Archive for August, 2006

Updated Running Back Rankings

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

Dalton’s Running Back Rankings

1. Larry Johnson
2. LaDainian Tomlinson
3. Shaun Alexander

All three have question marks, yet I still think it’s a huge advantage to have an early pick this year. I also don’t see a huge difference among the big-three.

4. Ronnie Brown
5. Lamont Jordan
6. Tiki Barber
7. Carnell Williams
8. Steven Jackson
9. Edgerrin James
10. Rudi Johnson

I’m one of the few who thinks Barber’s age and total touches risk is real, and when you consider Brandon Jacobs stealing more than a handful of scores, it’s enough to make me pass. Ronnie Brown is the best back to enter the league in years, and although Miami’s O-line is suspect, guru Hudson Houck’s presence should not be taken lightly. Brown will be the fourth most productive fantasy back this year, mark it down.

11. Clinton Portis
12. Willie Parker
13. Brian Westbrook
14. Julius Jones
15. Willis McGahee
16. Chester Taylor

Yes, the Portis injury and subsequent TJ Duckett signing scares me enough to pass. FWP is shooting up my board, as both Pittsburgh’s system and his big play ability could make him worthy of even a mid-second round pick.

17. Reggie Bush
18. Joseph Addai
19. Kevin Jones
20. Warrick Dunn

It’s not a secret that I won’t be joining the Kevin Jones fan-club anytime soon, and it’s safe to say I won’t be drafting him in any of my leagues with this ranking, as he has often gone in the early second round. The dude is a stiff. Bush’s value increases with the Stallworth trade, as he will be even more active in the passing game. While his preseason has been ugly, I still have faith in Addai. He could easily be this year’s difference maker in fantasy leagues. So while there may be more downside than drafting a steady Reuben Droughns, I still recommend going with Addai’s upside.

21. Frank Gore
22. DeShaun Foster
23. Reuben Droughns
24. Jamal Lewis

I’m staying away from Jeff’s unhealthy crush, Jamal Lewis, as well as Droughns. Gore is a great mid-round pick.

25. Corey Dillon
26. Laurence Maroney
27. Mike Bell
28. Tatum Bell
29. Thomas Jones
30. Fred Taylor
31. Wali Lundy

The Denver backfield is a mess, and the most likely outcome will be a split in carries. It wouldn’t surprise if Cedric Cobbs gets a shot at some point. Maroney is my own unhealthy crush, as he’s on nearly every one of my teams this year. No way Dillon lasts the year. It’s Wali’s World and the rest of us are just paying rent.

32. Deuce McAllister
33. Dominic Rhodes
34. Cedric Benson
35. DeAngelo Williams
36. Ahman Green
37. LenDale White
38. Kevan Barlow
39. Jerious Norwood
40. Brandon Jacobs

I’m calling it right now: Jerious Norwood is THE deep sleeper of the year. Warrick Dunn is due to blow a tire, and Norwood has no one to block his way to putting up huge numbers once it happens. Atlanta’s system and Norwood’s impressive preseason mean big time potential. Go ahead and reach for him; I wish I did.

Robby’s Running Back Rankings

1. Larry Johnson
2. Shaun Alexander
3. LaDanian Tomlinson

The Big Three, enough said.

4. Tiki Barber

With Portis’ injury, I consider Tiki the clear choice at No. 4

5. Steven Jackson
6. Lamont Jordan
7. Ronnie Brown

I clearly have high hopes for Jackson this year. The Raiders’ O worries me.

8. Cadillac Williams
9. Clinton Portis
10. Rudi Johnson
11. Edge James

Portis is now a huge first round gamble, but don’t let him slip too far. James is going to struggle this year behind a dismal line.

12. Willie Parker
13. Julius Jones
14. Brian Westbrook
15. Chester Taylor
16. Willis McGahee

These guys are about as valuable as the top tier of wideouts, assuming your league has a flex. Westbrook and Taylor get a slight bump in value in PPR leagues.

17. Kevin Jones
18. Reggie Bush
19. Joseph Addai
20. DeShaun Foster
21. Warrick Dunn

While Dunn and Foster should be the cream of this group out of the gates, Addai and Bush should be peaking around fantasy playoff times. If you’re confident that your team will make the playoffs then go ahead and reach for them.

22. Frank Gore
23. Tatum Bell
24. Reuben Droughns
25. Thomas Jones
26. Laurence Maroney
27. Mike Bell
28. Jamal Lewis

Gore’s stock continues to rise but don’t forget he plays for the 49ers. If you gamble on an unproven back or two early, Droughns makes a great insurance pick. My Tatum Bell pick worries me, but I still feel he has considerably more talent than Mike, although it looks like they’ll both be respectable flex players for the time being. Let someone else (like Jeff) draft Jamal.

29. Corey Dillon
30. Wali Lundy
31. Fred Taylor
32. DeAngelo Williams
33. LenDale White
34. Dominic Rhodes
35. Cedric Benson
36. Chris Brown
37. Kevan Barlow

These are the last backs that I would draft before the top tier handcuffs (Ladell Betts, Michael Bennett, Michael Turner, Ryan Moats, Marion Barber, Michael Pittman and Maurice Morris, in that order) should start going off the board. You are obligated to mock whichever owner drafts Domanick Davis in your league, along with whoever drafts Curtis Martin (way to go Stewart and good job. . . Stewart). The Jacksonville and Tennessee backfields are tossups in my book.

Jeff’s Running Back Rankings

Tier One
1) Shaun Alexander
2) L. Tomlinson
3) L. Johnson

Yes, I am getting off the LJ bandwagon. Would I still draft him in the top three? Yes, in a heartbeat. However, Kansas City’s offensive line woes are enough to propel SA and LT2 above him. If you still are enamored with Johnson’s potential for 2,000 yards, go ahead and draft him, but Alexander is by far the safest pick of the bunch. Tomlinson is pound for pound the best player in football, but Alexander doesn’t have a vulture like Antonio Gates to take away red zone touches.

Tier Two
4) LaMont Jordan
5) Tiki Barber
6) Ronnie Brown
7) Rudi Johnson
8) Cadillac Williams
9) Steven Jackson
10) Edgerrin James

This group is arguable across the board, but I like Jordan because of his high reception totals. Tiki will lose more goal line touches to Brandon Jacobs this season. Steven Jackson always seems to get nicked up and a possible Stephen Davis signing could cut into his TD totals. Rudi is a stud, but he doesn’t offer much in the receiving department.

Tier Three
11) Willis McGahee
12) Willie Parker
13) Clinton Portis
14) Brian Westbrook
15) Warrick Dunn

Clinton Portis’ shoulder injury doesn’t scare me nearly as much as T.J. Duckett’s goal line presence. On the flip side, water bugs like Willie Parker and Warrick Dunn have top 10 potential with respective increases in goal line opportunities.

Tier Four
16) Jamal Lewis
17) Chester Taylor
18) Julius Jones
19) Reggie Bush
20) DeShaun Foster
21) Kevin Jones
22) Reuben Droughns

I must be the last Jamal Lewis apologist on earth. I am still drinking the kool-aid, as Lewis looked great in limited preseason action. The word out of Baltimore is that Brian Billick intended to sit Jamal for the last two preseason games after letting him get his feet wet. Julius Jones will get an adequate amount of carries, but Marion Barber will be a factor.

23) Frank Gore
24) Corey Dillon
25) Deuce McAllister
26) Thomas Jones
27) Tatum Bell
28) Laurence Maroney
29) Joseph Addai
30) Mike Bell

Frank Gore is jumping up cheatsheets and is worthy of a third round pick. I like Corey Dillon from a touchdown perspective, but Maroney lurks in the shadows. However, both NE runners will share touches with Kevin Faulk as well. The Denver RB situation is a mess, as Mike Shanahan is not to be dealt with.

31) Ahman Green
32) Dominic Rhodes
33) Cedric Benson
34) Wali Lundy
35) Kevan Barlow
36) DeAngelo Williams
37) Fraud Taylor
38) Chris Brown/Travis Henry/LenDale White (your guess is as good as mine)
39) Musa Smith
40) Jerious Norwood

Although Green Bay has looked atrocious thus far, Ahman Green has been a quiet surprise, returning from a torn quadriceps. Kevan Barlow runs with less authority than a shopping mall security guard, but I like him better than most players in this tier because he will likely see the most touches. If you happen to grab Thomas Jones/Joseph Addai, make sure you draft Cedric Benson/Dominic Rhodes as well. Burning a mid-round pick on these handcuffs is worth it to protect your running back position. Portis owners would be wise to grab T.J. Duckett in lieu of some of these guys.

Updated Quarterback Rankings

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

Dalton’s Quarterback Rankings

1. Peyton Manning
2. Carson Palmer

Palmer moves into tier No. 1 after looking so impressive Monday night, but don’t completely ignore his knee issue. If you draft a QB in the first three rounds of your draft, you won’t win your league, it’s as simple as that.

3. Tom Brady
4. Matt Hasselbeck
5. Donovan McNabb
6. Marc Bulger
7. Eli Manning
8. Kurt Warner
9. Drew Bledsoe

This is the group to target. Draft whichever QB falls from this group and presents the best value. Kurt Warner is likely to miss time, but he could easily put up the best per game numbers of any from this tier.

10. Jake Plummer
11. Jake Delhomme
12. Michael Vick
13. Ben Roethlisberger

These are the perfect guys to grab as your QB2 after waiting to take your QB1.

14. Aaron Brooks
15. Daunte Culpepper
16. Drew Brees
17. Jon Kitna
18. Chris Simms
19. Brett Favre
20. Byron Leftwich
21. Trent Green
22. David Carr

After this group, QBs become pretty much undraftable, unless you are in a very deep league. These guys make better QB3s than QB2s, but then again, most view Culpepper higher than I do.

23. Steve McNair
24. Brad Johnson
25. Philip Rivers
26. Mark Brunell
27. Charlie Frye
28. Chad Pennington
29. Matt Leinart
30. Kerry Collins

I was tempted to list Jeff George here for old times’ sake, but fought off the urge.

Robby’s Quarterback Rankings

1. Peyton Manning

Don’t let Peyton slip past the beginning of the second round, as he’ll once again be head and shoulders above all other quarterbacks this season.

2. Carson Palmer
3. Tom Brady

I’m letting these guys go unless they slip to the fifth round.

4. Matt Hasselbeck
5. Marc Bulger
6. Kurt Warner

D-Jax is certainly a concern, but I look for Hasselbeck to get back a handful of those 27 touchdowns from Shaun Alexander. I’ve always been a big Bulger fan but really don’t see how the Rams running more this year is going to help him statistically.

7. Eli Manning
8. Donovan McNabb
9. Drew Bledsoe

Ideally one of the top eight quarterbacks will slip into the seventh or eighth round where you can snag them. This Tony Romo nonsense and his world famous ribs (sorry) have forced me to flip-flop Bledsoe and McNabb. Does anyone know how TO and Parcells are getting along in training camp? I haven’t heard.

