Love the game, hate 'that guy'
Finally here, kids. Merry Chistmakah. Not sure why opening kickoff to the NFL season isn't a national holiday, but it should be. Could we at least get a stamp? Maybe we vote on one? Like between fat Rex Ryan and skinny Rex Ryan? Props if you get the reference.
Among the reasons for the excitement, of course, is that the start of the NFL season is also the start of the fantasy football season. And if my Twitter and Facebook> accounts are any indication, more people than ever before are playing fantasy this year. Which is, you know, awesome.
But as in any new situation, people playing for the first time may not know all the rules of etiquette. That's where I come in. Whether you are a newbie or a longtime player, it never hurts to get a refresher course. So as you enter into this fantasy football season, I wish you luck with your sleepers. I pray your players avoid injury. But mostly, I desperately hope you're not ... "that guy."
"That guy" shows up to your draft with an out-of-date magazine. And then wants a do-over when he finds out the guy he just drafted is out for the year. Or worse, tries to bum your cheat sheet. Get your own sleepers, hoss.
Or "that guy" shows up with 10 magazines and tons of printouts. And then has the clock run out when he can't figure out which guy he wants.
Or "that guy" says to the clueless guy drafting right before you, "Oh, you need a tight end? Take Jared Cook. Matthew needs a tight end, so he'll probably pick him next unless you get him." Worry about your own team and don't mention players that haven't been drafted, OK?
"That guy" pretends to draft T.J. Houshmandzadeh, mangles his name and then says "Championship." It was funny six years ago, dude.
"That guy" talks all sorts of smack at the draft about how bad everyone else's picks are. And has never won. Or he talks about how loaded his team is. In the third round. Or has a critique after every pick. If I wanted play-by-play, I'd have brought Mike Tirico. Settle down, sailor.
"That guy" has a terrible team name. I'm all for adult humor as long as it's clever, but if it would make an 8-year-old laugh, it's not only hacky, its lazy and unoriginal. I'm talking to you, people who named a team after Isaiah Pead.
"That guy" makes terrible trade offers. No, I do not want to trade my second-round pick, Jamaal Charles, for your 10th-rounder, Tony Gonzalez. That is an actual trade offer I got this week. If you wouldn't do it in reverse, don't offer it.
"That guy" won't respond to trade emails. Hey, you don't want to do the deal, fine, just say a quick "no thanks." Are you in this league or not? Oh, you are? Then you respond to an inquiry like a civilized human being.
"That guy," however, won't take no for an answer. If you do get a response of "no," you're allowed to send a follow-up email saying, "Well, is there anything you'd consider for so-and-so?" But after that? Walk away, brother. The only person who likes begging less than a woman is a fantasy league owner.
"That guy" takes the full time on his draft pick. With the very first pick. Or the last kicker pick.
"That guy" cheers for injuries of players. It's a violent game and injuries provide opportunity for other fantasy players, but come on. It's a human being and their health, livelihood, and family's livelihood is at stake.
By that same token, "that guy" is the sort of person who took to Twitter last year to yell at Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster or Jamaal Charles about how they are ruining his fantasy team, which happened a lot to all three men. In fact, "that guy" is anyone who directs anger at someone on Twitter or Facebook about fantasy football. It's a game played with an oblong-shaped leather ball. Stuff happens and it's a game we play for fun. Calm the hell down.
"That guy" doesn't pay attention during the draft, calls out guys who have already been taken, and is late meeting any league requirements. If you can't follow through, don't play. And if you can, don't make me chase you down. Seriously.
"That guy" is a sexist. Won't let a woman in his league or thinks it's the end of the world when he loses to a woman. Some of the smartest sports people I know and best fantasy players I've seen are women. And I've yet to meet one who was "that guy," which is why this column isn't asking you not to be "that person." Everyone plays. Get used to it and get better.
Having said that, don't be "that guy" who brings his non-playing girlfriend or wife to the draft. If you're not in the league, you're not invited.
"That guy" brags about his auto-picked team. Or worse, complains about it. Hey, you can't make the draft, that's on you. Or how about "that guy" who has known about the draft for weeks and then just doesn't show up, with no warning, and doesn't answer calls or texts?
