Fantasy Clicks
By Jay Clemons
Meet The New Fantasy Four Horsemen
Michael Turner: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The TV networks love the Colts, Patriots, Steelers, Packers, Cowboys and Chargers for obvious reasons, given their star power at quarterback and long history of success in the league. But none of these storied franchises can hold a fantasyland candle to the Falcons this year -- when factoring in the QB, RB, WR and TE positions. From my own rankings (as seen on SI.com now), Atlanta boasts the No. 2 running back (Michael Turner), No. 8 wide receiver (Roddy White), No. 2 tight end (Tony Gonzalez) and No. 9 quarterback (Matt Ryan). No other NFL foursome -- not San Diego's Rivers-Tomlinson-Jackson-Gates, Indy's Manning-Addai-Wayne-Clark, Green Bay's Rodgers-Grant-Jennings-Lee or Dallas' Romo-Barber-Williams-Witten -- can touch the Falcons' primary playmakers in 2009. What's more, the savvy fantasy owner has a realistic shot at grabbing all four in standard-scoring leagues come August -- without reaching. Here's how:

Round 1: Turner
Round 3: White
Round 5: Gonzalez
Round 7: Ryan

The Ugly Truth

If the Falcons rate the best among fantasyland foursomes at QB/RB/WR/TE ... then it's only fitting to reveal the lowest-rated Big Four: the Ravens ... with QB Joe Flacco (No. 29 at his position), RB Ray Rice (No. 32), WR Mark Clayton (No. 38) and TE Todd Heap (No. 17). The Browns' quartet of Brady Quinn, Jamal Lewis, Braylon Edwards, Steve Heiden narrowly avoided this dubious distinction.

Southern Fried Revelations

Dispensing quick facts and cursory opinions about the Falcons is all fine and good, but this fantasy juggernaut also deserves some major face time, Revelations-style, as seen through the eyes of second-year wunderkind Matt Ryan:

What He'll Like: Backup running back Jerious Norwood has registered 131 touches in each of the last two seasons, comparing him favorably with Jets RB Leon Washington. And yet, Washington will most certainly be taken in drafts 2-3 rounds ahead of Norwood (especially ones that reward kick-return TDs). Translation: If you're looking for a cheaper alternative to Washington or even New England's Kevin Faulk (993 total yards, six TDs in '08) ... Norwood represents a solid play (especially in Points Per Reception leagues).

What He Should Love: The numbers suggest WR Roddy White (171 catches in 2008-09) will finally reach the 90-catch mark this season. But it's also fair to wonder if White can improve upon his seven touchdowns in '09 -- given the red-zone brilliance of Turner, Gonzalez, Norwood and even WR Michael Jenkins? Even if he maintains his production from the last two years, White, at minimum, would remain a top-15 wideout. But the key to becoming a Round 1 or 2 pick in the 2010 fantasy drafts lies with his ability to score 10 touchdowns.

What He'll Definitely Love (Again): For those who believe in the creed, Start Fast, Finish Strong, Turner began his Falcons career with a 226-yard, 2-TD performance in Week 1 against the Lions ... and then finished with a 220-yard, 1-TD day in Week 17. And for those who care about such trivialities, ESPN's Matthew Berry says Turner racked up more touches inside the opponents' 8-yard line than any running back last year. What's more, no one gets a greater head of steam going during those red-zone runs -- even Giants rolling pin Brandon Jacobs.

What Could Blow His Mind: Hall of Famer-to-be Tony Gonzalez has averaged 90 catches and 1,059 yards in the last five seasons (not bad for a guy in his 30s). He's also tallied 9-plus touchdowns four times in his illustrious career (1999, 2000, 2003, 2008). But ay the rub: Gonzalez has come to Atlanta with the sole intention of making a Super Bowl and winning a championship ... so he may be (unwittingly) willing to sacrifice stats for the betterment of the team. It'll be interesting to watch from the word "Go" on Sept. 13 against Miami.

What'll Make Falcons Fans Cringe: Should Ryan fall prey to injury, Atlanta's backup quarterbacks are Chris Redman and D.J. Shockley. All of a sudden, K.C. barbecued ribs, Matt Cassel, Larry Johnson and Tyler Thigpen would be looking ... (to quote Larry David) ... "pretty, pretty good!"

A Cautionary Tale

Not to rain on the Falcons' parade too much, but I must also point out Atlanta has NEVER posted back-to-back winning seasons in its star-crossed history, dating back to 1966. Now, would a 6-10 campaign have an adverse effect on the fantasy prospects of Ryan, Turner, Gonzo and White? Not necessarily. I'm just saying ... this club has a loooooooooooong history of things falling apart for no particular reason.

