Week 3 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders: Why worry?

You don’t want to be Mr. Worry. For one, that wrinkled forehead will be stuck that way forever. And two, he carries a purse.

So back down from that ledge there. Pause a second before you put on that lipstick and trace over the names of your fantasy studs turned duds. They turned on you, yes, but there’s still Week 3 when maybe (but probably not) things will settle back to the way we said they would go — you know, like Thanksgiving after all the yelling.

If you’re 0-2, stop worrying. Don’t get so desperate for a win that you find yourself dropping Anquan Boldin for Mario Manningham or Clinton Portis for Justin Forsett. It’s only Week 3. Things can get far worse than they are right now.

I had to do some traveling this week, and, boarding my return flight, I found myself staring at a guy in first class while I shuffled back to the rows where the “sorry people” were permitted to sit. Who was it you ask? Herschel Walker. Unfortunately, my survival instincts and prodding from other passengers prevented me from asking him about his new sport, but he looked like he could take a hit and give one or two in exchange. Hot hands? I think so.

Hot Hands Start of the Week

Tim Hightower, RB, Arizona Cardinals vs. Indianapolis Colts
I know I’m daring, but I wanted to go with a less obvious start this week. I really like Trent Edwards and Matt Forte as well, but I’ll give Hightower the nod because of what the Dolphins did against the Colts last week. If the Cardinals are going to beat Peyton Manning, they are going to have to take some time off the clock. With Beanie Wells fumbling every chance he gets, Hightower is the Cards’ most reliable runner.

Whether he gets his yardage and a score early or in garbage time, I think that Hightower could have a big day. Give him a second look unless you have some proven studs ready to go this week.

Others receiving votes:

  • Trent Edwards, QB, Buffalo Bills vs. New Orleans Saints
    Don’t expect it to be a beautiful game for him, but Trent Edwards should be throwing all day against Drew Brees and the Saints if the Bills are going to stay in this one. Look for him to get a few touchdowns and a few interceptions, but I think it’ll balance out in his favor.
  • Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears vs. Seattle Seahawks
    This week isn’t the most encouraging matchup for Forte since the Seahawks do have some heavy linebackers, but he deserves a chance this week. With all the injuries to Seattle’s defense, I project this could be the beginning of his return to fantasy relevance. He’s faced the Packers and the Steelers so far this season, and I won’t fault him for that. Don’t give up on him just yet.
  • Reggie Bush, RB, New Orleans Saints vs. Buffalo Bills
    Mike Bell is hurt. Pierre Thomas isn’t quite 100 percent. A perfect storm for Reggie Bush? Probably not. But I do expect to see Bush involved in this game, and against the Bills I wouldn’t be surprised if he scored at least once. He’s a good flex option, and I like him even better in PPR leagues. I’m not too worried about Lynell Hamilton.
  • Clinton Portis, RB, Washington Redskins vs. Detroit Lions
    The bone spurs in his ankles aren’t good news, but this oh-too-sweet matchup against the Lions should have been a slaughter for Portis. I put him here only because I feel I have to plug every running back facing the Lions, but it’s acceptable for you to doubt him this week. If you have a better option, I wouldn’t blame you for taking it, but give Portis one more chance this week.
  • Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns
    Hard to say why I hate myself so much, but this week (again) might be one of Rice’s best chances to score from 20 yards out before that jackass Willis McGahee comes in to vulture the touchdown.
  • Brent Celek, TE, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Kansas City Chiefs
    Kevin Kolb finds him hard to miss. No clue why. Great PPR play as long as Kolb starts.
  • Steve Smith, WR, New York Giants vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    The Bucs don’t even know that opposing teams start wide receivers yet this season. Truth.

Cold Shoulders Sit of the Week

Brandon Marshall, WR, Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders
You might remember that Oakland has that corner named Not-gonna-catch-anything Nnamdi Asomugha. This week, he will be shadowing the once-great Brandon Marshall. Add to that Marshall’s lackluster start to the season, Kyle Orton’s short range and Josh McDaniels’ statements that Marshall is just part of the rotation since he hasn’t grasped the offense and what you have is a bad matchup.

Until further notice or proof that he’s still breathing, I don’t think you can trust Brandon Marshall this season. Start him only if you must, and make him prove his worth before returning him to your starting lineup.

Others receiving votes:

  • Carson Palmer, QB, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
    A tough game against a bitter rival isn’t the best place to put your fantasy hopes. Plus, you could die. For serious.
  • Larry Johnson, RB, Kansas City Chiefs vs. Philadelphia Eagles
    Angry Eagles do not give up a lot of running yards, especially to a guy that only has 98 of them this year. Abort.
  • Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings vs. San Francisco 49ers
    The swine flu and the 49ers defense have me doubting Harvin continues his touchdown streak into Week 3. He’s a decent flex if you gotta.

Sleeper of the Week

Tashard Choice, RB, Dallas Cowboys vs. Carolina Panthers
Supposedly, Marion Barber is going to come to play this weekend, but even if he does, Choice could steal more touches than usual. The Cowboys currently lead the league in rushing yards, and the Panthers haven’t been able to stop any running backs this season. There should be plenty to go around for both Felix Jones and Tashard Choice.

Barber’s quad is still going to be bothering him, and the Cowboys trust Choice to carry the rock even in critical situations. I love Choice if Barber sits, but he’s a desperation play even if Barber takes the field. If the game gets away from the Panthers, Choice should have an even better day than expected.

For those of you who missed it, you can glean some fantasy nuggets from Trey Wingo’s latest chat from Buffalo Wild Wings. I’m going strong after Week 2 of the BWW All-Star Blogger League. Thanks, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson.

For more fantasy football goodness, visit Fantasy Football Librarian’s weekly roundup, Fantasy Football Xtreme, Fantasy Football Goat’s picks, FF Toolbox’s Week 3 starts and sits, The Fifth Down’s matchup breakdown and NFL.com’s recommendations.

As always, the comments are yours. Leave us your questions and concerns — and feel free to share your worries, Mr. Worry.

Foolish Thoughts: They aren’t who we thought they were

Oh, Week 1, you cruel, cruel mistress. Just when we think we have it all figured out, the perfect team, the perfect season, you bring us back to reality.

Yes, this week we had football — real NFL football. Football that counted! But we also saw how the offseason, that tricky devil that fills in the gap between the Super Bowl and the next weekend we care about, deceives us. Those positive, uplifting stories melt away when Jake Delhomme throws more picks than Aerosmith, and the St. Louis Rams fail to notch a single point against an NFC West opponent.

It’s sobering, if sober is your thing, to see your team come back down to earth. Well, back down to earth if you weren’t starting Drew Brees. If you have Brees, you get to look like a genius this week. And we all hate you. Oh, and you too, Adrian Peterson owners. No one liked that you got the first pick anyway, and now, they get to build on that grudge when A.P. blows up in the first week.

There are only a few people who can tell you exactly how they are going to beat you and then do it right before your eyes — Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Steve Jobs come to mind. None of them are football players. At the end of the day, any team could stop one individual player from playing their game in a given week. It just so happens that giving your opponent an entire offseason to prepare tends to really give them a great game plan against your offensive stars.

But such is fantasy football. If knowing what you were doing allowed you to draft a perfect team every time, for every week, the game wouldn’t allow trades, and trades are really where you make your name in fantasy football. After Week 1 scores are recorded, the real men — and real women — assess their teams, hedge their offseason bets and acquire some new talent if the opportunity arises. We now know how things have changed, and we’re not in hot water just yet.

And yes, I know you’re not scared yet if you own Brees or Adrian Peterson, but you’ll see other teams catch you unaware if you let a Week 1 victory convince you that your team is perfect. Your bench is rarely perfect, but you can make it better a little bit at a time every week.

Jay Cutler obviously watched too much Jake Delhomme game film this week. He tried to do too much, but I think his picks were more an indication of how well-prepared Green Bay’s defense was, even having changed schemes this offseason. The Packers don’t look like they’re still learning, and they lost the “sleeper defense” tag that some had put on them this preseason.

Aaron Rodgers, for all the offensive success the Packers had this preseason, was also a surprisingly disappointing fantasy start this week. If not for those late game moves, he would have been a killer. But I guess only Carson Palmer, Jay Cutler and Matt Schaub were killers this week.

