Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Survivor Leagues present a stark contrast to traditional fantasy football. When you’re in a survivor league, you take a step back from rooting for individual players from different teams to accrue statistics, and return to cheering an entire NFL team to victory. While these types of leagues are loosely considered “fantasy football”, they’re more closely related to football handicapping. Your sole objective is to pick the team that’s sure to win – a difficult task in the topsy-turvy NFL, where a double-digit favorite seems to lose almost every week. Unlike a shorter season in a traditional head-to-head league, survivor leagues are played out through the end of the regular season, providing seventeen opportunities to slip up on the wrong pick. Choosing the right team is a tricky science, as you can only bask in the comfort of one of the elite teams once per season. Below is a checklist to run through before finally deciding which pick you’re going to make each week:

1. ALMOST ALWAYS PICK A HOME TEAM – Every week, you have an opportunity to pick from 13-16 home teams, depending on bye weeks. Any team can unexpectedly lose on the road to an inferior opponent, so I would avoid all road teams to be safe. The only exception would be if the Colts or Saints went to a city like Detroit, whose stadium didn’t carry a significant home field advantage.

2. TEAM OVERALL QUALITY – Before you select your home team for the week, check several factors to determine exactly how good they are. What’s their record? What are the records of teams they have beaten and teams they lost to? Have they beaten quality opponents? What are this team’s strengths and weaknesses? How do those strengths and weaknesses stack up against their upcoming opponent? If your team has a winning record, but ranks in the bottom 10 in pass defense, you may want to avoid matchups against teams that are able to launch a formidable aerial attack. This leads us to the next point…

3. WHO ARE THEY PLAYING? While checking the record of your team’s opponent is important, you should also look at other factors as well. Has this opponent been winning lately? Is momentum on their side? What is their injury situation? Does your team’s opponent play well on the road? Have these two teams had an extensive recent history? Do the head coaches know each other well? Are there players on either team that previously played for the opponent that might lend insight to the other team’s game plan?

4. BYE WEEK – Bye weeks are a welcome respite from the brutality of regular poundings that the NFL’s players dole out on each other. Teams tend to play better coming off a bye week, as they are not only well-rested, but have also had an extra seven days to prepare for their upcoming opponent.

5. CHECK THE POINT SPREAD OF THE GAME – While the point spread does not always prognosticate the outcome of a game, it can be an effective indicator that sums up the talent level of the competition. The spread also factors in a myriad of variables including injuries, team momentum, home field advantage, and game history of previous matchups. Underdogs will cover the spread in their fair share of games in the NFL, but more often than naught, you’re better off picking a favorite to win the game outright, which is the objective in Survivor League Football.

6. CHECK INJURY REPORTS – It is important to look at injuries to key skill players like quarterbacks, running backs and receivers. But sometimes a casual football fan will overlook critical injuries that fly under the radar, like lineman and impact defensive personnel. If you’re leaning toward selecting a home team that has a starting left tackle who is questionable or doubtful, and is scheduled to face a team with a strong pass rush, then you may want to consider making another choice. If a Pro Bowl shutdown corner is inactive, and his backup is a free-agent rookie that gets frequently burned by receivers, then that team should be avoided.

7. CHECK WEATHER REPORT – Unless you picked a team playing their game indoors, make sure to check the weather forecast before kickoff on Sunday morning. Teams that play in a pass-based offense will have less success in poor weather, and the scores in bad weather tend to be closer.

8. PLAY FOR THIS WEEK, DON’T LOOK AHEAD – Since you can only pick teams once, it can be tempting to check the coming weeks on the schedule. The Colts look great this week, but they may also look even better three weeks from now. Don’t get cute trying to line up your entire season of pick selections, as injuries and personnel moves can change the complexion of a team in the NFL from week to week. In other words, what may seem like a good pick three weeks from now may not be a great pick after the next two games take their toll. Play for now, because if you don’t, you may not make it to next week.

9. WHO’S GIVEN UP? – Towards the end of the regular season, you’ll notice that you already picked virtually every dominant team, and are no longer able to simply glance at the remaining teams, and find a winner. You might even be tempted to pick a team with a losing record. There comes a point in the season in Survivor Leagues where the worst teams who are awarded the highest draft picks appear to be playing without a competitive fire; as if they’re trying to lose! Not every team with a horrible record necessarily gives up on the season. But teams that bench established and experienced veterans in place of project rookies at key positions are the teams who are more concerned with developing young talent than winning ball games. These are the types of teams whose upcoming opponents you should target, even if the opponent isn’t playoff bound.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Your team is, as they say, “in the mix” at 4-4. Only five or six weeks remain until the fantasy postseason, and you want to do everything in your power to make sure your team doesn’t miss the playoffs. While fantasy football is essentially 60% luck, there are several steps you can take to be proactive so that you’ll still be in contention for your league title come Week 14:

1. SCOUR THE WAIVER WIRE – Not that everybody doesn’t already do this, but at this stage in the season, you need to form contingency plans in case one of your studs gets hurt. If you lack depth at a particular position, then focus on grabbing the best available talent in the free agent pool at that position with the easiest upcoming schedule so that you’ll be able to make an informed decision. HINT: Go to your free agent pool, and use the sort functions to tell which free agents have scored the most points in your league’s scoring system. This is typically done by clicking on the words “Fantasy Points” once you’re on the page that lists free agents. You’ll notice that the players are rearranged with the most prolific scorers at the top, going top to bottom. But don’t just grab the players with the most points. You should look at their injury status, upcoming schedule, and whether there are any injury issues with this player’s teammates. For example, if you’re thinking about picking up Terrell Owens, who was dropped in many leagues, you should also take note that his schedule looks somewhat favorable down the stretch. Furthermore, Buffalo’s starting QB Trent Edwards is coming back from his concussion, and this could mean a return to decent production for T.O (or, he just might be washed up). Between injury history, anticipated inclement weather at certain stadiums, and the overall play of certain teams as the season winds down (HINT: avoid ALL Browns!), you should have enough information at your fingertips to make an informed, if not the right, decision on who’s best for your fantasy team down the stretch.

2. THINK TWO, SOMETIMES THREE WEEKS AHEAD – If you have six WRs, five RB, or three TEs, and one of those players is someone you wouldn’t start unless you have a slew of bye/injury issues, then there is probably a chance that this player would sit in the free agent pool and go unclaimed by another team. But you know who won’t go unclaimed? A defense who is scheduled to play the Rams/Brown/Lions/Yuccaneers at home in two weeks! Before kickoff on Sunday morning, before every free agent goes back on waivers, you need to look 2-3 weeks ahead, dump your WR6/RB5/TE3, and grab the team defense that plays well at home with the tastiest matchup against a league doormat. This will keep you ahead of the curve, as your league maters will also start looking more towards future matchups as opposed to the quality of team defenses they start. Example: you have Denver defense, but Seattle D at home against Detroit Week 9 may be a better fantasy start than Broncos Defense playing against the Steelers on Monday Night.

3. ASSESS WHO MAKES A GOOD TRADE PARTNER – Chances are the trade deadline in your league is drawing nigh, and there are other teams in your league looking to make that one trade which will help put them in the playoff picture. Fantasy team owners are more willing to make a trade at this stage in the season since they know who on their team is panning out as opposed to whom they can safely declare a bust. For example, someone may have been reluctant to trade for a RB right after the draft, but now that Larry Johnson is no longer their RB2/RB3, they are actively looking to acquire a RB to replace L.J. Meanwhile, you have four quality RBs, but need a WR3 since you just dropped Terrell Owens out of frustration. Since you can address each other’s needs with one trade, then this dynamic makes you two good trade partners.

4. GET FACE/PHONE TIME, THEN SELL HIGH – In this cold, impersonal age of technology we live in, getting someone to agree to a trade can be quite the challenge if all they do is check their email, see the players offered, and click “Reject Trade.” Even counter-offers can be frowned upon when your trade partner doesn’t know a whole lot about the player you’re offering. Solution: If you play in a league where your competition is in the same geographical location as you, then ask to meet them for a drink. Nothing creates a handshake more quickly than alcohol-infused trade talk. Once you two are engaged in Rounds 2 or 3 of your libations, then start educating your counterpart on the benefits of owning the player you’re trying to trade him/her. Stress a lack of injuries, how that player is or has the potential to be the most productive player on their team, and seal the deal by listing the cupcake fantasy playoff schedule down the road. The mere mention of fantasy playoffs gives your partner the notion that s/he may very well be in the playoff hunt (even if s/he’s 3-5), and in order for that person to flourish in the postseason, they will need your RB3 much more than their WR3 down the stretch. Note: If your trade counterpart lives out of town, then the best you can hope for is to get him/her on the phone (or video conference) so that you can feed off each other’s energy. Instant Message or chat on a computer does NOT allow for this energy exchange, and the walls of communication are still there. The same goes with texting trade offers to your counterpart. It’s much easier to say “no” to an email, text, or instant message as opposed to someone making a hard sell in person or on the phone.

5. ANALYZE WHICH STARTERS ARE ON THEIR LAST LEGS, THEN ACQUIRE BACKUPS – Let’s say you’re thin at RB or QB, and you need a RB3/QB3 to add to your team for depth purposes. It’s not easy to find a starting RB or QB in the free agent pool at this stage, but just because free agents aren’t currently starting, that doesn’t mean they won’t start at some point. Some good portents of lost playing time are: ineffectiveness (20 rushes for 38 yards in a game), a high draft pick waiting in the wings that ownership is calling for more playing for in a lost season (e.g. QB Vince Young), ball security issues (just ask blindsided Steve Slaton owners), truculence in the locker room with teammates and coaching (Larry Johnson), or excessive mileage on the engine (Clinton Portis).

6. ANALYZE WHICH NFL TEAMS HAVE GIVEN UP ON THEIR SEASON, AND ACT ACCORDINGLY – Just because a team is bad, this doesn’t mean they’ve necessarily given up on their season. The Rams and Chiefs might be the two of the worst teams in the NFL, but the cities, fan base, and respective coaching staffs have enough pride and leadership so that they’ll always compete, even in December when they’ve already accumulate double-digit losses. Other inferior teams have already started looking toward next year, and have essentially mailed in the rest of the 2009 season. This year’s candidates to assume this type of mentality include: Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Tennessee (head coach Jeff Fisher probably can’t wait to escape the clutches of meddlesome owner Bud Adams), and possibly Washington. If you own players on these teams, you may want to think twice before starting them (except Chris Johnson) unless the matchup is positively delicious.

