Drew Brees: Nick Laham/Getty Images
In the recent mock draft for Sports Illustrated's fantasy football spectacular (likely to hit the shelves by July 4), I was mildly surprised to see that Drew Brees was taken ahead of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady -- and was the only quarterback selected in Round 1. Yes, Brees (5,069 yards) almost broke Dan Marino's record for seasonal passing yards in '08. Yes, he has four superb receiving targets at his disposal (Reggie Bush, Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Jeremy Shockey). Yes, Brees has at least 14 weather-friendly games in 2009. And yes, Brees (168 career TDs) has the good fortune of engineering Sean Payton's 40 Passes Or Bust offense in New Orleans. But how in the world was he chosen ahead of NFL royalty, like Brady (50 in 2007) and Manning (49 in '04), the all-time leaders in seasonal TD passes?
Hmmmm ... seems like a perfect time to explore Brees' presumed fantasy greatness, Revelations-style:
What He'll Like: Can you believe it took the coaches until November to feature Pierre Thomas in the running game, even though he had shown flashes of brilliance when called upon in '07? To me, it's a case of better late never. From Weeks 12-17, Thomas averaged 111 total yards and 1.33 touchdowns, while often playing without the injury-addled Bush. When healthy, there may not be a more explosive 1-2 rushing punch than Thomas/Bush east of the California state line (where the Chargers have Tomlinson/Sproles and the Raiders have McFadden/Bush). All things considered, Thomas is a lock for 1,200 total yards and eight touchdowns this year.
What He'll Like, Part II: No. 2 wideout Lance Moore took a quantum leap in 2008, hauling in 79 catches for 928 yards and 10 TDs -- all career highs. But how much of Moore's success was a vaccuum effect of Marques Colston missing time to injury? And how long can the 5-foot-9, 177-pound receiver absorb big hits -- especially when running middle-of-the-field routes against missile-seeking linebackers? From a projections standpoint, Moore is a realistic cinch for 70 catches and eight touchdowns.
What He'll Love: Sure, Reggie Bush has a legion of fantasy haters, given his penchant for injury and inability to carry an offense in the red zone. But the man's name still reigns supreme in Points Per Reception leagues. Before sustaining a knee injury (on a kick return) in Week 7 last year, Bush (41 catches, 7 total TDs at that point) was the No. 1 running back in PPR play, well ahead of Brian Westbrook, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Chris Johnson. And at the tender age of 24, Bush has another 5-6 years of rushing/catching/returning dominance on the horizon -- provided he can stay relatively healthy (always easier said than done).
What He'll Love, Part II: On the surface, 2008 was a lost year for Colston. A thumb injury crippled his chances of eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark three consecutive seasons. However, when breaking down the six games where he was healthy and NOT just a passing decoy, he averaged 6.1 catches for 96 yards and .66 touchdowns -- the kind of numbers that would have translated into career highs in receiving yards and touchdowns over a 16-game slate. What does this all mean for the not-too-distant future? Assuming full health, Colston has the capacity for 84 catches, 1,290 yards and nine touchdowns. He'd be a solid Round 4 choice.
What He'll Love ... Eventually: Robert Meachem (12 career receptions) has barely been a blip on anyone's fantasy radar since joining the league in 2007. But there is no tangible reason why the Tenneessee product cannot be a 60-catch performer in the Saints' run-and-gun offense. And there is no way he shouldn't produce at least four scores on fly patterns alone. Plus, if Meachem doesn't step up this season -- like so many Year 3 wide receivers finally do -- those chants of "bust" will become louder and louder.
What Could Blow His Mind: On paper, Brees might have the best 1-2 punch amongst NFL tight ends with Jeremy Shockey and Billy Miller. In a perfect world, Shockey/Miller could rack up 11 catches, 100 yards and one touchdown per game in the Saints' high-flying attack.
What May Make Him Cringe: Away from paper projections, Shockey has experienced a dramatic downturn in recent seasons (from 65 catches and 7 TDs in 2005 to 50 catches and 0 TDs in '08). Plus, he's currently trying to deflect attention (read: criticism) from his high-profile bout with "dehydration" at a Las Vegas pool party two weeks ago. And Miller (45 catches, 579 yards, 1 TD last year) has demonstrated an unfortunate knack for being sidelined by nagging injuries in three seasons with New Orleans.
