Unlike some of the other writers who fill this space with excellent content every single week, I'm at a very early stage in my career. I was fresh out of graduate school in June, and to be able to write a weekly column for a national audience under the Sports Illustrated banner has been a thrill for me. I've been right on some things and wrong on others, but I've received a great deal of support from everyone involved along the way. I've also been lucky to pick up some loyal readers, from whom I never tire of hearing. I'll be here through the NFL playoffs and beyond, and we'll start prepping for baseball drafts and auctions next week. I'd love to have you here with me every Wednesday, and fervently hope that the last 17 weeks of Wednesday Clicks have been as fun for you to read as they were for me to write.
With the NFL playoffs comes playoff fantasy football, which is as much an exercise in picking winners as it is anything else. It's great because it's part-fantasy football, part-NFL prognosticating, and part-NCAA tournament brackets all rolled up and wrapped into a month of fun.
When making your playoff rankings, the first thing you must do is fill out the bracket from start to finish. I think we can all reasonably agree that Jamaal Charles is a superior fantasy back to Joseph Addai, but if you think the Chiefs will lose to the Ravens and the Colts will beat the Jets (as I do), than maybe you'd rather have Addai than Charles. Of course, that can't be the only determining factor. One game of Charles could be worth more than two of Addai. But the fact remains that the necessary jumping-off point is how many games do you believe each team will play.
Once you've done that, you now must gauge your confidence in each winner you've selected. I think the Packers and Saints will win their Wild Card matchups over the Eagles and Seahawks, respectively. I'd rather have Aaron Rodgers against the Eagles and Falcons than Drew Brees against the Seahawks and Bears, but I'm far more confident Brees and the Saints will win their first-round game than I am in Rodgers and the Packers. I pretty much know for a fact that I'm getting two games out of Brees. The same cannot be said of Rodgers.
Now that we've completed these tasks, we're ready to rank the players. These rankings reflect a standard scoring system. Ten yards rushing or receiving is a point, 25 yards passing is a point, six points for rushing or receiving touchdown and four points for passing. No yardage bonuses for kickers.
1. Drew Brees2. Peyton Manning3. Tom Brady4. Ben Roethlisberger5. Joe Flacco6. Aaron Rodgers7. Jay Cutler8. Matt Ryan9. Michael Vick10. Mark Sanchez11. Matt Cassel12. Matt Hasselbeck/Charlie Whitehurst
1. Rashard Mendenhall2. Ray Rice3. Michael Turner4. Matt Forte5. BenJarvus Green-Ellis6. Joseph Addai7. Jamaal Charles8. LeSean McCoy9. Reggie Bush10. Pierre Thomas11. James Starks12. Shonn Greene13. LaDainian Tomlinson14. Danny Woodhead15. Marshawn Lynch16. Willis McGahee17. Brandon Jackson18. Thomas Jones19. Dominic Rhodes20. Justin Forsett
1. Greg Jennings2. Marques Colston3. Roddy White4. Reggie Wayne5. Anquan Boldin6. Mike Wallace7. DeSean Jackson8. Wes Welker9. Jeremy Maclin10. Deion Branch11. Pierre Garcon12. Johnny Knox13. Lance Moore14. Santonio Holmes15. Earl Bennett16. James Jones17. Derrick Mason18. Donald Driver19. Dwayne Bowe20. Hines Ward21. Blair White22. Devin Hester23. Mike Williams24. Braylon Edwards25. Robert Meachem
1. Todd Heap2. Rob Gronkowski3. Jacob Tamme4. Tony Gonzalez5. Jimmy Graham6. Heath Miller7. Greg Olsen8. Dustin Keller9. Donald Lee10. Aaron Hernandez11. Tony Moeaki12. Brent Celek
1. Billy Cundiff2. Stephen Gostowski3. Mason Crosby4. Robbie Gould5. Garrett Hartley6. Adam Vinatieri7. Shaun Suisham8. David Akers9. Matt Bryant10. Nick Folk11. Ryan Succop12. Olindo Mare
1. Green Bay Packers2. Baltimore Ravens3. Chicago Bears4. Pittsburgh Steelers5. New Orleans Saints6. Indianapolis Colts7. New England Patriots8. Atlanta Falcons9. New York Jets10. Philadelphia Eagles11. Kansas City Chiefs12. Seattle Seahawks
And hopefully an NFL season will come with it. I'm an optimist, and dammit, Roger Goodell wrote all of us a letter saying that the owners and players would make a new CBA happen. Well, I'm choosing to believe him. With that in mind, let's take a quick look at what the first three rounds of a draft in a 12-team league next year might look like.
