Fantasy Clicks
BY JAY CLEMONS
The Search For Tomorrow's Sidney Rice
Devin Thomas: Larry French/Getty Images

Last year in this space, I boldly predicted that Vikings wideout Sidney Rice -- coming off a 15-catch debacle in 2008 -- would amass 1,150 receiving yards and seven TDs with Sage Rosenfels as his starting quarterback. Of course, that was before Brett Favre officially entered the Purple picture ... and helped Rice pull down 83 catches for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns, while playing a major role in Favre's MVP-esque season with Minnesota (33 TDs/7 INTs/4,202 yards).

Thanks to his breakout campaign, Rice has obviously graduated from eminently replaceable asset to highly coveted receiver in fantasyland. But his ascension will likely have a vaccuum effect with fantasy owners, as we try to find a new stud out of the rubble of receivers with 30 or fewer catches last season. And in my tireless search for the next Sidney Rice -- an 1,100-yard receiver from Round 10 or lower (standard-scoring league drafts) -- I've established the following criteria:

1. Each receiver (save Laurent Robinson) has an established quarterback throwing him the ball.
2. Each wideout has the measurables (size, speed, hands) to be a future No. 1 or 1A in real-world circles.
3. Each receiver has little or no competition within their respective teams, fueling a potential breakout.

This year's hunch pick is ... Devin Thomas, Washington's second-rounder from 2008 (and fellow Michigan State alum). Yes, Thomas only had one great game last year (7 catches, 100 yards, 2 TDs vs. New Orleans); and yes, he probably won't have Donovan McNabb's complete trust early in the season, ceding red-zone targets to Santana Moss, Chris Cooley and Fred Davis. But IF the Redskins harbor any hopes of being competitive in the NFC East and contending for a wild card slot, Thomas must become the passing game's most viable option between the 20s. He's a physical dynamo who just needs time to channel his inner-DeSean Jackson.

Top 10 WRs With 30 or Fewer Passes In 2009
1. Devin Thomas, Redskins
2. Devin Aromashodu, Bears (gotta love the 12 catches/196 yards/3 TDs in Weeks 16/17)
3. Laurent Robinson, Rams (would be No. 1 here if St. Louis had a good veteran QB)
4. Early Doucet, Cardinals (will likely garner the most catches from this list)
5. Justin Gage, Titans (Year 8 may mark the point of no return in Gage's career arc)
6. Chaz Schilens, Raiders (a reasonable lock for 55 catches and 6 TDs)
7. Malcolm Kelly, Redskins (showed promise with 109-yard effort in Week 17)
8. Legedu Naanee, Chargers (could greatly benefit from Vincent Jackson holdout saga)
9. Brandon Tate, Patriots (my favorite super-sleeper among those taken in Round 16 or later)
10. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders (surely Al Davis knew something we didn't on Draft Day 2009, right? Hmmm ... maybe not.)

What To Do With Dwayne Bowe?

I spent the Fourth Of July weekend working and watching TV -- specifically It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia and The NFL Network's marathon coverage of Hard Knocks, the award-winning series from NFL Films that chronicles a club's everyday traning camp journey -- from sunup to sundown. The 2007 edition featured the Kansas City Chiefs ... and their first-round pick from that season, Dwayne Bowe.

Bowe's first two NFL seasons were the stuff of fantasy dreams -- 70 catches for 995 yards and five TDs as a rookie, and 86 catches for 1,022 yards and seven TDs in 2008. But last year -- perhaps the first time Bowe generated preseason uberhype for his past accomplishments and seemingly boundless future -- he was a big disappointment, catching just 47 balls for 589 yards and four TDs in 11 games. Perhaps worse, the Chiefs' new coaching regime (namely head man Todd Haley) seemed unimpressed with Bowe's sporadic commitment to conditioning and clean route running. Fast forward to the present, where fantasy owners must ask themselves a very-blunt question before draft day: Does Bowe possess a tangible upside, or is he on the path to becoming this decade's Michael Clayton?