As a side story to Brees’ touchdown-machine performance, Reggie Bush couldn’t hold onto the ball against the Lions, even after the most work he’s ever done in the offseason. Bad sign for Bush owners.

Steven Jackson had me going for a bit with his whole Web series about how he is the greatest running back ever to touch the ground. Apparently, the camera adds 10 yards, and there were only six cameras on him in the Seattle game. Maybe he’ll fare better when he’s not facing what some say is “the best linebacking corps in the NFL,” but after disliking him this offseason, he isn’t helping his case.

There would be no quarterback controversy in Philadelphia as long as Donovan McNabb stayed healthy, but he cracked a rib against Carolina just in time to cause a scare. If he can’t get back on the field or gets injured again early this season, the Vick chants in Philadelphia might get louder.

It was almost too predictable that Anthony Gonzalez, the player who might have gathered the most “nice pick” comments in your fantasy draft this season, got injured in his Week 1 start against Jacksonville. He’ll sit out at least the next two weeks, but he could miss up to six weeks with his strained knee ligament.

Only two of my fantasy teams ran away with it this Sunday. I have two on the fence going into Monday night, and one that is going to need some overhaul this week. It’s good to have you back, football, and now the real fun begins.

Stay tuned for more this week as we’ll try to fix your Week 1 woes. Tonight, we get to see the Patriots, Bills, Chargers and Raiders take the field. Best of luck if you’re on the Monday night bubble. I’m looking for a nice night for Randy Moss.

Foolish Thoughts: Are you ready for some football?

The final weekend of the preseason might be the worst week as an NFL fan. Starters play only a few minutes while coaches get a look at the rest of the depth chart to make final cuts, and we all know that in just one more week the games will actually mean something. While the Labor Day weekend appeased us with some college football action, real NFL football is now just days away.

Hopefully, you had a good draft without falling victim to many common mistakes. It won’t be long before we see all those third-year wide receivers breaking out and all those high-workload running backs breaking down, or will they?

Big News This Week

In a surprise move, the Detroit Lions declared Matthew Stafford their starter against New Orleans. I expected Stafford to get the call eventually this year, but Daunte Culpepper had outplayed him in camp and in the preseason until his foot injury — oh, the dangers of carpet. Culpepper was expected to at least start the year under center before handing it off to Stafford.

With the golden boy taking the heat right away, don’t expect a Matt Ryan rookie season out of Stafford. He’s a young rookie, and there will be plenty of hard times this season to go along with all the good ones. He actually takes a bit away from Calvin Johnson in my mind since he’s likely to turnover the ball as many times as he gets it down the field.

Tampa Bay also shocked us this weekend. Not by firing their offensive coordinator — there are plenty of people doing that — but by naming Cadillac Williams, the man with the bionic knees, as their starter. Williams will still be splitting time with Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham in some kind of sinful 2-2-1 RBBC combo, but on any given Sunday, he’ll get the first crack at the defense and the first chance to shine. That’s worth something.

Now that you’ve drafted

With your team assembled, this week’s a great time to take care of a few housekeeping issues. Have you checked out how well your backup quarterback fits your starter’s bye week? Have you looked at how your team stacks up for the fantasy playoffs?

These things are good to keep in mind heading into the season. Knowing you have a bad matchup in the playoffs will allow you to start shopping a player in the middle of the season and unload him for something of equal or greater value that can get you to the championship.

I am not too afraid of Green Bay’s tough road in the fantasy playoffs, but Washington looks more and more like a team to get rid of quickly this year.

Shots in the Dark

With the excitement of the preseason, bold statements come out of the woodwork. Unless you’re just looking at the facts and only the facts, you’re probably expecting one of the following predictions to come true. How good do you feel about it now that we enter into the first week of games that matter?

Well, we’ve read all about that. Now, we get to see what comes true. Look out for our starter recommendations and the rest of your weekly prep this week as we begin fantasy football season with a bang.

And so begins our fantasy football addiction…

[You can check in with Norm’s latest struggles with fantasy addiction over at Global Sports Fraternity.]

Foolish Thoughts: Foolish Fantasy Football Draft Kit

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

2009 Foolish Fantasy Football Draft Kit

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

A Kick and a Prayer

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

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

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

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

Rusty Tom-bone

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

Jag Snag?

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

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

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

Now About that Hot-lanta Run Game

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

Contrary to Popular Belief

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

Packing It In?

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

Cutler 1, Neckbeard 0, Denver -1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- – – END OF THE ELITE QUARTERBACKS – – -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rest of the Pack

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

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

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

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

Carson Palmer, Marc Bulger already on the sidelines

This is why we can’t have nice things. After just one week of preseason football, both Carson Palmer and Marc Bulger need to see some time on the shelf.

Palmer suffered a high ankle sprain on his left ankle in the team’s first preseason game against the New Orleans Saints. The injury will keep Palmer out of tonight’s showdown with Tom Brady, another quarterback who missed the 2008 season.

After taking three sacks in the preseason opener against the New York Jets, Bulger managed to injure his wee little pinky in practice, which will put him down for at least two weeks.

Both Palmer and Bulger will be fine missing some work in the preseason. In fact, Bulger’s probably grateful to be out of the line of fire for a few weeks. But these injuries serve as a sign that these veteran quarterbacks shouldn’t be trusted this year. If you’re looking to snag Palmer or Bulger this season as a backup quarterback expecting them to shock and amaze by returning to form, don’t bet on it.

I question whether Palmer was even back at 100 percent at the start of this season after he sat out the majority of 2008 and chose not to undergo surgery this offseason. It might not take much of a hit for him to miss several weeks of the 2009 season.

Bulger, while productive when upright, doesn’t have the protection he needs to do much for the Rams this year. Bulger takes more sacks than any starting quarterback in the league — not counting David Carr, of course, since he’s now a backup. Without a reliable receiving target, Bulger could get caught trying to do too much early this season and go down in a hurry.

While you can hope for whatever you wish out of these two this season, I would recommend avoiding them both as fantasy quarterbacks. Palmer and Bulger’s best days may be behind them, and their future could be very frustrating.

Hair Model Mock Draft 2009: Tweaking the System

There was actually a mock draft that I participated in last week besides the one that I let the ESPN autodraft bot destroy by filling the bench with quarterbacks. The fine young hair models from Fantasy Football Writers with Hair put together a 10-team, 16-round mock draft with a few of the Fanhouse crew, reps from Bruno Boys and Bleacher Report and me.

The roster was a standard setup with a flex position — 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 RB/WR, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 D/ST and seven bench spots. The scoring was basic as well with passing touchdowns awarded four points.

The guys at Fantasy Football Writers with Hair have just published the entire mock draft with their take on each round. Here I’ll break down each round with my own thoughts so that you can see what was going through my head when I decided it was a good idea to take Thomas Jones…

The 2009 Fantasy Football Writers with Hair Mock Draft

**- Represent my picks

Update: I’ve recently learned that Bruno Boys were unable to get back into this mock draft after we had started. All picks made by the Bruno Boys are, in reality, the ESPN autodraft bot at work once again. You can see how Bruno Boys might have actually drafted in the picks they made during the previous ESPN mock draft where I let the bot take control.

Round: 1
(1) John Lorge – Adrian Peterson RB
(2) Team Dembinsky – LaDainian Tomlinson RB
(3) Team Lalley – Maurice Jones-Drew RB
(4) Nick Allen – Michael Turner RB
** (5) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Matt Forte RB
(6) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Chris Johnson RB
(7) ffwriters withhair.com – Steven Jackson RB
(8) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Frank Gore RB
(9) Call me Stat Boy – DeAngelo Williams RB
(10) Bruno Boys.net – Larry Fitzgerald WR

My pick: It’s hard to complain with Matt Forte at the five spot. I would likely have taken Forte even if I had the second overall pick. I like him that much. It was an easy call to take him when he fell right into my lap.

Picks I like: It’s hard not to like anyone drafted in the first round. I mean, none of the mock drafters were using the Oakland Raiders’ notes here. Turner at fourth overall seems just about right. He has a tough schedule, but he should still produce like the fantasy champ he was last season because Atlanta is likely to see the end zone more often. Chris Johnson over Steven Jackson at pick No. 6 is also a pick from my own heart. Johnson has plenty of upside while Jackson’s team is hardly guaranteed to get points on the board. Outside of PPR leagues, I am not a fan of Steven Jackson this year.

