One thing I’ve wanted to do since the column started was to get some different voices from the Fantasy Community in here. This week I managed to land an interview with a true Fantasy Legend, the great Ricardo Montalban. In this first of nine installments, we will discuss his upbringing in Mexico City and his early TV work in “General Electric Theatre” and “Climax!”. Fear not, though, we will eventually get to his role on the show that brings you here each week, Mr. Roarke on “Fantasy Island”. (The only topic that was off-limits was Leonard Nimoy, his co-star in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”, though he was quick to praise the character and integrity of Spock.)
I also managed to exchange emails with Herija Green. No, he is not the actor who portrayed “Tattoo” (that would be the late, great Hector Villechaize), but rather a superb fantasy sports writer for such sites as bugsandcranks.com and a little daily known as USA Today. I freely admit that I stole the “Matt Forte will bust out 1,800 total yards of offense” prediction from Greenie. He is also a former Upper Deck employee, and it is because of his exit from the company that I was lucky enough to become the hockey editor and write 25,000 cards about the illustrious life and times of Kari Lehtonen. So for that I will always hate him.
We started our back-and-forth with a look at the 2008 fantasy draft…
Kirk Minihane: OK, nine weeks in and the biggest story of the season to me is the staggering amount of first and second-round draft picks that have not merely been disappointments, but have flat-out busted. Take a look at these names: Tom Brady (not his fault, of course, and if Kevin Faulk hadn't been auditioning for the Pineapple Express in the offseason he makes that block in Week 1), Joseph Addai, Larry Johnson, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Peyton Manning, Ryan Grant, Willis McGahee and Braylon Edwards. (If LT hadn't gone wild in London I might've put him on this list. Am I forgetting anyone?)
So is this an overreaction? Does this happen every year? Should owners be "going Singletary" over not taking Kurt Warner in the second round? (Tough to pull a Singletary with your fantasy team. I've tried. Pulling your pants down and screaming at a Yahoo! page during halftime is a quick way to divorce.)
Am I wrong in suggesting that this is the worst first and second round production in recent memory?
Herija Green: First off, if I may speak for your wife (something which I think we would both agree I am eminently qualified to do), I don't think she would have had much of a problem with you using that as a motivational tactic were it not for you having been logged in to www.goingsingletary.com with a web cam pointed south of the equator at the time. I can see how that could be misinterpreted.
As for the disappointment of the first two rounds, if I may channel my inner Troy Aikman, you're exactly right, Kirk. It has indeed been a suckfest of dare I say mythical proportions, because the names you mentioned only scratch the surface of how bad the early-round picks have been. In a typical year, guys like Marshawn Lynch (hasn't sniffed a 100-yard game) and Maurice Jones-Drew (six games with less than 40 yards rushing) would be drawing groans, but they've been relatively good compared to the players picked around them.
I mean, you can easily add Marques Colston, Chad Ocho Sucko, Laurence Maroney and Carson Palmer to your list of high-round flops... and you can make decent cases for plenty of other guys, too: Steven Jackson and Brian Westbrook have battled injuries, Steve Smith began the year suspended, Roy Williams has three more receptions than me the last three weeks, etc...
At this point isn't the more appropriate question, which players haven't disappointed?
KM: Yeah, I passed on Greg Jennings to take Colston in one of my leagues. Great move. Every time I see Jennings catch a TD pass (which seems like every Sunday) I get bitter on a "Timothy Dalton watching the Quantum of Solace trailer" scale.
I'll be conservative and take out four guys (Brady, LJ, Manning and Moss) from the first round. Who steps in? The only two guys I can think of for sure are Matt Forte (on pace for 1738 total yards and is one of the few no-doubt No. 1 backs in a league filled with splits) and Chris Johnson (even better, 1758 total yards). Give me the two other picks (I'm thinking Brad Johnson and JaMarcus Russell).
HG: Are you implying Dalton's career has nosedived since his days as 007? I'm going to go ahead and assume then that you've never seen "Beautician and the Beast," a brooding film noir that carefully layers one flawless executed plot twist on top of another set against the backdrop of Cold War America. Dalton's masterfully crafted portrayal of Boris Pochenko remains required viewing in rudimentary film classes across the country to this day.
As for your first-round replacements, I'm definitely on board with Forte as a late first-rounder. However, I remain skeptical of Johnson (that's what she said?) because on any given week there is between a 5 and 75 percent chance that LenDale White will simply eat him. Still, I saw nearly every snap of their Week 9 game and Johnson is already the clear focus of the offense, so I'll sign off on him at the tail end of Round 1.
