Fantasy Clicks: It's all about survival ... and the bottom line
BY JAY CLEMONS
Mike Sims-Walker: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
The purpose of writing Fantasy Clicks, of course, is to entertain and enlighten the reader on a thrice-weekly basis; and if he/she should profit from the insider fantasy info, then it's merely an unintentional-but-welcome bonus for everyone involved. But today's Clicks should be viewed in a slightly different light, where the opportunity to collect fame, fortune and glory is absolutely real -- in the form of an excellent strategy with survivor pools for the 2010 NFL season.
What is a survivor pool? Well, it's a simple game where contestants are asked to select one lead-pipe cinch for wins in Weeks 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. -- with the lone caveat of only using a particular club once per season (in victory, at least). For example, I have Jacksonville beating Denver at home in Week 1. By virtue of that, I can no longer designate the Jaguars to win in Weeks 2-17. The same holds true for Dallas (over Chicago) in Week 2; after that game, I can no longer pick the Cowboys to win the rest of the way. Any incorrect picks automatically knock a contestant out of the pool; and if anyone should be left standing by Week 17 -- NEVER an easy task -- they're entitled to all or some of the winnings (which can be quite lucrative in some leagues).
The 17 weekly locks for this season:
Week 1 -- Jacksonville over Denver
Week 2 -- Dallas over Chicago
Week 3 -- Baltimore over Cleveland
Week 4 -- San Diego over Arizona
Week 5 -- Cincinnati over Tampa Bay
Week 6 -- Houston over Kansas City
Week 7 -- New Orleans over Cleveland
Week 8 -- San Francisco over Denver
Week 9 -- Carolina over New Orleans
Week 10 -- Arizona over Seattle
Week 11 -- Miami over Chicago
Week 12 -- Denver over St. Louis
Week 13 -- Minnesota over Buffalo
Week 14 -- Washington over Tampa Bay
Week 15 -- Indianapolis over Jacksonville
Week 16 -- Green Bay over N.Y. Giants
Week 17 -- N.Y. Jets over Buffalo
1. ALWAYS pick a home team to win that week.
2. When in doubt, exploit bottom-feeder clubs on the road (Chiefs, Browns, Bills, Bucs, etc.).
3. Don't be afraid to pick the champion Saints to lose on the road -- when playing on grass.
4. It's best to avoid prime-time games between teams of similar stature.
5. Don't use the Packers, Vikes, Colts, Ravens in Week 17 -- after they've clinched playoff spots.
6. Avoid picking against the vastly improved Lions later in the season.
7. Avoid picking against the talented, but sometimes-schizophrenic Raiders early in the season.
8. Only pick home upsets from games involving intra-divisonal opponents.
9. Stay away from the Giants -- a good team that has no easy victories on their schedule.
10. Don't get sucked into any revenge games involving Donovan McNabb -- either in victory or defeat.
Here are my revised RB rankings for standard-scoring leagues, which should differ from the experts of other sites, simply because it's impossible to predict anything beyond Beanie Wells (No. 14) at this point:
1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
2. Chris Johnson, Titans (of course CJ had the best year in '09 ... but he's still No. 2)
3. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
4. Ray Rice, Ravens
5. Michael Turner, Falcons
6. Frank Gore, 49ers
7. Steven Jackson, Rams
8. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
9. Cedric Benson, Bengals
10. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
11. Ryan Grant, Packers
12. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
13. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
14. Beanie Wells, Cardinals
15. Matt Forte, Bears
16. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
17. Shonn Greene, Jets
18. LeSean McCoy, Eagles
19. Pierre Thomas, Saints
20. Joseph Addai, Colts
While we're at it, might as well list the next-best 20 tailbacks in fantasyland:
21. C.J. Spiller, Bills
22. Clinton Portis, Redskins
23. Jerome Harrison, Browns (I don't understand the backlash toward him this summer)
24. Brandon Jacobs, Giants
25. Cadillac Williams, Buccaneers
26. Steve Slaton, Texans
27. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants
28. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins
29. Darren McFadden, Raiders
30. Justin Forsett, Seahawks
31. Fred Jackson, Bills
32. Ryan Mathews, Chargers (I'll remain stubborn here until I see him play)
33. Marion Barber, Cowboys
34. Jahvid Best, Lions
35. Thomas Jones, Chiefs
36. Darren Sproles, Chargers
37. Felix Jones, Cowboys
38. LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets
39. Montario Hardesty, Browns
40. Ben Tate, Texans
Note: The rankings didn't account for Brian Westbrook, who still could be an impact runner this season (assuming his concussions have subsided).
