A promising beginning for Colt McCoy? ESPN doesn’t think so.

Going up against the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense is a tough task for any quarterback, but when you draw that challenge as the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns…and as your first NFL start…well, that’s nearly impossible. As such, ESPN has their doubts about Colt McCoy this week, not that you were thinking about starting him.

Colt McCoy (Cleveland Browns) Fantasy Point Projection of 2 on ESPN.com

I guess you could do worse in your first start...

With Seneca Wallace and Jake Delhomme injured (and, in Jake’s case, maybe even if he was healthy enough to take the field), McCoy is the best they’ve got. As a Longhorn, I’ll hope the best for the kid, but this debut might get ugly. Consider this your “McCoy’s potential as a starter in the NFL” open thread if you’d like to put your own opinion on record.

UPDATE: Since this screenshot was taken, ESPN has updated their projections to list Delhomme at 4 points, assuming he will get the start. McCoy has been downgraded to 0 points. Still, there’s a good chance this game falls on McCoy’s shoulders this weekend because Delhomme looked like half a man last week on his bum ankle.

Sorry, Kolb. Michael Vick starts in Philadelphia after all

Sometimes you draft poorly. I’m told it happens.

You may end up with a worthless set of running backs — guys who got too old without letting you know that you should remove them from your draft board. Maybe you ended up with a horrible corps of wide receivers — the worst of the worst who couldn’t catch a ball if their life depended on it.

Maybe the quarterback you set your sights on just can’t seem to get it through his head which color his team’s jerseys are, and he spends his free time checking down to the running back before he is pummeled by the defense.

Maybe you just drafted a bunch of Buffalo Bills.

When you come to grips with the reality that your fantasy football team needs work, you wish and wish upon a star that someone would save you, that somehow, someway, a top 10 quarterback would drop from the heavens and into your lap — someone to help you rise above your 0-2 record.

Well…that just happened. Michael Vick is now the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Oh, and all you guys who picked him up to start in Week 2 and just happened to land him for the entire season…for shame.

We would say more, but we won’t because it’s clear that you’ve made a deal with the devil, and that’s not the kind of juju I want coming after my own fantasy football team.

Vince Young: Playoff Pickup or Passable Projections?

Sports Data Hub recently investigated the usefulness [SDH no longer has this online] of Vince Young for the rest of the season, but that analysis was optimistically given before his come-from-behind fourth-quarter drive for the win against the Cardinals. Those last-second heroics capped off a fantasy day that had him throwing for almost 400 yards.

If you watched VY doin’ work against the Cardinals, you might just be a believer now.

I’ll make no claims to being unbiased about Young. I’m a Longhorn, and thus have a higher level of respect for him and his abilities than the average NFL fan. That said, I’ve done the research and looked into what he might do during the fantasy playoffs thanks to an email from a reader (just like you).

Originally, I was asked to compare the potential of Kyle Orton and Vince Young as a matchup play during the fantasy playoffs, filling in from a more promising fantasy starter during his bad weeks.

I’m not sure what to think of Orton on his way back from an ankle injury, but his schedule comparison side-by-side with Young’s puts Young’s upside in perspective.

Orton fell off the charts last season when an ankle injury struck, which makes me want to avoid him, but he has been a solid backup fantasy quarterback for many teams this year. Against the Giants, the Broncos got it done by leaning on Knowshon Moreno, and that could continue to be the way they win.

Orton’s upcoming schedule looks a little rough at first sight…and again at second sight. The number in parenthesis is the opponent’s rank in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks from FF Today. Obviously, the lower the number, the more points they give to fantasy quarterbacks.

Orton – Week 13: @KC (4), 14: @IND (25), 15: OAK (21), 16: @PHI (17), 17: KC (4).

Young’s schedule is better, but can we count on him to deliver like he did against the Cardinals even in these cupcake matchups?

Young – Week 13: @IND (25), 14: STL (12), 15: MIA (6), 16: SD (26), 17: SEA (9)

Let’s drop Week 17, assuming that you play your championship game in Week 16, and average those ranks during the fantasy playoffs, Weeks 14-16. In this case, the lower number would indicate be a more favorable schedule.

Orton: 21
VY: 15

That’s enough of a difference for me to project that Young would be the better start through Week 16. You could argue that Orton is a more traditional passer and a safer pick, but I just think the upside is there for Young to succeed.

