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Fantasy football: 21 things

Tebow-mania takes hold

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Recent posts by Pat Fitzmaurice

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Posted Oct. 13, 2011 @ 6:06 p.m. ET
By Pat Fitzmaurice

Updated Oct. 13, 2011 @ 7:02 p.m. ET

1. Who am I to throw a wet blanket on the Tebow-mania that's sweeping the nation (or at least the Greater Denver area)? In fact, allow me to fan the flames: I think Tebow will be a top-11 fantasy quarterback for the rest of the season, and possibly even a top-nine fantasy QB. I'll elaborate on the uneven numbers in a moment. First, let's break it down:

In his three starts last season, Tebow averaged 66.7 rushing yards. He had a rushing TD in each of those starts, and in 12 NFL appearances he's scored six rushing TDs. Let's go with a conservative estimate and project that Tebow will average 50 rushing yards per start and produce a rushing TD in every other game. In leagues that award a point for every 10 rushing yards and six points for a TD run, that would work out to an average of eight rushing points per game. Now, let's say Tebow averages a meager 160 passing yards and one TD pass per game. (For the record, Tebow averaged nearly 220 passing yards in his three starts last season, and he threw four TD passes.) Based on our uber-conservative estimate, Tebow would average 12 passing points per game in a scoring system that awards one point for every 20 passing yards and four points for a TD pass. Add that to an average of eight rushing points, and Tebow would be a 20-point-per-game quarterback.

For the sake of comparison, Matt Ryan threw for 3,705 yards and 28 TDs last season. Using the aforementioned scoring system and awarding Ryan points for every yard, he was worth 297.25 passing points last season. He also lumbered for 122 rushing yards (no TD runs), so we'll add another 12.2 fantasy points. Take his grand total and divide it by 16 games, and it works out to 19.3 fantasy points per game. That falls short of our projection for Tebow, even though we're penciling in numbers that are more conservative than Michele Bachmann. And remember: A lot of people considered Ryan to be a top-10 fantasy quarterback heading into this season.

Let's get back to those uneven numbers. There are eight quarterbacks I would start ahead of Tebow under most circumstances: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Michael Vick, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers and Matthew Stafford. There are two quarterbacks whom I would rotate with Tebow, playing the matchups each week: Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning. There isn't another quarterback I'd start ahead of Tebow most weeks.

Tebow-mania indeed. I'm feeling it.

 

2. Tebow was unowned in the experts league I play in, and he was claimed this week with a bid of $60 out of an allotted free-agent budget of $100. Interestingly, Chiefs RB Jackie Battle was claimed with a bid nearly as high ($55). In another of my leagues, I claimed Tebow with a bid of $10 out of our allotted $20 budget, and Battle went for $11. Barring injury, there's not a Slurpee's chance in hell that Battle will be even half as valuable as Tebow to fantasy owners the rest of the way.

 

3. One final Tebow-related thought: 

If the Broncos' brass doesn't feel silly for failing to consummate a Kyle Orton-to-Miami trade before the start of the regular season, it must have an abnormally high embarrassment threshold. (I'm looking at you, John Elway.) The Broncos were destined to miss the playoffs this season and destined to give Tebow the audition their fans were demanding. Holding on to Orton was only going to depress his value, unless the Broncos truly believed that Orton was going to light it up this season (in which case they could probably be talked into buying some Rocky Mountain swampland).

So, why aren't the Broncos making this trade now? The Dolphins just lost Chad Henne to a season-ending injury, leaving Matt Moore and Sage Rosenfels as the only two quarterbacks on their roster. Surely the Dolphins would toss the Broncos a seventh-round pick for him, right? Uh, no. It's not gonna happen. The Dolphins aren't about to take on Orton's salary when his contract is due to expire at the end of the season and with the Dolphins sitting at 0-4. The window of opportunity has slammed shut on the Broncos' fingers.

 

4. This is a big week for Greg Little. (Or is it a little week for Greg Big? ... I can't recall which.) Little will be making his first NFL start, and while he's been playing a fair number of snaps early in the season, this is an important opportunity for him. Even though he's just a rookie, it's not a stretch to think that Little is the most talented receiver the Browns have (though he's not as good with the ball in his hands as Josh Cribbs is). Colt McCoy needs a go-to receiver, and Little seems to be a good fit for head coach Pat Shurmur's offense, which emphasizes short passes and yardage after the catch. It wouldn't surprise me if Little celebrated his promotion with a big day against the Raiders.

