For most fantasy football players, the start of the NFL playoffs is a chance to reflect on the past season and make mental notes on strategies for next year. But before you move on, it’s necessary to come to grips with that unresolved anger toward your fellow league member:
You are right to hate Jack.
Back in August, you invited him to play fantasy football to fill in the last team of your 12-team league. You told your league-mates that since he was the new guy at work, you wanted to invite him as a sign of acceptance into the social circle. Besides, he was the perfect last-minute addition: both eager and inexperienced. He’d participate diligently, thrilled to have the opportunity to have fun with “the guys,” yet fail to accomplish anything other than serving as a cushion at the bottom of the league rankings for you and your more experienced cohorts.
Four months later, Jack wins the championship on the backs of DeAngelo Williams-who Jack, being a die-hard Panthers fan, drafted two rounds too early-and some guy named Cassel that he picked up in week 2 at your suggestion. You’re beside yourself. Not only did your second-highest scoring team in the league miss the playoffs, but your buddies take every opportunity to say, “Hey, by the way, thanks so much for inviting that clown to join the league! Awesome!” And you die a little inside.
So what are you going to do? Try to erase the whole miserable season from your memory with an overdose of eggnog and a long winter’s nap? Tempting, but don’t. You’ll hate yourself come January. No, now is the time to jot down some season-end notes to let simmer in your brain over the offseason. That way, you’re not coming back cold turkey when you pick up your notebook next summer to start sketching how you’ll rise from this season’s disappointment and reclaim your place at the top of the league rankings-and, more importantly, cut that punk Jack down to size.
The fantasy world is like a gigantic, mud- and sweat-drenched version of the New York stock exchange. And, similarly, there’s much to be done even when trading isn’t in session. Here’s a few players you’ll want to keep an eye on draft day next year. Most are legitimate starters in fantasy football, but for a variety of reasons their value on draft day may be skewed above or below where it should be. Granted, much will change in the next few months with free agent movements and trades (and there’s that draft thing in April after all), but it never hurts to be thinking ahead, both to take advantage of the bargains and to avoid the potential busts.
Torry Holt (WR – STL). One interesting phenomenon in preseason fantasy draft rankings is that owners, even experts, tend to place too much emphasis on the preceding year’s stats alone. While one bad season may be a sign of a player’s ability level declining, it can also be simply an off year. Happens to everybody. Holt is one such example. In the six years prior to this one, he never had fewer than 90 catches or 1180 yards, and he averaged about 8.5 TDs per. And this despite the Rams being hot and cold altogether as a team. Holt is only 32 and still has a few more good seasons left in him. Whether or not he remains in St. Louis, he’ll likely exceed his projected stats and come as a bargain to the owner that gives him a chance at redemption. He may never reach the numbers he put up during his heydey in the “Greatest Show on Turf,” but depending on where he lands, he may surprise those who wrongly assume he’s washed up.
Carson Palmer (QB – CIN). Admit it: You forgot about him, didn’t you? His season was decimated by an elbow injury, but Palmer remains one of the most talented QBs in the league. The Bengals obviously must improve their o-line play to keep him healthy, but as long as Palmer is throwing to Houshmandzadeh and a handful of other talented but forgettable options (Ocho…something-I forget) he’ll be well worth what you have to spend to get him, which likely won’t be much next year. If you’re one of those owners that likes to roll the dice on draft day and wait a while for a QB, Palmer could be a steal as an awesome #2 with #1 upside.
Larry Johnson (RB – KCC). The strong play of Tyler Thigpen at QB and the first signs of success from KC’s standout 2008 draft class point to a bounce-back season for the Chiefs as a whole next year. LJ’s not done yet, and he should reap the benefits of being a central cog on a young, improving team run by a coach that is known for pounding the rock. Everyone else will remember his drink-spitting hijinx, write him off as a character-issue guy, and stay away. That’s reason to be wary, but not to avoid him as a #2 back with immense upside. Give him a chance to show you.
