Scramble for the Ball
Fantasy football, the Loser League, and general goofiness

Scramble for the Ball: The Wire

Scramble for the Ball: The Wire
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Vince Verhei and Ben Riley

Ah, the waiver wire, the last refuge for fantasy owners victimized by injuries, Mike Shanahan, and the mysterious disappearance of LaDainian Tomlison. We all know that championships are not won by meticulous draft preparation or shrewd in-season trades alone -- to take home the big trophy in your league, you also need to get wildly lucky with some scrub you picked up in Week 3. The problem is, can you trust 'em on a weekly basis? To answer that question, the Scramble team looks at 10 players that were freely available in Week 1 and predicts what to expect as the regular season winds down and the fantasy playoffs begin.

Donnie Avery: The first wide receiver taken in last April's draft, Avery wasn't expected to produce much in St. Louis, where he'd be behind Torry Holt and Drew Bennett on the depth chart. But Bennett caught just one pass before breaking his foot in the season opener against Philadelphia, and was lost for the year. Avery stepped into Bennett's slot, and currently leads the team in receiving yards. His season totals (25 catches, 392 yards, 2 touchdowns, plus 61 yards and another touchdown on the ground) are not particularly impressive, but he shined in a three-game October stretch, totaling 14 catches, 291 yards and a pair of scores against Washington, Dallas, and New England. Avery has a great chance to finish up strong; of the Rams' final seven games, five come against teams that are below average in defending opposing No. 1 receivers (the exception is the 49ers, whom the Rams play twice), and the only bad-weather game will be this Sunday in San Francisco. After that, there's one game in Arizona, one in Atlanta, and four in dome sweet dome.

Cedric Benson: Benson wasn't on any roster when the season started -- not in fantasy, not in the NFL, not in Canada, not even in Blitz: The League. But when Chris Perry got off to a historically awful start in Cincinnati, the Bengals brought in Benson, and he has been a huge improvement. It's tough to describe Cincinnati's running game since Benson took over the starter's role. Adequacy? Mediocrity? Competence? Any of those may still be too strong, but Benson did just rush for 104 yards and a touchdown against Jacksonville in Cincinnati's first win. It should be his last 100-yard game for a while; after this Sunday's contest against Philadelphia (14th in rushing yards allowed), they then play Pittsburgh (second) and Baltimore (first). They also play Washington (sixth). They do, however, play Kansas City (32nd) in the Week 17 finale, in a game that will have a massive impact on the 2009 draft. That could be a fun one.

Steve Breaston: Two weeks ago, the FO staff debated whether Breaston's production was the result of talent, or the product of being the third wide receiver on a team with Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin and Kurt Warner at quarterback. It's an interesting academic question, but from a fantasy perspective, Breaston should be a reliable 8- to 12-point a week option for the duration of the regular season (although Boldin is sucking up all the touchdowns).

John Carlson: There's nothing left to be said about the dismal Seattle sports scene, but at least this former Notre Dame tight end has justified Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell's decision to trade up in the draft. True, over the past three weeks Carlson appeared to have coated his hands in butter, but with Matt Hasselbeck and Deion Branch returning to the lineup, Carlson's production should improve going forward.

Joe Flacco: Much like another rookie quarterback phenomena appearing later in this column, the strong-armed Flacco has had a nice run over the past three weeks, leading Peter King to suggest, inexplicably, that we should not call him "Flucco." But with games coming up against the Giants, Eagles, Redskins and Steelers, he's a fantasy backup at best.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis: His team nicknamed him "Law Firm." Mike Tanier quipped that he's a distant cousin to Bret Easton Ellis. And last week, he racked up more than 100 yards and a touchdown. But tread cautiously -- Patriots running backs are fantasy death because you can never be sure of Bill Belichick's game plan. If he continues to rack up yards against the Jets and a suffocating Kris Jenkins on Thursday, however, you can probably safely start him as your RB3 for the rest of the year.

Mewelde Moore: Poor, poor Mewelde Moore. After a pair of seasons in which he looked terrific in limited action in Minnesota, he signed with the Steelers in free agency, expecting a solid No. 2 role with a chance to beat out Willie Parker for the starting spot. Then the Steelers drafted Rashard Mendenhall, and Moore slipped to third on the depth chart. Then Parker hurt his shoulder and missed five out of six games. Then Mendenhall hurt his shoulder and was lost for the year. Enter Mewelde. In four starts against the Jaguars, Bengals, Giants, and Colts, Moore collected 360 yards and 6 touchdowns. Moore's outlook from here on out depends entirely on Parker's shoulder: If the shoulder is bad, that's good news for Moore and his owners. The schedule is also less than ideal, notable for back-to-back games against Baltimore and Tennessee.

