My Much-Too-Late 2011 Fantasy Football Sleepers and Value Picks List

I’ve been a slacker this season when it comes to posting my sleepers and value picks. I tweeted about quite a few of them throughout the offseason and preseason, but if you weren’t following me there, you might have missed out.

On the plus side, the majority of my true sleepers are low on the draft board in 12-team leagues and quite possibly undrafted in 10-team leagues. You still have some time to make these moves, and if these sleepers continue to nap in Week 1, you might be able to buy low on them.

Early Value Picks

It’s probably too late to act on these recommendations, but consider this my not-so-bold predictions for this season. I expect these players to outplay their draft position.

Vincent Jackson

VJax is a highly ranked wide receiver on most boards, but I think he has as good a chance as any to be a top three fantasy wideout this season. I’ve targeted him as my WR1 or a high-level WR2 in all my drafts, and I really like his chemistry with Philip Rivers this preseason. This offense likes to throw the ball, and I expect Jackson to prove himself in another contract year.

As I tweeted…

Brandon Marshall

When you start to look at WR2-level receivers, I like Brandon Marshall quite a bit more this season. Henne held him back last season, but hopefully, Henne’s great ability to audible the offense and the Dolphins’ determination to put points on the board will help Marshall return to his 100+ catch standard this year. He’s got his head on straight, which should, if nothing else, keep him on the field as the Dolphins’ biggest weapon.

I expect him to bounce up the rankings from his current draft stock, and if everything breaks the way it could, he could produce more like a WR1 as a WR2 or WR3.

Mark Ingram

Yes, I buy the hype. I wasn’t even an Ingram fan when he was in college, but now that he’s in the NFL on a team that gets to the goal line as much as the Saints, it’s hard not to like his potential. He could have an early-career Marion Barber-type season of 20+ touchdowns, and the Saints have looked to him at the goal line all preseason.

Here’s to hoping the split between Ingram and Pierre Thomas ends up being slanted towards Ingram in a big way.

Extras: I also really like Darren McFadden to come close to last year’s numbers this season, and he’s falling into the second round in most drafts. I like Peyton Hillis more than most, but I think you should have a “Plan B” rookie to step in for him if he starts to wear down (Mark Ingram qualifies here).

Sleepers

Matthew Stafford

My favorite value pick this season, Stafford’s due for some good luck staying healthy, right? He’s being drafted late as a QB2 in most leagues, but I believe he has the potential to be a top-three quarterback if he stays healthy. His performance in the preseason only reinforced that belief. It’s safest to take him a QB2 and hope for the best, but I have taken him as a late QB1 in at least one league.

Austin Collie

Collie is risky. There’s no escaping the fact that he had some very severe concussions last season. One more could put his season in doubt. But, at least for now, he’s cleared to play, and his efficiency last season before his injury was off the charts.

Collie might miss Week 1 due to a foot injury, but you won’t want to play him Week 1 anyway without Peyton Manning in the lineup for the Colts. When Manning returns to the field, Collie should be a huge factor. While everyone else is considering drafting Sidney Rice, you can draft Collie and expect WR2 numbers at a middle to late round price.

Reggie Bush

This is Reggie Bush’s last real chance to be a lead back in the NFL. Rookie Daniel Thomas hasn’t wowed the coaching staff. Instead, they’ve been busy praising Bush’s work to be the feature back. He’s been effective when given the full load in New Orleans, even if he didn’t hold up all season. What you’re getting if you draft Bush is a quality flex/RB3 with the upside of being a RB2 some weeks.

I wouldn’t draft Bush in the early rounds, but a starting running back with upside on a team that’s determined to become more high-scoring sounds like a perfect bargain to me in the seventh round and on.

Lance Moore

He always had his best games when Bush was out of the lineup, and now Bush is out of New Orleans. An ailing Marques Colston just pushes me more in Moore’s direction. He could catch everything Drew Brees throws past Jimmy Graham.

Bernard Scott

I’m avoid Cedric Benson and drafting Scott this year because I think he’ll finally get his time to shine. Benson’s a workhorse and will probably carry most of the load for the Bengals this season, but led by a rookie quarterback throwing to a rookie wide receiver, the Bengals need as much running support as they can get.