10. Jake Delhomme
11. Aaron Brooks
12. Jake Plummer
13. Michael Vick
14. Ben Roethlisberger
15. Daunte Culpepper
16. Trent Green

If you don’t nab a top eight quarterback, you better grab two from this group. I’m certainly less bullish on Brooks now that I’ve seen a couple of his preseason games, but he should still provide good late round value. Vick really does appear to finally be underrated this year after the Falcons traded for Lelie. Let someone else reach for Daunte Culpepper.

17. Drew Brees
18. Jon Kitna
19. Chris Simms
20. Brett Favre
21. David Carr
22. Byron Leftwich

I took Favre over Kitna and Simms a couple of weeks ago, but the Green Bay offense is looking like an unmitigated disaster this season. Good thing Favre is the best thing since Jesus.

23. Philip Rivers
24. Mark Brunell
25. Steve McNair

Rivers and McNair have looked surprisingly good thus far, and Brunell still has a bit left in the tank. I would try and secure one of these guys as your number three quarterback.

26. Kerry Collins
27. Brad Johnson
28. Chad Pennington
29. Matt Leinart
30. Charlie Frye

It’s looking more and more like Vince Young is going to get some serious reps in Tennessee. Leinart is my top backup this year, especially in leagues that award bonus points for dreaminess.

Jeff’s Quarterback Rankings

1. Peyton Manning
2. Carson Palmer
3. Tom Brady

I believe it is silly to draft Peyton Manning with a first or early second round pick, unless your league awards six points per touchdown pass. Palmer and Brady will come close to Manning’s totals and can be drafted in the 4th or 5th rounds.

4. Marc Bulger
5. Donovan McNabb
6. Kurt Warner
7. Matt Hasselbeck
8. Eli Manning

This group of QBs is a matter of preference. If you want the safe pick, go with Hasselbeck or McNabb. I prefer to gamble with upside, as Warner makes an excellent pick if you can insure him later with Leinart.

9. Jake Delhomme
10. Drew Bledsoe
11. Daunte Culpepper
12. Michael Vick

If Daunte’s knee holds up (so far, so good), he will make an excellent value pick in the mid rounds. The Ballad of Terrell Owens scares me away from Bledsoe.

13. Ben Roethlisberger
14. Jake Plummer
15. Aaron Brooks
16. Drew Brees

Big Ben is the perfect fantasy backup, as the Steelers will air it out more in 2006.

17. Trent Green
18. David Carr
19. Matt Leinart
20. Steve McNair

If you are secure with your starter’s ability, grab Leinart for safe keeping, then draft a bye week replacement later in the draft.

21. Jon Kitna
22. Chris Simms
23. Mark Brunell
24. Byron Leftwich
25. Brett Favre
26. Philip Rivers

I like Kitna and Simms as bye week options. I have softened my stance on Brunell and Favre, as their respective teams have looked horrible thus far in the preseason.

27. Brad Johnson
28. J.P. Losman
29. Jay Cutler
30. Alex Smith

If you have to draft one of these guys, go with Losman, who has had moderate success in his exhibition matchups and surprisingly wrangled the starting job in Buffalo.

Sleepers and Busts

Sunday, August 27th, 2006

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Admittedly, sleeper/bust articles have become clichéd at this point, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable. Targeting players who will be available later in drafts as well as players to avoid early is key to any astute fantasy player. Yes, I am going to be calling some bigger names “sleepers.” That is because they are undervalued and will produce better numbers than their ADP indicates.

SLEEPERS

Joseph Addai – A lot of people laughed when I drafted Larry Johnson in the third round last year, and then one of them went and drafted J.J. Arrington right afterward. The point is, sometimes if you really want a guy, it’s OK to reach and make sure you get him. I’m certainly not saying Addai will even approach Gram’mama’s numbers from last year, but I am saying that after the top three or four rounds, it’s all about upside. Addai is full of it. Dominic Rhodes was absolutely atrocious last year, nearly finishing with a YPC average under 3.0. Addai may have to wait his turn, but don’t forget the Colts have turned to rookie RBs before without hesitation. Come fantasy playoff time, Addai will be worth much more than where he was drafted.

Michael Vick – He’s transformed from completely overrated in real football to vastly underrated in fantasy football. Last I checked, accuracy wasn’t a fantasy category. He’s rushed for 1,500 yards the last two seasons, while missing a couple of games. Now his knee is healthier, so expect more running this year than last. Remember, this is also Vick’s third year in the West Coast offense, so there’s still some upside here.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh – While this obviously hinges on Carson Palmer’s health, Houshmandzadeh is still being undervalued among most fantasy players. He just might have the best set of hands in the game. A fantasy playoff schedule featuring OAK, at IND and at DEN is icing on the cake.

Reggie Wayne – Touchdown totals can be one of the more fluky stats, so don’t focus on that insufficient category for Wayne last year. With Edge gone, and the Colts’ defense regressing some, their passing attack will be closer to 2004 than 2005. This is the year Wayne outperforms the aging Marvin Harrison, mark it down.

Marc Bulger – If Bulger stayed healthy, he was on pace to finish as the No. 1 ranked fantasy QB last year. Admittedly, that’s flawed reasoning, but Bulger turned the corner last year and showed the best anticipation of his career. If Scott Linehan protects his shoulder, big numbers are in store. But don’t forget about…

Gus Frerotte – While not a sexy pick, Frerotte was surprisingly efficient last year and is joining a Scott Linehan coached team, so he is ahead of even starter Marc Bulger in the playbook. Speaking of Bulger, it’s said that the Mr. Glass character from “Unbreakable” was modeled after him, so you know Frerotte is in line for some playing time. In the Rams’ potent offense, he’ll make the most of it.

Michael Clayton – Clayton can be had for dirt-cheap this year. He had an awful season last year, but that can be blamed mostly on injuries. His first year, however, was one of the most impressive rookie campaigns ever. Joey Galloway is 34 and coming off a career year. Gruden’s offense is made for big receiving numbers. Don’t forget about Clayton.

Aaron Brooks – Brooks is related to Michael Vick in more ways than one, as he too is a poor real life QB yet an underrated fantasy commodity. If the Raider offense made Kerry Collins a viable fantasy option even without a healthy Randy Moss, it will certainly make Aaron Brooks a QB2.

Julius Jones – Jones is admittedly injury-prone, but Bill Parcells always backs him up – something rare when it comes to him and injured players. Parcells does this because Jones has talent. The offensive-line failed miserably last year but looks improved this time out. Combine that with Owens (if healthy) opening up the box, and Jones will provide tremendous value if you can get him in the third round. Just make sure you draft Marion Barber.

BUSTS

Mark Brunell – I’d rather watch “The View” than have Mark Brunell on my team this year. After week 10 last year, he didn’t throw for 200 yards even once. Look for the Jason Campbell era to come sooner rather than later.

Terry Glenn – Terry Glenn is not a very good pick this year if Owens ever returns to the field. Sure, “she” led the league in yards per catch last year, but remember, the most yards a receiver starting opposite Terrell Owens has ever got in a season is 805.

Joey Galloway – A 34-year-old coming off a career year? And an injury-prone one at that? Bust lists are made for candidates like Galloway. The shrewd move would be to let someone else pay for Galloway’s 2005 aberration of a season and draft teammate Michael Clayton about five rounds later.

Reuben Droughns – Many rankings have Droughns simply way too high. While I’m willing to concede him eclipsing his measly two TD total from last year, there isn’t a whole lot of upside here. Not only have the Browns lost three of their centers this preseason, their fantasy playoff schedule (at PIT, at BAL, TB) is an absolute nightmare.

Jamal Lewis – While Lewis will be motivated for a payday, wasn’t that the same case last year? I’ll attempt to refrain from making a Mike Tyson comparison, but people tend to be quite changed after spending time in the clink. The Ravens’ QB play should be improved, and Lewis is still only 27 years old, but he’s a risk I’ll be happy to let another owner take.

Willis McGahee – Illustrated last year by scoring just four times on 21 carries inside the five, McGahee is in just too tough of a situation to warrant the early-second round pick he will require. While his explosion looks improved so far this preseason, owners are advised to pass on McGahee and draft one of the top-seven wideouts instead.

Corey Dillon – While C-Dill remains a fine target in TD-only leagues, the smart move would be to avoid him in all others. As ornery as can be, Dillon will be motivated to prove that he’s not “too old.” Still, Laurence Maroney will get touches, and Dillon will inevitably be nagged by injuries. That 3.5 YPC number from last year is brutal.

Tiki Barber – Barber keeps defying the odds, but it will catch up to him this year. While last year was one of the most impressive campaigns in the league, it also consisted of him getting over 400 total touches. When it comes to age, the track record of over-30 RBs is nothing short of terrible. Add the fact that the G-Men have the toughest strength of schedule this year, as well as Brandon Jacobs becoming the clear cut goal line back, and there’s way too much risk for what it will take to get him.

News & Notes

Saturday, August 26th, 2006
  • According to the Elias Sports Bureau, last week Dan Haren became the first pitcher in American League history and just the second overall to win a game after allowing eight runs in the opening two frames.
  • Manny Ramirez reached on 22 of 23 plate appearances in the New York Yankee series last week: eight hits, nine walks (five intentional) and twice on errors. He reached in his last 19 in a row.

  • The Seattle Mariners are mired in a 20-game losing streak to division opponents.

  • Scott Kazmir is already the Devil Rays’ all-time strikeout leader. Coincidentally, his 378 Ks moves him past the man he was dealt for, Victor Zambrano, who had 372 as a Ray.

  • During Willy Taveras’ 28-game hit streak, he has an 0-for-11 stretch.

  • Dusty Baker should probably not be managing a major league baseball team at this point: “On-base percentage is great if you can score runs and do something with that on-base percentage,” Baker said. “Clogging up the bases isn’t that great to me.”

  • Is there such a thing as being in too many fantasy football leagues? I’ll find out soon enough, as last week I competed in an industry “experts” draft, and tonight I am participating in a league I have been in for 10 years, which brings my total to six leagues this year. It’s getting to the point of even if I win a league, I’ll just break even with all my other leagues’ dues. Oh well, I say fantasy football is like money, the term too much simply doesn’t apply. Anyway, here’s a link to the aforementioned experts league, and feel free to comment on how you think I did (I’m RotoWire). It was a 1-point per reception league (the only reason I drafted Westbrook in the second round, which I am already regretting) and you start 2RB and 3WR. Most of the bigger names in the industry competed in this draft, so I’d really like to win it.

Root for the Home Team

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

By Robby Wellington – Staff Writer

I have never rooted for the American teams in the Little League World Series. Ever. You see, I grew up playing Bronco baseball, the unheralded yet vastly superior brother of Little League. In Bronco ball, 11 and 12-year-olds are actually allowed to lead off and steal bases, there are dropped third strikes, and every single popup doesn’t go for a homerun (a problem which the LLWS mercilessly fixed this year).

