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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

JUMbotron: Friday Huddle, Vol. 3
John U. Miller
September 24, 2010
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Let’s get right to the numbers and play a little Jahvid Best game.  As you know, Best ripped up the Eagles and became the first rookie in NFL history to record 75+ rush yards, 150+ receiving yards, and three scores in a single game.  Total yards & TDs after two games: 268 & 5.  That’s Madden stuff.  I know it’s early but let’s extrapolate Best’s stats over 16 games and rank him among the all-time rookies if he maintained this rate:

Top-20 Rookie RBs Year Total Yds Total TDs
Eric Dickerson 1984 2212 20
Jahvid Best (projected) 2010 2144 40
Edgerrin James 1999 2139 17
Billy Sims 1980 1924 16
Ottis Anderson 1979 1913 10
Clinton Portis 2002 1872 17
Marshall Faulk 1994 1804 12
George Rogers 1981 1800 13
Curt Warner 1983 1774 14
Barry Sanders 1989 1752 14
Curtis Martin 1995 1748 15
Matt Forte 2008 1715 12
Jerome Bettis 1993 1673 7
Jamal Lewis 2000 1660 6
Steve Slaton 2008 1659 10
Mike Anderson 2000 1656 15
Fred Taylor 1998 1644 17
Adrian Peterson 2007 1609 13
L. Tomlinson 2001 1603 10
Herschel Walker 1986 1574 14

Of course Best will ease off this torrid pace and won’t score anywhere near 40 TDs.  The fun part of these lists is reminiscing about the greats, and picturing a new one.  It would be cool if Best squeezed his way into the group just ahead of #10 Barry Sanders.  That would give the Detroit Lions three of the 10 greatest rookie RBs in history, along with Billy Sims!     

Great tidbit off Kevin Seifert’s ESPN NFC North Blog:  “Give props to Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice, who managed a chaotic situation Sunday (at Dallas) with a heady adjustment.  (LT Chris) Williams suffered a hamstring injury in the opening series and was replaced by veteran Kevin Shaffer, who was immediately called for two holding penalties.  Jay Cutler, meanwhile, took two sacks during all this. Tice never blinked.  For Chicago’s third offensive series, Tice moved Shaffer from left tackle to the right side, and moved Frank Omiyale from his customary right side to the left.  The Cowboys never sacked Cutler again and he threw three touchdown passes.”

Bucs RBs after two games:
Cadillac Williams – 49 rushes, 126 yds, 3 rec (off 7 targets), 31 yds.
Earnest Graham – 9 rushes, 11 yds, 6 rec (off 7 targets), 41 yds, 1 TD.

It’s a totally dominant workload for Cadillac, except for two things.  One, he isn’t doing squat:  He ranks 47th in the league with a paltry 2.57 average per carry.  Plus, after two games Cadillac has seven combined red-zone carries & targets, while Graham has pinched five of his own.  It might be time to “sell high” after Cadillac scores his first touchdown.  Graham is quietly becoming a McGahee-type inside the 20, and besides, Tampa won’t have that many red-zone trips in the first place.

Prediction A: ____ ____ will claim the ____ starting RB job by Week 9 and be a solid fantasy factor down the stretch.
Prediction B: ____ ____ will be traded for a third-round pick, giving the ____ three third-round picks in the 2011 draft.

I’ll fill in those blanks in just a minute.

One thing I used to do too much in this profession was make sure readers knew when I was right about a prediction or ranking… but after 10 years in the business it’s just not prudent anymore.  Too many “wrongs” hidden beneath the “rights”… because for every sleeper I nailed there’s another horrid pick that could be thrown in my face.  If I spent five minutes beating my chest about pimping Jahvid Best all summer, someone’s sure as heck gonna remind me about the LeSean McCoy bust call.  I said Darren McFadden would be the Best Surprise pick, but I also had Matt Moore as the runner-up Surprise.  See?

However, I need to toot my horn real quick.  Actually, it’s more like a slam on the ESPN, CBS and NFL Network analysts.  Here we go.  Last week I listened to radio shows, read fantasy articles & blogs, watched Playbook with Sterling Sharpe, all the usual outlets as I collected information for my columns.  The subject I was focusing on was the loss of Matthew Stafford for Detroit and all its implications, real or fantasy.  Here’s what I heard (paraphrasing, but not loosely):

--“Shaun Hill doesn’t have the arm strength to get the ball downfield.”
--“The whole Lions offense could struggle badly without Stafford in there.”
--“I’d bench Calvin Johnson in a heartbeat, this is very bad news for him.”