Scott fits the West Coast system Jay Gruden brought to Cincinnati better than Benson, and he’s more explosive than Benson when give the ball. Whether he gets a chance to play over Benson this year or whether he’ll have to wait for Benson to wear down through the course of the season, Scott will see the field this season, and he’ll take advantage of that opportunity as best he can with little else going for the Bengals.

My two favorite true sleepers this season are actually tight ends, but hey, it’s that kind of that season.

Aaron Hernandez

The Patriots loved to use their tight ends last season after they traded away Randy Moss, and I don’t think Chad Ochocinco’s going to change that philosophy. Tom Brady’s going to throw to the open man, and the Patriots’ tight ends are two of their most difficult to cover receiving options. Rob Gronkowski will probably get more touchdowns than Aaron Hernandez, but not many.

Hernandez is a bargain as a late or not-even-drafted tight end. I’ve been bold enough to take him as my starter in one league, but I feel even better about him as a late-round TE2 or as a possible flex fill. He could produce like a WR3 or better.

Lance Kendricks

It’s hard to know what this guy even looks like because none of the fantasy football sites have his picture yet. He’s the St. Louis Rams rookie tight end, and he was a force in the preseason, especially around the end zone.

Josh McDaniels should use him just as the Patriot’s use their tight ends, and with few reliable pass catchers on the roster, the Rams could make him their leading receiver. If Sam Bradford takes the next step this season, it will be because of Lance Kendricks.

Best of all, he’s going undrafted in most leagues. Feel free to pick him up as a TE2 or just as a last-round sleeper. If the bet doesn’t pay off, he won’t cost you much. But I have a feeling it will.

Deep Sleepers

Here are a few you won’t see getting drafted often, but I’m a fan…

Delone Carter

The Colts newly named No. 2 running back could be a huge factor if Addai is injured this season — and possibly even if he’s not if Peyton Manning’s injury forces the Colts to lean on the running game. He’s become the favorite over Donald Brown and could vulture a few touchdowns in Indy this season. The Colts did let last season’s vulture, Javarris James, go in their recent roster cuts.

Danario Alexander

I’m a sucker for Danario. I loved his potential last season when he got a chance to start, and I think he’ll be able to make an impact as a deep threat on a Rams team that just let Donnie Avery walk. He would only be drafted in the deepest of leagues since he’s not even a starter for the Rams right now, but he’s definitely one I’ll have my eye on.

Denarius Moore

I still like Jacoby Ford this season, but Moore is his rookie twin. The coaches and team love him, and if he ends up a starter, I could see stashing him for those games the Raiders will open up the passing game. The offense there is, however, supposed to run through Darren McFadden this year. Derek Hagan‘s another to watch in Oakland if he ends up a starter. Hagan has made plays all preseason.

Victor Cruz

Last year’s preseason darling for the Giants has been quiet this year, but he’s healthy and probable to start in the slot for New York. Eli Manning hasn’t had a good preseason, but if he brings it together (or if there’s an injury to either of the Giants’ starting wideouts), Cruz would definitely be in line for some stellar performances. For now, he’s just one to watch or stash in deeper leagues.

Eric Decker

Decker is a big possession guy that made a lot of noise this preseason for the Broncos. Unfortunately, they’re move to a conservative John Fox offense probably means he’s not worth owning…for now.

How to Win Your Fantasy Football League on Draft Day – vers. 2010

When it comes to fantasy football draft strategy, I’ve tried almost everything. RB-RB? Of course. Draft a quarterback in the first round? Sure. WR-WR? Most definitely. But all this trial and error has paid off.

After hammering out what I think is my best strategy to date last season in the “cutting out the middle men” fantasy football draft strategy and deciding how to play the first round, I think I’ve finally refined the best way to win your league on draft day this season.

And I’m going to share it with you.

What you need to win

Traditionally, we all took running backs because they were scarce. Not every team had a workhorse running back, and in a 12-team league, we needed to start at least 24 of them.

But now, there are 50+ running backs available since every team in the NFL has a time share. So after the five elite running backs are off the board — Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, and Frank Gore — we don’t have to use a first-round pick on a running back.

Not to say that you don’t need a decent running back. You just don’t have to pay a first-round price for one. It’s always nice to have a promising guy like Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, Frank Gore, Shonn Greene, Ryan Mathews, Ryan Grant, or Cedric Benson on your roster. But you can make do if you miss out on them.

