Fantasy Football Strategy, Advice, and Commentary
By: Dave Stringer — July 28, 2009 @ 9:34 am
Continuing the draft strategy advice posted last week, here are five more tips or rules of thumb to keep in mind for your upcoming draft.
6. Don’t Have Too Many Sleepers
Sleepers are the ultimate way to show your competition that you have done your homework and hit a home run on a player. Nonetheless, a roster that has too many sleepers can tend to be one built with a lot of potential but low or inconsistent production. Sleepers are ranked low for a reason – they are higher risk players, and even if they do “hit”, they make take some time to come around and for you to trust starting them on a regular basis.
Therefore, don’t fill out your roster with too many sleepers, especially when there are solid veterans with a proven track record of decent production available. Let’s look at the 49ers wide receiver position heading into last season. Old reliable Isaac Bruce was entering his first season in San Francisco but all the preseason hype was focused on rookie 6th round pick Josh Morgan. At season’s end, Bruce had tallied 125 fantasy points compared to Morgan’s 50. Try to strike a nice balance between upside sleeper picks, and steady, unsexy veteran picks.
7. Never Reach Too Much For Your Sleepers
Just about every team is going to have a couple of sleepers in mind as they head into their draft. As the rounds drift by or the auction dollars get spent, anxiety always enters the picture. Is this the last chance to nab Michael Crabtree, Chris Wells or whoever your sleeper or deep sleeper is? As the pulse quickens, take a step back and remember the definition of a sleeper – a player who provides tremendous value. If you reach for your sleeper a couple of rounds early or spend too much on them, you’re effectively defeating the purpose.
8. Don’t Draft With Trades In Mind
If you’ve been playing fantasy football long enough, you’ve been in a situation where the draft hasn’t gone according to plan and you have made a pick that has put you in a hole. Maybe you took a second tier QB in the fourth round and then watched as two or three rounds passed before a very similar QB was taken and your opponents look to have better rosters than yours currently looks.
At this point, don’t scan other teams’ rosters for holes and then take a player in the hopes of trading that player to fix a hole in your roster. One for one trades after the draft don’t happen very often because teams have just picked their rosters based on their perceived values of the players they have chosen. The one cardinal rule (and sin) in fantasy football is that every owner overvalues their team and players immediately after a draft. Unless available information changes (injuries, revised depth charts, suspensions, etc.), teams aren’t moving their higher draft pick for your lower draft pick. Realistically, only package trades happen immediately after a draft and it generally doesn’t make sense to be banking on a later trade during your draft.
The one caveat to this rule is that there may be occasions where in the middle rounds of a draft a running back or wide receiver is available who is too good to pass up. In terms of 2009, think Colts running back Joseph Addai being available in the 6th round or Vikings wide receiver Bernard Berrian being available in the 8th round. On these rare occasions, the value just might be too great to pass on.
9. Participate In Mock Drafts
Because it’s all about value, mock drafts are an invaluable tool in learning what the general prevailing wisdom is regarding players and their teams. A mock draft will help you determine whether owners believe certain players will return strong from an injury or injury plagued season, whether an up and coming player is ready for a breakout season, etc.
Plus, it’s a great way to hone your draft skills. Participating in a mock might help you remember that mistake you made last year and how you plan to avoid it this year. Maybe it will jar your memory regarding your opponents’ tendencies. If you’re going to be in an auction draft, it’s a great way to get a feel for the flow of an auction.
10. Don’t Take A Player As Payback
Perhaps during the course of your draft, an opponent has taken one of your handcuffs and you now have an opportunity to take one of theirs. Or maybe in last year’s draft, an opponent took the handcuff of your RB1 and left you with a hole on your roster. Building your team isn’t about paybacks so it’s important to focus on the task at hand – getting the best possible fantasy roster that you can. It’s possible that your opponent valued your handcuff more than you did. Maybe they think Adrian Peterson is injury prone so taking Chester Taylor in the 5th round makes sense. If so, they’re unlikely to want to swap handcuffs with you anyways. Move on and finish building your roster with a solid pick instead of one based on spite.
One final tip for auction drafts. Although it doesn’t work for every player because your opponents will figure out your tactic, let other teams bid on key players you have targeted and then when the bidding appears to have stopped, jump in with a bid to get your target. As the number of teams bidding on a player is reduced and the price rises, there’s a tendency for owners to convince themselves that the price they think they are about to pay is solid value for that player. For example, if the bidding on Tom Brady is going up a dollar a bid and seems to have stopped at $40, the owner who has bid $40 will rationalize that this was a good price. If they have rationalized Brady’s value in this manner, then they are unlikely to immediately change their thought process and now view Brady as being worth, say, $43. Jump into the bidding late and he’s likely yours.
Finally, it’s important to remember that we’re all in this for fun. Roll with the punches, enjoy your draft or auction and don’t take it too seriously. Even if your auction doesn’t go according to plan, your in-season roster management ability of executing trades and acquiring players on the waiver wire provides an opportunity to correct any deficiencies in your roster that have occurred during the draft. Plus, a few solid starting line-up decisions may nab a win or two and that always helps.
By: Dave Stringer — July 24, 2009 @ 11:35 am
On the heels of my draft strategy article, it seemed like a good idea to hit on a number of smaller topics to help guide you through your upcoming fantasy football draft.
1. Value Is King
The most important consideration in any fantasy draft or auction is value. Theoretically, if every player that an owner acquires outperforms their draft position or auction cost, that team will be a contender for the league title. Of course, obtaining value is easy to say and hard to do. However, there are some basic tenets that are useful in ensuring your roster is shaped by solid values.
First off, do your homework and get your cheatsheets filled out early and update often as the preseason progresses. If you follow the league throughout the year, you’re up to date on league news. If not, then get up to date. Thomas Jones was a revelation for the Jets last year but the team has lost Brett Favre and Laveranues Coles on offense. As a result, Jones is almost certainly looking at a drop in production. Second, avoid falling in love with certain players. Follow your tiers (more on that below) and don’t reach for a player. Third, try to fill out your starting line-up before moving on to filling your bench spots. After all, bench points don’t count except in leagues where they settle ties.
In one of my dynasty leagues, the owners place tremendous value on running backs so the wide receivers are great values. In three years, the only stud running back I’ve had is Joseph Addai and that is because I picked him up as a rookie.
2. Have A Flexible Strategy
Whatever your strategy is heading into your draft, you need to be prepared to alter it if the draft does not turn out as you expected. If you had anticipated getting a solid running back with the 11th pick and running backs come off the board with the first 10 picks, then it’s time to change gears. Rather than take an injury prone Brandon Jacobs or a banged up Brian Westbrook, consider taking your top rated QB or Larry Fitzgerald, the consensus top WR, before getting a running back .
In snake drafts, many owners attempt to map out their first three picks. Some follow the two-stud running back approach, while others may want a tier one player at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. In many instances, it’s possible that the draft will flow in a manner that results in an owner being able to follow their strategy. However, if that doesn’t occur, you need to be flexible and move on. It’s better to be flexible than being rigid and following a strategy that nets you Ryan Grant instead of Larry Fitzgerald just because you were set on taking running backs with your first two picks.
3. Follow Your Tiers
The concept of tiering is invaluable in a fantasy draft or auction. The concept is basically to tier (group) players at each position based on similar anticipated production. For example, in 2009 the top tier of QB consists of Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. At RB, the top tier consists of Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner and Matt Forte.
As your draft or auction proceeds, you then have an idea of where the value lies. If the top tier of running backs is gone, it might be time to target a top tier WR or QB. Once the top tier of QB, RB and WR are exhausted, perhaps it’s time to target a top tier TE.
Essentially, an owner that drafts according to his tiers is less likely to overpay for a certain player. Plus, if the last player in a tier is available at your pick, you know to take that player.
In auction leagues, tiering can be very useful if you are aware of the status of the other team’s rosters. For instance, assume that in a 10-team league, four teams need starting QB and there are five tier three QB available. There is no need to overpay for the first three or four QB put up for auction. Wait for the other nine teams to fill out their starter position and then get one of the remaining tier two QB cheaply because the other teams are not likely to overpay for a backup QB.
Alternatively, if four teams need a starter and only three tier two QB are available, then you likely want to get the first or second player put up for auction because there will be two teams battling to get the final tier two QB, thereby driving up the auction cost.