As the world's biggest Matthew Stafford supporter (outside of family and friends), you'd think I would be super-pumped about Peter King's little nugget from Monday Morning Quarterback, implying that Stafford could be the Lions' Day 1 starter. But really, it has no bearing on my draft-day plans for this season (non-keeper leagues, of course). Even if he somehow logs 8-10 starts for Detroit in '09, no savvy fantasy owner in his/her right mind would draft Stafford as their QB1 (or in some cases, QB2). And since the Matt Ryans and Dan Marinos of the world only come around every 20 years or so, I would never reach for any rookie QB -- even though Stafford's a lead-pipe cinch to be a top 5 fantasyland QB by 2012.
On the flip side, the sooner Stafford becomes a viable, on-field contributor with the Lions in '09 ... the better his fantasy prospects will be for 2010.
A decade from now, NFL/fantasy historians might look back at the Running Back Class of 2008 and see a bunch of All-Pros, Pro Bowlers and -- dare we say it -- Hall of Fame candidates. This group is that deep and that good. For the '09 season, here are my revised rankings for Year 2 backs within standard-scoring leagues:
1. Matt Forte, Bears (could be the No. 2 back in all of football)
2. Chris Johnson, Titans
3. Darren McFadden, Raiders
4. Felix Jones, Cowboys (could be a highway-robbery pick in Round 5)
5. Steve Slaton, Texans
6. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
7. Kevin Smith, Lions
8. Ray Rice, Ravens
9. Tim Hightower, Cardinals
10. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers (an absolute steal in Round 10)
11. Tashard Choice, Cowboys
12. Ryan Torain, Broncos
13. Peyton Hillis, Broncos
14. Mike Hart, Colts
15. Chauncey Washington, Jaguars
Wide receivers are the lifeline of efficient passing attacks, but they weren't all created equal. To wit, the way-too-early WR tier system for fantasy drafts -- some of which begin in about, oh, eight weeks:
Tier 1 (1,350 total yards and/or 11 TDs)
Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss, Reggie Wayne
Tier 2 (1,200 total yards and/or 9 TDs)
Anquan Boldin, Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings, Roddy White, Marques Colston, Brandon Marshall, Steve Smith
Tier 3 (1,100 total yards and/or 8 TDs)
Terrell Owens, Wes Welker, Braylon Edwards, Lee Evans, Antonio Bryant, Chad Ochocinco, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Santana Moss, Vincent Jackson, Hines Ward, Sidney Rice, Jerricho Cotchery, Michael Crabtree, Lance Moore, Chris Henry, Nate Burleson (if he can stay healthy)
Tier 4 (950 total yards and/or 6 TDs)
DeSean Jackson, Chris Chambers, Laveranues Coles, Greg Camarillo, Kevin Walter, Santonio Holmes, Earl Bennett, Bernard Berrian, Donnie Avery, Ted Ginn Jr., Eddie Royal, Jarrett Dillard, Percy Harvin, Bobby Engram, Isaac Bruce, Derrick Mason, Domenik Hixon, Donald Driver, Steve Breaston, Devin Hester, Torry Holt, Deion Branch, Anthony Gonzalez
Tier 5 (800 total yards and/or 4 TDs)
Bryant Johnson, Nate Washington, Patrick Crayton, Jerome Simpson, Mark Clayton, Jeremy Maclin, Davone Bess, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Austin Collie, Mark Bradley, Dennis Northcutt, Justin Gage, Jordy Nelson, Josh Morgan, Hakeem Nicks, Javon Walker, Jerheme Urban, Chansi Stuckey, James Jones
Come August, let's pretend you have the No. 3 overall pick in a 10-team, standard-scoring league ... and subsequently, the No. 18 pick on the turnaround. And let's say you're primed to grab Falcons RB Michael Turner in Round 1 and Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald in Round 2. Sounds like a great plan ... that is, until you realize both Turner and Fitzgerald share the same bye period, Week 4. Would you be comfortable with having two elite talents sitting out the same week, or would you prefer to miss their fantasy goodness in staggered weeks? This is a debate we'll tackle in future football Clicks; in the meantime, here's the 2009 bye schedule, along with the impacted fantasy stars:
Week 4: Cardinals (Fitzgerald, Boldin, Warner, Wells, Urban, Breaston, Hightower, Pope), Falcons (Turner, Ryan, White, Jenkins, Norwood, Gonzalez), Panthers (Williams, Stewart, Delhomme, Muhammad, Smith, Dawson, Jarrett), Eagles (McNabb, Westbrook, McCoy, Jackson, Maclin, Curtis, Avant, Celek)
Week 5: Bears (Cutler, Forte, Peterson, Bennett, Hester, Olsen), Packers (Rodgers, Grant, Wynn, Jennings, Driver, Jones, Lee), Saints (Brees, Bush, Thomas, Colston, Moore, Henderson, Meachem, Shockey, Miller), Chargers (Rivers, Tomlinson, Sproles, Jackson, Chambers, Floyd, Gates, Davis)
Week 6: Cowboys (Romo, Barber, Jones, Choice, Williams, Hurd, Crayton, Witten, Bennett), Colts (Manning, Addai, Brown, Wayne, Gonzalez, Collie, Clark), Dolphins (Pennington, Brown, Williams, Camarillo, Ginn, Bess, Fasano), 49ers (Hill, Crabtree, Gore, Robinson, Coffee, Bruce, Davis, Morgan)
Week 7: Ravens (Flacco, McGahee, McClain, Rice, Mason, Clayton, Heap), Broncos (Orton/Simms, Marshall, Royal, Stokley, Scheffler, Moreno, Buckhalter, Jordan, Hillis, Torain), Lions (Culpepper/Stafford, Smith, Johnson, Johnson, Curry, Pettigrew), Jaguars (Garrard, Jones-Drew, Washington, Northcutt, Holt, Lewis, Dillard, Walker, Williamson), Seahawks (Hasselbeck, Jones, Duckett, Burleson, Branch, Houshmandzadeh, Payne, Carlson), Titans (Collins/Young, Johnson, White, Gage, Thorpe, Washington, Scaife)
Week 8: Bengals (Palmer, Benson, Johnson, Leonard, Dorsey, Ochocinco, Simpson, Crosby, Urrutia), Chiefs (Cassel/Thigpen, Johnson, Charles, Cottam, Bowe, Engram, Bradley), Patriots (Brady, Taylor, Maroney, Morris, Moss, Welker, Galloway, Smith), Steelers (Roethlisberger, Parker, Mendenhall, Ward, Sweed, Holmes, Miller), Buccaneers (Johnson/Griese/Leftwich, Graham, Ward, Williams, Winslow, Clayton, Bryant), Redskins (Campbell, Portis, Betts, Moss, Cooley, Thomas, Kelly, Randle El)
Week 9: Bills (Edwards, Lynch, Jackson, Rhodes, Owens, Evans, Hardy, Reed, Parrish), Browns (Quinn, Anderson, Lewis, Edwards, Robiskie, Heiden, Royal, Harrison, Furrey, Cribbs), Rams (Bulger, Jackson, Avery, Burton, Robinson, Klopfenstein, Darby, Pittman, McMichael), Vikings (Rosenfels, Peterson, Harvin, Taylor, Berrian, Rice, Shiancoe), Raiders (Russell, McFadden, Fargas, Bush, Heyward-Bey, Walker, Schilens, Miller), Jets (Clemens, Washington, Jones, Greene, Stuckey, Cotchery, Keller, Clowney)
Week 10: Texans (Schaub, Johnson, Walter, Slaton, Daniels, Green), Giants (Manning, Hixon, Hicks, Boss, Jacobs, Bradshaw, Toomer)
It's absolutely essential to pair a QB/WR or QB/TE from the same NFL team in Points Per Reception leagues. In the biz, it's known as "handcuffing," and it's the surest, quickest way to doubling your points in high-scoring leagues. Here are the top 20 QB-TE handcuffs (with ties) for '09:
1. Tony Romo/Jason Witten, Cowboys
2. Peyton Manning/Dallas Clark, Colts
3. Philip Rivers/Antonio Gates, Chargers
4. Matt Ryan/Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
5. Matt Hasselbeck/John Carlson, Seahawks
6. Jay Cutler/Greg Olsen, Bears
7. Matt Schaub/Owen Daniels, Texans
8. Drew Brees/Jeremy Shockey, Saints
9. JaMarcus Russell/Zach Miller, Raiders
10. Josh Johnson/Kellen Winslow II, Buccaneers
11. Sage Rosenfels/Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings
12. Ben Roethlisberger/Heath Miller, Steelers
13. Kellen Clemens or Mark Sanchez/Dustin Keller, Jets
14. Eli Manning/Kevin Boss, Giants
15. Donovan McNabb/Brent Celek, Eagles
16. Joe Flacco/Todd Heap or L.J. Smith, Ravens
17. Kyle Orton/Tony Scheffler, Broncos
18. Kerry Collins/Bo Scaife, Titans
19. Carson Palmer/Ben Utecht or Chase Coffman, Bengals
20. Daunte Culpepper or Matthew Stafford/Brandon Pettigrew, Lions
20a. Shaun Hill/Vernon Davis, 49ers
The following is a TV bit I dreamed up recently, as an homage to NFL.com's brilliant fantasy commericals through the years -- like this one, this one, this one and, of course, the coup d'etat, "Housh ... yourmama. (It's amazing what the mind can create when lying on a couch for 14 consecutive hours.) For the record, I have no plans of pitching this to an NFL Network exec ... I'm just having fun here. However, I wouldn't mind some brutally honest feedback from the Clicks reader. In the spirit of the immortal Dick Clark and American Bandstand ... do we Jam It or Slam It?