"That guy" gets mad at you for drafting "his" player. Yeah, you're right. No one else wanted Doug Martin this year. Just you. Or worse, brags weeks into the season about his "sleeper" panning out. Yep, dude, no one else saw a big year coming from Brandon Marshall.
"That guy" needs to tell you about his team. Look, I'm paid to care about your team. Tell me. Everyone else? They care about your team as much as you care about theirs. Your fantasy team is the new golfing story or vacation pictures.
"That guy" is a rankings slave. I do rankings for a living and I'm the first to admit it's a loose guideline to help with market evaluation. Think for yourself. And if you can't, then why are you even playing?
"That guy" vetoes a trade because it doesn't involve him or her. Hate the veto guy. Win on the virtual field, not in legal loopholes. Trade negotiation is part of fantasy skill. As long as both trade partners think they are improving their team, the trade should stand. Doesn't matter if you don't agree. Not your team, genius. You're not the judge. Unless there is collusion, no trade should ever be overturned.
"That guy" says words like "never" or "no way that will happen." The kind of guy who probably said last year, "What are you doing taking Cam Newton? Rookie quarterbacks never pan out."
"That guy" complains about what would have been. "If only I'd started (a scrub who went off) instead of (a star who underperformed), I'd have won!" Yeah, but you didn't, did you? Because no one in their right mind would have started said scrub over said star. It happens. Get over it.
"That guy" is an Internet tough guy. If you wouldn't say it in real life, don't say it behind a screen name. And unless it's lifelong friends, keep the smack about the team and keep the personal insults to yourself. And if you dish it out, you better be able to take it. Often the biggest whiner is the guy who sends out the most.
"That guy" loses interest after his team falls out of it, doesn't set players during a bye or replace injured players. You made a commitment. Even if the league doesn't matter to you, it matters to us, so try your best or don't play at all.
"That guy" abuses the waiver wire, picking up players and immediately waiving them, and does this over and over to try to pollute the pool and make it so people can't grab free agents. That's not strategy, that means you have no life. Again, win on the field, not in some sort of technology loophole. (Don't bother trying it in an ESPN.com league, either. We have safeguards against those kinds of shenanigans.)
But mostly, "that guy" ruins your enjoyment of the greatest game ever invented. Don't be "that guy."
What did I miss? When I talked about "that guy" last year, a lot of you had some great comments to make about it, so have at it. What drives you crazy in a league when "that guy" is in it? While you answer that, we meander slowly to the first Love/Hate of the year. Get used to the meandering slowly through the column before we get to the fantasy info. Also, understand that this is not a pure start/sit column. Want to know whom to start and whom to sit? Read my ranks, updated throughout the week, and find the two players you are wondering about. Whomever I have ranked higher is whom I would start.
This column is basically a rankings reaction or explanation of players who I am higher or lower on than my fellow ESPN rankers. Use your brain. Just because Wes Welker (ranked 18th by me this week) is a "hate" and Nate Washington (ranked No. 22) is a "Love" doesn't mean I would start Nate over Wes. No, I have Wes ranked higher than Nate, so that is whom I would start. But my rank for Nate is much higher than others have him ranked, and my rank for Wes is lower than others' ranks, so that's why they make the cut; you'll read my explanation about why below.
Finally, just a reminder that "Fantasy Football Now," our Emmy-award winning fantasy show, expands to two hours this year. Every Sunday morning, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET, on ESPN2 and WatchESPN. Tune in before kickoff!
And away we go.
Quarterbacks I love
Matthew Stafford, Lions: A super-obvious name, I'm including him here just because I have a cool stat that I want to show off. What? Hey! Simmer down, there. You got a choice. Either I get to show off my nerdy stat or it's more self-involved stories about me ... that's what I thought.
The nerdy stat: Last year, Matthew Stafford faced four or fewer pass-rushers on 75.4 percent of his drop backs, second-highest in the NFL. Only Aaron Rodgers (plus-25) had a better touchdown-to-interception differential than Stafford (plus-24) against such rushes.