No, I wouldn’t want to be forced to rely on Young in a pinch. But if your starter has a terrible matchup in the playoffs, or if you just lost Kurt Warner or Ben Roethlisberger for an unknown amount of time, Young wouldn’t be bad playoff insurance. He may even be worth spot-starting in Week 14 against the Rams.

So there you go. Detailed analysis with the Longhorn bias held back. Hook ‘em.

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.

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.

Taking the Next Step: Matt Ryan Projections for 2009

Is Matt Ryan really all he’s cracked up to be this season?

I wasn’t much of a believer in the 2008 class of NFL quarterbacks. I even doubted that Matt Ryan would make it off the board among the top five picks, but I am sure the Falcons are glad they didn’t feel the same way. Ryan blossomed in his rookie season and drew comparisons to Peyton Manning by year’s end. Going into 2009, he’s got an enhanced set of weapons with Tony Gonzalez now in Atlanta and plenty of opportunity.

The obvious improvements in his game and the Falcons as a team have caused many fantasy football pros to raise him up as one of the future quarterback icons, and now drafters are taking him as a late QB1 selection — or sometimes far earlier than they should — expecting him to be a starting quality fantasy quarterback this year.

While there’s no denying that his rookie season was impressive, it’s hard for me to justify taking Matt Ryan as a starting fantasy quarterback with just one year under his belt and few multiple touchdown games to his name.

Tony Gonzalez’s late-season surge in Kansas City made him the top tight end in fantasy last season, but I don’t think he’ll carry that momentum right into his first season in Atlanta. The Falcons were a run-first team last year, and they’re not going to turn into Peyton Manning’s Colts just because they have a tight end who can catch. Atlanta will depend on Gonzalez’s blocking abilities to establish the run with Michael Turner before looking to pass with a mix of Roddy White, Gonzalez, Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas and Jerious Norwood.

While Gonzalez will be the new “hot route” in Atlanta, a designation that made Roddy White one of the most targeted receivers in the NFL last season, the shift to Tony Gonzalez shouldn’t make the Atlanta offense significantly more productive in “hot route” situations. The move is more a knock to Roddy White’s value than anything else.

In 2008, Ryan was a marginal to poor fantasy starter. He made Roddy White look like a true fantasy stud, but Ryan’s 16 touchdowns throughout the season were not enough to keep him at the top of many lineups. The games in which he did score multiple touchdowns came against struggling defenses like the Packers, Raiders, Saints and Chargers, except for, surprisingly, one game against the Eagles where he had two touchdowns. In my mind, that makes him largely unproven facing the NFC and AFC East this season.

The one bit of reasoning that I can buy for being optimistic with Ryan’s projections is that Ryan could see a need to put more points on the board this season if the Atlanta defense, largely unspectacular last season, fails to keep games close. Turner’s power running might have to be put aside for more of a throw-happy, play-from-behind offense if that is the case, but that could also prove dangerous for Ryan and doesn’t promise that the offense will be successful.

In order to justify a QB1 role, Ryan would need to increase his touchdown totals and his yardage significantly. Despite his skills, Tony Gonzalez is unlikely to give Ryan the 75 yards and a touchdown he needs each game to do that. I see Matt Ryan finishing the year with just over 3000 yards and 20-25 touchdowns.

While Ryan makes for a promising and reliable QB2, I would not plan on taking him as your starting quarterback this season. He still has more to prove, and it would be unfair to him and his talent to expect it of him in just his second season.

Think Matt Ryan is the next big thing? As always, the comments are yours.

Brady’s Back: Now Where Should I Draft Him?

Tom Brady’s Week 1 knee injury in 2008 caused more than one owner in the world of fantasy football to collapse in front of their TV in tears before they ever even learned of Matt Cassel’s existence. It was just the kind of nightmare that fantasy owners fear when they assemble their team at the draft, and the unbelievable destruction of 2007′s fantasy superstar just minutes into the season shocked the fantasy world.

I had taken the plunge and drafted Brady at the tail end of two first rounds rather than taking a lesser-than stud running back. It hurts to get screwed in the first week. It really does.

You’re still a pansy for crying, but for the most part, fantasy owners have now come to grips with the injury. Tom Brady is back on the field throwing the football with a knee that might just be better than any knee to come before it. There’s nothing to fear … well, nothing except paying too much for him in the draft this season.

The Year that Never Was
In 2008, Brady was arguably the only quarterback worth flirting with in the first round, a fantasy prospect who measured up to the best running backs in the league. Even though no quarterback has ever lived up to the hype after a record fantasy season, experts anticipated that Brady would top the fantasy quarterback charts again regardless of a dip in production.

