Saturday, August 25, 2012

Football Fantasies

by Hal Bent, BostonSportPage.com

Since I am in--and have been in for a number of years--numerous fantasy sports leagues and have somehow ended up in five fantasy football leagues this fall (of all different types and rules at different sites), it seemed to make sense to add a feature here to feed the hungry beast of fantasy sports opinion, information, tips, and news.  Especially with fantasy football, the Internet has opened up the game to numerous new fans who watch all the network games all day Sunday, Monday night, and Thursday night in order to see how "their players" are doing each week.  Watching the games on TV and following along with the laptop open to the various leagues has long been a tradition in the house, just as fantasy football and baseball draft nights, meeting up at someone's house for drinks and food with laptops in tow to turn the draft into a social event.  Making it a friendly competition, a money league, or just a fun social event, fantasy sports are huge and played by millions of male and female fans each season.

I just completed draft number one tonight, and am booked Sunday and Monday night as well to pick my teams, and after a break, again on Thursday and Friday night.  With this in mind, here are a few general tips to start off when drafting for fantasy football:


  • The running game is dead in the NFL, and should be kept in mind during the draft process:
    • Ten/fifteen years ago, the secret to winning fantasy football was to load up on stud running backs early and often.  A couple of pigskin-toters was all one needed to climb the ranks to the bragging rights of first place. The mad dash for the elite running backs was all the rage back in the 90s and early 00s.  Now, the Tom Brady/Peyton Manning/Drew Brees/Aaron Rodgers offenses have led to points in the air.  Most teams have multiple running backs splitting carries now, third-down specialists, and empty backfields.  The ground-and-pound offenses are looked down upon as dinosaurs of the NFL.  Even the New England Patriots, who won Super Bowls behind Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon as the bell-cows on offense, are now one of the most pass-happy teams in football.
    • When drafting, a starting quarterback and wide receivers need to be grabbed early and often.  Yes, if one of the few stud running backs left in the game is available (LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice, Matt Forte), by all means grab him, but the days of 8 of the first 10 picks being running backs are over.  Quarterbacks Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers are a steal if you get them outside of the first five picks of the first round, ditto wide receivers Andre Johnson or Calvin Johnson.  Position yourself to get your starting receivers and quarterback set in the first five rounds.
  • Study your league set-up before the draft:
    • This seems like common sense, but it has bit me a few times in the past and I always keep up on the settings prior to the draft.  How many players are active each week. How many starting running backs and receivers do you need to play.  If you have four wide receivers and only two running backs, it has to affect your draft choices as compared to three wide receivers and three running backs; or three wide receivers, one swing (running back or receiver) and two running backs.  
    • Look at that swing position if you can have two tight ends or it has to be a wide receiver and running back.  You may find yourself with Jimmy Graham and Aaron Hernandez available to draft and only one spot to play a tight end.  Having Hernandez playing each week instead of your third running back or fourth wide receiver can swing the points each week to steal a few wins in a head-to-head match-up.
  • If you are in an auction league, never miss the beginning of the draft and have the system auto-pick:
    • Trust me, clear the conflict for the draft.  I have been DESTROYED by the auto-pick in an auction league.  If you absolutely have to be absent, go through the player values with a fine-tooth comb so you don't pay a dollar more than you want. With an auction league (for those unfamiliar) you have a set monetary budget for players who you bid for against your fellow owners. Highest bid gets the player.  With the auto-pick, I had the damned computer dump all my cash on two running backs one year, leaving me filling out my team with cheapo waiver-wire players no one wanted.  I chalked that year up to  a learning experience that I have no intention of repeating again.
    • Try not to over-bid for one player and fill in cheap. Losing your big money player to injury is not worth the risk.  Set your price and stick to it. If you miss out on Brees, Brady, Manning, and Rodgers, go to the second tier quarterbacks like Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, or Philip Rivers. Spread the cash out for some productive wide receivers or depth at running back.  Think of all the owners who paid mad money for the player injured early in the season and watched their team go down the tubes. Pay for depth in the auction league.
  • Kickers and Team Defense are a joke:
    • I make it a point to never draft a kicker or team defense until I absolutely have to in a draft (usually the last two rounds).  I have evolved to the point where there is so much random luck in who produces at kicker and what team scores defensive points, that I often find myself releasing the kicker and defense each week and picking up new teams and kickers based on the next week's match-up (in leagues with no-limit roster moves, that is!).  
    • The problem is, you never know when a kicker is going to get opportunity and defense points can be random each week.  Do they run back an interception? Block a kick? Safety?  How many weeks have I watched points disappear as a team with a big lead goes to a "prevent defense" and gives up some garbage time touchdowns?  A kicker can get five field goal attempts one week and none for two consecutive weeks afterwards.  It's frustrating as all can be, and my view has evolved to not wasting my precious draft picks on these bozos, let alone carrying back-ups for these positions.
    • With kickers and team defense, put in your research and review your league scoring settings. but focus your picks on big point producing positions like quarterback and wide receiver before plunging into the deep end of the pool for kickers and defense.
OK, now you're ready to get started on your fantasy football draft. Just to give an overview of how I did tonight, in my Yahoo Public League (1 QB, 3 WR, 2 RB, 1 K, 1 DEF - Head to head) here is how my draft went:

