The 2009 Fantasy Football Season is just around the corner again, so I decided to write up a “Top 100 Fantasy Football Players” list for the 2009 NFL season.
I’ve broken this list into player positions and further broken the lists down into types of selections (Top 10, Best Backups, Sleepers), along with analysis of each and every player on the hundred list.
For those who want to a Top 100 list to print off for their fantasy drafts, I’ll include the list from 1 to 100 in order of preference at the bottom of this page. That list will include the player’s team and bye week, just for convenience.
Top 10 Fantasy Football Quarterbacks of 2009
I like the following list at least eight deep as starting fantasy quarterbacks, and I wouldn’t cry with Jay Cutler and Ben Roethlisberger as my starter, even with the more plodding offenses those teams tend to field. What you need to do when drafting a quarterback is to draw a line on the quarterbacks you consider elite or worthy of being your starter (depending on how aggressive you want to be drafting a quarterback), then don’t draft a quarterback until the players above that line start to thin out.
Quarterbacks are so hard to predict. Remember that Culter, Rodgers, Rivers and Warner were all mid-to-late round picks last year, then tell yourself that same fact again when you decide to jump the gun and draft Brady or Manning in the 2nd round this year. Don’t do it.
Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints – Drew Brees has been a consistent performer for years, and last year he came close to the single-season passing yardage record. Brees was the rare TOp 5 at his position that went under the radar a little bit in recent years, but now, a lot of people are putting him at the top of their quarterback lists. Given his ability to produce numbers with just about any set of receivers he has, Brees is about as safe of a pick as possible.
Tom Brady – New England Patriots – Two years ago, Tom Brady gave his fantasy owners one of the dream seasons of all time. 50 touchdowns broke the record and propelled a lot of local teams to their league championship. I can’t imagine what a Brady-Moss Combo did that years in some leagues. Coming off a knee injury, Tom Brady might take a little time to get comfortable and rolling, but I wouldn’t bet against Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Wes Welker and the Pats doing some damage this year. Tom Brady also has two new weapons Joey Galloway and Fred Taylor – both older, but both still productive last year.
Peyton Manning – Indianapolis Colts – For the first time in forever, Peyton Manning goes into a season without Marvin Harrison. But Reggie Wayne has been Manning’s undisputed go-to guy for at least a couple of seasons now, and Anthony Gonzales has shown promise in spot duty as a starter. Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai and Donald Brown all could present nice complementary players in the Indianapolis Colts Manning-led offense, so don’t expect Peyton Manning to be anything less than a prime time fantasy player for another few seasons. Also remember that Peyton Manning is less of an injury risk than other quarterbacks on this list, because he gets sacked and gets hit less than the other top QBs. Tom Brady, on the other hand, had taken the most hits of any QB the two years prior to his knee injury.
Kurt Warner – Arizona Cardinals – Once again, what a difference a year makes. Kurt Warner wasn’t named the Phoenix Cardinals starter until after some fantasy drafts last year. So when teams drafted Warner as a flyer in the second half of drafts, they probably ended up winning leagues in 2008. Once again, Warner has Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin to throw to, while Steve Breaston showed he was a big time receiver if one of the other guys should get hurt (as Boldin often does). And this year with Beanie Wells, the Cardinals might actually have a viable threat at running back. Probably not, but this is one team where it really doesn’t seem to matter.
Philip Rivers – San Diego Chargers – Philip Rivers had his breakout fantasy football year in 2008, giving a lot of team owners who drafted him in the middle rounds a real boost. Despite (or perhaps because of) Ladainian Tomlinson being slowed by injury, Philip Rivers threw the ball early and often. Antonio Gates still remains a threat at tight end, while Vincent Jackson is starting to look like he could challenge to be a Top 10 receiver. The San Diego Chargers now have one of the most feared offenses in the league, with Darren Sproles spelling a 30-year old Tomlinson, who no longer has to be the focus. If LT and Gates remain healthy, watch out for Rivers this year.
Aaron Rogers – Green Bay Packers – In one of my leagues last year, a newbie owner cut Carson Palmer as a keeper to draft Aaron Rogers. All the veteran players laughed and had a good time talking about that pick. Sure enough, the rookie ended up looking like a genius. Carson Palmer was a non-factor in fantasy football last year, while Aaron Rogers was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL – at least statwise. It hardly matters that Aaron Rogers couldn’t get a 13-3 Packers team back to the playoffs; most fantasy leagues don’t account for the playoffs. Aaron Rogers has Greg Jennings to throw to, so he should be a Top 5 fantasy quarterback again.
Tony Romo – Dallas Cowboys – The one thing lost in Tony Romo’s much-criticized 2008 season is that his numbers remained phenomenal last year. Project those numbers over a 16-game season and he’s still on the elite level. Many are downgrading Tony Romo because Terrell Owens is gone, but T.O.’s departure allows Romo to spread the ball more. Though Isaac Austin only has 18 career receptions (due to injury), many think he could be the breakout big play receiver team’s need. Roy Williams will get a lot of balls, though Jason Witten might get the most. Meanwhile, Felix Jones is going to run routes out of the backfield, Marion Barber is a good pass-catching RB, Patrick Crayton is a solid #3 receiver and the Dallas Cowboys’ staff (and media) are touting Martellus Bennett as a breakout player this year. Remember, the Cowboys use Bennett as an h-back more than they do a fullback, so Bennett can be considered a starter, despite being listed as Witten’s backup.
Donovan McNabb – Philadelphia Eagles – A year ago, Donovan McNabb was on the fringe of being irrelevant. He was getting deeper into his 30′s and coming off a string where 3-of-5 seasons, he’d missed significant time. Also, Andy Reed and the Eagles Front Office refused to sign free agent targets for McNabb. A year later, Donovan McNabb has DeSean Jackson coming off a stellar rookie season and first round pick Jeremy Maclin, a favorite with many scouts, as targets and another trip to the NFC Championship Game in his back pocket. McNabb is a solid starting quarterback in fantasy football, slotted in the 5 to 10 range.
Jay Cutler – Chicago Bears – Jay Cutler looked like he would be a Top 3 selection in many drafts this year. Cutler had a huge ’08, had Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal to throw to, and the hotshot New England Patriots offensive coordinator as his new head coach. Well, there’s the rub. Josh McDaniels came into Denver as the new sheriff in town, showing he was going to do like Belichik and clean house. So he promptly alienated both Cutler and Marshall and decided that 25-year old Pro Bowl quarterbacks aren’t worth having on your roster. Now Cutler finds himself in Chicago with a Bears team somewhat bereft of wide receivers. In my experience, though, good young quarterbacks find WRs to be their go-to guys. Expect Culter’s numbers to be off from 2008, but still enough to make him a high-upside starting quarterback in fantasy football. The fact is, it’s a lot easier for NFL teams to find productive receivers than productive quarterbacks, so Cutler is going to be just fine.
Ben Roethlisberger – Pittsburgh Steelers – I’ve never really trusted Roethlisberger as a fantasy starter. The Pittsburgh Steelers play a type of football that often requires defense, running the ball and 15 pass attempts. So Roethlisberger will be inconsisent in ff, which can be frustrating. That being said, Ben Roethlisberger is known to throw 3 TDs in 20 pass attempts and he has a solid receiving corps in Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward and Heath Miller. It probably depends on the health of Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall. A consistent running game, ironically, will hurt Ben Roethlisberger’s numbers.
Fantasy Football Quarterbacks To Draft as Backups
These are players who don’t necessarily want as your starter, but who might do well in a pinch due to injuries or bye weeks. Generally, these players are coming off big years, but lost a key weapon, or they’re coming off an injury or down year, but have added a weapon. Note that, in most leagues, two of these players will be starters (12-team leagues), but you shouldn’t be trying to draft the #12 QB as your starter. I know a guy who’s done that for years and it usually kills him.
If you do draft a quarterback really low, double-dip and get a second QB of the same class and hope one pans out. I’ve even used the "Draft three and one will work out" strategy before, and that usually produces a decent starter.
