Fantasy Clicks: Rushing to mock judgment with rushers
Larry Fitzgerald: Paul Spinelli/Getty Images
My name is Jay ... and I'm a mock draft-aholic.
We're still 40 days away from the first NFL exhibition tilt of the 2009 season (Buffalo vs. Tennessee in the Hall of Fame Game), and yet I could not resist the lure of the Rotoworld/Mock Draft Central "experts" mock draft on Tuesday. Surrounded by savants in the fantasy field -- like John Hansen, Gregg Rosenthal, Greg Ambrosius, Michael Fabiano, Matt Schauf, Geoff Stein, Andy Behrens, etc. -- I drew the No. 9 slot for this 12-team draft ... with the 16th overall pick in Round 2. Here are my selections for all 15 rounds:
1. WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (barely eked out Titans RB Chris Johnson here)
2. RB Marion Barber, Cowboys (agonized over this pick; I strongly considered Calvin Johnson)
3. RB Ryan Grant, Packers (I'm expecting 1,400 total yards and seven TDs -- too ambitious?)
4. RB Darren McFadden, Raiders (I have taken D-Mac in all four expert mocks this spring/summer)
5. RB Derrick Ward, Bucs (genetically engineered for Tampa Bay's new zone-blocking run schemes)
6. RB Felix Jones, Cowboys (I'm shocked he lasted this long; love the Barber/Felix handcuff)
7. WR Jerricho Cotchery, Jets (has virtually no competition among New York's corps of wideouts)
8. WR Michael Crabtree, 49ers (admittedly a mild reach, but I could afford this major-upside pick)
9. QB Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (I've got him pegged for 3,250 passing yards and 24 TDs ... )
10. QB Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks (... but I'm still buying Hasselbeck insurance)
11. TE Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings (my consolation for missing out on Oakland's Zach Miller)
12. WR Deion Branch, Seahawks (could be a top-25 WR, plus I have the Hasselbeck handcuff)
13. K Nate Kaeding, Chargers (pound-for-pound, year-in and year-out ... the best fantasy kicker)
14. D/ST Philadelphia Eagles (when in doubt, ALWAYS go with a club that loves to blitz the QB)
15. WR Sidney Rice, Vikings (I've been saying it all spring: He's primed for a major breakout)
Here are some Revelations-style highlights from Tuesday's mock draft:
What I Loved In Round 1: If Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams comes anywhere close to last year's phenomenal numbers (1,639 total yards, 20 TDs), Ambrosius got a steal with the round's final pick.
What I Loved In Round 2: With Calvin Johnson in Round 2 and Steven Jackson in Round 1, Fanball guru Ryan Houston may have secured the TD leader amongst WRs ... and the total-yards king with the RBs in 2009.
What I Loved In Round 3: I never thought I'd see the day when Peyton Manning "slides" to Round 3. Talk about a great coup for Matt Schauf at No. 28 overall!
What I Loathed Round 4: Sorry, Geoff Stein, but I'm just not buying Roy Williams as the 15th-ranked wide receiver and the No. 41 pick overall.
What I Liked In Round 5: Fabiano (Philip Rivers), David Dorey (Aaron Rodgers) and John Hansen (Kurt Warner) should all be commended for snaring Tier 1 QBs in Round 5. Value, value, value!
What I Loathed In Round 6: How little confidence do I have in Torry Holt (66th overall)? I'd rather have Sidney Rice, Chris Chambers, Greg Camarillo and maybe even T-Holt's Jags teammates, Mike Walker and rookie WR stud Jarrett Dillard.
The Torry Holt-Jaguars union seemingly looks like a match made in heaven. Holt needed to land one last big contract (three years, $20 million), while maintaining his standing as a No. 1 receiving option. For Jacksonville, it's a chance to seriously upgrade a deficient WR corps and realistically make the playoffs again behind an accomplished pass-catcher who's also a borderline Hall of Famer (although with Cris Carter still waiting for his Canton invite, what chance does T-Holt have?).
But a closer look reveals this relationship will likely be a case of too little, too late for both parties.
Think about it: From 2000-07, Holt averaged 94 catches, 1,385 receiving yards and eight TDs a season for the high-flying Rams. But last year, while trying to overcome the normal wear-and-tear of age and a balky knee, Holt finished with only 64 catches, 796 yards and three touchdowns. To be fair, Holt (now 33) could be 100 percent this summer and, given his track record of success, has earned the proverbial "free pass" to bounce back from one bad year. But he doesn't have a supporting cast at wide receiver and he no longer possesses the explosion to beat unbalanced coverages on every possession. And if the Jaguars had kept Reggie Williams and Matt Jones around, from a football perspective only (Jones' personal problems are well-documented, so commend Jacksonville for taking a stand and dumping him) ... Holt would have made better sense as a No. 2 or 3 wide receiver.
