Maurice Jones-Drew: Steve Jacobson/SI
Not that we need a reason to talk fantasy football ... but with the April 25 draft almost upon us, Fantasy Clicks will be a beacon for All Things NFL every Wednesday in April. For football fans, this should be a little slice of heaven; for baseball enthusiasts, it simply means you'll have to wait until Friday for cutting-edge insight on Marlins 2B Emilio Bonifacio (this just in: he's fast), Dodgers OF Matt Kemp (ready to set the fantasy world on fire), the Tigers' bullpen (do the words "train" and "wreck" mean anything to you?), White Sox DH Jim Thome (same body since 1997 ... same capacity for clutch homers), Nationals OF Elijah Dukes (how on earth did he lose the starting gig?) and, unfortunately, Rays starting pitcher James Shields (who should never, ever pitch in Fenway again). Now ... on with the pigskin show:
For the record, I could care less about whether or not some of the NFL's bigger stars -- like Terrell Owens or Chad Johnson -- are working out with their teammates in April. It's just not a life-changing issue for someone who's consumed with fantasy baseball, college hoops and the NBA playoffs come springtime. That said, I wanted to spotlight the inherent stupidity of Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and his newsworthy absence from the club's "voluntary" workouts.
According to the Florida Times-Union, Jones-Drew has entered the first phase of a full-blown holdout -- unless Jacksonville gives him a new contract. But MJD isn't just seeking a garden-variety extension -- no, he apparently demands to be the league's highest-paid running back ... commensurate with his own beliefs of being the NFL's best running back -- right now, not in 2013! (cue laugh track from any sitcom in the 1970s) This claim, I assume, was genuine on MJD's part -- and not an April Fools' Day ruse -- despite ...
... Never rushing for 1,000 yards in any season
... Never exceeding 200 rushing attempts in any year
... Never surpassing 1,400 yards from scrimmage in any of his three seasons
... Never being a true feature back in Jacksonville's rushing attack
Look, I don't want this to be an Anti-MJD campaign; after all, he's one of the NFL's top 30 fantasy talents ... and the Jaguars would be lost without his services in 2009 -- at least after Fred Taylor signed with New England and before the Jags were able to draft Fragile Freddy's long-term replacement. But there is a sizable gulf between the running contributions of LaDainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson, Brian Westbrook, Clinton Portis, Frank Gore, Marion Barber III, Matt Forte and what MJD has brought to the table since 2006. And anybody who thinks otherwise is a relative/close friend of MJD ... or his agent, who has publicly determined that Steven Jackson's $49.3 million extension from last season is a good "baseline" for Jones-Drew's new deal (cue laugh track from any sitcom in the 1980s).
Speaking of running backs, the 2009 draft class has its share of talented ball carriers; and here's how the fantasy stars will likely shake out by the '12 season:
1. Shonn Greene, Iowa (just a gut feeling he'll be the prize pupil of this class)
2. Knowshon Moreno, Georgia
3. Jeremiah Johnson, Oregon
4. Chris "Beanie" Wells, Ohio State
5. LeSean McCoy, Pittsburgh
6. Donald Brown, Connecticut
7. Andre Brown, North Carolina State
8. Cedric Peerman, Virginia
9. James Davis, Clemson
10. Javon Ringer, Michigan State
One good turn deserves another ... so here are the top 10 wide receivers for the 2012 season from the '09 draft class:
1. Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (a lighter, shorter version of Andre Johnson)
2. Jeremy Maclin, Missouri
3. Percy Harvin, Florida
4. Kenny Britt, Rutgers
5. Austin Collie, BYU
6. Derrick Williams, Penn State
7. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland
8. Mohamed Massaquoi, Georgia
9. Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina
10. Brandon Tate, North Carolina
Here are my revised projections for fantasyland's Top 10 Impact Rookies for 2009:
1. WR Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (I'm intrigued to see his predraft 40, assuming he runs one)
2. RB Shonn Greene, Iowa (may be a better pound-for-pound runner than the No. 3 guy)
3. RB Knowshon Moreno, Georgia (an amazing athlete, built for long-term NFL success)
