Knowshon Moreno: Paul Connors/AP
Mike Shanahan may be gone from the Broncos. But his spirit -- and utter disdain for fantasy football -- lives on in Denver. Don't believe me? Well, look no further than the franchise's offseason acquisitions of running backs Correll Buckhalter, J.J. Arrington, LaMont Jordan -- even though they have a respectable stable of horses (Ryan Torain, Andre Hall and Peyton Hillis) already in the barn. And then on draft day, with Denver's defense in need of a serious overhaul, the club devoted its No. 12 overall pick (the first of two first-rounders) to RB Knowshon Moreno. So in honor of this curious move, let's attack Knowshon's Denver experience, Revelations-style:
What He'll Like: From Terrell Davis and Floyd Little to Sammy Winder and even Clinton Portis, the Broncos boast a proud tradition of ball carriers through the years. However, if Moreno posts 8-10 stellar seasons with Denver, he has a solid chance of breaking Davis' franchise mark for rushing yards (7,607).
What He'll Like, Part II: Outside of maybe Torain, Moreno is the Broncos' most athletic rusher; and on paper, he's the most complete ball carrier. Put it all together, and Moreno should see a steady workload between the 20s AND in red-zone situations. Realistically, he's projected to tally 1,000 total yards and 6-7 TDs.
What He'll Love: The pass-catching quartet of Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, Brandon Stokley and tight end Steve Scheffler (284 combined catches in '08) will command plenty of defensive attention, creating wide rushing lanes for Moreno and Co. But then again, if the quarterbacking's not up to par ...
What He May Loathe: I'm confident Kyle Orton and/or Chris Simms can helm a top-10 offense. And I'm reasonably sure they could lead a veteran team to the playoffs. But I need time to evaluate how they'll work with new coach Josh McDaniels. He's a major wild card.
What'll Make Him Cringe: No matter what Simms or Orton does with the Broncos, they'll forever be linked with Jay Cutler, now with the Bears. Of course, if they make the playoffs in Year 1, they would have achieved something Cutler could never pull off.
What'll Make Him Cringe, Part II: Before we induct Moreno into the Broncos' Ring of Fame, it's important to note that McDaniels was the Patriots' offensive coordinator from 2006-08 -- the same period when Laurence Maroney inexplicably devolved from a highly touted rookie to a red-zone afterthought in just three relatively injury-free seasons. So, who's to say Moreno won't suffer the same fate?
What'll Happen On Fantasy Draft Day: From early estimates, Moreno will be scooped up in 10-team leagues by Round 6 and 12-teamers by Round 5 -- he's that promising. But I'd rather invest my fantasy money into Indy's time-share duo of Joseph Addai/Donald Brown midway through the draft. It's the safer, smarter play.
Who cares about the 2012 season? Fantasy owners are all about the here and now. To wit, the top 10 most impactful rookie RBs for the '09 season:
