Brian Westbrook: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
On Friday, I detailed the Six QB Tiers for Drafting, a mathematical compilation of QB projections from eight respected fantasy annuals (The Sporting News, ESPN the Mag, Fanball.com, etc.). So, in the name of fairness and balance (thank you, Fox News), SI.com presents a five-tiered list of the top-50 running backs (based on their average estimates):
Tier 1 (1,500 total yards and/or 12 TDs)
LaDainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson, Brian Westbrook, Steven Jackson, Marshawn Lynch, Frank Gore, Joseph Addai, Marion Barber, Clinton Portis, Ryan Grant
Tier 2 (1,300 total yards and/or 10 TDs)
Larry Johnson, Ronnie Brown, Maurice Jones-Drew, Brandon Jacobs, Willie Parker, Jamal Lewis, Thomas Jones, Laurence Maroney
Tier 3 (1,100 total yards and/or 8 TDs)
Michael Turner, Willis McGahee, Earnest Graham, Darren McFadden, Edgerrin James, Reggie Bush, Julius Jones, Rudi Johnson, LenDale White, Fred Taylor
Tier 4 (950 total yards and/or 6 TDs)
Matt Forte, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Selvin Young, Rashard Mendenhall, Kevin Smith, Chester Taylor
Tier 5 (800 total yards and/or 4 TDs)
Justin Fargas, Deuce McAllister, Ahman Green, Jerious Norwood, Felix Jones, Leon Washington, Chris Brown, Chris Johnson, Ladell Betts, Warrick Dunn, Maurice Morris, Pierre Thomas, Ray Rice, Ahmad Bradshaw, Kolby Smith
1. Dallas @ Denver: I may have to reconsider my QB tiers, based on Jay Cutler's scintillating performance against the Cowboys -- 16 of 20 for 178 yards and one touchdown. But those stats only tell half the story: Playing against the Cowboys' first-team defense (OK, so they're a tad overrated, especially in the secondary -- ahem, Pacman!), Cutler completed his first 12 passes while engineering two lightning-fast scoring drives, including a 3-yard TD pass to Brandon Marshall (who's three-game suspension will likely be whittled down to two). And at the risk of repeating myself from last week, the Cowboys are one substantial Tony Romo injury away from being a rudderless 5-11 team ... based on the dark-ages play of backup QBs Brad Johnson and Richard Bartel.
2. San Diego @ St. Louis: Yes, the Rams won 7-6 at home against a Super Bowl contender ... and without Steven Jackson. (Kudos, I guess.) But the Rams are still my early candidate for the "We Were Never Ready To Start The Season" award, which, coincidentally, St. Louis would've also captured in 2007 -- if my Fantasy Clicks existed back then. The fantasy diagnosis isn't pretty, folks: Marc Bulger (7 of 14 for 56 yards and 2 INTs) resembles his subpar self, circa 2007, Drew Bennett is not a prototypical No. 2 receiver (behind Torry Holt) and the offensive line cannot create running lanes for the castoff backs. Then again, I'm not sure those holes will be there for Jackson, either, if/when he returns to the team. On the positive side, Randy McMichael (three catches for 54 yards) should be a super-sleeper at tight end (with Al Saunders directing the offense), a potential fantasy starter 5-7 times this season. And Josh Brown (a free-agent signee from Seattle) looks like a keeper on my Preseason Top-5 Kickers list.
3. Arizona @ Kansas City: It's simple math, really. If you presuppose that 1) Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin will have their typically stellar years, 2) Matt Leinart doesn't have another freak injury, like a broken collarbone, and 3) the Cardinals end up throwing more to balance out Edgerrin James' shaky yards-per-carry totals ... then why wouldn't you consider Leinart to be a lock for Eli Manning-like numbers of 24 TDs and 14 picks this season? On Saturday, Leinart was the model of efficiency for Arizona, completing 7-of-11 passes for 62 yards and one TD -- a 10-yard scoring strike to rookie back Tim Hightower, who could supplant James as the lead back in '08 (shhhh! Let's keep that one a secret, eh?) For the Chiefs, Larry Johnson had the spurt, power and flair of '05, rushing for 61 yards on 14 carries.
