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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

JUMbotron: Friday Huddle, Vol. 7
John U. Miller
October 22, 2010
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Ok, Fitz… I mean Larry… It’s time for you to man up.  Those nicknames or monikers have to be earned, so let’s go with Larry for now.  You’ve done nothing to justify a second-round fantasy pick. 

Second round, shoot, sometimes Larry popped into the first round!  In one experts draft recap I saw Larry at 1.10, and the guy proudly posted “Steal Alert” in big red letters next to the pick.  Uh, dude… Chris Johnson is a steal at 1.10.  No wide receiver is a first-round steal, you’re just zigging instead of zagging because the big RBs are gone.  In fact there’s no such thing as a “steal” in the first round at all.  You’re spending first-round money, making a huge investment in that player!
 
Anyway, Anquan Boldin is still “Q”, DeSean Jackson is “D-Jax”, and Calvin Johnson is “Megatron”… and they will remain so because they have delivered for fantasy owners.  All three are top-15 WRs in points per game (Megatron is fifth) while Larry is barely 30th.  None of those three cost us a first-round pick either, and none of them have a Peyton Manning throwing to them so let’s squash the quarterback excuse, OK? 

Sure, the quarterbacking stinks.  Derek Anderson, Max Hall, I get it.  But hold on, didn’t Anderson once put Braylon Edwards in the Pro Bowl?  Sure, Anquan Boldin left and Steve Breaston is hurt, so it’s double-teams for Larry.  But hasn’t he been double-teamed his whole career?  I think the statistical decline is because of one thing and one thing only.  He was hurt.  It’s not rocket science.  Larry sprained his MCL in the preseason on August 15th and judging by what I’ve seen it was definitely a small tear.  Troy Polamalu had the exact same injury in the 2009 opener.  One of the five toughest players in the league, Polamalu missed 4 games – then came back too soon and re-injured it in November.  So I think Larry rushed back a week or two early.  I’ll wager that he’s had fluid drained from the knee twice already.  But if you’re playing, it can’t be that bad.

Remember Larry, you’re the guy that got $30 million guaranteed.  Man up and make something happen.  Megatron caught an 87-yard TD from Drew Stanton despite a bum shoulder that wouldn’t allow lifting his right arm past 90 degrees.  Plus, Larry’s actually been targeted as much as he’s ever been.  I broke down his first 5 games of 2010 below and compared it to all his past 5-game starts.  He’s just not hauling in as many receptions per target.  Hopefully the Week 6 bye helped the knee calm down.

Larry Fitzgerald's Career - First 5 Games
Year Targets Catches Yards Avg. TDs
2010 54 26 301 11.6 2
2009 50 35 360 10.3 5
2008 50 31 467 15.1 4
2007 58 34 448 13.2 1
2006 39 25 336 13.4 2
2005 50 36 504 14.0 3
2004 36 22 298 13.5 1

I get more questions about trading Jeremy Maclin than any other player.  Why does everybody want to ship him at this point?  I’ve heard of “selling high” but that’s usually reserved for flukish streaks that might seem unsustainable.  Peyton Hillis was a sell-high a couple weeks ago, Terrell Owens might even be one now… but Maclin?  He’s finding his stride as a star in this league.  Going back to the playoffs last year he has 7 TDs in 7 games.  Besides what did you pay for him, a 6th rounder at the most?  Sit back and enjoy the ride.  DeSean Jackson in or out, it doesn’t matter – Maclin is a playmaker.    

JUMbo True Story:  Three Sundays ago I’m at a sports bar, got there nice and early for the 1:00 pm kickoff -- nabbed a stool right in the middle where I can clearly see Broncos/Titans, Ravens/Steelers, and Lions/Packers.  Big guy on my right is wearing a tattered #4 Packers jersey.  No smart-phone in hand so he’s obviously not a fantasy player, just a classic Packers/Favre guy.  On my left is a shifty young fella wearing a #25 Chiefs jersey, non-stop tapping on his iPhone.  Hmm, okay Jamaal, good luck in your league today.  So off we go, necks craning in different directions to get a glance of every TV in the room… Look, the Rams are in the red zone.  Wait, over there, Billy Cundiff missed a field goal!  Big fun. 

