First, a huge thanks to everyone who submitted. We had more than fifty entries, so the competition was stiff. But, in the end, we felt there were two runners-up and a winner who stood out in Round 1.
Here’s the official topic for Round 2: Who is your number one sleeper in all of fantasy football for 2011, and why? Round 1 was a little bit macro, this one is a little micro. Let’s see if you can shift gears and impress guest judges Kay Adams and Jim Day. Submissions are due by 5pm EDT Friday, August 5th. 1500 hundred words is the limit, but this is one sleeper we are talking about, don’t try to hit 1500 on the head. Remember, if you missed the first round there is still time. Get us your entries! And here’s one hardball, not-up-for-debate mandate:
• Do NOT paste your article into the body of your email. We cut you slack in this first round, but never again. It makes for lots of extra, unnecessary re-formatting time on our part, and that’s just a pain in the ass. Instead, attach in a Word document (.doc or .docx), sending to BOTH myself – email@example.com — and Chet – firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions that don’t have us both as recipients will also be trashed. We had to do too much forwarding and it made everything a little unwieldy to organize at times.
It may not be a consolation to those of you who didn’t make the top three or get mentioned in the recap below, but please know that the mere act of submitting means you have more balls — we didn’t have a single female entry, hence, the exclusionary testicular reference — and determination than most wannabe writers out there possess. See, many often complain that The Man or The Job or The Wife & Kids or some vast conspiracy perpetrated by Janeane Garofolo, Glenn Beck or both is keeping them down and preventing them from writing as successfully as they believe they can, or as often. It’s always someone else’s fault. Never their own. And the excuses are endless. But you? You just wrote. You carved time out of your busy life, threw caution to the wind and put yourself out there to potentially be picked apart by hyenas. So . . . congratulations. I’m dead serious when I say that I admire the courage that takes, because it’s risky putting yourself out there for people to judge. That’s why most can’t, didn’t or never will.
But, of course, there have to be losers. This isn’t youth soccer, where everyone gets a trophy just for being mildly punctual and having the central nervous system that God gave most mammals. No, out of the fifty-plus entries, after narrowing it down to ten or so that had a puncher’s chance, three stood out: two runners-up, and our Round 1 winner. But we’ll get to them in a second…
First, although they didn’t make the top three, I did want to give proper shout-outs to those whom Chet, Sara, Evan and I debated a bit, and who easily might’ve have moved up in the ranks if not for . . . well, who knows? Sometimes we thought someone had great strategic insight, but wasn’t funny or original. In other cases, someone was fun to read, but didn’t provide any new or insightful ways to evaluate players. And still other times, someone may have dropped more knowledge on us than Will Hunting verbally bitch-slapping a rich kid, and done so with some original levity/humor, but was, sadly, just a sub-par writer whose columns none of us could imagine having to read even one more time, let alone every week throughout the NFL season. Sorry, but it’s true. There was a real mixed bag. And one side of putting yourself out there is being willing to accept criticism without taking anything personally, and know it’s all in the spirit of, hopefully, helping you become a better writer if this is indeed what you’d love to do with your life. So with that, the bullet points below highlight some of the most common gaffes and pet peeves from Round 1, and can be taken as tips for Round 2, general advice, warnings, or all three. (And, incidentally, even our top three weren’t perfect on everything.)
• “Would of” vs. “Would have”… “Outmost” vs. “Utmost … “Supposably” vs. “Supposedly”… “Resigns” vs. “Re-signs”… and so many more. In other words, simply knowing how to write. You might say, “Whatever, William Fuckner — screw grammar and proper writing! This is about football!” Yes. True. This wasn’t entirely a grammar contest. This is, indeed, about knowing your NFL and fantasy shit. But if you write like a meth-smoking 6th grade dropout, do you think anyone is going to notice your brilliant football acumen and take your fantasy observations even remotely seriously? It’s like a homeless guy standing on a street corner. Naked. In a puddle of his own filth with a lice-infested beard and yellowing, curled toenails, wildly swinging two mangy alley cats by their tails. All while wildly shrieking out . . . perfectly formulated, genius-level quantum physics theories in a gentile accent straight out of Notting Hill. Sure, he may sound smart, but all anyone’s going to see are those alley cats. And those rancid toenails. And probably his penis. What I mean is, nobody’s going to want to waste their effort honing your work if you don’t clean up your act beforehand, least of all a Razzball or FanDuel Insider editor who’ll feel like he/she practically has to don a hazmat suit before working on your columns. Food for thought.
