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JUMbotron: It Can Happen. It's Fantasy Football
John U. Miller
August 25, 2010
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By now many of you have already assembled a fantasy team (or two, or five), and boy it looks like a winner, right?  The next step is to post it on a message board and ask total strangers to judge your roster. A few nice people will post the obligatory, “Hey, nice work, I especially love your RBs!” But you’ll also get scud-bombed with remarks like, “You took Brees? LOL he’s on the Madden cover, good luck!” or “Was your goal to get laughed out of the room?” And my favorite, “Unless this is a 16-team league that team blows.” If you’re smart you’ll ignore it and wait for the season to prove you right. Don’t waste your time trying to argue your case like this poor sap in 2008. He never knew what hit him.

Hilarious! Did that troll really say, “Did you just stop caring halfway through the draft?” I did a Red Bull spit-take on that one. But here’s the really funny part. That poor sap probably won his league. Look at that roster: Drew Brees, Matt Forte, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald… plus Rashard Mendenhall and Aaron Rodgers on his bench. It’s a 2008 Fantasy All-Star Team. They all went off! And the troll? Well, the joke’s on him: “While Brees is good, he’s certainly middle of the road.” Ouch!

Look, I’m going to save all of you a lot of time and energy. August fantasy talk is cheap. No one really knows who has a good or bad fantasy team yet. Injuries and bad luck are the equalizers, and you will have your share of both. Draft your guys and wait for week 1. Sure, if Maurice Jones-Drew and Tony Romo do their jobs you’re going to compete – probably make the playoffs – but even then you don’t know. Your RB2, Matt Forte, could disappoint again. Just because he’s a “value” pick in the fourth round doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed to bounce back (Besides, Chester Taylor only has 1,028 career carries and he’s a former 1,000-yard rusher just like Forte). Can’t believe you “stole” Miles Austin at 3.9? Well, what if he’s a one-year wonder? You could be cursing Austin’s name by Halloween.

I remember Panthers WR Patrick Jeffers absolutely exploding one year for 1,082 yards and 12 TDs out of nowhere. It was his fourth season and almost identical to Austin’s sudden eruption. The next year I thought I “stole” Jeffers in the sixth round. He got hurt. By age 29 Jeffers was out of the league with a bum knee and a medical malpractice lawsuit against the Panthers’ team doctor. Crazy, unpredictable turn of events – and I still don’t know which was more of a fluke, his breakout or his breakdown. Back to Miles Austin. You’re thinking, “C’mon Austin was just plain beasting it last year. He’s a lock top-5 WR. No way he fails.” Sorry, it can happen.

Back in August 2008 I told everyone that Chris Johnson was the second coming. Look, I’m privy to some Nashville insider whispers here and there, but that’s precisely why I shared my thoughts. Besides that, I just had a gut feeling that he was special... special in a Barry-like way. So I tooted my horn, taking my share of criticism early (“Dude, LenDale’s coming off a 1,000-yard season, it’s a 60-40 split with he and CJ”) and trying not to get into arguments. It was hard to stay quiet. I was watching a live experts draft that August and one guy (who I’ve met, pretty knowledgeable) passed on Johnson in the seventh round for Chris Cooley. Then CJ came back around at 8.2 and he still went with Devin Hester instead. When that expert posted his draft recap on his site’s forums I considered taking an alias and going in to grate his cheese. Another time in 2008 an ESPN dude suggested Johnson would be “a really productive Leon Washington type with 8-10 carries, 3-4 receptions, and of course punt/kick returns.” But you know what? He could have been right. I could have been wrong. August fantasy talk is cheap. Anyway, Johnson usually went in the sixth or seventh round but I took him in the fourth. 294 touches later he’s the 10th-ranked fantasy RB. Crazy, unpredictable turn of events. CJ’s not the second coming, but now you could say he’s the sixth coming… of the holy 2,000-yard club. Up is down and down is up. It can happen.

I want to expand on the unforeseeable nature of this hobby. You may not remember but 2007 was one of the bigger roller-coaster years in FF. The injury bug seemed like a swarm of 13-year cicadas, especially amongst the running backs. I went back and culled the average top-30 preseason RB rankings from ’07 off ESPN and SI.com. Look at how they finished!

