We all have our opinions on which players, coaches, etc. should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. However, there are three people yet to be honored who I believe deserve induction into the Hall of Fame, and no one can really make an argument against them. Those three people are Wilfred Winkenbach, Scotty Stirling and George Ross. Never heard of them? They're the guys credited with creating fantasy football way back in 1962.
Other than gambling (Sorry, NFL, but it's true), no other entity has meant more to the popularity of the NFL than fantasy football. Think about all the people glued to their TV sets every Sunday watching games solely because of fantasy football. If you want a number, it's estimated that close to 20 million people now play fantasy football.
Let's be honest, how many great games are there on a Sunday afternoon? Sure, we all have our favorite teams and we're going to follow them regardless. However, most of Sunday football is made up of games like Miami vs. Tennessee and Jacksonville vs. Cleveland. If there were no fantasy football, how many people would care about those games?
Induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame isn't only meant for players and coaches, it's meant for people who have changed the game in a positive way. Can anyone make the argument that fantasy football hasn't had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the NFL?
I will even argue that fantasy football is a little bit responsible for helping to generate all that revenue owners and players were fighting over for the past six months. Seriously, if someone tells you they don't play fantasy football it's like them telling you they've never seen the movie Rocky. It's just shocking.
Fantasy football has done wonders for the league over the past 15 years and has added an element of fun and interest to fans that can't be measured. It's time for the NFL to recognize the men that made this all possible. The league needs to give Winkenbach, Stirling and Ross their due and put them into the Hall of Fame. It's the right thing to do.
Now, on with the Fire Sale ...
Marshawn Lynch, RB Seahawks -- This is a gut call. Lynch was running hard late in the year and I think he'll feel more comfortable this season now that he's no longer associated with the armpit of the NFL; the Buffalo Bills.
Lynch's touches increased as the 2010 season went on, and Pete Carroll seems committed to making him the feature back. Another reason to like Lynch this year is the addition of Tom Cable as the Seahawks offensive line coach. Cable has a knack for getting the ground game going, as we saw in Oakland.
He's getting selected in that seventh-round area in 12-team leagues. To me, that's tremendous value for a guy who's going to be the bell cow of Seattle's offense and should eclipse 1,000 yards this season.
The Seahawks signed Tarvaris Jackson to take over at quarterback for the departed Matt Hasselbeck. To say Seattle will rely heavily on the run this season is what we like to refer to in the biz as an understatement.
The Seahawks are building their offense to revolve around the power running game. Seattle drafted Alabama OT James Carpenter in the first round. While Carpenter needs some work in pass protection, he's an absolute road grader in the running game. So is John Moffitt, who helped pave the way for a Wisconsin offense that came up four yards short of becoming the first team in college football history to field three 1,000 yard rushers. Moffitt is expected to start at right guard as a rookie, alongside Carpenter.
The selection of Carpenter and Moffitt tells me a lot about what kind of identity the Seahawks are striving for on offense, and that identity is one of a power running team that has the ability to shorten a game. It may not work but that's obviously the direction Carroll wants to go.
For a running back that is roughly the 25th player being drafted at his position, I think you're getting an absolute steal here. If you miss out on stud runners early and are looking to draft someone who could put up big numbers later on, I say jump all over Lynch.
C.J. Spiller, RB Bills -- OK, let's try this again.
Only the Bills can select a talented running back in the Top 10 and then never use him. I was very high on Spiller coming out of Clemson and I pleaded with Chan Gailey to use him more for the first couple months of the season. Finally, I just gave up and traded for Fred Jackson.
I think Jackson is a very solid player. He gets the most out of his God-given ability. However, Spiller still brings a special skill-set to the table that very few running backs possess. I have to believe Spiller is going to be much more involved in the Bills offense this season. Then again, who knows what they're going to do in Buffalo?
Last year I think Spiller suffered through kind of a perfect storm. He started off slowly, the coaches lost a little confidence in him and then Spiller starting doubting himself. Throw in the fact that Jackson was playing well and that equates to Spiller having a disappointing rookie season.