In 1993, the Bronco World Series moved to Monterey, California, only a few miles from my home. All the usual ingredients were there, a 6’6 manchild from San Diego, some kid from Illinois blowing in the low 70s, Chinese Taipei and Puerto Rico teams with more mustaches than a bad porn flick and overzealous coaches and parents, one of whom repeatedly kept yelling perhaps the greatest heckle of all-time: “You’re taking away these kids’ DREAMS ump! Taking away their DREAMS!” The event was entirely engrossing to an 11-year-old boy and certainly seemed to match the Little League World Series in everything. Everything but exposure that is. Aside from the occasional local news team, there were no television cameras and crowds that appeared to hover in the mid-hundreds.

I tried to do a bit of Internet research and found nothing but this amateurish site; you know you’re in trouble when Wikipedia doesn’t even have an entry. And it’s not as if the Bronco World Series is new, it has been around since 1961, boasting winners from nine different states (primarily California and Florida) and six different countries. There was a perfect game thrown by some kid from the Philippines in the Championship Game in 1990, a 3-home run game by a Puerto Rican in 2000, a 1-0 game that lasted 19 innings and 18 stolen bases by a Korean team in 1996. Growing up watching these teams compete, I was always frustrated and irritated to watch the extensive coverage of the Little League World Series on ESPN; jealous of all the attention the kids were receiving, most notably the American kids, with whom I naturally identified more easily. So all these years, I have carried this grudge against the Little League World Series, and the American teams in particular, rarely watching the games and making snide comments about the quality of play when I did.

This year, however, I have finally found an American team I can embrace, a team I will be pulling for all the way through the final game. There is something about the boys from Beaverton, Oregon that gets me fired up. Maybe it’s the fact that they don’t all cry when they lose, like every other team, or the fact that they are primarily long-haired hippies from the West Coast, or the fact that they actually run the bases aggressively, taking advantage of throwing errors so common in Little League. Or maybe it’s just the fact that young stud Sam Albert absolutely dominated the basepaths last night and had a sixth inning webgem that caused Illinois’ pouting pitcher to instantaneously throw a temper tantrum right at first base. Albert is officially my favorite little leaguer shorter than 6’8. Anyway, Beaverton, I hope you guys make the finals, as America will have my much-needed support for the first time in 14 years.

Addendum:
I know that the fantasy baseball coverage on this site has been a bit weak over the past couple of weeks and I apologize. I originally planned to write a fantasy baseball article but, to be honest, I have already locked up a first round bye in my baseball league, and plan on coasting these next two weeks. But once playoff time comes around (September 11th), I’ll be the world’s most vigilant fantasy baseball player and plan on sharing whatever insights I may have from then on out.

Sleeping Giants

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Every year a player will be picked in the middle rounds of your fantasy draft who vastly outperforms where they were selected. It’s inevitable when dealing with a sport as volatile as football, and it’s guaranteed to happen again this year. The winner of your fantasy league, more often than not, is the one who found himself with one of these mid-round gems, not the guy who did a better job deciding between two similar first round talents. The ability to distinguish the players most likely to fall under this category is the key. All will possess question marks, which is why you are able to get them after the first couple of rounds. They also possess huge upside, which is exactly what you should be targeting once those first few rounds are in the books.

Joseph Addai – By all accounts, Addai has been unspectacular so far this preseason, averaging a pedestrian 1.67 YPC (12 carries for 20 yards). Still, his main competition, Dominic Rhodes, isn’t faring much better himself, averaging just 2.5 yards per tote (10 carries for 25 yards). Coaches have been effusive in their praise of Addai, with Tony Dungy already stating Addai is a better blocker of the two, a skill that’s imperative in the Colts’ offensive scheme. Addai has also impressed Peyton Manning by frequently showing up at the quarterback’s doorstep to go over the playbook. Addai is also a better receiver than Rhodes, which is already being displayed in the fake games, as Addai has three catches for 28 yards, while Rhodes has yet to catch a single ball. It’s true Rhodes had a fine season five years ago, when he rushed for 1,100 yards. But the truth is, he’s a former undrafted player who hasn’t been the same since ACL surgery. The guy averaged 3.0 YPC last year. Edgerrin James is a great back, but it’s pretty evident he has lost a step since his own knee surgery; nevertheless, he was able to put up over 1,800 total yards and 14 touchdowns last year, while basically sitting out the final three weeks of the season. The potential is there for a Colts’ running back to put up monstrous numbers, and Indy didn’t draft Addai in the first round to sit him. This year will be the lowest Addai goes in fantasy drafts for many to come. Take advantage of it.

Laurence Maroney – One should really take preseason games with a grain of salt, but it’s hard not to like the way Maroney has been running. His eye-popping moves, elusiveness and speed make Corey Dillon look even more sluggish than usual. Dillon is determined to prove to the media that he isn’t too old and can still be a productive back in this league, but more often than not, age beats out fortitude. And no doubt, the guy can still get it done at the stripe. Last year Dillon reached paydirt nine times in just 11 attempts inside the five-yard line, good for the highest percentage in the league. Looking at the preseason numbers, however, this battle isn’t even close. Both have carried the ball 15 times, with Maroney gaining 94 yards and Dillon just 53 yards. Maroney has been getting plenty of time with the first unit, so it’s not even about the competition here. I realize it’s hard to recommend a guy who won’t reach his true potential unless an injury strikes, but Dillon has been increasingly prone to nagging injuries ever since his 434-touch season at age 30. It’s also entirely possible Dillon, a known malcontent, doesn’t respond well to giving up carries to a rookie and causes a stir, something Bill Belichick won’t put up with. As I see it, Maroney’s mid-round upside is unparralled in redraft leagues. As for keeper leaguers, depending on format, he could easily be worthy of a first round selection.

Frank Gore – Gore is officially no longer a “sleeper” now that Kevan Barlow has been shipped to New York. Admittedly, San Francisco’s offense keeps his ceiling from being too high, but Gore has the ability to be a solid RB2/RB3 this year. The main problem with Gore is that he’s injury-prone, requiring surgery on both of his knees during college and on both of his shoulders during this past offseason. His impressive 4.8 YPC last year on a team with by far the worst passing attack in the league, however, reveals some serious skills when healthy. With Alex Smith bound to improve and the additions of Antonio Bryant and Vernon Davis to the receiving corps, San Francisco could actually resemble an NFL team this year. Additionally, the offensive line even added Larry Allen and Jonas Jennings returns from injury, so that unit might transform from awful to bad. Gore is the type of player who won’t inspire fantasy owners, so wait until the middle rounds and draft yourself a player who will outperform his average draft position.

Greg Jones – Of all the running backs you can get later on in your draft, Jones has the best chance of getting significant carries this year. At minimum, he appears to be Jacksonville’s goal line back, but there’s potential for much more here. Jones recently stated he is only now fully recovered from his ACL surgery, which he had three years ago. It’s not uncommon for a player with such an injury to take this long to fully regain explosiveness, and in Jones’ case, he says it’s back now for the first time as a pro. Even if Fred Taylor wins the starting job, something that isn’t a foregone conclusion at this point, his body is more fragile than Tony Kornheiser’s ego after someone criticizes his Monday Night Football performance. Everyone knows about Taylor’s injury past; after all, he’s only had one 300-carry season in his career, and after turning 30, he’s unlikely to get more durable. Maurice Drew and Alvin Pearman are scat backs who are suited for third down duty, not as every down backs. So when, not if, Taylor goes down, or maybe even before, Jones will be the Jaguars’ running back of choice. Let someone else draft Taylor, then grab Jones a few rounds later.

Ready for Launch

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

By Jeff Chudnofsky – Staff Writer

It’s official. Former San Francisco running back Kevan Barlow has passed his physical and is now property of the New York Jets. The New York front office already suspected that future Hall of Famer Curtis Martin would not suit up in 2006, but when Cedric Houston’s matador impression nearly got Chad Pennington killed in the Jets’ preseason opener, the proverbial straw had broken the camel’s back.

After a “failed” trade attempt to acquire Lee Suggs from Cleveland, the Jets tossed a fourth-round 2007 draft pick to SF for the rights to Kevan Barlow. Barlow, who rushed for 1,024 yards in 2003, has been a shadow of his former self since his breakout season.

From a fantasy perspective, the obvious beneficiary of this trade is second year 49er, Frank “manbearpig” Gore, who stakes claim to the starting running back gig in San Francisco. Although some wonder if Gore’s two surgically repaired knees and shoulders can withstand 25 touches per game, his fantasy owners must be thrilled that he’ll at least have the opportunity to prove his skeptics wrong. Gore is a safe pick in the fourth round of most leagues and could be worthy of a late third round pick if running backs are snatched up fast in your league. Barlow, on the other hand, should still be valued as a lower tier RB3/4. That is not to say that Barlow will do poorly; I actually believe he will surprise most folks, but his draft position should not be overly affected by this trade.

Barlow arrives to a team with a young offensive line that plays much better for the run than they do in pass protection. New York boasts a solid defense coupled with a subpar passing game. Mix those ingredients with a rookie head coach and you’ll have a commitment to run as much time off the clock as possible and play for field position. Although Barlow won’t rush for 1,300 yards, he will likely get the ball at least 15 times per game. Calling Derrick Blaylock a threat to steal carries is like saying Dane Cook is funny; it is simply not true. Barlow, who was labeled as a lazy stiff in San Francisco, was once referred to by Mike Shanahan as the best running back in the 2001 draft. He is only 27 years old, and must feel a sense of rejuvenation and motivation to be relocated to the Jets.

If the Jets’ defense can keep games close, Barlow could top 900 rushing yards with seven touchdowns. If you have secured a comfortable set of running backs and receivers, Barlow is someone to take a look at in the late sixth/early seventh round. However, if he shows promise during the remainder of the preseason, bump him up a few spots if you’re feeling lucky. Whether or not Barlow succeeds in his new environment remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure…there is one fewer running back committee in fantasy football.

Committee Combats

Monday, August 21st, 2006

By Jeff Chudnofsky – Staff Writer

Nothing brings more frustration to fantasy owners than those four dreaded words. Running. Back. By. Committee. Every August, fantasy owners prepare for their drafts, make cheat sheets, and target specific players; most notably, running backs. For every Thomas Jones whom owners wish to draft, there is a Cedric Benson clouding the situation. For every seasoned veteran like Leon Taylor, there is a young, crack smoking rookie like Demetrius Harris looking to take his job (I honestly miss “Playmakers”). With two weeks of preseason football in the books, let’s see how these RBBC nightmares are shaping up.

Thomas Jones vs Cedric Benson

Da Bears didn’t spend first round dollars to have Cedric Benson sitting on the bench, but with only three weeks until opening day, Benson needs to get off the trainer’s table. Despite the front office’s strong support of Benson, the coaching staff will not anoint the second-year pro the starter without him truly earning the position. Meanwhile, Thomas Jones is practicing with the first string offense and continues to gain the support of his veteran teammates. While GM Jerry Angelo wants to see Benson get the bulk of the carries, the job will not be handed to him. I believe Benson will miss two more weeks of preseason action, while Jones will solidify the starting job and earn 65 percent of the regular season touches.

