With draft-day fast approaching for many leagues, my friend Brad Spieser over at twinkilling.com suggested doing a fantasy football Q & A. Brad is a bit a bit of a sports savant, so he's my go-to guy for all things Cincinnati Bengals and college football/basketball. We blindly sent each other a list of questions over the weekend, and here is the aftermath of Brad's questions to me.
1. Twinkilling.com: How would you advise Ladainian Tomlinson owners in Dynasty leagues? Are Marshall Faulk owners still beating themselves up for not selling high after 2001?
Sons of the Tundra: An easy question for rebuilders, but much tougher for yearly contenders. How do you stay competitive while trading away your best player? Would you be selling too early if you sold now? I'm getting very bad vibes about the Chargers 2008 season with most of their important players coming off significant injuries (or still injured). I think this summer was a great time to target the young stud of your choice and go after him. Start with Adrian Peterson and work down from there; package Tomlinson with draft picks and another player to woo the Peterson owner. Then to go to the Steven Jackson owner, and try the same thing. Beyond those two, it's a personal choice depending on which young RB you believe in.
2. Twinkilling.com: Drew Brees has never thrown more than 28 TDs in a season - I say this year he goes for 35. You taking the over or under on that?
Sons of the Tundra: I'll take the under. I like the Saints offense to stay explosive (and the Shockey addition will help), but I don't think Brees is as good of a red zone QB as guys like Brady, Big Ben, and Favre.
3. Twinkilling.com: Not necessarily a fantasy question, but don't you think way too many teams run the ball in 3rd & 1 and 4th & 1 situations? There's no doubt that RBs are getting stuffed behind the line at a much higher rate in 2008 than they were in 1998. (Note: I have no evidence to support my beliefs, but it certainly seems that way.)
Sons of the Tundra: Is that a long yard or a short yard? It matters. I do believe far too many teams go for the run on a long yard, and not enough teams do the quick QB sneak on a short yard. The Jags have it perfected. They have one of the best short-yardage backs in the league with MJD, and that opens things up for Garrard bootlegs and play actions. It's why Del Rio went for and converted more fourth downs than any other coach in the league last season - including Belichick.
4. Twinkilling.com: I figured you'd ask me about Carson Palmer, but I guess you didn't want to serve me one in my wheelhouse; I suppose I'll tackle that one in my Bengals preview. Anyway, what are your projections for Palmer over the next five years? Will we ever see 2005 again?
Sons of the Tundra: I don't think we'll ever see 2005 again. My guess is Housh is coming off back-to-back career seasons, so we've seen his best. Henry is unreliable. Chad Ocho Cinco is now an unreliable crazy person. The offensive line has obvious depth, but the unit's play has been in steady decline since '05. Plus, even though some of his stats are similar to pre-ACL stats, Palmer just hasn't been the same top tier quarterback. I could be wrong, but I don't see a 30-TD, 4,000+ yard season coming.
I was just reading a Chuck Klosterman passage on the whole underrated vs. overrated phenomenon, and he made a point about Scottie Pippen that I wanted to tie into Carson Palmer . . . but it doesn't really work. He said Pippen is so underrated by the "He was less than clutch and only has 6 rings because Jordan made him what he was crowd" and so overrated by the "He was the best defensive player on the team and a better all-around player than Jordan" crowd. So in the end, he ends up getting ranked just about right -- in the middle of both of those crowds. The odd thing about Palmer, though, is that nobody underrates him as a quarterback. He's rated highly by analysts, announcers, coaches, fellow players, and even fantasy geeks. Compare that to a better QB like Roethlisberger, who never gets mentioned as one of the top handful of QBs in the league even though he's clearly the third best and still improving.
5. Twinkilling.com: Is there any chance Larry Johnson tosses up a 1,500-yard season?
Sons of the Tundra: Total yards or rushing yards? I think he has a chance at 1,500 total yards, but Brodie Croyle and the Chiefs offensive line are so abysmal that I think the rushing yards scenario is a pipedream. The best thing that could happen to LJ is for Croyle to play like himself for a couple of games to start the season, so it becomes obvious to even Herman Edwards that he has to turn to Damon Huard out of sheer embarrassment.