There's no question Jackson is the starter in Buffalo, but I expect Spiller to be a bigger part of the offense from Week 1, especially in the passing game. Spiller has a ton of upside and he could end up being a big breakout player in 2011.
Mike Thomas, WR Jaguars -- Some fantasy analysts have Thomas as a sleeper candidate this season. I find that a little odd.
The reason it's odd is because Thomas was one of my sleepers last season. The guy is clearly the No. 1 receiver in Jacksonville and is coming off a season where he caught 66 passes. Undervalued maybe, but a sleeper? I don't know, maybe I just think the people who read fantasy columns are more intelligent than other writers do. I feel me calling Thomas a sleeper would be insulting your intelligence. To me Danario Alexander and Eric Decker are sleepers, not Thomas.
Like I stated above, though, Thomas is being vastly undervalued heading into drafts, especially if you play in a PPR league. If you don't play in a PPR league, I would love to know why. It's 2011, not 1999. Real fantasy football involves getting something for a reception.
On average in a PPR scoring format, Thomas isn't even one of the Top 30 receivers coming off the board. I think that's a big mistake. Thomas may not be an elite NFL receiver but if the Jaguars have any passing game at all this season, Thomas should catch 80 balls for fun. Both A.J. Green and Julio Jones have higher average draft positions than Thomas right now. Aren't they both rookies? Doesn't Green play in Cincinnati? That's craziness.
Thomas isn't a household name yet, and to be honest, no one really cares about the Jaguars outside of Maurice Jones-Drew. These two factors will help you get a steal in your fantasy draft. If you can nab Thomas in the seventh or eighth round to be your WR3, that's great value that should turn into a very productive pick.
Eric Decker, WR Broncos -- People who have followed the Fire Sale in the past know I have a weird, somewhat disturbing crush on Decker. I had Decker as one of my deep sleepers last season and while he didn't do much, I think I may have been just one year off.
Now let's look ahead to this season in Denver. Brandon Lloyd is coming off an amazing year and is entrenched as one of the starting receivers. The guy expected to start opposite of Lloyd, Demaryius Thomas, tore his Achilles tendon in February and will miss at least the first half of the season.
Shortly after the lockout ended, Denver traded Jabar Gaffney to the Redskins. The loss of Gaffney now means Decker moves further up the Broncos depth chart.
That leaves just Eddie Royal as the receiver Decker has to beat out for playing time. Would it really be a huge surprise if Decker jumped past Royal on the depth chart? I don't think so. Royal is a decent NFL receiver but he's certainly nothing special.
Plus, Decker has something Royal doesn't: size. Decker is 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, making him an ideal candidate to line up on the outside opposite Lloyd, allowing Royal to resume his primary role as the slot receiver.
Here is an outrageous prediction: Decker will catch at least 60 balls this year. Mark it down. I really think this kid can play and while Decker may still be a year away from his breakout season, I believe he has fantasy value in '11.
If you're looking for someone who may come out of nowhere and be a huge fantasy factor, remember the name Eric Decker.
Lance Kendricks, TE Rams -- In my opinion, Kendricks became the Rams best tight end the second he was drafted. The 6-2, 240-pound Kendricks has the speed (4.49) and overall physical ability to emerge as one of the top pass catching tight ends in the NFL.
Kendricks has been working with the first-team offense since the beginning of training camp. That shouldn't surprise anyone, considering Daniel Fells led all Rams tight ends in receptions last year and he's no longer with the team.
I believe Kendricks has the easiest road to success of any offensive rookie. He has unlimited upside and has no one standing in his way for playing time. Some may point out that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels hasn't used the tight end much in the past. While that's a valid argument, Kendricks isn't a traditional tight end. McDaniels will have a ball with this guy. He can line Kendricks up all over the place and create mismatches in the passing game.
Once Jermaine Gresham left Oklahoma I thought Kendricks became the most dangerous tight end in college football. Keep in mind, Kendricks was impressive in the Wisconsin offense. As I stated above the Badgers ran the ball so often they almost finished with three 1,000-yard rushers. Heck, the only time Wisconsin threw the ball was late in the fourth quarter when they were up by 60 for some reason.