Winner – Jones by split decision.

Chris Brown vs LenDale White

Despite the grumblings of Brown’s agent, the Titans have not been seeking to trade the disgruntled running back. During Friday’s interview with Sirius NFL Radio, Tennessee GM Floyd Reese said “In the NFL, everyone is for sale for the right price,” regarding rumors of the potential trade of Brown. Although Brown is “for sale,” the durability concerns of LenDale White will prevent the Titans from accepting anything less than a first day pick for Brown, which no GM in their right mind would offer for an upright, injury-prone running back. As far as the battle for carries is concerned, Brown will get the majority of touches and rack up decent yardage totals until he gets hurt. When his injury occurs is anyone’s guess. If you have any interest in Brown, make sure you grab White and even Travis Henry as well.

Winner – Brown by unanimous decision, until he gets knocked out.

Tatum Bell vs Mike Bell

As a fantasy owner, dealing with Mike Shanahan is as scary as seeing John Karr in your local Chucky Cheese’s. I was riding along in the Tatum Bell bandwagon before Mike Bell rushed for 73 yards and 2 TDs in Denver’s second preseason game. While Mike Bell shined, Tatum was ineffective, especially in short yardage situations. Mike Bell is clearly the front-runner at this point, but we must remember not to trust Shanahan, as the undrafted rookie could just as easily become the next Quentin Griffin. If you want to take the risk of drafting a Denver running back, drop Tatum Bell a few spots down your cheat sheet and move young Mike up a round or two. At this juncture, drafting either Bell is a risk, but both are worthy of a late fourth round flier in 12-team leagues.

Winner – Mike Bell by split decision.

Ahman Green vs Samkon Gado vs Najeh Davenpoop

Ahman Green is the man to beat, just as long as he is healthy. This backfield will ride the healthiest legs, and Green appears to have recovered from the torn quadriceps that plagued him in 2005. If you plan on drafting the Green Bay backfield, grab Green as one of the last starting RBs on the board, then grab Davenport and Gado in the late rounds for insurance. The trio will give you headaches, as all three are good bets to be injured at some point in the season. If you can help it, find your running backs elsewhere.

Winner – Green by default.

The Sports Guy

Sunday, August 20th, 2006

I want to preface the following article by stating Bill Simmons is one of my favorite sports writers. He gets criticized for talking too much about himself and whatnot, and although I couldn’t care less about his “buddy J-Bug” or whatever arcane reference he too often makes, I find his writing as a whole very entertaining. And while his taste in music is admittedly terrible, I appreciate Simmons’ constant pop culture analogies. Even though he doesn’t exactly exude literary prowess, nor is he an astute poker player, nearly all of his articles, no matter how excessively long, keep me involved throughout the read. The problem is, during a recent article regarding baseball and which AL team has the best chance of winning the league, it became painfully obvious just how little he follows baseball. The following are excerpts from his article, with my contentious remarks afterward.

“So who’s left? Erik Bedard (a solid No. 3 starter on the right team).”

You mean the Erik Bedard who has a 2.52 ERA and 1.17 WHIP since the All-Star break? Surely he’s not talking about a left-handed pitcher who gets 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings while pitching in the AL East and not on one of the big-three teams. Did I mention he’s 27 years old? This coming from a guy whose favorite team, the Red Sox, have a No. 2 starter with a 5.35 ERA and just signed him to a $30 million contract. Yeah, Bedard looks like a decent middle of the rotation guy.

“To put the Patterson thing in perspective, I was reading “Baseball Between the Numbers” earlier this summer (interesting book about statistics by the guys from Baseball Prospectus) and they described this stat called VORP, which calculates how many runs you would be worth (or not worth) compared to a replacement-level player at your position.”

What a stathead Simmons must be, discovering the secretive measure of value over replacement player. Next thing we know Bill is going to be telling us OBP is a better indicator than batting average. Incorporating OPS into an article is still probably a few months away, however.

“The Mariners are getting an inspired performance from their bullpen including closer J.J. Putz, who’s suddenly throwing 98 mph and poised to strike out as many guys this season as he did in the past two (and yes, he’s 29 years old, but nobody finds this fishy at all).”

Nope, he has always blown in the upper 90s, it was location that plagued Putz, who has cut his home runs allowed rate significantly down this year. I will admit, however, that his season being so dominant is definitely unexpected.

“I’d put him (Felix Hernandez) behind Liriano, Kazmir and Weaver at this point. Disappointing. Should we have nicknamed him Prince Felix? I feel like we failed him in some way.”

This is Mr. Simmons’ most egregious statement of all. It continues a theme of his, when he often remembers only yesterday and doesn’t look past tomorrow. King Felix is the best pitching prospect of the last 20 years, and maybe ever. Two months of poor pitching after you just turned 20 years old doesn’t change that. I won’t go into detail about his ridiculous repertoire of stuff, but I will tell you he has a 3.59 ERA since May ended and 136 strikeouts in 148 innings from a kid who can’t even drink yet.

Francisco Liriano would rate right beside him if all things were equal, but that lengthy history of arm problems makes that case untrue. Scott Kazmir has a great future ahead of him, but he’s no King Felix. As for Jered Weaver, again great prospect, but let’s not go overboard here. Weaver is an extreme flyball pitcher and so far only 4.8 percent of his flyballs have turned into homers, a ridiculously low rate. For almost every pitcher, that number regresses to 10 percent, which it will for Weaver eventually. Not to mention his hit rate is so unsustainably low. Speaking of flyballs, King Felix’s groundball/flyball ratio is eighth best in all of baseball.

“I can’t take the A’s seriously — no home-field advantage.”

Since 2002, the A’s are 248-138 while playing at home, an absurd .643 winning percentage. Obviously, Simmons has been lucky enough to have never visited the dump that is McAfee Coliseum.

In so many words, Simmons assumes the Wily Mo Pena for Bronson Arroyo trade was a very bad one for Boston.

Arroyo got off to a great three months in the NL, where his breaking pitches worked much better. The AL had already figured him out, and it’s highly doubtful his numbers would have even approached those if he had stayed in the junior circuit. His ERA is over 5 in his last 50 innings, and lefties continue to pound him – he’s given up a staggering 19 home runs in 83 innings while facing left-handers.

Wily Mo Pena, on the other hand, just keeps on hitting. His rate stats are down because of Francona’s resistance to use him, and while he’s still an adventure in the field, there’s no denying his ability to rake. When he hits 40 bombs next year, then maybe it will be time to assess that trade.

News & Notes

Saturday, August 19th, 2006
  • The Pirates are 7-32 when a left-hander starts against them this year.
  • When David Bush singled to center on Monday night, it snapped an 0-for-43 streak by Milwaukee pitchers.
  • Greg Maddux threw 64 warm-up pitches against the Giants last week. He threw 68 real ones during his eight shutout innings. The Los Angeles Times noted that Maddux “Does no doctoring but knows how to work a ball that comes to him scuffed or nicked.” Curiously, a Rockies coach noted that against Colorado a couple weeks ago, after Maddux’s last warm-up toss, catcher Russell Martin’s throw to second base bounced in the dirt. Every time.
  • Carlos Zambrano leads the NL in both strikeouts (167) and walks (96).
  • Matt Diaz tied an NL record with hits in 10 straight at-bats before grounding out Monday.
  • Despite playing in the same division and 19 times a year, Adam Loewen Thursday became the first Baltimore pitcher since Sidney Ponson in 1998 to beat the Yankees twice in a season.
  • Edgerrin James’ take on the end of Matt Leinart’s 15-day holdout: “He’s cool. I only deal with cool people.”

  • Ron Artest’s take on the Malice at the Palace: “Someone started trouble and I ended it,” Artest told about 50 children Wednesday at a panel on black empowerment in Detroit.
  • David DeJesus and Pablo Ozuna both hit leadoff homers in the contest between the Royals and White Sox Thursday. Emil Brown and Jermaine Dye also hit homers as the first batters of both halves of the second inning. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time the first four half-innings of a game have ever started with homers.
  • Bobby Abreu drew two walks Wednesday to reach 100 for the eighth straight year. The streak matches the longest in major league history
  • In 21 August starts for Johan Santana dating back to 2002, all he’s done is go 18-1 with a 1.80 ERA and 174 Ks. And at home, Santana is now 12-0 over his last 19 Metrodome starts since August 6 of last year.
  • It appeared I sufficiently jinxed the Angels after I recommended betting on them, as they were six full games back of the A’s entering Friday. Now down to 4.5 games, I still have faith, but Oakland certainly gets it done post All-Star breaks year in and year out. Anaheim also faces a pretty daunting schedule ahead of them. It’s a shame two teams out of the White Sox, Yankees, Red Sox and Twins won’t make the playoffs. Not to mention a solid Angels or Athletics club. At least the Reds have a shot!

The Draft – Rounds 13-18

Friday, August 18th, 2006

Continuing with analysis of our draft, we now move onto rounds 13-18, which brings us to the end of it. Afterward, we recap our picks and analyze our final squads.

Round Thirteen

144. Miami Dolphins Defense
145. Steve McNair
146. Mewelde Moore
147. Vernon Davis
148. Jeff – Buffalo Bills Defense
149. Dalton – Lee Suggs
150. Reche Caldwell
151. Michael Pittman
152. Jerry Porter
153. Robby – Philip Rivers
154. Kevin Curtis
155. Neil Rackers

Round Fourteen

156. Ben Troupe
157. Mark Brunell
158. Denver Broncos Defense
159. Robby – Washington Redskins Defense
160. Cincinnati Bengals Defense
161. Kellen Winslow
162. Dalton – Philadelphia Eagles Defense
163. Jeff – Doug Gabriel
164. Eric Moulds
165. Isaac Bruce
166. Maurice Morris
167. Minnesota Vikings Defense

Round Fifteen

168. Arizona Cardinals Defense
169. Travis Henry
170. Arnez Battle
171. Dallas Cowboys Defense
172. Jeff – Mark Clayton
173. Dalton – Najeh Davenport
174. JJ Arrington
175. Dallas Clark
176. Robby – San Diego Chargers Defense
177. Rex Grossman
178. Verron Haynes
179. Cedric Houston

Round Sixteen

180. Braylon Edwards
181. Robby – Antowain Smith
182. Adam Vinatieri
183. Mike Vanderjagt
184. Dalton – Alex Smith (TE)
185. Jeff – Justin Fargas
186. Brian Calhoun
187. KC Chiefs Defense
188. Adrian Peterson
189. Jermaine Wiggins

Round Seventeen

190. Matt Leinart
191. Michael Jenkins
192. Amani Toomer
193. Shayne Graham
194. Jeff – Jerious Norwood
195. Dalton – Roddy White
196. Detroit Lions Defense
197. Sammie Parker
198. Robby – Troy Williamson
199. JP Losman
200. Cleveland Browns Defense
201. New York Jets Defense

Round Eighteen

202. Ashlie Lelie
203. Jason Elam
204. Jay Feely
205. Robby – Oakland Raiders Defense
206. Bobby Engram
207. Sammy Morris
208. Dalton – Greg Jennings
209. Jeff – Tennessee Titans Defense
210. Maurice Hicks
211. Ciatrick Fason
212. Dalton – Chad Jackson
213. Jerramy Stevens

Dalton Rounds 13-18 Recap
As if losing Koren Robinson wasn’t enough, I go and draft Lee Suggs right after it’s announced he’s traded to the Jets. That makes two picks I flushed down the toilet. I like the Eagles’ defense to bounce back this year and love Alex Smith as a sleeper TE2. I’m hoping one of Roddy White, Greg Jennings and/or Chad Jackson pans out. It’s not likely, considering how tough it is for young receivers to excel in the NFL, but each are in really decent positions to do so.

