Expert league drafting for experts in the expert off-season

For a week now, I’ve been participating in an ongoing expert league draft put together by JunkyardJake.com. Other than a few small mocks, this draft is my first of the 2008 fantasy football season, and it’s also the earliest I have ever tried to put a team together for fantasy football.

Drafting this early is sort of like trying to sketch a picture of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s new twins before you’ve even seen them — and no, it’s not just hard because they still always look like stick figures. You know that it’s got to be some world-ending, judgment day kind of beauty when these fantasy studs come together in training camp, but without seeing it live and in-person, there’s still that level of unpredictability. Your rookie stud could burnout in training camp, your veteran’s injury could continue to flair up until he hits the PUP list and/or your sure-thing WR3 could get passed on the depth chart. Hey, the twins could end up being the most horrifying sight since Flava Flav returned to television. At this point, we just have to play off what we know and a lot of coach speak.

And for the record, until the Brangelina twins are seen in public not shooting fiery red lasers from their eyeballs and demanding us to bow before them, I’m ducking every time I hear thunder.

The consolation for drafting this early is, of course, that I reinforce my ability to throw around my credentials as an “expert” and abuse power once again…as validated by a third party…which is not my mother.

Then there’s the other (real) benefit of drafting this early: my readers as well as the readers of all these other esteemed fantasy football outlets get to see what several fantasy football minds think before their own drafts when it comes down to guts, glory and the possession of this trophy. My mantel cries out for it — and not just because it could potentially double as a bottle opener.

I plan on discussing the draft and breaking down my own team once it has completed, but in the meantime, you can check out the running commentary on the expert draft from Smitty over at Fantasy Football Xtreme. I already received credit (see: hatred of all involved) by snagging the potential “steal of the entire draft,” Chad Johnson near the end of the third.

Who was the biggest steal of this round? Try Chad Johnson at 3.10. That is insane value! In fact, this was probably the steal of the entire draft – We see Chad having a top 5WR season in 2008.

I’ll take Ocho Cinco that late any day. I don’t mind his mouth. It might just end up being another way for him to catch the ball and/or celebrate his TD. You really notice when guys fall to you like this in a draft if you do one simple thing: tier your cheatsheet.

If you want to follow the expert draft as it happens, you can view the entire draft here. Keep in mind that there is a 10 hour clock between picks, so it moves in spurts each day.

I’ll also be spitting out commentary on the draft from time to time on my twitter stream (also displayed in sidebar).

If you would like to make a suggestion for my next pick or would just like to discuss the draft with me, drop me a comment on this post, email me or shoot me a twitter reply.

The Difference Between a QB1 and a QB2

To continue the fantasy definition series, we’ll take a look at the divisions between fantasy quarterbacks.

After nailing down the difference between running backs, understanding the definition of a QB1 versus a QB2 could make or break your fantasy team.

Every winning fantasy team has at least one QB1 on the roster — sometimes two. That’s pretty much a given. We’ll break down the quarterback position into QB1s and QB2s, but sadly, QB3s don’t really exist except maybe in Canada or the arena league.

QUARTERBACK 1 (QB1)

Tom Brady. Period. That’s what you’re thinking, right?

Tom Brady put up some freakish stats in 2007, far beyond what to expect from a QB1 — call it QB0 with a little Gilbert Arenas influence. Several factors indicate that he should return to earth in 2008 but still produce high-end QB1 numbers.

Instead of focusing on Brady though, let’s talk about the definition of a QB1, Peyton Manning.

Manning is the primary weapon on offense for the Colts, a team built to throw the ball. His fantasy value is up there with the majority of the RB1s every year, and having Manning on your fantasy team guarantees you multiple touchdowns and plenty of yardage each week.

Not every QB1 is Peyton Manning, but a decent QB1 should look the part and produce multiple touchdowns each game — especially if they get to play Miami or Atlanta this year.

A QB1 should consistently put up around 20 fantasy points in standard scoring leagues each week. To put that more concretely, a QB1 should be good for 2 touchdowns and 250+ yards or 1 touchdown with a freakish amount of yardage every game.

Several QBs besides Manning and Brady could be strong starters for your fantasy team in 2008. A select few were highlighted in our recent quarterback rankings.

Good examples: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Drew Brees
Weekly expectations: 2   TDs and 200+ yards give or take a TD or some more yardage

QUARTERBACK 2 (QB2)

QB2s are usually a slightly less effective than QB1s. While they are still starters, they are either younger, developing quarterbacks that still lack the scoring power of a QB1 or more risky quarterbacks who may have explosive games followed by two or three game touchdown droughts.

It’s always better to have a second QB1 as your backup quarterback, but if you don’t want to draft two QBs that high or you land a top commodity like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo or Drew Brees, QB2s can be enough as a decent bye week filler.

With lesser QB1s, a QB2 may even be worth starting when they have a fantastic match up. If you’re lucky in drafting, you can sometimes even get your hands on a guy that develops into a strong QB1 and replaces your starting quarterback. Derek Anderson jumped into the QB1 rankings in 2007 after being completely off the map as a long shot to be even a QB2.

The main difference between a QB1 and a QB2 in consistency. A QB2 might have the skills to be a QB1 given the right circumstances, but they just don’t produce at a high level enough for you to count on them to lead your fantasy team.

Good examples: Trent Edwards, Vince Young, Jason Campbell, Matt Leinart
Weekly expectations: 1 TD and 150 yards…and surprises

PARTING NOTE

Generally, no one drafts QBs without a starting job at all in fantasy drafts, so there really isn’t anywhere to go after QB2s, but backups with a decent chance of starting like Kurt Warner wouldn’t be a bad way to pad your last couple of draft picks — especially if you are taking a guy like Matt Leinart. As of now, it’s not clear whether Leinart will win back his job or not for 2008.

