Julius Jones: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Today at the Clicks it's all football, all the time. For those of you keeping track, we're now inside 56 hours until the start of NFL 2008. I have to confess -- and I love the NFL as much as anyone -- I watched Week 4 of preseason with the same intensity I have while watching the microwave. It was football, but just about every impact fantasy player sat out. There wasn't much to take away. Still, there are some interesting trends (as opposed to alarming trends) that developed throughout the preseason. Some could prove important, especially if you're squeezing in one final draft between now and kickoff, or struggling to set a lineup for Week 1, including ...
There's no doubt that in today's NFL running back-by-committees are real (and they're spectacular). Teams currently employing multi-back systems include the Saints, Vikings, Raiders and Giants -- and most relevant for you, a few committees recently experienced a power shift. Here are five tandems where the actual workload among RBs could turn out to be far different from early expectations.
1) Julius Jones and Maurice Morris, Seahawks. It sure seemed like the 'Hawks signed Jones last offseason to play the lead role. But this preseason we've seen the truth, and the truth is Maurice Morris is the better running back. I've already given my thoughts on Jones' fantasy value for this season, but Morris could make an interesting option in what's shaping up to be a 50-50 split of the carries to start the year. Morris is also primed to get at least a share of the goal-line reps, making him a great pick as a No. 4 RB, taken somewhere in rounds 7-10 in most drafts.
2) Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood, Falcons. Like Jones in Seattle, Turner was brought in and immediately touted as the new lead dog in Atlanta. But Norwood has always shown a burst, and he did nothing this preseason to merit a lesser role than he played last year. He's also a far more accomplished receiver than Turner, who has just 11 receptions (11!) to go with more than 228 carries over his four-year career. This won't be a perfect timeshare, but I don't expect Turner to log many afternoons with more than 20 carries, as Norwood will likely steal 10 or so per game, plus handle most of the work on third down.
3) LenDale White and Chris Johnson, Titans. When the Titans drafted Johnson out of East Carolina back in April, it made waves in fantasy circles. Now the dynamic rookie appears to have motored his way into a time-share with the incumbent White. LenDale should still get the goal-line touches, but Johnson's home-run potential makes him an attractive rookie to add late in your fantasy draft.
4) Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, Dolphins. I have to admit, I thought Brown would round into form this preseason and put Williams squarely on the bench. Didn't happen. Instead, Brown missed time with a sprained thumb, giving Williams an opportunity to shine, which to his credit he seized. This now looks like an even split heading into the season.
5) DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, Panthers. Most pundits assumed the Panthers used their top draft pick on Stewart, who has a name made for stardom, with intentions of handing him the every-down role. But Williams absolutely sparkled in the preseason, ripping off long touchdowns and showing a fantastic burst. Just when it appeared DeAngelo might secure an every-down role, Stewart returned from his toe injury and went off to get back in the mix. Like the situation in Miami, this is another backfield heading for a regular-season 50-50 split.
The Clicks has been mixing in our staff predictions throughout the past week. What better time than now to offer 20 more picks from me to you? I'm sure in 17 weeks I'll look back on these with pride. (Or, possibly, abject horror)1) The Houston Texans are going to the playoffs.
2) The Super Bowl-champion New York Giants are not.
3) Darren McFadden will rush for 1,200 yards and 8 TDs, and be named Offensive Rookie of the Year.
4) Peyton Manning will finish the year outside the top four fantasy quarterbacks.
5) TV cameras will pan to Lions GM Matt Millen as he stares blankly at the action from his owner's suite no fewer than 40 times during Lions losses. There will be nine of those.
6) Three breakout receivers: Santonio Holmes, Calvin Johnson and Ted Ginn Jr.
7) Three bust receivers: Steve Smith, Chad Johnson and Greg Jennings.
8) The Cowboys Defensive Back Formally Known as Pacman will stay out of trouble -- at least until the offseason.
9) The NFL MVP will be Tony Romo.
10) Three quarterbacks who will make The Leap: David Garrard, Jay Cutler and Matt Schaub
11) Tom Brady will throw for less than 40 touchdowns (he tossed 50 last year), but will still finish as the top fantasy quarterback.
12) Chick-Fil-A will continue to be the best fast food chain in America, even though only a small segment of the country is lucky enough to live near one.
13) Rookie Chris Johnson will be the lead running back in Tennessee by Week 5.
14) Ditto Baltimore's Ray Rice, by Week 8.
15) Kurt Warner will finish the season among the top 10 fantasy quarterbacks.
16) Bengals' receiver Chris Henry will finish the season with more arrests than touchdown receptions.
