Saturday, 8 September 2012

The Northern Menace is again a potent threat

For the fifth year in a row, the Northern Menace has gathered to scarify U.S. fantasy teams.  This season they'll wreak havoc in the San Diego Charger Raider Haters league on  The GM was handed the #1 draft spot for the snake-style draft, which is great if you have a wayback machine and can go back 5 years to when LaDainian Tomlinson ruled all and was money in the bank, as dominant a #1 pick as had been seen since Wayne Gretzky required hockey poolers to split up his goals and assists as two separate draft picks.  These days, with Arian Foster perennially tender in the hamstring region, and Adrian Peterson recovering from an ACL reconstruction, there is no slam dunk #1.

The astute GM therefore didn't overthink things, he went with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers as the first pick in the draft, seeing as he leads an explosive offence and will not likely regress from his performance the last couple of years.  He is also durable, aside from the pesky concussion issues that have dogged him.  We hope that he will not try to run for twenty yards every time the play breaks down, but will instead chuck the ball out of bounds and stay active the whole season by doing so.

Now we had to wait while 22 players flew off the board until we picked twice at #24 and #25.  The advantage of picking back-to-back is that you have a lot of time between picks to prepare, and can then pick players in bunches.  The drawback is that a lot can happen while you wait 22 picks, you may think you're prepared, but then find the players you were targeting being stolen right before you speak, and  have to scramble to decide on two other players to choose as the clock races against you.

There wasn't a problem with the 2nd and 3rd pick though.  We targeted two top-flight wide receivers and they were there when called upon.  Andre Johnson was a decent pickup at #24, despite the whispers that he may be getting old and injury prone.  He's still a beast, runs in an explosive offence, and has a healthy Matt Schaub to fling him the ball again.  He should be a fine choice.  At #25, we had waffled a bit as our picks came up, lusting after after Brandon Marshall now that he's teamed up with Jay Cutler again, those two had such great chemistry in Denver, but decided to draft Greg Jennings instead.  The Rodgers to Jennings combo was too tempting, getting a touchdown at both ends of a completion feels tremendous.  It will potentially ring up some pinball-game-worthy scores for the Menace.  Another reason we picked up Greg Jennings is that he has had some stellar seasons in the past for the Northern Menace, especially when he was an unknown quantity.  One season we had the aforementioned Brandon Marshall, Greg Jennings and Vincent Jackson of San Diego as our three wideouts, all three picked up on waivers when injuries struck our allotment of Santana Mosses and T.J. Houshmandzadehs and we had to scramble.  Ah, cheap WR's, those were the days...  Anyway, Brandon Marshall has well-known medical and behavioural issues, we felt that Mr. Jennings was the safer bet here.

Rounds 4 and 5 also went roughly to plan, and we wasted no time in picking up Stevan Ridley as our first running back chosen.  We have a hunch on this kid, in that he seems to have no competition in the Patriots' backfield.  For once, there may be a bellcow back in that potent offence, who'll punch in a touchdown or two every week, and kill the clock at the end of the game, it seems too good to pass up, despite Bill Belichick being an early proponent of the RB-by-committee approach.  We feel that taking him at the end of the fourth round is good value, and that he was the best of the remaining RB's on the board.

As the first choice in the fifth, we snapped up Mike Wallace, the Steeler speedster who had just ended his holdout.  Now, players who miss a lot of training camp worry us, normally, but this guy is the real deal, he would have been picked in the second round if not for having sat out.  We think that a WR can better deal with being absent from the team during OTA's and camp, their regimen and the game they play is different than for a running back.

One player we also targeted here and decided to hold off on was Jermichael Finley, the Packer tight end. Again, the opportunity for a combo was enticing, but we felt leery of taking the kid this high.  He's all potential, has crazy ability, but hasn't delivered on it yet, being subject to dings and nagging injuries that prevent him from dominating, as well as having some maturity and competitiveness issues.  If he puts it together he can be scary, but we thought we might be able to snap him up at the end of the sixth round, at a more affordable rank for a second-tier TE.