A high-scoring, stud quarterback was critical for fantasy teams in 2007, and many analysts suggest picking up as many solid ones as you can this year as long as you have the bench room. You don’t have to go crazy, but two QB1s could save the day for your fantasy team, and having three QB1s or two QB1s and a star QB2 could give you some valuable trade bait a few weeks into the season.

I tier my QBs several times over going into a draft. Right now, I have four to five tiers within just my QB1s. When it comes to QB, there are so many types of talent and roles within the team that it is critical to have visual splits when you are drafting.

Questions about a specific QB? Drop them in the comments.

2008 Offseason NFL Fantasy Quarterback Rankings

Prompted by many an unruly quarterback (QB) ranker online these days, I’ve compiled my current top 12 list of fantasy QBs.

For the most part, I base these rankings off of projected stats for 2008, but considering these top 12 are also going to be the first QBs you want to draft, reliability and consistency has to count for something.

1. Tom Brady – Patriots
Brady tops the list because he was a stat monster last year, but I have doubts he will repeat. Still, he stays on top because that’s where you will have to pick him if you want him on your fantasy team this year.

2. Tony Romo – Cowboys
Romo led the second-ranked, high-powered offense of the Cowboys in 2007 and is poised to repeat. All his weapons return plus a few more.

3. Peyton Manning – Colts
Manning consistently tops the fantasy QB lists and deserves it. Regardless of the health of Marvin Harrison, the Colts offense lives off of Peyton Manning’s arm. He puts up the fantasy points to prove it too. Consider him the 2B to Romo. He only drops to B because his receivers might be in flux this year behind Reggie Wayne.

4. Drew Brees – Saints
The Saints had the most passing attempts in 2007 — by a loooong shot. With an improved running game and possibly a defense in 2008, Brees could settle down and be more efficient, but for now, he has the potential to be here at the top if his receivers catch as much as he throws.

5. Carson Palmer – Bengals
Unless he loses his receivers this offseason, Palmer has the ability to quarterback one of the most potent passing offenses in the NFL. The Bengals habit of getting in shootouts because of their poor defense always makes him a good bet to be high-scoring. He will have an improved defense…but it’s still the Bengals.

6. Derek Anderson – Browns
The Donte Stallworth addition gives him the ingredients that Brady had last year plus a more dangerous tight end. Anderson could tear it up in 2008, but he will have to improve his accuracy so he doesn’t put up so many interceptions.

7. Ben Roethlisberger – Steelers
Big Ben proved he was a top talent at QB in 2007 by breaking out the TD arm. Of course, he kind of had to with Willie Parker’s inability to get it in the endzone. With more weapons for the offense, including his big target receiver in Limas Sweed, Big Ben should repeat and could put even more TDs up. My guess is that Rashard Mendenhall still keeps them running hard-nosed in some scoring situations.

8. Donovan McNabb – Eagles
Before he became so plagued with injuries, McNabb would have been ranked much higher, but 2007 was still a disappointing, inconsistent season for him. Barring injury and with the improvement of the receivers around him — I’m talking about your Reggie Brown — McNabb could return to form. The addition of DeSean Jackson doesn’t hurt.

9. Matt Hasselbeck – Seahawks
The Seahawks receivers are damaged (Deion Branch), old (Bobby Engram) or gone (DJ Hackett). It’s Nate Burleson and Seattle’s pack of young guys who will have to step up this year if he is to be successful. For now, I’ll keep an optimistic outlook against my nature and put him inside the top 10.

10. Jay Cutler – Broncos
His big arm potential puts him here, but many questions surround Cutler this season. He should see significant improvement now that his diabetes has been identified, but he faces another hard schedule in 2008. Questions surround his leading receiver, Brandon Marshall, but Marshall is also poised for his breakout third year — if you believe in that stuff. Promising tight end Tony Scheffler is still plagued by his foot injury. Despite all that, I like Cutler for this season, but a safe bet would be to snag a promising QB2 behind him or to platoon him with a crew of greats on your fantasy team.

11. Eli Manning – Giants

If Plaxico Burress was really playing through injury last season, his full health and the improvement of the young pack of WRs the Giants have now — Steve Smith, Sinorice Moss, Mario Manningham — could help Eli for 2008. Note that this is also the point where QBs start to huddle together as far as rankings go and begin to have similar upsides and risks. Note that I also don’t particularly like putting confidence in Eli Manning. Note that I have nothing against the guy…Note that.

12. David Garrard – Jaguars
Garrard plays in a run first, run always offense, but his efficiency makes him a top talent. Many people didn’t realize how reliable a fantasy QB he was last year despite his lack of flash. Take him as a QB1, and you can get crazy with your QB2. You know Garrard isn’t going to lose you any points each week. He has slightly improved WRs for 2008, but Garrard will still hand off more than he throws.

I could go on…but this early in the offseason, let’s stick with just ranking the top 12. These QBs could all have teams based around them, and besides the top four, you could snag one of them in the middle rounds of your draft.

Comment below and, if you want to give back to the world, don’t try to be more green, just submit or vote for my rankings on BallHype or YardBarker (buttons below) to silence the crazies. I swear their voices are in my head ranking Romo outside of the top five and Eli Manning number two overall.

Make the voices stop. I can’t take it anymore.

The Difference Between a RB1 and RB2

When we talk about players as being RB1 or RB2 caliber, we are not trying to confuse you.

Okay. Okay. Well, maybe we are just a tiny bit, but that’s a small satisfaction of mine. I have to compensate for all the spammy emails I get from Russia that make me feel “small,” okay?

