Anquan Boldin: Elsa/Getty Images
With college basketball's conference tournaments in full swing, and baseball's elite pitchers entering their second go-round of spring training (Zack Greinke threw three shutout innings on Wednesday), you'd think there would be no time to address the NFL in today's Clicks. But here we are ... gleefully tackling all the movement involving running backs and wide receivers, via trades or free agency. (Life is good!)
The timing is right, too, since I'll be partaking in my first high-level (read: top-secret) meeting with Sports Illustrated honcho Gene Menez on Friday, in terms of planning the 2010 fantasy football preview magazine (the 2009 publication, SI's first-ever major foray into fantasy football, was a runaway best-seller).
The way I see it, Anquan Boldin's fantasy prospects for the coming season were neither helped nor hindered following his March 5 trade to the Ravens. On the plus side, Boldin instantly becomes Baltimore's No. 1 receiving target, while joining forces with one of the NFL's best under-26 quarterbacks (Joe Flacco). And from an Arizona perspective, he no longer has to look over his shoulder at WRs Steve Breaston and Early Doucet -- two emerging fantasy forces for the Cards -- let alone worry about the development of embattled QB Matt Leinart.
On the negative side, Boldin must understand the Ravens are a run-first offense in September, October and November ... and a run-first, run-second operation in December and January; and even when Baltimore feels the urge to pass against quality defenses, running back Ray Rice will garner plenty of touches in that realm, as well. Speaking of touches, I'm quite certain that recent re-signee Derrick Mason (but not necessarily Donte Stallworth) will catch more balls than Boldin in 4-5 games, minimum. After all, Mason remains one of the most athletic -- and dependable -- receivers in the league ... and his long-standing rapport with Flacco won't likely vanish amid Boldin's presence. (This just in: AB gets injured alot, too.)
Verdict: It's wayyyyyyy to early to set anything in stone -- especially before Baltimore's schedule becomes public in April -- but I have Boldin down for 83 catches, 1,138 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2010. Simply put, Boldin will catch fewer balls and rack up fewer yards with his new team ... but the potential for more TDs is certainly there, assuming Ray Rice doesn't score more than five times from 30-plus yards out.
Factoring in Boldin's move to Baltimore, along with Antonio Bryant's signing with Cincinnati, here's an early look at the top 25 wide receivers -- excluding any potential rookie stars (Dez Bryant, Golden Tate, Dezmon Briscoe, Taylor Price, Arrelious Benn, etc.):
1. Andre Johnson, Texans
2. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
3. Greg Jennings, Packers
4. Vincent Jackson, Chargers
5. Reggie Wayne, Colts
6. Roddy White, Falcons
7. Calvin Johnson, Lions
8. Brandon Marshall, Broncos (?)
9. DeSean Jackson, Eagles
10. Marques Colston, Saints
11. Sidney Rice, Vikings
12. Miles Austin, Cowboys
13. Randy Moss, Patriots
14. Anquan Boldin, Ravens
15. Michael Crabtree, 49ers
16. Steve Smith, Panthers
17. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
18. Chad Ochocinco, Bengals
19. Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars
20. Santonio Holmes, Steelers
21. Jerricho Cotchery, Jets
22. Antonio Bryant, Bengals
23. Percy Harvin, Vikings
24. Robert Meachem, Saints
25. Devon Aromashodu, Bears
While we're at it, might as well list the next-best 25 wide receivers in fantasyland:
26. Kenny Britt, Titans
27. Hines Ward, Steelers
28. Derrick Mason, Ravens
29. Laurent Robinson, Rams
30. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seahawks
31. Braylon Edwards, Jets
32. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles
33. Pierre Garcon, Colts
34. Steve Breaston, Cardinals
35. Chris Chambers, Chiefs
36. Donald Driver, Packers
37. Steve Smith, Giants
38. Lee Evans, Bills
39. Julian Edelman, Patriots
40. Mike Wallace, Steelers
41. Nate Burleson, Lions
42. Mario Manningham, Giants
43. Kevin Walter, Texans
44. Donnie Avery, Rams
45. Hakeem Nicks, Giants
46. Roy Williams, Cowboys
47. Austin Collie, Colts
48. Early Doucet, Cardinals
49. Lance Moore, Saints
50. Brandon Tate, Patriots
Note: Coming off major knee surgery, I am not expecting Patriots WR Wes Welker to be fully healthy until mid-November, at the earliest. If uninjured, he would've easily cracked the top 15.
Back by popular demand, we've decided to admit at least one lucky Fantasy Clicks reader into the SI.com & Friends fantasy baseball league. Up until March 21, we'll be accepting short-essay submissions (limit 1-2 paragaphs please) for the final slot in our small, but prestigious league (kind of like George Costanza). The requirements are simple: Outside of having reliable computer access for Draft Day (either March 31 or April 1), you must demonstrate passion for fantasy baseball (hence, the short essay) and derive regular pleasure from posting humorous retorts on our league message board.