Who joins them? Well, you generally need to have a token receiver in the first round, and I'm going with Andre Johnson - for those keeping score, one Johnson (Larry) has been removed from the equation while two more (Chris and Andre) have been added, giving us a net gain of one Johnson per the good people at math.com. Andre Johnson is a monster, can't be stopped even in double coverage and has not one, but two quarterbacks capable of getting him the ball. The big worry with him is touchdowns, but he had eight in nine games in 2007 so he's leapfrogging TO/Moss/Fitzgerald/Wayne on my list.
For the 12th man, I'd have to go with Michael Turner, who is on pace for nearly 1,600 yards and a dozen touchdowns. Matt Ryan is better than anyone could have reasonably expected and teams can't stack the line the way I thought they could. Jerious Norwood is a nice change of pace, but he's not a threat to Turner's 20-plus touches every week. The only downside with him is he's a non-factor in the passing game, which is a little disappointing as you'd hope some nicknamed "The Burner" would be catching things left and right. So in point-per-receptions formats I'm downgrading Turner and adding Reggie Bush to the first round. (KM Note: Tim Hightower is another big week away from having both hands on the “Ryan Grant Award” for 2008. Would it shock anybody if he puts up 1,000 yards of offense in the last eight games of the season? Don’t be shocked if he sneaks into the last half of first rounds in 2009.)
The ball is in your court, sir...
KM: Don't get me started on "Beautician and the Beast". Massive fan of that film. I felt the chemistry between Drescher and Dalton was top-notch. I know they were a little old for the parts, but part of me has always wondered if James Cameron ever considered the pair for Jack and Rose in "Titanic".
I'm starting to think that the draft might be overrated (this year might seal that for me). Isn't it possible to whiff on, I don't know, the first three picks and still figure out a way to be competitive? Of course you want to hit on every selection, but that's just not going to happen.
For arguments sake let's say you drafted Brady in the first round. OK, you could have throw in the towel after Bernard Pollard did his business, gone 3-11 and waited 'till next year. But a little management keeps you alive, I think. We all knew the Lions were going to be "Season Three of Heroes Level Of Awful" from Day One, right? If you had gone the anti-Detroit QB play beginning Week 3 you would have started J.T. O'Sullivan (189 yards, two TDs), Kyle Orton (334 yards, two TDs), Gus Frerotte (296 yards, one TD and an INT), Matt Schaub (267 yards, two TDs) and Jason Campbell (328 yards, one TD). Each of those guys were available in both of my Yahoo! leagues in those weeks (which is why I didn't include Orton's start last week, he was taken). Would Brady have averaged 282 yards passing in those five games, with eight TDs and just one pick?
Are matchups all that matter? If you could start Mewelde Moore each week against the Bengals defense (134 total yards and three TDs in Week 7) he'd be a top-five pick in any draft. If you had to start Michael Turner at Carolina every week (56 yards in Week 3) where would he go in a draft? Is it season management over drafting, in terms of importance?
HG: Whoa, whoa, whoa... if Luke Perry and Ian Ziering can play high school students into their mid-40s I don't see how Dalton couldn't have replaced DiCaprio in "Titanic." I'm also a little surprised to hear you're no longer on the "Heroes" bandwagon. What's not to like? There are 84 heroes to keep track of, half of which are stupid (you've got a guy taking advice from his deceased nemesis), recycled plots and an absurd amount of time travel for optimal confusion. I guess some people are never satisfied.
Playing the matchups is a perfectly acceptable technique for certain positions, namely defense and place kicker, which is why you're never going to find me drafting one before the final three rounds. Nine times out of 10, I'm cutting that DT or PK no later than their bye week, so I don't invest a lot of time into it. I think you can also get away with it to a lesser degree at tight end, though I also see the merit of drafting a solid guy you can leave in your lineup for 16 weeks. I went with Owen Daniels in every league this year, usually four-plus rounds after guys I valued essentially the same.
All that being said, there is no way in-season management is more important than a good draft unless you're playing with a) morons, or b) people that don't care. Is it possible to overcome the loss of one or even two of your top picks? Yes, under ideal circumstances, but in most leagues I've ever been in, the better you do the lower on the waiver totem pole you are and the top pickups aren't making it to you anymore. The position where it really never works is running back, which is why almost without fail three of my top four or five picks are backs. For every Moore there's a Kolby Smith (11 carries, 15 yards starting for LJ in Week 8), for every Le'Ron McClain there's an Aaron Stecker (2 carries, 9 yards taking over for Reggie Bush in Week 8), and so on.
There are always going to be bad matchups where your top guys underperform, but fantasy football is all about playing the percentages. Yes, there will be players that emerge during the year, but without the foundation of a solid draft you're fighting a losing battle. So while I do think in-season management can cover up a lot of warts, it's not a substitute for failing to put together a deep roster on draft day.