Picks I hate: DeAngelo Williams, even late in the first, is a raw deal. The tougher schedule and the split with Jonathan Stewart should take him right back down to size. Don’t forget where he fell in drafts last season just because he ended the year as the No. 1 fantasy back. While I don’t hate it, taking Larry Fitzgerald at the end of the first round probably wouldn’t have been my move. I like running backs that are still on the board at this point, and it’s risky taking a wide receiver here and, as you’ll see, in the second round and still putting together a consistent running back group.

Round: 2
(11) Bruno Boys.net – Andre Johnson WR
(12) Call me Stat Boy – Brandon Jacobs RB
(13) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Randy Moss WR
(14) ffwriters withhair.com – Clinton Portis RB
(15) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Drew Brees QB
** (16) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Steve Slaton RB
(17) Nick Allen – Marion Barber RB
(18) Team Lalley – Calvin Johnson WR
(19) Team Dembinsky – Peyton Manning QB
(20) John Lorge – Brian Westbrook RB

My pick: I reap the benefits of the Bruno Boys’ run on wide receivers. Imagine my glee to see Slaton fall to me in the middle of the second round. I love the idea of having two young, highly-involved backs as my lead starters, and I only wish this mock draft was a real league. Slaton may lose goal line touches this season, but I have no doubt he’ll earn them back as Chris Brown gives in to the inevitable injury, and Slaton separates himself from the rest of the pack in Houston.

Picks I like: Clinton Portis doesn’t get enough attention for being one of the most reliable backs in fantasy. He deserves to be taken higher than 14th overall, but he’s going at a bargain rate right now because of the abuse he took last season. Brian Westbrook at the end of the second round isn’t too bad either. The old guy is still going to start in Philly, and the explosive offense they assemble could give Westbrook at least one more great year of fantasy production.

Picks I hate: It was daring to take Fitz in the first round, and following with Andre Johnson in the second round really puts Bruno Boys in a tough spot here. I would want to get my hands on at least one elite RB1 in a 10-team league, and Bruno Boys could have gotten another elite receiver in the third round had he taken a back with one of his first two picks. I guess if you’re going to go for wide receivers rather than running backs this early, you might as well go all in. With just four points per passing touchdown, I’d rather wait on quarterbacks. Brees in the mid-second seems too early to me just as Manning at the end of the round does. I don’t think the quarterback values are going to be as inflated this season as they were last year. Brady’s injury put a little fear back into everyone.

Round: 3
(21) John Lorge – Tom Brady QB
(22) Team Dembinsky – Dwayne Bowe WR
(23) Team Lalley – Pierre Thomas RB
(24) Nick Allen – Steve Smith WR
** (25) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Greg Jennings WR
(26) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Reggie Wayne WR
(27) ffwriters withhair.com – Ryan Grant RB
(28) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Roddy White WR
(29) Call me Stat Boy – Kevin Smith RB
(30) Bruno Boys.net – Ronnie Brown RB

My pick: Greg Jennings is a favorite this season. He’s primed to have another big year with Aaron Rodgers under center. He showed his elite status already last season, and the guy gets to play the Lions twice this year. What’s not to love?

Picks I like: Pierre Thomas is going to be better than Reggie Bush this year and deserving of the third-round grade if Brees puts him in scoring position as much as I think he can. Grant is due for a bounce-back year after his injury-plagued 2008. If Matt Ryan blows up like everyone seems to think he will, Roddy White might outperform my Greg Jennings pick, but I was willing to take that chance.

Picks I hate: Ronnie Brown was nothing impressive last season without the Wildcat. I doubt he’ll blow anyone away this year as it is possible that Pat White sees some of those reps in the Wildcat formation. I also find it hard to love Kevin Smith. If Detroit moves to a power running game, Smith may take some time to adjust from the one-cut style that made him so successful in college and in his play last year with the Lions.

Round: 4
(31) Bruno Boys.net – Anquan Boldin WR
(32) Call me Stat Boy – Marques Colston WR
(33) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Aaron Rodgers QB
(34) ffwriters withhair.com – Brandon Marshall WR
(35) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Darren McFadden RB
** (36) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Thomas Jones RB
(37) Nick Allen – Philip Rivers QB
(38) Team Lalley – Jonathan Stewart RB
(39) Team Dembinsky – Vincent Jackson WR
(40) John Lorge – Terrell Owens WR

My pick: If I was unhappy with any pick I made during this draft, it is probably this one. Jones looked like a bargain as he was falling here, but I was torn on biting the bullet or not. Despite his contract dispute and the rookie Shonn Greene now breathing down his neck, he’s still the starter for the Jets. If Mark Sanchez takes the reigns in just his first season, or even if Kellen Clemens holds the job for a year as a shaky signal caller, the Jets are likely to power the ball down the field with the run. Much like Michael Turner and LeRon McClain benefited last season from this offensive attack, Jones could see a lot of yardage coming his way. Regardless, he’s a decent backup with upside at this point for me.

Picks I like: Aaron Rodgers seems to be going at a good price for being one of the top finishers last season. I like him better than Philip Rivers and consider him more of a lock to be productive than Tony Romo since Green Bay has one of the finest wide receiver corps in the league. Surprising to see Colston go after Anquan Boldin, but I like both picks here in the fourth round. Each should see plenty of chances to score this season.

Picks I hate: Darren McFadden isn’t yet the clear starter for the Raiders, so drafting him in the fourth round seems unnecessary. I’m still concerned he may lose touchdowns to Michael Bush. Terrell Owens, for all the productivity he’s had the last several seasons, doesn’t feel like the same guy this season with the Bills. With Lee Evans running for home run catches, T.O. might draw attention on possession routes and lose out on the scoring that made him so valuable. I don’t like him this early.

Round: 5
(41) John Lorge – Wes Welker WR
(42) Team Dembinsky – Antonio Bryant WR
(43) Team Lalley – Chad Ochocinco WR
(44) Nick Allen – Roy E. Williams WR
** (45) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Kurt Warner QB
(46) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Derrick Ward RB
(47) ffwriters withhair.com – T.J. Houshmandzadeh WR
(48) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Knowshon Moreno RB
(49) Call me Stat Boy – Tony Romo QB
(50) Bruno Boys.net – Marshawn Lynch RB

My pick: I always worry about getting stuck with a terrible quarterback, and last year, I did in a few leagues. Rather than take that chance, I feel like Warner is a pretty good bargain in the fifth round. I already have my top receiver and a solid group of running backs. None of the wideouts on the board jumped out at me during this run on them.

Picks I like: While I passed on him, I do believe T.J. Houshmandzadeh will have a good year as Hasselbeck’s main target. As Shaun Alexander struggled, the Seahawks became a throwing machine, and they could return to those old ways with just Julius Jones in the running game this season. Despite his suspension, Lynch is one of the best backs in the league to start from week to week. He’s a nice bargain in the fifth round as a backup who could turn into a starter once he returns. Unfortunately for Bruno Boys, he’s only the second RB on their roster. Derrick Ward may not be the solid start in Tampa Bay, but I think he could demonstrate his usefulness this season now that he’s finally gotten out from behind Brandon Jacobs.

Picks I hate: Knowshon Moreno hasn’t signed a contract and has a long list of veterans sitting on the depth chart in Denver. Even if he starts, I don’t like his chances of being productive enough to start for fantasy. He’ll likely yield on passing downs and at the goal line to veterans. On top of that, the Josh McDaniels offense didn’t look all that friendly to running backs when I saw it in New England. I’d stay away from this rookie if I were you. Ochocinco is an expected pick here, but I personally dislike how inconsistent he is as a receiver. He’s boom or bust each week, and you’re forced to ride him out.

Round: 6
(51) Bruno Boys.net – Tony Gonzalez TE
(52) Call me Stat Boy – Braylon Edwards WR
(53) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Eddie Royal WR
(54) ffwriters withhair.com – Larry Johnson RB
(55) Gage Arnold is a Boss – DeSean Jackson WR
** (56) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Joseph Addai RB
(57) Nick Allen – Reggie Bush RB
(58) Team Lalley – Felix Jones RB
(59) Team Dembinsky – Jason Witten TE
(60) John Lorge – Antonio Gates TE

My pick: Another falling value caught my eye and kept me from taking my second wide receiver — Joseph Addai. Just last season, he was one of the top running backs off the board, and most of the problems the Colts encountered in 2008 were due to Jeff Saturday’s absence or Peyton Manning’s recovery. As the season went on, the Colts finally came together, but Addai had already taken most the abuse. After he recovers, I don’t think he’ll see his carries being given to rookie Donald Brown. Brown may relieve him, but the scoring opportunities are likely to still fall on Addai. I took him here as a backup and possible tradebait by midseason.