- Marques Colston (WR – NOS). Injury stole several weeks from him, deflating his totals, but he’s the #1 option for one of the best QBs in the league on a high powered offense. You do the math.
- Kellen Winslow (TE – CLE). There are bright days ahead for the soldier, who has lately disappointed as much as the Browns’ season has. A talented TE is a young QB’s best option, and Brady Quinn will be looking for KW Jr. plenty in 2009.
- Willie Parker (RB – PIT). Fast Willie hasn’t been terrible, but he certainly hasn’t been, well, Fast Willie. Pittsburgh will always run and run it well. Mendenhall’s return from injury next year will complement Parker, who is still the man in Steeltown.
Potential Bust Candidates
Clinton Portis (RB – WAS). If you owned LaDanian Tomlinson in 2008, you know how sad it is to see a one-time fantasy stud hit the wall physically. There are valid fears that may be Portis’ fate in 2009. Portis is only 27, and conventional wisdom suggests that backs usually break down at about age 30. However, few running backs log the number of carries that Portis has by his age (more than 2000), and it would be no surprise for him to fall apart sooner than most. With a mess surrounding coach Jim Zorn and one of the best second-stringers in the league (Ladell Betts) ready and willing to step in at a moment’s notice, Portis’ long-term future looks bleak. A top-three finish in rushing yards will earn him a borderline first-round price tag next year. Don’t be the guy that pays for him.
Kurt Warner (QB – ARI). While Warner’s eye-popping numbers in 2008 are not an aberration, the fact that he managed to make it through the season healthy is. The Cardinals are better than they’ve been in years, yet they remain a finesse team that has a lot of success beating up on the worst division in the NFL. Warner lost a lot of owners’ trust when he put up some real stinkers in games at the end of the season, like his week 16 implosion against that Pats (6-of-18 for 30 yards passing). Even with Boldin and Fitzgerald and the emerging Steve Breaston, the 37-year-old Warner will be hard-pressed to repeat this year’s MVP-caliber season, and drafters that take him in the second round expecting an encore will likely be disappointed. He’s still a starter; he’s just not worth what you’ll have to pay to get him.
Calvin Johnson (WR – DET). Yes, he’s a monster, physically. Yes, the Lions could address their abysmal lack of talent at, um…everywhere in the offseason. But, as it stands now, Megatron will be a concentrated mass of awesomeness on a team so bereft of talent that defenses can double-team him on every play. If the Lions have any sense, they’ll find ways to utilize their greatest offensive weapon, including surrounding him with at least adequate enough players to allow him to shine. Until and unless that happens, you should look for less risky WRs to be your #1-because that’s where he’ll be drafted.
- Santana Moss (WR – WAS). The Redskins as a whole may be headed in the wrong direction. Moss, in particular, pulls this stunt every few years-putting up season totals that fool you into thinking (a) he’s a reliable #2 WR, and (b) he may be in for an even better season next year. Believe neither.
- Thomas Jones (RB – NYJ). Scoring 15 TDs is nothing to sneeze at, but Jones’ age and the uncertainty at QB (which is a whole different article) do not bode well for him matching those numbers next season.
- Matt Cassel (QB – NEP). The most likely scenario, as it appears now, involves Tom Brady returning to health and Cassel venturing into the free agent market for offers that the Pats won’t (and shouldn’t) offer for a backup. Cassel made fools of those that scoffed at his inexperience early in the season (myself included), so naming him a potential bust is not without risk. However, it will be difficult for him to put up great numbers in his first year in a new offense. The gamble simply isn’t worth it.
Much will change on the fantasy landscape over the next several months, but you have to have a good grasp on this season to fully appreciate the ramifications of offseason moves and draft results. Make some notes now that you can refer back to when the time comes. You want to pay Jack back? You want to be standing on the podium come next December? The process begins now. Fantasy championships, like Super Bowls, are won in the offseason.