Tom Brady: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
The No. 7 may be lucky in Las Vegas, but it's an insult to the fantasy world when associated with Captain America himself, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. In Sports Illustrated's fantasy football spectacular -- currently in bookstores nationwide -- we apparently created a tiny stir when listing Brady as the seventh-ranked QB, behind such notables as Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Kurt Warner and Donovan McNabb. Never mind that Brady was coming off a season-ending knee injury (one that required two separate surgeries after an infection following Operation No. 1), or that he has thrown 29-plus TD passes exactly once in his nine-year career (an NFL-record 50 in 2007) ... our prediction -- although proffered with the best intentions -- still drew the ire of those who think Brady's fantasy bar now begins at 42 TDs and 4,800 yards. But hey, that's OK, it comes with the territory of walking the plank of bold statements.
That aside, it would be incredibly disingenuous to NOT mention the following, so here goes: In my rankings on SI.com, I currently have Brady at No. 2, fractionally ahead of the Colts' Manning. So even I am not in total lock-step agreement with the magazine's QB rankings (penned by the incomparable David Sabino). But that's not to say Sabino (or anyone else) couldn't find 10 valid reasons to justify the No. 7 ranking:
10. It's possible for Brady to throw for 4,000 yards and 33 TDs and still finish seventh among quarterbacks this year. Brady's competition -- especially in this golden age of passing attempts per game -- is that good.
9. I mentioned this up top, but Brady has only tossed 29 or more TDs once in his career (2007), all with the same team and same head coach (Bill Belichick).
8. The Patriots might have their best corps at running back since 2004 -- in Kevin Faulk, Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and a seemingly healthy Laurence Maroney.
7. Most players in today's age need approximately 18-24 months to fully recover from reconstructive knee surgery, although it certainly helps Brady's cause that he suffered his injury in Week 1 last year -- not Week 10.
6. The median age for the Patriots' top-3 receivers: 32 (Randy Moss, 31; We Welker, 28; Joey Galloway, 37).
5. Brady's usually an annual lock for 12-14 interceptions. His eight in 2007, as great as that was, may have been a statistical anomaly.
4. The last time the Patriots had a new offensive coordinator was 2005, the season after Charlie Weis left Foxboro to coach at Notre Dame. In '05, Belichick reportedly spent a lot of time in offensive meetings, essentially helping new coordinator (and current Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels) get his feet wet with the play-calling. Brady's stats that season -- a respectable 26 TDs and 4,110 passing yards (a career-high for Brady at the time).
3. Brady's post-surgery mobility may be compromised early in the season. Plus, rust will most likely be a factor in September.
2. In 1984, Dolphins QB Dan Marino set an NFL record with 48 TD passes. The following season, he threw "only" 30. Twenty years later, Peyton Manning topped Marino's mark with 49 touchdowns ... only to fling 28 in 2005.
1. Why can't people just accept that Brady was in a once-in-a-lifetime "zone" for 2007 ... and that no one could ever duplicate such prodigious play again for a season?
Sports Illustrated and SI.com should always be your primary source for voluminous information leading up to fantasy drafts ... but if you're in the mood to participate in a LIVE mock draft on the Web -- while learning NOT to reach for Torry Holt before Round 10 -- here are the best destinations for real-time mocking:
**Mock Draft Central
**ESPN Mock Draft Lobby
**Fantasy Football Calculator
With Twitter going down Thursday morning (and afternoon), I suddenly had time on my hands to do a quick 10-team mock draft on ESPN.com (9th pick overall). Here are the results:
Round 1 -- RB LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers (I would kill to get LT here in a REAL draft)
Round 2 -- RB Chris Johnson, Titans (likewise is true for CJ, my 9th-ranked player)
Round 3 -- WR Marques Colston, Saints (I felt compelled to grab a Tier II receiver)
Round 4 -- WR Brandon Marshall, Broncos (yes, he's a veg-head ... but he's MY veg-head)
Round 5 -- RB Larry Johnson, Chiefs (I have complete faith when he's not expected to do it all)
Round 6 -- RB Chris "Beanie" Wells, Cardinals (in my mind, I drafted the best rookie RB and WR)
Round 7 -- QB Carson Palmer, Bengals (I need to see 10 straight throws ... but so far, so good)
Round 8 -- WR Hines Ward, Steelers (he's the perfect WR3 on a veteran-laden fantasy team)
Round 9 -- WR Jerricho Cotchery, Jets (COULD be the perfect WR3 on any type of fantasy team)
Round 10 -- QB Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks (the best backup QB, along with Matt Cassel)
Round 11 -- WR Percy Harvin, Vikings (he's not human ... or a classic wide receiver in fantasyland)
Round 12 -- TE John Carlson, Seahawks (my No. 7 tight end was easily had here -- goody for me!)