4. Look Ahead And Anticipate The Flow Of Your Draft
In snake drafts, the flow of the draft will generally result in runs on players, roughly based on tiers to the extent owners have similar rankings. After the first QB is chosen, there is the possibility that the entire first tier of QB may go quickly after. As the group of tier one WR dwindles, there could be a run on these players.
Because of this, it’s important to spend as much of your downtime during the draft focusing on your opponents’ rosters as on your own roster. If you have an idea that there will be a run on tier one WR prior to your next pick, you can be ready to perhaps take the top TE available. Alternatively, if there are a number of tier two RB available at your pick but you anticipate there won’t be a top tier WR available with your pick next, perhaps you may want to grab the WR now.
In auction leagues, there is a definite ebb and flow that transpires during the course of the auction whether it is in dynasty or non-dynasty leagues. Generally, teams will focus the early part of the draft acquiring high priced talent thereby reducing their ability to spend later in the draft. At a certain point after teams have spent a decent amount of their auction dollars, they take a breather and it is at this point that values become available. After they re-enter the fray and complete filling out their rosters, there is another point where values become available. In 2008, this was when the likes of Thomas Jones, Kevin Walter and Owen Daniels became available.
Last year, in one auction dynasty league, I nabbed Steve Smith for $46 and Brandon Marshall for $47 during a lull in the proceedings after another owner had spent $70 on Terrell Owens. In this league, $70 for Owens wasn’t a bad deal and certainly wasn’t a precedent but obviously Smith and Marshall were better values.
5. Don’t Ignore The Rap Sheet
For most of us, the cup is half full as opposed to half empty. We want to believe that player X will bust out, player Y will bounce back and player Z will stay out of trouble. In 2008, DeAngelo Williams busted out, Kurt Warner bounced back and Antonio Bryant stayed out of trouble. Unfortunately, Marshawn Lynch didn’t bust out, Roy Williams didn’t bounce back and Larry Johnson didn’t stay out of trouble.
Analyzing the common denominators of certain players who underachieve isn’t too difficult. Players with attitude and criminal issues should carry a red flag and be ranked lower than they would otherwise be. Bryant is a perfect example. He was a huge surprise as the 8th ranked fantasy WR in 2008 which would warrant him being drafted in the 3rd round in 2009. However, he lost his QB and complained about receiving the franchise tag and getting an $8-million one-year contract as opposed to a long-term extension.
There’s nothing wrong with taking players of questionable character but there are two rules when you do so. Don’t reach for these players and never have too many of them on your roster. Otherwise, you will be carrying substantial risk heading into your fantasy football season.
By: Dave Stringer — July 22, 2009 @ 12:33 pm
Drafting strategies for fantasy football leagues used to be much simpler. For the most part, leagues had standard scoring, utilized a snake draft and most NFL teams had a starting running back and utilized the backup in either a receiving role or to spell the starter when they were tired. Based on that, the two-stud RB approach applied to pretty much every drafting position with the exception of the top few positions where taking a quarterback or wide receiver at the end of second round made some sense.
Now, there are snake drafts and auction drafts. There are re-draft leagues and dynasty leagues and leagues that allow a set number of keepers. There are even salary cap leagues (my favourite). There is standard scoring. There is points per reception scoring. There are individual defensive player (IDP) leagues. A friend of mine wants the NFL to make pancake blocks a statistic so there can be offensive line scoring. Maybe that’s a bit much.
In terms of the NFL, there has been a greater emphasis on passing the ball, with rules in place to better protect the QB and to make things tougher on defenders to actually defend receivers. Plus, very few teams desire to utilize a single RB for the majority of the carries. Those expensive team assets breakdown with all the pounding, so keeping them healthy and fresh by splitting the RB workload across two or more players is the philosophy many teams are using.
Basically, the NFL and fantasy football has changed. Unfortunately, fantasy football drafting strategies are slow to keep up with the changes.
If 2008 wasn’t the year to abandon the two-stud running back approach, then certainly 2009 is. Having reviewed the RB situation for all 32 NFL teams, it is abundantly clear that few fantasy football teams will be able to employ two stud running backs in 2009. There appear to be only five NFL teams that will rely heavily on a single RB this year. In fact, barring a surprise performance by a lower rated RB in a re-draft league, having two studs on one fantasy team is only a realistic option in dynasty leagues.
Going over each team’s roster, only the Vikings (Adrian Peterson), Jaguars (Maurice Jones-Drew), Bears (Matt Forte), Redskins (Clinton Portis) and Rams (Steven Jackson) will likely employ a true workhorse RB in 2009. It is possible that the Lions (Kevin Smith) and Browns (Jamal Lewis) may also use a workhorse approach but these teams are unlikely to have a strong offense this year. The league’s other 25 teams either rely on a running back by committee approach (RBBC), have a young back that they plan to develop or have an aging runner who is unlikely to handle a workhorse role.
For further proof of this trend, note the drop in production of top ten RB from 2000 to 2008. The average production of the top ten RB peaked at 286 points in 2003, hit a low during this timeframe of 228 points in 2007, and rebounded slightly to 241 points in 2008. The drop from the high in 2003 to 2008 is 15.7%.
Top 10 RB Production 2000-2008
Furthermore, it is getting more difficult to predict which RB will achieve top ten fantasy production. Last year, only five of the top ten RB based on average draft position (ADP) actually cracked the top ten at season’s end. Rookies Matt Forte and Steve Slaton as well as DeAngelo Williams, Michael Turner and Thomas Jones all surprised by finishing as top ten fantasy RB. The average ADP for these five backs was 72, in part due to Slaton’s ADP of 129. The 11th ranked RB in 2008 was rookie Chris Johnson and he would have cracked the top ten at the expense of Maurice Jones-Drew if he wasn’t held out of the Titans final game of the regular season.
As more and more teams move to the RBBC approach, it gets harder to differentiate between the second and third tier RB. Is Brandon Jacobs in a RBBC worth significantly more than Willie Parker in a RBBC? Barring injuries, touchdowns are likely to be the determining factor. Jacobs average draft position (ADP) is currently 17 whereas Parkers’ is currently 57.
For comparative purposes, the chart below provides the average production of the top ten WR over the same time period. A review of the two charts clearly indicates that the production of the average top ten WR on a yearly basis does not fluctuate as wildly as that of the top ten RB.
Top 10 WR Production 2000-2008
Also, it is much easier to predict which WR will finish in the top ten. In 2008, the only surprise top ten WR was Antonio Bryant. In fact, the only disappointments amongst players considered to be top WR were Chad Ochocinco, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Braylon Edwards and Marques Colston. Ochocinco and Houshmandzadeh suffered to a lengthy injury to QB Carson Palmer, Edwards played in a Cleveland offense that failed to score a single touchdown over its last five games and Colston had injury issues.
With Brandon Marshall finishing 11th and Reggie Wayne 14th, it is possible to argue that the top two tiers of WR contained 15 players and ten of these 15 players finished in the top 11 or alternatively that 11 players finished in the top 14.
The conclusions that can be drawn for snake and auction drafts are quite simple. In snake drafts, it will be nearly impossible to acquire two stud RB with your first two picks. Therefore, most teams should consider a strategy based on using either their first or second pick on a WR. In auction drafts, because owners are willing to pay a high cost for a stud RB, getting two will leave your team with very few auction dollars remaining to fill out your roster. Because the odds of hitting on both of your RB are low, this strategy also seems outdated.
In terms of the QB position, the differentiation between the top tier and the second tier does not warrant spending a first or second round pick on one, or spending a high portion of your auction dollars on one.
All in all, make sure you put enough emphasis on the WR position in your draft. We may long for the days of grind it out, power football, but today’s NFL is a passing league. That, coupled with the onset of RBBC has devalued the RB position. Adjust your fantasy football strategy, accordingly.
By: Dave Stringer — July 17, 2009 @ 12:48 pm
Our strategy article is coming out shortly and part of its thrust is that the wide receiver position should be more of a focus in fantasy drafts and auctions. With the plethora of running back by committees throughout the league and a number of the top running backs playing on poor teams, 2009 is the year to focus on the wide receiver position.
Last year, there were numerous surprises amongst the top fantasy performers at running back meaning many owners were left holding the bag on high draft picks or expensive backs who didn’t pan out. This wasn’t the case at wide receiver where only three top receivers suffered down years.