7. BUY A LOTTERY TICKET – If you play in a deep 2-QB league where there are ZERO starting QBs available in the free agent pool, sometimes you need to make speculative picks and hope that luck is on your side. Injuries are a part of football, and the right injury at the right time can benefit your team tremendously. A “lottery ticket” is essentially a free agent pickup of a backup on a high-powered offense who would see a tremendous boost in value and production if the starter playing ahead of him were to suffer a significant injury. My most famous lottery ticket acquisition occurred when I used a 11th round pick on Larry Johnson in my 2005 draft. When then-starting RB Priest Holmes got hurt, paving the way for the era of LJ’s dominance, my team went from mere contender to the front-runner to win the league (I lost my fantasy Super Bowl that year). Some lottery tickets in this 2009 season include: Arizona QB Matt Leinart (how much more pounding can Kurt Warner’s body take?), Houston QB Rex Grossman (Schaub has carried the ‘injury-prone’ label his entire career), and Minnesota RB Chester Taylor (still plenty of tread on his tires, and the Vikings have an awesome offensive line coupled with a balanced offensive attack which keeps defenses honest), to name a few. If you’re choosing between your WR6 who almost never cracks your starting lineup, or a player who could have an instant impact on your ability to score more points, then this should seem like a no-brainer.

8. TIME TO GET CUTTHROAT – Look at next week’s opponent’s starting lineup. Do they have holes in their lineup? Do they not have a starting QB this week? If this is the case, be proactive and pluck whoever your opponent needs out of the free agent pool to field a complete and competitive team. Don’t be afraid to use your waiver pick if you’re in a must-win situation. There aren’t as many can’t-miss free agents to grab as opposed to earlier in the year, when it was more judicious to hang onto a high waiver pick. Just last week, I saw my opponent needed a defense to pick up, as his was on bye. I dropped my TE2 and current defense, and picked up Arizona as well as Chicago D only because I knew that those two defenses (playing at home against Carolina and Cleveland, respectively) were the ones my opponent would be targeting for acquisition.

9. BELIEVE (but don’t upset the Fantasy Gods) – Not that I’m suggesting you go out and read “The Secret”, but there is something to be said for the power of positive thinking. The unlikeliest upsets have taken place in this beloved sport, and the beauty of fantasy football is that luck can be the sweetest variable to help an underdog reach the postseason. Just because you’re not in first place now doesn’t mean you can’t leapfrog several teams to get back into playoff contention. Now, there is a difference between believing in your fantasy squad, and mocking the shortcomings of other people’s teams. While I lack sufficient data to support this, experience has suggested that the Fantasy Gods (yes, they exist – you’ll just have to trust me) only seem to listen when you arrogantly disparage your opponent’s team. Long story short: Keep it classy when you lose, and stay magnanimous when you win. Your defeated opponent is dejected enough about losing without you rubbing it in his/her face.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Each time we peruse our fantasy football lineup, we are constantly looking for an edge or some new bit of information with regards to whether we’re trotting out the best available talent for that week. Often times, we end up starting the wrong lineup anyways even though we check the same list of players countless times from Monday up to the remaining minutes before kickoff! What if there was some sort of systematic method which would yield the necessary empirical data we could run through to ensure that we’re not banging our heads against a wall come Tuesday morning when we realized we could have eked out a victory if we had started a different defense or WR/RB flex option?

Behold – the thirteen-point checklist that will both save you a headache and ensure peace of mind when your lineup is due at 10am PST/1pm EST Sunday. Please bear in mind that fantasy football is 60% luck, so even if you run through all the below-mentioned criteria with a fine-tooth comb, you may still end up on the wrong side of the score if your QB1 gets hurt on his offense’s second series of the game.

1. CHECK HEALTH OF YOUR PLAYERS – I don’t need to tell you that if you see an “O” next to your player, that means do not, under any circumstances, start him. Only in extremely rare occasions would you start a player listed as doubtful. If you lack any backup quarterbacks, and your QB1 is listed as doubtful, then you might as well start him if there are no available starting options in the free agent pool. If your QB gives you the best chance of putting up points from that position and your only other option for points is hoping Jim Sorgi gets some mopup stats in a Colts blowout victory, then you might as well go with your QB1. But each situation is unique, as no two injuries or players are the same. But sometimes a player is listed as questionable, and you’re not sure whether he’ll play, and if so, how much will he play? Many players throughout their careers play consistently with a questionable tag (Brian Westbrook, Clinton Portis, Donovan McNabb, Hines Ward, and Anquan Boldin are but a few who have beaten the questionable tag in years’ past). But you should only start someone listed as questionable if you lack a capable backup unless that player who is questionable is one of the NFL’s premier “tough guys.”

2. HOME OR AWAY? – It stands to reason that home matchups are more favorable than when your players play on the road in a hostile environment. Factors include, but are not limited to: distracting crowd noise, the inconvenience of traveling across multiple time zones, and referees’ tendencies to make calls that favor the home team. Road matchups don’t necessarily dictate who you should start vs bench. If your player is facing an NFL doormat like St. Louis or Detroit on the road, that is certainly more favorable than playing at home against Baltimore, Pittsburgh, or New York.

3. BYE WEEK / COMING OFF A BYE WEEK? – 99% of the time, it is better to start a player who is actually playing that week. While this logic seems insultingly elementary, I can name multiple occasions from this season alone where the owner who started JaMarcus Russell, Derek Anderson, or Mark Sanchez wished they had started their QB2 who was off that week, essentially a warm body, instead of their QB3. As a result, Russell, D.A. and Mr. Hot Dog accrued negative stats. Negative stats will occur when a player causes multiple turnovers, no touchdowns and very little yardage. If you had started Joe Montana or Y.A. Tittle, those long-since-retired players in your lineup would have helped your team more than the aforementioned three quarterbacks on the wrong week. It’s tough to recommend benching Derek Anderson when he goes into Baltimore for a warm body when you have no other options, because the logic is counter-intuitive. After all, if a player on your team can’t be trusted to accumulate positive stats, then why is he even on your team in the first place?! Until you lose a game by 1.34 points when your QB3 who was acquired for a spot start garners -2.12 points, this approach may not seem logical at all. But trust me, it HAS happened!

When your players are coming off a bye week, not only are they physically and mentally refreshed from the (usually much-needed) week off, but they have also had an extra week to prepare for their upcoming opponent, as well as work out the kinks in their game. Players who are coming off a bye are typically a plus matchup for these three reasons mentioned above. But it is also important to remember that this is but one criterion, so don’t take too much stock in starting Correll Buckhalter if he’s coming from a week off to face the Ravens while benching Steven Jackson as he take on the Lions. Start your studs unless they’re on bye or injured.

4. CHECK OPPONENT’S TEAM DEFENSIVE RANKING / GAME HISTORY IN MATCHUPS – When I am often torn between which wide receiver to start as my WR3 or whether to start a RB or WR at my flex position, I will consult the NFL team statistical rankings, which can be found by clicking here. If your RB3 is facing the league’s 30th ranked rush defense, then you should probably start that player at your flex as opposed to your WR3 if said WR3 is facing the 13th ranked pass defense.

In the first month of the regular season, the data sample may be too small to properly analyze matchups based on numbers alone. If it’s early in the season (say, before Week 5), you might want to check specific games from Weeks 1-4 in lieu of overall performance in case the overall statistical data proves misleading. Early-season blowouts against patsy opponents can mislead owners to start the wrong personnel if said personnel is scheduled to play an opponent far better than any they had yet to play. For example, if your RB3 has feasted on the likes of the Raiders, Buccaneers and Rams Weeks 1-3, you may want to think twice before starting him over a WR3 at your flex if he faces Pittsburgh’s second-ranked rush defense Week 4.

5. READ BETWEEN THE STATS - In other words, just because Carolina has the lowest passing yards allowed doesn’t mean they have the best pass defense. The Panthers are an awful team that has rarely had a lead in any of their games in 2009. Since Carolina has trailed for most of the season, their opponents have opted to run the ball more to kill the clock with a lead vs. pass the ball and catch up. Before you blindly trust the team rankings, take a quick look at whom these teams have played, and analyze whether your scheduled opponent will play a comparable level of defense this upcoming week given the strength of your WR3/RB3’s entire team.

6. OPPONENT’S DEFENSIVE INJURIES – While individual defensive players’ injuries don’t impact team play in the NFL as much as in college football, there are some important positions where key injuries can debilitate a defense’s ability to ‘hold that line.’ If Nnamdi Asomugha, an elite shutdown cornerback, is out for the Raiders with a hamstring injury, then that presents a significant upgrade for your WR if he happens to play the Raiders. If All-Pro defensive end Dwight Freeney is out with an injury for Indianapolis, then you should feel better about starting your QB2 against the Colts.

It is important to be able to tell which injuries will affect opponent’s playmaking abilities. Typically, any injury below the waist is considered debilitating to anyone besides a QB. If Asomugha has an elbow injury, but can still keep up with any receiver in the league, then this type of injury is less critical than if he has a knee/ankle/hamstring problem, which would obviously affect his running ability. If Matt Hasselbeck has a sprained throwing shoulder or elbow, then that would be considered a big upgrade for your team defense facing Seattle since Hasselbeck needs his throwing arm to accumulate stats and win games.

7. WEATHER – When I peruse the free agent pool for a kicker, I find myself gravitating towards kickers playing on a decent offense at home in domed stadiums. While kickers’ games are affected greatly by weather, the entire complexion of a game can also be dictated by precipitation, or lack thereof. Heavy rain tends to beget ball-control offense. In other words, don’t expect your QB to throw for 400 yards if it’s pouring at kickoff, but a RB rushing for 150 yards is not out of the question in rainy conditions. If rain merely hinders an offense, then heavy winds will all but kill an aerial attack as well as a kicking game. Nothing creates more dysfunction in an offense than winds of 30 MPH or more. If you’re torn between two players who to start, check the weather, and type in the ZIP code of the stadium where the game will be played (finding the ZIP code is easy if you type the stadium along with ‘address’ – for example, “Ralph Wilson Stadium address” for a Bills home game) into a search engine. If you see heavy rain/snow, significant chance of rain/snow, or gale winds in the forecast, then focus your attention on other starting options on your team.

