Friday, January 30, 2009

Breaking down MD basketball since the championship year

Gary Williams deserves better than this.

Right now, Maryland (13-7, 2-4) has no inside game whatsoever. Dave Neal, a six-foot-seven forward, starts at center. And Greivis Vasquez, a guard, leads the team in rebounding (5.7 per game).

Oddly enough, the Terps' usual flaw, free throw shooting, is actually a strength now (77.3%). But the team can't seem to overcome its lack of size and poor three-point shooting (30.6%).

But enough about that. If you've watched any games this year, you know that Maryland is obviously struggling. And hopefully you didn't watch the Duke game.

Because of the struggles of the past few years, Williams is under attack -- seemingly from all angles. Blogs and talking heads on TV and the radio are calling for his resignation or termination. Fans who never really seemed to worry about such things are now curious as to why Maryland hasn't recruited big name players. The athletic department, and specifically Athletic Director Debbie Yow, doesn't get along with Williams. The communication between the two is terrible, and the issues even boiled over recently during a locker room interview with Williams:

Take a look. I coach here. I’ve got to live here. That’s the way it is. I have coached here for 20 years, long before anybody else was here. Nobody was here 20 years ago.

Williams never says things like this to the press; he's usually pretty calm and collected, unlike his on-the-court demeanor. But he's right in this case. No one wanted to come to Maryland when he did, and he turned the program around. He made Maryland basketball nationally relevant and helped lead the team to a national championship.

I agree that winning a national championship doesn't grant a coach a lifetime "Get out of jail free" card, if you will, but when breaking down what has transpired the last several years, Williams doesn't look as bad as many have figured.

The biggest issue is that of recruiting, or to many, the lack thereof. Because things fell through with prized recruit Gus Gilchrist, the Terps were left extremely thin in the front court. Because Williams never really brings in the absolute best recruits, many fans attribute that as to why Maryland has been struggling.

Williams is an outstanding coach, but he absolutely refuses to bend the rules in the recruiting world. He won't hire a player's friend, father, uncle, cousin, or whoever to make sure that player ends up on his team. He won't make deals under the table with AAU coaches or various shady characters to ensure a talented player ends up in College Park.

And, to be frank, if you think Gary Williams is going to change his ways at this point in his career, you've got another thing coming.

Basically, most fans are on one of two sides on Williams's coaching status with the Terps:

1) You still have faith in Williams and think he can turn the program around.


2) You think he needs to leave.

Because, really, this isn't Blue Chips, and Williams isn't going to alter his recruiting stance. He isn't all of a sudden going to start bringing in the Michael Beasleys, Kevin Durants, and Carmelo Anthonys of the basketball world. He refuses to bend the rules, and whether others agree with his methods, he should still be commended for running such a clean -- and successful -- program.

Now, to discuss the level of talent Maryland has had in recent years, listed below are the starting fives and top four reserves of the Maryland teams since 2001-2002.

* 4-star Rivals rating
** 5-star Rivals rating
*** Drafted by NBA team

2001-2002: (32-4, 15-1), NCAA Champions
Steve Blake
Juan Dixon***
Byron Mouton
Chris Wilcox***
Lonny Baxter***
Drew Nicholas
Tahj Holden
Ryan Randle
Andre Collins

2002-2003: (21-10, 11-5), NCAA Sweet Sixteen
Steve Blake***
Drew Nicholas
Nik Caner-Medley
Tahj Holden
Ryan Randle
Jamar Smith*
Calvin McCall
John Gilchrist
Travis Garrison*

2003-2004: (20-12, 7-9), NCAA Second Round
John Gilchrist
Chris McCray
Nik Caner-Medley
Travis Garrison
Jamar Smith
D.J. Strawberry
Ekene Ibekwe*
Mike Jones**
Hassan Fofana*

2004-2005: (19-13, 7-9), NIT
John Gilchrist
Chris McCray
Nik Caner-Medley
Travis Garrison
Ekene Ibekwe
Mike Jones
James Gist*
D.J. Strawberry
Will Bowers

2005-2006: (19-13, 8-8), NIT
D.J. Strawberry
Mikes Jones
Chris McCray
Nik Caner-Medley
Ekene Ibekwe
James Gist
Travis Garrison
Sterling Ledbetter
Will Bowers

