Carson Palmer: David Drapkin/Getty Images
Some people go cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, others go batty over the Oscar nominations. Me? I get a rush from NFL Schedule Release Day, the perfect appetizer to the draft (just 10 days away) ... and the singular jump-start moment for making foolish Week 1 predictions.
I know it's way too early ... but here are my gut-feeling QB locks for 275 yards passing and/or 3 TDs in Week 1:
1. Carson Palmer vs. Denver
2. Drew Brees vs. Detroit (has a minimum of 14 weather-friendly games in '09)
3. Kurt Warner vs. San Francisco
4. Aaron Rodgers vs. Chicago
5. Tom Brady vs. Buffalo (he's baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack)
6. Sage Rosenfels @ Cleveland
7. Derek Anderson vs. Minnesota
One good turn deserves another ... so here are the RB locks for 120 total yards and/or 2 TDs for Week 1:
1. Willie Parker vs. Tennessee (I've learned NOT to doubt his Week 1 greatness)
2. Michael Turner vs. Miami
3. Willis McGahee vs. Kansas City
4. DeAngelo Williams vs. Philly (I was soooo tempted to put Jonathan Stewart here)
5. Brian Westbrook @ Carolina
6. Adrian Peterson @ Cleveland
7. Joseph Addai vs. Jacksonville
8. Maurice Jones-Drew @ Indianapolis
9. Marion Barber @ Tampa Bay
10. Pierre Thomas vs. Detroit
11. Frank Gore @ Arizona
12. Matt Forte @ Green Bay
13. Darren McFadden vs. San Diego
And for good measure ... Week 1's WR locks for 110 yards and/or 1 TD:
1. Andre Johnson vs. N.Y. Jets
2. Sidney Rice @ Cleveland (he'll have a major breakout in '09)
3. Braylon Edwards vs. Minnesota (assuming he's still wearing a Browns uni)
4. Larry Fitzgerald vs. San Francisco
5. Dwayne Bowe @ Baltimore
6. Marques Colston vs. Detroit
7. Calvin Johnson @ New Orleans
8. Randy Moss vs. Buffalo
9. Chris Chambers vs. Oakland (more on him later)
10. Reggie Wayne vs. Jacksonville
11. T.J. Houshmandzadeh vs. St. Louis
12. Greg Jennings vs. Chicago
Chargers receiver Chris Chambers may be on the wrong side of 30 (is there a right side?), and Vincent Jackson (59 catches, 1,098 yards, 7 TDs last season) has officially supplanted him as the Bolts' best receiver, but Chambers still holds one major trump card for savvy fantasy owners: In odd-numbered years, he's averaging a robust 65 catches, 983 yards and 8 TDs per season. And as luck would have it, the calendar reads 2009! Cha-ching!
Here are my preseason WR rankings for Points Per Reception leagues, from No. 1 (Andre Johnson) to No. 32 (Ted Ginn, Jr.). This list could be reshuffled once rookies-to-be Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Derrius Heyward-Bey, etc. find definitive homes on April 25-26:
1. Andre Johnson, Texans
2. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
3. Reggie Wayne, Colts
4. Anquan Boldin, Cardinals
5. Calvin Johnson, Lions
6. Randy Moss, Patriots
7. Wes Welker, Patriots
8. Greg Jennings, Packers
9. Roddy White, Falcons
10. Marques Colston, Saints
11. Brandon Marshall, Broncos (he'd be No. 3 if Jay Cutler was his QB)
12. Chad Johnson, Bengals
13. Steve Smith, Panthers
14. Terrell Owens, Bills
15. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seahawks (weird to see that in print)
16. Lee Evans, Bills
17. Antonio Bryant, Bucs (would be higher if he had a better QB)
18. Santana Moss, Redskins
19. Vincent Jackson, Chargers
20. Jerricho Cotchery, Jets
21. Chris Chambers, Chargers
22. Laveranues Coles, Bengals
23. Michael Crabtree, Raiders (?)
24. Sidney Rice, Vikings (I'm soooo tempted to rank him higher)
25. Kevin Walter, Texans
26. Hines Ward, Steelers
27. Greg Camarillo, Dolphins (a Wes Welker doppleganger)
28. Earl Bennett, Bears (could be higher come August)
29. Bernard Berrian, Vikings
30. Donnie Avery, Rams
31. Steve Breaston, Cardinals
32. Ted Ginn, Jr., Dolphins
At the risk of sounding harsh here, Byron Leftwich's signing with Tampa Bay has the same fantasy impact of center Matt Birk inking a free-agent deal with the Ravens. In other words ... bubkes. Seriously, are we to believe that Leftwich (possessor of the NFL's slowest passing release) will be the Buccaneers' main man for the entire '09 season? Are we to believe that Leftwich will actually throw more touchdowns than interceptions -- or won't get crushed into dust by a neverending wave of ready-to-pounce defensive linemen? And am I to believe that Leftwich is a better QB option than Luke McCown, Josh Johnson or even Mark Sanchez or Josh Freeman -- should Tampa Bay draft a quarterback next week?