There exists in the fantasy football lexicon a set of definitions that helps in classifying your expectation for players. These definitions break down the projected performance of a player over the course of a season. “RB2″ is just one of many.

Associating these tags with players on your cheat sheet — maybe by tiering them off into RB1 and RB2 categories — you can better prepare for the kind of team you want to build and better evaluate potential trades.

Yes, you could always jump into a draft expecting to take the next stud available, but there comes a time in every fantasy football players life when they realize that they can’t just fill an entire team with studs of unending potential. You’ll run out. Some of us have more than 6 teams in our league.

You have to decide whether you want to go after a RB1 or take a stud at another position and take two RB2s when you get the chance. Now, that’s getting crazy, but sometimes crazy works. Just try it in a bar fight. No one messes with the crazy guy…

Notch this one on your fantasy football reference manual and clear a spot for your merit badge. These definitions are talking standard scoring (6 point TDs, 1 point for every 10 yards).

RUNNING BACK 1 (RB1)

The king of the “1″ positions. RB1 is your workhorse and one of the most dependable (hopefully) players on your roster. Expectations can vary greatly, depending upon whether you have LaDainian Tomlinson or not, but you always want your RB1 to be a touchdown machine or a dependable yardage beast.

At the top, you can usually pray for 10+ touchdowns in a season and 1500-2000 yards. Not too many full-load running backs out there nowadays who can put that up though.

Usually, there are only about 10-12 true RB1s to even draft, and the number of stud RBs has been dropping ever since the dreaded running-back-by-committee system (RBBC) came into place — another dastardly effect of global warming…

Good examples: LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook, Joseph Addai
Weekly expectations: 100+ yards and at least 1 TD with occasional bonus TDs

RUNNING BACK 2 (RB2)

In contrast, your RB2 is a complimentary back — and the “all you got left” for picks near the end of a big league — here’s to you, picks 11 and 12.

These days, any running back scoring around 8+ touchdowns with around 500 yards or reaching 1000 yards with fewer TDs is pretty exceptional as a RB2. Many of the top RB2s are of the TD-vulture variety.

Any running back that finishes in the top 30 is obviously a pretty decent RB2. You want to collect a couple of these guys if you can to sub in and out on a weekly basis and play those match ups.

Good examples: Brandon Jacobs, Deuce McAllister, Chester Taylor, DeAngelo Williams
Weekly expectations: 100+ yard and, frequently but not always, a TD

RUNNING BACK 3 (RB3)

As a BONUS — aren’t you lucky? — let’s talk RB3s. If you are in a league that plays three, you are probably looking to snag quite a few running backs and get two RB2-caliber guys. Technically, RB2 guys are the last ones you want to start on a regular basis.

A RB3 would be someone you expect to keep on the bench for a stretch — a new rookie perhaps. If they end up making waves and parting seas to the endzone, you could move them into your starting lineup. Otherwise, they are there if you get in a bind and for potential big games a few times in the season.

Good examples: Jerious Norwood, Tatum Bell, Leon Washington
Weekly expectations: 50 yards and occasional TD unless “special sleeper powers” activated by alien meteor or starting running back injury

PARTING NOTE

There is always some room to play here with these projections. If the league suddenly gets flooded with Adrian Petersons — or more likely, nine or ten Travis Henry types with all the kids he is producing — the RB2 position expectations will fluctuate.

Having trouble classifying a running back for this upcoming season? Post the players in the comments if you want a foolish expert opinion.

Look forward to  more foolish differences explored for the QB and WR position as the offseason’s “Are we there yet?” period continues.

Mocking a Mock Draft? Analyzing The Hazean’s Mock Draft

Last month, fellow fantasy football blogger The Hazean ran a two-round fantasy mock draft. (Round 1 and Round 2)

I’m not sure if some divine power of good — or most likely evil — took over after he posted it, but through some supernatural intervention, he was inspired to ask me for some analysis. A request for a critique? My tiny inner child jumped in pure excitement…before returning to the fetal position…and the crying.

Karma must be on our side, and I must immediately do something to correct that.

Rather than bust out the entire draft by teams to grade, I decided instead to take specific picks that I felt were reaches or steals to highlight.

Of course, these reaches/steals are based on my esteemed opinion, and the Fools always hear that we all are entitled to one. Until we can demand licenses for them, I’m being kind and also taking into consideration that we are looking at things one month later here. I’m sure I’ll still screw up my karma somehow.

Starting in Round 1

Pick 4 – Tom Brady (Reach)

While I figure Brady is going to be the first QB off the board this year, there are a few more stud RBs that I would try and grab before taking him with the 4th overall pick. Joseph Addai and Brian Westbrook are both still on the board here, so I think this pick qualifies as a bit of a reach. I don’t see Brady going until at least the 5-6th overall range since Peyton Manning, Tony Romo and even Drew Brees could be comparable in stats this year.

Pick 6 – Jamal Lewis (Reach)

Yes, Lewis was great last year, but he is also old. Old bones don’t hold up, and I don’t like him at 6th overall. I’d rather snag a Marion Barber over Lewis because he’s a RB in a potent offense who has less miles on the tires, and Barber is not a 6th overall talent either.

Pick 7 – Brian Westbrook (Steal)

The real value in this year’s draft going to be at the picks in the middle of the pack. RB studs will fall to them if people are too high on QBs. If Brian Westbrook was available at 7th overall, I would jump all over him. I see Westbrook as a top 3 talent — even with all his injuries. I’d take him over Steven Jackson. Pick 7, you just lucked out.

Pick 8 – Randy Moss (Questionable)

I know. I used a hidden option C here to call Moss “questionable,” but I can’t really say he’s not worth the 8th overall pick. I can say that I don’t want to touch him this year.

