Larry Johnson: WD/Icon SMI; LaDainian Tomlinson: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
What a difference a year (and 12 months) makes! Back in 2006, I would've killed to have either LaDainian Tomlinson (2,323 total yards, 31 TDs then) or Larry Johnson (2,199 total yards, 19 TDs in '06) on my fantasy roster -- no matter the trade offer. But now, while I still would gently maim someone to acquire LT for a high QB1 or WR1, or LJ for a low QB1 or WR1, I am no longer driven to grab these guys at any cost. Case in point: I just turned down an LT-for-Adrian Peterson deal, straight up, in the SI.com & Friends league -- even though I've never owned Tomlinson at any point of my life (five years and 30 leagues later). All this led me to wonder: Can LT and LJ recapture their all-world greatness in 2008?
Even going back to last week in leagues that started after the Giants-Redskins opener on Sept. 4, Tomlinson was the runaway choice for No. 1 overall pick (beating out Peterson, Brian Westbrook and Tom Brady -- depending on the draftee's preference). And Johnson was a solid top-15 pick, especially after fantasy owners witnessed his explosion and cutting prowess during the preseason. But through Weeks 1 and 2, Tomlinson has just 152 total yards and zero TDs, while Johnson has only 108 combined yards and zero scores. Talk about pedestrian numbers ... at this pace (and I'm assuming both backs will score at least one touchdown), LT is earmarked for 1,216 total yards and LJ for 864. Yikes!
Verdict: It's easy to assume that Tomlinson and Johnson (both 28) will find their way this season. After all, Barry Sanders rushed for 2,053 yards in 1997 (age 29) after racking up just 53 rushing yards in the first two games. But if LT's (turf?) toe injury leads to fewer carries and missed games altogether ... and LJ correctly believes he's being phased out of the Chiefs offense, then I have no choice but to say, Sell high on 'em both. Or, at the very least, slyly move heaven and earth to grab their backups, San Diego's Darren Sproles (128 total yards, 1 TD) and Kansas City's Jamaal Charles (the redoubtable heir apparent).
Oh, by the way, here are some revised Accuscore projections for LT and LJ:
Tomlinson: 51 catches, 1,789 total yards (1,414 rushing) and 14 TDs
Johnson: 25 catches, 1,408 total yards (1,143 rushing) and 9 TDs
1. Jay Cutler vs. New Orleans
2. Drew Brees vs. Denver
3. Peyton Manning vs. Jacksonville
4. Marc Bulger vs. Seattle
Being a high-profile, low-production wide receiver stinks, doesn't it? Even if a pass-catcher is mired in a short-term slump ... you have chumps like me breaking things down, seemingly acting as if the sky is falling. Well, I'll try not to go off the deep end when analyzing two slow starters -- Detroit's Roy Williams and Cleveland's Braylon Edwards.
Williams is one of the most polarizing talents in fantasyland. The man wears his heart on his sleeve -- meaning when things are good, he'll tell you about it all day, and when things go bad ... well, it could get ugly. He's averaging eight Targets per game (the number of times a receiver has the ball thrown his way) -- ranking 22nd in the league among wide receivers. However, he has caught only six of those 16 passes (37.5 percent) for a miniscule 95 yards (and one touchdown). That production has been easily dwarfed by Williams' low-key partner-in-crime, Calvin Johnson, who's pulled down 13 catches for 236 yards (No. 2 among WRs) and two touchdowns in two games. Regarding Braylon ... he has only five catches amid 20 targets (25 percent), numbers that can be attributed to good defense (Dallas, Pittsburgh), a few drops (he had four against the Cowboys) or high winds (see Sunday night's sleep-inducing 10-6 loss to the Steelers). Regardless, this output should be unacceptable to Edwards, the Browns and fantasy owners everywhere.
Verdict: Calvin Johnson is rapidly becoming one of the best pass-catchers in the NFL, relegating Williams to WR2 status. But since the Lions are the NFL's best garbage time team, there should be enough scoring opportunities to satisfy both first-round picks (Williams, 2004; Johnson, '07). And if you had Edwards pegged for 1,400 receiving yards and 16 TDs (similar to last year), you may want to adjust your slide-rule tip calculator -- at least until QB Derek Anderson overcomes being fantasy roadkill. Realistically, Edwards could still tally 81 catches for 1,100 yards and 8 TDs in '08 -- numbers worthy of a WR2. In other words, he's the perfect "Buy Low" candidate in fantasyland.