1.
(8)
Tom Brady(NE - QB)
2.
(13)
Jimmy Graham(NO - TE)
3.
(28)
Greg Jennings(GB - WR)
4.
(33)
Percy Harvin(Min - WR)
5.
(48)
Brandon Lloyd(NE - WR)
6.
(53)
Trent Richardson(Cle - RB)
7.
(68)
Vincent Jackson(TB - WR)
8.
(73)
Stevan Ridley(NE - RB)
9.
(88)
Andrew Luck(Ind - QB)
10.
(93)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis(Cin - RB)
11.
(108)
Kenny Britt(Ten - WR)
12.
(113)
Beanie Wells(Ari - RB)
13.
(128)
Dallas Clark(TB - TE)
14.
(133)
New York(NYJ - DEF)
15.
(148)
Dan Carpenter(Mia - K)
In retrospect, I'd have liked a big time receiver, but like the depth and versatility at the position.  A lot of chances with youth and veterans coming back from injury on the bench and at running back, but those risks can pay off big. 

I hope Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck only plays for the bye week, ditto for some of the other bench players. Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Dallas Clark looked good so far this preseason and was worth a flyer for one week when New Orleans and tight end Jimmy Graham are on a bye.  Good health willing, that is all I need him for this season.

I almost took a chance on drafting Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker over Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings to really load up on the Patriots offense, but decided there are too many touchdowns in Jennings' future compared to Welker. Then there was Arizona Cardinals running back Beanie Wells coming off knee surgery but with little real competition for carries being available at pick number 113 overall seemed like a gift. I just don't believe in Ryan Williams at running back in Arizona and quarterback Kevin Kolb can't throw the ball(if he even ends up starting), so there should be plenty of carries available there.  Players like Beanie Wells with so much uncertainty are part of the interest in these late rounds. 

Last year, in one league I got Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson in the 15th round and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning in the 12th round.  Those two players carried me into the playoffs in the league.  Tonight, Nelson went number 11 overall as the first pick of the second round! That's part of the fun of the draft, and I've got four more to go this week.  I can't wait.  Thanks for the read, let me know if you like the fantasy sports feature, as I enjoyed writing it and would continue to keep sharing. 

New England Patriots Roster Battles - Offense

by Hal Bent, BostonSportPage.com

I'm back from vacation and the New England Patriots are half-way through the preseason and find the roster jumble seemingly in flux.  In fairness, any moves are going to come from the bottom end of the roster and be found in players number 45 to 53 on the roster.  Starters and top back-up are fairly well established throughout the offense and defense.  

The first shot has already been fired with the release of DT Jonathan Fanene.  As the top free-agent brought in to shore up the defense, Fanene and his injured knees are on the outside looking in and likely to be fighting to keep his signing bonus.  Just a few weeks ago (see my link here: BostonSportPage.com-Camp Questions) I posited that the Patriots would spring a big name veteran that no one saw coming (I figured it was Ron Brace or Jermaine Cunningham, both who look close to earning a spot this season), and Fanene fits the bill.

Forget that this whole "undisclosed injury" thing is going on, I am sure Bill Belichick has no reservation of wasting $3.85 million of Robert Kraft's money to send a message to his entire roster to let them know that they are in competition for a roster spot.  Belichick has no reservations about eating money to put the best players on the field at all times.  Bill Belichick has one goal, and that is to win. Period.  He's not there to stroke egos or let bozos run around unchecked.  No matter who you are, the team is in the business of winning games, and if you are not part of the solution, you are going out that door.  This is a huge wake up call to the under-achieving veterans (*cough-cough*Dan Koppen*cough-cough*) taking up valuable salary cap space. 

Key spots remain in wide receiver, running back, and back-up tight ends on offense.  The offensive line is still an open competition. On defense, back-up spots on the line and at linebacker (Mike Rivera, it is time to shine!) as well as the final spots in defensive back-field warrant attention as training camp winds down with a ridiculous three games in ten days.  Here's a quick peek at the remaining battles coming down to the wire starting with the offense (defense to follow shortly!):


