Perhaps it's not entirely fair, but one of the reasons I liked Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford so much entering last season -- and did so again this season -- was because of Calvin Johnson, the crazy-good wide receiver who seems to be able to score touchdowns at will. I'm not saying Stafford is playing well solely because of the player many call "Megatron," but it doesn't hurt. I doubt Stafford would be fantasy's No. 5 player entering Week 8 with, say, the underwhelming Jacksonville Jaguars wide receivers. By the way, fantasy's top five players are all quarterbacks, and Johnson is No. 6. This Stafford-Johnson duo is working.
So it was that I made a pre-emptive deep-league pickup this week on 31-year-old backup quarterback Shaun Hill, he of the 26 career starts over nine seasons with three franchises. Stafford, as his fantasy owners and Lions fans must be aware, left the Week 7 game against the Atlanta Falcons a bit prematurely and limping with a sprained ankle. It could have been worse. It could have been a knee injury. It could have been last season, when Stafford played in only three games. Stafford, the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, clearly has big league talent, but durability has never been a strong suit.
As of Friday morning it certainly appeared that Stafford, taking first-team snaps in practice, would play Sunday against the pitiful pass defense of the Denver Broncos. This is good news. Well, it's not good for Hill, but even the most optimistic among us has to see how Hill will see opportunity this season, and when he does, he'll have Calvin Johnson -- among others -- to throw to. His defense is also upgrading from last year. That's more good news for Hill, who gets a nod of approval from me as a wise sneaky pickup this week, just in case.
While you might not know much about Hill -- an undrafted Maryland product who has bounced around -- he has thrown 39 touchdown passes against 23 interceptions in his career, and last season in relief of Stafford he certainly had his moments for fantasy owners, with five multi-touchdown games and five with 285 or more passing yards. Is he a potential Pro Bowler or Super Bowl winner? It's not likely. But I continue to place Hill in one of the most favorable spots for a backup quarterback in my weekly rest-of-season rankings because he's not only a decent player, but he's got Megatron. I think he'll do well if called upon, and he could be called upon any minute.
We plan ahead in the Friday sneaky pickup blog, and with many of the byes out of the way, I'd think fantasy owners would prefer to look in Hill's direction than rely on a rookie or a Curtis Painter/Tarvaris Jackson-type in December. I don't particularly like the Lions' schedule from here on out (Green Bay Packers twice, New Orleans Saints, Oakland Raiders), but stats are stats. If the Lions fall behind early and Hill has to play catch-up, well, isn't that how Stafford accrued at least part of his lofty numbers, too?
Here are some other names owned in fewer than 1 percent of ESPN standard leagues I'm keeping my eyes on for potential pickup, because in fantasy football, one should always plan ahead.
Quarterback: Dallas Cowboys leader Tony Romo is hardly like Brett Favre or Ron Jaworski in terms of durability as well, so I'd keep the name Jon Kitna on the short list of statistically competent backups who could see duty. In fact, would you believe Hill and Kitna each finished with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season (they ranked 24th and 25th respectively in standard fantasy QB scoring for the season)? In my end-of-season ranks I generally hold top-40 slots for Hill, Kitna and Vince Young, just in case.
Running back: Speaking of the Lions, even if you have no intention of using Detroit's Keiland Williams this week -- I ranked him 34th at running back -- you have to realize Jahvid Best might miss more weeks and Maurice Morris is not a young man, in football terms. Williams is owned in less than 1 percent of leagues. I'd also stash New Orleans Saints 2010 leading rusher Chris Ivory in case Mark Ingram can't stay healthy. In Denver, Lance Ball waits for Knowshon Moreno to fail again, and knowing the injury history for Oakland's Darren McFadden, watch if Eastern Washington product Taiwan Jones gets a chance. He's got skills.
Wide receiver: Michael Jenkins of the Minnesota Vikings is in his eighth pro season and just delivered his first 100-yard receiving game. We congratulate him but also remain skeptical more big games are ahead. With Percy Harvin questionable for this week and badly underachieving to boot, Devin Aromashodu has opportunity to step up. Remember, an impressionable young quarterback is liable to do anything, and Aromashodu, a former Bear/Colt, is averaging 26.6 yards per catch, though he has a mere five catches. Meanwhile, former Ram Donnie Avery saw his first targets of the season for the Tennessee Titans last week, and there's certainly room alongside Nate Washington for another wide receiver to exploit the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. I'm also kind of watching the Buffalo Bills' Naaman Roosevelt after he scored on a 60-yarder -- his only target of the Week 6 game -- last time we saw him.
Best of luck in Week 8 and beyond!