Matt Schaub – Houston Texans – If Matt Schaub could stay healthy, he might be a really dangerous quarterback in fantasy football. Schaub has Andre Johnson coming into his prime, so he’s got one of the NFL’s very best receivers going right now. Steve Slaton looked like the real deal at running back last year, while Kevin Walters and Owen Daniels are factors on offense – at least some weeks. Andre Johnson will make Matt Schaub a consistent producer in ff, though, so if you wait on QBs, take this quarterback and hope he stays healthy a full year in ’09.
Carson Palmer – Cincinnati Bengals – Carson Palmer’s stock is way down in 2009. The fact is, he missed close to all of ’08 and Palmer lost his most productive wide receiver the past 2-3 years (Houshmandzadeh). This means that Carson Palmer will probably be one of the last "starting quarterbacks" taken (that is, in the 10-12 range). But if Chad Johnson could show he still has life in his legs and Laveraneus Coles learns the system, Carson Palmer could be a suprise. Expect the Bengals to be behind a lot, so Carson Palmer should get lots of pass attempts this year.
Matt Cassell – Kansas City Chiefs – Matt Cassell showed he could take over a highly successful, winning offense in the middle of the season and produce. It’s amazing that an 11-win team didn’t make the playoffs. Unfortunately, Matt Cassel won’t have Randy Moss and Wes Welker to throw to in Kansas City. He won’t have the veteran Patriots offensive line, instead lining up behind a talented, but very young, Chiefs unit. He won’t even have Tony Gonzales as a safety valve, after an offseason trade to the Atlanta Falcons. So don’t expect miracles from Matt Cassell in 2009, despite the Chiefs passing offense showing signs of life late in ’08. Matt Cassell will have Dwayne Bowe, a talented young WR, to throw to. This team should improve in the years to come, with Scott Pioli now in charge of the front office. But don’t expect there to be enough improvement to make Matt Cassell a difference maker in fantasy football. Grab him as a solid backup or a desperation starter in the middle rounds.
Matt Ryan – Atlanta Falcons – Matt Ryan surprised the heck out of most NFL people last year, immediately turning the Atlanta Falcons around from the debacle of the Michael Vick Trial and the Bobby Petrino "Era". Matt Ryan found a solid go-to wide receiver in Roddy White, and this year adds Tony Gonzales to his list of receivers. The Falcons still have Michael Turner at running back and Jerious Norwood to dump the ball off to, so Matt Ryan has a pretty good range of weapons. Matt Ryan looks like the real deal, and he should do nothing but improve in his second year. Take Matt Ryan as a solid backup fantasy quarterback with some major upside.
Trent Edwards – Buffalo Bills – Trent Edwards hasn’t really knocked the socks off of anyone in his two years as Buffalo Bills quarterback. Now, he has no more excuses. Trent Edwards is in his third year at QB, and he has two receivers in Terrell Owens and Lee Evans who give him all the tools a receiving corps needs. Lee Evans should give Edwards a speed-burner for big plays, while Owens give him a big target. Heck, the team also has James Hardy and Roscoe Parrish coming off the bench. Trent Edwards has enough weapons that he’s worth a roster spot as a backup QB, hoping things click and he can be a starter in a pinch.
David Garrard – Jacksonville Jaguars – David Garrard has been on the cusp of fantasy relevance the last few seasons. He’s had stretches where he’s been a solid fantasy starter, but never long enough that you feel confident with him as your #1. The Jags seem unable to get Garrard a steady #1 receiver. This year, they’ve turned to Torry Holt, over as a free agent from the St. Louis Rams. Who knows? This could be the year that Garrard has the receivers to be solid, but I would take him as a solid #2 if my #1 was taken late. That is, make Garrard part of a back-to-back combo, if you waited a long time to wait on QB. Make sure the other guy has a lot of "upside", because I don’t see Garrard as having much upside.
Eli Manning – New York Giants – The real problem with Eli Manning is he lost Plaxico Burress at the end of last year, and that really seemed to hurt the Giants pasing attack. In fact, wide receiver is the big question mark with the New York Giants this year. Derrick Ward went to the Bucs, but Ahmad Bradshaw should pick up most of that slack, along with Brandon Jacobs (the starting RB). But who is the go-to receiver? Amani Toomer at his ripe old age? Steve Smith, who seems a position receiver at best? The rookies, Hakim Nicks and Ramses Barden, taken in the 1st and 3rd rounds, respectively? Who knows? Maybe the Giants should have traded for Braylon Edwards, like they were expected to. But if something approaching a #1 WR emerges, Eli Manning could be a solid fantasy starter.
Matt Hasselbeck – Seattle Seahawks – Last year, Matt Hasselbeck was a waste. A back injury, poor receivers and a poor running game left the Seahawks a disaster on offense. But Hasselbeck at least claims he’s better this year, and TJ Houshmandzadeh came over in free agency. Aging quarterbacks can often have that one last big year, so even though I wouldn’t be thrilled by taking Matt Hasselbeck and depending on him, you could do worse as a fantasy option.
Joe Flacco – Baltimore Ravens – This one could go either way. First off, Joe Flacco lost his best receiver when Derrick Mason retired (as of this writing, the Ravens were trying to coax him about of retirement). That means Flacco may not have a great receiving corps, though the running back situation looks healthy enough (with at least three possible RB solutions in McGahee, McCline, Rice and even another rookie drafted this year). Expect the Ravens to be a play-action passing team again, but who knows if they’ll be in as many games with Rex Ryan in New York with the Jets. Still, Joe Flacco is going to be in his second year and should improve as a quarterback. I’ll probably talk myself out of this one by draft day, so read the Joe Flacco pick while it lasts.
Brett Favre – Minnesota Vikings – After all the talk, I’m assuming Brett Favre is going to decide to become the Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback by the end of July. If he does, Favre will have a receiving corps of Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin. Of course, he’ll have Adrian Peterson taking pressure off at the running back position. Chester Taylor will spell Peterson as a solid backup and occasionally give Favre a target out of the backfield, while Harvin may run the ball some. That’s a good set of weapons for Brett Favre, along with a Vikings Defense that should get the ball back in Favre’s hands often enough. If Brett Favre signs on with the Vikings, he’s definitely worth a roster spot.
Top 10 Fantasy Football Running Backs of 2009
To be honest with you, I don’t think the Top 10 Running Backs list is as solid as it is has been dating back many years. Don’t get me wrong; these are the best options you have. But in years past, there were usually 3-4 running backs who were “can’t miss” prospects, while the next 5-6 players would make you excited to have them.
With more running back platoons and more turnover at the top than most years, there’s Adrian Peterson and then a whole bunch of guys I would think, “He’s good in the bottom half of the 1st or even the 2nd round, but as a second overall pick?”
Here’s a word of advice this year: don’t get the 2nd through 6th picks. The guys you’re picking in the bottom half of the first round will probably be just about as good, and you’ll be able to double up quicker. This is a weak draft class.
Adrian Peterson – Minnesota Vikings – AP is the consensus #1 pick in Fantasy Football mock drafts this year. Adrian Peterson has a combination of size and speed, has a good defense to get him the ball back and might have Brett Favre handing him the ball (and taking pressure from the 8-man fronts). I expected Adrian Peterson’s college injury woes to have caught up with him by now, but those seem not to have followed him into the NFL (largely). If you have the 1st pick, this is probably the direction you need to go.
Matt Forte – Chicago Bears – Matt Forte was one of the biggest surprises in 2009, becoming one of the most-productive runners in fantasy leagues – as long as you were in a points-for-receptions league. In touchdown league, Forte wasn’t quite as sterling, though he remained solid. With Jay Culter around, I expect Matt Forte won’t suffer the fate he might have otherwise – defenses keying on him. Sure, Matt Forte has durability issues, given the huge amount of touches he had last year, but most runners do. Matt Forte showed little sign of injury risk last year. He’ll wear out quickly in the NFL, but not necessarily in his 2nd season in the league. Matt Forte is a solid Top 5 pick in fantasy football drafts in 2009.
