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FANTASY FOOTBALL IN-SEASON FEATURES

JUMbotron: Friday Huddle, Vol. 17
John U. Miller
December 31, 2010
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2010 Fantasy Breakout Player of the Year:  “And the JUMbo goes to…”

Texans RB Arian Foster.  The breakout began in Week 1 vs. the Colts, specifically at the Texans’ own 34-yard line to start the second half.  Foster would carry a whopping 10 times for 49 yards and a 1-yard TD on the drive.  In the 4th quarter he broke off runs left and right like a madman, scoring from 25 and 8 yards out.  33 carries for 231 yards & 3 TDs, with 1 catch for 7 yards.  It was 41.8 points in standard fantasy leagues, possibly 45-50 depending on yardage bonuses.  Zoinks!  Foster would assume the #1 RB ranking and never, ever relinquish it.  No one has challenged him.  What’s been most amazing about Foster is the pass-catching ability.  64 catches with yet another game left?  The dude only caught 83 passes in 4 years at University of Tennessee.  Is he the #1 overall pick in 2011?  In many leagues, sure… but not all of them.  There will still be some die-hard AP, CJ, and MJD fans who won’t buy what Foster is selling.  Heated debates will ensue. 

Honorable Mention Breakout:

Browns RB Peyton Hillis.  Wow, I still remember a remark I made to my buddy Brian back in Week 2.  He calls me and asks, “Should I pick up Peyton Hillis, he scored in opener at Tampa, he could be good right?”  Then I snap back with this nugget of fantasy expertise:  “Nah, Hillis is a fullback.  He’ll never touch the ball 13 times again in a game all year.  Plus, he only scored that TD because Jerome Harrison broke a 39-yarder down to the 10-yard line and was gassed.”  Whew.  Sometimes I’m a complete idiot.  Anyway, just like with Foster I am especially excited by Hillis’ reception totals.  He’s caught 60 passes with one game left.  His hands are golden… I mean, look at this s—t!  The Hillis train has been losing steam of late (defenses stacking like you’ve never seen before) with <60 rushing yards in 4 of the last 6 games.  Personally I feel like Cleveland’ offensive line could be the next big dominant group; like Emmitt’s Cowboy buddies, or how the Chiefs’ O-line was for Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson.  Food for thought.    

2010 Fantasy Comeback Player of the Year:  “And the JUMbo goes to…”

Eagles QB Michael Vick.  It’s a no-brainer.  He leads all QBs in total fantasy points despite only playing 11 games!  Remember, he’s listed as ‘12’ games right now but he only played a half vs. Green Bay (subbing for Kolb) and a half vs. Washington (replaced by Kolb).  11 full games.  Vick is averaging 25.7 points in ESPN leagues.  To put that in perspective, the year Tom Brady threw 50 touchdown passes he averaged 24.4 points.  Vick has 21 TD passes, 9 TD runs, and 3018 passing yards – all career-highs – and again, he’s only played 11 full games.  It’s mind-boggling!  It’s a comeback in every sense of the word – Vick served 19 months in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, lost well over a hundred million dollars, filed bankruptcy, and will live on a court-ordered budget for another five years.  Two-thirds of every dollar he earns through 2015 goes to creditors and lawyers.  Now he’s probably going to win NFL Offensive Player of the Year and finish as runner-up in MVP voting to Tom Brady.  Even if Philadelphia doesn’t dole out the big 8-year extension yet, Vick’s going to collect at least $15.4 million guaranteed via the franchise tag next year.

Honorable Mention Comeback:

Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe.  This dude almost blew it in 2009.  He showed up to camp overweight, got suspended for 4 games on the substance abuse policy (a diuretic for weight loss, yeah right), led the league in passes dropped – and even spilled the beans on how NFL players “import” women to hotels.  Caught 47 passes and 4 TDs all year.  This season started off just about the same:  Week 1, one catch for 13 yards, Week 2, four catches for 45 yards… I saw Bowe get dropped for Devin Aromashodu and Darrius Heyward-Bey.  Then later he detonated like a hydrogen bomb from Weeks 6-12 with 49 catches, 624 yards, and 13 TDs.  Bowe would be a top-25 fantasy WR for the season on that 7-game stretch alone!  I’m excited to think about what Bowe can do with another full off-season to work with Matt Cassel and get that timing razor-sharp. 