1. Chris "Beanie" Wells, Cardinals (he'll get 80 percent of the between-the-20s reps)
2. LeSean McCoy, Eagles (he may even get 3-4 starts if Brian Westbrook needs a rest)
3. Donald Brown, Colts (GM Bill Polian says he'll split touches with Joseph Addai)
4. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
5. James Davis, Browns (a sneaky-good candidate for 800 total yards)
6. Shonn Greene, Jets (sky-high potential ... but will have trouble beating out Jones/Washington)
7. Glen Coffee, 49ers (relatively tame competition ... after Frank Gore)
8. Andre Brown, Giants (Earth, Wind, Fire ... and Lightning?)
9. Chris Ogbonnaya, Rams (possesses interesting long-term potential)
10. Javon Ringer, Titans (I may be a Sparty at heart ... but he's no threat to LenDale White in '09)
Along those lines ... here are the top 12 most impactful rookie WRs for '09:
1. Michael Crabtree, 49ers (he's a smaller, slighter Andre Johnson)
2. Jarrett Dillard, Jaguars (Jacksonville is going to love him for the next 10 years)
3. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders (speed kills ... he also has no WR competition)
4. Percy Harvin, Vikings (a living, breathing human highlight film)
5. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles (pencil him in for three kick-return TDs this season)
6. Austin Collie, Colts (Peyton Manning's new favorite toy)
7. Juaquin Iglesias, Bears (plenty of immediate opportunities in Chicago)
8. Hakeem Nicks, Giants (lukewarm feelings ... but he'll certainly get reps)
9. Mohammed Massaquoi, Browns (a better short-term fantasy buy than Brian Robiskie)
10. Kenny Britt, Titans
11. Derrick Williams, Lions (should have a solid, if not spectacular pro career)
12. Brandon Tate, Patriots
And for good measure ... here are the top seven most impactful rookie tight ends for '09:
1. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions (a day-one starter ... and receptions machine)
2. Chase Coffman, Bengals
3. Richard Quinn, Broncos (need any more evidence Tony Scheffler's on the block?)
4. Travis Beckum, Giants
5. Jared Cook, Titans (this man-mountain could supplant Bo Scaife sooner than later)
6. Cornelius Ingram, Eagles
7. Bear Pascoe, 49ers
Last but not least, the top 10 QBs for 2009! (deep sigh) Seriously, why even bother with this exercise? We all know that only three quarterbacks have a legitimate shot at seeing any playing time in '09 -- let alone contributing to the fantasy landscape:
Matthew Stafford, Lions
Just so there's no confusion down the line, I'm guaranteeing that Stafford will be an NFL top-5 fantasy QB as early as 2011 -- as evidenced by his rocket arm, supreme intelligence (he scored a 36 on the Wonderlic -- that's Peyton Manning territory) and that he'll be throwing darts to Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew throughout the next decade. But in the short term, he'll undoubtedly sit behind Daunte Culpepper and Drew Stanton for at least 12 games this season. And if everything goes right for Stafford (that's a big IF) ... then maybe, just maybe he'll be a promising emergency start at Week 15, when Detroit hosts Arizona.
Mark Sanchez, Jets
Let's start with the positive: In five years, Sanchez will be a better pro QB than Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow or Colt McCoy, three high-profile studs in the 2010 NFL Draft (more on that later). And he may actually start more games than Stafford in 2009, making him the slightly better fantasy option. Now for the negative: I'm struggling to see Sanchez's amazing upside in the pros. I'm also weary of the Namath comparisons. He seems like a case of What you see ... is what you'll get. And just so we're clear here, Stafford is the gem of this draft; and he'll be a league showcase in three years. Let's see Sanchez top that.
Pat White, Dolphins
In non-keeper leagues, White is the strongest fantasy buy this season. He's a lock to play in every game -- either as a 'Wildcat' QB or standard receiver for Chad Pennington. He's also a lead-pipe-cinch for at least seven TDs, which may surpass the number of combined scores credited to Tampa Bay's quarterbacks. (We'll address that hideous subject next week.)
Here are my preseason RB rankings for standard-scoring leagues, from No. 1 (Adrian Peterson) to No. 35 (Ray Rice):
1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
2. Brian Westbrook, Eagles (still the NFL's best 2,200-total-yard threat)
3. Matt Forte, Bears
4. Michael Turner, Falcons
5. Steven Jackson, Rams
6. Frank Gore, 49ers
7. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars (Jacksonville drafted two premium O-tackles ... wow!)
8. Marion Barber, Cowboys
9. Chris Johnson, Titans (absolutely unstoppable in the open field)
10. Clinton Portis, Redskins
11. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers (will likely move up if at 100 percent this summer)
12. Darren McFadden, Raiders
13. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers (it feels like I'm disrespecting him here)
14. Brandon Jacobs, Giants
15. Willie Parker, Steelers
16. Marshawn Lynch, Bills
17. Kevin Smith, Lions
18. Larry Johnson, Chiefs
19. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins
20. Ryan Grant, Packers
21. Joseph Addai, Colts
22. Pierre Thomas, Saints (rock-steady, all-purpose rusher keeps flying under the radar)
23. Chris "Beanie" Wells, Cardinals
24. Reggie Bush, Saints (this could be a make-or-break fantasy season)
25. Steve Slaton, Texans
26. Thomas Jones, Jets (beware of the always-fluctuating TD rate)
27. Darren Sproles, Chargers
28. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
29. Willis McGahee, Ravens
30. Jamal Lewis, Browns
31. Felix Jones, Cowboys
32. Michael Bush, Raiders
33. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers (remember him?)