One last thing: Holt rose to bankable prominence while playing on Flubber-like turf (like the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis or Qwest Field in Seattle). On the flip side, he hasn't posted 100-plus receiving yards on natural grass since Nov. 17, 2005 (10 catches, 130 yards, 1 TD at Houston); and Jacksonville just happens to play on lush green grass at its home stadium.
There's no doubt Holt will benefit from the presence of Maurice Jones-Drew at running back (the reverse is true, as well). But he's already used to playing with a top-flight running back (Marshall Faulk, Steven Jackson) and knows how to execute hundreds of "decoy" pass routes -- all in the name of creating wider rushing lanes for the backfield stud. But factoring in his underwhelming performance from last season, his weary legs and the unwanted pressure of carrying a passing attack, I cannot envision Holt being a comfortable lock for anything more than 62 catches, 770 receiving yards and four touchdowns. And that kind of pie-in-the-sky production barely warrants a mid-round pick in fantasyland drafts.
On the surface, the Lions enhanced their receiving corps Tuesday by trading for receiver Dennis Northcutt in a 1-for-1 swap with Jacksonville (which garnered safety Gerald Alexander in return). But was the move really that great for Detroit's offense, which already boasts the all-world talents of Calvin Johnson (78 catches, 1,331 yards, 12 TDs in '08), emerging running back Kevin Smith (1,262 total yards, 8 TDs), athletic tight end Brandon Pettigrew and strong-armed quarterbacks Daunte Culpepper and Matthew Stafford? Better yet, is Northcutt an upgrade over wideouts Bryant Johnson, Ronald Curry and Penn State rookie Derrick Williams? Here are some projections for the Lions playmakers:
Daunte Culpepper: 2,174 passing yards, 11 TDs (Sporting News)
Kevin Smith: 42 catches, 1,254 total yards (959 rushing), 10 TDs (Sporting News)
Calvin Johnson: 88 catches, 1,458 yards, 12 TDs(Sporting News)
Bryant Johnson: 33 catches, 402 yards, 2 TDs (Rotoworld)
Ronald Curry: 38 catches, 482 yards, 2 TDs (Rotoworld)
Dennis Northcutt: 36 catches, 470 yards, 2 TDs (Rotoworld w/ Jags)
Brandon Pettigrew: 35 catches, 350 yards, 2 TDs (Rotoworld)
There's a perception in fantasyland (whether real or not) that wide receivers make the biggest strides in their third professional season. Here are my revised rankings for the Year 3 wideouts:
1. Calvin Johnson, Lions
2. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
3. Steve Breaston, Cardinals
4. Sidney Rice, Vikings
5. Anthony Gonzalez, Colts
6. Ted Ginn, Jr., Dolphins
7. Jason Hill, 49ers
8. Mike Walker, Jaguars
9. David Clowney, Jets
10. Johnny Lee Higgins, Raiders
11. Robert Meachem, Saints
12. Laurent Robinson, Rams
13. Yamon Figurs, Ravens
14. Courtney Taylor, Seahawks
15. Aundrae Allison, Vikings
You have to love the practitioners at Fantasy Football Calculator. The calendar may only read July 1, but FFC is already hard at work, trying to make mathematical sense of this year's top fantasy football prospects. In fact, this site represents sublime one-stop shopping for mock drafts and the Average Draft Position tool (ADP) -- perhaps the best learning aid for NOT reaching during the August drafts. Speaking of ADP, here's a list of running backs likely earmarked for Rounds 1-5 (12-team leagues), if a draft were held today:
Adrian Peterson, Vikings -- Round 1, Pick 1
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars -- Round 1, Pick 3
Michael Turner, Falcons -- Round 1, Pick 3 (dead heat)
Matt Forte, Bears -- Round 1, Pick 4
Steven Jackson, Rams -- Round 1, Pick 6
LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers -- Round 1, Pick 7
Chris Johnson, Titans -- Round 1, Pick 8
DeAngelo Williams, Panthers -- Round 1, Pick 10
Steve Slaton, Texans -- Round 1, Pick 10 (dead heat)
Frank Gore, 49ers -- Round 2, Pick 1
Brian Westbrook, Eagles -- Round 2, Pick 4
Clinton Portis, Redskins -- Round 2, Pick 5
Brandon Jacobs, Giants -- Round 2, Pick 6
Marion Barber, Cowboys -- Round 2, Pick 11
Ronnie Brown, Dolphins -- Round 3, Pick 3
Pierre Thomas, Saints -- Round 3, Pick 8
Ryan Grant, Packers -- Round 3, Pick 9
Kevin Smith, Lions -- Round 3, Pick 10
Marshawn Lynch, Bills -- Round 4, Pick 3
Reggie Bush, Saints -- Round 4, Pick 5
Knowshon Moreno, Broncos -- Round 4, Pick 8
Darren McFadden, Raiders -- Round 4, Pick 12
Joseph Addai, Colts -- Round 5, Pick 3
Thomas Jones, Jets -- Round 5, Pick 4
Derrick Ward, Buccaneers -- Round 5, Pick 6
Willie Parker, Steelers -- Round 5, Pick 8
Larry Johnson, Chiefs -- Round 5, Pick 8 (dead heat)
... 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.