Not bad, right? But then check this: From 2008 to 2010, coach Jeff Fisher's Titans rushed four or fewer pass-rushers on 76.3 percent of plays, the second-highest rate over that span.
Booyah! That's right. Just took 118 words to tell you that Matthew Stafford is good and you want to start him against the Rams. Who says I'm all substance? What? No one says that? Ah. Very well then. Let's get to fantasy kryptonite, post-haste.
Michael Vick, Eagles: We all have him at seven, but he's here for this simple reason: I've gotten a lot of questions about Vick's hands, ribs, lack of preseason practice, the Browns' second-best pass defense last year, blah blah blah ... do we start Vick in Week 1? It's really simple. If you own Vick, you're a believer. You bought in, so no backing out now. This is the kind of matchup you want. The Browns' No. 2 pass defense last year was a joke; it's only because teams ran all over them. If you own him, you're starting Vick.
Jay Cutler, Bears Show-offy nerd stat alert: Jay Cutler was sacked or under duress (forced to move or alter a throw due to pressure) on 34.2 percent of his drop-backs last season, the second-highest rate in the NFL. (Tim Tebow had more. Of course he did.) But! Cutler completed 47.8 percent of his passes under duress, the fourth-best rate in the NFL. With Brandon Marshall in town, I'm feeling that Cutler wants to take his new toy for a spin, and who better to do it against the Colts, who were tied for allowing the sixth-most pass plays of 20-plus yards last season and were last in interceptions, which is always Cutler's bugaboo. Did I drop a "bugaboo" three players in? You're damn right I did. It's Week 1! All bets are off!
Russell Wilson, Seahawks: Last year, a rookie quarterback started in Week 1 against the Cardinals and that worked out pretty well. I like what I've seen of Wilson so far in the preseason, and with Marshawn Lynch less than 100 percent, the Seahawks will need to throw. With a rookie back there, the Cards may bring more pressure, but I'm OK with that. Wilson is mobile, and the ability to get rushing yards will help. Only five teams had fewer interceptions last year than the Cardinals.
If you're desperate (in a deeper league, start two quarterbacks, are scrambling for a replacement for whatever reason): I realize Carson Palmer has struggled this preseason, but Palmer's turnover issues come from when he gets pressure. When the Chargers brought pressure last year, they allowed the highest QBR of any opposing quarterback. And in five career starts versus San Diego, Palmer has 13 scores, just three picks and over 1,700 passing yards. ... Also, Sam Bradford has looked good this preseason, and do you think a game with Detroit might turn into a shootout? Me too.
Quarterbacks I Hate
Peyton Manning, Broncos: It's the first game in over a year for Peyton, there's still gonna be some rust, and while the Steelers won't have Ryan Clark, they still had the No. 1 passing defense and No. 1 scoring defense last year. And what the hell, let's get our nerd on and go Next Level here: The Steelers rushed five or more at the fifth-highest rate in 2011 (41.3 percent). Prior to his injury (2010), Manning's Total QBR against such pressure ranked just 15th.
Joe Flacco, Ravens: Yes, I like Torrey Smith here, but otherwise, this game is all Mr. Ray Rice. Last year, Flacco averaged just 12 fantasy points a game against the Bengals, and while the Ravens were all high-flying in the preseason, they were in last year's preseason too. Against the Bengals' top-10 pass defense from last season (even one that's banged up), Flacco is no better than "QB2" this week.
Running backs I love
Matt Forte, Bears: I'm in a league where you can start any player you want, but you can use him only once a season. This week, one of my running backs is Matt Forte. Say it with me, kids: We believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of running backs facing the Colts.
Doug Martin, Buccaneers: Rookie running back, new offense playing a different-looking defense with some new players and guys back from injury ... no idea what's going to go down here. So this is a total gut call. I just like Doug Martin, OK? How much? More than you, OK? There. You forced me to say it. It's not that you're not special, you are, but yes, since you must know, I like him more. There. You happy? (And thus concludes the portion of today's column where I treat my readers like my crazy jealous high school girlfriend).
