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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

JUMbotron: Friday Huddle, Vol. 6
John U. Miller
October 15, 2010
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I usually save my Start of the Week until the end of the column but I’m just too excited to hide this one any longer. 

JUMbo Start of the WeekJets QB Mark Sanchez at Denver.  Not for the faint of heart, I recommend Sanchez over middling guys like Joe Flacco or Matt Schaub... even the white-hot Shaun Hill, since Megatron is being repaired.  Sanchez laid an egg Monday night but the weather was ridiculous and Santonio Holmes was rusty, dropping a couple long ones.  Give them another week of practice together and it’s fixed.  Before the Vikings game Sanchez had 8 TD passes and 0 INTs in his previous three games – and he’s the only full-season starting QB in the league without a single turnover.  The weather in Denver will be nice and the blood-thirsty Brian Dawkins is out.  If Denver’s offense scores over 20 points it just helps Sanchez even more.  Giddy up!

Sometimes there’s a deep, mysterious fantasy buzz about certain players – usually ones that have never played an NFL down yet – and you have to be quite involved to be in the know.  Fantasy geeks whisper about them, vault them up Dynasty lists, but the average football fan would never, ever have a clue.  Only the cool people know, and if you go into a fantasy forum and clumsily ask who he is, you’ll be totally grilled.  It’s like the movie Eyes Wide Shut where you must know the password.  For weeks it was Kareem Huggins but he’s been forgotten.  Max Hall was popular but now he’s been exposed to light.  No buzz on him anymore.  Chris Ivory was the guy until he broke a long TD in the preseason.  Then he got hurt, then he returned, too late, we’re already off to the next secret.  Now there’s a new one… Ssshh.  The password is:  James Starks.

Starks has his own thread on every fantasy message board now.  “When is Starks coming off PUP?”  “Jackson and Kuhn suck, Starks is the man.”  “I heard he looks great in practice.”  (That’s always my favorite – He looks great in practice. Shouldn’t they all look great in practice?  Even the lowest paid NFL players – rookie or veteran – make at least $310,000 per year.)  So the Starks buzz build and builds.  It’s true that the Packers are looking for another tailback – they were after Marshawn Lynch (and will regret not getting him, in my opinion) and there’s a rumor they called about Marion Barber and DeAngelo Williams.  However, Starks is a McCarthy fave who is eligible to come off PUP next week.  He had a bad hamstring injury in August but instead of releasing the sixth-round pick with an injury settlement, Mike McCarthy put him on reserve/PUP.  That means they see something in Starks.  You gotta wonder about his 4.50 run in the 40 – and it looks more like 4.6 in pads – but stranger things have happened. 

In my opinion if there’s a Packers RB coming out of left field, it’s Dimitri Nance.  Green Bay signed him off Atlanta’s practice squad after Week 1.  Nance, a 5’10”/216-lb sparkplug from Arizona State, has a “very strong, quick lower half” according to Mike McCarthy.  Falcons HC Mike Smith panicked and offered him a spot on the 53-man roster in order not to lose him, but when Nance saw Ryan Grant go down he thought he’d have a better shot in Green Bay. 

Titans WR Kenny Britt was benched in Week 1 for a lousy camp.  Then in Week 2 he didn’t enter until the 2nd quarter, but still caught 5 passes for 41 yards.  Since then Britt’s scored in three straight games and has Jeff Fisher gushing about his work ethic.  Titans WRs don’t rack up much yardage but TDs can be quite common with safeties always peeking at CJ2K.  I recommend that many of you should be flexing Britt during these bye-week holes, maybe even go WR3.  He’s good.

Buy low on Reggie Bush right now.  I know a guy in New Orleans who knows things.  He said Reggie’s plan is to be back for Week 9 at Carolina, a big divisional game that’s played on soft, leg-friendly grass.  He said Reggie was only on crutches for a few days, and that it was “not really like the leg broke, more like a tiny chip.”  Even if Bush isn’t quite ready by Week 9, he’ll surely be out there after the Week 10 bye.    