A lot of people are focused on the Rams receivers and whether or not the club has enough weapons for the offense to take the next step. What those people aren't considering is Kendricks, who should have a big impact in St. Louis as a rookie.
Look for Kendricks to produce enough in his first season to be a solid fantasy tight end and come next year, watch out. I have no doubt Kendricks will soon be one of the most feared tight ends in the NFL.
Deion Branch, WR Patriots -- I think Branch will have a solid fantasy season, but to be honest, the only reason he's going up this week is because Branch is now following me on Twitter. That's funny, odd and a little disturbing all rolled into one. Oh well, Branch now has the Fire Sale karma behind him, so he can expect to have a career year.
Jonathan Stewart, RB Panthers -- It was all lining up. DeAngelo Williams was leaving and Stewart was going to be the top dog in Carolina. Entering the prime of his career, Stewart was on the verge of being a fantasy monster.
Then Carolina broke the hearts of fantasy owners everywhere by surprisingly re-signing Williams, severely hindering Stewart's fantasy value in the process. If Williams leaves, Stewart is easily a Top 15 fantasy back. Now he's relegated to splitting carries with Williams and giving fantasy owners heartburn on a weekly basis.
It really chaps my backside when a franchise makes decisions with no regards to how it will affect fantasy football. Sure, both Williams and Stewart have dealt with injuries recently, so I suppose from a football standpoint it makes sense to keep both backs. Still, that's little comfort to people like us.
Now, the interesting thing here is John Fox is no longer the head coach of the Panthers. So with a new coach (It's Ron Rivera in case you didn't know) and offensive coordinator (Rob Chudzinski) it will be interesting to see how they utilize the two backs. Fox was a huge proponent of riding the hot hand, which made fantasy owners pull their hair out most weeks.
There's a chance the new regime will let one back get the majority of carries, while using the other to spell the starter. It's a slim chance but since Rivera has never been a head coach before, we have to play the waiting game. Stewart is currently being drafted on average in Round 5. That's way too high considering Williams is still around.
Here's my advice: Stay away from this mess. Why draft either guy and try to predict which back will get the carries every week? Leave that headache to other owners in your league. A lot of teams use a committee these days but in Carolina you're probably looking at close to a 50/50 split as long as both Williams and Stewart remain healthy. If you want to deal with that uncertainty every week, be my guest. Just make sure to have the Alka Seltzer handy on Sundays.
Ryan Torain, RB Redskins -- Here's a newsflash: Torain hurt himself again. Torain has already missed some of training camp with a broken hand and I'm going to go out on a limb and say this won't be the last time Torain is injured this season. Seriously, this guy hurts himself putting on his socks.
I've always liked Tim Hightower going back to his college days at Richmond. He had a particular role in Arizona and he did it well, but he can be a feature back in the Redskins offense. Hightower is slowly creeping up my running back rankings, which means Torain is slipping.
Torain was productive last year when he was in the starting lineup, but the trade for Hightower and drafting of Roy Helu Jr. tells me Mike Shanahan isn't comfortable putting all of his eggs in Torain's basket.
Hightower and Torain are battling for the starting job in Washington. I think Hightower will emerge as the main ball carrier and end up having a very good fantasy season. Toss in the upside of Helu and it won't be the least bit surprising if Torain is the Redskins third-string running back by Halloween.
Jordy Nelson, WR Packers -- Some are high on Nelson after his big game in the Super Bowl. This now makes the 17th straight summer people are expecting a breakout year from Nelson.
In NFL terms, Nelson is a good piece of the Packers offensive puzzle. Yet, when we look at it in fantasy terms, I see a guy getting drafted way too high. To put it in perspective, on average Nelson is getting drafted three rounds higher than Lance Moore. That's a joke.
One may argue that Moore is in an offense that spreads the ball around too much. OK, so what kind of offense is Nelson in? The only difference is Moore has actually put up two strong fantasy seasons, while Nelson has been all promise and little production.
