September 03, 2009

This article appears in the August 10, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.

• If you get the top pick in your draft, don't overthink it. Take Adrian Peterson. Please.

• Don't let the presence of Jonathan Stewart in the Panthers' backfield keep you from using a high pick on DeAngelo Williams. Carolina will run the ball enough to keep both backs busy.

Matt Forte has actually been going No. 1 in some mock drafts, but I see his workload going down with Jay Cutler behind center in Chicago and a healthy Kevin Jones as his relief option.

• I'm not as high on second-year man Chris Johnson as most people, who expect he'll take over the Titans' backfield. LenDale White will still get plenty of work.

Thomas Jones isn't going to do as well as he did last year for the Jets. New coach Rex Ryan will have a Ravens-style RB rotation that will include Leon Washington and rookie Shonn Greene.

• Whenever Detroit made good use of Kevin Smith last season, he got the job done. In games in which he had 20 or more carries, he averaged close to 100 yards.

• Why is Beanie Wells rated ahead of fellow rookie Knowshon Moreno, even though Wells was taken 19 spots later in the NFL draft? Because Moreno is joining a Broncos offense that looks like it could be a mess.

• Three seasons ago Larry Johnson was a top two fantasy back. This year he isn't even a lock to make the Chiefs.

Earnest Graham was always an accidental starter in Tampa Bay. It isn't a promising sign for him that Derrick Ward was the Bucs' big free-agent acquisition.

• The Colts will use Donald Brown. When a team drafts a back in the first round, it's usually a bad sign for the incumbent.

• No one in Baltimore's committee backfield is worth taking all that high, but if you dive in, remember that the pecking order has changed. Last year it was Willis McGahee with a side of (Ray) Rice; now it will be the other way around.

The Dolphins' drafting Pat White is not good news for Ricky Williams. The former West Virginia QB should take some of Williams's snaps in the wildcat formation.

• Giants rookie Andre Brown is a guy I'd take a flier on. Many assume that the departed Derrick Ward's carries will go to Ahmad Bradshaw. I would bet that this fourth-round pick beats out Bradshaw.

Le'Ron McClain looked good last year when he got a shot at tailback. Now he's back at fullback -- at least until someone gets hurt.


Why isn't Michael Turner, who performed so well last year, rated even higher than No. 5? Look at the Falcons' schedule: Eagles, Giants, Jets, Pats, Redskins.... He'll be seeing a lot of tough run defenses.


Marion Barber dropped in my ratings because of what Felix Jones showed in 2008 before he got hurt. Jones will get the ball plenty between the 20s.


T.J. Duckett is a great value pick. He had more rushing TDs last year than Marion Barber and Frank Gore. Also, Seattle's new coordinator, Greg Knapp, who knows Duckett from Atlanta, directed offenses that were No. 1 in rushing from 2004 to '06.

LeSean McCoy is the backup with the best chance of scoring big. He has Brian Westbrook--like skills, and given Westbrook's injury history, it's easy to imagine the rookie falling into a lot of playing time.

Drew Brees challenged Dan Marino's NFL season-passing-yardage record in 2008, and this year he should have Marques Colston and Reggie Bush back healthy. The Saints play a last-place schedule too.

• Considering his '09 stats, you'd think Kurt Warner would be rated higher. But he's 38, and last season was the first one since 2001 in which he held up for 16 games. That's too much risk. If you take Warner, use a late pick to grab his backup, Matt Leinart. With Warner's injury history and Arizona's excellent receivers, Leinart is the only backup worth drafting.

Tom Brady is rated as high as seventh only because he's Tom Brady. Any other QB coming off a major knee injury and playing under a new coordinator wouldn't be.

• He's new to K.C. and short on experience, but Matt Cassel will do fine: a strong No. 1 target in Dwayne Bowe, a savvy possession receiver in Bobby Engram and a head coach who last year coordinated the high-flying Cardinals offense. Plus, their running game is so weak the Chiefs will have to throw.