2007 Fantasy Running Backs - It Can Happen. It's Fantasy Football

Ranked Running Back Finished Comments
1 L. Tomlinson 1  He just wasn't going to let you down. LT was 1, 2, or 3 for 6 straight seasons.
2 Steven Jackson 14  He missed October but then came back strong. Some people had dropped him!
3 Larry Johnson 40  LJ had been the #2 fantasy RB two straight years and the world was his oyster.
4 Frank Gore 9  Gore lost OC Norv Turner and two starting offensive linemen but still fought hard.
5 Shaun Alexander 35  People thought they had a "steal" when they drafted him #5. Gulp. It can happen.
6 Brian Westbrook 2  BW proved his 2006 breakout wasn't a fluke with 2104 total yds and 12 TDs.
7 Willie Parker 16  The beginning of the end. Rarely do you see the wheels come off so quickly.
8 Rudi Johnson 47  Rudi wasn't even the best RB on his own team anymore. Kenny Watson was.
9 Travis Henry 39  I got Henry/Marvin Harrison on the turn. Henry was Henry, Harrison got hurt.
10 L. Maroney 25  It's hard to believe Maroney was once a 1st round pick, but he sure was.
11 Joseph Addai 5  A league-leading 60 red zone carries, 15 total TDs. I passed on him for Bush.
12 Reggie Bush 24  Bush's touches would drop for the 2nd year and have kept dropping each year.
13 Ronnie Brown 27  How we forget, Brown was the #1 fantasy RB when he got injured that year.
14 Clinton Portis 4  This would be Portis' 4th and final top-5 fantasy season. All downhill from here.
15 Cedric Benson 36  We had high hopes when Thomas Jones left. Benson just wasn't ready yet.
16 Willis McGahee 8  McGahee was actually a huge value pick with a career-high 1438 total yards.
17 M. Jones-Drew 13  MJD has been one of the most reliable players of the decade, knock on wood.
18 Edgerrin James 11  James got the preseason Bust tag on many FF sites but actually offered value.
19 Brandon Jacobs 21  A knee injury in week 1 got him dropped in some leagues but he finished strong.
20 Deuce McAllister 110  Well, I got him at 4.7 that year and danced a jig. Later I threw up on the rug.
21 Adrian Peterson 3  Rookie year. How many of you skipped him? Is there an AP out there in '10?
22 Jamal Lewis 6  Lewis had one of his best seasons at age 28 as a 5th round fantasy pick.
23 Marshawn Lynch 12  Very promising rookie year with 1115 yds & 7 TDs. What the hell happened?
24 Thomas Jones 22  This was the year he only scored 1 TD. Of course he was on my team.
25 Cadillac Williams 71  The first of two torn patellar tendons. How the hell is the guy still playing?
26 DeAngelo Williams 31  He was an afterthought back then. Now he's one of the 3 most talented RBs.
27 Jerious Norwood 43  This was back when Atlanta should have been giving Norwood the ball… a lot.
28 Marion Barber 7  One of the best 5th round fantasy picks in the modern era. 975 yds, 12 TDs.
29 Ahman Green 60  It was sad to see a former three-time top-4 fantasy RB struggling to hit holes.
30 Julius Jones 44  Dallas would give up on him after 2007. Seattle will soon give up on him too.

It was fantasy bloodshed. I was in an experts league with a guy who drafted these guys out of the 8th slot in 2007: RB Willie Parker, RB Rudi Johnson, WR Marvin Harrison, QB Donovan McNabb, WR Javon Walker, & TE Jeremy Shockey. Let me tell you, we were all in agreement that he had the dark horse team. Guess what. Not one of those first six picks finished in the top-10 at their position. Not one. It can happen.

You get my point? Post-draft talk is worthless. All you can do is load up a roster and wait for battle. But even when the season starts there’s more craziness.

Every year some unknown wideout goes buck-wild in week 1 and the fantasy waiver wire blows up like a Verizon cell tower. In 2005 it was Frisman Jackson with eight catches for 128 yards & one TD. In leagues where you have free-agent “bidding bucks” I knew a guy who spent $62 of his season’s $100 allotment on Jackson, who caught maybe 10 passes the rest of the season! Last year it was Louis Murphy with four catches for 87 yards & one TD. C’mon man, a Raider receiver? Murphy had one more meaningful fantasy game weeks later but by then he was back on the scrap heap.

However, the fantasy pendulum can swing in the other direction too. Remember how Anquan Boldin was introduced to our hobby? Rookie year, 2003, Boldin busts off 10 catches for 217 yards and two TDs in the opener. Needless to say he was on a mission. Boldin set a NFL rookie record with 101 catches (which will never be broken) and then became the fastest ever to reach 400 receptions a few years later. It can happen.