6. Twinkilling.com: Is Donald Driver the most underrated or overrated player this decade?
Sons of the Tundra: Hate to beat a dead horse, but Ben Roethlisberger is the most underrated. The second most underrated is between Donnie Edwards, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Donald Driver. Donovan McNabb is overrated by 5% of the crowd, and underrated by at least 85%. Hines Ward is kind of like that too. He's overrated by 100% of Steelers fans and underrated by 99% of non-Steelers fans.
7. Twinkilling.com: A backup who could be a star (don't mention the obvious)?
Sons of the Tundra: Is Chris Johnson the obvious? Because he's going to be a star right off the bat. Is Brady Quinn the obvious? Could Colt Brennan become a star? He seems to have the "it" factor that a lot of successful quarterbacks have.
Hmmm . . . Ray Rice is probably my best bet for this question. I think it's very possible that he could take McGahee's job sooner than people realize. I like Pierre Thomas, but "star"? I don't know. Tim Hightower? I don't know how talented he is, but as you well know, opportunity counts for a ton in the life of a NFL running back. Ahmad Bradshaw looked awfully capable in the Giants' playoff run. Sleeper pick = Mike Hart.
(Note from Brad: Now that the Colt Brennan bandwagon is picking up pride-swallowers by the second, it seems appropriate to mention what I said about the guy in our February Q & A, when his stock was sinking like Pussy Bonpensiero: "I know I'm basically alone on this, but I'm still a Colt Brennan guy. He's the most accurate college passer of my lifetime and has the quickest of quick releases. Yeah, his arm is weak, but it's better than Pennington's, and he's done okay. I'm not projecting greatness, but I do think Brennan will stick in the league for a number of years.")
8. Twinkilling.com: Why didn't Houston get their hands on a good RB in the offseason? Who's going to get the carries there?
Sons of the Tundra: I keep hearing that Steve Slaton is a good RB, so somebody is wrong here. For what it's worth, I'm with you: I see change of pace back there. Unpopular though he may be at this stage of his career, Ahman Green is still their best RB -- and my choice to get the most carries in that backfield.
9. Twinkilling.com: If asked, and with an above average receiving corps, could David Garrard be a top 8 fantasy QB?
Sons of the Tundra: In any given year, sure. Perennially, I'm skeptical. He's a very good, tough, heady quarterback, but he's not nearly as good of a passer as he showed last season. He gets more help from his running game than any QB in the league. With Fred Taylor and MJD both playing like Pro Bowlers, Garrard is enjoying a quarterback's dream of Boomer Esiason 1988 proportions. His YPA, completion %, and TD/INT ratios will all plummet if the running game stumbles.
10. Twinkilling.com: Do you think San Diego should throw the ball more? Windows close in a hurry in the NFL and it might be wise to preserve Tomlinson in what could be his last great season.
Sons of the Tundra: No, I don't think they should throw it more. Rivers is still way too inconsistent, and now he's coming off a late-season ACL injury. I don't want to see his happy feet routine more than I already do. If they want to preserve Tomlinson, then they should get creative with Darren Sproles and Jacob Hester.
11. Twinkilling.com: In re-draft leagues: Tomlinson or Peterson first overall?
Sons of the Tundra: I swing for the fences, so the answer is Peterson. He could go for 2,000 yards, 20+ TDs, and more "Did you see that?!" runs than any back since Bo Jackson. It's more fun to have him on your team than any other player, and too many fantasy owners lose sight of that factor. Playing it safe is for robots.
12. Twinkilling.com: Does Jay Cutler put it together this year? Do you still feel diabetes is a made-up syndrome? Sons of the Tundra: Yes, Jay Cutler puts it together this year. I don't see anything holding him back from making "the leap" barring serious injury or another six Brandon Marshall arrests. I have no idea what your diabetes comment is referring to.
(Note from Brad: I wasn't referring to anything, pal...it was a joke...something intended to amuse. Thanks for ruining things.)
13. Twinkilling.com: You and I would never target guys like Cotchery or Coles before this year...and then Favre shows up. What kind of numbers do you expect out of them?
Sons of the Tundra: I like Cotchery more than Coles. I'm not a projection guy, but if that's what you're looking for I'll say 80 catches, 1,250 yards, and 7-8 TDs for Cotchery. And 74 catches for 940 yards and 6 TDs for Coles - he'll probably miss a couple of games. I might consider Coles in a PPR league, but I'd still take Cotchery over him.
