Editor's Note: This week's column is coming out a day late because Mother Nature wreaked havoc on the editor of Brad Evans' column, causing a prolonged power outage that forced the delay. Evans wants all of you to know that he had Seattle's D.J. Hackett as a Flame candidate and, although he's salty about it, he's agreed to pull Hackett from consideration since his game has already been played.
If you ain't first, you're last." – Ricky Bobby
So you lost in the first round. Instead of throwing yourself onto the tracks of an oncoming train or drowning yourself in a five-gallon drum of wing sauce, live by the Chicago Cubs fan motto: "There's always next year."
Even though your season has come to a bitter end, it's never too early to plan ahead. In the dog-eat-dog fantasy football world, keeper-league owners who take chances now on potential hidden gems can improve their stock for next year before the calendar turns to 2007. Like the old adage says, "Those who get up early, throw helmets with Kyle Turley." Err, something like that.
Last year, owners in keeper leagues jumped on Baltimore backup Chester Taylor late in the season hoping his versatility would lure a team in dire need of a backfield starter. "The Cheetah" signed with Minnesota in March and instantly stepped in as the primary carrier in a Brad Childress offense Taylor-ed (Sorry, couldn't resist) perfectly to his strengths. His seven games of 100-plus total yards have vaulted him into the running back top-10 in performance leagues. It's low-risk moves like these that can build your franchise into a dynasty, without all the excessive paperwork and ego hassling.
Here are five "Rolodex Running Backs" to stash away or target in early drafts that are primed to step forward next year:
5. Chris Brown, Ten
Y! Availability: 91 percent Notes: Proved with a crucial 16-yard run in overtime at Houston that he can still deliver, Brown, a free agent, could compete for a starting job elsewhere in '07. Only 25, the powerful, upright runner is just two years removed from his first and only 1,000 yard season. Oh, and with Travis Henry questionable, he could showcase his wares against the Jags.
4. Adrian Peterson
Y! Availability: N/A Notes: The soon-to-be former Boomer Sooner will be the cream of the fantasy crop in April's draft. If Houston executives pass on another can't miss back, more heads should roll in the Texans front office than in "Apocalypto." Equipped with 4.45-40 speed, excellent size (6-foot-2, 218-pounds) and tremendous cut-back moves, he is Eric Dickerson incarnate. He'll probably cost you a mid-second round pick, but is capable of 1,300 total yards and 6-9 touchdowns no matter where he lands.
3. Michael Turner, SD
Y! Availability: 95 percent Notes: "The Burner" has the propulsion and burly body to be a man-crush mainstay. Built like a Sherman tank at 5-foot-10, 237-pounds, Turner is a power runner than can pancake opposing defenders with his brute strength. Hamstring issues have plagued him lately, but his career 5.9 yards-per-carry average could certainly woo a team like Cleveland, Green Bay or the New York Jets. If the right team signs him this offseason, he's LaMont Jordan circa 2005, but with a third of the receptions.
2. DeAngelo Williams, Car
Y! Availability: 52 percent Notes: More passionate comments have been made in this column about the Carolina Napoleon then I would like to admit. The man whose potential heats my loins could start if DeShaun Foster, who has two-years remaining on his current contract, were traded by opening kickoff '07. If that happens, D-Will emerges a top-15 back with end-season numbers around 1,400 total yards and 5-7 touchdowns.
1. Brandon Jacobs, NYG
Y! Availability: 43 percent Notes:The man I call the football Frankenstein is a freak of nature. His raw power and break-tackle ability reminds me of early 90s beefcake Christian Okoye. Unless the G-Men bring in additional competition, Jacobs is a legit late-first, early-second round pick capable of 1,500 total yards and 10-12 touchdowns.
WEEK 15 FANTASY FLAMES
Do you want to look like a pigskin prophet? Each week the Noise will dig deep for five no-so-obvious names to turn you into a gridiron guru. Here are this week's flame candidates:
Ben Roethlisberger, Pit, QB – Opponent: at Car
Fearless Forecast: 273 YDs, 2 TDs, INT
Notes: Some believe the clock has struck midnight for Big Ben, but for fantasy fans the glass slipper still fits. Although this season is one the motorcycle stuntman would care to forget, statistically speaking, Roethlisberger has improved, increasing his yards-per-game average by nearly 50 yards and set to eclipse the 20-TD mark for the first time in his three-year career. The Carolina secondary continues to have issues in the red zone, surrendering eight air strikes in their past three contests. Even potentially without Hines Ward, Roethlisberger, the fifth-best fantasy quarterback over the past five weeks, should notch top-10 totals with home run threats Nate Washington and Santonio Holmes as targets. Ignore his 74.9 quarterback rating and annoying Fat Head commercials, he's a difference maker.
