BY DAVID KOMER
Frank Gore: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images
The top two picks for 2010 fantasy football drafts are universal: Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson. The third pick largely goes to Maurice Jones-Drew, with only Internet mock-drafting crackpots choosing Ray Rice over the Jaguars star. But after the top three, the middle of the first round gets murky.
Rice, Frank Gore, Michael Turner and the first receiver, Andre Johnson, make up the slots 4 through 7 as the next wave of blue chips. At the end of the first, in my opinion, the third wave of blue chips begin with a pool of Steven Jackson, Larry Fitzgerald, Rashard Mendenhall, Shonn Greene, Randy Moss, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.
The candidates for the fourth spot begin with Rice (1,339 yards rushing, seven TDs), who has been getting all kinds of mock draft love by users on sites like Fantasy Football Calculator.com. Last season, he emerged from a tailback-by-committee approach to become a star, leaving early season standout Willis McGahee behind, as well as '08 goal line fullback option Le'Ron McClain. In some mocks, he's gone as high as No. 2 (clearly, or should I say, hopefully, by only 12-year old internet agent provocateurs), but entering his third year on a Ravens team with an improved passing game, he?s poised for an uptick.
Gore, who's battled minor injuries in the past few years, looks ready to explode. Last season Gore (1,120 yards, 10 TDs) had his most touchdowns since 2006 and most yards since '07, and should only get better with a more potent offense.
Johnson is without a doubt, the best receiver in football. Last season with a healthy Matt Schaub for the first time, he exploded (101 catches, 1,569 yards, 9 TDs). Johnson is nearly indefensible and in his prime. A worthy mid-first round pick, especially in front of many of the remaining RBs who come with question marks.
Speaking of question marks, Turner (879 yards, 10 TDs) had a down '09 season after blowing up in '08. Injuries wreaked havoc with him, causing him to miss five games and almost all of a sixth outing. But despite finishing under 1,000 yards, he still rewarded his owners with double-digit TDs and is on a potentially dangerous Falcons offense, ready to rebound.
So who's No.4? Gore. No other back is in his position with all the pieces around him, save Turner.
My first mock draft of probably thousands this spring and summer saw me take the No. 4 spot in a 12-team, 15-round mock on Fantasy Football Calculator. Aside from no kickers being taken at all in the draft, everything else was pretty much copacetic. Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson and MJD were the top the three picks, here's how yours truly made out:
First round: (No. 4) RB Frank Gore, 49ers
Second: (21) WR Calvin Johnson, Lions
Third: (28) WR Marques Colston, Saints
Fourth: (45) RB Matt Forte, Bears
Fifth: (52) RB Jahvid Best, Lions
Sixth: (69) WR Mike Wallace, Steelers
Seventh: (76) QB Kevin Kolb, Eagles
Eighth: (93) RB Steve Slaton, Texans
Ninth: (100) QB Matt Ryan, Falcons
Tenth: (117) TE Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings
Eleventh: (124) WR Mario Manningham, Giants
Twelfth: (141) Eagles DEF/ST
Thirteenth: (148) Cowboys DEF/ST
Fourteenth: (165) WR Devin Thomas, Redskins
Fifteenth: (172) TE Jermaine Gresham, Bengals
Aside from taking two Lions, I liked how the draft fell. I didn't want to let the board dictate runs, so I avoided an RB trend in the third and a tight end scramble in the sixth. I like to wait for my QBs usually, but didn't plan one way or another; Kolb and Ryan were value picks while the Forte pick is balanced with Best as protection for the RB2 spot, otherwise known as Mike Martz insurance. Receiver depth isn't great, but I like the potential I'd have for the WR3 spot with that group.
Fantasy preview magazines will be hitting the shelves soon. Before moving forward, let's take a look back at what three prominent publications glimpsed in their crystal footballs. No one magazine is the single silver bullet on draft day, mostly due to the early spring deadlines (although, shameless plug alert, the Sports Illustrated fantasy football extravaganza, featuring fellow Clicks scribe Jay Clemons, makes for a fine weapon in the war room).