• Using the “Sleepers are still sleeping/never woke up” joke. Enough of the bedtime metaphors. We’ve all used them. I’m as guilty as anyone. But the person who discovers a new way to describe a Sleeper who didn’t pan out will earn my eternal gratitude.
• Using “Not!” after a particularly outlandish statement. Jesus. What year is this? Was surprised we didn’t see some “Where’s the Beef?” references. Dana Carvey can burn in hell. But your writing shouldn’t just because you made the foolish mistake to channel him as Garth. That goes for any of you who have, or are considering, using WINNING, DUH!
• Explaining jokes: I liked Matthew Kleinschmidt’s entry. (More on that below. Sorry for the spoiler, Matthew, but while you didn’t make the top three, we did all have you in our top ten, if that’s any consolation). So I don’t mean to single him out …but I will for the sake of the others. See, Matthew also pulled off one of Round 1’s pet peeves: over-explaining a joke or reference. Regarding Jay Cutler, Matthew wrote: “This time around Jay just might grow a pair. Let’s call him Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins in Bull Durham)…” Look, if you have to explain a joke, don’t use it. Or, better yet, trust that your audience is – or at least might be — smart enough to get the reference without your dumbing it down. I’m fine with your playing Dennis Miller every so often. Maybe ‘cause I’m one of the few who actually liked Miller on MNF. Why? Because he didn’t care whether the average nacho-devouring, fist-bumping yahoos in sports bars “got” or appreciated his Hippocrates, Edgar Winter or Jonas Salk references – he just dropped that shit on us and, if we got it, great. If not, also great. He just had fun with it. So don’t hedge your bets by over-explaining, because makes you – not just YOU as in Matthew, but the general YOU out there – look under-confident. No one likes the guy at the party who has to explain a bombed joke’s punch line amidst cricket chirps while his listeners awkwardly sip their drinks, avoid his panicked gaze and conjure up senseless excuses to pull the ripcord on the conversation. “I gotta . . . go . . . uh . . . give my dog his anti-seizure medication.”
• Using receiving “core” instead of receiving “corps.” CORE: The hard or fibrous central part of certain fruits, such as the apple or pear, containing the seeds; the central or innermost part. CORPS: A group of persons associated together or acting under common direction; a body of persons having a common activity or occupation, e.g. the press corps. So, when referring to a group of fantasy wide receivers, it’s “corps.” Please, for the love of the U.S. Marine Core, use that from now on.
• Making “Dirty Sanchez” and other Urban Dictionary-ish quips in reference to the starting QB for the Jets. Sigh. Ditto for “Cleveland Steamer” describing a bad Browns player, the “Bucking Bronco” for a Denver player, or the “Fish Eye” (which is a loose, at best, connection to the Miami Dolphins. Oh, and dolphins are mammals, not fish. Just sayin’ . . .)
• Relying on tired, old stand-bys like “Mike Shanahan hates your fantasy team!” or “Brett Favre texts pics of his penis” or “My nagging wife/girlfriend hates my fantasy football addiction!” Of this last one, Chet wrote, “I’m turned off by references to ‘the wife’ and her ‘nagging, non-fantasy friendly’ ways. This ain’t Everybody Loves Raymond.” And this also irked guest judge Sara “Fantasy Football Librarian” Holladay, and rightfully so: “Basically any dude who mentions his wife/girlfriend in even a remotely disparaging way gets a thumbs down from me. Sorry, just rubs me the wrong way and perhaps they’re just unaware of how many women are smart fantasy sports players.” In related news: One of our guest judges for Round 2 is a super-smart sports person of the female persuasion – Siruis XM Fantasy Sports Radio’s Kay Adams – so keep Sara’s sound advice in mind whilst trying to hone that “Look, I don’t complain about my wife’s Fantasy Shoe Shopping or Fantasy Perez Hilton league!” knee-slapper.
