Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

05 Nov 2004

Scramble for the Ball: Mid-Season Scramblies

Rashaan Salaam Award (Potential One Season Wonder)

Vivek: In 1995, Chicago's Rashaan Salaam joined the list of high draft picks who went onto be busts in the NFL (see Dayne, Ron; Thomas, Blair; Highsmith, Alonzo; Enis, Curtis; Biakabatuka, Tim; Carter, Ki-Jana) Before fading into obscurity, Salaam did rack up 1000-plus yards en route to the 1995 NFC Rookie of the Year trophy. He played only two more years after that season, gaining just more than 600 yards.

My vote goes to Drew Brees. In a way, it's a tribute to his solid and efficient season -- 14 touchdowns to only three interceptions. His nomination is also due to the fact that it will be hard for the Chargers to keep Phillip Rivers on the bench for another season. He'll have to get lucky and hope a team (Dolphins?) takes a chance on him in the off-season.

Al: I'm not so sure Brees is a one year wonder. Maybe it just took him a few years and a great tight end to start to come into his own. I'd give the award to Thomas Jones. After only seven games, he's gained more yards than in all but one of his previous five seasons. It's not like this is Jones' first shot at a starting job either. Jones is on pace to top 1000 rushing yards for the first time in his career. In the history of the NFL, there aren't many running backs that have done what Jones is on pace to do -- rush for 1000 yards for the first time at an advanced age after playing regularly for a few seasons. All of the others that I've been able to find have struggled to maintain that level of success in later years.

Mid-Season Keep Choppin' Wood Award (Least Valuable Player)

Vivek: After making huge strides in 2003, the Cincinnati Bengals have fallen back to the Bungles. It shows one thing -- Carson Palmer was not ready to start the year. It will take a 6-3 finish to match last year's .500 record, and that looks unlikely with five games against potential playoff teams. He has a 1:2 touchdown to interception ratio, and his 1468 yards are offset by the 5.94 yards per attempt. His completion percentage (55.1) is not that far behind his quarterback rating (62.6).

Al: Kerry Collins is running away with this one. When he was signed this off-season to a three-year deal, it was with an expectation that he would supplant Rich Gannon as the Oakland starter by the end of the contract. After Gannon was injured early on in the season, Raider fans had to think they were in quality hands. 11 interceptions later, the Raiders are in the basement of the AFC West, looking at another top five draft pick in 2005. Collins has the second-lowest QB rating and highest interception percentage in the league. I wasn't particularly high on Oakland's chances this season, but if Collins was anywhere near the quarterback that Oakland was expecting when they signed him the Raiders would be right in the mix in a tight division race.

First Ever Cole Ford Award (Where Are They Now)

Vivek: Of course, this goes to who else but Cole Ford. I mentioned the odd, for the lack of a better word, twist in the former Raider kicker's life a few weeks back after police sought Ford in the drive-by shooting at the home of Siegfried and Roy. Police finally arrested him this week in Vegas. Must have liked David Copperfield better.

Al: As a runner up, I'll nominate Tony Woodruff, a former Eagle wide receiver. He recently pled guilty for driving the getaway car in a bank robbery this past May. How was he caught you may ask? His criminal mastermind partner dropped his wallet, with ID inside, in the bank.

Vivek: Runner up, pro wrestling division -- Jake "The Snake" Roberts, who was in court to face charges of starving his pet python Damien to death. What's next? Koko B. Ware hurting his macaw, Frankie?

Derek Jeter Award (Most Overrated Player)

Al: Like the name of the award, Viv? I'm going to give this to LaDanian Tomlinson. LT2 is often mentioned when the Chargers' somewhat surprising offensive success this year is discussed. And why not? He was generally considered one of the top backs in the league coming into this season and is in the top 10 in the NFL in rushing yards this year. However, a closer look reveals that Tomlinson has been pretty ineffective for most of the year, even before he injured his groin against Tennessee in Week 4. He's averaged under three yards a carry in half of his games this year and has gained 100 yards on the ground only twice, against the subpar run defenses of Houston and Tennessee. His backup, Jesse Chatman, has been more effective than LT in the three games when Chatman has had more than a handful of carries.

Vivek: I'll take The Captain over almost anyone in the league if I was starting a team. Has anyone given him credit for winning the Gold Glove?

But I digress. Overrated or overhyped? While Al has been beating on Ron Dayne, I've been harping on Michael Vick. We all know that he has all the talent in the world, but please put it together and on a consistent basis. I think his performance against Denver last week was an aberration. He has to be driving fantasy owners nuts. His QB rating each week (in chronological order) has been 78.4, 120.3, 46.9, 86.2, 67.6, 104.9, 13.9 and 136.1. He should be due for a 45.2 next game. If the Falcons are winning now, imagine how good they'll be when Vick finally understands the quasi-West Coast offense.