Tight ends may be the silent assassins of fantasy football, but they're not all created equal. To wit, the TE tier system for fantasy drafts, some of which begin in about four weeks:
Tier 1 (1,000 total yards and/or 8 TDs)
Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark
Tier 2 (850 total yards and/or 6 TDs)
Kellen Winslow, John Carlson, Greg Olsen, Chris Cooley, Owen Daniels, Jeremy Shockey, Visanthe Shiancoe, Zach Miller
Tier 3 (725 total yards and/or 5 TDs)
Dustin Keller, Heath Miller, Vernon Davis, Tony Scheffler, Todd Heap, Kevin Boss, Brent Celek, Marcedes Lewis, Brandon Pettigrew, Anthony Fasano, Bo Scaife
Tier 4 (600 total yards and/or 4 TDs)
Leonard Pope, Donald Lee, Brad Cottam, Steve Heiden, L.J. Smith, Billy Miller, Dante Rosario, Ben Utecht, Randy McMichael
Tier 5 (500 total yards and/or 3 TDs)
Jerramy Stevens, Desmond Clark, Alex Smith, Jermichael Finley, Chase Coffman, Ben Watson, Joel Klopfenstein, David Martin, Reggie Kelly, Shawn Nelson, Robert Royal
While reading Rotoworld's preseason fantasy magazine (the brainchild of fellow Fantasy Football Writer of the Year Gregg Rosenthal), I came across an interesting argument against Michael Turner as a high Round 1 pick. At face value, no one is disputing Turner's greatness from last season with the Falcons (1,699 rushing yards and 17 TDs). But after registering 382 touches (including six catches) for a surprising Wild Card club (especially after the Michael Vick debacle), he is now eligible for "induction" into the The Curse of 370 Club ... which means he'll likely be a fantasy disappointment in '09.
Simply put, Rotoworld ascertains that "running backs that take the rock 370 or more times in a given season (or 390 or more times in a season that includes a playoff run) tend to suffer an injury, a dramatic fall from grace shortly thereafter or a combination of the two." From Larry Johnson, Shaun Alexander and Curtis Martin to Eddie George, Edgerrin James and Terrell Davis, a lengthy list of productive running backs have experienced a stunning decline in numbers the following season after 370 touches -- often without any warning, either. In fact, in the modern era, only LaDainian Tomlinson, Walter Payton and Eric Dickerson have managed to beat the proverbial curse right after hitting 370.
To be fair, Turner only had 228 total rushes in the previous four seasons with San Diego (2004-07) ... so he definitely has the legs of a 23-year-old back in a 27-year-old NFL body. So who's to say he'll immediately be affected by last season's Herculean workload? And who's to say Turner cannot score even more touchdowns this year, with slightly fewer carries? After all, he may be the league's biggest red-zone lock, ahead of LT, DeAngelo Williams and even Adrian Peterson.
