Chris Johnson: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
For the second straight year, I have invited my friend and colleague Jeff Ritter to help relive the 2009 season ... as part of the SI.com Fantasy Year-End Spectacular. We talked about the various formats for such an all-encompassing project ... but ultimately decided to keep things simple, light and funny -- through a random-yet-substantive system of critiquing (read: politely mocking) one another's choices for the biggest fantasy stars at their respective positions. We also flipped a coin to decide which writer would go first in all categories ... and once again, yours truly got stuck with the short end of the stick.
Jeff's Top 20
1. RB Chris Johnson, Titans
2. RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings
3. RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
4. RB Ray Rice, Ravens
5. RB Steven Jackson, Rams
6. RB Michael Turner, Falcons
7. RB DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
8. RB Frank Gore, 49ers
9. RB Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
10. RB Cedric Benson, Bengals
11. QB Drew Brees, Saints
12. WR Andre Johnson, Texans
13. QB Peyton Manning, Colts
14. RB Pierre Thomas, Saints
15. RB Ryan Grant, Packers
16. QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers
17. WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
18. RB Joseph Addai, Colts
19. RB Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
20. QB Tom Brady, Patriots
Jay's Take: Mr. Ritter, I appreciate the fact that you're obsessed with high-end running backs and elite quarterbacks. But are you seriously saying that not one wide receiver or quarterback cracks the top-10 next year -- regardless of scoring rules? Do you really value Jamaal Charles over the ultimate man-crush, Larry Fitzgerald? Are you really poo-pooing fantasy owners' need to possess a wide receiver in Rounds 1/2 next August (Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson aside)? And last but not least, what can be explained for having four quarterbacks in the top 20? Yes, we've all learned a hard lesson this year about having a top-shelf quarterback -- instead of an erratic, middle-of-the-road signal caller (aka Jay Cutler) -- but that's still not enough justification for splurging (and dare we say ... reaching for Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers) before securing a second elite running back or first great receiver.
Piggybacking off Ritter's list ... here's the next-best 20 players for 2010:
Jay's 21 through 40
21. RB Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
22. RB Jerome Harrison, Browns
23. WR Reggie Wayne, Colts
24. WR Randy Moss, Patriots
25. RB Fred Jackson, Bills
26. RB Thomas Jones, Jets
27. WR Roddy White, Falcons
28. WR Calvin Johnson, Lions
29. RB LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers (it's hard to keep a good man down)
30. RB Beanie Wells, Cardinals
31. QB Philip Rivers, Chargers
32. RB Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
33. WR Vincent Jackson, Chargers
34. WR DeSean Jackson, Eagles (probably deserves a higher ranking)
35. RB Steve Slaton, Texans
36. WR Anquan Boldin, Cardinals
37. RB Ronnie Brown, Dolphins (assuming he's ready for Week 1 action)
38. RB Marion Barber, Cowboys
39. WR Sidney Rice, Vikings
40. RB Matt Forte, Bears (in the middle of a precipitous freefall, rankings-wise, despite finishing with 1,400 total yards in '09)
Jeff's Top 5
1. Drew Brees, Saints
2. Peyton Manning, Colts
3. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
4. Tom Brady, Patriots
5. Philip Rivers, Chargers
Jay's Take: I have no qualms about the five studs in the top half, per se; but I'm just not sold on Brady over Rodgers or Philips for next season. Outside of that, this exercise looks like a relative no-brainer. Boom!
Jay's 6 through 10
6. Donovan McNabb, Eagles (the Kevin Kolb era will have to wait until 2011)
7. Matt Schaub, Texans (assuming full health for Andre Johnson/Owen Daniels/Steve Slaton)
8. Matt Ryan, Falcons (sophomore slump's in the past -- time to re-establish greatness)
9. Tony Romo, Cowboys (a prudent pick ... perhaps a boring one, as well)
10. Brett Favre, Vikings (it seems ridiculous to ignore Kurt Warner or Ben Roethlisberger here ... but we're convinced that Old Man Favre will return for his 20th NFL season)
Young Gun To Watch: Matthew Stafford. If he's going to be a top-5 fantasyland QB in 2011 ... we might as well have him breaking through in the top-15 to start the decade.