Matt Ryan: Not only is Ryan looking a lock to win the NFL rookie of the year award, he's quietly become a top 12 fantasy quarterback as well. With upcoming matchups against Denver, San Diego and New Orleans, he should continue his steady 20-points-per-game production. Cue Stu Scott: "Matty Ice is as cool as the other side of the pillow!"

Chansi Stuckey: The second-year player out of Clemson started out hot, with a touchdown in each of the Jets' first three games. He didn't do much outside the red zone though, averaging a little more than 40 yards a game in those contests. Since then, he hasn't produced in the red zone or anywhere else on the field, averaging just 26 yards per game and failing to score even once. The third receiver, Stuckey has only 19 receptions on the year, behind top wideouts Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery, and also trailing running backs Leon Washington and Thomas Jones. He's tied with tight end Dustin Keller for fifth on the team. There's always the chance that Brett Favre will Just Have Fun Out There, and the ball will come down in Stuckey's hands in the end zone (remember, this happened against Miami), but if you're counting on Stuckey to save your team, it's time to plan for 2009.

Kevin Walter: Walter's appearance on this list is somewhat borderline; after he finished 36th among wideouts in fantasy points last year, he was likely drafted in a handful of leagues this season (particularly those leagues based near Galveston Bay). The lucky owners who did select him have giggled as he has collected six touchdowns, one of six players tied for second in the league. (That list is quite bizarre to look at: Roddy White, Antonio Gates, Terrell Owens, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Kevin Walter?!) Walter caught five touchdowns in his first 75 games; he has now scored six in nine games in 2008. And it's not just an illusion caused by Andre Johnson's slow start; Walter collected 70 yards and a pair of scores against Cincinnati in Week 8, and went for 85 yards and a touchdown against Baltimore last Sunday. Walter is a No. 2 receiver if ever there was one; he trails Johnson by 30 catches, and leads David Anderson, the Texans' third receiver, by 27. He does face a tough slate the rest of the way though, including games against the Colts, Titans, and Packers, three of the league's top seven teams in defending opposing No. 2s.

Check out the Football Outsiders comics archive and Jason's wacky Gil Thorp blog.

Keep Choppin' Wood

Every year, the Philadelphia Eagles manage to dominate our DVOA numbers, yet struggle to make the playoffs and/or be taken seriously as a championship contender. Last Sunday, watching Andy Reid stumble through another late-game clock management mishap before calling for two power runs despite not having a power back on the roster, it became that much harder to resist blaming the coaching staff for the Eagles' perpetual underperformance. This KCW goes to Reid, and for Mike Tanier's sake, we hope this is the last one we send to Philly this year.

Colbert Award

Those of you who read Monday's Audibles know that there was much debate about Herm Edwards' decision to go for a game-winning two-point conversion in Kansas City's 20-19 loss against San Diego. Well, the rest of the staff may disagree, but this is our column, and we think Herm was 100 percent in the right. Rather than recap the entire argument (those of you who missed it can read it here), we're just going to note that Kansas City missed an extra point late in the second quarter on a bad snap by Thomas Gafford. If the Chiefs convert that extra point, than Tony Gonzalez's last-minute touchdown would have tied the game on its own, and Kansas City could have then kicked for the win. So if you must blame this loss on anyone, don't blame it on Herm, who made a tough decision in a very short time under great pressure; blame it on Gafford, who has only one job, and screwed it up.

Loser League

Welcome to the second half. As a reminder, you can see scores here each week.

QB: No surprises here. Jake Delhomme threw four interceptions and only seven completions. Fortunately for him (and the Panthers), one of those receptions produced a touchdown. Marc Bulger, meanwhile, had a fumble and an interception to go with only 65 passing yards and 13 attempts. Each player scored a -1.

RB: We'll go on a limb and say this is the only time Chris Johnson's name appears in this space this season. Yeah, he's not going for 8 yards on 14 carries again. He got a 1.

WR: A bunch of 1s for Brandon Stokley, Jordy Nelson, Brad Smith, and Bryant Johnson. Each player caught passes for 14 to 17 yards. Most surprising, each of these players caught at least two passes. Way to make an impact, fellas.

K: Robbie Gould and Jason Hanson each kicked two extra points and missed a field goal, so each scored a 0.


17 comments, Last at 01 Sep 2010, 8:59am

1 Re: Scramble for the Ball: The Wire

Andy Reid's clock management was bad, but I don't see how that wins out over what the Niners did, in particular Mike Martz, who sent in player subsitution for a clock spike, wasting 20 of a remaining 45 seconds, then didn't know where the refs spotted the ball after the first play despite the ref announcing it on his mic, and not having had another play ready to go given the situation or have Shaun Hill spike the ball given they only had about 4 seconds left after all that and a down to spare.