Ric Flair Award

Al: Whooo! This one goes to the player who probably should have retired a few years ago and might have lost a step or two, but can still perform better than most of the younger players out there. Space Mountain may be the oldest ride in the park, but it still has the longest line. I'll give this one to Emmitt Smith. We all thought he should have retired years ago, yet at 35 he's on pace to rack up over 1300 combined yards. That would be the most yardage Smith has gained since 1999. And he's doing it behind an offensive line that ranks in the bottom third of the league.

Here's something strange. Why does ricflair.com redirect to the John Kerry campaign page? Was Kerry secretly courting pro wrestling fans?

Vivek: The Long Island boy, Vinny Testaverde, gets this one. At 40, he hasn't been a full-time starter since 2001, but after Quincy Carter's dismissal by the Cowboys, he is now on pace to toss for more than 4200 yards.

Most Valuable Player of the First Half

Al: This may be a bit of a surprise, but I have to go with Ben Roethlisberger. It wasn't that long ago when his own teammates were telling reporters how much they weren't looking forward to Big Ben starting at quarterback. Six weeks later, the Steelers are in the driver's seat for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. He has the fourth best QB rating and DVOA in the league. But it's not just what Ben's done as much as it's when he's done it. He has the best fourth quarter QB rating in the NFL and the third best rating on third down. Ben has taken a team that was expecting to spend this year fighting for a top five draft pick after Tommy Maddox went down and turned them into viable Super Bowl contenders.

Vivek: Tiki Barber. Tiki fumbles in 2003 -- Giants lose. Tiki holds onto the ball in 2004 -- Giants win. It's quite a simple formula. Barber is on pace for more than 2500 total yards, and while nobody expects him to keep this level of play, a 1300/700 rushing/receiving yard season split is still outstanding.

What Did We Learn from Week 7?

Lesson 1 -- Tom Coughlin Reads Scramble for the Ball

Al: Only two days after I lambasted Ron Dayne's awful performance as the Giant backup/goal line running back, Tom Coughlin told Ron Dayne to sit on the sidelines in street clothes, taking him off the week's active roster. Dayne's replacement Mike Cloud did nothing put win himself Dayne's job, gaining 55 yards on nine carries with two touchdowns. One of Cloud's touchdowns came on the goalline, behind some mediocre blocking by the Giant offensive line. Where Dayne in such situations this year has simply run into the back of one of his teammates and taken a loss on the play, Clouyd was able to shift into a crease between the bodies and pushed his way into the end zone.

If Coach Coughlin is looking for some advice this week, I'd suggest leaving the pass coverage to the Wills, Allen and Peterson, and Gibril Wilson and having the rest of the defense concentrating on attacking the Bear offensive line. Anthony Thomas (!?!?) had a great game last week against the 49ers because of the solid job Chicago did blocking against the depleted 49er defense. Leave eight men in the box early on and let Craig Krenzel try to beat you in his first road game as an NFL starter.

Lesson 2 -- The Eagles Have No Reason to Miss the Super Bowl

Vivek: The offense has Terrell Owens. The defense has a solid secondary even after the off-season defections. And Donovan McNabb has his Chunky soup. Who is going to knock off the Eagles? The Vikings? They might give Minnesota a run, but probably not, especially if they lose a top seeding because of the Randy Moss injury. Atlanta? Not with Vick going from all-pro to all-schmoe every other game. This is the year for Phily.

Scramble for the Ball Mailbag

Vivek: Remember that you can send us your fantasy and other NFL questions to us at scramble@footballoutsiders.com. Leading off this week is Yanni from Long Island with a fantasy question:

I've been holding onto Jake Delhomme in a keeper league. He's my third QB in a league that starts two. I've pretty much given up on him for this year, but is he worth it for the future, or should I take a chance on some youngsters with high ceilings – Eli, Rivers, Palmer.

Vivek: I've never been a fan of taking rookie and young quarterbacks over an established player. Yes, you have the Culpeppers and Mannings who appear and are great fantasy starters early in their careers, but it really does take QBs a few years to develop. Are you going to let some kid waste a roster spot for that long? However -- he's your third QB who you will only play a few times a year. The potential of finding the next Manning (literally this time) is too great to pass up in this situation. I'd never drop a potential starter on my team.

Al: What's Jake's upside? I think it's as a backup fantasy QB. He's been useless this year with half of his offense on injured reserve. Even last year, when he was the starting quarterback of the NFC Champions and Stephen Davis and Steve Smith were healthy, he wasn't worth starting in fantasy leagues. I'd take a flier on Manning. Unless the Giants win the Super Bowl this year, he'll be the starter in 2005.