Overall, I am happy with my draft. If Addai or Maroney pans out, I like my chances. In hindsight, I am upset I passed on Derrick Mason (who is showing great chemistry with McNair) as well as Maurice Morris, since I have Alexander. Nevertheless, do you hear that dial tone? That’s because my team is off the hook.

Dalton’s Team
QB – Eli Manning, Jake Plummer
Even though Eli actually regressed the second half of last year, I see him taking a major leap forward this season.
RB – Shaun Alexander, Joseph Addai, Laurence Maroney, Najeh Davenport, Tony Fisher
The Madden Curse scares me. So does that huge contract Alexander signed. What I do like, however, is Addai and Maroney’s upside, which will hopefully come to fruition by season’s end.
WR – Plaxico Burress, Andre Johnson, Laveranues Coles, Roddy White, Greg Jennings, Chad Jackson
It’s time for both Burress and Johnson to live up to their potential. Coles can only improve on last year’s numbers. Again, I’m mad I passed up Mason.
TE – Ben Watson, Alex Smith
Even though I waited longer to draft a TE than nearly everyone, I’m perfectly fine with this duo.
K – David Akers
Look for him to return to health.
DEF – Bears, Eagles
I love the fact the Bears are bringing back all of their starters, play in the NFC North, and have a ridiculous homefield advantage. I hate the fact Mike Brown “tweaked” his Achilles’ tendon and is out for at least the preseason.

Robby Rounds 13-18 Recap
I largely ignored defense in the draft and added the Redskins and Chargers late (I’ve already dropped the Raiders). In my book, Philip Rivers was the last second tier quarterback on the board when I grabbed him; I definitely see him getting a few situational starts for me this year. If Antowain Smith wins the backup job in Houston, he’ll make a great value grab. If not, I’ll get rid of him soon. Troy Williamson is now the number one guy in Minnesota, which is not bad for my fifth receiver.

Robby’s Team
QB – Drew Bledsoe, Brett Favre, Philip Rivers
I’ve got a couple of fossils up front. I like Bledsoe a good deal this year but am already regretting the Favre pick.
RB – Steven Jackson, Julius Jones, Tatum Bell, Greg Jones, Wali Lundy, Antowain Smith, Cedric Cobbs
Hopefully I’ll be starting a running back at the flex position most of the season. Call me crazy, but I’ve already ordered my custom-made Wali Lundy jersey. Cobbs should get the axe once I need to add a kicker but who knows.
WR – Donald Driver, Joey Galloway, Nate Burleson, Reggie Brown, Troy Williamson
I was pretty underwhelmed with my first two wide receivers taken but by adding high upside guys Burleson and Brown later, I think this group should be more than adequate.
TE – LJ Smith
I like LJ to put up comparable numbers to the TEs taken a few rounds earlier.
DEF – Redskins, Chargers
This group is admittedly pretty weak but by playing the matchups I should at least get decent results.

Jeff’s Rounds 13-18 Recap
My last six draft picks were Buffalo D, Justin Fargas, Mark Clayton, Doug Gabriel, Jerious Norwood and Titans D. Buffalo is a sleeper with one of the best defensive units in football, when healthy. Fargas, Norwood, and Gabriel were handcuff picks, while Clayton is a darkhorse. Tennessee was purely a matchup pick, as the Giants host the Colts, and the Bills visit New England in week one.

Jeff’s Team
QB – Carson Palmer, Jon Kitna
I am hoping Palmer will start opening weekend versus Kansas City. He should be good for 20 fantasy ppg if healthy. Kitna will be a safe second option with plenty of upside.
RB – LaMont Jordan, Jamal Lewis, Warrick Dunn, Kevan Barlow, Mike Anderson, Justin Fargas, Jerious Norwood
I took a gamble by trading up for an extra third round pick and selected Jamal Lewis and Dunn. In the event that Barlow wins the SF job or gets traded, I will be able to use him as my flex during bye weeks. I was fortunate to lock-up my RB handcuffs.
WR – Randy Moss, Lee Evans, Ernest Wilford, Mark Clayton
Despite the preseason struggles in Oakland, I am still optimistic about Moss, especially when Andrew Walter takes over. I have been touting Lee Evans for a while, and he better live up to the hype. Wilford and Clayton won’t set the league on fire, but I feel comfortable with them, especially Wilford.
TE – Jason Witten
I could not pass him up, and hopefully Bledsoe won’t either.
K – Jeff Wilkins
I wanted an indoor kicker on a decent offensive team.
DEF – NYG, BUF,TEN
Although the G-Men are my defense of choice, I am rolling with the Titans in week one versus the New York Jets. I will probably drop them entering week two, regardless of how many turnovers they force.

The Draft – Rounds 7-12

Tuesday, August 15th, 2006

Continuing with analysis of our draft from Sunday night, we now move onto rounds 7-12. If you’re curious about how each of us ranked everyone last month, that can be accessed through the football archives. Next week we’ll have new rankings out, as a lot has changed between then and now.

Round Seven

73. Deion Branch
74. Ahman Green
75. Muhsin Muhammad
76. Chris Cooley
77. Jeff – Lee Evans
78. Dalton – Chicago Bears Defense
79. Derrick Mason
80. Ron Dayne
81. Robby – Drew Bledsoe
82. Chris Brown
83. Rod Smith
84. Fred Taylor

Dalton Says: I was close to taking Mason, but in the end, I decided to go with football’s best defense. Our scoring system is a little different than most, in that defenses can score much more than in a typical league. We account for yards allowed to go along with all the other categories normally used. Da Bears return all of their starters from last year and play in a offensively challenged division.

Best Pick: Although he comes with obvious risk, Branch was worth it at this point in the draft. While there are rumblings he is considering sitting out the first half of the season, it’s probably just chatter, and he’s ready to make a leap forward when he does get on the field.

Worst Pick: Ron Dayne. I was fooled enough to draft him in an earlier league I am in this year, but later realized he’s called Ron Done for a reason.

Robby Says: I was relieved that Drew Bledsoe fell to me here, as I waited on my first quarterback for quite a while. Had he gone I probably would’ve waited a few more rounds for a QB. I’ve got a lot vested in Dallas’ attack and the mercurial TO. We’ll see how that pans out.

Best Pick/Worst Pick: Nothing stands out much this round. I’d say maybe Derrick Mason and Ahman Green, respectively.

Jeff Says: I was thrilled to get Lee Evans in the seventh round. By trading my sixth round pick, I wasn’t sure if he would last to me.

Best Pick: Deion Branch. Apparently Branch’s holdout scared owners off for a round or two. I doubt GM Scott Pioli will leave Tom Brady out to dry.

Worst Pick: I don’t have a problem with any of these picks. Ahman Green had to be drafted eventually.

Round Eight

85. Eddie Kennison
86. Curtis Martin
87. Drew Bennett
88. Robby – Reggie Brown
89. Heath Miller
90. Matt Jones
91. Dalton – Laveranues Coles
92. Jeff – Jason Witten
93. Carolina Panthers Defense
94. Randy McMichael
95. Donte Stallworth
96. Daunte Culpepper

Dalton Says: I was especially happy taking the Bears over Mason when I was able to grab Coles the following round. Coles had to deal with Vinny Testaverde and Brooks Bollinger as his QBs last year, not to mention ultra-conservative head coach Herm Edwards. I feel very comfortable with Coles as my WR3.

Best Pick(s): I like two this round. Reggie Brown could be huge as the No. 1 option in the pass-happy Eagles’ offense, and Heath Miller will be a threat to score double digit TDs without goal line vulture Jerome Bettis around.

Worst Pick: This one’s too easy, Curtis Martin. His owner regrettably wasn’t quite aware of how dire his injury concerns truly are. No cartilage in his knee? He’s done like dinner.

Robby Says: I realize that this was my eighth RB/WR among my first nine picks but I love playing matchups and Brown’s upside, although after this round I’ll have to discipline myself not to draft more RB/WRs for a while.

Best Pick(s): I like Witten and McMichael as top-seven tight ends.

Worst Pick(s): Curtis Martin was on page 137 of my cheatsheet, sandwiched right in between Priest Holmes and Bam Morris. In these rounds it’s good to gamble on wideouts with upside, something Eddie Kennison does not have.

Jeff Says: Jason Witten fell into my lap. I had planned on waiting a few more rounds for Kellen Winslow Jr., but I could not pass Witten.

Best Pick: Laveranues Coles. I am not a Coles apologist whatsoever, but he is a great value pick this late in the draft. If Pennington can stay healthy, he will dink & dunk to Coles for about six receptions per game.

Worst Pick: Curtis Martin’s knee has more bone on bone friction than a game of tummy sticks.

Round Nine

97. Aaron Brooks
98. Pittsburgh Steelers Defense
99. Michael Vick
100. Michael Clayton
101. Jeff – Mike Anderson
102. Byron Leftwich
103. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense
104. Jacksonville Jaguars Defense
105. Robby – LJ Smith
106. Keyshawn Johnson
107. Terry Glenn
108. TJ Duckett

Dalton Says: No picks for me this round, and no one went who I was dying to have.

Best Pick(s): Michael Clayton is right atop my sleeper list, and LJ Smith was the tight end I was targeting, as he will see plenty of the passes that previously went TO’s way. Actually, I like Vick as well. His knee is healthier, so look for him to run more this year, and as a ninth round option, he has officially become an underrated fantasy commodity. Who cares if he’s overrated in real football?

Worst Pick: TJ Duckett. I’d rather own Jerious Norwood.

Robby Says: I thought that LJ Smith was the last solid tight end on the board, so I went ahead and grabbed him. Vernon Davis looks tempting, but I only want to have to draft one tight end.

Best Pick: I liked the Daunte Culpepper/Aaron Brooks picks on the wheel. Those are a couple of high upside quarterbacks grabbed late.

Worst Pick: Any team forced to start TJ Duckett this year is in trouble.

Jeff Says: It was time to take out some insurance on Jamal Lewis. If I didn’t grab Anderson here, I don’t think he would have made it back to me.

Best Pick: Nothing spectacular here, but Michael Clayton could rebound in a healthy third season.