On and on, all week long.  You would have thought Stafford was Peyton Manning and Hill was Curtis Painter.  I gnashed my teeth.  I squinted and mumbled, “What?”  Meanwhile here’s what I calmly told you while the sky was falling all around us.

--“Shaun Hill can get it done for Detroit.  He doesn’t freak out.”
--“I watched him closely in San Fran and he makes plays.”
--“He accounted for 2+ TDs (pass or run) in 10 of his last 17 full games.”
--“I just thought you Megatron-owners should hear that.”

What really got to me was the “Shaun Hill has a weak arm” thing.  How do you truly know that, people?  I’m not an NFL scout or personnel director, but how the heck does Hill start in college, NFL Europe, and the NFL – always succeeding to some degree at each level – if he has a noodle arm?  Didn’t Hill lead the Maryland Terrapins to the Orange Bowl and a #10 BCS ranking?   Finally, what has Matthew Stafford achieved that made him so crucial to Calvin Johnson that you would bench the 6’5” receiver?  No knock on Stafford, he’s going to be great one day, but a healthy Megatron scores no matter who plays QB.  In 2008 he was the #3 fantasy WR despite catching passes from Jon Kitna, Dan Orlovsky and Daunte Culpepper! 

To my untrained eye, Shaun Hill offers a lovely, professional-level football throw.  It seems to travel through the air rather crisply. 

Lindsay Jones of the Denver Post is one of my favorite new reporters.  She was all over the Moreno hamstring in August, even tweeting how he looked running out of the tunnel before an exhibition game.  Lindsay does what I try to do with the JUMbotron… which is my professional motto:  Tell them something they don’t know.  In the last two weeks she’s told us:

1.  The Broncos had 15 players of 300+ lbs on their opening day roster, second only to Dallas in the entire NFL.
2.  In Week 1 Kyle Orton led the league with five completions of 25+ yards (She hasn’t mentioned Week 2 yet but I counted: Orton had three more, plus completions of 20 and 21 yards to Demaryius Thomas).
3.  In Week 1 Orton’s top three WRs – Royal, Gaffney, Lloyd – accounted for 84% of his passing yards which was the highest WR ratio in the league.  In Week 2 Orton’s top three WRs – Thomas, Royal, Lloyd – accounted for 70% of his passing yards, the fourth highest WR ratio that week.  

At one point in Week 2, around 3:40 pm ET, we had seven different backup QBs on the field – Max Hall, Seneca Wallace, Michael Vick, Shaun Hill, Charlie Batch, Kerry Collins, and Jimmy Clausen – and there were only nine football games in action!

Green Bay and Detroit are tied for the league lead with 10 sacks each.  Yep, Detroit.  The Jim Schwartz Effect.  He used to coach up the Titans defense into rabid dogs, and he brought in ex-Titan Kyle Vanden Bosch to help “quarterback” the D-line.  As for Green Bay, it’s just the Clay Matthews Show.  Here’s the sack breakdown for each team:

Green Bay Sack Detroit Sack
LB Clay Matthews 6.0 DT Ndamukong Suh 2.0
DE Cullen Jenkins 2.0 DE Turk McBride 2.0
NT B.J. Raji 1.0 DE Kyle Vanden Bosch 1.5
LB Frank Zombo 1.0 DT Sammie Lee Hill 1.5
  DT Corey Williams 1.0
S Louis Delmas 1.0
S C.C. Brown 1.0

Detroit is at Minnesota in week 3, then at Green Bay in week 4.  Green Bay is at Chicago this Monday night in week 3. 

Could Detroit beat Minnesota?  Why not?  Their defensive line is “bringing it” according to Sterling Sharpe.  “Let's not forget Michael Vick was sacked six times by the Detroit Lions, and he probably ran away from six to eight more sacks,” he added.  Oh, and my boy Shaun Hill (how many times can I write his name today)?  Last year he led the 49ers into the Metrodome and threw for 195 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 94.6 QB rating – only to get beat 27-24 by that miracle pass from Brett Favre to Greg Lewis.    

Reggie Bush has averaged seven targets per game since he entered the league.  Those seven targets will now be redistributed into WR hands, namely Marques Colston and Devery Henderson.  Jeremy Shockey could see an uptick.  Pierre Thomas shouldn’t be asked to handle many more touches or he will collapse – but Bush’s injury does push Thomas into “must-start” territory in 12-team leagues.