After a year away from football spent “recovering from his injury,” ranking fantasy football’s prodigal son is no easy task. I feel like I hardly know him anymore.

Brady spent an entire year frolicking through injury with his supermodel girlfriend, getting married to said supermodel girlfriend and playing with his son who is “so cool!” Are we getting the same Tom back that we took off the field almost one year ago?

The Patriots: One Year Older But Staying the Same Age
If we weren’t, Bill Belichick would have already regrown him in a lab this offseason anyway, so there’s no worries there. Brady’s got the same weapons around him that made him such a success in 2007 — Randy Moss going deep, Wes Welker in the slot and the crowded backfield Belichick turns into a running game. Veteran burner Joey Galloway replaces Donte Stallworth in 2009 on the other side of Moss, but Stallworth was largely invisible as a Patriot anyway. While Belichick’s “no mercy” attitude may be taken down a notch from the record levels it hit in 2007, the stage is set in Boston for Brady to return to fantasy glory as soon as he shakes the rust off.

But the other teams of the AFC East are quite different than they were in 2007 and have the potential to keep Brady from reaching his 2007 numbers.

The Less Defenseless AFC East
The Miami Dolphins, rejuvenated by Bill Parcells, have a stingy defense and an improving, conservative offense. With the Wildcat, Ronnie Brown tore apart the Matt Cassel-led Patriots in 2008, and I would expect them to get creative in 2009 as well. The New York Jets, no longer suffering from Brett Favre’s skill for turning over the ball, should bring a ball-control, run-based offense and a more aggressive defense to the table under new head coach Rex Ryan. And in the frigid North, the Buffalo Bills could surprise the Patriots with a healthy defense and a more explosive offense, upgraded with Terrell Owens and led by developing third-year quarterback Trent Edwards.

The Patriots will also face the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans this season, two defenses that don’t play nice with high-powered offenses.

Ranking the Golden Boy
I fully expect Brady to resume control of the Patriot offense and start the season with something to prove, just as he does every year, but it would be foolish — and who’s foolish around here? — to expect him to break records in 2009. He’s likely to struggle early until he gets back into his rhythm just as Peyton Manning’s game was a little off to start the 2008 season.

Expect top-three numbers from Brady by season’s end, purely because of the weapons he has at his disposal, but be prepared for lows early in the season, especially in bad matchups.

The rise of Drew Brees may distract owners enough for Brady to be ignored in the first and second rounds this year, which could make his draft stock a budget buy in the third round. He’s currently tied behind Brees for the No. 2 quarterback spot with Peyton Manning in my book, and I’d give the edge to Brady this year. How about you?

Sound off
The comments are yours. Tell me what you think of Tommy Boy this season.

Without T.O., is Romo still an elite fantasy quarterback?

It’s the debate that began as soon as the Cowboys released Terrell Owens: Where does Tony Romo rank without his prized target in the passing game? I’ve exchanged emails with fellow Fools writer Chadam and several other fantasy football compatriots since my post on the release of the infamous No. 81, but I’ve been reluctant to pass judgment…until now.

T.O. was the big target, drawing the most balls from Romo, even when he couldn’t catch them all, and striking the most fear in opposing defenses. Sure, the Cowboys still have tight end Jason Witten, who is likely to be the leading receiver again anyway, but will he be open across the middle without a legitimate playmaker demanding coverage on the outside? Hard to say.

The Hole T.O. Leaves Behind
Romo’s hopes for fantasy glory this season rest in newly-promoted No. 1 receiver Roy Williams, a playmaker during his days at Texas who has had just one dominant season in the NFL. Williams spent most of his time in Detroit putting up mediocre numbers and suffering from injuries before falling into the shadow of Calvin Johnson.

After being traded to Dallas, Williams never seemed to get on track, either due to unknown injuries or an inability to get in sync with Romo. While the talent may be there for him to be a true No. 1 in the Cowboys’ offense, Williams will have to duplicate or exceed his best season in the NFL to make it happen.

Finding Stability at the No. 2 Position
As if it wasn’t enough to have a questionable No. 1, the Cowboys also have a hole on the other side of the ball. While he currently ranks No. 2 on the depth chart, Patrick Crayton has been inconsistent and untrustworthy as a No. 2 wide receiver for the Cowboys. Without T.O. drawing coverage, his No. 3-ish talents just won’t cut it. The promising but oft-injured Miles Austin has a chance to snag this spot in 2009, but, once again, we’re looking for a player to have a breakout year, better than any of his previous seasons. Crayton, if he keeps his starting spot, can do little to help Romo remain at the top of the fantasy charts.

