Fantasy Football 2009: 20 Burning Questions (cont.)
10. Which team's players will benefit the most from their schedule?
The Saints' slate can be appropriately named the Big Easy. An 8-8 record last year qualified them as a last-place team, setting up clashes this season with some of the league's most porous pass defenses. In addition to facing the suspect Falcons' and Bucs' secondaries twice each, Brees & Co. will also take on the Lions, Jets and Rams, all of whom ranked in the bottom half against the pass in '08. The weather shouldn't be an issue for New Orleans either, since 10 of its games will be played inside domes and two more take place in Florida. And two of its three bad-weather sites (Buffalo and Philadelphia) will be visited in September.
11. Which team's players will be hurt the most by their schedule?
As if losing Cutler wasn't bad enough, the Broncos and new quarterback Kyle Orton face one of the most daunting schedules in the league. The first two weeks should be easy against the Ohio teams, but then the gantlet begins -- at Oakland, Dallas, New England, at San Diego, the bye week, at Baltimore, Pittsburgh and at an improved Washington. If that doesn't discourage you from using too many Broncos, nothing will.
12. Are there any kickers worth grabbing before the final round?
The straightforward answer is no. Regardless of who you think will lead the league in scoring (hint: Garrett Hartley of the Saints), kickers are more creatures of weekly matchups than any other position. Even the best are held to three- or four-point games on occasion, rendering them all but useless to their owners. The best thing to do is to take someone who is on a team with a good offense (perhaps Atlanta's Jason Elam) and has been consistent in recent years. But also be ready to use the waiver wire to adjust the spot throughout the year based on the schedule.
13. Which high pick is most likely to blow up in your face?
In 2008 Broncos wideout Brandon Marshall topped the century mark in catches for a second straight year, hauling in 104 balls for 1,265 yards. Red flags swirl around him, however. The departures of Cutler and Mike Shanahan will certainly hurt his effectiveness, as will a possible suspension for an off-season arrest in Atlanta. But the most troubling factor is the uncertainty of his health following off-season hip surgery. On paper he's a top 10 WR, but in reality he's too much trouble as a WR1.
14. Marshall isn't the only productive player facing possible legal ramifications. Are any of the others worth drafting?
NFL teams vet players before signing or drafting them, and some are unwilling to acquire anyone with a questionable background. When putting your fantasy team together, you're risking fantasy suicide if you don't exercise the same caution. Of the players deep into legal issues, Plaxico Burress, who awaits trial on charges of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon stemming from accidentally shooting himself in a New York City nightclub, is the most intriguing in the draft-and-stash realm. He drew interest in the spring from the Jets, and should he be cleared to play by the courts and the league, he'd be a top 10 receiver. But getting cleared is the problem. Even if Burress pleads to a lesser, third-degree charge, he could still face prison time. (According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, almost 80% of people convicted of a third-degree charge in 2008 spent time in behind bars.) Given that fact, his tremendous upside is worth drafting only as a late-round flier.
In addition to Burress, quarterback Michael Vick will try to entice a team to sign him and give him playing time following his release from prison on dogfighting charges, assuming the NFL clears the way for him to return this season. But his fantasy output is an afterthought at this point. Receivers Matt Jones (probation violation for failing a random alcohol test) and Donte' Stallworth (DUI manslaughter charges) were borderline draftees even at the height of their careers, and with doubt surrounding them, both can be ignored.
15. What veteran has received little attention but might be this year's version of DeAngelo Williams?
In neither of his two previous seasons did Williams show any sign of being a candidate to lead the league's skill players in scoring. But in 2008 he did, and if you were lucky enough to draft him, you cashed in. So who is this year's Veteran Ready to Explode? There's a good chance that Jets Pro Bowl special-teamer Leon Washington is that man. Similar in stature to Maurice Jones-Drew and Sproles, Washington quietly scored eight touchdowns from scrimmage last season despite just 123 touches. Realizing that he's one of, if not the most, effective weapon on offense, the Jets' new staff is incorporating Washington more into the offensive game plan, making him an excellent late-round selection.
16. Who is the best choice to serve as a backup quarterback?
It all depends on who your starter is. You don't only want to find the best available quarterback on the board, you also want to find who'll be the most useful when needed most. You may be excited about the prospect of the Texans' Matt Schaub as your QB2, but if he's facing the Steelers the week of your starter's bye (i.e., the only week you know you'll play him), then what good will he be? Complicating things even further is that this season's bye weeks seem to take out all of the good quarterbacks early and often.
Here are the optimal starter-backup situations based on their respective byes. If you own Donovan McNabb, Matt Ryan or Kurt Warner, who are all off Week 4, then you'd probably want either Shaun Hill (versus Rams), Mark Sanchez (at Saints) or Brady Quinn (versus Bengals). If your starter is Brees, Cutler, Philip Rivers or Aaron Rodgers -- all with Week 5 byes -- then grab Edwards (versus Cleveland), Ben Roethlisberger (at Lions), Matt Hasselbeck (versus Jaguars) or Schaub (at Cardinals). Peyton Manning and Tony Romo owners will be smart to get Schaub (at Bengals), Roethlisberger (versus Browns) or Eli Manning (at Saints). The quarterbacks with Week 8 byes -- Brady, Cassel and Palmer -- should be backed up with Marc Bulger (at Lions), Jake Delhomme (at Cardinals) or Kerry Collins (versus Jaguars).
You may have noticed that we didn't offer suggestions for quarterbacks who have byes in Week 7. That was intentional, because if you're starting a quarterback with a bye that week (Joe Flacco, David Garrard, Collins, etc.) you need more help than we can give.
17. Are any true backup quarterbacks worth drafting?
Normally it's a reach to spend a valuable draft selection on a player who is slated to carry a clipboard and wear a baseball cap, but in the case of Matt Leinart it might just be worth it. Remember last season when Warner took over, the underlying sentiment around the fantasy world was that it was just a matter of time before the oft-injured oldster would find his way back to the bench, clearing the way for the quarterback of the future. That didn't happen last year, but Leinart is again just one big hit away from having the receiving corps of Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston, and the huge fantasy numbers they contribute, at his disposal.
18. Who are the best long-shot running backs?
There's no more satisfying fantasy football feeling than uncovering someone whom nobody else considered as a factor and watching him pay off. Two great deep-sleepers at running back are the Browns' James Davis, who has a great chance to unseat Jerome Harrison as the No. 2 back behind Lewis, and the Giants' Andre Brown, who is a dark-horse candidate to move into Derrick Ward's old slot in New York's dominating ground game.
19. Who is the best long-shot wide receiver?
Under their new regime, the Jets aren't going to be a big passing team, but by all accounts David Clowney, a speedster from Virginia Tech who missed nearly all of 2008 with a broken collarbone, has raised eyebrows and has a real chance to be a major contributor to an offense likely to be piloted by Sanchez.
20. What, if anything, can be guaranteed about the 2009 season?
Take every bit of information you read or hear with a grain of salt. Nobody saw the Brady injury coming last year, just as nobody saw DeAngelo Williams blowing up the way he did. The only thing that can be guaranteed about '09 is that it won't look anything like '08, so don't become a slave to past performance or overanalysis.