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Surprisingly Better Than
Joe Levit
November 10, 2004

We all try to tier players in the preseason, at least in our mind, so that we can astutely choose players in each round on draft day or bid with wisdom in auctions. Without exception though, there are players who surprise us each season. Some players just aren’t up to snuff, and their poor play tamps out our fantasy aspirations and makes us curse the early-round pick we wasted on them.

Other players become absolute gems, generally guys we drafted as sleepers but who have played up to our hopes, beyond simple expectation. After nine weeks of NFL action, it’s a fair point in time to see who’s been great and who’s been a goat.

Since it isn’t reasonable to compare a phenomenon to a player who has been injured, I’ve left out disappointments like Steve McNair, LaDainian Tomlinson, Deuce McAllister, Randy Moss and Todd Heap. The other letdowns listed below have no excuse. They just haven’t been as good as advertised.


Jake Plummer over Michael Vick – Vick was supposed to be an all-world star this year, and was rated in everybody’s top ten, and most people’s top five QBs going into the season. While the Falcons have been more successful as a team than most people thought they would be, Vick has not been the headliner – that distinction goes to Warrick Dunn so far. Plummer has been playing lights out of late while Rod Smith becomes the all-time receiver in Denver and the ever-emerging Ashley Lelie displays his true colors as befits a former Rainbow Warrior. Though Vick has an impressive 463 yards rushing, it doesn’t quite compensate for his measly six touchdown passes. Since Plummer has thrown for 19 TDs, and is in the top three for passing yards this year, he beats out Vick.

David Carr over Chad Pennington – All indications have pointed to a very good career for David Carr, he just wasn’t expected to be beating out Chad Pennington at this point in the season. After all, Pennington was going to be leading a talented receiving corps in New York, what with last year’s breakout player Santana Moss on board to team with big-deal free agent Justin McCareins. Unexpectedly, three things conspired to put a damper on that passing game. One, Curtis Martin looked like a back ten years younger while putting up huge first-half stats. Two, McCareins needed to learn the ropes a bit, and three, Santana Moss ran himself into a case of the hammies. With Santana Moss’s big day this last weekend, and McCareins playing better each week, this ranking might not fit at year’s end, provided Pennington is not out for very long, but right now Carr and his big target Andre Johnson are getting the job done.

Drew Brees over Matt Hasselbeck – Don’t waste my time saying you saw this coming, ‘cause I won’t buy it. Brees has been nothing short of outstanding recently, developing a dangerous rapport with tight end Antonio Gates and playing at his highest potential. The Chargers have blown out teams two weeks in a row, and it happened right when Keenan McCardell, a real wideout, got in the games. Many fantasy owners had Hasselbeck ranked just behind Daunte Culpepper, Peyton Manning and maybe Vick or McNabb. The Seahawks passing game, I think we’d have to admit, has been a disappointment. Darrell Jackson is doing his best, but he is getting no help from Koren Robinson, Bobby Engram and now Jerry Rice. Brees has now thrown for 18 touchdowns and only three interceptions, compared to Hasselbeck’s 11 aerial scores but nine interceptions.

Running Back

Curtis Martin over Clinton Portis – The general consensus here before the season was: Curtis Martin = old man and Clinton Portis = big FF points under Joe Gibbs. Portis hasn’t done a bad job, and has even put up some great games when he is given a high carry total, but it isn’t a first-half performance worthy of a top-five fantasy selection – what most owners would have needed to use to nab him this season. Portis is right up there in yards with 810, only 55 behind Martin, but he only has two rushing touchdowns. That isn’t going to cut it in his half-season head-to-head versus Curtis, who has five more rushing scores.

Tiki Barber over Ahman Green – The slow start to the Packers’ season really squashed Green’s stats early. He has come on since Sherman has been calling the plays, but Barber is the back of these two who has really carried his team. Green would have cost you a high first-round pick this year, or mucho dollars at an auction. In contrast, Barber could often be had late in the third round and occasionally as late as the fifth round in many leagues. That was because the Giants as a team were not expected to be anything special, and because Ron Dayne was actually stealing touchdowns in the preseason, and then once when the games counted. For the record, Barber has 101 more rushing yards, 240 more receiving yards and two more rushing touchdowns than Green at this point, representing a huge edge in value.

