. . . where we watch every game and reserve the right to change the commentary at the line of scrimmage.
13 Throwaways for Thursday
1. Torrey Smith’s virtuoso performance on the heels of personal tragedy reminded me of his backstory as one of the most likable people in the NFL. Sunday night was a beautiful game played by a beautiful person.
2. Daryl Washington may have sideswiped Patrick Willis and taken over Ray Lewis’ mantle as the best linebacker in football. (Washington was a key piece of the bounty I paid to acquire RGIII in the PFF Dynasty league. While Griffin is the highest-scoring player through three weeks, Washington is the top linebacker and almost certainly has more points above replacement.) Washington’s play on the Cardinals 99-yard fumble return touchdown illustrates why he’s so easy to root for. With James Sanders surrounded by a convoy of teammates who were struggling to keep up and one Eagle left to beat, Washington blazed by at full sprint and laid the touchdown-springing block 70 yards down the field.
3. Speaking of Cardinals players who are easy to root for, Larry Fitzgerald turned in what might have been his fastest forty in a while as he caught the group of defenders celebrating in the end zone a mere instant after the score. Fitzgerald, who later flipped the ball calmly to the officials after his own touchdown, should be revered for his character as much as his talent. While Peyton Manning’s body language has been terrible through three weeks, Fitzgerald barely registered a frown at the Cardinals’ horrific preseason quarterback performances.
4. The antithesis of the Larry Fitzgerald/Barry Sanders model is encapsulated in the trend of pointing to the name on your jersey after a score. It’s almost as though these players don’t realize they’re preening for a punch line. Who’s got two thumbs and is a narcissistic jerk? This guy!
5. At this point, there’s little question that Michael Vick is a vastly overrated reality quarterback and that VBD drafters who gambled on his upside in the fifth round may have to worry about Vick getting benched almost as much as him being injured.
6. I was slightly disappointed in watching the Vikings-49ers game because I was ready to proclaim Christian Ponder a star-in-the-making based on the highlights. He didn’t do anything special outside of a couple plays, but his presence and touch on the early TD pass to Kyle Rudolph were amazing. That wasn’t just any play. That was 4th-and-1 on a gutsy call by the much-maligned Leslie Frazier. The moxie demonstrated on Ponder’s touchdown run was yet another example of the scrambling value brought to the table by the squadron young gun QBs.
7. While we’re on the subject of the Vikings, breakout stars, and Kyle Rudolph, there are probably only five tight ends you’d rather own right now in fantasy and it’s not clear any represent an immediate and significant upgrade. Jimmy Graham repeatedly dropped easy catches on Sunday and appears to be struggling with increased expectations and defensive attention. Rob Gronkowski was kept in to block a ton against the Ravens. The loss of Aaron Hernandez somewhat counterintuitively deflates his prospects. Vernon Davis plays in the 49ers offense, raising questions about the sustainability of his production. Tony Gonzalez is off to a huge start but is benefitting disproportionately from the attention paid Julio Jones and Roddy White. There’s a dream sequence quality to his routes. A combination of Rudolph and fellow breakout star Dennis Pitta probably constitutes the most optimal roster construction going forward.
8. Austin Collie has been a Banana Stand favorite and the ruptured patellar tendon suffered on Sunday is another sad page in an injury-plagued story. However, if it prevents the brain damage that would likely accompany another concussion, that’s a pretty significant silver lining. Production may now be inconsistent from the Colts’ tertiary receivers, but Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton should be owned in all leagues and started in deep ones. Andrew Luck struggled against an underrated Jaguars secondary on Sunday, but his final numbers should continue to be of the mid-QB1 variety. He’ll support as many as three startable wide receivers.
9. The Colts don’t play solid enough defense or run block well enough to support a consistent RB2, but Donald Brown looked awesome again in Week 3. Especially in dynasty leagues, I suggest taking advantage of an internet meme that continues to underestimate his true talent level.
10. Scott Linehan and Gunther Cunningham flunked out as NFL head coaches, and it’s now worth wondering if they were promoted two levels above their competence. How many dropped passes by Brandon Pettigrew and runs into the line by Mikel Leshoure does it take before you simply force the ball to Calvin Johnson? Listening to ‘the Lions are trying to compel the safeties to respect the run’ gets pretty old. What were Titus Young and Ryan Broyles drafted for? Perhaps scapegoating Kevin Smith – the running back who operated so smoothly as a short receiving threat a season ago – for the terrible game plan against the 49ers was a stupid as it was cowardly. As for the defense, the Lions set the all-time record on Sunday with their four-hundred-fifty-seven-thousandth offsides penalty.
11. Jake Locker might be the biggest lightning rod at quarterback in the NFL. He threw for 378 yards on Sunday, but his sprint down the seam early on showed off the raw speed that probably bests both Cam Newton and Tim Tebow. With Nate Washington swapping out brutal drops for highlight reel catches, Locker’s accuracy no longer seemed at issue. The star quarterbacks show no signs of shaking off the fantasy doldrums which makes Locker a sneaky Top 10 QB the rest of the way.
12. Jamaal Charles eviscerated concerns that his knee bruise from Week 2 was related to his ACL comeback. There is no one quite like Charles and there never has been. Combining the vision of Priest Holmes, the short area quickness of Barry Sanders, and the long speed of an early career Chris Johnson, Charles is a transcendent player running behind an overrated offensive line. (Check out the offensive line ratings on PFF, FO, or ANS over the last three years, and you’ll see a striking disconnect between the way they’re talked about on TV and their actual performance.)
13. In researching for a separate article, I discovered that Jamaal Charles has outgained his teammates by 2.3 yards per carry over the course of his career. Adrian Peterson? 0.2. I love reading the insightful Matt Waldman who is bringing scouting to the internet through the excellent Rookie Scouting Portfolio, but his preseason insinuation that he felt sorry for those who couldn’t appreciate Peterson’s brilliance is exactly the type of suggestion that doesn’t advance the burgeoning world of intelligent sports commentary. Peterson is a serviceable back who looks better than he is because the things he does well – run fast in a straight line and churn his legs ferociously at the point of contact – are very stagey and impressive looking to the naked eye. If you can’t distinguish between looking great and being great based on employing a rubric that assigns credit for things that lead to team wins, then you’re failing the bar that scouting has theoretically set for itself.