Nine New Year’s Resolutions for Fantasy Football ’09

Yet another fantasy football season is over, and while some owners are desperately trying to forget about 2008, I think it’s a fine time to make a few of my own New Year’s resolutions for 2009…

1. I will not draft a quarterback in the first five rounds.
Just take a look at this list of the top nine QBs (and their Average Draft Positions) this past August: Tom Brady (1.07), Peyton Manning (2.04), Tony Romo (2.12), Drew Brees (3.05), Carson Palmer (4.07), Ben Roethlisberger (5.04), Derek Anderson (6.01), Donovan McNabb (6.04) and Matt Hasselbeck (6.12). Only two of those players – Brees (QB1) and McNabb (QB8) – met or exceeded expectations, while just two others – Manning (QB6) and Romo (QB10) – had top 10 seasons. Heading into the season, I liked Jay Cutler (QB2), Aaron Rodgers (QB3) and David Garrard (QB9) in the middle rounds, but I seemed to always end up drafting a QB in the first four rounds. Roethlisberger (QB15) was my usual pick, but I did end up with Palmer, Brady, Romo and Brees on various squads as well. It’s hard to argue with Brees or Manning in the second round, but I’m not taking a QB that early in 2009 unless there is absolutely no one else I like on the board, and the chances of that happening are slim to none. I think it’s much better to load up on RBs, WRs and a TE early and then draft two or three QBs in the 7th-10th rounds.

2. I will no longer ignore RBBCs on draft day.
Back in July, I wrote a piece – “Five running games to avoid on draft day” – where I actually advised owners to avoid three backs that actually finished the season in the top 10. DeAngelo Williams (RB2), Steve Slaton (RB8) and Chris Johnson (RB9) were all mentioned in the post since, at the time, they were in the midst of some very murky Running Back By Committee (RBBC) situations. Go ahead and laugh, I don’t blame you. But don’t get me wrong – I’m still going to avoid the “lead” back in RBBCs situations when it’s time to draft. I realize now that the time to look at RBBCs is in the middle to late rounds, when those “lead” backs (in this case, Jonathan Stewart, Ahman Green and LenDale White) are already off the board. Granted, Stewart and Williams both were being picked in the mid-sixth, but Johnson was available in the 9th and Slaton was going in the 14th on draft day. It’s okay to grab a back that is part of a RBBC, but stay away from the first guy, and wait until the middle or late rounds to burn a flier on the backup.

3. I will not shy away from suspended players.
In August, both Steve Smith and Brandon Marshall were facing short suspensions. Since their value was depressed, Smith was going late in the third and Marshall was going in the late-fourth/early-fifth. Sure, it hurts to lose a game or two, but in the grand scheme, it’s better to get those two players on draft day and suck it up for a couple of weeks than it is to go with a less productive player just because it looks like you’ll get a full 16 games out of him. Marshall finished as WR4 and Smith as WR10, so they were both worth drafting in the third, regardless of suspension.

4. I will not underestimate rookie RBs.
Matt Forte, Kevin Smith, Tim Hightower…the aforementioned Steve Slaton and Chris Johnson…these are all rookie RBs that exceeded draft day expectations. The funny thing is that other than Johnson, none of those guys were picked in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft. There were four RBs drafted prior to Johnson: Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Felix Jones and Rashard Mendenhall, and Stewart was the only one not to have an injury-plagued season. What can we learn from the five guys that did prosper? They were all drafted into a situation where there was a gaping hole at RB (Forte, Smith) or where there was an aging/unspectacular veteran ahead of them (Hightower, Slaton, Johnson). Heading into next season, I’m adding Ray Rice and Jamaal Charles to my list of players to watch, as they have the talent (and may have the opportunity) to prosper in 2009. Being an NFL running back is a young man’s game, and it’s wise to keep this in mind on draft day.

5. I pledge…yet again…to stay away from Denver running backs.
The Denver Broncos always seem to have a good running game. This season, despite burning through a number of backs, the Broncos still finished #2 in yards per carry (4.8) and #14 in rushing touchdowns (15). With that kind of consistent production, it’s always tempting to pick the top back in Denver on draft day. After several years of abstinence, I was smitten with the 2008 prospects for Selvin Young, who had several nice outings the previous season and looked to be on track for a nice year. But even when he was healthy, the bane of my fantasy football existence – Mike Shanahan – used Young in a RBBC along with Andre Hall and Michael Pittman, limiting his value. All three backs were eventually injured, and Peyton Hillis took over in midseason, finishing the year as the team’s top rusher even though he only got more than 10 carries in two games (and was himself injured in Week 14). No more, I say. No more! Wait, the Broncos fired Mike Shanahan? Okay, then this applies to his new team, wherever he lands.