Moss is the primary target in one of the best offenses in football, but after the Giants showed how to break the system, will Moss get the same number of touches? I have to put my money on his age and improved defense cutting into his production this year, so I like him only outside of the first round.

Clearly, that’s only my take though. Others might chance him in the first round.

Moving to Round 2

Pick 14 – Frank Gore (Steal)

Gore is supposed to be the focal point of this new offense Mike Martz is putting together. With all the steam coming out of Martz’s head and pent up aggression from the way he left Detroit, I think he’s going to build some kind of mean monster in San Francisco.

Gore should burst out of the gates in his 2006 form, and I see him as a stud for this year. He’s a top 10 pick in my opinion, so I have to disagree with The Hazean bumping him to the second round.

P.S. In a snake draft, this team would now have Frank Gore and Peyton Manning. Not too bad a combo if you asked me.

Pick 15 – Larry Fitzgerald (Reach)

Fitzgerald just got paid recently — and paid BIG. Now he enters into a season where his QB situation is on shaky ground. Matt Leinart still has a learning curve to overcome as the future of the team. Kurt Warner could definitely put up the numbers with Fitz, but who knows what could happen this year. I wouldn’t touch him as the second overall receiver, but maybe I’m just scared…

Pick 18 – Marshawn Lynch (Steal)

I must just be higher on RBs than The Hazean despite liking QBs this year, but I like Lynch in the first round this year. He’s an early second rounder at worst — hit-and-run incident aside. He’s got top 10 RB talent and an offense that will feed him the ball this year. I see him doing some big things. I might put him around the 10th overall range myself. How this accident of his shakes down could change that though.

Pick 19 – Ryan Grant (Reach)

I loved Ryan Grant last year. Hey, I even like him a lot this year, but I think you take a high-powered receiver over him in the second round. Grant’s role in the offense is a little out there right now.

Remember how many running backs Green Bay had last year? Well, now they are all back and healthy. He will be a good RB for your team, but I am not sure if he is dependable enough to be my RB2.

Jamal Lewis and Ryan Grant in two rounds? That ‘s two questionable choices to carry your team this year. With the talent available, I don’t like these picks.

Pick 22 – Reggie Wayne (Steal)

There’s a lot of receivers flying around in this round. I am not sure I agree with Larry Fitzgerald as the second receiver taken since the QB situation could be shaky with beer-bonging Matt Leinart this year, but Reggie Wayne as the fourth receiver taken is a pretty nice snag.

Wayne should be the clear No. 1 for Manning now that Marvin Harrison’s old knees and Bavarian pistols are catching up with him. I think Wayne and Braylon Edwards probably deserve a standing ahead of Fitz.

Pick 23 – Tony Romo (Steal)

Peyton Manning and Tom Brady both go in the first, but Tony Romo falls to almost the end of the second round? What a steal!

Romo was the second highest scoring QB last season in some scoring systems. With T.O. returning and a more potent running game, he should have an even better offensive powerhouse this season. I would take him in front of Manning this year, so being able to snag him after having the second overall pick is a real win.

How would you like your team to be Tony Romo and Adrian Peterson after two rounds? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Nice to mock with you

Overall, I have to say that I like The Hazean’s mock. While there are a few questionable characters in there, the majority of the teams should be the start of something I might be willing to take home to introduce to the parents. The majority of my steals/reaches were only slight adjustments.

I look forward to checking out his next updated mock, and until then, I’ll be trying to figure out how a man can be a haze.

Welcome to Fantasy Football Fools 2.0

I’m happy to announce that the brand new design for FantasyFootballFools.com debuted this weekend.

It’s minicamp time at Fantasy Football Fools, and we put on a few pounds of muscle this offseason. Now we’re back in the mix to lock up our starting position — unlike Jeremy Shockey.

Yes, we have a new color scheme and a little more flash, but don’t worry. We’re still the same fantasy football blog that you know and love, and you’re still sort of growing on us.

The Chicago Bears liked the new design so much that they ditched Cedric Benson and signed it as a free agent. That may seem rough, but hey, our website drinks like a fish and still manages to stay out of trouble.

After a week soberly pouring over and customizing the design, I wanted to take this post just to point out a few new site features and inform you about the multiple ways you can receive updates from the site.

GET UPDATES FROM FANTASY FOOTBALL FOOLS

You’ll notice that you can now sign up to receive updates from Fantasy Football Fools by email or by RSS in the top right corner of the page — just above our updated search navigation. You can also find either update option on our ‘Subscribe’ page.

These updates are absolutely free, so jump on it and sign up. If you don’t understand RSS just yet, check out the little video clip that we provide under the subscribe options.

I’m a big fan of RSS readers like Google Reader because they allow me to track all the latest fantasy news each week even when I am off-line and occasionally sleeping. You can always check up on your reader to make sure you didn’t miss anything. Plus, you can search and mark articles to save in Google Reader, so it comes in handy when you are trying to find that little tidbit you read about sleeper wide receivers (WR) come draft time.

You can see what articles I am sharing from my Google Reader by checking the sidebar column under ‘Foolish Reads.’ It varies from social media/Web 2.0/business to fantasy football news throughout the week.

If you don’t want to jump into an RSS reader just yet, you can still sign up to receive updates via email. As an email subscriber, you receive an update email each day that a post is made on Fantasy Football Fools, so you stay up-to-date just by perusing your email inbox.

FOLLOW MY FOOLISH TWITTERS

Also, I’ve added my Twitter account (@jacobsloan) to the sidebar at right. You can follow my Twitter updates (or tweets) through this sidebar on the site, or if you are just as cool as I am and on Twitter yourself, you can sign up to follow me.

