Brandon Marshall: AP
On Friday, I'll take part in a keeper draft, the Maria Sharapova league, which is in its fifth season. We are allowed to keep four players in this 12-team non-PPR league. In order to keep a player, you'll need to draft him a round earlier than you did the previous season; so if I kept or drafted T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the fifth round last season, it would cost me my fourth-round pick to keep him this season (and, therefore, all first-rounders from last year are tossed back into the pool).
I bring this draft up, because it's a great opportunity to discuss team construction during your draft. Fantasy football GMs -- and experts, too -- spend far too much time talking about rankings and cheat sheets. They are important, and you need to have players ranked at least in tiers (players of similar value, risk and reward), if not fully ranked one above another.
However, you should use your cheat sheet as a general guide in constructing your team, because there's far more to building a championship squad than going down a list and picking a player who is better than the next in a vacuum.
For instance, if you've drafted safe picks in the early rounds -- players who are not prone to injury and have proved themselves in Fantasyland -- you can take a riskier player or two in the middle rounds. So if you played it safely early and now you're deciding between Roy Williams and Brandon Marshall, you might take a shot on the riskier Marshall because of his potential upside if he actually plays. If you took a couple of risky players earlier, you may be better off going for the safer Williams, because at least you know he'll be on the field.
Back to the Sharapova league, my keepers are the aforementioned Williams (Round 4), Pierre Thomas (Round 8), Maurice Jones-Drew (Round 10) and Jay Cutler (Round 11). I pulled a first-to-worst last year (winning the league in '07 and placing dead last in '08), so I have the first overall pick and a pretty big decision to make right off the bat. Also, since I have the last pick of the second round, the first pick of the third round and six keepers are being taken in the first two rounds, I'll get three of the top 18 remaining players.
The two best players remaining are LaDainian Tomlinson and Peyton Manning. Neither player is likely to return to their ultimate glory days. However, LT2 is far more likely to be a complete bust, while Manning is far more likely to finish the season among the top three players at his position.
Admittedly, a backfield/flex of LT2, MJD and Pierre Thomas looks pretty nice, especially since in Tomlinson's "down" season while injured last year, he still racked up 1,500 total yards and a dozen touchdowns.
But as it stands right now, I'm leaning towards taking Manning first for the following reasons:
* He's by far the best QB option and the only stud QB option available
* It's unclear whether my franchise QB, Cutler, will have huge fantasy success in his new digs.
* With MJD, I know I have a stud RB. In Thomas, I should have a reliable second RB.
* Being able to get two of the next 17 picks, I'm certain to draft two more quality options at RB and/or WR.
The point here is that while I'd rank LT2 above Manning in a vacuum, when assessing all factors in this specific draft, Manning may be the better option to help me return to glory at season's end.
Be sure to give some serious thought to how you construct your team during your upcoming drafts and auctions -- do not view your cheat sheets in a vacuum.
In last week's column, I was going to discuss how concerned I was about Dwayne Bowe's production this season, but I ran out of time. Since then, his quarterback, Matt Cassel, sprained an MCL and his offensive coordinator Chan Gailey was canned -- so now everyone should be worried.
Even before concerns about having his new QB on the field for the opener came up, there was plenty to worry about. His offensive line was a complete disaster last season, and despite adding first-round pick Branden Albert, they haven't looked any better this preseason.
Then there's the loss of Tony Gonzalez to the Falcons during the offseason, which means teams will be able to double-team Bowe freely. And since the Chiefs have little in the way of a running game, as Larry Johnson has faded out, defenses won't have to respect that aspect of their game, either.
I'm not against drafting or bidding on Bowe -- he's a great talent on a team that will have to heave the ball every game out of desperation. But I think there's so much going against him, it's going to be difficult for Bowe to match last year's production and live up to his draft spot or auction price in most leagues.
Sometimes comparing stats can be really eye-opening. Consider these numbers:
82 receptions, 1292 yards, 8 TDs, 15.8 ypc88 receptions, 1,382 yards, 7 TDs, 15.7 ypc
The former is what Lee Evans posted during his '06 campaign, the latter is what Roddy White posted last season.
Before you read to far into what I'm suggesting here, I have White ranked about 15 spots higher than Evans. White has a young stud QB in Matt Ryan, a decent O-line and has Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner keeping defenses from double-teaming him.
Evans may or may not have a good QB in Trent Edwards, has a poor offensive line and won't have Marshawn Lynch anchoring the running threat until Week 5. However, he now has Terrell Owens keeping secondaries honest and was able to post similar production to White on a bad team in '06.
At worst, Evans should catch 70 balls, top 1,000 yards and catch 6 TDs. That alone makes him a borderline WR2 with the potential to far exceed his draft spot or auction price.
Chris Henry: John Biever/SI
Why do people get so giddy about Chris Henry? How about '06 when nine of his 36 receptions were for touchdowns? Or how about catching a TD in each of his first three preseason tilts this summer?
Then why is he probably on Page 3 of your WR cheat sheet? Because he's been in trouble with the law and the Bengals management about as many times as he's crossed the goal line in his career. Well, that, and the fact that Chad Ochocinco and Laveranues Coles are ahead of him on the depth chart.
You don't want to get ahead of yourself and draft him before you have at least three or four receivers. But when you get toward the end of your draft, Henry makes for an ideal pick. You simply won't find many options at that point with the upside and potential that Henry will bring. This is especially true if you have Ochocinco or Coles on your team. Should one of them go down, the deep-threat Henry should be worth starting in most leagues.