Foolish Thoughts: Foolish Fantasy Football Draft Kit

With most of you hunkering down to conduct your drafts this week, if you haven’t done them already, let me remind you about our handy rankings and strategy recommendations.

2009 Foolish Fantasy Football Draft Kit

Now that our “draft kit” of sorts is out of the way, let’s talk football, shall we?

A Kick and a Prayer

For starts, did you see Chad Ochocinco kicking field goals last week? The fantasy football world will never be the same…

The first time Ochocinco kicks it into a screen at Cowboys Stadium, there’s going to be hell to pay. I can’t believe all the fuss about a television screen. Yes, it can be raised out of the way, so why are we so concerned that it will change the game? The Titan’s punter was gunning for it. That’s my story.

Chad Ochocinco might be better on your fantasy team as a kicker this year. Chris Henry has looked sharp this preseason and was drawing compliments from Carson Palmer in the offseason workouts. For the second straight week, Chris Henry scored a touchdown, even with J.T. O’Sullivan throwing the ball.

There may be better sleepers out there, but Chris Henry is the only Bengals receiver I would want to own on my fantasy team this year. He’s in a contract year, which means he won’t disappoint, and with Palmer looking like he’s one more sack away from sitting out 2009, it’s good to see that Chris Henry can play nice with backup quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan.

Rusty Tom-bone

On the Patriots side of the ball, Tom Brady looked a bit off Thursday night. As I’ve warned in the past, he could be a slow starter this season, and I wouldn’t blow an early pick on him unless you’re in a passing touchdown or quarterback heavy league.

Jag Snag?

Can Troy Williamson be a legit receiver? That’s what the Jaguars are starting to think while Mike Walker is missing time.

Williamson was supposed to replace Randy Moss when Minnesota drafted him. He didn’t. Now he looks like he could be a deep threat. Then again, Williamson might just be putting on a show until the regular season starts so that he can disappear in a cloud of fantasy owner frustration.

I’m interested in what he has to offer this season for the moment, and you can probably look for him as a late-round flier in most drafts or simply keep an eye on him on the waiver wire.

Now About that Hot-lanta Run Game

Anyone who is worried that the Falcons won’t run as much with Michael Turner this season should have watched the Falcons game against the Rams. I’ll give you that it was the Rams, but Turner looked like he was in regular season form.

Contrary to Popular Belief

Willie Parker can still score touchdowns. He proved that this week. Rashard Mendenhall is great and all, but he’s just not spectacular enough to find his way on the field for many snaps this year unless something happens to Parker.

Packing It In?

The new-and-improved Packer defense doesn’t look half bad. Actually, they don’t look even one-third bad. If this continues, I’ll have to look to snag them as a sleeper team defense. They certainly have looked exceptional at causing turnovers in the preseason. The Baltimore Ravens are not too shabby in that category either.

Cutler 1, Neckbeard 0, Denver -1

And, for the record, Jay Cutler looks much better than Kyle Orton. Sorry, Broncos fans, you’ve been ruined this season by the neckbearded left hand bomb.

Fantasy Draft Day Pick or Pass: Top 12 Quarterbacks by ADP

We’ve analyzed the rankings for running backs, wide receivers and tight ends already this preseason and recommended who you should avoid when it’s your turn to pick. Now, it’s time to take on the quarterback position.

Most standard fantasy teams will only need two quarterbacks on the roster, one starter and one backup. What separates the starters from the backups is reliability. Starting fantasy quarterbacks can be counted on to get close to 20 points every week. Backups, well, they have a chance if everything breaks right for them in a given week.

This year, more so than in years past, I find it hard to trust any of the backup-level quarterbacks. I’d recommend doubling up on quarterbacks in the middle rounds unless you land one of the elite options.

As I have already done with the other skill positions, this “pick or pass” look at the top quarterbacks will help you decide who to avoid because players are either too risky or too inflated in value this season due to hype. Sometimes rankings just don’t cut it because some projected values don’t tell the whole story.

ADP values were taken from Fantasy Football Calculator and were current as of August 24, 2009.

Pick or Pass: Top 12 Quarterbacks as Drafted in Mock Drafts

1. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints — ADP: 2.04 — PICK
Brees had a phenomenal season last year without his top target, Marques Colston. This season he faces a more difficult schedule, but he’s still likely to air it out more than most of the other quarterbacks in the game. His quick release should keep him productive. I worry about this high price tag because I’m not a fan of taking a quarterback early this year, but drafting Brees in the middle of the second round is not a wasted pick. As long as passing touchdowns are worth six points in your league, it’s safe to draft him in the middle of the second round. He’s one of the elite picks at quarterback.

2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots — ADP: 2.04 — PICK
Tom Brady was a fantasy tragedy last season, injured in the first quarter of his first game. But in 2007, he was the cream of the crop of fantasy. His 2007 Patriots swept fantasy boards with Randy Moss and Wes Welker setting receiving records left and right. This preseason, Brady has looked off-target, but I have no doubt he’ll be in sync with his targets by the fourth week of the season. That said, he’s being drafted far to high for my tastes this year. Conference opponents like the Dolphins and Jets have improved on defense since he played them in 2007, and new coaching could make all the difference in how Brady’s season plays out. I like him as one of the elite quarterbacks at the position, but I don’t feel as comfortable about him as I do Brees and Manning. While he’s hard to pass up, I’d sit on taking Brady as a pick until late in the second round or early in the third round. If he goes down again with a knee injury this season, you don’t want to be left without a highly drafted leg to stand on.

3. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts — ADP: 3.03 – PICK
Manning has always been the most trustworthy of the elite quarterbacks. Last season was a down year only because he was struggling to return from his knee surgery and limited by offensive line woes. This season looks to be a return to form. In the last preseason game, Manning connected with Reggie Wayne for a 76-yard touchdown pass. That’s the kind of play I expect to see more of this year. With Manning, you know what you are getting, and for the first time in a long time, you’ll probably be able to get him at a bargain rate. He’s a great pick anywhere in the third round.

4. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers — ADP: 3.11 – PICK
Rodgers is one of my favorite quarterback selections this year. He’s got arguably the most talented receiver corps in the NFL with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson. On any other team, these receivers would all be starters. Jennings has made it his mission to reach Larry Fitzgerald’s level this year, and James Jones and Jordy Nelson should easily dominate any nickel corner they encounter when all four receivers take the field. The Packers defense has looked great this preseason, but with the scheme change this just offseason, they shouldn’t perform this well when the regular season rolls around. That means Rodgers will find himself playing from behind in enough games to air the ball out. I look forward to those. Rodgers is a great pick and usually still available in the fourth round. After Rodgers, there aren’t many elite options left.

- – - END OF THE ELITE QUARTERBACKS – - -

5. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers — ADP: 4.07 — PASS
Philip Rivers has never been one of my favorite players, and so I take some pleasure in knocking him this offseason. Last year, he established himself as one of the premiere fantasy quarterbacks in the game, but the Chargers defense was also the worst it’s been in several years without Shawne Merriman and LaDainian Tomlinson seemed like a shell of himself. Rivers statistics were a fluke and statistically impossible to replicate. Throwing the same number of passes as in previous years, Rivers managed to produce more touchdowns than ever before in his career and more yardage on each throw than the average quarterback. With L.T. returning this season in better shape and Darren Sproles hoping to land himself another contract with his play this year, I don’t see Rivers repeating those numbers. He should return to his former status, around the lower-end of fantasy starting quarterbacks, and I don’t want to waste a fourth or fifth round pick on that kind of production. I’d suggest you pass.

6. Kurt Warner, Arizona Cardinals — ADP: 5.01 — PICK
Despite his numbers last season, Warner isn’t being drafted as highly as he should be because of concerns about his hip injury. Warner’s not going to be one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the league, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone. He still has the most talented receiver in the NFL, Larry Fitzgerald, and two more elite options, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston, to catch the ball. The addition of Beanie Wells doesn’t convince me that the Cardinals will stop throwing the ball. And so, even if Warner’s hip injury continues to nag him all year, I think he’ll be worth a pick. I do think drafting him at the top of the fifth round is a little pricey, but I’ve seen him available as late as the sixth or seventh rounds. That’s where I’d look to grab him. With Warner, just be sure to get a great backup — hint: someone else who appears on this list as a “pick.”

7. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys — ADP: 5.07 — PICK
Tony Romo may have lost his prized receiver when Terrell Owens was cut this offseason, but that won’t necessarily slow his production. Camp reports have raved about second tight end Martellus Bennett and preseason standout Sam Hurd. Miles Austin, the Cowboys’ franchise player this year, looked to have explosive form last year in limited duty. If he sees the field enough to make an impact this year, he can replace some of the plays T.O. might have made. And I haven’t even mentioned the new No. 1 receiver, Roy Williams. He’s unproven with only one elite year in Detroit under his belt, but he’s back home in Texas and primed to show his value. I doubted Williams early this offseason, but he’s grown on me. With this wide receiver corps and favorite target Jason Witten, Romo should still be able to put up starting-quality numbers, and you can often get Romo as late as the seventh round in many drafts. He’s definitely a great pick there.

8. Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles — ADP: 6.01 — PICK
McNabb has never had the benefit of the doubt — not even in Philadelphia. This year, he’s got more weapons on offense than ever before with DeSean Jackson, now a proven deep threat, and rookie Jeremy Maclin. Rookie runner LeSean McCoy should act as insurance for Brian Westbrook this season and guarantee that the Eagles offense won’t look like an entirely different animal if Westbrook gets hurt. With all these improvements, McNabb should be set for another good season. He finished the year just behind Peyton Manning last season as the seventh-highest-scoring quarterback, and he could do it again this year. Available as late as the eight round, he’s worth a pick. I’m not too worried about Michael Vick cutting into his playing time.

9. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans — ADP: 6.10 — PICK
The Texans look great every offseason, but they continue to disappoint fans on the field. In fantasy, they didn’t disappoint last season. Schaub missed five games, but when healthy, he was more likely to net you 20+ points with Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter and Owen Daniels as receiving options. Schaub’s bound to have at least one healthy season in him. Why not this year? With Sage Rosenfels now in Minnesota, Schaub may tough out an injury to stay on the field so that the team isn’t in the hands of Dan Orlovsky. I’d feel comfortable drafting Schaub as a starting quarterback, but owners would be wise to get a strong backup for him in case he does miss time.

10. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons — ADP: 6.10 — PASS
Ryan is a hot pick to blow up in fantasy football this season. For my own safety, I tend to lean towards the side of caution. Tony Gonzalez adds a great receiving target for Ryan, but Ryan’s still just a second-year starter. We don’t know what to expect. While looking strong as a rookie, Ryan isn’t guaranteed to jump to Peyton Manning’s level with just one year under his belt. Michael Turner is still going to get a great deal of carries, and Ryan will make the smart plays. Ryan may have a few games where he is a worthy fantasy starter, but if you want to take this gamble, make sure you draft him as your backup quarterback, not your starter. At this ADP, I would have to pass on Ryan this season.

11. Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals — ADP: 7.12 — PASS
Palmer hasn’t played a game since October, and after just one preseason showing against the Saints, he’s now sitting out again. Palmer has talented receivers in Chad Ochocinco, Laveranues Coles and contract-year sleeper Chris Henry, who is building hype this preseason, but Palmer hasn’t shown the ability to stay on the field. I’m still not convinced he’s the same guy as he was before his knee surgery in 2006. I worry that he’ll take a hit and miss more time this season, and that makes him an unreliable starter on which to hang your season. His draft stock is too high for my tastes, so I’d pass on Palmer as anything more than a late-round backup quarterback.

12. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears — ADP: 7.12 — PICK
Jay Cutler put on a show last year as the Broncos’ defense put the game in his hands almost every week. With Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal on either side of the field and Tony Scheffler at tight end in Denver, Cutler was one of the elite. Now in Chicago, Cutler has been downgraded to a high-end backup quarterback, but I think he still has the potential to rise beyond this draft stock. Devin Hester is an explosive breakaway wideout, and second-year receiver Earl Bennett was a former teammate of Cutler’s in college at Vanderbilt. Young tight end Greg Olsen, who has the best hands of all the Bears’ receiving targets, is fast becoming Cutler’s go-to guy. I wouldn’t be afraid to draft Cutler as a starter, but I’d feel even better about acquiring him as an elite backup. If he rises to the top of the fantasy charts, you’ll be able to trade off one of your quarterbacks for value. If not, at least you have one of the best backups available. Cutler’s a great value pick this season.

The Rest of the Pack

That concludes my look at the top quarterback options in the league. After this top-12 group, there are a select few candidates like David Garrard, Chad Pennington, Matt Hasselbeck and Ben Roethlisberger who promise reliability but little else from week to week. I’d feel more comfortable drafting them as a backup than a starter, and obviously, you’d rather have one of these top options as a backup if you can get them.

Then, of course, there are a few gambles like Brett Favre, Matt Cassel and Trent Edwards. Favre’s not a guy to trust as a starter as he broke down last season for the Jets, but he does have more promise than Garrard or Pennington to put up starter-worthy scores when you need him.

I have my doubts about Cassel, dumped in Kansas City without the receivers and offensive line that aided him last season, and Edwards, running a no-huddle offense in the cold northern tundra. If Cassel stays healthy, he could make something out of targets like Dwayne Bowe and Bobby Engram, but I’d feel safer staying away from that little Todd Haley experiment. Edwards could start hot with Terrell Owens and Lee Evans only to fade late in the season as Buffalo gets colder — the weather and the fantasy value. I wouldn’t advise you to target any of the three as your backup quarterback, but in a pinch, I’d choose Edwards, then Favre and Cassel only if options were extremely limited.

Good luck drafting and make sure to get the best value possible with each of your picks. As always, the comments are yours.

First Round Fantasy Football Draft Strategy for 2009

You know that tough feeling when your heart is telling you one thing, but your mind is telling you something completely different?

It’s not love…or the cheese fries. It’s the first round of your fantasy football draft. Easily confused, for sure, but very, very different.

The first round is a Wild West again this season with no locked-in picks in the first round. Many consider Adrian Peterson the consensus first overall pick or the safest option at the top of the draft, but rebels out there will tell you that they prefer Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner or even Tom Brady, if they dare.

Just because A.P. is rated first overall, that doesn’t mean you have to draft him. Depending on the scoring rules, I might not. He’s just not my favorite guy.

In the first round, you should consider drafting a running back, a wide receiver or a quarterback — draft a kicker and someone will smack you — and there’s a strategy to taking each position.

Drafting a Running Back in the First Round

It’s not that it’s out of style to draft a running back. It’s just that it loses its shiny appeal after the first three to four picks are off the board. Once Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner and Matt Forte are off the board, the running back ranks get muddy.

Draft LaDainian Tomlinson? No, thanks. Steven Jackson? Yeah, but no. Kill me now.

The conventional wisdom is that taking a running back in the first round is the safest option and most valuable pick since true No. 1 running backs and running back depth is hard to come by in fantasy drafts, but much like 2008, this season offers up plenty of running back by committees, or RBBCs, which will do just fine for my fantasy purposes.

Even in the third round of a 12-team league, you’re still able to find quite a few running backs worth starting, and that allows you to have some freedom in the first round. Marion Barber (ADP: 3.01), Ryan Grant (ADP: 3.08) and Kevin Smith (ADP: 3.10), all third round picks according to Fantasy Football Calculator’s average draft positions, aren’t terrible options. They were close to first-round consideration if they weren’t drafted in the first round just last year.

If you have one of the top four to five picks in the draft, taking a dominant runner is a valid option — and probably your best strategy — but with backs like Frank Gore (ADP: 2.o2) and Clinton Ports (ADP: 2.11) still available in the second round, don’t force it.

Drafting a Quarterback in the First Round

You may be tempted by Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady, especially if you play in a league that awards six points for passing touchdowns, but don’t draft a quarterback in the first round just because they score the most points each week.

It was a hot trend last season, but the fantasy football community cooled off after Tom Brady made owners pay by going down in the first quarter of his first game. So much pain to think about…let’s move on…

By the nature of starting lineups, most leagues only require 24 quarterbacks to be drafted (12 starters, 12 backups), and only 12 of those players start each week unless you’re in a two-quarterback league.

Only starting one, there’s better value to be had waiting on your gunslinger. The signal callers of the fourth and fifth round aren’t far behind the first-round prospects and could always rise, much like Philip Rivers did last season, up to their level if you’re lucky.

Drew Brees and Tom Brady are great and all, but I’d rather take Tony Romo (ADP: 5.09) or Aaron Rodgers (ADP: 4.01) and have three or four stud running backs or wide receivers on my roster.

Current average draft positions show Brees (ADP: 2.03) and Brady (ADP: 2.03) finding their way back into the second round, and Peyton Manning (ADP: 3.03) might still be around in the third at a great bargain price.

If you find yourself at the tail end of the first round, you can consider drafting a quarterback, but I think the odds are in your favor if you wait on even the elite to fall into the second or third rounds. Some say taking a quarterback in the first three rounds is a waste. My sweet spot for quarterback value is the fourth and fifth rounds this season.

Drafting a Wide Receiver in the First Round

It’s hard to argue with Talented Mr. Roto Matthew Berry’s assessment that there are only seven top receivers to go around this season.

Some have more upside than others, but seriously, the difference between No. 8 on the list of wide receiver scoring leaders from last year (Antonio Bryant, 157 points) and No. 30 (DeSean Jackson, 110 points) works out to fewer than three points a game. So if everyone in a 10-team league started three receivers every week, outside of the elite, you’re basically getting a three-point advantage starting the best non-elite guy over the guy that’s barely better than waiver-wire fodder.

That stings when you put it that way, but it is so true. Receiver is the wise way to go with your first round pick this year if you miss out on the elite running backs. With questions surrounding a few of the top seven like Roddy White, Steve Smith and Calvin Johnson, there are even less sure-thing elite receivers to go around.

Taking a receiver in the first round may ruin a few of your fantasy diehards’ lunches, but the drop off from the late first-round backs to the second-round or even third-round backs is not as significant as the drop off from first-round receivers to second-round receivers. Not to mention, there is a wealth of talent at running back in the middle and late picks of the draft, especially if you like sleepers.

If I draft top receiver in the first round and more elite wideouts are available in the second, I might even draft another one. You can’t stop me!

The stats are there to show it’s the more valuable pick late in the first round. As long as you draft intelligently, the fifth round running backs should be there to save you.

So go crazy, got it? Now you just have to choose a draft strategy for the rest of your draft.

As always, the comments are yours.

Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: Cutting Out the Middle Men from Best Player Available

I’ve been a complete subscriber to the “best player available” school of thought when it comes to fantasy football draft strategies, but in 2009, I’d argue in favor of a more enlightened form of drafting a starting roster. Regardless of who you take in the first two rounds of your draft, most fantasy draft strategies boil down to one of two plans: “best player available” or “drafting a starting roster.”

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let me explain the difference.

Best Player Available Strategy

By drafting the most valuable player, regardless of position, this fantasy football draft strategy aims to load a roster full of the most productive fantasy studs possible.

