Sadly, the season is winding down, coming to a close if it already hasn’t. A small percentage of you are still going strong, hoping to find that Holy Grail in the form of your league championship. The rest of us are left to wallow in what could have been. For some, the end couldn’t come soon enough. A steady stream of losses put you on the top of the waiver wire list early and you never caught that break that you needed. For others, you had a decent team, but every week your opponent was one of the top two scorers, leaving you as the most abused in your league. Not much you can do about that.
For still others, like myself, the end came in the form of your heart being ripped out with a butter knife that final week of the season. You had a team that came together minutes after you left the draft table, a team to be feared. You opened the season as being the most abused team, and you hoped things would turn around. And turn around they did. Down by three games with five to play, you ran off four in a row, including an improbable one point win over the highest scoring team in the league. All the while, your division leader faltered in all, able to only muster a tie in his four matches. The final week of the season, the schedule makers were kind, matching you up in a winner take all bout. Win or even just tie, and advance, lose and you walk away being the second highest scoring team in the entire league, yet out of the money (again!).
Sunday came and went, you watched in horror as your opponent’s top back, LaDainian Tomlinson, appeared on the “Top WR” list on the ticker. You suffered some more as Chad Johnson, whom you had relied on so much, turned on you and did so little. Yet there was the Patriot D, dominating for you, but you held your breath for Michael Vick to have a monster game later that night, named your starter over Jon Kitna after agonizing over the decision for the entire week. Then he did have that monster game, but you wish he could have been allowed to run one more in, since you could clearly see that Kevin Mathis of Atlanta was tackled at the one yard line in overtime, yet the replay officials did not agree (I mean, his knee is clearly down before the ball hit the pylon, how could they not see that? Even the knuckleheads in the booth could see that!). No matter, your opponent had no other good performances, save for Jeff Garcia on the bench in favor of Kerry Collins. It was all falling into place….eleven point lead, and only Isaac Bruce left for your opponent. You needed to catch one last break…yet it was not meant to be. Karma strikes back as Bruce scores 12 points, sticking you with the one point loss. One point….could have been one more yard from Vick, could have been one more carry from Anthony Thomas. Any kind of kick from John Casey. Anything. Bah. And yet I digress…
Let’s take a look back at what did happen on draft day. That’s what you need to do so that you can learn from what happened this year, and put those lessons to work for you next year so that you can set a course for a dominating season. After all, next year is gonna be your year, right?
Let’s start at the position of running back. Even the loudest opponents of my “RB Theory” have to admit that 2003 was the year of the running back. Aside of Edgerrin James and Marshall Faulk missing a few games and Shaun Alexander and Corey Dillon not really getting it done, all of the other guys ranked in the top 15 at the position in the pre-season had great seasons. While it can be argued that the rankings on draft day are not an accurate reflection now of their season’s worth of production, the bottom line is that aside of the guys mentioned, every one of them came thru. And despite missing time, James and Faulk were able to submit a couple of monster weeks to sort of make up for that time missed. In other words, if you had two picks in the top 15 of your draft and you took two running backs, odds are very good that both of those guys did very, very well for you.
The flip side of this, of course, is finding any diamonds in the rough at the position. Certainly you can make a case for Domanick Davis and Brian Westbrook emerging as sleepers, guys that you likely could have plucked off the waiver wire and enjoyed a few good weeks of production. I will even grant you that Rudi Johnson had a nice four week stretch filling in for Dillon. But that is it, my friends. And even these three guys were not consistent enough where you can really consider them as “must start” players on a weekly basis. There was just nothing out there to be had this year. There never is. Get your RBs early still holds true.
Let’s move over to the wide receiver position. Many eschewed my theory and went here in the form of Terrell Owens, Marvin Harrison and/or Randy Moss. While Moss did not disappoint, I think you’d have to agree that Harrison and Owens did not perform up to expectations of a first round draft pick. The second level of guys did even worse that the top tier did. Torry Holt had an unbelievable season, top notch. Hines Ward did what was expected of him. But what about guys like Eric Moulds, Amani Toomer, Donald Driver, Joe Horn, Koren Robinson, Plaxico Burress, Peerless Price, and David Boston? That pretty much represents WRs ranked 4-12 on draft day. Just a rotten lot of players looking back on it now. Terrible.
And on the other side of the coin, guys at the position that were not highly touted, yet looking back put up some great numbers. Players like Keenan McCardell and Andre Johnson were probably late round selections, and they performed well and above expectations. No doubt first week waiver phenom Anquan Boldin went undrafted, not a bad season for that guy, eh? Santana Moss, Peter Warrick, Chris Chambers, and Justin McCareins were also probably late round picks in your draft. There were plenty of guys that could have been had late in the draft at the wide receiver position. Go ahead, look back at your draft now and see how it played out. Check out the waiver wire moves and see who the most productive pick ups were.
Finally, quarterbacks (since there are so few tight ends to talk about, I’m not going to get into that…and kickers and defenses are so unpredictable there are too many of those “sleepers” to list here). Peyton Manning and Duante Culpepper were probably ranked in your pre-season top 5 and they did not disappoint. What about the other guys that were in your top 5? Donovan McNabb? Struggled too much early in the season to live up to his pre-season ranking. Kurt Warner and Rich Gannon? Ouch. Depending on when you had your draft, how about Michael Vick? If you drafted before he got hurt, no doubt he was near the top of your ranking. Shall I continue down the list? Aaron Brooks, Brett Favre, Kerry Collins? No thanks. Those were the top nine or so guys coming into the season. Two out of nine is not very good odds.
Now to the other side of the coin. You could have drafted a QB very late and ended up with Trent Green, Matt Hasselbeck, and/or Steve McNair. Not glamorous selections, but these guys were the top producers as the position. Or what about these waiver wire wonders in Marc Bulger, Brad Johnson and/or Jon Kitna. Say what you want about Kitna and the Bengals, but look at the numbers, top ten without question at the position. Even guys like Chad Pennington late in the season, Byron Leftwich and Jake Delhomme in a pinch got the job done. I don’t think any of those guys were drafted very high in any drafts, if at all.
So what does all of that mean? Probably not a hill of beans. But at least it can give you a leg up on the competition if you know what has gone on in the past and can use it at your next draft. Then again, sometimes it doesn’t matter. I used the “RB Theory” this year and look where it got me: no where. Even better, there’s a guy in our league who completely forgot about the draft and by chance was reminded by his wife about it two hours before it began. He was unprepared and it showed (this is a guy that in the past had used a two year old magazine as his reference material). He landed Clinton Portis early then like a true ‘homer’, picked the entire New England Patriots team (including Tom Brady, Kevin Faulk, Troy Brown, Adam Vinatieri). From there he added both Jeremy Shockey and Shannon Sharpe (nice team for week 10, eh?), filled it in with Kordell Stewart, Santana Moss and Eddie Kennison and took fantasy reaches Labrandon Toefield, Ontario Smith and Artose Pinner. Despite not paying attention so as to make a single move on the waiver wire until the last week when he dumped Kordell Stewart and picked up Joey Harrington, he’s plowed his way into the playoffs as a feared team. Go figure.
Maybe all of this is hogwash and it’s best not to do any preparation at all? Hmm…..