6. I’ll grab Tony Gonzalez or Jason Witten in the fourth round, Antonio Gates or Dallas Clark in the fifth. Or Chris Cooley or maybe even Owen Daniels in the sixth. Otherwise, I’m going to wait on a TE.
I had Gonzo in my keeper league and boy, was it ever nice. Anyone who had Witten for the first half of the season knows what I mean. You can’t beat getting 10-20 points consistently from your TE. There’s no greater advantage in fantasy football. But tight ends are pretty spotty week-to-week, so much so that even this year’s TE3, Dallas Clark, had a very modest start to the season (and, if I remember correctly, he even hit a few waiver wires). It’s great to get a top guy, and right now that list includes six players (forget about the injury-prone Kellen Winslow, for now) – Gonzo, Witten, Gates, Clark, Cooley and Daniels – but once those “studs” are gone, it’s a crapshoot. Guys like John Carlson, Visanthe Shiancoe, Zach Miller, Dustin Keller, Bo Scaife, Greg Olsen, Tony Scheffler, Kevin Boss and Heath Miller all had stretches where they posted starter-quality numbers. If those top guys are gone, it’s better just to wait until the later rounds to snag a few guys with upside.

7. I will be wary of young, upstart running backs when there is a vet present that still has some gas left in the tank.
What do Earnest Graham, Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart and Selvin Young all have in common? Yes, they’re all NFL running backs, but they’re also youngish, upstart running backs that saw their fantasy value decrease due to a veteran presence in the same backfield – Warrick Dunn, Justin Fargas, DeAngelo Williams and Michael Pittman, respectively. In fact, Williams was a victim of this trend two seasons ago when everyone thought that he was about to blow up. Instead, DeShaun Foster continued to play a major role in the Carolina backfield. The grizzled Dunn is especially dangerous – he limited the upside of Jerious Norwood when he was in Atlanta before limiting Graham’s value in Tampa. Beware of the vet with a little gas left in the tank, especially if the team just signed them before the season.

8. I will always play Defensive Team By Waiver Wire.
Unless I’m in a league where I have to pay for each transaction, I am going to go with DTBWW. In my weekly, Love ‘Em & Leave ‘Em, I gave at least two recommendations each week for defenses that were widely available on the waiver wire, and on the whole, those recommendations did rather well. My top pick averaged 9.8 points, while my second pick averaged 6.1 points. Combined, they averaged 7.9 points, which would yield 126 points on the season – the same total as the #6 DT (NYG) scored this year. My top picks scored at a rate that would have racked up 157 points, one point behind the #2 DT (TEN). I typically go with a defense that is playing at home and is facing a sack-happy offensive line. And usually it works out.

9. I will never again draft Chris Chambers.
I swore off Chris Chambers a long time ago, but somehow still ended up with him in my keeper league. Why did I draft him? It had something to do with the 51 catches, 833 yards and five TD he posted over a 14-game span with his new team after the Chargers traded for him last season. Specifically, it was the 23 catches, 398 yards and three TD he posted over the last five, including three playoff games against the best competition in the AFC. Something told me that the Chargers, by trading for Chambers, didn’t have faith that Vincent Jackson was capable of being the main guy. Something told me that with Gates hobbled in the preseason, Chambers could play a mighty big role in a San Diego offense that was bound to break out with an up-and-coming QB at the helm. Things started well in 2008, and although Chambers didn’t catch many passes over the first five games (11), he did find the endzone five times. After missing two games with an injury, he tallied just 22 catches for 236 yards and zero TD over the last nine games.

I’ve been playing fantasy football for 16 years now, and I’ve found that it’s important learn something each and every season. This year, I learned these nine lessons, but like most New Year’s resolutions, I’m sure it won’t take me too long to break a few. (Trust me though; I will never — ever — draft Chris Chambers again.)

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

Vanderbilt achieves first winning season since 1982

Thanks to their 17-16 victory over Boston College in the Music City Bowl on New Year’s Eve Day, the Vanderbilt Commodores secured their first winning season since 1982 and just their fourth seven-win season in the past 50 years.

The last time Vandy made a bowl appearance was 26 years ago, so it was a pretty cool site seeing their players douse head coach Bobby Johnson when Myron Lewis intercepted a Dominique Davis’ pass with under two minutes remaining in the game to cap the win.

Despite the loss, this was a pretty impressive year by BC. Not many college football pundits thought they would do much this season after Matt Ryan was drafted, but they went to the Big East Championship and a bowl game, which speaks volumes to the job head coach Jeff Jagodzinksi did this year.

Hopefully both of these teams remain competitive next year, because they were fun to watch in 2008.

By the way, Vandy’s D.J. Moore declared for the NFL Draft following the game. That guy was a sick returner this year.