Picks I like: Felix Jones might end up starting in Dallas, and when he got a chance to carry the ball last season, Jones always did something with it. He’s a solid pick in the sixth round. The run on tight ends started here with Tony Gonzalez going first, and I think the sixth round is a good spot for this to begin. Obviously, Bruno Boys doesn’t worry about Gonzalez being less productive with the Falcons, but I prefer Witten with T.O. out of town. Reggie Bush comes at a decent price in this round with potential to be a good flex starter.

Picks I hate: While Larry Johnson is a pretty nice bargain here, it’s hard to like the guy. He seems like a shadow of his former self on the field, and Todd Haley’s offense in Arizona didn’t allow the running backs many chances to succeed.

Round: 7
(61) John Lorge – Chris Wells RB
(62) Team Dembinsky – LenDale White RB
(63) Team Lalley – Anthony Gonzalez WR
(64) Nick Allen – Dallas Clark TE
** (65) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Matt Schaub QB
(66) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Owen Daniels TE
(67) ffwriters withhair.com – Cedric Benson RB
(68) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Greg Olsen TE
(69) Call me Stat Boy – Matt Ryan QB
(70) Bruno Boys.net – Willie Parker RB

My pick: As we entered the seventh round, I saw the sleeper-ish wide receivers I was targeting falling to a good spot. I didn’t think anyone was going to pounce on them this round, so I went ahead and got my second quarterback before some teams had thought about getting their first. Matt Schaub has the potential to be a top-10 quarterback this season if he can stay healthy and utilize all the Texans’ weapons this season, but that is an “if.” I’d rather have him as a QB2 than a QB1, but he’s one of the top backups to have. If anything were to happen to Kurt Warner this season, I’d feel safe putting Schaub in my starting spot.

Picks I like: Willie Parker started off the season very hot last year before getting injured. If he comes back to the Steelers in game shape from this offseason, he’s a mighty fine fantasy backup or starter. Bruno Boys saves his running back situation by snagging him in the seventh round.

Picks I hate: LenDale White may have come back lighter this offseason, but it’s hard to see his value in the seventh round when you’re still in need of a RB2. He scored a lot of touchdowns, but I’d rather have someone who sees more touches like Willie Parker or Ray Rice. Even Cedric Benson is set to touch the ball more this season. Unless you own Chris Johnson, it’s a bit early to look at grabbing the Tennessee bowling ball.

Round: 8
(71) Bruno Boys.net – Donovan McNabb QB
(72) Call me Stat Boy – Jamal Lewis RB
(73) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Bernard Berrian WR
(74) ffwriters withhair.com – Carson Palmer QB
(75) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Ray Rice RB
** (76) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Kevin Walter WR
(77) Nick Allen – Santonio Holmes WR
(78) Team Lalley – Jay Cutler QB
(79) Team Dembinsky – Fred Taylor RB
(80) John Lorge – Lee Evans WR

My pick: With my quarterback and running back positions secure, I went to work on my wide receiver corps by grabbing the sleepers I had spotted in Round 7. Kevin Walter may not be high on a lot of radars, but he got plenty of grabs near the red zone in Houston. That makes him a quality WR3 with a chance to move up to WR2 status if the Texans can keep it going all season. It may seem like a reach, but there’s plenty of upside there that I didn’t want to miss.

Picks I like: Jamal Lewis will get his 1000 yards, even if you take him in the eighth round. Ray Rice, the current starter in Baltimore, is a steal this late in the draft. He’s the back you want to own on a team that loves to run the ball, and he may be the best bargain of the draft this year. A close second might be Carson Palmer, who, if back in his starter shape, could be in line for a big year. Plenty of people doubt Jay Cutler can produce the same stats with the Bears’ receivers that he did in Denver. I tend to think we’re underestimating him and a team who hasn’t utilized the quarterback position in years.

Picks I hate: Fred Taylor, despite his past production, will have a hard time getting those stats in the Patriots offense. I think he’ll be their primary runner this year, but Kevin Faulk will probably be on the field anytime the Pats are passing, which could be a lot this season with Brady back. Holmes isn’t my favorite receiver at this point either because of his boom or bust nature, much like Chad Ochocinco.

Round: 9
(81) John Lorge – Santana Moss WR
(82) Team Dembinsky – Ted Ginn Jr. WR
(83) Team Lalley – Donald Brown RB
(84) Nick Allen – Jerricho Cotchery WR
** (85) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Hines Ward WR
(86) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Devin Hester WR
(87) ffwriters withhair.com – Zach Miller TE
(88) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Earnest Graham RB
(89) Call me Stat Boy – Chris Cooley TE
(90) Bruno Boys.net – LeRon McClain RB

My pick: With my receiver corps almost secured, I thought it best to go with a sure thing — a receiver who might not do anything spectacular but is guaranteed to get the ball in his hands every week. Hines Ward fit the profile, and he’s the Steelers receiver I would rather have on my roster.

Picks I like: Unfortunately, I chose to play it safe with this pick, but if I had chanced it, I would have taken Devin Hester. As much as I liked Jay Cutler last year, I have to put my faith in Hester to take his game to another level this season. Ted Ginn Jr. may surprise us by maintaining the production he had at the end of last season, or he could fizzle if the move is made to put Chad Henne under center at some point this year. Santana Moss is unreliable and always an injury risk but a good pick here as well.

Picks I hate: LeRon McClain surprised us last season, but Baltimore has him classified as a fullback and claims to be putting the load on Ray Rice and Willis McGahee this season. While you can doubt that, I don’t think anyone was gunning to roster McClain in this portion of the draft. A late flier might get you a chance at the big fella.

Round: 10
(91) Bruno Boys.net – Ahmad Bradshaw RB
(92) Call me Stat Boy – Torry Holt WR
(93) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Donald Driver WR
(94) ffwriters withhair.com – Laveranues Coles WR
(95) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Mark Clayton WR
** (96) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Lance Moore WR
(97) Nick Allen – Fred Jackson RB
(98) Team Lalley – Michael Crabtree WR
(99) Team Dembinsky – Matt Cassel QB
(100) John Lorge – Donnie Avery WR

My pick: Lance Moore is another risky, sleeper-ish wide receiver this season that you can get on the cheap. With Colston out, he was the stud to have in New Orleans. Whether Colston makes it through the season or not this year, I expect Moore to stay involved in the offense. New Orleans saw fit to protect him this offseason and keep him around for a reason, and I think he has more upside than Driver, Coles, Clayton or Crabtree.

Picks I like: Torry Holt may not score a lot of touchdowns, but he’s likely to make David Garrard a decent yardage play every week. Fred Jackson could sneak more carries away from Marshawn Lynch this season if he impresses during the early weeks of the season when Lynch will have to sit out. Donnie Avery is the only big play threat that the Rams really have unless they develop Laurent Robinson or rediscover Ronald Curry. He could have a Calvin Johnson-like season if the Rams struggle to get points on the board late in games.

Picks I hate: Matt Cassel has very little going for him in his first year in Kansas City. Despite his performance last year for New England, I wouldn’t take a chance on him until all the starting quality quarterbacks are off the board. I don’t hate the Crabtree pick, but the rookie wide receiver isn’t on track to be an impact player right now with the way he’s been behaving in San Francisco thus far.

Round: 11
(101) John Lorge – LeSean McCoy RB
(102) Team Dembinsky – Darren Sproles RB
(103) Team Lalley – Dustin Keller TE
(104) Nick Allen – Tim Hightower RB
** (105) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Ben Roethlisberger QB
(106) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Steelers D/ST D/ST
(107) ffwriters withhair.com – Julius Jones RB
(108) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Kyle Orton QB
(109) Call me Stat Boy – Steve Breaston WR
(110) Bruno Boys.net – Willis McGahee RB

My pick: I was actually trying to take Julius Jones here, but the ESPN mock draft room froze up on me and forced me to log out. When I logged back in, Big Ben was mine. I wish there was a more in-depth reason behind this pick, but I saw no need for a third quarterback with both Kurt Warner and Matt Schaub already on the roster. Julius Jones would have given me another starting running back with upside since reports are that he’ll be the workhorse of the Seattle offense this season. I’d feel very safe with Forte, Slaton, Thomas Jones, Addai and Julius Jones on my roster, and they might even provide me with enough depth to make a few trades throughout the season.

