February 13, 2012

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Ricky Williams Retires – What Could Have Been

By: Anson Whaley

When then New Orleans Saints coach Mike Ditka traded his entire slate of draft picks in 1999 to move up to acquire Ricky Williams, he was highly criticized. Williams had come off of an amazing career with the Texas Longhorns, but gambling an entire draft on a single player was a monumental risk – so risky that it had never been done before in the history of the league. Ditka put all of his eggs into one basket and it’s safe to say that while Williams rushed for more than 3,000 yards in three seasons in New Orleans, he provided a relatively small return for an entire draft’s worth of selections. The Saints ended up trading Williams away in 2002 to the Miami Dolphins for (drum roll) … more draft picks.

The bizarre thing is that even after a fairly long NFL career, it’s difficult to gauge just how good he was. His 10,009 career yards rank 26th all-time, yet he had only five career 1,000-yard seasons.  10,000 yards is an amazing accomplishment and made Williams a great rusher, but he will be remembered by most as someone who could have done even more.

In 2000, his second NFL season, Williams missed six games due to injury, but still finished with 1,000 yards. Then after racking up nearly 4,500 rushing yards over the next three years, Williams abruptly retired in 2004. He returned in 2005, but shared time with a young Ronnie Brown, and in 2006, he was suspended for the entire season for violating the NFL’s drug policy. Williams returned again in 2007, but playing in his first game, he was injured and missed the remainder of the season. Williams played in 2008 – 2010 without missing a game, but he again spilt time with the younger Brown. Last season, he served as a backup with the Baltimore Ravens behind star Ray Rice.

The Dolphins drafted Ronnie Brown to add stability and the "wildcat" to their running game.

When you add it all up, Williams missed about 3 ½ years of playing time. He averaged nearly 1,200 yards per season from 1999 – 2005, so factoring in that rate of production, Williams lost approximately 4,000 yards in all. When you add those yards to his career, a good picture is painted as to just how good he could have been.

With 14,000 career yards, he vaults all the way into fifth place on the all-time rushing list behind only Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, and Curtis Martin. Just as important, if Williams had been a steady force in the backfield, the Dolphins probably don’t draft Ronnie Brown. Instead of sharing the rushing duties in much of his career in Miami, Williams could have had the bulk of the carries to himself and accumulated even more yards as a feature back.

Now, while all this projecting is fun, the important thing to remember is that it certainly is no guarantee of what Williams would have accomplished. Even if he had been able to stay on the field, there’s still no telling how things would have played out.

The bottom line is that we’ll never know if Williams might have challenged Emmitt Smith’s NFL record of 18,355 yards. But if things had turned out a little better, he may have given it a shot – and Mike Ditka would have had the last laugh.

December 8, 2011

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NFL Fantasy Football Predictions

By: Rick Jarrell

Man, did Ray Rice deliver. More than 200 yards and a touchdown, sealing the Ravens victory over the Browns quickly. Another touchdown would have been nice, but Ricky Williams vultured that one, and considering I forgot he was even on the team, he could use a moral win.

Dez Bryant followed with a solid game, notching a touchdown. But again, he could and should have done more. The Cowboys should have slaughtered Arizona. Call this a trap game, as they face the Giants this week on Sunday Night Football. They may have overlooked the Cards while simultaneously giving the Giants a shot at the division crown.

My other predictions were not so hot. Frank Gore couldn’t hit the century mark despite playing the Rams, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis didn’t get much action against the Colts, who surprisingly held their own against the Patriots.

NFL Fantasy Football Predictions

Rashard Mendenhall

It pains me to keep predicting offensive explotions against my Browns, but as a fan, you know your team. Instead of creating false hope for the last four weeks of the season, I prefer to be realistic with their capabilities and focus on what can happen in the offseason.

While I do that, I’ll say Rashard Mendenhall could duplicate Ray Rice’s performance last week. The Browns had one of the easier schedules to start the season – not facing their superior division rivals until the last five weeks of the season. But these weeks will be brutal, and as the Steelers continue to fight for AFC supremacy, they’re all hands on deck while the Browns are still in their cabins (apologies if that’s a terrible metaphor, but let’s go with it). Cleveland’s bottom five rush defense will prove itself worthy of the description again as Mendenhall has his way.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will look to get Mendenhall going against the Browns who have struggled to stop the run this season.