Jeff's Top 10
1. Chris Johnson, Titans
2. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
3. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
4. Ray Rice, Ravens
5. Steven Jackson, Rams
6. Michael Turner, Falcons
7. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
8. Frank Gore, 49ers
9. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
10. Cedric Benson, Bengals
Jay's Take: We could debate the order of running backs 3 through 10 until the cows come home (I'd love to know the origin of that expression) ... but I'm totally on-board with the above names on the list. In fact, I'm a little shocked that we're in lock-step over J-Charles and Gore; it's also nice to see Ritter hasn't forgotten that Turner is a red-zone monster -- when fully healthy.
Jay's 11 through 20
11. Ryan Grant, Packers (a top-5 back during the frigid November/December months)
12. Joseph Addai, Colts (a risky pick, given the expected emergence of Donald Brown)
13. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos (he's a lock for 1,400 total yards/11 TDs)
14. Jerome Harrison, Browns (could've played his way into Round 1 with two more games)
15. Fred Jackson, Bills (will be rated higher if Marshawn Lynch goes bye-bye)
16. Thomas Jones, Jets (where will he land next year? -- that's the question, Jimmy)
17. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers (reaps the rewards of Bruce Arians' surprise firing)
18. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers (it's impossible to deny him a spot in this countdown)
19. Beanie Wells, Cardinals (did anyone get the number of that speeding truck?)
20. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers (on any other club, in any other situation, he'd be a solid Round 1 pick)
Sleeper to watch: Justin Forsett. He should take another giant step forward next year -- with or without Julius Jones sticking with the Seahawks.
Jeff's Top 10
1. Andre Johnson, Texans
2. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
3. Vincent Jackson, Chargers
4. DeSean Jackson, Eagles
5. Randy Moss, Patriots
6. Reggie Wayne, Colts
7. Miles Austin, Cowboys
8. Brandon Marshall, Broncos
9. Anquan Boldin, Cardinals
10. Calvin Johnson, Lions
Jay's Take: Gone are the days of the Big Six -- A-Johnson, Fitzgerald, Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Greg Jennings -- and everyone else, huh? V-Jax and D-Jax probably deserve such esteemed rankings on Ritter's part ... although we both know that Brandon Marshall (certifiably crazy or not) holds greater value in Points Per Reception leagues.
Jay's 11 through 20
11. Roddy White, Falcons (a top-7 wideout when Matt Ryan's in the lineup)
12. Sidney Rice, Vikings (exceeded yours truly's '09 prediction of 1,100 yards/8 TDs -- by a mile)
13. Greg Jennings, Packers (projecting a sizable bump from 68 catches/1,113 yards/4 TDs)
14. Michael Crabtree, 49ers (we're acting on a very-large hunch for next year)
15. Chad Ochocinco, Bengals (it's hard to belittle the production; easy to knock the circus act)
16. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs (makes this countdown on reputation alone -- are we crazy?)
17. Steve Smith, Panthers (on the memory of 9 catches/157 yards/1 TD in Week 16)
18. Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars (MUST develop consistency on the road ... ON the field, that is)
19. Kenny Britt, Titans (behind Crabtree, the next great receiving force)
20. Wes Welker, Patriots (an untimely ACL tear thwarted all chances of a top-10 ranking -- not to mention the Patriots' Super Bowl dreams this February)
Rookie to watch: Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State. This is a semi-obvious pick, given his freakish athleticism and the lack of big-time playmakers among his WR classmates. We're also targeting Missouri's Danario Alexander for tangible fantasy goodness next season.
Jeff's Top 5
1. Dallas Clark, Colts
2. Antonio Gates, Chargers
3. Vernon Davis, 49ers
4. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
5. Brent Celek, Eagles
Jay's Take: It's damn-near impossible to argue with Ritter's five picks. With that said, I think the 6 through 10 guys might actually produce better across-the-board numbers next year -- when all is said and done. (Mark that one down)
Jay's 6 through 10
6. Jason Witten, Cowboys (we're assuming a sizable bump from just 2 TDs in '09)
7. Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers (Josh Freeman's redoubtable safety blanket -- he's money)
8. Owen Daniels, Texans (would be ranked higher if he hadn't suffered a year-ending injury)
9. Jermichael Finley, Packers (next to Big Vernon ... perhaps the most physically gifted tight end)
10. Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings (if Detroit's Brandon Pettigrew is completely healthy by Week 1 ... he might have enough juice to boot Visanthe from the countdown)
Sleeper to watch: Zach Miller. He'll dominate the Raiders' stat sheet -- at least until Louis Murphy develops route-running consistency ... and/or Darrius Heyward-Bey finally gets a hands transplant.