In order to prepare for your draft, you must tier your rankings and cheat sheets in advance. The tiers allow you to see the most productive fantasy studs across all positions and draft accordingly. For example, rather than continuing to draft running backs in the fourth round, you might notice that all the running backs are gone from your top two tiers while three wide receivers in your second tier are still available. These receivers would be more valuable to have at that point in the draft. The schmucks who don’t have their rankings tiered will just keep following their running back rankings down the board while there is a run on running backs and lose value with every pick they make.

Tiering your rankings is fairly simple. Here are the basic steps:

  • First, create your rankings. I often combine many sources into one consensus ranking, much like Fantasy Football Nerd does for you, and then adjust based on my own gut feelings and predictions.
  • Start dividing your rankings into levels, or tiers, by separating starting-quality players from backups. Separate your RB1s from your RB2s and your QB1s from your QB2s.
  • Keep dividing your rankings by position down to the point level, or projected scoring for the 2009 season — players who you expect to produce ungodly point totals each week in the first tier, those who produce five points less in the second tier, 10 points less in the third and so on. The more tiers you can create, the better you’ll be in you draft.
  • When you’re done, layout your draft notes and align the tiers in such a way that you can see your draft tiers across every position in just a glance. The first tier would be one row, and the tiers go down the page from there. When your cheat sheet is compiled, you’re ready to draft.

In theory, this best player available draft strategy ensures that your team is well-rounded, but it doesn’t guarantee you strength at any one position. If the draft follows a certain path, you could end up with strong wide receivers and running backs but an incredibly weak quarterback situation. When there’s a run on running backs early, you could end up with a slew of wide receivers from which you can only start two each week.

As long as you keep balance in mind near the middle and late rounds of the fantasy football draft, you can usually field a solid team with this draft method, but in recent years, I’ve often found myself wishing I had more superstars on my roster. Consistent point totals can only get you so far when you get to the playoffs, and this draft strategy often discourages you from starting the runs on the top tight ends or quarterbacks.

Starting Roster Strategy

Often practiced by fantasy football newbies who don’t know any better, the starting roster method fills every starting position for your Week 1 lineup before drafting any backups. The reasoning is simple: pick the best player to start at every position so that your starting roster is as strong as possible. This method receives plenty of criticism if players go as far as to select a kicker or team defense with their middle-round picks rather than waiting until the final rounds of the draft.

Players employing this strategy are usually the first to draft a quarterback, a defense, a tight end and a kicker. Most of the time, that proves to be a fatal move in their draft because they lose out on depth at running back and wide receiver.

The major flaw in this system is that not all positions are created equal. A starting tight end isn’t worth grabbing over a strong backup wide receiver or running back when there are 10 more tight ends of equal value still available.

The Sleepers Complication

But what if you could take a little from column A and a little from column B?

As a bit of a fantasy veteran at this point in my career, I usually identify several late grabs who could pay off in a big way for me on my fantasy roster. Depending on the experience of my draftmates, and their own sleeper picks, it’s usually possible for me to get a few, if not all, of my guys. While they may not all hit for me, I believe enough in my track record to continue to rely on my sleepers late in drafts, so what’s the harm in betting hard on my fantasy knowledge?

With this all-in thinking applied, I constructed a new draft strategy this season.

The “Cut Out the Middle Men” Draft Strategy

If you know what you are doing, you can adapt the starting roster strategy to your advantage with a little influence from the best player available draft strategy.

  • To begin your draft, pick the best players available — running back, wide receiver or quarterback — in the first two rounds. Select the guys that will produce the most fantasy points early and fill your starting positions with who you believe are the strongest options overall.
  • In the third round, start thinking about your starting lineup. For example, if you already have two stud running backs for your two starting slots at that position, draft a top-tier tight end or quarterback to guarantee that you’ll have elite production across your roster. By breaking away from the best player available strategy and starting the run on these other positions, you reach for your top choices but maximize the chances that you’ll end up with the strongest starters.
  • Once you have all your starting roster spots filled, excluding a kicker and a team defense, begin to draft backups for each position once again basing your picks on the best player available mindset, but lean on your sleepers rather than middle-of-the-road picks. Consistent veterans may be the “best players” on the board, but a sleeper who could quickly become a startable fantasy stud is worth more on your bench since your starting roster is already so strong.
  • In the final two rounds, draft your team defense and kicker. If you have a defense you absolutely love, you could still include them in drafting your starting roster, but I find that most defenses drafted early don’t perform well enough to deserve the pick.

The third point on drafting backups and sleepers could probably use a little more explanation.

Say you have your starting lineup finalized and are now looking at backups. Rather than draft a fantasy backup like Ricky Williams or Fred Taylor, you would look to grab Shonn Greene or Jonathan Stewart. Instead of having a mediocre backup wide receiver like Torry Holt, pass for a few rounds until Chris Henry looks like a reasonable selection.

By the time many backups are being drafted, the players you’re taking won’t be much better than what you can find on the waiver wire throughout the season. While you’re sacrificing depth in loading up on sleepers, you could end up with a stronger roster if many of them pan out for you.

Assuming these guys, sleepers and mediocre starters, are all going to be drafted, you’re loading up your roster with players who have the potential to be top-10 players at their position for the few weeks they may see time on the field rather than reliable players you may never start. If the sleepers pay off, you get to trade them for positions of need or sub them into your lineup. If they don’t, you can easily drop them and await a waiver wire gem midseason.

What’s your draft strategy?

I believe that this “cut out the middle men” fantasy football draft strategy will allow me to compile a more boom or bust roster that should free up some roster positions early in the season and, hopefully, allow me to get more of my top picks on my roster.

My gripe with the best player available method is that you often sit back and never start the runs on any given position during your draft. While that allows you to build great depth on your roster, it doesn’t mean you’ll put together the most points each week since the bench only helps you out in a tie.

I’ll be experimenting with this draft strategy in a few of my final drafts this season.

Would the “cut out the middle men” work for you? What’s your draft strategy this season? As always, the comments are yours.

Fantasy Draft Day Pick or Pass: Top 12 Tight Ends by ADP

After going through the “pick or pass” of the average draft positions for running backs and wide receivers, we come to the next position on many draft boards, tight end.

While there’s a top tier of elite options, the tight end position is pretty deep this year. Players that didn’t even make this list could be valuable starters by season’s end, but here we’ll just review the top 12 picks at tight end according to average draft position.

These ADP values were taken from Fantasy Football Calculator and were current as of August 13, 2009.

Pick or Pass: Top 12 Tight Ends as Drafted in Mock Drafts

1. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys – ADP: 4.05 – PICK
As a favorite target of Tony Romo, Witten will get plenty of love this season. He’s likely to lead the team in receptions, and that makes him in a class of his own when it comes to tight ends this year. Witten is a pick, and you’ll have to burn an early one if you want him on your team.

2. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers – ADP: 4.12 – PASS
Many would write off last season as the result of a nagging injury and expect Gates to return to form in 2009, but I think the 2008 season showed us a little something more. Philip Rivers has more targets than just Gates in the Chargers offense now, and Vincent Jackson might be the top target on this team for the future. While he’s still one talented tight end, I’d worry about taking Gates this high and expecting him to produce like the Gates of old. I’d much rather wait a bit for a tight end with less risk. I’ll pass.

3. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons – ADP: 5.04 – PICK
While Gates is questionable, Gonzalez remains steady among the elite tight ends. He’s no longer in Kansas City, but Atlanta should utilize him in plenty of passing situations and has christened him as the new “hot route” for Matt Ryan. Don’t expect him to be more productive than he was last season — that was likely a career year for Tony G. — but a few touchdowns below that level should be possible. He’s a good pick.

4. Dallas Clark, Indianapolis Colts – ADP: 5.10 – PICK
Despite an injury this offseason, Clark’s stock has been on the rise lately. As I mentioned in our wide receiver pick or pass, Clark could benefit more than Anthony Gonzalez from Marvin Harrison’s departure. He should excel as the second look in this offense and is likely to see the ball coming his way as much as he has in past seasons or more. As a late fifth- or sixth-round pick, you could do worse than taking your tight end a bit early and picking Clark.

5. Greg Olsen, Chicago Bears – ADP: 6.06 – PICK
Unfortunately for those of you drafting later this month, you won’t have the benefit of snagging Olsen while his value was still on the rise. With Cutler in town and reports out of training camp that Olsen is already his shiny new toy, Greg Olsen is projected to finish the year as a top-five tight end. As such, he’s now being drafted as one, so don’t expect a bargain. If you can get him in the late sixth round, that’s still pretty good. Any later than that, and you’re picking him at a steal of a price. He’s a pick.

6. Kellen Winslow, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – ADP: 7.05 – PASS
Kellen Winslow would normally be among the elite tight ends, but his move to the Bucs has hurt his value. While the Bucs expect to use him quite a bit in two-tight-end sets, Tampa Bay is not the play-from-behind, passing offense that Winslow thrived in while in Cleveland. They will rule the field with their defense and two- to three-headed running attack. Even more damaging, Jerramy Stevens will still line up at tight end and has the talent to take some opportunities away from Winslow. Winslow could get some looks in the red zone, but Tampa Bay’s talk about spreading the ball around and an unnamed quarterback make him unworthy of a selection before the eighth round. There’s better value to be had, and I’ll pass.

7. Chris Cooley, Washington Redskins – ADP: 7.11 – PICK
Cooley’s one-touchdown season last year was a bit of a fluke. Santana Moss received a lot of attention early in the year, and the Redskins punched it in on the ground throughout the majority of the season. While they looked a little lackluster in their first preseason game this year, the Redskins’ offense should still look to Cooley when they need a play, and I’d expect him to return to form this season. Cooley is a solid tight end pick, and he’s likely to still be available in the eighth round.