You’ll notice I didn’t list Steven Jackson or Rashard Mendenhall on that list. I did that on purpose. They are on the cusp of what I would consider the top, reliable running backs, but they scare me more than they excite me this season. And much like the ladies, that’s not going to work for me when it comes to running backs.

Quarterbacks, while valuable, aren’t as scarce as running backs because each team only needs one. I love me some quarterbacks. Don’t get me wrong, but only a select few — Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, and Tom Brady — are worth taking in the first three rounds. If you miss out on them, you should wait. (But DON’T miss out on them. More on this later.)

That leaves wide receivers. If you’re following me so far, you understand that wide receivers are the new running backs. Receivers have become more reliable and valuable as the NFL becomes more and more passer-friendly. The top receivers are worth building a team around and can give you an advantage if you know how to draft your running backs late.

Guys like Andre Johnson and Greg Jennings are more consistent than the rest of the pack you’ll be able to draft later. My list of elites for this season also includes Randy Moss, Reggie Wayne, Miles Austin, Roddy White, DeSean Jackson, Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Marques Colston, and Sidney Rice with Larry Fitzgerald right on the edge of greatness. (I’m not a fan of Matt Leinart at quarterback this season.)

So draft your elite wide receivers early and often, and you’ll have an advantage.

Every team needs at least one of these top wideouts to “win” their draft, but you’re even better off if you can nab two of them to fill your starting roster. Of course, that’s assuming that you start two wide receivers. If you start three wide receivers, I’d still limit myself to taking two elites early because you can wait on the third just to make sure you don’t miss out entirely on running back value.

I’ll explain the strategy I recommend to make this happen, but before I do that, a side note.

Plans: Made to be broken

No draft ever goes exactly to plan. You can’t know whom the rest of your league is going to draft. Several teams could draft quarterbacks in the first round, or no one could draft a quarterback for three rounds. We really don’t know. So you have to be able to adjust to what your league is giving you. That’s why I recommend the tiered draft cheatsheets, and that’s why I can’t tell you exactly how to draft each position.

So much like my first round strategy from last season, this strategy is just a starting point. Deviate from it as you have to in order to draft the best team possible.

Strategy on draft day

In 2010, I believe a championship team needs one of the elite quarterbacks and at least two of the elite wide receivers. If you get a reliable running back, more power to you.

And it’s all about how you play the first three rounds.

If you have a shot, go with one of the elite five running backs. You can build a solid team around a guy that is highly involved in the offense. While you might miss out on an elite quarterback because you’ll have to look at wide receivers in the second and third rounds, you can recover from that.

If you don’t get a shot at one of the elite running backs, you have you’re pick of WR-WR-QB, WR-QB-WR, or QB-WR-WR in the first three rounds. I like these sequences this season, and I think they maximize the value you get in the first three rounds.

Don’t use QB-WR-WR unless you really want Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Peyton Manning this season and your league scores passing touchdowns at six points. I don’t think any of the other elite quarterbacks should be considered until the second round.

In the fourth round, when it comes time to draft running backs, try to take the two best guys on the board right away. More than likely, other members of your league have moved on to drafting what’s left of the wide receivers and quarterbacks. You’ll have your pick of a good group of mid-level running backs who have the potential for greatness.

As you enter the chewy center of your draft, I’d suggest using the “cutting out the middle men” fantasy football draft strategy principles. Draft value and aim for sleepers rather than “safe” and “dependable” guys. You got your safe picks at the top of draft. For example, I’d rather have Jamaal Charles than Joseph Addai. I’d rather have Beanie Wells than Clinton Portis or Ricky Williams.

Make a special effort to get a lot of running backs. Since you didn’t draft them high, you’ll best protect yourself by drafting more of them. You want to load your roster with as many guys as possible who have the potential to be a top performer even if they’re currently a backup on their NFL roster.

You can also draft a few sleeper wide receivers later in the draft to compliment your studs. These wide receivers could become trade bait or free you up to trade your studs for one of the elite RBs you missed out on earlier in the draft. You can find a few good ones in Chris Harris’ article on “moneyball” wide receivers at ESPN.

With this strategy, you’ll “win” your draft just like I won mine.

Martz be crazy: Why you should draft your Bears this season

As we await the Chicago Bears debut tonight in preseason action, I can’t wait to see if their little offseason experiment worked.

