Preseason Fantasy Football Product Roundup 2009

From time to time, I get emails from folks within the fantasy football community telling me about their great products, and most of them really are useful. Unfortunately, I rarely get a chance to highlight them for you, the readers, because fantasy football talk, the heart of all we do here at Fantasy Football Fools, always comes first.

To make you aware of some of the cool fantasy football projects, applications and items out there, and to clean out my email inbox, I’ve decided to do the occasional product roundup post — starting with the one you’re reading right now if you couldn’t tell where this is going.

Many of them are products that I haven’t gotten a chance to test out. I’m just relaying the info to you. If you have any experience with them, if you like what they have to offer or if you want to take it upon yourself to review them for the fantasy football community, please, by all means, share your knowledge in the comments.

For Your Fantasy Football Draft

I know it might be too late already for some of these draft products, but if you like what you see, there’s always next year.

Free Footballguys.com Fantasy Football Magazine and Tools

Football Jabber highlighted the Footballguys.com free magazine offer earlier this offseason, but if you missed it, you should visit their free offering now before you draft. Footballguys.com provides some of the best analysis and fantasy football scouting in the biz, and if you’d rather have them speak it at you, their podcast, The Audible, provides you with more sound-bite-size nuggets of fantasy football information than you can listen to in any given week.

Not only is Footballguys.com giving away their 250-page magazine electronically, but they are also providing in-depth fantasy football tools like Rate My Team, which provides you with a complete analysis of your draft once you’ve assembled your squad. People love it. It drills down to which players might start for you each week throughout the season and where bye weeks could hurt you. I’ve enjoyed plugging in a few of my teams to see what they recommend.

For all this fantasy football research and more, visit the Footballguys.com free tools section.

iPhone Fantasy Football Draft App: Studs & Duds

I’m not an iPhone user, but the creator of the Studs & Duds Fantasy Football Draft Kit contacted us about testing it out, and it seems to be one of the good ones.

If you’ve used this app or any other iPhone apps to draft your fantasy football team, how did they stack up? The only person I’ve seen using an iPhone app cheatsheet thus far was a Houston Texans homer who drafted Matt Schaub in the third round. I’m guessing the draft app didn’t tell him to do that.

FanDraft Digital Draft Board

The first of its kind, FanDraft is a piece of software that projects your draft board onto a wall or television and allows players to select teams with all the excitement of the real NFL draft … but without the Mel Kiper — is that an upgrade?

The application looks pretty entertaining with team logos, an automated draft clock, a streaming ticker and sound effects. I’ve been tempted to try out a digital draft board, but most of my leagues are still in the dark ages — hauling that giant sheet of paper and cardboard stand into the draft room for players to select their teams with stickers.

The paper draft board for one of my leagues was actually pretty unreliable this year. They should apologize to “Steve Slayton” and “Austin Miles” (a.k.a. Miles Austin) for botching their names on the sticker sets.

If you’ve ever used FanDraft, I’d be interested to hear how you liked the draft experience.

Managing Your Team and Lineups

Sports Data Hub

Sports Data Hub is great as a draft prep tool and a hot spot for mid-season research. A friend of the Fantasy Football Fools, SDH has made some updates this offseason and exited beta this August. You can now import your Yahoo! leagues straight into the site and analyze player rankings and projections based on your own custom scoring rules.

They also offer instant projections via Twitter and a Facebook app so that you can continue to trash talk your friends and stalk your ex-girlfriends while you research your fantasy team. Just tweet “@SDHnow Player Name” to get projections on demand. I’m a fan of their work.

SDH requires you to subscribe for the really meaty material, but based on their free tools and various demos that I’ve seen, I’d say it’s worth a few bucks a month for the serious fantasy football stat addicts out there.

RallyCast

Rallycast Demo in LabAvailable in Best Buy on September 6, RallyCast allows you to view your scores and stats for fantasy leagues on CBS, ESPN or Yahoo! right on your TV screen. It’s for those times when sitting with a computer in your lap is impossible, such as binge eating … or drinking … as the case may be.