Speaking Of Tight Ends ...

Here are the revised rankings for the NFL's top 25 safety blankets in the passing game:

1. Jason Witten, Cowboys
2. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
3. Antonio Gates, Chargers
4. Dallas Clark, Colts
5. Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers
6. Owen Daniels, Texans
7. John Carlson, Seahawks
8. Greg Olsen, Bears
9. Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings
10. Zach Miller, Raiders
11. Chris Cooley, Redskins
12. Vernon Davis, 49ers
13. Dustin Keller, Jets
14. Jeremy Shockey, Saints
15. Brent Celek, Eagles
16. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions
17. Todd Heap, Ravens
18. Heath Miller, Steelers
19. Kevin Boss, Giants
20. Tony Scheffler, Broncos
21. Chase Coffman, Bengals
22. Shawn Nelson, Bills
23. Anthony Fasano, Dolphins
24. Bo Scaife, Titans
25. Ben Utecht, Bengals

Birds Of A Feather ... Mock Together

Here's the real scoop about fantasy drafts: It's almost impossible to screw up your picks in Round 1 & 2, since the point differential among the RB/WR superstars is essentially negligible. Instead, fantasy titles are often won and lost during Rounds 3-10, when owners traditionally choose their first-string quarterback/tight end and corral the highly crucial backup running backs and receivers -- some of whom will overtake the stud players (taken in Rounds 1/2) in your lineup by Week 3.

Anyway ... I partook in yet another experts' league draft on Tuesday night, as part of the National Football Post's selection show -- featuring fantasy shamans like Gregg Rosenthal, Greg Kellogg, Brandon Funston, Ken Daube, Jonathan Phillips, Joe Fortenbaugh, Jamey Eisenberg, etc. Here are those season-defining picks for Rounds 3-8 of the standard-scoring league draft (10 teams, 16 rounds, 2/3 RBs, 3/4 WRs start):

Round 3
21. RB Brandon Jacobs, Giants
22. RB Marion Barber, Cowboys
23. RB Clinton Portis, Redskins
24. WR Steve Smith, Panthers
25. RB Kevin Smith, Lions
26. WR Roddy White, Falcons
27. RB Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
28. WR Reggie Wayne, Colts
29. RB Ryan Grant, Packers (my pick)
30. RB Ronnie Brown, Dolphins

Round 4
31. WR Marques Colston, Saints
32. WR Anquan Boldin, Cardinals (my pick)
33. WR Terrell Owens, Bills
34. RB Marshawn Lynch, Bills
35. RB Derrick Ward, Buccaneers
36. WR Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
37. RB Pierre Thomas, Saints
38. RB Darren McFadden, Raiders
39. RB Thomas Jones, Jets
40. WR Vincent Jackson, Chargers

Round 5
41. WR Wes Welker, Patriots
42. WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seahawks
43. QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers
44. WR Lee Evans, Bills
45. TE Jason Witten, Cowboys
46. RB Donald Brown, Colts
47. TE Antonio Gates, Chargers
48. RB Joseph Addai, Colts
49. WR Braylon Edwards, Browns (my pick)
50. RB Jonathan Stewart, Panthers

Round 6
51. RB Larry Johnson, Chiefs
52. RB Chris Wells, Cardinals (my pick)
53. TE Dallas Clark, Colts
54. WR Chad Ochocinco, Bengals
55. QB Philip Rivers, Chargers
56. WR Antonio Bryant, Buccaneers
57. WR Eddie Royal, Broncos
58. TE Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
59. QB Kurt Warner, Cardinals
60. RB Willie Parker, Steelers

Round 7
61. TE Chris Cooley, Redskins
62. RB Reggie Bush, Saints
63. WR Roy Williams, Cowboys
64. QB Matt Ryan, Falcons
65. WR DeSean Jackson, Eagles
66. WR Lance Moore, Saints
67. D/ST Pittsburgh Steelers
68. RB Felix Jones, Cowboys
69. QB Donovan McNabb, Eagles (my pick)
70. RB LenDale White, Titans

Round 8
71. WR Anthony Gonzalez, Colts
72. WR Hines Ward, Steelers (my pick)
73. WR Torry Holt, Jaguars
74. WR Santonio Holmes, Steelers
75. RB Ray Rice, Ravens
76. RB Cedric Benson, Bengals
77. TE Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers
78. WR Kevin Walter, Texans
79. WR Donald Driver, Packers
80. QB Tony Romo, Cowboys

Beware Of The Curse

While reading Rotoworld's preseason fantasy magazine (the brainchild of fellow Fantasy Football Writer of the Year Gregg Rosenthal), I came across an interesting argument against Michael Turner as a high Round 1 pick. At face value, no one is disputing Turner's greatness from last season with the Falcons (1,699 rushing yards and 17 TDs). But after registering 382 touches (including six catches) for a surprising Wild Card club (especially after the Michael Vick debacle), Turner is now eligible for "induction" into the The Curse of 370 Club ... which means he'll likely be a fantasy disappointment in '09.