• The second quarterback drafted last April, Mark Sanchez (Jets), makes my list, but the first, overall top pick Matt Stafford (Lions), does not this year, in the NFC North, behind that offensive line in Detroit.


Aaron Rodgers may seem high on my list, but check the numbers: In '08 he had the fourth-best fantasy season of any player, after Brees, Philip Rivers and DeAngelo Williams. Now Rodgers has a full season under his belt, and he's facing a more forgiving schedule than he did last year.


• I like Jay Cutler more than most. With his arm strength, he will get the ball into tight spots and make Chicago's receivers look better than they have.

• A very clear No. 1 in Larry Fitzgerald, the only receiver worth a first-round pick.

Greg Jennings is the lead receiver in a pass-first offense, and he's great at deep balls -- a league-best eight catches of more than 40 yards last year.

• True, Tampa Bay's quarterback situation is uncertain, but I still like Antonio Bryant. After all, the Bucs' QB options are better than what they were last year, when Bryant had his breakout season.

Honeymoon time for Terrell Owens again. He was great in his first years in Philadelphia and Dallas, and everything should be rosy for at least one season in Buffalo.

• The Eagles like to spread the ball around, which is generally bad for owners of a receiver on such a team. But Philly's offense is so good that it's worth buying into, and DeSean Jackson is the team's most dangerous wideout.

Brandon Marshall is a top five talent, but if you don't think a player's immaturity can kill a fantasy team, just ask owners who had Plaxico Burress last year.

Eddie Royal, on the other hand, will benefit anytime Marshall falls into disfavor, and he'll also be helped by Denver's coaching change. He's a Wes Welker type who should catch a lot of balls in former New England coordinator Josh McDaniels's offense.

Braylon Edwards had 16 TDs in 2007. He had a league-high 16 drops in '08. That'll sink you in the rankings. Yes, it will.

• The ultimate tear-your-hair-out receiver: Devery Henderson. He has good season stats, but he's so boom or bust from game to game that you're afraid to play him. I would bet he leads all receivers in points scored while sitting on fantasy benches.

When you get down this low on the list, it's time to take a chance on a guy like Ted Ginn, who has tremendous upside. He's the Dolphins' No. 1 receiver, and while he didn't do much in his first two seasons, remember that he came into the league very raw as a route runner. The third year is when it clicks for many receivers.

Earl Bennett caught zero passes in 10 games as a rookie, but he could be set to move up in Chicago's thin receiving corps now that Jay Cutler, Bennett's college teammate at Vanderbilt, is the Bears' new QB.

Joey Galloway is tempting. He's a proven receiver joining a productive offense. Still, he'll be Tom Brady's third wideout, behind Randy Moss and Wes Welker. At 37, in New England's "Jabar Gaffney" slot, it's hard to believe Galloway will produce consistently.


• His production dipped a couple of seasons ago; his team has been relying more on the run; and last year he was suspended for the first two games. But look at the stats he had in 2008, working with a so-so quarterback. They're a tribute to how good Steve Smith still is.


I can see Anthony Gonzalez doubling his numbers from last season now that Marvin Harrison isn't in Indianapolis anymore.


Percy Harvin is a guy I'll want. He could be the player everyone thought Reggie Bush would be -- a speedster who will get the ball in a variety of situations and go all the way.


The Giants drafted Hakeem Nicks in the first round, but that doesn't mean he will start in place of the departed Plaxico Burress. Don't forget that New York has other young guys, like Domenik Hixon and Mario Manningham -- and when was the last time a rookie receiver produced for the Giants?

Tony Gonzalez is still the NFL's best receiving tight end. He may not duplicate last year's numbers, but he'll still deliver more consistently than anyone else on the board.

• The Cowboys are going to run more, and Jason Witten will see tougher coverage with Terrell Owens gone. That's why he's a clear third among the big three at this position.

