Swamped with fantasy magazines, depth charts and cheat sheets? Let's sort out the top 10 opinions I hold to be true, with draft day fast approaching.
10) Ben Roethlisberger will be a draft day bargain
For teams that like to wait for a quarterback on draft day, grab Big Ben in the later rounds and try not to cackle like a madman pasting the sticker on the big board. Reports last week hinted that Roger Goodell has been pleased with Roethlisberger's off-season personal accountability, and the scenario likely to play out is a four-game suspension rather than six. Toughing it out through the first month might be a bit rough (as long as Ben isn't the first QB you take), but once he returns, you'll get a QB who's averaged 25 touchdowns the last three seasons but one ranked so low, he's in Trent Edwards territory right now.
9) Fitz on the fritz
Larry Fitzgerald should be hitting the prime of his career, but back away from his name slowly in the first two rounds on draft day. Fitzgerald is a low-end Top 10 WR1, who is a first-round talent trapped in a mid-third round situation. There's no way I'd grab him until the mid-third this season. Why? Well, Matt Leinart is a huge question mark at QB, and so far in his career the only consistent thing he's done is disappoint or get injured. Steve Breaston (1,000 yards in 2007) steps into the No. 2 role, but he's hardly the receiver that three-time Pro Bowler Anquan Boldin, who left for Baltimore, is. Fitzgerald had played without Boldin by his side before (as Boldin missed nine games over the past three seasons) but never with Leinart at the controls, and this time Boldin's absence is for good. Fitzgerald is still a great talent but not a top-five receiver in fantasyland right now.
8) Pierre Thomas a bargain back
According to our friends at Fantasy Football Calculator, the average draft position (ADP) of the Saints' running back is No. 31 or early in the fourth round if in a 10-team league. Thomas, who had 1,095 yards combined (793 rushing, 302 receiving) with eight TDs last season in 14 games, is as low-risk as it comes. Reggie Bush continues to be infuriatingly inconsistent, and backup Mike Bell -- the same scrap-heap backup who mustered 45 yards and one touchdown the previous two years -- left via free agency after thieving 654 yards and five TDs as the team's third (!) tailback. No more Bell means more opportunities and yards for Thomas, who, despite playing in a backfield committee, is in the league's top offense and is the guaranteed goal-line back. Plus, he'll come cheap.
7) The Bears will pack a bite
If the top six QBs slip by the draft board, keep Jay Cutler's name tucked in your back pocket like an Ace ready to be played. With "Mad" Mike Martz running the Bears' offense, Cutler will be among the top four or five passers in yardage in the system that created Kurt Warner and once made Jon Kitna a fantasy standout in Motown. Maligned receiver project Devin Hester and seemingly everyone's preseason bust candidate, Greg Olsen, with the rest of the underrated receiving corps, will stick it to the doubters and catch plenty of passes. Another lowly ranked Bear, (for good reason, easily Mr. Bust of 2009) will bounce back with a big season and will even surprise with his production in PPR league formats. The Bears will have some fantasyland bite.
6) Kolb + McCoy = TDs
Call me overly optimistic, but Donovan McNabb and Bryan Westbrook's replacements will be just fine. Kevin Kolb has had three seasons to soak up the Eagles' complex offense and in limited time put up big numbers last year in two starts (718 yards, four TD passes). It also doesn't hurt that he has great weapons to work with in Brent Celek, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
When it comes to McCoy, the former Pitt Panther has the potential to be the first, true 20-carry per game back the Eagles have had since Ricky Watters. Bell and Leonard Weaver loom as backups, but after churning out 637 yards rushing and 308 yards receiving in limited time in 2009, the best is yet to come for McCoy.