When it comes to offense, Mike Martz is a kamikaze. His “leap of faith” system is as likely to blow up on a game-by-game basis as it is to succeed. While respected at first for his work in St. Louis, in recent years, NFL coaches seem to feel that bringing him in to run an offense is the equivalent of waving a white flag, a last-ditch effort to get their teams on the scoreboard.

Still, Martz’s system shows results. He built the “Greatest Show on Turf,” revived the Detroit Lions passing attack with Jon Kitna, and made J.T. O’ Sullivan fantasy relevant for a time in San Francisco. But one thing he hasn’t had to work with since his days with Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger in St. Louis is a true franchise quarterback.

Why, hello there Jay Cutler. Whatever you think of the shruggy Vanderbilt product, Cutler has an arm, and he’s shown the characteristics of a franchise quarterback in Denver. Granted, he no longer has a true No. 1 receiver like Brandon Marshall to throw to now that he’s in Chicago, but don’t count out Devin Hester and Johnny Knox just yet.

Quick receivers who can get to their spots on time are all an offense like Martz’s really needs, and if you believe in the third year breakout for wide receivers and Hester’s quotes, Hester’s ready to make it big. But you don’t have to take his word for it.

Cutler has bought into Martz’s quarterback-friendly system. So even though we can’t expect Cutler’s interceptions to be drastically reduced when he starts firing passes before receivers are even in place, he should do some serious damage in the passing game–the good kind of damage.

Cutler threw a career high 26 interceptions last season pre-Martz, but he also threw a career high 27 touchdowns. His offensive line wasn’t doing him any favors last year either.

With Martz and a new offensive line coach in Mike Tice, Cutler may excel in the W column and fantasy point columns again just like he did in Denver.

So when it comes to drafting Cutler, I’m all for it. He’s currently going early in the seventh round as the No. 9 overall quarterback, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. While I’m okay with him there as a late starting QB1, I think I’d really love him as a QB2 behind an elite quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, Matt Schaub, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, or Tony Romo.

If he has a huge season, you can start him and trade away your elite guy or just trade Cutler for a high-performing running back to make your championship run.

And without having to rely on him completely as your QB1, you can play the ups and downs that are likely to strike the Bears this season. I expect there will be some growing pains in learning Martz’s system and putting it into action each week.

As for the wide receivers, there’s plenty of speculation out there about how to value them. Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Devin Aromashodu, and Earl Bennett could all see time on the field.

This offseason, the early favorite has been Devin Aromashodu, the tallest Bears wide receiver who came on strong at the end of 2009 and scored four touchdowns. But Aromashodu’s sleeper hype has him overvalued now. He’s being drafted before both Hester and Knox, and that just doesn’t make sense.

I’d much rather draft Hester, the forgotten man in this offense who was holding down the No. 1 role until late in 2009, or Knox, the rookie who picked up the offense and caught Cutler’s eye last season.

Hester worked in the offseason with Isaac Bruce to learn what he could from the Martz-made veteran wide receiver, and I think he’ll be ready to play come Week 1 like a top wideout, rather than just as a converted special teamer.

Now don’t get me wrong, Aromashodu shouldn’t be overlooked. He could play a big part in the red zone, but I just don’t think he’s worth a pick in the eighth round when you can get Hester in the tenth.

Martz isn’t really known for increasing the role of the running back in his offenses, but he has two skilled pass catchers in Matt Forte and Chester Taylor. Forte seems more like his old self now that he’s recovered from 2009′s injuries. Maybe we all just expected too much of him when we launched him into the first round rankings last season.

With injuries, a new quarterback, and a questionable offensive line, it was hard to live up to the hype around his impressive rookie season. This season, he could turn things around, especially if Martz makes him a big part of the offense. Even though Martz isn’t known for making running backs better, he certainly doesn’t neglect them.

Chester Taylor will take some of the work out of Forte’s hands, but that could be a good thing. Forte wore down late in his rookie season when he was carrying the full load, and as long as he gets to take the carries near the goal line, sharing might be caring for Forte. I can learn to love a timeshare that allows Forte to go full speed all season and keeps him free of injuries.

So think about Forte in the fourth round before you start looking at running backs who have the lesser half of a timeshare situation.