• As a rookie last year John Carlson led Seattle receivers in catches, yards and TDs. The club's pass-catching unit will be stronger this season, but he's still an attractive option at a thin position.

• With the turnover in the Giants' receiving corps, Kevin Boss is a trusted hand at TE. He didn't have big reception numbers last year, but no tight end caught a higher percentage of his passes inside the 20.

• Maybe Kellen Winslow has disappointed in years past, but it's not a bad idea to grab a tight end on a team such as the Bucs, whose offense is in transition and whose QB will be looking to his safety valve.

Dustin Keller looked great as a rookie, but expect his production to drop this year. Brett Favre, who loves tight ends, is gone, and the Jets are going to run more.


I love Anthony Fasano. Only Antonio Gates and Gonzalez had more TDs among tight ends last year, and I expect him to do even better this season. Though this is Fasano's fourth year in the league, it's just his second season as Miami's prime target.


Jeremy Shockey is a big name -- to avoid. The former Pro Bowl player didn't catch a TD pass last year, in part because the Saints have so many better receiving options -- including their other tight end, Billy Miller.

Jason Elam is the league's most consistent kicker, and he plays in a dome. To sweeten the deal, consider that the Falcons face a tough schedule, which could result in fewer PATs and more field goal attempts.

Lawrence Tynes missed most of last year with injury. Now he's back in the spot he had ceded to John Carney, who was third in the NFL in scoring in '08. Whoever fills the role, the Giants' kicker is a good man to have.

• When you think of Chicago, you think of wind and snow. But you know what? Over the past three seasons the Bears have tied for the league lead in kicking points, and it's because they have Robbie Gould.

Matt Prater impressed with five field goals of 50 or more yards last season. The x factor is what the Broncos' offense will be like with a new quarterback and coach.

Neil Rackers is on a team that scores a lot of points, but the problem is that the Cardinals tend to score touchdowns rather than go for field goals. So he doesn't get as many attempts as you'd expect.

• Anyone who drafts Adam Vinatieri is most likely a Patriots fan expressing eternal gratitude for all those Super Bowl kicks.


• The name Garrett Hartley may draw a few confused glances at your draft --that's how you know who didn't do their homework. From the time he took the field in mid-November, Hartley was the league's third-leading scorer, and he'll do even better behind New Orleans's amped-up offense.


If you're looking for a fallback pick, try Kris Brown. I like him because the Texans have a potential breakout offense with top five players at receiver and running back.

• The entire front seven is back for Pittsburgh. The Steelers are all but automatic as the first defense called.

• The one caveat to picking the Vikings defense: You need to follow the legal battle involving StarCaps supplements and the Williams Wall (tackles Pat and Kevin Williams). If the two end up having to serve a four-game suspension each, scratch Minnesota from your board.

• You don't think of the Cowboys as having an elite defense -- perhaps it's the 44 points they gave up to the Eagles with a playoff spot at stake last year -- but Dallas did lead the league in sacks in 2008, which gets you the fantasy numbers.

• The Eagles have formidable talent in the return game, and Trent Cole is a sack machine, but they'll miss longtime defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, who died of cancer last week. His successor, Sean McDermott, at least was schooled under Johnson for years.

• What happened to the pass defense in Chicago? The Bears dropped to 30th in the NFL in that category last year. Their greatest selling point now is their return game, with Devin Hester on punts and Danieal Manning bringing back kicks.


• It was already good last year, but the Jets defense will be even better with new coach Rex Ryan and former Ravens like Bart Scott on board. Plus, this team has a good return game.


• Don't be too concerned that the TITANS lost free agent Albert Haynesworth or coordinator Jim Schwartz. They stayed in-house to fill Schwartz's position (Chuck Cecil), so the scheme won't change. And Tennessee's ball-hog offense will keep the heat off linebacker Keith Bulluck and the defense.

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