One last thing: It certainly helps to be comfortable with accepting or declining blockbuster trade proposals during the graveyard-shift period of 2-6 a.m. -- the bewitching hours for all the Atlanta-based SI.com employees. You can also hit me up on Twitter for this contest ... although it'll be hard to meet the above requirements in 140 characters or less. Good luck!
Here's our post-NFL Combine list of fantasyland's top rookies in 2010:
1. RB C.J. Spiller, Clemson
2. WR Golden Tate, Notre Dame (could have a Maclin-like breakout)
3. WR Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State
4. QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma (assuming he's starting for Rams/Bills by Week 7)
5. RB Jahvid Best, California
6. WR Arrelious Benn, Illinois
7. WR Taylor Price, Ohio (looked great in the Indy workouts -- awesome, really)
8. RB Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech (a classic workhorse back, in theory)
9. WR Brandon LaFell, LSU
10. WR Jacoby Ford, Clemson
11. QB Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame (assuming he's starting for Bills/Rams by Week 10)
12. TE Aaron Hernandez, Florida
13. WR Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas
14. RB Ryan Mathews, Fresno State
15. WR Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech
16. TE Rob Gronkowski, Arizona
17. WR Eric Decker, Minnesota (would rank higher if not hindered by Lisfranc injury)
18. TE Ed Dickson, Oregon
19. RB Charles Scott, LSU
20. TE Dorin Dickerson, Pitt (this year's Mike Mamula -- is that a good or bad thing?)
Shonn Greene: Joe Robbins/Getty Images
For all we know, Jets RB Shonn Greene may have put himself on a strict diet of Drake's cakes (made famous in Seinfeld) since his team's loss to Indy in the AFC Championship Game; and for all we know ... backup tailback Leon Washington may be ahead of schedule in terms of rehabbing his surgically repaired knee. And yet, Greene remains the biggest benefactor of the free-agency land rush that began March 5, thanks to Thomas Jones leaving a likely time-share in New York for an even likelier time-share in Kansas City (with Jamaal Charles).
Before Jones left for greener pastures in Kansas City (the Jets declined a $3 million bonus, thus availing him to other suitors), Greene would likely have been slotted somewhere in Round 5 or 6 for standard-scoring league drafts this summer -- comfortably ahead of backups Willis McGahee, Michael Bush, Marshawn Lynch, Felix Jones, Chester Taylor but trailing Jonathan Stewart, Ahmad Bradshaw and Reggie Bush. After all, he had only posted three games of 100-plus rushing yards in 2009 (with two in the playoffs) and has yet to carry the ball more than 23 times in any NFL game. But with Jones' timely exit and Washington's extensive knee rehab, Greene has serendipitously rocketed up the fantasy charts.
In fact, Michael Fabiano of NFL.com fame has Greene amongst the top-5 overall studs in standard-scoring drafts. How's that for bold?
Since we're on the subject, here is the REVISED top 30 list of fantasy backs:
1. Chris Johnson, Titans
2. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
3. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
4. Ray Rice, Ravens
5. Michael Turner, Falcons
6. Steven Jackson, Rams
7. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
8. Frank Gore, 49ers
9. Shonn Greene, Jets
10. Cedric Benson, Bengals
11. Ryan Grant, Packers
12. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
13. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
14. Matt Forte, Bears
15. Joseph Addai, Colts
16. Fred Jackson, Bills
17. Jerome Harrison, Browns
18. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
19. Beanie Wells, Cardinals
20. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
21. Pierre Thomas, Saints
22. LeSean McCoy, Eagles
23. Darren McFadden, Raiders
24. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins
25. Brandon Jacobs, Giants
26. Steve Slaton, Texans
27. Marion Barber, Cowboys
28. Darren Sproles, Chargers
29. Justin Forsett, Seahawks
30. Clinton Portis, Redskins
Memo to LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook, Willie Parker, Darren Sproles, Jason Snelling, Pierre Thomas, Cadillac Williams or any other free agent running back -- unrestricted or restricted -- who's exploring their options for the 2010 season: Thanks to a substantial, late-season knee injury to Kevin Smith and overall mediocre production of Maurice Morris, the Detroit Lions have a gaping hole at the RB1 and RB2 slots and should be in the market for a big-name stud with plenty of juice left in the proverbial tank.
On the surface, the Lions (3-37 in their last 40 games -- ouch!) seem like the least ideal franchise to play for right now ... but I have compiled seven solid reasons why one of the aforementioned free agents should run -- not walk -- to sign with an up-and-coming club that will see better days sooner than later:
1. With Matthew Stafford's prodigious arm and Calvin Johnson's penchant for drawing double- and triple-teams from defenders, Detroit's lead running back will seldom encounter eight men in the "box" this fall.
