He loves me, he loves me not


It was almost perfect.

Those of you who listen (or just download! We don't care, we just want the clicks!) to the Fantasy Focus Football podcast I do every day with Nate Ravitz are familiar with "The Man's League." It's 15 of our listeners who compete in a deep, hard-core fantasy league against our producer, Jay "PodVader" Soderberg, for Internet fame and bragging rights.

Now, beating our producer isn't really brag-worthy (and frankly, neither is being on our podcast), but that doesn't stop the entries from coming. Thousands upon thousands of listeners sign up every season, each providing reasons he (or she) and he (or she) alone should be in the league.

And when Steve from Norwalk, Conn., offered to create and name three ice cream flavors after me, Nate and Jay, I was game. Next to having my likeness on a Pop-Tart or, better yet, a chocolaty, cream-filled delicacy called "The Talented Mr. Ho-Ho," there may be no greater dessert-oriented honor. So we let Steve in, and true to his word, if you wander into Sweet Ashley's in Norwalk, you can taste Matthew Berry's Fantasy Football Crunch, Nate Ravitz's Berry Kisses and the Jay Soderberg Surprise.

I was asked what I wanted in my ice cream flavor. I asked for vanilla with caramel sauce and crushed waffle cone all mixed in. Whenever I order frozen yogurt, I always get a waffle cone, then have them crush it and mix it in. It's the yogurt version of fantasy goodness. Trust me.

So I'm excited, right? Norwalk is about an hour's drive from where I live … I can go visit (and eat) my ice cream! Then, we get the e-mail. Steve has decided that the waffle cone doesn't work and has replaced it with chocolate-covered pretzels. Ugh.

I'm not a huge chocolate guy to begin with, and I really don't like it on pretzels. And then throwing them in an ice cream? Just sounds disgusting to me. And realize that I grew up in Texas, where even the salad is fried. It's hard to gross me out.

I mean, whatever, right? It's a made-up flavor in one store, and it was supposed to be a goof anyway. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed. It's my flavor. I said very specifically what I wanted. And what I got was something close to the ideal, but not 100 percent perfect.

I was struck with a similar feeling as I reviewed my "Love/Hate" article, the first article I wrote for this year's fantasy football draft kit. Dated July 2, I wrote it the week before, and well, a lot has changed in the two and a half months since it was published.

As I reread it, I was pleasantly surprised. After all of training camp, the preseason games and the injuries, it was mostly how I still would write it. Mostly.

Fantasy value changes all the time. Every second of every hour of every day. As I write this, we don't know the playing status of Kyle Orton or Matt Cassel for Week 1. I just got a tweet asking what I think about the report that Carnell "Cadillac" Williams has been named the Buccaneers' starting running back. And Brett Favre just retired again. What? He could have. You don't know. I could write that sentence every day for the next year, and I'd have a decent shot that it'd be right.

Considering all the changes, I was pretty happy with it. As user luvhandlers wrote in the ESPN Conversation pages on the original Love/Hate article ...

"At the very least the grammatical ineptitude of this article particularly conveys its author's intent and opinion; at the worst the article is an appallingly childish example of journalism that frustratingly fails to prove even the first of its many points."

Yep. Exactly what I was going for. And yet, looking closer at the article, there were a few chocolate-covered pretzels in there. A few things not quite right. So, I dive back in again with a Love/Hate update.

Players I used to hate but now love

Here are some guys I put in the "hate" section of the original article but whom I have reversed course on:

DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers: Jonathan Stewart can't stay healthy. Or get healthy. Or even spell it. OK, maybe he can spell it. But not because he knows what it looks like. Much of my disdain for Williams initially came because of Stewart and feelings that DAW couldn't repeat. But he has looked like a beast this preseason -- check that, a motivated beast -- and the Panthers' offensive line is still among the league's best. Although I still don't think we will see 20 touchdowns again, the 1,500 yards and double-digit scores will happen. I've moved Williams up to fourth overall on my Top 200 rankings and drafted him in a few leagues.

Knowshon Moreno, RB, Broncos: I can hear what you're saying. Well, I can imagine what you're saying. If I had the ability to listen to anyone's inner conversations, my choice of subject would be, officially, not you. Anyway, I imagine you'd be saying something like, "So, you were down on him because there were so many running backs in Denver, and the only thing that has changed is that Moreno has been hurt, yet now you love him?" I do, and it's based on one simple fact: Denver loves him. Talking with folks here at ESPN who know the Broncos, the sense I get is that they signed all those running backs because they didn't think Moreno would be there for them in the first round of the NFL draft. They were all set to select a defensive player but felt Moreno was too good a talent to pass up when he dropped to them. I still really like Peyton Hillis, but if I could do over my "You Heard Me" column, I wouldn't have predicted he'd finish as the Broncos runner with the most fantasy points.

Big Fat LenDale White, RB, Titans: First, spare me the tequila talk. I don't care how much weight he loses. He is and will forever be Big Fat LenDale White. Second, I don't love him. But seeing where he is going these days in ESPN.com standard drafts, I don't hate him. Can I create a "meh" list? He's on that.

Percy Harvin, WR, Vikings: I'm not a huge fan of rookie wideouts, but thanks to the addition of He Who Shall Not Be Named Unless I Need Him For A Joke Like I Did In Intro, Harvin becomes an interesting late-round play.

Players I used to love but now hate

Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers: See Williams, DeAngelo.

