Fantasy football: Players I like more than you do

I just completed the second and final draft for the two fantasy football leagues I’m in. I have to admit: Those drafts get me awfully excited for the NFL season.

Fantasy football was a bit of a mixed bag for me last year. My team in my 16-team league went 6-7 and missed the playoffs despite scoring the fifth-most points in the league. It was one unlucky, poorly managed team.

My other team went 12-2 en route to a championship thanks to a pretty good draft and midseason pick-ups like QB Cam Newton and WR Victor Cruz.

It’s safe to assume that I like Ben Tate more than you do. Associated Press photo

There was some ups and downs for my teams, just as there was with my fantasy football post last year. I was right about Matthew Stafford, DeMarco Murray and Eric Decker. I was very wrong about Josh Freeman, Felix Jones and Lee Evans (and many others).

I’m taking a bit of a different approach with this year’s post. I’m in two leagues, and a couple of players ended up on both of my teams. It wasn’t my intention; I apparently just think more of them than everyone else.

And that’s what I’ll go with for this post’s purposes. It’s players I like more than you.

QB Josh Freeman (own in both leagues). I’m all-in on this guy once again. Two years ago in his breakout season, he was seventh among fantasy QBs in scoring in my Yahoo pretty-standard scoring league. Last year in a very down year, he was still 14th. With Vincent Jackson in the fold, I think Freeman will at the very least be closer to his 2010 self than his 2011 self. Can he be the 10th-best QB in fantasy? My guess is most of his owners this year would take that.

RB Ben Tate (own in both leagues). I’ve always been a big fan of drafting talent (see Jamaal Charles, 2010 fantasy drafts). Sounds obvious, right? Of course it is. I understand Tate has Arian Foster playing in front of him, and Foster is an all-world running back. But Tate ran for almost 1,000 yards last year, and he only started three or four games. I’m convinced Tate is at least a top-10 back if Foster gets hurt, and I’m willing to roll the dice on Tate. And that’s despite having not had the chance to take Foster in either of my drafts.

WR Steve Smith – Panthers version (own in both leagues). Smith doesn’t fit the bill of a guy that I usually go out of my way to get in drafts. There just isn’t much potential – or room to grow – here. He just has seemed terribly undervalued in the leagues I’ve been in. Maybe this is the year age catches up with the 33-year-old. And maybe this recent foot infection will hamper him heading into the season (though he will reportedly be fine for the opener). I don’t know. The guy had almost 1,400 receiving yards last year. Sixth among WRs in scoring last year. Yet I’ve gotten him with the 48th overall pick (how did that work out?) in both drafts I was in. The draft I just conducted tonight, I made Smith the 17th receiver selected, taken after guys like Percy Harvin and Marques Colston.

WR Justin Blackmon (own in both leagues).Now this is a little more my style. Young up-and-coming wide receivers often have me going crazy in fantasy drafts. I went out of my way to select him in the 16-team league. Tonight, he fell to the ninth round before I decided to make it a Justin Blackmon sweep in both leagues. He doesn’t seem to have the physical gifts of some previous high selections in the NFL draft. I’m not expecting Calvin Johnson Part Deux to show up or anything. But from the preseason games I’ve watched, he has looked the part of a very physical receiver who can create enough space to get his hands on the ball, and he looks pretty sure-handed (though I’m certainly no expert on the Jacksonville Jaguars).

He may not be on the Patriots or Saints. But I’m hoping the Jaguars can find a way to make Justin Blackmon a good value for your fantasy teams and mine. Associated Press photo

Here are a few more players I like heading into the season:

QB Russell Wilson. Deep sleeper. Had more than 50 rushing yards in recent preseason game. Just named Seahawks starter.

RB David Wilson. Was a deep sleeper, but caught everyone’s attention in last preseason game. I’m sold. He could be this year’s DeMarco Murray. There, I said it.

RB Ryan Williams. Going well after Beanie Wells. Wells is physical back; Williams more explosive.