 

5. We're in the Chinese year of the rabbit. And if you were to cross the Chinese astrological rabbit with the 2011 NFL season, you'd get a rabbit with a pulled hamstring. Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, Rashard Mendenhall, Miles Austin and Daniel Thomas head the list of significant fantasy performers who have missed games due to hamstring injuries so far this season, and Julio Jones and Joseph Addai are about to join the list.

According to a Reuters story from earlier this year, a study by the Peak Performance Project showed that more than half of the hamstring injuries in the NFL over a 10-year period occurred during training camp or the preseason. With the lockout cutting into training-camp time this year, perhaps we should have expected an epidemic of bad hammies.

 

6. Tim Hightower began the season as the main man in the Redskins' running game. Now it appears to be Ryan Torain's turn. I have a feeling that rookie Roy Helu will get his turn before long.

 

7. Frank Deford, a true titan of American sportswriting, offers a weekly commentary on NPR each Wednesday. These audio essays are often brilliant, and this week's was no exception. Deford's topic was the current dominance of pro football in the realm of American sports. He ranks U.S. sporting entities as follows: (1) the NFL; (2) college football; (3) fantasy football; (4) Major League Baseball; (5) high school football; (6) the NBA.

"Football's hegemony was established because it plays so well on TV, and is, with the point spread, such a perfect game to bet," said Deford. "Its recent upsurge, I believe, can be accounted for by the fantastic popularity of fantasy football and by the fact that football's bang-bang moving violence meshes so perfectly with the video games that young men love."

No argument here; Deford nails it. But while it now seems impossible to imagine any sport other than professional football ruling America's sporting landscape, I wonder if the NFL will still reign supreme 80 years from now, when today's infants and toddlers are in the twilight of their lives. In the 1930s, baseball was the most popular American sport, followed by boxing, college football and horse racing. Not long ago, the sport of mixed martial arts was a mere curiosity; now it's bigger than boxing. Pro football is far and away my favorite sport, and I'd love to believe that it will remain king long after I'm dead. But who knows? While watching football together last weekend, a few of us dads noted that our children don't seem to be gravitating toward football as quickly as we did when we were boys. In 80 years, Americans might think it strange that something other than soccer was once the country's most popular sport.

 

8. When the Texans traded a conditional draft pick to the Jets to acquire veteran WR Derrick Mason, it was a clear signal that Houston has given up on Jacoby Jones as anything but a punt returner. In the Texans' first game following Andre Johnson's hamstring injury, Jones played more than 70 snaps (by head coach Gary Kubiak's estimate), was targeted 11 times ... and caught one pass for nine yards. Jones has never been able to put his blazing speed to any sort of meaningful use as a receiver, and after Jones flopped as a fill-in for Johnson last weekend, the Texans made their move for Mason, an accomplished veteran who can't come close to matching Jones' speed but is miles ahead of Jones as a route runner, even at age 37. You can safely dismiss Jones from your roster.

Mason will never be a 1,000-yard receiver again, but the trade perks up his moribund fantasy value. In deeper leagues that require owners to start three or more receivers, Mason might be worth starting in a week when you're getting bitten by injuries and byes — at least until Johnson comes back. The Texans may be Keira Knightley-thin at wide receiver while Johnson is out, but they have a bunch of good pass-catching tight ends (Owen Daniels, Joel Dreessen, James Casey), so Mason won't play anything more than a complementary role. But at least he'll play that role more effectively than Jones.

The Jets didn't mind getting rid of Mason, since his production had been minimal through five games and he'd openly complained about the design of the Jets' offense. Mason's departure creates an opportunity for rookie Jeremy Kerley of TCU, who had three catches for 35 yards and a TD against the Patriots last week, but the 5-foot-9 Kerley isn't likely to muscle his way past either Santonio Holmes or Plaxico Burress in terms of fantasy value.

