It was an up-and-down year, to be sure - he topped 300 yards passing three times but also threw for 140 or fewer three times. But when you consider it was basically Henne's first year (he played sparingly as a rookie in 2008 - it wasn't all that bad.

Fast forward a year, and Miami has raised expectations for its QB. And make no mistake, this is Henne's team now, with former starter Chad Pennington relegated to possible third-string duties. Henne's the man in 2010, and as such the Dolphins have given him a shiny new toy in the form of star WR Brandon Marshall. The once-disgruntled Bronco gives the Miami WR corps an immediate upgrade and makes Henne that much more fantasy relevant. You can pencil in Marshall for at least 100 catches (101, 104 and 102 the past three seasons) and 1,000 yards, which will boost Henne's stats. Brian Hartline and Davone Bess are decent complementary pieces, and the Dolphins figure to have a strong running game their young QB can lean on.

I'm not ready to make any Dan Marino comparisons just yet, but I can foresee Henne being at least a serviceable QB2 in 2010, which places him solidly in the sleeper category.

Photo by The Associated Press

Sunday, August 15, 2010

8/15 Bust of the Day: Tom Brady

QB TOM BRADY, Patriots

Before you flip out and call me a crazy Brady hater (or worse), please read this blog carefully. I'm not predicting Tom Terrific's days as a fantasy force are over. I'm not saying he's washed up or not worth drafting. I'm simply stating my belief that Brady will fail to deliver on the general consensus of expectations for him this year, which is how I define a bust.

But first, the positives: Brady's currently playing for a new contract, as is his top receiver, the always dangerous Randy Moss. Standout slot man Wes Welker is progressing nicely from reconstructive knee surgery. The Pats still don't have a go-to running back, which means plenty of pass attempts. And Brady's more than a year removed from a devastating knee injury of his own.

Now check this out: I'm seeing Brady being touted as a definite-top-5/possibly-top-3/maybe-top-overall QB in many fantasy circles, but a lot of that is still based on memories of his record-breaking, pre-injury 2007 season. Take away that 50-TD anomaly, and he's never thrown for more than 28 scores in a season. Granted, he equaled that number last year and also had his second-most passing yards (4,398) - yet he still finished as the seventh-rated fantasy QB in standard-scoring leagues.

Other QBs have closed the gap on old stalwarts Brady and Peyton Manning - not just new standard-bearer Drew Brees but also young upstarts like Aaron Rodgers, Matt Schaub, Philip Rivers and Tony Romo. Brady still might be a safe fantasy pick, but it depends where you're picking him too, because there are others available who might have more upside or be even safer. Remember, Brady's 33 years old (and so is Moss for that matter) and is going to eventually decline. Nobody wants to spend a first- or second-round pick on him the year that happens.

That's all I'm sayin'.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

8/14 Sleeper of the Day: Mike Wallace


You can insert your own 60 Minutes joke here, but this kid is no laughing matter. Bet you didn’t know his 19.4 yards per catch was tops among all WRs last year with 35 catches or more – and that was with Santonio Holmes still on the team. Wallace is assured of being a starter this year opposite Hines Ward and will serve as the offense’s primary deep threat after he made Holmes expendable during the offseason. He totaled 756 yards and scored 6 TDs as a rookie and has a chance to bump those numbers up to 1,000 yards and double-digit scores in 2010 as he takes up Holmes’ slack.

There is some risk with drafting Wallace - the absence of QB Ben Roethlisberger for as many as six games at the start of the season, Ward’s continued presence and the Steelers’ desire to return to their rushing roots. However, I still believe he has the skills and the opportunity to finish the year in the top 20 among fantasy receivers and is a future WR1 even though he’s currently being drafted as a WR3. There’s big potential here, and it's only a matter of time before he realizes it. Tick, tick, tick, tick ...

