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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

Off Tackle - Week 3
John Tuvey
September 22, 2010
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When you’re in eight leagues and your day job involves breaking down the fantasy prospects of every player for every game, it’s inevitable that football is never far from your mind. And since many of the same dilemmas I encounter are ones you the readers bump up against as well, I thought it might make sense to share some of my thought processes with you. There’s no rhyme or reason to the topics to be discussed here, other than at some point they popped into my head, kicking to the side lyrics from some obscure ‘80s song (“No one can stop you now/tonight you’re on the loose”) and commanding my attention.

“Why am I 0-2?”

This is the question I pondered while watching Garrett Hartley overcome a 10-point deficit and boot the Saints (and the Mattress Police) to 2-0 on Monday night. Yes, even the so-called “experts” take a misstep from time to time, and in my case it’s my entry in the Huddle Ladder league, Hall of Fame division. As I debated just how hard to hit the panic button, I looked for culprits in the slow start; my crooked finger came to rest on two roster names in particular: Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Crabtree.

And that got me to thinking, are other teams with these players in the same boat? Is there a common thread to the winless among us? Surely it’s not just bad coaching; my five 2-0 teams would suggest I have at least a rudimentary grasp of the game.

So I conducted an unscientific survey: What—or more specifically, who—are the similarities of the winless teams in my leagues?

Of my eight leagues of various roster and league size and scoring format there are 24 teams off to an 0-2 start. Here’s what I learned about the breakdown of 0-2 lineups:

Quarterbacks: Joe Flacco is the weekly starter on three winless squads, as are Jay Cutler and Matt Ryan. Flacco makes sense, as he has yet to live up to the preseason hype; Cutler has been just fine, and Ryan had a bad week followed by a very good one. Five other quarterbacks—Brady, Rivers, Brees, and both Mannings—appeared twice.

The only name that truly makes sense here is Flacco, who based on the preseason love might have been overdrafted; he hasn’t done much, and taking him early may have cost you a shot at that third back or wideout who could have bailed out your projected starters.

Running Backs: In fantasy football’s most critical position, you can’t afford to miss early. So it should come as no surprise that three backs appear on half of my eight leagues’ winless teams. Maurice Jones-Drew has been one of the bigger disappointments thus far, failing to find the end zone through the Jaguars’ first two games and posting merely adequate yardage. Steven Jackson was viewed as a risky first-rounder, and while the Rams have shown signs of life Jackson remains unfamiliar with the end zone as well. And Beanie Wells has disappointed those who looked to him as an RB2 or maybe even an RB1 by missing the first two games due to injury.

Eight backs appear on two winless teams, all for viable reasons: Michael Turner, who faced the Steelers and then left a promising game against the Cards with an injury; Jonathan Stewart, who has been dragged down with Carolina’s offensive woes; Rashard Mendenhall, who had one good carry in the opener and has done little else; Ryan Mathews, who wasn’t quite the next LT in his NFL debut and left his second game with an ankle injury; Knowshon Moreno, who is still sharing carries with Correll Buckhalter; C.J. Spiller, who has made those who opted for him over Jahvid Best pulling their hair out clumps at a time; Shonn Greene, who appears to have fumbled away his majority share of the Jets’ touches; and Jamaal Charles, who has been handcuffed by his head coach despite being the most dynamic playmaker on the KC roster.

Wide Receivers:  Among wideouts there was a clear winner of the dubious 0-2 sweepstakes, as Larry Fitzgerald was the likely first-round pick of five teams off to an 0-2 start. It makes sense; Fitz was supposed to be your top receiver and maybe even your top player, only Derek Anderson is no Kurt Warner—he may not even be as good as Brenda—and Larry’s numbers have suffered for it.

Three other receivers appear on three winless teams: DeSean Jackson, who was quiet in Week 1 but did enough in Week 2 to help you win if you had anything else on your roster; Michael Crabtree, who has been a complete dud; and Percy Harvin, who mixes the uncertainty of his availability with the inability of the Vikings to find ways to get him the ball.

Of course, 0-2 isn’t insurmountable; after all, in some leagues a slow start provides first crack at the waiver wire. But it’s a hole to be dug out of, with some of the notable suspects above being counted on to step up their respective games.

And for those of you who aren’t 0-2, these are the underachievers you could take a shot at buying low on as the cellar dwellers hit the panic button.

Going, Going, Gonzo

Last Sunday morning I made a trade. In retrospect it was brutally awful, akin to Manhattan Island for beads and fabric. Chock full of depth at the running back position (LeSean McCoy, Ahmad Bradshaw, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush), I unloaded Clinton Portis for Tony Gonzalez. Then, soured on the Jets’ passing game after their Monday night showing and now the proud owner of a future Hall of Famer, I cut Dustin Keller to pick up Kevin Faulk.

Thankfully, the moves stopped there lest I continue the wake of roster destruction. Of course, while Portis’ two-TD day would have remained on my bench I lost out on Keller’s 7-115-1. And Faulk’s injury means I’ll be back in the free agent pool this week.

That I won regardless of the trade and sit at 2-0 in that league helps me keep the long-term view of the deal in perspective. Gonzalez was the most targeted tight end in the NFL last year, and while he has just two catches in each of the first two games I fully expect a bounceback. A couple reasons why: Gonzo’s two games came against the Steelers, who defend the tight end well with or without Troy Polamalu, and Cardinals in a blow out where Matt Ryan threw just 32 passes—a number he dipped below only three times in 13 healthy games a year ago.

Also, it’s worth noting that Gonzalez did much of his damage in division games; in fact, he averaged almost two catches and 15 yards more within the NFC South than he did outside of it. Division games are coming for the Falcons, and with no second wideout emerging opposite Roddy White Gonzo will see plenty of action going forward.

At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

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