Matt Forte: AP
Can you believe it? Sometime in June/July, Sports Illustrated will debut its first-ever fantasy football spectacular -- a 150-plus-page blowout singularly devoted to the most addictive fantasy sport of 'em all (except maybe curling). To cap off the experience, SI conducted an Experts' Mock Draft on Tuesday -- a 16-round simulation built around the premise of standard-scoring leagues (save one caveat of 1/2 point per reception) and a third flex starting spot for either RB/WR/TE.
Now it wouldn't be fair to reveal all 192 picks, but I will provide you, the reader, with my particular selections. Obviously, things can change between now and Week 3 of the exhibition season ... but I'm happy with the picks. And, just to be clear here, I treated this 12-team simulated draft like the real thing, loading up on running backs early on, without shame -- with the (imaginary) intention of using one or two rushing studs for future equity before the trade deadline.
To be honest, none of my five receivers are currently at a "superstar" fantasy level (sorry, Chad), but they're all positioned on my preseason Top 32 list (below) -- so I have that going for me ... which is nice. OK, enough rationalizing a fake roster. Here are my picks, Rounds 1 through 16:
1. RB Matt Forte, Bears (in the battle of Forte vs. Brian Westbrook, I opted for upside)
2. RB Chris Johnson, Titans (NFL's fastest back + 1,600 total yards in '09 = happy owner)
3. RB Darren McFadden, Raiders (will rush for 1,800 yards someday ... hopefully this year)
4. RB Thomas Jones, Jets (I regret not taking Dwayne Bowe ... but TJ's a fine mistake)
5. WR Chad Ochocinco, Bengals (he may be on the downslide, but I stuck to my draft board, er, cocktail napkin)
6. WR Jerricho Cotchery, Jets (has zero competition between the 20s; could catch 80 balls this season)
7. RB Darren Sproles, Chargers (he was made for leagues that reward receptions and kick-return TDs)
8. QB Eli Manning, Giants (Peter King stole Matt Ryan from me; Eli's my consolation)
9. WR Kevin Walter, Texans (65 catches and 9 TDs is doable, if not, expected from this vet)
10. QB Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks (a necessary pick, since I waited so long on my QB1, Mr. Manning)
11. WR Greg Camarillo, Dolphins (this Wes Welker doppleganger is gold in PPR leagues)
12. TE John Carlson, Seahawks (could be a top-5 tight end in '09; plus I have the Hasselbeck handcuff)
13. WR Sidney Rice, Vikings (my No. 1 WR candidate for a major breakout this season)
14. K Ryan Longwell, Vikings (when in doubt, go with the prodigious indoors kicker)
15. D/ST San Diego Chargers (in Antonio Cromartie, we trust)
16. TE Brandon Pettigrew, Lions (a hometown flier on Detroit's newest pass-catching, run-blocking toy)
Here are some Revelations-style highlights involving Tuesday's mock draft, featuring SI's own Adam Duerson, Mitch Getz, Lou Dubois, Peter King, Joe Lemire, Gene Menez, Mark Mravic, Ben Reiter, David Sabino, Damon Hack, Gary Gramling and yours truly:
What I Loved In Round 1: Gramling had to be in shock over seeing Steven Jackson there for the taking at No. 12 overall. He had only 1,421 total yards and eight touchdowns in 11 starts last season. If healthy, S-Jax can break 2,000 total yards at any point in the next five seasons.
What I Loved In Round 2: Menez should be arrested for stealing Andre Johnson at No. 18 overall. In PPR leagues, AJ (115 catches, 1,575 yards, 8 TDs in '08) is the absolute must-have WR -- even over Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson.
What I Liked In Round 3: When healthy, Reggie Bush is certainly better than the 26th draft slot in PPR leagues, and someday, he'll have 95 catches in a season. Congratulations, Hack!