Frank Gore – San Francisco 49ers – Given the amount of time Frank Gore has been in the public eye, he seems ancient in football terms. But Frank Gore is still only 25, and the knee injuries are years in the past. The San Francisco 49ers became a lot more competitive after Mike Singletary took over last year, and Frank Gore turned his season around, as well. There are a lot of reasons to think Frank Gore will get a lot of carries and receptions this year, and the Niners might actually be ahead in some games – translating to more touchdowns and more 4th quarter carries for Frank Gore. This could be one of Gore’s best fantasy seasons.
Maurice Jones-Drew – Jacksonville Jaguars – I like Maurice Jones-Drew. He got a huge contract in the offseason and Fred Taylor is finally out of town, so Jones-Drew is now the guy in Jacksonville. Jones-Drew has shown the ability to break runs and get the hard yards. But I don’t like how high Maurice Jones-Drew is going in drafts this year. I’ve seen him go as high as #2 overall. I wonder about the durability of a 5’8″ running back literally getting all the carries for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Sure, it was annoying when Taylor got production, but at last that offered Jones-Drew a modicum of protection. Take Jones-Drew super-high at your own risk – injury risk, that is.
Michael Turner – Atlanta Falcons – Michael Turner had a solid 2008 and is primed for a better 2009, given that Matt Ryan is coming into his second year, Hall-of-Fame te Tony Gonzales is moving over to the Falcons and Roddy White has put two back-to-back years together. My one concern with Michael Turner is that he got a lot of carries last year, and he has a bruising style that could lead to early injury. If you’re willing to take that risk (a risk you’re going to have with just about any runner), then Michael Turner should be a solid pick in the late 1st round or early 2nd.
Chris Johnson – Tennessee Titans – I had Chris Johnson in a couple of leagues last year and he was a major pleasant surprise for me. Since I have him as a nice value pick in my main keeper league, I already have worries about injuries. But there’s nothing to show that Chris Johnson will get hurt, despite being a little smaller than an every down RB should be in the NFL. Lendale White is still in Tennessee to take some of the workload and wear-and-tear off, so that’s a good thing. If you’re in a receptions league, Chris Johnson becomes a good selection high in drafts. In no-receptions, not as much. Don’t expect the Titans to start the season 10-0 this year, so don’t expect as consistent and productive year from Chris Johnson in his sophomore campaign. But if he’s healthy, there’s far worse moves you could make.
DeAngelo Williams – Carolina Panthers – This is a high upside runner on a running team who I don’t like as a 1st round pick. That’s because the Carolina Panthers drafted Jonathan Stewart to be their every down back and he still fits the mold of the RB for their system. Even last year, there were games where Stewart wolfed signifant TDs and yardage. That being said, Williams had couple of 4 TD games and looked great. Expect to have games where Deangelo Williams single-handedly wins you the week, then games where you pull your hair out as Jonathan Stewart wolves a couple of touchdowns. Jonathan Steward was supposed to be the answer with the Carolina Panthers last year, but DeAngelo Williams outplayed him. Stewart had turf toes that limited his playing time and effectiveness, though I always got the idea that John Fox wanted a big running back to punish defenses. So Jonathan Stewart is in a strange place this year. Assuming his toes are better (they claim he was stilling having a little trouble early in the offseason, so keep an eye on this), Stewart’s size and talent could demand more playing time. But things clicked with DeAngelo Williams last year, so there really is no reason to assume Stewart will take the starting job, unless Williams gets hurt or is really ineffective. Since DeAngelo Williams had a high average-per-carry even before last year, don’t expect that to happen. Jonathan Stewart is still a decent bye week filler and injury starter, even if you don’t have Williams, because he mixed in a healthy TD total even last year.
LaDainian Tomlinson – San Diego Chargers – It’s crazy seeing LT listed as the 11th or 12th overall runner this year. I’m so used to seeing Ladainian Tomlinson as the #1 overall pick. But time catches up to everyone, even the greats, and it’s caught up to LT2. Still, Tomlinson is on one of the league’s best teams, which plays in good weather on grass 11 times a year at least (and is therefore less likely to get injured), and gets to play the Raiders, Broncos and Chiefs defenses in six of those games. Those aren’t bad reasons to hope that Ladainian Tomlinson has one more huge season in him. If you’re picking 12th this year, you might be able to grab LT of all people as a high upside/high risk RB.
Brandon Jacobs – New York Giants – Brandon Jacobs is a great fantasy running back when he’s in the game, because he’s 260 pounds and he runs behind one of the best offensive lines in football. The problem is, you almost have to expect that Brandon Jacobs will miss games, because he has every other year he’s been a factor. One advantage this year is that Derrick Ward is gone to Tampa Bay, meaning you really only need one handcuff player: Ahmad Bradshaw. If you take Jacobs and Bradshaw, that’s not a bad option, especially if you take Jacobs as your 2nd runner.
Ronnie Brown – Miami Dolphins – Ronnie Brown is two years removed from his knee injury, which is usually when a player is fully recovered. Also, he’s 27 years old, which is when players reach their absolute NFL prime. He’s the main runner on a playoff team, as reports out of the Miami Dolphins camp say he is getting more touches than ever (despite Ricky Williams on the roster). Ronnie Brown should exceed his 2008 numbers, which were pretty good. He had the single-best game in the NFL for a runner, with one 5 TD game.
10 Good 2nd & 3rd Round Running Back Picks in 2009
These guys are players who might have huge potential, but you don’t feel real comfortable as your #1 building block (Brian Westbrook, Marion Barber, Stephen Jackson). Or these guys might be young guys who have the potential to crack the 1st Round in 2010, but who don’t have the skins on the wall to justify such a pick this year (Steve Slaton, Kevin Smith).
Note that a few of these veterans will go in the 1st round of most drafts, but I’m suggesting you let them fall and only snatch them up if they slide. I know the two rookies might be controversial in some quarters, but I honestly think these guys are a better option than many of the veterans.
A lot of what I’m looking for here are guys who are definitely the #1 guy and are likely to get most of the carries, and only Marion Barber and Pierre Thomas are going to split significantly (probably). Those two players are going to be on such high-powered offenses that I think it’s worth the risk you only get a portion of that running production.
Steve Slaton – Houston Texans – A lot of people thought Steve Slaton could be the answer for the Houston Texans running game last year, but others wondered whether his slight build would allow him to be the every down runner. In 2008, Steve Slaton appears to have proven his critics wrong. Slaton is running on an above average offense, so take Steve Slaton as a solid 2nd runner.
Pierre Thomas – New Orleans Saints – Pierre Thomas has been a stellar producer these past two Decembers, when every other runner on the New Orleans Saints has been out with injury. He’s a good straight-ahead runner on a high-powered offense. Defenses will not focus on Pierre Thomas, but instead Brees, Colston, Bush and Shockey. That being said, this is Pierre Thomas’s first time as the opening day runner. Sometimes, average RBs look great when they come off the bench in the second half of the NFL season with fresh legs against tired and injured defenses. Just look what Ryan Grant did in the 2007 season, only to look pretty average as the opening day runner in 2008. The same thing happened with Julius Jones in his rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys.
Kevin Smith – Detroit Lions – Let’s face it: Kevin Smith produced pretty steady numbers on what was technically the worst team in NFL history. The Detroit Lions went 0-16, yet Kevin Smith was a fairly consistent fantasy performer, once the Lions fired Matt Millen and they decided to end the Rudi Johnson experiment. You can’t expect that Kevin Smith will be in a worse situation this year. Well, maybe, since he’ll be dealing with a rookie quarterback. Still, Kevin Smith showed he can produce in the worst of situations in 2008, so expect to see him produce better in 2009.
Marion Barber III – Dallas Cowboys – One problem with Marion the Barbarian is the Dallas Cowboys have already said he will split time with Felix Jones, which is caused by MBIII’s other problem: his upright, straightforward style of running almost assures injury. When he’s healthy, though, Marion Barber will be the main cog in a running attack on one of the NFL’s best offenses. Even last year, the team rate #4 in offense.
