November 23, 2014

Mitchell’s Fantasy Football Notes: Week 10 (2012)

While week 9 in fantasy football was a scoring explosion compared to past weeks, week 10 for fantasy football was one known more for who was carted off the field than its performances on it.  RG3 and Aaron Rodgers had the entire week off while Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Alex Smith and Jay Cutler took half days for health reasons, three concussions and one shoulder separation.  These injuries will impact week 11 and potentially the fantasy playoffs, especially in the case of Vick and Big Ben.  This new weekly column will address the relevant activity and it’s impact in every game on the weekend’s calendar for week 10 in the NFL so let’s get right to it.

Colts 27, Jaguars 10
In this game the lack of stats tells us more than the productive ones.  Vic Ballard and Donald Brown both had disappointing yardage totals and no TD’s but the split carries is the story here.  The wide receiver position is where we see reasons to be optimistic if not outright bullish.  For Jacksonville, Michael Spurlock was productive with minimal targets while both Cecil Shorts III and Laurent Robinson were productive and more importantly, targeted significantly.  All good signs for teams slogging through a 2-QB league with Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne or for owners that took a shot on Cecil Shorts III or Laurent Robinson.  For Indianapolis, T.Y. Hilton’s emergence looks to be a bit premature with Donnie Avery being the #2 guy in this offense behind Reggie Wayne and even Avery only got 6 targets.

Bengals 31, Giants 13
Disappointing once again for Eli Manning and his “tired” arm.  TD’s are king in fantasy football and that anoints Andy Dalton into royalty in week 10 with four scores with only seven weeks to go.  Hakeem Nicks seems to be back and productive while Andre Brown and Ahmed Bradshaw both ran well in limited carries.  The big fantasy story for the Giants is TE Michael Bennett and RB Andre Brown being targeted significantly in the passing game as well as news that Ahmed Bradshaw is battling an injury going into week 11.

Titans 37, Dolphins 3
Ryan Tannehill took a step back this week with three INT’s while Chris Johnson took another step closer to solidifying himself as the stud RB he once was and people thought he might never be again.  Brian Hartline stepped up big as well in a pathetic overall offensive effort by Miami.

Vikings, 34 Lions 24
There were big fantasy stats in a losing effort for Matthew Stafford and the revitalized Megatron.  Adrian Peterson once again shows that he is a beast no matter what else is going on in Minnesota.  Concerning Mikel Leshoure, you better hope he gets some goal line carries because he doesn’t do much else well.  A monster day for AP.  The story here that matters most is when Percy Harvin sits, Kyle Rudolph matters and when Harvin plays, Rudolph seems to disappear.  This is one to watch more closely in coming weeks.

Patriots 37, Bills 31
The big story here is that YES, the Patriots pass defense is THIS bad.  They are second worst defense in the NFL on 3rd down ahead of only… yes that’s right…BUFFALO.  Start every wide receiver you can find when facing the Patriots.  Can Talib turn things around??  Seems unlikely.  Mount up WR’s.  Spiller owners should be excited with the news that Fred Jackson will miss week 11 if not more.

Saints 31, Falcons 27
Matt Ryan may end up being the highest scoring QB in the NFL which means a lot of targets to go around and the player with the biggest upside for the remainder of the season on this team is Jacquizz Rodgers.  His targets can go nowhere but up and with the Falcons essentially in the playoffs there is no reason not to continue to expand his role.  From the Saints, Chris Ivory and Mark Ingram are gaining steam and may be becoming fantasy relevant.

Buccaneers 34, Chargers 24
This Bucs offense is a juggernaut, second only to the Falcons in the NFC.  Surprisingly, week 10 was not an explosive week for the Bucs versus a mediocre Chargers defense in what appeared to be a great match up.  With San Diego, a lot of passing attempts to go around but nobody to bet heavy on to catch them consistently.  Malcolm Floyd and Antonio Gates seem to be the safe bets but not enough consistent production for me to be excited.