8. Owen Daniels, Houston Texans – ADP: 8.03 – PICK
As a Texan, Daniels carries the hype that the Houston team and fans create every season — the hype that convinces us all that they could be the next explosive offense to hit fantasy football. In truth, they showed they could be a force in 2008. Andre Johnson’s always been elite when healthy, and Kevin Walter is on his way to being a known name. Owen Daniels was a blessing at tight end last season for those who snagged him late, and he should continue to be a solid option this year. Much like Witten, he’s a primary target when the Texans need a play, and he has the upside to rise higher than this draft stock. Don’t be afraid to take him with your pick in the eighth round.

9. John Carlson, Seattle Seahawks – ADP: 9.09 – PICK
Carlson may lose some touches to the newcomer T.J. Houshmandzadeh but he’s developing into one of the elite tight ends in the game. Don’t expect him to take a big step from his rookie totals in just his second season, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if he added a few touchdowns to his 627 yards and five touchdowns from last year. As a late-round tight end selection, Carlson is dependable enough to target in your draft if you’d rather stockpile depth at other positions with your early picks. Carlson is a solid pick.

10. Jeremy Shockey, New Orleans Saints – ADP: 11.04 – PASS
Despite his brutal playing style and his reputation as a playmaker with the Giants, Shockey hasn’t done much for the Saints since his trade. Fantasy football is very much about what a player has done for you lately, and Shockey’s not earning any street cred. Brees throws the ball more than most, but Shockey was never healthy enough or useful enough to warrant a significant number of passes. He’s still carrying this ADP value simply because he’s a known name, but I’d much rather have a tight end who has proven their worth in the offense they run — Zach Miller comes to mind. Avoid falling for the name game and pass on Shockey.

11. Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers – ADP: 12.08 – PICK
The Steelers don’t give Miller many chances to leave his blocking duties at the line, but Miller can catch the ball very well when called upon. He seemed to be on the rise for several seasons until he had a setback last year. I’m afraid he may have already peaked, but it’s hard to complain about a guy that you can draft in the 12th round. I don’t love Miller because he lacks upside, but he’s solid enough to be worth the pick.

12. Tony Scheffler, Denver Broncos – ADP: 12.12 – PICK
I was a big Scheffler fan when Jay Cutler was in town, but without his great quarterback, I’m not sure where Scheffler lands with this new offense. There were rumors that he would be traded early this offseason, followed by rumors that he was touted by coaches as one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the NFL. I side with the coaches on that one, but he might not be able to show it unless Kyle Orton makes a point of getting him the ball. Scheffler will still share time with Daniel Graham, the better blocker and a former Patriot, which limits Scheffler’s value, but it does not limit it enough to prevent me from taking a chance on him in the 12th round. Expect to see what he’s worth this preseason. If he looks like he’s getting involved, he’s worth this pick.

While we only covered the top-12 tight ends in this “pick or pass” feature, there are plenty more out there to be had in your fantasy drafts. The tight end position should be fairly deep this season, and guys like Visanthe Shiancoe or Zach Miller might be all you need to win your championship.

As always, the comments are yours. If you have questions about tight ends or comments on our rankings or passes, you know what to do.

Fantasy Draft Day Pick or Pass: Top 36 Wide Receivers by ADP

Just as I broke down the running back average draft position with my “pick or pass” ranking style and noted which players might be worth skipping over in your draft rankings, I’m doing the same with wide receivers. Unlike running backs, many of the top receivers are worth a pick at their current draft stock, and there are plenty to like. As we progress down the rankings, you’ll notice a few receivers are holding values they don’t deserve this season.

These ADP values were taken from Fantasy Football Calculator and were current as of August 7, 2009.

Pick or Pass: Top 36 Wide Receivers as Drafted in Mock Drafts

1. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals – ADP: 1.07 – PICK
No matter how much you fear the Madden curse, it’s hard to deny that Larry Fitzgerald is set for another big season. Besides, he’s only due for half the dreaded curse this season anyway since he shares the cover. The NFC West is still a relatively pushover division, and other than competing for catches with Anquan Boldin, not much stands in his way. While Randy Moss and A.J. are also great options, Fitzgerald is the pick at wide receiver this season.

2. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans – ADP: 1.09 – PICK
The Houston Texans convince us every season that they’re the sleeper team in the AFC for next year. Whether they make the playoffs this season or not, Johnson will play a huge part in their success. The only threat to Johnson’s productivity is Matt Schaub’s injury risk, but that’s a risk I’d be willing to take. Johnson is just that good when he’s in the zone and worthy of a first-round pick if you must.

3. Randy Moss, New England Patriots – ADP: 1.09 – PICK
Moss was the No. 1 receiver in 2007, but his year away from Brady forced him to come back down to earth. One year removed from his record-breaking, 23-touchdown season, he could easily do it again. More than likely, he won’t make it out of the teens on touchdowns — records can only be broken so often — but he’s still worthy of an early selection as the Patriots return to form this year. Moss is once again a great pick.

4. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions – ADP: 2.02 – PICK
Megatron proved to be immune to bad quarterbacks last season as he rose to elite status off throws from Dan Orlovsky and Daunte Culpepper. After a full offseason with the Lions, Culpepper should be more in-sync with Johnson. While his recent thumb injury is worrisome, it’s not enough to scare most owners away from Johnson, who is likely to be the only target on a team that will be forced to throw the ball plenty this year. Megatron has to be a pick.

5. Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts – ADP: 2.06 – PICK
Despite the coaching changes in Indy, Peyton Manning will continue to lead an offense that makes all the receiving options fantasy studs. Wayne may not breakout as the clear No. 1 this season just because Marvin Harrison has finally left the receiver corps, but he’s worthy of WR1 status on any fantasy team. In the second round, he’s a value, and he’s still a pick.

6. Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers – ADP: 2.08 – PICK
Jennings is one elite wide receiver who could make a jump into the super elite this season. As Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target last season, he improved his draft stock, so while it’s surprising to see him ranking above Steve Smith, I’d feel safe drafting him here and expecting another WR1 type of season. In some drafts, you might even be able to catch him in the third round as a great WR2. He’s a pick with upside.

7. Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers – ADP: 2.09 – PICK
Suffering through a season without Jake Delhomme followed by a season where he always seemed to get tackled at the one- or two-yard line has taken its toll on Steve Smith’s value, but he’s still at No. 7 because he’s one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL. With the 2009 schedule expected to be a little rougher on the Panthers, Delhomme may be forced to go to the air this season more than last, which should increase Smith’s value as long as Delhomme doesn’t throw as many picks as he did in the Panthers’ playoff exit. Smith’s current shoulder injury is not great news, but I doubt he’d be slow starting even if he didn’t get on the field until Week 1. Scare your draft mates with the injury news, and you might get him in the third round or later. Smith is a pick.

8. Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints – ADP: 3.01 – PICK
There’s speculation that Colston’s fantasy totals may not be as high this season with the emergence of Lance Moore and Colston’s injury concerns. While he sat out most of last season, we have to trust that he’s still one of Drew Brees’ favorite targets. Even if Brees spreads the ball around, Colston’s a reliable receiver to have on your team as a WR1. I’d still pick him, especially if you can get him in the third round.

9. Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons – ADP: 3.01 – PICK
Even though his holdout has ended, I’d caution against drafting Roddy White too high. You may think Matt Ryan will take that next step, but you should also note that the “hot read” has been shifted from White to Tony Gonzalez in this offense, which will reduce the targets for Roddy White. With less opportunity and in an offense that has proven it can move the ball on the ground, will Roddy White still produce the same fantasy stats? While he’s worthy of this pick, I wouldn’t go much higher to take White this season. I’d rather let others bet on him and take the “wait and see” approach. Pick him if you’re a believer.

10. Anquan Boldin, Arizona Cardinals – ADP: 3.01 – PICK
I’m not a fan of drafting a team’s second wide receiver as a WR1 of your fantasy team, but it’s hard to determine from week to week who the top target is in Arizona. Boldin is one of the most dangerous receivers with the ball in his hand, and with Kurt Warner throwing the ball, he should produce stats worthy of a WR1 start. I wouldn’t blame you if you skipped over this pick in your draft though.

11. Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs – ADP: 3.06 – PASS
The first pass of the wide receiver class. The question isn’t whether Bowe will receive a lot of passes this year — he was one of the top targeted receivers last season with Tony Gonzalez in town. Now that he’s the only weapon out there besides veterans Amani Toomer and Bobby Engram and flaky Mark Bradley, Bowe should be the focus of Matt Cassel’s attention. But the question is whether Bowe will be able to do much with the passes that come his way. With Larry Johnson aging and Cassel unproven, no one knows what the Chiefs will be able to do on offense and how often Bowe will even have a chance at the end zone. He also hasn’t won any points with the new coaching staff by coming into training camp out of shape. He’s currently listed at the end of the depth chart to “inspire” him to work harder. I’d pass on him with his draft stock this high, but the receivers are starting to drop off at this point.

12. Terrell Owens, Buffalo Bills – ADP: 3.07 – PASS
T.O. has been a fantasy icon for years, and he has a track record of performing well in his first season with any team. That said, he’s older now and playing in the frigid tundra of Buffalo. When the weather turns cold, how will he hold up and perform? Will Trent Edwards be capable of getting the ball to him in those conditions? Despite their connections in the Hall of Fame game, I’m not convinced that Buffalo’s no-huddle will be firing on all cylinders this season. And even then, much like Lee Evans, T.O. could start off hot only to fizzle when the weather turns breezy. If you do dare to draft him at his current ADP, I’d plan on flipping T.O. midseason for someone with warmer pastures. With his nagging toe injury, I’d pass on T.O. this season.