Apparently, you can view RallyCast on top of any channel, so you don’t even have to miss the in-game action — or the latest episode of So You Think You Can Dance — while you check your scores.

The app also allows you to post to Facebook and text message your friends from your remote control. It sounds like you never have to leave the couch on Sunday again, or move more than your little finger … Awesome.

For more on RallyCast, you can watch this handy little clip they put together to introduce it to the fantasy football world.

Impressing Your Friends

Fantasy Football Trophies: FantasyTrophies.com and iwonmyleague.com

Fantasy TrophiesIs it time for you league to upgrade your trophy? Or does your league even have a trophy?

In my most serious and bloodthirsty league, our trophy could probably use an upgrade, and both FantasyTrophies.com and iwonmyleague.com offer some very cool alternatives to the norm. I mean, a fantasy football trophy should stand out from all those trophies you collected by playing in little league every year, right?

It just doesn’t say fantasy football unless the trophy on your mantel contains a fat metal man in an armchair. That’s one that not only impresses your friends but also ruins your reputation at the same time.

Fantasy Football T-Shirts

You can find some of the most snazzy fantasy football t-shirts around at Art of the Fan if you want to sport your addiction on your chest. (Just note that these may get you beat up depending on where you wear them.)

I like the fantasy sleeper shirt.

Protecting Your Dough

Fantasy Sports Insurance

Playing fantasy football is risky, and I’m sure we’re all still feeling the hurt of losing Tom Brady in the first game of the season last year. But you can protect your investment in big money leagues with some insurance.

Oh, that’s right. Fantasy football insurance exists, and Chris Cooley is a fan.

If you draft a lot of Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams or Kansas City Chiefs, insurance on your entrance fee might not be a bad idea.

League Safe

If you’ve ever worried that your league commissioner spent your entrance fees on his last beer run or lost it in Vegas, League Safe might help establish that nice level of trust … by not trusting at all.

Fantasy Football Goat wrote up a great explanation of the service last season, and Football Jabber tried it out.

With League Safe, You can also collect your league dues online through their site so that your out-of-state buddy doesn’t skate by without paying when his team starts 0-4.

Fantasy Football Games and Hosts

FanSection Fantasy Football 2009 on Facebook

FanSection_FF2009HomeFanSection LogoCombining two things that fantasy football players love, playing it and flaunting your success in front of friends, Watercooler’s FanSection Fantasy Football 2009 Facebook application is a full-featured fantasy football management suite inside Facebook.

You can invite friends, get news updates from CBSSports.com and post your latest scores right in your Facebook news feed. The only knock I have on it is that it doesn’t offer free live scoring.

If you’re a Coors Light fan, you’ll like that the beer that tastes like licking a mountain has also sponsored the FanSection experience.

eCouchCoach

If you want a more custom-tailored approach to fantasy football this season, you might find what you’re looking for at eCouchCoach.

They offer custom league domains so that you never suffer from lag during the afternoon games on Sunday, and even if you don’t host your league with them, they offer a handful of useful Twitter bots to get your fantasy football fix on the go — or on the couch.

Fantasy Fat Cat

For instant gratification, Fantasy Fat Cat offers daily and weekly fantasy contests. I can’t vouch for it since I’ve never tried their games, but they offer free live scoring on your iPhone.

Fantazzle

A fantasy sports games site with some of the best rankings around as proven by Fantasy Football Librarian, Fantazzle not only gives you rankings but also a few games to test their rankings out on and win money. Isn’t that nice of them?

RapidDraft

If you always wanted to draft against the pros or just like Second Life avatars, RapidDraft is another fantasy football contest out there. Unlike the typical fantasy football league, you play in single-player mode at RapidDraft.

After buying a team, you draft against the avatars of 11 experts in the fantasy football industry. If you put together a winner, the grand prize is $250,000. If not, at least you can pretend Victoria is your girlfriend, right?

Share Your Reviews

Good luck this season, and if you’re drafting this weekend, prepare by reading our 2009 Foolish Fantasy Football Draft Kit.

As always, the comments are yours. If you’ve tried out any of the above products or have more info, please share your reviews with the foolish community.

