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Tailback tiers, a No. 6 sense and Rice's mystery surgery

You've come to the wrong place for grief counseling on the whole Sidney Rice ordeal. Like you, I was completely blindsided by the news that Rice -- who caught 83 passes for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns in 2009 -- has undergone hip surgery and will be shelved for at least eight weeks. Like you, I was stunned to learn Rice apparently knew about this injury for the entire offseason, but did little to rectify the situation until August (even the Vikings didn't know about it until May or June). And like you, I am appalled by Rice's lack of professionalism on this matter and sincerely hope (fingers crossed) his $550,000 salary had nothing to do with the delay/surgery/passive-aggressive holdout. And unlike me, I hope you had the good fortune to not draft Rice in any leagues predating Aug. 24 or will have the common sense to avoid him in future drafts (at least until Round 10).

The Vikings -- with or without a healthy Rice -- are not a lock to make the NFC playoffs. Even with Sir Sidney and Favre in the mix, you could've made a reasonable argument for Minnesota losing any one of its first eight games (save Detroit at home). And now, the Vikings must press on with a corps of wide receivers -- Percy Harvin, Bernard Berrian, Javon Walker, Taye Biddle, Marquis Hamilton, Freddie Brown, Greg Lewis, Marko Mitchell, Logan Payne, Ray Small -- that would make the UFL's Omaha Nighthawks blush (save Harvin). Of course, the Vikings are somewhat culpable too, given the amazing coincidence of Rice opting for surgery fewer than five days after Favre officially rejoined the club.

Frankly, the whole thing stinks, and it makes me sad to be an unwitting pawn in this wretched affair.

As for the revised Rice strategy, he's far too valuable to drop and yet has severely diminished trade value. Might as well stick it out and hope (fingers crossed again) that Sidney makes it back by Week 7 or so. And if you're wondering about his replacement on the Vikings, there isn't one. You're probably better off throwing a free-agent lifeline to Josh Morgan, Justin Gage, Early Doucet, Brandon Tate, Laurent Robinson, Davone Bess or either one of the Mike Williamses.

Against my will, here's a revised listing of the top 30 WRs in standard leagues: 1. Andre Johnson, Texans (tops in PPR or standard leagues) 2. Randy Moss, Patriots 3. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals 4. Reggie Wayne, Colts 5. Calvin Johnson, Lions6. Roddy White, Falcons 7. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins (impossible to stop in single coverage)8. Miles Austin, Cowboys 9. Greg Jennings, Packers 10. DeSean Jackson, Eagles (could easily be top-5 by season's end) 11. Anquan Boldin, Ravens 12. Marques Colston, Saints 13. Michael Crabtree, 49ers 14. Steve Smith, Panthers 15. Vincent Jackson, Chargers (revised gut feeling: he'll play in Week 4)16. Chad Ochocinco, Bengals 17. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs 18. Hines Ward, Steelers 19. Steve Smith, Giants (goes a few notches higher in PPR leagues)20. Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars 21. Percy Harvin, Vikings (meet the Vikings' new No. 1 receiver)22. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seahawks 23. Kenny Britt, Titans 24. Wes Welker, Patriots (has looked OK in the preseason; hence, the bump)25. Devin Aromashodu, Bears 26. Pierre Garcon, Colts 27. Robert Meachem, Saints 28. Devin Thomas, Redskins (this year's Sidney Rice, minus the hip surgery)29. Mike Wallace, Steelers 30. Jerricho Cotchery, Jets

I had another "experts" draft on Monday for a league that has the strangest of quirks: There are no roster changes -- trades, free-agent pickups, etc. -- from this point forward, and our starting lineups are only determined AFTER the games have been played (the computer maximizes the positional slots for starters). So, instead of invoking a traditional predraft strategy of RB-WR-RB-RB-TE, it was imperative to grab a No. 1 or 2 quarterback (Aaron Rodgers/Drew Brees) and No. 1 or 2 wide receiver (Andre Johnson/Randy Moss), before picking up a slew of Tier II tailbacks in the middle rounds. Here's my full squad:

