Adrian Peterson: Rich Gabrielson/Icon SMI
In the spirit of the holiday season, I have invited my friend and colleague Jeff Ritter to help me relive the 2008 season ... as part of the SI.com Fantasy Year-End Spectacular. We talked about the various formats for such a grand, all-encompassing project ... but ultimately decided to keep things simple, light and funny -- through a random-yet-substantive system of critiquing one another's choices for the biggest fantasy stars at their respective positions. We also flipped a coin to decide which writer would go first in all categories ... something we'll have to revisit next December.
Jeff's Top 10
1. Adrian Peterson, RB Vikings
2. Michael Turner, RB Falcons
3. Brian Westbrook, RB Eagles
4. Clinton Portis, RB Redskins
5. Steven Jackson, RB Rams
6. Matt Forte, RB Bears
7. Frank Gore, RB 49ers
8. Marion Barber III, RB Cowboys
9. Chris Johnson, RB Titans
10. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB Chargers
Jay's Take: Mr. Ritter, you do realize this is a top 20 overall list ... and not a salute to the best running backs of 2009, right? I'm not saying you're a hipster doofus for ignoring all the dynamic quarterbacks and wide receivers that are still available in your dream mock draft. Lord knows I would never take a QB in Round 1 unless you could personally guarantee me he'll duplicate the TD feats of Peyton Manning (circa 2004) or Tom Brady (circa 2007). But if I were responsible for churning out the upper half of the top 20 (I guess Tails does fail), I might've considered Peyton, Brady and even Fantasy MVP Drew Brees (my choice, at least) -- especially if Brees has only one cold-weather game in the November/December portion of the '09 schedule (just like 2008). And where's Carolina RB DeAngelo Williams? Does 18 rushing TDs (including two 4-TD games in the last four weeks) mean nothing to you? Regarding your specific order ... is Michael Turner No. 2 because he's the Falcons' every-down back? How does Clinton Portis project to be a better back than Steven Jackson and Matt Forte over a grueling 16-game stretch next season? And how close was LaDainian Tomlinson to NOT making this list?
Piggybacking off your list ... here's the rest of the top 20 in 2009:
Jay's 11 through 20
11. Tom Brady, QB Patriots (I'm assuming he'll be the starter -- not Matt Cassel)
12. Brandon Jacobs, RB Giants (a top 10 pick if he's playing somewhere else in '09)
13. Andre Johnson, WR Texans (the best all-around receiver ... by a long shot)
14. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB Jaguars (his stock rises with Fred Taylor's likely exodus)
15. Marshawn Lynch, RB Bills (a reputation pick)
16. DeAngelo Williams, RB Panthers (so low ONLY because Jonathan Stewart looms large)
17. Larry Fitzgerald, WR Cardinals (assuming Kurt Warner is throwing Fitz the ball)
18. Ryan Grant, RB Packers (expect a TD bump to go with the 1,200 rushing yards in '09)
19. Joseph Addai, RB Colts
(oh how the mighty have fallen ... but still a good value here)
20. Drew Brees, QB Saints (the best QB at a great value)
Jeff's Top 5
1. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
2. Brandon Marshall, Broncos
3. Andre Johnson, Texans
4. Reggie Wayne, Colts
5. Randy Moss, Patriots
Jay's Take: By listing Reggie Wayne so high ... can I assume you're writing off his mediocre 2008 season (only 4 100-yard games) to injury? And why is Reggie higher than Randy Moss? They're essentially the same age ... and Moss has the better QB (Brady over Peyton) and injury history on his side.
Jay's 6 through 10
6. Calvin Johnson, Lions (he's No. 3 on my list)
7. Anquan Boldin, Cards (does he rise or drop if he's playing for another team next year?)
8. Steve Smith, Panthers (strikes fear into my fantasy heart like no other WR)
9. Greg Jennings, Packers (may have been the best first-half WR in '08)
10. Marques Colston, Saints (big fan of the strong finish: 385 yards and four TDs in Weeks 12-16)
Rookie to watch: Michael Crabtree (simply put, the next Andre Johnson)
Jeff's Top 5
1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
2. Michael Turner, Falcons
3. Brian Westbrook, Eagles
4. Clinton Portis, Redskins
5. Steven Jackson, Rams
Jay's Take: I would keep AP, Westbrook and S-Jax in my top 5. But to be honest, I'm not sure I'd even have Portis in my top 10.