2006-2007: (25-9, 10-6), NCAA Second Round
Greivis Vasquez*
Mike Jones
D.J. Strawberry***
James Gist
Ekene Ibekwe
Eric Hayes*
Bambale Osby
Will Bowers
Parrish Brown

2007-2008: (19-15, 8-8), NIT
Greivis Vasquez
Eric Hayes
Landon Milbourne
James Gist***
Bambale Osby
Cliff Tucker*
Adrian Bowie
Braxton Dupree
Dave Neal

Adrian Bowie
Greivis Vasquez
Eric Hayes
Landon Milbourne
Dave Neal
Sean Mosley*
Dino Gregory
Braxton Dupree
Cliff Tucker

I don't have the Rivals' ratings for the national championship team, but Wilcox, Baxter, and Blake were pretty highly recruited. To be generous, I'll give Wilcox five stars for his freakish athleticism, Baxter four stars, and Blake four stars. I have no idea if these are true, but they seem fair. Dixon, though, was not highly recruited, and many basketball people thought he was too small and frail to succeed. They were wrong, but that's another story entirely.

So, by using those made-up (but fair) ratings for Wilcox, Baxter, and Blake, the Terps, including the championship year, have had two five-star recruits (Wilcox and Jones) and 11 four-star recruits (Blake, Baxter, Smith, Garrison, Ibekwe, Fofana, Gist, Vasquez, Hayes, Tucker, and Mosley). Keep in mind, these aren't some biased ratings by Maryland officials; these are actual ratings before players start their collegiate athletic careers. Anyway, of all of the players on the above rosters, only six were drafted by NBA teams: Wilcox, Dixon, Baxter, Blake, Strawberry, and Gist. None of them is a star, but Wilcox, Blake, and Dixon have had decent careers so far.

Maryland will never out-recruit UNC or Duke, yet they still do some damage with a handful of NBA role players and guys who eventually play overseas or not at all.

The point is this: Look at all of the highly rated recruits who did very little. Smith, Garrison, and Fofana were terrible. Mike Jones, who was ranked right behind LeBron James, was nowhere near a five-star talent. He was a great three-point shooter, but he basically didn't do much else. Ibekwe and Gist were solid players, but neither was a star. As for players on the team right now, Tucker doesn't seem to be anything but a role player, Hayes is a good shooter, and Vasquez has a strong all-around game but isn't a great shooter and gets reckless at times. And Mosley has played well for a freshman, but he seems to be the perfect example of the recent-but-flawed Maryland recruit: a player who hustles and fights the whole game, yet he's a shooting guard who can't shoot.

Williams is partially to blame for the failure of some of these recruits; it's his job to coach them up, right? But he couldn't/can't go out there and perform for them. Many of these recruits apparently had the talent and were rated accordingly; they just didn't get the job done.

Meanwhile, other "lesser" recruits like Dixon, Strawberry, Osby, and Milbourne have performed better than guys like Smith, Garrison, and Fofana. Sometimes the players really are to blame, and it's too much of a cop out to simply ridicule Williams when these players haven't lived up to their potential. If no recruits at all were going to Maryland, it would be one thing. But that hasn't been happening.

Besides the players and apparent recruiting woes, Williams has also lost three key assistant coaches who have (or held) head coaching jobs elsewhere: Dave Dickerson (Tulane), Billy Hahn (currently an assistant at WVU), and Jimmy Patsos (Loyala, MD). Those three helped Williams tremendously in recruiting, and their departures may be the biggest reason for the drop off in overall talent.

I was also going to argue about how moving into the Comcast Center hurt the team's overall play at home, but actually, it hasn't. The crowds may not seem to be as loud, and sometimes the stands don't appear to be packed because the crowd isn't on top of the floor like at Cole Field House, but since 2002, when the Terps moved in to Comcast, Williams and the Terps are 34-17 at home in ACC play. That's pretty good.

In my opinion, next season is going to be make-or-break for Williams. The Terps don't look like a team that's going to finish this season on a positive note, but I think he'll be given one more year to turn things around. Vasquez, Milbourne, and Hayes will all be seniors, and the only player the team will lose is Neal. Plus, Gregory should improve a little more, and the team also has two decent recruits coming in to add some size -- they're both over six-foot-seven.

