Beanie, baby! A change of heart on the oft-injured Wells

Posted Nov. 03, 2011 @ 10:06 p.m.
Posted By Pat Fitzmaurice

1. A fantasy owner should always be willing to change his or her opinion of a player. I've long been a Beanie basher, but Chris Wells is coming off my no-draft list for 2012. With Wells considered questionable with a knee injury heading into Week Eight, it seemed inevitable that he'd be scratched. But Wells played against the Ravens and turned in a superb effort, rushing 22 times for 83 yards and a TD. It was the sort of performance that makes a man change his mind.

Injuries are an ongoing concern with Wells, and up until this season, I didn't think he was talented enough to make him worth the risk. I was wrong — his talent is legitimate. The injury concerns remain very real, however. When you draft Wells, you have to resign yourself to the likelihood that he's going to miss a few games for you, and that his status will be in limbo more often than you'd prefer. Of course, I'll weigh the injury risk when I rank Wells before 2012 drafts. But while there was never any chance that I'd draft Wells for any of my teams in 2011, there's at least a possibility that I might become a first-time Wells owner in 2012.


2. I don't think we're going to see Andre Johnson back in action before Week 12. Think about it from the Texans' perspective. Although they hold only a half-game lead over the Titans, their path to a division title is relatively clear. But the Texans have greater aspirations than a mere divisional championship, and their chances of making a multi-game playoff run would be slim if they were missing their superstar receiver. Houston should be able to win a home game against Cleveland this weekend without activating Johnson. Then, the Texans will have only one more game (at Tampa Bay) before their Week 11 bye. With Johnson recently talking about a "tugging" sensation in his surgically repaired hamstring, I expect the Texans to play it safe and keep Johnson on ice until after their bye.


3. My lawnmower has more gas left in the tank than T.J. Houshmandzadeh has left in his — and I just drained my lawnmower after cutting the lawn for the final time this year. Good luck with the Palmer-Houshmandzadeh reunion, Raiders fans. But the year 2006 just called ... it has doubts about whether this is going to work out.


4. Not that a mere mortal has any business questioning the wisdom of Bill Belichick, but his non-usage of some young skill-position players is puzzling. When the Patriots drafted Shane Vereen in the second round and Stevan Ridley in the third round of this year's draft, the assumption was that the two young running backs would squeeze old warhorses Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris out of the picture and bring some fresh blood to the New England running game. Morris was indeed squeezed out, but Faulk played in his first game of the season last week after having torn his ACL early in the 2011 season, and he was an immediate factor, with six carries (a team high) and five receptions. Ridley, who looked phenomenal in the preseason and has averaged 6.4 yards per carry in his limited regular-season action, was active but didn't play last week. Vereen was inactive, and he still hasn't taken a regular-season handoff after being active for only three games.

Obviously, it's impossible to know everything that goes on behind the scenes at Patriots HQ, and it's possible that Ridley and Vereen are failing to do whatever they need to do to earn their stripes from Belichick. But ... Kevin Faulk? Really? Ridley looked like a beast in the preseason, but he's not better than Faulk?

When the Patriots drafted Rob Gronkowski in the second round and Aaron Hernandez in the fourth round in 2010, they immediately deployed their tight ends in a way that made observers say, "Ah, now I understand why they spent two draft picks on tight ends." Belichick and Co. seemed to be following the same blueprint with the drafting of Vereen and Ridley in consecutive rounds, but it hasn't worked out that way, much to the chagrin of fantasy owners who spent a flier pick on either of the two rookies. Maybe Belichick wants to save two pairs of fresh legs for the latter part of the season. We'll see.

And then there's Taylor Price, New England's second-year receiver, who's also been in mothballs. Price is a burner who appears to have exactly the sort of speed that could help stretch the field for Tom Brady, and the Pats obviously aren't getting anything out of Chad Ochocinco. But Price has played in only two games this year. Wouldn't it make sense to give him a look? Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien has suggested that Price might get more playing time in the weeks to come. But again ... we'll see.


5. Sign me up for the Andrew Siciliano Fan Club. Siciliano is excellent as the host of the NFL's Red Zone Channel, smoothly guiding us from game to game for six-plus hours every Sunday, rolling through highlights and updates in the moments when all the games are in breaks. Siciliano has become a faithful Sunday companion, and it's gotten to the point where I couldn't imagine the RZC with any other host. The only problem is that when I see Siciliano in any other milieu — co-hosting NFL Network's "NFL Total Access" on a weeknight, for instance — I automatically crave beer and potato chips.