Picks I like: Dustin Keller has a lot of upside in New York whether Clemens or Sanchez is declared the starter. He showed promise last season with Brett Favre while competing for time on the field, and he could be either starter’s safety net this season. Of course, I like the Julius Jones selection because I wanted to make it two picks earlier. I’m not a huge fan of handcuffing — would rather have another starter on my roster as an option any given week — but Lorge and Dembinsky play it safe by handcuffing McCoy with Westbrook and Sproles with L.T. If he grasps Josh McDaniels’ system, Kyle Orton could actually put up backup-worthy numbers in Denver. He’s no Tom Brady, but McDaniels did make Cassel look like a hero last season.

Picks I hate: No one knows how Arizona will use Tim Hightower this season. He may ride the bench while Chris Wells takes most of the workload; he may be the touchdown vulture he was with Edgerrin James in Arizona. Either way, he shouldn’t be drafted before more cemented running backs like Julius Jones and Leon Washington. I’m not big on taking defenses early, and I think it’s too soon for the Steelers pick in just Round 11.

Round: 12
(111) Bruno Boys.net – Giants D/ST D/ST
(112) Call me Stat Boy – Leon Washington RB
(113) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Jamaal Charles RB
(114) ffwriters withhair.com – Domenik Hixon WR
(115) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Rashard Mendenhall RB
** (116) FantasyFootball Fools.com – John Carlson TE
(117) Nick Allen – David Garrard QB
(118) Team Lalley – Eli Manning QB
(119) Team Dembinsky – Kellen Winslow TE
(120) John Lorge – Ravens D/ST D/ST

My pick: I waited a little too long to take a tight end, but John Carlson should continue to be highly involved in the offense with Hasselbeck healthy. Hopefully, T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s presence should leave him open. I don’t mind settling for the young tight end here in the 12th round.

Picks I like: It seems that very few people believe that Hixon can takeover the spot previously held by Plaxico Burress in the Giants’ offense, but I am one of the believers. He was productive before his injury as Eli Manning’s No. 1 receiver, and I think he’s capable of managing the job as the Giants’ rookies get up to speed. David Garrard finished the season as the No. 10 quarterback, even after all the struggles with his terrible offensive line. He’s a value in the 12th round with Torry Holt now as his No. 1 target.

Picks I hate: Again, a defense goes early, and I don’t like it. The Giants barely finished as a top-10 defense last season, and now they have lost their defensive coordinator, which could have a larger effect than many people think. I wouldn’t want to pay a high price for their services only to watch their struggles exposed twice a season by the Cowboys and Eagles. Eli Manning, while productive in small stretches, is an unreliable fantasy quarterback. I would rather see Hasselbeck or Trent Edwards on my roster in front of him.

Round: 13
(121) John Lorge – Eagles D/ST D/ST
(122) Team Dembinsky – Brian Robiskie WR
(123) Team Lalley – Derrick Mason WR
(124) Nick Allen – Titans D/ST D/ST
** (125) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Jerome Harrison RB
(126) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Trent Edwards QB
(127) ffwriters withhair.com – Matt Hasselbeck QB
(128) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Ricky Williams RB
(129) Call me Stat Boy – Vikings D/ST D/ST
(130) Bruno Boys.net – Chester Taylor RB

My pick: Just as everyone starts to think about kickers and defenses, I’m still thinking sleepers. Jerome Harrison has been the talk of Eric Mangini’s offseason programs, and he’s only got Jamal Lewis ahead of him on the depth chart. Mangini is talking about using him in a Leon Washington role this season, which might even make him the more productive back to own in Cleveland. He was definitely worth a flier this late in the draft.

Picks I like: Derrick Mason could return and be a solid No. 1. It’s worth a shot. Trent Edwards and Matt Hasselbeck are both QB2s with upside much like Matt Schaub who could work their way into QB1s if they outperform their draft stock this season. We don’t know how T.O. will affect the passing game in Buffalo, but Edwards ceiling is higher with him there. Ricky Williams, sharing time with Ronnie Brown, should outperform this draft stock as well.

Picks I hate: No major complaints in this round other than an early jump on defenses. I like to take mine in the final rounds. The Eagles were great last season, but they’re defensive coordinator position is a question mark right now.

Round: 14
(131) Bruno Boys.net – Bobby Engram WR
(132) Call me Stat Boy – Justin Gage WR
(133) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Jets D/ST D/ST
(134) ffwriters withhair.com – Josh Morgan WR
(135) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Miles Austin WR
** (136) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Percy Harvin WR
(137) Nick Allen – Jerious Norwood RB
(138) Team Lalley – Kevin Curtis WR
(139) Team Dembinsky – Sammy Morris RB
(140) John Lorge – Chad Pennington QB

My pick: Now that I have a flier at RB on my roster, I wanted to take a chance on some receiver talent. Percy Harvin should be used in many ways this season to keep things interesting and keep defenses off of Adrian Peterson. Some fantasy leagues may even let you play him at running back and wide receiver. With more likely breakouts like Miles Austin off the board, I liked his chances.

Picks I like: Bobby Engram is a great possession guy who might just have another year left in him. Gage was the No. 1 for Tennessee and likely to be worth a start when the Titans play teams that will force them to go to the air. Miles Austin is my pick to be the No. 2 in Dallas opposite Roy Williams, and his big play potential should show in any time he gets on the field.

Picks I hate: I don’t really dislike any of the fliers in this round. It’s really just about who you believe in the most. Jumping at the chance to take a defense in this round is perfectly acceptable, and the Jets might have a strong season if they bring the Baltimore game plan to New York with a strong run game and stout defense.

Round: 15
(141) John Lorge – Laurence Maroney RB
(142) Team Dembinsky – Dolphins D/ST D/ST
(143) Team Lalley – Panthers D/ST D/ST
(144) Nick Allen – Harry Douglas WR
** (145) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Cowboys D/ST D/ST
(146) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Stephen Gostkowski K
(147) ffwriters withhair.com – Chargers D/ST D/ST
(148) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Chris Chambers WR
(149) Call me Stat Boy – Deion Branch WR
(150) Bruno Boys.net – Patrick Crayton WR

My pick: In a round where everyone grabbed defenses, I somehow managed to land the Cowboys. With a questionable offense, I’m projecting that their defense steps up to not only keep the sack totals high but also get more interceptions than they did last season. Improved turnovers should make them enough of a fantasy force to contend against the Giants, Eagles and Redskins twice this season. Besides, I’m a Cowboys fan, and I should have at least one part of the Cowboys on my roster, right?

Picks I like: Harry Douglas, Chris Chambers and Deion Branch are all worthy grabs as fliers this late in the draft. All of them could turn into valuable WR3s or even spot-starters as WR2s.

Picks I hate: I think Maroney’s days in New England are done, but this late, why not take a chance? I guess just any kicker isn’t good enough for Gage.

Round: 16
(151) Bruno Boys.net – Ryan Longwell K
(152) Call me Stat Boy – Mason Crosby K
(153) Tosten Burks is On a Boat – Garrett Hartley K
(154) ffwriters withhair.com – Neil Rackers K
(155) Gage Arnold is a Boss – Shonn Greene RB
** (156) FantasyFootball Fools.com – Nate Kaeding K
(157) Nick Allen – Nick Folk K
(158) Team Lalley – David Akers K
(159) Team Dembinsky – Jason Elam K
(160) John Lorge – Kris Brown K

My pick: The Chargers scored plenty of points last season. If L.T. struggles to put it in from short yardage, Kaeding is the one getting fantasy points. I think he’s worth a shot, but if he doesn’t work out, I can always change him out midseason. He’s just my kicker, and there isn’t much separating the elite kickers from the kickers who are just okay these days.