17) Michael Phelps and Carrie Underwood, who are dating, will break up before Christmas.
18) The biggest upset in Week 1 will be Buffalo (6 ½ point dogs) over Seattle.
19) The Jacksonville Jaguars will represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLIII ...
20) Where they will lose to the Dallas Cowboys.
Patrick Crayton: James D. Smith/Icon SMI
Week 1 is just as important as Week 16, and nothing ruin a fantasy season faster than a lineup mistake (or this). Here are five guys I like more than most this week, and five others I'd leave on the bench.1) Patrick Crayton, WR, Cowboys. You should always start your top guys in Dallas, but against a suspect Cleveland secondary, don't be afraid to give Crayton a look.
2) Lawrence Maroney, RB, Patriots. Everyone expects the Pats to air it out against the Chiefs this week in a vintage 2007 display. But Tom Brady is getting his first action of the fall, and Bill Belichick is nothing if not unpredictable. I've got a funny feeling he'll shock us all by featuring heavy dose of Maroney, then get out with a W. (And yes, I also think Brady tosses three TDs)
3) Ricky Williams, RB, Dolphins. He's getting at least half the carries in Miami and maybe more in Week 1 as Ronnie Brown remains dinged up. The Jets featured the 29th best rush defense in the league last year -- this season it should be better, but probably not much.
4) Roddy White, WR, Falcons. You probably drafted him as a No. 2 or 3 receiver, but I like him a lot this week. Yes, it will be Matt Ryan's first NFL start, but you can throw on Detroit. Their pass defense ranked 31st last year.
5) Tim Hightower, RB, Cardinals. The Cards should soar against the 49ers behind QB Kurt Warner. A blowout would mean extra time for Hightower, currently Edgerrin James' backfield caddie.
1) Larry Johnson, RB, Chiefs. Brutal opening matchup in New England. The smart money says the Chiefs fall behind early, turning the game into the Brodie Croyle show. Blech.
2) Ahman Green, RB, Texans. He should start against the Steelers, but after missing the entire preseason, how long can he last? About as long as it took you to read that.
3) Matt Forte, RB, Bears. Forte is an interesting sleeper pick this year. I think "this year" begins in Week 2, after the Bears are through being eviscerated by the Colts in the opener at Lucas Oil Stadium. In fact, I wouldn't start any Bears this week, including the defense.
4) Selvin Young, RB, Broncos. Denver opens in Oakland, and lost in the Raiders' horrendous 2007 was a surprisingly solid run defense. Plus I'm not sold Young won't sharing a good chunk of the carries with Andre Hall.
5) Brandon Marshall, Broncos WR and Steve Smith, Panthers WR. They're suspended. Don't forget to drop them to your bench this week
Who holds the NFL rookie record for rushing yards in a single season? Hint: It's not Adrian Peterson. (Or the other Adrian Peterson)
A last word on draft strategy -- for those who (like me) will participate in a draft tonight, or possibly tomorrow. It's apparent you can wait until late in a draft to find a useful tight end. FFtoday ranks the position top to bottom, and while I disagree with them on a few points (Owen Daniels is too high, Dallas Clark too low) their overall projections are telling. After the first four players (Winslow, Witten, Gates, Gonzalez), there's very little difference among the next wave of 10 guys. If you miss one of the "big four," this supports the strategy of simply waiting to pluck a tight end in the later rounds.
Adrian Peterson was great last year, but his 1,341 rushing yards are far short of single-season record-holder Eric Dickerson. E. D. rumbled for 1,808 yards in 1983, his first season with the Rams.
Ever dreamt of playing fantasy football against a Hall of Fame safety, Sports Illustrated football writer, Major League Baseball general manager, world-renowned swimsuit model, professional poker player or best-selling author -- to name a few? SI.com, in conjunction with Facebook, will welcome someone into its 2008 Celebrity Fantasy League where one lucky fan matches weekly wits, from Draft Day to the Fantasy Bowl, with Ronnie Lott, Peter King, Oakland A's GM Billy Beane, supermodel Brooklyn Decker, poker great Phil Gordon and Michael Lewis, author of the sabremetrician-friendly book, Moneyball. Time's running out, though, so click here and register today! As a consolation prize for the contest non-winners, you can create new leagues and develop newer rivals on the new SI/Facebook fantasy game.
At long last, SI.com has a fantasy football game, complete with all of the drafts, waiver wires, stats and analysis you need. Take the grand tour here and sign up a league. Heck, sign up two leagues if you want. We'll be waiting.