8. CHECK TEAMMATES’ HEALTH – You own Eagles RB LeSean McCoy, and are contemplating starting him at home against the Giants in Week 8. Since McCoy is second string behind Brian Westbrook, Westbrook’s health dictates McCoy’s workload. Since it seems unlikely Westbrook will play Week 8 in a shortened week after suffering a concussion on Monday Night of Week 7, McCoy gets automatically upgraded to RB2/RB3 status without Westbrook taking touches away from McCoy. If Westbrook were healthy, McCoy wouldn’t be a recommended start as they would split carries. Another example is Jets WR Jerricho Cotchery. who has been out for a few weeks with a pulled hamstring. If you own Mark Sanchez or WR Braylon Edwards, Cotchery’s health will dictate whether Sanchez will have his favorite target to throw to, and whether Edwards will face double-team coverage. A healthy Cotchery means less defensive attention on Edwards, but also fewer looks Edwards’ way in favor of Cotchery. It’s one of those ‘two schools of thought’ or ‘double-edged sword’ conundrums. More attention means more coverage – which might or might not be a good thing, depending on the opponent’s quality of defense.

9. CHECK KICKOFF TIMES OF INJURED PLAYERS – If you’re wavering between two players to start where one is healthy, and the other is a game-time decision but has bigger upside, make sure the injured one isn’t playing a later game. If this is indeed the case, you’re taking a big gamble by passing on a sure thing if you have no other alternatives for the late game. For example, let’s say you own WRs Donnie Avery and Anquan Boldin. Avery is healthy, and his game starts on Sunday at 10am PST/1pm EST. On the other hand, Boldin doesn’t play until Sunday Night, and is a game-time decision. Unless you also own Boldin’s teammate, Steve Breaston, you’re probably safer starting Avery, even though his upside isn’t as lofty as Boldin’s. When lineups lock just before the early kickoff on Sunday morning, you lose your ability to decide on Avery as a starter if he’s not already in your lineup. If you have a premier talent that is a game-time decision in a later game, give yourself an additional late-game option by picking up his backup (in this case, Breaston) so that, in case Boldin ends up not playing on Sunday Night, you’re not screwed without any other starting options, and can start Breaston instead.

10. TEAMMATES IN REALITY, OPPONENTS IN FANTASY – When setting your lineup, it is often helpful to see if you have players starting that happen to play for the same team as your opponent’s starters. This may be crucial to your ability to hold a lead or come from behind in the later games. If you own Ravens WR Derrick Mason and your opponent is starting Baltimore QB Joe Flacco, and the game isn’t until Sunday Night or Monday Night, you’ll want to think twice before starting Mason if you’re projected to trail by the time the later game starts. Unless Flacco gets hurt, Mason’s production will essentially be tied to Flacco’s, making it difficult or virtually impossible to gain ground on your opponent (depending on your scoring system). Conversely, you can maintain a lead if you own Flacco and your opponent owns Mason. Unless there’s an unlikely end around or unusual Wildcat-esque play, if Mason scores, Flacco scores.

11. DOES YOUR PLAYER HAVE ANYONE SNAPPING AT HIS HEELS FOR PLAYING TIME/HIS STARTING JOB? - If you’re debating between starting Kerry Collins in a decent matchup or Kyle Orton against a tougher defense, job security is an important factor to take into account. If Orton lays an egg, he’ll still play four quarters if he’s healthy. However, Collins is two to three interceptions away from the end of his career as a starting quarterback, as the Titan’s brass has been calling for Vince Young to take over in a lost season for Tennessee. Collins may have had more past success as a quarterback, but that doesn’t mean that sunny days are ahead for the 36 year-old signal caller. You don’t want to have Collins in your lineup the week he loses his job.

12. CHECK GAME’S OVER/UNDER – Most people don’t understand that NFL wagering and fantasy football are practically kissing cousins, but they are. You can use information from one area and apply it to the other. Here’s an example: If you’re still torn between two options at your flex position, and are at a loss who to start based on weighing the above-listed criteria, check the over/under totals of the two games. For those of you who are unaware of this total, the ‘over/under’ is the combined total number of points oddsmakers predict will be scored in a particular game by both teams. For example, the total for the Eagles/Redskins game on Monday Night of Week 7 was 37.5. Until the last Washington garbage-time score in the final minutes of the game, the Eagles led the ‘Skins 27-10, making this an accurate over/under (the final score was 27-17, meaning the game went ‘over’). Totals tend to range between 33 points (when two good defenses play each other in bad weather) to 54 points (when two great offenses play each other in perfect weather or indoors). If you’re truly in a quandary about who to start, check the totals, as that should lend some indication to the predicted offensive pace, if not the score, of the game. If an over/under is 38 in a game your WR4 is starting and another total is 50.5 in a game your WR5 is playing, this could mean that your WR5 will be potentially involved in a shootout, creating more opportunity to score fantasy points.

13. MNF ACTION IN BACK POCKET – Sometimes, when I play an opponent I’m projected to lose to and I need to fill a roster hole for that week, I have been known to look at the Monday Night matchup, and grab an available player from those two teams. I can’t honestly back this up with statistical data that would support this theory, but it provides peace of mind if I’m trailing my opponent after the Sunday games end. I have been known to pick up the home team’s kicker if the matchup is right, and the weather isn’t bad. Often times I find myself trailing my opponent by a handful of points, and a decent day from my kicker (or tight end I grab off the waiver wire) will either facilitate a come-from behind victory, or help me to pad my lead in case my opponent has Monday Night action going as well.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Whether you’re a fantasy football rookie or veteran, you may have noticed that this sport provides all sorts of challenges: who to start, who to bench, who to pick up off the waiver wire, and who to drop from your squad. If you are one of the few who gets to sit on your butt and enjoy the entire 12+ hours of live NFL programming each weekend, my hat is off to you in admiration. To others that have significant others to attend to on the weekends, you have become aware of an additional challenge: balancing your love life with your football life. Since it’s now Week 3, your enthusiasm for fantasy football has probably placed a dent in your enthusiasm to shower your sweetie with affection on Sundays, and he/she has probably taken notice by now. This quandary places you at a crossroad. Do I maintain my current path and blow off romance on Sundays and Monday Night? Unless you’re dating Paul Aufiero, you probably need to somehow budget your time so that your sweetie doesn’t dump you by Columbus Day. Below are some strategies for keeping all parties happy:

1. EXPECT TO MISS 2-3 SUNDAYS – You can lay some ground rules to your mate about how important watching Sunday football is to your emotional well being, but you need to mentally prepare for the occasional Sunday away from football. Such reasons may include: a wedding, a family gathering, or time spent getting out of your girlfriend or boyfriend’s doghouse. Sacrifice is often viewed the ultimate gesture in maintaining a relationship, so keep a Sunday or two reserved for that moment when you feel your relationship may reach critical mass. In fact, look at the schedule for the week when half your team is on bye, where you’ll probably lose anyways, and reserve that week for some one-on-one time.

2. MAKE FUN PLANS SATURDAY NIGHT, EARLY SUNDAY MORNING, SUNDAY NIGHT – If your significant other and you share similar work schedules, then you should maximize your time spent together on your off days when football is not in session. In fact, bookending a football day between a breakfast date and a late dinner/movie is something I would recommend to avoid neglecting your loved one. Make plans for Saturday night followed with a breakfast and possible activity (religious services, a walk/hike/bike ride) the following morning. Before you separate for your day on the couch, think of a movie you’d like to see or a restaurant/particular dish you’d like to try for dinner. This will let your sweetie know that plans are on tap for later, and you’re thinking about him/her even as you immerse yourself in NFL action.

3. TRY TO EDUCATE, BUT DON’T PUSH IT – Unless your loved one outright detests football, try to gradually educate him/her if they are not familiar. If they have demonstrated a curiosity with what goes on during a game, describe the action in each play (but don’t overwhelm him/her with extraneous information) so that he/she will feel like you’re attempting to include him/her in an activity you love. Start with the explaining the quarterback’s role (since there’s a pretty good chance he/she has heard of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or Joe Montana), then your favorite players or players on your fantasy team, run through the down-and-distance terminology (this tends to be one of the first concepts lost on football novices), the scoring system (why touchdowns are so important), explain how the big guys block and the skinny guys run, and this will lay a foundation of understanding for your mate so that you may fill in the blanks as you continue to bring him/her up to speed. If you gauge a willingness to learn from your significant other, then continue the education at a gradual rate. However, if your partner seems to lose interest, or is not enjoying the learning process that may bring the two of you closer, then don’t push football on him/her and respect the fact that you have fundamental differences in your hobbies.

4. LAY DOWN THE GROUND RULE THAT MNF IS A BONDING EXPERIENCE WITH YOUR BUDDIES – When Monday Night Football was conceived 40 years ago, it was intended as a night for football fans to focus on football, and gently settle into the new work week. At some point early in your relationship, it would be helpful to clarify that MNF is a special tradition that you have shared with your friends and fantasy league mates for a long time, and after so many years of friendship, this is the lone tradition that has stood the test of time. If you took my advice and showered your girlfriend or boyfriend with affection the preceding 36 hours, then you can probably get a reprieve to join your buddies at the pub for some Monday Night gridiron. However, if you didn’t employ the Saturday Night/Sunday Morning/Sunday Night strategy, or your loved one happens to start their break from their work week on Monday Night and would feel neglected if you were to step away from him/her at that time, then you may need to resort to the next strategy…

5. TIVO IS YOUR FRIEND (RECORD AND MINIMIZE WATCH TIME) – Sometimes, watching your favorite game is simply not in the cards if you want to maintain your relationship. Personally, I hate being that guy who records a game on TV at home and is yelling at everyone around them, “DON’T TELL ME THE SCORE! DON’T TELL ME WHO’S WINNING!!” Of course, human nature dictates that your so-called friends/coworkers/acquaintances will do everything in their power to spoil your suspense. However, there are times where you can shut out the world and share an evening in the comfort and solitude of your loved one. To help ensure this isolation, turn your phone off to avoid malicious scoring text updates from your network of acquaintances. Because you can skip the commercials, replay challenges and halftime shows, TiVo/DVR is a great tool that can get you up to speed in less time when you simply don’t have time to watch a particular game.