But if Maryland performs poorly again, Williams could very well be on his way out. It's unfortunate, but how much longer can he really last with an athletic director that doesn't really want him to stick around?

Williams helped put Maryland basketball on the map again, at least for several years. It's just a shame that things appear to be headed down this ugly path.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

O's looking to deal for another unwanted Cub

After acquiring outfielder Felix Pie from the Cubs a week and a half ago, the Orioles appear to be on the verge of trading for another Cubs player. According to Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun, the Orioles want to deal for left-handed pitcher Rich Hill, and the deal could be done "as early as next week." The Cubs would apparently receive a player to be named later.

Hill, whose value appears to be limited because he is out of minor league options, would surely be given a chance to earn a spot in the Orioles' rotation.

In 57 career starts and 64 total games, Hill has a 4.37 ERA with 309 strikeouts and 137 walks. In 2007, Hill posted an 11-8 record with a 3.92 ERA and a K/BB ratio of nearly 3.

If Hill, who turns 29 in March, returns to his 2007 form, this deal could turn out to be rewarding, to say the least.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Three predictions

I don't have the time for a long post this weekend, but I see three things happening:

1) The Steelers beat the Ravens 23-13. Willie Parker being healthy makes a difference.

2) The Cardinals take down the Eagles 28-24. I know the Redskins beat the Cardinals at home, but the Redskins also beat the Eagles twice. If a team allows that Redskins team to beat them twice, anything can happen. Is that a reason for making a pick? Probably not -- but I'm no expert.

3) The Super Bowl matchup will be weird. Seriously -- Cardinals vs. Steelers? I kind of hope this doesn't happen, but if it does, whatever. Better than an Eagles-Steelers Pennsylvania lovefest.

Have fun watching the games.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Week in review: Lessons in crab dribbles and Morgan State basketball

Right now, the Steelers are up 21-10 over the Chargers. Earlier today, the sixth-seeded Eagles took down the top-seeded Giants, and yesterday the Ravens and Cardinals both won playoff games on the road against higher-seeded teams. Lots of people probably picked the Eagles and maybe even the Ravens, but just about no one figured the Cardinals would beat the Panthers on the road -- very shocking indeed.

But besides football, it's still been an odd week.

Sunday, 1/4:

-- Last week, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers came to Washington to face the Wizards. I was in attendance and had a great time as the Wizards actually won, 80-77. If it wasn't surprising enough that basically the worst team in the East took down the best one, LeBron was actually called for traveling on a crucial play with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter. Here's a recap of the game, with that questionable play around the 2:00 mark.

First of all, the call was obvious. That's a travel in a real game, a pickup game, or even just when you're in the gym by yourself. Still, it's impossible for James to admit it. Instead, it's a "bad call" because he took a "crab dribble." Caron Butler would have none of that: "A crab dribble is when you, uh, travel." (For more coverage, check out this hilarious posting on the D.C. Sports Bog. This one too.)

Second, the faces of the three guys next to us in red shirts after the Cavs lost were priceless. Not only did they look like they'd never been to a basketball game before, but they cheered like crazy even when LeBron made a simple layup. Thank you, basketball gods, for that small gift.

Tuesday, 1/6:

-- The Orioles reached a deal with pitcher Koji Uehara. Uehara will become the first Japanese player to play for the Orioles. Roch Kubatko, who wrote the blog posting I linked to, adds:

John Stockstill, the Orioles' director of international scouting, has seen Uehara pitch in person about six times and really likes him. But the true test always comes on U.S. soil.

Uehara won two games in the 2006 World Baseball Classic and has found a tremendous amount of success in international competition, which leaves team officials encouraged.

If he turns out to be consistent at all, Uehara will be able to provide some relief for Jeremy Guthrie, who is the only reliable starting pitcher the Orioles currently have. We'll see how he performs.