13. Wes Welker, New England Patriots – ADP: 3.08 – PICK
While not a typical WR1 pick, Welker makes an excellent WR2. A third-round pick is a bit of a stretch, but Welker is one receiver who, no matter the weather, opponent or score, will be involved in every game for the Patriots. He stands to gain a great deal from Brady’s return, and Welker should be a huge stud in PPR leagues. Especially if you’re looking for your second receiver in the third round, I’d pick Wes Welker.

14. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seattle Seahawks – ADP: 3.11 – PICK
I’d be higher on Housh if the Seattle coaches weren’t droning on and on about how much they want to run the ball with Julius Jones this season. Despite all the talk, Jones remains a fairly risky running back and has underperformed several seasons in his career. T.J.’s best case scenario would be for the Seahawks to return to their gun-and-then-run offense put into place in Shaun Alexander’s final season with Seattle, and Matt Hasselbeck is capable of making Housh a huge fantasy stud if that happens. Worst case, Housh puts up WR2 worthy numbers as the Seahawks return to form. Either way, Housh isn’t a bad pick at the end of the third round. He has too much upside not to be a pick.

15. Brandon Marshall, Denver Broncos – ADP: 4.01 – PASS
It’s funny how fast a player can turn sour. At the beginning of the offseason, I would have proclaimed Marshall a must-have receiver this season. Now, I wouldn’t want to touch him. His ADP is still as high as it was last season with Cutler in town, but Denver has a new coach and a new quarterback in Kyle Orton. With his off-the-field behavior continuing to be a question mark and the offensive minds showering praise on Eddie Royal, it doesn’t look like this is the season to own Marshall. His current legal troubles may even get him suspended again to start the season. In the fourth round, I’d pass and look to grab Eddie Royal at a much better value if you want a piece of this passing game.

16. Roy Williams, Dallas Cowboys – ADP: 4.04 – PICK
In an interesting flip, Williams’ value has gone the opposite direction of Marshall’s this offseason. Last season, he was invisible beside Terrell Owens, but this year, he’s the Cowboys’ big target. I doubted his ability to rise to the occasion late last season and this offseason, but reports out of camp have me optimistic. Maybe it’s the Cowboy fan in me, but I see Williams finding his way into the No. 1 role and holding it down as well as can be expected this season. He won’t have T.O. numbers, but he’s worth a pick in the fourth round as a weak WR1 or a strong WR2 with upside.

17. Chad Ochocinco, Cincinnati Bengals – ADP: 4.05 – PASS
No matter what his name is, you don’t want him on your team. He’s a definite threat on the field, but he’s one of the most frustrating players to own in fantasy because he is so inconsistent. With so much praise for Chris Henry from Carson Palmer, I’d worry that ol’ Ocho might be losing his touch. Even if he makes it through the season without tweeting his way into a suspension, I’d fear a Carson Palmer injury or a general failing of the Bengals’ offense. I can’t endorse him as a WR1 this year, and I’d turn him down in the draft unless you’re looking for a WR3. I’ll pass.

18. Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers – ADP: 4.07 – PICK
Jackson’s intriguing here in the fourth round. I don’t see Philip Rivers living up to last year’s numbers, and I do see the Chargers running more in 2009. That said, Jackson could be a solid call in the fourth round. He’s clearly established himself as a No. 1 in the NFL whether he’s a fantasy WR1 or not, and he will probably see the majority of targets this season. With fewer throws, there is a danger that the Chargers spread the ball around, but that’s a risk that’s going to pop up for most of the receivers from this point on in the draft. I’d pick him, but I still don’t like Philip Rivers.

19. Braylon Edwards, Cleveland Browns – ADP: 4.10 – PASS
The mighty fall hard and fast in the world of fantasy football. Edwards is a clear example. After a stat-inflated season with Derek Anderson, Edwards only showed up for Monday Night Football games last season. Fool us once, shame on him; fool us twice, shame on us and our fantasy teams. With Brady Quinn likely to start this season, I doubt Edwards will get many of the long balls Anderson might have thrown him. Quinn prefers the short game, and Eric Mangini is a fairly conservative coach. In short, Cleveland looks like a fantasy mess, and I’d rather just avoid this situation unless I’m in a PPR league, in which short passes that don’t necessarily go anywhere still have value. I expect Edwards to be a big part of this offense, but I doubt that will do him much good. On top of my outlook on Edwards, nagging ankle injuries kept him out of the beginning of training camp, and a new injury just sidelined him again, which isn’t encouraging. If you’re taking Edwards as a WR2, that’s acceptable, but a WR1 he is not. I’d really prefer him as a WR3, and in the fourth round, I’ll pass.

20. Anthony Gonzalez, Indianapolis Colts – ADP: 4.12 – PICK
Gonzalez seems like a real trap this season. He’s coming into Indy as the No. 2 with Marvin Harrison out for good, and everyone — and their mom — wants to snag him as a sleeper. Newsflash: He’s no sleeper. The problem with the Colts is that, just like every other team with a good tight end, the second receiving target is usually the tight end, not the second wide receiver. In this case, this season looks great for Dallas Clark. Gonzalez should still get his targets as part of the Colts passing game, but don’t expect explosive numbers. In the fifth round, it’s probably safe to take your chances. He’s a pick.

21. DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles – ADP: 5.05 – PICK
I must caution again because many people are jumping on Jackson in drafts as well. The Eagles spread the ball around, so Jackson may not be bound for a true No. 1 receiver season. Still, he became one of McNabb’s favorite targets in his first season, rare for an Eagles’ rookie. As long as Kevin Curtis doesn’t cut into his targets too much, Jackson is bound to have a borderline WR2/WR3 season. I’d love to have him as a WR3, but he has enough upside with all the improvements the Eagles made this offseason to be a WR2. Watch that knee he hyperextended this preseason, but he’s a pick.

22. Santonio Holmes, Pittsburgh Steelers – ADP: 5.08 – PASS
I know I’ll probably have some disagreement on this one, but I don’t like Holmes. I didn’t like him last season, and I probably won’t like him next season. Even though he’s the dangerous target in the Steelers’ offense, he can disappear from games when the Steelers don’t throw the ball, and he’s not always the preferred target in the red zone over Hines Ward. Even though he turned it on in the Super Bowl run last year, I don’t believe he’ll take that next step to being fantasy relevant each week, so I must suggest you pass and settle for Hines Ward a few rounds later at a much nicer price tag.

23. Antonio Bryant, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – ADP: 5.12 – PASS
Bryant’s not terribly exciting, but he did convince the Bucs that they could part with Joey Galloway this offseason. No matter who throws the ball for the Bucs this year, Bryant is likely to see most of the targets, but how many targets will that be? Hard to say with how often the Bucs like to run. Bryant’s franchised this season and needs to impress, but his recent knee injury and surgery have me a little worried that he’ll start off slow and struggle to find a rhythm with his new quarterback. Rather than risk it, unless you’re in a PPR league, pass on Bryant for someone on a team with more offense.

24. Eddie Royal, Denver Broncos – ADP: 6.01 – PICK
Now this ADP has been climbing over the last few weeks as the hype around Royal and Josh McDaniels’ claims that he could be the next Wes Welker hit the news, but I’d still be ready to take him in the sixth round. Royal is probably going to be more productive than Brandon Marshall this season, and he has the ability to get open on any play. The Broncos will likely play from behind quite a bit with that Swiss cheese defense of theirs this season, and that means they’ll throw the ball enough to make Royal valuable. If you take him at this ADP or earlier, I hope you’ve already got two receivers on your roster. It’s a bit chancy to take him as a WR2, but if you choose to believe, why not pick him?

25. Lee Evans, Buffalo Bills – ADP: 6.03 – PICK
Evans would have been a pass until T.O. came to town. His addition means that defenses will look on the other side of the field from this speedster. Any double-teaming of Owens means a touchdown for Evans. Of course, if you draft him here, you should try to package him as early as Week 4 in trade so that you don’t get stuck with him when Buffalo gets too cold to pass late in the season. At this value, he’s worth picking just to see how the Buffalo no-huddle offense comes together.

26. Bernard Berrian, Minnesota Vikings – ADP: 6.03 – PICK
Berrian’s always been a burner, and Tarvaris Jackson has always struggled to get him the ball. This pick is dependent upon Sage Rosenfels winning the starting job as I expect he will. With Rosenfels, Berrian could see more passes come his way and more opportunities for long balls. As an added bonus, Berrian gets no penalties for any interceptions Rosenfels throws in return. I’d feel more comfortable with Berrian as a WR3 than a WR2, but he’s a pick.

27. Santana Moss, Washington Redskins – ADP: 6.09 – PASS
It’s strange that one-third of the way through last season, Santana Moss was the No. 1 fantasy receiver. Washington could certainly start off hot again, but I doubt that Moss will get the scoring opportunities that made him so good last season. He’s always followed his big seasons with a cool down, and this year should get a lot colder. He’s still the first look in this offense, and he’s got a quarterback with something to prove in Jason Campbell. While yardage ain’t bad at this point in your drafts, I think that’s all we can expect from Moss this year. I’d be willing to start Santana Moss as a WR3, but in the sixth round, I’ll probably pass.

28. Lance Moore, New Orleans Saints – ADP: 7.01 – PICK
Moore is a guy that I really like this season because despite his big numbers in 2008, he’s not skyrocketing up the draft boards. Much like Kevin Walter, Moore is a name that your draft mates might easily forget. With Colston back on the field, Moore shouldn’t see as many passes coming his way, but Brees still trusts him to get open and make those catches. I’d consider Moore worthy of a WR2 start when the Saints have good passing matchups this season, but he makes for a great WR3 playing on the Saints, a team that loves to throw the ball. He’s a pick.