So the games move into the second half (too quickly, it always seems), and ol’ #4 on my right is giving non-stop Packers homer analysis, truly invaluable information like: “We knew Clay Matthews would be good, but c’mon, he’s a future Hall of Famer,” and “Morgan Burnett’s a helluva safety, and a good kid too, I met him once.”  Me and fidgety Jamaal just nod our head, over and over.  #4 blabs after every single play.  You know the type.  I’ve also figured out from the moaning on my left that Jamaal started Jahvid Best, who can’t get in the end zone to save his life.  He’s not happy.  Finally in the 4th quarter, Cheesehead offers up this one: “You guys probably don’t know about Brandon Jackson but he does a good job for us.  He takes care of the football, gets the tough yards…”  Suddenly, from my left there’s an alarming attack: “Oh just put a lid on it, Brandon Jackson sucks $@&# and you know it!”  Silence across the bar.  I’m looking straight down at the greasy floor for two minutes, hiding my giggles, then I lean up and whisper to the bartender, “Check please.”    

Prediction A:  TE ____ ____ will catch another touchdown at home vs. ____, putting him in range to post the fourth double-digit TD season of his career. 

Prediction B: The ____ will lose their third straight game and the “Fire ____ ____” talk will begin like it does every year.

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

JUMbo Quick Six:

1. I don’t really know a lot – I guess, speculate, and prognosticate – but I know that Cardinals QB Max Hall has never, ever experienced the caliber of “12th Man” he’ll face at Seattle’s Qwest Field.  It can reach 135 decibels, folks.  Seattle has held opponents to 13 points or less in 14 of their last 36 home games, including four shut-outs and six single-digit scores.  Over the last three years they give up 37% less points at home. 

2. Why is everybody also trying to trade Frank Gore?  All I see is “Should I trade Gore for Mendenhall” or “Someone wants to give me Tomlinson for Gore”… I don’t get it.  What more does he have to do?  Gore has 755 total yards after six games, a career-high at this point.  Only Arian Foster has more yards from scrimmage.  Sure, the TDs aren’t pouring in yet (“only” 3 so far) but who cares?  He’s healthy and on pace for a Faulk-like 88 catches!    

3. Check out how busy these WRs were in Week 6:  Mike Williams (Sea) – 15 targets, Deion Branch (NE) – 12 targets, Michael Jenkins – 11 targets, Johnny Knox – 11 targets, Derrick Mason – 10 targets.  Also note that Chargers WRs Buster Davis and Patrick Crayton (6 catches for 117 yards & 1 TD) had 8 and 7 targets respectively, since Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee were out.  Floyd’s out again this week, and Naanee might be too.  I like Crayton.  Davis still has the dropsies. 

4. With all the fat trimmed off the Patriots backfield we’re down to 2 guys – BenJarvus Green-Ellis & Danny Woodhead.  No more weekly carousel with Taylor, Maroney, Morris, or Faulk.  It’s a fresh young duo that splits up about 25 total RB touches.  Over the last three weeks Law Firm has 43 touches and three TDs.  He’s scored in three straight games.  Woodhead has 28 touches and two TDs.  Fantasy owners have moved them in as RB3’s or flex players.  Everyone’s happy.

5. Panthers WR Steve Smith is going on his 21st day since the high ankle sprain, which many expected to be a four-to-six week deal.  He’s participating in all team drills, 9-on-7, 11-on-11, pads, no pads.  John Fox said Smith looks “outstanding.”  Smith talked about the ankle:  “I love to play, but I have to be healthy, and I feel like I'm healthy.  I'm out of the boot and I don't have much pain so I'm able to move around.”  Smith’s return could be like spraying Fantasy Febreze on your musty lineup.