At this point, we're wiling to give the 26-year-old Bowe the benefit of the doubt for myriad reasons: 1) Haley and new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis are two of the most progressive passing minds in football. 2) In Kansas City's three wins in '09, Bowe tallied 13 catches for 206 yards (which includes a 1-catch/6-yard clunker in Week 17). 3) Excluding Chris Chambers, flashy rookie Dexter McCluster and maybe Lance Long (suprisingly one of QB Matt Cassel's favorite targets last year), the Chiefs have no other skilled pass-catchers to embrace. And, finally ... 4) At 6-foot-2, 221 pounds, the physical Bowe is one of the best jump-ball receivers in the red zone -- which should motivate Cassel to master the fade pass this summer.

Verdict: As you'll see below, I have Bowe conservatively ranked as the No. 17 receiver; but he's still worth a leap of faith in Round 6 for standard-scoring leagues ... and Round 5 with PPRs -- especially if he's highly motivated to press Kansas City into giving him a contract extension next winter. As I've said before: NEVER underestimate the power of one man's salary-drive season.

Into The Great Wide Open

Here is my revised listing of the top 25 receivers in fantasyland:
1. Andre Johnson, Texans (tops in PPR or standard leagues)
2. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (ensconsed at No. 2)
3. Greg Jennings, Packers (accentuating the positives from last year)
4. Reggie Wayne, Colts
5. Randy Moss, Patriots
6. Roddy White, Falcons
7. Calvin Johnson, Lions (a certifiable steal after the 30th pick)
8. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins
9. Sidney Rice, Vikings
10. DeSean Jackson, Eagles (could easily be top-5 by season's end)
11. Miles Austin, Cowboys
12. Anquan Boldin, Ravens
13. Marques Colston, Saints
14. Michael Crabtree, 49ers (a Year 2 leap of faith on potential dynamo)
15. Chad Ochocinco, Bengals
16. Steve Smith, Panthers
17. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
18. Vincent Jackson, Chargers (holdout + looming suspension = lost year)
19. Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars
20. Percy Harvin, Vikings (boost him 5-7 notches in PPR leagues)
21. Jerricho Cotchery, Jets
22. Kenny Britt, Titans
23. Hines Ward, Steelers
24. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seahawks
25. Steve Smith, Giants

Into The Great Wide Open, Part II

While we're at it, might as well list the next-best 30 wideouts:
26. Devin Thomas, Redskins
27. Antonio Bryant, Bengals
28. Derrick Mason, Ravens
29. Mike Wallace, Steelers
30. Devin Aromashodu, Bears
31. Laurent Robinson, Rams
32. Dez Bryant, Cowboys
33. Braylon Edwards, Jets
34. Julian Edelman, Patriots (could catch 80 balls this season)
35. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles
36. Robert Meachem, Saints
37. Pierre Garcon, Colts
38. Steve Breaston, Cards (can he handle the full-time duties of a No. 2?)
39. Chris Chambers, Chiefs
40. Donald Driver, Packers
41. Lee Evans, Bills
42. Early Doucet, Cardinals
43. Nate Burleson, Lions
44. Mario Manningham, Giants
45. Kevin Walter, Texans
46. Donnie Avery, Rams (he's wayyyyy too good to be this mediocre)
47. Santonio Holmes, Jets (the suspension cripples his seasonal ranking)
48. Hakeem Nicks, Giants
49. Roy Williams, Cowboys
50. Austin Collie, Colts
51. Justin Gage, Titans
52. Lance Moore, Saints
53. Santana Moss, Redskins
54. Wes Welker, Patriots (ACL tear in December + minimal rehab time = no thanks)
55. Arrelious Benn, Bucs (middling ranking doesn't account for lack of competition among Tampa Bay receivers)

FYI: I have a gentlemen's bet with Rotoworld guru Gregg Rosenthal, pitting Aromashodu against Johnny Knox (ranked No. 56 in this countdown). The bet is rather simple: Which Bears wideout will catch more passes in 2010?

