Kellen Winslow: Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMI
Ah, tight ends. They're the glue of a passing attack -- the exclamation point for good ones ... and the safety net for bad ones. What would the NFL world be without 'em, huh? They are easily the most underrated playmakers in fantasy football (unless you count the Chargers defense/special teams this season). So, with the draft tiers for quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers in the Clicks books, SI.com presents a five-tiered list of the top-32 tight ends -- a mathematical compilation from projections published in eight respected annuals (The Sporting News, ESPN the Mag, Fanball.com, etc.). The tiers represent the players' average estimates (listed in order of draft preference):
Tier 1 (1,000 total yards and 8 TDs)
Kellen Winslow, Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez
Tier 2 (850 total yards and 6 TDs)
Dallas Clark, Chris Cooley, Alge Crumpler, Jeremy Shockey, Owen Daniels, Todd Heap
Tier 3 (700 total yards and 5 TDs)
Heath Miller, Vernon Davis, Tony Scheffler, Donald Lee, Ben Utecht, Greg Olsen, Randy McMichael, Zach Miller, Marcedes Lewis
Tier 4 (500 total yards and 3 TDs)
Kevin Boss, Dustin Keller, John Carlson, Desmond Clark, Ben Watson, L.J. Smith, Alex Smith, Chris Baker, Leonard Pope, Visanthe Shiancoe, David Martin, Kellen Davis, Michael Gaines
1. I should spend this time praising Frank Gore (eight carries for 51 yards; 2 catches for 19 yards) for his brief, but dynamic performance in San Francisco's 37-30 road win. Instead, I will apologize to Niners QB J.T. O'Sullivan for my negative assessment in Wednesday's Clicks, questioning his acumen as an NFL signal-caller (kind of like Sterling Sharpe vs. Matt Cassel). O'Sullivan looked superb against the Bears' once-dominant defense, completing 7-of-8 passes for 126 yards and a TD. He also produced two highlights worthy of showing his grandchildren someday: One, a down-and-out bullet pass to tight end Vernon Davis for 40 yards. Then, two plays later, he rolled sprint-right, fended off the Bears pass rush and found wide receiver Jason Hill for a beautiful 37-yard score. Maybe he can play in this league. Maybe Mike Martz has unearthed a Warner-like gem.
2. I want to believe that Kyle Orton (10-17 for 147 yards and 2 TDs) will become a solid fantasy QB, in the mold of how I think Jason Campbell and Matt Leinart will perform this season. But the Bears are in the middle of a substantial overhaul offensively (moving from Cedric Benson to Matt Forte at RB and from Bernard Berrian to Mark Bradley and Earl Bennett at WR), meaning there'll be more bad days than good in the interim. However, I am impressed with the speed, vision and cutting ability of Forte (11 rushes for 44 yards) ... and I wouldn't bat an eye over starting Greg Olsen (1 catch for 18 yards and 1 TD) at tight end for 14 Sundays this season -- no matter the format.
Here we go again ... another Click lauding Targets, as in the amount of times a receiver, tight end or running back has the ball thrown his way. Not to keep harping on this, but it's truly one of the best indicators of success for a coming season -- especially in PPR leagues. To wit: SI.com presents a list of the 10 tight ends with the best combination of Targets and Receiving Yards (using '07 stats). Basically, we're talking about guys with minimums of 4.5 Targets Per Game (TPG) and 540 receiving yards:
1. Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs (10.3 Targets Per Game, 1,172 receiving yards)
2. Kellen Winslow, Browns (9.7 TPG, 1,106 receiving yards)
3. Jason Witten, Cowboys (9.3 TPG, 1,145 receiving yards)
4. Antonio Gates, Chargers (7.4 TPG, 984 yards)
5. Chris Cooley, Redskins (7.0 TPG, 786 yards)
6. x-Jeremy Shockey, Saints (7.0 TPG, 619 yards)
7. Dallas Clark, Colts (6.8 TPG, 616 yards)
8. Owen Daniels, Texans (5.9 TPG, 768 yards)
9. Vernon Davis, 49ers (6.4 TPG, 509 yards)
10. Tony Scheffler, Broncos (4.5 TPG, 549 yards)
x- denotes statistics with the New York Giants
1. Tenneesse @ Atlanta: If Falcons rookie QB Matt Ryan plays well in all three quarters of his first-ever home start ... does he earn a second home start against Detroit on Sept. 7?