Look, I know Leftwich played well in relief of Ben Roethlisberger against the Redskins on Monday Night Football last year (129 yards passing, 1 TD), and for that, he should be commended. But we're also talking about a veteran who was the No. 3 QB (by a long shot, too) with the Falcons in 2007 (behind such luminaries as Joey Harrington and Chris Redman). That's how I will choose to remember him on Fantasy Draft Day.
Matthew Stafford: Tom Hauck/Getty Images
Now that Georgia QB Matt Stafford has ... (wink, wink) ... agreed to a contract with the Lions, who own the No. 1 pick in the draft, perhaps we should explore the fantasy ramifications of the occasion, Revelations-style. After all, we're talking about the best or second-best QB prospect (along with Peyton Manning -- thanks, Will Chadrow) I've seen in 20 years, and a beleaguered franchise that's coming off a winless season in 2008 (perhaps you knew that already) and hasn't had a Pro Bowl quarterback since 1971 (perhaps you don't care):
What He'll Love: Wide receiver Calvin Johnson (78 catches, 1,331 yards, 12 TDs last season) made a 30-catch jump from 2007 to '08 with Daunte Culpepper, Dan Orlovsky and Drew Stanton throwing him the ball. Think of the damage he'll do once Stafford has established himself as a top-5 quarterback in fantasyland -- which could occur as early as 2011.
What He'll Love, Part II: The Lions may be gawd-awful on the offensive and defensive lines, cornerback, safety and tight end ... but the sky's the limit with the QB-WR-RB triangle (I will resist any and all "Triplets" references to Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith) of Stafford, Calvin Johnson and second-year running back Kevin Smith (at least 86 total yards in seven of his last eight games in '08). Barring injury, Smith is a viable threat for 1,300 total yards for the next 3-5 years.
What He May Loathe: The offensive line is about three players away from being respectable. D'oh!
What'll Make Him Cringe: The Lions' starting left tackle is Jeff Backus (insert joke here) ... but that could change come draft day. Backus would then be moved to guard or long snapper -- whichever position causes less harm for the club.
What'll Make Him Cringe, Part II: Detroit's No. 2 wide receiver Bryant Johnson (3,221 career receiving yards, 12 TDs) looks great coming off the team bus for road games, but he has underachieved in six NFL seasons. In fantasyland, he's nothing more than a decent play in TD-only leagues.
What'll Happen On Fantasy Draft Day: Stafford will have no choice but to accept his role as a No. 2 or 3 fantasyland QB in August. But he could be a sneaky-good starting option for Week 15 -- traditionally the fantasy-playoff semifinals -- against Arizona.
I may still be riding high as a fantasy football writer, but I'm hardly an expert at forecasting the NFL Draft (nor do I care to be). Luckily, these Web sites have been busy reading the draft-day leaves for us:
**SI.com's Don Banks
**Great Blue North Draft Report
**NFL Draft Site
**The New NFL Draft Report
**NFL Draft Blitz
**The Football Expert
**NFL Draft King
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 & 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.
Last November, I produced a fun listing of the top-5 late-night infomercial hosts on TV today, featuring the highly versatile Erica Shaffer (I just saw her on The King of Queens the other day). Well, it seems Ms. Shaffer has parlayed that Fantasy Clicks fame into the most challenging role of her acting career ... as hostess to Jimmy Johnson's own day-trade-your-way-to-millions infomerical!
As if the world needed any more lawyers or phony-baloney hucksters hogging the late-night spotlight ... I have to admit that Johnson's scripted program has some entertainment value. He has the charisma of a slick televangelist, a stellar hair-tan combination that would make George Hamilton blush and a strong legion of (ahem, paid) followers that cheer his every move or generic aphorism while on stage. And let's not forget -- as Shaffer reminds us constantly -- that old Jimmy is a national title-winning AND two-time Super Bowl-winning coach!
Sarcasm aside, Johnson may not be in the class of Tony Robbins or even those diminutive twins in three-piece suits that are always bragging about their millions and trophy wives, but he could be an infomercial force for the next decade. At the very least, I enjoyed his performance a lot more than the time I attended an Amway marketing seminar (ryhmes with "tyramid schleme") and was condemned by the masses for NOT cheering the water-filter demonstration. (deep sigh) I'm such an outcast!