What I Jealously Loathed In Round 4: Kudos to Lou Dubois for immediately capitalizing on my oversight -- passing on WR Dwayne Bowe (86 catches in '08) for Thomas Jones (more on him later). Not that I'm crestfallen about the move ... but Bowe's a beast, and I should've grabbed him. My bad!
What I Liked In Round 5: Mravic might have to sign up for dancing lessons after plucking Antonio Gates at No. 58 overall. Yes, there's a reason why Gates has slipped in recent years (rhymes with "schminjuries"), but at 29, he's still a major fantasy force.
What I Loved In Round 6: How many yards does Kurt Warner have to throw for before he gets his just fantasy due on draft day? 5,000? 5,500? For crimedy sakes, the man has Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston, Tim Hightower, Early Doucet, Stephen Spach, Jerheme Urban and now Beanie Wells at his beckon call ... and yet 71 other players went before him. Good job, Duerson!
A decade from now, NFL/fantasy historians might look back at the Running Back Class of 2008 and see a bunch of All-Pros, Pro Bowlers and -- dare we say it -- Hall of Fame candidates. This group is that deep and that good. For the '09 season, here are the best Year 2 options within standard-scoring leagues:
1. Matt Forte, Bears
2. Chris Johnson, Titans
3. Steve Slaton, Texans
4. Darren McFadden, Raiders
5. Kevin Smith, Lions
6. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
7. Felix Jones, Cowboys (injuries in '08 thwarted a higher ranking here)
8. Ray Rice, Ravens
9. Tim Hightower, Cardinals
10. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers (ditto for this future TD machine)
11. Tashard Choice, Cowboys
12. Ryan Torain, Broncos
13. Peyton Hillis, Broncos
14. Mike Hart, Colts
15. Chauncey Washington, Jaguars
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
It's absolutely essential to pair a QB/WR or QB/TE from the same NFL team in Points Per Reception leagues. In the biz, it's known as "handcuffing," and it's the surest, quickest way to doubling your points in high-scoring leagues. To wit, the top 20 QB-TE handcuffs (with ties) for '09:
1. Tony Romo/Jason Witten, Cowboys
2. Peyton Manning/Dallas Clark, Colts
3. Philip Rivers/Antonio Gates, Chargers
4. Matt Ryan/Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
5. Matt Hasselbeck/John Carlson, Seahawks
6. Jay Cutler/Greg Olsen, Bears
7. Matt Schaub/Owen Daniels, Texans
8. Drew Brees/Jeremy Shockey, Saints
9. JaMarcus Russell/Zach Miller, Raiders
10. Josh Johnson/Kellen Winslow II, Buccaneers
11. Sage Rosenfels/Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings
12. Ben Roethlisberger/Heath Miller, Steelers
13. Kellen Clemens or Mark Sanchez/Dustin Keller, Jets
14. Eli Manning/Kevin Boss, Giants
15. Donovan McNabb/Brent Celek, Eagles
16. Joe Flacco/Todd Heap or L.J. Smith, Ravens
17. Kyle Orton/Tony Scheffler, Broncos
18. Kerry Collins/Bo Scaife, Titans
19. Carson Palmer/Ben Utecht or Chase Coffman, Bengals
20. Daunte Culpepper or Matthew Stafford/Brandon Pettigrew, Lions
20a. Shaun Hill/Vernon Davis, 49ers
Here are my revised WR rankings for standard-scoring leagues, from No. 1 (Larry Fitzgerald) to No. 32 (rookie Michael Crabtree):
1. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (gets the nod over AJ in non-PPRs)
2. Andre Johnson, Texans
3. Calvin Johnson, Lions (a solid No. 3, no matter the league rules)
4. Randy Moss, Patriots
5. Reggie Wayne, Colts
6. Anquan Boldin, Cardinals
7. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
8. Greg Jennings, Packers
9. Roddy White, Falcons