Round 1 -- WR Randy Moss, Patriots Round 2 -- QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers Round 3 -- RB Ronnie Brown, Dolphins Round 4 -- RB C.J. Spiller, Bills Round 5 -- RB Clinton Portis, Redskins Round 6 -- WR Vincent Jackson, Chargers Round 7 -- RB Steve Slaton, Texans Round 8 -- TE Kellen Winslow Jr., Bucs Round 9 -- QB Matthew Stafford, Lions Round 10 -- RB Darren McFadden, Raiders Round 11 -- D/ST Green Bay PackersRound 12 -- WR Arrelious Benn, Bucs Round 13 -- WR Davone Bess, Dolphins Round 14 -- PK Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots Round 15 -- TE Fred Davis, Redskins Round 16 -- WR Brandon Tate, Patriots Round 17 -- D/ST Houston TexansRound 18 -- RB Rashad Jennings, Jaguars

... Here are the first four rounds of Monday's 14-team draft:

Round 11. RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings 2. RB Chris Johnson, Titans 3. RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars 4. RB Ray Rice, Ravens 5. RB Michael Turner, Falcons 6. RB Frank Gore, 49ers 7. WR Andre Johnson, Texans 8. RB Steven Jackson, Rams 9. RB Ryan Grant, Packers 10. RB Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers 11. RB Ryan Mathews, Chargers 12. WR Randy Moss, Patriots 13. RB DeAngelo Williams, Panthers 14. RB Jamaal Charles, Chiefs

Round 215. WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals 16. WR Miles Austin, Cowboys 17. QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers 18. WR Calvin Johnson, Lions 19. WR Reggie Wayne, Colts 20. RB Shonn Greene, Jets 21. WR Greg Jennings, Packers 22. QB Drew Brees, Saints 23. WR Roddy White, Falcons 24. WR Brandon Marshall, Dolphins 25. WR Marques Colston, Saints 26. WR DeSean Jackson, Eagles 27. QB Peyton Manning, Colts 28. RB Beanie Wells, Cardinals

Round 3 29. RB Cedric Benson, Bengals 30. RB Pierre Thomas, Saints 31. RB Jonathan Stewart, Panthers 32. RB LeSean McCoy, Eagles 33. QB Tom Brady, Patriots 34. RB Knowshon Moreno, Broncos 35. WR Sidney Rice, Vikings 36. RB Matt Forte, Bears 37. WR Michael Crabtree, 49ers 38. RB Jahvid Best, Lions 39. WR Anquan Boldin, Ravens 40. RB Ronnie Brown, Dolphins 41. WR Steve Smith, Panthers 42. WR Chad Ochocinco, Bengals

Here's a glimpse of the QBs selected in Rounds 1-10:

Aaron Rodgers, Packers -- Round 2, Pick 3 Drew Brees, Saints -- Round 2, Pick 8 Peyton Manning, Colts -- Round 2, Pick 13 Tom Brady, Patriots -- Round 3, Pick 5 Tony Romo, Cowboys -- Round 4, Pick 9 Matt Schaub, Texans -- Round 5, Pick 1 Philip Rivers, Chargers -- Round 5, Pick 14 Kevin Kolb, Eagles -- Round 6, Pick 5 Jay Cutler, Bears -- Round 6, Pick 6 Joe Flacco, Ravens -- Round 6, Pick 12 Eli Manning, Giants -- Round 7, Pick 4 Brett Favre, Vikings -- Round 7, Pick 11 Matt Ryan, Falcons -- Round 8, Pick 2 Donovan McNabb, Redskins -- Round 9, Pick 1 Matthew Stafford, Lions -- Round 9, Pick 12 Chad Henne, Dolphins -- Round 9, Pick 13 Carson Palmer, Bengals -- Round 9, Pick 14 Matt Cassel, Chiefs -- Round 10, Pick 4 Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers -- Round 10, Pick 5 Alex Smith, 49ers -- Round 10, Pick 6 Vince Young, Titans -- Round 10, Pick 7

Running backs are the driving forces behind efficient, ball-controlled attacks, but they weren't all created equal. To wit, the revised RB tier system for fantasy drafts:

Tier 1 (1,500 total yards and/or 12 TDs)Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, Steven Jackson, Michael Turner, DeAngelo Williams, Frank Gore, Cedric Benson, Rashard Mendenhall, Jamaal Charles

Tier 2 (1,300 total yards and/or 10 TDs) Ryan Grant, Knowshon Moreno, Shonn Greene, Jonathan Stewart, Matt Forte, Beanie Wells, Joseph Addai, Ronnie Brown, Pierre Thomas, C.J. Spiller

Tier 3 (1,100 total yards and/or 8 TDs) Steve Slaton, Jerome Harrison, LeSean McCoy, Ryan Mathews, Brandon Jacobs, Marion Barber, Felix Jones, Ahmad Bradshaw, Reggie Bush, Ricky Williams, Clinton Portis, Cadillac Williams, Justin Forsett, Jahvid Best, Thomas Jones, Willis McGahee, Darren McFadden

Tier 4 (950 total yards and/or 5 TDs) Michael Bush, Chester Taylor, Correll Buckhalter, Donald Brown, Fred Jackson, Julius Jones, Tim Hightower, Laurence Maroney, Kevin Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson, Montario Hardesty, Mike Bell, Arian Foster

Tier 5 (800 total yards and/or 4 TDs)Willie Parker, Leon Washington, Brian Westbrook, Antonio Pittman, Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, Derrick Ward, Marshawn Lynch, Anthony Dixon, James Davis, Rashad Jennings, Kevin Faulk, Jason Snelling, Ryan Moats, Brandon Jackson, Toby Gerhart, Maurice Morris, Javon Ringer, Jonathan Dwyer, Jerious Norwood, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Lynell Hamilton, Andre Brown

Ardent Clicks supporters already know of my real-world devotion to Matthew Stafford, who'll undoubtedly lead Detroit to an NFC championship sometime in the next 4-6 years. But as I've maintained for the past 16 months, he's not pegged for consistent fantasy greatness until 2011 (preseason top-10 QB) or the hallowed top-5 strata in 2012. That said, he's still a priority QB2 pick in standard-scoring leagues. The same holds true for Dolphins QB Chad Henne, who already has team owner Stephen Rossthinking Super Bowl, and could be a real difference-maker if Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess can dominate the PPR landscape. So, on the off chance you have Stafford and Henne on the same fantasy roster, here's a week-to-week breakdown for two of the NFL's strongest up-and-comers:

Week 1 -- Stafford (@ Chicago) over Henne (@ Buffalo) Week 2 -- Henne (@ Minnesota) over Stafford (vs. Philadelphia) Week 3 -- Stafford (@ Minnesota) over Henne (vs. N.Y. Jets) Week 4 -- Henne (vs. New England) over Stafford (@ Green Bay) Week 5 -- Stafford (vs. St. Louis) over Henne (BYE) Week 6 -- Stafford (vs. N.Y. Giants) over Henne (@ Green Bay) Week 7 -- Henne (vs. Pittsburgh) over Stafford (BYE) Week 8 -- Stafford (vs. Washington) over Henne (@ Cincinnati) Week 9 -- Henne (@ Baltimore) over Stafford (vs. N.Y. Jets) Week 10 -- Henne (vs. Tennessee) over Stafford (@ Buffalo) Week 11 -- Henne (vs. Chicago) over Stafford (@ Dallas) Week 12 -- Stafford (vs. New England) over Henne (@ Oakland) Week 13 -- Henne (vs. Cleveland) over Stafford (vs. Chicago) Week 14 -- Stafford (vs. Green Bay) over Henne (@ N.Y. Jets) Week 15 -- Stafford (@ Tampa Bay) over Henne (vs. Buffalo) Week 16 -- Henne (vs. Detroit) over Stafford (@ Miami) Week 17 -- Stafford (vs. Minnesota) over Henne (@ New England) Final Tally: Stafford wins, 9-8

Just like a few weeks ago, we'll devote Friday's entire Clicks to three extensive mock drafts for 1) standard-scoring leagues, 2) Points Per Reception leagues and 3) Auction-draft leagues. The optimist would applaud this cutting-edge approach to drafting, especially those who've been clamoring for more PPR and auction insight. The pessimist, in turn, would characterize this format as the laziest way to offer fresh material during the dog days of the preseason.