34. Earnest Graham, Buccaneers
35. Ray Rice, Ravens
Sure, the 2009 NFL Draft has barely been put to bed, but I wanted to call attention to SI.com writer Andrew Perloff's intriguing mock draft for next season. For obvious reasons, he has the Lions and Raiders picking 1-2 -- although he has Detroit making a landmark trade at the top spot. Enjoy!
Adrian Peterson: Damian Strohmeyer/SI
The calendar still reads April, but I participated in my first substantial fantasy football draft on Monday night. The draft, conducted by the delicate geniuses (thanks, George Costanza) at Mock Draft Central, 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 results will be published in Rotoworld's next football magazine. So, without further ado, here are the draft's first two rounds (note: standard-scoring league, 14 rounds, 2 RBs and 3 WRs start):
1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
2. Michael Turner, Falcons
3. Matt Forte, Bears
4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
5. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
6. Steven Jackson, Rams
7. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers
8. Clinton Portis, Redskins
9. Brian Westbrook, Eagles
10. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (my pick)
11. Brandon Jacobs, Giants
12. Andre Johnson, Texans
13. Marion Barber, Cowboys
14. Calvin Johnson, Lions
15. Chris Johnson, Titans (my pick)
16. Frank Gore, 49ers
17. Steve Slaton, Texans
18. Steve Smith, Panthers
19. Reggie Wayne, Colts
20. Randy Moss, Patriots
21. Larry Johnson, Chiefs
22. Roddy White, Falcons
23. Drew Brees, Saints
24. Thomas Jones, Jets
In case you care ... this was my 14-man squad (starters: 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 D/ST):
Round 1 -- WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
Round 2 -- RB Chris Johnson, Titans
Round 3 -- RB Darren McFadden, Raiders
Round 4 -- WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seahawks
Round 5 -- RB Willie Parker, Steelers
Round 6 -- RB Joseph Addai, Colts
Round 7 -- WR Greg Camarillo, Dolphins (under the scope of weak-armed QBs ... he rules Finsland)
Round 8 -- WR Hines Ward, Steelers
Round 9 -- QB Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Round 10 -- WR Sidney Rice, Vikings (he's going to have a major breakout in '09)
Round 11 -- TE Zach Miller, Raiders
Round 12 -- RB Michael Bush, Raiders
Round 13 -- K Matt Prater, Broncos
Round 14 -- D/ST Bills
My philosophy: Yes, my receivers would merit a C+ grade, at best, in the preseason. But as someone with Itchy Trade-Finger Syndrome, I would most certainly trade Addai, Parker or Bush by Week 5 -- in the name of stealing a top-notch WR from a RB-needy owner. That's why you can never have enough great running backs.
... I would have taken these five hidden gems to fill out my MDC roster:
Round 15 -- WR Percy Harvin, Vikings (Minnesota must use him like Reggie Bush)
Round 16 -- QB Sage Rosenfels, Vikings (someone has to fuel Sid Rice's major breakout)
Round 17 -- TE Brent Celek, Eagles
Round 18 -- WR Jarrett Dillard, Jaguars (very few obstructions to stardom)
Round 19 -- RB Ryan Torain, Broncos
With the help of my SI.com cohort, Jeff Ritter, here are some prop bets for the upcoming season:
DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart?
Ritter: Jonathan Stewart is younger and stronger, but I've never seen DeAngelo run as hard as he did last season. It's a close call, but I'd take Williams near the end of Round 2, and Stewart early in the third round, with the intention of using either one as a No. 2 RB.
Clemons: Hold the phone! Are you saying that you'd take a "backup" running back in Round 3 of a fantasy draft? Good god, how did I ever lose to you in the quarterfinal round of the SI.com & Friends league? Listen, I don't doubt that J-Stew will be an amazing fantasy back someday -- perhaps as early as this season -- but I sincerely doubt that he'll ever top DeAngelo's 18-TD season at any point in his career. By virtue of that, I would also take DeAngelo ahead of him in Round 2 ... but there's no way I'm wasting a starter's pick on a "handcuff back" in Round 3. That's kooky talk!