I know many of you probably don’t know what Twitter is just yet. It’s one of those Web apps that analysts rave about right now, and as a hardcore techie, I’ve jumped on board. You can find an easy explanation from the same guys who made the video about RSS feeds — or I could just tell you…

In short, I use Twitter to post quick updates on relevant fantasy football news and discuss topics through the day with the community. Join in by signing up at twitter.com and finding me @jacobsloan. (You include others in your replies/messages on Twitter by putting @ in front of their username.)

COMMENTS OVERHAUL

The comment section below each post looks a little different now that I’ve added some social media links so that you can share posts with your friends and neighbors. You can’t keep info this good to yourself — at least, not all of it.

Commenting should be a little easier to navigate now as well with the new design, and I expect an increase in the showering of compliments and obscenity. Now, author comments/responses will be marked so that you know when your questions or taunts have been answered.

Sign up to receive email updates when you leave a comment so that you know when you get a reply and the truth has been spoken.

COMING SOON: Polls

On the horizon, we also have a new addition: polls.

Yes, I know it’s against our nature to trust others, but I’m told you have some value to add. We’ll see how you hold up your end. Look for the first poll to go up soon that will allow you to give you opinion on the top fantasy players and give you one more reason to stay foolish here at Fantasy Football Fools.

Travis Henry Gets the Shanny Shocker, Released

While there was speculation that Travis Henry wasn’t exactly welcomed back this season to the Denver Broncos, Mike Shanahan surprised us all by letting him go this early in the offseason workouts. After all, the guy has nine baby mamas with one child apiece. Eighteen mouths don’t feed themselves, and Shanahan has to have some heart inside that burned-brown, leather exterior.

Unfortunately for those 18 mouths, Henry injured his hamstring last month and most likely skipped out on treatments while he wasn’t showing up to OTAs. The situation didn’t win Henry any gold stars for effort and combined with Henry’s damaged rep from fighting a failed drug test suspension all of last season, the dogpile of problems probably caused Shanahan write him off as a bad influence on the litter of young running backs (RB) the Broncos currently have at quarterback camp practicing already (Selvin Young, Andre Hall, newly drafted Ryan Torain and last week’s new addition Michael Pittman).

Shanahan questioned Henry’s commitment to the game in his statement after the release. From ESPN.com:

“Although Travis has the ability to be one of the top running backs in the NFL, we have to make decisions that are in the best interests of our organization and its goal of winning a Super Bowl,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said in a statement. “We did not feel his commitment to the Broncos was enough to warrant a spot on this football team.”

Later Monday, Shanahan said the move was more about Henry’s personality than his play.

“He’s just too inconsistent as a person. When you’re too inconsistent as a person, you usually aren’t going to win championships,” Shanahan said during a spring workout later in the day.

With Travis Henry released, the Denver Broncos running game gets a little murky — and that’s clearer than it was before. The RB situation in Denver was a weak link in 2007, and along with an inconsistent stock of wide receivers (WR), the running game is one of the few elements keeping Jay Cutler from bringing his game together as a franchise quarterback (QB). (If you remember, I made some early offseason predictions for three Broncos stars in 2008, and I’m still standing behind them without Henry.)

Rising to the top, Selvin Young averaged 5.2 yards per carry last season but isn’t the type (at least at his current weight and skill) to carry the full load even if he claims he will hit 2,000 yards this season.

It’s likely Young will split time with Michael Pittman who obviously made Shanahan confident enough to let Henry go. Pittman, at 32, has past his prime, but he should contribute enough to spell Young and sub in on some passing plays until Ryan Torain, the powerful rookie, is ready to take on a larger role.

Until the starting role becomes clearer, the RB situation will be the talk of all the Broncos training camp reports. If Young becomes the starter, look for him as a risky RB2 or a promising RB3 in round 3 or 4.

Pittman might be worth a pick in late rounds if he gets a spot in a committee with Young. If not, he falls into the same indefinite boat as Andre Hall, but being lost in the RB depth chart in Denver doesn’t mean you won’t lead the team in rushing by the end of the year.

The real sleeper of this bunch is Ryan Torain. He could be the surprise RB to emerge for the Broncos this year and has nothing but upside. Stash him on your bench late or keep your eye on him on the waiver wire.

As for Henry, he is probably more likely to find work than Shaun Alexander, but there is not clear team interested in picking up him, his injury and his off-the-field problems right now. For now, he gets to stand in line with Alexander and Kevin Jones at the unemployment office.

Fantasy Draft Strategy: Tiering Your Player Rankings and Cheat Sheets

Now that the players have settled into their teams for 2008, and overlooking the few free agents still bouncing from workout to workout, it’s time to start preparing your draft cheat sheets and practicing your draft strategy with a few mock drafts.

Tiering your draft cheat sheet is one very effective method of drafting a batch of strong contenders that I swear by — profusely. By tiering, you get a leg up on your fellow drafters because you can see the value when others cannot.

Some fantasy football sites and sources will tier their cheat sheets for you. Whether you trust one source’s rankings or want to combine several intel sources into one power sheet or big board (like I do), it’s always best to look over your draft notes and adjust the tiers based on updated info and/or any personal, gut feelings.

Tiering provides you with a visual reference on draft day of where value is being overlooked, but the greatest benefit is that you separate players by value regardless of position and see when a top-tier player has been skipped over.

Why Bad Drafts Happen to Good People

Too often, bad drafts happen because friends let friends draft drunk. On that note, let’s go to a short public service announcement:

*Ahem* That’s not right, kids. Always take the draft boards away and make your drunk friends spend the night before someone gets behind a draft list and makes a bad decision. You only get to draft once every season, and you don’t want to end up picking the ugly one because they start looking good to you after beer five…

But that’s enough about LenDale White. PSA complete.