Brandon Marshall suspended for rest of preseason

“Wait, Coach, you mean THIS will get me suspended? I just thought I was mailing it in at Kyle Orton’s performance level…”

Yes, Brandon Marshall, that will get you suspended for the rest of the preseason. For now, Brandon Marshall’s not set to miss games once the regular season begins, but Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio thinks he could miss more time before this dispute is resolved.

And though Marshall’s plan likely is to be disruptive without providing full-blown cause for a conclusion that he’s acting like Terrell Owens circa 2005, what we saw in that video is, in our view, enough to justify sending him home for the first four weeks of the season, at a total salary loss of $517,000.

Marshall’s not helping his case by acting up in practice, and many teams will sit back to see if they can get Marshall at a discount rate when all of this blows up completely on Josh McDaniels and the Denver Broncos.

Surely, you don’t want this guy on any of your fantasy football rosters this year. If he gets traded, he could increase his value, but a trade looks unlikely this early in the season. I would stay away from Brandon Marshall in your upcoming fantasy football draft, but Eddie Royal may not be bad bargain. Royal is currently the Broncos’ best starting wide receiver.

As always, the comments are yours. How do you feel about Brandon Marshall?

Injury Concerns: Are Reggie Bush and Brian Westbrook worth your draft pick?

Brian Westbrook convinced the world that a smaller, shifty back could make it work in the NFL. In recent years, he’s become a fantasy points factory, churning out production each season, but he’s also never been one to rely on for all 16 weeks of your fantasy season.

With Westbrook’s production come injuries. Someone who moves as well and as uniquely as Westbrook is bound to get caught or banged up by the end of the season when a team leans on him as much as the Eagles have over the years. His injuries have landed Westbrook on some fantasy blacklists when it comes time to draft. Owners would just rather not deal with his questionable status every Sunday and one or two zeroes in the weekly fantasy point column for the games he misses.

When Reggie Bush entered the NFL as a rookie, he was one of the most hyped fantasy prospects of the season. NFL analysts projected he would be an impact player at running back despite his shifty, “dancing” ways, but, much like Westbrook, he’s also proven that it was going to be difficult for him to stay on the field for 16 games in a row.

Bush and Westbrook 2009 Outlook

Bush and Westbrook are truly two of the most unique players in the NFL. If either is in the game for their respective teams, they change what their team can do on the field.

The Eagles without Westbrook have lacked that explosion out of the backfield. Correll Buckhalter was a fine stand-in last season, but he couldn’t do all the things that Westbrook could do. Defenses don’t fear him as much, and he can’t make everyone miss.

This season, Westbrook finally has a backup who is worthy of carrying his torch, rookie LeSean McCoy. McCoy should cut into a few of Westbrook’s carries, but the coaching staff still promises that this is Westbrook’s job.

When available to the Saints, Reggie Bush found a role as a gimmick back last season. He took short passes out of the backfield, running back carries up the middle or to the outside and sometimes he even split out wide just like a receiver. This dynamic play earned him plenty of fantasy points…right up until he went down with an injury.

He’s been training this offseason, and beat writers have claimed this year is the most committed he’s been to the game since he first came in as a rookie. Bush knows this is a make-or-break year for his career. If he can’t prove that he can stay healthy and contribute, his role — and contracts — will be limited in the future.

Bush and Westbrook Fantasy Football Value

When it comes to these two backs, owners question every year whether they are worth drafting.

Brian Westbrook

With Westbrook, the answer is certainly a “yes,” but there is some qualification. Westbrook is still not back on the field from offseason injuries, but that doesn’t worry me about the impact he will have in this year’s improved Eagles’ offensive attack. He’s a safe pick in the second round, where he’s currently fallen due to injury concerns and age, but be sure to draft his backup and rookie standout LeSean McCoy if you get Westbrook on your roster.

Westbrook is bound to miss games, but McCoy looks good enough to jump in without missing a beat in this offense. McCoy’s average draft position (ADP) has him going in the eighth round of most drafts, so it should not be difficult to secure him a tad early with your pick in the seventh round.