In 2009, there is little difference amongst the second tier of running backs which consists of roughly 11 players and this also holds true with the third tier which consists of roughly 12 players. Add it all up and it makes more sense to take receivers early and roll the dice on the lower rated running backs later in the draft. Wise owners won’t dismiss the possibility of taking wide receivers with each of their first two picks (especially in point per reception leagues) or taking wide receivers with two of their first three picks.
1. Larry Fitzgerald, ARI – Presumably you watched the playoffs last year where Fitzgerald’s stellar play solidified his position as the best wide receiver in the league. Team returns offensive nucleus and, despite five years in the league, it’s easy to forget that Fitzgerald is only 25 years old and still improving.
2. Randy Moss, OAK – Had a bit of a disappointing season for fantasy purposes in 2008 but still played well and there are no indications that he is on the downside at 32. Suffered last year from quarterback Matt Cassel’s poor deep throwing ability but that will be rectified with the return of Tom Brady.
3. Andre Johnson, HOU – Coming off a huge season in 2008 that included 1,575 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. As talented and big as he is, Johnson has never topped eight touchdowns which always leaves his owners feeling a little empty, even with the solid production.
4. Calvin Johnson, DET – Second most talented wideout in the league will only get better but is clearly held back by the team’s situation at quarterback. Had the third lowest reception to target percentage at 51.7% amongst the league’s fantasy top 20 wide receivers, ahead of only the Vikings Bernard Berrian and the Cowboys Terrell Owens. Will be dynamite if quarterback play improves.
5. Greg Jennings, GB – Perhaps this is the year Jennings finally gets his due in fantasy circles. Receiving yards have increased from 632 as a rookie to 920 and then to 1,292 last year. Not to mention the 21 touchdowns over the past two seasons or that quarterback Aaron Rodgers is entering only his second season as the team’s starter.
6. Steve Smith, CAR – Bit of a toss up at this spot but Smith wins out because he is clearly the team’s top receiver and posted huge numbers in 2008 (1,417 yards and six touchdowns) despite missing two games due to a suspension. No sign of slippage at age 30 and solid, if not spectacular play at quarterback from Jake Delhomme.
7. Reggie Wayne, IND – Slipped to 14th in 2008 rankings largely due to fewer touchdowns and 26 fewer targets, which seems odd given Marvin Harrison’s decline. Indy offense isn’t what it was and Wayne’s yard per reception has declined two years in a row but he figures to get 10 or more targets on average, up from just 7.9 per game in 2008.
8. Roddy White, ATL – Had 98 fantasy points over the first half of the season before slipping to 83 over the last half of the season, largely due to his only scoring two touchdowns. Could lose some red zone targets to Tony Gonzalez but that will likely be offset by improved play from quarterback Matt Ryan in his second year.
9. Anquan Boldin, ARI – A number of projections have Boldin slipping in 2009, the reasoning for the most part based on Fitzgerald’s role increasing and Boldin becoming more of a possession receiver. Basically, that’s what he’s always been. It’s just that he’s the league’s best possession receiver as well as perhaps the most explosive receiver once the ball is in his hands. If he slips, grab him.
10. Brandon Marshall, DEN – Assuming he plays 16 games, there is no reason why he won’t crack the top ten even with Kyle Orton at quarterback. A younger version of Terrell Owens (including the drama, unfortunately), Marshall has apparently been training with Fitzgerald and is ready to take his game to the next level. Carries some risk but is worth the gamble.
11. Marques Colston, NO – Missed five games last year and had zero fantasy points in another but still averaged nearly 10 points per game. Big target who should score 8-10 touchdowns in New Orleans pass heavy offense.
12. Dwayne Bowe, KC – Put up solid numbers during his first two years in the league and becomes the team’s top red zone target with the departure of Gonzalez. Not a blazer but will be targeted early and often on a bad Chiefs team that will struggle to keep up with their opponents.
13. Terrell Owens, BUF – Owens takes his game and baggage to Buffalo on a one-year deal. History indicates he’s on his best behavior during his first year with a team and he has added incentive because he’s playing on a one-year contract. Slipped a bit in 2008 but will be team’s top red zone target.
14. Vincent Jackson, SD – Clearly has moved past Chris Chambers to become the club’s top wide receiver. Big play threat who averaged 18.6 yards per reception in 2008. Has improved every year but hard to move him up because the return to health of LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates may curtail his opportunities in 2009.
15. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, SEA – Moves to Seattle and is a perfect fit in their west coast offense. Unfortunately, he’s a career possession receiver who will be 32 in September and his yards per reception has dropped for four years in a row to a paltry 9.8 in 2008. He figures to be steady but not spectacular.
16. Roy Williams, DAL – Moves into the role of number one receiver but is perhaps the league’s most overrated player at the position. Has top ten talent but just one 1,000 yard season in six in the league. Bottom line – his 430 yards and two touchdowns resulted in a 72nd fantasy ranking in 2008. There’s some risk here.
17. Chad Ochocinco, CIN – 31 years old and coming off his worst season since his rookie year. Clearly suffered with subpar play from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick but production also suffered due to his own indifference. Expect a bounce back season in 2009 but days of his being in the top ten are over.
18. Wes Welker, NE – Gets Tom Brady back but that doesn’t figure to have much effect on his production although he should top the three touchdowns he had in 2008. Much higher ranking in points per reception leagues.
19. Bernard Berrian, MIN – He had 964 yards and seven touchdowns from just 95 targets and 48 completions from quarterbacks Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte. He remains the team’s top wideout and figures to have Brett Favre throwing to him in 2008. Should be a good value pick with upside.
20. Antonio Bryant, TB – The quintessential boom or bust pick. He’s here because he’s the Bucs best receiver and is coming off a career season in 2008. However, the team figures to be worse at quarterback in 2009 and Bryant wasn’t pleased when the team failed to offer him a long term contract extension. He’s yours if you want him but he won’t be on any of my teams.
21. Hines Ward, PIT – He’s 33 and at the point where he’s no longer a sexy pick in fantasy leagues. However, he had a solid season in 2008 and will continue to be the team’s top possession receiver and Ben Roethlisberger’s favourite target on third down. Averaged 9.2 points per game last year despite playing in two games where he was clearly injured. Figures to provide solid value.
22. DeSean Jackson, PHI – Jackson is a very talented player but clearly displayed a lack of maturity during his rookie season. Had trouble hauling in deep passes last year which was the same reason he had just two touchdowns. Nonetheless, he should improve and the Eagles figure to have a top five offense in 2009.
23. Domenik Hixon, NYG – Hixon isn’t overly impressive but he’s currently the best wide receiver on a solid Giants offense. His role could be usurped by one of the team’s talented young receivers so he’s a risky pick but he will provide solid production provided he maintains his starting role for 16 games.
24. Donald Driver, GB – Similar situation to Ward. Continues to produce despite reduced targets (1,012 yards and five touchdowns on just 107 targets in 2008). Let others take the youngsters who might produce and focus on the veterans who do produce.
25. Donnie Avery, STL – Rams figure to struggle in 2009 and generally that would have a positive impact on the fantasy production of a team’s top wide receiver. However, Avery is entering only his second year and the team’s other wide receivers can charitably be described as major question marks. Opposing defenses will shut Avery down if they double team him and quarterback Marc Bulger has not played well since 2006.
26. Santana Moss, WAS – Moss had a spectacular first half of the season last year with 96 fantasy points. However, he slumped to just 45 in the second half. At 30 years of age, there’s little reason to suggest he won’t slump down the stretch once again in 2009.
27. Braylon Edwards, CLE – Edwards is simply put the most difficult receiver to rank in 2009. To sum it up, he is talented but inconsistent and coming off a horrible 2008 campaign, the team’s quarterback position is unsettled, the team’s other wide receivers won’t scare anybody, they traded away tight end Kellen Winslow and failed to score an offensive touchdown in their last six games of 2008, a period during which they scored only 24 offensive points.
28. Lee Evans, BUF – The debate seems to be whether the arrival of Owens will help or hinder Evans. Basically, it’s a meaningless argument because Evans role won’t change much. He’s a burner who is best utilized running deep corners, posts and outs. If opposing defenses double team Owens, Evans figures to score a few more touchdowns on deep balls. His upside is likely 1,100 yards and six-eight touchdowns.