29. Hines Ward, Pittsburgh Steelers – ADP: 7.05 – PICK
A bargain in the late rounds, Ward tends to get most of the looks in the end zone in Pittsburgh. Despite his age, he’s still productive and dependable enough to be a WR3, and there will be weeks where he may get you two touchdowns if everything breaks right for him and Big Ben. As I said earlier, I’d rather have Ward on my roster as a WR3 than Holmes as a WR2. Ward’s a pick.

30. Donnie Avery, St. Louis Rams – ADP: 7.06 – PASS
Donnie Avery had a great rookie season, but unfortunately for his value, Torry Holt left him in St. Louis as the only proven receiver — if you can say proven about second-year receiver. Now Avery’s hurt as well. Avery’s injury shouldn’t nag him all season, but he could very well start slow for the Rams. In an offense that’s already questionable, I worry about how effective Avery will be jumping back into the lineup just before the regular season. The Rams will probably be throwing the ball when they get behind, but Steven Jackson still might be the only Ram worth owning this season. Avery’s a pass in my book.

31. Laveranues Coles, Cincinnati Bengals – ADP: 8.01 – PASS
Coles gets a lot of love from people who loved T.J. Houshmandzadeh on the Bengals last season or doubt Chad Ochocinco. The two knocks that I have against him are the Chris Henry hype and Carson Palmer’s injury risk. Chris Henry’s upside gives Coles quite a bit of downside, but I do like Coles more than I like Ochocinco this season. As a WR3, he’s manageable, but I don’t think he’ll surprise me. He’ll be a part of this Bengals offense, but it could go through some dry spells. I’d rather have a guy with more upside and less risk at this point in the draft, so I’ll pass.

32. Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers – ADP: 8.02 – PASS
Even when he signs a contract, I wouldn’t want him on my roster. Crabtree will have a hard time winning over the coaches and getting on the field this season, and that’s only if he can grasp the offense. Give him a year in the oven, and see if he comes out smelling good on the other side. I’d definitely pass.

33. Torry Holt, Jacksonville Jaguars – ADP: 8.03 – PICK
Holt may be on a team that doesn’t usually throw the ball, but Jacksonville hasn’t had a solid receiver with his talents in several years. He struggled last season with the Rams, but this season, he may see a lot more opportunity created by Maurice Jones-Drew demanding attention at the line and out of the backfield. For an old guy, he’s got a lot of potential upside, and he could turn into a consistent scorer from week to week. I like that as a WR3. In a PPR league, I like him more, but in non-PPR leagues, he’s also a pick.

34. Kevin Walter, Houston Texans – ADP: 8.03 – PICK
I love Walter as a WR3. Matt Schaub likes to look for him in the red zone, and Andre Johnson often draws double coverages that leave Walter open to make a play. Last season, he had plenty of games where he was worthy of a WR2 start, and I’ll buy the hype again this season that this could be the Texans’ year … at least until Week 4. In the eighth round, Walter’s a nice value pick with tons of upside.

35. Devin Hester, Chicago Bears – ADP: 8.04 – PICK
The eighth round might be the latest you’ve ever been able to draft the No. 1 target of Jay Cutler. Reports out of Bears’ training camp see Cutler forming a good connection with Hester, and as the leading receiver last season, Hester could be in line for more balls his way now that it’s Cutler, not Orton, under center. With Cutler’s ability to throw the long ball, Hester has the chance to get behind defenses with his speed and score on almost every play. I’d take a chance in the eighth round that Hester makes a move at being a fantasy WR2 this season. Who’s with me? He’s a pick.

36. Jerricho Cotchery, New York Jets – ADP: 8.07 – PICK
Cotchery’s looking at a down year this season with the Jets’ quarterback position in transition, but regardless of which rookie or almost-rookie takes the job, I expect the Jets to follow something similar to the Ravens’ model from 2008: run the ball plenty, and when you have to throw, look at Mason — or, in this case, Cotchery. As the only target, he could be effective enough to be a WR3. In PPR, that’s more valuable than it sounds, but in regular leagues, he’s worth taking a chance on in the late rounds. Just take a few upside guys late in your draft to replace him if the Jets fizzle into a running game that gets no production from the quarterback.

Now that’s a wrap. This list should cover most of your starting wide receiver selections this season. My opinion may change on these guys as the preseason continues, so keep an eye out — or subscribe — for new articles on these receivers. You can also post any questions in the comments for updated opinions — I’m willing to share.

As always, the comments are yours. Tell me what receivers you think will be busts this season or whether you disagree with any of my picks.

Taking the Next Step: Matt Ryan Projections for 2009

Is Matt Ryan really all he’s cracked up to be this season?

I wasn’t much of a believer in the 2008 class of NFL quarterbacks. I even doubted that Matt Ryan would make it off the board among the top five picks, but I am sure the Falcons are glad they didn’t feel the same way. Ryan blossomed in his rookie season and drew comparisons to Peyton Manning by year’s end. Going into 2009, he’s got an enhanced set of weapons with Tony Gonzalez now in Atlanta and plenty of opportunity.

The obvious improvements in his game and the Falcons as a team have caused many fantasy football pros to raise him up as one of the future quarterback icons, and now drafters are taking him as a late QB1 selection — or sometimes far earlier than they should — expecting him to be a starting quality fantasy quarterback this year.

While there’s no denying that his rookie season was impressive, it’s hard for me to justify taking Matt Ryan as a starting fantasy quarterback with just one year under his belt and few multiple touchdown games to his name.

Tony Gonzalez’s late-season surge in Kansas City made him the top tight end in fantasy last season, but I don’t think he’ll carry that momentum right into his first season in Atlanta. The Falcons were a run-first team last year, and they’re not going to turn into Peyton Manning’s Colts just because they have a tight end who can catch. Atlanta will depend on Gonzalez’s blocking abilities to establish the run with Michael Turner before looking to pass with a mix of Roddy White, Gonzalez, Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas and Jerious Norwood.

While Gonzalez will be the new “hot route” in Atlanta, a designation that made Roddy White one of the most targeted receivers in the NFL last season, the shift to Tony Gonzalez shouldn’t make the Atlanta offense significantly more productive in “hot route” situations. The move is more a knock to Roddy White’s value than anything else.

In 2008, Ryan was a marginal to poor fantasy starter. He made Roddy White look like a true fantasy stud, but Ryan’s 16 touchdowns throughout the season were not enough to keep him at the top of many lineups. The games in which he did score multiple touchdowns came against struggling defenses like the Packers, Raiders, Saints and Chargers, except for, surprisingly, one game against the Eagles where he had two touchdowns. In my mind, that makes him largely unproven facing the NFC and AFC East this season.

The one bit of reasoning that I can buy for being optimistic with Ryan’s projections is that Ryan could see a need to put more points on the board this season if the Atlanta defense, largely unspectacular last season, fails to keep games close. Turner’s power running might have to be put aside for more of a throw-happy, play-from-behind offense if that is the case, but that could also prove dangerous for Ryan and doesn’t promise that the offense will be successful.

In order to justify a QB1 role, Ryan would need to increase his touchdown totals and his yardage significantly. Despite his skills, Tony Gonzalez is unlikely to give Ryan the 75 yards and a touchdown he needs each game to do that. I see Matt Ryan finishing the year with just over 3000 yards and 20-25 touchdowns.

While Ryan makes for a promising and reliable QB2, I would not plan on taking him as your starting quarterback this season. He still has more to prove, and it would be unfair to him and his talent to expect it of him in just his second season.

Think Matt Ryan is the next big thing? As always, the comments are yours.

Fantasy Draft Day Pick or Pass: Top 24 Running Backs by ADP

Many a fantasy football site will give you rankings. Most of the time, that’s enough for you to make your decisions when drafting a fantasy team, but I like to add a little depth to my rankings by incorporating the “players to avoid” tag.

You see, not every player is desirable, even if they are the No. 5-ranked running back on the board. Some bad situations may not compel experts to rank a player lower, and at times, there’s no logical reason behind disliking a player other than that icky feeling you get when he’s the next player in your rankings. Regardless, we still have every right to avoid a guy in the draft.

If I had only listened to that inner “pick or pass” feeling when it came time for me to make my first round selection in 2007, I might have never taken Larry Johnson with a mid-first-round pick … and that would have made all the difference.

For this first addition of “pick or pass,” I gathered the top 24 running backs ranked by average draft position (ADP) over at Fantasy Football Calculator to break down. The rankings were current as of July 15, 2009. If you have any more reservations about players that I don’t touch on here or just find yourself wanting to share your agreement, please tell me about your concerns and tips in the comments.

Pick or Pass: Top 24 Running Backs as Drafted in Mock Drafts

1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings – ADP: 1.01 – PICK
So what if he is the unanimous No. 1 running back? Some guys still don’t love him first overall. No one says you have to take him — even if you league boos (and they will). Despite my personal distrust of Peterson, I would “pick” Peterson at the No. 1 because of his explosive potential and the huge tradebait he becomes if you want to do a little preseason maneuvering before the first game of the season. You can’t go wrong with the player everyone expects to be the best, right?

2. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars – ADP: 1.03 – PICK
Everybody loves the bowling-ball receiving back from the Jacksonville Jaguars. While I dislike him here at the No. 2 spot, he’s still a “pick” for me somewhere in the top five. Unless the offensive line pulls another Humpty Dumpty routine, Jones-Drew should have all the chances in the world to put up RB1-worthy stats. Then again, if you’re not a Jacksonville fan … you may hold off on Jones-Drew at the No. 2 because we all know he’ll still share the rock with Greg Jones this season, even if it’s not as much as he shared it with Fred Taylor.

3. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons – ADP: 1.03 – PICK
He’s just barely a “pick” because he’s such a safe choice. Yes, his schedule is tougher. Yes, he ran many, many times last season. Yes, his quarterback’s other weapons are improved this season, but look again at how many chances Michael Turner had near the goal line last year. Turner can only benefit from more movement up and down the field, so don’t be afraid to pull the trigger on him anywhere in the top five.

4. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears –   ADP: 1.04 – PICK
The little rookie back that could last season, Forte was the definition of consistent. If he didn’t get a touchdown, he got 100+ yards — and he always got 100+ yards. Jay Cutler under center should shake things up, but much like Turner, making the weapons more dangerous only makes me like Forte more. He’s a “pick” anywhere in the top five as well.

5. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams – ADP: 1.06 – PASS
Ah, the first “pass” of the running back class rears its ugly head at No. 5. Steven Jackson is one of the most talented backs in the league, and the Rams plan to make him a workhorse this season. Still, I’m just not feeling his health and the team play in St. Louis. The Rams have very little receiver talent, a banged-up veteran at quarterback in Bulger and not much to make opposing defenses look at anyone but … you guessed it … Jackson. He may get plenty of carries and quite a few yards, but I’ll “pass.”

6. LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers – ADP: 1.08 – PASS
Sermons have been written on why LaDainian Tomlinson faded last season and how much you need to believe in him this year, but they’re all blasphemy, my friend. If it looks like the end of his career and it talks like the end of his career, it’s probably a duck … and perhaps I missed something in the argument I was trying to make there. Here’s the point: he’s aging, Darren Sproles is franchise-tagged and looking to impress his way out of San Diego and the Chargers window for a Super Bowl victory is closing faster than Tom Brady can buy new flower boxes. If L.T. stays healthy for the entire season, he’s likely to put up numbers close to his old averages, but this high in the draft, I’d still “pass.”

7. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans – ADP: 1.08 – PICK
The reason you’d pass on a guy like Steven Jackson or L.T. is right here at No. 7. Chris Johnson has the speed to burn you, and the team to grind you into the ground. I’m not scared of LenDale White unless I’m covered in donut glaze. Johnson is just the kind of young running back in a run-oriented offense that I would want to lead me into battle each week — fantasy battle, that is. I’d pick him before Jackson, L.T. or DeAngelo Williams.

8. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers – ADP: 1.11 – PASS
“Pass, pass, pass.” I went into more detail about how painful DeAngelo’s second season as a starter could be when I compared him to Michael Turner in Truth or Fiction. Here’s the short version: a better Jonathan Stewart means fewer carries to go around, a tougher schedule means it’ll be more difficult to score touchdowns and a weaker offensive line means less holes to run through. I’ll “pass” on Williams this season because he’s just not worth the risk.

9. Steve Slaton, Houston Texans – ADP: 1.11 – PICK
Slaton had a solid amount of carries close to the red zone just as Michael Turner did last season, but Slaton was basically the only running back left standing in Houston for most of the season. With bigger backs like Chris Brown and the new guy, Jeremiah Johnson, around, he may lose those touches, but he won’t lose that speed that kept him on the field last season. Slaton was one of the best surprises of 2008, and I’d “pick” him again in 2009.

10. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers – ADP: 2.01 – PICK
It’s all a bit of a toss up when it comes to the 49ers. All those words from the coaches about a running-based offense is great, but I want to make sure they’re actually going to put points on the board this season. Gore should tote the rock without too much sharing, and unlike the Rams and Steven Jackson, the 49ers should have enough other weapons to make Gore productive. I’d “pick” him.

11. Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia Eagles – ADP: 2.04 – PASS
Westy’s been an injury concern for several seasons, but this year, I might actually count that against him. His offseason surgeries and the addition of LeSean McCoy are just enough to make me want to hold off on him this year. I’d take him as a mid-range RB2, but I’ll “pass” here with bigger fish still left in the sea.

12. Brandon Jacobs, New York Giants – ADP: 2.05 – PICK
If the word “pick” could sound more intimidating and bulky, I would use it here. Jacobs is a quality pick for the second round. Without Derrick Ward, he should have more yardage than he did last season. Regardless, we know he scores touchdowns. Without Plaxico Burress, one can only hope that the Giants forget how to do anything but run this season.

13. Clinton Portis, Washington Redskins – ADP: 2.07 – PICK
Portis took his shots last season and still came out on the other side. I’m not exactly sure how he managed to play through all his injuries, but the man is consistent — one of the most consistent at his position over the years. I like him a tad less this season just because of his workload, even though I don’t think that it will slow his productivity. What does concern me is the team around him coming into this season. Jason Campbell is in his “make or break” year in Washington after all the trade talks this offseason, and there’s talk of Colt Brennan getting a shot before season’s end if Campbell can’t prove his worth. That spells a hard year for Portis, and it’s just enough to tempt me to take Barber instead. Portis still deserves a “pick.”

14. Marion Barber, Dallas Cowboys – ADP: 2.11 – PICK
The touchdown machine in Dallas runs only for this man. Barber could be in line for more this season if the Cowboys move towards a more run-focused attack. Even if they don’t, the running game has always made Barber productive. Normally a first round back in the parts where I draft (Texas), I see no reason not to make him a “pick.”

15. Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins – ADP: 3.04 – PASS
For being the quarterback in the Wildcat and the “starting” running back for Miami, I expected more from Ronnie Brown last season. By the end of 2008, he was practically worthless. Ricky Williams is still around to demand some carries, and now there is talk of letting Patrick Cobbs get more touches. I just don’t feel Brown here in the second/third round. I like my starting two running backs to be dependable. Sorry, Brown, I’ll “pass.”

16. Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints – ADP: 3.06 – PICK
I’m surprised to see Thomas trending this high in ADP since most rankings project him as a fourth-round acquisition. He’s a quality running back and deserving of the ranking … but really? No. 16 at running back? With the scoreboard the Saints put together and the struggles of Reggie Bush, I don’t expect Thomas to disappoint. He’ll be worth this “pick.”

17. Ryan Grant, Green Bay Packers – ADP: 3.09 – PICK
Oh, how low the mighty have fallen. Grant was thought of as a top-10 with upside that could make him a top-five last season. Then injury struck. Grant’s still high on my list, and I’ll give him credit for finishing strong in 2008. I’ll “pick” him here and consider him better than the likes of Ronnie Brown.

18. Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions – ADP: 3.11 – PASS
This is it! This is Kevin’s year to carry the rock. Can’t you hear the screams right this moment? If Matthew Stafford gets the nod, the Lions are definitely going to be running the ball this season, but I haven’t become a Smith believer just yet. That doesn’t mean he won’t blow up this year, but it does mean I’m willing to take my chances elsewhere. The move to a new style of running offense, away from what Smith is used to, doesn’t make me feel good about his chances this season. “Pass.”

19. Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo Bills – ADP: 4.05 – PICK
Suspension or not, Lynch is one of the grinding backs in this league. No. 19 is still a little rich for my tastes with those games missed at the beginning of the season, and Fred Jackson has a great deal more upward mobility as the guy who will start those games and contribute all season. But Lynch is the guy in Buffalo, and with an improved offensive attack — even if their O-line has taken a step back — he’s worthy of a “pick.”

20. Reggie Bush, New Orleans Saints – ADP: 4.06 – PASS
He’s a better receiver than a running back, so unless you have a sucker who would trade you a real gem in a package for this circus show, I’d “pass” outside of PPR leagues. I am not convinced he can stay healthy enough to fill the role of a running back, and as a gimmick player, his value is limited. But if he falls into a bargain round, I can’t say I would still refuse him.

21. Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos – ADP: 4.10 – PASS
I’m not a believer in the new Denver coach, and I’m not a fan of rookie running backs when they are accompanied by a real pack — and I do mean “pack” — of veterans. Even if Moreno wins the starting job, how much of it will he win? I’d rather take the “wait and see” approach with KnowMo. (Does anyone call him “KnowMo” now? Because I really want to now … I won’t pick him “KnowMo.”)

22. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders – ADP: 4.12 – PICK
He didn’t get his shot last season with all the injury trouble and that dastardly Justin Fargas, but with a season under his belt, I’d “pick” him to earn his place among the high-performing rookies from last season. No one likes to fall behind, and McFadden has plenty of ground to make up.

23. Derrick Ward, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – ADP: 5.02 – PICK
All alone in Tampa Bay with no “Earth” or “Fire” for his “Wind,” Ward should have plenty of opportunities to show why the Giants used him as much as they did last season. Ward is a “pick,” even if he ends up getting a “change of pace” tag and yields red zone chances to Earnest Graham. He’ll earn his time just like he did with Brandon Jacobs.

24. Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Colts – ADP: 5.03 – PICK
From top-five to No. 24? Even with rookie Donald Brown breathing down his neck, I have no fear in taking Addai in the third round and beyond. The Colts’ offensive line was pretty terrible last season without Jeff Saturday. A healthy Peyton and a healthy Saturday make for a good Sunday for Addai. He’s a “pick” in my book.

Agree with my picks and passes or disagree? The comments are yours.