Round 13 -- RB Michael Bush, Raiders (simply put, the best player on the board at Round 13)
Round 14 -- WR Sidney Rice, Vikings (he's DUE for a major breakout with Sage under center)
Round 15 -- D/ST San Diego Chargers (this pick was solely the result of a Cromartie man-crush)
Round 16 -- PK Rob Bironas, Titans (has the potential for six field goals on any given Sunday)
By my count, there are 20 legitimate running back time-shares, all of which could greatly impact your championship chances this season (especially if you fail to pair Colts rookie Donald Brown with Joseph Addai ... or Raiders second-year stud Darren McFadden with either Michael Bush or Justin Fargas). In fact, here are the time-share rankings, from No. 1 (Marion Barber/Felix Jones) to No. 20 (the Broncos' full-house stable, led by rookie Knowshon Moreno):
1. Marion Barber/Felix Jones, Cowboys
2. DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
3. Chris Johnson/LenDale White, Titans
4. Darren McFadden/Michael Bush/Justin Fargas, Raiders
5. Marshawn Lynch/Fred Jackson, Bills
6. Joseph Addai/Donald Brown, Colts
7. LaDainian Tomlinson/Darren Sproles, Chargers
8. Pierre Thomas/Reggie Bush, Saints
9. Thomas Jones/Leon Washington/Shonn Greene, Jets
10. Adrian Peterson/Chester Taylor, Vikings
11. Ryan Grant/Brandon Jackson, Packers
12. Larry Johnson/Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
13. Ray Rice/Willis McGahee/Le'Ron McClain, Ravens
14. Brian Westbrook/LeSean McCoy, Eagles
15. Willie Parker/Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
16. Beanie Wells/Tim Hightower, Cardinals
17. Derrick Ward/Earnest Graham/Cadillac Williams, Buccaneers
18. Jamal Lewis/Jerome Harrison, Browns
19. Kevin Faulk/Laurence Maroney/Fred Taylor/Sammy Morris, Patriots
20. Knowshon Moreno/Correll Buckhalter/Ryan Torain/Peyton Hillis/LaMont Jordan, Broncos ('full-house backfield?' -- it's more like the timeless tale of the Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe).
Which brings us to the 12 undisputed backs who WILL carry the load between the 20s, inside the red zone and probably on 3rd and short:
1. Michael Turner, Falcons
2. Matt Forte, Bears
3. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
4. Steven Jackson, Rams
5. Steve Slaton, Texans
6. Brandon Jacobs, Giants
7. Frank Gore, 49ers
8. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins
9. Clinton Portis, Redskins
10. Kevin Smith, Lions
11. Cedric Benson, Bengals
12. Julius Jones, Seahawks
Here are my revised projections for fantasyland's Top 10 Impact Rookies for 2009:
1. WR Percy Harvin, Vikings (he'll see his share of bubble screens, reverses, Wildcat runs)
2. RB Chris "Beanie" Wells, Cardinals (has zero competition between the 20s ... he's a beast)
3. RB Knowshon Moreno,, Broncos (a nervous pick here ... too many hands in Denver's RB pot)
4. WR Jarrett Dillard, Jaguars (you'll thank me later for this 16th-round receiving gem)
5. WR Michael Crabtree, 49ers (ASSSUMING he doesn't sit out the season ... he'll be fine)
6. TE Brandon Pettigrew, Lions (book him for at least 20 red-zone "targets" this season)
7. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders (is he the next Tim Brown ... or Mervyn Fernandez?)