29. Santonio Holmes, PIT – He’s very talented, as evidenced by his amazing game in the Super Bowl where he came away with MVP honors. Unfortunately, he’s also very inconsistent and not a polished route runner. He could surprise with a strong season but let somebody draft him too high based on his performance in the Super Bowl.
30. Anthony Gonzalez, IND – Moves into the starting role vacated by Marvin Harrison opposite Reggie Wayne. Gonzalez is not a flashy player but has posted surprisingly efficient stats over his first two years in the league. During that time, he has 94 receptions on 131 targets (71.7%) for 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns. Assuming he struggles a bit due to receiving extra attention and he receives 130 targets (reasonable given the team’s question marks at the third receiver position), an 1,100 yard, six-seven touchdown projection seems very realistic.
31. Eddie Royal, DEN – Royal had a surprisingly strong rookie season in 2009, benefitting from strong play at quarterback from Jay Cutler and from defenses focusing on Brandon Marshall. Only half of that equation returns in 2009 which means Royal is unlikely to improve on his 2008 performance.
32. Jerricho Cotchery, NYJ – On the downside, he’s going to be catching balls from a rookie quarterback or a veteran journeyman. On the upside, with the departure of Laveranues Coles, he is now the team’s number one receiver and if the Jets struggle, they will be throwing plenty. I’m not convinced that Cotchery is a true number one wideout. He was the 29th ranked receiver last year and there’s no compelling reason to change his ranking much.
33. Mark Clayton, BAL – This is where the drop off begins as we move into the territory where a mediocre or poor season won’t be all that surprising. Clayton benefits from Derrick Mason‘s retirement although he may not necessarily assume Mason’s role as the team’s top possession receiver. His targets should increase in 2009 and the speedy Clayton could surprise with a solid season provided quarterback Joe Flacco improves his deep throwing ability.
34. Ted Ginn Jr., MIA – Although the much maligned Ginn will almost certainly never live up to being the 10th pick in the 2007 draft, he is a solid deep threat who suffers because the team does not possess a strong armed quarterback. He improved from 420 receiving yards as a rookie to 790 last year, a solid improvement. If Chad Henne replaces Chad Pennington, Ginn’s prospects improve greatly.
35. Kevin Walter, HOU – Walter will benefit from a strong Texans offense but Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels are each solid red zone targets so Walter doesn’t benefit as much in Houston from his size as he would playing for other teams.
36. Devin Hester, CHI – Jay Cutler certainly throws a better deep ball than Kyle Orton but it’s difficult to have Hester ranked much higher here. Let somebody else rationalize that a speedster playing in an offense with Cutler at quarterback is worth a higher pick.
37. Torry Holt, JAC – He slipped markedly in 2008 and his apologists would suggest it’s because he wasn’t a big part of the game plan and suffered from poor quarterback play. Although both points are likely true, it’s also true that he’s no longer the deep threat he was in his younger days. Holt will benefit from being the clear number one receiver in Jacksonville but he will be hard pressed to reach 1,000 yards.
38. Steve Breaston, ARI – He moves way up if Boldin is traded but the bottom line is that no team has ever had three 1,000 yard receivers two years in a row. Breaston has the talent to be a viable number two receiver but he will likely need to top up his touchdown total to match the 118 fantasy points he had last season.
39. Lance Moore, NO – Current ADP is the 4th pick in the 7th round, which is too high. He’s definitely a bust candidate who will not duplicate his production from 2008. Here it is – in the six games that Reggie Bush missed, Moore averaged 15.5 points per game. In the other ten games, Moore averaged six points per game. In the five games in which Colston, Bush and Moore all played, Moore averaged 3.3 points per game.
40. Josh Morgan, SF – The 49ers wide receiver situation is a mess for fantasy purposes. They have an up and coming second year player in Morgan, the top wide receiver in the draft in Michael Crabtree, signed Brandon Jones to an expensive free agent contract in the offseason, want an increased role for third year player Jason Hill and veteran Isaac Bruce was surprisingly productive and their top player at the position in 2008. Basically, in redraft leagues it’s likely advisable to avoid these guys but if the value is there, it’s worth taking a flyer on Morgan. In keeper leagues, he’s definitely worth picking up.
41. Justin Gage, TEN – Gage averaged almost 8.5 points per game in 12 games in 2008, largely the result of his six touchdowns. He will assume a similar role in 2009 with Nate Washington supplying the team’s deep threat.
42. Laveranues Coles, CIN – Coles struggled at times in 2008, posting six games of three or fewer receptions, and is clearly on the downside of his career. With Chris Henry apparently on his best behavior (and in a contract year), Coles may not be a true number two receiver in 2009. Nonetheless, expect 65-70 receptions and over 800 yards.
43. Steve Smith, NYG – A solid possession receiver, Smith is currently slated to start out wide for the Giants in 2009. However, he could easily revert back to his role in the slot by opening day or at some point during the year. Basically, he doesn’t seem to be a player with huge upside unless his touchdown total increases dramatically.
44. Michael Crabtree, SF – The league’s most talented rookie wide receiver needs to beat out Bruce, Jones and Hill to receive playing time. His may not receive consistent playing time early on but by midseason he will likely have a more defined role and the possibility of consistent production.
45. Deion Branch, SEA – Hard to believe Branch is already 30 years old and entering his 8th season in the league. Having missed 15 games over the last three seasons, there is little choice but to factor in missed time when projecting his production. The good news is that, not counting the game where he attempted to return from his knee injury too early, Branch averaged 8.9 points per game last year. The bad news is that the team added Houshmanzadeh in the off-season and, because of the injuries, it’s not advisable to rely on Branch.
46. Kevin Curtis, PHI – Coming off a sports hernia, Curtis wasn’t a big part of the Eagles offense in 2008 and may have a reduced role again in 2009 due to the addition of rookie 1st round pick Jeremy Maclin. Nonetheless, Curtis does have some upside because he still retains enough deep speed to make him dangerous if defenses focus on Jackson.
47. Muhsin Muhammad, CAR – Muhammad is 36 and well past his prime but benefits from playing alongside Steve Smith. Dwayne Jarrett has been a bust during his first two years in the league but reports out of Carolina indicate he has a new attitude and better practice habits. It’s doubtful Muhammad will lose his starting position but he may lose playing time to Jarrett as the season progresses.
48. Mark Bradley, KC – A complete bust for the Bears, Bradley played reasonably well once landing in Kansas City. He averaged 7.0 points per game once you remove games where he barely played. His situation looks decent considering the team traded away Gonzalez and only added 36-year old Bobby Engram to the team’s marginally talented group of wide receivers.
49. Michael Jenkins, ATL – The 2004 1st round pick finally had a decent season in 2008, posting 777 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He will likely produce similar or perhaps slightly worse numbers in 2009 due to the arrival of Gonzalez.
50. Devery Henderson, NO – As evidenced by his gaudy 24.8 yards per reception, every couple of games Henderson will blow by opposing defenses that have forgotten about him. Unfortunately, in 2008, he only took three of his 32 receptions into the end zone, which is in many ways a truly surprising statistic. He’s useless in the short, regularly suffering alligator arm syndrome. If that were to change, he would produce much better numbers.
51. Nate Washington, TEN – He’s averaged 16.4 yards per catch and 5.1 points per game over his career. His role in Pittsburgh was to run to provide a deep threat. That won’t change in Tennessee so expect 5.1 points per game.
52. Patrick Crayton, DAL – Relegated to a backup role after the team acquired Roy Williams at midseason, Crayton’s fantasy production plunged to 4.9 points per game in 2008. He has some upside if he beats out Miles Austin and Williams struggles in the number one role.
53. Chris Henry, CIN – The talented but troubled Henry enters a contract year and is seemingly on his best behavior. It’s anyone’s guess what his best behavior actually translates to. Nonetheless, he is talented, the team’s starters are both over 30, their running game is led by the enigmatic Cedric Benson and the Bengals are expected to struggle. Add it all up and it’s likely Henry will get an opportunity to shine in 2009.
54. Chris Chambers, SD – Chambers has been one of the most overrated receivers of the last decade, a maddeningly inconsistent player who frustrates head coaches as much as he does his fantasy owners. He’s coming off his worst season in the league with just 462 yards and his modest fantasy production was the result of his five touchdowns. It won’t be a surprise if Malcom Floyd and Craig Davis eat into his playing time in 2009.