David Garrard, Jax, QB – Opponent: at Ten
Fearless Forecast: 222 YDs, TD, 31 rushing YDs
Notes: "On Guard!" Garrard is ready to swashbuckle his way through the Titans. Arguably his best game this season, Garrard tanked the Titans back in Week 9, throwing for 177 yards and three touchdowns. Jeff Fisher's club continues to win games on the back of Vince Young, but they have relinquished their fair share of yardage. Since Week 10, Tennessee has given up 254.8 passing yards-per-game and eight air strikes. The explosive run combo of Oompah-Loompah Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor will crack an already breakable Tennessee front, which should free Matt Jones to make a couple of big plays. Garrard takes a swig of Tennessee whiskey and surpasses the 200-yard mark for the fourth time this season.
Sammy Morris, Mia, RB – Opponent: at Buf
Fearless Forecast: 21 carries, 112 YDs, TD, 2 receptions, 21 YDs
Notes: If you Press Your Luck, "No Whammies!" Sammy will win you a trip to Acapulco and a ticket to the next round. In Week 14, Morris was a porpoise with a purpose plowing his way to a career-best 162 total yards and two touchdowns on 27 touches against a potent Pats D. Ronnie Brown has been ruled out for Sunday's tilt versus the undersized Beefalos, making Morris a top-20 RB play and a concrete No. 2. Buffalo has surrendered a fish-friendly 174.8 rushing yards-per-game and six ground scores in their past five. With the Miami O-line finally clicking, Morris should exceed 100-yards in back-to-back games.
Brandon Jacobs, NYG, RB – Opponent: Phi
Fearless Forecast: 12 carries, 41 yards, 2 TDs
Notes: The Eagles have been brutalized by the run, yielding an insane 191 yards-per-game and five rushing scores in their past four. In order to alleviate pressure on "Mopey" Manning, look for Tom Coughlin to play smash-mouth football against an Eagles front seven crippled by injuries and gap assignment failures. The 6-foot-4, 256-pound football Frankenstein will bulldoze his way to his fourth game of 10 or more carries and his third multi-TD tally of the season. Trust him as a No. 2 if your backfield is hanging precariously by a thread.
Arlen Harris, Det, RB – Opponent: at GB
Fearless Forecast: 21 carries, 79 yards, TD
Notes: Hell hath officially frozen over. Harris has fantasy value. Now that Kevin Jones is out for 6-12 months with a Lisfranc fracture of the left foot, Harris becomes the new king of the Lions backfield jungle. A third-stringer under Mike Martz in St. Louis, Harris knows the system well, but his straight-forward style and tortoise speed will never set the world on fire. Matched against a putrid Packers D-line that propelled another between-the-tackles bruiser, Cedric Houston, to prominence in Week 13, Harris is a formidable flex play. Green Bay has yielded 187 rushing yards-per-game and four touchdowns over their past three. At 99 percent available, he could be Week 15's version of Ron Dayne.
Mark Clayton, Bal, WR – Opponent: Cle
Fearless Forecast: 5 receptions, 101 YDs, TD
Notes: "Marky Mark" is ready to give fantasy owners some "Good Vibrations." Similar to last season, he's booming at just the right time. Quietly, Clayton has racked 386 receiving yards in his past five, the 12th-highest mark in the league. Since Week 10, the bruised Browns secondary has been muzzled by the pass giving up the second-most fantasy points to wideouts. Steve McNair will take his shots downfield against a Cleveland secondary that was burned deep by speed demon Nate Washington in Week 14. With Clayton's lickety-split wheels, superior No. 2 totals are achievable.