8. RB LeSean McCoy, Eagles (could rise to No. 2 if Brian Westbrook can't heal quickly)
9. WR Jeremy Maclin, Eagles (I see at least three kick-return or punt-return TDs this year)
10. QB Matthew Stafford, Lions (he'll show glimpses of his Elway-esque talent by Week 13)
Here are my rankings for running backs in Points Per Reception leagues, from No. 1 (Matt Forte) to No. 40 (Cedric Benson). Obviously, we cannot penalize Adrian Peterson or Michael Turner too much for being wallflowers in the passing game:
1. Matt Forte, Bears
2. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
3. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
4. Michael Turner, Falcons
5. Steven Jackson, Rams
6. Brian Westbrook, Eagles
7. Chris Johnson, Titans
8. Frank Gore, 49ers
9. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers
10. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
11. Marion Barber, Cowboys
12. Clinton Portis, Redskins
13. Reggie Bush, Saints (hanging by a thread here with balky knee)
14. Steve Slaton, Texans
15. Darren McFadden, Raiders
16. Marshawn Lynch, Bills
17. Darren Sproles, Chargers
18. Brandon Jacobs, Giants
19. Kevin Smith, Lions
20. Larry Johnson, Chiefs
21. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins
22. Ryan Grant, Packers
23. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
24. Willie Parker, Steelers
25. Joseph Addai, Colts
26. Pierre Thomas, Saints
27. Derrick Ward, Buccaneers
28. Chris "Beanie" Wells, Cardinals
29. Ray Rice, Ravens
30. Leon Washington, Jets
31. Thomas Jones, Jets
32. Chester Taylor, Vikings
33. Jamal Lewis, Browns
34. Felix Jones, Cowboys
35. Michael Bush, Raiders
36. Willis McGahee, Ravens
37. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
38. Earnest Graham, Buccaneers
39. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
40. Cedric Benson, Bengals
The dynamic p.r. eggheads at Sports Illustrated are booking an army of fantasy writers on radio stations across the country to promote our fantasy football magazine; and as luck would have it, I've already gotten my fair share of radio run in the last week (Sirius/XM Radio, WTMJ in Milwaukee, to name a few) ... which leads me to the following: I FINALLY have my own Twitter account (@SI_JayClemons), freeing me up to update fantasy honks on future radio/TV appearances and other stuff.
Should you decide to become a Twitter "follower," I promise to throw in personal anecdotes about my days, as well ... like my favorite cereal (Fruity Pebbles), favorite TV crime-drama theme song from the 70s (The Rockford Files), favorite ice cream (butter pecan), favorite video game of all time (NHL '93 ... made famous in Swingers), favorite NFL press box (Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium) or favorite Burger King commercial (any one starring Elisabeth Shue). Oh, and time permitting, we'll talk fantasy football too!
On the flip side ... here are some preseason Tweets you most likely won't see come August:
Hall of Fame Game -- Aug. 9: "I wonder ... who 'created' the iconoclastic tradition of proudly wearing mustard-yellow blazers for all the world to see -- 1970s network TV announcers or Pro Football Hall of Famers?"
Week 1 -- Minnesota @ Indianapolis: "Marvin Who? Looks like P-Manning has found a worthy route-tree replacement for the pregame in rookie WR Austin Collie!"
Week 2 -- Oakland @ San Francisco: "Breaking News: The Raiders plan to un-retire Hall of Famer Fred Biletnikoff's No. 85 to satisfy WR Chaz Schilens' out-of-control ego."
Week 3 -- San Diego @ Atlanta: "Mark it down, kids. At 8:07 p.m. EST, Jim Nantz became the first NFL announcer to utter the hollow phrase, 'Super Bowl preview!'"