WR Kendall Wright. This rookie for the Tennessee Titans has gotten plenty of publicity. He has made some really nice catches this month. Can he do it when it counts?

TE Aaron Hernandez. Drafted him in 16-team league. Hardly a sleeper. He was third-best tight end in fantasy last year, yet in both leagues I’m in he was not close to being third TE selected. Boston Globe speculated that Hernandez, not Rob Gronkowski, is Tom Brady’s No. 1 target (hat tip to Yahoo’s Brad Evans).

TE Jacob Tamme. Don’t forget how good this guy was in 2010 when Dallas Clark was injured. Tamme reunited with Peyton Manning in Denver. Didn’t draft him in either league, and I might regret it.

Finally, my rosters:

16-team league keeper (8th pick, snake): QB Tom Brady, QB Josh Freeman, RB Matt Forte, RB Ben Tate, RB Stevan Ridley (keeper), RB Kevin Smith (keeper), RB Tim Hightower, RB Taiwan Jones, RB Rashad Jennings, WR Steve Smith (CAR), WR Justin Blackmon, WR Mike Williams (TB), TE Aaron Hernandez, K Justin Tucker, DEF Green Bay Packers. NOTE: A little light on receiver depth. Drafted Vincent Brown at draft last Saturday afternoon. On Saturday night, he breaks ankle on a touchdown catch and is out for 8 weeks. Fun times!

10-team league PPR (8th pick again, snake): QB Ben Roethlisberger, QB Josh Freeman, QB Russell Wilson, RB Steven Jackson, RB Reggie Bush, Ben Tate, RB David Wilson, RB Ryan Williams, WR Calvin Johnson, WR Brandon Marshall, WR Steve Smith (CAR), WR Justin Blackmon, WR Randall Cobb, TE Rob Gronkowski, K Dan Bailey, DEF Chicago Bears.

Recap of Toronto/Rogers Centre visit

The fourth and final stop on my vacation earlier this month may have provided the worst of the four ballparks, but it was the most exciting city of the group.

It’s hard to compare Toronto to an American city. In terms of population, I suppose it would most closely resemble Chicago. Myself and two friends from high school arrived in Toronto (via Pittsburgh) on Aug. 9 before leaving two days later.

Niagara Falls on the Ontario side.

Toronto really was awesome. Among the cities I’ve visited, I’d rank it with Boston and Seattle as my favorites. I’ve heard multiple people refer to Toronto as the “New York of Canada.” I’ve never been to New York, so I can’t say whether that nickname is justified or not.

But Toronto certainly was a lively city. The downtown area was bustling. It just seemed like there was an awful lot of young people in their 20s and 30s. And there was quite a bit of construction going on downtown for a major city. I got the feeling that it could be much larger – and more congested, I suppose – five years from now than it is today. Lot of big buildings going up.

Aside from a Yankees-Blue Jays game at Rogers Centre, we tried to do as much as we could during our two days in Canada. Before reaching Toronto, we checked out Niagara Falls on the Ontario side of the border. Quite a sight! I had never seen the Falls on either side before. Very impressive.

Tim Horton’s!

I was pretty stunned by the tourism mecca that is Niagara Falls too. We were there on a Thursday afternoon, and it was absolutely packed. The city is full of little shops and restaurants. We made the obligatory Tim Horton’s stop, and that place was an absolute zoo. But it lived up to the billing. How have donut combos not taken off in most of the States?

From there it was off to Toronto. My Forum Communications cohort Dom Izzomade a couple of great restaurant suggestions. We ate at Wayne Gretzky’s restaurant on that Thursday night, then went to East Side Mario’s (Italian food, obviously) on Friday afternoon before the Jays game. I give thumbs-up to both.

The Stanley Cup inside the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Aside from East Side Mario’s, much of Friday was spent within hockey’s hold on Toronto. We checked out the Hockey Hall of Fame in the morning. Had my photo taken with the Stanley Cup. A must.

During a dull moment that afternoon we walked to the site of the Maple Leaf Gardens, which has been converted into a shopping center. Not much to look at inside, but the exterior probably looks much as it did when the Leafs played in the historic ice arena.

