Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
by Jason Beattie
OK, before you read the 2003 Loser League Preview, you probably want to refresh yourself on the rules of the Loser League. Luckily, we've got that column archived.
So, what's the best strategy for winning your Loser League in 2003? Of course, the answer is "draft bad players." Here are some helpful hints and some good losers to keep your eye on for the upcoming season:
Just as in regular Fantasy Football, the RB spot is the hardest position to fill, and should usually be the first player you draft each week. In order to avoid a penalty, you'll need to select a clear starter who will get at least ten carries. Some starters who may make good losers:
1. Emmitt Smith, ARI -- It's sad to see his career slide so low, but he had a lousy season with the Cowboys, and now he's playing for the even worse Cards. Barring injury or benching, he should be an every week selection in your league
2. Troy Hambrick, DAL -- This is a guy who couldn't beat out Emmitt and is struggling to be named the starter against "competition" like Adrian Murrell.
3. Trung Candidate, WAS -- Whether he can succeed as a starter for the 'Skins remains to be seen, but he blew every opportunity he was ever given in St. Louis. Could be a nice fumbler for your team.
4. Aging studs whose wheels are past due to come off -- RBs don't age well, so keep your eye on Eddie George (29), Curtis Martin (30), and James Stewart (31). If they stay healthy enough to play, their stats this year may become increasingly mediocre.
5. Stacey Mack, HOU -- Yeah, yeah, he's the best runner in Aaron's VOA system, but he's still starting for Houston, who had no O-Line last time I checked.
(Note from Aaron: Why, Stacey, why? Why did you have to hurt me by signing in Houston?)
While it's quite risky to select any back that's part of a "running back by committee," occasionally the players are so bad it's worth a shot (i.e. James Allen/Jonathan Wells, 2002 Texans.) You just have to cross your fingers and hope they get those ten carries! Some committee situations worth a look this year:
1. Tampa Bay -- Will Michael Pittman get out on bail for game-time? Why does a genius coach keep signing Cardinal cast-offs? I have no clue, but Pittman, Thomas Jones or even Aaron Stecker could emerge with 10-12 2.5-yard carries a game. Avoid Mike Alstott though. He actually scores sometimes.
2. New England -- With Kevin Faulk likely to siphon off carries (especially in the red zone), Antowain Smith will be a tempting weekly selection.
3. Pittsburgh -- The wheels on the Bus have gone round and round plenty, and are in danger of falling off for good. Apparently, Bill Cowher realized the Loser League potential of his running back situation, and named Amos Zereoue the official starter. That doesn't mean that Jerome Bettis won't get carries, though, so if he gets at last ten each game keep him on your radar screen.
The best quality for a good Loser quarterback -- besides absolute ineptitude -- is inexperience. Rookies, new starters and QBs who switched teams in the off-season are great candidates to have horrible games. Some players to watch out for:
1. Jeff Blake, ARI -- Who is he going to throw to? (Hopefully for us, the other team.)
2. Quincy Carter/Chad Hutchinson, DAL -- Either choice is as crappy as it was last year.
3. Kordell Stewart, CHI -- I'm losing interest in talking about bad QBs.
4. Rodney Peete/Jake Delhomme, CAR -- Rodney Peete is 37 years old. Really.
5. David Carr, HOU -- Better than last year, but still not good.
There are plenty of mediocre wide receivers in the NFL, you'll just have to sift through the bottom of the weekly box scores to find the cream of the crap. But some teams are better breeding grounds for Loser WRs than others. Here are the teams with the most potential:
1. Arizona -- Brian Gilmore, Kevin Kasper, Jason McAddley, Anquan Boldin, Larry Foster, Bryant Johnson, Marquise Walker, Jake Soliday. Who are these guys? Who will start and who will be cut? Who cares? By week one we'll know better, so just draft the so-called "starters" on your roster every week you can. It's a loser goldmine!
2. Cincinnati (any WR but Chad Johnson) -- Peter Warrick, Ron Dugans, Danny Farmer, T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Cincinnati's good at spreading the ball around, and these guys will rarely burn you with a TD.
3. Houston -- Corey Bradford, Jabar Gaffney, JaJuan Dawson, Andre Johnson. Even with Andre Johnson in the mix, there will be plenty of garbage Texan receivers this year.
4. Cleveland (any WR but Quincy Morgan) -- Kevin Johnson, Dennis Northcutt, Andre' Davis, Andre King. The big Q used to be a loser league staple, but last season he broke our hearts and became a legitimate receiver. The rest of the Browns receivers remain mired in mediocrity, however (and those absurd Northcutt punt return touchdowns don't count for your loser league score).
5. Carolina -- Mushin Muhammed, Steve Smith, Ricky Proehl. I like the off-season addition of Proehl to this group of underachievers.
The problem with good Loser League kickers is that they tend to lose their jobs after a few weeks. Here's hoping these guys keep their jobs but continue to do them poorly:
1. Bill Gramatica, ARI -- Bad kicker, bad team. Great combination!
2. Neil Rackers, CIN -- The unofficial mascot of the Loser League, Neil was the only player drafted in our league every single week last season.
3. Billy Cundiff, DAL -- Maybe guys named Bill just can't kick.
4. Hayden Epstein, MIN -- Perhaps kicking in a dome will improve his 56% accuracy with Jacksonville last year, but I wouldn't count on it.
5. Danny Boyd, James Tuthill, Seth Marler, JAC -- The Jaguars went through 4 different kickers last season, and they're lining up the crap again this year.
You may have noticed Arizona topped all my lists... Yes, I believe it will be that bad for them this year. Which of course means good times for the Loser League! And this way, at least the Cards will be on somebody's fantasy roster.
I'll be back each week of the regular season with updates on our Football Outsiders Loser League. Until then, happy losing!
Did I miss your favorite bad player? Questions about the Loser League? Complaints from Troy Hambrick's mother? Drop me a line at jason-at-footballoutsiders.com.