Simply put, Rotoworld ascertains that "running backs that take the rock 370 or more times in a given season (or 390 or more times in a season that includes a playoff run) tend to suffer an injury, a dramatic fall from grace shortly thereafter or a combination of the two." From Larry Johnson, Shaun Alexander and Curtis Martin to Eddie George, Edgerrin James and Terrell Davis, a long list of productive running backs have experienced a stunning decline in numbers the following season after 370 touches -- often without any warning, either. In fact, in the modern era, only LaDainian Tomlinson, Walter Payton and Eric Dickerson have managed to beat the proverbial curse right after hitting 370.

To be fair, Turner only had 228 total rushes in the previous four seasons with San Diego (2004-07) ... so he definitely has the legs of a 23-year-old back in a 27-year-old NFL body. So who's to say he'll immediately be affected by last season's Herculean workload? And who's to say Turner cannot score even more touchdowns this year, with slightly fewer carries? After all, he may be the league's biggest red-zone lock, ahead of LT, DeAngelo Williams and Adrian Peterson.

Tweet Happens

The dynamic p.r. eggheads at Sports Illustrated are booking an army of fantasy writers on radio stations across the country to promote our fantasy football magazine; and as luck would have it, I've already gotten my fair share of radio run in the last week (WCNN in Atlanta and Sports Byline Radio, to name a few) ... which leads me to the following: Come Friday afternoon, I should own a Twitter account, freeing me up to update fantasy honks on future radio/TV interviews or simply offer my two cents on fantasy-related issues. On the flip side ... here are some preseason Tweets you most likely won't see come August:

Hall of Fame Game -- Aug. 9: "If Cris Carter showed up out of the blue at halftime wearing a yellow blazer, would anyone ask him to remove it?"

Week 1 -- St. Louis @ N.Y. Jets: "Who knew Mark Sanchez could run 15 plays out of the triple-option? USC really does a thorough job of preparing QBs for the pros!"

Week 2 -- Carolina @ Miami: "Yeah, I can understand why Dolphins part-owner Jimmy Buffett is performing at halftime. But why is he the opening act for Up With People?"

Week 3 -- Buffalo @ Pittsburgh: "Just when you thought you've seen it all ... Cliff Stoudt Day comes before Louis Lipps Day!"

Week 4 -- Baltimore @ Atlanta: "I wonder what'll make new Ravens QB Michael Vick more nervous -- the fact that he played in Atlanta for seven years ... or that the Falcons keep dropping 10 cornerbacks into coverage?"

Choose Your Quarterback
Matt Ryan: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

I've been hyping the Falcons' dazzling array of fantasy playmakers for six or seven sections now ... so it only stands to reason Atlanta QB Matt Ryan would have the edge over Tony Romo this season, right? Here's a weekly breakdown of Ryan vs. Romo:

Week 1 -- Ryan (vs. Miami) over Romo (@ Tampa Bay) -- virtual toss-up
Week 2 -- Romo (vs. N.Y. Giants) over Ryan (vs. Carolina)
Week 3 -- Romo (vs. Carolina) over Ryan (@ New England)
Week 4 -- Romo (@ Denver) over Ryan (BYE)
Week 5 -- Romo (@ Kansas City) over Ryan (@ San Francisco)
Week 6 -- Ryan (vs. Chicago) over Romo (BYE)
Week 7 -- Ryan over Romo (head-to-head -- Atlanta @ Dallas)
Week 8 -- Romo (vs. Seattle) over Ryan (@ New Orleans) -- virtual toss-up
Week 9 -- Ryan (vs. Washington) over Romo (@ Philadelphia) -- virtual toss-up
Week 10 -- Romo (@ Green Bay) over Ryan (@ Carolina)
Week 11 -- Romo (vs. Washington) over Ryan (@ N.Y. Giants)
Week 12 -- Ryan (vs. Tampa Bay) and Romo (vs. Oakland) -- virtual toss-up
Week 13 -- Ryan (vs. Philadelphia) over Romo (@ N.Y. Giants)
Week 14 -- Ryan (vs. New Orleans) over Romo (vs. San Diego)
Week 15 -- Romo (@ New Orleans) over Ryan (@ N.Y. Jets)
Week 16 -- Ryan (vs. Buffalo) over Romo (@ Washington)
Week 17 -- Ryan (@ Tampa Bay) over Romo (vs. Philadelphia)

Verdict: By the slimmest of margins ... and thanks to a late run in Weeks 16 and 17, Ryan scores a 9-8 victory. And bonus, he's the stronger play in Weeks 13, 14 and 16 -- traditionally the playoff weeks in fantasyland football.