The Power Of ADP

The calendar reads July 7, but the good people at Fantasy Football Calculator are 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 drafts. Speaking of ADP, here's a list of quarterbacks likely earmarked for Rounds 1-11 (12-team leagues):

Aaron Rodgers, Packers -- Round 1, Pick 10
Drew Brees, Saints -- Round 2, Pick 4
Peyton Manning, Colts -- Round 2, Pick 8
Tom Brady, Patriots -- Round 3, Pick 7
Tony Romo, Cowboys -- Round 4, Pick 2
Philip Rivers, Chargers -- Round 4, Pick 3
Matt Schaub, Texans -- Round 4, Pick 7
Brett Favre, Packers -- Round 6, Picks 3
Kevin Kolb, Eagles -- Round 6, Pick 9
Jay Cutler, Bears -- Round 7, Pick 8
Matt Ryan, Falcons -- Round 7, Pick 9
Joe Flacco, Ravens-- Round 8, Pick 3
Donovan McNabb, Redskins -- Round 9, Pick 3
Eli Manning, Giants -- Round 9, Pick 4
Carson Palmer, Bengals -- Round 9, Pick 12
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers -- Round 10, Pick 10
Matthew Stafford, Lions -- Round 11, Pick 7
Chad Henne, Ravens/Alex Smith, Redskins -- Round 11, Pick 12 (dead heat)

The Cutting Room Floor

I haven't flipped through the Sports Illustrated fantasy spectacular yet, but I'm optimistic it'll surpass the 2009 edition from a beauty and content perspective. Here's one clue why: I penned a great column about the "Ten Commandments of Roster Construction" ... which, due to space restraints, didn't have enough room for a pro-Jerome Harrison mini-sermon. But the magazine's loss ... is now Fantasy Clicks' gain:

V. You shall not make wrongful use of Jerome Harrison's name

We're standing behind Harrison -- who's getting absolutely zero respect in preseason mock drafts -- for the following reasons:

1) Harrison rushed for 561 yards and five TDs in his final three games (Chiefs, Browns, Jaguars).
2) Cleveland opens with an easy-cheesy slate of Tampa Bay and Kansas City (BOOM!).
3) The Browns have a sneaky-good offensive line, anchored by Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas.
4) Mohamed Massaquoi aside, the Browns' leaky receiving corps includes Chansi Stuckey, Brian Robiskie and Syndric Steptoe.
5) Cleveland only has to play Baltimore and Pittsburgh once from Weeks 1-15; and if you're worried about starting Harrison against the Ravens in Week 16 ... it also means you're playing for a fantasy championship that week. How's that for accentuating the positive?

I'm Begging The NFL Network ...

... To air the 1984 Raiders-Dolphins tilt in its next batch of NFL Classic Games. While YouTubing last week, I stumbled upon the NBC original broadcast of this titanic showdown -- pitting the defending champion Raiders against the 12-1 Dolphins at the famed Orange Bowl ... and featuring the remarkable play-by-play tandem of Dick Enberg and Merlin Olsen.

Three things immediately stand out from this well-preserved clip: 1) Dan Marino breaks John Unitas' single-season record for touchdown passes. 2) Raiders cornerback Lester Hayes and Dolphins receiver Mark Clayton warrant stronger consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 3) And at the 4:06 mark, you'll notice a Dolphins fan in the upper deck blowing into a vuvuzela, the same swarm-of-bees-replicate noisemaker that's been all the rage at the World Cup in South Africa. Timeless stuff!