Blogging the Bloggers: New Year’s Eve

– DEADSPIN says that Brett Favre was a dealbreaker in the Bill Cowher-to-the-Jets talks. [DEADSPIN]

– KISSING SUZY KOLBER (great name for a blog, btw) has unearthed some old footage from Morten Andersen’s television show back in 1994 (where he interviews a few NFL cheerleaders), complete with snarky, blow-by-blow commentary. [KISSING SUZY KOLBER]

– SPORTSbyBROOKS gives all the gory details about Charles Barkley’s recent citation for DUI. [SPORTSbyBROOKS]

– BOOSH MAGAZINE has a list of the not-so-spectacular athletes from 2008. [BOOSH MAGAZINE]

– In the wake of the Mike Shanahan firing, IN GAME NOW has a collection of funny expressions from Skeletor (a.k.a. “Rat” Shanahan). [IN GAME NOW]

– THE LOVE OF SPORTS has video of Reggie Evans being called for a technical after slapping Kyle Korver on the tookus. [THE LOVE OF SPORTS]

– SPORTSbyBROOKS reports that swimmer Michael Phelps can’t decide whether or not he has a girlfriend. [SPORTSbyBROOKS]

The ATP gets serious

ATPComing off the most exciting year of professional tennis in nearly a decade, the ATP has updated the general public on what the new season will bring.

* New Structure: New tiers of tournaments have been created — ATP World Tour Masters 1000, ATP World Tour 500 and ATP World Tour 250 — leading to the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London where the ATP World Tour Champion will be officially crowned. The number represents the points awarded to the winner in each respective tournament.

* Tour Calendar: The ATP World Tour will feature 63 tournaments in 31 countries with the following breakdown of tiers — Nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events, 11 ATP World Tour 500 events and 39 ATP World Tour 250 events.

* Net Branding: At each of the different level of tournaments, fans will recognize the level of event as indicated by the net branding on court.

* Promotion: An enhanced TV package and web streaming proposition of ATP World Tour Masters 1000s, 500s and other key regional tournaments will allow fans to follow their favorite players from week to week around the globe. The multi-million dollar ATP advertising campaign, FEEL IT, will assist tournaments in promotion of the sport.

* Player Requirements: In 2009, players in the 2008 year-end Top 30 will be required to compete in four Grand Slam tournaments and eight ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments. In addition, the Best four ATP World Tour 500 and Best two other events (ATP World Tour 250 and Challengers) will be counted towards a player’s ranking. All direct acceptance players at the time of the entry deadline who do not play will receive a 0-pointer in their ranking.

* Bonus Pool: A $6 million bonus pool for the Top 12 players in the South African Airways 2009 ATP Rankings will be awarded based on fulfilling their commitment. The season will also feature a 20% increase in player compensation and a profit sharing model that will for the first time invite players to share in the sport’s growth.

* Facility Improvements: The largest ever facility investment of $800 million, including new stadia in Brisbane, Madrid, Shanghai, Valencia and Paris will be made in 2009. In addition, upgrades in Cincinnati, Rome, Acapulco, Rotterdam and Montreal deliver world class facilities.

* Tour Swings: The 2009 ATP World Tour calendar will also offer several cohesive swings within the full season. Each of these swings builds to a mini-crescendo along the way to the season’s grand finale in London. Improvements to the calendar include an uninterrupted European clay season, with a new ATP World Tour 1000 Masters event in Madrid (moving from indoor to clay). In addition, a revamped Asian swing in the fall leads to a new ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Shanghai.

Wow. Being a professional tennis player sounds pretty sweet. Not only do you get a three-month break, but when you are “working,” you travel around the globe. And look how generous the ATP is being with the Bonus Pool category. Aside from that extra $6 million, players can essentially become part-owners of the Tour by way of the profit sharing model.

Although the season kicks off January 4, the first Grand Slam takes place at the Australian Open from January 19-February 2. Rafael Nadal will be defending the #1 ranking, while Roger Federer will attempt to regain it.

Angels sign closer Brian Fuentes

The Los Angeles Angels found their replacement for Felix Rodriguez at closer in former Rockies’ reliever Brian Fuentes, who signed a two-year, $17.5 million contract with the Halos.

The 33-year-old Fuentes was a three-time NL All-Star. The lefty was 1-5 with 30 saves in 34 chances and a 2.73 ERA for Colorado this season and then became a free agent. He struck out 82 in 62 2-3 innings.

Rodriguez posted 62 saves for the Angels this season to break Bobby Thigpen’s single-season record of 57. K-Rod signed a three-year, $37 million contract with the New York Mets three weeks ago.
Fuentes could serve as the Angels’ closer or as a setup man for either Scot Shields or Jose Arrendondo. Fuentes has a 17-27 career record with 115 saves and a 3.41 ERA in 438 appearances for the Seattle Mariners and Rockies.

Fuentes left the Rockies as their all-time career saves leader. He also finished as Colorado’s all-time leader in strikeouts by a reliever.

He became the third free agent to return to the Angels this offseason, joining left-handed reliever Darren Oliver, who accepted salary arbitration, and outfielder Juan Rivera, who signed a three-year, $12.75 million contract.

The Angels also give up their first-round pick with this signing, but they had already picked up first-rounders form the Mets and Yankees, as well as two supplemental picks, so that isn’t a huge blow.

With Scott Shields, Justin Speier and Darren Oliver already on the roster, the addition of Fuentes gives the Halos a solid bullpen.

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