With draft season of the second most popular sport in America on the horizon I thought it would be a good idea to shine the football shaped batsignal and assemble the fantasy football roundtable. Let me introduce the panel:
Jeff Brenner: 2006 champion of the annual league that I play in. He made a gutsy play that year in the championship week by picking up Ron Dayne. I’m fairly confident that JB wrote him a thank you letter after his 153/2 performance in week 16. Jeff co hosted In The Bleachers with me for over a year and is a diehard Philadelphia Eagles fan.
Scott Orazi: Scott has been on the cusp of fantasy glory in three leagues but hasn’t been able to bring home the big prize. He’s a lifelong Steelers who has their iconic logo tattooed on his body. That is dedication. He’s also the lead singer of the rock band Deadwing.
Scott Dargis: As I walked out of my ’07 draft I said out loud “I’ll see one of you guys in the championship.” I’ve always had bad experiences with being over confident in fantasy sports, so that’s why I’ll stay silent 93% of the time. But that year I couldn’t resist after drafting these seven players (in order): Tomlinson, Jones-Drew, Carson Palmer, Anquan Boldin, Adrian Peterson (5th round his rookie year), Braylon Edwards (my favorite player that year), Vincent Jackson, Wes Welker in the 14th round! I ended up losing in the semifinals thanks to the 35 mph winds in Cincinnati destroying the Bengals passing game plan that day.
Every player that I had highlighted in my notes fell into my lap that night; I remember that draft vividly. I wanted to do this roundtable to help out the masses as they go through their books or notes with a highlighter.
Let the roundtable triple threat begin!
Two sleepers who you’re fond of this season:
SD: 1.) I’m not buying into the Jay Gruden RBBC rumors this season, which is why I love “the judge” Benjarvus Green-Ellis. I do think that Bernard Scott will cut somewhat into Green-Eillis’s total potential, but it’s hard for me picture Scott taking too much off of Ellis’s plate. The Bengals were hella awful it their ability to punch the ball in the endzone within the red zone last season. Scott led the team with two (TWO!) touchdowns in that category last season, so to say that Cincinnati addressed a huge need in the offseason by signing The Judge might be the understatement of the year. He’s coming off back to back double digit touchdown seasons and finally has the chance to be the lead rusher in a more balanced offense that is highly underrated. If Andy Dalton avoids the sophomore jinx and improves, Green-Ellis’s ceiling jumps up to the top 15 at the RB postition. That’s the kind of value in the middle of the draft that will win you a championship.
2.) I’m tempted to put either Demaryius Thomas, or Julio Jones here, but to me those guys don’t qualify as sleepers, they’re breakout candidates. Same goes for Eric Decker, so how about Titus Young. He reaped the benefits of a full year from Matthew Stafford racking up a 45/607/6 stat line in his rookie season. The only thing that he didn’t do last season was have a 100 yd game, which I think he’ll accomplish by week 3 (Detroit’s first three opponents: STL, @SF, @TEN). I also don’t think that Nate Burleson will hold onto the second receiver spot on the depth chart for very long, but even so the Lions ran three, four, or five wide receiver sets a whopping 74.8 percent of the time.
The DeSean Jackson comparison is fair because of their size and skill set, but I think Young has better hands than D-Jax and while someone will take DeSean in the 5th round, you can comfortably grab Young in the 9th round, again those are the types of high value low risk picks that will help you in your quest for fantasy glory.
JB: 1.) RB Ryan Williams, ARI – This Hokie product was drafted early in the 2011 2nd round and before the season started found himself on IR with a torn patellar tendon. In his sophomore (and last) year of college, Williams totaled 1,655 rushing yards and an amazing 21 rushing touchdowns. Combine that success with Beanie Wells’ paper mache body and Kevy Kolb’s love for the dump off pass, Williams could find himself being the sleeper or hot-add of the year.