5) Alex Smith will be fine
Let me see, if everyone else on the 49ers is ranks relatively well, why isn't Smith on the radar if he's supposed to be the lynchpin? ESPN's Christopher Harris wrote a good analysis of this topic, but unlike him, I actually like Smith a lot. Plus, I don't believe you can get X (production from the supporting skill spots) without Y (Smith actually playing well). After being pulled off the street, the pressure was off the former first pick in the draft, and Smith produced well in 11 games. Had he played a full season, his projections were for 3,400 yards and 26 TDs -- and that's without Michael Crabtree playing a full season, an offensive line that will have two first-round 2010 draft picks upgrading it and speedy ex-Dolphin Ted Ginn Jr. fitting into a second or third receiver role. All of those improvements will be in place this fall, and Smith stands to be a draft day steal as a backup who will be in many a starting lineup by the time the fantasy playoffs roll around.
4) Avoid the 'Boys RBs
The minicamp reports in early spring hinted at Felix Jones getting the inside track on the starting spot, only to be contradicted with similar Marion Barber news of late. The bottom line is the Cowboys will score points with a high-flying passing offense, but the flip side is that three capable running backs (including Tashard Choice) have all shown flashes over the past couple years. Barber is the go-to guy at the goal line but can't stay healthy, Jones has shown explosive speed but can't stay healthy and Choice has looked at times like both of them but can't stay ... you get the drift. No matter who wins the job, none of these backs are worth any of your time in terms of chasing fantasy points unless Barber comes in the later rounds. Between having too much depth and injury-prone talents, there isn't too much fantasyland certainty when it comes to the Cowboys backfield. Let someone else blow their mid-round picks on Jones or Barber.
3) Greene is good
While the Jets' passing game does nothing for me, I can't help but get a chill thinking of Shonn Greene's potential as the full-time starting tailback. Call me a charlatan merely echoing some of the fantasy scribe herd, but Greene is a big back (5-11, 226) with an even bigger ceiling and one of the league's best offensive lines clearing the way for him. The Jets led the league rushing 61 percent of the time in 2009 with the departed Thomas Jones as the offensive centerpiece. In part, it was done to protect Mark Sanchez, but the Jets also stuck with it because it worked. LaDainian Tomlinson is still an important handcuff to draft, providing Greene owners insurance on draft day, but poses no real threat unless Greene's hurt or doesn't produce. In the Jets playoff run, Greene averaged 131 yards in the two wins over the Bengals and Chargers but was held to 41 by the Colts. Still, the best is yet to come for this sure-fire second rounder.
2) Think about passing on Andre Johnson in Round 1
It's not that I don't love Johnson, but the importance of grabbing an elite running back is more important than grabbing the top wideout, save taking QBs Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers at the end of the first round. Johnson is stellar, but as far as consistent game-in and out production, elite tailbacks or quarterbacks are impossible to equal. By missing out on a running back in the No. 5 to 7 draft slot (where Johnson typically goes) it's like drafting from behind after splurging on an early luxury item. Johnson is easily the best receiver in football, the top fantasy WR, and can kick out tailback-like production, but I'd rather take a Ray Rice, Frank Gore, Michael Turner, possibly Steven Jackson or even entertain the idea of Rashard Mendenhall before Johnson. Keep in mind that as a receiver, Johnson gets fewer opportunities to impact a game by touching the ball less through no fault of his own. Last year he was held under 100 yards 10 times and held scoreless 10 times, despite a having a monster year. You'll get more consistency and production from one of those backs or the top two QBs.
1) All about the Ryans
Two slam-dunk borderline second-round picks who might even last until the early third round are Ryan Grant and Ryan Mathews. Both are gems, yet neither is close to being the best skill player on their offense. Thanks to the plum circumstances of their teams, each are mortal locks for 1,100 yards (at least) and 10-plus touchdowns. Mathews is unproven, but joins a Chargers team with a first-rate passing offense and solid offensive line. San Diego traded up 16 picks to snag the 6-0, 220-pounder from Fresno State on draft day to replace Tomlinson, while mini-mite backup and third down specialist Darren Sproles poses no full-time threat for the position. Grant meanwhile, is coming off one of the most criminally underappreciated seasons of 2009. If there's an all-underrated fantasy team, he's the captain. Grant plowed his way to 1,400 combined yards and 11 TDs. Like Mathews, he's the undisputed lead back on an offensive powerhouse with a blue-chip passing attack.