Prediction A:  WR ____ ____ used to torture the ____ and now that he’s gone, his replacement ____ ____ will do the same thing this Sunday. 

Prediction B:  RB ____ ____ will go for a buck-forty at home vs. ____ and pass Adrian Peterson for 3rd in rushing yards this season. 

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

Going back to Green Bay, their injury bug is starting to resemble the record-setting Buffalo Bills’ plague in 2009, when they placed an unheard-of 20 players on IR:

1. QB Aaron Rodgers:  Concussion.  He got drilled helmet-to-helmet (no flag?) by Redskins DE Jeremy Jarmon.  Jarmon, picked in last year’s supplemental draft, was All-SEC at Kentucky but lost his final year of eligibility after testing positive for a banned substance.
2. RB Ryan Grant:  Out for the year with damaged ankle ligaments. He must have really torn them up because Deuce McAllister had a similar injury in 2004 and only missed three games.
3. TE Jermichael Finley:  Knee surgery on the lateral meniscus or whatever, he’s gone.  Huge blow.  Fantasy tip:  Finley’s targets have to go somewhere, buy low on Greg Jennings.
4. TE Donald Lee:  He replaced Finley at Washington and then hurt his chest/shoulder just 12 plays later.  He’s out for two weeks.   Andrew Quarless is their new tight end.
5. RT Mark Tauscher:  Injured his shoulder in Week 4 and the National Football Post says Tauscher is out “for an extended period.” 
6. DE Ryan Pickett:  He also went down at Washington with an ankle injury.  He’s their big run-clogger.  If Pickett is out this week Ronnie Brown is unbenchable in 12-team leagues. 
7. LB Nick Barnett:  Out for the year with a wrist injury.  He’s the quarterback of their defense.  NFL analyst Pat Kirwan said nobody reads the opposing QB’s eyes like Barnett.  
8. LB Brandon Chillar:  Out indefinitely with a shoulder injury, he’s been to see two specialists.  Whenever you need a second opinion it’s not good.
9. LB Clay Matthews:  Popped a hamstring, no word on the severity. The potential Defensive MVP might miss this Miami game.
10. S Morgan Burnett:  Out for the year with an ACL injury.
11. S Charlie Peprah:  He’s supposed to replace Burnett but he’s iffy with a quad strain.
12. S Atari Bigby: Expected to come off PUP (ankle) and not a moment too soon.
13. S Nick Collins: He’s been playing through a nagging knee injury ever since the season opener according to the Journal-Sentinel.  Nick needs the Week 10 Bye badly.   
14. CB Al Harris: Also on PUP (knee) but insiders are whispering that his career is over.
15. CB Sam Shields: Their nickel back has been in and out with a strained calf.

And it’s only going to get worse for the Packers.  They are cursed with the way-too-late Week 10 bye so many guys have to fight through four more grueling games before there’s a chance to heal.  Last Sunday morning I heard some FOX fantasy guy say “Green Bay has to get things right if they’re going to make any noise in the playoffs.”  Playoffs?  Uh, they need to make sure they win the division first (because half the conference will be fighting for a wild card).  The Bears are 4-1 with home games against Seattle and Washington coming up, then a road game at Buffalo.  Green Bay has Miami at home, Minnesota at home, and the Jets on the road.

“Frederick and Me:  Short Story by John U. Miller”

I see that Fred Taylor is still missing practices entirely with turf toe.  Sadly, fantasy football is much more enjoyable with him out of it:  BenJarvus Green-Ellis owners are happy, Danny Woodhead makes a blip on fantasy radar, and we fanalysts write the word “questionable” 12 less times per week.  Don’t get me wrong, I had a long standing relationship with Taylor.  I miss him.  We were together in 7 of his 11 seasons as a Jaguar… and we had our ups and downs.  He helped me take second-place twice in my big-money local league but the injuries caused so much stress.  So many hurled objects. 