6. BE REALISTIC: YOU CAN ONLY HAVE ONE DAY AND ONE NIGHT OF FOOTBALL PER WEEK – Sometimes, you have to look at life through your partner’s eyes. He/she made the concession in your relationship to give you all of Sunday afternoon and Monday Night with your friends. In December, when college football ends and the TV time slots become reserved for NFL broadcasts on Saturdays, you can understand your sweetie’s frustration when you suddenly tell him/her you can’t go on Saturday date night because the Saints are hosting the Cowboys in a critical matchup for your fantasy football playoffs. “Wait..there’s football on Saturday now?!?” These games take place with the holidays fast approaching. To preserve domestic tranquility during the playoff stretch, you may need to record some Thursday, Friday Night and Saturday Night games later in the season.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


The 2009 NFL Regular Season kicks off in a couple hours, and while most of you have already drafted your fantasy teams, I have made a few observations about various players around the league. Some are established or future stars, others have been past disappointments, and others could be new on your radar. If you feel your team has holes at different positions, then read below for some input on a few players who could positively impact your season down the road.

(QB) Kyle Orton – Call me crazy, but I am optimistic Kyle Orton will have a solid fantasy season in Denver this year for several reasons: First, the Broncos, by and large, have an offensive line superior to the Bears and will provide better pass protection than Orton received in Chicago last year. Second, Denver’s receiving corps trumps Chicago’s in talent, experience and depth. Brandon Marshall is a beast, Eddie Royal showed great promise after a 91-catch rookie season, Brandon Stokley provides a steady veteran presence and has no fear of going over the middle, and even Jabar Gaffney, as Denver’s WR4, has impressed coaches early on with his toughness. In Chicago, the wide receiver talent gets a little murky after Devin Hester (although I am a fan of Earl Bennett as a sleeper - you'll see below). Third, the Bears run more of a ball-control offense behind stud RB Matt Forte. Denver will not be as likely to feed rookie RB Knowshon Moreno the ball 25 times every game, yet Moreno will establish enough of an on-field presence that should keep defenses honest more so than, say Selvin Young, Michael Pittman or Peyton Hillis did in 2008. Finally, Denver plays in the god-awful AFC West, a once-proud division that currently sports three of the ten worst franchises in the NFL. This means a relatively easy divisional schedule, and in virtually every other game, the Broncos will be forced to pass more than previous seasons since they’ll be trailing more often in 2009.

(RB) Steven Jackson – Jackson can re-establish himself as a poor man’s Marshall Faulk this season if he can stay healthy for 16 games. While Jackson is more of a power runner than Faulk was, he has equally soft hands, plays behind an improved Ram offensive line from a year ago, and will be the focal point of the offense, much like Faulk was in his heyday. Although the Rams’ NFC West foes have improved defensively, 60-70 catches for Jackson, 1500 total yards and a dozen touchdowns should not be considered out of the question as far as projections go. The Rams should at least double, if not triple their win total (two) from last year, and Jackson can expect to play with more leads in 2009 than he did in 2008. Finally, the lack of depth at running back in St. Louis means that Jackson will be relied on to carry a bigger load than most feature backs, which are a dying breed in the brutal NFL. A repeat of 2006 may be a little much to ask for, but I would expect Jackson to at least approach those numbers this season.

(RB) Kevin Smith – Even though the Lions as a unit were as bad as their 2008 record would indicate, it would be difficult to pin the blame on then-rookie Kevin Smith. In his second season, Smith plays for a Lion team that is not only hungry and angry after serving as both the consummate NFL punching bag and laughing stock, but has improved as a team and faces a last-place schedule this season. First, #1 draft pick Matthew Stafford can’t be any worse a quarterback than Dante Culpepper was last year, and Stafford has already established a nice chemistry with Calvin Johnson, the one wideout drafted by the Lions in the first round that the front office can actually be proud of. This newfound success of Stafford-to-Megatron would keep opponents from stacking eight in the box against Smith. With Scott Linehan (who coached Steven Jackson in his magical 2006 season) calling offensive plays for the Lions, Smith will be an integral part of the short passing game, and could easily surpass his 2008 total of 39 receptions. Also, Smith is similar to Jackson in that Smith is an every-down back with a shortage of talent behind him on the depth chart, he excels at picking up the blitz, and is not afraid of a large workload. Furthermore, Smith is reportedly looking quicker after dropping to his college playing weight of 210 pounds. Last but certainly not least, Smith gained the trust of the coaching staff when he only fumbled ONCE last year in spite of 277 touches for a winless team.

(WR) Earl Bennett – I’ll go ahead and say it now: Earl Bennett could be 2009’s Eddie Royal. At 6’0” and a shade over 200 lbs, Bennett has both the size to muscle for the ball, as well as the quickness to get open downfield. He played together with new Bear QB Jay Cutler at Vanderbilt, and has rekindled that relationship on the practice field. Devin Hester looks to be the burner that stretches the field, but Bennett could establish himself as a legitimate possession threat given that defenses will be likely keying on Hester and TE Greg Olsen. Cutler will open up the Chicago offense in 2009, and Bennett will be a direct beneficiary. If you’re not happy with your WR4 or WR5, pick up Bennett off the waiver wire, and watch him mature week by week this year.

(TE) Jermichael Finley – This may be your last chance to hop on the Jermichael bandwagon before you’re forced to spend a waiver pick on him. After the Packers engage in a possible shootout with the Bears Week 1, Finley may be gone from the free agent pool. While Jermichael still has some learning to do in his blocking game, he has wowed the Packer coaching staff with his receiving abilities and his athleticism. He is still locked into a timeshare with incumbent starter Donald Lee, but the depth chart appears to be trending toward Lee establishing himself as more of a blocking TE, while Finley becomes a favorite mid-range and red zone target for QB Aaron Rodgers. RB Ryan Grant hasn’t really been established as a prototypical goal-line back thus far in his career, and based on what we’ve seen in the 2009 preseason from the Packers, fireworks are in store this season in Titletown. Finley may not have TE1 value as I type this, but keep him on your radar, because you may need him down the stretch.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Your First Fantasy Auction

Most of you have spent your fantasy football careers acquiring players at the outset of the season via the draft system. While there is a great deal of anticipation to drawing crumbled-up pieces of paper out of a hat to decide the draft order, an auction is a much more fun and enveloping ritual. In an auction, psychology and money management must be factored into a successful strategy when fleshing out your roster. In an auction, anyone can own Adrian Peterson, not just the lucky sap who drew a "1" out of the hat during a draft lottery. Throughout my years being involved in fantasy auctions, I have acquired a few nuggets of wisdom (sometimes, the hard way), and will now impart said wisdom to you. In short, a draft is like a game of checkers while an auction is more akin to chess.

KNOW YOUR ENEMIES – If you are in a league with your buddies, coworkers, or acquaintances, knowledge of your league competition is of paramount importance. Before your auction, gather as much intel as possible on your leaguemates’ favorite teams, favorite players, who they picked in previous years, and which university they attended or favor. It is also helpful to know if they’re generally spendthrift or frugal with their money. You’d be surprised how their spending habits in real life will mirror how they shop for their fantasy squad. If you are in a one-on-one bidding war with someone, you’ll know they’ll likely bid a bit over market value on someone from their favorite team, alma mater, or their best player from last season’s fantasy team that had a monster year for them. If you’re bidding on a handcuff RB with someone who owns the starting RB from the same team, then you’ll likely get them to prolong the bidding for a couple more rounds and deplete their funds more quickly.

KNOW THE MARKET – In the case of a fantasy auction, the “market” is defined as the remaining players available in the free agent pool before the auction ends in conjunction with the remaining people who can bid on a player. For example, in many auctions, you are only allowed to bid on your starting lineup first. That means if someone already bought two quarterbacks in a 2-QB league, that team is ineligible to bid on any more QBs. Fewer bidders means fewer people driving up the price, or, as I affectionately call these people, “Price Driver-Uppers,” which typically results in a lower price for a player. Even if an elite asset is still available, they’ll be cheaper if they’re acquired later in the draft (when people have filled up their roster spots and have run out of money) than earlier. Also, it is important to be aware of the remaining elite talent available per position. If someone has merely adequate wide receivers, and the only supreme talent left is, say, Reggie Wayne, then you will be able to gouge that person for extra cash by driving up Wayne’s price before dropping out of the auction (unless you also need Wayne on your squad).

USE THE DRAFT BOARD - Consider this to be “Know the Market: Part 2.” By using the draft board, typically mounted on a wall of the room you are auctioning in, you can see 1) who has glaring holes in the team they are assembling, meaning how much they will (over)pay for a stud to give them a better feeling about how their lineup will shake out come Week 1. Also, you can use the draft board to 2) see the number of people eligible to bid on a certain position by looking at their rosters, and get a feel for how much a particular player might cost. 3) It is important to use the draft board to establish market value - to see how much your leaguemates are paying for talent of all tiers. If Tony Romo went off the board for $30, then you can expect to pay at least as much, if not more, for Drew Brees. If someone paid $37 for Michael Turner, then, unless you have a dearth of talent at RB, you shouldn’t expect to pay more than $28 for, say, Thomas Jones.

KEEP AN EAGLE EYE ON YOUR FINANCES - Nothing feels worse than running low on money early in the auction when there are still a bunch of available players you wish you could bid on, but can’t because you know you’ll get outbid. Be judicious with your spending in the early stages. While you’ll have to pony up for top-tier talent, don’t overpay for someone whose stats can be matched by dozens of other players in the league. For example, don’t bid $24 for Donald Driver when there are 20 other receivers in the league who can also accrue 70 catches, 1000 yards and 6 TDs. Supply and demand is the fundamental lesson from Econ 101 you must take into account in a fantasy auction setting.