Position rankings are well and good, but the real heavy lifting comes in predicting sleepers and busts. A pickup like Miles Austin could have been the tipping point that put your fantasy team over the top for a championship, while sidestepping a fading LaDainian Tomlinson, may have spared you from missing out on Chris Johnson in the second round. Here's a quick look back at how the 2009 annuals fared:
WR Anthony Gonzalez, Colts, RB T.J. Duckett, Seahawks, QB Jeff Garcia, Raiders, RB Fred Jackson, Bills, RB Leon Washington, Jets, TE Brent Celek, Eagles, WR Miles Austin, Cowboys, WR Harry Douglas, Falcons, TE Kevin Boss, Giants, WR Earl Bennett, Bears, WR Kevin Walter, Texans, Redskins DEF/ST, QB Carson Palmer, Bengals, K Matt Prater, Broncos, RB Brandon Jackson, Packers
Best picks: Austin, hit! Receiver was ranked higher here than in almost any other mag; Celek and Jackson were solid.
Worst pick: (Tie) Duckett was a non-factor and the dysfunctional Raiders hardly gave Garcia a chance.
Mulligan: Gonzalez. Week one knee injury scrubbed his season; opened door for other WRs.
RB Thomas Jones, Jets, RB Derrick Ward, Bucs, QB Matt Cassel, Chiefs, RB Darren McFadden, Raiders, QB Kurt Warner, Cardinals, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars, WR Lance Moore, Saints, QB Tony Romo, Cowboys, QB Eli Manning, Giants, WR Jerricho Cotchery, Jets, WR Torry Holt, Jaguars, WR Derrick Mason, Ravens, TE Vernon Davis, 49ers, Ravens DEF/ST, Eagles DEF/ST.
Best picks: McFadden was a dead-on, bulls-eye! Ward and Cassel also were solid choices.
Worst picks: Jones-Drew was a top-five or six performer and Davis went nuclear for 49ers.
Mulligan: Mason. Opened the year slowly but crept back on the radar late in the season.
QB Kyle Orton, Broncos, RB Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers, RB LeSean McCoy, Eagles, WR Donnie Avery, Rams, WR Juaquin Iglesias, Bears, TE Zach Miller, Raiders, "Other Rip Van Winkles" : QB Trent Edwards, Bills, RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants, RB Shonn Greene, Jets, RB Donald Brown, Colts, WR Miles Austin, Cowboys, WR Percy Harvin, Vikings, TE Brent Celek, Eagles.
Best picks: (Tie) Mendenhall became the lead back; McCoy played well after Westbrook's injury.
Worst picks: (Tie) Iglesias hardly saw the field and Edwards came undone early on.
Mulligan: Avery showed flashes but battled injuries, a fading Marc Bulger and a pathetic team.
QB Jay Cutler, Bears, RB Brian Westbrook, Eagles, RB Thomas Jones, Jets, WR Terrell Owens, Bills, WR Calvin Johnson, Lions, TE Jeremy Shockey, Saints. Other potential busts: QB Eli Manning, Giants, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers, RB Ronnie Brown, Dolphins, WR Braylon Edwards, Browns, WR Lance Moore, Saints.
Best picks: Johnson(!) A rookie QB and a rebuilding team was a toxic mix. Westbrook, due to injury, was also a decent pick.
Worst pick: Jones had one of his finest years despite Sanchez's learning curve.
RB Michael Bush, Raiders, RB Ray Rice, Ravens, RB Felix Jones, Cowboys, WR Limas Sweed, Steelers, WR Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars, WR Devin Hester, Bears, WR Jordy Nelson, Packers, Brent Celek, Eagles
Best picks: Rice, boom! Sims-Walker came out of nowhere to be team's No 1 wide out and second Jags star to have a hyphenated last name.
Worst picks: Sweed was a non-factor, losing out to Mike Wallace and Bush was never consistent.
Mulligan: Had Jones not been injured part of the year, could have won the starting job.
**No bust section was provided in the Just Cheat Sheets publication.
No magazine ever gets it all right. It doesn't take much to put a team over the top in fantasy football. Hitting on one or two long shots can make all the difference, just as avoiding landmines can as well. Having a good variety of resources to fall back on when your spreadsheets crinkle and paralysis by analysis sets in on the clock, is as they say, priceless.