Next up is Josh from Arkansas:

Any reason to keep David Terrell?

Vivek: Nope. Two hundred-yard games on the year, and he only has 291 total yards receiving.

Al: Not unless you think Craig Krenzel is going to miraculously turn it around and become a top-flight passer. There has to be someone on the waiver wire better than Terrell. Will he probably put up a couple more 100 yard games this year? It's possible. But you'll never know when it's going to happen, so you won't be able to capitalize on it.

Keep Choppin' Wood Award

Vivek: Ken Dorsey's line: 16-for-36, 122 yards and one fourth quarter interception that was returned for the game-clinching score. It is almost not fair, though, since Dorsey should not be starting for any NFL team.

Al: Man, that was one ugly game. Surprisingly, it was the highest rated cable program of the week with approximately 8.5 million viewers. Eight million Americans had nothing better to do than watch two terrible football teams play on a Sunday night?

Survivor League Update

Al: And then there was one. It's going to take a lot for me to overcome Ian's five team to one advantage after Rod Smith's ridiculous Week 8 performance wasn't enough to keep Hey Ya alive. My one remaining team, Hit or Miss, will likely get knocked out over the next two weeks, as I'll have no quarterbacks and one wide receiver active in Week 10.

Loser League Update

Al: The rosters should be back up for the first half contest, which ends after this week. We should have sign-ups for the second half contest next week. I doubt Kerry Collins will go undrafted in that contest.

Here are the Week 8 All-Stars:

QB: Kurt Warner -- 7 points (144 passing yards)
RB: Kevan Barlow -- 4 points (18 carries, 56 yards, 3 catches, 16 yards, 1 fumble)
RB: Sammy Morris -- 5 points (11 carries, 48 yards, 3 catches, 12 yards)
WR: Ike Hilliard -- 0 points (2 catches, 8 yards, 1 carry, 5 yards)
WR: Brian Finneran -- 1 point (3 catches, 19 yards)
K: Morten Anderson -- -1 points (1 XP, 1 FG Miss)

Coming into the home stretch, it will be tough for anyone to catch season leader Mark Stinks who has a twenty point lead over Fife Rampage in second place. His one problem is that he'll have to take the penalty with two kickers off in the final week of the contest. Here's the leader's roster going into Week 9:

QB: Kyle Boller, Drew Bledsoe
RB: Emmitt Smith, Eddie George, Kevin Jones
WR: Josh Reed, Ike Hilliard, Freddie Mitchell
K: Josh Scobee, Olindo Mare

Best Bets

Al: (2-2 last week, 13-14 overall) I just can't get over the .500 hump. I like next week's slate of games a lot better than this week's, so hopefully I won't fall to far under .500 and make my big charge in Week 10.

ST. LOUIS +2.5 over New England

The Rams couldn't be playing the Patriots at a better time. With New England's secondary banged up, I'd expect a big day out of Marc Bulger.

SAN FRANCISCO +7 over Seattle

Picking against Seattle with a big spread worked last week, so I'll try it again. With Tim Rattay back the 49ers won't be as pitiful as they looked last week against the Bears. Seattle has struggled on the road this year, with only one convincing win against the Saints.

PITTSBURGH +1 over Philadelphia

Let's make it 3 for 3 with home dogs this week. As you might be able to tell, I'm kind of high on the Steelers after they took apart the Patriots last week. The entire country will be sick of reading Steeler stories within a week if they can win the battle of Pennsylvania. Luckily Baltimore is playing on Sunday night, so the people in Harrisburg might be able to see this one. However, the folks in Erie might not be so lucky. The Bills are home against the Jets at 1 PM.

Vivek: (2-2 last week, 10-17 overall) I'm moving to college football now. Baylor +31 over Texas Tech, Western Michigan + 30 over Bowling Green. Alright, my .500 week gives me some hope. I'll stick with the NFL. Oh, so much for the Skins losing and Kerry winning.

PITTSBURGH +1 over Philadelphia

Phily has to lose sometime, right?

Kansas City -3 over TAMPA BAY

Can I get some credit for saying that the Chiefs would make the playoffs after Week 3? Another huge week for Priest.

Jets -3 over BUFFALO

The Jets will just cover the three points, but Buffalo will need more than 8-for-17 and 81 yards from Bledsoe this week.

DETROIT -3.5 over Washington

The Skins can't convert third downs. They can't return kicks anymore with Chad Morton out. They can't improve on defense without Lavar Arrington, Andre Lott and Michael Barrow. They can't kick without John Hall. Bottom line: They can't win this week.

Posted by: scramble on 05 Nov 2004

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