I know the NFL waits until February to announce its regular season awards – MVP, Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player etc – but for fantasy purposes I like to take inventory in December as our “regular season” ends. The JUMbotron has its own series of awards to hand out now that we’ve had a thick 12-game body of work to review. Ok, these aren’t so much awards as they are nicknames, but you’ll enjoy this nevertheless…
“The Juggernaut” – Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
Right out of the gates Rodgers put his hand around the throat of every opponent in your league. If you’re not winning your league – or at least in the playoffs – you need to look at yourself in the mirror and ask, “Am I really cut out for this stuff?” He’s averaging 31 points per game in standard formats, and to put that in perspective – last year Joe Flacco & Sam Bradford had what were considered pretty good seasons but only averaged 35 points per game combined. The only time he’s had less than 25 fantasy points was Week 12 vs. Detroit, and if Mike McCarthy had gone for it on 4th and 1 from the Lions’ 13-yard line with 3:00 left Rodgers might have thrown another score. Rodgers has had at least 4 total TDs in 4 different games so I know you have at least 4 wins, right? Wanna hear something scary? Green Bay could have one of the 3-4 deepest O-lines in the league. LT Chad Clifton went down in Week 5 and has been ably replaced by Marshall Newhouse, while T.J. Lang surprised everyone by taking the left guard job away from 1st-round pick Derek Sherrod. 25-year old RG Evan Dietrich-Smith (the guy who Suh stomped on) just replaced the injured Josh Sitton and played very well vs. the Giants. Rodgers is on pace for a record number of fantasy points – regardless of position or scoring system – and frankly I’m surprised it isn’t talked about more. He’s the #1 overall pick in all leagues next year as far as I’m concerned. Forget “value” and the “Stud RB Theory” and all that crap. Owning Rodgers covers up a lot of mistakes.
“The Sleeper” – Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch
C’mon, he’s the true definition. Rarely one of the first 30 RBs off the board this year, I actually saw Lynch go in the 10th round after Danny Woodhead in one league. You know how you and your buddies all got together for the summer draft party and proceeded to rip through the first 6 or 7 rounds, stockpiling big names and beaming with pride? After that the excitement level dropped sharply as names like Lance Moore and the Eagles Defense were called. That’s where Lynch was. You didn’t even notice he was picked… even if it was you that picked him! The weirdest thing is, if fantasy drafts were held in February right after the postseason Lynch would have been a top-10 overall pick! But time erased that awe-inspiring run and by August we all concluded that Lynch pretty much sucks. Lynch is now the 9th best fantasy RB in standard leagues, 10th in PPR. He has 9 TDs in the last 8 games plus 5 games with at least 131 total yards. The best part is Lynch is only 25 years old and is doing all this damage despite the league’s 25th-ranked pass offense offering nothing to help. Imagine if the dude ever got to run downhill: He’s splitting skulls and snapping forearms to earn every yard! I think Lynch is twice the man that this next player on my list is…
“The Turd” – Jets RB Shonn Greene
Not really because he stinks but because he plopped onto my league’s waiver wire (10 teams, heavy TD bonuses) and I refused to touch him. Of course the joke’s on me after Greene scored 3 TDs vs. Washington last week – but then again, for those of you who started him all year that outburst was probably too late. Greene had only 1 TD in the previous 9 games and has only scored 2+ TDs one other time in his career, back in Week 7 of 2009. Look, overall Greene is serviceable – maybe more than serviceable – as a starting tailback. My problem with him is that he should do so much more. Jane McManus summed Greene up when she called him a ‘B’ student. The Jets have more talent up front than at least 27-28 other teams in the league and yet Greene cannot break off big gains. 25 runners (including QBs Newton, Vick, and Tebow) have more 10> yard runs than Greene’s 16 this season; and yet he ranks 13th in the league with 183 carries. Dude gets loaded down with work but it doesn’t pay off. The JUMbotron has become obsessed with Greene’s lack of burst so it started digging even deeper: Greene has not broken one single regular-season run over 25 yards in his last 450 attempts! For perspective, Michael Turner lost a step a couple years ago and has become quite the “plodder” too, and yet he has 10 runs over 25 yards in his last 450 attempts.
