Grand Theft Roto: Embracing sudden change
I don't want this to sound like a college midterm, but let's compare and contrast.
In fantasy baseball, first baseman Carlos Pena had to hit 30 homers over the course of four months before many fantasy owners would finally believe in him. Meanwhile, Kevin Curtis erupted like a zit on prom night to the tune of 11 catches, 221 yards and a trio of touchdowns in Week 3, and now his owners are hiring answering services to field all the trade calls.
Consider this Example No. 256 of why fantasy football is and always will be a much more trade-friendly medium than fantasy baseball. Things move fast in fantasy football, and owners must be ready to exploit the opportunities as they arrive. In fact, in the time it took you to read that sentence, another quarterback likely got benched, a la Rex Grossman.
Anyone can look at a player's fantasy ranking and say, "Randy Moss can't blow his nose without scoring fantasy points." Or, "Watching Drew Brees plays is worse than watching an all-night Bette Midler movie-thon."
But the NFL doesn't operate in a vacuum. It's a place where teams can face brutally tough defenses one week and then get junior-varsity squads the next, and their production usually reflects that. So while everyone else is clamoring for players who have put up huge numbers while giving up on players whose point totals resemble their collegiate GPAs, you must look deeper. Identify players who have met or exceeded your expectations despite tough matchups, and go get them by offering up players whose stats have been inflated by games against cream puff defenses.
For instance, Matt Schaub currently ranks 15th in ESPN league scoring, and two of his three games have been against teams (the Chiefs and Colts) that are ranked in the top 10 in passer rating allowed. Schaub's next three opponents are all in the bottom half of the NFL in that category, and if Andre Johnson returns anytime soon, the Texans' signal-caller could be getting "Romo"-level love by mid-October.
Then you have Matt Hasselbeck, who is only three spots ahead of Schaub on the QB point rankings despite facing only one above-average passing defense this season. His next two matchups -- road games at San Francisco and Pittsburgh -- are decidedly tougher. Hasselbeck's chance to rack up early points might have come and gone, so if you think you can deal Hass to someone who has Schaub on the pine and also get an upgrade elsewhere, do it.
Among running backs, Marshawn Lynch has been decidedly average, with 15 backs topping his fantasy point total. But look at who Buffalo has played so far: Denver, New England and Pittsburgh. In some states, that's considered cruel and unusual punishment. Lynch will see the Patriots again and Baltimore as well, but the rest of his schedule looks pretty reasonable. A good 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns is reachable, and if J.P. Losman gets healthy in time to force opposing defenses to respect the deep ball, those numbers could be even better.
The man Lynch replaced in Buffalo is Willis McGahee, now a proud purple-wearing member of the Ravens. The thing is, the Ravens have faced three easy defenses already this year, and McGahee hasn't found the end zone yet. Sure, he's averaging more than 90 yards per game. But when a guy doesn't make it into the end zone despite 18 red-zone touches, his coaches take notice. I still like McGahee more than Lynch overall because he has a better schedule and plays on a better team. But if I had a chance to deal McGahee and get Lynch and a receiver upgrade, I'd do it. Both will be solid No. 2 backs on any squad.
I'm no fan of the Bears passing game, but Bernard Berrian quietly has been a worthy fantasy receiver, with at least five catches and 65 yards in each game this season. This despite having Rex Grossman throwing to him and tough matchups versus the Chiefs and Chargers. Meanwhile, three of his next four games are against the Lions, Eagles and Vikings (a team that stops the run but not the pass). Whether it's Brian Griese throwing the ball, or Rex Grossman, or Kyle Orton (Version 2.0), Berrian is getting the looks, and it's only a matter of time before he starts getting into the end zone.
Looking for a counterpoint? How about Darrell Jackson, who was drafted to be plenty of teams' second receiver. He simply hasn't jelled yet with Alex Smith, as evidenced by the fact that he's being targeted just seven times per game. That's not enough for a team's No. 1 receiver, especially considering he already has had the benefit of facing soft Arizona and St. Louis pass defenses. Jackson has a spectacular matchup this week against Seattle. If he doesn't go off, trade him for someone like Berrian before the Niners take on Baltimore and then follow it with a bye week. If he does go off, trade him for even more.
This principle actually applies to players at all levels. Tony Romo leads all quarterbacks in fantasy scoring, which is impressive. When you consider that he's done that despite facing the Bears on Sunday night, that ranking is jaw-dropping. There are only three quarterbacks I'd rather have right now, and none of them are named Bulger, Brees or McNabb.
Meanwhile, for all the talk about how bad Larry Johnson has been, it's worth noting that he has faced three pretty tough run defenses (the Texans, Bears and Vikings). And he gets the Chargers this week. Oy! If you're looking for a glimmer of hope, wait another week.
Because this column is posted on Wednesdays, most of the deals I'll report this year will be ones completed before the previous weekend's games. This week is no exception.
In many of my public leagues, I loaded up on running backs I thought would get lots of touches early in the season. I figured I could trade them if they started well. In one such league, I had both Romo and Brees at quarterback, and I also had grabbed the previously mentioned Matt Schaub off the waiver wire. So I sent Schaub, along with Tatum Bell and DeShaun Foster to a team that had Ben Roethlisberger and David Garrard manning the quarterback position. In exchange, I got Ronnie Brown and Deion Branch, who both went off this weekend. I'll keep Branch, but I'll test the waters with the newly lovable Brown and see if I can buy low and sell high in less than a week's time.
Like I said, things change pretty quickly. Never stop moving. Never let an opportunity pass. Don't just win your league. Steal it.
Shawn Peters is a fantasy baseball and football analyst for TalentedMrRoto.com and ESPN.com, as well as a regular contributor to the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. He can be reached at GrandTheftRoto@TalentedMrRoto.com.
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