Backstory: The motivation for the following 30-second TV spot was borne out of ex-Broncos coach Mike Shanahan's legendary disdain for fantasy football -- at least that's his perception after years of randomly assigning reps to running backs in Denver, from week-to-week. It also helps that he's taking a break from coaching in 2009 (he?s accessible), possesses TV-friendly charisma ... and that Texans head coach Gary Kubiak is one of his best NFL friends.
Setting: The NFL.com fantasy guys are watching a Houston Texans game on a typical Sunday afternoon -- in a spacious living room
Step 1: Tight camera shot on the NFL.com fantasy guys watching the Texans intently (camera then flashes to old footage of Houston QB Matt Schaub throwing a red-zone touchdown to Kevin Walter, Owen Daniels or any other receiver NOT named Andre Johnson)
Step 2: After the TD, the NFL.com guys celebrate the Houston score (and subsequent Schaub fantasy points), on-camera ... but they are drowned out by the nonsensical ravings of a man, off-camera ... some of the guys look at the unseen wailer with bemusement
Step 3: Fast forward to another Schaub TD pass not involving Andre Johnson ... the NFL.com guys celebrate the Houston/Schaub score with unbridled delight -- but again, they are drowned out by the unseen wailer, off-camera ...
Step 4: Finally, one of the guys says to a buddy:
NFL.com Guy #1
Dude, what's with your friend?
Step 5: Suddenly, the camera pans to the previously unseen wailer, Mike Shanahan, who's donning a #80 Andre Johnson/Texans hat and a T-shirt that reads, "Ask me about my fantasy team" ... once on camera, Shanahan buries his face in his hands for a brief moment, before shouting to no one in particular:
Why does Kubiak hate fantasy football??? That should be Andre Johnson's red-zone touchdown!!!
Step 6: The NFL.com guys, sensing the irony, just look each other with scrunched faces, while hearing Shanahan bellow off camera:
Jacoby Jones ... are you kidding me? Come on!
Screen goes black ... before "commercial voice-over guy" says:
Fantasy Rule #87: Avoid fantasy haters on NFL Sundays at all costs. Fantasy Rule #1: Play fantasy football on NFL.com.
Commercial Ends -- Fade To Black
Philip Rivers: James D. Smith/Icon SMI
It may be hard to find a consensus choice between Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and San Diego's Philip Rivers in the preseason fantasy mags. After all, we're talking about a pair of annual threats for 4,000 yards and 30 TDs. To underscore their razor-thin differences, I made a blockbuster trade with NBA.com guru Scott Wraight in the SI.com & Friends football league midway through last season -- and both parties left the table thinking they got the better QB option.
Here's an early breakdown of Rodgers vs. Rivers, from a week-to-week standpoint:
Week 1 -- Rodgers (vs. Chicago) over Rivers (@ Oakland)
Week 2 -- Rodgers (vs. Cincinnati) over Rivers (vs. Baltimore)
Week 3 -- Rivers (@ St. Louis) over Rodgers (vs. Miami)
Week 4 -- Rodgers (@ Minnesota) over Rivers (@ Pittsburgh)
Week 5 -- MUTUAL BYES
Week 6 -- Rivers (vs. Detroit) over Rodgers (vs. Denver)
Week 7 -- Rivers (@ Cleveland) over Rodgers (@ Kansas City)
Week 8 -- Rodgers (vs. Minnesota) over Rivers (vs. Oakland)
Week 9 -- Rodgers (@ Tampa Bay) over Rivers (@ N.Y. Giants)
Week 10 -- Rivers (vs. Dallas) over Rodgers (vs. Philadelphia)
Week 11 -- Rivers (vs. San Francisco) over Rodgers (@ Denver)
Week 12 -- Rodgers (@ Detroit) over Rivers (vs. Kansas City)
Week 13 -- Rivers (vs. Baltimore) over Rodgers (@ Cleveland)
Week 14 -- Rivers (@ Chicago) over Rodgers (@ Dallas)
Week 15 -- Rivers (@ Pittsburgh) over Rodgers (vs. Cincinnati)
Week 16 -- Rodgers (vs. Seattle) over Rivers (@ Tennessee)
Week 17 -- Rodgers (@ Arizona) over Rivers (vs. Washington)
Verdict: Well, what do you know ... an 8-8 split vote! Officially, it's a dead heat, but I must also point out that we're splitting hairs for Weeks 3, 6, 7 and 12 -- with Rivers getting the slight nod three times on those dates.