Nelson will be a factor in the Packers offense and have a big game here and there. So will James Jones, who for some reason is going off the board roughly 50 picks after his teammate. In other words, Nelson is being over-drafted because of his Super Bowl performance, that's still fresh in people's minds.
Since Green Bay won the Super Bowl, they've re-signed Jones, drafted Randall Cobb and the freakishly talented tight end Jermichael Finley is returning from injury. Yet, Nelson is being drafted somewhere in the neighborhood of the eighth round in 12-team leagues? That's rubbish.
Hey, potential is great but if you want to select a fourth-year receiver in Round 8 who has 100 receptions and six touchdowns in his career, be my guest. I'll gladly grab guys like Moore, Santana Moss, Chad Ochocinco, Braylon Edwards and Mike Sims-Walker instead once some over-zealous, wannabe genius takes Nelson off the board.
Tennessee Titans -- Last week I warned you to stay away from the Miami Dolphins offense. This week I'm doing the same with the Titans.
First, it's hard to get excited about an offense when Chris Palmer is hired to run it. Those of you who follow the Fire Sale know I think of Palmer as the second coming of Paul Hackett. You also know that isn't a compliment, considering I regard Hackett as the single worst coach in any sport during my lifetime. It takes a special person to run two storied college programs (Pitt and USC) into the ground.
One thing I will say about Hackett is he's a very good quarterbacks coach. As a head coach and offensive coordinator, though, he was a disaster. Palmer is in that same mold. He's known to be good when it comes to working with quarterbacks but Palmer has proved to be an awful play-caller. I suppose that's to be expected when Kevin Gilbride is your mentor.
The problem I have with guys like Hackett and Palmer is they have no imagination. If it's third-and-8, they call a play to get eight yards. They aren't aggressive play-callers. I like offensive coordinators that try to score from anywhere on the field. That's not Palmer. Just look at his resume if you don't believe me. It's amazing that these coaches keep getting hired, isn't it?
Now let's talk about Matt Hasselbeck. I see some people are excited about this signing. I'm not one of those people because I actually watch NFL football. Not only has Hasselbeck been injured a lot in recent years, he's a turnover waiting to happen.
In all seriousness, does an aging quarterback who's accounted for 44 interceptions and 19 fumbles (8 lost) over the last three seasons make you feel all warm and tingly inside? Keep in mind those numbers are in only 35 games, since Hasselbeck missed 13 starts due to injury over that span. I don't have much confidence in a quarterback that every time I see him play the first thing that comes to mind is: "Why is this guy still in the league?"
I see very little fantasy value on this Titans offense. Obviously, if you can get Chris Johnson, you should strongly consider it. As bad as Tennessee was on offense last year, its offensive line is actually pretty strong. Johnson may not run for 2,000 yards but he's still one of the top backs in fantasy football.
Other than Johnson though, I can't find one Titan I would want on my fantasy team. Kenny Britt? Considering where he's being drafted, I'll pass. Besides, sooner or later rookie Jake Locker will be under center. Trust me, I watch a ton of Pac-12 (Wow, that sounds weird) football, and Locker is nowhere near ready to be a starting NFL quarterback.
One thing that's important on draft day is to stay away from offenses you think will really struggle. For me, Tennessee and the horror show that is Palmer is near the top of that list this year. Next week I'll talk about the No. 1 offense to stay away from in 2011 but if you don't already know it's the Cincinnati Bengals, there's probably not much I can do for you.
If you can't get enough fantasy football, you can follow me on Twitter, Facebook or e-mail me at email@example.com. I give my readers a 100 percent money back guarantee. I will respond to every single e-mail, tweet and Facebook post during the football season. I'm a man of the people. That's my shtick. It helps make up for my obvious lack of talent.
ON SALE SOON: Sports Illustrated's Fantasy Football 2011 issue tells you where all the free agents landed and what their fantasy impact will be, along with the critical draft strategy and stats analysis you need to win your league. Order one now.