2010 Fantasy Value Pick of the Year:  “And the JUMbo goes to…”

Raiders RB Darren McFadden.  He went anywhere from the 9th to the 11th round in 12-team leagues, sometimes even lower because of the pre-season hamstring that spooked everybody.  Meanwhile there was a mini-hype wave building under Michael Bush, who went in the 6th round in my league.  McFadden suddenly healed up and got the starting nod at Tennessee in Week 1.  I was at that game.  Somewhere in the middle of a Titans 38-13 blowout win, I noticed something I hadn’t seen before: McFadden making defenders pay.  On one run he slammed it into safety Michael Griffin - dislodging his mouthpiece - on his way to a 9-yard gain.  McFadden even shoved Chris Hope in the face on his way back to the huddle. “Hmmm… Me likey… could this be the year?” I thought to myself.  Bam!  McFadden is a top-6 fantasy RB in all formats.  If he didn’t miss Weeks 5 & 6 he’d be the No. 2 or 3 RB.  His 196-total yard/4-TD vivisection of Denver is one of the 30 best fantasy performances of all time.  Michael Bush is a free agent and some feel he’d be a good fit in Cincinnati.

Honorable Mention Value:

Steelers WR Mike Wallace.  Lots of bargains besides McFadden & Wallace to choose from (Josh Freeman, Matt Forte, Ahmad Bradshaw, Terrell Owens) but I rank Wallace No. 2 on the value scale because he was a dominant WR3.  So many winning fantasy rosters featured Wallace.  He was around a 7th or 8th round pick – usually not one of the first 30 WRs taken depending on the flow of your draft.  57 catches, 1152 yards, 9 TDs (with one game left), even 39 rushing yards… that’s called Value folks.  Wallace ranks a frisky No. 10 in PPR leagues, but as high as No. 6 in non-PPR leagues!  He started a little slow but he didn’t have Ben Roethlisberger for the first 4 games, and still managed 100 yards & 2 TDs in Week 3 at Tampa Bay.  What I liked most about Wallace were the consistent touchdowns during the difficult bye-week phase when you need a little extra glue holding your team together.  He scored in 4 of 5 games from Weeks 6-10.  Wallace also had a TD nullified at Tennessee in Week 2 and another one slipped through his hands vs. Oakland in Week 11.  Doh!

2010 Fantasy Free Agent of the Year:  “And the JUMbo goes to…”

Broncos WR Brandon Lloyd.  He went completely undrafted and became a top-3 fantasy WR.  Don’t even try to tell us you drafted Lloyd because no one will believe you.  Eddie Royal and Jabar Gaffney were going around the 9th round, and rookie Demaryius Thomas followed later in the 13th-15th round.   Lloyd quietly started the 3rd preseason game but only caught 4 passes for 40 yards.  No one blinked.  Week 1 rolls in and Lloyd catches 5 passes for 117 yards.  Okay, a few of you moved on him.  Now, here’s where being a long-time fantasy veteran probably hurt you.  If you’ve been playing as long as I have, then you know Lloyd is (was) an absolute tease.  We old-timers shrugged off that 5-117-0 and passed on him.  You see, in 2005 I picked him up after a 4-142-2 bonanza in Week 3 vs. Dallas.  The next Sunday Lloyd followed up with a 7-102-0 game – I was at Applebee’s watching that game on TV and startled my fiancée with a sudden “Boo-Ya!” cry when he hit 102 yards and got me a 6-point bonus.  Over the next 5 weeks combined? 102 yards.  But Good Lord, he’s been amazing this year.  Six 100-yard games, never more than two weeks without at least one TD.  

Honorable Mention Free Agent

I was going to name Lloyd’s teammate Kyle Orton but didn’t for two reasons – 1. He was drafted late in many leagues, and 2. Orton crumbled in December.  There’s tons of Honorable Mention Free Agents:  Ryan Fitzpatrick, LeGarrette Blount, Mike Tolbert, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Mike Williams (TB), Mario Manningham, & Jacob Tamme.  But if forced to choose the No. 2 Free Agent I’d go with Bills WR Steve Johnson.  This kid was a complete unknown, a 7th-round NFL pick from Kentucky. He’s going to be one of only 8 or 9 WRs in the 1,000/10 club.  Most of us sniffed out Stevie after Week 3 (3-66-1) or definitely after Week 4 when he scored again (3-31-1) and the cool part about him was he kept scoring.  From Weeks 5-11 Johnson was a top-4 WR!  Off topic a bit, what’s the deal with Buffalo’s names on offense?  Fred Jackson, Steve Johnson, David Nelson, Donald Jones… who’s the No. 4 WR, Todd Smith?