4. RB Percy Harvin, Florida (the perfect PPR back, in the mold of Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles)
5. QB Matthew Stafford, Georgia (he should log 80 percent of the Lions' snaps next year)
6. WR Jeremy Maclin, Missouri (could be the NFL's best return man in '09)
7. RB Chris Wells, Ohio State (reminds one of Anthony Thomas, the former Michigan stud)
8. RB Jeremiah Johnson, Oregon (a virtual clone of Carolina RB and ex-Duckie Jonathan Stewart)
9. QB Mark Sanchez, USC (assuming he goes to a QB-needy NFL team)
10. WR Austin Collie, BYU (he'll wow you with his deceptive speed, great hands and peerless route-running)
Here are my current QB starter rankings for the 2009 fantasy season, from No. 1 (Drew Brees) ... all the way to No. 32 (Josh Johnson). This list will obviously be reshuffled once Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, etc. find definitive homes on April 25-26:
1. Drew Brees, Saints
2. Tom Brady, Patriots
3. Peyton Manning, Colts
4. Philip Rivers, Chargers
5. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
6. Kurt Warner, Cardinals
7. Donovan McNabb, Eagles
8. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
9. Matt Schaub, Texans
10. Trent Edwards, Bills (I'm buying the T.O./Lee Evans ticket in '09)
11. Tony Romo, Cowboys (I've already seen the Roy Williams show in Detroit -- no thanks)
12. Jay Cutler, Bears
13. Matt Ryan, Falcons
14. Matt Cassel, Chiefs
15. Eli Manning, Giants
16. Carson Palmer, Bengals
17. Derek Anderson, Browns
18. Sage Rosenfels, Vikings
19. Jason Campbell, Redskins
20. JaMarcus Russell, Raiders (would move up a few notches with Michael Crabtree on board)
21. Kyle Orton, Broncos
22. Daunte Culpepper, Lions
23. Jake Delhomme, Panthers
24. Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks
25. Marc Bulger, Rams
26. Joe Flacco, Ravens
27. Chad Pennington, Dolphins
28. Kellen Clemens, Jets
29. Kerry Collins, Titans
30. Shaun Hill, 49ers
31. David Garrard, Jaguars
32. Josh Johnson, Buccaneers
Along with input from SI.com colleague Jeff Ritter, this is Fantasy Clicks' early, early consensus for the top 20 picks in next year's fantasy drafts (standard 10-team league):
1. RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings
2. RB Michael Turner, Falcons
3. RB Brian Westbrook, Eagles
4. RB Steven Jackson, Rams
5. RB Matt Forte, Bears
6. QB Tom Brady, Patriots (someone will take him high on the memory of 50 TDs in '07)
7. RB Clinton Portis, Redskins
8. RB Marion Barber III, Cowboys (he still runs angry)
9. RB Chris Johnson, Titans
10. RB Frank Gore, 49ers
11. WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
12. RB Brandon Jacobs, Giants
13. RB LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers
14. WR Andre Johnson, Texans (AJ gets the nod over Fitz in PPR leagues)
15. RB DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
16. WR Randy Moss, Patriots
17. RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
18. RB Ryan Grant, Packers
19. QB Drew Brees, Saints (my No. 1 choice at QB)
20. RB Joseph Addai, Colts (this may be his last season at this ranking)
Jay Cutler: Icon SMI
Jay Cutler is obviously a prominent figure in NFL circles -- especially after his high-profile exile from Denver last week. However, his Q rating still hasn't reached the level of Alex Rodriguez -- otherwise SI.com would have handled his move to Chicago with an "all-writers-on-deck" mentality (or as local TV stations like to say, "team coverage"), including the fantasy impact of Cutler leading the Bears and Kyle Orton/Chris Simms helming the Broncos' ready-made offense. Just for kicks, here is a Revelations-style breakdown of Cutler in the Windy City:
What He'll Love: Running back Matt Forte racked up 1,715 yards from scrimmage in his 2008 rookie campaign. Within that total, he hauled in 63 catches for 477 yards. In other words, Cutler knows he's getting a lead-pipe-cinch for 1,600 total yards in Forte (something he didn't have in Denver) and easily the NFL's third-best rushing/receiving back (behind Brian Westbrook, Reggie Bush) -- no matter the weather, no matter the opponent.
What He'll Love, Part II: Cutler was a four-year starter at Vanderbilt (2002-05). His favorite target during his last season was a dynamic freshman named Earl Bennett (79 catches for 876 yards). And as luck would have it, Bennett is now one of the Bears' leading receivers (if not the biggest breakout candidate).