The Power Of ADP

You have to love the people at Fantasy Football Calculator. The FFC is already hard at work, trying to make mathematical sense of this year's top fantasy football prospects. In fact, this site represents the perfect one-stop shopping for mock drafts and the Average Draft Position tool (ADP) -- perhaps the best learning aid for NOT reaching during the August/September drafts. Speaking of ADP, here's a list of kickers -- yes, I said kickers -- likely earmarked for Rounds 11-15 (12-team leagues), if a draft were held today:

Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots -- Round 11, Pick 9
Rob Bironas, Titans -- Round 12, Pick 8
Adam Vinatieri, Colts -- Round 13, Pick 5
Nick Folk, Cowboys -- Round 13, Pick 6
Nate Kaeding, Chargers -- Round 14, Pick 1
Mason Crosby, Packers -- Round 14, Pick 5
Garrett Hartley, Saints -- Round 14, Pick 9
Robbie Gould, Bears -- Round 15, Picks 2
Jason Elam, Falcons -- Round 15, Pick 2 (dead heat)
Neil Rackers, Cardinals -- Round 15, Pick 3
Ryan Longwell, Vikings -- Round 15, Pick 3 (dead heat)
David Akers, Eagles -- Round 15, Pick 3 (dead heat)
Kris Brown, Texans -- Round 15, Pick 6

We Interrupt Fantasy Clicks ...

... To announce the arrival of Sports Illustrated's fantasy football spectacular, available online and at magazine racks nationwide. This 168-page tome is chock-full of rankings, columns (two from yours truly), features, draft-day advice, in-season strategies, booms, busts and an experts' mock draft, enlisting an army of SI's award-winning fantasy and NFL writers (including Peter King). Last but not least, it boasts perhaps the coolest cover of any fantasy magazine you'll ever see!

Am I overselling it a little bit? Perhaps. But the early feedback I've gotten from my fantasy brethren suggests SI's first major foray into fantasy football will be an absolute triumph -- and that it could become an all-time best seller within the genre. (UPDATE: My well-placed moles have informed me that SI's fantasy mag is indeed the top seller to date ... sweeeeeet!)

Target Practice

A receiver is only as good as his quarterback ... and the number of opportunities he gets to make a catch (known as Targets). Here are last season's Target leaders -- on a per-game basis -- which explains Nate Burleson's place on the list, even though his season was cut short by injury:

1. Brandon Marshall, Broncos (12.4 Targets)
2. Andre Johnson, Texans (11.3 Targets)
3. Anquan Boldin, Cardinals (11.0 Targets)
4. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (10.4 Targets)
5. Calvin Johnson, Lions (10.4 Targets)
6. Roddy White, Falcons (10.2 Targets)
7. Dwyane Bowe, Chiefs (10.2 Targets)
8. Steve Smith, Panthers (10.1 Targets)
9. Nate Burleson, Seahawks (10.0 Targets)
10. Wes Welker, Patriots (9.6 Targets)
11. Braylon Edwards, Browns (9.4 Targets)
12. Terrell Owens, Cowboys -- now Bills (9.3 Targets)
13. Eddie Royal, Broncos (9.3 Targets)
14. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Bengals -- now Seahawks (9.3 Targets)
15. Santana Moss, Redskins (9.1 Targets)
16. Antonio Bryant, Buccaneers (9.0 Targets)
17. Matt Jones, Free Agent (9.0 Targets)
18. Greg Jennings, Packers (8.9 Targets)
19. Marques Colston, Saints (8.6 Targets)
20. Reggie Wayne, Colts (8.4 Targets)
21. Randy Moss, Patriots (8.3 Targets)
22. Hines Ward, Steelers (8.1 Targets)
23. Derrick Mason, Ravens (8.1 Targets)
24. Santonio Holmes, Steelers (7.9 Targets)
25. Plaxico Burress, Free Agent (7.9 Targets)
26. Donald Driver, Packers (7.8 Targets)
27. Laveranues Coles, Jets -- now Bengals (7.8 Targets)
28. Deion Branch, Seahawks (7.8 Targets)
29. Torry Holt, Rams -- now Jaguars (7.7 Targets)
30. Greg Camarillo, Dolphins (7.7 Targets)

