We had a great show last Wednesday, my wife was *extremely* kind enough to let me go on the show on our anniversary (9th!) and John Cardechi and I had a good LIVE chat gearing up for the 2006 fantasy football season. Even though it was scheduled last minute, the timing couldn’t have been better for all those fantasy football fans of ours and also those of Comcast Cable’s Sports Pulse.
As many of you know, in the days following my appearing on the show, I try to kick out a brief article going over what was talked about on the show. There will be a time in the coming weeks when I will have a chance to get into greater detail about some of the topics we discussed (ie. break out some of the topics into their own articles), but for now, here’s a snapshot of what went on during the show…
We opened things up with the all important draft strategies. Mind you, these are just recommended guidelines that are not to be etched in stone. The way your particular draft goes depends on many things such as your starting lineup requirements, individual player scoring, the level of expertise of the other owners in your league, etc. A few of the bullet points that we brought up included:
Get Reliable RB First
Use two of your first three selections to grab a couple top RBs. Every year, more and more teams in the NFL are moving to the dreaded “RBBC” (Running Back by Committee), with is a death sentence for the fantasy player. In addition, many teams have not yet decided on who will be their primary ball carrier. By using some of your top draft picks to get reliable players at RB, you can at least have this position settled on a weekly basis.
Nab a Couple WRs Early, too
Don’t be afraid to grab a couple WRs with your 2nd thru 5th round selections. We see a clear top 20-25 WRs in the rankings, after that things get hairy. By grabbing a couple guys in the top 20, this is another position that you can solidify in the draft early and not have to worry about covering in the later rounds.
Wait on TE
While it is certainly nice to get one of the top TEs (Ie. Gates, Gonzalez, Shockey, etc), we see a solid group of players in the 8-15 range on the rankings, guys that can and will be viable fantasy starters. We’ll go thru some specific players later, but given that most teams drafting won’t be picking a second TE until the last rounds of the draft, you should be able to get a quality starter even as late as rounds 8-10.
There Will be QB Value in the Middle Rounds
As is the case with the TE rankings, we see a solid group of players in the 8-15 range of the rankings at this position as well. Once the Peyton Mannings, Tom Bradys, and Carson Palmers of the world are gone early, there will be plenty to choose from in rounds 7-9 of your draft. Guys like Michael Vick, Drew Bledsoe, Jake Delhomme, these guys are above average fantasy starters, one of which should be available in the later rounds. Bulk up on RB and WR early, then move to TE and QB.
Kicker and D last
I won’t beat this horse any more, but please, wait until the very late rounds of your draft to cover these positions. The only reason I would suggest going earlier than that is if you want to nail down one of the top 10 at the position in a player that has a late bye week, this way you will have plenty of time to pick up a player on waivers to cover the bye week.
Be the RB Weasle
Fantasy football has now evolved into a situation where every starting RB and backup RB will be selected at your fantasy draft. And probably a few guys beyond that as well. Plan to spend at least two of your draft picks on backup players, and I’m not talking about backing up your own guys either. Target players on teams that will run the ball no matter who the starting RB is, Seattle, Baltimore, Denver, etc.
Here’s a list of some guys that we think will emerge as viable fantasy starters from the middle of the TE rankings…
Vernon Davis, San Francisco
Normally I don’t recommend rookies, but in this case I think we need to make an exception. The high rookie selection will see some playing time early, and so far the reports on his progress have been very good.
Jerramy Stevens, Seattle
Quietly had a very good season last year, looks to continue that this year. Always nice to have a TE in an explosive scoring offense.
** Note **
What would be a preview article be without a guy we’re recommending going down. Looks like Stevens had some surgery and will be out for about 6 weeks. Take him off the “sleeper starter” list and put him on your “last round flyer” list.
Kellen Winslow, Cleveland
The long rehab is almost over, now it’s time for him to back up some of the talk that took place when he was drafted. The talent is there, and now perhaps a little more humble, the Browns offense will be one that is not afraid to use the TE.
LJ Smith, Philadelphia
Like Stevens, Smith has quietly done very well. He should continue to excel in an offense that is not afraid to use the TE.
Zack Hilton, New Orleans
Perhaps a bit of a reach here, but Hilton was huge (pun intended) during the time he was on the playing field. Oft injured, playing time is always a question, but Brees has shown that he knows how to use the TE so if Hilton can nail down the starting job and majority of playing time, he could be a fantasy force.
Be the RB Weasle
As mentioned above, fantasy football drafts in this day and age require owners to dig very deeply into the RB pool. You WILL need to spend at least two of your draft picks on NFL players that have no chance of playing unless the guy in front of them on the depth chart gets hurt. And as we’ve seen over the years, the top RBs in the game are not immune to having this happen to them (just as Clinton Portis already this pre-season).