Chester Taylor or LenDale White?
Ritter: How do you like your touchdown vultures? Robust, or just plain chubby? Assuming I don't own Adrian Peterson, I'll probably look to take White ahead of Chester. He's just about automatic inside the 5-yard line, and if he stays in that role next year (and I think he will), White has a great shot at another double-digit TD season. Taylor is the ultimate insurance for Peterson owners, but he really doesn't have a ton of value -- except the two times each year when the Vikings play the Lions.
Clemons: Well, I could poke fun of LenDale's weight, bad attitude or stone hands ... instead, I'll just say that Chester would be a top-15 back in fantasyland if Adrian weren't ahead of him on the Vikes' depth chart (just like Buffalo's Fred Jackson). Plus, I have a weird feeling that Taylor won't be wearing the purple-and-gold this fall.
I Promise To Not Draft (Insert Name Here) Again
Ritter: I'm done taking "sleeper" receivers early in drafts who aren't even the No. 1 option on their respective teams. Last year, guys like Santonio Holmes, Jerricho Cotchery, Muhsin Muhammad, Chris Chambers, Robert Meachem and Anthony Gonzalez were simply overhyped as potential breakouts; many owners missed the fact the No. 1 target in town hadn't gone anywhere. This group of wideouts brought some value but likely didn't live up to their draft position.
Clemons: I waited 10 years to finally take WR Torry Holt (nine sub-60-yard games in '08) in a fantasy draft -- a Points Per Reception one, no less -- and I ended up benching him by Week 3 and trading him by Week 5. Enough said.
In 2009, I Promise Not To Draft ...
Ritter: Joseph Addai. It seems like he leaves early in all the most critical games. Plus, Dominic Rhodes (205 total yards, 2 TDs in Weeks 15 and 16) ran great in Addai's absence, meaning the Colts know their ground game doesn't suffer with Rhodes standing behind Peyton Manning. Someone is probably going to take Addai in the first round. Don't let it be you.
Clemons: For various reasons, I've never drafted LaDainian Tomlinson, Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Marc Bulger, Matt Hasselbeck, Ricky Williams, Antonio Gates, Chris Cooley, Plaxico Burress or any Raven not named Todd Heap. Of that list, I will only covet LT and Gates this season.
After Adrian Peterson, Who's Your No. 2 pick?
Ritter: I just can't look past Michael Turner's gaudy '08 stats (1,491 rushing yards, 16 TDs through 15 games) -- he's at or near the top in fantasy points among running backs -- plus the potential for Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense to get even better. I think Turner's primed to be a fixture on these lists for the next few seasons. He's just 26 years old and has endured only one full season of pounding. I feel so good about Turner's future, I don't even think the real debate is Turner or Brian Westbrook for No. 2 ... but Turner vs. Peterson for the top selection.
Clemons: Drafting in Round 1 is all about minimizing risks, which speaks to your very-safe Turner choice. However, since touchdowns fluctuate wildly from year to year, I always favor guys with consistent 2,000-yard potential (total yards) ... which leaves Steven Jackson, Brian Westbrook, Frank Gore and Matt Forte as my only considerations. And right here, right now (with Peterson already off the board), I'd probably go Westbrook, Forte, Jackson and Gore before your man-crush, Mr. Turner.
The following is a comprehensive listing (in five classifications) of which teams have the easiest and hardest schedules during the 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 easily be the tiebreaker)
Tier I -- The Easiest
1. Arizona (@ 49ers, @ Lions, vs. Rams -- you won't find a less daunting stretch)
2. Houston (@ Seahawks, @ Rams, vs. Dolphins -- Andre Johnson's time to shine)
3. Tennessee (Three straight home games of Rams, Dolphins, Chargers -- yummers!)
1. New Orleans
4. San Francisco
2. New England
3. San Diego
4. N.Y. Giants
9. Tampa Bay
11. Kansas City
14. St. Louis
1. Green Bay
4. N.Y. Jets
Tier V -- The Hardest
1. Cleveland (Brady Quinn would likely struggle in consistently poor weather)
2. Baltimore (three games in the northeast -- doesn't bode well for Joe Flacco)