1. Michael Turner vs. Kansas City
2. Larry Johnson vs. Atlanta
3. Marshawn Lynch vs. Oakland
4. Ronnie Brown vs. New England
5. Brandon Jacobs vs. Cincinnati
6. Frank Gore vs. Detroit
7. Julius Jones vs. St. Louis
8. Steven Jackson vs. Seattle
9. Brian Westbrook vs. Pittsburgh
10. Marion Barber vs. Green Bay
Not to belabor the point, but Targets are a must-know for fantasy owners -- especially in PPR leagues. This underrated stat is the best way to safeguard against one-hit wonders during a long, long, long fantasy season. To wit, SI.com presents a list of the 16 pass-catchers (including two tight ends) who've been targeted at least 9.5 times in Weeks 1 and 2 (excluding Nate Burleson, who's lost for the year to injury):
1. WR Brandon Marshall, Broncos (21 Targets)
2. WR Andre Johnson, Texans (15 Targets)
3. WR Calvin Johnson, Lions (12 Targets)
4. WR Reggie Wayne, Colts (12 Targets)
5. WR Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs (11.5)
6. TE Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs (11.5)
7. WR Eddie Royal, Broncos (10.5)
8. WR Wes Welker, Patriots (10.5)
9. WR Matt Jones, Jaguars (10.5)
10. WR Muhsin Muhammad, Panthers (10.5)
11. WR Santana Moss, Redskins (10)
12. WR Plaxico Burress, Giants (10)
13. WR Anthony Gonzalez, Colts (10)
14. WR Amani Toomer, Giants (10)
15. WR Braylon Edwards, Browns (10)
16. TE Jason Witten, Cowboys (9.5)
Matt Hasselbeck: Kellen Micah/Icon SMI
Max in Minnetonka, Minn. asks: Should I offer Randy Moss for Brandon Marshall?
Answer: This is a real dilly-of-a-pickle here. My gut reaction says Moss -- even with Matt Cassel as the Pats' No. 1 QB -- is still better than Marshall. But in Week 2, Marshall was targeted 21 times (18 catches) to Moss's three -- seven times the difference. Max, seriously, I would love to endorse Moss as the better option in the post-Brady era; but Randy is worthless to his team and you, the fantasy owner, if the ball only comes his way three times per game. Marshall simply has a greater upside for the coming weeks. So, if you want him ... go get him!
Patrick in Duxbury, Mass. wonders: I've got Matt Hasselbeck and David Garrard. Who do I drop and whom do I pick up? The best free-agent QBs in my 12-team league are Jason Campbell, Tarvaris Jackson and J.T. O'Sullivan.
Answer: I'd kick Garrard to the curb and keep Hasselbeck (who'll have Deion Branch and Bobby Engram back soon). And in DG's stead, let's go with O'Sullivan, by a nose over Campbell.
Peter in San Francisco has to know: I've got Joseph Addai, Julius Jones, Marion Barber and Chris Johnson. I can only start two; whom do you recommend this week?
Answer: Peter, like I stated above ... Julius and Marion The Barberian are pretty strong locks for 120 total yards and/or two scores this week. As for Johnson and Addai (only 64 rushing yards in '08), I like both runners as RB3 options but cannot guarantee they'll reach the 120/2 TDs threshold. Sorry!
1. Rian Lindell vs. Oakland
2. Robbie Gould vs. Tampa Bay
3. Stephen Gostkowski vs. Miami
4. Kris Brown vs. Tennessee
5. Neil Rackers vs. Washington
6. Matt Prater vs. New Orleans
7. Josh Brown vs. Seattle
8. Josh Scobee vs. Indianapolis
9. Nate Kaeding vs. N.Y. Jets
Before I finish off the mailbag ... Don in Baton Rouge poses a poignant question: Is it time to dump Derek Anderson?
Answer: Well, between Weeks 2 through 14 of the 2007 season, Anderson tossed 25 TDs. Since then, the Oregon State product has thrown four TDs and seven INTs -- with the Browns going 2-3. Anderson gets paid the big bucks to win and then post fantasy-friendly numbers. But right now, he's helping neither cause. My advice: Keep him around for a few weeks (essentially letting him play through his misery) -- but only as a QB2.
Last week, I offered specific predictions for Week 2 -- some pure gold and others that flopped worse than Tabitha, the Bewtiched spinoff starring Lisa Hartman (and curiously, Robert Urich) as a grown-up witch -- just like her mother. Here's the breakdown:
Six Unsung RB/WR/TE Who'll Score in Week 2
WR David Patten (5 catches, 55 yards, 0 TDs -- incorrect)
WR Steve Breaston (1 catch, 18 yards, 0 TDs -- incorrect)
WR Patrick Crayton (2 catches, 23 yards, 0 TDs -- incorrect)
TE Alex Smith (2 catches, 20 yards, 0 TDs -- incorrect)
RB Julius Jones (127 rushing yards, 1 TD -- correct!)