The calendar reads July 16, but the good people at Fantasy Football Calculator are already hard at work, trying to make mathematical sense of this year's top fantasy football prospects. In fact, this site represents the perfect one-stop shopping for mock drafts and the Average Draft Position tool (ADP) -- perhaps the best learning aid for NOT reaching during the August drafts. Speaking of ADP, here's a list of wide receivers likely earmarked for Rounds 1-6 (12-team leagues):
Andre Johnson, Texans -- Round 1, Pick 6
Reggie Wayne, Colts/Randy Moss, Patriots -- Round 1, Pick 11 (dead heat)
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals -- Round 2, Pick 2
Calvin Johnson, Lions -- Round 2, Pick 3
Miles Austin, Cowboys -- Round 2, Pick 5
Brandon Marshall, Dolphins -- Round 2, Pick 7
Roddy White, Falcons -- Round 2, Picks 8
DeSean Jackson, Eagles/Greg Jennings, Packers -- Round 2, Pick 12 (dead heat)
Marques Colston, Saints -- Round 3, Pick 3
Sidney Rice, Vikings -- Round 3, Pick 4
Anquan Boldin, Ravens -- Round 3, Pick 6
Vincent Jackson, Chargers -- Round 4, Pick 2
Steve Smith, Giants -- Round 4, Pick 3
Steve Smith, Panthers -- Round 4, Pick 5
Michael Crabtree, 49ers/Chad Ochocinco, Bengals -- Round 4, Pick 7 (dead heat)
Wes Welker, Patriots -- Round 5, Pick 2
Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs -- Round 5, Pick 4
Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars -- Round 5, Pick 7
Percy Harvin, Vikings/Hakeem Nicks, Giants -- Round 5, Pick 8 (dead heat)
Pierre Garcon, Colts -- Round 5, Pick 11
Hines Ward, Steelers/Donald Driver, Packers -- Round 6, Pick 6 (dead heat)
Dez Bryant, Cowboys -- Round 6, Pick 12
As someone who lives in Atlanta and has 24/7 access to the Web and local/national radio, I somehow missed the news that Michael Turner incurred some debilitating injury this summer and cannot fulfill his duties as a fantasy dynamo or the Falcons' workhorse back. If he's not injured, what other reason could possibly justify Turner falling to the No. 10 spot in standard-scoring leagues? Strange but true, in the official mock draft for Sports Illustrated's fantasy football spectacular (currently at bookstores nationwide), I was stunned to have the feel-good choice of Turner or Steven Jackson in Round 1. In a Points Per Reception league, maybe I could understand Turner and/or S-Jax slipping so far; but to face a win-win decision like that -- without the help of a desirable draft slot -- warmed my heart to no end. As a result, I killed the 12-team, 16-round draft that's featured in our magazine ... but unfortunately, won't be played out.
The list of SI-family fantasy owners/drafters is long and distinguished, from Ben Reiter, Mark Mravic, Adam Duerson, Mike Beacom, Paul Forrester, David Sabino, Damon Hack, Jim Gorant and the incomparable Jim Trotter. Here's how the first four rounds went down:
1. Chris Johnson, Titans
2. Ray Rice, Ravens
3. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
5. Frank Gore, 49ers
6. Peyton Manning, Colts
7. Drew Brees, Saints
8. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
9. Andre Johnson, Texans
10. Michael Turner, Falcons (my pick)
11. Steven Jackson, Rams
12. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
13. Cedric Benson, Bears
14. Randy Moss, Patriots
15. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (my pick)
16. Ryan Grant, Packers
17. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
18. Shonn Greene, Jets
19. LeSean McCoy, Eagles
20. Ryan Mathews, Chargers
21. Reggie Wayne, Colts
22. Calvin Johnson, Lions
23. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
24. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins
25. Miles Austin, Cowboys
26. DeSean Jackson, Eagles
27. Beanie Wells, Cardinals
28. Roddy White, Falcons
29. Matt Schaub, Texans
30. Sidney Rice, Vikings
31. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
32. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
33. Tom Brady, Patriots
34. Greg Jennings, Packers (my pick)
35. Philip Rivers, Chargers
36. Vincent Jackson, Chargers
37. Pierre Thomas, Saints
38. Jahvid Best, Lions
39. Matt Forte, Bears (my pick)
40. Anquan Boldin, Ravens
41. Steve Smith, Panthers
42. Marques Colston, Saints
43. Dallas Clark, Colts
44. Donald Driver, Packers
45. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins
46. C.J. Spiller, Bills
47. Steve Smith, Giants
48. Tony Romo, Cowboys
For what it's worth, here's my team:
Round 1 -- RB Michael Turner, Falcons (back to fighting weight, ready to dominate)
Round 2 -- WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (for the sake of balance, took my No. 2 overall WR)
Round 3 -- WR Greg Jennings, Packers (happily settled for Plan B after Knowshon Moreno)
Round 4 -- RB Matt Forte, Bears (if healthy, I'm guaranteeing 1,700 total yards/10 TDs)
Round 5 -- TE Jason Witten, Cowboys (excellent value for this standard-scoring/PPR monster)
Round 6 -- WR Chad Ochocinco, Bengals (my last shot at WR before going RB/QB crazy)
Round 7 -- RB Cadillac Williams, Bucs (will spend summer running -- not rehabbing)
Round 8 -- RB Clinton Portis, Redskins (the last workhorse back, Laurence Maroney aside)
Round 9 -- QB Donovan McNabb, Redskins (it's always great to land a top-12 QB in Round 9)
Round 10 -- WR Jerricho Cotchery, Jets (safest pick among the three-headed WR monster)
Round 11 -- QB Matthew Stafford, Lions (reached one round too high ... but for good reason)
Round 12 -- WR Laurent Robinson, Rams (on the brink of a breakout -- let's hope it happens)
Round 13 -- WR Dexter McCluster, Chiefs (ALWAYS take "upside" this late in the draft)
Round 14 -- D/ST San Francisco 49ers (the best fantasy defense west of Baltimore, Md.)
Round 15 -- PK Mason Crosby, Packers (the best kicker not named Kaeding or Gostkowski)
Round 16 -- WR Brandon Tate, Patriots (Tom Brady believes in his down-the-field explosiveness -- that's good enough for me in Round 16)
Vince Young: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Just like real-world football, fantasy owners can win a championship with either Vince Young or Joe Flacco running the show at quarterback for 14, 15 or 16 weeks. But for the fantasy owner with both Young and Flacco on his/her roster, the weekly determinations will rest with the hotter hand ... and who possesses the easier matchup. So, on the off chance you land Flacco and Young in the same draft (Rounds 9/10) and aren't sure which one should start, here's a week-by-week breakdown of my QBs currently ranked Nos. 17 and 18:
Week 1 -- Young (vs. Oakland) over Flacco (@ N.Y. Jets)
Week 2 -- Young (vs. Pittsburgh) over Flacco (@ Cincinnati)
Week 3 -- Flacco (vs. Cleveland) over Young (@ N.Y. Giants)
Week 4 -- Young (vs. Denver) over Flacco (@ Pittsburgh)
Week 5 -- Flacco (vs. Denver) over Young (@ Dallas)
Week 6 -- Young (@ Jacksonville) over Flacco (@ New England)
Week 7 -- Young (vs. Philadelphia) over Flacco (vs. Buffalo)
Week 8 -- Young (@ San Diego) over Flacco (BYE)
Week 9 -- Flacco (vs. Miami) over Young (BYE)
Week 10 -- Flacco (@ Atlanta) over Young (@ Miami)
Week 11 -- Flacco (@ Carolina) over Young (@ Washington)
Week 12 -- Flacco (vs. Tampa Bay) over Young (@ Houston)
Week 13 -- Young (vs. Jacksonville) over Flacco (vs. Pittsburgh)
Week 14 -- Flacco (@ Houston) over Young (vs. Indianapolis)
Week 15 -- Young (vs. Houston) over Flacco (vs. New Orleans)
Week 16 -- Young (@ Kansas City) over Flacco (@ Cleveland)
Week 17 -- Young (@ Indianapolis) over Flacco (vs. Cincinnati)
Final Tally: Young wins, 10-7
Verdict: There's absolutely no justification for Young coming out of the chute in a sluggish manner -- especially with early home games against the Raiders, Steelers and Broncos, and roadies with the susceptible Giants and Jaguars. Flacco, on the other hand, must endure a sustainable run of quality defenses, while playing second-fiddle to Ray Rice in September and October. But come November, he'll get to flex his muscles against the Dolphins, Falcons, Panthers and Bucs. Don't let the Young's three-game spread fool you here: He probably won't break free until Weeks 15, 16 and 17, culminating with a surprisingly easy-cheesy matchup with the we're-already-resting-for-the-playoffs Colts on the season's final week.
... To air the 1984 Raiders-Dolphins tilt in its next batch of NFL Classic Games. While YouTubing, I recently stumbled upon the NBC original broadcast of this titanic showdown -- pitting the defending champion Raiders against the 12-1 Dolphins at the famed Orange Bowl ... and featuring the remarkable play-by-play tandem of Dick Enberg and Merlin Olsen.