Tony Scheffler, Den, TE – Opponent: at Ari
Fearless Forecast: 4 receptions, 38 YDs, TD
Notes:The Emeril Lagasse of fantasy tight ends, "The Chef" serves up a Cardinals crme brulee. A gritty competitor with sure hands, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound second-round draft choice has seen a sharp increase in targets in his past two. With Ginsu boy Jay Cutler behind center, he's totaled nine targets, four receptions, 81 yards and two scores. Scheffler's outstanding athletic ability and underrated speed will help him reach new heights with a fantastic schedule remaining (at Ari, Cin, SF). The Broncos last three opponents have collectively allowed 17 touchdowns and 43.2 yards-per-game to tight ends this season. If you've hacked it with marginal talent at tight end all year, at 99 percent available, he could be a culinary king in Week 15 and beyond.
WEEK 15 FANTASY LAMES
Worried about your awful matchups this week? The Noise lists five players that should be relegated to clipboard duty for your fantasy team. Here are this week's lame candidates:
Michael Vick, Atl, QB – Opponent: Dal
Fearless Forecast: 187 YDs, TD, INT, 22 rushing YDs
Notes: Vick has snubbed more owners than TomKat has party invitations for A-listers. News out of Hot-lanta says Jim Mora Jr. has told Vick to only run when necessary in order to prevent a late-season injury. If Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood are limited, he may not have much of a choice. With Atlanta suddenly at the top of the NFC Wild Card mediocrity mess, they desperately need a victory to solidify their playoff chances. Unfortunately, they face a chagrined Cowboys team coming off a blowout home loss to New Orleans. With colt revolvers loaded, the Boys will take out their frustrations on Vick and re-establish themselves as one of the better defenses in the conference.
Thomas Jones, Chi, RB – Opponent: TB
Fearless Forecast: 22 carries, 82 YDs
Notes: This week, Yogi pokes his head into a picnic basket full of E-coli infected Taco Bell burritos. Destined to lead your team to the land of porcelain thrones and Imodium A-D, Jones faces a much improved Bucs D-line that has held opponents to 87.8 rushing yards-per-game and two total ground touchdowns since Week 8. Slowly, Cedric "Boo-Boo" Benson has worked his way prominently into the Bears time-share, tallying a season-high 16 carries to Jones' 11 in St. Louis. Grossman was Rex-tacular in the Lou and will be worked extensively by Ron Turner to iron out any additional kinks. Tampa Bay has given up the ninth-most fantasy points to signal callers and with TJ's minor ankle and groin injuries, more air Bears are in order.
Edgerrin James, Ari, RB – Opponent: Den
Fearless Forecast: 23 carries, 74 YDs
Notes: Edge reminds me of Jewel. The poppy folk singer's body could fold a man-box, but once the crooked-toothed smile is cracked, all attraction is lost. The same goes for Edge. On the outside, back-to-back 100-yard games have us all giddy, but deep down, we know better than to trust his gold grill three weeks in a row. One would label James a stellar play against a defense that has been pillaged for 150.8 yards-per-game and eight touchdowns on the ground since Week 11. However, the susceptibility of the Arizona offensive line brands James a lame versus a gap-quick Broncos front.
Andre Johnson, Hou, WR – Opponent: at NE
Fearless Forecast: 6 receptions, 55 YDs
Notes: To take a lyric from another Andre, Johnson is the answer to "What's cooler than bein' cool?" Despite injury woes, the Pats have given up the ninth-fewest points to wide receivers since Week 10. David Carr's lack of octane has failed to fuel AJ's fantasy output. Johnson has crossed the chalk once and averaged 61.4 yards-per-game in his past five. With New England coming off an embarrassing 21-0 loss to Miami and Gary Kubiak's continued devotion to the run, Johnson could limp his way to unexceptional No. 3 numbers.
Chris Henry, Cin, WR – Opponent: at Ind
Fearless Forecast: 3 receptions, 23 YDs
Notes: The Al Capone of the Cincin-Attica clubhouse, Henry might as well drag a ball and chain versus one of the league's elite pass defenses. As the Jaguars proved with 375 yards of ground offense in Week 14, the Colts could make "He Hate Me" Rod Smart a fantasy god. Undoubtedly, Rudi Johnson will be the emphasis of the Bengals attack. Henry has the breakaway wheels and athleticism to rack giant gainers, but the Indy Cover 2 has allowed just a single pass play of 40 or more yards this year. Amazingly, only two receivers have surpassed 80 yards against the Colts in 13 games, which makes Henry a starting lineup casualty.