2010 Wali Lundy Award:  “And the JUMbo goes to…”

Bucs RB Kareem Huggins.   Every August the fantasy herd eyeballs one unknown player – almost always a RB – and develops a collective chubby.  Suddenly he’s the super-sleeper pick of the year.  It doesn’t take much either… One 35-yard run in a fake game will do it.  Huggins ended up only touching the ball 5 times before tearing his ACL in October.  LeGarrette Blount was claimed off waivers from Tennessee and became the feature back within 7 weeks of joining the team.  Huggins?  I swear I think he was the UPS guy that just delivered my daughter’s Barbie Dream House.  The funniest part is when dynasty-leaguers hang on to these “Lundys” through the next August.  It’s a dream they can’t let go:  “Hey, Huggins got picked up by Cleveland… whoops he just got cut… Oh wait, now he’s on the Jets’ practice squad, that’s even better!”

2010 Frisman Jackson Award:  “And the JUMbo goes to…”

Chargers WR Legedu Naanee.  This award honors legendary Browns WR Frisman Jackson, who totally went off in Week 1 of the 2005 season – 8 catches, 128 yards, 1 TD.  A zillion fantasy owners crashed the waiver wire to grab Jackson (some spending over 50% of their total free-agent budget) only to have their cheese left hanging in the wind.  Jackson never caught another touchdown all year.  In fact he only caught 16 more passes all year.  Thanks, Fris’.  This year, Naanee came out bangin’ in Week 1 with 5 catches for 110 yards & 1 TD.  Fantasy stampede on the waiver wire.  C’mon, admit it – You picked him up.  Naanee never scored another touchdown.  In fact he only caught 14 more passes all year.  Naanee is a fraud just like his alma mater, Boise State.

2010 Anquan Boldin Award:  “And the JUMbo goes to…”

Colts WR Austin Collie.  This is a great honor, the exact opposite of the Frisman Jackson Award.  This goes to the young WR who explodes in Week 1 but turns out to be legitimate.  Perhaps even great.  If you recall, Boldin burst on the scene in Week 1 of 2003 with 10 catches for 217 yards & 2 TDs.  Obviously he wasn’t a Frisman Jackson.  This year Collie opened Week 1 with 11 catches for 163 yards & 1 TD.   He followed that up in Week 3 with 12 catches for 171 yards & 2 TDs.  In fact, Collie scored a TD in 5 of his first 6 games.  Then the concussion problems started, and they put a damper on what could have been a top-6 fantasy season.  Later in Week 15 after plenty of rest, Collie pasted the Jaguars for 8 catches, 87 yards, & 2 TDs in one half before getting knocked out yet again.  I hope he’s good to go in 2011 because this kid could be Peyton’s new Marvin.  He’s that cagey, that precise with his routes.

2010 Corey Dillon Award:  “And the JUMbo goes to…”

Rams RB Steven Jackson.  In honor of the most talented, hard-working RB who loses the prime of his career playing for a joke of a franchise.  Just when St. Louis finally installed some good players around Jackson – QB Sam Bradford, DE Chris Long, WR Danny Amendola, OT Rodger Saffold – the guy’s 28th birthday is already around the corner.  Jackson’s touched the football over 2,200 times and that’s right about when Corey Dillon’s career began its decline.  Sure, Dillon escaped in his 8th season and rumbled for a career-high 1,635 yards with New England – but he was running through holes wider than the Charles River.  He was out of football two years later.  Jackson just posted his sixth straight season and valiantly played through more injuries this year, but his advancing age is no secret.  Don’t be surprised if the Rams draft his heir apparent in the 1st or 2nd round this year and start mixing the kid in.

2010 “What a Waste of Talent” Award:  “And the JUMbo goes to…”

Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco.  This guy is falling off a cliff and he’s barely 33. That’s the age where hard-working pros (winners) like Rod Smith or Derrick Mason were just getting started.  Over the past three seasons Ochocinco averages 12.6 yards per catch and has scored 17 TDs.  In the previous three seasons (before he turned 30) he averaged 15.3 yards per catch and scored 24 TDs.   Yet Ochocinco still finds the time to write wonderful 140-character nuggets like:  “Here we go again, I'm up, it's early as usual and it's pitch black, you ever wake n have to use the bathroom but never get up n go right away?”  The tweeting’s on the wall.  Ochocinco has a $6 million club option and the Bengals will not pick it up.  He’ll close out his career on a three-team tour just like his teammate, Terrell Owens.  Ocho’s first stop will probably be Oakland.  What a shame, because this guy had a chance to be a Hall of Famer the way his career began.  Chad was the most dangerous receiver in the AFC for a few years.  

