As poker pro Tony Dunst said in a recent blog, this is the time to “discuss how you intend to kick ass/ not suck so much in the coming year.”
I made some New Years resolutions as soon as Ryan Seacrest and Dick Clark dropped the ball on 2010. I am going to try and eat better and slice off a couple cholesterol points. I am going to be nicer to my neighbors and buy my family members bigger presents. And I am going to keep my foot fetish videos off YouTube.
My resolutions were not just limited to my life, though. Even though I won both of my fantasy football leagues for the first time in 10 years—thanks for the pat on the back—I made as many mistakes as the San Diego Chargers special teams unit. Things would have gone much smoother if I did things differently, so I have reassessed my strategies and have a new battle plan in place so I can successfully defend my titles in 2011.
Here are my fantasy football-related New Year's resolutions for 2011:
Do not downgrade running backs that split carries
If you asked fantasy football owners back in August whether they would prefer drafting a running back who gets the bulk of the carries on his NFL team or a running back who has to share carries and playing time with another guy, most would have taken the feature back. I was in that majority.
So when Draft Day came and Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles had to be slotted into a spot on my cheat sheet, I knocked him down a few pegs because veteran Thomas Jones, he of the five consecutive 1,000-yard years, was standing in his way.
It looked like Jones was going to garner 10-15 carries per game, plus be the one getting the ball near the goal line. Why take a chance on Charles when I could draft Green Bay’s Ryan Grant, a dependable downhill runner who rarely gets banged-up and had nobody looking over his shoulder pads for touches? This sounded like the perfect percentage play.
Well, we know what happened with Grant. One ankle tackle in Week 1 and his season was over quicker than a Guns and Roses set when Axl Rose is in a bad mood. And all Charles did was turn his paltry 230 carries into 1,467 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Charles finished second in the NFL in rushing and first in yards per carry, despite his teammate Jones rushing for almost 900 yards himself.
The lesson learned here is that talent will turn into fantasy value one way or another. If a guy has skill, his coaches will ultimately figure out ways to get the ball into his hands sooner or later. It is sometimes better to have the ultra-talented player who only gets 15-20 touches on your fantasy roster than the mediocre player who gets 25. Cincinnati’s Cedric Benson, who was probably drafted as high if not higher than Charles in many leagues, had 91 more carries yet finished with 356 fewer yards than Charles.
Do not overvalue a player because of what he did in meaningless games the year before
Jerome Harrison ran like Gale Sayers during the final three weeks of the 2009 campaign. He was a combination of a bowling ball and a greyhound. Built low to the ground but possessing breakaway speed when able to get through the front seven of a defense, Harrison rumbled for 561 yards and five touchdowns in Cleveland’s last three games and made fantasy owners millions because most of his damage came during league’s playoff weeks.
But if you inspected Harrison’s bodacious numbers a little more closely, you would have realized he racked up his yardage against three non-playoff teams—Kansas City, Oakland, and Jacksonville—that had three of the NFL’s worst run defenses at the time. So his stats should have been taken with a grain of skepticism.
I ignored the warning signs like Brett Favre ignores a coach’s play-calls. Harrison’s late-season surge and stats splurge, coupled with the fact he was listed as Cleveland’s No. 1 running back at season’s start, made him stand out to me during the early rounds of one of my drafts. I could have gone safer with Chicago’s Matt Forte or could have taken a chance on Oakland’s Darren McFadden. I did neither. I went with Harrison.
The Gale Sayers' routine did not return for an encore. Suddenly, Peyton Hillis emerged from the mist during Cleveland’s opening game to split carries with Harrison. The same thing happened during Week 2.
Then Harrison injured his thigh. That was it. Hillis went on to become one of fantasy football’s biggest surprises, while Harrison watched from the sidelines. Harrison was eventually traded to Philadelphia so he could be LeSean McCoy’s understudy and put up fat zeroes on a weekly basis for fantasy owners like myself.
The moral to this fantasy story is to take it easy before getting all hot and bothered about what a guy did in Week 16 and 17 the season before. So do not get overly pumped about what Washington’s Rex Grossman, Denver’s Tim Tebow and Cincinnati’s Jerome Simpson did at the end of the season.
Oh, by the way—Harrison had 21 carries for 99 yards in Philadelphia’s Week 17 contest...
Do not draft defenses with aging stars and SEC-like schedules
The Minnesota Vikings were coming off an outstanding fantasy season in 2009 and were destined to duplicate their gaudy defensive numbers in 2010. All the pieces were in place. Kevin and Pat Williams were still manning the middle and clogging up the running lanes. Jared Allen was primed to drive quarterbacks bonkers with his relentless pass rush. And cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin were ready to shut down any and all wide receivers. This is why many fantasy experts had them rated in the Top Five among fantasy defenses.
Fast forward to the end of the season. Minnesota ranked 20th in sacks, 18th in points allowed, 17th in interceptions and 16th in fumble recoveries. Carolina and Arizona, who were routinely walked over by opposing offenses, each created more turnovers. The run defense was only ninth, when in past years, it would be best in the league. And of course, the defense was not helped by Favre’s untimely interceptions handing the ball to teams in prime scoring positions.
The schedule makers were no help. Minnesota’s first five road games were at New Orleans, the New York Jets, Green Bay, New England and Chicago. Fantasy owners know the rest. This defense needs to get younger and healthier before it gets thought of as a Top Five unit again.
I also have a couple smaller-scale fantasy football resolutions for next season, like I refuse to forget to write Neil Rackers’ name down on my kicker cheat sheet again. I will not play online poker at the same time I am updating my starting lineup on Sunday mornings. I will not bench a quarterback just because he is playing in “wintry conditions” unless those conditions include 50-mph winds. And I will not accidentally call out the name “Roddy Piper” when drafting Roddy White.