By the way, I'm getting tired of Orioles' fans whining about the team not trying to sign Adam Dunn or failing to go after Ben Sheets, Derek Lowe, or whoever. I know people will always complain on message boards, and frankly, they have the right to after the last decade plus, but the organization is finally rebuilding the right way -- and now is the time to start complaining? The Orioles aren't going to be very good next season, so what's the point in paying a lot of money for players who won't be able to help the team? The past several seasons have shown that quick fixes just don't work, especially for the Orioles, and it's time to do things the right way. I have no problem with anything that Andy MacPhail has done so far; I wish more people shared that enthusiasm.

Wednesday, 1/7:

-- Even though Washington Post writer Jason La Canfora, who covers the Redskins, seems to like stirring up some trouble, he had some very interesting comments about Redskins rookie wide receiver Devin Thomas in a recent blog posting. La Canfora hinted that Thomas didn't exactly have an easy time adjusting to life in the NFL, to say the least. He wrote:

With a swagger that was not backed up by his play, he did not do enough to get himself physically and mentally ready to play, and many in the organization wonder if he ever will. He could be surly, he enjoyed the nightlife and he never made any real strides toward becoming a regular part of the offense. He continually ran poor routes - often three yards or more too deep or too shallow - which is a massive difference in an intricate precision system. He didn't do nearly enough to earn the confidence of the quarterbacks. He was drafted to be the bigger, deep threat to complement Moss on the opposite side, replacing Brandon Lloyd, and ended up being similar to Lloyd in far too many ways. Thomas has already talked about the need to get away from football for a while, which, for as little as he played, is alarming. He needs to work his tail off all offseason to be ready to help this team.

Not exactly a promising summary of his rookie season, is it? Here's to you, Vinny Cerrato.

-- After that solid win over the Cavs, the Wizards went right back to putting up awful performances. They lost to the Magic, which wasn't surprising, but then the Toronto Raptors came to the Verizon Center. With injuries to Jermaine O'Neal, Jose Calderon, and Jamario Moon, the 14-21 Raptors were without three of their five starters. Fortunately for them, they were playing the Wizards, who were apparently intimidated by such fill-ins as Will Solomon at point guard, who scored 14 points on seven of 11 shooting, grabbed four rebounds, and dished out five assists, and solid NBA starters Jake Voskuhl and Roko Ukic. For the record, until this season, Solomon hadn't played in the NBA since being a member of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2001-2002.

-- Not to be outdone, the Terps fell at home to Morgan State, 66-65. That's right -- Morgan State. Greivis Vasquez shot five of 21 from the field and one of nine from three-point range. As a team, the Terps shot just one of 14 from outside the line.

Obviously, Gary Williams was not pleased with the performance:

"Until you get to where you're playing at a very high level for all 40 minutes or at least close to 40 minutes, that's always a possibility," Williams said. "We got caught tonight against a team that made some big shots and played with a lot of poise. When we had to run some really good plays, we settled for the first open shot and that really hurt us. We can't get away from the fact that we have to pass the ball very well. We missed some shots inside that we should make, but we've done that all year. This is our 14th game so we have to accept the fact that that can happen."

Thursday, 1/8:

-- The Florida Gators beat the Oklahoma Sooners in the BCS National Championship Game. Hooray. We still want a playoff.

Saturday, 1/10:

-- To be fair, Maryland did rebound nicely (sort of) by at least getting a win in the team's ACC opener against Georgia Tech. It wasn't the best-played game ever -- Georgia Tech committed 28 turnovers, and the Terps shot 31.5 percent from the field -- but they still got the win.

So I guess I'll end on this positive: the Redskins still can't draft properly, the Orioles won't be good next season, and the Wizards stink right now. But Maryland basketball won and at least showed a little promise. If they can get into the NCAA Tournament this year, I'll be happy.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

NFL playoffs picks: The revenge of Darren Sproles?

I don't write many NFL picks columns/articles; I'm not very good at it. Last week I thought the Falcons, Colts, Ravens, and Eagles would win, which was good (or bad) enough for a 2-2 record.

But then again, there are some great matchups this week, so I figured I'd give my two cents.

Ravens at Titans

To me, this is the most intriguing game of the four. In his own picks column, Bill Simmons described this game better than I ever could:

One of those mirror-image games, like when Hasselhoff used to fight his evil twin on "Knight Rider." The Titans and Ravens do the same things: muscle you; intimidate you; control the clock with their running games and hopefully break a few semi-big runs; make you pay for loading up on the line by hitting a couple of deep balls (even though neither has a prototypical deep threat); hit a tight end over the middle every so often; and more than anything, make two or three huge plays with their defense. There will be no coaching screw-ups in this game. There will be no dumb chances taken. You will not shake your head at any point for four quarters and say, "Why the hell did they just do that?"