DON’T LOSE YOUR HEAD AFTER MAKING A MISTAKE – I remember one year, someone put up mediocre WR Curtis Conway for a dollar. I was sidetracked when I was flipping through my research on another player. Since I went to USC, and Curtis Conway was someone whom I had a favorable impression of from his Trojan days than in the NFL, I blurted out “one-ten” before I even realized what I had said. As soon as I heard myself say “one-ten” in reference to Curtis Conway, I felt a silence overcome the room, the hair on the back of my neck beginning to bristle, and a hot flush feeling on my forehead followed by a single bead of sweat trickling down the side of my face. I then heard the most dreaded sound you can hear at an auction after you realize you just overpaid for a player, “Out.Out.Out.Out.Out.Out.Out.Out.Out." I looked up at the fellow USC alum who started Conway’s bidding at a dollar. Only now, he had a huge grin on his face which made me want to smash his teeth in. He took a calculated risk by putting up Conway for auction, screwed me big time when I took the bait, and we both knew it. For the next hour, not only did I struggle with the ignominy of overpaying for Curtis Conway (his value was closer to a nickel than a dollar), but I saw a ton of quality wideouts go for a fraction of what I paid for Conway. I found myself unable to get over my gaffe, and wasn’t thinking clearly enough to gauge a bargain when it finally came my way towards the end of the draft. “Nah, I’m not paying fifty cents for Chad Johnson.” Sigh….Keep a cool head, everyone makes mistakes, it’s how we learn from those mistakes that defines us as quality fantasy GM’s.

BE ‘THAT GUY’ – At almost every fantasy draft or auction, there’s always one guy who gets under people’s skin. It could be an obnoxious tool who thinks his team in better than everyone else’s, or perhaps someone who criticizes every semi-questionable move made, or it could be someone who announces injuries or other bad news about a recent acquisition (someone who drafts Steve Slaton would elicit the faux-aside comment from ‘That Guy’, “Well, hopefully he’ll still have some value even if he loses goal-line carries to Chris Brown.” Don’t be afraid to be ‘That Guy’. Given the accounting and psychology factors, people are using their heads more in fantasy auctions, and are more susceptible to getting thrown off their game than in a draft setting, where they simply pick names off their cheatsheets. You may piss your league mates off, but given that this only happens once a year, you’ll have a lot of fun in the process. Besides, people love a good villain.

START LOW – If your opening bid is too high for a player whose value is in question, you may hear the above-mentioned “Out” chorus from your competitors. Coming off James Jett’s 11-TD season a few years ago, I thought I might throw out Jett’s name for a dollar in case one of three Raider fans in the room decided they wanted him (basically, me lashing out for the Curtis Conway debacle from a year earlier). As they knew I was a Bronco fan/Raider hater, and that Jett’s 11 TDs were a total fluke since they actually watched the guy play, they decided that I should get to keep him for the inflated price. Nothing bad can come of bidding too low for a player, but you might get stuck overpaying if your competition is wise to your chicanery.

DON’T PUT UP PLAYERS YOU LIKE – If your auction is structured that league members sitting around the room rotate in deciding who goes up for auction, then it is helpful to avoid putting up your favorite players or players you want on your team. If your mates know you’re a Dolphins fan and you put up Pennington, Ronnie Brown and Davone Bess for bidding, they know they’ll be able to milk you for more money by virtue of the fact that you couldn’t wait for someone else to put those Fish up for sale. Rest assured, the studs and your favorite players and sleepers will probably get introduced before the auction is over. If nobody introduces your favorite sleepers until the end, then you can get those players much cheaper when everyone is almost out of money.

MAINTAIN YOUR POKER FACE – During an auction, it’s easy to see when a fantasy owner really wants a particular player – they become the auctioneer. “Okay, Alex just bid $25 for Stephen Jackson. Tony, what about you? $26 for Jackson? Tony?” ThIs is but one of the most common “tells” during a fantasy auction. Instead of running the auction, act calm, cool, and aloof when you’re bidding on a player you like. Almost feign disinterest, and continue to bid, especially if you know someone covets a particular player. “$32 for MJD? Hmm, I dunno, he may not hold up all year as the featured back…aw, what the hell, make it $35.” This will infuriate your bidding competition, causing much delight to everyone else.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Fantasy Football Live Online Draft: Five Do's and Don'ts

Draft day is a sacred time in any fantasy football aficionado's life, a time when every member of a fantasy league has a shot at drafting the greatest team in the history of Rotisserie. We all have our pre-draft rituals as well as our idiosyncrasies as far as where we draft and with whom we draft. As we are all different with unique work habits, it is important to be in an environment where you are comfortable and can focus on only the draft at hand:


1. Make sure you have a reliable broadband connection - If you're still stuck in 1996 and have a dial-up Internet connection, either find a public or school library and use one of their machines equipped with broadband to avoid possible interruption of your Internet connection, or go to a friend/family member's house who is not in your league. An empty office at work on Saturday is an ideal environment for Draft Day. Since live drafts are conducted in real time, you want to make sure the machine you're working on is keeping pace with your draft. Business center stores (e.g. Kinko's) also have available computers, but check the prices before you hop on a Kinko's computer for three hours, as you may end up forfeiting all your future winnings on workstation usage fees before the season even starts!

2. Eliminate potential distractions - You may want to catch some baseball on TV between your draft picks or call your girlfriend back. Or, you may want to download a song while you're waiting for your pick to come around. Solution: baseball boxscores are available after the game, so turn off the TV. If your girlfriend can't wait two hours for you to call her back, send her a text message or email before the draft saying you'll talk to her in a couple hours. Itunes isn't going anywhere, so feel free to hold off on your impulsive need to shop for music until after the last round. In fact, close all websites that don't pertain to your draft, and keep no more than 2-3 browser windows open at once (including your draft room). If your computer's reliability is questionable, reboot your computer before your draft so the chance of it freezing / crashing during the draft is minimized. You don't want any problems or distractions during one of the most important three-hour stretches of the year.

3. Mind the Queue - Unfortunately, computer crashes during a live draft are more common than any of us would like to admit. To prevent Murphy's Law from taking effect, make sure you have at least two players you would consider taking at that stage in the draft queued up, and ready to select. If, by some chance, you lose track of time and your clock expires or, worse yet, your computer crashes before you make your pick, at least you have some say as far as who gets selected as opposed to the pre-installed rankings dictating whom you pick. Sometimes, these website-generated pre-rankings fail to take the latest season-ending injuries to a starter into account. Back in 2003, Chad Pennington broke his hand in a pre-season game, and the draft website's pre-draft rankings still had Pennington ranked as if he were healthy. After nine rounds with plenty of healthy QBs to choose from, Pennington was inadvertently selected when someone got accidentally kicked off the online draft room. This occurrence upset the victim so much, that he lost focus and made a slew of questionable picks the rest of the draft due to his lingering rage. Don't be that guy.

4. Pre-ranking your players is overkill - As motivated as we all are in preparing for draft day, it is optimistic to think that we will spend countless hours shuffling players up and down your pre-rankings of 300-400 players. By the time your draft is completed, it won't matter that you moved DeAngelo Williams ahead of Brandon Jacobs because they'll both be gone within the first two rounds, anyway. Instead, find the players you DON'T want under any circumstances, and move whoever is injured, benched, or suspended for the year ALL THE WAY DOWN to the end of your pre-rankings beneath Keary Colbert and Bruce Gradkowski. This way, if your computer freezes or crashes during the live draft, there will be virtually no chance you'll get stuck with a fantasy stiff for a draft pick.

5. Make sure your laptop battery is fully charged
- You should have a power supply plugged into an electrical outlet during your draft. However, if you discover you absolutely must be mobile during your draft, don't run out of battery power. Trust me, you will experience no sympathy from your league mates if this happens.


1. Don't drink near your computer -
Keep your beverages on a separate table from your computer. I'm sure you're the least clumsiest person in the world, but you don't want anything like spilled milk or beer ruining the most important stretch of your football season.

2. Don't just fill out a starting lineup first - This means, don't take your starting kicker before your third RB. As you probably know, kickers should be saved for your last round. If you want a RB3 that will shine on your roster, he should be selected by the sixth or seventh round (sometimes before your WR2 or TE1). If you want a QB3 that's more than just an injury stopgap, you should pick that signal caller by the 12th round. Bye weeks and injuries will test the depth of your entire fantasy football squad, so, in many cases, your backups can be almost as important as your starters.

3. Don't get too chatty online - Yes, there is a chat feature in your draft room, but unless you're posting singular jabs about how someone just used their third-round pick on an imprisoned wideout that shot himself, don't get engaged in extensive conversations during your online draft. First, you'll get distracted by your opponents, which is typically their objective in stirring the pot. Second, you may accidentally reveal some of your strategy. If you're in a league with your friends, they may know you well enough to read between the lines of your chat, and then may upstage you with a pick you had queued. If you haven't spoken to various league mates since last January, wait until after the draft to catch up on old times.

4. Don't bother crossing out players on your personal cheat sheet - Your computer's online draftboard will keep track of which talent has been taken. By the middle rounds, you'll be spending more time cross-referencing who's gone from the board vs who is still available on your manual cheat sheet than deciding who your next pick will be.