I even stopped into the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for those of you who didn’t grow up within an hour of Canada) to see if I could find any Don Cherry memorabilia. Had to settle for a “Hockey Night in Canada” T-shirt.

That night we saw the Yankees take care of business against a pretty depleted Jays squad. Having grown up going to games in the Metrodome, there was a sort of nostalgic feel to Rogers Centre. After all, I probably haven’t seen an indoor baseball game since the Twins’ final game at the Metrodome.

Inside the Rogers Centre for Yankees-Blue Jays.

And the Blue Jays were so good when I was growing up, I just naturally have a lot of memories watching Jays games on Canadian channels or when they were playing in the postseason.

But ultimately, Rogers Centre just doesn’t stack up with the modern ballparks of today. It’s enormous and doesn’t have a lot of frills to it. The team store was very large and had all kinds of Jays merchandise. I managed to avoid spending any loonies there, which was difficult since I really like the Jays retro-style logo this year.

The Jays game did mark the end of the trip. The next morning, we hopped into the car and headed back, stopping that night in Madison, Wis., before arriving in the Twin Cities the next day.

I’m either really focused or falling asleep. It’s been quite a trip.

But before I end this four-part blog series, I should point out two more things about our visit to Toronto.

First off, I had an easier time finding Labatt’s in the States than I did in Canada.

Secondly, Canadians have NOT forgotten about the Montreal Expos. I opted to wear an Expos jersey and hat in Toronto on that Friday both to the Hockey Hall and to the Jays game. And I must have gotten at least a half-dozen comments (all but one positive) from people on the streets. I even had someone say something in French to me. I should have said “merci” back.

And I was hardly alone. A few people were wearing Expos stuff at the Blue Jays game. And they’d look at you as if you were one of their own. Just hilarious! I went up the aisle in our section at one point to go to the bathroom, and another guy sitting in an aisle seat wearing an Expos T-shirt and hat gave me a head nod and lifted his beer bottle into the air.

Long live Les Expos!

Recap of PNC Park/Pittsburgh visit

So you think Target Field is pretty cool, huh? Imagine that park on riverfront property.

That’s why I named PNC Park the best of the 13 active ballparks 11 newer ballparks that I’ve been to. There are a lot of great stadiums that make the most of every square inch. But not many of them have the remarkable surroundings of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ stadium.

Honus Wagner statue outside the stadium behind home plate.

We went to PNC Park on the third leg of a vacation that myself and two friends from high school took a couple weeks ago, attending the Aug. 8 game between the Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks.

It’s an amazing scene that unfolds with every step toward the stadium, as fans funnel to and from the park via the Roberto Clemente Bridge, which is closed to car traffic for games.  You can see right into the stadium from the bridge, with the river crossing directly behind the right-field wall.

Once you get across the bridge, there stands the statue of Clemente himself. At seemingly every gate, fans are greeted by a statue of a former Pirates great, whether it be Willie Stargell or Honus Wagner or Bill Mazeroski.

Yours truly with the Willie Stargell statue

My buddies and I walked inside the stadium and quickly made our ascent to the third level of the park behind home plate. And what a view for 300-level seating price! Our seats were in the 100 level behind the plate, but we had to go to the top to take a look. Completely worth it.

Bill Mazeroski statue next to a portion of the Forbes Field wall that Mazeroski hit his winning home run over in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.

And the stadium is impressive even when you’re leaving. It’s really something to walk alongside all of those fans cross that river via the Clemente Bridge.

No stop to Pittsburgh would be complete without a meal at Primanti Bros., which is famous for its “Pittsburgher” sandwich loaded with steak, french fries and cole slaw piled in the sandwich. We stopped at Primanti Bros. for lunch. My meal at the game was the chicken nachos in Pop’s Plaza. I HIGHLY recommend them. A heckuva deal, and a nice change of pace from the usual bratwurst that I order at the ballpark.

