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The Kevin James All-Stars

I don’t know how Kevin James is a movie star. It doesn’t feel right to me. His entire career, he’s never done anything that actually inspires or excites me. He hasn’t done one movie that I’ve seen a preview of and said, “Hey, maybe that won’t be a giant pile of crap!”

I’m reminded of this as his summer “blockbuster” –
Zookeeper – debuts this week. It looks like it’s going to be his worst movie yet, though I’ll never know because I’d watch an actual zookeeper clean up actual piles of crap for two hours before I paid to see James pretend to. I’m not saying the plot looks dumb, but I think Rob Schneider passed on it because the lead character didn’t have enough depth.

What does this have to do with fantasy football? I’ll show you in a second. First, one last point: My gut tells me that
Zookeeper is going to bomb at the box office. It can’t do well. I mean, every James movie is terrible. So they all do terrible at the box office, right?   

Wrong. And not just wrong – really wrong. James’ movies do well. Damn well. Way better than I ever thought. That’s what’s so weird – there’s something about James that makes me surprised every time he does well, even though he almost always does well. It’s like my memory is erased every time. I can’t believe I didn’t see it coming. Again.

James doesn’t play football. But there are players just like him – players that for some reason, we get fooled by every summer. Players that we just can’t seem to get excited about, and so we just assume they’re going to suck every year. And then they do better than we thought – every year.

These are a few of those players, along with thoughts on whether we can expect another year of how-did-that-happen-again results. In fact, let’s find a offensive combination to form the first annual Kevin James All-Stars.

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger

Full disclosure: In 2008, Roethlisberger was terrible, fantasy-wise. It was two years after his motorcycle accident but one year before the first of his multiple offseason rape accusations (why am I suggesting you draft this guy again?). He was the sixth quarterback drafted in standard leagues. Expectations were high, but he finished a disappointing 15th amongst fantasy quarterbacks.

But other than that, his recent fantasy history has been stellar. The year before, in 2007, he was the 19th quarterback drafted, threw for 32 touchdowns, and was a Top 5 quarterback. In 2009, he was the 13th quarterback taken, but finished a Top 8 quarterback, within 10 points of a To -4 finish. And though he finished 17th in points last year, he was a Top 6 quarterback once he returned from his (well-deserved) four-game suspension. In fact, if you used the 20th-best quarterback for the four weeks he was out, and then Roethlisberger from then on, even that would have gotten you Top 7 production from your quarterback spot. 

Why We Keep Falling For It: Let’s face it – Roethlisberger has made it pretty easy to root against him the past few years. But beyond his off-field issues, it’s easy to think of the Pittsburgh Steelers as a conservative, run-only offense. But the stats – especially since Mike Wallace’s arrival in 2009 – just don’t back that up.

2011 – Blockbuster or Flop?: Want to know Roethlisberger’s stats his past 16 regular-season games? He has 4,400 yards, 26 total touchdowns and just six interceptions. The Steelers have drafted great young wide receivers the past few years (somewhere Limas Sweed is saying, “They have?”), and with a rape-free offseason so far (let’s hurry up and get that deal done!), there’s a legitimately good chance he’s a Top 5 quarterback this year.

Though it worries me that: He’s had more concussions than Austin Collie (five that we know of).

Fantasy Sharks position rank: 10th
But I’ll be drafting him: 7th 

KJAS honorable mention:

Joe Flacco –  Last year felt more disappointing than it was for Flacco, largely because he had such a terrible start to his year – seven points in his first two games combined.  But he scored between 12 and 22 points in his next 12 games, and finished as fantasy’s 11th-best quarterback. Flacco has increased his passing yards and his touchdowns in each of his first three seasons. Fellow 2008 draftmate Matt Ryan will get all the hype, but don’t be surprised if Flacco ends up being a Top 8 quarterback.

Though it worries me that: Most of his receivers remember where they were when Kennedy was shot.

Fantasy Sharks position rank: 16th
But I’ll be drafting him: 12th

Running Back:  Fred Jackson

It’s hard to blame fantasy owners for not believing in Jackson, because it seems like Buffalo’s actual owners don’t believe in him, either. Whether it’s Marshawn Lynch or C.J. Spiller, the grass is always greener to Bills’ management.

Look, I know Bills’ running backs have a history of not being very trustworthy (I’m looking at you, O.J. Simpson). But hasn’t Jackson played well enough to keep his job? It’s not like he came out with a book about fumbling at the goal line called, “If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened.”