2. Given the Lions' prioritized needs at offensive line, defensive line and cornerback, they likely won't draft a running back earlier than Round 5 in April. In other words, "Veteran Running Back A" won't have to pretend he's not bothered by all the attention C.J. Spiller's getting in training camp.
3. Along those lines ... Detroit will most definitely draft a premium offensive lineman (like Russell Okung, Bryan Bulaga, Mike Iupati, Trent Williams, Anthony Davis, Charles Brown, Bruce Campbell) in Round 1 or 2. And as we all know, you can never have enough man-mountain linemen.
4. The FieldTurf at Ford Field -- the Lions' home lair since 2002 -- is one of the softest, yet quickest running surfaces in the league and would presumably keep a veteran's legs relatively fresh over the span of four months.
5. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan enjoys using running backs in the passing game -- which should particularly appeal to Westbrook, one of the league's most versatile rushers in his heyday (try, 2008).
6. If you play a starring role in a Detroit playoff victory -- keep in mind the club possesses just one playoff win since 1957 -- you'll never have to buy dinner or a drink in the Greater Metro Detroit Area again. (Exhibit A: Former Detroit QB Erik Kramer)
7. Did I mention how Stafford will be a top-5 quarterback by 2012 ... and holds the key to the Lions' futuristic championship hopes? Hmmm, I guess that was implied in bullet #1.
Over the next five months, fantasy owners will be overwhelmed with (accurate) propaganda supporting Chris Johnson's candidacy for the No. 1 pick in standard-scoring leagues; and for the most part, it'll be good advice to heed for the August drafts. However, there are still a few rock-solid reasons -- six, actually -- to consider Adrian Peterson for the top spot on draft day:
1. The numbers only tell part of the story. Everyone knows Peterson made a quantum leap in total touchdowns from 2009 (18) to '08 (10). But very few fantasy owners probably realize that AP's yards-per-touch ratio jumped to 5.21 -- up from 4.91 in '08 -- even though he finished with 66 fewer total yards on the season.
2. Peterson has finally become in a vital cog in the passing game. Thanks to Brett Favre and Brad Childress, AP experienced a monumental jump in receptions. How much? His 43 catches in 2009 exceeded his combined total (40) from 2007-08. Perish the thought: Peterson may have the capacity for 55-60 catches someday -- adding to his allure in Points Per Reception leagues. (On the downside, he only has one career TD reception -- off his very first pro catch back in '07.)
3. Without a doubt, Chris Johnson has the higher upside ... but if you're looking for a lead-pipe cinch for 1,850 total yards and 17 touchdowns in any given year -- for at least the next five seasons -- Peterson's your man!
4. If Brett Favre retires at season's end ... Peterson's touches will most definitely go up about 6-8 percent. And with more touches comes more opportunities for breakaway runs like these.
5. If Favre returns to Minnesota in 2010 ... tell me you wouldn't rubber-stamp a repeat of 1,819 total yards and 18 touchdowns, leaving yourself more time to focus on the crucial swing picks of Round 2 (No. 24) and Round 3 (No. 25). In other words, as great as Tennessee's Johnson should be this decade, he hasn't fully earned the bankability for 1,800-2,000 yards yet. And before laughing that off, just remember that Steven Jackson hasn't really emulated his out-of-this-world success from 2006 (2,334 total yards, 16 TDs).
6. Let's be honest: Money talks. Whether Peterson and the Vikings carve out an extension this summer or midway through next season, rest assured that a highly lucrative deal is coming Adrian's way ... perhaps making him the highest-paid non-QB in the league. As a good-faith gesture for getting all that do-re-mi before his current contract expires in a few years, Peterson will certainly bring his A+-game to the table this fall.
Verdict: The above arguments only work for standard-scoring and TD-only leagues. For PPR leagues, Chris Johnson is the redoubtable choice for No. 1 overall ... while AP could even be usurpred by Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew, Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald or Steven Jackson at the No. 2 spot.
I was born and raised in the wonderful state of Michigan, home of the NFC Central -- aka "The Black-and-Blue Division" in the 1970s ... and "NFC Norris" in the 1980s (thanks, Chris Berman). My NFC ties during childhood were deeply rooted in the Lions, Packers, Bears, Vikings, 49ers, Cowboys and Redskins and larger-than-life CBS broadcasters like Pat Summerall, Frank Glieber, Tom Brookshier, Vin Scully, Hank Stram and, of course, John Madden; but make no mistake, the greatest broadcasting duo of the late 70s/mid-80s was NBC's No. 1 team of Dick Enberg and Merlin Olsen. So, it came with great sadness to learn that Olsen (a Hall of Famer/member of The Fearsome Foursome) died Thursday at the age of 69.
Oh, how I lived for NFL Sundays at 4 p.m. when Enberg and Olsen had the NBC doubleheader game -- usually involving the Chargers, Raiders, Broncos or Dolphins. And oh how I respected Olsen's smooth delivery, concise analysis, insightful anecdotes and overall class and dignity that he always brought to the airwaves. He will be missed.