Isaac Redman or Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Steelers: I'm not believing any of this Rashard Mendenhall talk for Week 1, and whoever gets the start here, I like. Feel it will be Redman, but if his hip sidelines him, go Dwyer. I'm guessing Pittsburgh will want to control the clock on the road and keep Manning on the sideline, especially with Mike Wallace still getting back up to speed. The Broncos allowed more than 126 rushing yards a game last season, and as our Scouts Inc. team notes, "Maybe the biggest weakness of the Denver defense is its interior triangle, and D.J. Williams (suspension) will not be eligible for this contest."
Kevin Smith, Lions: Not hurt yet! And pssst -- he'll get the majority of work against a team that gave up 152 yards per game on the ground last season.
Ronnie Brown, Chargers: Do I have to love every player? Can't I just admit it's last call at the fantasy nightclub and that, after drinking all night and looking around at my options, decide that if I squint my eyes, I can sorta, maybe, kinda talk myself into liking Ronnie Brown until the next morning? I can? Because they don't all have to be beauty queens, kids. Or kings. You ladies out there know what I am talking about. Are you doing the walk of shame on Tuesday morning after using Ronnie Brown? Yes. But the fact remains that I think there's no way the Chargers will risk Ryan Mathews in this game. Brown will get the majority of work, and last season, Oakland's 27th-ranked run defense allowed 24 rushes to go for 20 yards, second-most in the NFL. Hmm. Wonder if all the nerdy stats I'm dropping is also why I'm looking at 1:45 a.m.?
Michael Bush, Bears: See Forte, Matt. Gonna be enough work for Bush as a flex option in Tice's offense.
If you're desperate: Playing a Redskins running back is the truest definition of desperate (so you're not allowed to complain when it doesn't work out; you know what you're getting into here) -- but if you feel like rolling the dice on one, Evan Royster should get a lot of work as the Redskins will want to go ball control on the road to take pressure off Robert Griffin III and take the Saints' offense off the field. ... It's supposed to pour Wednesday night in East Rutherford, N.J., so I could see more running than usual, and the Giants' David Wilson looked good during the preseason, son. Real good.
Running backs I hate
Trent Richardson, Browns: I just don't know how much work he's going to get and I expect the Browns to be down quickly in this game. Just too many question marks for me to trust starting him this week.
Reggie Bush, Dolphins: Pretty sure the Texans and their fourth-ranked run defense from last season are looking at Miami and Reggie and saying, yeah, we'll take our chances with Ryan Tannehill beating us. But we're shutting down this guy. And shut him down they will.
Steven Ridley, Patriots: Only five teams in the NFL allowed fewer rushing touchdowns last season than the Titans. But here's the thing. It's not that Ridley couldn't do well here. Of course he could. Anyone on the Patriots can go off any week. It's just trying to figure out which week that'll happen, especially with their run game, that's the pain. It's the inconsistency, not the talent, that is the bugaboo here. You're damn right I went double bugaboo out of the gate. I'm playing for keeps, homeys. Homeys. That's right, I'm also taking us back to 1991. Anyway, if we know Shane Vereen is definitely out this week, I'll move Ridley up in my ranks, but right now I have him as a flex play, not as a top-20 starter the way two of my fellow rankers do.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars and Adrian Peterson, Vikings: Don't get cute. Not until we see it and know what we are dealing with in terms of playing time (MJD) and health (AP). Don't. Get. Cute.
Wide receivers I love
Percy Harvin, WR, Vikings: Don't say I don't put my money where my mouth is. If you read or heard me at all during the preseason, you probably heard one of my favorite stats I found: Once Christian Ponder took over, Harvin led NFL wide receivers in offensive touches with 100. Second-highest was Wes Welker ... with 76. And with Adrian Peterson banged up, I expect more of the same. I expect them to line Harvin up all over the field trying to find different ways to get him the ball, including in the slot.