2010 “Can’t Wait For Free Agency” Award:  “And the JUMbo goes to…”

Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams.  He’s played his last down for Carolina and is poised to break the bank in free agency.  Where will he land?  That will be one of the 3 hottest FF topics of the offseason.  Williams is an absolute beast when healthy, one of the 4 or 5 most talented backs in the league.  Despite the Panthers’ foul passing game year after year, look how many 100-yard efforts he’s had in only 35 games since 2008:

Most 100-Yard Games Since 2008
Running Back Games 100 Yds Avg/carry
Chris Johnson 46 24 5.0
Michael Turner 42 19 4.4
Adrian Peterson 46 18 4.7
Cedric Benson 40 15 3.7
Steven Jackson 42 15 4.1
M. Jones-Drew 46 14 4.4
Thomas Jones 47 14 4.2
DeAngelo Williams 35 12 5.2
Frank Gore 39 12 4.5

D.W. is elite, folks.  Don’t forget that, and also don’t forget that he’s only touched the football 1,017 times in his career, less than anyone listed above (and I’m counting kick returns and playoffs).  I’ll go ahead and lay down my prediction:  DeAngelo Williams to New England.  Whether or not the Patriots win the Super Bowl again this year, it doesn’t matter; I believe they will do everything they can to keep winning Super Bowls, keep rubbing the Jets’ faces in it, and keep supplying Tom Brady with the neatest weapons.  Williams has “Pats” written all over him.  He’s proven he can be a good solider by sharing carries with Jonathan Stewart and never raising a stink about it.  Belichick has a new appreciation for running the football and big multi-TE sets.  BenJarvus Green-Ellis is probably best suited for a “hammer” type of role, a la Sammy Morris.  Danny Woodhead can be the new Kevin Faulk.  D.W. can be the lead guy with 15-18 well-rested, electric carries.  It’s a perfect fit. 

2010 Fantasy Bust of the Year:  “And the JUMbo goes to…”
(Note:  Randy Moss is not on the ballot.  His 2010 season defies explanation.)

Chargers RB Ryan Mathews.  Hey, ankle or no ankle, the kid was a 2nd round fantasy pick and we needed so much more than what we got.  Andre Johnson had a nasty high-ankle sprain and he only missed one game.  Mathews missed 4 games.  Fellow rookie RB Jahvid Best had turf toe (every as bit as debilitating) and never missed a start.  The only reason Best was limited to one snap on Thanksgiving is because HC Jim Schwartz made him sit.  Best has also touched the ball 213 times with only 1 fumble.  Mathews has 151 touches and fumbled 4 times, losing 3.  The thing is, even when Mathews has been healthy he’s lacked… something.  They’ve given him 15+ touches in six different games and he’s never topped 80 total yards.  I still remember this nugget from Peter King:  “Pick Ryan Mathews in the first round, anytime after number seven, and laugh all the way to the playoffs.”  That makes no sense by the way.  If King thought Mathews would put up such huge numbers that you would “laugh all the way to the playoffs” then why does he hedge and add “anytime after number seven.”  C’mon homie, grow a pair.  Say “Take Mathews #1 overall” and I’d respect you more.  Man it annoys me when that guy dispenses fantasy advice.

Honorable Mention Bust:

Jets RB Shonn Greene.  I’m going to pick on Greene for several reasons.  1. LaDainian Tomlinson was supposed to be the change-of-pace guy.  2. Even with his limited carries Greene should have better stats, because he has one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.  3. LaDainian Tomlinson was supposed to be the change-of-pace guy.  Don’t forget folks, Greene was flying off the board ahead of such names as Calvin Johnson, LeSean McCoy, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, & Greg Jennings.  People were hot and heavy for this kid!  I must point out that The Huddle had the sense to take Jamaal Charles at 3.3 over Shonn Greene (still the best value pick I witnessed all summer).  Whew, talk about swerving to avoid a pothole!  I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Eagles TE Brent Celek and Panthers WR Steve Smith as huge busts.

2010 “How Many More Weapons Do You Need?” Award:  “And the JUMbo goes to…”

Ravens QB Joe Flacco.  C’mon dude, they brought you Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, then Todd Heap managed to stay healthy and productive for 12 straight games, plus you had Ray Rice & Willis McGahee forcing respect for play-action.  Look, I’m not really picking on Flacco, he’s been pretty good this year. 25 TD passes, 3497 passing yards.  I just thought there would be more.  I’m not the only one either – Flacco was the 8th or 9th QB off the board last summer, and he was on just about every Sleeper list on the internet.  I’d almost call him a bust, if only because I watched him get picked over Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw, Jason Witten, and even Dwayne Bowe on occasion.  I give Flacco a little credit for staying healthy and consistent – at least 1 TD in all but one game – but the numbers don’t deserve a parade:  17 other QBs average more fantasy points per start going into Week 17.  