10. Marques Colston, Saints
11. Brandon Marshall, Broncos (he'd be No. 6 if Jay Cutler was his QB)
12. Chad Ochocinco, Bengals
13. Steve Smith, Panthers
14. Terrell Owens, Bills
15. Wes Welker, Patriots
16. Braylon Edwards, Browns
17. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seahawks
18. Lee Evans, Bills
19. Antonio Bryant, Bucs (would be higher if he had a better QB)
20. Santana Moss, Redskins
21. Vincent Jackson, Chargers
22. Jerricho Cotchery, Jets
23. Chris Chambers, Chargers
24. Hines Ward, Steelers
25. Laveranues Coles, Bengals
26. Sidney Rice, Vikings (I'm soooo tempted to rank him higher)
27. Kevin Walter, Texans
28. Greg Camarillo, Dolphins
29. Earl Bennett, Bears (someone has to reap the Cutler benefits)
30. Bernard Berrian, Vikings
31. Donnie Avery, Rams
32. Michael Crabtree, 49ers
The following is a TV bit I dreamed up recently, as an homage to NFL.com's brilliant fantasy commericals through the years -- like this one, this one, this one and, of course, the coup d'etat, "Housh ... yourmama. (It's amazing what the mind can create when lying on a couch for 14 consecutive hours.) For the record, I have no plans of pitching this to an NFL Network exec ... I'm just having fun here. However, I wouldn't mind some brutally honest feedback from the Clicks reader. In the spirit of the immortal Dick Clark and American Bandstand ... do we Jam It or Slam It?
Backstory: The motivation for the following 30-second TV spot was borne out of ex-Broncos coach Mike Shanahan's legendary disdain for fantasy football -- at least that's his perception after years of randomly assigning reps to running backs in Denver, from week-to-week. It also helps that he's taking a break from coaching in 2009 (he?s accessible), possesses TV-friendly charisma ... and that Texans head coach Gary Kubiak is one of his best NFL friends.
Setting: The NFL.com fantasy guys are watching a Houston Texans game on a typical Sunday afternoon -- in a spacious living room
Step 1: Tight camera shot on the NFL.com fantasy guys watching the Texans intently (camera then flashes to old footage of Houston QB Matt Schaub throwing a red-zone touchdown to Kevin Walter, Owen Daniels or any other receiver NOT named Andre Johnson)
Step 2: After the TD, the NFL.com guys celebrate the Houston score (and subsequent Schaub fantasy points), on-camera ... but they are drowned out by the nonsensical ravings of a man, off-camera ... some of the guys look at the unseen wailer with bemusement
Step 3: Fast forward to another Schaub TD pass not involving Andre Johnson ... the NFL.com guys celebrate the Houston/Schaub score with unbridled delight -- but again, they are drowned out by the unseen wailer, off-camera ...
Step 4: Finally, one of the guys says to a buddy:
NFL.com Guy #1
Dude, what's with your friend?
Step 5: Suddenly, the camera pans to the previously unseen wailer, Mike Shanahan, who's donning a #80 Andre Johnson/Texans hat and a T-shirt that reads, "Ask me about my fantasy team" ... once on camera, Shanahan buries his face in his hands for a brief moment, before shouting to no one in particular:
Why does Kubiak hate fantasy football??? That should be Andre Johnson's red-zone touchdown!!!
Step 6: The NFL.com guys, sensing the irony, just look each other with scrunched faces, while hearing Shanahan bellow off camera:
Jacoby Jones ... are you kidding me? Come on!
Screen goes black ... before "commercial voice-over guy" says:
Fantasy Rule #87: Avoid fantasy haters on NFL Sundays at all costs. Fantasy Rule #1: Play fantasy football on NFL.com.