Unfortunately it was not to be, Mr. Finley was grabbed a few spots ahead of our pick at #72, so we went RB-WR again, with Rashad Jennings as our second RB picked.  The kid is big, fast, fully recovered from a knee injury he suffered early last season (he was ready to play in October but had already been placed on IR), and drew rave reviews from camp watchers who all saw in him a starting NFL RB this August.  The fact that he plays behind Maurice Jones-Drew is a definite drawback, but the latter's holdout cracked open the door of opportunity for Mr. Jennings, in that it may precipitate a trade.  Also, RB's who hold out are notorious for performing poorly/getting injured, which would benefit our draftee.  Besides, this was our plan, once we'd decided to go with a QB, then two WR's in the first three rounds, we knew we'd be bargain-bin diving for RB's in the later rounds, not picking surefire studs.  We feel reasonable confident that Rashad Jennings will be a shrewd pickup.

Now we had our starting WR's, and two RB's who'll see some action but will be spelled based on matchups week-to-week.  The instinct might have been to stock up on another RB now, get some bench strength, but the other RB's we'd identified as targets weren't slated to be picked soon, they'd be available later, so we put them on the backburner and took Reggie Wayne with the first pick of the seventh round.  Reggie is now a crafty veteran, not quite the speedster he once was, but as the #1 WR on the Colts and the target of rookie Andrew Luck's first passes in the NFL, he seemed like a good value at this point.  If he can retain some of the magic he had in the past and gets us 6-8 touchdowns and anywhere near 1000 yards we'll be happy.

Our picks in Rounds 8 and 9 also went according to plan.  This was getting too easy.  As the 96th pick we grabbed Houston Texan QB Matt Schaub.  While we already have him as our backup in another league, and wanted to stay away from doubling up on the same players, and while we have Aaron Rodgers as our #1 who will likely start every game he plays, we felt the value for the QB of the high-octane Texan offence was too good to pass up.  He'll be injury insurance or a valuable trading chip if he performs as he usually does.  His value this year was deflated by an injury he suffered last season that depressed his stats, but the guy is a high second-tier QB in our estimation, about even with Matt Stafford below the Tom Brady-Drew Brees-Aaron Rodgers stratosphere.

The player we got next was Baltimore Ravens WR Anquan Boldin.  While this goes against our policy of never drafting Raiders or Ravens, Anquan is a warrior and a great value at this spot.  He didn't have great stats last season, but he may be due for a rebound, especially if Joe Flacco can get past the journeyman level  and finally develops as a star QB.  Anyway, not a big risk with a 9th round choice, and a good chance for some upside.

We hesitated before pulling the trigger on these two players, since they would be backups on our roster, and we still needed a starting Tight End.  We'd planned to grab Jermichael Finley in the middle rounds, or failing that, getting either Owen Daniels of the Texans or Greg Olsen of the Panthers late.  Both these players were available in round 9, but we rolled the dice and hoped they'd still be there at the end of the tenth.

Sure enough, both were still there when our turn came up again, and we almost dislocated our shoulder patting ourselves on the back.  We could have gone with Mr. Daniels, he's a quality TE who wrecked his knee two seasons ago and probably wasn't quite ready to go last season.  He plays in the aforementioned Texans freewheeling offence, and if he returns to form he'll put up points.  Instead though, we went with the TE who doesn't have a knee injury to recover from in Greg Olsen.  This player showed great promise when he came into the league but either had to share catches in Chicago with other TE's, or was saddled with a system designed by Mike Martz that didn't showcase TE's historically.  Last season he went to the Panthers and had another mediocre season, due partly to the fact that he shared snaps with Jeremy Shockey, who is now gone.  So we played the hunch that Mr. Olsen will put it all together this season in the Cam Newton offence, with lots of snaps and a system that should feature him.  If not, we'll see what's available on the trade market or the waiver wire.  And we'll forever shun Greg Olsen, we'll have had it waiting for this guy to explode, and getting teased by the too infrequent flashes he shows.