You see, I drafted him in his rookie year (1998, oh the memories) and the guy was like the new Jim Brown.  1,223 rush yards, 14 TDs, 44 catches, 421 yards, 3 more TDs.  Pure excitement.  Size, speed, vision, and damn… that speed!  Then in 2001 our relationship changed.  It was the first slate of games after 9/11, Titans at Jaguars.  Lo and behold, your own Johnny U. was sporting a brand new #28 jersey.  “Bartender, I’ll take a Diet Coors!”  I take a seat at the bar with my buddy Jim and slap high-fives.  Within minutes my other stud RB Edgerrin James hits paydirt on another TV.  It’s gonna be a great day.     

2nd quarter:  Taylor breaks into the second level, full sprint, and suddenly at the 50-yard line he drops the football… and falls in a heap... face down with his hands stuffed between his legs.  Both Tom Coughlin and Jeff Fisher are running out to midfield amidst faint-but-audible screams on national television.  My chest tightens up.  It’s Taylor screaming.  In an eerily similar situation to Lawrence Taylor waving for help while Joe Theismann’s leg bone stuck out of his ear, because here’s Fisher (who hates the Jags, mind you) jumping around, waving frantically at the sideline for a doctor.  Taylor tore the groin adductor tendon completely off the bone.

Luckily, he would be okay and obviously returned for the 2002 season, but our relationship was never the same.  Taylor was edgy, almost brittle, and stopped communicating with me about how he felt.  Coach Coughlin would never say what was wrong with him either, mumbling about a “game-time decision” instead.  On some Sundays I wouldn’t see Taylor at all.  Imagine how that felt.    

However, there was one glorious occasion when my feelings were rekindled in a big way.  Week 16 of 2003, the memories I’ll cherish:  Taylor broke off 225 total yards and a TD vs. the Saints, launching me into the fantasy title game (Yes our biggie was Week 17 back then, we got wise and eventually changed it).  So it’s Week 17, fantasy trophy on the line, and Taylor rushed for 121 yards vs. Atlanta… but in the 4th quarter he broke my heart again.  Flat dumped me.  Fred actually turned and walked off the field on a 1st and goal at the 4-yard line, giving LaBrandon Toefield my touchdown.  That 6 points was the difference in winning my league.  I cried.  You think I’m joking… No.

Taylor and I eventually became friends again.  In 2008 I used an eighth-round pick so we could reunite.  The guy was a big part of my life, what can I say?  Just for old time’s sake let’s give my dear Frederick one more shout-out, one last hug goodbye.  I’ll post the 25 NFL all-time rushers in honor of his great career:

Rank  Top-25 RBs All-Time Rush Yds Avg.
1  Emmitt Smith 18,355 4.2
2  Walter Payton 16,726 4.4
3  Barry Sanders 15,269 5.0
4  Curtis Martin 14,101 4.0
5  Jerome Bettis 13,662 3.9
6  Eric Dickerson 13,259 4.4
7  L. Tomlinson 12,925 4.4
8  Tony Dorsett 12,739 4.3
9  Jim Brown 12,312 5.2
10  Marshall Faulk 12,279 4.3
11  Edgerrin James 12,246 4.0
12  Marcus Allen 12,243 4.1
13  Franco Harris 12,120 4.1
14  Thurman Thomas 12,074 4.2
15  Fred Taylor 11,638 4.6
16  John Riggins 11,352 3.9
17  Corey Dillon 11,241 4.3
18  O.J. Simpson 11,236 4.7
19  Warrick Dunn 10,967 4.1
20  Ricky Watters 10,643 4.1
21  Jamal Lewis 10,607 4.2
22  Tiki Barber 10,449 4.7
23  Eddie George 10,441 3.6
24  Ottis Anderson 10,273 4.0
25  Clinton Portis 9,891 4.4

JUMbo Quick Six:

1. Redskins beat writer Ryan O’Halloran reports Ryan Torain had 16 carries and played in 55 offensive snaps vs. Green Bay.  Keiland Williams had 1 carry and played 25 offensive snaps, mostly on 2nd and 3rd down as a pass-blocker for McNabb.  Note: TE Chris Cooley has played every single offensive snap this year.