It’s just a fact of draft life that these players will be selected by someone in your league, make sure you are part of this action. You need look no further than to the owner that picked Larry Johnson last year, since this owner likely walked away with your league’s trophy (I know this was the case in my league). No longer can this be called dumb luck, you need to go out and make these selections to create your own luck.
Here are a few examples…
Ladell Betts, Washington
I never understood how and why Clinton Portis garnered so much love from the fantasy community. Last year I took a lot of heat for not having him in my pre-season top 10 ranking (which he did not end up cracking by the time the year was over) and this year I’ve been taking heat for not having him as the clear #4 RB. After a handful of plays in the pre-season, he’s already on the shelf, potentially up to and including the opening game. Not a good sign. The Redskins offense will roll on with or without him, so Betts is a very good guy to consider grabbing on draft day.
Any Player With a Pulse, Denver
What Mike Shanahan is doing in Denver is no longer funny to the fantasy community. This year, he’s already elevated undrafted rookie Mike Bell to the starters job. Unfortunately for Mike, he’s already trying to fumble away the starting job. Mike Bell, Tatum Bell, Ron Dayne, these are all guys that will be selected on draft day. I have seen Mike Bell go as high as the sixth round in some drafts. While I don’t recommend that, if you have a feeling about one of these guys and you don’t want to miss out on getting them, you may have to use a fairly high selection. One thing is certain, whoever does win the starting job will be a fantasy force.
LenDale White, Tennessee
Chris Brown wants out and Travis Henry is in the shadows so playing time will have to be earned the old fashioned way. However, if the Titans end up in a rebuilding phase, the rookie will end up seeing more playing time as the season goes on.
Mike Anderson, Baltimore
The post-Big House Jamal Lewis hasn’t been the model of consistency that he was before his incarceration. The Ravens offense gets a nice spark with an actual QB, Anderson would fill in nicely if Lewis cannot do the job.
Maurice Morris, Seattle
Morris is a very capable RB, capable of being a starter in the NFL. Right now, he’s still sitting behind one of the top 3 backs in the league. Should something happen to Alexander, Morris would step right in and perform at that same level (that’s right, I’m saying he can put up Alexander numbers in his place). One need only look to what happened to Lamont Jordan once he got out of Curtis Martin’s shadow. Don’t let this guy go undrafted.
Marion Barber, Dallas
The starting role may or may not be up for grabs in the Big D. Both Barber and Jones haven’t shown that they can shoulder the entire load alone, and it’s likely that one of them will end up hurt at some point during the season. Parcells will run the ball even if you or I were in the backfield (albeit with poor results). Barber can do the job if given the chance.
Looking to Take the Next Step
Here are a few guys that we think are ready to rise above their pre-season ranking…
RB Ronnie Brown, Miami
The Ricky Williams Story has moved to the Great White North (Great Green North?) so the deck has been cleared for Brown to be the guy. Miami won a bunch of games down the stretch last year, and they are looking to build on that momentum. Duante Culpepper should be back early in the season, and with the Dolphins winning games, that means they’ll have opportunity to run the ball a lot. Brown should benefit greatly. Look for a tremendous year from the young runner.
WR Roddy White, Atlanta
Playing time is always a direct factor in a WRs production, and White should see plenty of it this year in Atlanta. The Falcons always seem to produce one good fantasy WR, White could be that guy this year.
RB Chester Taylor, Minnesota
We made the Jordan-Martin, Alexander-Morris analogy earlier, same concept here. Taylor has been biding his time as a backup and a golden opportunity has opened up for him with the Vikings. Minnesota is spending a ton of money on the offensive line, and with Culpepper out of the picture, the Vikings could become more of a run oriented offense.
QB Drew Bledsoe, Dallas
Many scoffed last year when we thought Bledsoe would be a viable fantasy starter, those people are very quiet at the start of this season. Bledsoe has once again established himself as a viable starter in the NFL, and we see him once again putting up very good fantasy numbers.
WR Mark Clayton, Baltimore
Could it be, a viable passing combination for the Ravens? With Steve McNair in the mix, Baltimore should have some success in the air this year, and Clayton is poised to step up and pick up some nice numbers.
WR Reggie Brown, Philadelphia
Brown should end up as the go to guy for the Eagles. With no real threat to his playing time, that should translate into very good fantasy success.
Players to Avoid
This year’s preliminary “bust” list….
RB Ahman Green, Green Bay
Green is coming off a very serious injury and as of press time, has not been declared 100%. It used to be that you could count on him to put up good fantasy numbers in every other season, but given his age, I’m not sure that 2007 is going to be an ‘up’ year. The Packers have other options in Gado and Davenport so if Green doesn’t get healthy and on the field soon, it may be too late.