2.) WR Brandon LaFell, CAR – The speedy 3rd year receiver from LSU will make a name for himself on the back of superman, QB Cam Newton. LaFell had a couple of fairly productive games in 2011 and at season’s end found himself 10th overall in yards per catch. I’m not necessarily a believer of WR’s blossoming in year three, but I will admit that at least once a year an under the radar WR steps up in their third year.
Jeff’s other sleepers: RB Mark Ingram NO, TE Jared Cook TEN, WR Stephen Hill NYJ, WR Kendall Wright TEN.
SO: 1.) There’s one receiver I immediately gravitate towards when I think “sleeper”. That’s Robert Meachem. After signing a 4-year contract with San Diego, Robert finds himself as Rivers’ new #1 target. Last year with Marques Colston, Lance Moore, and Jimmy Graham getting plenty of looks, he still managed over 600yds, 6 TDs and averaged over 15yds per reception. Despite all of his recent mistakes Rivers has managed to muster up over 4,000 yds the last 4 seasons. So if Meachem is still around by rounds 6 or 7, which he most likely will be, scoop him up and never look back!
2.) The second sleeper pick was a tough one, but I settled with my boy Antonio Brown. As a Steelers fan I felt compelled to pick him, but look at the finish to the 2011 season. With Mike Wallace along side of him, he still caught for over 1000yds and 16yds per catch. With noting positive on the horizon for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ backfield, and a new offensive coordinator in Todd Haley, Big Ben will most likely be airing it out even more frequently then the last few seasons. I should add that Brown will be returning punts this year, and in leagues that award for return yards or TDs, he could be one of the most productive players at any position left in the 10th round of the draft.
Two players that you foresee being busts:
SD: 1.) Mark me down as a non believer in Marshawn Lynch (I felt this way before his possible suspension). First let me put down all of the arguments for him: he’s the last of the workhorses. In seven of his last nine games last season he finished with 100+ yards and scored nine times. He’s viewed as the focal point of the offense even with offseason wunderkind Matt Flynn coming in.
Here’s why I think he’ll be a bust: He’s the focal point of the offense now. Defense coordinators will plan their schemes around him. Last year he averaged 102.7 rushing yards in seven games against non-top 10 defenses, but against top 10 defenses he only mustered 60.6 yards. Finally with Flynn projected as the starting QB, head coach Pete Carroll will want to throw the ball more this season to not only justify the Flynn signing, but Sidney Rice’s contract last year.
2.) Dez Bryant (sorry Marc). This is the classic case of a guy who possess an all world talent, but has no idea or concept of just how lucky he is to have the opportunity to not only play in the NFL, but for one of the most cherished franchises in American sports. Usually the third year is the breakout year for wide receivers. The third year myth is the reason why I own a Braylon Edwards Cleveland Browns jersey (other examples Javon Walker in ’02, Roddy White in ’05, Greg Jennings in ’06, Sidney Rice in ’07, Kenny Britt if he doesn’t tear his ACL and MCL last year). By all means this should be the year that Dez is taken in the fourth round with confidence and many will do just that (barring a suspension for his hat throwing incident), but I’m not so sure it’s a wise move.
He’s taken the “lazy but talented” motto from Nike to heart, it shows in his route running ability. Make no mistake about it Dez has the dangerous combination of size, vertical height, and hands to be a stud this year, but remember that Dallas’s passing offense runs through Jason Witten and when he’s healthy Miles Austin. If you go back and watch film from Austin’s breakout year in 2009 look at Romo’s confidence when throwing to him. Tony knows where Miles is going to be and that stems from hard work put in during practices, we’ll see if the same can be said for Dez this season.
JB: 1.) QB Peyton Manning, DEN- I love Peyton and he will be a first ballot HOFer, but why he chose Denver I’ll never know. Although DeMaryus Thomas was drafted before the mother beater, I mean Dez Bryant, Denver has NO legitimate receiving threats. That’s one thing Skip Bayless has gotten right about his Tebow deal. Anyway, I expect career lows for Peyton this year due to stiff division competition, a stiff neck, and a roster full of stiffs.
