BY DAVID KOMER
Jonathan Stewart: Nick Laham/Getty Images
Since Andre Johnson is universally hailed as the top wide receiver in all fantasy football, it begs the question, who is No. 2?
Johnson may have put together only two great seasons after being injured in 2007, but has churned out back-to-back 1,500-yard campaigns, winning consecutive yardage titles (positively Jerry Rice-ian). Now with his QB Matt Schaub's coming-out party last season, Johnson has the security under center he never enjoyed before under draft bust David Carr and part-timer Sage Rosenfels in past years. After Johnson, there are three others among the top.
Larry Fitzgerald, Randy Moss and Reggie Wayne lead the top tier of elite fantasy pass-catchers. Falling into the critical draft position window of late first round to late second round in preseason mock drafts, none are surefire first-round picks. At the same time, any one of the WR1s would qualify for grand theft if grabbed in the top of the third, landing them among the top tailbacks and slightly after the QB duo of Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers in the early rounds. The next group of receivers (Roddy White, Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Miles Austin, DeSean Jackson) are worthy fantasy WR1s, but can only dream of establishing the kind of consistency of the top group:
Fitzgerald: Only 27, Fitzgerald is youngest of the top four blue chip receivers and has averaged 1,310 yards and 11.6 touchdowns the last three years.
Boom: Even younger than Johnson, Fitzgerald could be even better at his age (29).
Bust: New quarterback situation and second receiver (Steve Breaston) unproven.
Moss: An old man at 33, Moss has averaged 1,255 yards and 15.6 TDs (boosted by his 23 scores in 2007).
Boom: In a contract year on a hungry Patriots team with something to prove after missing 2009 playoffs.
Bust: Can check out mentally at any time and is creeping up in age.
Wayne: Bouncing back from a bad 2008, the Colts' top target has averaged 1,306 yards and 8.3 TDs.
Boom: Getting back to double-digit TDs (10) was nice last year and at 31 has been very durable.
Bust: His yards per catch have dropped slightly, he's never been a big red zone threat and a young stable of competing pass catchers have sprung up around him.
Bottom line: Moss (15.2 yards per catch in '09) has shown few signs of slowing down and has been a good soldier in New England. Wes Welker's comeback time table shouldn't hinder the original freak's draft stock. The only possible late first round caliber player of this group, Moss will benefit from Tom Brady having had a year to recover from surgery and a running game that has to improve. Wayne for me is next at third, fitting into the early to mid-second round followed by Fitzgerald in the late second to early third. Arizona's passing game questions are too strong to ignore.
The task was complete a 10-team mock auction with a $200 cap and come out of it with a team I don't hate. When it comes to football auctions, I'm still getting the hang of it. Auctions, as the argument goes, gives you the chance to pile up some star power in ways a normal draft would never be able to. If you want Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson in your same backfield, go for it. The problem is, the rest of the team will be a question mark with your shopping budget vaporized. One goal this time out was to not blow everything I had early, but I didn't want to wait in the weeds unsure of what scraps might be left. Here is the end result:
QB Philip Rivers, Chargers, $24
RB Michael Turner, Falcons, $53
RB Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers, $43
WR Marques Colston, Saints, $20
WR Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars, $15
WR/RB Michael Crabtree, 49ers, $14
TE Vernon Davis, 49ers, $14
Def./ST Packers, $4
QB Jay Cutler, Bears, $2
QB Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers, $1
RB Justin Forsett, Seahawks, $3
RB Ben Tate, Texans, $1
RB Lawrence Maroney, Patriots, $1
WR Braylon Edwards, Jets, $3
WR Bernard Berrien, Vikings, $1
WR Devery Henderson, Saints, $1
I loved: The economical pricing of a pretty good starting receiver core ($49 combined).
I loathed: The high prices of my starting backfield and tight end (Davis was an impulse buy).
I learned: The prices really do come down if you wait a little.
The price was right: Rivers, a top-5 QB in my opinion, was a solid value.
The top 5 most expensive players were: 1. (tie) RB Chris Johnson, Titans, RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings, $62; 3. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars, $56; 4. Turner, Falcons, $53; 5. Steven Jackson, Rams, $51.
QB Drew Brees, Saints, $42
RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings, $62
RB Shonn Greene, Jets, $27
RB/WR Joseph Addai, Colts, $16
WR Andre Johnson, Texans, $45
WR Devin Aromashodu, Bears, $2
TE Heath Miller, Steelers, $1
Def./ST: Vikings, $1
PK Jay Feely, Cardinals, $1
QB Jay Cutler, Bears, $2
RB Steve Slaton, Texans, $1
RB Montario Hardesty, Browns, $1
RB LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets, $1
RB Marshawn Lynch, Bills, $1
WR Dez Bryant, Cowboys, $1
WR Derrick Mason, Ravens, $1
I loved: The prices on Greene and Addai were pretty good, coming at $43 combined.
I loathed: The slim pickings on receivers after I blew my cash early on.
I learned: Moderation, moderation, moderation.
The price was right: Hardesty and Slaton could start this fall, and I got both for a buck.
The top 5 most expensive players were: 1. Johnson, Titans, $68; 2. Peterson, Vikings, $62; 3. Jones-Drew, Jaguars, $55; 4. Rice, Ravens, $53; 5. (tie) Jackson, Rams, Turner, Falcons, $49.
Whether it's an auction or draft and whether it's in person or online, please heed the warnings echoed by Fantasy Clicks maestro Jay Clemons and I -- wait. No draft should be scheduled before August because preseason injuries change everything in what I affectionately call the "Ki-Jana Carter Rule". I remember sitting next to my best friend Chip Shade for the preseason Lions-Bengals opener in 1995. He, the proud fantasy owner of Carter and I, watched with horror as his third-round pick crumpled to the artificial Pontiac Silverdome turf on his third carry of his career with a blown knee. The rest, as they say (in both fantasy and reality), is history. But that's what you get for having a July draft, I suppose. Yes, July.
Putting off your draft day is key. Once the first preseason game is played, the draft date should be in place, preferably for after the third preseason game. If it comes in between the second and third games, good enough. Nobody wants to see one of their picks writhing on the turf on TV, let alone in person, of a meaningless exhibition.