I must admit I'm a bit intrigued by your "Levels of Awful" scale, what else is on this scale? Are the Oakland Raiders "WWE circa 2008" bad?
KM: Don't the Bengals have to be "WWE in 2008" on the Level of Awfulness scale? They have all the requirements: zero direction, tons of legal issues, a fan base that has gone from anger to indifference and a couple of "superstars" who have become completely stale. If Bengals owner Mike Brown has a daughter with a cartoonish breast augmentation then we have a bullseye. We all know that Marvin Lewis is out after this season, so would it kill him to sign on for a six-week gimmick where he wears a mask on the sidelines?
You might be right on the draft. Probably I'm overreacting because this has been such a strange season. I do agree with you about TEs. Jason Witten is so far ahead of anyone else at the position that in 2009 he should be taken a round or two earlier than the top TE usually goes. In my Yahoo! league he has nearly twice as many points as the No. 12 ranked TE (Zach Miller), and that's with just one catch in the last two weeks. To me, TE is the only position that has a clear-cut No.1 guy for 2009 preseason rankings (maybe Peterson at RB, but in PPR leagues I can still make a case for Westbrook).
One final question, and it's the one I have received the most email about (though a good 90-95% of those are me emailing myself). What to do with Tom Brady in 2009? He's out as a keeper, but is a top-five QB? Top 10?
Assuming he's ready to go when the season kicks off (which is no lock), I'd rank him somewhere in the 4-7 range. A return to 2007 is, of course, never going to happen (it was unrealistic to expect before this season). But I think he can still throw for 3,500-3,800 yards and 25-30 TDs (a couple of guys named Welker and Moss will still be there).
I know, Herija. You are thinking: Are these the thoughts of an impartial "fantasy expert" or the hopes and dreams of a "Pats homer?" Well, if I were truly a blind worshipper of all things Belichick would I have moved Laurence Maroney all the way down to No. 3 on my 2009 RB chart? (Though one more good game from Clinton Ports might move him to fourth on the list.) As a fine and gracious host I will give you the last word.
HG: Wait, what? Those aren't real? Are you sure? Well, regardless, I'm sticking with my original call of the Raiders being "WWE in 2008" terrible. I mean, c'mon, you've got a once-relevant product that still has a somewhat loyal fan base but isn't producing new fans. Then there's an owner that used to be on the cutting edge of the industry but is now trapped in the past and has become little more than a caricature of his former self. Both shout down dissenting opinions and still believe they know the best way to get results despite all measurable evidence to the contrary. The organizations value big names over performance and neither will be relevant again until the current head honcho steps aside. And I'm sure someone associated with Al Davis has a ridiculously fake rack. Convinced yet?
Before tackling your Brady query, allow me to say while I agree with you on Witten being the No. 1 tight end in 2009, Antonio Gates could be primed for a rebound year if his toe can get healthy during the offseason. Barring a huge second half, you have to know he's sliding down draft boards next year.
Now then, I think with Brady you have to look at Carson Palmer and go from there in terms of what you can reasonably expect. Brady does have the advantage of an additional four months to heal, though I don't remember hearing about Palmer having any complications with his knee surgery the way Brady has, so maybe that's a wash.
Looking at 2006, Palmer was sacked almost twice as much - 36 to 19 - and fumbled three times as often - 15 to five. He committed six more turnovers, threw four fewer touchdowns and lost five and a half points of accuracy off his completion percentage. Can all of that be attributed to the knee injury? Unlikely, but it gives you a jumping off point for what to expect from Brady.
The catch is that those reductions need to be based on what we could've realistically expected Brady to do this season, rather than what he did in 2007. Based on that, I think your numbers look absolutely obtainable - that being 3,500-3,800 range for passing yards and 25-30 scores. Using that assumption, outside of Drew Brees who goes ahead of him without question? Tony Romo? Manning? Donovan McNabb? Does someone like Aaron Rodgers or Jay Cutler take the leap?
Given those options, I still think Brady could be the second or third quarterback selected, but what I would expect to happen in 2009 is a step back from the ledge in terms of people grabbing QBs in Rounds 1 and 2. Anyone that grabbed Brady, Manning or Romo in the first two rounds should remember this season as a cautionary tale for further drafts. You only need to start one QB, draft accordingly.
(KM Note): As of press time, the transcripts of the Montalban interview were still in the hands of the lawyers at Weei.com. They were concerned about possible lawsuits stemming from Ricardo’s thoughts about Priscilla Presley and George Kennedy on the set of “The Naked Gun”. Hope to have the interview up next week.)
Kirk Minihane, WEEI.com Contributor, is the resident Fantasy Football expert for WEEI.com.