And so 2008 begins…

Fantasy football season is upon us!

*The people rejoice*   *Crowds cheer and applause*   *Small baby thrown in air*

Someone catch that baby! *Baby caught inside beer* YES!

The defending Super Bowl Champions, the New York Giants, face off against the Washington Redskins tonight. What will the lesser Manning of the mighty Mannings do?

More than likely, he’ll look a little rough around the edges since the Super Bowl win — especially if Jason Taylor gets in there for the Redskins. Eli Manning didn’t have a good showing last time he played the Redskins — and by not good, I mean worst completion percentage of the season bad. Starting off a new season and playing at home (where the Giants were iffy last year), you might find a better option to start rather than Manning.

Guys I like tonight

Brandon Jacobs: Unless Washington’s D steps up here, they’ve been looking like Swiss cheese in the preseason. Look for Jacobs to barrel through the Redskins line for more than just tough yardage and scores. Ahmad Bradshaw with significant time could do damage as well, but Jacobs is the show tonight.

Clinton Portis: The weakened Giants defense should see a lot of Portis flying around them. He’s definitely worth the start considering how high you drafted him.

Plaxico Burress: Manning is probably going to air it out a few times this game. Plax won’t be hurt by any INTs Manning throws, so unlike Manning, he’s a good start tonight.

Guys at risk tonight

Santana Moss: Last season, Moss was a weekly call as a starter depending on the matchup. He could blow up in Zorn’s new offense, or he could stay a borderline WR2 or WR3. He’s worth a shot in this opener, but if you have better options, I wouldn’t blame you if you sat him once to see what you got.

Giants defense: They lost a bunch of starters. Did you not know that? Like 22 of 53 sacks worth of them. I sit back on these guys if I have another defense, but they are your one and only, they are an okay start here.

Amani Toomer: He’s old. Did you really draft him? Start only in a deep league.

Guys I strongly dislike who smell bad tonight

Rest of Washington receivers: Wait-and-see approach on this one. I like Moss if you want to take a risk, but the others are probably not worth starting.

Jason Campbell: The Giants lost their two biggest sack masters, but they still have this guy named Justin Tuck and that other guy named Mathias Kiwanuka. More than likely, Campbell is your backup, but if you have him in a starting QB rotation, ROTATE!

Eli Manning: He’s doesn’t like playing the Redskins, and he has been inconsistent at home. Don’t put your hopes on Eli to blow it up this week unless he’s your best QB option.

Washington defense: It’s possible you drafted the Redskins D because of Jason Taylor, but this unit is not one of the best. I wouldn’t start them tonight, and I’d get rid of them if you can. They’re in the tough NFC East. Go get yourself a sleeper D like Arizona or Buffalo.

We’ll have the rest of our highlights later this week. Start/sit questions for tonight or this weekend are welcome in the comments.

Fantasy Football Fools’ 2008 Average Joe Mock Draft

I know it’s a little late to be posting a mock draft. Believe me. I know you all drafted already — well, hopefully, you drafted already.

I wish I could have gotten this one edited sooner, but the rush of preseason football and real drafts took hold of me and delayed the posting. Next time, I’ll have to conduct the mock draft on a better system, NOT through tons and tons of ‘Reply All’ emails.

Regardless, I did put together a mock draft that, if nothing else, makes for a nice discussion piece here at the beginning of the season to compare to your real draft. The draft took place several weeks ago, and it really influenced my drafting over the weekend because many of the mock drafters were my league mates (with a couple of newbies sprinkled in there).

The explanations are the drafter’s own with a few editorial notes (Ed. Note!) from me.

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You can read all the expert mock drafts you want before drafting, but how do you know how your buddies are going to draft? What about the administrative assistant at your office who won’t do any research besides printing out a ranking 10 minutes before the draft?

To aid in your quest for glory even outside of the hardcore, diehard fantasy league, I put together a 12-man team to draft like a normal, un-addicted fantasy team owners. We made it four rounds in before we had to stop and prepare for our real drafts and real lives.

They’re not much to look at, but here’s how it went down.

For this mock league, all touchdowns are worth six points (passing, receiving or rushing). Players get one point for every 25 yards passing and one point for every 10 yards rushing. No points per reception.

In this mock league, we’ll say you must start 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 team defense (DEF) with a total roster of 16 players. (Therefore, you have seven bench spots)

Fantasy Football Fools’

“Average Joe” Mock Draft

1.01 Houston Rockets Will Be 2009 Champions: LaDainian Tomlinson RB SD

It’s LaDainian’s world; we’re just living in it. (Ed. Note: This statement was too golden for me to ever consider taking it out. Golden. It shall live in infamy.)