4 Re: Scramble for the Ball: The Wire

Sadly, I couldn't agree more, that last minute of the niners game was a joke. What's even more irritating is that the niners have finally arrived at the point that they should have realised before the season started, that they are a run first team that should try and win with ball control, solid(ish) defense and good special teams. Another season in the tank, six in a row. (sigh)

7 Re: Scramble for the Ball: The Wire

My KCW vote goes to the ARI-SF officiating crew, who picked up four flags and looked inexcusably confused most of the night. I don't know if Goodell's gag order about the refs is making these guys feel that they can exhibit poor performance without consequences, but I think it's time to lay it on the table and say that it isn't just the same number of bad calls, and the bad ones are more high-profile. Uh-uh. I'm seeing more and more officiating that just leaves me speechless on a weekly basis.

13 Re: Scramble for the Ball: The Wire

Never mind that. They could have run 3 plays instead of just 2 if they had gone pass-pass-whatever, instead of run-run. And how do you not give Shaun Hill -the guy who got you in a position to win the game, then made a ghastly mistake, then got you in a position to win the game again- a chance to win the game and redeem himself? Way to mess your young QBs confidence.

Even then, that first down run was still an ok call, I suppose, since you're trying to catch the defense by surprise and it almost worked. But a run again? When your team looks more confused than even the fans? And you could've spiked it and regrouped with the game on the line?

And then they go on record blaming the officials for everything.

It's just world-class KCW all the way.

3 Re: Scramble for the Ball: The Wire

Even as a Chargers fan, I agree with Herm's decision to go for 2. Although it isn't necessarily true that if the PAT earlier were made, they would have only had to kick to win at the end of the game. The Chargers would have most likely gone for 2 when they scored their last touchdown halfway through the 4th. If they had made it, Herm would have been facing the same decision then.

5 Re: Scramble for the Ball: The Wire

Woo! 11th in the loser league!

Considering my awful showing in the last half season, I imagine this is the best I'll do.

6 Re: Scramble for the Ball: The Wire

before calling for two power runs despite not having a power back on the roster

It's true, the Eagles are currently dead last in power success at 50%.

The suprising #1? The win-less Detroit Lions, at an astounding 83%. Though I think that may have more to do with not having much of a sample size due to seldom 3rd and short/ goal and short opportunities.

14 Re: Scramble for the Ball: The Wire

I don't know, I'll have to check when I get home ... but my gut feeling is that it's actually a combination of skill and sample size. The Lions have been surprisingly good at short-yardage situations, in part because they're actually using jumbo sets this year (quite a few 2-1-2 sets, where last year they used more 1-2-2; they've even used a WR Ward-style in a conventional 2-2-1), with decent blocking from TEs and FBs (while they're healthy), and in part because they're so accustomed to getting 1-2 yards on the ground. And they do have a tall WR for those fade routes. And they run a nice spread offense for the two-yard crossing route - they're so good at it on 3rd-and-8, it's second nature on 3rd-and-goal from the 2.

Well, probably also because they're down three TDs, so who cares if they score?

They really have done well, though: 45.6% in the red zone, 49.9% passing, 42.6% rushing.

8 Re: Scramble for the Ball: The Wire

Every one of the players listed has been picked up weeks (sometimes months) ago in my leagues. Chansi might be available, but most teams are deep enough at WR even with 14 teams and 3 WRs and a WR/RB Flex per team that he's not worth the roster spot.

I gave Cedric Benson a lot of thought, but opted to stick with Chester Taylor and Jerious Norwood as my #4 and #5 RBs. My biggest decision was whether to keep Joey Galloway on the bench just in case, or to take a shot with Michael Jenkens off waivers. I decided to hedge my bets by keeping both, and dropping Jeff Garcia since my QB Peyton Manning has an easy-looking schedule to finish the fantasy season.

9 Kickers being counted properly in Loser League?

I just added up the numbers for my LL team, and came up with a number higher than what's listed on the results page. After double-checking my numbers, I looked at a few other teams, and in all cases (~5 teams) I encountered a disparity that appears to indicate that both kickers on each roster did not count towards the final score. Could someone take a look at this, please?

Disclaimer- this is the first time I've played Loser League, so maybe it's always like this, or I'm misunderstanding the rules, or I just suck at copying numbers into Excel.

11 Players Available Week 1

"...the Scramble team looks at 10 players that were freely available in Week 1 and predicts what to expect as the regular season winds down and the fantasy playoffs begin."

Very helpful here in Week 11.

12 Donnie Avery

Isn't Donnie Avery a #2 receiver as he plays in the slot?