Broncos 36, Panthers 14
It was a high scoring fantasy week for Carolina players that didn’t translate into a W for the Panthers who can probably be eliminated from the NFL discussion officially after losing to the Broncos.  Denver players didn’t produce enough and didn’t score enough to make their fantasy owners happy.  Willis McGahee seems to be a flex RB at this point and a mediocre one at that while Daniel Thomas looks to be elevating himself into the upper tier of WR’s with the help of Peyton Manning in Denver.  MORE TOUCHDOWNS DENVER.  WE NEED MORE SCORES.  Carolina’s running game appears to be non-existent which bodes well for Cam Newton, Brandon LaFell, Steve Smith and Greg Olsen owners.

Ravens 55, Raiders 20
On the two podcasts that I host on the Leatherheads National Podcasting Network (The Monday Rundown at 7:00 P.M. EST on Mondays and The Leatherheads Fantasy Football Show at 9:00 P.M. EST on Wednesdays), I have time and time again made the point that Ray Rice is not getting enough touches and in a big win versus the lowly Oakland Raiders, we once again saw or better said, didn’t see Ray Rice toting the rock.  In winning big, they didn’t need Rice but for one of the best all around RB’s and a top five fantasy draft pick in the game to only touch the ball 17 times, I wonder if this signals a transition from a trend to a fundamental offensive shift of focus by John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens.  With more of the Raven’s offense highlighting the passing game, Joe Flacco’s role was expanding and we knew this coming into 2012, but to see the significant reduction of Ray Rice’s touches is beyond what anyone would have ever expected.  As far as the Raiders go, Carson Palmer and the WR’s are becoming legitimate and must starts.  With the Raiders likely to be behind in almost every second half the remainder of this season, there is no reason not to be upset if you own Darren McFadden and you should be elated if you own Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey or tight end Brandon Myers who all have been consistently targeted on this hot fantasy run by the Raiders offense.

Seahwaks 28, NY Jets 7
The Jets don’t have much fantasy relevance unless Tim Tebow can somehow tear the starting QB job from the cold, dead hand of Rex Ryan.  Shonn Greene appears to have the RB carries almost completely too himself but the production from those carries is miserable.  Jeremy Kerley is getting some targets and he has some big play ability, but how do you make big plays when your QB can’t throw the ball well enough to get it to you?  As for Seattle, it is all about  Marshawn Lnynch.   If Lynch can manage to survive the season, he is going to be one of the hardest worked RB’s in the game–if not the history of it.  Only Arian Foster has more carries this season and may pass him by season’s end.  Ride Lynch to the ground and ignore the horrible Jets all together.  Oh, and maybe you may want to claim Golden Tate because he throws the ball better than Russell Wilson.

Cowboys 38, Eagles 23
In a game that saved the Cowboys season and officially ended the Eagles one, we saw what many fans were hoping for and what most fantasy owners dreaded, Nick Foles in and Michael Vick out.  An offensive line that singlehandedly can be blamed for the abysmal Eagles season in this fantasy expert’s opinion, finally got Michael Vick knocked out and it could be awhile before we see Vick play again–and it may be with another team next season.  Nick Foles made one play, a 44-yard TD on a broken coverage, while Tony Romo, who didn’t sparkle, did make a few highlight reel plays and was able to get it done for the Cowboys.  Felix Jones seems to be finding his groove and Jason Witten is officially the only true, reliable player to catch Romo passes.  For the Eagles, Jeremy Maclin was targeted over and over, which is normally a good thing, but for me its a mirage.  This offense can’t overcome an offensive line that leaks like a swiss cheese built boat and refuses, not unlike the Ravens, to get its superstar RB the ball.  If your thin then Maclin seems to be a consistent play, but I rank him as a WR3 at best.  I would downgrade him from there with Foles at the helm.