2.) RB Darren Sproles, NO – Mighty mouse will be broken in half, (see DeSean Jackson vs. Atlanta in 2010). Despite Sproles’ ability to change the dynamic of a game with his quick bursts and PPR value, I believe injuries or the emergence of RB Mark Ingram will do in Sproles.
Jeff’s other busts: WR Greg Jennings GB, RB Maurice Jones-Drew JAX, WR Pierre Garcon WAS. (Editor’s note: The only reason Jennings is on this list is because two years ago Jeff drafted Vincent Jackson instead of Jennings in the 4th round, it was the year Jackson sat out until week 10.)
SO: 1.) I consider a “bust” to be a player expected to go early (1st, 2nd, or 3rd round) and doesn’t produce accordingly. So my first bust will be Chris Johnson. CJ2K most likely won’t repeat the worst season of his career, however since his 2009 season (in which he adopted the “2K”) he has steadily declined in all statistics, including how often he touches the ball. How can he be a second round back if the offensive coordinator for the Titans (Chris Palmer) “envisions an offense that would see Johnson touch the ball much less than 25 times a game”? Palmer stated also that the Titans offense is one that has adapted to how defenses stack the box against Johnson. If Kenny Britt can stop getting arrested and keep his knees healthy, the outlook is even worse for CJ. Did I mention he’s also attempting to play this year 8lbs heavier than last? There are plenty more backs on the board who will produce better than Johnson.
2.) My second bust wasn’t hard due to me being an AFC North guy all my life… Trent Richardson. On the Browns’ 30th ranked scoring offense, Richardson seems to be a glimmer of hope. Hope will not get you far in 4 of the 16 games, in which TR will have to face the #1 and #2 ranked rushing defenses in the league. He will be a fun young player to watch, but don’t expect a first (Editor’s note: or second, or third) round RB type of a season from the rookie.
Will Jay Cutler finish the season with better stats than Philip Rivers?
SD: Yes, I thought the Bears were trending towards being a dangerous team in the playoffs last season before Cutler went down with a thumb injury after week 11. It’s a shame too because that was the type of breakout performance that can propel a team down the stretch.
The reunion of not only Cutler and Brandon Marshall, but Cutler and his former QB coach in Denver (Jeremy Bates) will pay instant dividends for his fantasy owners this season. Don’t get me wrong I like Philip Rivers this season: Malcom Floyd will be a legitimate downfield threat, Antonio Gates still suits up with Bolts on his shoulders and Ryan Matthews might as well be wearing a “Hi, I’m LaDainian Tomlinson lite” shirt, but I think this is the year Cutler gives the Bears a legitimate passing threat. I feel like I’m forgetting something… Oh yeah! He has a happy Matt Forte, only one of the best multipurpose backs in the league.
JB: This is quite a comparison between these two similarly hotheaded QB’s: after enjoying a steady incline of passing statistics through 2006-2010, Philip Rivers’ 2011 ended on a lower side (still 4,600 yards). Rivers threw a career high 20 interceptions in 11’ (compared to 9 in 2010 and 13 in 2011) and following the season lost the now extremely wealthy WR Vincent Jackson to Tampa Bay. San Diego hasn’t exactly addressed the air game, yet instead banking on either WR Vincent Brown or the old TE Antonio Gates to emerge. Deep threat WR Robert Meachem will only help Bill Rivers’ case. Now take a look at Bears QB Jay Cutler and you’ll find wacko WR Brandon Marshall and in my opinion not much else. Look for Jay Cutler to air it out and hope that he once again is the beneficiary of a stout Bears D. To answer your question however, I expect Rivers to outpace the annual preseason darling, Cutler.
