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JUMbotron: Last Minute Fantasy Thoughts
John U. Miller
September 5, 2010
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Once the Vikings and Saints kick off it’s going to be a wild ride, no turning back.  No more projections, predictions, or prognostications.  It’s all decided on the football field.  I feel like we’ve boarded a rollercoaster and the safety restraints just dropped across our shoulders.  We’re beginning that slow familiar climb – clack, clack, clack – chugging up a steep 200-foot hill until we reach the apex…   

Before our fate is relinquished to gravity and sickening G-forces here’s some last-minute confessions and thoughts about Fantasy Football 2010.  Let me get this stuff off my chest in case we don’t make it off this thing in one piece.  Hold on tight, here we go…

1. I dropped Adrian Peterson to No. 3 on my personal RB rankings.

This was weeks ago, the second Sidney Rice’s hip surgery was revealed.  I’ve got Chris Johnson #1, Frank Gore #2, and then Peterson.  Honestly, in non-PPR I’ve got Peterson at #4 behind Michael Turner.  And it’s not just Rice’s absence (you know he’s out for more than six games) that tipped the scales for me. It’s Peterson’s offensive line. 

Vikings center John Sullivan has a lingering calf injury and hasn’t practiced or played at all.  He’s not going to be ready for September, much less the opener.  Even when he does return, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell admits, “The issue would probably be his stamina, his strength…”  In the meantime the Vikings are shuffling linemen around wildly, trying to find a blueprint that works.  Backup center rookie Jon Cooper “can be bullied by nose tackles” according to ESPN 1500’s Tom Pelissero, so Brad Childress might move right guard Anthony Herrera to center.  That leaves rookie Chris DeGeare at right guard.  One of Minnesota’s most unsung players, OL Artis Hicks, used to play all five positions but he’s a Redskin now. 

This is highly irregular for a team considered to be a Super Bowl contender.  The Vikings O-line is already one of the five youngest units in the league and the starting five-man group is totally up in the air.

In my 20+ years of fantasy football experience I’ve learned to follow the offensive lines closely.  They’ll lead you to the truth.  Teams with a healthy, cohesive O-line full of veterans tend to produce better fantasy performances.  Minnesota has a nice nucleus with Steve Hutchinson and Bryant McKinnie but it’s a collective effort that makes O-lines elite.  The Titans, Jets, Saints… they don’t have any of these issues.

Last year the Vikings ranked 31st in the league in rushing attempts stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage.  Peterson had to fight for everything he got.  Have things improved up front?  I’m not saying Peterson’s a bust, just that I’d rather have a couple other guys.

2. I think people are completely underestimating Lions RB Jahvid Best.  

Let me rephrase: There’s finally some well-deserved fantasy hype but it still seems tempered somewhat.  Me, I’m doing cartwheels in anticipation of what Best can do.  When training camp started it was “Best could be a sneaky flex” -- then in mid-August it grew to “He could be the perfect RB3.”  Then after his 51-yard run on August 28th it became “Ok, he’s for real but will he get enough touches to start for me every week?”

I’m flabberghasted.  Sometimes fantasy ‘ballers analyze this stuff right into the ground.  To me, Best was already a RB2 in 12-team leagues before the pre-season even started.  Now?  He’s feasibly a RB1 in 12-team leagues if you went WR-WR-QB.  Now that we (and the Lions) have seen he’s obviously a giant cat in cleats, do you really think they’re going to ration his touches?  Jahvid Best in a split with Kevin Smith’s reconstructed ACL?  Yeah, that’s the way to challenge in the NFC North!

Imagine you’re Lions GM Martin Mayhew.  You and coach Jim Schwartz took Best in the first round with the intention of “keeping him fresh” (?).  Your organization has lost 111 of its last 144 games, the worst nine-season franchise run since FDR was President, and you want Best to “share the load” (?).  Look, I don’t think he’ll consistently get 20 carries every week.  Best is still only 195 lbs.  But sometimes we fantasy geeks view any runner under 210 lbs as a Pee-Wee halfback.  Believe me, Best is a big boy and he will be fine.  You can’t predict injuries so why try?  Sure, Best had a nasty concussion last year at Cal… because of that I bet he’ll never try another 8-foot moon leap into the end zone.      