As for the game, the Pirates hung on for a one-run victory. The real fireworks were provided by Arizona’s Chris Young and Justin Upton, who were ejected from the game after Young argued balls and strikes with the home-plate umpire.

View from our seats at PNC Park

The city of Pittsburgh was very sharp. I had read that the city had put a lot of work into revamping its downtown district. And it really showed.

The fourth and final stop on the tour would send us to Toronto with the knowledge that we had just completed a visit to one of baseball’s great venues. A must-see for the diehard baseball fan.

Leaving PNC Park across the Roberto Clemente Bridge.

Recap of the Cleveland/Progressive Field visit

In the new era of modern stadiums, Progressive Field in Cleveland was near the front of the line in terms of popularity.

There was a time in the mid-1990s when you couldn’t buy a seat at Progressive Field.

The second leg of this year’s ballpark tour took myself and a couple of friends to Cleveland. We attended the Twins-Indians game on Tuesday, Aug. 7, and there were plenty of good seats still available at first pitch. The announced attendance was around 14,000.

Progressive Field in Cleveland

Unlike Comerica Park – which had plenty to look at before entering the stadium – Progressive Field is pretty tame. A Bob Feller statue sits in front of entrance outside the stadium.

The highlight inside the stadium was Heritage Park, which pays tribute to past Indians greats. There is a giant wall in honor of Feller, plus plaques of former Cleveland stars like Shoeless Joe Jackson, Cy Young and Kenny Lofton among many others. Neat area for the baseball history buff.

And a former Twins great will be honored soon too. A wall near Heritage Park alerts fans that a statue of Jim Thome is coming soon.

We sat in right field for the game, opting to go the cheap route for once on the trip. They weren’t bad seats at all. We were right next to the Twins bullpen, so it was kind of cool to glance into there from time to time to see who was warming up.

Before the game, Twins bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek actually climbed a ladder near the bullpen and sat a few rows in front of us and started talking to a family.

Like the previous Sunday’s game in Detroit, the game in Cleveland was pretty awesome. The Twins were down 5-1 in the seventh inning but scored three runs in the inning and another three in the ninth for a 7-5 victory. A ball rolled through Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis‘ legs in the seventh, which allowed two runs to score in that inning.

Indians fans weren’t in the mood for another collapse, with many having just witnessed one on TV two days earlier in Detroit. It was the 11th straight loss for Cleveland. That skid was snapped with a victory the following day.

In the immediate area outside the stadium, there wasn’t too much to do before or after the game. There’s a sports bar called Goodfeller’s (in honor of Feller). We walked a few blocks away from the stadium before the game and found a nice line of bars and shops for tourists like ourselves. I picked up a Municipal Stadium T-shirt that I couldn’t pass up.

Heritage Park with a wall letting fans know that a Jim Thome statue is coming soon.

We stopped by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame too before leaving for Pittsburgh. Lot of great music memorabilia. Kind of a bummer that you can’t take photos in there though.

Next stop, Pittsburgh.

Detroit/Comerica Park trip recap

As I mentioned yesterday, I wanted to break down my recent ballpark trip into four installments, with each post focused on one city and stadium.

Two friends of mine from high school and I arrived in Detroit on Aug. 4 and caught the Aug. 5 game between the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.

Approaching Comerica Park in Detroit.

Comerica Park was the first destination on the Detroit stop. The exterior of that stadium was as impressive as any ballpark that I’ve ever been to.

It was all about the details for me. I loved the little Tigers-style gargoyles that appeared on the outer walls of the park. And the giant tigers that sat in front of the park were really cool.

And the stadium, like many newer parks, does a great job of honoring its history. A statue of broadcasting legend Ernie Harwell, who passed away a few years ago, greets those entering the main entrance into the stadium.

Out in left field, statue of Tigers greats like Ty Cobb and Hank Greenberg are all in a row and are popular with tourists.

Statue of Ty Cobb next to those of other Tigers greats.

The interior of the stadium is nice, but big. I’m the type that prefers the right-on-top-of-the-action build of Target Field as opposed to the more spread-out Comerica Park. Others might favor Comerica though, and I wouldn’t blame for it.