Simmons then goes on to discuss the teams' Week 5 matchup, which the Titans won 13-10. That game was at Baltimore, and the Ravens actually outgained the Titans 285-210. Joe Flacco was 18/27 for 153 yards but threw two interceptions; Kerry Collins completed 17 of 32 passes for 162 yards and one touchdown -- but also had two interceptions.

To be honest, there's no reason to think this game will be any different -- a well-played, physical game that comes down to the wire. The Titans (14.6) and Ravens (15.3) rank second and third, respectively, in points allowed per game; they're also second and third in turnover margin (+14 to +13).

These teams are very similar, but I give the edge to Baltimore because of the way Ed Reed and their entire defense is playing. I know the Titans have been resting for a few weeks now, but if the past few years have taught us anything, it's that the well-rested and 'completely healthy' team doesn't always come out with the same fire or intensity that it had earlier in the season. But the team that has been playing for its playoff lives and been fighting and clawing each week usually does. Just look at what happened to the Colts.

Jeff Fisher is an outstanding head coach, but I just don't see Collins picking the Ravens' defense apart and leading his team to victory.

Pick: Ravens 20, Titans 16

Cardinals at Panthers

On the other hand, this game is probably the easiest for me to decide on.

Here are the results of the Cardinals' five games on the East Coast:

Week 3 at Washington -- 17-24 Loss
Week 4 at NY Jets -- 35-56 Loss
Week 8 at Carolina -- 23-27 Loss
Week 13 at Philadelphia -- 20-48 Loss
Week 16 at New England -- 7-47 Loss

To summarize, the Cardinals were 0-5 on the East Coast in the regular season and were outscored 202-102. In fact, out of their eight games on the road, the Cardinals were 3-5, with those three wins coming against NFC West opponents: the Rams, 49ers, and Seahawks.

Interestingly enough, the Cardinals actually looked their best in Carolina. Warner threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns, but their defense couldn't stop Jake Delhomee (248 yards, 2 TD), DeAngelo Williams (108 yards, 1 TD), or Steve Smith (117 yards, 2 TD). If they're going to win this time around, they'll need to slow down the Panthers' rushing attack.

They won't.

Pick: Panthers 34, Cardinals 20

Eagles at Giants

The Eagles, for the most part, can't run the football, but the Giants can.

Brian Westbrook obviously isn't 100 percent, but then again, is he ever? Also, Correll Buckhalter has actually looked pretty good this season. But the Eagles never seem very interested in running the ball, and usually, they're not very good at it either. It's not surprising that in the Eagles' win over the Giants in Week 14, Westbrook ran for 131 yards. It's also not terribly shocking that their leading rusher in their Week 10 loss to the Giants was Donovan McNabb with just 35 yards.

In nine wins this season, the Eagles' leading rusher averaged about 90 yards per game. And in six losses, the Eagles' leading rusher averaged only 46 yards. (Also, in one tie, Westbrook rushed for 60 yards -- seems about right.)

Besides the play of McNabb (300 yards, 1 TD) and Westbrook's 71-yard touchdown off of a screen pass last week, the Eagles gave the Vikings plenty of opportunities to win the game. It's just a shame that Tarvaris Jackson wasn't up to the task -- imagine that.

On the Giants side, their three-headed rushing attack -- Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Ahmad Bradshaw -- appears to be healthy. And unlike the Eagles, they are devoted to running the ball at all costs.

Not having Plaxico Burress certainly hurts, as it did the last time the two teams played, but the Giants have had plenty of time to come up with a solid game plan.

The Giants will make the Eagles one-dimensional, and they will win the game.

Pick: Giants 24, Eagles 17

Chargers at Steelers

Darren Sproles, who has been one of my favorite players ever since I played with Kansas State in NCAA Football 2004 and ran the option with Ell Roberson and Sproles, was simply sensational last week in helping will the Chargers to victory. This week, though, the Chargers face a completely different defense -- the number one ranked defense of the Steelers that allows only 13.9 points per game.