It's All About The Slot: #1

Some people consider having the No. 1 overall pick in a 12-team draft a mixed blessing. Yes, you get a free shot at the NFL's best overall talent, but you also have to wait 23 looooooong slots before grabbing two more players -- who may or may not possess Tier I status. Well, hath no fear or ambivalence ... because here's a great strategy for nailing your mixed-league draft when owning the top pick:

Round 1, Pick 1: Motive -- Best overall player
1st option: RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings ... 2nd option: RB Michael Turner, Falcons

Round 2, Pick 24 overall: Motive -- Best RB or WR available (a tad too early for QBs)
1st option: RB Ryan Grant, Packers ... 2nd option: RB Ronnie Brown, Dolphins

Round 3, Pick 25 overall: Motive -- Best WR/RB (ONLY QBs: Brees, Manning, Brady)
1st option: WR Anquan Boldin, Cardinals ... 2nd option: WR Greg Jennings, Packers

Round 4, Pick 48 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR/QB available
1st option: RB Darren McFadden, Raiders ... 2nd option: RB Thomas Jones, Jets

Round 5, Pick 49 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR/QB (too much TE depth to reach here)
1st option: QB Philip Rivers, Chargers ... 2nd option: QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers

Round 6, Pick 72 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR/QB/TE available
1st option: RB Cedric Benson, Bengals ... 2nd option: RB Donald Brown, Colts

Round 7, Pick 73 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR/QB/TE available
1st option: WR Jerricho Cotchery, Jets ... 2nd option: WR Santana Moss, Redskins

Round 8, Pick 96 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR/QB/TE available
1st option: WR Michael Crabtree, 49ers ... 2nd option: WR Derrick Mason, Ravens

Round 9, Pick 97 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR/QB/TE (perfect spot to grab TE1 or QB2)
1st option: TE Owen Daniels, Texans ... 2nd option: QB Jay Cutler, Bears

Round 10, Pick 120 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR (you can never have enough RB depth)
1st option: WR/RB Percy Harvin, Vikings ... 2nd option: WR Justin Gage, Titans

Round 11, Pick 121: Motive -- Best RB/WR/TE available (DO NOT even think about K or D/ST)
1st option: Gage, 2nd options: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants ... or RB Jerious Norwood, Falcons

Round 12, Pick 144: Motive -- Best WR/TE/QB/RB available
1st option: QB Trent Edwards, Bills ... 2nd option: WR Earl Bennett, Bears

Round 13, Pick 145: Motive -- Best WR/TE/RB/QB available
1st option: Bennett, 2nd options: RB Correll Buckhalter, Broncos ... or TE Vernon Davis, 49ers

Round 14, Pick 168: Motive -- Best RB/TE/WR (you now have permission to draft a kicker)
1st option: WR Sidney Rice, Vikings ... 2nd option: PK Nate Kaeding, Chargers

Round 15, Pick 169: Motive -- Best kicker or defense
1st option: PK Nate Kaeding, Chargers ... 2nd option: D/ST Philadelphia Eagles

Round 16, Pick 192: Motive -- Best defense or kicker
1st option: D/ST Eagles ... 2nd option: PK Matt Prater, Broncos

Clip & Save

Presenting a way-too-early preview of the likely studs (factoring in opponent and weather) for Week 16, traditionally the FINAL fantasy-playoff week. So, this should help you a little on draft day, about three months from now:

QBs: Matt Ryan, Trent Edwards, Matt Hasselbeck, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Schaub, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Donovan McNabb, Kurt Warner, Shaun Hill, Daunte Culpepper/Matthew Stafford, Peyton Manning, Jason Campbell
RBs: Michael Turner, Marshawn Lynch, Ryan Grant, Steve Slaton, Fred Taylor, Maurice Jones-Drew, Derrick Ward, Reggie Bush, Steven Jackson, Frank Gore, Thomas Jones, Joseph Addai/Donald Brown, Darren McFadden, Chris Johnson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Brandon Jacobs, DeAngelo Williams, Matt Forte, Adrian Peterson, Marion Barber, Brian Westbrook
WRs: Roddy White, Terrell Owens, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Greg Jennings, Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Marques Colston, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Reggie Wayne, Calvin Johnson, Santana Moss, Steve Smith, Isaac Bruce, Brandon Marshall

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