In non-PPR leagues, the only other consideration for the No. 1 spot is Adrian Peterson. You take AP for the upside. If he goes for 2000 yards and 30 touchdowns, no one will be surprised. For me, questions surrounding his supporting cast and his ability to stay healthy bump him down a notch.

It comes down to how much you prefer taking risks, and while you can’t play it safe the entire draft, the first round is not where I’m taking chances.

With LT, you know what you’re getting: week-to-week excellence, durability (that MCL sprain seven months ago is nothing but a memory) and the ability to sleep easy at night knowing you have the player with the best chance to return top-10 overall production out of your first pick in the draft — if not more.

LT is my first pick because he has an excellent offensive line, a solid QB, receivers keeping opposing defenses honest, the guarantee of 25 touches per game that comes with being the focal point of the offense and a defense that will keep his team in the game (and running the ball).

1.02 Kansas City’s Finest: Adrian Peterson RB MIN

Remove brain. Insert hype. Draft pick = A.P.

(Ed. Note: Okay, okay. Just kidding. He didn’t really say that. After this pick, we lost this mock drafter to some boring, unnecessary travel plans or something, and I took over drafting this team as well as my own team, Favre’s Untruths)

1.03 A Chinese Okie: Brian Westbrook RB PHI

I would rather of had the No. 6 pick so I could have taken Brady, but Westbrook is too tempting to pass up. He can run, he can catch and he can score.

I predict he will go uninjured, play all 16 games, score 30 all-purpose TDs and tally up 2500 yards.

1.04 Captain Stabbins: Joseph Addai RB IND

Many may say this is a little early to pick up Addai, especially after the slump at the end of the 2007 season. This one is an easy pick for me.

Addai is a young running back with a low risk of injury, had 15 TDs in 2007, is part of a high-powered offense and has no hidden talent waiting on the bench to steal the show. Addai should pan out to be a stud in 2008.

1.05 Morgan Freeman: Steven Jackson RB STL

Fantasy Football Today told me to pick him. Plus, he went to Oregon State. (Ed. Note: I have no idea why he likes Oregon State. None.)

1.06 WAGhunters: Randy Moss WR NEP

I feel like there are a lot more quality RBs in this draft than there are quality WRs. The Patriots’ easy schedule raises Moss above Owens in my mind. I also have a lot more faith in Brady than in Tony Romo. After watching the champion of our league for the past two years dominate with good WRs and out-of-nowhere RBs, I’m convinced this strategy is the way to go.

1.07 King of Kings: Tom Brady QB NEP

With this pick, I not only get Tom Brady, the greatest player to ever grace the earth, but also a mastermind coach, the second greatest receiver in the league, enough motivation to last through the 2012 season AND this year’s eventual Super Bowl Champions. Excellent!

1.08 True Frattiness: Peyton Manning QB IND

My fav player (Ed. Note: Adrian Peterson is his favorite player. Silly Sooner.) is gone, and I really don’t like any of remaining running backs (Gore, Portis and the rest). I don’t want Gore because Mike Martz is their offensive coordinator, and for Portis, Washington O-line sucks.

I like Marion Barber, but I think he is going to share with Felix Jones. I also think I can get good receivers in later rounds, so I figure QB is the perfect way to go. Manning is the best QB available.

1.09 Waller Actuators: Reggie Wayne WR IND

Although convention dictates a RB as the first choice in a fantasy draft, the RBs left above Reggie Wayne disappointed me with either weak performance or injury trouble last year.

1.10 The Freshman 100: Marion Barber RB DAL

“Marion the Barbarian” was called the hardest running back in the NFL to bring down by the Eagles’ defensive coordinator. It will be interesting to see him as the primary back since he has split time since college.

The presence of Felix Jones behind him will keep him uncomfortable enough to keep him undomesticated. His better is better than your better. Enough said.

1.11 Favre’s Untruths: Clinton Portis RB WAS

Normally, I would agree with most of you that strong WRs and QBs are the way to win — in our typical 14-man, six-point passing TD league especially. At the same time, it’s hard to find a productive RB that takes the full load outside of the first two or three rounds. If you guys are going to pass them up, I’ll have to take them.

Portis is a fine “Port,” not nearly as aged as some of the other backs that top the rankings. Last year, he put up 11 TDs, and this year, new coach Jim Zorn won’t let him take himself out of games for a breather anymore and should make him a pillar of the new Washington offense.