If the Chargers are going to win this game, Sproles will need to be all over the field again, rushing for first downs, catching screen passes, and making big plays on special teams. I think he has the ability to do so, but the Steelers, with their raucous home crowd behind them, will be extremely difficult to beat.

The Chargers have a puncher's chance in this one, but I just don't see any way they leave Pittsburgh with a victory.

Pick: Steelers 23, Chargers 13

Breakdown of 2008 fantasy football picks

For two years now, I've written a brief article where I selected a few football players who I didn't think would perform to the level that they were being selected in fantasy football drafts. Last year, I chose Shaun Alexander, Randy Moss, Clinton Portis, Frank Gore, Matt Hasselbeck, Eli Manning, and Antonio Gates. I was basically right on four of those seven, which is average, I guess.

This year, I only picked five players, but I think I did a little bit better. Those five were Michael Turner, Carson Palmer, Willis McGahee, Derek Anderson, and Laveranues Coles.

Let's get to the breakdown, which follows the same format as the last one:

Michael Turner

Basically, what I'm trying to say is this: the Falcons probably won't be very good on offense, and Turner will be looking to give away at least a significant portion of his carries to Norwood. Norwood also appears to be the favorite in the passing game, which the Falcons will be in often. Jordan surprised many people with his strong season in 2005. No one knows exactly what Turner can do, and if he's in part-time duty, selecting him in the first few rounds might just not be worth the risk.

2007: 16 games, 71 carries, 316 yards, 1 TD
2008: 16 games, 376 carries, 1,699 yards, 17 TD

Wow, was I wrong about Turner and the Falcons this year. First of all, Turner did not split carries with Jerious Norwood. Norwood had just 95 carries in 2008; Turner had 376. Norwood was definitely a factor in the passing game though; he caught 36 passes out of the backfield for 338 yards, and Turner had only six catches for 41 yards.

But the receiving yards don't really matter much. Turner finished second in the NFL in rushing yards (behind Adrian Peterson), first in carries, second in rushing touchdowns (behind DeAngelo Williams), and tied for ninth in yards per carry (4.5). (Also: Notice that I don't say/write "National Football League" every single time like every football analyst out there. How annoying is that?)

For me, though, the surprise wasn't that Turner played well but that the Falcons' offense dramatically improved so quickly. The Falcons, shockingly, ranked 10th in the NFL in scoring with 24.4 points per game. I didn't think that both Matt Ryan and the team's offensive line would perform as well as they did, but they got the job done (until the playoffs) and allowed Turner to run for so many yards and touchdowns.

At the end of the season, Turner was the second-highest scoring running back in fantasy football, and he'll surely be a top five pick in drafts next year.

Verdict: Wrong

Carson Palmer

I think Palmer is a very good quarterback, but I don't think he'll have that great of a season to warrant being the fifth-best fantasy football quarterback, which he currently is being selected as. With 4,131 passing yards, 26 touchdown passes, and 20 interceptions, Palmer scored just the ninth-most points out of all quarterbacks. Palmer also has two solid receivers in Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and he really should have better numbers.

Also, the Bengals have a schedule that may be more difficult than last season: at Baltimore, Tennessee, at NY Giants, Cleveland, at Dallas, at NY Jets, Pittsburgh, bye, Jacksonville, at Houston, Philadelphia, at Pittsburgh, Baltimore, at Indianapolis, Washington, at Cleveland, Kansas City. Besides the two games against Cleveland and the games against Washington and Kansas City, a lot of question marks remain as far as facing questionable defenses. The only good thing, or bad thing depending on how you look at it, is that the Bengals will probably be behind a lot and will have to throw the football. Still, Palmer could struggle against good defensive teams.

2007: 16 games, 4,131 yards, 26 TD, 20 INT
2008: 4 games, 731 yards, 3 TD, 4 INT

This breakdown is pretty simple because Palmer's season was shut down by a right elbow injury after only four games. Obviously I didn't know he would get hurt, but the Bengals just weren't very good this year anyway -- even with Palmer in the lineup to start the season. If he's truly healthy next year, he could have a solid season. But having to play the Steelers' and Ravens' defenses a combined four times each season doesn't help his fantasy football value at all.