UNLEASH THE BEAST
Upset you don't have a forum to express your disdain for drafting Willis McGahee? Do you question why on earth you're not a fantasy expert? This is the place for you to vent your thoughts, tirades and frustrations. Can you bring the noise?
Hey Mr. Speedo Wearer,
Why don't the Falcons start Jerious Norwood to see what he can do? I know Warrick Dunn will rush for over 1,000 yards again this year, but come on, Norwood is an absolute stud. I can't imagine not having a "man-crush" on that guy, Wow! Oh and let's go Willis.
– Scott from Brutus, Buckeye
Noise: Attention fan of a mascot with an obnoxiously large nut for a head who wears Waldo clothes (I'm still bitter you ruined Illinois' perfect regular basketball season in '04-'05), Norwood is man-crush material.
Scott, I'm totally in your corner. Norwood is a stick of dynamite dipped in napalm with a wick made from weapons-grade plutonium. The kid is the definitive home-run threat who runs aggressively and is a tireless worker. If you think my constant man-crush obsessions are ambiguous, you should hear my boy Brandon Funston's voice when he talks about Norwood. The Commish literally pants at the thoughts of his production with 12-15 carries. Well, this week Funston could find himself in an ocean of drool. Dunn did return to practice on Friday, but reiterated that if he's not close to 100 percent by kickoff Sunday, he plans to sit out. Regardless, Norwood could net 15-plus touches versus Dallas and is a reasonable flex play in 12-team leagues.
Long-term, Norwood's value is only as good as his health. His upright running style and lack of ideal bulk (5-foot-10, 210-pounds) makes him vulnerable to injury. While a senior at Mississippi State, he was a workhorse averaging 28 carries-per-game, but the SEC, despite what Florida fans may say, is not the NFL. Ideally, he would excel as the lighting side of a 50-50 timeshare. Because platoons are all the rage, I would anticipate Mora to expand his role next year. Given Warrick Dunn's advancing age and the run-first mentality of the Atlanta offense, Norwood could amass 1,100 total yards and 5-7 scores with 10-12 touches per game. Target him after Round 7 in '07.
Oh, and unless Willis McGahee suddenly becomes LT, the women and children of the greater Buffalo area will be saved from a pasty white, fantasy columnist frolicking around in a Speedo on their downtown streets. McGahee currently ranks 27th in total points among backs.
In an ongoing effort to spread the gospel of the Noise, this segment is for YOU to ridicule my random musings. Oh, and if have any positive contributions, that's cool too.
Brad, you rock, man! The comments about Mike Furrey last week were absolutely hilarious. I severely regret not reading your column weekly, but make no mistake I'm here every week for the remainder of the season!
Adam, Asheville, NC
Regarding your first round playoff performances, I will never forget the beating I took in 2004 from a Kerry Collins to Jerry Porter combo that produced 8 combined TDs. My opponent picked up Collins that morning because his regular starter was playing in the snow and the top seed was left to battle for third place.
Don't even TALK to me about Billy (expletive) Volek. In the 2004 championship game, I was in the difficult position of choosing between Volek and my regular season starter, Brett Favre. Favre had been decent to spectacular all season, but it was Volek's 45-point performance in the semi-finals that put me one win away from laughing at all my friends. So I went with Volek and lost by 29 points with Favre and his 30 points on my bench. I'm STILL not over that.
Joe, Calabasas, CA
I'm a big fan of your columns and LOVED the Noise this week. I had Portis in '03 in the 1st round of the playoffs and it brought back fond memories of that blowout victory.
T.J., Whippany, NJ
Brad, PLEASE add Drew Brees to your memorable 1st round performance list. I drafted him in the 8th round of our 16-team Yahoo! league as my first quarterback, but squeaked into the playoffs at 7-6 as the second-highest scoring team with the toughest strength of schedule. One down, two to go! Carry me home, Drew!
Jonathan, Ellicott City, MD
I laugh at you, sir. I saw you predict the demise of Ladell Betts. Since your prediction, when he took over full-time duties, he has produced … LARGE.
Tom, Baltimore, MD
I remember that Monday night game. I was the No. 2 seed and had juiced the competition by 112 points (we had a high scoring system, but it was still a gargantuan lead). My opponent had Volek, Mason and Bennett. I lost. It's always anybody's game.
Ryan, Tulsa, OK