To that I'd say they're both right. But hey, the check clears either way.

There's a perception in fantasyland, whether real or not, that receivers make the biggest strides in their third pro season. To wit, here are my 2010-only rankings for the Year 3 wideouts: 1. DeSean Jackson, Eagles 2. Devin Thomas, Redskins (ready to take one giant fantasy leap) 3. Pierre Garcon, Colts 4. Mario Manningham, Giants 5. Donnie Avery, Rams 6. Josh Morgan, 49ers (Ted Ginn's presence affects this ranking) 7. Early Doucet, Cardinals (could easily be No. 3 here by season's end) 8. Eddie Royal, Broncos 9. Earl Bennett, Bears (could be a PPR dynamo in Mike Martz's offense)10. Chaz Schilens, Raiders 11. Andre Caldwell, Bengals 12. James Hardy, Bills 13. Malcolm Kelly, Redskins 14. Harry Douglas, Falcons 15. Keenan Burton, Rams

Kickers may be the red-headed stepchildren of fantasy football but, like it or not, they're still a vital part of the game (and championships). So, if you're playing in a league that rewards kickers three points for field goals 21-39 yards, four points for FGs 40-49 yards and five points for 50-plus-yard FGs, here's something to consider:'s projections for every kicker who'll make at least 24 field goals. Noticeably absent is new Jets kicker Nick Folk, who's earmarked for only 23 field goals with the Super Bowl-bound Jets.

David Akers, Eagles -- 30 field goals Garrett Hartley, Saints -- 29 field goalsRob Bironas, Titans -- 29 Ryan Longwell, Vikings -- 28Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots -- 28 Mason Crosby, Packers -- 27Nate Kaeding, Chargers -- 27 Lawrence Tynes, Giants -- 27Robbie Gould, Bears -- 25 David Buehler, Cowboys -- 25 Shayne Graham, Ravens -- 25Jay Feely, Cardinals -- 25Dan Carpenter, Dolphins -- 25Ryan Succop, Chiefs -- 24 Joe Nedney, 49ers -- 24 Jeff Reed, Steelers -- 24 Matt Prater, Broncos -- 24 Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders -- 24 Phil Dawson, Browns -- 24

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The three-tiered marriage of Brandon Marshall, the Dolphins and the city of Miami seems like a match made in heaven right now, especially since Marshall cannot carp about a new contract for the next 3-4 years. But what will Marshall be like once the regular season begins? Will he perform with that patented chip on his shoulder -- the one he had with Denver from 2007-09 (three 100-catch seasons)? Hmmm, seems like the perfect time to broach Marshall's first season in the South Beach spotlight, Revelations-style:

What He'll Probably Like: As much as he would've appreciated a kick returner who crosses into an opponent's territory on a semi-regular basis, B-Marsh actually stands to benefit from the trade exodus of Ted Ginn, Jr. to the 49ers. Simply put, with Ginn on the lam in northern California, Marshall should reap more catches, passing yards and red-zone opportunities.

What He'll Love: The Dolphins' confidence in Chad Henne is off the charts, as evidenced by the 52 pass attempts in a 22-21 victory against the Patriots in Week 13 and 46 passes in a three-point defeat to the Titans in Week 15. (For good measure, Henne threw for 684 yards and three TDs in those two games.) And all that occurred with Ginn, Greg Camarillo, Brian Hartline and Davone Bess as the top recieving options. With Marshall in tow, Henne will hopefully target his new batterymate at least 14 times in fair-weather games; and the 2010 schedule dictates a minimum of 14 Dolphins games played in ideal conditions (exceptions: winter trips to New York and Foxboro).

What He'll Love, Part II: The Lightning & Thunder backfield of the oft-injured Ronnie Brown (648 rushing yards/8 TDs in only nine games last year) and Ricky Williams (1,121 rushing yards/11 TDs) should be booming again; consequently, this ground goodness will create favorable matchups in the secondary for Marshall (3,710 yards/23 TDs the last three seasons).