Picks I like: They’re all kickers … I don’t really like any of them all that much. Shonn Greene is a worthy flier, and he could steal touchdowns if Thomas Jones loses a step or gets on the team’s bad side. I like him a lot, but he’s just Gage’s prize for taking a kicker in Round 15.

Picks I hate: It’s hard to get upset about kickers, except for Kris Brown — who spells Chris with a K like that?

And so, we conclude last week’s mock draft with Fantasy Football Writers with Hair. For the full team rosters, see FFWWH’s post on the mock draft. FFWWH’s analysts had this to say about my final roster:


Burks
: I love the first three picks (Forte at No. 5, Slaton at 16, Jennings at 25), I love the QB depth (Warner, Schaub, Roethlisberger), and I love Jerome Harrison. The only bad thing I can say is that he has no No. 2 wide receiver. Jacob has two or three No. 3’s. But nonetheless, snaps for Sloan.

A-Koz
: Not bad. While I said I’m not a huge fan of Thomas Jones, he’s a solid backup and I suppose that Addai is too. His No. 2 WR is going to be a revolving door this season, but if you throw a dart enough times… Joseph Addai is his worst pick, but I’m not afraid to admit that this all stems from my hate of him last season while getting Lance Moore in a potent Saints’ offense was smart money provided he can stay healthy.

Did I miss any big picks? Would you have done it differently? As always, the comments are yours.

Random ESPN Mock Draft: Results May Vary

Last week, in the process of participating in a mock draft with several other fantasy football writers from the Interwebs, I got stuck inside of a random ESPN draft outside of the one we were using for the official mock draft. After the first couple of picks, which I made as quick reactions since I was simultaneously participating in another draft, I had to set it over to ESPN’s autodraft feature and let it ride. Several of the other drafters had to do the same. Here’s what I ended up with when it was all over.

Starting Lineup
QB Kurt Warner
RB Adrian Peterson
RB Ryan Grant
RB/WR Willie Parker
WR Steve Smith (CAR)
WR Santana Moss
TE Kevin Boss
D/ST Miami Dolphins
K Neil Rackers

Bench
QB Matt Schaub
QB Eli Manning
QB Matt Hasselbeck
RB Marshawn Lynch
RB Fred Taylor
RB Tim Hightower
WR Eddie Royal

First reactions
Wow, ESPN’s autodraft bot is really overreacting to the quarterback injuries from last season. Four quarterbacks? Really? This bot must have drafted Tom Brady last season.

Some huge value and tradebait in having guys like Schaub and Hasselbeck on the bench, but this drafted roster would likely force me into making an early-season trade for some more wide receiver depth.

Speaking of wide receivers, receiver is the one position where I feel this draft was the weakest. Steve Smith is a great foundation, but Santana Moss, even after his stellar run last season, can’t be depended on to produce WR2 numbers. On the bench, I only have Eddie Royal, who may or may not benefit from the change to Kyle Orton at quarterback in Denver. That’s just dangerous.

At running back, Peterson/Grant at running back should be a useful duo. Willie Parker and post-suspension Lynch should also add some punch to the roster if Grant disappoints. Fred Taylor has some spot-duty, emergency running back value, but Hightower is almost a waste of a pick unless he turns into the LenDale White to Chris Wells’ Chris Johnson. I have a feeling Hightower is more likely to become the Brandon Jackson to Chris Wells’ Ryan Grant though.

Tight end could be stronger and so could defense, but for an autodraft, it’s hard to complain about those positions when the overloading of quarterbacks is such an issue.

The full, unabridged mock draft is below with analysis on each round for those of you who are interested. I was drafting under the team name “Power Down” because at the time, I was trying to exit this mock draft … before it started with me still logged into it.

Feel free to share your observations below. The comments are yours.

The Entire Draft

**- Represent my picks

Round: 1
** (1) Power Down – Adrian Peterson RB
(2) The Team To Beat – Chris Johnson RB
(3) Bruno Boys.net – Michael Turner RB
(4) Team McGill – Matt Forte RB
(5) Team Harmelink – Larry Fitzgerald WR
(6) Team hoyos – Maurice Jones-Drew RB
(7) Team g – Andre Johnson WR
(8) Team Hogg – Steven Jackson RB
(9) Team Johnson – LaDainian Tomlinson RB
(10) Team O – Frank Gore RB

I went A.P. with the No. 1 pick because it was easy. Personally, I don’t like the guy, but I’d gladly take him if someone will trade me a Forte or Gore and some parts for him before Game 1 of the season. Someone REALLY likes Chris Johnson and took him as the No. 2. I don’t feel that strongly about him, but he is a worthy first round pick if he’s your guy.

Fitz makes an appearance as the No. 1 wide receiver off the board at the No. 5 pick, which is a little high to go with a WR in my opinion. Andre Johnson went No. 7, which also seems high for a 10-team league. Jackson, Tomlinson and Gore round out the first round as expected.

Round: 2
(11) Team O – DeAngelo Williams RB
(12) Team Johnson – Brandon Jacobs RB
(13) Team Hogg – Drew Brees QB
(14) Team g – Calvin Johnson WR
(15) Team hoyos – Randy Moss WR
(16) Team Harmelink – Steve Slaton RB
(17) Team McGill – Peyton Manning QB
(18) Bruno Boys.net – Clinton Portis RB
(19) The Team To Beat – Tom Brady QB
** (20) Power Down – Ryan Grant RB

The top running back from 2008 kicks off the second round — still too high for my tastes with Jonathan Stewart breathing even closer down his neck this season. The league was operating under standard scoring with 4-point passing touchdowns, so Brees going early second round makes sense. Does the pick of Calvin Johnson over Randy Moss signify some doubt in Tom Brady or just a Detroit fan?

I went with Ryan Grant over Marion Barber to end the round because I believe he’ll be much improved in Aaron Rodgers second season and fully recovered from his groin injury.

Round: 3
** (21) Power Down – Steve Smith WR
(22) The Team To Beat – Marion Barber RB
(23) Bruno Boys.net – Greg Jennings WR
(24) Team McGill – Brian Westbrook RB
(25) Team Harmelink – Roddy White WR
(26) Team hoyos – Reggie Wayne WR
(27) Team g – Kevin Smith RB
(28) Team Hogg – Ronnie Brown RB
(29) Team Johnson – Anquan Boldin WR
(30) Team O – Thomas Jones RB

The autodraft took over at this point and took Steve Smith for me at the top of the third round. I would have liked to take Barber and really lock up my running backs, but hey, the bot thought differently. Taking Barber would have also limited me to receivers like Housh and Roy E. Williams on the next turn.

The general run was on wide receivers by this point. No one really jumps out as being out of place. Look how far Reggie Wayne is falling — lack of confidence in Indy without the coaching staff they have had these past seasons? The Colts lost a little of their fantasy luster when Peyton Manning struggled last year.

Round: 4
(31) Team O – Brandon Marshall WR
(32) Team Johnson – Marques Colston WR
(33) Team Hogg – Terrell Owens WR
(34) Team g – Pierre Thomas RB
(35) Team hoyos – Jason Witten TE
(36) Team Harmelink – Jonathan Stewart RB
(37) Team McGill – Wes Welker WR
(38) Bruno Boys.net – Dwayne Bowe WR
(39) The Team To Beat – Derrick Ward RB
** (40) Power Down – Marshawn Lynch RB

Brandon Marshall before Colston? Do people remember that Kyle Orton is now the quarterback in Denver? Terrell Owens apparently has no doubters either as he goes off the board among the second/third tier despite being in Buffalo and competing for catches with Lee Evans.

Notice that not just Pierre Thomas but also Jonathan Stewart, Derrick Ward and Marshawn Lynch are coming off the board before Reggie Bush. Round 4 is still too rich for a tight end in my mind, but if you want to get Witten, you might have to go there.

Round: 5
** (41) Power Down – Kurt Warner QB
(42) The Team To Beat – T.J. Houshmandzadeh WR
(43) Bruno Boys.net – Philip Rivers QB
(44) Team McGill – Reggie Bush RB
(45) Team Harmelink – Tony Romo QB
(46) Team hoyos – Aaron Rodgers QB
(47) Team g – Matt Ryan QB
(48) Team Hogg – Roy E. Williams WR
(49) Team Johnson – Darren McFadden RB
(50) Team O – Tony Gonzalez TE

Kurt Warner in the fifth round? I’ll take it. (I guess my bot isn’t so confident with this decision judging from the number of backup QBs he drafted for me after this pick.) Housh would have been a solid pick here now that he’s the No. 1 guy in Seattle.