6. Giants center Shaun O’Hara missed three games with bursitis in his ankle.  He returned in Week 6 and Ahmad Bradshaw, perhaps not coincidentally, posted season-highs in rushing yards (133) and average per carry (7.0).  In addition, LG Rich Seubert is rebounding after a slow start due to a broken hand on August 6th, and was “very good on pull blocks” last week per the Star-Ledger. 

The Madden Curse might be wrapping its nasty tentacles around Drew Brees.  He’s the 2011 cover boy and there are signs that this season won’t be up to par.  At least not for a first- or second-round fantasy guy.  Fingers crossed, knocking on wood, I broke down the lore of the Madden Curse below:

History of Madden Curse
1999 Garrison Hearst Career-high 1570 yards but broke his leg in the playoffs
2000 Barry Sanders Faxed a retirement letter just 8 days before camp opens
2001 Eddie George Bobbled pass led to INT and loss to Ravens in playoffs
2002 Daunte Culpepper Struggled all season and broke three bones in his back
2003 Marshall Faulk Began his decline, suffered ankle injury, missed 5 gms
2004 Michael Vick Broke his leg in preseason, didn't return until Week 13
2005 Ray Lewis Defied the Curse briefly, but missed 10 gms next year
2006 Donovan McNabb The T.O. debacle, then hernia surgery, missed 7 gms
2007 Shaun Alexander 1st overall fantasy pick, broke his foot, missed 6 starts
2008 Vince Young Only threw 9 TDs, miserable in 17-6 playoff loss to SD
2009 Brett Favre Retirement talk, signed with NYJ, tore his biceps tendon
2010 Polamalu/Fitzgerald Polamalu missed 10 gms, though Fitzgerald not affected
2011 Drew Brees Currently 8th best QB in fantasy points per game, hmm

ESPN’s Gregg Easterbrook mentions the Crabtree Curse (?).  Under Mike Singletary, San Francisco is 8-5 without Michael Crabtree and 6-12 with him.  I think it’s the Alex Smith Curse:  In the six seasons prior to drafting Alex Smith #1 overall the 49ers offense averaged a #10 ranking.  But since Smith signed, their offense averages a #27 ranking.  They have paid this man over $35 million dollars, and I don’t have to remind you they passed on Aaron Rodgers that year.    

JUMbo Trade Pickup of the WeekBaltimore Ravens defense.  They rank no higher than 28th among fantasy defenses in any scoring system.  Only Oakland, Dallas, and Buffalo have fewer interceptions.  Your league’s Ravens-owner has probably started them every week on reputation alone (not to mention wasting a 10th round pick) and is getting fidgety.  He might see the Week 8 bye coming and agree to ship them off.  What he might not see is that 1) Ed Reed is coming off PUP.  If he doesn’t play this week, he’ll surely suit up after the Week 8 bye. 2) The Ravens defense has a juicy schedule coming up vs. Buffalo, vs. Miami, at Atlanta, at Carolina, and vs. Tampa Bay.  I’m picturing the Ravens-owner in some sort of RB pinch – maybe Tomlinson, Greene, Best, Addai, or Foster is on bye – and you’re carrying depth at that position.  You’ve got Tolbert, Green-Ellis, Moreno, or Michael Bush and just can’t squeeze him into your lineup.  Make an offer.  One of those RBs should land the Ravens defense – and he might throw in a Patrick Crayton or Robert Meachem too.  

Speaking of Meachem, he played a season-high 38 snaps vs. the Bucs.  It’s still not a feature WR workload – Reggie Wayne and Roddy White routinely play 60+ per week – but it’s an improvement.  I think Meachem’s May 10th toe surgery was definitely an issue.  In the first five games he averaged 23 snaps, so something has changed pretty dramatically.  It helps that Reggie Bush is out, but nevertheless Meachem is making plays again.  Look at his subtle rise in production and involvement:

Robert Meachem 2010 Game Logs
 Wk Opp Target Rec Yds TDs
 1 MIN  4 3 33 0
 2 @SF  1 0 0 0
 3 ATL  2 1 5 0
 4 CAR  3 2 16 0
 5 @ARI  4 4 57 1
 6 @TB  5 4 71 1

Yeah, I know – it’s still not much, plus a zillion other WRs are outplaying Meachem.  But I like to identify FF trends before they go public.  Winning titles in fantasy football requires attentive, midseason adjustments.  If you have Meachem it might be time to start flexing him again.  If you want to own Meachem, no better time than now to buy low.  Remember this is a guy (and an offense) that can fill box scores in a hurry.  Last year from Week 9 to Week 16 Meachem scored 8 TDs and caught 5+ passes five different times.  