When alcohol isn’t involved, sometimes we focus too much on a specific position we are targeting rather than taking the best player on the board. Don’t get caught thinking about running backs into the third round when drafting a wide receiver would give you the stronger team.

The Benefits of Tiering Your Cheat Sheet

Without tiers, you might be looking at a quarterback in the second round when the market is richer for taking another running back since the top two or three quarterbacks are off the board.

Likewise, you might find yourself in the fourth round looking at running backs when grabbing the last of the top wide receivers would make your team a powerhouse or provide trade bait for the player who just spent a high pick on a quarterback and neglected to get a receiver early.

With a tiered cheat sheet, you can easily make the snap judgments and see when a first tier running back is still on the board in the third round or catch when the last top quarterback is about to go off the board in the fourth round.

These small details can keep you from missing a run on an important position in your draft or overlooking opportunity at another position.

Best Way to Tier It Up in Your Fantasy League

  • Tier your draft cheat sheet based upon how many points that player generated on average last season or how many points they are projected to generate this season.

I prefer to mix it up a bit here. I start with the top-ranked players from various fantasy football resources and then move players up or down based upon this season’s projections and last season’s performance — always being careful to notch down players who have inflated values because they outperformed their draft stock last season.

  • Once you have the rankings, place breaks where significant point differences occur, and if you can stand the level of detail, make these point breaks universal across the board for each position.

Depending upon your point system, you might have the top scorers — say 30+ points per week — in tier 1 while players that averaged or will average 25+ in tier 2. Tier 4 might be made up of players that only generate 10-15 points per week.

One easy way to start finding your tier divisions is by separating the RB1s from the RB2s and the QB1s from the QB2s. Once those lines are set, you can divide the QB1s into high-end and low-end options and so forth until you’ve created several tiers. The more tiers, the better.

At this point, you probably get the idea. (If not, just give up now and go with drafting drunk.)

It’s okay if Randy Moss, Tom Brady and L.T. are you’re only first-tier players. Just make sure you establish when the players projected to generate the most points are going off the board.

  • With this sheet, the fantasy football draft strategy is to snag as many top players as you can regardless of position. In other words, draft the best player available.

I don’t worry if I don’t have a quarterback before the fourth or fifth round as long as I have a stable of strong fantasy point generators. You can always snag a backup-quality quarterback later in the draft and put a trade together with some of your stronger talent at other positions for a starting-quality stud.

This “best player available” strategy tends to be the most successful in getting a team that will dominate throughout the regular season and into the playoffs. Even if you miss with a few top draft picks, you should have enough quality players spread out across every position to compensate.

By having tiers on your draft cheat sheet, you shouldn’t be distracted by need at a specific position until the final rounds of the draft, and the majority of the time, you get a balanced team covering every position without even trying.

Ever tried a tiered draft strategy and failed? Do you feel bad putting L.T. and A.P. in their own tier? Having a hard time drawing a line after Brady, Manning and Romo in the QB tiers? Talk back in the comments and you might get a response or discussion from me or, if you are lucky, a Shakespeare-typing monkey.

Drafting Your Fantasy Running Backs: The Details to Consider in 2008

If breaking down the details for this year’s fantasy running backs doesn’t make you want to take LaDainian Tomlinson first overall in your re-draft league, I don’t know what will. Seriously, people.

When you’re talking fantasy running backs, what separates the vets from the noobs is consideration of a few minor factors beyond how high-powered a running back’s offense was last year and where the running back ranks on cheat sheets this season. Looking at the slight details like what defenses they face, contract lengths and ages can help you make the call between two closely-ranked RBs in your draft.

Let’s jump into how these factors will affect some top fantasy running backs this season with some good ol’ plus or minus analysis — and we go with negative first around these parts.

The Age Old Rule

First, let’s talk age. When you’re an old running back, you’re like a hot potato. No one wants to get stuck holding you when you crack.

Fantasy Football Toolbox told all with a list of all the running backs age 29 or older. There won’t be any pluses in this category, so we will have Big/Mini shades of Minus — a very scientific method, fingers crossed.

For fantasy’s sake, here’s who is getting to be old bones:

BIG Minus -

  • Warrick Dunn – Tampa Bay: I know you thought he was a spring chicken.
  • Ahman Green – Houston Texans: His knees show his age like the rings in a tree trunk.
  • LaMont Jordan – Oakland Raiders: Age and injury have punched Jordan’s ticket out of Oakland.
  • Thomas Jones – New York Jets: Things could go either way for Jones in 2008 with a new O-line.
  • Ricky Williams – Miami Dolphins: It’s hard to make a comeback with just a couple of years left in the tank.
  • Deuce McAllister – New Orleans Saints: Coming off injury AND old. Not pretty. “Little Deuce” Aaron Stecker (32) isn’t getting younger for the Saints either.
  • The New England Trio: Heath Evans, Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris – New England Patriots: Most of New England’s backfield is over 30. The Patriots can get production out of the old guys, but these guys have got to be breaking down this year. Maybe they will remember that they have Laurence Maroney.

Mini Minus -

  • Jamal Lewis – Cleveland Browns: I think he was reborn when he became a Brown because he certainly did his owners right last year.
  • Fred Taylor – Jacksonville Jaguars: Everyone keeps calling for Maurice Jones-Drew, but Taylor seems to find gas in the tank.
  • Edgerrin James – Arizona Cardinals: Old with flashes of youth still left.
  • Brian Westbrook – Philadelphia Eagles: Only 28 but backup is Correll Buckhalter (29). No wonder the Eagles wanted Lorenzo Booker, a spry 24, from Miami.

Strength of Schedules: Running into Brick Walls

NFL.com’s Michael Fabiano ranked the rushing schedules of fantasy running backs last week while we were just sitting around chatting about the free agents of 2009, which is the next section.