Ray Rice

Yup, I’m going with it again. Ray Rice and anti-Colts is a solid bet. I said it last week, so I’ll be brief. First of all, the Colts have nothing to play for. It’s difficult for players to get hyped for a game that has no meaning, so their quality of play will naturally suffer as the season dwindles down. Also, ownership would LOVE to go winless and “Lock up Luck” with the first pick. Rice and the Ravens are trending the opposite directions. Expect him (and  Ricky) to do some work against Indy.

Reggie Bush

Staying with the running back theme, Reggie Bush has turned into somewhat of a feature back the last few games. Something I NEVER would have predicted, and actually campaigned the exact opposite sentiment his entire career. But he’s shown flashes of finally being worthy of the number two overall pick, and he’s facing an injured, beleaguered Eagles defense, who’s had trouble stopping the run most of the season. This is another example of teams trending opposite directions, impressive for Miami who didn’t win a game until November. Look for Reggie to continue to surprise – he’s a good flex position start the rest of the season.

Jets Defense

Now to the other side of the ball, I like the Jets to smash the Chiefs this week on the shoulders of their defense. Whoever the Chiefs throw out there – Palko or Orton – will likely throw a few picks. Revis Island is always a factor, and the rest of the defense benefits. The Chiefs rushing attack is a three headed horse that doesn’t intimidate, so the New York front seven should play strong, too. As long as Sanchez doesn’t reciprocate turnovers and leave his defense tired, I like the Jets D to perform.

August 22, 2011

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Top Ten Fantasy Football Drafting Tips

By: Anson Whaley

The NFL lockout’s over and with the season about to begin, here are ten tips to keep in mind when drafting your fantasy football team.

10. Never take a Kicker or Defense until the Late Rounds: Kickers in high-scoring offenses will produce points for sure, but it’s much better to add another quality skilled NFL player in the sixth or seventh round than to burn that pick on an ‘idiot’ kicker (Thanks, Peyton – I’ll never forget that one). There are always several good options left in the free agency pool and while you don’t necessarily have to wait until your final pick, you should avoid drafting one in the middle rounds. The same can be said for defenses. You may even prefer to switch your defense from week to week to take advantage of good matchups (i.e. Playing against the Buffalo Bills’ offense = gold mine).

9. Don’t Draft Based on Last Year’s Stats: While it’s fine to use last year’s numbers as a guide, they can’t be relied upon solely for your analysis in drafting. Sometimes the losses of seemingly minor NFL players such as blocking fullbacks change teams drastically and could mean that running back you’ve been watching won’t be as successful.

8. Avoid Taking Too Many Players from One Team: Even if it means potentially passing on what may be a slightly better player, it’s a good idea to limit yourself to two players from one NFL team. The Packers may be a great team, but drafting Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Grant, and Greg Jennings is probably the worst idea since the Houston Astros 1980s rainbow-colored unis. Not only will you have to deal with a potential loss during Green Bay’s bye week, but anytime their offense stumbles during the season, it could mean another automatic defeat.

7. Draft Based on Your League: It’s always a good idea to draft personnel depending on the rules in your league, so make sure you’re paying attention to them. Someone like Reggie Bush who’s a dual threat out of the backfield is obviously more valuable in a point-per-reception league. Or if you’re in a league where accumulated yardage doesn’t count, you’ll want to target players with only high touchdown possibilities.

6. Target Several Players Immediately after Your Pick: This rule is especially true for online drafts that run on a timer. Your pick will come up sooner than you think and poor planning can result in a hurried, or even wasted, pick. Don’t turn into the Minnesota Vikings – be ready. Immediately after your selection, highlight at least five players you’d like to take next and use your time to rank them. There’s a good chance that one or even several will be taken by then, but by planning ahead of time, you can ensure that you’re ready when your team is on the clock.

5. Avoid Listening to Too Many ‘Experts’: I like Yahoo’s Brandon Funston and ESPN’s Mel Kiper’s just as much as the next guy, but the more analysts you listen to, the more confused you’ll get. These guys aren’t perfect and often have conflicting opinions. The best thing to do is to use them for compiling groups of players you like at each position and make the final pick based on your own knowledge. Just because Kiper isn’t follicly-challenged doesn’t mean that he’s always right.