What Might Make Marshall's Teeth Gnash: The downside to Brown/Williams running at full speed is obvious: They'll be locks for 22 combined touchdowns, with 17-19 likely stemming from red-zone opportunities. As a result, Marshall may have trouble amassing double-digit touchdowns.

What Might Make B-Marsh Scratch His Head: Miami's offensive line must be a juggernaut-in-waiting. That's the only plausible reason for trading Justin Smiley, one of the NFL's most underrated offensive guards, to the Jaguars. Yes, Smiley didn't have the value of tackles Jake Long and Vernon Carey, but he's hardly an eminently replaceable asset, either.

What Should Make Marshall Feel The Heat: The subhead gives it away, but with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh now playing for the NBA's Miami Heat, Marshall and the Dolphins have an all-too-brief September-October window to capture the hearts of Miami's fickle sports fans.

Most people consider the sixth pick in a 12-team draft to be a mixed blessing. Yes, you're guaranteed a shot at Andre Johnson or Aaron Rodgers in Round 1 -- assuming you have the stones to pass on a running back -- but you're also at the mercy of savvy drafters from that point forward, without ever possessing an opportunity to grab two productive players at the tail end of any round. Well, hath no fear or ambivalence about this perceived No Man's Land, for here's a strategy to dominate 16-round drafts with the No. 6 selection:

Round 1, Pick 6: Motive -- Best overall player WR Andre Johnson, Texans ... 2nd option: RB Frank Gore, 49ers

Round 2, Pick 19 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR/QB available RB Jamaal Charles, Chiefs ... 2nd option: QB Peyton Manning, Colts

Round 3, Pick 30 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR available WR Greg Jennings, Packers ... 2nd option: WR Marques Colston, Saints

Round 4, Pick 43 overall: Motive -- Best WR/TE/RB (unless Schaub lurks) QB Matt Schaub, Texans ... 2nd option: TE Antonio Gates, Chargers

Round 5, Pick 54 overall: Motive -- Best elite WR or TE WR Hines Ward, Steelers ... 2nd option: TE Jason Witten, Cowboys

Round 6, Pick 67 overall: Motive -- Best tight end or top-tier RBTE Brent Celek, Eagles ... 2nd option: RB Jerome Harrison, Browns

Round 7, Pick 78 overall: Motive -- Best potential workhorse back RB Clinton Portis, Redskins ... 2nd option: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants

Round 8, Pick 91 overall: Motive -- Best RB/WR available RB Cadillac Williams, Bucs ... 2nd option: RB Steve Slaton, Texans

Round 9, Pick 102 overall: Motive -- Best WR/QB available WR Kenny Britt, Titans ... 2nd option: QB Donovan McNabb, Redskins

Round 10, Pick 115 overall: Motive -- Best player available QB Matthew Stafford, Lions ... 2nd option: RB Justin Forsett, Seahawks

Round 11, Pick 126: Motive -- Best WR/RB available WR Devin Thomas, Redskins ... 2nd option: RB Marshawn Lynch, Bills

Round 12, Pick 139: Motive -- Best player left (slight nod to tight end) TE Greg Olsen, Bears ... 2nd option: TE Dustin Keller, Jets

Round 13, Pick 150: Motive -- Best player available (includes kickers) PK Rob Bironas, Titans ... 2nd option: PK Ryan Longwell, Vikings

Round 14, Pick 163: Motive -- Best defense available D/ST Cincinnati Bengals ... 2nd option: D/ST San Diego Chargers

Round 15, Pick 174: Motive -- Best handcuff at running back RB Ryan Torain, Redskins ... 2nd option: RB Derrick Ward, Buccaneers

Round 16, Pick 187: Motive -- Best WR left (read: high upside no-names) WR Laurent Robinson, Rams ... 2nd option: WR Brandon Tate, Patriots

Jay Clemons can be found on Twitter, day and night (@SI_JayClemons), accessing your fantasy questions and comments. You can also read his award-winning Revelations every Sunday/Monday during the NFL and MLB seasons.

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