Fantasy Football Xtreme’s Smitty also put together a strength of schedule analysis earlier this offseason, showing L.T. is the set to be at the top in 2008.

Pouring out a little link love for my homies, Fantasy Football Librarian noted that Fabiano’s breakdown makes Laurence Maroney look pretty favorable, and Football Jabber singled out the top and bottom five teams. Frank Gore has his work cut out for him, and no one in Houston’s backfield has it easy this year.

Here’s who’ll be hurting on and who’ll be hurting from run defenses this year:

Minus -

  • Frank Gore – San Francisco 49ers: Even if he isn’t the focus of the offense, he will still be the focus of the defense. It’s not looking good. I might go Tom Brady over Gore in the first round, but I’m not totally quitting on him yet.
  • Brandon Jacobs – New York Giants: Long road back to the top against some of the best defenses out there at stopping the run. Giants will have to keep it dynamic in the run game to say ahead.
  • Edgerrin James – Arizona Cardinals: Notch Edge down another point for this one.
  • Ahman Green (and friends) – Houston Texans: No one will have an easy time running for Houston. With a pack of inconsistent backs, I’d avoid them all in your drafts this year.
  • Jamal Lewis – Cleveland Browns: Age AND a schedule full of stacked run defenses. That hurts.
  • Julius Jones – Seattle Seahawks: Jones can’t improve his stock much in Seattle against the best in the biz of stopping him.
  • Marion Barber and Felix Jones – Dallas Cowboys: A huge offense makes this a minor point. Does this stat mean they will throw more? PLUS to Romo if that’s the case.

Plus +

  • LaDainian Tomlinson – San Diego Chargers: You couldn’t really ask for much more than L.T. having the best schedule of any RB. For the most part, Tomlinson will be running against the bottom-of-the-barrel run defenses.
  • Laurence Maroney – New England Patriots: Will the Patriots use him with the easiest rushing defense schedule? I think they might just let Brady throw all day again, but he could run easy when they let him.
  • Thomas Jones – New York Jets: If his new O-line can block for him, Jones has it free and clear this season.
  • Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams – Miami Dolphins: Two bounce backs is possible. My money’s on Brown more than Ricky.
  • Travis Henry – Denver Broncos: Easy street should win him some points with Shanny.
  • Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush – New Orleans Saints: The Saints offense is in line for a big year. Bush is the probably the better back to snag.
  • Marshawn Lynch – Buffalo Bills: The second-best rookie of 2008 gets forgotten at times, but he should have a nice 2008 season with an easy rushing schedule and an improved offense. I’m high on this kid and owned him last year.
  • Larry Johnson – Kansas City Chiefs: Rebounds abound? Maybe. Johnson has an easy schedule to redeem himself for last year.
  • Michael Turner – Atlanta Falcons: All that postseason hype won’t weigh down Turner much in Atlanta when he faces mostly low-end or middle-of-the-pack run defenses. In an offense based off the run this year, Turner could be more productive than people think.

Freebirds in Free Agency of 2009

Who’s looking to bust a move? Running backs who have a payday coming are always more likely to impress, but those who just got paid can be slowed by their wallets.

Plus +

  • Steven Jackson – St. Louis Rams: The big man might get money before the season, but if not, stay out of his way.
  • Brandon Jacobs – New York Giants: He’s got his work cut out for him, but boy, he wants to work.
  • Ricky Williams – Miami Dolphins: The “Freebird” title of this section was purely unintentional — I promise. Ricky probably has to make enough money over the next two years to rebuild his straw hut in a foreign country and smoke away the pain…That might not be very much though.

Minus -

  • Marion Barber – Dallas Cowboys: Likely to have just signed a major deal by the time the season starts even though he is a free agent now. Hopefully, money won’t weigh him down like it did Shaun Alexander.

In Closing

When it’s all said and done, these three factors paint a picture for who looks better than they might have beforehand and worse now than ever before. Some older backs may make nice RB2s, but don’t fall for drafting them as RB1s again this season.

Ricky Williams is still risky, but he has a lot going in his favor. Ronnie Brown is the more dependable guy to have for Miami, but Ricky cold be a good value pick. On the other hand, Marion Barber might have two strikes against him going into the season. Jamal Lewis looks like a player to avoid in the worst way possible.

Take all these factors into your noggin this offseason and remember to factor them in when you are choosing between two running backs in your draft. Upside is hard to find with running backs since the RBBCs are forming everywhere in the league, but make sure you get the most out of your running back picks. Don’t get stuck making the wrong call. Some rookies with young legs might be worth betting on over solid veterans.

Let me echo this again: L.T. looks good overlooking the age effect. In my mind, these factors put him clearly up there in the No. 1 overall spot. Take him first in your re-draft leagues, and call me in the morning.

Agree, disagree or explode in the comments below.

NFL Free Agents of 2009: Play Me Before They Pay Me

Whether or not you put any stock in the third-year receiver theory, players on the last year of their contract always put up big numbers before a team shows them the Benjamins.

Players who have just been paid should be suspect the next year — like a Shaun Alexander — but the year they earn their keep is the year to have them. If a player is set to put on a show this season, you should make sure to target them in your fantasy draft.

While an extension could come between now and the coin flip of 2008 for these players, here are a few of the top players that will be looking to upgrade to a Bentley this season:

The Running Backs (RB)

Steven Jackson. St. Louis Rams.
The grinder of the offense is coming off injury and a horrible Rams showing in 2007. With his contract up, Jackson will be willing to put his team on his back and run with it. While I still consider SJax damaged goods, he might be worth a second look after mini-camps and training camps show back to true form. I don’t see any way St. Louis lets him leave, but for the moment, Jackson’s looking like a relatively safe bet.