Podcast time: Prep for your draft

Another Fantasy Focus podcast is available for your listening pleasure. This time we're offering up six simple steps to keep in mind as you begin prepping for your football draft. From mastering the tier system to mock drafting your brains out, we've got you covered.

Friday, August 13, 2010

8/13 Bust of the Day: Joseph Addai


There's a lot to like about Addai. He's a trusted and important part of the Colts offense. He scored 13 total TDs last year. He compiled 1,164 rushing and receiving yards in 2009. And he's playing for a new contract in 2010.

That said, why am I dissing Addai as a potential bust? Allow me to explain.

Addai's 13 TDs last year helped cover up the fact he averaged only 3.8 yards a carry, the second year in a row that number was under 4. Whether that's because the Colts offensive line is better equipped to protect Peyton Manning than to run block these days, it's hard to say. But Addai hasn't displayed a whole lot of big-play ability either - he hasn't had a run longer than 23 yards since his rookie season in 2006.

And I'll tell you who does have big-play ability: second-year back Donald Brown, Addai's backup. Brown's rookie season didn't go as well as I and some other prognositcators envisioned (281 rushing yards, 3.6 a carry, 3 TDs in 11 games). But he's flashed the explosiveness Addai has lacked - his 45-yard run in Week 7 against St. Louis last year is longer than any in Addai's career. Now that the former first-rounder has had more than a year to master the Colts' complicated offense, expect to see him take on a bigger role this year and siphon some carries from Addai. Besides, with Addai being eligible for free agency next season, Indy will probably want to figure out if their investment has what it takes to be a feature back.

I'm not saying Addai doesn't have value. His versatility and his role in the Colts' passing attack are still appealing. I just don't think he's a top-20 back this year as many are predicting.

Photo by The Associated Press

Thursday, August 12, 2010

8/12 Sleeper of the Day: Kevin Kolb


There’s a reason the Eagles let Donovan McNabb go. This guy is it.

Philly’s QB of the future gets his shot with McNabb having been unceremoniously run out of town. He’ll be under a ton of pressure, of course (Philly and pressure are almost synonymous when it comes to sports), but the Eagles are betting he’s ready after a three-year apprenticeship. Other than the high expectations of Iggles fans, Kolb steps into an almost ideal situation.

The Texas Tech product has spent three seasons learning Andy Reid’s West Coast offense, and in two fill-in starts in 2009 he proved he's got a handle on it. He torched the Saints in Week 2, throwing for 391 yards and two 2Ds on 31-for-51 passing (but also tossed two INTs), then followed that with a 24-for-34, 327-yard, two-TD obliteration of the Chiefs. In doing so he became the first NFL QB to throw for 300 or more yards in his first two career starts.

Here's why I like Kolb this year, aside from his obvious skills: he's playing for a pass-happy team. Reid's Eagles have been among the top 10 in pass attempts in each of the past six seasons and could skew even more in that direction this year with the departure of RB Brian Westbrook. And to top it off, Kolb has some terrific young skill players to throw to in WRs DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin and emerging TE Brent Celek. I think you'll see Reid show confidence in Kolb airing it out on a weekly basis, giving him a chance to finish as a top-10 fantasy QB. There's some risk here, but not as much as you might think, and there could be a great payoff for those who scoop Kolb up after some bigger names are off the board.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

8/11 Bust of the Day: Dez Bryant

Dez Bryant has already made quite a name for himself, and he hasn’t played a down in the NFL yet.

Bryant, a decorated wide receiver at Oklahoma State, had to sit out most of his junior season because he lied to the NCAA about meeting with Deion Sanders. Then, after being selected in the first round of April’s NFL Draft by the Cowboys, he made waves a few weeks ago when he refused to carry the shoulder pads of veteran WR Roy Williams, violating a longstanding rookie tradition.

