Commentary

Hail Mary: Deciding between teammates

Updated: December 14, 2007, 1:04 PM ET
By Nando Di Fino | Special to ESPN.com

Seeing as the playoffs are here, and you may be in a panicked state trying to figure out which hot-shot free agent on which team to pick up, Hail Mary has decided to change the format a little bit, pull back the curtain and show you the logic used in picking the candidates from each team.

First, however, since Jay Feely managed to advance in the NFLPA Fantasy League, our …

Fun Kicker fact of the week

… will continue to highlight the Dolphins kicker and his march to the championship game:

Week 14: Jay defeated Roy Williams' "Odessa Lionhorns'" team, 83-49, behind a strong performance by Tony Romo and the Minnesota defense. Now he faces Tatum Bell's "Motown Bell Ringers," who absolutely stomped on David Garrard's "The Difference" team, 121-95. Bell's team has scored 100-plus points for three consecutive weeks, meaning Feely's season (and our/my obsession with it) could soon come to an end.

Now, on to the Hail Mary picks...

Bryant Johnson vs. Jerheme Urban, WRs, Cardinals

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Here's the thing: Johnson has had several chances to grab that "third receiver/injury sub for Fitzgerald or Boldin" role over the past few seasons, and he failed miserably at it each time. With the exception, of course, of that hiccup in Weeks 12 and 13 this year (a combined 30 fantasy points). But Jerheme Urban came out of nowhere to put up some decent replacement-level numbers beginning in Week 4, as well as an early-season Hail Mary nod, before being slowed by an injured heel.

So which way do we fall here? Johnson has disappointed owners before, but Urban could be considered an unpredictable commodity: 123 yards one week, 15 the next. Johnson has significantly more yardage on the season, but Urban has as many touchdowns (2) and has done so with much less playing time.

Hail Mary is going with Urban in this faceoff. He's coming off a huge week, Warner seems to like him, and he saw steady success earlier in the season before his heel injury struck. Johnson could conceivably have a big week, but it is Urban, at this point, who has a better shot at it.

Muhammad is owned by 54 percent of ESPN fantasy teams and is started by just more than 10 percent. He has just three touchdowns on the season but has sporadically broken out -- fantasy points-wise -- for games of 18, 15, 12 (twice) and 10. His past three games, however, have seen totals of 4, 8 and 6, respectively.

Hester, on the other hand, gets a lot of hidden points from his special-teams returns (in Week 12, Hester had one catch for 1 yard, yet managed a total of 10 fantasy points thanks to return touchdowns) as well as the occasional pass thrown his way. This past week, he had his highest catch total of the season (5) and managed 67 yards through the air.

With all of this in front of us, we have to decide: Do we go with Hester and bank on the return yardage upping his totals? Or do we go with Muhammad, who is steady, but steadily mediocre and unpredictable?

The Hail Mary call here is Hester. He returns kicks and punts, and he has slowly become a factor in the passing game. It really comes down to the fact that Hester has more chances to rack up points than Muhammad through the extra time he's on the field. Plus, in 2005, when Kyle Orton was the Bears' primary QB, Muhammad had only 750 yards receiving (his lowest career total in a season in which he played at least 15 games).

Derek Hagan vs. Ted Ginn Jr., WRs, Dolphins

The general consensus here would be "neither," but if you're stuck in a position where you find yourself deciding between which Dolphin you want on your team, it's a very tough call. Consider these factors:

  1. Both are relatively young and untested
  2. Both have had to battle a shaky QB situation all year
  3. Both are owned by less than 12 percent of ESPN fantasy teams

While Ginn is the bigger name (mostly for his surprisingly high draft status and blazing speed), Hagan is coming off an eight-catch, 93-yard performance and shares a phonetic last name with the consigliere from "The Godfather." Both handle return duty, so there will be no edge given to either here. It's strictly a gut call since they're obviously facing the same opponent, and for every argument where you say "Ginn" because of his steadily growing success, you can counter with "Hagan" because of his breakout performance. Therefore, we go to the tiebreaker -- our embattled friends, Hector and Victor, who sit in the cubicle right around the corner -- and award this week's Hail Mary to Ted Ginn (42 projected yards vs. 30 projected yards).

And, for the record, this has nothing to do with the 15 gin and tonics we consumed at the ESPN holiday party. Or our love for Ginn/gin puns here at Hail Mary.

Aaron Stecker vs. Pierre Thomas, RBs, Saints

We're really debating "Aaron" versus "Pierre" here. You're not reading this wrong.

The debate as to who will take over for Reggie Bush (who took over for Deuce McAllister) centers around these two running backs. The way the NFL has gone in 2007, there probably will be a third mystery player who comes out of nowhere to run for 155 yards and two TDs, but we can't seem to find anyone on the depth chart who fits that billing. So we're down to Stecker and Thomas.

Stecker has -- without a doubt -- gotten the bulk of carries, making the most out of this opportunity and gaining 100 yards on 20 rushes in Week 14. Normally, we'd ask ourselves, "Why make a change?" and then move on. However, the Saints are still very much in position to grab the last playoff spot in the NFC. They could, conceivably, go with the hot hand in Stecker, and use Thomas sparingly or as a pass catcher, much like they used McAllister and Bush in 2006. But they could also assume that their remaining opponents have studied game film and figured out Stecker's tendencies -- maybe even built their defensive game plan around containing Stecker -- which could, in turn, make Thomas a tactically sound start. Laugh all you'd like, but it happens.

So, utilizing this chain of thought, the Hail Mary play for Sunday out of New Orleans is … Aaron Stecker. If you must pick one, he has the best chance to excel. The Thomas scenario has maybe a 25 percent chance of happening, which means the smart money would still be on Stecker -- who had a 5.0 yard-per-carry average in Week 14 -- to get the bulk of the carries (and, therefore, the points) in Week 15.

Ashley Lelie vs. Arnaz Battle, WRs, 49ers

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaaaaaa.

(The answer is Battle, for those of you who aren't regular readers.)

So they're on different teams, thus destroying the pretty little theme of the column. Regardless, the two are similar enough that we felt grouping them together would be wise.

If you are badly in need of a quarterback, Hail Mary is suggesting you go with Chris Redman. He has had two weeks of success, he seems comfortable in the offense and -- with the team united against Bobby Petrino and his nerdy, uncomfortable Arkansas press conference -- the entire squad is fired up to prove a point. The receivers will be jumping a little higher, the line will be blocking a little harder and the runners will be cutting a little more often. The outlet for Atlanta's collective anger, then, may focus the team and prove to be a blessing in disguise for Redman, who Petrino coached at Louisville and brought in before the season started as a backup.

Collins leading the Redskins to victory is an absolutely heartwarming story, but -- as the Mitchell report's inclusion of Jack Cust and Rick Ankiel prove -- these heartwarming stories usually don't last too long. We'd like to see Collins lead an emotionally wounded Redskins team to a high-scoring victory, but chances are -- and numbers point to Redman being the slightly better bet in Week 15 (weeks of 16 and 21 points for Redman; an 18-point Week 14 for Collins).

So this is how the mind works in determining which player to suggest for you desperate owners out there. Best of luck to everyone in the playoffs, and have fun trying to escape the deep, dark recesses of the Hail Mary mind.

Nando Di Fino is a fantasy baseball and football analyst for ESPN.com.

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