• Apparently Tim Tebow is religious? Hmm. I never knew that. But, boy, is that (apparently) funny.
• Needless use of exclamation points. “Tony Romo is a sleeper!” “I’m passing up Andre Johnson for Roddy White!” “I pulled the lever on the candy machine, but the Clark Bar didn’t come out!” Whatever it is, unless you’re shrieking it at a stranger while shoving them aside seconds before a falling 4,000-pound safe lands exactly where they’d just been standing, it does not, I repeat, NOT require an exclamation point. Exclamation points scream amateur hour.
• Reliance on “You can take that to the bank” to affirm some prediction you made. We read this. A lot. Where is this fucking bank, anyway, and why do they only deal in NFL players instead of actual American currency? Weird.
• “Johnson” jokes: Whether it was Andre, Chris, Calvin, Stevie, Dwayne, or Artie, there were a bevy of “Johnson” jokes. Because – and not many people know this, or so it would appear from so many feeling compelled to remind us — “Johnson” is a slang term for penis. And penises are funny! (See what I did there? Had an exclamation point AND a penis reference.) So, by the handy transitive property, “Johnson” jokes must be funny, too, right? No. Not right. At all. Neither are “slot” jokes . . . i.e. draft slot, i.e. draft vagina, i.e. vagina, i.e. take this “Johnson” and put it in this “draft slot.” Sigh.
• Not spelling NFL cities or team names correctly. This is high treason for fantasy writers, punishable by a torture of watching the 1990 Patriots highlight reel “A Clockwork Orange”-style, eyelid clamps and all. Seriously. We had someone spell Green Bay – perhaps the Mecca of the NFL – “Greenbay.” We also had a plethora of player name misspellings, like “Deangelo” Williams. “Dwane” Bowe. “Ladainian” Tomlinson. No, DeAngelo and LaDainian aren’t exactly “Tom” and “Bob,” but if you want to write for a reputable fantasy site and be taken seriously as both a prognosticator and a fantasy expert, you have to, HAVE TO, spell player names correctly. And for the love of Lombardi, spell Green Bay right. And for the love of William Stephen “Bill” Belichick, don’t spell it “Bellicheck.” And for the love of Sean Payton, spell Peyton Manning’s first name with an “e.” And for the love of “For the love of…” jokes, stop using “For the love of . . .” Oh, and finally, about the tight end for the Jacksonville Jaguars, a certain Mr. Lewis. You all knew he caught 58 balls for 700 yards and 10 TD. But you didn’t always know how to spell his name. Over the course of reading all of your articles, I saw his name spelled: Mercedes, Marcadas, Marcades, Murcedes, Mercatos, America, Mikimoto, Marky Mark, Marc Anthony, Cicada, and, I believe at one point, for no reason, Sir Edmund Hillary. Sometimes, guys spelled his name two completely different ways in consecutive sentences. (Chet joked that he swore he saw “Mercy Sadie Louis.”) Once and for all, it’s: Marcedes. A simple Google search to confirm spelling is all it takes, folks. Don’t be so lazy. Again, editors will hate you.
But, okay, enough of my bitching. Don’t want to make you think it was all just brutal reading and rolling eyes on the judges’ parts. Far from it. There really were some great entries from some talented, hard-working people. So, more than anything, it just came down to subjective opinion. For instance, some things I personally liked about, say, Adam Abdalla – like this random crack about Charlie Whitehurst: “If you’re not familiar with Seahawk stink, just look at a picture of Charlie Whitehurst’s beard and imagine what it smells like” – were overlooked or just not someone else’s cup of tea. While many were making real Mike Vick-kills-dogs-and-was-a-convict jokes, Kevin Jersey at least had the sense to mock that entire tactic when he wrote: “Michael Vick was the one scaring defenses last year, but this year he’ll be more bark than bite. (Get it? A dog joke? Oh, never mind).” And Kevin also made me laugh with the least analytical yet most ragingly succinct explanation on why NOT to draft Tony Romo: “Because, seriously, fuck that guy. Okay, I also don’t like his annual late-season collapses, serial frailty, or poor decision-making.” See what he did there? He got a laugh and then covertly snuck in some tangible reasons why Romo, in his mind, is a Crock heading into 2011. Aaron Leszman had an original spin on LeGarrette Blount’s anger issues, roundly praising Blount as a Lock before adding, “And I say all of this honestly; he’s not standing behind me with a clenched fist at all . . . .”
