It’s officially the fantasy football off-season, which, depending on how your team(s) performed in 2008, can be either a happy time of reflection or a winter of wallowing in self-loathing that can drag on until the NFL Draft in April.
One interesting angle I like to investigate as I look back on a fantasy season is how players perform in week 17. End of the year stats can tell many stories; some veterans on playoff-bound NFL teams may sit or play sparingly and have a weak stat line. Some bench players and rookies get a chance to play and shine.
Then there are the disappointments, as I like to call them. These are the players that should have played better during the season, but because of injuries, off-field issues, or problems with the coaches, most owners ended up dropping these underperforming players. Then, just to tick you off, they play well when you need them the least: Week 17.
Most leagues wrap up by week 17 because players on many playoff teams rest that week, so it’s ridiculous to allow a fantasy championship to be decided then. Nonetheless, we have to remember that in the “real” football world, NFL personnel don’t consider the impact of their actions on fantasy football; they just play. Some of these guys play uncannily well in week 17 after an otherwise terrible season.
As a Fantasy owner, you need to be aware of this situation, as many fantasy sources include these week 17 stats as part of a player’s stats in football magazines and cheat sheets. So before your reach for a player that had 5 TD’s in 12 games last season, be aware that two of those came in week 17 against a playoff-bound opponent that played its second and third stringers in the second half. More than likely, that player’s performance will not be repeated next season against top-level competition.
Now, I’m not talking about rookies that are cutting their NFL teeth and got a shot to start in week 17 and played well, players like rookie WR Andre Caldwell of the Bengals. The 2008 third round pick played sparingly all year, but managed 83 total yards in the Bengals’ week 17 win over Kansas City. If either Chad Johnson or T.J. Houshmandzadeh move on this offseason, a starting spot could be in Caldwell’s future.
The players you have to watch for are the one-week wonders, particularly the wide receivers, who often suffer from the Frisman Jackson effect. If you don’t recall the name, don’t worry. Jackson was an unknown Browns WR that went off in week one of the 2005 season for eight receptions, 128 yards and a TD. Fantasy owners scrambled to the waiver wire prior to week two to grab Jackson. Once the season was said and done, Jackson had 16 total receptions and went back to being unknown.
So let’s try and identify the week 17 standout players you want to avoid in your 2009 draft.
Lance Moore, NO – I’m not all that down on Lance Moore, but just remember he had eight catches for 91 yards and two TD’s in week 17. I am always wary of guys that come out of nowhere like Moore did in 2008. Other Saint WR’s could cut into his targets in ’09 and he could be another Mike Furrey or Shaun McDonald. Don’t rank Moore ahead of young stars like Santonio Holmes, Eddie Royal, Dwayne Bowe or DeSean Jackson based on these worthless 20 or so Fantasy points. Moore’s owners could probably tell you he averaged less than 4 Fantasy points for weeks 13 through 16 and killed a lot of playoff dreams in ‘08.
Deion Branch, Sea – Branch had an injury-riddled and weak season but propped up his stats with six catches for 90 yards and two TDs week 17 against Arizona. The Cardinals had nothing to play for, so you should throw these stats out in your assessment of Branch. He played in only eight games and only put up big numbers in week 14 against the Patriots and week 17 against the Cardinals. Keep in mind that two games don’t make a Fantasy season. He could be a sleeper if he is healthy in 2009, but don’t reach for Branch.
Michael Clayton, TB – I shouldn’t have to mention this to any fantasy pros out there, but don’t pick Michael Clayton. After a great rookie season in ‘05, Clayton has done nothing but disappoint. He’s a classic week 17 overachiever, with 87 yards and a TD against the Raiders. This was more than double his best Fantasy output in any other game this past season. Trust me, Clayton won’t be a sleeper for any team in ’09.
Muhsin Muhammad, Car – “Moose” padded his stats vs. the Saints week 17 to the tune of 79 yards and a TD. It was his second-highest fantasy game in 2008 and helped virtually nobody in the fantasy world. Muhammad will be 35 when training camp opens next year, so buyer beware. Don’t bump him up too far based on his week 17 output.
Ted Ginn Jr., Mia – Ginn is a feast or famine guy, and the second year WR feasted on the Jets for 71 yards and a TD week 17. It was a meaningful NFL game, but I won’t bump up Ginn too much. He’s a young player, and he had a big day for many fantasy owners in the week 16 championship game. His stats during week 16 came mostly on a 31-yard rushing TD and his stats during weeks 13 through 15 were awful. Ginn’s a roller coaster ride and a late-round flier pick in 2009 in my opinion.
Mark Clayton, Bal – He had four catches and 128 yards in his game against Jacksonville, but Clayton just isn’t a top NFL wide receiver. He can break a big play now and then but isn’t consistent. In the three weeks prior to this breakout, Clayton couldn’t get more than four fantasy points in any single game. Don’t draft him.
Domenik Hixon, NYG – Plaxico Burress’ “replacement” came through in week 17 in a game the Giants didn’t need. 4 catches for 62 yards and a TD against Minnesota in a game the Vikings needed was OK, though. Just be aware it was Hixon’s second highest fantasy game of the season. There are rumblings that Burress could be back with the Giants next year, so monitor this situation. If Burress returns, Hixon is a late-round sleeper at best. If the Giants hand Hixon a starting job in ‘09, he’s worth having, but he’s no Burress.