1. Adrian Peterson -- I may be in the minority on this right now, but Peterson has proven himself over a number of years, and has been durable thus far in his career. Until one of those changes, he's my No. 1.2. Arian Foster -- Does it all in an offense that racks up a ton of points.3. Jamaal Charles -- Gets the job to himself for the most part and makes the leap. He'll be in this stratosphere for years to come.4. Chris Johnson -- It was going to be nearly impossible for him to duplicate his 2009 numbers.5. Maurice Jones-Drew -- Not too worried about the minor knee surgery or presence of Rashad Jennings. At least not yet.6. Rashard Mendenhall -- He isn't going to hit many home runs, but he's the man in Pittsburgh, and he's always going to get a ton of carries.7. Darren McFadden -- Finally put it together in 2010. Showed a burst, elusiveness, and is an elite receiver out of the backfield. He just has to stay healthy.8. Ray Rice -- I probably have him higher than most, but he's an all-around back, and his carries at the goal line increased as they year moved forward. I expect that number to be even higher in 2011.9. Michael Turner -- A total workhorse. You can pick him and etch 1,300 yards and 12 scores in stone.10. LeSean McCoy -- Forms quite possibly the most athletic skill position trio along with Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson. He cements himself among the fantasy elite next year.11. Aaron Rodgers -- Unquestionably the best fantasy quarterback, in my opinion. Deadly passer, skilled runner, supreme weapons.12. Roddy White -- Four-year average: 93 catches, 1,282 yards, 8.5 touchdowns. He's as rock solid as they come.
13. Frank Gore -- His reputation forces him to this spot for now, but he's my best bet for a guy who drops 10 places by time we're drafting next summer.14. Michael Vick -- Had a comeback for the ages in 2009. Can he keep it going into next season and beyond? He has ideal weapons and head coach for his skill set.15. Andre Johnson -- Breakneck style can land him on the sidelines, but his size, speed and strength combo remains unrivaled.16. Matt Forte -- Last six weeks of season: 761 total yards, 6.1 yards per carry, three touchdowns.17. Calvin Johnson -- Andre Johnson Lite. Would be higher if quarterback situation were more stable.18. Steven Jackson -- The wear is beginning to show, but he remains one of the few true workhorse backs in the league.19. Peyton Manning -- I think 2010 proved that Manning is a top-20 player no matter the players surrounding him.20. LeGarrette Blount -- The late-season breakout of 2010. Get ready for him to make a serious leap as the full-time starter from the outset next season.21. Hakeem Nicks -- Missed two games due to injury his rookie year and three in 2010. Otherwise, he'd be five spots higher.22. Drew Brees -- Why yes, 4,500 yards and 35 touchdowns does sound awfully nice in this spot. Thank you.23. Reggie Wayne -- 2010 might have been the beginning of the end for Wayne as an elite fantasy option.24. Peyton Hillis -- Still not totally buying him, but his ability as a receiver means he can't be any lower than this.
25. Philip Rivers -- Imagine what he would have done if he had Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates all season long.26. Ryan Grant -- The Packers run game completely disappeared with the injury to Grant. In an elite offense, he'll make up for it in 2011.27. Greg Jennings -- The one Packer to really benefit from the absence of JerMichael Finley. One of the most dangerous deep threats in the league.28. Tom Brady -- The third quarterback (along with Peyton Manning and Rivers) who thrived in 2010 despite less than ideal conditions with his receivers. More proof that the quarterback makes the receiver.29. Jahvid Best -- That turf toe injury totally derailed his season. Fully restored in 2011 with an emerging offense, I expect him to shine.30. Ahmad Bradshaw -- This might be a bit high with his fumbling issues, but he's a dynamic runner and catches the ball well in a high-powered offense. He'll justify going here by this time next year.31. Dwayne Bowe -- Way lower than most would have him, but I need another year before I fully buy into the Matt Cassel-Dwayne Bowe connection.32. Jonathan Stewart -- New coach, new quarterback and the possible departure of DeAngelo Williams all have Stewart as one of my favorite breakout candidates of 2011.33. DeSean Jackson -- Just like he's the perfect receiver for Michael Vick, Vick is the perfect quarterback for him.34. Antonio Gates -- Still at the top of the tight end totem pole, but JerMichael Finley is nipping at his heels.35. Dez Bryant -- He'll be a consensus top five receiver on draft boards in 2012.36. Ryan Mathews -- It came to late for anyone who drafted him, but Week 17 served as notice of what Mathews can really do. Get ready for play like that from Week 1 on next season.