Peyton Manning: Andy Lyons/Getty Images
If a real fantasy league draft were held today, I'd probably take Drew Brees over Peyton Manning every time -- given Brees' annual flirtation with 5,000 passing yards and 35 touchdowns. But am I too quick to assume that Brees is the obvious choice over Manning (and Tom Brady, for that matter)? Here's a week-to-week breakdown of the two passing titans:
Week 1 -- Brees (vs. Detroit) over Manning (vs. Jacksonville)
Week 2 -- Manning (@ Miami) over Brees (@ Philadelphia)
Week 3 -- Manning (@ Arizona) over Brees (@ Buffalo)
Week 4 -- Manning (vs. Seattle) over Brees (vs. N.Y. Jets)
Week 5 -- Manning (@ Tennessee) over Brees (BYE)
Week 6 -- Brees (vs. N.Y. Giants) over Manning (BYE)
Week 7 -- Manning (@ St. Louis) over Brees (@ Miami)
Week 8 -- Manning (vs. San Francisco) over Brees (vs. Atlanta)
Week 9 -- Manning (vs. Houston) over Brees (vs. Carolina)
Week 10 -- Brees (@ St. Louis) over Manning (vs. New England)
Week 11 -- Brees (@ Tampa Bay) over Manning (@ Baltimore)
Week 12 -- Manning (@ Houston) over Brees (vs. New England)
Week 13 -- Brees (@ Washington) over Manning (vs. Tennessee)
Week 14 -- Manning (vs. Denver) over Brees (@ Atlanta)
Week 15 -- Brees (vs. Dallas) over Manning (@ Jacksonville)
Week 16 -- Brees (vs. Tampa Bay) over Manning (vs. N.Y. Jets)
Week 17 -- Brees (@ Carolina) over Manning (@ Buffalo)
Verdict: For argument's sake, let's pretend a fantasy owner drafts both Brees and Manning this season. After riding Peyton for the first nine weeks, he/she could then deal Manning at Week 10 for top-of-the-line value -- knowing full well that Brees would be more dominant from Weeks 10-17 (including the fantasy playoffs, traditionally Weeks 14, 15, 16). Of course, I would only recommend this course of action for highly skilled, thrill-seeking owners ... since they'd be under tremendous pressure to nail the rest of their high-round picks. That aside, I'm a little shocked Peyton claimed this battle by a 9-8 vote; and maybe, just maybe, I'll have to rethink his standing in the overall QB rankings.
Just when I thought I had seen it all, the uber-creative eggheads at Fantasy Football Toolbox have constructed a team name generator for the jet-set crowd of moniker-challenged fantasy owners. Traditionally, I'll name my squads after breakfast cereals (i.e. Count Chocula's Henchmen), TV shows or sports/pop-culture figures; but now, I may offer FF Toolbox the chance at securing the name rights for my SI.com & Friends league team.
Speaking of the Toolbox, here are the updated auction values for quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and linebackers (since they own the greatest pound-for-pound value in IDP leagues).
These teams should have a minimum of 12 weather-friendly games, which is the first step to predicting fantasy goodness (especially with quarterbacks):
St. Louis (the lone exception is Dec. 6 @ Chicago)
Tampa Bay (Dec. 20 @ Seattle serves as the only hindrance)
Arizona (only Nov. 8 @ Chicago could be a problem)
Houston (how blustery can Buffalo actually be on Nov. 1?)
New Orleans (maybe there'll be crummy weather @ Carolina on Jan. 3)
Detroit (this may be a factor in giving Matthew Stafford a spot start at season's end)
On the flip side ... these clubs should encounter treacherous weather for at least five games, which often serves as the great equalizer with star QBs (see Tom Brady, Week 15 of 2007 vs. N.Y. Jets):
Buffalo (I hope T.O. can catch balls amidst freezing temps, snow and perilous crosswinds)
Cleveland (In bad weather, does it really matter who's QB -- Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson?)
With the help of my friend, colleague and radio partner, Jeff Ritter, we've decided to finish today's Clicks with a fantasy Point-Counterpoint segment.
Who would you rather have in '09 ... Braylon Edwards or Dwayne Bowe?
Ritter: Look, I love Braylon as much as anyone. In fact, as a fellow Michigan Wolverine, my man-love borders on unnatural, approaching creepy (like Jay's love for Chris Johnson and Sidney Rice). But Edwards had a clunker of a season in '08 (3 TD catches), and I'm not sure we can expect much from the Derek Anderson/Brady Quinn tandem at QB, or from the team in general in '09. Face it: The Browns are going to be really, really bad. Conversely, Bowe is already the alpha-dog receiver in an offense that gets a huge boost at quarterback. The loss of Tony Gonzalez just means more balls for Bowe. He's my choice this season.
Clemons: You had me going for a while ... right up to the point of saying the Chiefs are getting a "huge boost at quarterback" with the arrival of Matt Cassel from New England. I take great exception to the notion that Cassel is markedly better than Tyler Thigpen. Sure, Thigpen didn't throw for 400 yards twice last year (like Cassel), but he also didn't have the Patriots' vaunted O-line blocking for him ... or the peerless receiving tandem of Moss/Welker. (deep sigh) But I'm getting off track here. Bowe might be the better long-term fantasy prospect, but Braylon is also playing for a monster contract extension in 2010 (with the Browns or another team), so he'll be highly motivated to repeat his 16-TD season of 2007. How about this for playing both sides: Bowe will have more receptions and receiving yards -- but Edwards will accrue more Targets and score more touchdowns. HA!