Jackson must be doing something right, because he’s earned significant playing time and outperformed his draft position in each of the past three years. In 2008, backing up Lynch, he managed 800 total yards and three touchdowns, finishing as the 41st running back after being the 62nd running back taken. In 2009, he was supposed to be an early season fill-in while Lynch served a suspension, but ended up being much more, finishing as the 15th-best running back after being the 47th running back chosen. 

Did we learn our lesson last year? Of course we didn’t! After Spiller was drafted ninth overall by the Bills, we ran away from Jackson, picking him 36th among running backs – five spots below Spiller. But Jackson’s solid, consistent play kept him on the field enough for him to gain 1,100-plus total yards and six touchdowns, finishing well above his average draft positions for the third straight year, 21st among running backs.

Why We Keep Falling For It: Because Jackson’s been an underdog his whole career – he didn’t even make his first NFL team until he was 26 years old. And he’s solid, but will never be spectacular – it feels like you’re giving in when you know a guy’s best-case scenario is being a Top 15 back. 

2011 – Blockbuster or Flop?: Jackson turned 30 this offseason, which can be a terrifying number for a running back (cut to LaDainian Tomlinson, gone crazy from denial, sitting in a padded room, playing Madden 2006 for 22 hours a day). But Jackson is a young 30 – he’s only been in the league four years, and he actually has 500 fewer career rushes than 26 year-old Maurice Jones-Drew. His legs will be fresher than you think this year. Again.

Though it worries me that: His uniform has the word “Bills” on it.

Fantasy Sharks position rank: 34th
But I’ll be drafting him: 25th

Kevin James All-Stars honorable mention:

Peyton Hillis. Pop quiz: When was the last time a third-year running back had a breakout season, rushed for double-digit touchdowns, caught 61 passes, became a Top 5 fantasy rusher … and then wasn’t thought of as a Top 20 pick the next year? Answer: Of course that never happens – what are you, crazy? Yeah, I’d put him outside my Top 20. 

Though it worries me that:  He’s w … he’s whhh … he’s wwwworn down from last year! Yes! That’s the excuse I’ll use. Reason. I meant reason.

Fantasy Sharks position rank: 12th
But I’ll be drafting him: 7th

Wide Receiver:  Derrick Mason

This dude has been old for longer than most players have been in the league. Somehow, every year, he’s a rock solid WR3 for whoever picks him up off the waiver wire. The past four seasons, he’s been the 53rd, 38th, 47th and 48th wide receiver selected, respectively. He’s been a Top 30 receiver all four of those years, and a Top 20 wideout twice. He’s not a sexy pick – literally or figuratively, at the age of 37 – but no one has been a safer bet to get you your money’s worth – he’s outperformed his average draft position by about 25 spots every year

Why We Fall For It: Because in 2006, when he was 33, he had a terrible year, with 750 yards and just two measly touchdowns. So we thought he was old and washed up. And we’ll continue to stubbornly think that, no matter how many more 1,000-yard, seven-touchdown seasons he keeps having.

2011 – Blockbuster or Flop?: I want to say flop so badly. He’s 37 years old. His production dropped last year. But honestly? He’s probably been working out and preparing for the season much better than most young players. He knows Baltimore’s system, he has a great rapport with Joe Flacco, and he’s the same age Terrell Owens was last year when he went off for 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns in just 13 games. It all makes sense. But sometimes, no matter how much you talk yourself into it … you still think Kevin James sucks. 

Possible replacement: Jeremy Maclin. This guy’s first two years in the league have been overshadowed by two more exciting fantasy teammates – DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy – and two more exciting fantasy classmates – fellow 2009 rookie receivers Hakeem Nicks and Mike Wallace.

Being surrounded by so much fantasy noise could explain why so few people stop to listen to Maclin’s frequency. But those that are paying attention are being rewarded. Maclin’s rookie year, he was the 40th wide receiver off the board, had a solid rookie campaign, and finished 39th. Last year, he was the 23rd wide receiver selected, and finished 13th, coming into his own with 1,000 total yards and 10 touchdowns, and nearly outscoring Jackson, his much more heralded teammate.

So where is he projected to go this season? 16th. Why? I don’t know. Pull the trigger. With Philadelphia’s offense as explosive as ever, odds are good that Maclin will be this year’s Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

Fantasy Sharks position rank: 16th
But I’ll be drafting him: 11th

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