Even though Clinton Portis screwed me once, I’ll take him. I figure he owes me, and besides, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…damn, you’re good.

1.12 QWERTY 3.0: Terrell Owens WR DAL

(Ed. Note: QWERTY is the winner of one of my leagues for the last two years straight. He’ll tell you…I’m sure.)

With the last pick of the first round, I’ll take the greatest player who has ever played the game, the man who puts the “I” in team, the touchdown king himself for two of the last three years, the magnificent T.O. With stats like his, how can you not pick him?

2.01 QWERTY 3.0: Steve Smith WR CAR

Stats are meaningless. With my second pick, I’ll take Steve Smith down there in Carolina. He might not have had a good year in 2007, but he was saving his skills for this year.

Prediction: 20+ touchdowns. Carolina is pissed about their performance last year; they will be the NFC Champions. (The 49ers will be the second best team in the NFC.)

I can taste that 3rd Championship already…

2.02 Favre’s Untruths: Marshawn Lynch RB BUF

Again, I’m tempted to take a WR here, but the RB talent is still of the stud variety. I’ll stock up while I can. It’s a tough call with Frank Gore and LJ still on the board, but I like Buffalo’s rushing schedule better.

As long as the defense has improved — and by improved, I mean finally gotten healthy — Buffalo should be able to control games by putting it in Lynch’s hands 300+ times this year. Besides, I just have to draft anyone who calls his game “Beast Mode.”

2.03 The Freshman 100: Drew Brees QB NO

The Saints are obviously not confident with his ability to hand the ball off as he had 652 pass attempts last year. This stat gives Brees, a very experienced and smart player, the opportunity to determine his own destiny.

After deep analysis of many different empirical models developed by NASA, I expect another strong hurricane (Ed. Note: Don’t think he predicted Gustav…or did he?) which leaves the Saints, Hornets and Weezy to rep New Orleans.

2.04 Waller Actuators: Frank Gore RB SF

I was kind of worried I wouldn’t get a decent running back after taking a wideout in the first round, but luckily for me, everyone else was thinking the same thing I was and left me with an opportunity to still pick up one of those “worrisome” RBs I had to pass on in Round 1. Let’s hope the 49ers DO have a good season, centered around my pick.

2.05 True Frattiness: Willis McGahee RB BAL

Willis McGahee rushed a lot last year, and it has been said that his carries will only increase this year. I need to get a good running back before they are all taken. McGahee is the guy.

2.06 King of Kings: Braylon Edwards WR CLE

Can the success Derek Anderson had last season carry over? I’m betting on it, especially since he has “The Golden Boy” [Insert Myoplex commercial here] nipping at his heels from the bench.

Whether Braylon is a true “soldier” like his teammate Kellen Winslow is debatable, but he is their go-to receiver. He should have a solid season.

I can hear the dog pound barking now!

2.07 WAGhunters: Tony Romo QB DAL

Personally, I hate everything about the Dallas Cowboys, but Tony Romo has big potential in Big D. Some sites even rank him above Peyton Manning. Hopefully, his poor play in the last three games of 2007 (1 TD and 5 INTs) will not carry over into this season.

He is a tier-one quarterback that I’m not going to have to worry about getting a backup for until his bye week comes up. I like that because it allows more bench spots for sleeper WRs and RBs. He also has one of the hottest WAGs in football right now.

2.08 Morgan Freeman: Carson Palmer QB CIN

Chad Johnson is in camp and making amends with CP, so no worries there. With T.J. ballin’ it up, Cincy has the best WR duo in the league. Palmer will average three TDs per game. Word.

2.09 Captain Stabbins: Marques Colston WR NO

This one was a tough pick because there are still some quality backs out there, and Larry Fitzgerald is out there, too. But Jeremy Shockey is a great addition to the Saints and will force the safeties to the middle to open up some big play potential for the seventh-round pick turned boss hog Marques Colston.

2.10 A Chinese Okie: Larry Fitzgerald WR ARI

Easy pick — top-tier wide receiver at the end of the second round. He has a good supporting cast with a fantasy football starter at RB, a fantasy football starter to complement him at WR and a fantasy football back up for QB. (Ed. Note: At the time, the QB was looking like Leinart.) I’m predicting 1200 yards and 10 TDs.

2.11 Kansas City’s Finest: Larry Johnson RB KC

Look at the team name. I have to draft either LJ or Dwayne Bowe to make it legit. Other than that, LJ is a late first type of talent, and I can’t believe he is here at the end of the second round.