Jeff's Top 5 Sleepers For 2010
1. RB Jerome Harrison, Browns
2. WR Michael Crabtree, 49ers
3. WR Mike Wallace, Steelers
4. RB Darren Sproles, Chargers
5. RB Justin Forsett, Seahawks
Jay's Take: How could Harrison be known as a sleeper if he's ranked 21st overall for next year? (at least on my board) That aside, I like the remaining four players on the list, although I'm a little leery of Wallace's expected fantasy goodness ... now that Pittsburgh has dumped pass-happy offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and are presumably re-emphasizing the rushing attack.
Jay's Top 5 Sleepers
1. QB Matt Ryan, Falcons (could easily crack the top-5 QBs next year)
2. RB Darren McFadden, Raiders (overvauled in 2009; likely undervalued in 2010)
3. WR Jacoby Jones, Texans (life's pretty good ... when you never see a double-team)
4. QB Matthew Stafford, Lions (this should surprise NO ONE who reads Clicks regularly)
5. RB Cadillac Williams, Bucs (a make-or-break fantasy spring/summer for the oft-injured Caddy -- can he recapture the mojo?)
1. QB Kurt Warner, Cardinals
2. RB LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers
3. RB Thomas Jones, Jets
4. QB Donald Driver, Packers
5. RB Clinton Portis, Redskins
Donovan McNabb: AP
Whom would you rather have ... Matt Schaub or Donovan McNabb?
Ritter: It's a battle of two guys with virtually the same preseason ranking! I'll give the nod to Matt Schaub, who finally showed what he can do when healthy for a full season. We're talking top-5 production, in the form of 4,770 passing yards and 29 TDs. Donovan McNabb had a nice season, but I don't see him as a top-tier QB anymore, even if he stays upright for 16 games (never a given). Schaub's the easy choice here.
Clemons: Schaub may be the better pure passer at this point, but there's no way I'm taking him over McNabb come August -- when push comes to shove. McNabb, who'll be 34 next fall, remains a major benefactor of Andy Reid's peerless offensive vision, Marty Mornhinweg's exceptional play-calling and the immense pass-catching potential of DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Brian Westbrook (assuming he's still with Philly) and Brent Celek. One more thing: If ANY team has the cojones to open a game with 20 straight passes next season ... it'll be the progressive Eagles. Advantage: McNabb. Barely.
Behind Johnson/Peterson, the No. 3 overall pick should be ... ?
Ritter: It has to be Maurice Jones-Drew. I like Ray Rice a lot and expect the Ravens' burner to seize the reigns at the goal line next year; but you cannot deny MJD's proven track record for finding the end zone. I expect he'll have just as many opportunities to equal, if not surpass, his 15 rushing TDs from 2009. My only caveat: I reserve the right to flip MJD (1,763 total yards in '09) and Rice in my rankings, if Jack Del Rio does not return as Jacksonville's head coach.
Clemons: Aren't caveats grand when putting your butt on the line? Anyway ... I'm hearing everything you're saying about Rice and MJD ... but I'm still leaning toward Michael Turner at the 3-hole -- given his strong potential for 1,700 rushing yards and 17 TDs next season. Yes, Rice is the bigger lock for total yardage over Turner; and yes, Jones-Drew surely posssesses the fear factor edge over Turner, on any given fantasy Sunday. But I'm sticking to my guns here with Turner (at least until Darren McFadden ends his tour-of-duty as Oakland's best receiver -- HA!)
Please rank QBs Sanchez, Henne, Stafford, Freeman, Young for 2010:
1. Chad Henne, Dolphins
2. Vince Young, Titans
3. Mark Sanchez, Jets
4. Matthew Stafford, Lions
5. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers
Clemons: I'll keep this short and sweet:
1. Stafford (mark him down for five 300-yard passing days; 10 games of 2 or more TD passes)
2. Young (earns a slight edge over Henne, given the ascension of WRs Kenny Britt/Justin Gage)
3. Henne (still a solid choice in Rounds 9 or 10 for 12-team leagues)
4. Freeman (could be No. 3 here, if Antonio Bryant stays in Tampa Bay)
5. Sanchez (don't let the poor ranking fool you ... he's a solid fantasy backup next fall)
Frank Gore or Jamaal Charles?
Ritter: There's no question Jamaal Charles has been a second-half sensation, but the idea of taking him over Frank Gore compels me to incorrectly quote a memorable line from one of my favorite movies, Pulp Fiction: "Let's not start sucking each other's Tootsie Pops yet." I think Charles is a fringe top-10 pick next year, which is a meteoric rise from where he was two months ago. But Gore is a proven stud, and Alex Smith's unexpected emergence at QB will make Gore a steadier performer next year ... and thus, a better first-round investment.
