Manly House of Football: Fantasy hindsight

In the aftermath of "The game of the year," where-oh-where do we turn our attention? Don't get me wrong, this weekend's slate has some nice games. The luster may be off the Colts at Chargers -- which looked a lot sexier when both teams weren't coming off losses -- but we do have some great divisional rivalries, like the Browns at Pittsburgh. Probably the game of the week following Cleveland's stirring comeback against Seattle, not to mention the way the Steelers demolished Baltimore. End of the Billick era? Sure felt that way to me. We also have the unpredictable Vikings, fresh off demolishing the Chargers, visiting the shockingly good Packers. And Cowboys at Giants has real playoff implications ... but they aren't Colts-Pats, are they?

Now that New England has survived what may have been its last real challenge, everything has a slight "What does it matter?" patina -- one that I believe will linger as long as the Patriots machine continues on undefeated. So where do we turn? There is only one true path for the true believer: take inventory. My prognosticating skills were in fine form when I predicted a Patriots win last week. In fact, they've been good all season, but how do they stand up in the long term?

More specifically, how did I do when I tried to help you pick your fantasy football team?

I can't account for how you were treated by all those preseason fantasy football rankings and cheat sheets clutched tight in your sweaty hands on draft day. But I can come clean on my own rankings, and it's an interesting time to revisit them.

If you play fantasy football, it only takes one look at your roster to realize we are now officially waist-deep in the '07 NFL season. Waiver wire moves and blown knees and disappointing campaigns have led to a host of changes on any self-respecting roster. In some cases, a complete facelift.

It happens every year, to every team, because the preseason top 10 on any list is destined for complete devastation. This is why winners are built in the later rounds and the waiver wire.

It's also why I thought it might be fun to take a leisurely stroll through the wreckage, Nick Bakay-style.

For the past few years I have contributed to my share of fantasy draft publications. One in particular, Pro Forecast Magazine, has a group of experts submit our rankings, then grades us after the season is in the books. Last year, I came in second out of 12 big-time fantasy services and web sites. I was proud, and increasingly convinced that my willingness to occasionally be more contrarian than the average bear was the difference.

If I were to isolate my primary deviation from the norm, it's in evaluating where players actually finished statistically in the previous year. It's interesting how often we accept the consensus opinion on stats, only to discover that a true examination always holds some surprises, which, incorporated with an analysis of any changes in coach, system, and support personnel can help you unearth the cornerstone of any quality draft: true value

Does this make my top 10 any stronger than the others? Hell no! The very nature of them insures disaster, so I say let's check in on those rankings with the magic of hindsight. I'm talking waaay back here. September? August? June? Try rankings that were locked and sent May 18th, baby!

That's right, plenty of time to get a ton of stuff wrong! Hey, nobody wants to see me get it right, do they? I haven't even peeked at these super-early rankings since the first game kicked off, so this should be interesting. I'll keep it to the top 10s, and a few stragglers.


Top 10 QBs

1. Peyton Manning, IND: The only quarterback everyone deemed an acceptable first-round pick. Well ... Peyton may be No. 1 in our hearts, he most certainly is the league's No. 1 over-exposed endorsement shill, but to date Manning is mired at No. 4 with a piteous stipend of 14 touchdowns -- time to step it up.
Hindsight Grade: Push -- He won't catch Brady, but he could still surge and land at No. 2.

2. Tom Brady, NE: Thirty-three touchdowns?! A great season, even if he doesn't throw another pass. While I wish I had him ranked No. 1, at least I bumped him high for '07. Needless to say Brady is smoking the competition at a pace that could be winning leagues single-handedly for his lucky owners.
Hindsight Grade: Winner

3. Drew Brees, NO: In my defense, Brees has gone ballistic in recent weeks -- but not soon enough to avoid being dropped after his abysmal start by at least half the owners who drafted him. The future's bright, but as we speak he is barely cracking the top 10.
Hindsight Grade: Wrong ... for now

4. Carson Palmer, CIN: Many predicted a passing of the crown and had Palmer rated as the No. 1. In reality he is currently ranked around No. 6, so I'm going to give myself a little pat on the back here -- No. 4 is, as we like to say, close enough for rock 'n roll. Providing Ocho Ouch-o is good to go, getting Chris Henry back this week means Palmer has three stud wide receivers -- and that means he's moving up.
Hindsight Grade: Winner

5. Marc Bulger, STL: As soon as I start patting myself on the back, you know something bad is gonna happen. That thing is named Marc Bulger. I actually thought the Rams might challenge in the NFC West. Ha! Implosion doesn't do this situation justice -- zero wins means St. Louis is currently smeared in its own ... you know. And Bulger has collapsed right along with them. A mess -- as in three touchdowns to date! To put that in perspective, backup Gus Frerotte also has three touchdowns. Pity the poor slob who chased a quarterback run and grabbed Bulger with a fourth-round pick.
Hindsight Grade: Wrong as you can be

