BY DAVID KOMER
Calvin Johnson: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Fair or not, most fantasy owners love to hold grudges. Each summer football draft features a cathartic interruption of bitter resentment, which rings out about every 1.5 rounds. From Good luck, he's all yours, to Now I really can't wait to play you, and even the less eloquent, but straight to the point Blank him! odds are, you've heard it, read it, said it or typed it during your in-person or online drafts. Of course, as if defaming a player to their ensuing owner for letting us down the previous year is going to do any good, at least it's a shot across the bow at our rivals with a dose of self-important hubris.
Plus, it's just fun.
Bearing that in mind, as much as it's hard to let go, sometimes the fantasy owners who move on with a short memory stand to gain the most from taking a player one year later -- with rare exceptions, of course (I'll never forgive, among others, Jeff George, Willis McGahee, Curtis Martin, Corey Dillon, Kevin Jones and Fred Taylor -- it's personal).
Last year had its share of highly picked or top-half of the draft disappointments, too.
Here is my All-Bust team from 2009, and what you might be able to expect this fall:
QB Jay Cutler, Broncos (21 TD passes through 15 weeks/26 interceptions)
RB Brian Westbrook, Eagles (274 yards, 1 TD)
RB Steve Slaton, Texans (437 yards, 3 TDs)
WR Calvin Johnson, Lions (984 yards, 5 TDs)
WR Anquan Boldin, Cardinals (1,024 yards, 4 TDs)
WR Greg Jennings, Packers (1,113 yards, 4 TDs)
TE Jason Witten, Cowboys (1030 yards, 2 TDs)
Dishonorable Mention: Clinton Portis, Redskins (494 yards, 1 TD)
Outlook: As I wrote a few weeks ago, Cutler should benefit from newly minted Bears' offensive genius/madman Mike Martz and will put up big numbers for a player drafted as a low end QB1 or high QB2. Westbrook, coming off concussion issues, could still provide some production as a spot starter depending where he lands, but his days of fantasy stardom are over. A late-round flier pick at best. Slaton is a mystery. He should hold off Arian Foster, but Auburn rookie Ben Tate is another matter. Slaton looks like an 8th to 10th round pick who could be headed for a time-share. Johnson will rebound nicely as a WR1 while Matt Stafford matures and with the running game upgraded (and could be had as late as the mid-to-late third round, which would be larceny).
Boldin, who I'm not high on, looks like a high-end WR3 or low-end WR2 this year with the Ravens, whose upgraded passing game I have to see to believe. Jennings should have exploded along with Aaron Rodgers last season, but has to this year as the No. 1 target. If not now, he may never become the marquee wideout he's shown flashes of being. A high-end WR2 and low-end WR1, Jennings should go in the third to fourth round. Witten's yards were decent for a tight end, but he was a ghost in the red zone in 2009. The Cowboys are still a pass-first offense built around Tony Romo, so expect an uptick in touchdowns with maybe a slight dip in yardage.
Here is the worst of the rest, along with a 2009 dishonor roll:
QB Carson Palmer, Bengals: A good QB2 and could be a fantasy starter if he bounces back.
QB Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks: Barely a fantasy backup unless Pete Carroll can revive him.
RB Brandon Jacobs: A big question mark. A good RB3 or weak RB2, will be a mid-round pick.
RB Matt Forte, Bears: Will rebound in 2010 and become a nice 4th/5th-round value.
RB Marshawn Lynch, Bills: What a difference a year makes. Unless traded, a non-factor.
RB LenDale White, Titans: A free agent after Seahawks cut him, probably done.
WR Roy Williams, Cowboys: The clock is ticking, the production waning. Dez Bryant is coming.
WR Antonio Bryant, Bucs: Former head case joins Bengals as a WR2; crazy enough to work?
WR Terrell Owens, Bills: Almost too much trouble no matter where he lands. A fantasy WR3.
TE Chris Cooley, Redskins: Only a matter of time before Fred Davis takes his job.
Bottom line: It's hard to bury the hatchet sometimes (and I'll admit it's with a sense of accomplishment some players stay off my roster on draft day even now), the owner who is able to put personal feelings aside has the draft day edge and might be able to snap up a bargain. As much as some players' fantasy stock is down having been a former owner, remember that to a lesser degree it's damaged overall, due to lower magazine rankings and lower stat totals that fellow team owners will take note of. On draft day, don't be afraid to roll the dice and forgive and forget -- when the time is right, of course.
So you want a quarterback in the first round, huh? If you're sitting in a draft position around the sixth pick or later, this is your year. If anything's been proven since last season and this spring in mock drafts, it's that there should be no hesitation in pulling the trigger on a blue chip QB like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, from picks No. 6 through 10.
