The advent of October is upon us, signaling a quarter of the NFL season is in the books. This juncture provides an opportunity to analyze the early proceedings in the world of fantasy football.
One doesn't want to put too much stock into a month's worth of action; alas, there seems to be an unfounded conviction of cynicism toward the numerous upstarts in the league, casting players' strong showings as happenstance. Disregarding the first four weeks of production is downright negligent, as this time frame often serves as an accurate forecast of a fantasy player's fruition. Arian Foster and Brandon Lloyd, both of whom finished as the top entities at their respective positions in 2010, used September as a platform to propel their success last season.
Keeping this sentiment in mind, we present a quarterly review of the 2011 fantasy campaign, handing out awards to the protagonists and scoundrels of the young season. To give the piece a little pizzazz, we are employing a football-themed movie presentation of our endowments. However, rather than focusing on just one film, we selected and assembled our praises from multiple pigskin pictures. Why? Aside from football, every major sport declares one or two films that are universally acknowledged as their genre's best. Baseball boasts Field of Dreams and Bull Durham , hoops has Hoosiers , hockey claims Slap Shot , boxing holds the Rocky series, golf enjoys Caddyshack , bowling flaunts Kingpin , soccer has The Damn United , and, of course, we'd be remiss to forget the impact of Cool Runnings on the bobsled world. Yet multiple gridiron flicks can petition their merit as football's finest, hence the handpicking from various films. Enjoy.
The Shane Falco Comeback Crown: Steve Smith (CAR)
To say there was a lack of certitude on Smith's outlook in the preseason is an understatement. Disenchanted with the franchise, Smith was coming off two disappointing seasons and appeared to be at the end of the road in his storied career. Not helping matters was the prospect of another novice (Cam Newton) under center, as Smith had just suffered through the growing pains of Jimmy Clausen in 2010. It turns out these uncertainties and trepidations were invalid, as the rapport between Newton and Smith has correlated into 24 receptions for 530 yards and two touchdowns for the veteran wideout. This offensive onslaught should continue, with Carolina figuring to be behind in most contests, forcing the Panthers to strike from the air. If this endeavor comes to pass (no pun intended), Newton's affinity for Smith (41 targets on the season) should yield high dividends for owners of the venerable Pro Bowler.
Special Mention: Matt Hasselbeck
The Rudy Ruettiger Benchwarmer Badge: Ryan Fitzpatrick
A backup as of late September last season, Fitzpatrick's performance has vaulted the blundering Bills atop the AFC East. Despite losing the experience of Lee Evans, Fitzpatrick has tossed over 1,000 yards and reached the end zone nine times. More importantly, he's one of the few non-lineman in the league to rock a beard, which in my book is way more impressive than any accomplishments on the field.
Special Mention: Darren Sproles
The Rod Tidwell Payday Prize: Wes Welker
With the fallout from his infamous foot-centric press conference in last season's playoffs, uncertainty surrounding his health and the development of younger receivers in the system, some surmised that the 2011 crusade would be Welker's last in a Pats' uniform. Yet Welker has answered that insecurity with vigor, posting a ridiculous 40 receptions for 616 yards and five touchdowns. Tom Brady has always displayed a fondness for Welker for his willingness to work the middle. The difference this season is the wideout adding a sideline presence and downfield dexterity to his repertoire, making Welker a complete package. Second-year targets Taylor Price, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski project to be vital components in the Patriot aerial attack for years to come, but Welker remains the piston pumping the New England engine.
Special Mention: Fred Jackson
The Paul Crewe Tanking Accolade: Chris Johnson
Can someone please inform Mr. Johnson that his holdout ended when the Titans awarded the All-Pro back with a new contract? Thanks.
Special Mention: Shonn Greene
The Bud Kilmer Double-Cross Cup: Mike Shanahan
This is the 48th time I've mentioned this opinion, but it bears repeating: Mike Shanahan does not care about your fantasy team. If anything, he gets a kick out of annihilating your dreams of winning the championship by arbitrarily and illogically altering his opportunity allotment week-by-week, making it virtually impossible to trust a Washington rusher. He's even carried this philosophy over to his tight ends, with Chris Cooley's presence hampering the value of Fred Davis. Curse you, Shanahan. Curse you!
Special Mention: Bill Belichick
The Jason Street Sideline Salute: Jamaal Charles
Never good when a first-rounder is sidelined for the season in Week 2. (And yes, I know Jason Street derives from the TV-version of Friday Night Lights and Boobie Miles would have been more apropos. But the small-screen series is one of the better dramas of our generation, whereas the movie adaptation, while entertaining, is far from what one would classify as a masterpiece of cinema. Plus, the TV series, which concluded its' fifth and final season this year, has recently been given the go-ahead as a movie. So, to recap: the television show that ascended from a film, which itself was developed from a book, is now growing into its' own picture. Glad I could help.)
Special Mention: Kenny Britt
The Cap Rooney Retirement Tribute: Thomas Jones
Speaking of Kansas City running backs, holy cow, does Jones look bad. Jones was a thorn in the sides of Charles' proprietors last season, as the former Cardinal/Buccaneer/Bear/Jet siphoned touches away from the Texas product in spite of pedestrian production (3.7 yards per attempt). Thrust back into the starter's role in the absence of Charles, Jones has responded with, well, apathy, managing a meager 2.8 yards per carry. Jones was a remarkably durable and consistent back, but his time has come and gone. Expect Dexter McCluster and Jackie Battle to play a larger role in the Chiefs' offense in the second half, slowly phasing Jones out of the game plan.