Commercial Ends -- Fade To Black
Matt Hasselbeck: Kellen Micah/Icon SMI
At first blush, Matt Cassel seems like the stronger fantasy play over Matt Hasselbeck this season. After all, he led the Patriots to an 11-5 record in '08 and posted two games of 400 yards passing (a single-season feat shared by only a handful of people, among them Dan Marino and Phil Simms), while Hasselbeck (who turns 34 on Sept. 25) spent most of last year on the injured list ... and all of springtime justifying his health (just in case Seattle had planned to draft Mark Sanchez at No. 4 overall). And yet, when you do a week-to-week fantasy breakdown of which QB gets the weekly starting nod, you might be surprised by the findings:
Week 1 -- Hasselbeck (vs. St. Louis) over Cassel (@ Baltimore)
Week 2 -- Hasselbeck (@ San Francisco) over Cassel (vs. Oakland)
Week 3 -- Hasselbeck (vs. Chicago) over Cassel (@ Philadelphia)
Week 4 -- Cassel (vs. N.Y. Giants) over Hasselbeck (@ Indianapolis)
Week 5 -- Hasselbeck (vs. Jacksonville) over Cassel (vs. Dallas)
Week 6 -- Hasselbeck (vs. Arizona) over Cassel (@ Washington)
Week 7 -- Cassel (vs. San Diego) over Hasselbeck (BYE)
Week 8 -- Hasselbeck (@ Dallas) over Cassel (BYE)
Week 9 -- Hasselbeck (vs. Detroit) over Cassel (@ Jacksonville)
Week 10 -- Hasselbeck (@ Arizona) over Cassel (@ Oakland)
Week 11 -- Hasselbeck (@ Minnesota) over Cassel (vs. Pittsburgh)
Week 12 -- Hasselbeck (@ St. Louis) over Cassel (@ San Diego)
Week 13 -- Cassel (vs. Denver) over Hasselbeck (vs. San Francisco)
Week 14 -- Cassel (vs. Buffalo) over Hasselbeck (@ Houston)
Week 15 -- Hasselbeck (vs. Tampa Bay) over Cassel (vs. Cleveland) -- TOSS UP
Week 16 -- Hasselbeck (@ Green Bay) over Cassel (@ Cincinnati)
Week 17 -- Cassel (@ Denver) over Hasselbeck (vs. Tennessee)
Verdict: I'm not shocked that Hasselbeck won this battle. After all, he plays in the NFC West, where every team has a better-than-average shot at scoring 30 -- and allowing 35 -- on any given Sunday. But who could've predicted a 12-5 rout in Hasselbeck's favor, although we're basically splitting hairs for Weeks 2, 5, 10 and 13. But get this: Cassel is the better fantasy play for two crucial Sundays -- Week 13 against the Broncos and Week 14 against the Bills. He could be a playoff difference-maker.
Here are more results from my fantasy draft with Mock Draft Central on April 27. The draft attracted some of the highest-profile fantasy experts in the biz (to fill out the 12-man league, I got a last-minute invite -- HA!) ... and the entire production will be published in Rotoworld's next football magazine (similar to SI's fantasy blowout). Rounds 1-6 have already been listed here in previous weeks (standard-scoring league, 14 rounds, 2 RBs/3 WRs start):
73. TE Dallas Clark, Colts
74. WR Santana Moss, Redskins
75. TE Owen Daniels, Texans
76. WR Jerricho Cotchery, Jets
77. RB Shonn Greene, Jets
78. RB Tim Hightower, Cardinals
79. WR Bernard Berrian, Vikings
80. WR Steve Breaston, Cardinals
81. TE Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers
82. WR Greg Camarillo, Dolphins (my pick)
83. TE John Carlson, Seahawks
84. RB Leon Washington, Jets
85. RB Fred Taylor, Patriots
86. QB Jay Cutler, Bears
87. WR Hines Ward, Steelers (my pick)
88. RB Jamal Lewis, Browns
89. TE Chris Cooley, Redskins
90. WR Kevin Walter, Texans
91. RB Felix Jones, Cowboys
92. QB Matt Cassel, Chiefs
93. TE Greg Olsen, Bears
94. RB Donald Brown, Colts
95. WR Donnie Avery, Rams
96. D/ST Tennessee Titans
Speaking of PPR leagues, here are my revised PPR/RB rankings for '09, from No. 1 (Matt Forte) to No. 40 (Cedric Benson). Obviously, we cannot penalize Adrian Peterson or Michael Turner too much for being wallflowers in the passing game:
1. Matt Forte, Bears
2. Brian Westbrook, Eagles
3. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
4. Michael Turner, Falcons
5. Steven Jackson, Rams
6. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