Brian Westbrook – Philadelphia Eagles – I say it every year: Brian Westbrook will fall apart this year. In 2009, Westbrook is 30 and has been taking a pounding for years now. He’s constantly on the injury report, so much so that fantasy team owners are simply used to seeing him there. Brian Westbrook is a warrior who usually suits up on Sunday, and he’s been crazy productive these last few years. If you draft Westbrook, you HAVE to draft Lesean McCoy, the rookie draft pick who appears to be the new handcuff for Westbrook in Phillie.
Clinton Portis – Washington Redskins – The Washington Redskins have suggested that Ladell Betts will get more carries this year than last. Here we go again. When Portis moved over the Skins, Ladell Betts began taking carries. Last year, though, Clinton Portis took over full duties, giving fantasy owners the idea that new Washington coach, Jim Zorn, wanted to make Portis the focus of the offense. That might not be the case this year. Of course, Portis has been carrying the ball a lot for years, so it’s probably smart to limit his carries somewhat. I’m more concerned about the Redskins’ continued experiment with the West Coast Offense, which I think they have the wrong personnel for. Jason Campbell isn’t accurate enough to be a West Coast quarterback (which needs accuracy over arm strength), while Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle-El are too small to be classic West Coast receivers. The addition of Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly might change the equation eventually, but probably not this year. So Clinton Portis might have to deal witha sputtering offense that fan-owner Daniel Snyder forced on the team.
Knowshon Moreno – Denver Broncos – Many people consider Knowshon Moreno to be the best all-around back in this year’s draft, and he was the 1st runner taken. Knowshon isn’t the fastest or the biggest, but he is a great receiver out of the backfield and he does everything fairly well. Some have compared Knowshon Moreno to Emmitt Smith – not having the measurable speed, but simply a difference maker. Unfortunately, the Denver Broncos new front office have done everything in their power to crush team morale, trading the young star quarterback. If you’re in a receptions league, remember that Kyle Orton dumped off the ball 70 times to Matt Forte last year. That means Moreno could be a dump-off machine this year. I like this player, especially in a keeper league, but you’ll have to get him early.
Chris “Beanie” Wells – Arizona Cardinals – Chris Wells is in a tremendous situation for a rookie RB: #1 draft pick on a high-powered Super Bowl team. With Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston in the huddle with him, no one is going to focus on Beanie Wells. That’s perfect, assuming the Cardinals Offensive Line ever learns how to run block. Or maybe this is the year we find out that Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower were just to plodding to run through the holes.
Steven Jackson – St. Louis Rams – This year, Steven Jackson looks like he’s going to be the entire focus of the St. Louis Rams offense. That’s a mixed blessing, since Jackson will be the focus of every defense the Rams play. Maybe Donnie Avery will become a star at wide receiver this year, but the Rams’ Offense could be a complete mess this year. Also, Steven Jackson has only had one season where he stayed health. He’s a big running back who runs upright and takes a lot of shots. Draftsharks has named Steven Jackson as their “1st Round Bust of 2009″.
Ryan Grant – Green Bay Packers – This is the year of truth for Ryan Grant. Two years ago, he primed the engine for the Green Bay Packers offense. Once he took over the rushing duties, the Packers never looked back and they rode Grant to a 13-3 season. Last year, Ryan Grant held out, came in late, nursed a hamstring injury through the first half of the season and never really seemed to get on track, despite a successful passing attack. So this is the year we learn if it was a lingering hamstring injury in 2007 that slowed Grant, or if Ryan Grant was simply a fresh running back running against tired defenses in 2008.
2009 Starting Running Backs Worth Having
None of these guys would really excite me as a fantasy football owner, but once you get out of the 2nd round, you might have to take a chance they fight through injury concerns, age factors or plain bad offenses to give you production.
If you decide to draft Larry Fitzgerald in the 1st round, consider this is probably what you’ll have to settle for as a 2nd running back, if you’re drafting them in the 3rd or high 4th round (and if you’re lucky). If that’s acceptable to you, then by all means, draft Larry Fitzgerald.
Derrick Ward – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – After Earnest Graham failed to follow up his brilliant second half of 2007 with a healthy and productive 2008 campaign, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Derrick Ward to a big free agent contract in the offseason. Derrick Ward was a solid backup and fill-in runner for the New York Giants the last couple of years, showing quickness, strength and surprising power for a runner his stature (anyone remember Cowboys’ cornerback Mike Jenkins shying away from tackling Derrick Ward?). The problem is, Tampa Bay appears to be in a transition year, losing several veteran leaders (Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Jeff Garcia, Joey Galloway), so it may be a year before the Derrick Ward signing pays off for the Bucs.
Thomas Jones – New York Jets – Watch out for Thomas Jones. While he was one of the most productive RBs in fantasy football last year with 13 touchdowns, Thomas Jones is now 30 and his touchdown numbers were much smaller the two previous seasons (6 in 2006, 2 in 2007). Also, he’s holding out for more money, the Jets traded up to the 1st pick of the 3rd round to grab a runner and the team is likely to be starting a rookie quarterback. Watch out.
Reggie Bush – New Orleans Saints – Through the first six weeks of last year, Reggie Bush looked like one of the top 2-3 RBs in all of fantasy football. Then he got hurt, as usual, and ended up screwing fantasy owners across America. This is a high upside, certain injury type of player. Grab him as your 3rd running back if he’s there, but don’t spend a pick in the Top 4 rounds on Reggie Bush. Otherwise, you’ll be depending on a guy who can’t get through a full NFL season. After the 4th round, Reggie Bush becomes a player who could win a few weeks for you – as long as you have a backup plan for those other weeks.
Joseph Addai – Indianapolis Colts – Joseph Addai was a disappointment for all the owners who took him as a first rounder last year. Addair appears to have disappointed the Indianapolis Colts, too, who spend a 1st round draft pick on a potential replacement: Donald Brown. Brown has skills that could make Joseph Addai old news, while Addai has the kind of durability issues that will make many owners shy away from him. Joseph Addai becomes a value pick at a point as the RB of the Colts, but you probably want to add Donald Brown pretty soon, too, just to hedge your bets.
Larry Johnson – Kansas City Chiefs – Herm Edwards and Karl Peterson (or Larry Johnson, if you blame him entirely for his troubles last year) had to make LJ owners pull their hair out last year, suspending the player several games to make a point. That was understandable, though Herm Edwards inexplicable decision to stop running Johnson at times early in the year, when he was the only Chief having success early in the games. And the decisions to pull their bruising back at the goal line at times was laughable. There’s a reason Herm Edwards lost his job with the new management in town, but Larry Johnson is approaching thirty and has a history of legal troubles. Take this player at your own risk, though he could be productive in the right situation. The Kansas City Chiefs o-line is young and big.
Marshawn Lynch – Buffalo Bills – Marshawn Lynch is suspended for the first 3 games for being stupid. Also, the team says Marshawn Lynch will continue to be replaced by Fred Jackson in third down situations, even when he returns from suspension. So Lynch has some question marks. Still, if you get him later and assume the Terrell Owens signing jumpstarts the Buffalo Bills offense and continued improvement on defense will propel them towards playoff contention, Marshawn Lynch might be a nice pickup in the second half of the season. Or you could wait the first month and trade for Lynch when his team owner falls behind early.
Darren McFadden – Oakland Raiders – Al Davis loves big and fast football players, so it was no surprise the Raiders took Darren McFadden last year, despite having a stable of running backs. They are likely to give McFadden the chance to shine this year, at least until he gets another toe injury or Al Davis decides McFadden has "betrayed" him. Everyone assumes the Raiders will stink again this year, given that some are already labeling Jamarcus Russell a bust and the draft isn’t likely to help matters any. Al Davis took what most people asssumed was a 2nd round pick with the 7th overall pick, against the advice of his scouts. The Raiders have already cut their 3rd rounder, which is just amazing. Also, the Oakland Raiders still have Justin Fargas and Michael Bush ready to take carries away from Darren McFadden. But McFadden gets the nod, and he showed before he got hurt that he has the potential to be highly productive in the NFL.