One fantasy site has Best projected at 238 touches.  That’s carries plus catches, folks.  In other words, that’s like 12 carries and 3 catches per game.  I can hear Schwartz now: “Yeah, 12 carries and 3 catches, that’s about right… no need to wear the young man out.”  C’mon.  Kevin Smith is a tough cookie but now he runs like a piano’s on his back.  Maurice Morris sucks.  Jahvid Best will get as much as he can handle, possibly 320 total touches.     

3. I’m worried that Felix Jones is sort of emulating Jerious Norwood.

It’s a fact that Felix’s career has begun on a parallel line with Norwood’s first two years.

Now wait, it’s not a criticism of Felix whatsoever.  He’s a supreme talent, a guy who breaks off big chunks of yardage and scares the hell out of defensive coordinators.  But so is (was) Norwood.  In his first two seasons Norwood averaged a silly 6.7 yards every time he touched the ball, run or catch.  Felix is averaging 6.5 after two seasons.  Both came out of the brutally tough SEC West as rookies – Norwood at Mississippi State, Felix at Arkansas – and both measured about 6’0”/200 (though Jones recently added 15 lbs).  They are both considered among the 10 best SEC running backs of the decade

And just like Norwood, Felix has fantasy owners cursing his coaches and demanding that he get the ball more.  A lot more.  Though at this point fantasy owners have stopped whining, they’re just flat assuming that Felix will get a much bigger workload.  His lofty fifth-round ADP reflects this assumption.  Hmmm… sounds a lot like Norwood in 2007.  Norwood was picked in the fifth or sixth round just three years ago.  Now he’s on the scrap heap with other ex-speed merchants like Trung Canidate and Michael Bennett. 

It’s not manifest destiny that Felix will become Norwood, and if you truly compare the two physically there are differences.  Norwood was just a plant-and-go sprinter who went from point A to point B on a vapor trail.  Amazing runner, but only one trick in his bag.  Felix is a better all-around back with the same crazy speed – plus better vision, balance and instinct.  Expert analyst Brian Baldinger thinks Felix will be a star and Baldy’s right way more than he’s wrong.  One anonymous NFL personnel guy recently told The Sporting News that Felix was one of the 10 best running backs in the league -- ahead of Jonathan Stewart and Rashard Mendenhall.  Surely the Cowboys plan to get him involved early and often this season.

4. The Broncos could offer big fantasy value in their passing game.

Because they’re going to be behind a lot and they won’t run the ball as effectively.  Josh McDaniels knows this and he’s prepared to pitch it around.  Did you know the Broncos quietly ranked ninth in pass attempts last year (558)?  It’s an especially high number when you consider Denver’s 6-0 start where they led at halftime in five of those wins. 

There won’t be any 6-0 start this year and grinding out leads on the ground will rarely be an option.  Denver lost their best defensive player DE Elvis Dumervil for the year.  DBs Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins are 32 and 36, respectively.  Free-agent DT Jamal Williams (Chargers) was brought in but he’s in his 13th season.  Another free agent, DE Jarvis Green (Patriots), pocketed $7 million guaranteed then got released.  The Raiders and Chiefs offenses are catching up to them too.  

Then there’s the running game.  Knowshon Moreno tore his hamstring on August 1 and didn’t even begin jogging until August 18.   All the work and conditioning he built up in mini-camps is pretty much wasted.  I have to be honest, that hammy thing scares the hell out of me.   What if Moreno is rushing back too soon?   Correll Buckhalter’s no model of health either and you know he’ll miss three or four games.  After that who’s left?  Lance Ball?  Cecil Sapp?  Oh, and did I mention the Alex Gibbs/Rick Dennison zone-blocking scheme is gone?  New OL coach Clancy Barone scrapped it.  The old Shanahan RB Factory closed it doors and nobody noticed it. 

McDaniels will gladly put the ball in Kyle Orton’s hands and try to win it through the air.  Orton’s ready too.  Did you know last year he tied John Elway’s franchise record of 10 games with a 90+ QB rating?  If not for the ankle injury hindering him in weeks 10 & 11 he would have broken it.  Orton is also a red-zone ace: his career 13-to-1 ratio of TDs to INTs inside the 20-yard line ranks 5th among active QBs. 

