It’s been a long time since we flipped the “Closed” sign last December and said goodbye to our newest peeps with The Huddle. We’re glad to see you back at The Shop, where the fades are high and the advice is free.
Like a lot of you, we had our annual fantasy draft over the Labor Day holiday weekend. As is the custom, beverages flowed freely and the talk was pretty tough. Even Jackie the Fish got in the act, claiming his team was the best in the league, despite taking Matthew Stafford two picks after Aaron Rodgers came off the board and he could have waited another two or three rounds at a minimum and he still would have been there.
That’s the best part of draft weekend. Everybody left the draft believing they had the best team and may have the recipe for championship stew. Nobody has been injured yet. Nobody has sucked out to the point he’s getting his mail delivered to your bench. Bums like Alex Smith have job security and are getting paid beyond well beyond his pay grade. All is well in the Land of Oz. Never mind the G.M. behind the curtain.
Wino Carl remains the Michael Buffer of the room – a lot of talk, but no platinum membership. Seeing as he doesn’t have a team in the league, it’s strange that he always shows up for the draft. Slippery Mike took more Raiders than advised. Tommy Pants hit to complimentary buffet like a Seal 6 team. Downtown Red was in rare form, setting up dates with multiple ladies in between his picks. Larry the Mailman auto-picked – nothing says Labor Day more than a federal employee with a butt-ugly auto-pick lineup because he took the day off. Here’s hoping he and his family enjoyed Six Flags Over Mediocrity.
My biggest question coming into our draft was whether the dwindling number of bona fide No. 1 fantasy running backs would change how the first couple of rounds of our draft would go. Last year, Peyton Manning stirred the drink and all of his receivers were the beneficiaries, helping win more titles than any running backs. Would guys like Manning, Drew Brees, Calvin Johnson and Jimmy Graham push marginal running backs out of the way? While nobody will accuse our motley crew of being scientific, the results are in and it was business as usual – running backs fell off like bad cornrow extensions.
A year ago on draft day, the top 20 running backs drafted in our league included Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Doug Martin, Trent Richardson, C.J. Spiller, Chris Johnson, Stevan Ridley, Frank Gore, Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden, David Wilson and Steven Jackson.
A year later, Foster didn’t go in the top 10 running backs. Martin lasted even longer. Rice was avoided like he had monkey pox. Richardson was even worse. Ridley was still around in the middle rounds. CJ2K and MJD were allowed to walk by their old teams. Nobody wanted McFadden. Wilson’s career is dead and Jackson was of interest to nobody – he ended up being drafted as a handcuff by the same guy who took Devonta Freeman.
A lot of the names have changed at the top of the running back rankings and it can be argued that the number of elite running backs has dropped off so dramatically that it would make sense for guys to go elsewhere early and fill in the RB spot later. But they didn’t. Of the 12 picks in the first round of our draft, nine of them were running backs, including the first seven picks and nine of the first 11.
Fortunately for me, I had the fourth pick and Purple Jesus fell into my lap. Grow out that hair, A.P. All your haircuts are on the house this year, son. Running backs can help win fantasy titles, but the reality of the new-era NFL is that elite quarterbacks and receivers are the straws stirring the drink these days.
THE RAZOR’S EDGE (PRESEASON EDITION)
10. Just For Kicks – A lot of fantasy owners think kickers are ridiculous wastes of time and space and don’t draft them until the last round because they have to. Apparently, the New Orleans Saints are among them. When they made their final cuts to get down to 53 players, they got rid of both their kickers. They’ll have one by Sunday, but for a couple of days, they became the first team in NFL history with no kickers on their active roster.
9. Fail To the Chief – Alex Smith got drafted in our league – as the 23rd quarterback. But, when the Chiefs announced they had signed him to a four-year $68 million contract with the most guaranteed percentage of any quarterback making that much money, it was a stunning admission that garden variety quarterbacks are going to start cashing fat checks. Who thought Al Smith could make it rain? Now he can.
8. Stump the Schaub – Of all the rookie quarterbacks that came into the big show this year, a case was made that three of them would be starters Week 1 – Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater. As it turns out, only Oakland will have a rookie starting the opener. Thanks to the ineffectiveness and sore elbow of Matt Schaub, second-rounder Derek Carr is the first kid from the Class of 2014 to get a shot. Seeing as he’s player for the Raiders, good luck with that, young squire.
7. No Country For Old Men – The NFL is a young man’s game, but a lot of veteran players are getting very little respect on draft day. Guys like Reggie Wayne, Tom Brady, Larry Fitzgerald, Roddy White, Maurice Jones-Drew, Frank Gore, Jason Witten and Antonio Gates all are back and being paid fat stacks by their respective teams, but fantasy owners showed them very little respect on draft day. Old guys may not be popular, but they still get the job done.
6. A Big Hill To Climb – The Rams were looking at 2014 as being a breakout season. Armed with arguably the best front four in the NFL – a young group that could be together for years to come – Sam Bradford was the key to making the whole thing work. But, after re-tearing the same ACL that ended his 2013 season, veteran journeyman Shaun Hill is now being asked to carry the mail. Good luck with that, Rams fans.
5. It’s All In Your Head – Wes Welker last a long, long time in our draft and, from the looks of things, we were far from alone. When healthy, he can post numbers like few other receivers in the NFL. But, after suffering his third concussion in 10 months in the preseason, Welker may well be one more concussion from retirement, making him a huge risk-reward type of pick.
4. New Faces In New Places – A lot of big time fantasy players will be making their debuts in new cities, including the likes of Jones-Drew in Oakland, Chris Johnson in New York, DeSean Jackson in Washington, Steve Smith in Baltimore, Hakeem Nicks in Indianapolis and Darren Sproles in Philly. They have their reputations, but, considering their old teams all gave up on them, do they have much left in the tank going to a new team and a new system? We’ll find out soon enough.
3. M*A*S*H Unit – Some of the biggest names in last year’s fantasy draft went down to injury last season, including stars like Robert Griffin III, Julio Jones, Doug Martin, Percy Harvin, Arian Foster, Randall Cobb, Jeremy Maclin and Reggie Wayne. Their values have dropped as a result and owners are forced to ask the question if they believe their injuries were a momentary setback or something that might be a painful recurrence? Given the drop in their draft stock, some of them could be steals this time around.
2. Don’t Look Down, It’s Quite a Drop – Last year, the two teams entering the season with the best record in their respective conferences were Houston and Atlanta. Both of them tanked hard and fell like stones. Falls from grace happen often. For those teams in the crosshairs as being one of those teams this season, perhaps no two teams will be under the microscope more than Carolina and Kansas City. Cam Newton lost his top three receivers. Jamaal Charles will have four different offensive linemen at the positions they played last season. There is a lot of concern for two teams that were as hot as any in 2013, but not looking nearly as strong in 2014.
1. Rice Ain’t Right – As a man who has a long and storied history of lovin’ the ladies – women is my bidness and bidness has been good – when I saw what Ray Rice did to his fiancée, it was stunning. I’ve always been a fan of Rice, but that ended when I saw the hotel footage. The fact he only got a two-game suspension was almost as bad as what he did. I was brought up to respect women and not respect those who don’t. Rice, you made the list. You also didn’t make a list – my draft list. I took Rice off my board because I want nothing to do with him. I don’t care if he runs for 1,500 yards and scores a dozen touchdowns, it won’t be happening in my house.