Robert Meachem’s snaps dropped from 25 in Week 1 to only 14 last week, per Jeff Duncan of the Times-Picayune.  Henderson’s went from 41 to 52.  Saints insiders keep whispering about Meachem’s off-season toe surgery.  The thing is, I saw Meachem play live at the Saints/Titans exhibition and he was running fast and effortlessly.  On Monday night he whizzed past a 49ers DB on a fly route but Drew Brees misfired.  I have to say, if Lance Moore steps up (in Bush’s absence) vs. Atlanta and Meachem still remains invisible, drop him.

Have you noticed there’s an influx of new blood at the WR position?  It’s not just rookies either, it’s second-year players and reborn journeymen stepping up too.  All of these guys have roles in 12- and 14-team fantasy leagues:

WRs Rookies, 2nd-Yr, Journeymen Rec-Yds TDs FP
1 Hakeem Nicks 6-113 4 35
2 Austin Collie 15-188 2 31
3 Mark Clayton 12-143 2 26
4 Nate Washington 7-122 2 24
5 Mike Williams 7-84 2 20
6 Jeremy Maclin 7-64 2 20
7 Louis Murphy 10-119 1 18
8 Demaryius Thomas (1 gm) 8-97 1 16
9 Johnny Knox 7-138 0 14
10 Mike Thomas 10-132 0 13
11 Jordan Shipley 10-124 0 12
12 Dez Bryant 10-108 0 11

Let’s chat up this Dirty Dozen:

1. Hakeem Nicks – He appears to be the budding superstar, the dominant talent of the bunch.  We ignore his lack of breakaway speed because he simply toys with smaller DBs.  If Nicks is truly “Eli’s Marvin Harrison” then the sky’s the limit.  Nicks also gets a thumbs-up for playing on a bad ankle and fighting for a garbage TD against the Colts.

2. Austin Collie – Now that Anthony Gonzalez is out for most of the season and Pierre Garcon is in la niche it appears Collie is the Colts No. 2 WR.  That’s a good gig.  Technically he’s still the No. 3 target because of Dallas Clark, but hey, don’t get greedy.

3. Mark Clayton – I scoffed when he was traded to the Rams, figuring St. Louis was a good place for that horse to be put down.  Well, FF is about opportunities and Clayton’s had 21 targets.  That’s tied for eighth in the league among all positions -- RB, WR or TE.   

4. Nate Washington – Tennessee isn’t a hotbed for WR stats but Nate seems to be etched in OC Mike Heimerdinger’s playbook, especially in scoring territory.  Nate almost had a third TD in two games when he barely lost the grip on the game-tying score vs. Pittsburgh.

5. Mike Williams – This rookie from Syracuse is a beast.  NFL Draft guru Justin Pawlowski called it in April:  “Mike Williams has the second best talent of any receiver in this draft (behind Dez Bryant).”  After watching clips of both Bucs games, I totally agree.

6. Jeremy Maclin – Disclaimer: I drafted Maclin so there’s some bias.  In my opinion he’s just a smooth, smart, natural pass-catcher who will have a Darrell Jackson-like career, with four or five 1000-yard seasons and medium-sized buckets of touchdowns.

7. Louis Murphy – Disclaimer:  I don’t like this guy and I’m not sure why.  He’s 6’2”/200, runs a 4.4, came out of Florida’s complex offense.  Maybe it’s a Raiders thing, or maybe it’s the quarterback problem.  I do think Bruce Gradkowski could light a spark.

8. Demaryius Thomas – In his first pro start Thomas was targeted nine times, caught eight for 97 yards and a TD, and basically looked like a tenth-grader in the sandlot with sixth-graders.  Of course, the Seahawks secondary helped matters.  Let’s hope Thomas’ tricky left foot doesn’t flare up again. 

9. Johnny Knox – Don’t worry, when he scores it will be a big one.  Knox is best suited as a flex in distance-TD fantasy leagues.  Like when a 1-9 yard TD is worth 6 points, a 10-39 yard TD is worth 9 points, and a 40+ yard TD is worth 12 points, a scoring system not as uncommon as you think.  My league uses it.

10. Mike Thomas – Admittedly I haven’t paid attention to him yet.  Jack Del Rio must love him because the second-year man was named a starter way back in OTAs.  Thomas quietly caught 48 passes for 453 yards and 1 TD as a rookie.  He’s currently returning punts too.

11. Jordan Shipley – Keep an eye on him.  If Ocho’s rib is truly cracked (?) then Shipley is going to get busier.

12. Dez Bryant – If you count individual punt return scores (which you should, it’s fun) then Bryant has 17 fantasy points, not 11.  Remember, he’s probably still not quite 100% after sustaining a high ankle sprain seven weeks ago.  I’ll bet you Dez comes out of the Week 4 bye soaring over the turf like a banshee!

