Josh Freeman put up an aerial show that has to have Bucs fans and keeper league owners excited. His progress over the season is a real credit to the coaching staff, but his presence on the Bucs roster is credit to the scouting staff who had him valued properly. Big, strong, and fast shouldn't be hard to translate, but heading into last year's combine, there were a number of questions about whether Freeman was an NFL QB at all. His performance at the NFL Combine solidified things on the "he can play" scale, but it's the accuracy that few noticed. It was that precision that helped him in 2009 and allowed him to develop. Football Outsiders noted that Freeman, the son of a former player and coach, often seemed to make good in-game adjustments. That progression has continued and Sunday's breakout (+15) might end up the norm rather than the surprise in years to come. The Outsiders crew pretty much nailed their season projection (and they got the Chiefs right as AFC West champs) so it won't surprise me to see him on the cover of next year's edition. If he's available in any league with keepers -- and he's available in over 25% of leagues right now -- grab him and stash him if your league allows it. (Keeper stashing is always a smart play at this point of the season if rosters aren't locked, something some leagues overlook. Find your loopholes and use them.) Other breakout performances this week include Aaron Rodgers (+25 over an artificially low mark due to his concussion), and Jerome Simpson (+25, but will not ask to be referred to as "Ochonueve" anytime soon.)
I'll admit it -- I screwed up this week and recommended Wes Welker a couple times. If I'd listened to Nik Bonaddio at numberFire, I would have known why Wes Welker was this week's biggest bust. Nik says, "Unlike fellow bust Larry Fitzgerald, Wes Welker doesn't exactly have the QB excuse to help forgive his woeful Week 16 performance. Adding insult to ineptitude, the Bills would have trouble stopping me and ten of my friends; they rank 26th in the pass defense efficiency, running a defensive scheme that reminds me a cross between a 3-4 and the children's game Red Rover. Despite the great matchup however, conventional logic dictated that Welker was a questionable start: the game was likely to be a blowout and thus, the Pats would sit on the ball with Green-Ellis and Woodhead in the second half. Additionally, while Belichick is not known for this, it would be prudent to sit Brady in the waning moments to preserve his health for the playoffs. The latter did not come into fruition (shocking!), but the former somewhat did as the Patriots threw only 27 times, well below their weekly average. As such, Welker was an out-and-out ghost on Sunday, gaining just 19 yards off of six targets." Other busts were Peyton Hillis (-11 as he wasn't taxed), Reggie Wayne (-12, all credit to Nnamdi Asomugha), and Larry Fitzgerald (-15).
A player who comes up with 10 points a week is a fantasy stud. It puts you on the front page of the scoring leaders and should put you in the first few rounds of any fantasy draft. How it happens is the interesting part. Putting aside players that ended up missing games for injury reasons or the flukish ones like Michael Vick, who missed several games and still ended up high on the leaderboard, there's a huge variation. Some guys put up a few goose eggs along the way, which means they had monster weeks that probably single-handedly won weeks and made up for it. I looked back at all the leaders and how they scored the points and the one thing that stood out was how random it was. Trying to balance players is almost impossible, even with advanced schedule knowledge that we wouldn't have had back at the August draft. Perhaps the most consistent player of the year was LeSean McCoy, a guy who's gone ignored by most behind the incredible seasons of Vick and Jackson. He did it before, after and during Vick, so I don't think we have to discount what he's done if Vick leaves Philly. There's no award for consistency, but put this one in your fantasy notebook for next year and look at it just before you draft someone -- anyone -- over McCoy in next year's draft.
Aaron Rodgers wore a new helmet today, one that was widely reported to be "specially modified" and a "more advanced design." While it's impossible to see inside the helmet, it's neither special nor that advanced. The Schutt design is said to be better than the more standard design that Rodgers wore previously, but there are a number of players that wear Schutt designs already as they are available for any player to wear. In fact, if you watch Friday Night Lights -- and there's no excuse for not doing so as it heads towards it's finale -- you'll notice that the East Dillon Lions wear Schutt helmets. (Then again, Schutt is just coming out of bankruptcy, so maybe it's not such a great product.) So if Rodgers and every other player in the NFL can wear a "more advanced" helmet, why don't they? Joe Buck noted that teammates had given Rodgers a hard time about his new helmet. It's not just guys in the locker room, but any time we see a more effective helmet that's bigger, we immediately get the jokes. It's happened in baseball as well. What we need is a complete re-design. The NFL continues to lag behind the story on concussions, one of the first times they haven't won a PR war. Pushing for a new, safter helmet all of football would be a great step. Better yet, Riddell, the NFL's official supplier, already sells a helmet with accelerometers that could give actual data on every single play of every game and practice. It would cost somewhere in the range of $75,000 per team. That's right, less than $100,000. For what the Redskins gave Donovan McNabb as a signing bonus, you could put those helmets on every NFL player. And who knows what we could find with the data. (Speaking of great steps, you must read Alan Schwarz's latest piece at the Times for something else the NFL could do better.)
Mike Tolbert was carted off the field with a neck injury Sunday, but early reports are that he had full movement in all extremities. Still, that image is among the scariest things to see on a football field. Maurice Jones-Drew could be headed for surgery as soon as this week after the Jags were eliminated. Houston's record might also affect Andre Johnson, who wasn't able to go with his ankle sprain. The team has no reason to push him as they focus on next year and getting Arian Foster the rushing title. Arrelious Benn left early with a knee injury and it didn't look good. It would be a terrible end to a breakout campaign for him. With clinches, lots of teams will rest players next week, including Tom Brady, Mark Sanchez and more. It's why fantasy championships are played in Week 16 for most leagues ... but not all. I'll be back with the Injury Report and Med Check in Week 17 for those of you that play them or for those who might place a wager or two on games.