Romo’s going in the fifth as well and before Aaron Rodgers, closely followed by his main target, Roy E. Williams.

Round: 6
(51) Team O – Braylon Edwards WR
(52) Team Johnson – Larry Johnson RB
(53) Team Hogg – Joseph Addai RB
(54) Team g – Chad Ochocinco WR
(55) Team hoyos – LenDale White RB
(56) Team Harmelink – Vincent Jackson WR
(57) Team McGill – Antonio Gates TE
(58) Bruno Boys.net – Antonio Bryant WR
(59) The Team To Beat – Dallas Clark TE
** (60) Power Down – Willie Parker RB

Parker and Addai were first round picks at one point. I’d take Addai as late as you can have him this season. Donald Brown doesn’t scare me off of a guy who gets to score touchdowns for Peyton Manning and has starting duties.

Willie Parker, while recovering this offseason, is still going to work hard for the Steelers. I don’t think he’ll lose his starting job in training camp to any of the other backs, and one should never forget that the Steelers like to run.

Round: 7
** (61) Power Down – Matt Schaub QB
(62) The Team To Beat – DeSean Jackson WR
(63) Bruno Boys.net – Knowshon Moreno RB
(64) Team McGill – Jamal Lewis RB
(65) Team Harmelink – Greg Olsen TE
(66) Team hoyos – Bernard Berrian WR
(67) Team g – Kellen Winslow TE
(68) Team Hogg – Donovan McNabb QB
(69) Team Johnson – Matt Cassel QB
(70) Team O – Lee Evans WR

Schaub is a great backup this season and a borderline starter, so I don’t mind getting him on the turn into the seventh round.

Apparently, the move to Tampa Bay hasn’t scared enough people away from Kellen Winslow for him to fall much from last year’s draft stock.

Round: 8
(71) Team O – Le’Ron McClain RB
(72) Team Johnson – Owen Daniels TE
(73) Team Hogg – Ahmad Bradshaw RB
(74) Team g – Darren Sproles RB
(75) Team hoyos – Kevin Walter WR
(76) Team Harmelink – Hines Ward WR
(77) Team McGill – Jay Cutler QB
(78) Bruno Boys.net – Anthony Gonzalez WR
(79) The Team To Beat – Steelers D/ST D/ST
** (80) Power Down – Santana Moss WR

Consider Kevin Walter noticed. He goes off the board before Ward, Gonzalez and Moss. People always think Houston is bound to have a big year because they finish every season strong. Will this year be the season they finally keep it together?

Santana Moss is a sketchy WR2, so I’d like to have more depth at receiver behind him. The bot thinks differently.

Round: 9
** (81) Power Down – Eddie Royal WR
(82) The Team To Beat – Ted Ginn Jr. WR
(83) Bruno Boys.net – Chris Wells RB
(84) Team McGill – Jerricho Cotchery WR
(85) Team Harmelink – Cedric Benson RB
(86) Team hoyos – Giants D/ST D/ST
(87) Team g – Santonio Holmes WR
(88) Team Hogg – Chris Cooley TE
(89) Team Johnson – Ben Roethlisberger QB
(90) Team O – Willis McGahee RB

Eddie Royal seems like a silly pick by the bot with Holmes still on the board. I don’t love Holmes, but it’s not like Royal’s going to have the chance to reproduce the same numbers with Cutler now in Chicago. Royal’s not terrible, but he’s not going to be the same guy as last season.

The Giants defense goes off the board in the ninth round, even though they weren’t a great fantasy defense last season. I’m not sure they’ll be too great this year either playing tough teams like the Cowboys and Eagles with their star defensive coordinator coaching in St. Louis.

Willis McGahee’s obviously not the starter in Baltimore anymore, so I’m surprised to see him go here rather than three rounds later when someone will finally take Ray Rice, who I’d definitely take a chance on this season considering how much Baltimore runs.

Round: 10
(91) Team O – Carson Palmer QB
(92) Team Johnson – Donald Driver WR
(93) Team Hogg – Earnest Graham RB
(94) Team g – Torry Holt WR
(95) Team hoyos – Donald Brown RB
(96) Team Harmelink – Laveranues Coles WR
(97) Team McGill – Felix Jones RB
(98) Bruno Boys.net – John Carlson TE
(99) The Team To Beat – Lance Moore WR
** (100) Power Down – Fred Taylor RB

I have to hope that the bot was going to get me Lance Moore before he went off the board one pick earlier. Everyone will forget the Lance Moores and Kevin Walters of the world in the draft this year. Make sure you don’t. Fred Taylor is a decent backup, but I hate to draft any players in New England’s backfield.

Carson Palmer in the tenth round could be a huge steal if he ends up returning to glory this season.

Round: 11
** (101) Power Down – Eli Manning QB
(102) The Team To Beat – Ravens D/ST D/ST
(103) Bruno Boys.net – Kyle Orton QB
(104) Team McGill – Titans D/ST D/ST
(105) Team Harmelink – Michael Crabtree WR
(106) Team hoyos – Fred Jackson RB
(107) Team g – Julius Jones RB
(108) Team Hogg – Steve Breaston WR
(109) Team Johnson – Derrick Mason WR
(110) Team O – Donnie Avery WR

Eli Manning? Was that really necessary Mr. ESPN bot? I would have much rather had Devin Hester, Derrick Mason (if he doesn’t retire after all) or even Julius Jones. Apparently, I have met my quota for running backs and wide receivers for now though.

Some great upside bargains at receiver in this round as some people start to look at defense early. Orton as a backup quarterback is a sneaky pick. He may not be as flashy as Cutler, but he could be more efficient.

Round: 12
(111) Team O – Devin Hester WR
(112) Team Johnson – Chester Taylor RB
(113) Team Hogg – Zach Miller TE
(114) Team g – David Garrard QB
(115) Team hoyos – Sammy Morris RB
(116) Team Harmelink – LeSean McCoy RB
(117) Team McGill – Domenik Hixon WR
(118) Bruno Boys.net – Ray Rice RB
(119) The Team To Beat – Percy Harvin WR
** (120) Power Down – Tim Hightower RB

I think Hightower could end up going undrafted in many drafts, so I’m not too happy with the bot making this one for me. All the tight ends with good upside have jumped off the board here now that Zach Miller is gone, which leaves me with slim pickings late in the draft.

Look at how late David Garrard finally goes off the board. The guy had a Swiss cheese line last season and still surprised people with his finish among the top 12. This year he has Torry Holt and some other new blood at receiver. Anyone think we may be selling him a little short?

Round: 13
** (121) Power Down – Matt Hasselbeck QB
(122) The Team To Beat – Stephen Gostkowski K
(123) Bruno Boys.net – Vikings D/ST D/ST
(124) Team McGill – Chris Chambers WR
(125) Team Harmelink – Bobby Engram WR
(126) Team hoyos – Leon Washington RB
(127) Team g – Eagles D/ST D/ST
(128) Team Hogg – Kevin Curtis WR
(129) Team Johnson – Patrick Crayton WR
(130) Team O – Rashard Mendenhall RB

Hey bot, how bout another quarterback? Sure, buddy. No problem … *sigh* So unnecessary.

Do you really need the best kicker in fantasy? No, they all work. Someone out there wants to make sure they don’t miss getting the top one. It’s worth considering that if New England turns back into the touchdown pinball machine they were in 2007, Gostkowski will be a glorified extra point machine.

Chris Chambers might be the steal of this round if he can still contribute in San Diego. He had to go down last season before Vincent Jackson finally emerged.

Round: 14
(131) Team O – Ricky Williams RB
(132) Team Johnson – Trent Edwards QB
(133) Team Hogg – Jerious Norwood RB
(134) Team g – Jets D/ST D/ST
(135) Team hoyos – Michael Bush RB
(136) Team Harmelink – Muhsin Muhammad WR
(137) Team McGill – Justin Gage WR
(138) Bruno Boys.net – Mark Clayton WR
(139) The Team To Beat – Dustin Keller TE
** (140) Power Down – Dolphins D/ST D/ST

Mostly backups and upside in this round. I like Trent Edwards this late and Norwood. Mark Clayton is the starter in Baltimore if Derrick Mason does retire. Keller could increase his stock this season if he becomes a security blanket for Mark Sanchez.