While he had a rough start last year and went down hurt, Johnson still has it in him to be a top RB. I’m not scared about any carries that Jamaal Charles might take from him — even if he does spell his name with three As. Booby can spin, but LJ is going to be pounding the rock.

2.12 Houston Rockets Will Be 2009 Champions: Willie Parker RB PIT

How one year makes a difference…

Fast Willie was a top-five pick last year, and a flukey broken leg and low touchdown total (only 2 TDs last year) aren’t enough to convince me he’s fallen this far. The Steelers drafting Fat Rashard Mendenhall, who probably listens to Coldplay, doesn’t scare me away either. You know the yards will be there, and I think the touchdowns will soon follow. I predict 1400 yards and 8TDs for Fast Willie.

3.01 Houston Rockets Will Be 2009 Champions: Andre Johnson WR HOU

While I was seriously contemplating taking another RB here because everybody is passing them up, I couldn’t resist taking a Texan and a probable top-five receiver. (Ed. Note: Homer pick.) He was on par with Moss last year for per-game averages, and while health might be a concern, I think his upside outweighs the risk. I’m expecting a big season from Andre 3000, possibly 1300 yards and 13TDs. (Ed. Note: He likes 13s obviously.)

3.02 Kansas City’s Finest: Maurice Jones-Drew RB JAX

While I believe that I got some extreme RB value in the first two rounds, both have question marks going into 2008.

Adrian Peterson hasn’t carried the full load for a full season yet and could go down with an injury again. Larry Johnson could suffer from the same horrible offensive line woes as last year. Most of the elite WRs have been taken off the board and left behind a fairly strong group of low-end elite RBs.

To fortify my RB core and make sure I have trade bait if I get in a tough spot for WRs later in the draft, I will take a sure thing with Jones-Drew. He may not be the starter, but he certainly scores consistent fantasy points. If this season is the nail in the coffin for Fred Taylor, MJD obviously inflates a huge ceiling. I doubt that’ll happen, but he’ll still be good for consistent scores and a big showing every week or two.

3.03 A Chinese Okie: T.J. Houshmandzadeh WR CIN

Taking Housh gives me a solid pair of top receivers.

3.04 Captain Stabbins: Jamal Lewis RB CLE

1) He was the third leading rusher in the AFC last year. 2) If Derek Anderson can be the QB he was last year, the Browns could have one of the best offenses of the AFC as long as pretty boy Quinn sticks with the Myoplex commercials. 3) Not only is Jamal just huge and ugly, but as he breaks tackles, he shanks defenders in the kidney. If they do tackle him, he eats their children as payback. Who wouldn’t want this guy on their team? 4) He is pretty much the last RB left that won’t be sharing a lot of carries if he stays healthy.

3.05 Morgan Freeman: Chad Johnson WR CIN

He’s a risky gamble, but I’ll take it. He’s got class and character, and that’s what I look for in a player.

3.06 WAGhunters: Ronnie Brown RB MIA

I understand that this is a risky pick since Brown is coming back from injury, but Brown racks up the fantasy points when healthy. Since the Dolphins have no good QBs — they had Quincy Carter come in for a workout — and Bill Parcels, they will be a run-oriented offense. I know Ricky is in Miami as well, but there is no doubt who the feature back is.

3.07 King of Kings: Michael Turner RB ATL

Michael Turner is fresh and ready to prove that he is worth the big contract that Atlanta paid him this offseason. Atlanta will be using a run-based offense to take pressure off No. 3 draft pick Matt Ryan. Atlanta will also be going up against some low-ranked rushing defenses, which should only pump up Turner’s stats even more.

3.08 True Frattiness: Plaxico Burress WR NYG

Just look at Giants’ roster…who is Eli going to throw to? Amani Toomer is getting old, and Shockey is gone. Tyree, who made an amazing catch, is a special teams player. I predict 1200 yards and 14 TDs. Plaxico is the best receiver available.

3.09 Waller Actuators: Earnest Graham RB TB

With RBs pretty picked over and the QBs that warrant pre-RB and/or WR picks gone, Graham seems like a solid pick to get at the end of the third round. There are no stud WRs left really, and he’s a solid RB2 option.

3.10 The Freshman 100: Brandon Jacobs RB NYG

Good in the red zone. Beastly athlete. What’s not to love? Also, Jacobs is up for a new contract. Dolla dolla bills, ya’ll!