Here are the top-15 highest-paid players in the NFL for 2010, according to Sports Illustrated.  This includes salary & bonus compensation from the team, plus all endorsements off the field:

1. QB Peyton Manning, Colts $30.8m ($15.8m team/$15m endorsements)
2. QB Matthew Stafford, Lions $27.6m ($26.9m/$0.7m)
3. QB Eli Manning, Giants $26.5m ($19.5m/$7m)
4. QB Philip Rivers, Chargers $25.8m ($25.6m/$0.2m)
5. LB Terrell Suggs, Ravens $24.9m ($24.9m/$0.0m)
6. DL Albert Haynesworth, Redskins $24.6m ($24.6m/$0.1m)
7. QB Brett Favre, Vikings $24m ($17m/$7m)
8. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders $21.5m ($21.4m/$0.0m)
9. RT Jason Smith, Rams $20.6m ($20.5m/$0.0m)
10. DE Julius Peppers, Bears $20m ($20m/$0.0m)
11. NT Vince Wilfork, Patriots $18.9m ($18.9m/$0.0m)
12. CB DeAngelo Hall, Redskins $18.5m ($18.5m/$0.0m)
13. DE Tyson Jackson, Chiefs $18.1m ($18.1m/$0.0m)
14. QB Mark Sanchez, Jets $16.9m ($16.4m/$0.5m)
15. LB DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys $16.8m ($16m/$0.8m)

How many of those guys actually deserve that kind of income?  I count 8:  Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Terrell Suggs, Julius Peppers, Vince Wilfork, Mark Sanchez and DeMarcus Ware.  I don’t count Brett Favre.  C’mon, he gets $17 million (plus incentives) and what does Minnesota get in return?  He skips training camp, posts a 72.1 QB rating, and gets caught in a sexting scandal.  Heck, Quincy Carter would have done all that for $17,000!  Stafford…  He should be a good player one day but so far Shaun Hill’s been their best quarterback since Jon Kitna.  Heyward-Bey?  He’s just stealing from the company.  I also notice none of them have any endorsement money except the usual suspects.  What could Heyward-Bey endorse, a non-stick cooking spray?    

Antonio Gates injured his left big toe.  I won’t lie to you, I’m scared.  After the 2007 season Gates dislocated the same toe in the wild-card win over Tennessee and hobbled through the postseason – and in those 3 games he had more cortisone shots (2) than touchdowns (0).  Then in February 2008 he had surgery to repair a torn plantar plate in the toe.  When the season started almost seven months later, he was still visibly less than himself.  That season he didn’t top 5 catches or 61 yards in a game until Week 9.

Chargers HC Norv Turner says Gates’ left big toe injury “is unrelated” to the previous left toe injury.  Huh?  It’s the same toe.  How can they not be related?  Does he have two left big toes?  That’s like saying you crashed your 2007 Nissan Pathfinder three years ago – got it repaired – then crashed it again, but this damage isn’t related to the previous damage.  The Carfax report doesn’t lie.  I’m afraid the less-than-himself version of Gates is coming back.   

The Arizona Republic’s Kent Somers, one of my favorite beat writers, is suddenly pro-Beanie Wells.  In the past he’s hedged on Wells, correctly reminding readers (and us fantasy geeks) that Tim Hightower will continue to get a large share of the workload.  But now he says “Beanie is the guy” going forward.  When Somers offers his clear opinion on Cardinals personnel, I listen.  Back in August 2007 Somers predicted that Matt Leinart was on a short leash because he spent off-days flying back and forth from L.A.  Sure enough in Week 3 Leinart was pulled for Kurt Warner, who threw for 258 yards and 2 TDs in less than a half.  Then last December Somers predicted that WR Early Doucet would get a much bigger role in the offense.  In the last three games (including playoffs) Doucet caught 18 passes for 173 yards and 2 TDs, more receptions than he had all season.  So, when Somers says “Beanie is the guy,” I believe him. 

