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Fantasy Lessons Learned In 2008

Happy Holidays everybody! Congratulations to all owners who won a fantasy bowl just like I did! I also want to offer a job well done salute to anyone who lost a fantasy title game. Yes, I know it is a major disappointment to come so close to a championship after battling all the way through the four-month National Football League regular season, but think about this: A lot of owners who ended up with poor teams would love to have made the playoffs. They may poke fun at you for losing the big one, but I would bet you dollars to donuts that they would have swapped fantasy teams with you in a New York minute if given the opportunity.


With the 2008 fantasy season drawing to a close, it is time to think and reflect about the lessons that we learned. In my opinion, here are the four biggest ones to remember heading into 2009:


Drafting Mistakes

The biggest mistake I saw in fantasy drafts was owners constructing their teams by drafting rookie running backs to be every week starters. The owners usually would load up their rosters with proven stud wide receivers, quarterbacks and tight ends, and grab rookie runners in the late rounds. Don’t misunderstand me – some rookie backs performed well this year. However, others, such as Ray Rice, Tim Hightower, Felix Jones and Jamaal Charles, just to name a few, did not produce consistent numbers due to lack of playing time, ineffectiveness or injuries. In addition, even the best wide receivers can be inconsistent, which obviously did not help any fantasy team that was constructed around a group of rookie backs who did not live up to unrealistically lofty preseason expectations. Bottom line – owning consistent, proven running backs is still the key to success for a fantasy team.


The other drafting strategy error that I noticed – I see this one frequently each year – was owners passing up proven talent in early rounds for upside or sleeper players. There is absolutely nothing wrong with searching for upside or sleeper talent in the late rounds, but passing up proven players in the first six or seven rounds – this group of players comprises the nucleus of your team – is extremely poor strategy and a colossal blunder for one simple reason: not all “upsiders” or sleepers pan out. Some owners follow this approach on the mistaken premise that they will build a dominant team by loading up with “swing for the fences” players. As obnoxious as this may sound, I think other owners fall in love with what they perceive to be their “outstanding” player evaluation skills and want to show off by constructing a team with a large number of upsiders and sleepers.


Don’t Ignore Rookies

Despite the immediate fantasy impact that we have seen from rookies during the last few seasons – especially 2008 – the “avoid rookies at all costs” mindset of some owners unfortunately has not changed. No, I am not contradicting myself in the last section. It is perfectly acceptable to select rookies for your team. However, it is extremely poor strategy to construct your team by relying on numerous rookie starters. You should select first-year players only for depth purposes.


It has become an indisputable fact that some rookie running backs need very little time to adjust to the pro game. The fantasy statistics posted by Chris Johnson (Tennessee Titans), Matt Forte (Chicago Bears), Steve Slaton (Houston Texans) and Kevin Smith (Detroit Lions) were obviously impressive. Rookies such as Tashard Choice (Dallas Cowboys), Jonathan Stewart (Carolina Panthers), Darren McFadden (Oakland Raiders), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (New England Patriots), Ray Rice (Baltimore Ravens), Tim Hightower (Arizona Cardinals), Felix Jones (Dallas Cowboys) and Jamaal Charles (Kansas City Chiefs) were not consistent fantasy contributors. However, each player flashed his talent and was fantasy-relevant at different times during the season as a backup or flex play. Keep an eye on them during the offseason; some of their playing situations may change.


We also saw some impact rookies in the passing game: wide receiver DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia Eagles), wide receiver Eddie Royal (Denver Broncos), tight end John Carlson (Seattle Seahawks) and tight end Dustin Keller (New York Jets). Although Jackson and Royal are talented players, I would rate them both as decent No. 2 fantasy receivers at best.

Jackson plays on a team that likes to spread the touches around in the passing game, and Royal shares targets with wide receiver Brandon Marshall. I think Carlson has achieved stud status, but I think the jury is still out on Keller. If Brett Favre retires again (yes, Jets fans, get ready to embrace the Favre indecision about retirement soap opera), Keller’s fantasy value will take a hit, because we all know Favre loves to throw to his tight ends. When considering whether to target rookie wide receivers or tight ends in your drafts next year, consider three things: (1) Was the player selected somewhere in the first two rounds? (2) Will he play in an offense that features at least solid quarterback play and a proven passing attack? (3) Will he get to start or play immediately?


Quarterbacks Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons) and Joe Flacco (Baltimore Ravens) surprised us with their unexpectedly solid play and some solid fantasy production on occasion, although neither rated as an every-week starter. However, I would not set my sights on any rookie quarterbacks next season. The level of fantasy success that we saw from both Ryan and Flacco was extremely rare for rookie signal-callers, and I doubt we will see other first-year quarterbacks duplicate it any time soon.



Backfields Are Still Fantasy Friendly

As fantasy owners, we have to face the cold, hard truth about running back-by-committee (RBBC): it is here to stay. However, this season proved that split backfields are still fantasy friendly, and the No. 2 guy in a RBBC situation can post solid fantasy numbers. Here are three of the most prominent examples: DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart (Carolina Panthers), Chris Johnson and LenDale White (Tennessee Titans), and Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward (New York Giants). For

Carolina, Williams is obviously enjoying a career season, and Stewart logged some solid games, particularly against weaker opponents. Johnson paced the

Tennessee rushing attack with his explosive play, while White usually received the goal-line carries and rolled up yardage against weaker teams. Finally, we all know Jacobs led the Giants offense with his dominant power running, but Derrick Ward came on during the second half as an outstanding change-of-pace back. His 215 rushing yards in Week 16 undoubtedly helped propel some fantasy owners to a league championship. The No. 2 backs in RBBC rarely rate as must-starts on a given Sunday; however, you can safely start many of them as No. 3 running backs or flex options.


One final thought on RBBC: Considering how much stud running backs such as Ladainian Tomlinson (San Diego Chargers), Joseph Addai (Indianapolis Colts), Brian Westbrook (Philadelphia Eagles), Willie Parker (Pittsburgh Steelers), Marion Barber (Dallas Cowboys) and even Frank Gore (San Francisco 49ers), among others, struggled with injuries, consistency or production, I suspect we will see at least a few more split backfields in 2009. No, this is not a lesson learned from this season; it’s a prediction from me.

Beware Of Veteran QBs Coming Off Their First Big Seasons

Heading into the 2008 NFL campaign, many fantasy experts rushed to crown quarterbacks Derek Anderson (Cleveland Browns), David Garrard (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers) as stud quarterbacks in the making following their came out of nowhere to produce big numbers 2007 seasons. What happened?

Anderson played badly and was benched, Garrard struggled because of injuries on the Jaguars’ offensive line and poor play from the club’s wide receivers and Roethlisberger struggled with consistency while playing behind a porous offensive line, facing what was considered one of the toughest schedules in the league. This trio of veterans had never excelled statistically prior to 2007, and owners mistook career years for an upward trend in statistics.

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