“The Paradox” – Chargers WR Vincent Jackson
On one hand, very few WRs have the raw, man-child talent that Jackson has. At times he seems uncoverable because of his height, speed and vertical leap. He can explode like a time bomb, as evidenced by his two 3-TD efforts in his last 16 games. Calvin Johnson – VJ’s NFC equivalent in skill – has a ton of 2-TD games but has only managed one 3-TD effort in his last 58 games. But overall you can’t compare the two for sheer week-to-week production because Megatron rarely lets you down. In his last 16 full games he’s only scored less than 6 fantasy points twice. In Jackson’s last 16 full games he’s scored 6 or less on 10 different occasions! Wow, that’s toxic. Two other factors make Jackson undesirable to me as well: 1) His nagging injury bug, what with the abdomen, hamstring, and leg strains, and 2) The fact that Jackson is a West Coast guy whose injury news often remains murky right through Sunday afternoon. How many of you have been scared off him by a late-game ‘questionable’ cloud hovering overhead, only to watch him crush your heart with a huge game? JUMbo Whisper: Vincent Jackson will be a free agent in 2012 and I don’t think A.J. Smith will franchise him again. Reason being, they’ve already butted heads and Jackson ended up signing the 2011 tag for $11.4 million guaranteed. If Smith tags him again at the 2012 WR established price of $13.7m guaranteed it would mean he will have sunk $25 million guaranteed over two years – so it would have made sense to just extend him in the first place for that same guaranteed money. Follow?
“The Slow Death” – Texans WR Andre Johnson
I said from the get-go that Johnson was in trouble. Sometimes I’m amazed that we let the mainstream media spin the injury into something less severe than it is. Did you actually see Andre Johnson when he went down on October 2nd? He ripped his helmet off in screeching, hellish pain. His hamstring blew up. So when the silly “2-4 weeks” timetable was passed along I laughed out loud and wrote, “4 weeks minimum, but I actually smell 6.” Fantasy owners waited out the first few weeks with a nice fill-in like Antonio Brown or Doug Baldwin – but the tension started to rise. AJ was killing fantasy teams. Slowly. A loss here, a loss there, and all the while Johnson’s story changed… at first we heard he had that stupid Platelet-Rich Plasma Injection but soon the truth came out, that he had surgery to repair the distal hamstring tendon. I’m no doctor, but when that thicker hamstring tendon is busted your professional football season is a wash. You lose all the conditioning you built up. AJ missed 6 games (7 weeks), came back as a decoy at Jacksonville, only catching a couple meaningless passes at the end of the game. Last week was the death blow: Johnson pulled the other hamstring, obviously due to overcompensating for the other leg.
“The Tease” – Chargers RB Ryan Mathews
Let me start off by saying, I get it. Homeboy can run. The problem is he’s got that special ability that only a few stud RBs have. Fred Taylor had it, Willie Parker had it, Beanie Wells has it, and Ryan Mathews has it. The ability to tease fantasy owners into thinking they have the next big thing – only to watch that big thing sit on the sidelines having trainers tend to his leg or foot. It’s maddening, and once I sense guys like Mathews don’t have the durability to go week-to-week, I remove them from my draft board the next season. I can’t stand the clutter and I will not suffer unneeded stress if I can avoid it. Back through the years I’ve left Lee Suggs, Ryan Torain and Knowshon Moreno off my board so that I’m assured of not being lured into picking them “for value.” There’s no “value” in heaving a beer can at a 42” LG wall-mounted TV. That said, Mathews was a top-7 RB in the first 5 weeks of the season -- so if you’re into gambling I admit this guy can pay off in spurts. Just don’t come crying to me when he gets hurt. Sadly, I’ll add that one of my favorite players – Jahvid Best – will not be on my draft board either in 2012. It’s not personal.