In the long run we may look back and laugh at such nonsense when Bryant morphs into the next Michael Irvin, as many observers are predicting for the youngster. The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder certainly has the size and the ball skills Irvin displayed coming out of The U, and I have no doubt that, if healthy, Bryant will supplant the underwhelming Williams sooner or later and crack Dallas’ starting lineup. But his health is a concern, as he’s currently nursing a sprained ankle suffered July 30, an injury originally expected to keep him sidelined for 4-6 weeks. And that means he’s already going to be behind the curve, always a dangerous proposition for rookie WRs, who tend to not make huge impacts to begin with.

It’s not that I don’t think Bryant will turn out to be an exceptional pro long-term or have any value short-term. It’s just that I think people (especially Cowboys fans) will recognize the name and the skill set and tend to overvalue him on draft day. Dallas QB Tony Romo has a lot of mouths to feed (Williams, Miles Austin, Jason Witten, Felix Jones ...), so a projection of, say, 700-800 yards and 5 TDs for Bryant in his first season is more than fair. But there are a lot of receivers who can put up those numbers, and many are likely to go later in your draft than a big name like Bryant. He’s promising, but a fantasy No. 3 at best right now.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

8/10 Sleeper of the Day: Dexter McCluster


Think of McCluster as Percy Harvin Lite. He won’t make quite as much of an impact as the versatile Viking did as a rookie last year, but he’ll be valuable nonetheless and won’t cost as much as Harvin did on draft day.

McCluster, Kansas City’s second-round draft pick in April, was an outstanding performer at Ole Miss, where he lined up all over the field and amassed 1,700 all-purpose yards and scored 11 total TDs as a senior. Area high school football followers may remember McCluster as a standout at Largo High, where he was named the St. Petersburg Times’ All-Suncoast Player of the Year in 2005.

Listed at only 5-foot-9 and 172 pounds, McCluster’s even smaller than Harvin, but he’s got just as much speed, and he’s no weakling, having put up 20 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press at the NFL Combine. The Chiefs, who’ve sorely lacked offensive playmakers in recent years, have visions of McCluster as a slot receiver, scat back, wildcat runner and return man. It’s hard to pin down his exact role, but coach Todd Haley has lined up him all over the field so far this preseason.

I can’t see McCluster challenging Jamaal Charles or Thomas Jones for too many carries out of the backfield or taking away too many receptions from Dwayne Bowe or Chris Chambers, but I think Kansas City will definitely try to get him a fair share of touches. As always with hybrid players of his ilk (Harvin, Reggie Bush, Darren Sproles) it’ll be difficult to count on McCluster for consistent production. But I like him as No. 4 WR who you might get a big week out of here or there when you need to sub him in or use him as your flex player. Look for him late in your draft.

Monday, August 9, 2010

8/9 Bust of the Day: TJ Houshmandzadeh


TJ’s first year in the Pacific Northwest didn’t go quite as well as we envisioned – at least not compared to the previous three in Cincinnati. Houshmandzadeh had his fewest catches (79) since 2005 and his fewest TDs (3) since 2002 during his debut season with the Seahawks. That’s not the kind of production drop you want to see in a receiver who will be turning 33 this season, especially not a guy who had sports hernia surgery in the offseason.

Now, you can trace a lot of Houshmandzadeh’s problems of last season back to a shaky offensive line, the lack of a ground game and poor quarterback play from a banged-up Matt Hasselbeck and Seneca Wallace. But Seattle took significant steps to rectify those issues in the offseason, with new coach Pete Carroll bringing in esteemed assistant coach Alex Gibbs to revamp the offensive line and drafting left tackle Russell Okung and WR Golden Tate. On paper, the Seattle offense should be better, which can only help TJ’s numbers.

But ultimately, he’s still a 33-year-old receiver on the downside of his career. He’s still coming off a sports hernia, an injury that can resurface. He’s still got a creaky Hasselbeck (or untested new backup Charlie Whitehurst) throwing him the ball. There’s fantasy value here if you can get Houshmandzadeh as your third receiver, but not enough for me to stick my neck out and make him my No. 2 WR.

Photo by The Associated Press