Let’s go back to RBs because they tend to be more volatile, plus, it’s just more fun to remember them – good or bad. Looking above you can see that 10 of the top-20 drafted RBs weren’t in the top-20 at the end of the season. That’s half, folks. Half of the big dogs pooped on the sidewalk. You may be asking, “Well, if all these RBs are busts then who’s scoring the fantasy points?” Late-round picks, handcuffs, waiver-wire pickups, the out-of-nowhere guys. The players you don’t see when you’re rating someone’s team on a message board. There are one or two RBs every year that come in around midseason and spark a fantasy team like charcoal. I call them “Match Lights.”

Here are 10 big Match Lights that helped rewrite fantasy destiny in most leagues over the past decade: Michael Pittman, Stacey Mack, William Green, Kevan Barlow, Domanick Davis (my best waiver-wire grab ever), Kevin Jones, Reuben Droughns, Julius Jones, Sam Gado, Mike Bell, Earnest Graham, Justin Forsett, and Jamaal Charles. That’s just off the top of my head. There are more. Of course some are bigger than others – Julius Jones (’04) and Jamaal Charles (’09) put up especially sick numbers – but they all have one thing in common. They were mostly afterthoughts in August. Later they would become very important…

If I’ve seen it once I’ve seen it a million times. It’s late October, the second-to-last place team in your league is taking a beating. Sitting at 2-5, Chuck’s the guy who boldly went RB-RB-RB-WR-QB, landing Jackson-Mendenhall-Wells-Boldin-Kolb. On draft day he was actually applauded for his strategy and deemed the league’s dark horse. But now he’s getting it from all sides. His WRs are obviously pedestrian. Jackson’s back to the usual weekly game-time decisions with a groin pull, Mendenhall’s been suspended for PEDs, Wells still only gets 14 carries per game. To make matters worse, he had quickly traded Mendenhall for Welker to try and bolster his WRs – but Welker’s knee starts swelling again. And his old friend Mendenhall returns from suspension to go on a five-game 100-yard streak with seven TDs. The league message board is an unfriendly, merciless place for him: “Hey Chuck, maybe this is Inception and you’re in limbo – tell you what, this Sunday my team will give you a nice “kick” in the face to help get you out.” Mean stuff.

Then in week 8 our lovable loser gets first priority on add/drops… yet again. On Tuesday morning he unknowingly picks up a soon-to-be fantasy demon. Since the Jets put Shonn Greene on IR (knock on wood, it’s just hypothetical) and Tomlinson’s averaging 3.1 per carry, Chuck puts in a waiver claim for Joe McKnight. The ex-USC star halfback’s been getting a little action lately. Last week McKnight carried 6 times for 42 yards and caught 4 passes for 30 yards. Going into week 9 the rumor is McKnight’s getting first-team reps in practice. Chuck’s still hearing it from his buddies (“LOL who is Joe McKnight?”) but he starts him anyway. It’s NYJ at Detroit.

Match Light. McKnight carries 17 times for 91 yards & 2 TDs, with 5 catches for 34 yards… Chuck gets a win. In week 10 the Jets are at Cleveland. McKnight goes off again. Now Steven Jackson’s healthy after the bye too. Kevin Kolb is on a major hot streak. Chuck’s clicking. His team goes Va-Whoosh! in everyone’s face. Now he’s using ALL CAPS on the message board, taunting each owner after he whips them during a torrid 8-1 streak. Wins it all. It can happen.

By the way, isn’t DeAngelo Williams the biggest Match Light of them all? Sure he had the most yards from scrimmage in NCAA history (7,573) and went in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft – but for two years he sort of languished in a committee with DeShaun Foster. He was a fantasy flex but nothing more. Then in 2008 someone in your league handcuffed Williams to stud rookie Jonathan Stewart, who was a third or fourth-rounder. Right? The Huddle’s own John Tuvey did just that and I suspect it turned out pretty well! No one saw it coming (except John of course, hee-hee) but D.W. eviscerated the league for 1,515 yards and 20 TDs. A mind-boggling 17 of those scores in the last 10 games! Match Light. It can happen.

So when your big draft is over and the ranting starts, try to remember to bite your lip. You know it can go either way. Don’t laugh at the dude who went WR-WR, jumped Matt Schaub in the third, then ended up with Brandon Jacobs and Felix Jones as his starting RBs. What if Felix pulls a Chris Johnson? And maybe one of those two WRs is Andre Johnson and he and Schaub go silly-nuts together. Then Jacobs stays healthy and scores 17 TDs. And maybe, just maybe, your boy snags Steelers RB Isaac Redman off the shelf in week 10 and… well, you know. It can happen. It’s fantasy football.

JUM

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