By Michael Salfino
RotoWire Staff Writer
For most of us, the fantasy football season (to paraphrase Woody Allen) is full of misery and suffering – but it's over much too soon. The rest own LaDainian Tomlinson. Or, failing that lottery ticket, at the very least are still alive heading into the final week of the fantasy season (otherwise you wouldn't still bother reading). So let's look at the lay of the fantasyland as we head into December.
Shaun Alexander, RB, Seahawks: Well, 40 carries for 200 yards says he's healthy. Maybe we have to revisit the decline of the high-mileage running back in this modern context because of advances in training, nutrition and hormones. Looking at things probabilistically, it's almost certain that Alexander is going to decline precipitously at some point. Why not after a broken foot heading into his 2,000th carry? But he lives to see another day. Beyond that, who knows.
Drew Brees, QB, Saints: Guess which QB is last in the NFL in QB rating in the all-important red zone? Yep, Brees. Guess who has the fifth-best QB rating there? Jake Plummer. (Lot's of good that did him and the Broncos.) Of course, Brees is first in yards per attempt (YPA) and Plummer 21st. That's more evidence that, when you need one stat to assess overall quality, accept no substitutes for YPA. And, hey, when you lead the NFL with 33 passes over 25 yards, you can fly over the red zone often enough to be very successful. (The worst big-play passing team? The Bills with 10.) And these aren't yards after catch plays for Brees, either. Here are his stats on passes thrown more than 20 yards from scrimmage: 23-for-37 for 993 yards with 12 TDs (five-for-five over 40 yards in the air).
Jerious Norwood, RB, Falcons: He received almost half the carries last week, appears fully recovered from his ankle sprain and Warrick Dunn looks, well, done (just one 100-plus rushing game since Week 2 and averaging 3.16 per carry the last six games). The Falcons have to either shake it up or, more appropriately, plan for next year.
Vince Young, QB, Titans: He's as cool as Super Fly back there. All the Wonderlic stuff was such nonsense. It's a curiosity, I confess. But I doubt it even measures IQ, as Young really seems to comport himself like a guy with plenty of mental horsepower. Even if it is an accurate reflection of IQ, playing QB is instinctive. By the time you think of what to do in football, you're flat on your back with a defender grunting in your face. Young lets a play develop before reacting. But when he does, he's quick and decisive. I don't know yet if he'll be great, but I do know you can't be a great QB without doing this. It's no different than going through your progressions and pulling the trigger on a pass. With Young and all running QBs, running is simply another progression.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals: I thought he was going to limp through the rest of 2006 but then he posts 11-for-170 on the Vikings, who allowed just three TDs to No. 1 and No. 2 receivers heading into the Arizona game. Now, however, Denny Green says he's going to run the ball lots this week because this is St. Louis' weakness. Hey, Denny, how about focusing on your strength?
Marcus Robinson, WR, Vikings: He has an ankle bruise and has never been a quick healer, so check his status. The Vikings passing game showed some life last week, and Robinson has been productive when healthy all year.
Deuce McAllister, RB, Saints: He got 20 carries this week as the Saints have seemingly given up on the idea of using Reggie Bush as anything more than a change-of-pace guy for at least 2006. They'd give anything to have that draft pick back, you can be certain. Just don't expect them ever to admit it.
Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Seahawks: Had four turnovers the first half and then lit up the Packers at home like he was supposed to. The Packers are 30th in defending No. 1 and No. 2 receivers because they insist on blitzing and putting their corners on an island. There's really no such thing anymore as a shutdown corner. There's been exactly one in the last 20 years, Deion Sanders. Plenty of guys are very good, but none can consistently cover the broad spectrum of NFL receivers one-on-one.
Joseph Addai, RB, Colts: Don't even suggest I downgraded Addai last week. I downgraded Dungy. Anyone with eyes and DirecTV knew that Addai has had something approximating Sunday night in him for many weeks. All he needed was the chance. But Rhodes still started and got about 40 percent of the carries. Until this changes, consider the output versus the Eagles a fluke. Did last week wake Dungy up to the reality of his RB situation? Addai came into the game averaging about twice as many yards as Rhodes. How much smelling salts do you need?
Chris Henry, WR, Bengals: A No. 3 receiver on a team that doesn't have a three-WR base offense. So, the two TDs last week? A fluke. Start him at your own risk.
Rex Grossman, QB, Bears: I like the moxie and the chances he takes downfield. It opens up the field. But Grossman hasn't showed the consistency and accuracy to make the easy short and intermediate throws in rhythm and on target (69 QB rating on passes 11-to-20 yards). So the Bears offense can't function right now without big plays. Defenses know this and just keep the safeties deep.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers: Big Ben looked lost with Hines Ward hampered by injury (or maybe it was what sure looked like another concussion). Now, Ward is out after having a knee bone removed (I never saw that knee bone playing "Operation," but it sounds pretty necessary).
Michael Vick, QB, Falcons: The love (for passing) we saw in him was just a mirage (to paraphrase Smokey Robinson). He's again playing like his pants are on fire. Yeah, yeah. The dropped passes. What, when they're already down 21-6 because Vick can't get the ball in when they get near pay dirt? (The Falcons are 31st, averaging 3.6 points per red-zone trip.) He can't run effectively in close like Vince Young can because Vick is more Barry Sanders than Larry Johnson. So where does all that up-and-down the field stuff get you? Field goals (and ESPN highlights). Note to Warrick Dunn: your QB can't have a good game when you lose by three touchdowns and he has 80 passing yards. Do you believe that Ravens DE Trevor Price said he'd rather face Peyton Manning "any day" than Vick? Check back with Trevor after Peyton bounces him in January.
Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers: The Raiders ugly up every opponent they face, I know. Good defense. No offense. No need to do anything silly, just get out alive versus that 46 defense. But if you're counting on Rivers in the fantasy playoffs, you're in big trouble because this team only throws when they're down by 28 points and, even then, LT gets his four TDs.
David Garrard, QB, Jaguars: Never trust anything remotely having to do with the Jaguars passing game. In an emergency, by all means. But as a plan? Never.
Marvin Harrison, WR, Colts: Okay, I have to downgrade him now. The Colts threw one pass to him last week. That's not one completion. I mean, one pass in Harrison's direction. Everything he can do, Reggie Wayne officially can now do better.
Alex Smith, QB, Niners: I was bullish on his development, but the Niners want to be a running, defensive team. How ironic. The team that really brought the relevance of the passing game and YPA into sharp relief turning into just another bunch of meatheads.
Article first appeared 11/28/06