 

9. Matt Ryan won't become a top NFL quarterback unless he develops the capacity to avoid the first pass rusher who comes free — and I don't think he has it in his DNA. Brett Favre was never the most fleet-footed quarterback; he was basically a slug during the second half of his career. But Favre was very, very good at eluding the first pass rusher to come his way, whether it be with a sidestep, a head fake or a well-timed duck. Favre had functional pocket mobility. Lord knows how many of his completions, passing yards and TDs came after a pass rusher had come off a block, run at Favre and missed. Far too often, Ryan checks down for a minimal gain or simply heaves the ball out of bounds at the first hint of pressure. Until he develops better pocket composure and learns an evasive maneuver or two, Ryan will leave you wanting more from him.

 

10. Terrelle Pryor's five-game suspension is over, so the rookie quarterback from Ohio State has started practicing with the Raiders. The conventional wisdom is that Pryor's immediate fantasy value is nil, and some suspect that with such a funky throwing motion, Pryor will never be an accurate enough passer to be a starting NFL quarterback. I tend to agree with the doubters, but after seeing what Cam Newton has done as a rookie, I refuse to reject Pryor out of hand. It's probably true that Pryor isn't in the same galaxy as Newton as a passer right now, but Pryor's running ability and athleticism are undeniable. He's playing for an offensive-minded, QB-friendly head coach in Hue Jackson. Oakland's No. 2 quarterback is Kyle Boller, who - let's be honest here - is terrible. Is it that much of a stretch to think that if any sort of horrible injury were to befall Jason Campbell, Pryor might get a shot soon after? He's certainly not worth a roster spot right now, but don't forget about him.

 

11. Well, hello, James Jones. We'd almost forgotten about you. After amassing only 88 receiving yards through the first four games of the season, the not-so-sure-handed Green Bay receiver erupted for 140 yards (including a 70-yard TD catch) against the Falcons last week, and he's scored a TD in each of the last two weeks. Is Jones startable in fantasy leagues? I believe he is, assuming you don't have a wealth of more reliable options.

Sorting out the Packers' pass catchers is tricky. Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley are going to get theirs. The other guys are dicey. For now, I think this is the pecking order after Jennings and Finley: Jordy Nelson, Jones, Randall Cobb, Donald Driver. Cobb is an intriguing talent, but he plays a very limited number of snaps. Driver is also playing fewer snaps these days (only 24 vs. Atlanta last week), and he's clearly getting close to the end of the line, but there might still be games where he's good for 5-6 catches. That leaves Nelson and Jones, athletic receivers who are somewhat prone to the dropsies. I think Nelson is a little better, a little more versatile. But Jones is too talented to fall through the cracks. He'll have his good days and bad days. But if you're trying to decide whether to start Jones or, say, Steve Breaston, or Jason Hill, or Jerome Simpson, it probably makes sense to give the nod to the guy who's playing with a superstar quarterback.

 

12. I've been a Milwaukee Brewers fan since childhood, and it won't kill me if the Brewers fail to win the World Series this year, because as a Brewers fan, I've grown accustomed to being let down. However, I'll be very unhappy if the Brewers lose to the St. Louis Cardinals. (It may have already happened by the time you read this.)

It's not that I hate the St. Louis Cardinals franchise. In fact, I believe that the Cardinals have the most intelligent fan base of any American professional sports franchise. The Cardinals fans I've met over the years have been nice people who know a great deal about baseball and know their team inside and out. And at the risk of sounding sexist, I've been floored by the baseball intelligence of the female Cardinals fans — I've long suspected that the average female Cardinals fan knows a great deal more about baseball than the average male Bleacher Bum at Wrigley Field.

But while I don't hate the Cardinals franchise, I DESPISE this particular Cardinals team. They are a whiny, temperamental bunch of hypocrites who seem to believe that they're the only team adhering to the ethics and etiquette of baseball. Of course, this attitude has been established by their insufferable, self-righteous manager, Tony La Russa, whose myriad complaints about opponents' breaches of sportsmanship are as infuriating as they are laughable. The Cardinals complain about their hitters being pitched inside but won't hesitate to brush back or bean opposing hitters. They complain about the celebratory antics of opponents, but, of course, there's nothing wrong with their hitters taking their time leaving the batter's box after a long home run.

I'm certainly not the only one who feels this way about the Cardinals. I think Cincinnati Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman spoke for a lot of people when he slammed the Cardinals for their constant complaining during a broadcast earlier this season. If the Brewers are beaten by the Cardinals in the NLCS, may the ALCS winner beat the living hell out of the Cards in the World Series.