4. Minnesota @ Baltimore: In real-world football, the big news was Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson's knee injury (which turned out to be an MCL sprain -- not catastrophic). The big news in fantasyland occurred when Ravens rookie back Ray Rice -- a second-round pick from Rutgers -- rushed for 77 yards and 1 TD (on eight carries) against the NFL's No. 1 rushing defense last season. At first blush (heck, at second blush), Rice doesn't have the classic NFL build of a 1,500-yard rusher. But his world-class elusiveness and deceptive burst should help Baltimore stay afloat while Willis McGahee is sidelined after knee surgery.
5. Chicago @ Seattle: Charlie Frye -- yes, Charlie Frye! -- threw 35 of the Seahawks' 36 passes in their 29-26 home victory. I know Frye -- who many forget was the Browns' Week 1 starter last year and then traded three days later (an NFL first) -- needs maximum reps to beat out Seneca Wallace as the No. 2 QB; but still, is there any bigger endorsement for Preseason Games Mean Jack Squat than a stiff-legged, underwhelming leader like Frye "entertaining" the rowdy Qwest Field crowd for four quarters? I'd rather watch Mike Holmgren's mustache grow through a telephoto lens than be subjected to another All-Frye, All The Time exhibition. On the whole, Frye completed 20-of-35 passes for zero touchdowns and three interceptions -- assuming you don't count his TD toss for the Bears.
The NFL is a brilliant organization from top to bottom, no question. But, I have to take issue with the logistical lunacy of the Browns and Giants playing at the Meadowlands on Monday night ... when the two playoff-worthy foes will meet in Week 6 -- and on ESPN's Monday Night Football, no less! It's bad enough that teams implement vanilla defenses and call lackluster audibles during the preseason, but now that shroud of secrecy will be doubly cloaked, thanks to the league's schedule-makers. As for the actual game, I'll be getting my first real look at Jamal Lewis this season, in terms of:
1. Is he as svelte as last year?
2. Does he have happy feet before hitting the hole (a major problem in '05 and '06)?
3. Can Lewis meet or exceed his receptions quotient from last year (30)? And if not, who is the change-of-pace back (Jerome Harrison?)
As for the Giants, because it's human nature, I fully expect them to sleepwalk through the preseason -- just like other defending Super Bowl champions. And if you ask the players and coaches about their desultory performance after the game, they'll surely mention how they didn't want to reveal any secrets before the Week 6 game. Talk about a fail-safe excuse.
I've harped on this before. But the No. 1 most overlooked stat in fantasy football is the number of Targets (both total and per-game), as in the amount of times a receiver, running back or tight end has the ball thrown his way. But those days are done -- as long as I have a say. SI.com presents a list of the top-10 receivers from 2007 with the best combination of Targets and Receiving Yards. Basically, we're talking about guys with minimums of 148 yearly targets (at least nine per game) and 1,100 receiving yards.