7. Clinton Portis, Redskins
8. Frank Gore, 49ers
9. Chris Johnson, Titans
10. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers
11. Marion Barber, Cowboys
12. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
13. Reggie Bush, Saints
14. Willie Parker, Steelers
15. Darren McFadden, Raiders
16. Marshawn Lynch, Bills
17. Darren Sproles, Chargers
18. Brandon Jacobs, Giants
19. Steve Slaton, Texans
20. Larry Johnson, Chiefs
21. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins
22. Ryan Grant, Packers
23. Thomas Jones, Jets
24. Kevin Smith, Lions
25. Joseph Addai, Colts
26. Pierre Thomas, Saints
27. Derrick Ward, Buccaneers
28. Chris "Beanie" Wells, Cardinals
29. Willis McGahee, Ravens
30. Leon Washington, Jets
31. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
32. Chester Taylor, Vikings
33. Jamal Lewis, Browns
34. Felix Jones, Cowboys
35. Michael Bush, Raiders
36. Ray Rice, Ravens
37. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
38. Earnest Graham, Buccaneers
39. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
40. Cedric Benson, Bengals
Jets running back Thomas Jones created a tiny stir in the New York/New Jersey area by sitting out a handful of OTAs this month. But let's be honest here: Is this really a big deal? Yes, Jones is currently under contract. Yes, he probably needs to get acclimated to the ways of new head coach Rex Ryan (although Brian Schottenheimer's still calling the plays). And yes, he'll have to hold off Leon Washington and heralded rookie Shonn Greene for the majority of red-zone touches this season. But Jones was the AFC rushing leader last year (No. 5 overall with 1,312 yards) and has averaged 302.5 rushes and 1,244 rushing yards in the last four seaasons. And his age (30) shouldn't concern anyone, given his Jerry Rice-esque approach to brutal offseason conditioning.
My general rule: If a veteran performer with a sound track record is ready for training camp from day one, he should always get the benefit of the doubt. Now, if TJ holds out during training camp in pursuit of a contract extension, and misses a good chunk of two-a-days and exhibition games, then all fantasy bets are off. In fact, it'll be imperative to draft Greene and/or Washington as a handcuff.
With the help of my friend, colleage and radio partner, Jeff Ritter, we've decided to finish today's Clicks with a fantasy Point-Counterpoint segment.
Who would you rather have in '09 ... Braylon Edwards or Dwayne Bowe?
Ritter: Look, I love Braylon as much as anyone. In fact, as a fellow Michigan Wolverine, my man-love borders on unnatural, approaching creepy. (Like Jay's love for Chris Johnson and Sidney Rice.) But Edwards had a clunker of a season in '08 (3 TD catches), and I'm not sure we can expect much from the Derek Anderson/Brady Quinn tandem at QB, or from the team in general in '09. Face it: The Browns are going to be really, really bad. Conversely, Bowe is already the alpha-dog receiver in an offense that gets a huge boost at quarterback. The loss of Tony Gonzalez just means more balls for Bowe. He's my choice this season.
Clemons: You had me going for a while ... right up to the point of saying the Chiefs are getting a "huge boost at quarterback" with the arrival of Matt Cassel from New England. I take great exception to the notion that Cassel is markedly better than Tyler Thigpen. Sure, Thigpen didn't throw for 400 yards twice last year (like Cassel), but he also didn't have the Patriots' vaunted O-line blocking for him ... or the peerless receiving tandem of Moss/Welker. (deep sigh) But I'm getting off track here. Bowe might be the better long-term fantasy prospect, but Braylon is also playing for a monster contract extension in 2010 (with the Browns or another team), so he'll be highly motivated to repeat his 16-TD season of 2007. How about this for playing both sides: Bowe will have more receptions and receiving yards -- but Edwards will score more touchdowns. HA!