Special Mention: Chad Ochocinco
The Bobby Boucher Defensive Decoration: Baltimore Ravens
Not sure if this stat illustrates the ineptitude of Jacksonville or dominance of Baltimore, but the Ravens' defense has ventured on more trips to the end zone (four touchdowns) than the Jaguars' offense (three scores). With a reinvigorated front seven and opportunistic secondary, the Ravens preserve their reputation is one of the baddest mothers in the league.
Special Mention: Detroit Lions
The Jonathon Moxon Manager Medal: Josh Freeman
That's right, two Varsity Blues references. If you don't like it, in the words of Coach Kilmer, "Cry me a river, you baby!"
Freeman was anointed as a possible top-six fantasy quarterback after his amazing 2010 season (3,451 yards, 25 touchdowns, six picks and a force in the ground game). Yet Freeman has far from met these expectations, throwing just three scores while turning the ball over four times through the air. Granted, he's on pace to accumulate nearly 3,900 yards, his completion rate improved from 61.4 percent to this year's mark of 66.9 and has two rushing touchdowns to his credit. Alas, with the plethora of proficient passers this season, Freeman is on the outside looking in. Freeman is one of the better in-game managers in football; unfortunately, that approach has not carried over to the fantasy forum.
Special Mention: Colt McCoy
Unforeseen Fantasy All-Stars
QB: Cam Newton, Panthers - Not bad for a rookie who went undrafted in many a league. Through four games, Newton's 1,386 passing yards, five touchdowns, 133 rushing yards and four ground scores place the Carolina QB amongst Aaron Rodgers and Brady in the upper echelon of fantasy field generals.
RB: Fred Jackson, Bills - An absurd 5.8 yards per attempt, four touchdowns and 13 receptions for 147 yards from Jackson has ignited a once-dormant Buffalo offense. Plus, Jackson's dominance has led to multiple uncomfortable TV shots towards the sidelines to capture former first-rounder C.J. Spiller look of dismay. "There's last season's top pick Spiller...he's still standing there...doesn't look like he's going in anytime soon...boy, have to feel for the kid...the coaches love him, still learning his way around the offense...and there's another eight-yard run from Jackson, first down Bills."
RB: Ryan Mathews, Chargers - After killing the fantasy chances of any misguided soul that drafted the rookie back from Fresno in 2010, Mathews is begging to fulfill his projected promise, rushing for 288 yards and three touchdowns while hauling in 19 catches for 254 yards in the passing game. This harvest almost amends his titanic struggles last year. Almost.
WR: Eric Decker, Broncos - Buried on the depth chart in the 2010 campaign, Decker has made the most of his opportunity filling in for the injured Eddie Royal, snagging 20 receptions for 270 yards and four touchdowns. With Royal still hampered by a groin injury, Decker will continue to be a menace in PPR leagues. More importantly, Decker's role should remain unchanged if, and when, Kyle Orton is replaced by Tim Tebow, as the wideout's prowess in the middle of the field will make him a valuable target.
WR: Julio Jones, Falcons - Rookie receivers are a fickle bunch, as they their output mirrors a "feast or famine" mantra. Luckily for Jones owners, the spread has been bountiful thus far, with 24 receptions and 342 yards.
TE: Rob Gronkowski, Patriots - So much for the thought that Hernandez and Gronkowski would strain each other's worth. Gronk has posted 18 receptions for 296 yards and five touchdowns on the season.
DEF: Detroit Lions - Pretty impressive numbers: nine sacks, seven interceptions, four fumble recoveries and two touchdowns. The scary part: first-rounder Nick Fairley, one of the most fearsome defenders in college football last season, makes his Detroit debut this Monday.
QB: Sam Bradford, Rams - Bradford was targeted as a middle-to-late round steal, as the 2008 Heisman winner was anticipated to explode under new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Yet while weekly passing records are getting smashed more than Red Sox Nation remotes against walls, Bradford has regressed, hitting just 49.7 percent of his passes and averaging a prosaic 212.3 yards per game. In Bradford's defense, his receivers and backfield have been bruised and battered, but unless the St. Louis signal caller vastly improves, he's not worth the roster spot.
RB: Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers - Bearing in mind he's "protected" by a line that makes the French Resistance look stout, it's almost an act of divine intervention anytime Mendenhall is able to escape out of the backfield.
RB: Shonn Greene, Jets - No excuse here. Save for two playoff performances in 2009, Greene has yet to showcase his talent. The excuses and explanations of a crowded backfield are over. Now the man in New York, Greene has failed to validate his value. If he fails to turn this frailty around, banish him to the waiver wire.
WR: Santonio Holmes, Jets - Two Jets in a row! No wonder they're underperforming. After a solid season opener, Holmes has only seven catches for 94 yards in his last three games. At least the Jets didn't sign him to a five-year deal or anything in the offseason.
WR: Chad Ochocinco, Patriots - What's more astonishing: that Brady has thrown for a robust 1,553 yards and 13 touchdowns, or that the artist formally known as Chad Johnson has been the recipient of just 113 of those bad boys? I'm still going with the former, although it's nice to see the diva come to the shocking revelation that he's not all that and a bag of chips.
TE: Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars - Of course, you would suffer too if you had Luke McCown and Blaine Gabbert as your quarterback.
DEF: Pittsburgh Steelers - Their secondary remains strong, but the rushing game is conceding 119.5 yards on the ground per game, a far cry from last season's suffocating 62.8 mark. They've been hit with the injury bug, but owners are certainly disappointed in their performance.