55. Bryant Johnson, DET – With Dennis Northcutt a better option as a slot receiver, Ronald Curry apparently struggling and rookie Derrick Williams not practicing due to a sore hamstring, Johnson clearly has the inside track to start opposite Calvin Johnson. However, it is doubtful the enigmatic Johnson will do much with the opportunity. He is a big, strong and reasonably fast receiver who has never reached his potential and there isn’t any reason to think he will now.
56. Chansi Stuckey, NYJ – Stuckey posted a couple of decent games in 2008 and will need to hold off David Clowney and Brad Smith to retain a starting position. Clowney has displayed inconsistent hands and Smith regressed in 2008 so look for Stuckey in the starting line-up when the season starts. Unfortunately, he’s really not good enough to be all that excited about.
57. Mike Walker, JAC – Walker has some ability but it remains to be seen whether he can harness it into production. The depth chart is unsettled in Jacksonville but Walker figures to start on opening day. With three rookies breathing down his neck, it will be interesting to see if he can hold onto the job.
58. Jeremy Maclin, PHI – The consensus seems to be that the rookie 1st round pick will blow into town, unseat Kevin Curtis for the starting spot and duplicate the efforts of DeSean Jackson in his rookie season. Frankly, I’m not buying it. Look for him to remain behind Curtis early in the season and struggle for targets with fellow reserves Hank Baskett, Jason Avant and Reggie Brown. Perhaps by midseason, he will have carved out a role for himself.
59. Greg Camarillo, MIA – He averaged 6.7 points per game over the first 11 games of the season before suffering a torn ACL. Camarillo had developed into the team’s top possession receiver but may not be fully recovered by the beginning of the season.
60. Demetrius Williams, BAL – Williams moves into the starting line-up in Baltimore due to the departure of Derrick Mason. Don’t expect much from the injury prone Williams unless he somehow finally manages to stay upright.
By: Dave Stringer — July 16, 2009 @ 4:54 pm
Our initial tight end rankings for 2009 were posted back in March with Cowboys tight end Jason Witten in the number one position. Witten was enjoying a stellar campaign in 2008 before injuries and an injury to quarterback Tony Romo derailed his season.
As we noted in March, the top tight ends in 2008 significantly outscored lower tier starters. The top four or five tight ends again figure to outscore players below them by a wide margin, so they are worth using a reasonably high draft pick or auction dollars on to secure their services in your fantasy starting line-up.
In 2009, the tight ends generally consist of an upper tier and then a larger number of players that can be classified as either solid veteran producers or players capable of a breakout campaign. Therefore, the argument could be made that there is little reason to get a tight end early unless you are convinced you want a player from the top tier. Otherwise, it likely makes sense to wait to get your starting tight end later in the draft.
There were some incredible values at the position last year and that figures to be the case once again in 2009. For instance, early average draft position rankings have Houston’s Owen Daniels going in the 8th round, Seattle’s John Carlson in the 9th round and Dustin Keller of the Jets in the 12th round. These were the 6th, 7th and 14th rated tight ends last year. Keller’s ranking would have been higher had he played more in the first half of the season.
1. Jason Witten, DAL – Five total points in games without Tony Romo last year plus Terrell Owens is now gone points to a great season for Witten.
2. Antonio Gates, SD – Averaged over 120 targets between 2004-2007, but only 92 in an injury plagued 2008.
3. Dallas Clark, IND – Becomes the team’s second best receiving option with the departure of Marvin Harrison. He could have huge year if his red zone targets increase.
4. Tony Gonzalez, ATL – Hard to see him duplicating his 2008 performance in the run heavy Falcons offense.
5. Owen Daniels, HOU – 862 yards in 2008 with only two TD but that should increase in 2009. The Texans offense should be formidable in 2009.
6. Chris Cooley, WAS – Elite status for Cooley is not likely given poor 2nd half performance by the Washington offense.
7. Greg Olsen, CHI – This should be the year he relegates Desmond Clark to the bench. The addition of QB Jay Cutler will increase the team’s reliance on the pass.
8. John Carlson, SEA – Targets should be down with T.J. Houshmandzadeh signing and a healthy Deion Branch and Nate Burleson. However, team’s woeful running game will mean there are plenty of targets to go around.
9. Kellen Winslow, TB – There are quarterback issues in Tampa but Winslow should rebound from an off year in 2008. He could suffer down the stretch if rookie Josh Freeman moves into the starting role.
10. Tony Scheffler, DEN – A talented but injury prone tight end. Top five fantasy potential based on his skills but unlikely to achieve that with Kyle Orton now at QB.
11. Zach Miller, OAK – Perhaps the league’s most underrated tight end. A bad offense in Oakland holds him back. Would benefit greatly if Jeff Garcia takes over for JaMarcus Russell at quarterback.
12. Dustin Keller, NYJ – Expect lots of catches but few TD with rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez running the show.
13. Kevin Boss, NYG – Giant offense loses Plaxico Burress so Boss figures to be top red zone target, at least until one of the younger wide receivers develops.
14. Brent Celek, PHI – Could be in for a big year but there are plenty of options in Philly. Offense figures to be a juggernaut and he is a solid red zone target.
15. Visanthe Shiancoe, MIN – Don’t expect seven TD again in 2009. Benefits due to all of the speed at the other skill positions.
16. Heath Miller, PIT – Better prospects in 2009 with Nate Washington gone but still a fantasy backup.
17. Bo Scaife, TEN – Solid receiving tight end but doesn’t get enough targets. With Scaife a free agent at season’s end, the Titans may look to groom talented but inconsistent rookie 3rd round pick Jared Cook.
18. Jeremy Shockey, NO – Just a bit part in the New Orleans offense and seemingly on the downside of his career.
19. Vernon Davis, SF – Doesn’t taste as good as it looks in the wrapper. Davis is big, strong, fast and frustrating. Unfortunately, he’s more of the latter than any of the former.
20. Randy McMichael, STL – Torry Holt is gone and the remaining receivers have combined to start only 19 games in the league. McMichael figures to be QB Marc Bulger’s security blanket and best option on third downs.
21. Ben Watson, NE – Perennial tease and incredibly inconsistent. Only seven games of ten or more fantasy points over the last three seasons.
22. Anthony Fasano, MIA – Boom or bust and unlikely to get seven TD in 2009.
23. David Martin, MIA – Decent player playing part-time.
24. L.J. Smith, BAL – More of a blocker now and will split time with Todd Heap.
25. Donald Lee, GB – Veteran is in danger of losing playing time to 2008 3rd round pick Jermichael Finley. Lee was solid in 2007 but an afterthought in 2008.
26. Martellus Bennett, DAL – A talented player who could produce with Owens gone and better understanding of the playbook.
27. Brandon Pettigrew, DET – Rookie 1st round pick is unlikely to post big numbers but has potential for keeper leagues.
28. Marcedes Lewis, JAC – The light hasn’t gone on yet and it is unlikely to now.
29. Jerramy Stevens, TB – Decent option given his skills and Winslow’s injury history.
30. Billy Miller, NO – Solid producer when Shockey was out of the lineup in 2008.
By: Dave Stringer — July 15, 2009 @ 9:54 am
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason unexpectedly announced his retirement Monday, ending his 12-year career a few weeks before he was expected at the team’s training camp to begin preparations for the 2009 season. There were reports that Mason was unhappy with his current contract and that may have played a role in his decision. His departure leaves a rather gaping hole at the wide receiver position for a team that was expected to make another deep run in the playoffs.
Mason’s production far exceeded his physical abilities during his career and, although only 5’10″ and 195 pounds, he was extremely durable, missing only six games during his 12 seasons in the league. More quick and shifty than actually possessing deep speed, Mason made his fair share of big plays and despite lacking height was the quintessential possession receiver.
NFL pundits and fantasy football prognosticators often predicted his demise, particularly when he moved from the Titans to the Ravens run-heavy offense four years ago. However, Mason, as he generally always did, proved the naysayers wrong, posting three 1,000 yard seasons during his four years in Baltimore. His loss leaves the Ravens desperately thin at wide receiver and underscores general manager Ozzie Newsome’s inability to produce players at the position during his tenure with the team. Newsome has found tremendous values at every position except wide receiver.