Week 4 -- Houston @ Tampa Bay: "You've heard it here first. Glenn Martinez will supplant Andre Johnson as the Texans' go-to receiver by Week 3."
... To announce the arrival of Sports Illustrated's fantasy football spectacular, available online and at magazine racks nationwide. This 168-page tome is chock-full of rankings, columns (two from yours truly), features, draft-day advice, in-season strategies, booms, busts and an experts' mock draft, enlisting an army of SI's award-winning fantasy and NFL writers (including Peter King). Last but not least, it boasts perhaps the coolest cover of any fantasy magazine you'll ever see!
Am I overselling it a little bit? Perhaps. But the early feedback I've gotten from my fantasy brethren suggests SI's first major foray into fantasy football will be an absolute triumph -- and that it could become an all-time best seller within the genre. (UPDATE: My well-placed moles have informed me that SI's fantasy mag is indeed the top seller to date ... sweeeeeet!)
Trent Edwards: AP
On the surface, it seems a tad unfair to compare Trent Edwards and Chad Pennington (3,653 passing yards, 19 TDs last season) in fantasyland, simply because Edwards calls Buffalo home ... and Pennington gets to throw every home pass in typically serene south Florida weather (minus hurricane-like conditions). But still, I just have to know which AFC East QB is the stronger fantasy play on a week-to-week basis. Here are my findings:
Week 1 -- Edwards (@ New England) over Pennington (@ Atlanta)
Week 2 -- Edwards (vs. Tampa Bay) over Pennington (vs. Indianapolis)
Week 3 -- Edwards (vs. New Orleans) over Pennington (@ San Diego)
Week 4 -- Pennington over Edwards head-to-head at Miami
Week 5 -- Edwards (vs. Cleveland) over Pennington (vs. N.Y. Jets)
Week 6 -- Edwards (@ N.Y. Jets) over Pennington (BYE)
Week 7 -- Pennington (vs. New Orleans) over Edwards (@ Carolina)
Week 8 -- Pennington (@ N.Y. Jets) over Edwards (vs. Houston)
Week 9 -- Pennington (@ New England) over Edwards (BYE)
Week 10 -- Pennington (vs. Tampa Bay) over Edwards (@ Tennessee)
Week 11 -- Edwards (@ Jacksonville) over Pennington (@ Carolina)
Week 12 -- Edwards over Pennington head-to-head at Buffalo
Week 13 -- Pennington (vs. New England) over Edwards (vs. N.Y. Jets)
Week 14 -- Edwards (@ Kansas City) over Pennington (@ Jacksonville)
Week 15 -- Pennington (@ Tennessee) over Edwards (vs. New England)
Week 16 -- Edwards (@ Atlanta) over Pennington (vs. Houston)
Week 17 -- Edwards (vs. Indianapolis) over Pennington (vs. Pittsburgh)
Verdict: Remarkably, Edwards pulled out a 10-7 win over Pennington, despite having three cold-weather games in the final five weeks. Of course, it helps that Edwards has Terrell Owens, Lee Evans, Josh Reed and Roscoe Parrish at his disposal; and it most certainly helps that Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson and Dominic Rhodes should trump Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams in overall rushing output. On the flip side, Pennington gets the nod for Week 15 -- typically the semifinals of the fantasy playoffs -- which means he could be a true difference-maker in your pursuit of a fantasy championship. Wow!