 

13. It would be imprudent to give up on Denarius Moore just because the Raiders' rookie wideout was blanked by the Texans last week. It's noteworthy that for most of Moore's snaps last week, he was covered by the Texans' best cornerback, Jonathan Joseph, who was considered to be the second-best cornerback available on the free-agent market this past offseason, behind Nnamdi Asomugha. It's telling that the Texans respected Moore enough to put their best cover man on him throughout the game.

 

14. Jonathan Dwyer's 107-yard rushing performance against the Titans last week was interesting, but don't make too much of it. Take away a 76-yard TD run on which the Tennessee defense went AWOL, and Dwyer ran 10 times for 31 yards. This isn't to say that concerns about Rashard Mendenhall are unfounded — Mendy was having a shaky season even before he started dealing with a hamstring issue. But Isaac Redman, who had 15 carries for 49 yards last week in Mendenhall's absence, is still ahead of Dwyer in the pecking order.

 

15. Blaine Gabbert's footwork ... oy vey. I'm not sure the Jaguars' prized rookie needs a quarterback coach so much as he needs lessons at the nearest Fred Astaire Dance Studio.

It goes without saying that Gabbert has no fantasy value for 2011. With a 49.5 percent completion rate, you have to wonder whether he'll be ready to help a fantasy team in 2012. Yeah, it's only been a couple of games since Gabbert took over as the Jaguars' starter, but the early results haven't been encouraging.

 

16. This feels like the right time to start warming up to Michael Crabtree. His career with the 49ers has been enormously disappointing so far, and his early numbers aren't particularly encouraging. But in the 49ers' blowout of the Buccaneers last week, I kept seeing Crabtree blocking his tail off. That's not a lot to go on, but it gave me hope that Crabtree's diva days are over. The 49ers have injury problems at receiver, so Crabtree has a chance to make a vital contribution to the revitalized Niners. This is just a gut feeling, but I think he's about to come on.

 

17. I long ago abandoned ESPN's Sunday and Monday studio shows for the greener pastures of NFL Network. Curious about what I've been missing, I started flipping over to ESPN in recent weeks for 10-15 minutes at a time. I've seen enough to go back to NFL Network full time.

It's not that NFL does better features or has better information than ESPN. It's simply a matter of NFL Network having superior on-air talent. I like just about everyone in NFL Network's on-air crew (although I find Steve Mariucci's canned enthusiasm to be a little much at times). I even like Michael Irvin and Warren Sapp, both of whom I loathed during their playing days. The ESPN crew? It's in dire need of an overhaul. Chris Berman's never-ending bombast, Mike Ditka's lazy and uninteresting platitudes, Trent Dilfer's over-the-top combativeness ... it's all gotten so stale. The result of the matchup between NFL Network's on-air talent and ESPN's on-air talent is similar to the result of last week's matchup between the 49ers and Buccaneers, with ESPN's talent in the role of the Buccaneers.

 

18. After this weekend, Chris Ivory will be able to come off the PUP list for the Saints, and head coach Sean Payton says Ivory is healthy again after undergoing Lisfranc surgery on his foot and also being treated for a sports hernia. With rookie Mark Ingram thus far failing to add much of a spark to the Saints' between-the-tackles running game, you have to wonder whether Ivory might threaten Ingram's playing time in the weeks to come.

 

19. There are college teams that run option offenses yet still have more effective passing games than the Minnesota Vikings. Percy Harvin owners are fortunate that Harvin is so effective as a rusher. He currently has 183 receiving yards, 153 rushing yards. Unfortunately, he hasn't scored a TD via either route.

 

20. It will be interesting to see what the Buccaneers' running game looks like on Sunday if LeGarrette Blount is unable to play due to the knee injury he sustained last week. Earnest Graham is first in line to get carries, and he's a known commodity, but Kregg Lumpkin will also get some touches. (The Bucs released rookie RB Allen Bradford on Thursday.) I'd like to see if Lumpkin can make any headway against the Saints' run defense.

 

21. I'm excited about the second season of AMC's "The Walking Dead," which starts on Sunday night. I mean, c'mon, who doesn't love zombies? I typically record "The Walking Dead" and watch it a few days later, since I'm always tuned into the Sunday-night game on NBC while the zombies are munching flesh on AMC. But this weekend, I might have to watch the season premiere of "The Walking Dead" in real time, rather than subject myself to the NFC North's walking dead, the Bears and Vikings.

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