Willie Parker – Pittsburgh Steelers – Fast Willie Parker has shown he can’t really handle the workload with the Pittsburg Steelers, at least after he had the 370+ touch seasons a few years back. But Parker shouldn’t have to carry the full load, with Reshard Mendenhall back from season-ending shoulder surgery. But Willie Parker might find that Mendenhall becomes the Steelers’ eventual #1 RB, either this year or next. That’s enough to give you a pause taking Willie Parker too high in a fantasy draft, even if he runs for one of the NFL’s most bruising teams.
Willis McGahee – Baltimore Ravens – The Baltimore Ravens’ running situation is a mess. I’m not saying the Ravens RB attack isn’t productive; it’s quite productive. But you just never know which guy gets the yards, which is a nightmare for fantasy football owners. La’Ron McClain is supposed to be moving to fullback, so that should be good news for Willis McGahee. But Ray Rice looked good at times last year when McGahee was hurt, and the team has suggested they will try to give him more carries in 2009. So while these guys are likely to put up numbers, you could have hell picking the right productive runner every week. McGahee is the one to select first, though.
Fred Taylor – New England Patriots – Fred Taylor went to the New England Patriots in free agency this year. One problem with the Patriots runners is they all seem to have their moments, but never enough of them. Laurence Maroney is a waste, while Sammy Morris is productive when he’s healthy. Kevin Faulk is solid, but not the answer. So Fred Taylor could give them a veteran presence that combines some of the talents that Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk gave them in recent years. This could be a really nice fit for Fred Taylor.
2009 Fantasy Football Running Back Handcuffs
The next list of runners aren’t necessarily considered the starters on their teams right now, but they are either going to get significant playing time each week, or they have a significant chance of becoming the starter at some point this season.
These handcuffs tend to be on highly productive running offenses, or play behind aging veterans who are known to get injured often.
Pick up these guys and most of them should have value at some point this season. This goes doubly if you draft the players who start in front of them.
Note, if you are drafting Le’Ron McClain or Leon Washington as anything but desperation starters, you’re probably not going to field a very good team this year.
Felix Jones – Dallas Cowboys – The Dallas Cowboys once again swear they are going to make Felix Jones a significant part of their offense in 2009. Felix Jones showed big play ability in his short time on the field in 2008, though Jason Garrett inexplicably took Felix off the field for whole games at times last year. With T.O. gone in Dallas, the Cowboys coaches’ will be looking for new ways to get production and I think Felix Jones should get plenty of touches – even as a backup. Remember that Felix Jones sometimes lines up as a wide receiver, somewhat like Reggie Bush. Of course, we still don’t know if Felix Jones has what it takes to make it through an NFL campaign, so there are other similarities to Reggie Bush, too.
Ahmad Bradshaw – New York Giants – One thing you know is that Brandon Jacobs is going to get hurt this year sometime, so Ahmad Bradshaw will have value at some point in 2009. Bradshaw showed he could be a good runner in the 2007 Super Bowl run, but was consigned to the bench last year behind Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward. But if you draft Ahmad Bradshaw, you may be sitting on him for half a year and he’ll only occasionally put up a solid game. But at some point, you’ll either be able to trade Bradshaw for something valuable, or you might have you a starting RB behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.
Donald Brown – Indianapolis Colts – The Indianapolis Colts drafted Donald Brown as a 220 lb. running back with flashy speed and good receiving skills. Donald Brown is in a good place to make a huge impact with the Colts, especially if Joseph Addai’s injury history continues. One thing that bugs me about Donald Brown is that his measurables haven’t always translated to the field, which is why Knowshon Moreno was taken higher. Still, I’m recommending Donald Brown as a flyer in the 6th to 8th round as a guy who could put up big numbers in the right circumstances – or sit on the bench half the game.
Rashard Mendenhall – Pittsburgh Steelers – The Pittsburg Steelers took Rashard Mendenhall as a powerful back that could take over the full time running chores, but made Willie Parker the starter in 2008. Mendenhall finally got a start six weeks into the season, called out the Ravens Defense, then promptly got knocked out for the season with a shot to the shoulder. Before he got hurt, though, Mendenhall showed he could be productive, so this guy could fly under the radar as a 2nd year RB and suddenly be the Super Bowl Champs’ starter.
LeSean McCoy – Philadelphia Eagles – This is one of my sleeper picks this year in fantasy football. The Philadelphia Eagles took LeSean McCoy to presumably be the eventual replacement for Brian Westbrook. In many ways, LeSean McCoy has many of the same talents Westbrook has: pass-catching and the ability to make moves in traffic. When you consider that Correll Buckhalter is gone from the Eagles, it looks like LeSean McCoy should be the primary backup. Westbrook will break down eventually, so you might find McCoy as the Eagles starter anytime during the season.
Chester Taylor – Minnesota Vikings – Even last year, Chester Taylor was putting up fantasy numbers that would rank him between 15-20 among the running backs. Between Brad Childress’ desire to spell Adrian Peterson and Peterson’s occasional nagging injury, Chester Taylor gets on the field enough that he deserves a spot on your roster. You can use him if there’s an injury or bye week and hope it’s one of his "on" weeks. And if Adrian Peterson gets injured, Chester Taylor has shown he can be a productive starter.
Lendale White – Tennessee Titans – Lendale White became a good bye week rusher and emergency injury fillin last year, because he got a lot of goal line carries and touchdowns. But later in the season, there were weeks when Lendale White didn’t hardly step on the field. And given that the Titans aren’t likely to reel off a 10-game winning streak this year, those touchdown chances could evaporate or be cut in half. Look at Lendale White’s rushing totals and his 2008 numbers don’t look so impressive.
Le’Ron McClain – Baltimore Ravens – Le’Ron McClain put up some good rushing totals and a nice touchdown total last year in spot duty. Some games, though, he wouldn’t get many touches. Also, he’s supposedly moving to full back, so LeRon McClain isn’t likely to get as many touches as last year. Besides, the defensive stars are a year older, Rex Ryan will no longer be calling the defense and Joe Flacco could have a sophomore jinx, especially with Derrick Mason in retirement. So I would stay away from Le’Ron McClain if I were you, unless he’s there in the 8th round or later and you need some depth at running back.
Leon Washington – New York Jets – Leon Washington seems to have several games every year that he puts up huge numbers. Then he’ll disappear, as the Jets coaching staff decides he’s better as a kick returner and spot 3rd down running back. I don’t think Leon Washington will ever be a solid fantasy starter unless an injury happens, but I do believe he could give you several productive weeks if that injury happens. So I’m recommending Leon Washington as a good handcuff player, as he’s behind a 30 year old running back who is disgruntled right now. Also, keep in mind that the Jets drafted Shonn Green, a runner said to be good at running between the tackles. So monitor this situation and make certain Shonn Green doesn’t suddenly become the handcuff here.
Top 10 Fantasy Football Wide Receivers of 2009
These are the ten fantasy football wideouts with the best combination of upside and dependability in fantasy football in 2009. There are guys in the next ten who might be just as dependable, but they don’t have as much upside.
There are guys not on this list who have a chance to be Top 5 this year, but have serious question marks about age, injuries or situations. These guys are the ones most likely to perform as they have in the past, or perhaps even have a career year.
Andre Johnson – Houston Texans – Andre Johnson is in the prime of his football life and he showed the last couple of years he’s about as good as they come. The fact that Johnson toils in relative obscurity with the Houston Texans means he flies under the radar to the average NFL fan. But the Houston Texans are improving every year and many people are picking the Texans to contend for the playoffs this year. That’s a tough proposition in the AFC, but if the Texans stay healthy, Andre Johnson should be a Top 3 wide receiver.
Larry Fitzgerald – Arizona Cardinals – Larry Fitzgerald was in 2008 where Andre Johnson is in 2009: an elite receiver playing on a second-rate NFL team. Once Fitzgerald got to the playoffs, all the casual football fans in America saw how great a player Larry Fitzgerald is. A last-second drive by the Steelers’ offense (or a collapse by the Cardinals Defense) is all that kept Larry Fitzgerald from being the Super Bowl MVP, and I can imagine Fitzgerald will be the first WR taken in a whole lot of drafts this year. I wouldn’t blame anyone: he’s in his prime and he’s got a good quarterback and offense around him.
