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.