If he warms your bench all season, you may feel a little upset, but Westbrook will have proven a lot of doubters wrong for your fantasy team.

Reggie Bush

Reggie Bush is a bit of a different story. Outside of points-per-reception leagues, he’s not as much of a beast as Westbrook. Pierre Thomas is looking like the primary back out of the Saints’ backfield this season, which would further limit Bush’s potential.

Bush worked on becoming a better football player this entire offseason, and he will attempt to return from his injuries this weekend against Oakland. That’s promising. Then again, he’s also rumored to be getting back together with another famous back, Kim Kardashian. We’ll see how that works out.

While he’s still worth drafting, he’s only worth drafting in the sixth round or later and after more promising young backs like Felix Jones are off the board. If Bush pays off, you’ll be glad to have him aboard. If he’s bothered by injury, you won’t have paid a significant price to get him.

In PPR leagues, he could be a stud, and you may feel better about taking him earlier in your draft when the payout is higher. That said, there’s just too much risk to make him a star on your fantasy team. Have a contingency plan for Bush if he goes down.

Pairing Darren McFadden and Bush together by taking them in your draft and rotating them based on health could make a deadly combo.

This year is a turning point for both these players. While Bush and Westbrook are both worthy of drafting at the right values, they are also full of risks. Prepare accordingly if you take that chance.

As always, the comments are yours. Would you draft Westbrook or Bush this season?

Foolish Thoughts: Foolish Fantasy Football Draft Kit

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

2009 Foolish Fantasy Football Draft Kit

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

A Kick and a Prayer

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

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

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

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

Rusty Tom-bone

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

Jag Snag?

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

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

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

Now About that Hot-lanta Run Game

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

Contrary to Popular Belief

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

Packing It In?

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

Cutler 1, Neckbeard 0, Denver -1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- – – END OF THE ELITE QUARTERBACKS – – -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rest of the Pack

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

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

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

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

First Round Fantasy Football Draft Strategy for 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Drafting a Running Back in the First Round

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

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

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

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

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

Drafting a Quarterback in the First Round

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drafting a Wide Receiver in the First Round

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, the comments are yours.

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.

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

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

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

Best Player Available Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starting Roster Strategy

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

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

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

The Sleepers Complication

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

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

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

The “Cut Out the Middle Men” Draft Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your draft strategy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Vick signs with Eagles, playing tight end?

When you think about it, an eagle is just an older, more mature cousin to the falcon. I guess once you’re a bird, you’re always a bird.

Michael Vick finally landed in Philadelphia after an offseason of speculation. The most recent rumors had him signing with the Patriots or Bills, but the Eagles jumped to work out a deal this week after current backup quarterback Kevin Kolb went down with a knee injury.

The Eagles expect Kolb to return “in about a week,” but his injury along with all the other freak injuries the Eagles have had in camp may have urged them to err on the side of caution and add more depth with Vick. Current statements from McNabb and Andy Reid suggest there is no threat to McNabb’s starting job or Kolb’s backup role, but if that is the case, how will Vick be involved in this offense?

One theory out there has him slotted as a tight end, but can you really believe what you hear on TMZ? It’s an interesting proposal, nonetheless, since playing Vick at tight end would keep him on the roster each week without unseating Kolb or McNabb and allow for some creative playcalling with Vick, McNabb and Brian Westbrook on the field at the same time.

From a fantasy perspective, getting him on the field more can only serve to increase his value. If put on a shelf as a backup quarterback or used only in a Wildcat role, Vick’s fantasy stock would be nothing more than as a late flier in your drafts this season. As a tight end, he might really be worth something.

We know that the Eagles are in “win now” mode this year. McNabb isn’t getting any younger and Philly fans have tasted blood too often not to have made it to a Super Bowl in recent years. Three weapons in the backfield may be the surest way to guarantee they make it as far as possible this season even if their defense comes up shorter than expected without their starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley or Brian Dawkins’ leadership.

On less of a fantasy note, the reactions to the Vick signing have been mixed. The NFL’s tweeting players seem excited, but some NFL fans are having a hard time accepting the news. When it comes to Philly fans, every single one of them that types in all caps seems to like this decision.