5. Don't overwork your computer -
This is in conjunction with #2 on the list of "Do's." Close the Facebook and the Twitter, close your email, even close your online radio/Itunes and turn a boombox or clock/radio on instead if you must have music on during your draft. Any bandwidth taken away from your draft room could cause potential problems for your computer's memory, causing you to get accidentally kicked out of your draft room and autodraft you Tarvaris Jackson, causing four months of spiteful bitterness.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Talent + Time = Draft Value

We all read the same cheat sheets before we acquire our fantasy football teams, and we all discuss the same superstars we’d love to draft in the first three rounds. But just as often as these studs carry our teams throughout the season, it is important to also recognize the benefits of mid-to-late round value picks. Many fantasy football newbies get to the latter stages of their draft, start frantically browsing their lists, and can’t find a name they recognize to fill out their roster. So-called value picks fall into three categories: 1) football players that constitute a value pick were either once-hyped and fell down the depth chart but are now in an improved situation (this situation could be attributed to a change of scenery, changes in surrounding team talent, or a coaching change) , 2) were former studs whose stock dropped after an injury and are now healthy again, or 3) consistent performers tested by the arrival of a new teammate who is competing for their job. In any case, the following is a list of quality NFL footballers whose draft stock is lower during the preseason/draft time than it will be by season’s end:

In most leagues, only the can’t-miss premiere QBs (in this year’s case, Brady and Brees) will get drafted in a typical fantasy league within the first two rounds. Any quarterback besides those two shouldn’t be expected to be taken until at least the third round. It’s not that there is a shortage of QB talent in this year’s pool, but the separation of perceived value in the second tier of QBs is shorter between a Tony Romo and, say, Donovan McNabb. If healthy, Romo and McNabb should put up comparable numbers and have similar value, but McNabb might get snapped up in the fifth round while Romo gets taken in the eighth. My point is, you can probably wait a few rounds on a franchise QB and the value dropoff would be minimal and first concentrate on acquiring a Pro Bowl RB2, WR2, WR3 and TE1.

QB - Carson Palmer (QB – Cin) Although he lost his most productive receiver to free agency, Carson Palmer, who is 100% recovered from elbow trouble after playing only four games last season, is a great candidate for a bounce-back year. Palmer was fantasy royalty a few years ago, but has become an afterthought even though he is still in the prime of his career at age 29. Since the Bengals replaced All-Pro wideout TJ Houshmanzadeh with the very capable Laveraneus Coles, he won’t lose a ton of production given that WR1 Chad Ochocinco looks revitalized. Palmer’s minor ankle sprain should be fine by Week 1, and Palmer has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of cheapie stats in the league the past few years playing for a subpar franchise like the Bengals. You could do a lot worse than use an eighth round pick for what could be a productive 4000-yard season with 20-25 TDs.

QB - Peyton Manning (Ind) - Even as a third-rounder, the elder Manning should be considered a great value pick. When Peyton Manning is your QB1, it’s easier to sleep at night because he never misses a game, and he puts up consistent monster stats. Peyton may not be this year’s trendy, sexy pick that people gush over in the preseason, but statistically speaking, he’s the Alex Rodriguez of fantasy football. Target him as a third-round pick, grab him before he falls to the fourth, and thank me in January.

QB - Matt Schaub (Hou) - While Schaub's ADP has risen in the past month, he will still fly under the radar more so than 2008 postseason heroes Phillip Rivers and Kurt Warner. He had one of the best offensive arsenals from top to bottom, and all 11 members of the Texan offense are returning in 2009. Don't be afraid to reach for Schaub in the fifth round, because he could be the next Drew Brees.

Most fantasy footballers have had the philosophy of drafting RBs early drilled into their heads since they started playing; that unless you’re drafting a Tom Brady or Larry Fitzgerald, you had better pick your RB1 with one of, if not both of your first two picks. If you feel you missed out on truly elite running backs, then target backs who have at least 40 catches, as this mathematically translates to an extra 6-10 TDs, depending on your scoring system. Targeting TJ-Duckett types who may only garner a handful of rushing yards but might score multiple TDs can be a risky proposition if, say, Seattle can’t crack the red zone consistently. Conversely, pass-catching RBs can score points for your team from anywhere on the football field.

RB – Leon Washington (NYJ) – Although the Jets backfield appears crowded with rookie Shonne Greene competing with incumbent starter Thomas Jones, Washington is a unique talent in the vein of Reggie Bush. He is extremely elusive, can return punts and kicks, and finds unusual ways of getting touches. Jets coach Rex Ryan has said that Washington’s role will increase this year, and you can still grab him as a dynamic RB4 in the latter rounds of your draft. If he gets between 200-300 touches and stays healthy, expect Leon’s best statistical season to date. The Jets aren’t paying him a reported $4-5 million per year so he can serve as a decoy, and he’ll be needed as a safety valve for the young Jet QBs when they’re facing a heavy pass rush.

RB - Brandon Jacobs (NYG) - Jacobs has proven he can be a touchdown machine, has shown improved hands in training camp, and the Giants figure to base more of its offensive attack around the run after lost Pro Bowl wideout Plaxico Burress. Ahmad Bradshaw will take most of the load left by Derrick Ward, but he’ll also keep Jacobs fresh. As Jacobs has averaged only 211 carries each of the last two seasons, he still has low miles on the engine. If he duplicates his 15 TD season with more receptions than a year ago, he becomes a mid-first round pick. You can probably get him in the early-to-mid second round this year.

RB - LaDainian Tomlinson (SD) - LaDainian may not quite be at the peak of his prime anymore, but he’s still a first-round pick capable of 1700 combined yards, 14 TD, and 50 catches. This could be a huge year for San Diego, as they are one of the most balanced teams in football. As Phillip Rivers has established himself and the Charger passing game, opposing defenses won’t key on LT like they did earlier in his career. If, for any reason, Tomlinson slips out of the first round, grab him, as he is 100% healthy.

RB - Reggie Bush (NO) - After his reputation took a beating when people realized he wasn’t going to be the same NFL wunderkind that he was in college, many people have written Bush off. When the Saints’ offense isn’t clicking at certain times, QB Drew Brees tends to just dump the ball to Bush, and watch him create yards with his explosive burst and dynamic ability. He won’t get 300 carries like other second round picks, but he can score 10 TDs with 80 catches and over 1000 combined yards if he plays a Westbrook-esque full season (in other words, fully expect him to miss 1-2 games). If Bush is available in the latter stages of the third round, grab him, as he seems to be fully recovered from offseason knee surgery.

Wide receiver is undoubtedly the deepest position of available talent in fantasy football. While there is sometimes only one QB, RB or TE worth targeting on one NFL team, some teams like the Saints, Broncos, Cardinals or Texans have as many as three wideouts one would be proud to have on their roster. If there is one position you can wait on to fill out the rest of your slots at that particular position, it’s wide receiver. You probably couldn’t find a 4000-yard passer or a 1200-yard tailback in the eleventh round of a typical fantasy draft, but you can probably choose from at least a half-dozen 70 reception, 1000-yard receivers at that stage. Don’t get me wrong: the Fitzgeralds, Megatrons and Andre Johnsons will be gone in the first three rounds, but you’d be surprised at the surfeit of talent at wideout that is available towards the end of your draft.

WR - Donnie Avery (StL) – Donnie Football’s ADP stock has taken a hit with a stress-fracture in his left foot. His injury may even keep him out of Week 1, which has rendered him a mere afterthought in many fantasy drafts. Avery has made a speedy recovery, and will likely be Marc Bulger’s #1 target when the Rams begin the regular season. Bulger and Avery were developing a solid rapport last year before Avery hit the proverbial “rookie wall.” Factor in that the Rams are a fairly awful team outside of Stephen Jackson, you can expect a heap of cheapie stats when they’re losing by multiple scores in the second half of most of their games in 2009. If Avery is still available at the end of your draft, he could be a solid WR4 as the season gets underway.

WR - Jerricho Cotchery (NYJ) – With Laveranues Coles gone to Cincinnati, Cotchery becomes the unquestioned top receiving option in the Jets’ passing game. Regardless of who wins the starting QB job for the Jets, Cotchery is a very talented possession receiver with a penchant for acrobatic catches and making clutch plays. His 2008 numbers were down, which can be attributed to newcomer Brett Favre’s learning the Jets’ playbook on the fly. But given that the 2009 starting QB has had more offseason and preseason time to prepare, Cotchery should be properly synced up with his signal caller come Week 1.

WR – Hines Ward (Pit) – Your fellow league mates will probably still have the image of Santonio Holmes’ Super Bowl-winning catch fresh in their minds, and will select Holmes six rounds earlier than Ward. But Hines, who has been a consistent part of the Pittsburgh passing game for most of his entire 10-year career, has declared himself 100% from lingering shoulder and knee injuries headed into this season. He should be happy after signing a $22-million contract, and could be in for another 70-80 catch, 8 TD season as a nice value pick after the tenth or eleventh round.

WR – Donald Driver (GB) – Driver has been a paradigm of consistency in fantasy football the last several years. Since 2002, he has missed only two games, and as he has garnered 1000 receiving yards each year since 2004,he is one of the most reliable possession receivers in the league. Aaron Rogers has proven to be the real deal as Brett Favre’s successor in Titletown, fellow WR Greg Jennings will draw opposing teams’ top cornerback, and Driver should continue to flourish in Green Bay’s West Coast Offense with plenty of short-to-medium passes coming his way. Lastly, you can expect the motivated Driver to play 2009 with a heavy heart as he continues to mourn Alcorn State teammate Steve McNair’s offseason murder.

Tight ends are considered a tertiary concern to most fantasy owners. Tight end is also a position where eighth-round selections can yield production about equal to, if not more than, a “can’t miss” fourth-rounder. If you don’t believe me, just ask anyone who used a third-round pick on Antonio Gates, who accrued a disappointing 60 catches for 704 yards last year. Then look at the number of tight ends who out-performed Gates, in spite of the fact that Gates played all 16 regular season games.

TE – Chris Cooley (Was) – Cooley’s name is rarely mentioned when fans and experts discuss NFL’s elite tight ends. Every fantasy footballer wants a Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, or a Tony Gonzalez as their starting TE, but acquiring a name like one of the aforementioned three will probably cost as much as a third-round pick in some drafts. Coming off a season in which Cooley scored one measly touchdown, Redskins coach Jim Zorn has reportedly promised Cooley that the tight end will find the end zone “at least” six times. The ‘Skins top wideout, Santana Moss is, for the most part, a deep threat, and the lack of a true WR2 in Washington means that Cooley will be QB Jason Campbell’s primary target in the medium-range passing game. Cooley has never missed a game, has shown admirable consistency with flashes of greatness at times during his career, and is still in his prime at 27 years old. Target Cooley around the eighth round after the so-called “elite” TEs are gone.

TE - John Carlson (Sea) – Carlson first appeared on most fantasy radars when he exploded for a 6-catch, 105-yard game on Thanksgiving against the Cowboys. He has demonstrated great catching abilities as well as a profound understanding of the pro game at such a young age, that he can expect more playing time this year, and probably more production. In spite of TJ Houshmanzadeh’s arrival, Seahawk offensive coordinator Greg Knapp runs an offense that heavily involves tight ends, so expect more good things from Carlson in his second season in Seattle.