More Running, More Problems
Romo’s chances to put up those fantasy points may also be limited this season by adjustments to the offense. The emergence of Tashard Choice late last season gives the Cowboys the opportunity to put the Giants’ three-headed beast running attack into place. The New York Giants ran over almost every team in the league last season thanks to Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw playing Earth, Wind and Fire. Carries slotted for Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice will balance out the Cowboys’ attack but would also take the ball out of Romo’s hands more than in the past two seasons, which will further limit his chances for fantasy success.

Slotting Romo for 2009
In short, Romo’s got a question mark for a No. 1 receiver, a battle for the No. 2 spot and a potential shift in the offense towards the running game. He may still have his tight end in Witten, but all of these uncertainties don’t bode well for him remaining among the best of the best in fantasy.

It takes a lot for a Cowboys fan to admit that his quarterback has been taken down a notch, but all signs point to a downgrade.

Last season, the Cowboys aerial attack suffered because teams would shade towards Owens and keep him from getting open, a problem Roy Williams was brought in to combat. Without Owens, Williams will get the same treatment. Miles Austin or Sam Hurd could breakout this season and raise the talent level at the No. 2 spot, but that’s expecting a lot of players who haven’t shown they can carry a starting load just yet.

I still expect Romo to finish in the top 10 at his position, but gone, at least for this season, are the days when you could safely draft the Cowboys’ quarterback in the first round and build a team around his production. He’s a high second-tier quarterback selection at best but a solid starter, and I still have him among my top seven fantasy quarterbacks going into 2009. Depending on your location — I’m out of luck in Texas — you might just be able to talk him down enough to get him at a bargain rate this season in the fourth round of your fantasy draft or later.

If you agree to disagree, do it up in the comments. I’m certainly open to keeping this talk going. After all, Tony Romo is my quarterback — single tear.

How good will Pat White be?

Now that that the 2009 NFL Draft has come to and end and Mel Kiper Jr.’s hair has been safely removed and returned to its storage locker in Guantanamo Bay, the fantasy football world has to slot, rank and file the rookies of 2009 based on their expected fantasy impact.

But when it comes to classifying Pat White, he just doesn’t fit.

White was one of the most talented rushing quarterbacks college football has ever seen, and he holds the NCAA record for career rushing yards by a quarterback with 4,385 yards.

All eyes are on White to takeover the Ronnie Brown role in the Dolphins’ Wildcat formation. A gimmick play that turned into an offense against the New England Patriots last season, the Wildcat has its doubters heading into 2009. With an entire offseason to game against it, defenses should be able to stop most of the single-wing offenses they’ll see this year.

Would Bill Parcells, proving himself as a master of rebuilding franchises, draft Pat White as high as he did just to have White star in his Wildcat? I don’t think so. And neither do many of the draft analysts out there.

Along with his rushing records, White was also a pretty good all-around quarterback. His record as West Virginia’s starter was 34-8, the best of any WVU quarterback and more victories than all but five quarterbacks ever to play in the NCAA. He is the only quarterback to win four bowl games as a starter in Football Bowl Subdivision history, and he joins an elite club in NCAA history as one of eight athletes to rush for 200 yards and pass for 200 yards in a single game.

Determined to play at quarterback at the pro level, White almost refused to run any sort of wide receiver drills before the draft. He caved only once and then never did it again. Apparently, teams didn’t need to be convinced since many still had him ranked highly on their draft boards.

While Pat White may be listed on the roster as a wide receiver in his first season and see some time in the slot, he might just have a shot at the starting gig in Miami. He was the MVP of the 2009 Senior Bowl at that position after all. Chad Henne, be warned.

For dynasty and keeper leagues, ranking Pat White is a real problem. Is he a gimmick player like Devin Hester before Hester became a starting receiver, a player who never lives up to his role as a full-time fantasy starter? Or is he the quarterback of the future in Miami and someone who can generate points immediately as a slot receiver?

At this point, we don’t even know what position he’ll play, but his role should become clear after his rookie workouts this weekend, closed to the public. It’s turning into a big story and intel should be plentiful out of Miami.

Where do we rank Pat White? How big will he be in 2009 and beyond? Let the debate begin. Drop your take in the discussion thread below.