Worst Pick: With Trent Green, Jake Plummer and Brett Favre on the board, Byron Leftwich would have lasted another round or two.

Round Ten

109. Trent Green
110. Keenan McCardell
111. Chris Perry
112. Jeff – Kevan Barlow
113. Ryan Moats
114. Samkon Gado
115. Dalton – Ben Watson
116. Jeff – Ernest Wilford
117. Ladell Betts
118. Michael Turner
119. Marion Barber
120. Michael Bennett

Dalton Says: This is why you can afford to wait on TEs this year, it really is a deep group. I am fine with Watson as my TE1, as the Pats keep losing WR options, and Daniel Graham is basically an O-linemen. Anyone remember Watson’s two ridiculously athletic plays in last year’s playoffs? Me too. That was a touchback, by the way.

Best Pick: Ladell Betts, considering he was picked by Portis’ owner just after learning of his separated shoulder. Some much needed insurance.

Worst Pick: I don’t have a problem with any of these selections, as a lot of high upside backup RBs flew off the board.

Robby Says: I didn’t have a pick this round and ended up watching a couple of handcuffs I was targeting in the next round go to their rightful owners.

Best Pick: Ladell Betts probably should have gone a couple rounds earlier but everyone seemed to assume that Portis would only be out a couple of weeks.

Worst Pick: There were a few questionable running backs picked in the name of the almighty handcuff. I would rather steal another owner’s handcuff with more upside (read: Michael Turner, Michael Bennett or Ladell Betts)

Jeff Says: I had two picks this round and had a tough time deciding between Barlow and Betts. In hindsight, I probably should have opted for Betts, but I am not convinced Gore can stay healthy. That being said, I do not expect Portis to miss the season opener. I was happy to select the gritty Wilford with my second pick of the round.

Best Pick: Mrs. Commish was fortunate to secure Betts as a must-handcuff.

Worst Pick: I have no problem with any of the picks this round.

Round Eleven

120. Seattle Seahawks Defense
121. Brandon Jacobs
122. New England Patriots Defense
123. Ben Roethlisberger
124. Jeff – New York Giants Defense
125. Dalton – Jake Plummer
126. Drew Brees
127. Antonio Bryant
128. Robby – Brett Favre
129. Indy Colts Defense
130. Vernand Morency
131. Atlanta Falcons Defense

Dalton Says: Although I’m happy with Eli Manning as my starter, I targeted Plummer from the very beginning as my QB2. The way I see it, Cutler is at least a year away, Plummer will be extra motivated, Javon Walker improves the receiving corps, and his fantasy playoff schedule looks like this: at SD, at Ari, Cin.

Best Pick: Antonio Bryant could surprise this year.

Worst Pick: I would say Vernand Morency, but it was Domanick Davis’ owner who nabbed him, so it was out of necessity. Problem is, there are at least four backs in Houston who could end up with the job.

Robby Says: I was in need of a backup quarterback for Drew Bledsoe and was bummed to see Jake the Snake get plucked. I’m taking Favre based primarily on his cakewalk of a playoff schedule.

Best Pick: Antonio Bryant disappointed as a “number one” receiver on a bad team last year, but grabbing any go-to receiver this late is a good deal. Plummer was the top quarterback of the round in my estimation.

Worst Pick: Vernand Morency. The running back situation in Houston warrants scrutiny, but I don’t think that Morency is the guy.

Jeff Says: New scoring changes are less rewarding for team defenses, as yards and points against accrue fewer points. I was looking to adapt and grab a team that will provide plenty of sacks and turnovers. The G-Men should be more than adequate with their stellar pass rush.

Best Pick: We shouldn’t overreact to most preseason games, but Antonio Bryant looks to be a steady target in San Francisco.

Worst Pick: Vernand Morency. I share Robby’s belief in Wali Lundy, who is a great match for Houston’s newly installed zone blocking scheme.

Round Twelve

132. David Givens
133. Baltimore Ravens Defense
134. Brad Johnson
135. Robby – Wali Lundy
136. Chris Simms
137. Duce Staley
138. Dalton – Koren Robinson
139. Jeff – Jon Kitna
140. Brandon Lloyd
141. David Carr
142. Joe Jurevicius
143. Billy Volek

Dalton Says: K-Rob is the classic boom or bust pick. I’m guessing recent rumblings of him reentering AA is what caused him to fall this far, because he has talent and has been anointed the No. 1 WR on Minny’s new look offense. Last I checked, Brad Childress was a fan of the pass play.

Best Pick: I’ll go with Jon Kitna here. While he is well below average in skill level, the Martz factor cannot be underestimated. Josh McCown is out of the picture, but remember the name Dan Orlovsky, Martz loves him.

Worst Pick: Joe Jurevicius has never had more than 725 yards receiving in a season and joins the Browns offense.

Robby Says: I couldn’t believe my luck when Wali Lundy fell into my lap. . . seriously, I think a running back in Houston is going to have serious value this year, and while Antowain Smith is the current backup, the guy is also a stiff. Lundy is a rookie who looked impressive Saturday, so I figured why not.

Best Pick(s): I admittedly passed up on some quality guys this round, namely number one wideout and notorious booze hound Koren Robinson and Jon “the next Kurt Warner” Kitna. Good picks RotoScoop!

Worst Pick: Joe Jurevicius is not going to get it done for Cleveland.

Jeff Says: I am very comfortable with Kitna as my backup. Mike Martz needs an experienced QB for his system.

Best Pick(s): Kitna and David Carr will prove to be reliable second options with the quarterback pool drying up.

Worst Pick: The word on the street is that Billy Volek may be in a Spurrieresque timeshare with Vince Young.

The Draft – Rounds 1-6

Monday, August 14th, 2006

Round One

1. Larry Johnson
2. LaDainian Tomlinson
3. Dalton – Shaun Alexander
4. Clinton Portis
5. Jeff – Lamont Jordan
6. Tiki Barber
7. Ronnie Brown
8. Edgerrin James
9. Robby – Steven Jackson
10. Rudi Johnson
11. Cadillac Williams
12. Willis McGahee

Dalton Says: I traded up to get into the top-three, which I felt was worth a hefty price. A fairly predictable first round, although it might have changed had we started it 30 minutes later, when news of Portis’ injury broke.

Best Pick: After the big-three, I’m a big fan of Ronnie Brown this year.

Worst Pick: Well, that Portis injury sure is rough to have happen during a draft. It wasn’t the worst pick, but it was the worst luck. Willis McGahee is a great back, but his situation will make it tough to be worth a top-12 pick.

Robby Says: Pretty standard picks this round. Portis was taken mere minutes before his shoulder injury and probably would’ve slipped a couple of spots had the draft started later. I only liked eight players overall and was glad when Edge went eighth, allowing me to grab Steven Jackson. If Jackson had gone, then I would probably have selected Peyton Manning.

Best Pick: LJ (Duh)
Worst Pick: Edge. I refuse to believe the Cardinals will have a good ground attack.

Jeff Says: For the most part, every pick seemed to go as planned. I was happy to grab Jordan, as Barber’s age and workload scares me.

Best Pick: Shaun Alexander. Forget the Madden curse, I believe he is the safest pick due to Kansas City’s offensive line issues. Tomlinson is no doubt more talented, but his running style leaves him open for big hits as he fights for the extra yard that Alexander sometimes concedes.

Worst pick: McGahee. I realize there weren’t many running backs left, but Willis and the Buffalo O-Line need to show a lot of improvement from last year.

Round Two

13. Steve Smith
14. Domanick Davis
15. Peyton Manning
16. Robby – Julius Jones
17. Brian Westbrook
18. Chad Johnson
19. Terrell Owens
20. Jeff – Randy Moss
21. Torry Holt
22. Chester Taylor
23. Marvin Harrison
24. Kevin Jones

Dalton Says: Since I didn’t have a pick this round, I wasn’t holding my breath too much. Domanick Davis was the big shocker, as I didn’t foresee him going until maybe the late third after his knee issues have become so concerning.

Best Pick: Julius Jones was a solid pick, but I can’t believe Torry Holt fell all the way to No. 21. He’s the No. 1 wide receiver on my board.

Worst Pick: Sorry, but Domanick Davis scares me too much. Although playing in Kubiak’s zone blocking scheme, he definitely has upside when on the field. Just not sure it will occur often enough.

Robby Says: I was hoping Peyton Manning would fall to me but was fine taking Julius Jones. Brian Westbrook’s foot and injury concerns gave JJ the edge.

Best Pick(s): Manning and Chester Taylor, a guy who I like right up there with Westbrook and Jones.

Worst Pick: Domanick Davis’ serious injury concerns make him a late third round pick at best in my book.

Jeff Says: I’ll admit, I broke fantasy laws illegal in most states by selecting players from my favorite team, but I believe that their upside and ADP warrants the selections.

Best Pick: Westbrook. From a value standpoint, I thought he would have been gone two picks ago…

Worst pick: Domanick Davis. Save yourself the headache and let some other bozo lose a draft pick to injury.

Round Three

25. Larry Fitzgerald
26. Anquan Boldin
27. DeShaun Foster
28. Reggie Bush
29. Jeff – Jamal Lewis
30. Dalton – Joseph Addai
31. Willie Parker
32. Reggie Wayne
33. Jeff – Warrick Dunn
34. Antonio Gates
35. Hines Ward
36. Reuben Droughns

Dalton Says: I couldn’t believe both Cardinals’ receivers lasted this long, as I see them as second round values. With no second round pick, it was paramount I went with a back here. Although Fast Willie Parker was tempting, I went with Addai’s upside. Sure, it’s a risk, and I will no doubt need to exercise patience, but no other player going this late has a better chance of being a top-five pick in next year’s draft.

Best Pick: I have too many to name this round. If I was forced to pick just one, I’d go with Reggie Bush. That sick 44-yard reverse-field scamper is tough to ignore when looking at his upside.

Worst Pick: Jamal Lewis. Admittedly, he looked pretty good in his first preasaon game, but he’s been going much later in most drafts. The jury is still out on just how much prison time truly affected him.

Robby Says: Due to my trade with Jeff, I didn’t pick in this round and was dismayed to see a lot of guys I was hoping could slip to me in the fourth get snagged.

Best Pick: There were a lot of good picks this round but Antonio Gates at the end of the third is a pretty solid steal.

Worst Pick: Jamal Lewis. He may bounce back but he’s not a top-20 back in my book.

Jeff Says: Contrary to Robby and Dalton’s concerns, I am confident that Jamal has his swagger back. After a full offseason of rehab, Jamal looked sharp Friday night, while Mike Anderson seemed pedestrian in his new environment. It was tough passing up Willy Parker for him, but I stick to my guns. Warrick Dunn will serve has a solid RB3. Though he won’t produce games with multiple touchdowns, his consistent yardage totals will be welcomed by my flex position.

Best Pick: Reggie Bush. Despite how much I like Jamal Lewis, I was holding out hope that Bush would drop one more spot. I thought Bush would have gone in the second round.