Calvin Johnson – Detroit Lions – Think about how good Calvin Johnson must be to remain a consistent performer on the only 0-16 team in NFL History. Calvin Johnson seemed to get either a touchdown or a 100-yard game just about every week last year, all the while playing with Jon Kitna (gone in 4 games), Dan Orlovsky, Drew Stanton and Daunte Culpepper at quarterback. Calvin Johnson could very well be the best wide receiver in football and nobody know it yet, because he’s playing on an absolutely awful team. (I’ve heard Calvin Johnson described as Larry Fitzgerald with blazing speed.) The point being, it doesn’t seem to matter who is throwing the ball to Megatron, he’s going to produce. That’s all you can ask in a fantasy receiver.
Randy Moss – New England Patriots – Randy Moss is one year removed from one of the greatest fantasy football seasons ever. You could argue the only reason he didn’t get close to those totals again was because Tom Brady missed the season, so Randy Moss should be listed as the #1 wide receiver again. If you want to draft Randy Moss as the first receiver off the board, I’m not going to laugh at you. I’m going to list Randy Moss at #4, given that Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson are younger and Tom Brady might take a while to get in stride. Still, don’t bet against the New England Patriots, whether you love them or hate them.
Anquan Boldin – Arizona Cardinals – Anquan Boldin led the league in receptions last year and was a super value pick going in the 4th or 5th rounds in most drafts in ’08. He even stayed healthy most of the year, except for a couple of weeks where Steve Breaston filled in nicely. Anquan Boldin even did all this while being disgruntled. People take Anquan Boldin lower than some of the other WRs on this list, because he gets hurt a lot. You can expect Boldin to get hurt at some point, so draft him knowing that’s the case. You don’t normally take handcuffs at receiver, but if you take Boldin, it might be worth it to sneak Steve Breaston on your roster at some point – to assure continued production at that receiver position.
Reggie Wayne – Indianapolis Colts – Reggie Wayne was looking to have a career year six weeks into the 2008 season, but he got hurt and had a number of off weeks after that. Reggie Wayne is reaching that age where he’s going to have to fight through nagging injuries occasionally, while he’s undoubtedly the wide receiver the opposing defenses are going to focus on with double coverage. Still, Reggie Wayne has Peyton Manning throwing to him, and that should mean a lot for the next several seasons at least. Take Reggie Wayne with confidence you’re getting a solid #1 receiver.
Greg Jennings – Green Bay Packers – Greg Jennings is one of the most anonymous star receivers going in the NFL right now, largely because his story has been overshadowed by the Brett Favre soap opera and Aaron Rogers’ struggles in the win column as Favre’s successor. That being said, Aaron Rogers-to-Greg Jennings is one of the most productive combos in the NFL right now, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you pick a few spots later and end up drafting Greg Jennings a round after the other WRs that are higher on my list. Greg Jennings is an elite NFL wideout – period.
Marques Colston – New Orleans Saints – Marques Colston started the 2008 NFL Season injured and took a while to find his rhythm once he did return. In fact, Marques Colston had an all-around disappointing 2008 season, despite having a few productive games later in the year. But with Drew Brees throwing at a 4000+ yard pace and (hopefully) a healthy start to 2009, Marques Colston should be a Top 10 wide receiver easy.
Roddy White – Atlanta Falcons – Roddy White has had two hugely productive seasons as the Atlanta Falcons’ top receiver, and he looks set to be good for many years to come with Matt Ryan throwing to him. Roddy White isn’t as big of a name as many of the other WR selections on this list, but don’t overlook him.
Steve Smith – Carolina Panthers – Steve Smith is a bit of an oddity these days. Most top 10 receivers loom (usually signifantly) over 6 feet tall, while Steve Smith uses speed and quickness to get away from cornerbacks. In a game where corners aren’t allowed to touch a receiver 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, Steve Smith becomes even more dangerous. His slight stature means he’ll take the worst of hits and have durability issues, while Jake Delhomme isn’t the quarterback that some of the other best receivers have (at least at this point in his career), but Steve Smith belongs in the Top 10. One thing hurting Steve Smith’s overall consistency is the emergence of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in a potent running game, so the Carolina Panthers will occasionally just run it down other teams’ throats.
Fantasy Football Wide Receivers 2009 – Picks 11 Through 20
These players have either just slid out of the Top 10 this year, or had a huge year in 2008, but kind of scare me as a #1 WR this time around. Wideouts 11-20 just aren’t quite as “can’t miss”, or else you can’t imagine them challenging as a Top 3-5 receiver this year.
Still, you should be thrilled to get any of these guys as a 2nd receiver, because these wideouts are tremendously talented and should pull down big numbers, assuming they’re healthy.
Terrell Owens – Buffalo Bills – Terrell Owens has been highly critical of Jeff Garcia, Donovon McNabb and Tony Romo, all Pro Bowl quarterbacks at the time. So how critical is TO going to be of Trent Edwards, who no one is going to confuse with being a Pro Bowler? What happens the first time Trent Edwards skips a ball on a 15-yard out to Terrell Owens (which probably will be Week 1)? This could get ugly. At the same time, Terrell Owens might give the Buffalo Bills the swagger and the talent edge they need to get over the hump in the AFC East, where they have competed valiantly the past couple of years, but fell apart at some point in the season. Trent Edwards is in his third season, so maybe he improves to the point that Terrell Owens is happy in Buffalo (or just shuts up and plays nice in a contract year). But despite the fact that Terrell Owens is going to starting pointing fingers as soon as things start going bad, he should put up double digit touchdowns. Note that Terrell Owens only had 100-yards in two games last year, though, and had 40 yards or less in 8 games. There’s a reason why the Dallas Cowboys let him go besides the locker room nonsense. Combine that with Trent Edwards throwing T.O. the ball and you shouldn’t take Owens until all the elite receivers are gone.
Vincent Jackson – San Diego Chargers – Vincent Jackson finally stepped up and gave the San Diego Chargers a #1 wide receiver last year. Vincent Jackson is now being seen as a Top 10 wide receiving option this year by certain publications, and he’s definitely a Top 15 WR. Jackson is a tall, fast wideout on one of the best passing offenses in the National Football League. Vincent Jackson had better numbers last year than you think, unless you’re a Chargers fan or he was on your team in fantasy football last years.
Brandon Marshall – Denver Broncos – Brandon Marshall is one of the most talented young wide receivers in football. He’s also one of the biggest knuckleheads in the sport. Brandon Marshall is constantly in some kind of tussle with the law (and his lady friends), and has been since before he was drafted. Now, Brandon Marshall is unhappy Jay Cutler is gone from Denver and has requested a trade. Who knows where this scenario ends, so you might avoid Brandon Marshall until his upside becomes too great to ignore. In the best case scenario, Brandon Marshall has Kyle Orton throwing to him, which really doesn’t excite me. On the good side, the Denver Broncos are likely to be behind in a lot of ball games this year, so Brandon Marshall should get plenty of passes coming his way in comeback efforts.
Dwayne Bowe – Kansas City Chiefs – Dwayne Bowe is another receiver whose skills go largely unnoticed, because of the weakness of his team. But Dwayne Bowe has put up strong numbers in his first two years, so this third-year receiver might be ready to explode with Matt Cassell throwing him the ball in Kansas City. Someone is going to have to step up with Tony Gonzales out of town, and Dwayne Bowe is the most likely player to do it.
I’m still smarting that “my” Dallas Cowboys chose to ignore the draft experts and took Anthony Spencer instead of Dwayne Bowe in the 1st round two years ago, or there wouldn’t be all this hand-wringing about whether Patrick Crayton or Miles Austen will be the Boys’ #2 receiver in 2009. In fact, the Cowboys almost certainly wouldn’t have traded several picks (including a #1) to the Detroit Lions last year, and might have had those picks to improve the team this year. But, alas.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh – Seattle Seahawks – T.J. Houshmandzadeh became Carson Palmer’s go-to guy two years ago (if not sooner), and therefore was one of the top free agents on the market this offseason. Houshmandzadeh eventually signed with the Seattle Seahawks, so he is expected to bring quality and skill to the Seahawks’ ailing wide receiver corps. If Matt Heseelbeck has another year in him and his back, T.J. Houshmandzadeh could have another highly productive season in Seattle. There’s really little else (besides maybe John Carlsen) going on in the Seattle Seahawks offensive huddle.