Choose Your Quarterback
Kyle Orton: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

At first blush, the battle of Chad Henne vs. Kyle Orton seems a little unfair. After all, the Broncos' loss of Brandon Marshall is now the Dolphins' gain (or headache -- depending on your perspective); and Miami should enjoy at least six November/December games in immaculate weather (hurricanes notwithstanding). And yet, I have a hunch this one will come down to Week 17 -- a testament to Josh McDaniels' go-for-broke attitude with the passing game ... and the Dolphins' eventual desire to control the clock through the running game. So, here's a weekly fantasy breakdown of Henne vs. Orton -- on the off chance you'll draft 'em both next month:

Week 1 -- Henne (@ Buffalo) over Orton (@ Jacksonville)
Week 2 -- Orton (vs. Seattle) over Henne (@ Minnesota) -- TOSS UP
Week 3 -- Orton (vs. Indianapolis) over Henne (vs. N.Y. Jets)
Week 4 -- Henne (vs. New England) over Orton (@ Tennessee)
Week 5 -- Orton (@ Baltimore) over Henne (BYE)
Week 6 -- Henne (@ Green Bay) over Orton (vs. N.Y. Jets)
Week 7 -- Henne (vs. Pittsburgh) over Orton (vs. Oakland)
Week 8 -- Orton (@ San Francisco) over Henne (@ Cincinnati) -- TOSS UP
Week 9 -- Henne (@ Baltimore) over Orton (BYE)
Week 10 -- Orton (vs. Kansas City) over Henne (vs. Tennessee)
Week 11 -- Orton (@ San Diego) over Henne (vs. Chicago)
Week 12 -- Orton (vs. St. Louis) over Henne (@ Oakland)
Week 13 -- Henne (vs. Cleveland) over Orton (@ Kansas City) -- TOSS UP
Week 14 -- Orton (@ Arizona) over Henne (@ N.Y. Jets)
Week 15 -- Henne (vs. Buffalo) over Orton (@ Oakland)
Week 16 -- Henne (vs. Detroit) over Orton (vs. Houston)
Week 17 -- Orton (vs. San Diego) over Henne (@ New England)
Final Tally: Orton wins, 9-8

Second Time Around

The Running Back Class of 2009 might never compare to the name-brand talents of previous years (like '08), but this group should have a profound fantasy impact this season. Here are the rankings for Year 2 backs in standard-scoring leagues:
1. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
2. Beanie Wells, Cardinals
3. Shonn Greene, Jets
4. LeSean McCoy, Eagles
5. Donald Brown, Colts
6. Glen Coffee, 49ers
7. Rashad Jennings, Jaguars
8. LaRod Stephens-Howling, Cardinals
9. James Davis, Browns
10. Javon Ringer, Titans
11. Andre Brown, Giants
12. Bernard Scott, Bengals
13. Mike Goodson, Panthers
14. Aaron Brown, Lions
15. Chris Ogbonnaya, Rams

We Interrupt Fantasy Clicks ...

... To clarify how we'll handle the Vincent Jackson holdout saga: Unlike most seasons when a player and/or his agent threaten to sit out a season -- even though we all know they're bluffing, for various reasons -- I cannot envision any circumstance in which V-Jax shows up for the Chargers' Week 1 clash against the Chiefs ... without a long-term contract in hand. Jackson's reasons for sitting on his couch until Week 10 -- when players must report to their teams to get full service-time credit for 2010 -- are threefold:

1. As a restricted free agent, Jackson is currently tendered for only $600,000 (and change) this season, a pittance salary for a burgeoning all-pro receiver. In other words, he wouldn't be losing that much money if he ignored the lure of training camp (and subsequent daily fines for missing work) and the regular season.

2. It's been widely reported that Jackson stands to earn a three-game suspension whenever he returns to San Diego's locker room. That grim news, coupled with Jackson's salary strife, paints the picture of a lost season for Jackson, the Chargers and fantasy owners everywhere.

3. San Diego GM A.J. Smith is a certifiable stubborn mule when dealing with holdouts and malcontents. So, why would he ever reward the embattled Jackson for holding out?