Worst pick: Joseph Addai. I firmly believe that Tony Dungy will not give Addai a large enough workload to be a weekly starter.

Round Four

37. Roy Williams
38. Corey Dillon
39. Thomas Jones
40. Robby – Tatum Bell
41. Santana Moss
42. Chris Chambers
43. Dalton – Plaxico Burress
44. Robby – Donald Driver
45. Frank Gore
46. Dalton – Andre Johnson
47. Jeremy Shockey
48. Darrell Jackson

Dalton Says: Since I had two picks this round and entered without a receiver yet, I was targeting two wideouts with my picks. Although it was frustrating to see Chris Chambers go one slot in front of me, I was happy with my Burress and Johnson selections.

Best Pick: I think Roy Williams is going to take a huge leap this year. He’s scored 16 touchdowns the last two years basically without ever practicing. Now he calls Mike Martz his Offensive Coordinator. He’s going to enter next year’s draft as a top-five WR option, mark it down.

Worst Pick: Honestly, I don’t dislike any picks this round all that much, but since I am big on Laurence Maroney (more on that later), I guess I’ll take the old, increasingly brittle Corey Dillon.

Robby Says: With two fourth round selections I wanted to grab the best back and wide receiver on the board. Three running backs in Denver is certainly worse than two, but I have a hard time believing Tatum will get anything less than 12-15 touches a game, which should be enough to make him a good flex play most weeks. I felt there was an appreciable dropoff in RB talent after him as well. I was bummed when Chambers went because I thought he was the last real good receiver available. I debated between Dre Jonhson and Donald Driver, two guys with stellar playoff schedules.

Best Pick: Chambers loses a pass-happy coach but should get improved play from his quarterback.

Worst Pick: Corey Dillon is done for. I like Maroney a lot more.

Jeff says: I sat out this round and watched Anthony Wright drop dimes. Seriously though, I felt it was important to get my 3 RBs early and I didn’t like my potential fourth round options. I am pleased with the way my draft has gone so far.

Best Pick: Tatum Bell. I was tempted to get him with the second of my two third round picks. I agree that 12-15 touches will be more than serviceable, especially considering our league rewards points for longer touchdowns.

Worst Pick: Frank Gore. Although Gore currently has the advantage over Kevan Barlow, I am not convinced that his two surgically repaired knees can withstand a full workload, not to mention he plays for a team that is likely to be playing from behind quite often.

Round Five

49. Javon Walker
50. Cedric Benson
51. Dominic Rhodes
52. T.J. Houshmandzadeh
53. Jeff – Carson Palmer
54. Dalton – Laurence Maroney
55. Tom Brady
56. Matt Hasselbeck
57. Robby – Joey Galloway
58. Joe Horn
59. Tony Gonzalez
60. Marc Bulger

Dalton Says: I would have gladly taken either Walker or Houshmandzadeh if they fell to me, but I was left with uninspiring WR options instead. I went with Maroney, a pretty big risk for a fifth rounder. In Addai and Maroney, I have quite a bit of upside mixed with a reality of current backups. I may have a hard time winning games in the beginning of the season, but man, did you see Maroney’s first game as a pro? Dude looked like a future star.

Best Pick(s): If Walker’s healthy come fantasy playoff time, watch out (at SD, at Ari, Cincy). Same goes for Palmer. I’m big on Bulger as well. Some great value at QB this round.

Worst Pick: Considering I’m banking on Addai unseating Rhodes sooner rather than later, I’ll go with Rhodes.

Robby Says: I was targeting Laurence Maroney this round, as I think he should unseat Corey Dillon pretty quickly. Dalton stealing him from me ranks right up there with Talladega Nights as my biggest disappointment of the last week. I’m seriously thinking I should’ve taken Chambers/Maroney in the fourth instead of Bell/Driver. Oh well, hopefully Joey Galloway still has some gas left in the tank after last season.

Best Pick: Maroney and Carson Palmer/Tom Brady, two guys going a round or two earlier in most other drafts.

Worst Pick: Nothing too egregious, although I’m not too high on Joe Horn’s comeback.

Jeff says: I did not think Brady or Palmer would last this long, and I had the opportunity to draft either one. No coin flip necessary though; I like the reports of Carson’s rehab and his upside entices me more so than Brady. It doesn’t hurt having Chad Johnson and TJ Houshyourmama to throw to either.

Best Pick(s): Palmer and Brady. Great value for top tier QBs.

Worst pick: I can’t hate on anything in this round. I probably would have steered away from Tony Gonzalez, due to the Chiefs’ problems on the offensive line.

Round Six

61. Alge Crumpler
62. Donovan McNabb
63. LenDale White
64. Robby – Nate Burleson
65. Mike Bell
66. Todd Heap
67. Dalton – Eli Manning
68. Robby – Greg Jones
69. Kurt Warner
70. Deuce McAllister
71. Jake Delhomme
72. DeAngelo Williams

Dalton Says: I usually like to wait on QBs, but this felt like the right time to go after one, as I believe Eli will make the leap this year. I better hope so, considering I have both him and teammate Burress on my team. I thought about drafting DeAngelo Williams and completing the rookie trio of Addai, Maroney and Williams, but decided to pass.

Best Pick: McNabb is healthy and has something to prove. Although losing T.O. is obviously a minus, look for McNabb to reestablish himself as one of the NFL’s best signal callers this year. Don’t underestimate just how debilitating that sports hernia was.

Worst Pick: I always liked LenDale White at USC, but I also felt the same way about Mike Williams. Slow, fat and lazy is no way to go through life.

Robby Says: I was pretty pleased to grab Burleson, who should be a major piece of a high-powered offense regardless of Darrell Jackson’s health. I’m buying the Greg Jones hype. Plus, watching the monster hit he put on Dexter Reid is way more fun when you own the guy.

Best Pick: Todd Heap. The more I think about it, the more I think Heap has a very good shot at being the second best fantasy tight end this season.

Worst Pick: Deuce McAllister. Not a terrible pick until you realize that this team already has taken four running backs. Umm, what?

Jeff Says: Once again, I sit back on the couch and check out the Bengals-‘Skins game. Chad Johnson better stick with the Wesley Snipes look from “Demolition Man.”

Best pick: Mike Bell. With mostly post-injury backs available (McAllister, Ahman Green), Mike Bell presented the most potential among the remaining RBs. Do I think he will be the top dog in Denver? No, but like Tatum Bell, Mike can be useful with 12-15 touches, with the potential for goal line carries.

Worst Pick(s): Alge Crumpler, Deuce McAllister. Reports out of Atlanta indicate that Crump is battling multiple injuries. I would have gone with Cooley instead. I think Deuce will have plenty of looks at the stripe this year, but five running backs in a row? Either this guy is on drugs, or he has plans to trade some of these backs for value players.

Fantasy Football Draft

Monday, August 14th, 2006

RotoScoop contributors Dalton, Robby and Jeff participated in their yearly fantasy football draft Sunday night in the same league we have all competed in since our junior year of high school (1998). It’s a 12-team league featuring eight members who have competed all eight years, along with a two-time champ returning from hiatus, a filthy rich Napoleon Dynamite look-alike, some red-headed jerk from USC who just happens to be last year’s fluke winner and the commissioner’s girlfriend, who is a disturbingly adroit fantasy force. The league boasts a pretty standard scoring system (1 point per 10 rushing/receiving yards, 1 point per 20 passing yards, 6 pts for a rushing/receiving TD and 4 for a passing TD). The draft was 18 rounds and each team has nine starters, including a RB/WR flex position. While the draft may have been painstakingly slow, good times were had by all, especially those who came away with a stacked team, but more on that later. We will soon be posting the results of the draft, with comments on what exactly went down in each round.

* Note: Before posting everyone’s selections, it’s important to note a few crucial predraft trades involving draft picks, a unique facet of our fantasy football league. Dalton, coveting a top-three pick, dealt his top two picks (6 and 19 overall) for the No. 2 spot, promptly trading down to pick No. 3 and swapping his ninth round for a fourth round pick. Jeff, seeing an appreciable drop off in talent after the third round, swapped his fourth and sixth round picks (44 and 68 overall) for Robby’s third and 10th round selections (33 and 112 overall).

Take the Halos

Friday, August 11th, 2006

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

There have been two particularly strong baseball bets this year. The first came about six weeks ago, when the Vegas line had the Minnesota Twins as 30/1 long shots to win the World Series. They may have been 8-10 games out of a playoff spot, but any team with Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano and that bullpen had to be taken a little more seriously. If they somehow sneaked into a playoff spot, which was always a possibility with the uncertain Tigers leading their division, the Twins might have even entered as favorites. Now with Justin Morneau turning into a MVP candidate, that 30/1 bet would be looking pretty sweet, considering you’d get worse odds betting on the Arizona Cardinals to win the Super Bowl this year (25/1). The Twins currently are at 6/1. With Francisco Liriano going down for what looks like the season, that bet has certainly lost its luster, so it’s time to move onto my favorite one of the year – the Angels to win the World Series.

I am not an Angels fan; in fact, I picked the A’s to win the World Series before the season started and will continue to root for them. Still, the reality of the situation is, without a healthy Rich Harden and an anemic offense, Oakland will ultimately fall short and disappoint yet again. With the wild card out of the question, the Angels will have to win the West just to make it to the postseason.

The Angels’ current odds sit at 22/1. Now I’m not guaranteeing a World Series title here, but I am saying you won’t find a better long shot bet in quite some time. Comparatively speaking, the Baltimore Ravens and San Diego Chargers are more favored to win the Super Bowl, and we are in August. Sticking to baseball, which is a better bet than football right now anyway, considering how much sooner their championship game is, the Cincinnati Reds are seen to have a better chance at the title than the Angels, according to the lines. The San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks aren’t too far behind either. The point is, the Angels have a much better chance to win it all this year than their odds indicate.

First with the negatives: Anaheim has committed the most errors in the entire American League, and defense is especially magnified come playoff time. Bartolo Colon is done for the year. Ervin Santana just left Thursday’s game after taking a line drive off his knee. They are 3 1/2 games out of the AL West lead. They will be relying on a group of youngsters, as Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders and Howie Kendrick will each play integral roles during the stretch run.

Now onto the positives: The A’s are vulnerable and 90 wins should easily take this division. Their season ends with a four-game series against Oakland, in Anaheim. While their offense remains a question mark, it will be more productive from here on out for two reasons – Kendrick is legit, and Juan Rivera is finally coming into his own. Since the start of July, Rivera is batting .357 with 14 jacks and 36 RBI. Their lineup is still the weak link, but it will be enough to get it done.

Scot Shields and K-Rod make it a seven-inning game. Much like the Yankees, you better be ahead of the Angels before the latter innings or consider it game over. Scot Shields, who once threw 261 pitches over 16 innings in one game back in college, is still one of the best setup guys around, and K-Rod remains virtually unhittable. The true reason I like the Angels’ chances this year, however, is their starting rotation. John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Kelvim Escobar and Jered Weaver form a top-four that no other team can match. Joe Saunders is the best No. 5 starter of any playoff rotation as well, but that probably won’t matter when teams switch to the four man rotation. It does, however, make their bullpen that much deeper.