Rams 24, 49ers 24
In a rare tie in the NFL, this was a game where an injury was possibly the best thing that could happen to a struggling fantasy owner.  Alex Smith looks to be sidelined due to a concussion which opens the door for the fleet afoot Colin Kaepernick.  The issue here is that the 49ers have a tough matchup versus the Bears in week 11 (a team who also lost their starting QB in week 10) and this may be the only week Alex Smith misses.  So the one week where a fantasy team owner that picked Kaepernick has a chance to start him, it may be better to sit him due to the matchup and then lose the upside to a returning Alex Smith.  I can’t even recommend holding on to Kaepernick even if you have the roster space because it seems unlikely he gets any playing time.  He is an intriguing guy if you are desperate.  As for the Rams, Stephen Jackson had a big game versus one of the best run defenses in football and that may give some breathing room to Jackson owners who can feel the footsteps of Daryl Richardson right behind them.  Danny Amendola came back from a life threatening injury to have a big game and it looks like he is a reliable WR3 if not even a WR2 in the right matchups.  Oh, and if you are truly desperate make a claim on Rams punter Johnny Hekker who was 2-2 for 40 yards passing.  Who knows how often he throws the ball but he is still a better play than Mark Sanchez so keep that in mind.

Texans 13, Bears 6
The biggest story of this game was defense.  Both that Chicago’s didn’t score and that it suffocated scoring with the exception of Arian Foster and Brandon Marshall who both hit the century mark.  From an NFL matchup perspective, this was the game of the week.  From a fantasy perspective, it was almost entirely irrelevant.  The Bears lost Jay Cutler before halftime to a concussion and Jason Campbell will have to lead the Bears in week 11 vs San Francisco.  A tough loss for the Niners both in week 10 and week 11.

Steelers 16, Chiefs 13
Perhaps, the biggest fantasy story in week 10 was all the injuries with the Steelers potentially losing Big Ben Roethlisberger for the season as possibly the biggest one.  The Steelers continue to mess with fantasy ballers heads by playing musical carries.  Is it Rashard Mendenhall?  Is it Jonathan Dwyer?  Is it Isaac Redman?  Week 10 predictors say Dwyer, but with Mendenhall coming back the picture remains muddled.

Time for Week 11!!!

 

Kevin Smith: From the Twilight Zone to the End Zone

I thought I was watching The Twilight Zone. However, it couldn’t have been that landmark science fiction TV show. It wasn’t 1963, and it wasn’t in black-and-white. The video took place in November 2011, and it was in Detroit Lions blue-and-silver.

He’s running with a screen from Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, and he’s got that sweet, smooth way of shifting around while still moving straight for the end zone. I’m thinking, “Who is that?” He’s wearing #30, and as he crosses the goal line, I see “Smith” on the back of his jersey. Now I’m thinking, “Whoa!!…is that really him????”

Yes, it was him. No, it wasn’t The Twilight Zone, but what a script.

I have yet to watch a game this year. On the day the lockout ended, I gave up fantasy football. I also made a commitment to not even watch football. My fantasy football team, based in Columbia, South Carolina, is called the Columbia Overdrive. “Overdrive” describes my approach to the things I love. I ran on football overdrive for years, and the gear’s busted. Nobody who knew me could believe it. “I’m shocked,” said John Richardson, owner of the Georgia Scorpions, the Overdrive’s opponent in the 2009 championship game. Richardson was decked out in his security guard uniform. “I don’t wanna go to work.”

I didn’t drop football. I’ve had a blast covering high school football in the Carolina Low Country and Savannah, Georgia. I’m thoroughly enjoying working on a number of projects on pro football history. I basically know what’s going on in the NFL. People update me here and there, and yes, I do occasionally watch highlights on the internet. I was checking my e-mail on the morning of Monday, November 21, 2011, when Providence intervened with that blue-and-silver video.

I am now writing my second post on Leatherheads of the Gridiron, and it is a most unexpected post. The subtitles of this article are the titles of the best episodes of The Twilight Zone, Season 4 (Winter-Spring 1963). That was the season of one-hour episodes, a format I think is great. I had never seen The Twilight Zone until Mom gave me Season 4 last Christmas. It has become one of my five favorite shows of all time.

And I have to say, the Detroit Lions have one fine running back.

No Time Like the Past

The Detroit Lions don’t want to go back to 2008. That was the year they went 0-16. Other teams in NFL history have gone an entire season without a win. The most recent examples are the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14) and the 1982 Baltimore Colts (0-8-1). The 2008 Lions, however, were the first to go 0-16. I’ll tell you what, though. In the third round of the 2008 NFL draft, the Lions found a gem of a running back.