(Note to mixed martial-arts fans: I realize that Siciliano irritated many of you by recently dismissing MMA as bar fighting and disparaging it as "garbage" during a radio appearance. My endorsement of Siciliano as a football host in no way reflects my own opinion of MMA, so please don't punch me in the larynx.)


6. As poorly as Tim Tebow has played, it's hard to envision the Broncos making a QB change any time soon. The team is going nowhere this year. Tebow is under contract for next season, but Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn are not, and neither is likely to be in Denver next year. It would be pointless to insert a quarterback who has no future with the team in an attempt to go 6-10 instead of 4-12.

The real issue is how long the Broncos wait beyond this season before pulling the plug on Tebow. It's a given that the team will bring in at least one other quarterback in the offseason, whether it's a rookie, a free agent or one of each. Tebow will have competition for the job in training camp, and it's possible he'll go into that competition as a heavy underdog. If the Broncos end up drafting someone like, say, Landry Jones of Oklahoma, it will be clear that Tebow isn't the Broncos' quarterback of the future.

Here's what I think is going to happen to Tebow: He's going to be playing as a tight end by 2013. He might even be a useful fantasy tight end by 2014. But it's obvious: A position change is his destiny. The Broncos will ultimately decide that they can't move forward with a quarterback whose passing skills are so crude. (Tebow fans are kidding themselves if they believe he'll ultimately emerge as a polished passer.) Tebow might get a chance to play quarterback for some other team, but that team will quickly reach the same conclusion. And eventually, it will be determined that Tebow's athleticism could best be leveraged at the TE position.


7. By the way, Tebow bears a fairly strong resemblance to Marcus Mumford, the frontman for the British band Mumford & Sons. In fact, if Mumford were to don a Broncos helmet and uniform and throw a few passes in practice, it's unlikely anyone would be able to tell the difference. (Ahem.)


8. Despite Mike Munchak's assurances that Chris Johnson will remain the Titans' starting running back, you can smell a change in the air. It's understandable that the team would be reluctant to bench Johnson after caving in to his demands for a new contract before the start of the season. But as Johnson continues to turn in bad game after bad game, how long will it be before the Titans promote Javon Ringer? It can't happen soon enough for Ringer owners, who could be on the cusp of a bonanza. Five of Tennessee's seven opponents from Week 10 through Week 16 currently rank 20th or worse against the run. That stretch includes games against the Panthers and Colts, who rank in the bottom four against the run. And one of the two opponents with competent run defenses is Jacksonville, which ranks 14th against the run and isn't exactly a lock to shut down an opposing running back in any given week.


9. Hey, you ... the one still sitting on all that cash in your free-agent budget. What are you waiting for? You realize you can't carry it over into next season, right? Randy Moss isn't coming back this season; spend that cash!

Actually, I'm that guy in one of my leagues. I'm still carrying two-thirds of my free-agent money and haven't spent anything since splurging on Victor Cruz about a month ago (worth every penny, by the way). The problem — and I suspect a lot of the owners still sitting on significant free-agent money are the same way — is that I'm hesitant to drop players I believe to have potential, even if they haven't lived up to it yet. But no more: I resolve to spend extravagantly on the first shiny trinket to catch my eye.


10. I feel sorry for my wife — and not just because she's married to me. She doesn't share my enthusiasm for football, but my wife is a big fan of the NBA, and especially the Chicago Bulls. It's killing her that the NBA was scheduled to begin its season this week but continues to be paralyzed by a lockout, with no resolution in sight. Sorry, Babe ... looks like it might be an autumn without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.


11. It's hard to believe that Michael Vick hasn't missed a game this season and yet still doesn't have a rushing touchdown. He's averaging 60.3 rushing yards a game, so it's not as if he has stopped running.


12. I'm starting to feel really, really stupid for having ranked Philip Rivers as the No. 2 quarterback on my preseason draft board behind Aaron Rodgers. I'm at a loss to explain what's wrong with Rivers this year. I'm starting to think there's some sort of Norv Turner-related malaise that's coming into play, but that's a tough theory to prove.


13. The fall TV overload continues. There are so many good things to watch these days, my two DVRs are begging for mercy. Let's go over some of the highlights. (Spoiler alert: If you're a "Walking Dead" fan, STOP reading this item immediately and shamble down to the next item like a Georgia zombie, because I'm about to bring up a key plot point from the most recent episode.)