TE - Zach Miller (Oak) – The Raiders are still, at best, a mediocre team, but given their depth issues at wide receiver coupled with Miller’s productive 56-catch, 778-yard rookie season, expect similar numbers with a few more TDs sprinkled in. The Raider coaching staff could line up Miller in the slot given the lack of available talent at wideout. If Oakland QB1 JaMarcus Russell, who is approaching thin ice in his third year, falters or gets injured, Jeff Garcia would serve as a favorable passer who would benefit Miller and his fantasy owners.

TE – Jeremy Shockey (NO) – Remember him? He’s healthy, he’s established great timing with QB Drew Brees, he’s having a remarkable preseason, he’s out of the Saints’ coaching doghouse, and he’ll have plenty of red zone scoring opportunities in his second season on the offensive juggernaut Saints. Even in an injury-riddled 2008, he still managed 50 catches, and could approach loftier totals akin to his salad days in New York if he can stay off the injury report in 2009.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Avoid Drafting Potential Pitfalls and Landmines

QB – Joe Flacco (Bal) – Not only have the Ravens been fortifying their running game with Willis McGahee’s newfound work ethic and Ray Rice’s explosive preseason, but Joe Flacco has had the Raven coaching staff worried with an inordinate number of interceptions thrown in practice. Although WR1 Derrick Mason came out of retirement to play again in 2009, he’s a year older and slower, although still a formidable fantasy WR4. Mark Clayton tore his hamstring, denying Flacco valuable time to establish timing before the regular season begins. Given that there are about 25-30 starting quarterbacks who would look much better on your roster, you’ll want to avoid a potentially frustrating season by letting someone else draft Flacco as their QB3.

QB – Jay Cutler (Chi)
- If you think Cutler will approach the numbers he put up in Denver, it is important to take three things into account. 1) Da Bears have a defense far superior to the Donkeys, which means Cutler will probably not be playing/passing with his team down as often. 2) The Bears’ receivers do not match up with Denver’s wideouts. Even if Bear TE Greg Olsen has the monster season people are predicting, he and Devin Hester do not hold a candle to Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal for fantasy purposes. 3) Chicago typically runs more of a ball-control offense. While they may open things up this year to allow Cutler’s arm to stretch defenses, you can expect Matt Forte to vulture at least 8-10 TD’s inside the 5 yard-line.

QB – Marc Bulger (StL)
– Torry Holt, the wideout that had been Bulger’s go-to target for many years, is now in Jacksonville. Donnie Avery, the Rams’ new WR1, has been hampered by a broken foot all preseason. That leaves a dearth of receiving talent available for Bulger to pass to. Furthermore, Bulger recently suffered a fractured pinkie on his throwing hand, will probably need extra time to establish timing and chemistry with his new receivers, and may show some rust once he is healthy. The days of the “Greatest Show on Turf” get even smaller in the rear view mirror while RB Stephen Jackson continues to establish himself as the focal point of the Ram offense.

QB - Brett Favre (Min) As soon the news of #4's return broke, I immediately thought of my friend, Bob, who has endured so so much frustration as a Viking fan of 30 years. Although it sounds like a great fit for Favre given that he's familiar with the West Coast offense and has a premiere running game which will keep defenses honest, I am concerned about his surgically-repaired body holding up all year long. Even though Favre is expected to take over the starting QB job in Minnesota, he has been diagnosed with a slightly torn rotator cuff, which isn't supposed to affect his throwing ability. In spite of his status at the Cal Ripken Jr.-esque Ironman of the NFL, I would bet dollars to donuts that, in spite of skyrocketing ticket sales for Sunday afternoons at the Metrodome this fall, Favre doesn't make it through a full 16 game-season. He barely made it through 2008 as a Jet, and wasn't well enough to play last year's Pro Bowl (why he was selected after throwing 22 TD / 22 INT speaks to the credibility of the Pro Bowl selection process). Let someone else in your draft overpay for Favre, and instead take a less-risky QB2 three to four rounds later than Favre with slightly less upside but will put up similar numbers (and fewer INT's) like, say, Trent Edwards, or perhaps Matt Hasselbeck (if Walter Jones is healthy).

RB – Marshawn Lynch (Buf) – Not only is Lynch facing a three-game suspension from offseason criminal activity to start the season, but the Bills will be passing more this season given that they have two elite receivers in Lee Evans and newcomer Terrell Owens. As Buffalo is in a tough AFC East division, they will probably be playing from behind a great deal this season, and Lynch will not be able to rack up games where he gets 25 carries.

RB – Earnest Graham (TB)
– When RB Derrick Ward signed with the Bucs, Graham’s value took an immediate hit. He is, at best, a decent RB3 who is effective at the goal-line if he stays healthy. However, the fact that Tampa Bay lacks a true QB1 leads one to believe that opposing defenses will not respect the Buccaneer passing game. Expect more eight-in-the-box formations than usual against Tampa Bay this season, and a disappointing season for Graham. Lastly, newcomer Kellen Winslow is sure to vulture 5-8 TDs from the running game this year if Winslow can avoid staph infections and testicular maladies.

RB - Thomas Jones (NYJ)
– Jones had an career year during season in his first year on the Jets, but this can be partly attributed to the fact that defenses were kept honest by Brett Favre's presence under center. In 2009, Favre is gone from East Rutherford, but rookie RB Shonn Greene has impressed early in preseason and will surely cut into Jones' workload., Given that Jones isn’t exactly a spring chicken at 31 years old, expect more of a timeshare between Greene and Jones. Also, don't forget about scatback Leon Washington, who is expected to play a bigger role in the offense.

RB – Lendale White (Ten)
The running back formerly known as "LandWhale" lost 30 pounds this offseason after swearing off tequila for six months. Besides the fact that White has been a virtual nonfactor when it comes to receptions, it remains to be seen whether this weight loss will be helpful or harmful to his power style of running. White, without a doubt, will play second fiddle in the Tennessee backfield to speedster Chris Johnson. Also, the Titans are not expected to be as dominant a team this year without defensive mayhem specialist Albert Haynesworth plugging holes in opponents’ blocking lanes. In 2008, White was brought in to games when his team had the lead and was trying to kill the clock, while Johnson was inserted when the Titans needed a big offensive play with the game in question. Since Tennessee won’t be nursing as many leads this year given the gaping hole from the absence of Haynesworth on defense, expect fewer carries for White.

WR – Eddie Royal (Den) – The downgrade at quarterback from Jay Cutler to Kyle Orton will surely dispel any hopes of a repeat 90-catch season for Royal. Factor in that WR1 Brandon Marshall was acquitted of criminal charges, won't get traded this seasonm, and won’t face a suspension. Once "Baby T.O." (a fitting nickname on many levels) learns the new playbook, Royal won’t get many regular season snaps as Denver’s go-to wideout. Historically, very few rookie WR’s have experienced continued success in their second year in the NFL after a monster rookie campaign, and given the switch at QB for Denver, Royal figures to be more of the rule (i.e. Terry Glenn) than the exception (i.e. Randy Moss) in 2009.

WR – Bernard Berrian (Min) – In order for Berrian to have a monster season, three things need to happen: 1) Brett Favre, with all of three weeks to prepare for Week 1, needs to play better than he did for the Jets last year. 2) Berrian, who was seen limping on the sidelines with a tender hamstring after his first preseason game needs to stay healthy the entire season, something he hasn’t done even when he was playing on natural turf in Chicago. 3) Super-hyped rookie Percy Harvin needs to establish himself as a presence in the receiving game without completely cutting into Berrian’s anticipated production. Given these three factors, you should let someone else take a flier on Berrian as their WR3/WR4.

WR – Antonio Bryant (TB)
– Last season’s fantasy football playoff MVP (yep, I traded him in early November thinking Joey Galloway’s impending return would send him back to the Tampa Bay bench, and the team I traded him to won the Super Bowl…sigh) probably couldn’t tell you who his starting QB will be in 2009. While Bryant is a supreme talent, defenses can be expected to key on him more with the departure of Galloway, and while he established a great chemistry with since-departed Jeff Garcia under center last year, it would be optimistic to assume he’ll pick up right where he left off in 2008 given that he'll miss the entire preseason as he recovers from meniscus surgery. Bryant won’t be a bust of a pick, but he may be valued too high given that he probably played over his head in the three most important weeks in the fantasy football season last year.

WR – Torry Holt (Jax)
– “Touchdown” Torry Holt has had a hall-of-fame career, but his best days as a can’t-miss WR1 are long gone. Furthermore, the Jaguars’ offense has traditionally been more of the smash-mouth, ball control variety, and that figures to continue with Maurice Jones-Drew starting at tailback in 2009. As Jacksonville hasn’t boasted a WR stud since Jimmy Smith retired, you should let someone else who rode Holt to the playoffs 3-5 years ago reminisce about the old days when he played with Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk, and take him.

TE – Kellen Winslow (TB) He left Cleveland, a sub-.500 club with constant quarterback controversies, for Tampa Bay, a slightly better squad with an even worse situation at QB. Best case scenario, his starting QB is Byron Leftwich. Hard to blame Winslow for wanting out of Cleveland, but given his extensive (and unusual) injury history and sometimes disruptive presence in the locker room, you should avoid Winslow, and grab someone like Owen Daniels or Dallas Clark with a mid-round pick this year instead.

TE – Tony Scheffler (Den) – One of the bigger teases in fantasy football, Scheffler looks absolutely awesome when he is healthy and productive. His speed, leaping and catching ability make him look more like a beefed-up wideout than a tight end. However, Kyle Orton (or, possibly, Chris Simms) is now taking snaps in Denver, and Scheffler probably won’t be catching the occasional bomb like he did when Cutler was throwing him the pigskin.

TE – Alge Crumpler (Ten)
– Weighing in at 300 pounds, Crumpler will now be a blocking tight-end for the Titans, and now probably has slightly more value than retired TE Carlester Crumpler. Bo Scaife and rookie Jared Cook have established themselves as the playmaking TE's in Tennessee, and unless it’s Chris Johnson we’re discussing, I’d just as well avoid all Titans altogether.