4. Limit Rookie Draft Picks: Sure, there are plenty of NFL rookies that can impact your team positively. But for every Adrian Peterson there are five Michael Crabtrees. Facts are facts – most rookies won’t play as much as projected and even if they do, that doesn’t mean they’ll be successful. Not only is the speed of the NFL on another level, but first-year players have plenty to worry about. Trust me, Cam Newton is not the key to your fantasy football team reaching the playoffs.

3. Overvalue quarterbacks and tight ends: This is one rule that’s a bit debatable, but I’ve seen too many good teams destroyed by mediocre quarterbacks. Invest in a good one in the first two or three rounds and your team should be better for it. There are only a few elite ones (Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Leaf to name a few), so you’ll need to act fast. It’s also worth targeting the top tight ends in the early middle rounds since there aren’t many that are capable of finding the end zone regularly.

2. Stockpile skill players (WR, RB, QB): Many owners will make a mistake in thinking their team is fine because they’ve got capable starters at all positions, but you can never have enough skill players. For one thing, you’ll need to worry about injuries and bye weeks. Plus, they’re always good trade bait and you can move them for other needs you may have down the line. If your quarterback goes down, it will be much easier to strike a deal for someone’s quality backup. So instead of picking up the league’s best kicker in the seventh round, take a third running back or wide receiver.

1. Leave emotion at the door: Just as that was Brad Pitt’s first rule in poker in Ocean’s Eleven, it should be made so in fantasy football. You should never pick up or avoid a player based on how you feel about them or their team personally. If you’re a Steelers fan, make the sacrifice and you don’t pick up Tom Brady who happens to be on the board in the fourth round, you’ve made a huge mistake. And just because you have a Texas Longhorns Ricky Williams jersey in your closet, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should take him with your first pick. Or second, third, fourth, or …

Well, you get the picture.

August 9, 2011

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Players I Want On My Fantasy Team

By: Joe Williams

With the first NFL preseason game just a few days away, millions of people are getting ready for their fantasy football drafts. And millions more are wondering what is wrong with those people. People wonder what is wrong with me all the time. But when you bring home that fantasy football championship and the year-long bragging rights over your buddies that comes with it…it’s worth it.

It’s pretty obvious that you’d like to have Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson and Andre Johnson on your fantasy team. You might get one or two of the best players in the NFL but how you fill out the rest of the roster is more important in your effort to build a winning team. Here are a few NFL players I will be looking to have on my fantasy team.

Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis

Last year Bradford finished the year with the 20th most fantasy points for NFL quarterbacks. He will play better in 2011. He’s going to have better weapons around him than he did last year. He’s also going to have Josh McDaniels. McDaniels left the Broncos in a bad way with several controversial decisions that he made, but he also helped Kyle Orton put up some big fantasy football numbers. He will do the same for Bradford.

Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver

If you drafted Moreno in the last couple seasons, you might think his name is Knowshow Moreno because he has been disappointing. The departure of McDaniels is almost as good for Moreno and it is for Bradford. John Fox is taking over in Denver and he likes to run the ball. A lot. The Broncos made a play for DeAngelo Williams but ended up settling for Willis McGahee. Another plus for Moreno. His touches will go up and so will his production.

Chad Ochocinco, WR, New England

He was a great player in Cincinnati but was known mostly for his crazy and entertaining antics on and off the field. He was stuck on a team that was going nowhere and wanted out of town. He finally gets his wish with a trade to play with Tom Brady and the Patriots. Sound familiar? Randy Moss was in a similar situation in Oakland before going to New England and putting up some of the best receiving numbers ever. Ochocinco may not score 23 TD’s like Moss did in his first year with Brady throwing to him, but he will get more than the four he scored last season.

Owen Daniels, TE, Houston

I’m giving him one more shot. I keep drafting him and he keeps getting hurt. Every season I think he’s going to put up big numbers. Just like everyone thinks the Texans are going to make that jump to a contender. If they don’t come through this season, I’m off the bandwagon. But if you don’t get one of the big-name tight ends, Daniels has the potential to put up some big numbers in the explosive Houston offense.