Which brings us to this nerdy stat: The Jaguars allowed opposing quarterbacks a 68.8 completion percentage when QBs targeted slot receivers last year, the fourth-worst rate in the NFL. Jacksonville's 5.7 yards after catch per reception by slot receivers ranked seventh-worst in the league last season, while Harvin's 5.7 yards after catch per reception when lined up in the slot ranked seventh-best among 31 receivers with at least 30 targets in the slot. Bonus nerd stat: Harvin was also the only receiver of the 31 with at least 30 slot targets without a drop when lined up in the slot.
Brandon Marshall, Bears: Well, let's see ... I already like Cutler, Forte and Bush a lot in this matchup ...
Dez Bryant, Cowboys: Five total touchdowns in four career games against the Giants, and I don't want to brag or anything, but I'm pretty sure I'm starting in the secondary for New York tonight. At least, it'll look like I am.
Torrey Smith, Ravens: More stuff from the preseason. When I wasn't talking about Harvin or Brandon Marshall, I was usually discussing Torrey Smith. I get it, you may not have been able to hear me over all the slobber, but trust me, it was Torrey Smith I was getting all passionate about. And usually when I talked about Smith, I discussed his improved route running and Flacco's tendency to throw to him deep. Like, this is a typical stat I'd mention, from the wacky kids over at ESPN Stats & Information, who like to get all Next Level on you: Joe Flacco attempted a career-high 70 passes of more than 20 air yards last season, but also completed a career-low 24.3 percent of such throws. Torrey Smith was the targeted receiver on 32 of those attempts, the most by Flacco to any one receiver in a single season.
Historically, Flacco has been much better on deep balls, and I expect him to land a lot more this year on roughly the same number of deep targets to Smith. Meanwhile, last time the Ravens hosted the Bengals, Smith had six for 165 and a score. Yee-haw, Torrey Smith. Yee-damn-haw.
Eric Decker, Broncos: Another gut call, but remember how Demaryius Thomas burned Ike Taylor last year for the fightin' Tebows, er, Broncos to upset the Steelers in overtime? Well, I bet Ike Taylor does, too. And I'm guessing he'll desperately want Thomas, not Decker, in this matchup. Already think Decker will be Manning's favorite target; this just helps the cause.
Nate Washington, Titans: No one realizes this, but Nate Washington had 1,000-plus yards and seven scores last year. He was Jake Locker's favorite target when Locker played; once again, there is no Kenny Britt in this game; and you think the Titans might need to score some points in this game? Yeah, me too. I don't expect the Patriots' secondary to be as bad as last season, when they gave up almost 300 passing yards a game, but I don't expect them to be lights-out in Week 1 either. I have Nate at 22 this week, all the other rankers have him in the 30s.
If you're desperate: You never like going to Revis Island, but if you have to, Steve Johnson is probably the guy to do it with. Three for 84 and eight for 75 and a score when he faced Darrelle Revis last season; Johnson is a tough matchup for Revis. ... In 14 career games against the Packers, Randy Moss has 13 touchdowns. We've talked about this on the podcast. Nate and I have a sneaky suspicion that the Niners have been playing possum with Moss in the preseason. And if they have been, this is as good a place as any to unleash him. ... Trendy Preseason Sleeper Last Season Danny Amendola (his full legal name) has consistently been Bradford's No. 1 target this preseason, and the Rams are gonna need to throw against the Lions. ... As much as I like Nate Washington, I also like Kendall Wright and could see him doing well in a game where Tennessee needs to throw.
Wide receivers I hate
Wes Welker, Patriots: I probably shouldn't even list him here. If you have Welker, you're starting him, OK? But, as I mentioned earlier, he's here because everyone else has him as a top-10 play and I have him at 18, so this is more to explain his ranking than anything. Let's get to another nerdy stat: In 2011, the Titans' defense also allowed an average of 3.0 yards after catch per reception by a wide receiver, the least of any NFL defense. Feel Welker will continue to be a great PPR play, but don't see a lot of yards-after-the-catch stuff from him, and anything deep is going to Lloyd or Hernandez. Could see a six-for-67 yards kind of day for Wes.
Mike Wallace, Steelers: Given the Steelers' offensive line issues, expect the Broncos to bring pressure, which means short outlet passes to Antonio Brown, not deep shots to Mike Wallace. Especially given Wallace reporting late and his lack of familiarity with Todd Haley's offense, I just don't love this matchup for Wallace.