I liked Kevin Smith a lot. I scouted him in ’08 for my fantasy team. There was an excellent class of rookie running backs that year. The Oakland Raiders’ Darren McFadden was the top-rated rookie RB in the fantasy football magazines. Rookies usually aren’t drafted high in fantasy drafts, but many magazines projected McFadden as a Top 30 pick. The Carolina Panthers’ Jonathan Stewart was generally considered the second-best rookie running back, followed by the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Rashard Mendenhall.

Kevin Smith was rated fourth or fifth by quite a few publications. Smith stood at 6′ 1″ and weighed 217. He had a stellar career at the University of Central Florida, running for 4,864 yards in three seasons. In 2007 alone, he ran for 2,567 yards and 29 touchdowns. He was a consensus First-Team All-American, and his 2007 rushing total fell 62 yards short of the college football single-season record set by Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders in 1988. On top of his accomplishments in college, the running back position in Detroit was wide open, and Smith was expected to get the Lions’ share of the carries.

I liked him. In preseason 2008, as I prepared for my second season of fantasy football, I watched the film. I liked K-Smith’s vision, and I liked his ability to change direction. He wasn’t a blazer, but he had a nice way of shifting into second gear. I liked Kevin Smith, and I took him with the #86 pick in the 2008 Bitter Rivals fantasy football draft.

I thought about making K-Smith a starter for the Overdrive, but two factors doomed that notion. One factor was Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis. Portis was my favorite player on my favorite team, and the #6 pick in the draft was reserved for him. The other factor arose as I watched another running back on preseason film. A Tennessee Titans rookie named Chris Johnson outran the St. Louis Rams.

My jaw dropped.

I said, “That man’s lightning!!” I knew I’d be taking him as my other starting RB. I knew I’d be taking him early. I raised eyebrows at the draft when I took Chris “Lightning” Johnson with the #26 pick in the draft. It was the best fantasy football decision I ever made.

As for Kevin Smith, he soon had a problem far worse than not starting for the Columbia Overdrive. Smith rightfully won the starting job for the Lions. Little did anybody know that this team would make the wrong kind of history.

In the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, Smith ran for a touchdown–after the Lions trailed in the first quarter, 21-0. The final score was a respectable 34-21, but the tone was set. This was a Lions team with a fairly competent offense, especially with Smith and super-talented wide receiver Calvin Johnson. What I remember most about the 2008 Lions, however, is that never have I seen a team fall behind so quickly in so many games like those Lions did.

In the meantime, Smith sat on the bench for the Overdrive. My policy is that I play my starters regardless of what the matchup is. That meant week in and week out, my starting running backs were Clinton Portis and Chris “Lightning” Johnson.

On Thursday We Leave for Home

On Thursday morning K-Smith answered the phone. It was Overdrive owner Matt Haddad. “Portis is on bye,” Matt said. “You’re starting.” It was Week 10 of the 2008 season, and Thursday Night Football was beginning. The Columbia Overdrive hosted the Boston Rampage in the first game of a rivalry that would become one of the best rivalries in The Bitter Rivals Fantasy Football League. Owned by Lucas Brewer, the Rampage were starting to build a reputation as a team with a dangerous passing attack. The Cleveland Browns were at home against the Denver Broncos for Thursday Night Football. Browns tight end Kellen Winslow started for the Overdrive, and Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall took the field for the Rampage.

In front of a crowd of screaming South Carolinians, the game took on the intensity of a playoff match. Winslow caught 10 passes for 111 yards and 2 touchdowns to score 31 points for the Overdrive. Marshall struck back with 6 catches, 89 yards, 1 touchdown, and 20 points for the Rampage. On Sunday, Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne scored 23 for the Overdrive, but Chris “Lightning” Johnson played his worst game of the season. The Chicago Bears’ defense bottled the lightning for 8 yards rushing–and 3 points for the Overdrive.