Three things immediately stand out from this well-preserved clip: 1) Dan Marino breaks John Unitas' single-season record for touchdown passes. 2) Raiders cornerback Lester Hayes and Dolphins receiver Mark Clayton warrant stronger consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 3) And at the 4:06 mark, you'll notice a Dolphins fan in the upper deck blowing into a vuvuzela, the same swarm-of-bees-replicate noisemaker that was all the rage at the World Cup in South Africa. Timeless stuff!
The claws may come out when writers are grappling for the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards every January, but for the other 11 months, the principals at Sports Illustrated, ESPN.com, CBSSports.com, SportingNews.com, FoxSports.com, etc. are rather cordial to one another -- especially when hosting expert mock drafts. That's why I'm happy and honored to fulfill NFL.com's e-request to plug/review the new NFL.com Fantasy Game. Now that we've got the plug out of the way ... here's a lightning-fast capsule review of the site's modernized bells and whistles:
What I Love
**I love the draft rooms' accessibility ... and how a new one opens up every 60 seconds (nice touch with the mini-helmets, too).
**Inside the mock draft room, I love the sharp colors and team logos (although I wasn't sure how to change away from the Chargers).
**I love the draft room sound effects, like NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's welcome and the exuberant 10-second countdown leading up to the draft.
**I love the look of the video library, complete with positional and intra-squad fantasy battles.
**I appreciate how the NFL Network and NFL.com share and categorize their resources.
**I love the easy access to ... 1) Fantasy guru Michael Fabiano's archived columns/blogs, 2) NFL.com breakdown (or Average Draft Position), 3) NFL.com Draft Kit and 4) the extensive Player news page -- all centrally located.
What I Could Do Without
**Inside the mock draft room, it'd be nice to have more than 10 undrafted players when viewing positional options.
**NFL.com MUST integrate a sound-effect application that lets mock drafters know they're up to bat ... because I'm rarely looking at the board when it's not my turn to pick. How about something like MockDraft Central's "Now it's your turn!" or ESPN's nah-nah-nah, nah-nah-nah jingle or my Dude, I'm going to freak out if you take all 90 seconds to draft Rashard Mendenhall for the new SI.com/Facebook/Watercooler game (coming soon to a laptop near you).
The numbers hit you like a punch in the face when clicking to Pro Football Reference. In 2009, Darren McFadden finished third amongst Raiders rushers with 357 yards and one touchdown (behind Michael Bush/Justin Fargas) ... and fifth amongst Oakland pass-catchers with 245 receiving yards. Granted, McFadden only played in 12 games last year, but his per-game average of 41.5 total yards was easily the worst for a former top-5-overall draft pick in Year 2 since Brent Fullwood in the late 1980s (minimum 12 games). Yes, even Curtis Enis, Ki-Jana Carter and Blair Thomas -- the three biggest RB draft busts of the modern era -- had better numbers in their respective second years than McFadden in '09. Yikes!
But this mini-section wasn't conceived to denigrate McFadden's talents or even characterize him as a bust at the tender age of 22 (he turns 23 in August). Rather, it's an exploratory exercise of whether D-Mac actually has the tools to be a great real-world and fantasyland tailback in the 2010 season. And from this point forward, we're going to accentuate all D-Mac positives, acting as if the high-profile 2008 man-crush has yet to expire:
1. The free agent Fargas has yet to re-sign with the Raiders or join forces with another club (UFL overtures notwithstanding); so, that's one major hurdle removed for D-Mac before the season even starts.
2. The Raiders passed on C.J. Spiller, Ryan Mathews, Jahvid Best, Dexter McCluster, Toby Gerhart, Joe McKnight, Montario Hardesty, Jonathan Dwyer and Ben Tate in the April draft; on its own, that would be a strong endorsement of McFadden and Bush's standing amongst the franchise's one-man hierarchy (Al Davis).
3. The Raiders figuratively stole QB Jason Campbell from the Redskins on draft day (in exchange for a 4th-rounder), a move that actually puts them in the running to win the watered-down AFC West. As a direct consequence, McFadden and Bush won't have to worry about opposing defenses putting 8-9 guys in the proverbial "box" -- essentially daring JaMarcus Russell to accurately throw downfield ... or correctly execute a short-range screen pass.
4. Knock Oakland all you want for being an NFL model of instability, but there's no denying the talent at offensive line, bolstered by the fact it took Jared Veldheer and Bruce Campbell in the draft. If the Raiders were smart -- and yes, that's never a given -- they'd reclaim their 2008 status as one of the NFL leaders in rushing attempts and feed D-Mac and Bush a combined 35-40 times a game, while enabling Campbell to work his conservative magic the rest of the way.