The one position we can’t predict with Martz is tight end. Greg Olsen is a star at the position, but Martz has traditionally left tight ends to block at the line while the receivers steal the show. Time will tell if Olsen can sway him. I am not taking that chance in my drafts right now.

So in short, don’t overlook your Bears this season. I expect to see some significant improvements in the passing game, and as late as Jay Cutler and Hester are being drafted, they’re definitely worth a look.

Brett Favre Retires: What It Means for the Vikings’ Fantasy Values

ESPN reports this morning that Brett Favre plans to retire rather than rejoin the Minnesota Vikings. He managed to keep the Vikings on the hook until training camp before finally dropping the hammer. What a team player. IF and when Brett Favre actually takes the stage and says…for the third time…that he plans to retire, his absence will cut into the value of all the Vikings’ fantasy studs.

ESPN is bringing in the whole cavalry to cover the situation (Oh boy!), but here’s my take on the fantasy impact of losing the man, the myth, the legend, and the bane of offseason news.

Fantasy Impact on Vikings

Favre was the engine that got this offense moving in 2009. Without him, everything grinds to a halt. It remains to be seen how much Tarvaris Jackson can do to get it going again.

Jackson is no Brett Favre. He won’t be as creative with the offense, and I don’t see as many first downs in their future. That means fewer touchdowns for the entire unit, including newly anointed stud wide receiver Sidney Rice and running back Adrian Peterson.

Now there’s a chance that Sage Rosenfels, forgotten quarterback on the Vikings payroll, gets a shot. Many NFL minds lift him up as one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league, worthy of starting on a team somewhere. Despite rumors that he would have been on the roster bubble if Favre had returned, he could win the job as starter.

Last season, prior to Brett Favre’s decision to return to football, I covered the Vikings’ fantasy potential without Favre and argued that Rosenfels might be able to do just as well. With Rosenfels under center, Sidney Rice could still be a champ. Rosenfels has the arm, and he kept Andre Johnson fantasy relevant in stints as the starter in Houston.

But Tarvaris Jackson is a downgrade in the passing game. Unless Jackson has truly found his way as a quarterback and mastered Brad Childress’ offense, I don’t know that you can trust him to keep the Vikings in it this year.

Some would argue that Adrian Peterson stands to benefit from this blow, but I don’t see it. As I mentioned in my arguments for taking Chris Johnson at No. 1, A.P. had 18 touchdowns and 1,383 rushing yards last season with Favre. In 2008, he had just 10 touchdowns and 1,760 yards. Without Favre to open up this offense and keep defenses honest, A.P. will struggle.

And as A.P. gets worked into the ground game after game, there’s also a chance he could be injured. His running style is unforgiving, and he doesn’t avoid contact. A.P. could be this year’s Steven Jackson. He’ll get plenty of yards, I’m sure, but his touchdowns will be way down from his 2009 numbers.

I’d consider both Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew before A.P. with this development, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for taking the safe out with one of those two rather than taking a chance on Peterson this season.

For Real?

We’re all assuming that these text messages to teammates and sources within the Vikings administration have it right. We’re taking their word that Favre is done. I’m not sure I buy it just yet. At least not until I hear it from the old man’s mouth.

Favre may just want to get us all writing about him two or three more times this offseason. He could wait out training camp and change his mind. So I’ll believe it in…let’s say Week 2 when Brett Favre isn’t in purple.

Until then, there’s always a chance “the most magical player to ever play the game” (Seriously, Hoge?) returns for a final campaign. I, for one, have made peace with the fact that he is going to play until 2025.

Whether you think Favre is really done or not, there’s one thing we can all agree on, he is one helluva drama queen.

Should you draft Chris Johnson at No. 1?

Yes. So much yes. Don’t get caught up in the hype of this Adrian Peterson vs. Chris Johnson debate.

Sure, Chris Johnson had a phenom year. He broke 400 touches in 2009. He may not do that in 2010; in fact, he probably won’t. There’s a good chance he could suffer a setback or injury this season.

You could say all of that. You can even use history to back it up, but why not give him a chance? The Tennessee Titans offense, other than their center, is returning, and the offense can do nothing but improve around “Every Coach’s Dream.”

Vince Young will be the starting quarterback from Week 1, which should allow Chris Johnson some more freedom. The offense really didn’t open up last season until V.Y. went under center. Johnson won’t have to do everything. The offense will support him, not be all about him. That means his numbers might go down, but I’d still take a drop in production from Johnson over an unknown quantity from someone else.