14. Twinkilling.com: Do the Vikings have what it takes to be one of those lousy Super Bowl teams?
Sons of the Tundra: Oh man, you really wanted to set me off, didn't you? What is with this new fad of NFL teams blowing Super Bowl windows on lousy quarterbacks? The Ravens showed that you could do it with a game manager, but you can't do it with a Rex Grossman. Maybe the new model is Eli Manning: not a game manager, doesn't deal well with pressure, isn't very accurate, but can get hot for a month while the defensive pass rush carries the team. Eli found a hot streak while Grossman simply melted under the pressure. Under the new model, the Vikes are set up just fine as long as Tarvaris Jackson gets hot at the right time.
15. Twinkilling.com: Kyle Orton won (I think) eight straight as a rookie starter, but he was still pretty terrible. And then he was photographed seemingly every other day covered in vomit. And then he disappeared. So why am I getting a good vibe from this guy moving forward? Am I nuts?
Sons of the Tundra: Yes. You are nuts. The Bears offense is going to be positively woeful this season, and Orton may lose the job more than once throughout the season.
16. Twinkilling.com: As a consistently successful fantasy owner, is there anything more annoying than seeing your more-than-fair trade offer rejected simply because "you must know something I don't?"
Sons of the Tundra: No, there's nothing more annoying, but there are ways to work around it (which I'm sure you know). To wit:
a. Never try to hoodwink another owner. It's not worth it because they already suspect you anyway, and you're good enough to win without burying another owner.
b. There's nothing wrong with overpaying to get the players you target. Build depth, and overpay with quantity and draft picks. Some owners just adore draft picks.
c. Deal with the core of owners in your league who are confident in the ability to judge comparative values. If you try to find common ground on a trade that can help both teams, you can keep going back to that well for trades over and over again.
d. If you know that an owner in your league is clueless on player values, then cross them off your list of trading partners. Only make an exception if you need that one last piece of the puzzle that resides on their roster.
(Note from Brad: This phenomenon reared its ugly head this weekend when--in my six-man keeper league--I offered my first five picks and Micheal Turner for the chance to take Calvin Johnson, who, for some reason, wasn't protected. My offer was turned down because it smelled fishy...then the dude drafted Thomas Jones. True story.)
There's nothing that can be done about the above scenario. That guy is simply an insecure dolt, and he deserves his annual 11th place finish.
17. Twinkilling.com: Last year we discussed our favorite members of the Sean Dawkins All Stars - but I have a new one for this year: The Tommy Vardell All Stars. Who are your all-time most hated touchdown vultures (name as many as you'd like and feel free to share a particularly troubling story)?
Sons of the Tundra: Honestly, there are no stories. The only strong feeling I have about touchdown vultures is that the whole phenomenon is overrated. Outside of owning a young Warrick Dunn and wishing Mike Alstott would go away, there's not much to get worked up about. I suppose an especially greedy Barry Sanders owner could loathe Vardell, but come on, you already have Barry Sanders. Who's going to feel sorry for you? If you're dumb enough and lazy enough to draft Edgerrin James this year, then you deserve to have Tim Hightower plunge in 12 times.
18. Twinkilling.com: You once told me you were attracted to Cal Ripken, so you should have no problem answering the following question: 2009 and beyond, Edinson Volquez or Johnny Cueto?
Sons of the Tundra: There's no way to explain that Cal Ripken story without coming off as a raging homophobe. The original point of the story was that it was almost impossible for straight males to tell you which other males were good-looking. I mean, I could tell you if a dude was ugly, but who (outside of obvious guys like Brad Pitt) is good looking? I backed my stance at the time by explaining that the late '80s / early '90s Cal Ripken seemed like a good-looking guy -- and he was obviously in the spotlight several times throughout his career -- but you never heard a woman go gaga over him like they do for other guys. For what it's worth, the present-day Cal Ripken of awful commercials fame kind of looks like Darth Vader after the helmet removal.
Now what that has to do with Johnny Cueto or Edinson Volquez is beyond me. But to answer your question, I would buck conventional wisdom and stand by a fully healthy Johnny Cueto over a fully healthy Volquez. Cueto's recent arm scare changes the picture somewhat because a pitcher with a bum arm is worthless. Give me Volquez over the current Cueto. If they're both healthy by next spring, I'll roll with Cueto and his dominant peripherals.