David Sabino
Thursday September 3rd, 2009

If you're reading this, you're very likely about to draft your fantasy football team for the 2009 season after weeks (if not months) of preparation. By now you've probably run through at least a handful of publications, dozens of websites and know the quarterback depth chart of the Houston Texans like the back of your hand (Matt Schaub, Dan Orlovsky, Rex Grossman, in case you're slacking). Even if you've done a mock draft or two online, you still really don't know what to expect. That's why I'm here.

For the past few years as a regular rite of summer, I've been asked to represent Sports Illustrated in a bevy of expert fantasy leagues. These leagues, comprised of the best and brightest minds in the business are highly competitive -- and the drafts, both mock and real, usually play out the way that a majority of drafts do. And for good reason, since for months those participating have been the purveyors of most, if not all, of the fantasy information you've digested. So today, as a final cram session for your draft (and mine too as the long-running SI Football Association draft is tonight), I'll dissect the NFL.com experts league draft, pointing out some of the highlights, surprises and an epilogue of what moves have been made since the teams came together.

With the first pick of the first round, ESPN.com's Tristan Cockcroft wasted no time in grabbing Adrian Peterson who, as I pointed out a few weeks ago, might be the main beneficiary of Brett Favre's arrival in Minnesota.

Uncharacteristically, I had the second pick which was a very tough decision on my part between Maurice Jones-Drew and DeAngelo Williams. Apparently as you'll see later on, I was the only one who considered it tough. Since it's a PPR league, I took MoJo.

Next the likely suspects followed, including Matt Forte, an early appearance by Steven Jackson, Michael Turner and Chris Johnson.

Larry Fitzgerald was the first receiver off the board with the seventh pick, a perfectly appropriate slot for the league's finest receiver, followed by LaDainian Tomlinson, locked into the eighth slot in nearly every draft I've seen, and Frank Gore (prior to the breakout preseason of Glen Coffee).

A run on wideouts closed out the first round with Andre Johnson going 10th, and Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson surprisingly sneaking into the first round over Steve Slaton (my fourth overall player) and the guy I came inches away from drafting all the way at No. 2, DeAngelo Williams. The one time I can get someone I want with the 11th pick, I pick second. C'est la vie.

The first quarterback off the board was Drew Brees who surprisingly lasted until the 20th pick. Should he stay on the field all season while playing a last-place schedule, Brees will be hard to beat as the no. 1 overall fantasy point scorer. Tom Brady went two picks later although I would've selected Aaron Rodgers at least ahead of him. Another pick from the second round who is gaining lots of momentum is Detroit's Kevin Smith who appears to be one of the league's few every-down back. Also, after having researched what Jim Schwartz and his staff have accomplished through free agency and in preseason, Detroit will certainly not be the mess it was last year.

The third round saw receivers go with five of the top six picks, the last of whom Dwayne Bowe might be facing some tough times ahead should an injured Matt Cassel not be able to get back on the field soon. Incredibly Miami's Ronnie Brown and Washington's Clinton Portis slipped all the way to 31st and 32nd respectively, which goes to show that you can wait on a running back and still get one or two good ones if you choose to go receiver-receiver/quarterback with your first two picks.

Jason Witten was the first tight end taken at No. 34. He, Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Dallas Clark each have their supporters as No. 1. I'd still invest my pick with the all-time leader, Gonzo, until he proves me wrong.

Ryan Grant led off the fourth round that was highlighted by some seriously blemished players at the end in Larry Johnson, Thomas Jones and Roy Williams. Johnson is in too volatile a situation for me to stomach, plus I've never been a huge fan, even in his heyday. I chose Jones, the AFC TD leader who may not repeat his stats from last year, but still should be good enough to be a flex. And then there's Williams who has big shoes to fill in Dallas and has lots of baggage to unpack before you can spend a pick this early on him.

Kurt Warner, arguably the fantasy MVP last year didn't come pff the board until the 59th pick. Sure, it's smart to downgrade him, but this may be too far. All you'd have to do to cover yourself is to draft Matt Leinart in the 20th round or so and you'll have the QB on one of the league's top three most explosive passing attacks.

Devin Hester was the first pick of the sixth round, which, with established receivers like Santana Moss, Hines Ward, Antonio Bryant and Donald Driver around was a bit of a surprise. Joseph Addai slipped all the way to No. 62, which either means nobody has faith in him, or they have lots of faith in Donald Brown. If I wasn't so RB-heavy already, I might've gone for him over DeSean Jackson.

At 71, I thought about taking Tony Romo but had pledged to myself that I was going to draft Matt Ryan this season. I love the Falcons makeup and with a tough schedule, Ryan will have some games that he'll be asked to make comebacks through the air, adding to his already impressive rookie résumé.

Some bargains from the middle rounds were Beanie Wells at 88, Jay Cutler at 91 and Rashard Mendenhall at 95. Carson Palmer, once a top-three QB fell all the way to No. 100 which was a steal, especially with the receiving firepower he has supporting him.

The first defense was interestingly the Giants with the 103rd pick. It's assumed that the Steelers would be the first off the board, but it was the Giants who bolstered the front line in the offseason.

In the 10th round I usually like to make sure I get the hot prospect. This year for me it was Giants receiver Ramses Barden. When drafting against such a knowledgeable pool of opponents, I've found it's wise to draft someone like Barden a bit earlier than you'd normally want than risk losing him. Right after Barden came Michael Crabtree who's protracted holdout seems like it'll never end, and when it does, he's likely too far behind to have any impact before midseason at the earliest.

I took Matt Cassel in the 11th round as Ryan's backup, over Favre, Eli Manning and Matt Hasselbeck, all of whom I considered either vanilla or too risky. Do I regret this pick? Probably, but to cover myself at QB, I quickly picked up Mark Sanchez as a free agent and cut my sixth WR, Kevin Curtis.

Starters were still available in the 12th round including Brent Celek of Philadelphia, Nate Washington if the Titans and Nate Burleson of the Seahawks. As the pickings got slimmer I still needed a tight end and went for Anthony Fasano in the 13th round. He was a TD force last year (seven) and is the kind of player who always seems to make big plays.

It took until the 15th round for someone to grab Leinart. An inspired selection by Rotowire's Christopher Liss, Leinart was the only backup QB I recommended in our preseason fantasy manual. He's absolutely worth having.

Knowing I wasn't going to pick until the second to last pick of the 16th round, I went for Jason Elam in the 15th to beat the kicker rush. I like Elam's situation and he's been the model of consistency his whole career. I just hoped that one of my defenses (either Dallas or Tennessee) would fall to me at the end. It did as I closed out my draft with the Cowboys.

There were a few players left on the table after the draft who have since become very draft worthy.

Browns RB James Davis, Giants WR Hakeem Nicks and Danny Ware were all picked up following the proceedings. Garrett Hartley will have to be replaced, likely by his replacement in New Orleans, John Carney. The newest Seahawk Edgerrin James will eventually move onto a roster.

Teams I'd avoid altogether: Denver (Marshall, Orton, Moreno, Jordan, Buchhalter), Cleveland's passing (Braylon Edwards, Brady Quinn, Robiskie), Kansas City, Tampa Bay, St. Louis.

Veterans to make sure you scratch off your lists: Jamal Lewis, Le'Ron McClain, Larry Johnson, Deion Branch, Torry Holt, Marvin Harrison, Warrick Dunn, T.J. Duckett.

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