Speaking of punt returners, here’s the five best so far:

 #  Top Punt Returners Team Ret Yds Avg Long TDs
1 WR Dexter McCluster KC 3 100 33.3 94 1
2 WR Golden Tate SEA 2 82 41.0 63 0
3 WR Dez Bryant DAL 4 77 19.3 62 1
4 WR Jacoby Jones HOU 5 67 13.4 39 0
5 WR J. Lee Higgins OAK 4 66 16.5 53 0

JUMbo Grab of the Week:  Bears WR Earl Bennett.  If you have cobwebs on your bench (e.g., Dwayne Jarrett, Chris Chambers, Justin Gage) sweep them out and pick up Bennett.  He missed a lot of time with a yucky hamstring but just stole Devin Aromashodu’s slot position when no one was looking.  If you recall, he and Jay Cutler were teammates at Vanderbilt and they enjoyed pitch-and-catch.  In Bennett’s freshman year he caught 79 passes for 876 yards & 9 TDs.   He’s 6’0”/202 and his hands are golden.  Mike Martz dropped a subtle hint back when Bennett was on the camp PUP list:  “Who knows, he may step on the field and be just as good as everyone else.” 

By the way, last week against the Cowboys Earl Bennett threw the block that sprung Greg Olsen for his streaking TD catch.  Then Bennett snatched away their onside kick to secure the win.  He’s a coach’s darling right now.  Devin Aromasho-who?

JUMbo Start of the Week:  Eagles TE Brent Celek at Jacksonville.  Give him one more shot against what I believe to be the worst team in football.  The Eagles played the Jags in the preseason and Celek was wide open constantly.  Kolb targeted him five times (once inside the 10) but they only connected twice.  Celek only played 20 exhibition snaps, about a third of a full game – so 5 targets is a huge number.  Vick can get it done.  Just ask Alge.

Slouch?  Darrelle Revis, please shut your mouth.  I was going to link that evil Moss one-hander but instead I dug up this one, an even better catch because he’s staring right into the sun!  By the way, let’s not forget Revis never faced the 25-year old version of Moss, the one that changed the face of the NFL.

Seriously, when Moss stormed the league in 1998 and went on a three-year assault with 43 TDs and an unlawful 18.4 average per catch, it began to change the way teams drafted.  You see, he made them want a game-breaking WR like him, and he made them want DBs to stop guys like him.  From 1994-1999 there were 23 WRs and 27 DBs drafted in the first round.  Then “post-Moss” from 2000-2005 there were 31 WRs and 34 DBs drafted in the first round.  The trend continues on today.  Frankly, Moss should get a residual commission off Chiefs rookie safety Eric Berry’s (drafted 5th overall) $34 million signing bonus this year. 

The Moss drafting effect was even greater as I dug into the second and third rounds.  But the biggest copycats were in the division with Moss: from 1999-2004 Chicago had 31 picks in the first 4 rounds and used 11 of them on WRs or DBs.  The Monsters of the Midway used 35% of their picks on WRs or DBs!  David Terrell at eighth overall in 2001...  That, my friends, was their lousy attempt to land a “Moss.” 

Kevin Walter has caught every pass thrown his way this season.  He’s off to his best start ever with 13 catches for 173 yards and 2 TDs.  He’d never caught more than eight passes in his first two games before now.  Is it because Owen Daniels is still a little gimpy?

The Tennessee defense has allowed one touchdown in two home games (unless you count a kickoff return, then its two TDs) vs. the Raiders and Steelers.  They’re also allowing an obscenely brutal 17% conversion rate on third downs. 

Panthers QB Jimmy Clausen has a chance to make plays downfield vs. Cincinnati.  Their secondary has allowed 225 yards and 3 TDs to WRs in the first two games.  Actually the Bengals should have allowed more than that… They were bailed out by a couple errant Brady/Flacco throws, not to mention 60 yards worth of drops by Ravens WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh last week.

Terrell Owens dropped a 32-yard TD pass vs. the Ravens when the ball bounced off his facemask.  However, before the day was over T.O. did manage to catch a tweet from an upstanding gentleman named @UsamahBinStylin (?).  Sigh…   

Prediction A: Keiland Williams will claim the Redskins starting RB job by Week 9 and be a solid fantasy factor down the stretch.
Prediction B: Kevin Kolb will be traded for a third-round pick, giving the Eagles three third-round picks in the 2011 draft.

Good luck this week!

JUM

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