Emmitt Smith over Marshall Faulk – We knew they were both old backs, but what we didn’t guess (myself included in two leagues) is that Smith would be out-gaining Faulk halfway through 2004. Smith is barely ahead of Faulk in rushing yards, and significantly behind the Ram in receiving yards, but his 6-3 touchdown advantage means Smith tops out ahead of Faulk anyway. There has been no evidence so far that Faulk is going to get the ball often enough to make a difference this season, and though he may surpass Smith at some point, he has been a bust nonetheless.

Wide Receiver

Javon Walker over Marvin Harrison – Despite a quarterback with a league-leading 26 touchdown passes, Harrison has hauled in only seven scores so far this season. That means that although he is still probably Manning’s favorite target, he is by no means the only receiving target. Teammate Reggie Wayne has more yards and only one fewer touchdown. Brandon Stokley, Marcus Pollard, Dallas Clark and Edgerrin James are also in the mix. Basically, the team is stronger, so Harrison doesn’t have to do it all. In Green Bay, Walker is the guy Favre looks to all the time. Robert Ferguson can’t stay healthy, and Donald Driver is inconsistent. Harrison has been able to match Walker’s seven scores so far this season, but he is over 200 yards behind the Packer, when he was picked probably two or more rounds before Walker in most drafts this year.

David Givens over Derrick Mason – David Givens was on everybody’s WR sleeper list going into the 2004 season, and he is proving that he deserved to be, though part of that proof has been helped by injuries to Deion Branch, Troy Brown and even David Patten. The thing is, he certainly wasn’t expected to produce like Mason, much less be beating him statistically at the season’s midpoint. Injuries are a tale in this tape as concerns Mason too. His stoic quarterback, Steve McNair has proven fallible, done in by a severely bruised sternum. The bottom line is that Givens has one more touchdown and 45 more yards.

Michael Clayton over Laveranues Coles – Clayton was making his own push for rookie of the year after Roy Williams jumped into the injury column, until Ben Roethlisberger began making headlines with his almost absurd success. Coles was picked as an average first-string fantasy wideout or good second receiver, but has only scored once so far this season. Clayton, who was called upon when McCardell held out, Galloway got hurt, Jurevicius was not back from injury and Garner was out, has performed well for a rookie, totaling 595 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Tight End

Antonio Gates over Tony Gonzalez – Well this was unexpected. When Randy McMichael, Eric Johnson and Antonio Gates got out of the – gates – quickly this season, it was a nice surprise but it was widely assumed they would be reeled in by Gonzalez as the season rolled along. Like a true trooper, Mr. TE has now hauled in McMichael and Johnson, but he is still behind Gates. True, it is quite possible that Gonzo will in fact win the yardage war at year’s end (he trails by only 25 yards) but he remains a solid three trips to the end zone behind in the touchdown category. Antonio Gates has been an absolute monster this year. His eight touchdowns combined with 602 receiving yards make him more valuable than every fantasy receiver (tight end or wideout) who is not Javon Walker or Terrell Owens. Gonzalez has met his match.

Jason Witten over Jeremy Shockey – Shockey came into the league and gained almost 900 yards receiving in his rookie year. Last year he was injured a lot, and didn’t gain many yards. Both of those seasons he scored two touchdowns. He has three this year, and 383 yards, but it just isn’t that impressive for a guy who has been hyped to the ionosphere and back. Likely one of the top three tight ends taken in your draft, right now he resides 105 yards behind Jason Witten on the receiving charts, who is getting a lot of work in Dallas recently while receivers are out with injuries.

Eric Johnson over Alge Crumpler – Crumpler has compiled decent statistics this year. 441 yards and two touchdowns is good for a fantasy tight end at this point. The problem is when you compare him to Johnson. Though their production is similar (Johnson leads Crumpler by 106 yards, and they have each logged two trips to the ‘zone) Crumpler was drafted at least half a draft ahead of Johnson. In fact, Johnson was probably not drafted at all in a number of leagues. It just goes to show that value is the name of the game in fantasy football. When you purchased the player is what counts.