RB Chris Brown, Tennessee
When the clear starter on a team suddenly asks for a trade, that raises up a red flag. He tried to spin it off as his new agent just talking out, I dunno, sounds like a bad situation that can quickly go very south. The Titans have other options, including a rookie so we recommend staying away here.
QB Rex Grossman, Chicago
The Bears have been down the Grossman road and I’m not sure they have been entirely pleased with the results. Griese is in the mix and if Chicago doesn’t win some games to start the season, they could make a change. The Bears have never been known to pass the ball that often anyways.
TE Eric Johnson, San Francisco
Johnson had an incredible season last year, putting up some huge games. Then he got hurt, and now San Francisco used their top pick in the rookie draft on another TE. Playing time is the name of the game at this position, Johnson may not be seeing much of it.
RB Willis McGahee, Buffalo
It’s finally happened, I’m stepping off the McGahee bandwagon. I stayed on it as long as I could, but now I’m off. The Bills offense took a step backwards last year, and they haven’t done much in the offseason to improve upon that disappointing campaign. McGahee’s TD numbers were very low last year, we don’t see much scoring from the Bills in 2007 so you might want to knock McGahee down a notch or two from your rankings.
New England Patriots
Since CN8 is a New England show, we usually close things out talking about the Patriots and their players. Though we didn’t have time to get into it very much on the show, here’s a quick glimpse at the fantasy impact they could have…
QB Tom Brady
Brady enters this season as one of the top 3 fantasy ranked QBs. He’s never had the stud WR to throw to, so he may struggle early in the season, but someone will emerge.
RB Corey Dillon
Maybe the best thing that could have happened to Dillon is the drafting of Maroney. Dillon isn’t getting any younger, and it seems like the Angry Dillon from Cincinnati is starting to rear its ugly head, but word is that he’s very motivated this year and in pretty good shape. The job is his to lose and it doesn’t appear that he is ready to pass the torch.
RB Laurence Maroney
I’ve said many times, it is very tough for a rookie RB to step in and become a viable fantasy option. Third down blitz pickups are very difficult to learn, and when your entire team rests on the health of the quarterback, that means the rookie probably isn’t going to be on the field on third down. As a result, that cuts down his touches in the passing game and reduces his fantasy potential. Not to mention that he enters camp as the #2 on the depth chart. I don’t see much in the way of fantasy production from Maroney this year unless Dillon goes down.
WR Deion Branch
We got a chance to talk about holdout players, and Branch in particular. In general, veteran players don’t like training camp, and those that are in a position to hold out for a while under the guise of a contract dispute often do so. That said, the pre-season games have begun, and now is a good time for the holdouts to get involved. Unfortunately for Branch, he feels very strongly about his position, and the Patriots feel very strongly about theirs. New England management has never really given in on contract demands and for whatever reason they have no problem going into the season without a top WR for Brady. This is a situation that could really drag out, keep an eye on Branch signing or coming to camp and in the meantime adjust his ranking on your lists accordingly.
WR Chad Jackson and WR Reche Caldwell
The Branch holdout will have a direct fantasy impact on these two guys. It is looking like Jackson is going to earn a spot in the starting lineup, and while I don’t like to recommend rookie RBs, there are occasions where a rookie WR can step in and produce. This could very well be the case here. And should the Branch holdout stretch into the season, that could make Caldwell a viable spot fantasy starter.
TE Ben Watson
All the controversy and lack of talent at WR is a bonus for the TE. Watson could be in for a big year, he should emerge as the top pass catching threat for New England.
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The fantasy production out of the defense has been on the decline. The Patriots don’t generate enough turnovers or score enough TDs on a regular basis to be considered an elite fantasy defense. I have them ranked around 10-15, nothing special, but keep an eye on them as they are a group that if they can get some momentum, could be a decent fantasy entity.
So Who’s Number One?
Pressed for my overall top selection, I would go with LaDainian Tomlinson. Unfortunately in the Atlantic Whale Shark League, I ended up with the top pick and he’s who I went with. As many have already discussed, there is a clear top 3: Tomlinson, Larry Johnson, Shaun Alexander. Sure, San Diego may have some issues at quarterback now that Brees has moved on, but Tomlinson was producing during the poor Brees years so I think he will still put up great numbers.
At #2 and #3 I’d have no problems with Larry Johnson and Shaun Alexander. Johnson will be in his first year as “the guy” in Kansas City, and with the new offense in place it is possible that he won’t be able to put up the numbers that Priest Holmes did in his hey day. Which is not to say I don’t like Johnson, far from it, just making a point.
And what can you say badly about Shaun Alexander? Nothing really. An established veteran in an explosive offense. He’s happy with his contract and makes it a point to be one of, if not the top rusher/TD scorer in the league. But wasn’t he the cover boy of some video game this year? Hmmmmm….