Although he didn’t make my top 3, Leo Paciga diffused one of the biggest worries about Mark Ingram, saying he’ll be an every down back because “he’s that talented AND HE CAN PASS PROTECT. One of the biggest hurdles for rookie RBs is that they can’t protect the QB at the NFL level. M. Ingram is excellent in pass protection and will adapt quickly to NFL blitz pick up.” See? It’s not all about cracking wise and being Quippy von FunnyGuy. Part of why you read pre-season fantasy football articles is for little nuggets of info that can help sway you when you’re on the fence with a certain player. No, this shouldn’t cause you to grab Ingram as your RB2, but lest we forget, snagging players upon whom your league mates are generally defecating, and watching said players subsequently become fantasy monsters, is how leagues are won. And Leo threw out (A) a player whom few, if any others, mentioned, and (B) provided an opinion on why you might not want to overlook this guy. Next, while “don’t draft drunk” isn’t exactly revolutionary fantasy sports column territory, Matt Andrews had the best advice on how you can covertly over-serve your league mates, selflessly offering to get them beers every time you get up to pee or stretch, so that: “By the 6th or 7th round at least one player isn’t as focused as me. And by the 10th round I’m picking my sleepers while others are laughing and betting over who has the hairiest ass. Whether it’s bong hits, shots of Jack, or rocks of crack — if you save it until after the draft (and the drive home) you’ll at least have one less regret the next morning.” I liked this. Wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny, no. But it was a lighthearted, breezy tone that wasn’t trying too hard. (But, Matt, some small, make-of-it-what-you-will creative advice: ending on one final joke that plays on the notion of regrets – like “…you’ll at least have one less regret the next morning. Especially if your iPhone is filled with pics of the aforementioned ‘hairiest ass’ contest winner that would make your wife suspicious at best, gag reflex at worst” – would have ended this section more confidently. Sometimes, we have to approach our columns the way stand-up comedians approach their sets: they always make back-references to material that struck a chord with the audience earlier in the set. Which means they usually, if not always, end their set on the joke or reference that killed the most. Again, don’t try TOO hard because appearing desperate for laughs is just sad and makes a viewer/reader/audience member uncomfortable. But if something feels right and it’s working, go for it. And end with it.)
Brandon Kamerman had an original opening. It was a “prison” analogy. Started off well, although I thought it’d be more ripe for humor because, in the end, it kinda petered out, and he didn’t carry it through cohesively. But, I mention it not to bash Aaron, but to say that I appreciated his and others who made an effort to begin columns with something just plain different. And, while I didn’t think it carried through the way it could have, Brandon’s prison-themed intro wasn’t all about low-hanging fruit like rape in the showers, which was as refreshing as, well, a shower in which you don’t get raped. To this point – original opening, not sexual assault at the hands of the Aryan Brotherhood – Matthew Kleinschmidt had one of the more original openings, deconstructing the concept of “fantasy” through the ages and applying it to fantasy sports and its relative importance in the world. And, he had perhaps one of the best “theater of the mind” moments when, regarding the goofy way we all get overly excited when one of our players does something great on the field, he wrote: “If you wander into my favorite watering hole on a Sunday afternoon and see a fella doing the running man, shaking his fist like he’s throwing dice, walking like an Egyptian, or doing the Bears shuffle, you can bet one of my boys just made a game-breaking play.” Again, just personal preference, but this line just made me smile. And be glad I don’t live anywhere near Matthew.