TE – Todd Heap (Bal) – Similarly to Scheffler, Heap has been a bit of a tease showing flashes of acrobatic catches mixed with injury-riddled seasons his entire eight-year career in Baltimore. The Ravens have a three-headed rushing attack with Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and LeRon McClain sharing red zone scoring opportunities, Heap is expected to play a larger role in the newly installed "chip" blocking game. Given that Joe Flacco has not impressed anyone this preseason, it’s better to save yourself a, ahem, heap of frustration by finding a different tight end in 2009.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sexy Hype Machine - 2009 NFL Preseason

As the 2009 NFL preseason gets underway, every football journalist wants to be the first one to break the story on someone who they feel could be the next Adrian Peterson or Jerry Rice. While reading early positive reviews of football players can be encouraging in that they can provide an early read on who to target in your fantasy football draft, it’s important to remember that these guys are facing backups and non-roster invitees while wearing shorts in the sweltering August conditions of training camp. In other words, it’s too early to identify your surprise 1600-yard, 13-TD WR or RB before the first full week of preseason games takes place. However, one of the purposes of this piece is to at least cast a light on these featured players, as well as suggest players you should avoid drafting this year for various reasons. Last but not least, we have a group of players who could provide you with good value in the middle to late rounds of your draft. Some of the players on the latter list are former members of the so-called “Sexy Hype Machine”, but didn’t quite live up to the hype their stellar past pre-seasons helped to create.

As previously mentioned, this is the list of pre-season fantasy darlings. Any of these guys could be 2009’s version of Chris Johnson, but this early into the season, nothing is certain yet. Simply keep an eye on the August performances of these individuals, and the ones that continue to shine into September will be the ones you’ll want to target, and might possibly have to reach a little early for, on draft day.

QB - Matt Ryan (Atl) – Ever since his first NFL pass that turned into a 62-yard touchdown, Ryan made quite a splash in his 2008 rookie campaign. Now that Roddy White is signed and practicing after a holdout that lingered into two-a-day practices, Ryan has two top-tier receiving options in his arsenal that would make most signal callers drool. The Falcons signed future Hall-of-Fame TE Tony Gonzalez this offseason as a free agent. Even at 33 years old, Gonzalez can still deliver premier production, as he is coming off a second consecutive 90-catch, 1000-yard season. Don’t worry too much about the loss of slot receiver Harry Douglas this season, the Falcons recently signed veterans Marty Booker and Robert Ferguson, who can provide extensive depth and experience, if not a 4.3 40-yard-dash time.

QB - Matt Schaub (Hou) – As someone who reaped the benefits of his 400-yard fantasy playoff performance against Green Bay last year, feel free to label me a card-carrying member of the Schaub for President fan club. Regardless of my affinity, Houston has once again become fertile ground for fantasy football players, hearkening back to Warren Moon’s run-and-shoot heyday of the early 1990’s. Not only is all-world WR Andre Johnson the one WR who wouldn’t draw guffaws if he were drafted ahead of Larry Fitzgerald, but RB Steve Slaton has provided enough talent and production to force defenses from playing nickel and dime defenses on first and second down. Furthermore, WR Kevin Walter made great strides in gaining Schaub’s confidence last year, as well as another quality season from undervalued TE Owen Daniels, who you can probably draft a full three rounds after Kellen Winslow. With Sage Rosenfels now in Minnesota and no longer breathing down Schaub’s neck for playing time, 2009 is the year to grab Schaub as a great QB1, or as a member of an unbeatable 2 QB-headed monster.

QB - Trent Edwards (Buf) - Unless you’ve spent the summer in Azerbaijan, you probably heard that Terrell Owens was released from the Cowboys, and as his agent Drew Rosenhaus sought greener pastures for Owens, he found that his only, er, best option was Buffalo. Now that Owens is paired with burner Lee Evans, this tandem could help create the most interesting football season in Buffalo since Thurman Thomas and Jim Kelly retired. With Edwards firmly entrenched as the starting QB coupled with question marks in the running game stemming from Marshawn Lynch’s suspension, this sequence of events could lead to a big year for Edwards. His name may not jump off your roster like a Brady or Brees, but he could be one of the better fantasy QB2s in the NFL this year if T.O. maintains his best behavior, as he traditionally has in his first year with a new team.

RB - Maurice Jones-Drew (Jax) - Finally, Fred Taylor has moved onto New England, and MJD sits atop the running back depth chart in Jacksonville. He has always been the goal line back as well as a force in PPR leagues. Well, reports out of Jaguar camp have now said that the UCLA alum has been occasionally lining up as a wideout in an effort to minimize the eventual pounding he’ll take this year. His speed, power, soft hands, and new role are what make me believe that he, not Adrian Peterson, should be the #1 overall fantasy pick this year.

RB - Knowshon Moreno (Den) - For all the questionable moves that the Broncos made during the tumultuous 2009 offseason, this draft acquisition could make all the pessimism of losing a franchise QB hurt a lot less for Denver fans. Not only has he shot up the depth chart during the preseason to the point where he is expected to start the first exhibition game against the 49ers, but it looks like Moreno will be on track to start at tailback Week 1 as well. He’s young and fast with fresh legs, and he has career backup Correll Buckhalter and Raider castoff Lamont Jordan as his primary competition. Factor in the Broncos’ excellent offensive line, WRs Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal preventing teams from stacking eight in the box, and this could be an incredible rookie season for Moreno. If he’s available in the sixth round and I’m debating between a WR2 or a RB3, rest assured he’s mine.

RB - Ronnie Brown (Mia) - “It’s the sport of kings…better than diamond rings…football.” Nobody in the NFL made greater strides or saw their fantasy value skyrocket from the implementation of the “Wildcat” offense than runnin’ Ronnie (for those of you too young to remember/know, the first line of this post was an excerpt from the song from the movie Wildcats from…1986 – dang, I’m old, but I digress). In addition to being the featured back in Miami, Brown figures to be a bigger part of the Dolphins’ passing game this year. Since backup Ricky Williams is a year older and two steps slower, Brown will be counted on to move the ball both between the tackles as well as those unusual Wildcat sweeps…assuming he stays healthy.

WR - DeSean Jackson (Phi) - Jackson had some memorable highlights and lowlights in his 2008 rookie campaign, but if the amount of praise he has been given from teammates and coaches since training camp began is any indication, he figures to be an extremely valuable asset to fantasy football teams as well as the Eagles. Last season, he was considered a decent WR3 in a 12-team league, but that figures to change. Jackson is the consummate triple-threat as he had multiple rushing attempts in five games last year, and can also return punts. Based on the reports coming from Eagles camp, he should undoubtedly become the #1 passing option for Donovan McNabb, and his explosiveness could lead to DeSean doubling, or possibly tripling his TD output from his first year. Since the hype machine surrounding Jackson is no secret, you may need to spend a 5th or 6th round pick if you want him on your squad this year.

WR - Calvin Johnson (Det) - CalJohn, take me away! Lion fans have hope this year that, in addition to their team actually making it into the win column in 2009, that Calvin Johnson may be the best receiver in football not wearing a Cardinals jersey. Johnson has three things going for him: 1) At a very fast and strong 6’5”, 235, he fits the profile as a prototypical physical receiver who can muscle for the ball even in coverage. 2) He has a new quarterback who, unlike Dan Orlovsky, supposedly doesn’t run out of the back of the end zone. As soon as the coaching staff comes to their senses and begins playing #1 draft pick Matt Stafford, Johnson will flourish. 3) The Lions will be trailing virtually every opponent at some point in every game, so their passing attack will be their primary offense for the majority of every game. You’ll probably need to take CalJohn once Fitz and Andre Johnson are off the board in the late 2nd/early 3rd round.

WR - Percy Harvin (Min) - Harvin’s playmaking ability has drawn rave reviews, and he figures to become a dynamic part of the Viking offense this year. That said, he has three factors working against him. 1) Unretired legend Brett Favre hasn't had sufficient preseason time to get in sync with his receivers 2) Make no mistake: this is Adrian Peterson’s team. Harvin is, at best, the third receiving option behind WRs Bernard Berrian and TE Visanthe Shiancoe (bear in mind this is a run-first offense). Harvin will begin his NFL career as a kick returner and a slot receiver. Even though the hype machine is in full gear for Harvin, don’t get sucked in and take him too early. In fact, let someone else use a mid-round pick on Harvin.

TE - Dallas Clark (Ind) - With Marvin Harrison gone from Indianapolis, Clark becomes Peyton Manning's primary mid-range target, as well as the best receiving option over the middle. Since WR Anthony Gonzalez will replace Harrison at flanker, Clark will line up in the slot in three-receiver formations. As Manning and Clark get reacquainted this preseason, their timing has been described as "downright scary." 80 catches, 900 yards and 8 TDs are very attainable for Dallas in 2009. He should be one of the first four TEs off the board, as he can put up WR2 numbers, and rarely gets shut out of the Colt passing game.

TE - Greg Olson (Chi) - The former Hurricane has turned many a head in the preseason thus far. Slated to be Jay Cutler’s favorite medium-range target, Olson has the hands and ability to excel as a TE1 this season. The Bears’ revised playbook reportedly has a slew of plays which feature Olsen as the top read, and the coaching staff has reported that this third-year player is “read to explode” after a 54-catch, 5 TD campaign in 2008. A gifted quarterback like Cutler can only help Olsen’s value, so don’t be afraid to draft him before, say, Kellen Winslow, Jeremy Shockey, or Owen Daniels.

TE - Jason Witten (Dal) - It’s no secret that Witten and Cowboy QB Tony Romo are best buddies who design plays together after hours. And it’s also no secret that former Cowboy malcontent Terrell Owens has left for, um, greener pastures in Buffalo. But the fact that the Cowboys don’t appear to have a wideout who will step up and take over as the WR1 in that offense leads me to believe that Witten is in for a monster season in 2009. Romo has proven that he will feed Witten the ball as if he were breastfeeding a newborn when the defense allows, so don’t be shocked if Witten matches or exceeds his monster 2007 season of 96-1145-7. Personally, he’s my TE1 this year.