You have to love the people at Fantasy Football Calculator. They've been hard at work for some time, trying to make mathematical sense of this year's top fantasy football prospects. In fact, this site represents the perfect one-stop shopping for mock drafts and the Average Draft Position tool (ADP) -- perhaps the best learning aid for NOT reaching during the August/September drafts. Speaking of ADP, here's a list of quarterbacks likely earmarked for Rounds 1-10 (12-team leagues), if a draft were held today:
Drew Brees, Saints -- Round 2, Pick 4
Tom Brady, Patriots -- Round 2, Pick 6
Peyton Manning, Colts -- Round 3, Pick 3
Aaron Rodgers, Packers -- Round 4, Pick 4
Philip Rivers, Chargers -- Round 4, Pick 10
Kurt Warner, Cardinals -- Round 5, Pick 1
Tony Romo, Cowboys -- Round 5, Pick 10
Donovan McNabb, Eagles -- Round 5, Picks 12
Matt Ryan, Falcons -- Round 7, Pick 2
Matt Schaub, Texans -- Round 7, Pick 2 (dead heat)
Jay Cutler, Bears -- Round 7, Pick 10
Carson Palmer, Bengals -- Round 8, Pick 1
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers -- Round 8, Pick 7
Matt Cassel, Chiefs -- Round 9, Pick 10
Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks -- Round 9, Pick 11
Kyle Orton, Broncos -- Round 10, Pick 8
Eli Manning, Giants -- Round 10, Pick 10
Jay Cutler is obviously a prominent figure in NFL circles -- especially after his high-profile exile from Denver. However, his Q rating still hasn't reached the level of Alex Rodriguez -- otherwise SI.com would have handled his move to Chicago with an "all-writers-on-deck" mentality (or as local TV stations like to say, "team coverage"), including the fantasy impact of Cutler leading the Bears and Kyle Orton helming the Broncos' ready-made offense. Just for kicks, here is a Revelations-style breakdown of Cutler in the Windy City:
What He'll Love: Running back Matt Forte racked up 1,715 yards from scrimmage in his 2008 rookie campaign. Within that total, he hauled in 63 catches for 477 yards. In other words, Cutler knows he's getting a lead-pipe-cinch for 1,600 total yards in Forte (something he didn't have in Denver) and probably the NFL's best rushing/receiving back (ahead of Maurice Jones-Drew/Brian Westbrook) -- no matter the weather, no matter the opponent.
What He'll Love, Part II: Cutler was a four-year starter at Vanderbilt (2002-05). His favorite target during his last season was a dynamic freshman named Earl Bennett (79 catches for 876 yards). And as luck would have it, Bennett is now one of the Bears' leading receivers (if not the biggest breakout candidate).
What He'll Like: It just so happens that offensive coordinator Ron Turner was also the Bears' OC wayyyyyyy back in 1995, when Erik Kramer set franchise records with 3,838 passing yards and 29 touchdowns.
What He Has Hopefully Forgotten: Legend has it the Santa Claus, Ind. native was all set to attend the University of Illinois (not Vandy) in the fall of 2002 ... that is, until the Fighting Illini rescinded his scholarship offer. The school's head coach at the time: Ron Turner.
What'll Make Him Cringe: Aside from Bennett, Devin Hester (an all-world kick returner turned receiver) and Rashied Davis, there is nothing on the current roster that portends real- or fantasy-world goodness. In fact, tight end Greg Olsen will likely be the most prolific pass-catcher in 2009.
What Should Make Him Sad: Even if Cutler plays 12 more NFL seasons at a high level, he'll probably never have a better receiver than Brandon Marshall (206 catches, 2,590 receiving yards, 13 TDs in 2007-08). They were perfect together, and I, for one, will certainly miss their PPR-league dominance.
How do I know that fantasy draft day is near? John Kincade, esteemed sports radio host for WCNN in Atlanta and ESPN on the weekends, has already drawn the No. 9 pick in his 12-team league (standard-scoring rules). Never mind that his draft doesn't start until Aug. 26 ... it's NEVER too early for Ol' Kincade -- or anyone else -- to get cracking on the mental side of the selection process.
It also gives me a perfect segue of what to expect when holding the No. 9 pick, position-by-position, round-by-round. And for the sake of argument, let's assume that Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Matt Forte, Steven Jackson, Michael Turner, Chris Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and DeAngelo Williams are already gone in the first eight slots of Round 1. What should you do? What should you do?