What He'll Like: It just so happens that offensive coordinator Ron Turner was also the Bears' OC wayyyyyyy back in 1995, when Erik Kramer set franchise records with 3,838 passing yards and 29 touchdowns.
What He Has Hopefully Forgotten: Legend has it the Santa Claus, Ind. native was all set to attend the University of Illinois (not Vandy) in the fall of 2002 ... that is, until the Fighting Illini rescinded his scholarship offer. The school's head coach at the time: Ron Turner.
What'll Make Him Cringe: Aside from Bennett, Devin Hester (an all-world kick returner turned receiver) and Rashied Davis, there is nothing on the current roster that portends real- or fantasy-world goodness. In fact, tight end Greg Olsen will likely be the most prolific pass-catcher in 2009.
What'll Make Him Cringe, Part II: The new reality of the landmark swap is that none of the current Bears wideouts would crack the Broncos' Big Three of Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, Brandon Stokley.
What Should Make Him Sad: Even if Cutler plays 12 more NFL seasons at a high level, he'll probably never have a better receiver than Brandon Marshall (206 catches, 2,590 receiving yards, 13 TDs in 2007-08). They were perfect together, and I, for one, will certainly miss their PPR-league dominance.
I used to think the union of Raiders owner Al Davis and quarterback JaMarcus Russell was a match made in heaven. After all, in Davis' prime as the franchise's authoritative, forward-thinking personnel honcho (the 60s, 70s, 80s and early 90s), he was constantly preaching the merits of a vertical passing attack -- one that could destroy defenses at a moment's notice and one that perpetually struck fear into the hearts of NFL defensive coordinators. And Russell, at 6-foot-6 and blessed with a rocket arm, was seemingly the perfect modern-day specimen to carry out Davis' preferred vision -- one that's responsible for three Super Bowl trophies (1976, '80 and '83).
But now, either Davis has lost his mind (entirely possible) or he's nothing more than a powerless figurehead (even more likely) ... because -- as scary as this may sound -- new backup QB Jeff Garcia and new Raiders passing coordinator Ted Tollner are a heartbeat away from running the show in Oakland.
I know what you're saying: Isn't Russell the Raiders' undisputed starting QB? To which I say, "Yes" ... but I also believe that it's only a matter of time before Tollner and Garcia impede (read: undermine) Russell's development and are helming the Raiders' dysfunctional ship, side by side, at season's end. Let's look at the facts:
**Tollner (who's partially responsible for USC's demise in the 80s) favors the West Coast system
**Tollner has a prior working relationship with Garcia ('02 49ers, '05 Lions)
**Russell has minimal experience running the West Coast; plus, he'd be wasting his immense talents in a dink-and-dunk scheme
**Garcia has a track record of only succeeding in West Coast offenses (his 2004 stint as the Browns' QB -- in a conventional, pro-style offense -- was an unmitigated disaster)
Before Garcia's signing, Tollner's hiring and Lane Kiffin's inexplicable firing, Russell was legitimately one top-flight receiving target (Michael Crabtree?) away from being a fantasyland gem. In 2008, he threw for 2,423 yards -- impressive numbers for a Year 2 QB who didn't have a 300-yard passing day ... and was obligated to throw to nobodies like Chaz Schilens and Johnny Lee Higgins every Sunday. And under the tutelage of a creative offensive coordinator (read: not Tollner), I believe Russell would've surpassed 3,200 passing yards and 17-19 TDs this fall -- even though his progression curve is still 3-4 years from reaching its very-high peak.
I understand that Garcia brings 10-plus years and 2,500-plus passing yards to the Raiders' table. I also acknowledge that he's probably a backup-QB upgrade over Andrew Walter and Marques Tuiasosopo. But while serving as Detroit's Web writer back in 2005, I don't ever recall Garcia completing a practice pass that carried at least 15 yards of air time. And at age 39, what NFL defense would respect such a weak-armed passer? And what aggressive defensive coordinator would fear such a horizontal attack?
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
Using recent history as our guide, the NFL should be releasing its full 2009 schedule on either April 14, 15 or 16. If the sked becomes public on Tuesday, Fantasy Clicks will provide an extensive breakdown of the coming season next Wednesday (Tax Day, by the way) -- including an early look at the "locks" for 100 yards rushing and 300 yards passing in Week 1. Who knows, perhaps Saints RBs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas will be lead-pipe cinches for four combined TDs ... if New Orleans hosts Detroit that weekend (my personal hunch).