It’s worth noting that the Ravens issued a statement indicating that Mason has not filed his retirement papers with the league. Therefore, there is a chance that he could reverse his decision and be back with the team in 2009.
Fantasy Football Impact
Mason’s retirement clearly vaults Mark Clayton into the role as the team’s number one receiver. Clayton isn’t a big target but he does possess deep speed and he is now a viable option as a number three wide receiver or number four with upside. Clayton has been inconsistent throughout his four-year career although his 2007 season was marred by injuries and personal issues. The 2005 1st round pick now has an opportunity to match or better his 939-yard, five touchdown performance from his second season in the league.
Demetrius Williams moves into the starting line-up and the perennial sleeper now becomes a viable option as your fifth or sixth fantasy wideout. Williams has size and speed but has not been able to remain healthy and missed nine games last year due to an injury to his Achilles’ tendon. During his three years in the league, Williams has missed 16 games and managed just 866 yards and three touchdowns in the 32 games that he’s appeared in. Marcus Smith, a 2008 4th round pick, moves into the third receiver role but he is considered a project and failed to catch a single pass during his rookie season.
Quarterback Joe Flacco clearly takes a hit with the loss of Mason, who was his security blanket at receiver and the team’s top option in the passing game on third down. At this point in their careers, both Clayton and Williams are better deep threats than crafty route runners so that will likely mean more targets for the team’s tight ends and running backs. My revised QB rankings, published just prior to this news, had Flacco as the 24th ranked fantasy quarterback and he will move down barring a move by the team that bolsters their wide receiver depth chart.
L.J. Smith apparently has the inside track to become the team’s starting tight end ahead of Todd Heap and both players figure to benefit from Mason’s departure. However, neither should be considered anything more than low end backups for fantasy purposes. Ray Rice figures to be the team’s top receiving threat at running back and he will likely pick up some of the slack in the passing game.
All of the above is prefaced on the assumption the team’s depth chart remains as currently stands which could be a poor assumption to make. The Ravens have made noises about acquiring Anquan Boldin from Arizona and may also have interest in the Broncos’ Brandon Marshall or free agent Plaxico Burress. The Browns’ Braylon Edwards could be available but they will not trade him to a team in their division.
By: Dave Stringer — July 13, 2009 @ 11:27 am
Last week, we provided our updated running back rankings for the upcoming season. That update featured a number of changes, including a few in the top ten, based on each team’s draft picks, free agent signings and various other news.
The early quarterback rankings were provided back in March and, as can be expected, they haven’t changed nearly as much as the running back rankings. Whereas rookie running backs are expected to step in and contribute immediately and later round picks can provide unexpected production at the position if given an opportunity, only rookie quarterbacks taken in the 1st or 2nd round generally play much in their first year in the league. On top of that, they almost never end up as solid fantasy performers because they don’t produce solid statistics and most fantasy leagues only start one quarterback.
Quarterback is generally the most overrated position in fantasy football. Basically, the top tier of quarterbacks start getting selected in the second round of fantasy drafts despite the fact there is very little difference between the top ranked fantasy quarterback and lowest rated starter. In ten team leagues, the points per game difference was only 4.6 and in twelve team leagues it was 5.8. In most twelve team leagues, the 12th quarterback will be taken in the 8th or 9th round, making it extremely difficult to justify selecting one in the 2nd round.
Here are the updated rankings, including a change at the top spot.
1. Tom Brady, NE – He’s certainly a risk and unlikely to post a repeat of his magnificent 2007 season. However, the potential is there and reports indicate he’s back to full health. It’s worth noting that he was injured in week one last year so he’s had plenty of time to rehab.
2. Drew Brees, NO – Less of a risk than Brady and almost certain to post huge numbers in the pass happy Saints offense. A healthy return for Reggie Bush and 16-games seasons for Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey would pretty much guarantee huge production once again in 2009.
3. Aaron Rodgers, GB – Enterting just his second season as a starter, fantasy’s 2nd ranked passer in 2008 isn’t getting the respect he deserves. He should be better in 2009 as should each of his receivers other than Donald Driver. Four of the team’s top five wide receivers have less than four seasons in the league. If running back Ryan Grant can avoid getting nicked up, the Packers offense will be dynamic.
4. Philip Rivers, SD – Rivers will try to duplicate his superb 2008 season and figures to do so with a full year of a healthy Antonio Gates. The team features big play threats at wide receiver, the league’s top pass receiving tight end and two excellent receivers at running back.
5. Kurt Warner, ARI – Health is always an issue, especially for an immobile 38-year old quarterback, but the Cards return their offensive nucleus and added running back Chris Wells. Basically, there isn’t any reason why Warner should suffer a drop-off given the talent that surrounds him.
6. Peyton Manning, IND – The Colts addressed the running back position and a return to glory is possible but the offense bogged down too many times in 2008 for that to be likely. Manning will need a huge season from tight end Dallas Clark given the lack of depth at wide receiver.
7. Donovan McNabb, PHI – The Eagles may just have the league’s best offensive line in 2009 with the additions of Jason Peters and Stacy Andrews. Adding rookie wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to DeSean Jackson and Kevin Curtis means the team can line up three speedsters. McNabb is always a value pick for some reason but in 2009 there is a chance that he could vault into the top five.
8. Matt Schaub, HOU – Houston’s offense is underrated despite featuring numerous playmakers who are all still young and getting better. Schaub is a perfect candidate to vault into the top five if he could ever stay healthy for 16 games.
9. Tony Romo, DAL – A turbulent offseason for Dallas’ quarterback which included the loss of big play threat Terrell Owens at wide receiver. There is potential at wide receiver in Miles Ausin and Patrick Crayton is a solid slot receiver but Owens’ departure creates a void. I’m not convinced Roy Williams will adequately replace Owens’ production.
10. Matt Hasselbeck, SEA – Injury issues and age are red flags, but T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch, Nate Burleson and John Carlson form a solid nucleus of receivers. The team didn’t address a shaky running back position so the Seahawks offense will revolve around Hasselbeck and the passing game, barring an unexpected bounceback season from Julius Jones.
11. Jay Cutler, CHI – Likely to be fantasy football’s most overrated quarterback in 2009. Don’t be the one to drink the Kool-Aid. Huge 2008 numbers won’t be duplicated in Chicago due to the team’s reliance on the run and solid defense which will reduce the number of games in which Cutler is forced to pass 30 or more times. The Bears averaged almost six fewer passing attempts per game than the Broncos last year which translates into almost 100 fewer attempts over the course of a season.
12. Carson Palmer, CIN – With no T.J. Houshmandzadeh, an offensive line in flux and Cedric Benson as the current starter at running back, Palmer has a lot of forces working against him. Nonetheless, he’s a top talent and there is receiving talent (albeit with considerable risk) in Chad Ochocinco, Laveranues Coles, Chris Henry and Andre Caldwell.
13. David Garrard, JAC – Seems to do it with smoke and mirrors. Garrard had surprisingly strong season totals in 2008 thanks to the rushing yards. Garrard should benefit from the addition of the aging but still talented Torry Holt, who could have a bounceback season given the dearth of talent amongst the team’s wide receivers.
14. Matt Cassel, KC – Goes from New England’s talented offense to a Chiefs team that features Dwayne Bowe and not much else (unless you believe Mark Bradley is ready to hit his stride). The loss of Tony Gonzalez at tight end was a big blow and two of the team’s most talented offensive players, Larry Johnson and Brian Waters, are wild cards. Not convinced he’s a top tier quarterback able to lift a team.
15. Trent Edwards, BUF – Gets a chance to shine with the addition of Terrell Owens, who provides another deep threat as well as an excellent red zone target. Needs to put it together this year but must avoid tendency to dump the ball off if he’s going to take it to the next level both as a starting quarterback and as a fantasy performer.
16. Matt Ryan, ATL – Talented young quarterback who is unlikely to be given an opportunity to put up big passing numbers. Moves up with the addition of Tony Gonzalez at tight end but the fact remains that head coach Mike Smith is committed to running the ball. Sophomore slump is unlikely but the Falcons are a running team.
17. Jason Campbell, WAS – Campbell’s in the same boat as Edwards but must make do with young, big receivers in Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly and has more talent at tight end in Chris Cooley. This might be Campell’s last chance to put it together.
