Monday, September 22, 2008

Wacko for ... Lorenzo Neal?

Today I was looking over the damage from the weekend and trying to figure out why my fantasy football team is so freaking awful despite having the "advantage" of the first overall pick in the draft, and also trying to figure out just what it was that made the Ravens offense better than the sputtering catastrophe that it's been since Trent Dilfer was unceremoniously let go.

There's the obvious answers for the Ravens -- Cam Cameron's injection of flavor into the formerly vanilla Ravens offense, Le'Ron McClain pounding the ball up the middle, and Joe Flacco playing serviceable if unspectacular football -- but I don't think that's the whole story. And there's no way to use those to explain why my fantasy football team is the Tom Brady-less Patriots to everyone else's Ronnie Brown-led Dolphins.

But I think I have found the connection. Allow me to explain.

With the first pick in my fantasy football draft, I took LaDainian "no-brainer first pick" Tomlinson. LT has gone on to earn me a whopping 15.2 fantasy points, good for 53rd among running backs. That means there are AT LEAST 20 BACKUP RUNNING BACKS who are putting up better fantasy stats than LT.

Sure, Tomlinson's fall-off can easily be explained away by the nagging toe injury that has him questionable for tonight's game against the New York Bretts, but I think that's looking at it too one-dimensionally.

What's the bigger reason for the Ravens hot start, Tomlinson's ultimate suckitude AND the demise of my fantasy football team? Lorenzo Neal.

Think about it: Which loss do you think hurts LT more? A toe is tiny. Lorenzo Neal weighs 255 pounds (476 when he was carrying Tomlinson's sorry self).

Neal has blocked for 1,000-yard rushers in 11 consecutive seasons: Adrian Murrell with the Jets (prior to the name change) in 1997, Warrick Dunn with the Bucs in '98, Eddie George with the Titans in '99 and 2000, Corey Dillon with the Bengals in '01 and '02 and Tomlinson with the Chargers from '03 to '07.

Without Neal, Tomlinson has been as useless as a toothbrush at a Steelers tailgate.

Meanwhile, Le'Ron McClain is on pace to rush for over 1,200 yards this year.



The guy was the 137th overall pick in the 2007 draft. If he rushes for 18 more yards this season, he'll match his FOUR-YEAR total at Alabama.

You might be saying, "But what about Ray Rice? He ran for almost 5,000 yards in just three years in college. Using your ranking system, why hasn't Baby Ray run for 200 yards a game like he did in college?"

Because Rutgers plays in the baby's-bottom-soft Big East. His 4,926 yards are like 14 in a real conference. Just ask Steve Slaton (wait, what?).

But honestly, while everyone else is Wacko for Flacco, I'm Nuts for Neal. (Boooo.)

Flacco's had the luxury of learning on the job because he can hand the ball off to the NFL's second-ranked run game and the D has been breaking teams' backs.

Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron didn't really have to put Flacco to the test against the Browns (19 passing attempts vs. 44 running plays) because the Ravens were able to jam it up the middle behind Neal's blocks and it didn't matter who was carrying the ball (McClain, Rice and Willis McGahee were all right around four yards per carry).

Neal and company will have their work cut out for them when they visit the Steelers and their second-ranked run defense in Week 4.

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