“The Curse” – Browns RB Peyton Hillis
All he had to do was tell EA Sports “No, please. No Madden cover.” Surely you can refuse to have your likeness printed on anything, right? Sad. In a nationwide vote of 16 million fans there was an army of fantasy geeks (who obviously grabbed Hillis in Week 3 or 4 last year, man what a pickup!) who pushed Hillis ahead of Michael Vick. They asked him about the Madden Curse and he smiled like a Cheshire cat. “I'm a guy who has always gone out there and proved people wrong,” Hillis said. “I'm not worried about it and I've never been worried about a curse.” Fast forward to now: Hillis has missed 4 games with a blown-out hammy, another game because of strep throat (?) amidst accusations that he was sitting it out to make a statement about his contract demands. On top of all this, he got blasted for missing a charity event at the Boys and Girls Club. Amidst all this, when Hillis has been on the field he’s only scored in one game and averages a tepid 3.4 yards per carry. In fact, over his last 10 games going back to last year he’s averaged 3.2 per carry. Now Hillis will never get that big extension from Cleveland because he’s the 3rd most talented back on his own team! Someone like New England will sign him in free agency – prizing his versatility and work ethic – but he’ll never make the big bucks in the NFL. Ever.
“Patrick Jeffers, Part II” – Packers WR Jordy Nelson
In honor of ex-Panthers WR Patrick Jeffers, the single greatest Caucasian one-year wonder at the wide receiver position. With all apologies to Drew Bennett and Kevin Curtis, Jeffers is the original White Shadow, a guy that broke onto the scene as quickly as he left it. He caught 21 passes in his first 3 years, then erupted for 63-1082-12 in 1999, then tore his ACL and was out of the league by 2001. Jordy’s gunning for the title, folks. He’s scoring TDs by the handful… and making big, lonnngggg catches. Nelson is 8th in the league with 10 receptions of 25+ yards (despite ranking a pitiful 53rd among WRs in targets), and 4th in the league with 8 receptions of 30+ yards. Strangely, Nelson’s pace is almost identical to Jeffers’’99 season at 64 catches, 1,168 yards and 12 TDs. By the way, this is all in playful jest and I actually believe Nelson is a straight baller. He’s going to be around for years, and if he ever gets into the heavy-target world of a Roddy White or Brandon Marshall, look out! 1,600-yard seasons will rain upon us.
“The Real” – Eagles RB LeSean McCoy
Man this guy’s moves are scary and abrupt, like a sneeze. Sometime last year (or the year before?) I wrote something about how McCoy “didn’t have it” or whatever. I can’t remember which JUMbotron it was in and I hope no one ever digs it up. Jeez Louise, McCoy can do it all just like Brian Westbrook did, only McCoy stays on the football field whereas Westbrook got hurt quite a bit. Shady’s missed one football game in almost three full seasons! The fantasy points are steady, beefy, and a downright pleasure: Since week 10 of last year only Arian Foster (430) and Ray Rice (419) have more fantasy PPR points than McCoy (414). I got into a heated debate about who the #1 RB pick should be next year and my buddy says Foster without blinking. I get that, ok… and I know it’s nitpicking, but if Andy Reid’s still coaching Philly I’m going with McCoy. I love this offense for a tailback. Screen passes, low carry mileage, lots of stretch plays, less off-tackle jaw-rattling. And LeSean’s been doing his thing while Michael Vick is in and out with injuries and the offensive line has been patched together on the fly. Eagles beat writer Brad Wilson explained the O-line perfectly back on Oct. 20th: “The right tackle, who's really a guard, was playing left tackle. The right tackle hadn't played a down in months. The center and right guard are rookies, the latter making just his second start. The left guard has been on the team for three months.”