Brandon Jacobs. New York Giants.
The Giants have a full stable of RBs, but Jacobs was the man for most of the season that led them to the Super Bowl. With that victory under his belt, Jacobs might be one of the few Giants who will fight the Super Bowl slump and earn his weight in gold — that’s no little pile of gold either. It’s tough to say he is a must grab since the ball is passed to so many hands in the Giants’ offense, but keep his contract year in mind if it comes down to picking between runners who share the ball. Jacobs should at least fight through any injuries this season to impress and keep the necessary, hefty amounts of food on the table.

Marion Barber. Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys current focus is on getting a long-term deal signed by this man. Barber should share time with rookie Felix Jones this year. He probably won’t Wow with huge games, but he is consistent and guaranteed to be a first rounder in your fantasy draft. His extension will likely come before the season starts, but if not, do not miss the chance to stamp your ticket for this train.

Ricky Williams. Miami Dolphins.
Ricky’s gotta eat. Coming off his one-game-wonder — if wonder is breaking yourself in a handful of downs — performance in the muck of Pittsburgh last year, Williams will have to improve on the field if he wants Bill Parcells to keep him employed. He’s likely to share carries with Ronnie Brown, but if Ricky can finally pull his head out of the clouds, he could be a factor running behind Jake Long and stick around for his NFL paycheck a little longer.

Note that this list doesn’t include the currently homeless and unemployed — Shaun Alexander and Kevin Jones. Both will likely find homes where they will be earning their keep day-to-day. Jones could come back from his injury to a decent situation, but I don’t expect much of Shaun.

The Wide Receivers (WR) and Tight Ends (TE)

The real value in this season’s contract players is at the WR spot.

Terrell Owens. Dallas Cowboys.
That’s right. The typically demanding T.O. has been uncharacteristically quiet this offseason looking at the final year of his deal with the Cowboys. In a recent interview, he even expressed his desire to retire as a Cowboy. Have Jerry Jones and the boys finally tamed the T.O. of old? Regardless, T.O. is already considered one of the top WRs going into 2008, so the added motivation of earning a new deal should keep him demanding the ball week after week. If you go WR early, go T.O. Randy Moss just got paid, and the Giants exposed the Patriots’ weakness. No, it’s not stealing their video camera batteries.

Lee Evans. Buffalo Bills.
He stung me last season, but Evans’ contract year couldn’t come at a better time. The under-hyped WR of Buffalo finally has a compliment in short-yardage target James Hardy. If Trent Edwards gets more comfortable in training camp, Evans can shame face a few corners in 2008. I can’t trust him right away since I am still in a sensitive emotional state after the empty points column he awarded me in 2007, but Evans is back on my radar. I just can’t quit you, Lee.

Roy Williams. Detroit Lions.
The inconsistent Roy Williams is rumored to be on the trading block this season, but if he makes it through training camps, look for him to try to show his skills. I am not sure what he can do in the Detroit offense no matter how many times Kitna guarantees 10 wins, but with Calvin Johnson to draw similar coverage and a new offensive coordinator, Roy could be back — at least for 2008.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Cincinnati Bengals.
Housh has got a mess up in Cincinnati this offseason while Chad Johnson demands a trade, but T.J. will still show up when it is time to play. Last year was a big season for him, so 2008 should be his time to shine. If he gets the Bengals’ No. 1 WR role, he is a must grab. Just make sure you say his name right so that you don’t embarrass us.

Amani Toomer. New York Giants.
Sad to say that I don’t think Toomer will be looking to have a huge year. His career is winding down, and a year more in New York might just be spent as a veteran mentor to Mario Manningham and the other Steve Smith. I think Toomer might be looking for a one-year extension, but don’t count on him fighting to go out on top.

Desmond Clark. Chicago Bears.
It’s hard for anyone to shine in the Bears offense unless your name is Devin Hester, but Clark will be pushing to stay employed despite the up-and-coming Greg Olsen. If he can maintain his playing time, Clark will use it to the best of his ability. It’s iffy which TE will be a better value for 2008 though. First, they need a QB. Clark will likely be looking to show other suitors what he can do.

Notable WR of circumstance:

Anquan Boldin. Arizona Cardinals.
Even though his contract is not up, Boldin looks to be playing for mo’ money this season since Larry Fitzgerald will be making almost 7x his paycheck in 2008. Neither Arizona WR is a raw deal, but Boldin’s got something to prove.

The Quarterbacks (QB)

Rex Grossman/Kyle Orton. Chicago Bears.
One of these two underwhelming QBs has to perform this year. There just has to be some law of probability that says that, right? The two have one-year deals to show it or pack their locker. These two may end up as a case study for the NFL that proves even you are playing for the big money and big contract, it doesn’t mean you can exceed expectations or take your game to a new, less mediocre level.

Jeff Garcia. Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Garcia was the leader of a Tampa Bay team that made it to the playoffs last year minus starting RB Cadillac Williams, but Garcia’s value isn’t the best being as old as he is and with so many QBs behind him. While Chris Simms is likely gone (and maybe Jake Plummer if they still consider him on the team), Garcia might not land a big money deal with the Bucs. He is already pushing for Tampa Bay to show him the money, but his performance this season might just be to show another QB-hungry team that he can still play a few more years. Hey, it worked when he was an Eagle.

Kurt Warner. Arizona Cardinals.
Could he fight for the spotlight to stay in the NFL? There’s no telling what Warner could show us this year since he became part of a QB-by-committee system at Arizona last year. I expect that Matt Leinart will get the starts, but don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard the last from Warner.

Did I miss anyone? Let me know by posting a comment down south.