And the game, of course, was outstanding, probably the best on the trip. The Tigers had a golden opportunity to win the game in the ninth inning but squandered it. Then in the 10th, Cleveland scored three runs to take the lead, only to have Detroit rally with five in the bottom half to win in walk-off fashion. Miguel Cabrera‘s two-run, game-winning homer capped a great afternoon of baseball.

A couple of restaurant/bar stops outside Comerica that seem to be popular are Hockeytown Cafe and a restaurant that is named for Chris Chelios. Went to Hockeytown Cafe after the game and will give it the seal of approval.

The game is under way at Comerica Park.

A walk through the streets of Detroit near the ballpark didn’t yield too much excitement. You didn’t have to go far to find boarded-up businesses. Really a shame to not see that area flourishing more than it was. The people of Detroit were very friendly throughout the trip.

We stopped at the Henry Ford Museum quickly on Monday, Aug. 6, before hitting the road again for Cleveland. The Ford Museum had a lot more to it than just cars. All sorts of American history chronicled within those walls. Definitely worth checking out. The best part of the museum for me: The Presidential vehicles housed there. Very cool!

Check back tomorrow for my Cleveland write-up.

Back from the ballpark trip with new stadium rankings

Four ballparks in six days can sure take a lot out of you. But what an awesome trip.

I returned to Fargo on Tuesday and returned to work tonight after heading by car with a couple of friends from high school to Toronto. The trip included stops in Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

The ballpark trips are nothing new for me. This marked the sixth straight year that I hit the road to see a new stadium. But four stadiums in one trip was a record for me. I’ve now been to 13 of Major League Baseball’s active parks.

Honus Wagner’s statue sits in front of PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Photo by Hayden Goethe / The Forum

There were some amazing games:

  • Aug. 5, Comerica Park, Detroit: The Cleveland Indians score three runs in the 10th inning only to give up five runs to the Detroit Tigers in the bottom half of the inning. Miguel Cabrera‘s walk-off homer pushes Detroit to victory.
  • Aug. 7, Progressive Field, Cleveland: The Twins score three runs in the seventh inning and three more in the ninth to rally for a 7-5 victory against the Indians.
  • Aug. 8, PNC Park, Pittsburgh: Two Arizona Diamondbacks players get ejected as the Pittsburgh Pirates hold on for a one-run victory.
  • Aug. 10, Rogers Centre, Toronto: The New York Yankees beat the Toronto Blue Jays 10-4. Kind of an ugly game, but it was a 3-2 game before the Yankees scored seven runs in the final two innings.

My plan is to write a blog for each city on the trip. Those will be posted in the coming days.

For now, I thought I would update my stadium rankings for the ballparks I’ve been to.

Here it goes:

1. Fenway Park, Boston. This is the perfect combination of great ballpark, great history and an awesome city to visit. Hope to get back to Fenway one day.

2. Wrigley Field, Chicago. Tough call between 1 and 2. Wrigley has pretty much all of the same qualities as Fenway. I don’t know why I like Fenway more. I just do.

3. PNC Park, Pittsburgh. This place was AMAZING! It’s like Target Field, but with riverfront property. Very modern design, but with the past in mind. And what a backdrop in center field. I’ll go into greater detail when I write my Pittsburgh post.

4. Target Field, Minneapolis. After years in the Metrodome, Twins fans deserve to be spoiled … by their ballpark anyway.

5. Busch Stadium, St. Louis. I don’t think this stadium gets enough credit. Really sharp-looking on the outside and inside. Kind of odd – for a newer park – that you can’t see the field from the concourse area.

6. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City. The last thriving ballpark from the “cookie-cutter era” parks. The recent renovation looked great.

7. Safeco Field, Seattle. Another great new park. How can this be at 7?

8. Comerica Park, Detroit. See future post.

9. Coors Field, Denver.

10. Progressive Field, Cleveland. See future post.

11. Miller Park, Milwaukee.

12. U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago.

13. Rogers Centre, Toronto. See future post.