SleepersJuly 14, 2006

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Sleeper Watch

By Pat Hunley

If you’ve ever played fantasy football, there’s always a guy who burned you so badly for picking him, you wouldn’t pick him again even if he were available in the 30th round. The guy that you drafted in the first round to be the keystone of your fantasy team, and he was barely even worth starting. The guy whose jersey you bought, that you now feel is more useful as firewood. Everyone has a guy they have vowed never to draft again, and over the past two years, no one has made more people feel this way than Jamal Lewis.

In 2003, Lewis rushed for a whopping 2,066 yards, the second highest single-season total in NFL history. On top of that he added 14 touchdowns. He was going in the first round of every draft, often going in the top five and rarely dropping out of the top seven or eight. People were building their entire fantasy team around him, assuming he would have another great season. He responded in 2004 by barely breaking the 1,000 yard mark and only scoring seven touchdowns while dealing with injuries and legal problems. All those who drafted him vowed never to do so again, and those who hadn’t drafted him, saw the physical and mental obstacles he faced during that season and saw no reason why he wouldn’t come back strong. They thought they were getting a bargain in the second round. Lewis proceeded to play even worse in 2005, managing just 906 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

This year, Lewis is going anywhere from late in the second round to late in the third round because of his past disappointments. Some people believe that this is the year he will come back strong. Lewis’ poor 2005 season can be attributed to poor decisions that he made during the off-season. He spent four months in prison and two months in a halfway house, which seriously shook him mentally. In prison, he had no opportunity to rehab his lingering knee injury, so he then had less than a month to prepare for the 2005 NFL season. Is it so surprising he played poorly? Right now, things are looking very bright for Lewis. Chester Taylor was traded to Minnesota to battle with Mewelde Mooore for the starting job. Although Mike Anderson has replaced Taylor, Anderson is the same type of back as Lewis, only less talented. He will only give Lewis occasional two to three play breaks. Also, Steve McNair has replaced Kyle Boller at quarterback in Baltimore, meaning the Ravens’ offense is no longer one-dimensional. Defenses cannot stack the box to stop Lewis anymore; they must respect the passing game. Another factor is the new contract Lewis signed with the Ravens. Although it is a three year contract, the Ravens can cut him after one year with minimal loss. Lewis knows he has to convince the Ravens to keep him, so he will play his hardest every game.

My advice to fantasy football players is to grab Jamal Lewis. His value will never get any better than it is this year. He has nothing going against him and everything going for him, which is a good sign for someone who has run for 2,000 yards in a single season. Those who take Jamal Lewis this year will forget the years that he made fantasy owners hate him, and reward the owners who gave him a second chance.

Pat Hunley is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Pat in the Cafe’s forums where he posts under the name of steelerfan513.
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