Jason Hill, SF – Hill had four catches for 28 yards and a TD, plus a nine yard rush against the Redskins in week 17. Hill’s a deep sleeper candidate for 2009, but be aware this was his second best fantasy game of the year. He had only two TD’s in eight games in 2009, and one of them came in this worthless week 17 matchup. Sleeper WR candidates like Arnaz Battle, Josh Morgan and Bryant Johnson have all fizzled in San Fran, so be aware of Hill’s stats before you reach for him in a later round next year.
Antwaan Randle-El, Was – Randle-El had four TD’s on the year, but one came week 17 against the 49ers. Randle-El’s an okay late-round pick or waiver wire pickup, but hes’ the third option in the passing game at best with Santana Moss and Chris Cooley there, and Washington’s two second round WRs from last year, Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas, could challenge Randle El for snaps as well. He’s just about worthless now.
Anthony Fasano, Mia – Fasano was a Frisman Jackson-like waiver wire claim after an 8 catch, 84 yard, 1 TD performance in week 1. Fasano had breakout games weeks 3 and 16 but didn’t do much in ’08. His 3 catches for 39 yards and a TD against the Jets week 17 inflated his stats. The week 16 performance vs. KC (47 yards and 2 TD’s) was great if you had the guts to start Fasano in your championship game — but chances are if you got that far you had a better option at TE than Fasano. Don’t let his late-season heroics fool you; Fasano is no more than a bye week fill-in at tight end in ‘09.
Michael Bush, Oak – If Bush stays in Oakland he will be no more than a 3rd down reserve back. But week 17 he torched the Bucs for 177 yards and 2 TD’s for over 30 points in most fantasy formats. Watch closely around the NFL Draft and see if Bush gets dealt to a team where he could start. If he stays in Oakland, the most value he’d have would be as a a short-yardage goal line RB.
Tatum Bell, Den – Bell had 117 yards and 2 TD’s against the Chargers as the Broncos completed their collapse and lost the AFC West. An uncanny list of RB injuries resulted in Bell’s resurgence from Fantasy wasteland, and he took advantage. But, with the coaching change in Denver, I doubt Bell will be back with the Broncos, and it’s unlikely he’ll be a starter anywhere in 2009.
Cadillac Williams, TB – In a must-win game for Tampa, Cadillac came through with 115 total yards and 2 TD’s, but injured his patella tendon and left the game. They say he can rehab this injury and come back, but you’ve gotta think that the Bucs will address their backfield situation with a draft pick or trade, and Cadillac will be no better than a committee RB in ’09.
Jerious Norwood, ATL – Norwood had 78 total yards and 2 TDs on only four touches. It’s the touches that are a concern, as we all know that Michael Turner is the man in the Falcons’ backfield. Norwood is a great handcuff for Turner owners, but he’s not that useful otherwise for fantasy purposes.
DeShawn Wynn, GB – Wynn got some mop-up duty in the Packers’ week 17 win over the hapless Lions and padded his stats with 122 total yards and a TD. Wynn is buried on the Green Bay depth chart behind Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson, so ignore him.
Leon Washington, NYJ – Watch the Jets’ offseason moves, but if Thomas Jones comes back, Washington will be a 3rd down RB again and only have value to Jones owners as a handcuff. Don’t draft him as a potential starting RB unless Jones moves on. Washington’s stats in week 17 vs. Mia were 89 total yards and a TD on 16 touches.
Fred Jackson, Buf – In the Bills’ loss to the playoff-hopeful Patriots week 17, Jackson had 136 total yards on 27 carries as he relieved an injured Marshawn Lynch. Jackson is a capable back, but only has value to Lynch’s owners as his handcuff until he goes to another team.
DeShaun Foster, SF – Foster got out of Frank Gore’s shadow and lit up the Redskins for 64 total yards and a TD on 12 touches, but he’s still Gore’s backup for 2009 and doesn’t have much fantasy value.
LaMont Jordan, NE – Jordan had 20 carries for 64 yards and a TD against Buffalo, but there are so many questions in the Pats’ backfield there’s no way he can be assured a starting role in 2009. A RBBC looks likely again in New England.
Jacob Hester, SD – Don’t be fooled into thinking Hester could be the Chargers lead RB in 2009, even if LT leaves San Diego. Hester had 10 touches for 56 yards and TD against Denver, but Denver doesn’t have the best defense in the business. Hester would still have to compete with Darren Sproles for touches if the Chargers let LT go, assuming they keep Sproles that is.
I didn’t see any week 17 performances that should be thrown out. Shaun Hill performed well for the 49ers and could be Mike Singletary’s starting QB in 2009, so don’t discount his 245 yards and passing and rushing TDs in week 17. Detroit QB Dan Orlovsky had 225 yards and 2 TD’s (and 2 INT’s) week 17 against Green Bay. Maybe Orlovsky becomes the starter next year if the Lions don’t go with Matthew Stafford as the #1 pick or acquire a starter from someone else. Either way, I wouldn’t touch any Lion QB with a ten-foot pole in 2009.
Tom is from Toronto, Ontario, Canada and attended Ryerson University's Journalism School. After two years working for CBC's Hockey Night in Canada after graduation, he decided to go into the private sector for employment. He still has a passion for sports, and he's completely hooked on Fantasy Football. You can find him in the forums under his handle, Hank_Scorpio.
Questions or comments for Tom? Post them in the Cafe Forums!
Want to write for the Cafe? Check out the Cafe's Pencil & Paper section!