“The Bust” – Jets QB Mark Sanchez
As much as I’ve kicked Vince Young around for years (deservedly so, big baby) I sorta feel sorry for him because Mark Sanchez keeps getting a pass, over and over and over. Don’t tell me Sanchez is a winner just because he’s been to a couple AFC title games. Yes, “he’s” won four road playoff games in his young career. My point is that his career completion percentage is a VY-ish 55.1% (woefully low, almost embarrassing) and with this high-spending, talent-stockpiling franchise behind him he should be at the top of the leaderboard in passing efficiency. All the Jets do is play defense, protect his pocket and give him ripe play-action! In the first post-season run in 2009, the Jets beat the Bengals on the strength of their defense and running game. They held Cincy to 281 total yards and 5-of-14 on 3rd downs. Sanchez threw 12 completions. In the divisional round they beat San Diego 17-14 while holding them to 4-of-13 on 3rd downs and allowed 2 rushing 1st downs. Sanchez threw 12 completions. They got to that title game vs. Indy and Sanchez threw a couple TDs and only turned it over once – but the Colts still won 30-17 despite never sacking Sanchez and only touching his jersey three times. 2010? He showed flashes. An astute Jets chatter at NewYorkJets.com said it best: “Mark’s beginning three years at the bottom of the completion percentage rankings make him the most consistently inaccurate passer in the NFL. It is hard to find quarterbacks in football history who have started out that badly, because they are usually benched. You’d have to go back to Joey Harrington during his 2002-2004 seasons with the Lions.” Wait, are we talking fantasy in this column? Forget it – Sanchez doesn’t exist in 8-12-team fantasy football leagues.
“Winning” – Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski
Gronk is winning like Charlie Sheen, collecting TDs in bunches and posing for Twitpics with cute girls. What’s not to like? He’s got 13 scores, leading the next best tight end Jimmy Graham by 5 scores. In fact, Gronkowski has more touchdowns than Jason Witten, Dustin Keller, and Owen Daniels combined. Let’s dig a little deeper: Gronkowski has 17 TDs in his last 17 games. No one else in pro football has even 15 TD catches in their last 17 games (Calvin Johnson is next with 14). All the talk this year has been about Jimmy Graham, and most deservedly because he’s a beast, but Gronkowski is on pace for a mind-boggling 87 catches, 1,237 yards and 17 TDs. He’s a great blocker, durable, cat-quick, and at 6’6/265 he’s just a freaky new prototype. I thought Ron Jaworski’s comments last month were interesting: "Rob has a chance to be something really special. When we talk about attributes, the one thing that jumps out at me besides his catch radius is his separation. Very few tight ends separate like he does coming out of the break." Wait, is he really 6’6/265? He’s bigger than Hall of Fame DE Bruce Smith! Some of the most lethal fantasy teams I’ve ever seen had a monster like Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez in the TE slot. It creates a sinister advantage when you’re getting 25 points from your tight end and your opponent is playing in the baby pool with Vernon Davis or Owen Daniels. Gronk is fueling those kinds of fantasy teams this year.
“Better Late…” – Falcons WR Roddy White
My #2 ranked preseason WR couldn’t get it going early, which caused me quite a headache because he’s on all 3 of my fantasy teams. Remember, I’m the guy who never drew higher than pick #8 so I ended up going WR-WR every time. On a couple of those teams I was able to pair Calvin Johnson up with Roddy and early on it was a one-man show. 9 TDs in the first 5 games, Megatron jerseys flying off the shelves. Roddy was stuck in neutral with 2 TDs in the first 5 games and one 100-yard effort. The natives were restless, and since I was the Rowdy Roddy Pied Piper I was catching it from everywhere. Someone messaged my Twitter inbox telling me to go climb my thumb. Ouch! He then unfollowed me, which hurt even worse. Well, don’t look now rude boy, but over the last 6 games Roddy has 69 fantasy points. And Calvin Johnson, after that volcanic start where we thought he’d score 25 TDs this year… he has 71 points in his last 6 games. I truly felt all along that Roddy had to pick up the pace – simply had to – because of the constant string of warm/indoor games that Atlanta drew on the schedule. Not coincidentally he’s had 3 big games in a row and they were all indoors. Next 3 games? At Carolina, vs. Jacksonville, at New Orleans.