3.11 Favre’s Untruths: Roy Williams WR DET

It seems like I missed the elite WR pack in the last couple of rounds, but I’ll see if I can make up for it. Williams is looking for a paycheck, so even though he hasn’t played all 16 games in three out of the last four seasons, I’ll take a chance that he does it this year to impresses Detroit and/or his next team.

Mike Martz is out of town, but Williams has always been consistent in scoring TDs. Maybe a slightly improved running game will help take some pressure off Kitna and give the former Longhorn more opportunities as well. At least we know that Detroit will probably be playing from behind a lot. They will be forced to pass.

3.12 QWERTY 3.0: Ben Roethlisberger QB PIT

I can’t stand the guy; however, he will be a top-five QB this year. The Steelers, despite their reputation as running team, pass a lot and especially in the red zone. Willie Parker has probably forgotten what the end zone looks like. Big Ben just needs to stay away from motorcycles.

4.01 QWERTY 3.0: Antonio Gates TE SD

The MAN. A QWERTY veteran. This guy is like having a top-tier receiver on your team. The quality of TEs drops off pretty quickly after the top three or four, and if I may, Gates is the only consistently good TE around year after year.

By picking him, you can significantly boost your team’s scoring potential while simultaneously hurting your opponents by leaving them with greatly inferior TE choices. It’s a win-win situation.

4.02 Favre’s Untruths: Wes Welker WR NEP

I am in need of a WR, and lucky for me, Wes Welker has fallen into my lap. While he doesn’t always rack up touchdowns, Welker is good for consistent yardage. He’ll have his big games from time to time.

Then, there’s always the theory that the Giant’s Super Bowl defensive strategy will be used against the Patriots all season, shutting down Moss and leaving Wes Welker to run wild underneath. I like that idea.

4.03 The Freshman 100: Hines Ward WR PIT

I don’t care what they say about Santonio Holmes; Hines Ward is undeniable. Ward is off the injury report with Ben avoiding motorcycles and defenses concentrating on Holmes. That’s just what Hines Ward needed. Wooo half-Asian people! (Ed. Note: We got a half-Asian drafter here.)

4.04 Waller Actuators: Derek Anderson QB CLE

This was a tough choice. I needed a QB and a TE, and QBs draw more water on any given day. Taking Favre was tempting though, just to be THAT guy.

4.05 True Frattiness: Jason Witten TE DAL

4.06 King of Kings: Darren McFadden RB OAK

I don’t care if this is a huge stretch. Darren McFadden, a.k.a. Adrian Peterson 2.0, is going to run hog-wild for the Oakland Raiders this year. The offense will be based around McFadden and Fargas as it tries to set up for the former holdout JaMarcus Russell. Darren will also throw a few touchdowns this season just because he can.

If Adrian Peterson is Purple Jesus, I’m officially campaigning for McFadden to be Black Jesus. I think it has a nice ring to it. Don’t forget: you heard it hear first.

4.07 WAGhunters: Kellen Winslow, Jr. TE CLE

Why? Cause he’s a soldier. Just ask him. Last year, he had over 1100 yards and 5 TDs. Those are very solid WR numbers at the TE spot. There are only a small handful of TEs who put up this kind of numbers.

I wouldn’t take Jason Witten here (even if he were available) because A) He is not a soldier and B) I already have Tony Romo in this draft, and I don’t want put all my hopes with the Dallas Cowboys.

4.08 Morgan Freeman: Ryan Grant RB GB

4.09 Captain Stabbins: Santonio Holmes WR PIT

If Big Ben can avoid getting sacked over and over again this year, Santonio will be putting up some points. Hines Ward has past the peak of his career and will most likely not start all the games this season.

4.10 A Chinese Okie: LenDale White RB Ten

He’s quiet but he gets a ton of carries. Good value for the end of Round 4.

4.11 Kansas City’s Finest: Torry Holt WR STL

Holt is getting older, but he’s still a top man in St. Louis. As long as they improve just a bit, he should be in line for another good season. Taking him here gives me a pretty sick 3 RB core and 1 top WR at the end of our fourth round.

4.12 Houston Rockets Will Be 2009 Champions: Edgerrin James RB ARI

While I like Willie Parker, I really want to grab another RB in case he doesn’t pan out. I was contemplating taking Edge with my 3.01 pick but figured at least one of the RBs I liked would slip. I’m stoked that one fell this far.

Edge will be a solid RB2 this year with Fitz, Boldin, tight end sleeper Leonard Pope and Leinart/Warner deflecting attention from the running game out in the desert. I personally think Arizona will be a high scoring team that should battle for a playoff spot in the wide-open NFC West.

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.

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.