Verdict: Right

Willis McGahee

With a questionable passing game and the possibility of rookie Joe Flacco starting at quarterback, the Ravens are going to have to run the football this year. But McGahee already has some injury concerns with the same knee he injured in that gruesome injury in college against Ohio State. McGahee had 1,207 rushing yards and 8 total touchdowns last season in a relatively good year, but with some injuries and the retirement of Jonathan Ogden, the offensive line could struggle and fail to open up enough holes for McGahee. The Ravens also really like rookie running back Ray Rice, who could steal some carries and receptions on third downs as he tries to carve out a niche on the team.

2007: 15 games, 294 carries, 1,207 yards, 7 TD, 43 receptions, 231 yards, 1 TD
2008: 13 games, 170 carries, 671 yards, 7 TD, 24 receptions, 173 yards

McGahee still had seven rushing touchdowns for the second consecutive season, but he received 124 fewer carries in 2008 and caught 19 fewer passes out of the backfield. Rookie Ray Rice received 107 carries, but the big surprise was the addition of the bruising running style of 260-pound Le'Ron McClain. McClain went from running the ball eight times in 2007 to a whopping 232 times in 2008. Both McGahee and McClain had a yards per carry average of 3.9, but McClain did score three more rushing touchdowns.

If McGahee had the job to himself, he probably would have had a better statistical season. Unfortunately for him, but importantly for the Ravens, they had a more diversified attack this season and didn't need McGahee to carry the ball nearly 300 times. Again, this was/is good news for the Ravens and bad news for fantasy owners who drafted McGahee so early.

Verdict: Right

Derek Anderson

Anderson had a fantastic 2007 season; no one could say he/she saw that coming, except for maybe Anderson himself (probably not). He also has plenty of weapons on offense this year in Braylon Edwards, Donte Stallworth, Kellen Winslow, and Jamal Lewis. But as of right now, he is still recovering from a concussion that he suffered during the preseason. I just don't think Anderson will have the same kind of season he did last year, and I also think if he struggles, the Browns may cave in to some pressure to give Brady Quinn an opportunity at some point.

2007: 16 games, 3,787 yards, 29 TD, 19 INT
2008: 10 games, 1,615 yards, 9 TD, 8 INT

I basically nailed this one. The Browns really only looked solid in one game this season, against the Giants of all teams, but the offense as a unit severely underachieved -- especially Braylon Edwards. Anderson eventually lost his job to Brady Quinn before both quarterbacks got hurt and were lost for the rest of the season. According to new Browns Head Coach Eric Mangini, both Anderson and Quinn will fight for the job next season. Look for Quinn to win the battle.

Verdict: Right

Laveranues Coles

Brett Favre's presence should certainly help the passing game and the whole offense, but Coles's demeanor really leaves a lot to be desired. He's a professional and should still play hard, but I wonder if his heart is really still in it without his buddy in New York.

Jerricho Cotchery (82 receptions, 1,130 yards, 2 TDs) also seems like he's taken over the role as the team's best wide receiver from Coles (55 receptions, 646 yards, 6 TDs). Coles could still have a decent year, but he shouldn't be relied upon as a number two wide receiver option for any standard leagues with 10 or 12 teams.

2007: 12 games, 55 receptions, 646 yards, 6 TD
2008: 16 games, 70 receptions, 850 yards, 7 TD

Looking at the total numbers, Coles seemingly had a better season than last year. But really, he played in all 16 games, even if he wasn't 100 percent, and he more than likely would have surpassed this year's numbers last year if he'd played a full season.

Granted, that didn't happen. Another thing that didn't happen: Favre didn't throw the ball to Jerricho Cotchery enough. Cotchery finished the season with 71 receptions, 858 yards, and five touchdowns; I figured that he could have easily duplicated his 2007 numbers.

But rules are rules. I said that Coles shouldn't be relied on in either a 10- or 12-team league. He was essentially the 24th-ranked wide receiver, which would qualify him for a decent second wide receiver option. It's close, but I was just a bit off.

Verdict: Wrong

The final tally stands at three right and two wrong this year. I should have picked more players, which is what I'll try to do next time.

Two-year combined picks: seven out of 12.