Robert Meachem, Chargers: Among my favorite stats that I never got to use that much in the preseason was this one: Last year, Robert Meachem had two red zone targets. Two. Think about that: The Saints had 94 red zone targets last season. They threw for over 5,300 yards, had 46 touchdowns, and Robert Meachem had two red zone targets. Among other Saints with two red zone targets? Jed Collins and John Gilmore. Yes, they spread it around, yes, there's a lot of talent on the Saints, but you're telling me if Meachem was open he wasn't getting the ball thrown his way? At least more than twice? Maybe Drew Brees hated him. Maybe there were just too many hands and only the one ball. Or maybe, just maybe, Robert Meachem isn't very good. Which gets my vote until proven otherwise.
Demaryius Thomas, Broncos: See Decker, Eric. Think Ike Taylor is all over DT and gets his revenge.
Tight ends I love
Aaron Hernandez, Patriots: Time for another ... nerdy stat! The Titans' defense allowed 52 completions to tight ends inside the numbers last season, tied for sixth-most in the NFL, despite facing only one of the top four tight ends in that metric last season (Jimmy Graham). Aaron Hernandez (61 catches) and Rob Gronkowski (57) finished second and third, respectively, in receptions inside the numbers among tight ends. Read it now, believe it later, kids. Gronk is and will be a stud, but the year of Aaron Hernandez starts now.
Greg Olsen, Panthers: Have him as a top-10 guy this week, and as my No. 11 guy for the year based, in part, on this stat: Last year, only four quarterbacks attempted more passes to a tight end than Cam Newton. With no Jeremy Shockey, and the jury is still out on the Buccaneers' linebackers ... me likey.
Jared Cook, Titans: I may have mentioned before that the Titans need to throw in this game.
If you're desperate: Dustin Keller had 120-plus yards and two scores in two games last year against the Bills, who allowed the most fantasy points to opposing tight ends last season. ... Speaking of points allowed to opposing tight ends, the Bears and their Cover 2 allowed the sixth-most last year, and in Andrew Luck's first start, I could see Coby Fleener getting some extra love. ... Martellus Bennett seems super-motivated, especially against his former team. I could easily see Eli Manning trying to get Bennett a score against the Cowboys. ... The Dolphins are going to have to throw it to somebody. Why not Anthony Fasano?
Tight end I hate
Jacob Tamme, Broncos: In case you missed it, I'm down on the Broncos this week.
Defense/Special teams I love
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Seattle Seahawks: I have them at No. 3 this week. And I'm tied for the lowest on them. All aboard, kids. The bandwagon is leaving the station.
Minnesota Vikings: Spoiler alert: With my first-round pick of the Grantland.com Bad Quarterback League, I took Blaine Gabbert. A not-horrific preseason and the addition of Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson do not a stud quarterback make. He'll be better, but it'll take time, and given the Vikings' ability to bring pressure (led the NFL in sacks last year) and the Jags' ability to take a sack (tied for seventh-most allowed last year), and very limited Maurice Jones-Drew? I like the Vikings at home if you don't have one of the normal stud defenses.
If you're desperate: San Diego Chargers D/ST may be worth a look as Carson Palmer is still adjusting to Greg Knapp's new offense, and with limited time (read: none) in the preseason with his wideouts, I could see a pick. Or three.
Defense/Special teams I hate
San Francisco 49ers: On the road against the Packers, my guess is if you own them, you're thinking about benching them. Which I get. I'd do it too, if I owned them in any league. But you also probably spent an eighth-round pick on them, according to our average draft results, bypassing guys like Torrey Smith, Jason Witten, Cedric Benson and RG3. Which is why you don't draft a defense early. You're already gonna bench them. San Fran's defense averaged 14 fantasy points a game at home last year and just seven a game on the road.
And there you have it. Week 1's Love/Hate officially in the book. Good luck this season. Hope you win, but more importantly, hope you're not "that guy."
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- thinks it's about damn time the season started. Can't wait. CAN'T. WAIT. Berry is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off.
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