Here are more results from my fantasy draft with Mock Draft Central on April 27. The draft attracted some of the highest-profile fantasy experts in the biz ... and the entire production will be published in Rotoworld's next football magazine (similar to SI's fantasy blowout). Rounds 1-10 have already been listed here in previous weeks (standard-scoring league, 14 rounds, 2 RBs/3 WRs start):
97. K Rob Bironas, Titans
98. QB Jason Campbell, Redskins
99. QB David Garrard, Jaguars
100. WR Deion Branch, Seahawks
101. RB Fred Jackson, Bills
102. TE Bo Scaife, Titans
103. WR Brian Robiskie, Browns
104. RB LeSean McCoy, Eagles
105. WR Kevin Curtis, Eagles
106. TE Zach Miller, Raiders (my pick)
107. TB Laurence Maroney, Patriots
108. D/ST Baltimore Ravens
109. RB Ray Rice, Ravens
110. WR Keenan Burton, Rams
111. RB Michael Bush, Raiders (my pick)
112. TE Jeremy Shockey, Saints
113. D/ST Minnesota Vikings
114. QB Chad Pennington, Dolphins
115. WR Steve Smith, Giants
116. TE Heath Miller, Steelers
117. D/ST Pittsburgh Steelers
118. RB Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
119. D/ST New York Giants
120. QB Jake Delhomme, Panthers
It's never too early to construct cheat sheets for the August drafts -- especially when you have an amazing site like Fantasy Football Calculator stirring the pot with its user-friendly mock draft rooms and insightful Average Draft Position tool. In fact, after seeing the ADP rankings where Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Michael Turner, Maurice Jones-Drew, Steven Jackson and Chris Johnson are the consensus 1-6 picks ... I cannot help but wonder whom I'd take at No. 7 overall: Frank Gore, Marion Barber, Steve Slaton, LaDainian Tomlinson, Randy Moss or Larry Fitzgerald? Perhaps more importantly, which of the above stars have the best chance at falling to me in Round 2? Hmmm ... I've some thinking to do.
Last August, I jumped the gun (big time) in heaping mondo praise onto Niners rookie receiver Josh Morgan. Looking back at my stupidity, I simply placed more trust in speculative opinion (then-offenisve coordinator Mike Martz's never-ending compliments and the too-good-to-be-true Terrell Owens comparisons) than actual fact (his minimal hype coming out of college and that Broncos receiver Eddie Royal was far more productive while playing with 'Baby T.O.' at Virginia Tech). What can I say? I was wayyyyyyyy off in declaring Morgan (20 catches, 319 yards, 3 TDs in '08) as a sneaky-good WR3 option.
The Morgan debacle notwithstanding, I will always put myself on the proverbial ledge when trying to find the next great class of fantasy sleepers (defined by those with the capacity to finish top-20 at their respective positions). Like this year's early top 10:
1. RB Darren McFadden, Raiders (could be top-10 when it's all said and done)
2. WR Sidney Rice, Vikings (IF any receiver is primed for a giant leap, it's Rice)
3. RB Derrick Ward, Bucs (DON'T FORGET his 212-yard rushing day against the Giants in Week 16)
4. QB Kyle Orton, Titans (he can't lose with B-Marsh, Royal, Scheff, Knowshon, C-Buck)
5. WR Greg Camarillo, Dolphins (as long as Chad Pennington's the QB ... he'll knock 'em dead)
6. TE Vernon Davis, 49ers (look no further than their TE-friendly O-coordinator, Jimmy Raye)
7. RB Jonathan Stewart, Panthers (a bigger, faster version of DeAngelo Williams; is he better?)
8. WR Earl Bennett, Bears (someone has to benefit from Jay Cutler's greatness)
9. TE Ben Utecht/Chase Coffman, Bengals (this tandem is too good to ignore ... right, Carson?)
10. RB Correll Buckhalter, Broncos (don't assume Knowshon Moreno automatically wins the job on Day 1)
Right here, right now, I could care less about Vince Young's public wish to be traded to another club, if he cannot beat out Kerry Collins for the Titans' starting gig. First of all, as a backup quarterback, Young has zero draft-day value. And even if he were dealt to another team in the coming weeks (a pipe dream), I highly doubt he'd become that franchise's No. 1 QB in two months time.
In realistic terms, Young's only shot at sustained playing time comes in the form of Collins either getting hurt or being largely ineffective early in the season. Otherwise, this should be the last time VY gets mentioned in Fantasy Clicks for '09.