Deion Branch, WR, Seahawks: I included Branch in a post about all the Seahawks, and I stand by it. That team will be a lot better than it was last season and will provide a lot of good value. But from reports I am hearing, it's Nate Burleson, not Branch, who is looking the best among wideouts not named T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

New players I love

Here are some guys I am willing to draft a round earlier than they are going, thanks to new information. Their current average draft position on ESPN.com is listed in parentheses.

Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers (sixth round): Took long enough, but Gates is finally healthy. Like, 100 percent, ready-to-kick-ass healthy. I have Witten as my No. 1, but Gates is No. 2 on my tight end ranks.

Willie Parker, RB, Steelers (sixth round): He's the starter. Not the lead in a time-share. The starter. Look at what he did in the playoffs, and know that he's healthy and getting the rock on a team that was top-10 in the NFL last season in rushing attempts and top-11 in rushing touchdowns. Oh, and he's fast. That's why they call him Fast Willie Parker. You can't call him that if it's not true. It's, like, the law or something.

Bernard Berrian, WR, Vikings (seventh round): See Harvin, Percy.

Ray Rice, RB, Ravens (seventh round): As required by fantasy analyst international decree.

Chris Cooley, TE, Redskins (eighth round): He's fantasy-friendly and an Internet star, but most folks don't realize that Cooley tallied career highs in receptions and yards last season. Or that he has increased those categories in each of the past two seasons. Or that among tight ends last season, only Tony Gonzalez had more receptions. Yes, Cooley's scores were down, but he has scored at least six touchdowns in every season except last season. I'm saying the lack of scores was the fluke, and although tight end is a deep position, Cooley will be one of the elite at the end of the season.

Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants (ninth round): When Derrick Ward left, he took more than 1,400 total yards with him. New York had the seventh-most rush attempts last season, the eighth-most rushing touchdowns and the most yards. And this season, the Giants no longer have Plaxico Burress as a receiving option. This team will run, run again and then run some more. There will be more than enough rushing attempts to go around, and by the way, have we mentioned that Brandon Jacobs has played in only 13 and 11 games the past two seasons?

Felix Jones, RB, Cowboys (10th round): He should be getting Ray Rice-type love and hype but isn't. If he winds up with more fantasy points this season than Marion Barber, it'll surprise many. But it shouldn't.

Eddie Royal, WR, Broncos (eighth round): Three things I know: The Broncos will throw, Royal has two good hips and has a nice, sunny disposition.

Chris Henry, WR, Bengals (15th round): Four preseason games. Four touchdowns. Two first names don't hurt, either.

The backups: There are many backup running backs I like a lot based on what I have seen in the preseason. You can see my Top 200 for whom I like more than others, but James Davis of Cleveland, Glen Coffee of San Francisco, Mike Bell of New Orleans and Justin Forsett of Seattle have impressed me. I'll add that Mike Goodson of Carolina, Chris Brown of Houston, Bernard Scott of Cincinnati and Greg Jones of Jacksonville will have more value than you think. All are one injury away from being legit fantasy starters.

Anthony Fasano, TE, Dolphins (16th round): I wrote in my 100 facts about how the Dolphins had thrown 14 of their 20 touchdown passes to tight ends last season. Seven went to Anthony Fasano. Three went to David Martin, who, as of this past weekend, will not play for the Dolphins this season.

New players I hate

Here are some players who are being drafted too high, in my opinion:

Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals (first round): Before everyone freaks out, I love Larry, OK? Just not as a first-round pick. As I mentioned in my 100 facts column, six of Fitz's 12 touchdowns last season came in the four games Anquan Boldin missed. If you look at Fitzgerald's production of the past three years in games in which Boldin played, they are statistically the same player. And Boldin is being drafted two rounds later.

Marion Barber, RB, Cowboys (third round): Worried about health and Felix Jones. That's enough for you to look elsewhere in the third round.

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers, and Eli Manning, QB, Giants (ninth round): I put both guys here because I feel they are in the same boat. Or yacht -- I forgot about Manning's ridiculous contract. They are big names who have won Super Bowls. But they also play for run-first teams. Roethlisberger has health concerns, Manning has receiver questions and both are going before guys like Joe Flacco, David Garrard, Kyle Orton, He Who Shall Not Be Named Unless I Need Him For A Joke Like I Did In Intro, Matt Hasselbeck -- all of whom I would rather have.

Roy Williams, WR, Cowboys (sixth round): I like the upside and the offense, but he's a No. 3 fantasy receiver being drafted as a No. 2. If I don't ever have to start him, I'm fine with rolling the dice. But if he's one of my two best wide receivers, there won't be a week that goes by when I feel confident about starting a guy who has played in only 27 games of a possible 48 the past three seasons, has only one 1,000-yard season and has never had at least 10 touchdowns in a season in his six-year career.

Derrick Ward, RB, Buccaneers (seventh round): Um, that whole Cadillac Williams' being named the starter thing? Not a vote of confidence. Just saying.

Trent Edwards, QB, Bills (14th round): Hard to quibble with any pick in the 14th round, but he makes the list because of a new offensive coordinator, an offensive line that was bottom-10 in sacks allowed last season and now starts two rookies, and the fact that later in drafts you can get guys like Shaun Hill, Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Jason Campbell -- all of whom I like better than Edwards.

Michael Crabtree, WR, 49ers (15th round): I don't care how late you draft him. He will not contribute this season at all. He's not worth the roster spot. Period.

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- would have settled for toffee bar crunch. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a Web site that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his Cyberfriend