Round 1, Pick 9: Motive -- Best overall player
1st option: RB LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers ... 2nd option: RB Brian Westbrook, Eagles
Round 2, Pick 16 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR available (a tad too early for QBs)
1st option: WR Andre Johnson, Texans ... 2nd option: RB Frank Gore, 49ers
Round 3, Pick 33 overall: Motive -- Best RB available (ONLY QBs: Brees, Manning, Brady)
1st option: WR Roddy White, Falcons ... 2nd option: WR Marques Colston, Saints
Round 4, Pick 40 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR/QB available
1st option: RB Darren McFadden, Raiders ... 2nd option: RB Marshawn Lynch, Bills
Round 5, Pick 57 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR available (there's still too much TE depth)
1st option: RB Derrick Ward, Buccaneers ... 2nd option: RB Reggie Bush, Saints
Round 6, Pick 64 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR/QB/TE available
1st option: WR Vincent Jackson, Chargers ... 2nd option: WR Antonio Bryant, Buccaneers
Round 7, Pick 81 overall: Motive -- Best QB/WR/RB/TE available
1st option: RB Felix Jones, Cowboys ... 2nd option: QB Matt Ryan, Falcons
Round 8, Pick 88 overall: Motive -- Best QB available (last chance to land a great QB1)
1st option: QB Matt Ryan, Falcons ... 2nd option: QB Matt Schaub, Texans
Round 9, Pick 105 overall: Motive -- Best TE/RB/WR/QB (perfect spot to grab TE1 or QB2)
1st option: TE Owen Daniels, Texans ... 2nd option: RB Darren Sproles, Chargers
Round 10, Pick 112 overall: Motive -- Best QB/RB/WR available
1st option: QB Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks ... 2nd option: WR Justin Gage, Titans
Round 11, Pick 129: Motive -- Best RB/WR/TE available (still not time for a kicker or D/ST)
1st option: RB Donald Brown, Colts ... 2nd option: WR/RB Percy Harvin, Vikings
Round 12, Pick 136: Motive -- Best WR/TE/RB available
1st option: WR Sidney Rice, Vikings ... 2nd option: WR Earl Bennett, Bears
Round 13, Pick 153: Motive -- Best RB/WR/TE available
1st option: RB Michael Bush, Raiders ... 2nd option: TE Brent Celek, Eagles
Round 14, Pick 160: Motive -- Best TE/RB/WR (you have permission to draft a kicker)
1st option: TE Brent Celek, Eagles ... 2nd option: PK Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots
Round 15, Pick 177: Motive -- Best kicker or defense
1st option: PK Nate Kaeding, Chargers ... 2nd option: D/ST San Diego Chargers
Round 16, Pick 184: Motive -- Best defense or kicker
1st option: D/ST Minnesota Vikings ... 2nd option: PK Neil Rackers, Cardinals
If you're not watching NFL Films' America's Game: The Missing Rings, you are depriving yourself one of the most fascinating, artfully insightful shows on television -- and I'm not just talking about the sports genre. (NFL Network has already aired four episodes -- featuring the '81 Chargers, '90 Bills, '69 Vikings and '88 Bengals). Putting a fresh take on the critically acclaimed America's Game, which details the 42 Super Bowl champions in great depth, "The Missing Rings" expertly recalls the seasons of the NFL's best teams to never win the title. It's gripping stuff, folks, equal parts heartbreaking and uplifting; and it puts me in the mood for listing the top 15 teams in NFL history to fall short of claiming the Lombardi Trophy:
15. 1967 Baltimore Colts
14. 2004 Philadelphia Eagles
13. 1967 Los Angeles Rams
12. 1994 Dallas Cowboys
11. 2005 Indianapolis Colts
10. 1979 San Diego Chargers
9. 1998 Atlanta Falcons
8. 1990 Buffalo Bills
7. 1992 San Francisco 49ers
6. 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers
5. 1984 Miami Dolphins
4. 1968 Baltimore Colts
3. 1998 Minnesota Vikings
2. 1983 Washington Redskins
1. 2007 New England Patriots
And since we're on the subject, here are four more teams whose tales of championship heartbreak must be told by NFL Films:
4. 1982 New York Jets
3. 1980 Cleveland Browns
2. 1979 Los Angeles Rams
1. 1975 Minnesota Vikings