Antonio Gates or Dallas Clark?
Ritter: Man, has the Antonio Gates party ended this early? Just two years ago, he was the unquestioned top tight end in the game, and now we're pitting him against Clark? I like Clark as a top tight end, but I still have Gates ranked No. 2 at the position behind Tony Gonzalez. Health has held Gates back the past two seasons, but if he's right in '09, he could return to his perch at the head of the class.
Clemons: I have a healthier Gates ranked above Clark, as well; it seems like a common-sense move. However, I wanted to point out the following projections from CBSSports: Clark -- 81 catches, 905 yards and 9 TDs. Gates -- 69 catches, 892 yards, 9 TDs ... interesting.
Jonathan Stewart or LeSean McCoy?
Ritter: I love the McCoy pick by the Eagles, and he's clearly the successor to Brian Westbrook. I think there's a great chance McCoy gets more than 200 touches this season, but I'm still going with Stewart. I KNOW Stewart's getting his share of looks in the Panthers' run-oriented offense, and I'm still not totally sold on DeAngelo Williams' health, or ability to follow up his breakout season with something comparable.
Clemons: Tabbing LeSean McCoy as Westbrook's successor is akin to citing Kevin Kolb as the imminent heir to the Eagles' QB throne, after Donovan McNabb leaves Philly. Yes, they're both in line to take over the starting duties, but who knows when Westy and D-McNabb will cease playing at an amazingly high level? In all honesty, Kolb and McCoy might have to wait until 2012 for a full-time opportunity at fantasy success (and, oh yeah, a chance to win their own Super Bowl ring). By the way, DeAngelo had 1,616 total yards and 20 TDs last season. Who in their right mind would expect him to repeat such stellar numbers -- with or without J-Stew's presence in the backfield? It almost sounds like you're trivializing his accomplishments from last year. Tsk-tsk.
LaDainian Tomlinson or Marion Barber?
Ritter: I saw enough during the second half of last season to make me believe Tomlinson is on the decline. Darren Sproles should have an increased role in the Bolts' offense this year, which could actually help LT hang in a little longer; but Tomlinson is a No. 2 running back on my board this year (somewhere in the 12-18 range). Barber will have to share carries with a healthy and able Felix Jones, but sharing carries hasn't kept Barber out of a top-10 RB ranking in the last three years. He's my easy choice here.
Clemons: I'm not going to argue with you here, just for the sake of being obstinate. Barber (1,302 total yards, 9 TDs) probably has the clearer path to 1,500 total yards and/or 15 TDs this season. However, I will bet my life that LT will outgain and outperform Barber in the Chargers-Cowboys clash at new Cowboys Stadium in Week 14 (Dec. 13). As a native Texan, LT will be super-primed to explode in front of the home folks; and it also helps that Dallas has a reputation for getting soft down the stretch.
Tony Romo or Donovan McNabb?
Ritter: While the powers of Jessica Simpson serving as a modern-day Yoko Romo should not be underestimated, I think losing Terrell Owens helps take some of the heat off the Cowboys quarterback. Romo has flashed his potential with monster first-halves in the last two seasons, only to flame out late. (Come to think of it, McNabb's seasons have had a similar arc.) This is the year Romo puts it all together and finishes as a top-6 QB. McNabb's stats may be close if he stays on the field, but his age and injury risk make me lean toward "Romissica" (Jomo?).
Clemons: Romissica? Jomo? Have you been dipping into some of grandpa's old cough syrup again? McNabb is a lock for 4,300 total yards and 26 TDs this season. It also helps that he has the far better receiving corps -- DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Kevin Curtis, Hank Baskett, Brent Celek -- compared to the one Romo now has at his, ahem, disposal. I guess Dallas couldn't wait to get rid of T.O. and start the Roy Williams/Miles Austin golden age.
Yes, Eagles receiver Hank Baskett is more famous today than one month ago -- now that he's married to former Playmate model and current reality-TV star Kendra Wilkinson. But let's have some perspective on Baskett come fantasy-draft day: No matter how many TV cameras track his every move, regardless of how many TMZ appearances he'll make from this day forward ... he's still just a 28-catch, 378-yard, 2-TD playmaker in fantasyland. No more, no less.
In other words, he's receiva non grata with those of us who knew him long before E! channel viewers did.