18. Chad Pennington, MIA – Enjoyed a solid season in 2008 despite a lack of talent at wide receiver, which should be better in 2009 with another year of experience. Benefits from no late season bad weather in Miami but will be riding the pine if the team isn’t in contention for a playoff spot.
19. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT – Another overrated fantasy quarterback. Has achieved starter status once in five years. Basically, the team doesn’t need to throw a lot of passes with their solid defense. Loses his top deep threat in Nate Washington and will throw less in 2009 with return to health of top two running backs in Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall.
20. Jake Delhomme, CAR – His receivers are a year older and his running backs are a year better. Expect the Panthers to rely heavily on the ground game. Delhomme is pretty much guaranteed to be a fantasy backup.
21. Kyle Orton, DEN – Orton’s move to Denver upgrades his ranking as he will benefit from better receivers and playing for a team that figures to rely more on the passing game. However, Orton isn’t a risk taker so he’s unlikely to attempt the throws into traffic that Cutler did. If he changes his ways, he could have a surprisingly good season.
22. Eli Manning, NYG – Generally overrated as a fantasy peformer, Manning figures to suffer a drop in production with the loss of both starting wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer. Averaged less than 12 points per game with Burress out late last season.
23. Daunte Culpepper, DET – Assuming he beats out Matthew Stafford, Culpepper moves up due to the additions of Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt at wide receiver. With Calvin Johnson, Culpepper could produce some decent numbers if the offensive line provides enough time for deep plays to develop.
24. Joe Flacco, BAL – The Ravens are going to run and run often. Flacco figures to put up better numbers if he can become a more accurate deep thrower but his potential as a fantasy quarterback is limited by the team’s run-first offensive philosophy.
25. Brady Quinn, CLE – Prospects seemed reasonable prior to the Winslow trade. Now, not so much. Addition of two young wide receivers in Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi might help down the road but not in 2009.
26. Kerry Collins, TEN – Unless the running game struggles, which seems doubtful, Collins won’t have an opportunity to produce big numbers. The addition of Nate Washington provides a deep threat but Collins isn’t likely to be useful for fantasy purposes.
27. Brett Favre, MIN – Ranked 15th in 2008 with more talented receivers and a running back who enjoyed a career year in Thomas Jones. His upside is limited due to his age, the lack of polished wide receivers and due to the team’s emphasis on the running game.
28. JaMarcus Russell, OAK – There have been mixed signals coming out of Oakland regarding his progress and we’re less convinced he will be able to retain the starting position for the whole season with Jeff Garcia breathing down his neck. The team’s major strength is at running back. Oakland might have the weakest group of wide receivers in the league.
29. Shaun Hill, SF – Head coach Mike Singletary made it clear he wants to pound the rock and play defense. The 49ers do sport talented youngsters at wide receiver in second-year player Josh Morgan and 1st round pick Michael Crabtree. Apparently Alex Smith is rejuvenated so there is an outside chance Hill won’t start on opening day.
30. Marc Bulger, STL – An offensive line in flux and the youngest group of top three wide receivers in the league spells potential disaster for Bulger. Don’t buy into predictions of a bounceback season.
31. Luke McCown, TB – McCown is surrounded by decent talent but his accuracy is an issue and likely won’t be starting by midseason. Potential addition of Plaxico Burress would provide a better outlook.
32. Mark Sanchez, NYJ – Hello to the worst current starter in terms of fantasy potential. When the rubber hits the road, you’ll be drafting some backup QB with a high upside ahead of Clemens.
Current backups who could produce if given an opportunity include Sage Rosenfels, Matt Leinart, Chris Simms, Matthew Stafford, Derek Anderson, Kevin Kolb, Alex Smith and Vince Young.
By: Dave Stringer — July 10, 2009 @ 1:29 pm
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Prior to the NFL’s rookie draft in April, I provided my running back rankings. The draft provided a number of surprises that have made a profound impact on the rankings. Teams have also made other moves that either directly or indirectly impact the performance of their team’s running backs, not to mention the plethora of news (whether or not much of it is to be believed) that could impact this year’s fantasy football running back rankings.
At the rookie draft, the Colts shocked the league by using their first round pick on running back Donald Brown. The Jets made a stunning move up to the 5th pick in the draft to select QB Mark Sanchez. Despite having signed free agent running backs Lamont Jordan, Correll Buckhalter and J.J. Arrington (since released due to injury), the Broncos used the 12th pick on RB Knowshon Moreno.
The net effect of the draft was that some teams clearly moved to secure the running back position in the future but likely decreased the production of their running backs for 2009. Joseph Addai of the Colts and Brian Westbrook of the Eagles were definitely the best examples of this and to a lesser extent so was Tim Hightower of the Cardinals, although Arizona was expected to take a running back early in the draft due to his lackluster performance as a starter.
1. Adrian Peterson, MIN – No change at the top where the Vikings trade for Sage Rosenfels solidified the quarterback position regardless of whether Brett Favre joins the team as is expected. Over 2,000 total yards shouldn’t be a surprise with an outside shot at that amount in rushing yards.
2. Michael Turner, ATL – He’s good, he’s fast and he wasn’t used much early in his career so his 2008 workload doesn’t figure to impact him in 2009. Nonetheless, with Tony Gonzalez now at tight end and the team expected to increase Jerious Norwood’s workload, expect a reduced number of touches.
3. Maurice Jones-Drew, JAC – They waited until the 7th round before selecting a running back (Rashad Jennings) so it’s pretty clear that Jones-Drew will get a heavy workload. With a poor receiving corps, he will get plenty of action in the passing game and figures to post big numbers provided he can stay healthy.
4. Matt Forte, CHI – He gets huge touches and, while not overly talented, he puts up plenty of yards. With Jay Cutler now at quarterback, Forte will get fewer rushing attempts but the hope is that will be offset by a higher yards per carry average and a few more touchdowns.
5. DeAngelo Williams, CAR – The Panthers will run heavily and there is no reason to think the offensive line won’t continue to open up holes. Backup Jonathan Stewart will likely eat some touches but Williams production in 2008 ensures he remains the team’s starter.
6. LaDainian Tomlinson, SD – With a solid cast of skill players on offense and tight end Antonio Gates presumably healthy for a full season, the Chargers will put up plenty of points. Sproles isn’t a threat to take away major rushing touches and the fantasy world has discounted Tomlinson too much despite a very respectable season in 2008 (1,537 total yards and 12 TD’s.
7. Marion Barber, DAL – Would have been in the top 5 without the injuries and the team will rely more heavily on the run with Terrell Owens gone. Even in a time share with Felix Jones, Barber will put up big numbers if he remains healthy.
8. Clinton Portis, WAS – As with Jones-Drew, no effort was made to upgrade in the draft so Portis figures to get plenty of opportunities, and history indicates that he will make the most of them. Only 27, Portis is a player the fantasy world has begun to doubt too early. Expect him to provide great value. Portis was the top fantasy RB in 2008 before injuries struck.
9. Frank Gore, SF – Mike Singletary says they’re going to run and most expect it will happen. The young offensive line should improve and was solidified with the additions of Barry Sims and Marvel Smith. The 9ers picked up Glen Coffee in the 3rd round but Gore should top 1,600 total yards. Touchdowns will determine whether he turns into a true fantasy stud.
10. Brian Westbrook, PHI – It’s worth repeating – still solid but 71% of his production came in just five games which is cause for concern. The Eagles picked up LeSean McCoy in the 2nd round but the fact remains that Westbrook is the team’s go-to guy on offense and continually wracks up a huge percentage of their total yards.
11. Steve Slaton, HOU – The Texans keep saying they want to reduce his workload but the backups are the injury prone Chris Brown and Ryan Moats and the position wasn’t addressed in the draft.
12. Brandon Jacobs, NYG – Likely a top five running back if he could stay healthy and there was a true number one wide receiver. Nonetheless, touches should increase with Derrick Ward’s departure and the offensive line is still solid.
13. Ronnie Brown, MIA – Solid production in 2008 with less than 250 touches. It says here there will be less of a committee approach in 2009. If so, take note of his 991 total yards and five touchdowns in 2007 before being lost for the season in week 7. Plus, he’s in a contract year.
14. Steven Jackson, STL – The second most talented back in the league but he’s injury prone, the offensive line is being rebuilt and the Rams might have the worst group of wide receivers in the league.