And look at the clever bot, snagging the Miami defense. At least I can agree that they come at a good price in this round.

Round: 15
** (141) Power Down – Kevin Boss TE
(142) The Team To Beat – Jake Delhomme QB
(143) Bruno Boys.net – Tony Scheffler TE
(144) Team McGill – Laurence Maroney RB
(145) Team Harmelink – Panthers D/ST D/ST
(146) Team hoyos – Nate Kaeding K
(147) Team g – Patriots D/ST D/ST
(148) Team Hogg – Ryan Longwell K
(149) Team Johnson – David Akers K
(150) Team O – Mason Crosby K

It’s kicker time … so my bot takes a tight end at last.

Delhomme gets no respect these days. Scheffler gets even less. For all the hurt that Josh McDaniels has brought to Denver, the Broncos still have plenty of nice things to say about one of the most underrated pass-catching tight ends in the game. (Yes, I would rather have him than Kevin Boss.)

If Maroney does anything, I guess his selection in this round is a good deal, but I find it hard to believe that he’ll live up to expectations this season with Brady back under center.

Round: 16
(151) Team O – Redskins D/ST D/ST
(152) Team Johnson – Bears D/ST D/ST
(153) Team Hogg – Packers D/ST D/ST
(154) Team g – Jason Elam K
(155) Team hoyos – Joey Galloway WR
(156) Team Harmelink – Rob Bironas K
(157) Team McGill – John Kasay K
(158) Bruno Boys.net – Nick Folk K
(159) The Team To Beat – Shaun Hill QB
** (160) Power Down – Neil Rackers K

Packers and Bears defense in the final round? Not too shabby. We know Green Bay is rebuilding, but they have some of the key parts in place to do good things if they grip the system.

Remember how high Donte Stallworth was drafted when he was a Patriot. Look at Joey Galloway. He’s the No. 2 receiver in New England — with Wes Welker playing the slot — and he may do great things flying down the side of the field across from Randy Moss. He’s a little less likely to disappear than Donte Stallworth was and an interesting last-round selection.

Shaun Hill brought some life back to San Francisco when he came under center. Getting him in the last round is a daring way to backup your quarterback, but he’s not a terrible bye week fill. Just hope Alex Smith doesn’t return from the great beyond to take his job back.

Of course, my bot hooks me up with Neil Rackers. Thanks, bud.

Houshmandzadeh upgrades Seahawks, downgrades self

With the departure of Bobby Engram to free agency, Seattle was hurting for a reliable target — especially one who wasn’t also hurting like most of Seattle’s receiving corps. Playmaker Deion Branch has been too injury-prone during his time with the team, and none of the Seahawks’ young prospects showed that special spark last season when the wide receiver positions were up for grabs.

That’s probably why they dropped the big contract that T.J. Houshmandzadeh was seeking, five years for $40 million with $15 million guaranteed.

With a limited window for Matt Hasselbeck, the Seahawks need to try to make a run or two at the Super Bowl soon, and I’m sure Housh recognized the Seahawks desire and likelihood of making the postseason out of the relatively easy NFC West.

Other than two rebuilding franchises, the San Francisco 49ers and the St. Louis Rams, the Seahawks only have the Cardinals to contend with in 2009. The Cardinals, dormant for years, could suffer a setback with the loss of some free agents and the post-Super Bowl slump, which would leave the door open for Seattle.

Holes at running back aside, Housh upgrades Seattle’s ability to move the ball and score in the red zone. As the most trustworthy hands in their arsenal, he’s likely to see most of the action from Hasselbeck, who jumps a couple of notches up fantasy quarterback rankings as long as he’s back in good health this preseason.

If he keeps drinking those Myoplex shakes, he’ll get there.

Hasselbeck’s been pretty low on my list, even last year, with the general evaporation of all that was good out of Seattle. Jumping up a spot or two still won’t break him into my list of reliable starters, but he could be a top backup with Housh as a target.

From Housh, I expect a little less than his usual. 2008 was an off year with Carson Palmer sidelined for the majority of the season, but his 2007 numbers — 1,143 yards and 12 touchdowns — are probably his ceiling in Seattle.

A guns-blazing Carson Palmer was putting everything in the air in 2007, but Hasselbeck will likely more limiting early in 2009. Seattle might put the ball on the ground as much as they can despite their lack of a legitimate running back. 

Housh could, however, blow us away with his scoring in the red zone. Without knowing how exactly he’ll fit in the offense for the moment, he probably hits around the third tier at wide receiver. Karabell’s got the right idea.

For now, I wouldn’t call Houshmandzadeh a safe top-10 wide receiver but rather a borderline choice. In his recent Top 200, colleague Matthew Berry placed Houshmandzadeh at No. 46 overall, good for 14th among wide receivers, and with this move he bumped him up to No. 9 among receivers. I slot Houshmandzadeh in at No. 11, behind  Larry Fitzgerald,  Andre Johnson,  Calvin Johnson,  Greg Jennings,  Reggie Wayne,  Steve Smith,  Randy Moss,  Roddy White,  Marques Colston  and  Terrell Owens.

Although I have never seen him as a worldly talent, Houshmandzadeh has outplayed Chad Johnson for several years now. His good hands and ability to run the possession routes should become a trusted asset for Hasselbeck.

Now the Seahawks just have to look to Deion Branch and Nate Burleson to provide the speed and maneuverability on the outside to keep defenses off of their new toy.

Week 17 Hot Hands and Cold Shoulders: Championship Edition?

First of all, why are you guys still having your championship in Week 17? That’s like playing a game of chess for hours only to bring in toddlers to play out the final three moves. Why would you do that? And where did you get chess-playing toddlers?

This week, I absolutely love everyone involved with the Denver and San Diego passing games. Sure, I wouldn’t be surprised if Darren Sproles goes off for a long touchdown or if LaDainian Tomlinson gets some decent yardage and a score, but this game that will be decided by the arms of In Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers.

I am not sure who will step up this week, but I do like Denver a slight bit more than the Chargers. I think they have it in them to play all out for this last game.

I also love all the Falcons going up against a soft, soft St. Louis Rams that is just glad to not be the Lions these days. Michael Turner is already drooling over this one. Start ‘em if you got ‘em.

In contrast, I hate everyone that will be on the field when Indianapolis takes on Tennessee. Both teams have no reason to play on Sunday, but rather than just let them forfeit, we have to watch them struggle to figure out who really cares.

My guess is that all starters are pulled before halftime, and I give the edge to Peyton Manning in the scoring department. A sneaky play from that one is Vince Young, likely to see plenty of time once old bones Kerry Collins heads to the bench.

I hate Maurice Jones-Drew this week against the Baltimore Ravens defense. Jacksonville’s passing game isn’t scary enough to keep the Ravens off of Jones-Drew at the line, and I, once again, must hate Brett Favre this week.

Even in Favre’s matchup against Miami, which would clearly favor the pass for most teams, I don’t like Favre. I think the Dolphins take care of business in the Meadowlands for a playoff spot and make Jets fans wonder what might have been if they had kept Chad Pennington around.

Of course, that won’t really stop the Patriots from steam-rolling the Bills. The Buffalo boys will keep it close enough to keep their respect, but the Patriots are going to be sure to win this one with the chance of it actually meaning something for the playoffs.

If the Pats make it anywhere close to the big show this season, people really will start to wonder what they are going to do with Matt Cassel this offseason.

In the Bengals-Chiefs game, I like all the Chiefs fantasy studs on your roster.

A Bengals team without Chad Johnson or T.J. Houshmandzadeh is just going to try and run Cedric Benson all day and then call it quits at halftime with fingers crossed they have     Carson Palmer back next year.

The Chiefs, on the other hand, have some good reasons to play hard.

Larry Johnson needs to prove he still deserves to stay with the team despite his off-the-field issues, and Tyler Thigpen needs to continue to prove he can be effective as a quarterback in the NFL so that the Chiefs don’t forget about him this offseason. I am sure Tony Gonzalez and Dwayne Bowe would love to continue to get those stats up. Play your Chiefs.

And no, even though he looks like a better start than Eli Manning this week, I won’t recommend that you start David Carr. I just can’t go there.

Good luck.