Verdict: In any other year, we wouldn't hesitate to grab V-Jax after the 35th pick in a standard-scoring draft; but in the absence of a trade or a long-term deal (odds of either one: what's the number right above zilch?), Jackson's value doesn't kick in until Round 6 or 7 -- which doesn't account for the rapid plunge that'll occur if we're still having this discussion on Aug. 22.

Clear Sailing Ahead

These teams should have a minimum of 12 weather-friendly games, which is the first step to predicting fantasy goodness (especially with quarterbacks) and laying the groundwork for borderline-crazy preseason predictions (like Maurice Jones-Drew collecting more yards from scrimmage than Chris Johnson in 2010):

16
Detroit (only nuisance is Nov. 14 @ Buffalo ... and how bad can that be? what a sked!)

15
San Francisco (only glitch is Dec. 5 @ Green Bay ... quite favorable for Smith/Crabtree)
Jacksonville (a Nov. 28 tilt with the Giants in East Rutherford ... outside of that, no worries)

14
Arizona
San Diego
Indianapolis (yet another reason to LOVE Peyton Manning on draft day)
Dallas
Miami (hmmm ... Brandon Marshall might be a top-3 WR in PPRs/standards now)
Atlanta
Oakland
St. Louis
New Orleans (as if Drew Brees didn't have enough going for him these days)

13
Tampa Bay (good weather or not, can the Bucs step out of the Dark Ages offensively?)
Seattle
Houston (anyone wanna bet Matt Schaub wins the passing-TD title in '10?)
Tennessee
Minnesota (I wonder if someone handed Lord Favre this cake schedule on the lawn mower?)

12
Denver
Kansas City
Green Bay (this is actually good news for Aaron Rodgers -- imagine the possibilities)
Carolina

Clip & Save

The following is a comprehensive listing (in five classifications) of which teams have the easiest and hardest schedules during the standard fantasy playoff period of Weeks 14, 15 and 16. The formula accounts for weather, strength/weakness of opposition and home/away considerations: (It goes without saying ... if you're torn between two QBs come draft day, this could be the tiebreaker)

Tier I -- The Easiest
1. Green Bay (@ Lions, @ Pats, vs. Giants at Lambeau -- 90 total points expected)
2. Detroit (vs. Packers, @ Bucs, @ Dolphins -- no wind or cold for Matthew Stafford)
3. Seattle (strange but true: Justin Forsett could bring you a fantasy title in Week 16)
4. Baltimore (the Ravens were listed in Tier V last year -- and now they're reaping the benefits of playing the Browns on Fantasy Championship Sunday)

Tier II
1. Indianapolis
2. Tennessee
3. Atlanta
4. Carolina (DeAngelo Williams should rule in Weeks 14/15)
5. Oakland
6. Minnesota
7. Cincinnati
8. Miami (might've made Tier 1 -- if it weren't for @ Jets in Week 14)
9. San Francisco
10. St. Louis
11. Denver (favorable mini-slate with Arizona, Oakland and Houston)
12. San Diego
13. Dallas
14. Houston

Tier III
1. Buffalo
2. Tampa Bay
3. Washington
4. Jacksonville
5. New Orleans
6. N.Y. Jets
7. Arizona
8. Kansas City (might've made Tier II if this team looked better on paper)
9. Philadelphia

Tier IV
1. New England
2. Chicago
3. N.Y. Giants
4. Pittsburgh (avoids Tier V by facing the Bengals, Jets and Panthers at home)

Tier V -- The Hardest
1. Cleveland (@ Bills, @ Bengals, vs. Ravens -- two great defenses, three bad-weather games)

Ma Nature's A Fickle Mistress

On the flip side ... these clubs should encounter treacherous weather for at least five games, which often serves as the great equalizer with star quarterbacks in fantasyland (See Tom Brady, Week 15 of 2007 vs. the Jets):