Santonio Holmes – Pittsburgh Steelers – Santonio Holmes had a disappointing regular season for much of 2008, but he scored the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl on an amazing tip-toe catch, so all is forgiven. So where is Santonio Holmes this year? I’m not sure, though he has upside. If Rashard Mendenhall and/or Willie Parker give the Steelers a strong running attack, Pittsburg might be the conservative ball control offense they have been in the past. That would be bad for Santonio Holmes. But if they have to throw the ball to win games, Santonio Holmes would appear to be ready to surpass Hines Ward (if he already hasn’t) as the Pittsburg Steelers’ #1 receiver.
Roy Williams – Dallas Cowboys – Okay, Roy Williams has his chance to shine. The Cowboys cleared the cupboard to give Roy Williams a chance to star in this league. It’s time for Roy Williams to reward that faith. Keep in mind that the numbers don’t lie, and Roy Williams has only one 1000-yard season in the NFL. Yes, that’s one. So while I would love to see Roy Williams turn into a franchise wide receiver, I can’t help but think he’ll prove that he’s a solid #2 receiver, but no kind of a #1 wideout. Still, he has every chance to succeed and a good, exciting quarterback throwing to him.
Wes Welker – New England Patriots – Wes Welker has been a steady ball-catcher for two years with the New England Patriots now. In fact, he had an amazing streak of games last year where he caught 6-or-more footballs. The problem with Wes Welker is that he doesn’t catch many touchdowns, so if you’re in a touchdown-heavy, no-receptions league, Wes Welker is a player you should avoid. If you are in a receptions league, you won’t find someone steadier. Watch out for the Joey Galloway signing this offseason, though, because the smaller, faster Joey Galloway is more likely to take catches away from Welker than Moss (I’m guessing).
Antonio Bryant – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Antonio Bryant was just about out of football a couple of years ago, after hitting Bill Parcells in the head with a towel during an argument at an O.T.A. Then suddenly, last year Antonio Bryant became a starting WR for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he proved to be an elite receiver (at least for about 10 games). The 200+ yard game Antonio Bryant had against the Carolina Panthers on Monday Night Football was spectacular, and he signed a big contract in the offseason. I have no idea how Antonio Bryant handles a big contract, and I have no idea how Antonio Bryant and Kellen Winslow get along. But Antonio Bryant has the tools to become an elite WR the next handful of seasons.
Braylon Edwards – Cleveland Browns – One year and Braylon Edwards goes from a consensus 2nd round selection to, well, this spot in the draft. Suddenly, the Cleveland Browns 2-headed monster at quarterback doesn’t look so vaunted, with Eric Mangini considering trading both Derek Anderson and Bradie Quinn (according to reports. Kellen Winslow II is in another NFL town and Braylon Edwards almost got shipped to New York. People criticize Braylon’s heart and hands, and he’s gone from one of the game’s most exciting young gamebreaking wideouts to a virtual afterthought. All of this is what I consider kneejerk reactions, and we could be talking a year from now how Brady Quinn to Braylon Edwards is a great young tandem.
Fantasy Football WRs – 2009 Wide Receiver Sleepers
Wide receivers can be crazy in fantasy football. A few guys you think are can’t miss will miss. A few you think “No way I would draft that guy” suddenly become fantasy studs for a year. I’m convinced at a point, you just add a few receivers at the bottom of the roster and hope they turn out.
Of course, try your best to piece together which ones will hit and only draft a guy if you legitimately have a reason to think he’ll hit, but then wait for the season and shake your head when one of these guys blows up.
Lance Moore – New Orleans Saints – Lance Moore became the Saints #2 wide receiver last year and a favorite target of Drew Brees, and he could be a nice pickup if he is anywhere nearly as productive this year. Lance Moore is hardly highly-touted, but he beat out the Saints former #1 draft pick, Robert Meachem, for this job. Lance Moore gave the Saints a big-play receiver opposite Marques Colston, and he could give the team the same quality this year.
DeSean Jackson – Philadelphia Eagles – DeSean Jackson came off as talented, explosive and knuckleheaded in his rookie season with the Philadelphia Eagles. Some teams (like the Dallas Cowboys) didn’t have him on their draft board last year, and some even say he’ll eventually do something stupid to hurt his career. Whatever caused that reaction, DeSean Jackson is a talented young wide receiver who can break open a game from any point on the field, and Donovan McNabb sure seemed happy to have the help. Watch out for a sophomore jinx and the effects of Jeremy Maclin on Jackson’s number of touches, but take DeSean Jackson as a player with a big play potential who’s lots of fun to watch play.
Laveraneus Coles – New York Jets – Laveraneus Coles moves over to the Cincinnati Bengals and Carson Palmer this year. Carson Palmer is definitely the biggest-armed, best quarterback Laveraneus Coles has ever played with (I’ll take a 20-something Palmer over a 39-year old Favre). So if he’s put up big numbers over the years with lesser quarterbacks, what might he do with Carson Palmer? I bet Coles gets overlooked in a lot of drafts this year and he could be a solid early sleeper in a lot of drafts.
Chad Ochocinco – Cincinnati Bengals – Chad Ochocinco or Chad Johnson has gotten a lot of publicity and even some commercials the last 2-3 years, but he hasn’t had a whole lot of production recently. It seems like Carson Palmer trusted T.J. Houshmandzadeh more than Chad Johnson at least these last two years, or at least was open more often. Whatever the case, Chad Johnson is now 30 years old and has to have a “comeback year” to keep making these fantasy football Top 100 lists. With TJ gone, this is Chad Johnson’s best chance in 3 NFL seasons to be the #1 guy in an offense.
Bernard Berrian – Minnesota Vikings – Bernard Berrian has shown he can be a big play receiver even with the likes of Rex Grossman and Tavares Jackson throwing to him these past few years. So if Brett Favre suddenly comes aboard with the Minnesota Vikings, will Bernard Berrian suddenly become Favre’s favorite target? There’s a long history that Brett Favre finds a favorite receiver and locks in on that target: Sterling Sharpe, Robert Brooks, Antonio Freeman, Donald Driver, Greg Jennings. So you look over the Vikings roster and see three real options: Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice and Bernard Berrian. As Berrian is the veteran of that bunch, I’m guessing he’s the one who will click with Brett Favre the quickest. Even if the team ends up with Tavaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels as their starting QBs, Bernard Berrian showed last year he was the #1 option in the offense – at least over the oft-injured Sidney Rice.
Lee Evans – Buffalo Bills – There’s no telling what having Terrell Owens on the Buffalo Bills is going to do for Lee Evans. I imagine it means that Lee Evans will have fewer receptions, but probably have more big plays. (That’s because he’ll have single coverage more often, and therefore should be able to break free more often.) You can expect to get a less consistent performance from Lee Evans in 2009, though bigger games when he does have big plays. Of course, this isn’t a 1-to-1 ratio. It’s possible that T.O. on the Buffalo Bills makes the offense so much better that Lee Evans’ has better numbers and Terrell Owens still sees all the production he wants. A third option is that Lee Evens still gets double-teamed. One scout who watched films of the Dallas Cowboys’ games last year said that Terrell Owens was being double-teamed an average of 19 pass plays per game at the start of the 2009 NFL Season, but only 7 pass plays per game by the end of the 2009 NFL Season. That means people were stopping T.O. without doubleteaming him, which means that teams still might see Lee Evans as the more dangerous player. Stay tuned, but I’m assuming Terrell Owens gets most of the early attention.
Jerricho Cotchery – New York Jets – Looks like Jerricho Cotchery is the main main with the New York Jets these days. That might be a mixed blessing for Jerricho Cotchery, because he gets more attention from the defense, while at the same time has to put up with the growing pains of a rookie quarterback with Mark Sanchez. This could set up a tough year for Jerricho Cotchery and charges that he can’t step up to be the #1 guy. On the other hand, the NY Jets are going to be behind a whole lot this first season of Rex Ryan’s and Mark Sanchez’s New York City careers, so Cotchery might be getting a lot of numbers in 4th quarter trash time.