JUMbo Quote of the Week:   “Eighteen games? Are you serious? Tell the six Eagles who've suffered concussions this year -- we're six weeks into the season -- that adding two games is no big hazard to your health.  Right… Don't tell me this is the culture we want.  It might be the culture kids are used to in video games, but the NFL has to draw a line in the sand right here, right now, and insist that the forearm shivers and leading with the helmet and launching into unprotected receivers will be dealt with severely.  Six-figure fines.  Suspensions. Ejections.” – Peter King, SI.com.

DeSean Jackson’s concussion was severe and that’s the second concussion he’s had in two seasons.  Last year in Week 12 he took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Redskins LB London Fletcher (who just drilled Joseph Addai, legally) and had to miss the Eagles’ next game.  Jackson will miss Sunday’s game at Tennessee and I bet he’ll miss another game or two after the Week 8 bye.  A player like DeSean Jackson is now prone to Second Impact Syndrome.  He needs an extended period of rest.  1)  Forget fantasy football, this young man needs to take care of his body, and 2) Speaking of fantasy football, Jason Avant should be owned in all fantasy leagues.

Jason Avant has the best hands on the team and is more than capable of a 100-yard day when DeSean Jackson is out.  Last week Avant caught five passes for 62 yards.  For now, he’s the No. 2 WR on not just a pass-happy team, but a vertical pass-happy team.  Only one passing offense averages more yards per attempt than Philly’s 8.0 mark (San Diego 9.1).  By the way, are you one of those people who won’t let go of Sidney Rice or Vincent Jackson, week after week, always passing on Avant-type pickups that burst onto the scene?  Did you pass up an opportunity to grab Brandon Lloyd, Lance Moore, Davone Bess, or Kenny Britt?  I hope you know what you’re doing.  Some of you only have 12 or 13-game regular seasons before the fantasy playoffs… Are you sure you’re going to get in?

The Elias Sports Bureau changed the Pittsburgh Steelers from 5 sacks vs. Cleveland to 6 sacks.  Check your league’s scoring to make sure everything’s kosher. 

JUMbo Grab of the Week:  Lions QB Matthew Stafford.  He’ll rejoin the starting lineup in Week 8 (after the bye), a full seven weeks after separating his shoulder.  Stafford should be raring to go, especially after hearing that he launched 70-yard bombs in practice this week.  Is he floating on your league’s waiver wire?  Maybe someone would trade him for cheap.  The Lions offense quietly generates fantasy power like a lithium-ion battery.  From Weeks 2-5 before Shaun Hill broke his arm, the Lions were one of only two teams with a fantasy top-5 QB, WR and TE:  Hill-Calvin Johnson-Brandon Pettigrew and San Diego’s Philip Rivers-Malcom Floyd-Antonio Gates.  After this bye Stafford gets five of his next seven at home, and the only potential bad-weather game is at Buffalo in Week 10.

JUMbo Start of the Week:  Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles.  He’s at home vs. Jacksonville, who are coming off that demeaning Monday night loss to the Titans on national TV.  Arrowhead’s usually not a good place to try and find your mojo again.  Forget all my statistical musings, the Jags are starting QB Todd Bouman and will punt it back to KC all day.  Charles is averaging 6.3 per carry and making magical runs.  I just have a hunch he will bust a big one. 

Prediction A:  TE Tony Gonzalez will catch another touchdown at home vs. Cincinnati, putting him in range to post the fourth double-digit TD season of his career. 

Prediction B:  The Chargers will lose their third straight game and the “Fire Norv Turner” talk will begin like it does every year.

From my NFL cheerleader vault, here’s the lovely… well, I don’t know her name.  It’s probably best that I don’t, frankly.

Good luck this week!

JUM

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