Clemons: Way to give your movie quotes a PG-13 feel ... without losing the luster, Ritter. You would make a great censor for network TV! My answer on this debate could easily change three or four times in the next three or four months. But Today Jay marvels at the consistency of J-Charles, upon taking over for Larry Johnson after Week 9. In six of his final eight games, Charles posted at least 117 total yards; and in the final four contests, he rushed for a mind-boggling 658 yards and four TDs. And let's not forget Charles' easy-cheesy sked next fall: Six dates with the AFC West, four dates with the NFC West ... and two more scrumptious matchups with Cleveland and Buffalo. Cha-ching!
Randy Moss or Brandon Marshall?
Ritter: Ah, a clash of the head cases. I'm taking Randy Moss, simply because Brandon Marshall has shown a pattern of offseason transgressions that makes me wary of another suspension in 2010 (stemming from an unforeseen act of stupidity, no doubt). If Marshall gets arrested again, how severely would Roger Goodell drop the hammer this time? Four games? Eight? Meanwhile, I think we can all see the chinks in the armor forming with the Moss Golden Age in New England. This isn?t going to end well, because it never does with Randy Moss. I'm not sure Moss will hold himself together for a full season to justify an early pick, but I know he'll at least be on the field to start the season ... so I'll take him first here.
Clemons: I'm setting myself up for a major fall by echoing the following statement: Even with Marshall's shenanigans before Week 17 -- where coach Josh McDaniels essentially accused him of faking a hamstring injury -- I plan to rank him as the No. 3 wideout in PPR leagues and No. 5 WR in standard-scoring leagues. Thus, he trumps the enigmatic Moss in both scenarios. If Marshall stays in Denver, that means he probably makes up with McDaniels over the spring/summer ... and likely signs a lucrative extension soon thereafter. And if he's traded to another club, he's still a lead-pipe cinch for 95 catches, 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns. How's that for turning a blind eye to the type of erratic behavior that'd make Gilbert Arenas blush?
In 2010, I Promise To Not Re-Draft ...
Ritter: Matt Forte. It'd take a minor miracle to pull the trigger again on the Bears tailback (57 catches, 1,400 total yards, 4 TDs in '09). I?ve also had enough of the Kurt Warner Experience. His numbers for the season were solid, but he was maddeningly inconsistent. He?ll be correctly deemed a major injury risk heading into '10 -- even if his arthritic hip is just a figment of my imagination. Bonus Do Not Draft: LaDainian Tomlinson ain't gettin' any younger, America. He won't be on any of my teams next year.
Clemons: I got majorly burned by Darren McFadden in four leagues this season, so much that I've made a public pledge to NOT take him before Round 9 come August. Without question, I still believe in his unlimited fantasy ceiling ... but from a great distance.
I Wouldn't Mind Reaching For ...
Ritter: As a rule, I don?t like to reach in the first two rounds. But I would make an exception for San Diego's Vincent Jackson, who's on my top 25 board and my No. 3 receiver. Even better, I believe V-Jax and QB Philip Rivers have only begun to reach their respective potentials. Don't be daunted by his short-term disappearance at midseason in '09 ... the sky's the limit for next season (and beyond).
Clemons: I'm not going to repeat the same mistake I made with Chris Johnson in the '09 drafts: If Knowshon Moreno is sitting on the board at any point after pick No. 15 ... I will happily scoop him up at every turn. In fact, I might dance a little jig for all to see upon taking the Knowshon Plunge.
The 2010 Fantasy MVP Will Be ...
Ritter: I just know Jay will trot out some sexy name like Ray Rice or Knowshon Moreno. As for me, I?ll take boring old Peyton Manning (4,500 yards passing/33 TDs in '09). Next year, Peyton should have a healthy Anthony Gonzalez and a maturing Donald Brown to mix with established weapons like Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie. In fact, I can easily envision the Colts offense becoming the league's top attack, with Manning delivering top-5 fantasy value from a second-round pick.
Clemons: Let's not overthink this one, OK? The fantasy MVP race for 2010 begins and ends with Chris Johnson -- even if he cannot repeat the feat of 2,000 rushing yards. The way I see it, he's the ONLY running back on the planet who's a lock for 170 total yards and one touchdown every Sunday, rain or shine ... regardless of the opponent.
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