Dr. Z's Fantasy Football Rule #6

Editor's note: This is the first part of a series of recommendations for your Fantasy Football 2010 draft. The series will run until the NFL kicks off on September 9th. The draft is winding down. “Only four more rounds to go. C’mon, c’mon, c’mon. Make your pick!” You’re yelling at the team currently drafting, one spot in front of you. “I wonder what I’m going to do for lunch.” You catch yourself with these thoughts running through your head but don’t think twice. Little do you know that this could be the difference between first, and, well, not first. As Reese Bobby so eloquently put it, “if you ain’t first, you’re last.”

Rule #6: Don’t be afraid of the St. Louis Rams. Or the Detroit Lions. Or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Or the Kansas City Chiefs. I think you get the point. Don’t stay away just because a team had a bad record (5-11 or worse) or a terrible offense the year before. A few of these teams made significant moves in the offseason: the Washington Redskins (4-12) traded for veteran Quarter Back Donavan McNabb. The Cleveland Browns (5-11) signed QB Jake Delhomme. Some of these teams added impact players through the draft. Detroit traded up to get running back Jahvid Best and the Bucs snagged Mike Williams. I could go on. But, for the most part, these teams still stink (ok, the Redskins have a chance). I don’t think anyone, besides a few disillusioned St. Louisans who only remember the days of the “Greatest Show on Turf,” is predicting the Rams to win the Super Bowl, let alone get to the playoffs. Heck, I’d be impressed if they can get more than 4 wins. But that doesn’t mean that the players on the team are worthless and undraftable.

If anything, this makes these players all the more draftable. Steven Jackson and Maurice Jones-Drew are just a few elite players, in case you forgot which teams they are on, that play on a team that won 5 games or fewer in the 2008-2009 season. MJD finished 3rd among fantasy running backs, and Jackson finished 10th. In Jackson’s fourth year, his Rams won three games, five fewer than the year before, but he put up his best numbers (1528 rushing yards, 806 yards receiving, and 16 total TDs).

However, it’s not just the elite players that can succeed in such an environment. Jamaal Charles was the 2nd string running back for the Chiefs for the first half of the season until struggling starter Larry Johnson practically asked the Chiefs to show him the door. Charles took advantage of the opportunity and finished the season as the 12th best fantasy running back in the league. In the last eight weeks of the season (from weeks 10-17 in which Charles was the premier back), the man rushed for an astounding 968 yards on 161 carries for an average of 6.01 yards per carry, and 121 rushing yards per game. In most leagues last year, Charles was either taken in the last few rounds (like in my league), or not at all.

Now, before we get too carried away with Charles’ numbers, we have to remember that he faced mostly terrible run defenses. 5 of his 8 opponents ranked 26th or worse in run defense, according to Yahoo! statistics. But there is good news (besides the fact that I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching to Geico), In weeks 11, 12 and 16, in which he faced the Pittsburgh Steelers, ranked 3rd against the run, the San Diego Chargers, ranked 20th in rush-defense, and the Cincinnati Bengals, ranked 7th against the run, Charles scored 12, 20.7, and 12.4 points, respectively. If we assume that Jamaal Charles continues a reasonable 12 point production over the course of a 16-week season, he ends with 192 points, good enough for the 9th best fantasy running back in the league! It’s too bad for fantasy owners interested in drafting Charles, the Chiefs went out and signed top-notch veteran Thomas Jones. Jones was the 5th best fantasy back last year amassing 1402 rushing yards and 14 TDs while playing with the New York Jets, for a total of 221 fantasy points. Expect Jones and Charles to split the carries, with Charles getting a bigger load, but Jones receiving more Red Zone duties, severely cutting into Charles’ value.

Unfortunately, there isn’t always a Jamaal Charles every year. But there are many players that can be snagged, like Charles, in the last few rounds, and end up contributing to your team in big ways. Most of these picks are based more on feeling than stats, because these are low-risk, high-reward players. They are being taken at the bottom of the draft for a reason: they simply haven’t performed consistently.

When I look for Quarterback sleepers, I look for three things: accuracy (completion %), decision making (interceptions), and the players around him. For the most part, you can get by with stats. Exhibit “A” is Carson Palmer, QB for the Cincinnati Bengals, who is currently being drafted 105th, in ESPN standard leagues, as the 15th QB. Palmer has the 7th best offensive line, according to profootballfocus.com’s Neil Hornsby, including the 6th best passing line and 8th best rushing line. Many seem to forget the three years preceding Palmer’s knee injury when he passed on average for 4001 yards, 29 TDs, 15 Ints, and a 65% completion percentage (for comparison, top fantasy QB Aaron Rodgers, completed 64.7% of his passes in ‘09). That’s good enough for roughly 246 points, which would have put him as the 9th best fantasy QB in the league. I think he can do even better than that while keeping his interceptions at a more than acceptable number. While Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens are aging, they are two best friends locked in competition (T.O. joined Ochocinco on Chad’s “The Bachelor” style show, “Ultimate Catch” in which T.O. acted as Chad’s friend and confidant.) I am convinced this will push them to have better than expected years. Antonio Bryant, who is not yet 30, was brought in to bring another veteran to the receiving corps, and third-year receiver Andre Caldwell, add great depth. If you miss out on any of the top QBs, remember that you can fall back on Palmer in the late rounds to provide you with adequate fantasy points.

The best sleeper running backs are the ones that are the primary backs. This seems like an obvious statement, but I am still scratching my head, wondering why Carnell “Cadillac” Williams is being drafted, on average, with the 112.9 pick. Yes, the Tampa Bay offensive line is atrocious, ranking 31st in the run last season, but Williams still managed over 1,000 total yards (821 of them coming from the run). With the addition of Mike Williams (more on him later), the Tampa Bay offense will hopefully move to a more balanced, two-dimensional game. This will make defenses cover more against the pass, and take a defender or two out of “the box”. The Luxury Sedan was able to get the yards (his yardage stats were similar to 19th best Pierre Thomas), but not the TDs, costing him those precious few points that separates the starters from the bench warmers. If Williams can get a few more TDs next season, he will turn into an instant fantasy starter.

I always find myself telling a friend, “someone has to catch the ball, right?” Right. Someone has to, and almost always, someone does. So why is it that countless #2 receivers are being picked over clear-cut #1s? I mean, I understand why you would take Wes Welker over anyone on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Mike Williams is being drafted on average with pick 144.6! He has impressed in his first two games and in now the number one receiver on the team (which isn’t saying much, but still). Williams will see enough targets to give him fantasy value. He probably won’t break into the top-20, but as one of your late fliers, he’s just one of the many WRs worth a shot.

Not satisfied with my late-round picks? Don’t worry. Be happy. Dr. Z’s Zzzzzs (Sleepers) and Busts will be out soon to give you more late-round fire power.

Contact: If you have a fantasy football question, comment, insult, or compliment for Dr. Z, send it to Nightcapkspc@gmail.com or call in to The Nightcap on KSPC Mondays 8-10 PM at (909) 626-KSPC. No inquiry is too big or small. It might even be featured in Dr. Z’s next column! Please include your first name and from which city you are writing.

Editor’s Note: This sports column is a regular feature from “The Nightcap” crew, a group of 5Cers who air a weekly radio sports talk show on KSPC. You can listen in online at KSPCstream.com or KSPC.org (click “Hear us Online via Live365”) every Monday from 8-10 PM. Want to join the radio show this year? We are looking for new people! Email us at nightcapKSPC@gmail.com!