14. There's an enormous element of luck in fantasy scheduling, and bye weeks are a major component of it. Some years you'll get lucky, with your opponents losing major contributors to byes week after week. Some years you won't catch a break, and your opponents will be relatively unscathed by the byes. In my 16-team league, I've run into the latter scenario. My opponents have been virtually untouched by byes. (I think I might have missed someone's starting kicker one week, but that's about it.) I opened the season 5-1, but then with critical games against divisional opponents in the last two weeks, I lost Tom Brady and Aaron Hernandez to a Week Seven bye and then had Matt Forté go on bye in Week Eight. Since I also have Andre Johnson missing time with his hamstring injury, I was basically going into those fights with one arm tied behind my back while my opponents were bringing brass knuckles. Needless to say, I got my tail kicked.

Yeah, I know you have your own problems, but I had to get that off my chest.


15. Expanding on my crybaby rant in the item above ... 16-team leagues are immensely enjoyable, but it can be incredibly challenging to field a competitive lineup when byes and injuries start to take a toll. With Andre Johnson out, and with Matt Forté and Santonio Holmes on bye, I started Jabar Gaffney, Emmanuel Sanders and C.J. Spiller last week. I couldn't have won my game with anything short of divine intervention.


16. Scott Chandler is now up to six TDs for the Bills, which means he has a pretty reasonable chance to reach 10 by the end of the regular season. If it happens, this would be the third consecutive year in which an unlikely tight end reached double digits in TD catches. Last year it was Marcedes Lewis with 10. In 2009 it was Visanthe Shiancoe with 11.


17. It's been difficult to figure out the pecking order among the Bears' wide receivers. Devin Hester leads the Chicago wideouts in receptions (21), Johnny Knox is tops among the group in receiving yards (348), and undrafted rookie Dane Sanzenbacher leads the team in TD catches (three). Roy Williams was a colossal disappointment early in the season but has seven catches for 109 yards and a TD over the Bears' last two games, and Sam Hurd is also in the mix (though just barely). Now there's another piece to the puzzle: Earl Bennett. A former college teammate of Jay Cutler's at Vanderbilt, Bennett is returning to action after missing five games with a chest injury. He's one of those guys who isn't big or fast but simply knows how to get open. It wouldn't surprise me if Bennett quickly jumped to the top of the pecking order, or close to it, but it's still unlikely that any of these guys will emerge as anything more than a flex option.


18. Peyton Hillis was back at practice for the Browns on Thursday, but even with his prospects for a return from a hamstring injury looking brighter, this hasn't exactly been a good week for him. On Monday, Hillis was a no-show for a Boys and Girls Club appearance to which he was committed. (He cited miscommunication with his management, and according to Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Bill Livingston, Hillis' "management" is his brother.) It's probably a good thing that the Browns are playing in San Francisco this weekend, After lobbying for a new contract, then missing time with the hamstring injury and also a case of strep throat, and now dealing with the fallout from his stiff-arming of the Boys and Girls Club, Hillis isn't exactly Mr. Popularity in Cleveland right now. It doesn't help that he has averaged only 3.5 yards per carry this season (albeit in limited action) after averaging 4.4 yards per carry in 2010.

Should Hillis owners expect any sort of return on investment the rest of the way? I'm skeptical. His season is in such a tailspin right now that I'm not sure he can pull out of it, and it doesn't help that he's losing his public support. Hillis was phenomenal in 2010, no question about it, but I'm starting to think he might go down as one of the bigger one-hit wonders since Vanilla Ice.


19. Even if Hillis plays this week, I'll bet the Browns still give plenty of carries to Chris Ogbonnaya, and Ogbonnaya just might be good enough to cash in on the opportunity. Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle wrote a terrific piece on Ogbonnaya back in August, when the young running back was still with the Texans, and it would be worth your while to Google it. Ogbonnaya is a tough kid.


20. Here's a name to file away in the memory bank: Brandon Saine. He's now the No. 3 running back on the Packers' depth chart. Saine is an undrafted free agent who was a four-year letterman at Ohio State. It would be a stretch to call him a sleeper, but with rookie Alex Green now on injured reserve for the Packers, Saine could be one injury away from playing time.


21. I think it's only appropriate to thank all the good people in my neighborhood who dropped candy into my kids' plastic pumpkins during trick-or-treating on Halloween night (particularly the generous folks who gave each of my kids two or more items), since I've been stealing from my own children on a nightly basis. Poor kids can't figure out for the life of them why their supplies of Whoppers, Kit-Kats and Nerds are dwindling.