Are you going to find a better deal at running back at the No. 1 pick? No, not really. Is Chris Johnson going to be the No. 1 fantasy player at the end of this season? Probably not. But do you know who is? No. You don’t.

You could guess that Adrian Peterson finishes the year at No. 1, but it’d be almost as risky as taking Johnson. Both backs will have the majority of the attention from opposing defenses, and both will see a lot of work this year. Now that Chris Johnson isn’t holding out, the main arguments for A.P. are Chris Johnson’s 400+ touches in last season and his size, even though reports claim that Johnson bulked up this season as well.

Forget these 10 reasons not to draft Chris Johnson No. 1 overall. Let’s talk 10 reasons not to draft A.P. instead…

  1. Brett Favre: Adrian Peterson had an 18-touchdown season with Favre at the helm, but what if Favre doesn’t return? Pre-Favre, in 2008 with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback, he had just 10 touchdowns. Sure, he had more yardage that season, but they didn’t get it done in the red zone. That’s worrisome, no? [BREAKING: ESPN reports that Brett Favre will retire. Believe at your own risk.]
  2. Brett Favre + Sidney Rice: If Brett Favre does return, he makes Sidney Rice one stud of a wide receiver. Rice happened to rack up the yardage last season while missing out on the touchdowns. He left the ball at the 1 or the 2 yard line fairly often, and he gave Adrian Peterson some easy touchdowns. In his second year with the legendary gunslinger, Rice’s likely to improve on those numbers and take away scoring opportunities from Adrian Peterson.
  3. Brett Favre: If Brett Favre does return, and he falls apart faster than anticipated throughout the 2010 season, he could turn back into old Brett Favre, turning over the ball too often for his team to handle, which would also take opportunities away from A.P.
  4. The Williams Wall: The pending suspension of defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams could have a drastic effect on the Vikings this season. If the four-game suspensions end up being enforced, the Vikings could spend the first quarter of the season playing from behind and unleashing Favre (or Tarvaris Jackson/Sage Rosenfels) to make it rain rather than grinding out the game with A.P. They won’t benefit from a strong defensive front.
  5. Running Style: Peterson still runs too upright, which makes him prone to injury throughout the season when defenses are gunning to stop him. While he didn’t miss any games last season or in 2008, that might mean he’s due.
  6. Fumbles: A.P. had 7 fumbles last season. He had 9 in 2008. I’d say the slight improvement inspires confidence, but it doesn’t. His fumbles are a consistent problem, and they won’t stop.
  7. Contract Issues: We’ve talked all offseason about Chris Johnson and the possibility he might hold out for a bigger contract, but A.P. was also absent from offseason workouts this year. Brad Childress’ lack of information about his absence suggests the relationship between coach and star running back might be turning sour. A.P. isn’t holding out, but a conflict with Childress or the team about the way he’s being used or his contract could lead to issues during the season.
  8. Rookie Competition: What kind of issues? Minnesota drafted Toby Gerhart, a ground-and-pound runner who won’t fill the void Chester Taylor left as the back on third downs. Instead, he could vulture a touchdown here and there, especially if Adrian Peterson has ball control issues. There’s no telling how he might creep onto the field right now, and when he’s on the field, A.P.’s not getting you any fantasy points.
  9. Involvement in the Passing Game: He’s not involved enough in the passing game. Both Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew excel at catching passes out of the backfield. Even without Chester Taylor, A.P. won’t have as big a role in the passing game, which cuts into his value. If you’re going to draft someone other than Johnson, you should at least consider MJD instead of A.P.
  10. College Allegiance: He’s a Sooner. Isn’t that enough?

In short, I’m not saying you have to draft Johnson. The first pick is yours to do with as you please. Draft a kicker if you want. That’ll go over well. But don’t take a pass on Chris Johnson just because history tells us he won’t repeat his 2009 campaign.

Whatever Johnson does in 2010 is probably going to be good enough to anchor your team at the RB1 spot, and that makes him a safe pick, worthy of being taken first overall in the draft. When you get first dibs, you have to make sure you get consistent points every week from that star player, and Johnson should do that.

If he does what he says he will and breaks 2500 yards…yeah, that’ll work, too.

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.

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.