Forget Them Not: Ten Dynasty Running Backs for Keepers and Sleepers

We covered the quarterbacks and the wide receivers, but the position you really should watch closely heading into this year’s draft is running back. These runners have worked their way into the favor of their current coaching staffs and may stand a much greater chance of seeing the field than that guy that gets taken in the second or third round this year. Are there any Ray Rice hype machine victims in the audience? Moving on…

Jalen Parmele – Baltimore Ravens
Taken by the Dolphins in the sixth round of the 2008 draft, Parmele didn’t have a lot of press despite his productive junior and senior seasons. The Ravens plucked him off the Dolphins’ practice squad to support their running attack in the last game of the regular season against Jacksonville, and he remains with the team entering 2009. He’s comparable to Tashard Choice, who tore it up in huge games down the stretch for the Cowboys. If the RB situation in Baltimore changes and Parmele gets pack of backs, you might hear his name again in 2009.

Ryan Moats – Houston Texans
Moats grabbed headlines this offseason for his incident with a certain overly-demanding police officer, but he could be in the spotlight once again if he lands a role with the Texans running game in 2009. Steve Slaton need someone to keep him durable during the regular season, and veteran journeyman Chris Brown is more fragile and injury-prone than Slaton. Moats could see some time if injuries come into play, and he wasn’t too shabby in 2008 when needed.

Mike Hart – Indianapolis Colts
Hart didn’t have much of a debut this season as he was quickly injured once he got his chance to play for the Colts, but he still ranks very high on a lot of dynasty lists. His production at Michigan may lead some to doubt how much he has left in the tank, but his intangibles and heart for the game have led many to stand behind him. With Dominic Rhodes out of the picture, Hart could have a real shot at stepping into a big role with the Colts this season and sharing time with Joseph Addai.

Chris Henry – Tennessee Titans
Though Chris Johnson has largely stolen his thunder–or lightning, as the case may be since LenDale White owns the copyright on “thunder”–Henry still has a chance to play a part for the Titans. If anything were to happen to White, he’s the likely candidate to step into Tennessee’s potent running attack, and he may have more chances this season if the Titans move to more of a three-back system to keep Johnson fresh and injury-free for the playoffs. Without a healthy Johnson, the Titans just didn’t look the same.

Jacob Hester – San Diego Chargers
With LaDainian Tomlinson approaching his golden years, many folks are looking for the Chargers to draft a running back this season to help Darren Sproles. But do they really need someone else? Given the production of fullbacks turned running backs like Peyton Hillis, Hester might be an adequate partner in the running game to support Sproles and Tomlinson as L.T. approaches the end of his career. We’ll see if the Chargers think he is enough come draft day.

Danny Ware – New York Giants
With a stall of running backs that could dominate any team in the league, you’d think that the Giants would be willing to sell off some of their surplus at the position, but surprisingly, the Giants have been very protective of Ware. If the team who was okay letting Ryan Grant walk and Derrick Ward sign elsewhere likes this guy, dynasty owners have to agree. He sits just behind Jacobs on the depth chart, and he might become part of the new Earth, Wind and Fire if Jacobs needs help in the run game.

Lorenzo Booker – Philadelphia Eagles
When he was traded to the Eagles from the Dolphins, Booker was touted as the likely backup to Brian Westbrook, but despite Booker’s comparable skills, he didn’t ever find his way onto the field last season. With Westbrook’s contract extended and Correll Buckhalter going over to the Broncos in free agency, Booker could be the guy we thought he was going to be in 2009. Then again, the Eagles could get greedy and take another running back in the draft to support Westbrook.

Justin Forsett – Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks drafted Forsett in the seventh round of the draft only to waive him early in the 2008 season. After a short stay with the Indianapolis Colts, Forsett was again waived and returned to the Seahawks practice squad to sign as the punt specialist. Considering the lack of depth at running back on Seattle’s current roster, he could play a larger role than expected this season if the injury plague in Seattle moves from the wide receivers to the running backs. Forsett scored 15 touchdowns in his final season at Cal after sitting behind J.J. Arrington and Marshawn Lynch for most of his time there.

Kregg Lumpkin – Green Bay Packers
With a name like that, what else could you be but a running back? Lumpkin started to gain some ground on the Green Bay depth chart just before he injured his hamstring early last season. With Ryan Grant looking more human and less like the hero he was in 2007, it’s possible the Packers give guys like Lumpkin and Brandon Jackson more opportunities in 2009. I don’t expect Grant to lose his job, but if Lumpkin gave it his all, he might jump over Jackson on the depth chart.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis – New England Patriots
The man we so lovingly called “Law Firm” in 2008 is likely to find himself back on the sidelines as we enter the 2009 season, but while he may be gone, he should not be forgotten. Green-Ellis, like many other Patriot backs, was successful when given the opportunity. If Laurence Maroney fails again this season, which is likely, Green-Ellis might even get another chance to work his way into the rotation for Bill Belichick.

Six Well-Received Dynasty Wide Receivers for 2009 Sleepers and Keepers

We started our dynasty talk with a look at the quarterbacks on benches you may have forgotten as the NFL draft approaches, but now it’s time to refresh your memory about a few receivers that could be valuable for keeper leagues and dynasty leagues. Some even have a shot at fantasy stardom in 2009.

Demetrius Williams – Baltimore Ravens
Despite his flashes as a playmaker since joining the Ravens in 2006, Demetrius Williams hasn’t stayed healthy enough to earn his way out of the slot receiver role in Baltimore. Just as he emerged in 2009 with a 70-yard touchdown grab against the Raiders, Williams had to be shut down for surgery on a bone spur that had limited him all season. The Ravens need to get younger — and better — targets for Joe Flacco, and Williams could be the guy to stretch the field for Flacco in 2009 even if Baltimore addresses the position in the draft.

Lavelle Hawkins – Tennessee Titans
Hawkins was supposed to be the answer to Tennessee fans’ prayers when he was drafted last season even though he wasn’t a first-round receiver selection as many had hoped. Though he outshined college teammate DeSean Jackson in the stats department during his last season at California, he spent his rookie season in the shadows while Jackson played his way into a starting role with the Eagles. To his credit, Hawkins struggled to master the Titan’s playbook with all the distractions and challenges of being a rookie in the NFL. In his second season, he’d prefer that his teammates hold the mayo. With Justin McCareins now a free agent, Hawkins could bring a much-needed infusion of young talent to the passing game for Tennessee opposite newly acquired Nate Washington or Justin Gage.

Earl Bennett – Chicago Bears
Much like Hawkins, many Chicago fans jumped aboard the Bennett train expecting him to contribute early and often in a season where Chicago had no receivers to brag about on their starting roster. Bennett must have missed the memo. In 2009, he finds himself in a very intriguing situation with his former college quarterback, Jay Cutler, in town. Cutler could easily make his favorite target from Vandy into a standout in this offense, so watch for Bennett to find his way into the third receiver role or even the No. 2 spot beside Devin Hester if he can make the jump with this offense.

Mario Manningham – New York Giants
As disappointing as his entrance to the NFL was, Manningham has done a whole lot of nothing on the Giants roster so far. The release of Plaxico Burress and departure of Amani Toomer this offseason will give each of the Giants’ young receivers a chance to climb the depth chart. With Steve Smith quickly becoming Eli Manning’s most trusted target, the Giants would love to see Manningham prove his draft stock and push Domenik Hixon, the No. 1 receiver replacement-of-the-moment. Maybe he can defy that 6 on the Wonderlic and grasp the playbook a little sooner than expected.

Davone Bess – Miami Dolphins
His troubled past in college at Oregon State didn’t stop Hawaii recruiters from picking up on Bess’ talents, and despite going undrafted, he still made the Dolphins roster in 2008. When Greg Camarillo went down with an injury, Bess filled his role as Chad Pennington’s most reliable wide receiver, and Bess finished the season with more receptions than all but two rookies, Eddie Royal and DeSean Jackson. With Camarillo returning from his injury, Bess may find himself back in the slot receiver role, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Pennington looked Bess’ way a little more often in 2009.

Mike Walker – Jacksonville Jaguars
While Matt Jones caught most of the nose candy praise and passes in 2008, David Garrard showed that he had a lot of faith in Mike Walker by looking to him to make a big play when they needed it. If Walker can stay healthy in 2009, he might be a big factor now that Jones and Jerry Porter are out of town. His only major competition for the most looks in Jacksonville is an aging Torry Holt unless the Jaguars take a receiver early in the draft.

And if crazy things happen…

Brad Smith / David Clowney – New York Jets
Without Laveranues Coles, the Jets have a hole opposite Jerricho Cotchery. Chansi Stuckey appears to be at the top of the depth chart, but Brad Smith and David Clowney are two of the lesser-known and possibly more promising wide receivers in the Jets’ arsenal. Smith has talents as both a quarterback and receiver, and Clowney sat out most of 2008 with a broken collarbone after blowing up in the preseason. If either takes hold of No. 2 spot or slot position for whichever quarterback steps into the pocket for the Jets, they stand a chance of becoming a household name. Clowney, in my opinion, is currently the more intriguing of the two.

Early Doucet – Arizona Cardinals
It would take an Anquan Boldin trade for Doucet to become relevant, but the coaching staff praised him and his ability after drafting him just last year. Even though Steve Breaston is ahead of him on the depth chart, it’s a proven fact that the Cardinals passing game produces numbers for everyone who gets involved. Watch for Doucet to earn his spot as the No. 3 receiver if any draft-day deals move Boldin from the sunny desert of Arizona.

Steve Johnson – Buffalo Bills
Unfortunately for Steve, who looked promising in the short time he played near the end of 2008, the Terrell Owens signing in Buffalo limits his potential for at least the 2009 season. Second-round selection James Hardy still sits ahead of him on the Bills’ depth chart, and Johnson will be lucky to lock down the fifth receiver spot behind Lee Evans, Owens, Josh Reed and Hardy if Roscoe Parrish stays in Buffalo. He’s still worth keeping an eye on, but it would take some roster moves for Johnson to make an impact anytime soon.