Jay's 6 through 10
6. Chris Johnson, Titans (with each passing year ... LenDale White will be less and less of a factor)
7. Matt Forte, Bears (you could make a case for him being No. 3 overall)
8. Marion Barber III, Cowboys (I may have to rethink this selection with Felix Jones and now Tashard Choice waiting in the wings)
9. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers (I refuse to give up the ship so quickly)
10. Brandon Jacobs, Giants (barely gets the nod over Frank Gore here)
Sleeper to watch: Darren McFadden (he'll be an absolute steal for someone in the 40-45 overall range)
Jeff's Top 5
1. Drew Brees, Saints
2. Peyton Manning, Colts
3. Tom Brady, Patriots
4. Jay Cutler, Broncos
5. Philip Rivers, Chargers
Jay's Take: It pains me to say this, but I actually agree with the precise order of Brees, Peyton, Brady and Cutler. And the debate at No. 5 only includes Rivers, Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers.
Jay's 6 through 10
6. Aaron Rodgers, Packers (I cannot ignore his No. 2 finish amongst QBs in '08)
7. Tony Romo, Cowboys (once a lead-pipe cinch at No. 3 wayyyyyyy back in August)
8. Kurt Warner, Cardinals (he's still dominant in non-snowstorm games)
9. Matt Schaub, Texans (how can you not deny all of his passing toys -- Andre Johnson, Steve Slaton, Kevin Walter, Owen Daniels?)
10. Donovan McNabb, Eagles (his value rises if he's wearing a Vikings jersey next year)
Rookie to watch: Matthew Stafford (simply put, the next John Elway-esque talent)
Jeff's Top 5
1. Jason Witten, Cowboys
2. Antonio Gates, Chargers
3. Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs
4. Kellen Winslow, Browns
5. Dallas Clark, Colts
Jay's Take: I understand your conservatism here, Mr. Fellow Big Ten snob, but Seattle tight end John Carlson (either 1 TD or 69 receiving yards his last five games) deserves to be on your half of the list. But one man's trash is another man's treasure.
Jay's 6 through 10
6. John Carlson, Seahawks (you could make a case for him at No. 4)
7. Dustin Keller, Jets (Brett Favre's favorite target)
8. Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings (a knee-jerk pick ... after his 7-catch, 136-yard, 2-TD day in Week 16)
9. Owen Daniels, Texans (all evidence suggests a breakout)
10. Greg Olsen, Bears (it's Put Up or Shut Up time with this immense talent)
Sleeper to watch: Zach Miller (this Witten clone will once again be the Raiders' top pass-catcher next season)
Matt Cassel: Doug Benc/Getty Images
Jeff's Top 5 Sleepers of '09
1. QB Matt Cassel, Patriots (depending where he lands this offseason)
2. RB Darren McFadden, Raiders
3. RB Darren Sproles, Chargers
4. WR DeSean Jackson, Eagles
5. TE John Carlson, Seahawks
Jay's Top 5 Sleepers of '09
1. RB Pierre Thomas, Saints (he and Reggie Bush should dominate next season)
2. QB Matt Ryan, Falcons (threw for at least 206 yards in every game from Weeks 6-15)
3. RB Kevin Smith, Lions (a top-20 talent in this season's latter half)
4. WR Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs (primed for that proverbial third-year breakout)
5. TE Dustin Keller, Jets (since you stole my TE pick of Carlson)
Jeff's Top 5 Busts of '09
1. QB Kurt Warner, Cardinals
2. RB LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers
3. RB Thomas Jones, Jets
4. QB Tyler Thigpen, Chiefs
5. Any Denver running back
Jay's Top 5 Busts of '09
1. QB Jeff Garcia, Buccaneers (time is no longer on Rip Van Winkle's side)
2. WR DeSean Jackson, Eagles (I'm not buying him as a No. 1 receiver)
3. RB Le'Ron McClain, Ravens (he's not a better alternative to Willis McGahee)
4. RB LenDale White, Titans (his vulturing-TD days are slowly coming to an end)
5. QB Carson Palmer, Bengals (I think he missed the boat on Tommy John surgery)
Kurt Warner Or Brett Favre?