Antonio Gates or Dallas Clark?
Ritter: Man, has the Antonio Gates party ended this early? Just two years ago, he was the unquestioned top tight end in the game, and now we're pitting him against Clark? I like Clark as a top tight end, but I still have Gates ranked No. 2 at the position behind Tony Gonzalez. Health has held Gates back the past two seasons, but if he's right in '09, he could return to his perch at the head of the class.
Clemons: I have a healthier Gates ranked above Clark, as well; it seems like a common-sense move. However, I wanted to point out the following projections from CBSSports: Clark -- 81 catches, 905 yards and 9 TDs. Gates -- 69 catches, 892 yards, 9 TDs ... interesting.
Jonathan Stewart or LeSean McCoy?
Ritter: I love the McCoy pick by the Eagles, and he's clearly the successor to Brian Westbrook. I think there's a great chance McCoy gets more than 200 touches this season, but I'm still going with Stewart. I KNOW Stewart's getting his share of looks in the Panthers' run-oriented offense, and I'm still not totally sold on DeAngelo Williams' health, or ability to follow up his breakout season with something comparable.
Clemons: Tabbing LeSean McCoy as Westbrook's successor is akin to citing Kevin Kolb as the imminent heir to the Eagles' QB throne, after Donovan McNabb leaves Philly. Yes, they're both in line to take over the starting duties, but who knows when Westy and D-McNabb will cease playing at an amazingly high level? In all honesty, Kolb and McCoy might have to wait until 2012 for a full-time opportunity at fantasy success (and, oh yeah, a chance to win their own Super Bowl ring). By the way, DeAngelo had 1,616 total yards and 20 TDs last season. Who in their right mind would expect him to repeat such stellar numbers -- with or without J-Stew's presence in the backfield? It almost sounds like you're trivializing his accomplishments from last year. Tsk-tsk.
LaDainian Tomlinson or Marion Barber?
Ritter: I saw enough during the second half of last season to make me believe Tomlinson is on the decline. Darren Sproles should have an increased role in the Bolts' offense this year, which could actually help LT hang in a little longer; but Tomlinson is a No. 2 running back on my board this year (somewhere in the 12-18 range). Barber will have to share carries with a healthy and able Felix Jones, but sharing carries hasn't kept Barber out of a top-10 RB ranking in the last three years. He's my easy choice here.
Clemons: I'm not going to argue with you here, just for the sake of being obstinate. Barber (1,302 total yards, 9 TDs) probably has the clearer path to 1,500 total yards and/or 15 TDs this season. However, I will bet my life that LT will outgain and outperform Barber in the Chargers-Cowboys clash at new Cowboys Stadium in Week 14 (Dec. 13). As a native Texan, LT will be super-primed to explode in front of the home folks; and it also helps that Dallas has a reputation for getting soft down the stretch.
Tony Romo or Donovan McNabb?
Ritter: While the powers of Jessica Simpson serving as a modern-day Yoko Romo should not be underestimated, I think losing Terrell Owens helps take some of the heat off the Cowboys quarterback. Romo has flashed his potential with monster first-halves in the last two seasons, only to flame out late. (Come to think of it, McNabb's seasons have had a similar arc.) This is the year Romo puts it all together and finishes as a top-6 QB. McNabb's stats may be close if he stays on the field, but his age and injury risk make me lean toward "Romissica" (Jomo?) in this debate.
Clemons: Romissica? Jomo? Have you been dipping into some of grandpa's old cough syrup again? McNabb is a lock for 4,300 total yards and 26 TDs this season. It also helps that he has the far better receiving corps -- DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Kevin Curtis, Hank Baskett, Brent Celek -- compared to the one Romo now has at his, ahem, disposal. I guess Dallas couldn't wait to get rid of T.O. and start the Roy Williams/Miles Austin golden age.