2010 “Oh What Could Have Been” Award:  “And the JUMbo goes to…”

Packers TE Jermichael Finley.   Out of sight, but not out of mind.  I remember, baby.  Before Finley went down with a knee injury he was the 5th ranked fantasy TE – and starting to make a move with back-to-back 100-yard games.  He hadn’t even seen double-digit targets yet, plus there was a 15-yard TD catch negated by a penalty.  Finley is an amazing talent.  Let me show you something:  Take Finley’s 4 full games of 2010, string them together with his last 12 games of 2009 (incl. playoffs), and you get this 16-game sample:  81-1130-6.  That’s Dallas Clark territory.  Oh, and Finley is going into his 4th season yet he’s not even 24 years old!  

***************************************************

JUMbo Tidbits:

Houston Texans RB Arian Foster has a league-leading 1,436 rushing yards going into Week 17, and HC Gary Kubiak says it's "important to the team" that Foster wins the rushing title.  He's 56 yards ahead of Jamaal Charles (1,380) and 111 yards ahead of Chris Johnson (1,325).  "I think it's important to the offense," Kubiak added.  "Not me personally, but I think it's something that's hard to get in this league."  Foster has a home game against the desperate Jaguars who still have playoff aspirations.  He should be able to hold off Charles, who’s at home vs. Oakland, but you never know.  Charles told reporters he’s gunning for the crown too. 

Honestly, I wouldn’t count out Chris Johnson stealing the rushing title on the carpet at Indianapolis.  He could roll 220 on the Colts in the blink of an eye.  Jeff Fisher is known to help hard-working players reach statistical goals and incentives.  He pushed for CJ to get 2,000 last year.  Back in 2004 WR Drew Bennett was sitting at 654 receiving yards and 2 TDs going into December with various bonuses in his contract for yards & TDs.  The Titans were basically eliminated at 3-8, so Fisher signed off on a Billy Volek-to-Drew Bennett Circus.  4 games later Bennett had 543 yards & 8 TDs added to his numbers.  Volek threw at him 47 times in 4 games!

Dynasty/Keeper-Leaguers:  Watch for Jets RB Joe McKnight against Buffalo this Sunday.  He should get quite a bit of playing time in a virtually meaningless game (NYJ plays a road wild-card game no matter what).  Week 17 is when many young, desperate RBs make their move, knowing it could be their last one.  They’re running for dollars.  Last year Arian Foster was that guy with 20 carries for 119 yards & 2 TDs.  In 2008 it was Fred Jackson with 27 carries for 136 yards.  In 2007 Pierre Thomas unveiled himself with 20 carries for 105 yards plus 12 catches for 121 yards & 1 TD.  I’m not saying McKnight has a future like these guys… but you never know.

Scary thought:  Lions DT Ndamukong Suh is being compared to… nobody.  Lions DC Gunther Cunningham, who’s coached legends like Neil Smith and Derrick Thomas and witnessed countless other defensive superstars, was asked who Suh reminds him of.  “No, nope, nope, no, never, ever, no, no,” Cunningham said, “I've never seen anything like this and a lot of people want to compare him and there's no comparison.”

Knee-Jerk Reaction:  Saints WR Marques Colston had his right knee scoped on Tuesday.  Sean Payton says Colston still might play in Week 17 but that’s insane.  I’d be surprised if Colston plays in the wild-card round.  Looking ahead to 2011 I suspect this knee scope will be a distant memory by the time training camp rolls around.  Colston will settle into his comfortable 3rd-round ADP as usual.  However, I see danger ahead.  Besides the right knee, Colston’s left knee has been operated on at least twice.  It was scoped in January 2008 and then he had a micro-fracture procedure in January 2009.  Meanwhile his yards per catch average has dropped to a career-low 12.2. 

I can’t believe there are fantasy leagues that still run up to messy Week 17’s (it’s like the preseason all over again… Brian Brohm, Mark Brunell?) but if by chance you’re playing, free to post any lineup questions below and I’ll offer my opinion.  At the very least I’ll try to help you field a lineup of 4-quarter/60-minute players. 

Have a Happy New Year and remember to use a safe driver or call a taxi!

JUM

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