The Thinking Chair

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So, it's officially the second half of the season in baseball, fantasy football preparation is in full swing, and chatter has even started up around basketball. It's fantasy sports heaven, my friends.

I mean, you did celebrate July 25 this year, yes? That was David Ortiz Day, when Big Papi came back off the Disabled List. Ortiz owners -- and, presumably, Red sox fans and management -- had had the date circled with big red ink on their hypothetical calendars. Just before that, other owners took the day off to honor Alfonso Soriano Day. You can survive when one of your top picks goes down, but you can rarely thrive. Lots of folks out there are feeling a bit better about their squads lately.

And this either makes me a huge fantasy diehard or a huge fantasy geek, or both -- but I'm probably as excited about prepping for football as I am about baseball right now. I love baseball and have teams in contention; I just love the analysis part of preparing for a new season of any sport. These days, I'm wondering things like, is Drew Brees a better QB pick than Tony Romo? Right now, I'm saying yes -- partially because I also think Marques Colston could produce as a top-five WR, and also because adding the fragile (in all possible ways) Jeremy Shockey can only help Brees. Your mileage may vary, but if I'm looking for a QB after the obvious top two, I'm probably taking Brees.

But that's today, and drafts aren't happening for well over a month. That means four-to-five more delicious weeks of not only spending time wondering whether Julius Jones is even a flex-starter, but enjoying thinking about that. I'm generally wondering that very question these days. By early next week, I'll probably move on to being concerned about whether Wes Welker deserves his high draft slot, or if he's going to turn into Mike Furrey. (And then worrying about whether even wondering such a thing might be racist.)

Here's a bit of shameless self-promotion: There's a lot of good questions being asked and answered in our forums, and if you are geeking out on questions like the above, or wondering who a good 14th round steal might be, post away in the forums, OK?

Oh, and here's something I need to point out while there's time to schedule this: Do your draft in person. I can't believe how many people never do this. I want to be clear here -- if you are in a league with your friends, draft day -- yes, it deserves capitalization -- is akin to a national holiday. It's roughly half the fun of the entire season. I have a friend whose league travels to a destination spot for its draft each year -- Vegas, New Orleans, Puerto Vallarta -- and I aspire to that. You may have kids, you may have obligations, but reserve this date. An auction can take a glorious afternoon or a whole day, but a draft can be done one night after work. Make time. Because one day, you'll read advice like this and think -- what kind of person wouldn't draft live if they could?

You'll hear more about this in separate columns, but we conducted our first Expert Mock Draft this week, and there were lots of interesting results. Just one or two here, as I don't want to steal the thunder from any separate analyses. One was Matt Forte, who Scott Engel drafted in the third round. My first reaction was that it was too early ... and my second reaction was, "Man, I'm an idiot." Because that's just about exactly the right place for Forte, a starting running back for a run-first offense (which is a generous description for a team flipping a coin between Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman at QB). Another interesting pick was Brett Favre -- or, rather, the lack of Favre being picked. Nobody was fooled by the recent chatter of Favre stiff-arming the Packers into getting himself a new gig. If that changes prior to your draft, he's certainly draftable -- but until then? Ignore the guy and wait for him in Canton.

I'll add one more comment, and I'm not naming names here, but apparently this lesson needs repeating -- you should never, ever take a kicker before the last round. In the very last round, I took Neil Rackers, who was the best kicker in the league a few short seasons ago. Last season, Mason Crosby was the best kicker in the league and was probably undrafted in your league.

Let me summarize the above paragraph more succintly: Kickers Suck.

There's at least four rookie running backs I'm intrigued about, and they're the same names you have on your list: Forte, Jonathan Stewart, Kevin Smith, and Rashard Mendenhall. And I'll put money down that at least one guy drafted after them -- or not drafted at all -- will outrush at least one guy on that list.

Here's an open question ... did ex-Bengal Chris Henry change his name in the off-season to Brandon Marshall? Marshall is capable of being a top-10 receiver, but he was arrested three times this off-season and could get suspended for a sizeable part of the '08 season. That's wildly immature; maybe there are more reasons why Marshall is nicknamed 'Baby T.O.' aside from his size and speed.

On the other hand, apparently Marshawn Lynch isn't in any danger of a suspension? That seems a bit crazy, since Lynch was involved in a hit-and-run case. But hey, I'm no judge -- I just do it as a hobby.

Matt Cain started off the second half of the season with a stellar nine-inning shutout. Cain gets overlooked because of Tim Lincecum, but he's a serious quality pitcher. With that performance, his ERA is now under 4.00 for the season, and in July it's a crisp 2.00 in five starts. That's a hot streak my friends, and don't ignore it because it got broken up by the All-Star Game.

Speaking of my Giants, they shipped off veteran Ray Durham to the Brewers for two guys you won't need to worry about for fantasy purposes this season. As far as the Giants are concerned, it's the right move, because they desperately need to get younger. But in fantasy terms, it really raises another question: Is Rickie Weeks a myth? I can't really think of another player who has gotten so much "street cred" for doing relatively so little. Sure, he can run, but the only 'evidence' that he can actually hit is limited to his '06 season, all 95 games of it. I remain unconvinced.

Back to football as I wrap this up -- one thing I don't think enough people do is think their whole thoughts out. (Hence, the idea of The Thinking Chair.) I wrote above that I think Marques Colston will have a good season, so that extends to Drew Brees having similarly good stats. I think the same could be applied to Braylon Edwards and Derek Anderson, not to mention Kellen Winslow. If you think Edwards and Winslow are good -- and I have Winslow as my top TE, and Edwards battling Terrell Owens for the third WR slot -- then it's hard not to rank Anderson as high as the fifth quarterback overall (which is exactly where I have him). In any case, I hear similar lofty prognostications for San Francisco 49ers WR Bryant Johnson and TE Vernon Davis this season. I do think Davis will have a very solid season and am less convinced about Johnson, who has never done all that much to warrant the hype. But if you do like both Johnson and Davis this year, you have to then like Alex Smith (Despite what some folks are saying, I really don't see Shaun Hill wresting the starting job away from Smith). If liking Smith in fantasy terms is too much for you to believe, that's fine -- but you probably have to then lower your expectations for Johnson and Davis. Follow the circle all the way around -- the view is better the second time through.