2. Denver lost S Brian Dawkins (knee) for three weeks and LB Robert Ayers (foot) for six weeks.  They are irreplaceable.  I can’t see Denver’s offense ever being in a position to “grind out a lead” or “control the game.” It’s Shootout City every week.  Denver’s second-half schedule is cake, too.  The Rams & Cardinals in Weeks 12 & 14?  Are you kidding? 

3. LaDainian Tomlinson has a sturdy 47 touches to Shonn Greene’s 32 the last two weeks.  It’s a little committee-ish, sure, but I don’t hear LT-owners complaining.  Your buddy drafted T.J. Houshmandzadeh (ouch!) in the 7th round right before your pick and literally handed you Tomlinson, the Fantasy SOD in 2010.

4. Santana Moss is ballin’.  He’s crept into the fantasy top-20 with his second 100-yard game in three weeks, the first time he’s done that since September 2008.  Moss is on pace for 1,306 receiving yards, which would be his second-best mark ever (1,483 in 2005).  Start him until he gives you a reason not to.  Moss can eat up big chunks of yards quickly.

5. From David Dorey’s Tunnel Vision:  “In case you didn’t see it, in the Chiefs-Colts game Dwayne Bowe was hit in stride in the end zone with a 30-yard pass from Cassel and he dropped it. The pass was over the shoulder but it hit him in both hands and it was just bad. In order to get Bowe's confidence back up, they went to him on the very next play… and he just dropped that one as well.”

6. Browns TE Ben Watson is having a good year despite his slugs at quarterback.  He ranks 8th among TEs in targets (35) and 11th in yards (230).  Over the last three weeks Watson has more catches (16) than Dallas Clark or Chris Cooley.  If Jermichael Finley’s injury has you reeling, Watson might be a cheap fix.  Colt McCoy at QB?  Who cares, it can’t get any worse.

Nice dig by ESPN’s Matthew Berry on the Detroit Lions defense: “One that has allowed fewer than 220 yards passing in three straight games, that has six picks in its past three games, is sixth in the NFL in sacks and faces a Giants team that is struggling in pass protection.” 

I don’t quite get the Brandon Tate hype.  Didn’t Deion Branch essentially squash it?  Look, I’m not going to spend the next 250 words trying to convince you Branch is Randy Moss, but hey, he used to be Tom Brady’s starting flanker.  Of course Branch won’t be an every-down guy like a Reggie Wayne, but it is what it is.  New England brought back a guy who knows their system.  Branch’s left knee is scarred from surgeries – but so are Brady and Welker’s so he’ll fit right in.  Branch can still make plays.  He had a big catch vs. San Diego (well, it was almost big, whoops!) a few weeks ago.  Between Branch, Welker, Edelman, and rookie Taylor Price – and their league-leading number of 2-TE sets – I can’t picture a special teams ace like Tate getting more than 20 offensive snaps.

You want Tate?  Make it Golden, not Brandon.
 
For all you PPR freaks, here are the top-20 receiving backs so far:

 RBs - Reception Leaders  Gms  Rec  Yds  Target  Rec TD
 Frank Gore  5  33   284    45  2 
 LeSean McCoy  5  28   218    33  0 
 Jahvid Best  5  25   254    35  1 
 Peyton Hillis  5  20   143    25  1 
 Joseph Addai  5  18   118    22  0 
 Matt Forte  5  18   231    20  3 
 Pierre Thomas  3  17   133    17  0 
 L. Tomlinson  5  17   95    26  0 
 D. McFadden  4  16   162    23  1 
 Ray Rice  5  15   100    20  0 
 Adrian Petrson  4  14   105    21  0 
 Brandon Jackson  5  13   75    14  0 
 C.J. Spiller  5  13   48    17  1 
 Arian Foster  5  13   154    18  1 
 Steven Jackson  5  13   128    21  0 
 Chris Johnson  5  13   39    16  0 
 Correll Buckhalter  5  12   83    19  1 
 Ahmad Bradshaw  5  12   83    17  0 
 Jason Snelling  5  11   76    13  1 
 M. Jones-Drew  5  10   58    13  1 

On Sept. 10th I wrote “LeSean McCoy tends to run into traffic and leaves yardage on the field.”  Doh!  He’s running into traffic alright… smashing into linebackers with a flak jacket!  “He’s a tough nut,” said Andy Reid.  Indeed.  Any running back who plays through a busted rib, handles the ball 23 times and slices up a hard-hitting 49ers defense… Well, I call him the “Real” McCoy.  A little fantasy tip:  McCoy is virtually impossible to acquire in a trade right now – but wait until Week 8 when he’s on bye and make an offer.  Someone might be forced to part with him.  Coming off the bye McCoy plays at home vs. Indy’s horrid run defense.    