Columbia needed Kevin Smith to do something good. The Lions played the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Jags quarterback David Garrard scored 20 for the Rampage. Smith responded by running for 96 yards and a touchdown, plus catching one pass for 27 yards. His efforts gave the Overdrive 18 points.

K-Smith did most of his damage in the fourth quarter. He ran for a 1-yard touchdown with 6:02 remaining, a play that got the Overdrive 6 points. An onside kick ensued, and Calvin Johnson recovered for the Lions. Detroit didn’t score on that final drive, but Smith scored 3 more points for the Overdrive. On third-and-1 at the 50, Smith ran 32 yards to the Jacksonville 18. Every one of K-Smith’s points was necessary. The Overdrive won, 104-101.

Sadly, the loss to Jacksonville left the Lions at 0-9. NFL.com remarked, “They might have what it takes to be the NFL’s first 0-16 team.” Finish 0-16 they did. Smith was one of the bright spots with 976 yards rushing, 4.1 yards per carry, and 8 touchdowns. He also caught 39 passes for 286 yards.

2009 brought a new season to conquer: I won the Championship. The Columbia Overdrive defeated the Boston Rampage in the playoffs and the Georgia Scorpions in the title game. Clinton Portis and Chris “Lightning” Johnson were again my signature players. “Playing for Matt is the highlight of my career,” Portis said in an exclusive interview with The Imaginary Newspaper.

Kellen Winslow and Reggie Wayne were also on my ’09 championship team, but Kevin Smith wasn’t. I really wanted K-Smith as my top backup. Rashon Johnson and the West Rasheed Crusaders had other ideas. They drafted him to be a starter.

Smith didn’t have as strong of a season in ’09. He did well in the receiving department, with 41 catches for 415 yards and 1 touchdown. However, his rushing numbers regressed: 747 yards, 3.4 yards per carry, and 4 touchdowns. Late in the season, which saw the Lions finish 2-14, Smith tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

In 2010, for a Lions team that finished 6-10, Smith played in six games before losing his season to a thumb injury. Playing second-string, he ran for 133 yards and 3.5 yards per carry while catching 11 passes for 123 yards. He didn’t score a touchdown. On March 3, 2011, eight days before the lockout, the Lions let Smith go.

He’s Alive

Yes, the commentators confirmed in the blue-and-silver video, that was the one and only Kevin Smith. Smith’s 28-yard touchdown catch-and-run came when the Lions were down, 10-0, at home to the Carolina Panthers. For the first time since December 2009, K-Smith reached the end zone. Against the Panthers, he would do it three times.

The Panthers led 24-7 at one point, but the Lions put some roar into their offense. The final score was Detroit 49, Carolina 35. Smith ran 16 times for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also caught 4 passes for 61 yards and 1 touchdown. That was the greatest game of his career. The Lions’ record now stood at 7-4, their best mark at that point since 2000.

Mute

No, no, no. Kevin Smith didn’t keep silent. The blue-and-silver video showed him giving hugs to his offensive lineman. Then he knelt down at the bench and gave thanks to the Almighty. K-Smith later said, “The chance to be in the NFL, the chance that God blessed me with another opportunity, is what I’m thankful for.”

That game took place on November 20th, thirteen days after the Lions re-signed him. Afterward, he was asked what he did during his eight months out of football. “Wake up at 7 o’clock in the morning, train until 12, go home and play with my son,” Smith said. He worked out at a sports facility in Aventura, just outside his hometown of Miami. His greatest encourager was his mother.

On Thanksgiving Day, four days after the Panthers game, Smith and the Lions took the field against the undefeated, defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. Smith ran well in the early going, gaining 36 yards on 7 carries while catching 3 passes for 21 yards. Then he hurt his ankle in the second quarter. At that time, the Lions were down, 7-0. Smith didn’t return. The Packers dominated the second half and won the game, 27-15.

Smith will hopefully be back on the field soon. “It wasn’t that bad,” Smith said of the injury. The X-ray came back negative, and Smith was diagnosed with a mild sprain. He might see action on December 4th at New Orleans. The Lions have gone from 0-16 to a team competing for the playoffs. I believe the story of Kevin Smith is to be continued.