RB Ray Rice (Game cancelled due to Hurricane Ike)
Ever dreamt of playing fantasy football against a Hall of Fame safety, Sports Illustrated football writer, Major League Baseball general manager, world-renowned swimsuit model, professional poker player or best-selling author -- to name a few? SI.com, in conjunction with Facebook, will welcome someone into its 2008 Celebrity Fantasy League where one lucky fan matches weekly wits, from Draft Day to the Fantasy Bowl, with Ronnie Lott, Peter King, Oakland A's GM Billy Beane, supermodel Brooklyn Decker, poker great Phil Gordon and Michael Lewis, author of the sabremetrician-friendly book, Moneyball. Time's running out, though, so click here and register today! As a consolation prize for the contest non-winners, you can create new leagues and develop newer rivals on the new SI/Facebook fantasy game.
Switching gears to baseball ... it's the 25th anniversary of Tony LaRussa's first division title as a manager, leading the '83 White Sox to the AL West crown (thus breaking a 24-year banner drought for the franchise). From that team, starring Harold Baines, Ron Kittle, Greg Luzinski, Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk and Cy Young recipient LaMarr Hoyt -- a 24-game winner that season -- what other South Sider won 20 games in 1983?
Let's pretend you're just two agonizing points away from a fantasy league title and desperately need to break a four-way tie in the WHIP category. What's the easy solution? Well, since it's too late to trade for Johan Santana, John Lackey or Daisuke Matsuzaka, you'll need to hit the waiver wire -- hard!. SI.com's presents a list of the 10 most unheralded pitchers with the best combination of Ks and WHIP in the last 30 days. We're talking about guys with monthly minimums of 19 strikeouts and WHIP-maxes of 1.27 (except for Tampa Bay's J.P. Howell, whose prodigious WHIP rate could not be ignored).
1. Gil Meche, Royals (36 Ks, 1.21 WHIP)
2. Josh Johnson, Marlins (34 Ks, 1.22 WHIP)
3. Wandy Rodriguez, Astros (23 Ks, 1.05 WHIP)
4. Randy Wolf, Astros (24 Ks, 1.21 WHIP)
5. Max Scherzer, Diamondbacks (21 Ks, 0.93 WHIP)
6. Todd Wellemeyer, Cardinals (23 Ks, 1.10 WHIP)
7. Huroki Kuroda, Dodgers (22 Ks, 1.19 WHIP)
8. J.P. Howell, Rays (18 Ks, 0.86 WHIP)
9. Paul Byrd, Red Sox (20 Ks, 1.27 WHIP)
10. Kevin Millwood, Rangers (19 Ks, 1.23 WHIP)
Now that Derek Jeter has passed Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig for the most hits at Yankee Stadium, perhaps this is a good time to discuss his own Hall of Fame candidacy. And before any New Yahhkers rise up, huffing and puffing and sending me hate mail ... this exercise is merely an objective look at his Jeter's résumé.
(Stats as of Sept. 15)
*2,530 hits (6 200-hit seasons)
*1,465 runs (11 100-run seasons)
*206 home runs
*3 30-steal seasons
*12 10-HR seasons
*Lifetime batting average of .316
*4 World Series rings (6 AL pennants)
The answer is E. Richard Dotson won 22 games in 1983, easily the most victories of his 11-year career.
On the Bengals' poor showing in Week 2: How do you have that QB and those WRs and suck this bad? Anyone that drafted any of them expecting big production is ready to choke the life out of them. Ocho Cinco should have changed his last name to Mediocre.
On the 0-2 Chiefs: This is the worst Chiefs team I can ever remember. If you're missing the days of Elvis Grbac, you've hit rock bottom.
On the way-too-conservative Vikings offense: How does Adrian Peterson rush for 160 yards and not find the endzone once? Horrible play-calling and failure to finish. The Vikings just don't know how to win.
On the bumbling Rams: Marc Bulger's best pass of the day was to DE Justin Tuck of the Giants. What the hell happened to Bulger? He'd need three promotions to get to horrible right now. Steven Jackson isn't even in shape yet and Big Game Torry (Holt) is getting older by the snap. It's over, Rams fans ... back to rebuilding.
On the never-say-die Patriots: Their defense was suffocating (Sunday) and did what it had to do to win this game. Watching Brett Favre get rag-dolled for a 30-yard loss on one sack was comical. The Pats will continue to win. Randy Moss owners, there will be a PA support group meeting Monday, the topic: "Randy Moss: Do I hit the panic button now?"