6. Jon Kitna, DET: Okay, the Lions have finally found a way to win -- unfortunately, it isn't through the air. Kitna's not quite a coach killer, but he isn't winning your league for you, either. I was salivating when I looked ahead to this offense packed with weapons and a second season under Mike Martz. Kitna even plays home games in a pass-friendly dome, yet he has rung up a mere 10 touchdown passes. The only thing more disappointing is the collateral damage that has Roy Williams owners putting a gun in their mouths. I've got news for you, the way the Lions are feeding the ball to a healthy Kevin Jones doesn't make the future look much better.
Hindsight Grade: Wrong

7. Donovan McNabb, PHI: Currently hovering just outside the elite rankings at No. 11, say hello to a real conundrum. Not up to my seven ranking, yet the way he fell, he did prove to be a value -- in many leagues he was available in the sixth round. I say I'm neither wrong nor right. The team is a mess, yet here is a quarterback who ranks a couple of points behind Brees and is eyeballing some shootouts on the horizon. The kind of games that have the potential to push a quarterback four slots higher. Consider an increasingly healthy McNabb, with his back against the wall, throwing the ball like crazy against Miami, New Orleans, Seattle, the Giants. This one isn't over yet.
Hindsight Grade: Push

8. Michael Vick, ATL: Ha! Based on his '06 numbers and the hope that Bobby Petrino might teach him how to actually throw a forward pass, I thought Vick had all the makings of a contrarian dandy. Needless to say, this predated any notion of his alleged heinous animal abuse, and the subsequent fallout. Who knows what might have been, and more importantly, who cares?
Hindsight Grade: Mulligan

9. Philip Rivers, SD: Here's one I wish I could have back. Currently hovering around No. 15 with 10 touchdowns, Rivers is actually playing worse than that. The hope is that wide receiver Chris Chambers helps right his ship, but this kid is an example of assuming growth, only to watch a young quarterback get lost. Happens all the time. I just expected more under the guidance of Norv Turner. Regardless, I ranked him high enough that the magazine asked for follow up:

Pro Forecast:You ranked Rivers, SDG No. 9, the highest of all experts. What was your reasoning?

NB:Listen, the concept of Rivers is probably no sexier to me than he is to you, but I always say the numbers never lie, and (depending on your scoring system) Rivers was a top ten QB last year -- his first as a starter. This season he's back with the same team, in the same system, with the same teammates, and year of reps under his belt. That's enough to rate an upgrade, but it gets better: Trading Marty Schottenheimer for Norv Turner may make Charger Nation nervous, but it makes the QB smile ... and improve. Hindsight Grade: I am a jackass.

10. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT: At least I get to finish strong! Since most people didn't have him in the top 10, this looks real good -- particularly fresh on the heels of watching him toss five first-half touchdowns on Monday Night!
Hindsight Grade: Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

Tony Romo, DAL: I'll take the hit on this one. I wasn't sold after the way defenses shut him down once they got film on him; now I wish I'd drafted him.

Derek Anderson, CLE: I'll take a mulligan until I meet one expert who saw this coming.

13. Brett Favre, GB: Not in my top 10, but I had Favre ranked waaaaay higher than the rest of the competition. And I put my money where my mouth was and drafted him on a ton of teams. He entered the season as my backup and is now my starter.
Hindsight Grade: YOU'RE WELCOME!

Okay, so my QB score: 3-4-2. With clear evidence that it's best to listen to me early, and take me with a grain of salt in the middle.

Top 10 RBs

1. LaDainian Tomlinson, SD: Despite the way the Chargers have fallen, this one remains pretty academic. LT may not be No. 1, but he is tied for No. 1 with eight touchdowns (one through the air!) and is a stone's throw from being ranked No. 2 overall. I'll count this as a win. If he were out of the top three, then maybe I'd reconsider.
Hindsight Grade: Winner

2. Steven Jackson, STL: Simply put, this was a pick that doomed a million fantasy teams. I would love to use injuries for a mulligan on a few guys listed here, but you just can't do that with running backs. They are going to get hurt and make a mess of everyone's rankings, so you just suck it up and hope you covered yourself with some depth. That being said, the way the Rams are playing, and not blocking, even a healthy Jackson might have a hard time justifying such an exalted slot on the list. I take little comfort in the fact that he was by far the consensus No. 2 heading into '07.
Hindsight Grade: Sliding into home with your pants full of foam ...