2. New Orleans @ Cincinnati: I'm not a gamblin' man, but what is the Vegas over/under for this game come halftime? I have already grabbed Drew Brees in two fantasy drafts this month for two reasons: 1) He's a lock for 4,400 passing yards and/or 29 TDs, and 2) He only has one cold-weather game in November and December (Week 15 @ Chicago).
3. Arizona @ Oakland: Is tight end Zach Miller on the precipice of moving into the Vernon Davis/Todd Heap strata on fantasyland draft boards?
4. Washington @ Carolina: Is first-rounder Jonathan Stewart finally ready to log substantial carries with the Panthers? If not, when does DeAngelo Williams get more love on preseason draft boards?
5. New York Giants @ New York Jets: Speaking of Vegas ... what's the over/under on Eli Manning/Brett Favre split-screen shots during the TV broadcast -- before, during and after the game?
For those who stole the injured Willis McGahee in the fourth, fifth or sixth round of their respective drafts, it's encouraging to see the Miami product off crutches and in the pool (doing his best Michael Phelps impression -- just ask him) after knee surgery. But before you start penciling in McGahee for your Week 1 lineup, it might be wise to dump one of your middling running backs (say, Ahman Green) and run, don't walk, to grab Ravens backup RB Ray Rice off the waiver wire. In fact, I would feel extremely confident starting Rice in McGahee's stead against the Bengals in Week 1 (unless you already have established stars like LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson). Rice has world-class elusiveness and a lightning-quick burst to match. It's just too bad know one thinks of him like that -- yet.
Ever dreamt of playing fantasy football against a Hall of Fame safety, Sports Illustrated football writer, Major League Baseball general manager, world-renowned swimsuit model, professional poker player or best-selling author -- to name a few? SI.com, in conjunction with Facebook, will welcome someone into its 2008 Celebrity Fantasy League where one lucky fan matches weekly wits, from Draft Day to the Fantasy Bowl, with Ronnie Lott, Peter King, Oakland A's GM Billy Beane, supermodel Brooklyn Decker, poker great Phil Gordon and Michael Lewis, author of the sabremetrician-friendly book, Moneyball. Time's running out, though, so click here and register today! As a consolation prize for the contest non-winners, you can create new leagues and develop newer rivals on the new SI/Facebook fantasy game.
Larry Fitzgerald: AP
After 24 sleep-deprived hours of crunching the numbers, I am finally ready to predict the top-5 point-getters for 2008 in Points Per Reception leagues. These projections are obviously based on injury-free campaigns ... meaning Brian Westbrook will continue his in-season tradition of being on the injury list each week before miraculously playing -- and dominating -- every Sunday.
Quarterbacks: Tom Brady (420 points), Peyton Manning (402 points), Drew Brees (391), Tony Romo (390), Carson Palmer (361)
Running Backs: Brian Westbrook (352 points), Steven Jackson (336), Joseph Addai (335), LaDainian Tomlinson (332), Frank Gore (330)
Wide Receivers: Reggie Wayne (313 points), Randy Moss (312), Larry Fitzgerald (292), Braylon Edwards (290), Terrell Owens (287)
Tight Ends: Kellen Winslow (227 points), Jason Witten (225), Antonio Gates (219), Anthony Gonzalez (218), Dallas Clark (176)
Switching gears to baseball ... can you name the only Diamondbacks starting pitcher NOT named Brandon Webb or Randy Johnson to lead the squad in ERA for a season? (Scroll down for the answer.)