5. Perhaps I should've led with this one, but McFadden is easily the second-fastest back in the NFL (behind Chris Johnson) and probably the best overall athlete amongst the top tailbacks. And that supreme athleticism should eventually count for something, huh? Sooner or later, he's going to stop being compared to Brent Fullwood and Blair Thomas, right?
There's a perception in fantasyland, whether real or not, that receivers make the biggest strides in their third pro season. To wit, here are my 2010-only rankings for the Year 3 wideouts:
1. DeSean Jackson, Eagles
2. Devin Thomas, Redskins (ready to take one giant leap this fall)
3. Pierre Garcon, Colts
4. Mario Manningham, Giants
5. Donnie Avery, Rams
6. Josh Morgan, 49ers (Ted Ginn's presence affects his ranking)
7. Early Doucet, Cardinals (could easily be No. 2 here by season's end)
8. Eddie Royal, Broncos
9. Earl Bennett, Bears
10. Chaz Schilens, Raiders
11. Andre Caldwell, Bengals
12. James Hardy, Bills
13. Malcolm Kelly, Redskins
14. Harry Douglas, Falcons
15. Keenan Burton, Rams
Most people consider the No. 10 pick in a 12-team draft to be a real blessing this season -- and I'm one of 'em. Yes, you'll miss out on the never-ending debates of Adrian Peterson vs. Chris Johnson and/or Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Ray Rice ... but you're also a lock to get two of the top-15 studs, which may or may not include Texans WR Andre Johnson. Regardless of how the AJ-watch shakes out, here's an excellent strategy for nailing your draft in the 10th slot:
Round 1, Pick 10: Motive -- Best overall player (anything goes after the first five picks)
1st option: RB DeAngelo Williams, Panthers ... 2nd option: RB Cedric Benson, Bengals
Round 2, Pick 15 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR/QB available
1st option: RB Cedric Benson, Bengals ... 2nd option: RB Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
Round 3, Pick 34 overall: Motive -- Best WR/QB/RB available
1st option: WR Anquan Boldin, Ravens ... 2nd option: QB Tom Brady, Patriots
Round 4, Pick 39 overall: Motive -- Best RB/QB/TE available
1st option: RB Matt Forte, Bears ... 2nd option: QB Matt Schaub, Texans
Round 5, Pick 58 overall: Motive -- Best elite TE or Tier II tailback
1st option: TE Jason Witten, Cowboys ... 2nd option: RB C.J. Spiller, Bills
Round 6, Pick 63 overall: Motive -- Best QB available
1st option: QB Jay Cutler, Bears ... 2nd option: RB Darren McFadden, Raiders
Round 7, Pick 82 overall: Motive -- Best RB available (preferably a workhorse back)
1st option: RB Cadillac Williams, Buccaneers ... 2nd option: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants
Round 8, Pick 87 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR available
1st option: RB Clinton Portis, Redskins ... 2nd option: RB Steve Slaton, Texans
Round 9, Pick 106 overall: Motive -- Best WR/QB available
1st option: WR Kenny Britt, Titans ... 2nd option: QB Donovan McNabb, Redskins
Round 10, Pick 111 overall: Motive -- Best player available (with a nod toward receiver)
1st option: WR Devin Thomas, Redskins ... 2nd option: RB Justin Forsett, Seahawks
Round 11, Pick 130: Motive -- Best QB available (especially if his surname rhymes with 'Bafford')
1st option: QB Matthew Stafford, Lions ... 2nd option: QB Vince Young, Titans
Round 12, Pick 135: Motive -- Best player or D/ST available
1st option: TE Greg Olsen, Bears ... 2nd option: D/ST Dallas Cowboys
Round 13, Pick 154: Motive -- Best D/ST available (or top-end kicker)
1st option: D/ST Cincinnati Bengals ... 2nd option: D/ST San Diego Chargers
Round 14, Pick 159: Motive -- Best player available
1st option: WR Laurent Robinson, Rams ... 2nd option: PK David Akers, Eagles
Round 15, Pick 178: Motive -- Best handcuff at running back
1st option: RB Bernard Scott, Bengals ... 2nd option: RB Larry Johnson, Redskins
Round 16, Pick 183: Motive -- Best kicker available
1st option: PK Joe Nedney, 49ers ... 2nd option: PK Matt Prater, Broncos
Jay Clemons can be found on Twitter, day and night (@SI_JayClemons), accessing your fantasy questions and comments. You can also read his award-winning Revelations every Sunday/Monday during the NFL and MLB seasons.