Dark horses trample hopes of baffled fantasy owners

The Baltimore Sun

It's been one strange fantasy football season, hasn't it?

I know I'm hardly the first one to chime in on this, but it seems that every time I talk to a friend who takes his fantasy seriously, that's the theme. In leagues around the country, owners who thought they had great drafts are staring at 1-4 records. Meanwhile, the miscreants who drafted Frank Gore in the second round and snatched Bernard Berrian off the waiver wire look like championship contenders.

Weird, I tell you.

Who would have thought you'd rather have Brian Westbrook as a featured back than Shaun Alexander, LaDainian Tomlinson or Tiki Barber?

Who would have thought Alex Smith would be just as productive a quarterback as Tom Brady?

Who had ever heard of Marques Colston?

This stuff has legions wandering around in states of befuddlement, contemplating whether Rex Grossman really is a quarterback you start every week. That conundrum would have seemed so improbable in the preseason that you might as well have asked fans how many games would be interrupted by falling meteors.

Unpredictability is part of the fun, I suppose. I mean, if you could sew up titles on draft day, fantasy probably wouldn't be a multibillion dollar industry that binds football fans in consensual agony every Sunday.

But this is a bit much. I was talking fantasy with my friend Dan during the Ravens' loss Monday night and he said: "The more I prepare, the worse I do. It's all luck."

Well, as a pundit type, I guess I shouldn't agree with that. But I kind of do.

These mysterious happenings have not treated me well. In the 14-team league I'm playing with Sun readers, I thought I had drafted a killer wide receiver corps, fronted by Terrell Owens and Randy Moss and augmented by Eddie Kennison and Laveranues Coles. Turns out I would have been better off drafting Berrian, Greg Jennings and Jericho Cotchery (fabulous name by the way, worthy of the World Cup in that respect.)

In selecting those receivers, I left myself weak at running back, where I have Rudi Johnson and not much else. I started Mike Alstott last week, for Pete's sake.

And I don't know how to fix it. In a 14-team league, nobody has a ton of depth, so nobody is really looking to trade runners, especially not for faded wide receivers. I suppose this reinforces the idea that two feature backs in hand are better than any other fantasy commodity.

I've got plenty of running back depth in the 12-team league I'm playing with fellow local media types. But I didn't properly adjust for a scoring system that favors touchdowns over yards. Barber, my first rounder, loses value in that format despite the fact he's played just fine.

The lesson here is that you should always know your league's scoring system inside and out and adjust player values accordingly.

You know, if I were smarter, maybe I could look at all this chaos and find some trends pointing to new truths about the game. Then I could crow about paradigms and what not.

But the reality is that I look at it and see chaos.

We all know that week-to-week matchups are key, but even they don't unlock all the secrets. Look down the interstate at Mark Brunell.

He appeared useless in the first two weeks against the solid pass defenses of the Minnesota Vikings and the Dallas Cowboys but threw the ball beautifully against the hapless Houston Texans. So a pattern seemed to be emerging. But then, he looked great against a good Jacksonville Jaguars defense and followed with a tepid performance against a New York Giants defense that had been torched by the passers it had faced previously. Find the pattern in that. I dare you.

In these uncertain times, I say it's still best to return to basic tenets. If you were counting on Cadillac Williams or Chad Johnson or Antonio Gates coming into the season, don't run for the hills just because they haven't been elite performers so far. Where talent meets opportunity, production usually follows. And the real-life teams haven't given up on those guys.

The ones to be more worried about are the guys in absolutely poisonous situations. The Oakland Raiders can't throw the ball right now, so Moss isn't likely to return to the top of the wide receiver rankings. The Miami Dolphins can't run-block, so all the talent in the world won't free Ronnie Brown to be the back we hoped we'd see.

There. That's my stab at sounding confident.

Now, I'll head back to wallowing in fretful uncertainty.


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