15. Chris Johnson, TEN – He’s not half as good as he thinks he is and talks twice as much as he should but I’m trying not to let that cloud my judgment. Proved that size wasn’t an issue but unlikely to see more than the 294 touches he had last year.
16. Ryan Grant, GB – Injuries held him back in 2008 but still managed to top 1,200 yards rushing but was hurt by a low TD total. A few more scores could vault him into the top ten but, for the first time in years, the Packers have some question marks on the offensive line.
17. Kevin Smith, DET – 670 yards rushing and four TD over the last eight games, despite having to face the Jags, Panthers and Vikings. Underrated.
18. Pierre Thomas, NO – Apparently he’s put on some weight and muscle to improve his short yardage performance which was horrible in 2008. Playing in a great offense, Thomas figures to benefit but the Saints’ pass first mentality relegates him to RB2 status.
19. Joseph Addai, IND – Before the draft, a bounce back season and plenty of TD playing for one the league’s best offences seemed reasonable. With Brown now breathing down his neck and Addai’s inability to be a true workhorse back after three years in the league, a timeshare is the only reasonable conclusion. Huge upside but clearly a boom-bust pick.
20. Derrick Ward, TB – New regime in Tampa will hand the reins to their guy with Earnest Graham in reserve. Might not see the short yardage work but should produce running behind young, powerful Bucs offensive line.
21. Darren McFadden, OAK – He will be the starter with Michael Bush in a short yardage role. Lack of TD will hurt him.
22. Reggie Bush, NO – Average PPG last three years – 11, 11, 12 – which squarely puts him in RB2 territory. Unfortunately, he’s missed ten games in two years.
23. Jonathan Stewart, CAR – Plan is to split carries but he will bust out if Williams goes down and gets to assume the starter’s role.
24. Marshawn Lynch, BUF – Solid player who suffers from having to face the Pats, Dolphins and Jets six times each season plus he’s going to miss three games
25. Thomas Jones, NYJ – Huge season in 2008 as opposition defences respected team’s passing attack. However, rookie quarterback, loss of Laveranues Coles and the selection of Shonn Greene in the 3rd round cloud the picture. Jones wants more money but the Jets have refused, meaning they might be ready to reduce his role and plan for Greene and Leon Washington in 2010.
26. Willie Parker, PIT – Parker is productive when healthy and not facing top defenses. The big concern is there are signs his breakaway speed might be gone.
27. Larry Johnson, KC – Johnson is still talented but his career is at a crossroads, and he may need a change of scenery to rekindle his motivation.
28. LenDale White, TEN – Gets a lot of slack but has averaged 10 PPG two years in a row and gets the short yardage work.
29. Jamal Lewis, CLE – It is a bit of a surprise they haven’t tried harder to replace him. Touchdowns will be hard to come by from an offense that failed to score in its last five games in 2008.
30. Julius Jones, SEA – Greg Knapp brings his massive run production to Seattle but lack of TD will hold him back.
31. Fred Jackson, BUF – Averaged 11 touches in 2008 and will get at least three starts with Lynch suspended. Maybe there’s even a remote chance he takes over and never looks back.
32. Chris Wells, ARI – Cardinals 1st round pick could make some noise playing in one of the league’s top offenses provided he wins the starting job and/or gets the goal line work. Wells doesn’t figure to contribute as a receiver.
33. Earnest Graham, TB – Graham’s 2008 season was not as effective as 2007. This rank assumes he will get the goal line touches in Tampa. If not, drop him out of the flex starter range.
34. Cedric Benson, CIN – Not much competition from the draft (Cedric Scott in the 6th round) and he was the team’s only productive back last year. There are plenty of naysayers out there but it’s all about opportunity so he figures to be decent in 2009.
35. Knowshon Moreno, DEN – Moreno is a talented back who could have a solid year but is likely to be in a time share for at least the early part of the season.
36. Ray Rice, BAL – He’s got a real shot to be the team’s starter but won’t get goal line work or the chew up the clock work so his upside is limited.
37. Leon Washington, NYJ – Look for the Jets to get him more involved in 2009.
38. Darren Sproles, SD – Sproles is too small to be a starter, and good luck predicting when he’ll go off.
39. Felix Jones, DAL – Absolutely dynamic when healthy last season and the Cowboys are talking about getting him more involved, including having Marion Barber and Jones in the backfield at the same time.
40. Donald Brown, IND – Reports out of Indy are solid but let’s see how he handles the blitz pick up with the pads on. He won’t play until he can protect the franchise (Peyton Manning).
41. Fred Taylor, NE – Unless the light goes on for Maroney, he’s easily their most talented back. Taylor averaged 5.0 yards per carry in 2006 and 5.4 in 2007 before dropping to 3.9 last year due to Jaguars struggles along the offensive line.
42. Jerious Norwood, ATL – He looks great. Every year we hear about more touches but it never happens.
43. Tim Hightower, ARI – This is a difficult to forecast. Hightower likely won’t start because of his failure in that role last year, but could get goal line looks and will definitely be involved in the passing game. Basically, if he doesn’t get the goal line work, his value is extremely limited.
44. Ricky Williams, MIA – Still has the ability but it says here that Ronnie Brown takes on a more prominent role this year.
45. Rashard Mendenhall, PIT – Boom or bust. Hopefully in 2009, he doesn’t take on Ray Lewis.
46. Le’Ron McClain, BAL – Initially it appeared he would get increased touches in 2009 but the move to fullback, insertion of Ray Rice as the starter and selection of Cedric Peerman figure to reduce his role. Nonetheless, he should get the goal line work.
47. Michael Bush, OAK – His week 17, 177 yard and two TD effort against the Bucs wasn’t a fluke. He produces when given a chance.
48. Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG – Bradshaw runs as good or better than Ward but he’s not as good a receiver. The team is high on Danny Ware and rookie 4th round pick Andre Brown, and there is a sneaky suspicion that team doesn’t trust Bradshaw, who is entering the final year of his contract.
49. Glen Coffee, SF – 49ers rookie will get a chance to unseat Michael Robinson as Gore’s backup.
50. Chester Taylor, MIN – Touches decreased from 186 in 2007 to 146 in 2008. Expect another drop in 2009.
51. Sammy Morris, NE – He’ll have a couple of decent games before he gets hurt.
52. Brandon Jackson, GB – Proved in 2008 that he has some ability but is no challenge to Grant as the starter.
53. LeSean McCoy, PHI – It is difficult to tell what his role will be because he’s a very similar back to Westbrook. Presumably he will only play when Westbrook is gassed or injured.
54. Jamaal Charles, KC – A talented, fast back who will be the first option if Johnson is traded, benched, suspended, released, etc. Charles is a decent sleeper candidate.
55. Willis McGahee, BAL – He’s pretty much done in Baltimore unless injuries strike or Ray Rice falters. Let somebody else make this mistake.
56. Maurice Morris, DET – He is what he is. Now he’s the backup in Detroit.
57. Kevin Faulk, NE – Best of luck figuring out when he will have a big game.
58. LaMont Jordan, OAK – Maybe he gets the goal line work, maybe he sits on game day.
59. Mewelde Moore, PIT – Looked better than Willie Parker for much of last year but now he is 3rd on the depth chart.
60. T.J. Duckett, SEA – He’ll get some touchdowns but not much else.
61. Correll Buckhalter, DEN – With Moreno on board, he’s no more than a third down and change of pace back.
62. Greg Jones, JAC – Currently the top backup in Jacksonville. Jones might steal a couple of TD from Jones-Drew.
63. Laurence Maroney, NE – Looks like Tarzan, can play like Tarzan but more brittle than melba toast.
64. Jerome Harrison, CLE – Likely Cleveland’s backup unless 6th round pick James Davis beats him out. Lewis is getting old but there are no indications the Browns are looking to reduce his role.
65. Kolby Smith, KC – Smith could produce if Larry Johnson is traded.
66. Rashad Jennings, JAC – Slid in the draft until the 7th round but reports out of Jacksonville have been positive. Might be 3rd string but is more likely than Greg Jones to assume the lead role if Jones-Drew goes down.
67. Shonn Greene, NYJ – Don’t believe the hype that he’s a threat to steal numerous carries from Jones. More likely, they play him selectively with the best case scenario being him taking the goal line work away from Jones.
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