Before I get to the two runners-up and winner, I do want to mention some folks whom we liked, and seriously debated, but just didn’t make that top three: In no order: Rick Thomas*, Joe Mullaney, Douglas Riggs, Matthew Kanter, Nate Benzin, Kunle Ola, Shawn Siegele, Kevin Jersey, Kevin Kumpf, Jeremy Walser, Jeff Brubach, Matt Kolodziej, Brandon Kamerman, Jake Fitzgerald, Nicholas Coyne, Matthew Kleinschmidt. So, by “seriously debated,” we mean, you guys should definitely enter Round 2 because you did very well in Round 1. Maybe you lacked some humor. Maybe you didn’t back up some outlandish predictions with stats or analysis. Maybe you went wayyyy over the word count. But you guys had a lot going for you, so check out the Round 2 topic and have at it. Because this thing is by no means over just because (GUY SOON TO BE LISTED BELOW, FINALLY, I PROMISE) won Round 1. *And a note about Rick Thomas: I found his format one of the more original, the kinds of column you’d just know was his and only his, versus possibly being a thousand other writers. That’s because at the start of his player analysis sections, he utilized a tactic called “Why He’s An Inspiration” (i.e. why player is a lock or crock), followed by “Money Quote” (i.e. a relevant quote about each player he was analyzing, whether from a teammate/coach or from the player himself. Some were insightful. Some were just funny, e.g. regarding Marshawn Lynch: Money quote: “Get off me!” — to Tracy Porter”) And, his style was smart while also being humorous. That said, he want wayyyyy over the word count, which wasn’t THAT big a deal, and didn’t play a huge role in not making the top three. But, Rick, just know that I really enjoyed your style and structure, you came damn close to cracking the top three, and hope you come back for more in Round 2 . . . but keep an eye on the word limit.
On the flip side, if you weren’t mentioned above, that doesn’t mean you should abandon hope. Check some of our pet peeves and complaints. See what worked for some other guys. Don’t copy it, mind you, but learn from it. You could just as easily grab hold of the Round 2 topic and absolutely crush it. So, no one is discouraged from submitting again. Except maybe that dude whose opening included a joke about banging one’s sister. (Yes. Really.)
Other random guest judge comments on random entrants…
Sara: “Things I really liked outside of those articles included the fact that Brian Shacochis included his scoring system – and that Bill Byrne went micro and focused just on RBs. Can’t believe how few people narrowed the theme down a bit.” And of Matthew Kanter she said: “Matthew gets some points in my book for his inclusion of pop culture, which is a nice effort and certainly gave it some originality…. I also like that he gave specific advice on where/which round he would take certain players. That’s far more valuable than just grandiose statements about Hillis being a crock.”
Evan: “Jake Fitzgerald is pretty funny. He’s also a pretty solid writer. He could’ve been more creative and gone out on more of a limb with some of his predictions, but he at least did somewhat respectable research.” And of Doug Riggs: “Funny guy but has a ways to go. If he’s going to write for Razzball, he’ll need a tutorial on how to present things. Like don’t just write a player’s last name. You need the full name. He also needs to use more stats & more data. But he has some promise.”
So, anyway, here we go. The top three finishers from Round 1:
2nd Runner-Up: Gary Bajillion. Not only does he have a pimp-y nom de plume (his real name is far more boring), he also had a great mix of insight/strategy, humor and pure writing skill. (“By day I toil in the New York book biz,” he wrote, “and read enough bad writing to know I’m not completely wasting your time.”) He had some nice one-liners that put a simple, original spin on the old “Player X gets in trouble with the law” jokes (“Kenny Britt is a trip to the gas station away from a four-game suspension.”) And his player analysis, use of relevant stats and NFL knowledge more than held its own. Looking forward to seeing Gary bring it in Round 2.
1st Runner-Up: Josh Vitale: Sara loved this 20-year-old University of Maryland journalism major. We all did. Not love love, as in, we all want to marry him, which would be weird on countless levels. But Josh had an easygoing yet confident (not cocky, which was also the downfall of some) writing style and knew his football without going overboard on the stats. He mixed in strategy and general fantasy football draft theory with specific players to target/avoid. He did, however, drink from the “Tebow loves God, and vice-versa” fountain, for which I docked him .0001% of a point. But like I said, even the top three weren’t perfect. Josh is in good position heading into Round 2.