  • RUNNING BACK: 
    • With speedy rookie U of Florida running back Jeff Demps running back kicks in his first practice, running backs Danny Woodhead and undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden are served notice.  Both draft picks from last season, Shane Vereen and Steven Ridley have impressed in the preseason games, and with so many wide receivers to choose from, Nick Caserio and Bill Belichick must be thinking they have five running backs to fill four roster spots.  Would the Patriots release third-down specialist Danny Woodhead? Can Jeff Demps (who looks like he would be dynamic in that role) pick up the offense and steal his roster spot?  Does bruiser Brandon Bolden have to fight for a spot on the practice squad with Vereen and Ridley looking ready to hold onto the 1A and 1B running back spots?  Is there even space for Spencer Larsen to sneak onto the roster as a fullback? Two games are all that is left to answer a lot of questions here.
  • WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS:
    • Jeff Demps returning kicks does not bode well for Julian Edelman, despite his punt-return role and versatility on offense and defense.  With Edelman and special teams captain Matthew Slater (technically grouped in with the wide receivers) most likely to stick due to their end-of-roster flexibility and core-four special teams role. That leaves Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd locked in and Deion Branch, Jabar Gaffney, and Donte' Stallworth fighting for one or two roles at the most.  
    • At tight end, there are the big two locked in (Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski) and then...well, I don't see Visanthe Shiancoe on the field at all, let alone making the roster.  Daniel Fells is finally healthy and stands to make the team as the blocking tight end with some receiving skills. 
  • OFFENSIVE LINE:
    •  There are issues aplenty on the offensive line.  Don't buy the hype about tackle Nate Solder not able to replace Matt Light. He outplayed Light there last season and lest anyone forget, Light was hardly Bruce Armstrong on the edge (I still have nightmares of Jason Taylor flying past Matt Light like he was a turnstile). Right tackle desperately needs a healthy Seabass. Sebastian Vollmer has shown he can do the job, when healthy.  Behind Vollmer is Marcus Cannon, who desperately needs work in the Dante Scarnecchia boot-camp this season and maybe next as well.  The size is there, the technique is lacking.  
    • Without a true backup tackle after Cannon, the big battles are inside.  No one knows if Brian Waters is back, but Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly are locks inside. Dan Koppen needs to get up to speed to stay on the roster and earn a spot as a starter, and if Waters retires, Koppen at center with Mankins and Connolly stands to be the best starting line-up.  The rest of the inside back-ups are a battle between Ryan Wendell, Nick McDonald, and Donald Thomas for maybe two spots, though all three could return if Waters is gone.  None of the three have stood out this summer, but McDonald can play all 5 spots on the line, and that is worth its weight in gold with Bill Belichick.  Wendell can backup at center and both guard spots, so he stays as well.  Thomas needs to show what he can do these last two preseason games.
Defense to come later this weekend, but the battle on offense is going to be full-tilt for the last spots available.  Time to review the film from the Tampa game and see who is looking at a pink slip in their future.

Roster Blown-out?

by Hal Bent, BostonSportPage.com

Yes, the Patriots did not play well against Tampa, but the big blow-out is the Red Sox roster in the potential deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers which appears likely to happen.

The Red Sox would make a historic salary dump of NBA proportions by basically trading Adrian Gonzalez for top pitching prospect Allen Webster.  Rubby De La Rosa? He's decent, but not a potential top-line starter like Webster.  Check out the report on Webster a few weeks ago at baseballprospectus.com:
Fewer teams at the trade deadline were busier than the Dodgers, and few affiliates had more scouts flying in to see them during July than Double-A Chattanooga. While only Ethan Martin was dealt, heading to the Phillies in the Shane Victorino deal, nearly every team talking to the Dodgers inquired about right-hander Allen Webster, and with good reason, as the 22-year-old right-hander, after a tough first half, has a 2.13 ERA in nine starts since the All-Star break. “It's all there,” said a National League scout who was taken off his coverage to see the team. “When everything is going, he has three average-to-plus pitches and knows what to do with them.” The scout noted that Webster's game has matured, as well. “He knows he has a really good—and potentially special—changeup, but he's not over-relying on it anymore,” the scout explained. “It's like he finally figured out that setting that pitch up with 92-94 mph heat is the best way to go about it, and his curveball has improved as well. He used to get over the ball and it wouldn't finish, but now it's breaking through the zone much better.”

De La Rosa looks to me like a prospect for the bullpen, with fantastic velocity but needing work on his other pitches. If he can pick up some secondary pitches he throws for strikes, he's a top 3 starter, but likely the role is the bullpen.

James Loney is trash.  A free-agent at the end of the year, some small-market team will grab him for cheap money based on potential.  The worst thing that could happen is Loney hitting the cover off the ball the last six weeks of the season and the Sox throwing money at a crappy hitting first baseman. Ivan De Jesus is a backup infielder at best, and Jerry Sands can play first base and left field and hits well at AAA, but has not taken the next step at the major league level.  Neither is expected to make any kind of impact in Boston, but look for them in Pawtucket, RI the next three years. 


The deal comes down to the Dodgers getting the first baseman they need to make a run and build around and taking Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett (watch this idiot blow up the deal at the last minute by using his 5-10 status to nix the trade--wait, is this an opposite jinx that allows the deal to go through?) and their bloated contracts off their hands so the Sox can clear over $60 million off the books.  Short of Webster, the Sox are not getting a one of those mega-prospect hauls, but I think clearing out some cancers from the clubhouse are worth it.  

I have been all but begging the Red Sox to blow up this squad of losers.  Now my fingers are crossed hoping that the deal goes through and the Red Sox can look to 2013.

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