On August 26th I wrote “Brandon Marshall will be a colossal second-round bust and his ex-teammate Eddie Royal will score more touchdowns.”  Whoa!  It’s currently 2 to 1 Royal in the top of the third inning.  Marshall’s already had a bye though.  Fun stuff… I have a sizable bet on this one, and I got 3-to-1 odds.  If Dolphins QB Chad Henne gets benched (he might after the Week 7-9 stretch vs. Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, & Baltimore) I have a great shot at collecting.  Meanwhile, Kyle Orton is blistering hot... and just imagine if he actually had the threat of play-action.  Note to Josh McDaniels:  Run your two-minute offense the whole time.  Baltimore couldn’t stop it.

Here’s a comparison that probably only interests me:

Maybe Chargers GM A.J. Smith isn't crazy?
WR Malcom Floyd WR Vincent Jackson
2010 stats after 5 games 2009 stats after 5 games
22 rec, 498 yds, 3 TDs 24 rec, 419 yds, 3 TDs
Salary: $3.17m Salary: Seeks $9m/year

In case you’ve been spelunking for three days, Vincent Jackson will report to San Diego by Oct. 31 per Chris Mortensen.  At that point he still has the “Roster Exempt” tag so he must sit out three unpaid games before being activated.  Jackson should be out there in Week 12 at Indianapolis.  If he’s on your waiver wire do a stash-and-hold right now.  You never know.  

JUMbo Start of the Week IITennessee Titans DEF at Jacksonville.  (A bonus pick since I slipped Mark Sanchez earlier.)  Ask any defensive coordinator and they’d say rotating seven or eight defensive linemen is the way to go, but most of them can’t because they don’t have that many good ones.  Tennessee does.  They have eight different guys who each play a little dirty and a lot nasty.  One of them is journeyman DE Jason Babin, the Texans’ 1st-round pick in the 2004 draft.  You won’t believe this but Babin already has 5.5 sacks in 5 games, more than he’s ever had in a season. I asked my friend John McClain of the Houston Chronicle why Babin chose 2010 to become a monster.  “Jason never fit in here,” said McClain.  “They tried to make a 3-4 guy out of him.  He never panned out. They traded him to Seattle, and he didn't play. They cut him, he flashed with the Eagles, and they dumped him.  I guess he felt the Titans were his last chance. He also gets great coaching.”

JUMbo IDP Grab of the Week:  Oakland Raiders DE Matt Shaughnessy.  The second-year man from Wisconsin was mentored by Richard Seymour and Greg Ellis last year and has moved into the starting lineup at right end.  Shaughnessy paces the Raiders with three sacks, including a huge-strip sack of Philip Rivers in the red zone that preserved a 12-0 Raiders lead.  Matt’s a guy you pull for after hearing that his older brother Jamie died unexpectedly last year.  Oakland’s next four games are at San Francisco, at Denver, vs. Seattle, and vs. Kansas City.   

Prediction A:  WR Santonio Holmes used to torture the Browns and now that he’s gone, his replacement Mike Wallace will do the same thing this Sunday. 

Prediction B:  RB Ahmad Bradshaw will go for a buck-forty at home vs. Detroit and pass Adrian Peterson for 3rd in rushing yards this season.

Here’s my latest find from the dazzling world of NFL cheerleading… I keep going back to the Buc-Gals lineup because they have so much depth:  Marlana.

I guarantee this will be the most exciting week of pro football all season.  How do I know?  Because Arizona, Buffalo, Carolina and Cincinnati aren’t playing.

Good luck this week!

JUM

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