Donnie Avery – St. Louis Rams – Donnie Avery looked for a time last year to be an emerging stud receiver, then he disappeared for six weeks. That’s understandable as a rookie receiver on one of the NFL’s worst offenses last year. The Rams are constantly undermanned, even when they aren’t injured. But with Torry Holt gone in free agency, Donnie Avery is going to be the team’s main wide receiver option for the foreseeable future. There are only 32 #1 receivers in the NFL and a #1 receiver is always worth having on your team, even if he’s sitting on your bench. Grab Donnie Avery for his upside, but don’t depend on him, unless injuries force it. Given that he has a veteran quarterback in Bulger and the Rams could be throwing the ball a lot this year (after Steven Jackson inevitably gets hurt), Donnie Avery could put up some decent come-from-behind offensive numbers.
Santana Moss – Washington Redskins – Every time I count Santana Moss out, he puts up a good half-season. Given that the Washington Redskins spent two 2nd-round picks in a receiver-heavy 2008 NFL Draft on wide receivers (Devon Thomas, Malcolm Kelly), I expected Santana Moss, or at least Antwaan Randle-El, would be phased out. Both Thomas and Kelly are big receivers, but the smaller Santana Moss put up a big first half of 2008. One of these years, I’m going to be right, but Santana Moss is still the best receiver on the Washington Redskins right now, so he deserves this spot on the list.
Anthony Gonzales – Indianapolis Colts – Anthony Gonzales has shown flashes of being a solid starting wide receiver for the Indianapolis Colts. As a former late 1st round pick, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be. Heck, with Peyton Manning throwing Anthony Gonzales balls and Reggie Wayne taking the double-coverage, Anthony Gonzales should be ready to surge in 2009. That’s if he has what it takes. I’m suggesting that Anthony Gonzales will either step up this year and become a solid 2nd-tier receiver, or the talk will begin that the Colts need to find another starting wideout.
Devin Hester – Chicago Bears – I never thought I would consider Devin Hester a legitimate fantasy football receiver. But after the Bears gave him a chance to play WR full time last year, Devin Hester caught more than 50 balls – which was more than any other wide receiver on the team. The Bears’ receiving corps doesn’t look any more accomplished this year and someone’s going to catch balls from Jay Cutler, so until we learn more about these Bears WRs who played at Vanderbilt with Cutler, I’ll suggest you draft Devin Hester on a flier.
Torry Holt – Jacksonville Jaguars – I wonder if Torry Holt isn’t on the verge of being a fantasy non-factor, especially now that he’s gone to a team that plays its games on grass. It seems sacrilege that Torry Holt should play anywhere but turf, given that his game was always about lightning speed and sharp routes. But at this point in the draft, I would be willing to give this Hall of Fame type receiver one more chance to prove himself.
Percy Harvin – Minnesota Vikings – A lot of NFL Draft experts and scouts thought Percy Harvin was a steal for the Minnesota Vikings in the 2009 NFL Draft. Percy Harvin is a potential game-breaking player, who will play some wide receiver and running back with the Vikings – as he did with the Florida Gators on their two recent National Championship teams. In fact, there are indications that Percy Harvin will take the ball on a direct snap at times. Harvin’s only 185 pounds or so, so don’t expect he’ll do this often. Percy Harvin had trouble keeping his ankles healthy in college, so you get an injury warning on Harvin. Still, this kid could be a huge difference maker in games for the Minnesota Vikings this year.
Jeremy Maclin – Philadelphia Eagles – Some experts were surprised the Philadelphia Eagles selected Jeremy Maclin in the NFL Draft, as he has certain skills similar to DeSean Jackson. Maclin has game-breaking speed, doesn’t run "mature" NFL routes and doesn’t like going across the middle. He should give the Eagles some big plays, but it’s uncertain whether Jeremy Maclin becomes an immediate star like Desean Jackson.
Michael Crabtree – San Francisco 49ers – Michael Crabtree is worth a flier at some point in the draft, just on the chance that he is one of those standout rookie wide receivers. I’m still not sold on Michael Crabtree as the next big NFL wideout, but Crabtree becomes worth a shot once you get into the part of the fantasy football draft where you’re drafting guys you pretty well know won’t be elite. The San Francisco 49ers passing attack was actually viable at times last year, so if they get an upgrade with Michael Crabtree, you just never know.
Top Fantasy Football Tight Ends of 2009
I didn’t include a “Top 10 Tight Ends” list, because I don’t think there are ten tight ends worthy of such a selection this year. After you get out of the first 6 or 7 tight ends, I think you have a glut that are all about the same.
Grab Daniel Owens, Todd Heap, John Carlson or Martellus Bennett and hope for the best. Note that I had Kellen Winslow II as #101, but the combination of injury concerns and possible rookie quarterback throwing to him made me wonder if Kellen Winslow would have his best year in 2009.
If you’ve loaded up on RBs and WRs and you’re looking for a tight end, then Kellen Winslow or Vernon Davis are the next ones I would suggest, though. At least they have upside.
Antonio Gates – San Diego Chargers – Antonio Gates fought through a toe injury sustained in the playoffs two years ago to post another productive year in ’08. The San Diego Chargers look like they have a highly productive quarterback in Philip Rivers, so there’s no reason to assume Gates won’t be one of the best tight ends again this year. In fact, if Antonio Gates is a year removed from the toe injury, he might be healthier and better than last year. At the same time, Antonio Gates is reaching that age where injury could happen with more freqency, so I would probably take Jason Witten over Gates this year.
Jason Witten – Dallas Cowboys – Jason Witten was on a crazy pace last year before he sustained a myriad of nagging injuries and before Tony Romo missed several games himself. In fact, Jason Witten was productive enough that Terrell Owens took offense, (wrongly) stating that Romo looked at Witten more often than himself. With T.O. gone, there’s no reason to assume Jason Witten won’t be a first glance receiver for Tony Romo, especially if Witten stays relatively healthy. Still, if Roy Williams falls flat as the team’s #1 receiver, Jason Witten might have to contend with double coverage a great deal more this year. I’d still consider him the #1 tight end to draft, though.
Tony Gonzales – Atlanta Falcons – Tony Gonzales had one of his best statistical years in 2008, despite getting deep into his thirties. This year, Gonzo is an Atlanta Falcons tight end, with Matt Ryan lining up to throw him the ball. Given his age and the new situation, I’ll leave him about where I would over the past few seasons: behind Witten and Gates. You never know about the chemistry situation with a new offense or quarterback, but I would assume the Falcons traded for Tony Gonzales to use him – a lot.
Chris Cooley – Washington Redskins – Chris Cooley has gotten off to relatively slow starts these past two years, only to come on strong in the second half of the year. Even adapting to a new offense in 2008, Chris Cooley had a very productive year. After Gates, Witten and Gonzales, I would take Chris Cooley and feel comfortable he’ll give you good numbers at tight end.
Dallas Clark – Indianapolis Colts – Dallas Clark often is forgotten on draft day. I’m not saying he’s not drafted; Clark is usually drafted in the top half of drafts. I’m saying that the pick generally doesn’t get much comment or notice, though Dallas Clark has been a solid tight end for years now. Dallas Clark should continue to get balls from Peyton Manning, especially with Marvin Harrison gone, Reggie Wayne approaching 30 years of age and Joseph Addai an injury risk. Dallas Clark doesn’t excite me at TE, but he’s a solid choice after the “exciting” guys are off the draft board.
Greg Olsen – Chicago Bears – Early word out of the Chicago Bears’ camp is that Jay Cutler’s favorite target is Greg Olsen. With Olsen coming into his 3rd year in the NFL, this could be the year "it all clicks" and Greg Olsen becomes an elite tight end in this league. Even with Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman throwing him the ball, Greg Olsen has shown promising moments and had nice games his first two years. Once you get past the 4-5 known productive veterans, I would suggest you go for the high upside Greg Olsen with Cutler throwing to him.