Assuming the White Sox win the wild card, the Angels would face the Tigers in the ALDS, a team ripe for an upset. If they get the Yankees next, well, the Halos are 2-0 against them in the playoffs since 2002. In summation, the Angels probably won’t win the World Series this year, but in my estimation, they have about as good a chance as anyone, and at 22/1 odds, I’m ready to make Vegas pay for their oversight.

News & Notes

Thursday, August 10th, 2006
  • Since 1998, no team with the best regular season record in baseball has won the World Series.
  • This Maurice Clarett situation just keeps getting more and more bizarre. We have all heard the gist of his latest problems, which include a hatchet, but did you also know that he supposedly took a swig of Grey Goose right in front of the police just for the fun of it? What about the fact prosecutors are now saying Clarett was arrested near the home of a witness in his robbery trial? Unreal, this story will get beaten to death yet still be underrated in my book.

  • Justin Morneau is the first Twin to slug 30 homers in a season since 1987. He also has entered himself into the MVP race. Since April ended, he’s hit .349 and since June 1, his slugging percentage is a ridiculous .702. The 101 RBI don’t hurt either.
  • Jonny Gomes, on the other hand, is on the opposite spectrum. After an April that saw him hit .305, he’s hit a paltry .182 ever since. His post All-Star break numbers are especially brutal, which has seen him go 5-for-77, an .065 clip.
  • When Randy Johnson struck out the first hitter he faced Wednesday, he ended a streak of 52 consecutive hitters without a strikeout, the longest such streak of his career.
  • Aubrey Huff went 14 straight games without an RBI. He has nine in his last three.
  • I’m not one to make steroid accusations; in fact, I care less about them than most, but if you saw Andruw Jones’ recent broken bat home run to dead center field, you know what I’m talking about.
  • The proverbial rookie wall is seemingly arriving for this year’s crop all at once. Jonathan Papelbon has blown two straight saves, more than doubling his ERA in the process. Francisco Liriano gave up a career-high 10 hits in his most recent outing, which saw him leave with a sore elbow and forearm. If he returns this year at all, consider it an upset. Speaking of injuries derailing strong seasons, fellow rookie Justin Verlander had to skip his last start because of fatigue in his pitching arm. If that’s not enough, phenom Jered Weaver has a 4.97 ERA over his last three starts. Meanwhile, Cole Hamels, who has largely disappointed in his rookie campaign, has a 2.24 ERA over his last three starts and a brilliant 43/8 K/BB ratio over his previous 31 1/3 innings.

Quarterback Controversy

Wednesday, August 9th, 2006

By Robby Wellington – Staff Writer

Everyone loves a good quarterback controversy. The most important position on the gridiron is, not surprisingly, the most scrutinized. In cities where the team’s offense flounders, the most popular guy in town is often the backup quarterback. Now while the media and NFL pundits take great pleasure in exacerbating the aforementioned and frequently occurring controversies, the quarterback struggles that really get me fired up are on my fantasy team. And unlike in real football, where teams desperately try to avoid any sort of conflict by locking down a franchise quarterback, I am more than happy to let a few mid-level passers battle out a starting job week after week.

It goes without saying (yet I am saying it nonetheless, humm) that fantasy football is all about playing matchups. Most successful teams will only start a handful of their top-level studs, while rotating and replacing their other players based on the weekly opponent. This strategy is the most easily manipulated with quarterbacks and, consequently, owners should draft their team with this concept in mind.

Simply put, there is no other position where a player’s weekly ranking depends so much on matchups. To wit, Kurt Warner is probably a top-three start against the 49ers and barely a top-20 against the Bears. Because of this fluctuation, quarterbacks taken in the middle and late rounds usually have a higher value than their wide receiver and running back counterparts. For example, let’s say I draft Aaron Brooks in the ninth round, Ben Roethlisberger in the tenth, and Jon Kitna in the fourteenth. Starting those guys based on matchups should yield me results that are pretty comparable to starting Carson Palmer or Tom Brady every week of the season.

Assuming that the second and third quarterbacks drafted in your league come off the board in the third and early fourth rounds, you could probably grab a Jamal Lewis, Warrick Dunn, Reuben Droughns or other running backs of that ilk. Now, in the rounds where you could grab three quality quarterbacks, the top 40 to 50 running backs are gone, and you’re looking at grabbing three handcuffs and crossing your fingers the rest of the season. And the same goes for receivers; would you rather have Plaxico Burress or Mark Clayton, Eddie Kennison and Roddy White?

One exception to the multiple quarterback strategy is if you play in a league with a shallow bench (aren’t those the worst?). If you only have a couple bench spots to play with, then it may be worth the price to grab a top-three quarterback and snag a reasonably capable player off waivers during their bye week.

One final thing to consider with playing quarterback matchups is while many fantasy sites and publications will list a player’s bye week, presumably so the owner can draft a backup with a different week off, any difficult matchup for a second tier quarterback may just as well be a bye. Once you draft your first quarterback, it is prudent to check their schedule and note the handful of weeks that they don’t appear to have favorable matchups. Take this information into account when drafting your second and third quarterbacks, assuring your squad a cakewalk of a game every week. Checking your quarterbacks’ opponents becomes even more crucial during the fantasy playoffs. If things get too hectic during your draft to check out regular season matchups, then please, for the love of god, at least make sure your quarterbacks load up on favorable opponents during weeks 14-16, because, as all great fantasy players know, those are the only weeks that count.

Player Spotlight: Mike Bell

Tuesday, August 8th, 2006

They don’t call him Mike Shenanigans for nothing. In a move that should surprise no one who follows football, Shanahan named Mike Bell the Broncos No. 1 running back Monday. Many expected Bell to be the Broncos’ top rusher this year, but his first name was Tatum, not Mike.

Mike Bell went undrafted in April’s NFL Draft. Out of 255 players selected, 18 of which were running backs, none of them were Bell. Many passed because he lacked “long-speed,” evident by his unremarkable 4.63 40-yard dash speed. Then again, the same could be said about Terrell Davis. Bell was very durable in college, only missing one game, although never breaking the 1,000-yard rushing barrier in the process. Bell has impressed coaches with his hard running and appears to be an ideal fit for the Broncos’ one-cut system. He also is a Denver native and a lifelong Broncos fan.

How you perform in practice goes a long way in Shanahan’s book. Tatum Bell throughout his career has shown flashes of brilliance followed by inconsistency. One practice last week saw him rip off a 65-yard TD. He followed that up with two fumbles lost near the goal line. It’s clearer than ever that Shanahan views Tatum Bell strictly as a 10-15 touches per game back.

While it’s early August and people need to be aware of not overreacting to this news, also realize the Broncos have turned worse into stars. Terrell Davis was a sixth-round pick. Reuben Droughns was a backup fullback. Even Vanilla Ice is embarrassed calling Olandis Gary a one-hit wonder. Last year 32-year-old fullback Mike Anderson ran for over 1,000 yards and 12 TDs. And maybe most improbable of all, the system even had people drafting Ron Dayne in the mid-rounds this year, me included.

What this now means is Mike Bell becomes a high-risk, high-reward mid-round fantasy pick. Then again, so is Tatum Bell. As for Ron Dayne, at this point he can probably be taken third of the bunch, but he can’t be completely counted out. Personally, I’m staying away from the whole situation, which screams committee. While Mike Bell is by all means having the most impressive camp so far, Shanahan could just as easily be using this as a motivational tactic.

“It is very close, and it could change day by day, week by week, but we felt like Mike deserves a chance to work with the first team and take a look to see if he can keep it,” Shanahan said.

On a side note, I want to congratulate Yahoo! Sports for not having Mike Bell in their system Monday. Way to go guys, you wreaked havoc all across fantasy nation with your oversight. I hope your system was flooded with hateful e-mails. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go pick up Cedric Cobbs.

Trimming the Fat

Monday, August 7th, 2006

By Robby Wellington – Staff Writer

With the trade deadline fast approaching in my head-to-head fantasy league, I’m looking to open up a couple more roster spots. Now my team is not particularly deep, mind you, but unless I have a top-level talent in my lineup, I would rather have an open revolving-door type position than a marginal guy like Adam LaRoche. Having all but secured a top seed in the playoffs, my thinking is that the best way to maximize hitting numbers when those crucial few weeks roll around, is to load up on studs and leave a couple of spots free to start the best available guy off waivers for that day based on a number of factors (primarily ballpark and opposing pitcher).

I feel pretty confident that this strategy should surpass the statistical output of most second or third rate starting fantasy guys, not to mention the extra at-bats this will allow you to add on Mondays and Thursdays. The one marginal guy who might be worth keeping on your roster is a Dave Roberts/Hanley Ramirez type who can be plugged and played should you need a late boost in the stolen base category. Anyway, as previously mentioned on this site, this is my first year playing head-to-head baseball, and I am constantly looking for any slight advantage in the all-important playoff weeks. Just a final reminder, as I discussed a couple months back a few teams have favorable fantasy playoff schedules for pitchers and hitters. Here they are again.

Pitchers: Oakland, Anaheim, Detroit, Florida and New York Mets
Hitters: St. Louis, Cleveland, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees

News & Notes

Sunday, August 6th, 2006
  • It’s the first time in major league history that rookies lead both leagues in ERA when entering August.
  • Coors Field had its third 1-0 game last week. There had been just one such game in 11 seasons of play entering this year. The stadium also has a major league leading 11 shutouts this season.
  • Byung-Hyun Kim is 5-3 with a 2.75 ERA at Coors Field this season. He’s allowed just three homers in 59 innings at his home park. On the road, he’s 2-3 with a 7.19 ERA and has allowed six homers in 41 1/3 innings.
  • Meet the anti-Big Papi – David Dellucci is hitting .363 with the bases empty and .231 with RISP. He’s 0-for-18 with 10 strikeouts with RISP and two outs.
  • According to BoDog.com, the Royals are 1-0 when they are favorites this year.
  • Jake Peavy has 10 losses or no-decisions when he has allowed three runs or fewer.

  • Jake Westbrook became the first pitcher in 18 years to win despite allowing 15 hits Thursday.
  • In three games against the Yankees this week, Toronto’s starting pitchers accumulated 12 innings and 243 pitches.
  • Mike Gonzalez has yet to blow a save this year, as he’s 19-for-19 during opportunities.
  • Jeff Francoeur has 21 home runs compared to 10 walks this year.
  • Meanwhile, Barry Bonds has 88 walks compared to just 59 hits on the year.
  • The last time the Cardinals had a losing streak of longer than eight games, Albert Pujols was four months old.
  • Roy Halladay suffered his first loss Friday while pitching at night since June 18, 2005.
  • Jose Reyes has 44 stolen bases this season after swiping 60 in 2005. He’s attempting to become the first player in more than a decade to have 60 SBs in consecutive seasons.
  • Ryan Freel has been picked off a remarkable seven times this year.