In search of an unheralded Friday spot starter for your fantasy lineup, one who may bring glory in Ks, ERA and WHIP -- if for just one night? I've been on a cold streak of late (David Purcey, Brandon Backe, to name two) ... so maybe you're better off ignoring my advice altogether. But then again, all things must pass (thank you, George Harrison), meaning I'm ready to recommend Marlins righty Anibal Sanchez against the D'backs. Since coming off the DL last month, Sanchez (who's held right-handed hitters to a .116 average) has posted two wins, a solid 20/12 K-to-BB ratio and a strong 3.52 ERA. In all four starts, he's allowed just three runs or less. What's more, the East-contending Marlins (65-63; 6 games behind the Mets) need a string of wins in the worst way; so who better to get the (ani)ball rolling than Sanchez?
If you've had D'backs closer Brandon Lyon (2-4, 25 saves, 4.69 ERA, 1.46 WHIP) pegged as your No. 1 fireman in mixed leagues all year ... chances are you "punted" saves long ago or are in complete denial over Lyon's slipshod numbers. That aside, if you're looking for an instant, cheap source at saves for the stretch run, you may want to latch onto Arizona reliever Jon Rauch (4-3, 18 saves, 3.21 ERA, 1.01 WHIP), the man who could supplant Lyon in the very-near future. The D'backs are publicly standing behind Lyon, as he wades through another month of troubles. But really, how long can they keep tapping an ineffective closer during a pennant chase, from a bullpen chock-full of worthy replacements?
BaseballHQ.com has even posted the following: "In terms of skills, Rauch has a clear advantage. He's done much better this season at keeping opponents off the base-paths and has a 1.01 (situational) WHIP compared to Lyon's 1.45. And even though Lyon's command is excellent, Rauch's command is even better."
The trade deadline for my favorite AL-only league has come and gone, but not before I dealt Tampa Bay pitcher James Shields for Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau in a 1-for-1 swap (with another SI.com compadre, Lonny Krasnow). Ordinarily, I'd be crazy to part with Shields (11-7, 3.68 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) down the stretch, since pitching wins fantasy championships, right? But my offense has been ravaged by injuries (Ian Kinsler, David Murphy, Ryan Sweeney), leaving me with no choice to acquire the All-Star Morneau (19 HR, 98 RBIs, .306 average). So, who'll prevail in this battle -- from today's date until season's end? I decided to let the lovable eggheads at Accuscore.com settle that one:
Aug. 22-Oct. 1 Estimates
Shields: 3 wins, 37 Ks, 3.67 ERA, 1.03 WHIP
Morneau: 19 runs, 5 HRs, 29 RBIs and .292 average
One more thing: I booted brawny Royals DH Billy Butler from my AL-only roster on Thursday ... and kept Blue Jays everyman Joe Inglett. Three weeks ago, I might have muttered 'Who's Joe Inglett?' when reading the Toronto newspapers. But now, only a fool would dump the hot-hitting Joe (4-5 with 3 RBIs on Thursday vs. the Yankees). Right, Accuscore?
Aug. 22-Oct. 1 Estimates
Inglett: 16 runs, 1 HR, 25 RBIs, 4 steals, .296 average
Butler: 11 runs, 3 HRs, 24 RBIs, 0 steals, .272 average
That if you're looking for potential pitchers getting the Sept. 1 call to the big leagues ... look no further than Tigers farmhand Chris Lambert, whose astounding 148/24 K-to-BB ratio with the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens has been somewhat clouded by a 12-8 record and 3.50 ERA. Not only is the 25-year-old Lambert ready for the major league life, he would conveniently be rescuing a Detroit rotation that inexplicably leans on Nate Robertson every five days.
At long last, SI.com has a fantasy football game, complete with all of the drafts, waiver wires, stats and analysis you need. Take the grand tour here and sign up a league. Heck, sign up two leagues if you want. We'll be waiting.