Fantasy-wise, Denver & Orton remind me of Detroit & Kitna years ago.  Both are similar quarterbacks, regarded highly by league insiders more than fantasy people, throwing to a group of solid-but-not sexy wideouts.  Compare Orton’s guys to Kitna, who had a young Roy Williams (Eddie Royal?), Mike Furrey (Jabar Gaffney?), and Shaun McDonald (Brandon Lloyd?).  No tight end in sight, just like Denver today – so all the balls fly downfield to those three guys.  Fast forward to the end of the season and the QB’s gone wild with 4,200 yards and 23 TDs while spray-painting “Fantasy Value” on his receivers’ helmets, as well as his own.  It’s your classic, scrappy .500 team with high-scoring games everywhere.  If rookie WRs Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker get healthy and contribute anything then the sky’s the limit for Orton.

5. Aaron Rodgers and his pass-catchers could post dizzying numbers.

I usually go zig when the hype machine zags too much in one direction, but there’s just too much pointing to Rodger’s dominance. This is only his third season as a starter, too – which leads me to believe the Rodgers Show could last for years if they keep restocking talent.  He’s posted 67 total TDs (pass or run) the last two seasons and has only gone back-to-back games without 2+ TDs once.  You could literally feel Rodgers getting hotter last year. Green Bay averaged 31 points per game in the season’s second half before blasting 45 more against Arizona in the wild-card game.

In 53 drop-backs this preseason Rodgers wasn’t sacked once.  I don’t even recall an opponent touching him except to shake his hand in pre-game warm-ups. 

Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley?  Fuhgeddaboudit.  Just wait until they hit their prime.

Donald Driver?  Okay, he’s 35 and had surgery on both knees in January, but until he actually starts to decline I’m not going to predict it.  FF’ers want to shove Driver out of the picture so badly – just like Reggie Wayne, who’s also been labeled a “bust” pick by some sites this year.  Why?  Just because they’ve played 10 or 11 years?  Randy Moss has played 12 years and people can’t wait to pick him off the first-round turn!  

If Driver does hit the wall for some reason there’s James Jones and Jordy Nelson.  You get the feeling either could be a Pro-Bowler if they played 50+ snaps. 

Somehow Rodgers drew the fourth-easiest schedule for fantasy QBs based on last year’s defensive stats.  That can’t be a bad thing.  Winter weather?  Rodgers plays indoor opponents at Minnesota, Atlanta and Detroit in weeks 11, 12, and 14.  Even when it’s Frozen Tundra time Rodgers doesn’t care.  Last December on a Monday night in Lambeau, 14-degree wind chill, he iced down Baltimore with 293 total yards and three TDs.

I wanted Rodgers, Driver, Jennings, or Finley on my team but came away with none of them.  If you got any two of those four it might be an absolute rodeo, big fun in 2010.

6. I almost forgot… My 2010 Fantasy and NFL Predictions.

2010 Fantasy MVP:  Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (runner-up RB Chris Johnson)
Best “Value” Pick:  NYG RB Ahmad Bradshaw (runner-up QB Joe Flacco)
Best "Sleeper" Pick:  Steelers WR Mike Wallace (runner-up WR Jeremy Maclin)
Best "Surprise" Pick:  Raiders RB D. McFadden (runner-up QB Matt Moore)
1st-2nd Rd. Bust:  Steelers RB R. Mendenhall (runner-up WR Brandon Marshall)
3rd-4th Rd. Bust:  Eagles RB LeSean McCoy (runner-up QB Philip Rivers)

2010 NFL MVP:  Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (runner-up QB Drew Brees)
Offensive POY:  Titans RB Chris Johnson (runner-up RB Frank Gore)
Defensive POY:  Ravens LB Terrell Suggs (runner-up LB Demarcus Ware)
Comeback POY: Bengals QB Carson Palmer (runner-up WR Braylon Edwards)
Offensive ROY:  Lions RB Jahvid Best (runner-up WR Dez Bryant)
Defensive ROY:  Cards LB Daryl Washington (runner-up DT Ndamukong Suh)
NFC Championship:  Packers vs. Cowboys
AFC Championship:  Ravens vs. Bengals
Super Bowl XLV:  Ravens over Packers


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