ROUND ONE WINNER:…drumroll please…..Greg Smith. I made “gut reaction” notes on the top of nearly every contender, and of Greg, I simply wrote: “Great opening, good/smart use of stats, funny with obscure references but not trying too hard to be different or obscure for obscure’s sake. I like this guy.” And we all liked him. His opening was one of, if not, the most original: The Book of Job, benevolent dinosaurs, cosmic swaths of color and flame, a flock of birds, Brad Pitt playing the piano, drafting a wide receiver in the first round, The Universe! If there’s one thing I learned from Terrence Mallick and his crazy love for voiceovers, it’s that everything is connected. A force of action must meet an equal, opposite, and collinear reactive force. That’s physics, son. Physics is the only non-cash currency that TO accepts. Or is it physiques? Regardless, for every lock, there is a crock and for every crock, a lock. Let’s move on lest it dawn on the irate estate of Dr. Seuss to take the chance to sue off my pants.”
And, while this might sound like a reason to NOT make him a winner, Greg also had an interesting way to work in kicker advice. I’m no mathmagician, and I don’t feel like going back and scouring each submission, but I’d estimate that 99.7853% of you completely ignored kickers. And that’s fine. Kickers are poncy little debutantes whose fantasy values between the #1 guy and, say, #25 guy are negligible, if noticeable at all. Hell, I was a kicker — SHAMELESS BOOK PLUG ALERT!! http://tinyurl.com/3whsl4g SHAMELESS BOOK PLUG ALERT!! — and even I hate those spunky little bastards. Kickers are the spleens of fantasy football. You gotta have one for some inexplicable reason, but damned if you know what its function really is. (Okay, settle down, Dr. Medical von HeartSurgeon — I know full well that the spleen removes old red blood cells and holds a reserve of blood in case of hemorrhagic shock while also recycling iron.) That said, I was happy to see that Greg not only addressed kickers – a “zig when others zag” kinda move — but did so in a way that was both entertaining AND oddly helpful at the end: “It’s impossible to predict which games Sebastian Janikowski is going to show up for sober. You never know when a Gramática is going to break his leg celebrating a meaningless field goal. Hell, I can’t even remember which Gramática used to be automatica. Kickers are the tortilla chips of fantasy football; there are many varieties, but they’re all pretty much the same – oily, salty, and begging to be dipped in something. This is why you should never draft a kicker before the last round**. With that said, you still need to pay attention to your kicker during the season. Play the match-ups. Sometimes those Tostitos will just blow Casa Sanchez out of the guacamole, you know. **Bonus advice! If your league drafts relatively early, don’t draft a kicker at all. Instead, take a flier on a RB/WR prospect for your bench and wait until right before week 1 to drop your most useless player and grab a slightly less useless kicker.” Some leagues require that you fill out all positions, but if not, this last bit of advice ca prove handy. His one flaw was when, while advising against taking a RB early and opting for a stud receiver, he listed Arian Foster and Jamaal Charles as “guys who could be had later in the draft,” which both frightened and confused us considering those guys are typically going in the top 3 of virtually every mock draft in the galaxy.
But that was a small complaint. Greg, we felt, just had the best combo of stats, acumen, writing skill, originality and humor in Round 1. And felt like he was the most polished of the handful of more polished finalists, i.e. someone the Razzball/FanDuel editors ad staff wouldn’t have to hand-hold right off the bat. This goes a long way. (NOTE: Chet will be posting Greg’s full winning submission later this afternoon or tomorrow.) And, hence, he has the early lead on the rest of you for the coveted title of The Next Great Fantasy Football Writer heading into Round 2.
Thanks again for all the submissions. Really hope you try again if you didn’t fare as well as you’d wished. And, again, please know that even the harshest criticism above is only a “tough love” kinda thing, because we do appreciate the effort and guts it took for you to submit, and only want to help you become better writers, sports or otherwise.