The next player we picked up, with the first pick of the 11th round is Houston Texan super-sub RB Ben Tate.  The kid has all the tools to be a starting RB, and has shown it in games, with explosive speed and the toughness to plow in for touchdowns.  Trouble is, he's behind Arian Foster on the depth chart.  Good thing though, he gets a lot of snaps regardless and makes the most of them.  Last season, he started 2 games, played in 15 and almost rushed for 1000 yards.  Another good thing is that Arian Foster, as we mentioned before, can be fragile, and if he misses games, then starting Ben Tate is a no-brainer.  Again, not a slam dunk of a RB, but a quality player with huge upside, and we got him cheap.

With the draft now winding down, we picked last in the 12th round and chose, in honour of the Seattle Seahawks' '12th Man', their Defence and Special Teams squad.  I never get excited about picking DST's, they're unpredictable from week to week and season to season, but since we have to get one it might as well be the fast and aggressive squad that Pete Carroll is putting together.  They will play the putrid Cardinals and Rams twice each, so those should be easy pickings, and they also have a Week 11 Bye.  I never carry a spare DST to start the season, and I hate having to make room for one on an early bye.  When the bye week is late, you can hope to have some flexibility, in that you may be creating room on your roster by dropping injured players by then.  You can also by then scoop up another DST that a team in need of room on their roster had to drop, one which is past its bye and which you can ride all the way to the end of the season.  Anyway, that's the best reasoning I can put forward for now.  A DST is a DST.  If it pans out great, if not we go to the waiver wire.

Our next pick was our last RB.  We always like to have two WR subs, two RB subs, and a QB sub, at least to start the season, before injuries and reality conspire against our plans.  So for our fourth RB we grabbed David Wilson, the Giants backup tailback.  Again, we took a clear #2 back on a high-powered offence, and again the incumbent is somewhat fragile.  If Ahmad Bradshaw gets dinged up again this season, we may be in line for some good performances from this kid.

Or so we thought, until we heard about him fumbling during the Wednesday night tilt against the Cowboys, and him crying warm tears afterwards on the sidelines.  We may drop the kid as a result.  What does it say about the kid's makeup if he can't handle adversity like this?  Plus, we may not have done the best job of scouting, we now hear that he had a fumbling problem at Virginia Tech, which is why he lasted so long in the April NFL draft despite his physical gifts and potential.  We'll see about him on Tuesday, based on what's available and how the weekend games go.

Our last player we drafted was Rams Kicker Greg Zuerlein.  No reason, apparently he has a strong leg, that's why the Rams drafted him.  We weren't married to him though, knew we'd go looking for a better option, since the Rams won't score much.  Soon enough, a team dropped one of its two (!) kickers in Denver Bronco Matt Prater, so we scooped him up.  We don't mind having a Bronco player, plus Peyton Manning should get that offence rolling, and thereby give their kicker lots of shots at the goalposts.  Prater's got a strong leg, he'll be good for a couple of 50 yarders.

So there you have it, this year's edition of the Northern Menace, with a roster move already performed before the first week began.  May there be little need to make more, be it through injury or poor performance.

QB                          Rodgers, Aaron
RB                           Ridley, Stevan
RB                           Tate, Ben
WR                         Jennings, Greg
WR                         Johnson, Andre
WR                         Wallace, Mike
TE                           Olsen, Greg
DST                        Seahawks
K                             Prater, Matt
Bench (QB)                         Schaub, Matt
Bench (RB)                          Jennings, Rashad
Bench (RB)                          Wilson, David
Bench (WR)                        Boldin, Anquan
Bench (WR)                        Wayne, Reggie

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