Daniel Thomas, RB, Miami

Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are out. Reggie Bush and Thomas are in. Bush is the big name addition in Miami but he has never been the able to handle the workload of a starting running back. Thomas will get plenty of carries and more importantly, look for him to get the ball in the red zone.

August 1, 2011

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End of NFL Lockout Brings Flurry of Activity

By: Anson Whaley

At long last (okay, it wasn’t that long), the NFL Lockout is over. With operations just now getting underway, there’s not much time to lose. Teams are signing players at a moment’s notice and the season will be here before you know it. In only about a week’s time, we’ve seen enough developments to fill up several months of normal offseason activity. Here are the top ten … so far.

10. 49ers Hold Steady with Alex Smith – San Francisco was expected to bring back the underachieving Smith and they did just that by re-signing him. To be honest, I don’t understand this move as Smith has progressed at a pace slow enough to make a snail envious over the past five years. But new head coach Jim Harbaugh was determined to give him another shot so the 49ers will again operate with him under center. Smith does know the offense, but knowing and executing in the NFL are two entirely different things.

9. Cam Newton Signs with Panthers – Sure, Newton was expected to sign, but already? With so little time before camp, Newton didn’t have much leverage if he didn’t want to risk alienating fans. The No. 1 overall pick is off to a fine start by reportedly signing the four-year $22 million deal shortly after the lockout’s end.

8. Reggie Bush Dealt to Miami – As if Ricky Williams’ fate weren’t sealed already with the drafting of rookie Daniel Thomas, adding Bush to the roster all but assured he is finished in Miami. The Dolphins picked up the all-purpose back who should complement Ronnie Brown far better than Williams (Note to self: Do not draft Ricky Williams in fantasy football for the third consecutive season).

7. Seahawks Add Sidney Rice – The Seahawks’ passing game left much to be desired last year – and that’s part of the reason Matt Hasselbeck is no longer with the team. But without a 1,000-yard receiver in 2010, Seattle needed to upgrade its wideouts. They not only will be better with the addition of Rice, but also got younger with the 24-year old.

6. Chad Ochocinco Joins Tom Brady in New England – Johnson, er, Ochocinco, comes with a bit of baggage, but the Patriots had success with another so-called misfit in Randy Moss. Who’s to say history won’t repeat itself? New England needed to replace Moss and Ochocinco is plenty capable of a few more big seasons – especially with future Hall of Famer Brady at the helm.

With Ochocinco on board, Brady has a new deep threat target this season.

5. Santonio Holmes stays put in New York – Holmes was the Jets’ biggest priority this offseason and they got him re-signed. They may have missed out on Nnamdi Asomugha, but signing Santonio gives quarterback Mark Sanchez the deep threat he needs to succeed in the Big Apple.

4. Brett Favre is at it. Again – I really shouldn’t be surprised by this anymore, but, well, call me surprised. Favre had more drama last season than Erica Kane in a Sweeps Week episode of All My Children, and after the disastrous year on and off the field that he endured, I figured there was no way he’d be back in the NFL. But with rumors popping up that Favre could be willing to serve as a backup to Michael Vick in Philadelphia, the Twitter universe exploded. In all seriousness, I don’t expect Favre to make good on this. Common sense, for once, has to win out. Right? Right?!?

3. Donovan McNabb Traded to Vikings – Despite a subpar season last year in the Nation’s capital, McNabb will get another shot at starting as the Vikings’ projected first-team quarterback. How much he has left in the NFL tank is anybody’s guess, but playing in a dome out of the elements eight times a year should help the aging star.

2. Kevin Kolb Traded to Cardinals – The Eagles insisted on a high draft pick in exchange for its backup quarterback and got one in a second-rounder from Arizona. In addition, Philly also secured the talents of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Both teams come out winners in this deal and Kolb should help the Cardinals compete immediately in the mind-numbingly awful NFC West.

1. Nnamdi Asomugha Signs with Eagles – Raise your hand if you saw this signing coming. Asomugha was virtually assured of not being a Raider, but Philadelphia wasn’t one of the NFL teams generally discussed as a viable option. But with his addition, the Eagles have instantaneously improved their chances of winning the conference.