Ritter: I'm going with Warner here; although if there's one thing we learned from very-recent history, it's that you want neither 40-plus QB in your starting lineup on a snowy day. His late swoon notwithstanding, Warner is completing one of his best years. I'm not buying him as a top-5 QB option on draft day, but with all those weapons in the desert, I wouldn't hesitate to draft him before Favre.
Clemons: Why do I keep getting second choice in this Year-End Spectacular? Of course, I'd want the guy who's throwing to Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston in a cozy dome at least nine times a year (factoring in the annual trip to St. Louis). Of course, I'd want the guy who isn't already hinting at retirement ... again! And of course I'd want the guy who could throw for 4,000 yards at the drop of a hat. However, and this is a big however ... I'd take Favre over Warner in inclement weather every day and twice on Sunday.
DeAngelo Williams Or Jonathan Stewart?
Ritter: Jonathan Stewart is younger and stronger, but I've never seen DeAngelo run as hard as he did this 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 next year -- 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 first next fall. 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: Wow, it took nearly 1,300 words, but we have our first Detroit Lions joke of the day. 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 wasn't ahead of him on the Vikes depth chart (just like Buffalo's Fred Jackson). Plus ... I have a gut feeling that Chester will be playing for another team next season.
Stafford, Bradford Or Tebow?
Ritter: Can I just say Whomever the Lions don't draft and leave it at that? I think Oklahoma QB and Heisman winner Sam Bradford has the best tools to be an elite NFL quarterback. But in this debate, it's all about opportunity and fit. Also, we probably need to see if they all decide to enter the draft before we go too crazy here.
Clemons: Do you not understand the true meaning of a "hypothetical question?" I know that neither Bradford, Georgia's Matthew Stafford or Florida's Tim Tebow has declared for the NFL draft yet ... but that's the fun of it. It's all guesswork; and MY best guess is that Stafford has the requisite arm, size (although Tebow's a moose, too), smarts and makeup to be a great quarterback -- even if the Lions take him at No. 1 overall next April. From a fantasy perspective, Stafford also has the potential to exceed Matt Ryan's otherworldly rookie numbers this season -- 3,280 yards and 15 TDs.
In 2009, 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. This 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 Rams 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. How far has he fallen, in my mind? I'm not sure he's even draftable anymore -- a perilous combination of his age, injury concerns, Donnie Avery's emergence as the No. 1 receiver ... and the overall crumminess of the Rams in fantasyland.
WeIn 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 next year. 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 next season.
After AP, 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 this one full season of pounding. I feel so good about Turner's future, I don't even think the real debate is Turner or 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) in Round 1 ... 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, Michael Turner.
The 2008 Fantasy MVP Is ...
Ritter: Given his average draft slot in '08 (77th overall) and production in the fantasy homestretch, I've got to go with DeAngelo Williams. Now, does that make him a top-10 pick next year? I still say no. But if you had him this year, I hope you enjoyed the ride. Next year starts right now.
Clemons: If you believe running back is the most important position in fantasyland, outside of a Brady-like year in 2007, of course you're going to say DeAngelo Williams or Michael Turner. But I'm going to side with the guy who was so good and so consistent all year ... that I never once wavered on benching him for one week or thought about trading him for three studs in return ... Saints QB Drew Brees. Let's just hope he has a fantasy-friendly schedule come November 2009. Merry Christmas, Jeff!
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