Five Probable Bad Weather Games
Chicago
Cincinnati
Cleveland
Baltimore
Washington

Six Probable Bad Weather Games
Buffalo
Philadelphia
N.Y. Giants
N.Y. Jets
New England (rank Brady in the top-3 QBs at your own peril ... we're talking four blustery games at Foxboro, one in Chicago and one in Buffalo -- Dec. 26)

It's All About The Slot: #6

Most people consider the No. 6 pick in a 12-team draft to be a mixed blessing. Yes, you're guaranteed a shot at Andre Johnson or Aaron Rodgers in Round 1 -- assuming you have the stones to pass on a running back -- but you're also at the mercy of savvy drafters from that point forward, without ever possessing an opportunity to grab two productive players at the tail end of any round. Well, hath no fear or ambivalence about this perceived No Man's Land ... for here's a strategy to dominate a 16-round draft with the No. 6 selection:

Round 1, Pick 6: Motive -- Best overall player (anything goes after the first five picks)
1st option: WR Andre Johnson, Texans ... 2nd option: RB Frank Gore, 49ers

Round 2, Pick 19 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR/QB available
1st option: RB Jamaal Charles, Chiefs ... 2nd option: QB Peyton Manning, Colts

Round 3, Pick 30 overall: Motive -- Best RB or WR available
1st option: RB Knowshon Moreno, Broncos ... 2nd option: WR Greg Jennings, Packers

Round 4, Pick 43 overall: Motive -- Best WR/TE/RB available (unless Matt Schaub lurks)
1st option: QB Matt Schaub, Texans ... 2nd option: TE Antonio Gates, Chargers

Round 5, Pick 54 overall: Motive -- Best elite WR or TE
1st option: WR Chad Ochocinco, Bengals ... 2nd option: TE Jason Witten, Cowboys

Round 6, Pick 67 overall: Motive -- Best tight end or top-tier running back
1st option: TE Brent Celek, Eagles ... 2nd option: RB Fred Jackson, Bills

Round 7, Pick 78 overall: Motive -- Best RB available (preferably a workhorse back)
1st option: RB Cadillac Williams, Buccaneers ... 2nd option: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants

Round 8, Pick 91 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR available
1st option: RB Clinton Portis, Redskins ... 2nd option: RB Steve Slaton, Texans

Round 9, Pick 102 overall: Motive -- Best WR/QB available
1st option: WR Kenny Britt, Titans ... 2nd option: QB Donovan McNabb, Redskins

Round 10, Pick 115 overall: Motive -- Best player available
1st option: QB Matthew Stafford, Lions ... 2nd option: RB Justin Forsett, Seahawks

Round 11, Pick 126: Motive -- Best WR available (especially if he's the subject of today's Clicks)
1st option: WR Devin Thomas, Redskins ... 2nd option: RB Marshawn Lynch, Bills

Round 12, Pick 139: Motive -- Best player available (with a nod to tight end)
1st option: TE Greg Olsen, Bears ... 2nd option: TE Dustin Keller, Jets

Round 13, Pick 150: Motive -- Best player available (includes kickers -- barely)
1st option: PK Rob Bironas, Titans ... 2nd option: PK Ryan Longwell, Vikings

Round 14, Pick 163: Motive -- Best defense available
1st option: D/ST Cincinnati Bengals ... 2nd option: D/ST San Diego Chargers

Round 15, Pick 174: Motive -- Best handcuff at running back
1st option: RB Larry Johnson, Redskins ... 2nd option: RB Correll Buckhalter, Broncos

Round 16, Pick 187: Motive -- Best WR available (read: high upside nobodies -- for now)
1st option: WR Laurent Robinson, Rams ... 2nd option: WR Brandon Tate, Patriots

Jay Clemons can be found on Twitter, day and night (@SI_JayClemons), accessing your fantasy questions and comments. You can also read his award-winning Revelations every Sunday/Monday during the NFL and MLB seasons.

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