3. Larry Johnson, KC: Who would have ever imagined in May that as I write this in November, LJ owners across the nation are frantically submitting waiver claims for ... Priest Holmes? Wow. A slow start, then Johnson starts percolating only to get dinged and break a ton of hearts. It's not over yet, but No. 3? Not so much. The fact is, Johnson emerged from Week 9 as a banged-up No. 12 who may be up on blocks for a few weeks. Regardless, KC's line is officially not what it once was. The fact is, I moved Johnson down as the season approached, and picked Joseph Addai over him every single chance I had. But the rules are strict and refuse to bend:
Hindsight Grade: Wrong

4. Joseph Addai, IND: His numbers have him ensconced as the second-best back in the game right now. I actually moved him to No. 3 later on, and I can prove it -- I got him on no less than four of my seven teams. (Seven fantasy football teams? Okay, I think you can file that under "a cry for help.") Either way, banking on Addai smells sweet, and it's only getting sweeter.
Hindsight Grade: BIG WINNER! Drop the bat and admire your shot!

5. Brian Westbrook, PHI: Just the facts, ma'am: If LT even sneezes, Westbrook is ranked No. 3 right now! For every service that ranked him high, there were five who didn't, so this constitutes a big steal. Health is always going to make him a nervous pick, but Westbrook is unstoppable, a true force.
Hindsight Grade: Winner!

6. Frank Gore, SF: Ouch my pouch. The kid plays hard, he plays tough, he's brilliant, and yet ... it's all gone to hell this year. As much as Norv Turner hasn't been the answer down the coast, he lifted the Niner offense up. He is missed by every Gore owner. Toss in some ouchies and you've got a high draft pick who currently isn't even ranked in the top 20. Gore hasn't sunk as many teams as Steven Jackson, but he's close ...
Hindsight Grade: El Wrongo!

7. Travis Henry, DEN: A tough runner in Denver's system? Henry was all set for takeoff -- and for a while there, Henry led the league in rushing ... then it got weird. First, hapless FF owners who drafted him (like I did on national TV during the ESPN fantasy special) learn they were deprived of some critical info when it squeaks out later that Henry has fathered nine kids with nine different women. Really. I'm not joking. Great, so now we know we've got a guy with failed drug tests on his record who has now proven beyond a doubt that he doesn't learn from his mistakes. NINE TIMES! So was it any shock that he quickly scored his third strike with a failed drug test? Now he gets to under-perform with bad ribs until his suspension eventually kicks in. In the meantime, it keeps getting bumped, preventing you from washing your hands of the whole mess and plugging in Selvin Young!
Hindsight Grade: Wrong, but it gets a big, fat *!

(*How was I to know he was stupid enough to blow $30 million thanks to second-hand smoke?!)

8. Willie Parker, PIT: I want this one to work, but Fast Willie's only got two touchdowns, and he's not in the top 10. Until he makes his move, know what else he's not? On my "got it right" list.
Hindsight Grade: Wrong

9. Rudi Johnson, CIN: Healthy, and you got a winner here. Unfortunately, that's like saying "Carpoolers" would be a good TV show if only Jerry O'Connell was funny. And now Johnson left the door open long enough for Kenny Watson to spend the rest of the season vulturing carries. So much for the artist formerly known as "Not sexy, but the safest pick in the draft."
Hindsight Grade: Wrong

10. Laurence Maroney, NE: Healthy, and you've got a winner here, but that's like saying I already wrote this about Rudi Johnson. He still has a shot at a big finish, though ...
Hindsight Grade: Wrong

Adrian Peterson, MIN: The only comfort here is the knowledge that NO ONE on earth saw this one coming.

13. Shaun Alexander, SEA: Once again, let's go to the Pro Forecast followup:

PRO FORECAST:You ranked Alexander SEA at No. 13, the lowest of the experts. What was your reasoning?

NB:I used the same logic that made him my first-round bust candidate: Seattle's blocking just ain't what it used to be, and there is too much mystery about Alexander's ailing foot. Once he did return to action last year, he looked absolutely pedestrian. Motivation is a big question mark after he finally got the big signing bonus. Add it all up and I think you're looking at another Preist Holmes in '05 situation. An over-valued, aging back whose wheels are about to fall off.

Oh yeah, that's good! So good, let's replay that first-round bust content:


Alexander is a back who absolutely won't escape the first round ... but possibly should, for some significant reasons:

1) Seattle's blocking just ain't what it used to be. A year later, Steve Hutchinson looks like a steal in a world suddenly full of $65 million guards. Regardless, the Seahawk line just didn't open the same kind of holes without him.
2) As far as I'm concerned, there is too much mystery about Alexander's ailing foot, which put him on the shelf for much of last season. Once he did return to action, he looked absolutely pedestrian. Running backs fade fast, and I can't help wondering if all that mileage has caught up with him ...
3) ... or is it just that big, "set for life" signing bonus he finally got before '06? Motivation has always been up-and-down here. Buyer beware ...

That helps a little but even if I count sparing you a blown pick on Alexander, my running back score is 4-7 -- for a QB/RB total of 7-11-2! Wow, this full-disclosure stuff sucks ... what started out as a self-deprecating goof now has me biting the pillow. But the great ones never quit, so check back in at week's end for more torture…


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