“Fine Wine” – Baltimore Ravens defense/special teams
The 7th oldest defense in the NFL. One big rattling bone bag led by Ray Lewis who’s played over 230 NFL games including playoffs. Shoot, they don’t need Ray. As long as he’s in the locker room and on the sidelines his fury and passion gets into the defensive huddle. Even with Lewis out these guys have only allowed 4 TDs in their last 12 quarters – while notching 14 sacks, 5 INTs and a punt-return TD. A top-3 fantasy defense in virtually any scoring system, the Ravens rank #1 in sacks (41) and #3 in opposing QB completions (53.5%). They’ve scored 5 defensive TDs. I don’t know about you this week’s home game vs. Dan Orlovsky and the Colts seems like a lead-pipe lock blowout. Like a 31-0 blowout. If you’re carrying a rarely-used but viable player like Mike Tolbert, BenJarvus Green-Ellis or Brandon Lloyd and can’t get him into your lineup, I’d recommend trading right now to get the Ravens defense for this moment. Heck, I’d trade all three of those guys right now for the Ravens. It’s about winning now. What are you gonna do with all that depth anyway? You can’t take ‘em with ya – and what good is depth if you get bounced this week?
“Dreamboat” – Patriots QB Tom Brady
How many 2nd round fantasy picks can you almost guarantee will be top-5 at his position? It’s rare. Brady is neck and neck with Drew Brees for 3rd right now and could make his 5th top-3 ranking in the last 7 healthy seasons. He’s 2nd in passing yards (3,916), 2nd in TD passes (30), 2nd in QB rating (105.9), and 3rd in completion percentage (66.7%). Chad Ochocinco was useless, Deion Branch is Deion Branch, opponents are occasionally slowing Wes Welker down thanks to 5 miles of film to study, and their schedule has been the 9th toughest in the league against the pass so far. Who cares? Give Brady his Twin Terror TEs, a smidgeon of a running game to let his arm rest for a couple minutes, and a leaky defense allowing opponents to score freely – and Voila! Brady throws 40 TDs and leads countless championship fantasy teams. This week Brady’s at Washington, who just gave up 34 points to the Jets then it’s off to Denver who rank 29th in defending fantasy QBs. Livin’ the dream, man.
JUMbo Cheerleader Series:
--Carolina lost both starting DTs in their 4-3 alignment at Tampa Bay last week. Atlanta’s up next.
--Aaron Rodgers has a passer rating of 149.3 with 15 TDs and 1 interception when facing the blitz this season.
--Roy Helu has been the No. 7 fantasy RB over the last 3 weeks.
--RB total touches the last 3 weeks: Rice 80, Lynch 76, M. Bush 73, Jones-Drew 73, Helu 67, C. Johnson 63, McCoy 61.
--DeMarcus Ware leads the NFL with 15 sacks.
--Patriots CB Kyle Arrington leads the NFL with 7 INTs.
--Darren Sproles leads the NFL in average per carry on turf at 6.7. DeMarco Murray is 2nd at 6.2.
--Tom Brady leads all QBs with 79 red-zone pass attempts. Matt Stafford is 2nd at 69.
--Cedric Benson leads all RBs with 47 red-zone rushing attempts. Michael Turner is 2nd with 44.
--Mark Ingram has scored in two straight games.
--Washington plays New England’s 32nd ranked pass defense. Fred Davis is suspended so it’s just Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney.
--San Francisco leads all defenses with 28 takeaways, almost as many as Philly (16) and San Diego (15) combined.
--Joe Flacco is the 16th-ranked fantasy QB.
--Carolina gives up the most fantasy points to RBs. Now re-read the first tidbit above.
Good Luck This Week!