When it comes to typical latter-end first round picks like Steelers back Rashard Mendenhall (who will be missing his starting quarterback for at least a quarter or more of the fantasy season), the Rams' Steven Jackson (who will be saddled with eight men in the "box" defensive looks and a rookie quarterback) or even post-Andre Johnson (the only sure-thing first round WR in my opinion) receiver picks like Randy Moss or Reggie Wayne, it's hard to say they'll out-perform this year's Big Three of QBs in Rodgers, Brees and Peyton Manning on a week-to-week basis.
But to get something, you've got to give up something. This means passing on receiver or running back in the critical second through fourth rounds, you're running the risk of being weak at one or the other. One key is when other teams start filling their QB spots with the next 3-4 high-end signal callers, take advantage of those position players (RB, WR) who slide as a result.
In two different drafts I picked in the second half of the first round with one of the top quarterbacks as my top pick, then tried to build a balanced team around them. Here's what I came up with in a 10-team, 15-round draft, courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator, picking in the sixth position as I targeted a triplets blueprint to start off with.
1) QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers
2) RB DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
3) WR Roddy White, Falcons
4) RB LeSean McCoy, Eagles
5) WR Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
6) WR Mike Walker, Jaguars
7) RB C.J. Spiller, Bills
8) TE Owen Daniels, Texans
9) WR Robert Meachem, Saints
10) RB Montario Hardesty, Browns
11) QB Donovan McNabb, Redskins
12) D/ST Pittsburgh Steelers
13) RB Clinton Portis, Redskins
14) WR Terrell Owens, free agent
15) PK Nate Kaeding, Chargers
Next up in a 12-team mock, I picked a top quarterback in the first from the No. 8 first round position. This time, instead of grabbing Williams again in the second round or picking the next best available back, Cedric Benson, I went with the top receiver still available (Moss), a steal at the draft position of No. 17 overall. Here's how it worked out:
1) QB Drew Brees, Saints
2) WR Randy Moss, Patriots
3) RB LeSean McCoy, Eagles
4) RB Jahvid Best, Lions
5) RB Brandon Jacobs, Giants
6) WR Robert Meachem, Saints
7) WR Santana Moss, Redskins
8) RB Reggie Bush, Saints
9) WR Eddie Royal, Broncos
10) QB Carson Palmer, Bengals
11) D/ST San Francisco 49ers
12) WR Mario Manningham, Giants
13) TE John Carlson, Seahawks
14) RB Leon Washington, Seahawks
15) PK Adam Vinatieri, Colts
Sometimes you benefit from position runs just by gut feeling. One reason there's such a dropoff after Moss in my receiver corps was a stretch where five receivers in a row went from picks 21 to 25, and all told, seven over a nine-pick period, ending at No. 29 with the fifth pick of the third round, where Greg Jennings went. Had I passed on Moss for an RB, the outlook would have gotten a lot bleaker at my WR1 spot, like Chad Ochocinco or one of the Steve Smiths as my top wideout. Yikes.
I was pretty happy with how I insulated the running back position with McCoy, Best and Jacobs despite not grabbing my first one until the 31st pick. Bush gave me an overload of Saints, but he was strictly a best player available splurge when I opted to bypass tight ends like Tony Gonzalez and Owen Daniels, which may or may not have been a smart move.
Former Rams great Isaac Bruce is expected to announce his retirement Wednesday after being acquired by the team that once drafted him in the second round out of Memphis in 1994. Despite two years marred by injury in 1997 and '98, Bruce was one of the more reliable fantasy football receivers in his time. From 1995-2002, he averaged nearly 1,200 yards a season, but on the downside he was prone to huge spikes in productivity, tempered with quietly steady but unspectacular campaigns in the BK, or Before Kurt days, soldiering through some inconsistent seasons with brutal quarterbacks (Tony Banks).
More important (tongue firmly in cheek), he was a cornerstone for my first fantasy football championship team in '95. After a disastrous early-season deal for Drew Bledsoe and Ben Coates. (Bledsoe would get injured early on with a separated shoulder.) I kept second-round pick Marshall Faulk and built around him moving nearly every piece I could. First, I swung a package deal for Brett Favre who sat as a backup on another team, then picked up two of the biggest fantasyland waiver-wire wonders of that season in Bruce and tailback Derek Loville. And the rest is (my) fantasy football history.
My 1995 team Week 16 starting lineup looked like this:
QB Brett Favre, Packers
RB Marshall Faulk, Rams
RB Derek Loville, 49ers
WR Isaac Bruce, Rams
WR Quinn Early, Saints
TE Mark Chmura, Packers
PK Jeff Wilkins, 49ers
Key reserves and part-time starters were WR Andre Rison, QB Steve Bono and WR O.J. McDuffie.
Bruce's second year in '95 still stands as one of the best fantasy seasons ever for a receiver in the last 15 years. He caught 119 passes for 1,781 yards (averaging 111 yards per game, 15 yards a catch and 7.4 receptions per game) with 13 touchdowns. He only broke double figures in touchdowns twice in his career, but for those of us owners who took a gamble on a certain second-year receiver 15 years ago, we'll always have '95.
Oh, and that Favre guy wasn't too bad that year either.