Randy Moss, Patriots (159 Targets, 1,493 yards)
Chad Johnson, Bengals (161 Targets, 1,440 yards)
Brandon Marshall, Broncos (170 Targets, 1,325 yards)
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (166 Targets, 1,409 yards)
Reggie Wayne, Colts (156 & 1,510)
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Bengals (169 & 1,143)
Braylon Edwards, Browns (153 & 1,289)
Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs (154 & 1,172)
Torry Holt, Rams (149 & 1,189)
Kellen Winslow, Browns (148 & 1,106)
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Terrell Owens: AP
My next BIG fantasy draft comes this Saturday -- in a Points Per Reception league. I've already drawn the 10th pick in the 10-team league, meaning I'll have a golden chance to select a premium Tier I running back (from above) and the best WR option not named Randy Moss (although he could fall my way, too) at 11th overall. For the sake of argument, let's use the PPR cheat sheet from Fantasy Football Index's preseason annual. The first nine picks comprise: Tomlinson, Steven Jackson, Westbrook, Moss, Frank Gore, Adrian Peterson, Reggie Wayne, Tom Brady and Marques Colston ... leaving me with a clear shot at two of the following performers:
RB: Joseph Addai, Maurice Jones-Drew, Reggie Bush, Marion Barber
QB: Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Drew Brees
WR: Terrell Owens, Andre Johnson
The verdict: I love Bush (88 catches in '06 -- how quickly we forget) and Jones-Drew's PPR potential this season ... but somewhere in the 14-16 overall range. Barber (44 catches last season) would have to score at least 14 TDs (an unlikely number) to justify his elite selection. I don't want a non-Brady QB until at least Round 4 (eliminating Peyton, Romo and Brees). So, I'm left with the Big Three of Addai, T.O. and Johnson. My heart says Big Andre (86 targets in just nine games), the irresistible force of the vastly improved Texans ... but my head says go with the balanced tandem of Addai and Owens.
What Angels pitcher led the team in wins for their World Series-winning season of 2002 -- the same year then-rookie John Lackey started Game 7 of the Fall Classic?
In search of an unheralded Monday spot starter for your fantasy lineup, one who may bring glory in Ks, ERA and WHIP -- if for just one night? Look no further than Houston's Randy Wolf, who has gone 2-0 since the Astros acquired him on July 22, via trade. In his last five National League outings, Wolf has posted a nearly 2-to-1 K/BB ratio of 23-12, along with a decent ERA of 4.18 (at least for Minute Maid Park) -- while never allowing more than four runs during that span.
What's more, Wolf faces the potent Brewers tonight at Miller Park. On the surface, that's a bad thing; but Wolf -- a cagey veteran -- will go opposite CC Sabathia in a showcase showdown (forgive the 'Price Is Right' pun) that'll surely bring out his best. Now, it goes without saying, if you have the choice of starting either Sabathia (7-0 in eight starts with Milwaukee) or Wolf on Monday, don't be an idiot! But Wolf should at least keep pace with Mr. NL Cy Young.
Jarrod Washburn posted a team-high 18 victories for the world champion Angels in 2002. Ramon Ortiz (15 wins), Kevin Appier (14 wins), Lackey (9) and Aaron Sele (8) rounded out the five-man rotation.
With the trade deadline (Thursday) looming large in my favorite AL-only baseball league, I wanted to analyze a blockbuster trade concocted on Sunday (not involving my squad, Count Chocula's Henchmen): Francisco Liriano and John Lackey for Mark Buehrle, Jose Guillen and David Ortiz. Using a broad brush, who gets the better end of this potentially season-defining swap? Hmmm ... for this exercise, I will enlist the help of Accuscore.com:
AccuScore Estimates (from Aug. 18 to Oct. 1)
David Ortiz: 23 runs, 8 HRs, 32 RBIs, .262 average
Jose Guillen: 17 runs, 6 HRs, 26 RBIs, 1 steal, .265 average
Mark Buehrle: 4 wins, 3.73 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 30 Ks in 51 innings
Francisco Liriano: 4 wins, 3.32 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 45 Ks in 44 innings
John Lackey: 4 wins, 3.73 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 45 Ks in 57 innings
The verdict: Unless you have a serious need for RBIs in your AL-only league, I would rather have the monster WHIPs and Ks potential of Lackey/Liriano.
That, if you're going to execute a draft-day trade -- such as surrendering your first-round pick for another owner's second- and third-rounders, before the picks are made -- it might be wise to create a trade-value chart, not unlike the ones NFL teams draw up come April. Or, at the very least, you can read this article about the Do's and Don'ts of draft-day etiquette. I'd like to add my own No-No to the list: Minimize the amount of beer consumed during the draft process. Or, at the very least, consume less than the guy selecting after you. Case in point: There are two Steve Smiths and two Adrian Petersons.