SO: This was a tough decision given the fact that Cutler will have a resigned, content Matt Forte behind him. He’s being reunited with Brandon Marshall, someone who he connected with over 100 times in two seasons while at Denver. I know that’s not much reason to pick him over Rivers, which is why I am not. This is Rivers’ year to put to rest the thought that he will never be what he was expected to be. Rivers is still a 4000yrd+ QB even through some tougher seasons. Having a normal offseason without a lockout, plus the addition of Robert Meachem makes a world of difference. Gates, at the age of 32, is still chugging along for the Chargers. He also plans to drop weight, which he feels will improve on the career lows of last season. With Ryan Matthews settling in and becoming the main back in San Diego, Rivers can rest easy knowing he has a young back to rely on. When it comes to fantasy and regular season statistics, I believe Rivers will top Cutler, however that’s not to say Cutler won’t go further in the post season.
Name one injured player from last season who will have a comeback of the year type of season:
SD: Is Andre Johnson capable of winning this award? If so he’s my choice. Last year he suffered the flukiest of injuries in week 4, which knocked him out of 9 of the next 12 games. He returned with a vengeance in the playoffs (vs. CIN 5/90/1 and 8/111 @BAL). After getting healthy in the offseason I expect that Andre to surface in the upcoming season. Houston is a legitimate Super Bowl contender if he’s on the field.
JB: Time for my obligatory Philadelphia Eagles point, I see DeSean Jackson really establishing the deep ball connection to QB Michael Vick. Before I explain that selection, allow me to illustrate how I believe the Eagles will design their game plan to win football games. The Eagles are built to strike early and often through the air, more specifically, Mornhinweg and Reid will call in “Da Bomb” to Vick more often this season. That brilliant NFL Blitz play is tailor made for Jackson’s speed and Vick’s arm. Once the Eagles gain the lead, they will churn out victories with Shady pounding the rock and on defense, simply get after the quarterback. In this league you pass to get ahead and then run to win, so with this 2012 Eagles’ team Jackson really needs to be that consistent outlet down the field as well as in the mid-range. With a newly signed multiyear deal for the previously unhappy WR diva, Jackson has no excuse this season to not finish having a top 15 WR season, except a lack of talent.
SO: “When they take the cape off me, I’m ready to go. I’m ready to put my cleats back on and punish everybody in my way.” These are the words of Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. He wants to remind people he is still a deadly back in the NFL. He is still a 25 year old, hungry player who averages over 6 yrds a carry. And let’s not forget his ability to catch the ball. As long as he is cleared and can practice with the team full time during camp, he will have what many will consider THE comeback season this year.
Come the end of the season who will be the number one ranked quarterback?
SD: Tom Brady. The addition of Brandon Lloyd will add a genuine threat on the sidelines. The two tight end system of Gronk and Hernandez will combine for gaudy numbers and Wes Welker will yet again be a top 10 WR.
JB: Tom Brady. If Wes “f@#$ng” Welker catches that ball in the Super Bowl I’d win… No, but really, if Welker holds on Brady/Belichick have 4 rings and Brady potentially would have had the best season ever on record combining his 5,000+ yards and a Super Bowl ring. This year, I think he repeats his performance with the tight ends and now WR Brandon Lloyd.
SO: Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay’s backfield is thin, they have offensive line concerns. And yet there is no doubt that this guy will continue to pump out TD’s with little mistake.
SD: I’m tempted to put Chris Johnson just so I feel better about the idea of keeping him, but my choice is Ray Rice. He’s the heart and soul of the Ravens offense and will not have a dud game all season. It still amazes me that he’s a popular number one overall pick in fantasy leagues this season, but he’s well deserving of that title.
JB: Arian Foster. Foster began his 2011 season with injury concerns and finished the year as strong as ever. Despite Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, and Matt Leinart missing time with injury, Foster carried the Texans to the playoffs and nearly upset the Ravens on the road. The man is built like the guys from “The Lord’s Force” and will finish this year on a remarkable three year run for any RB in recent memory. (Editor’s note, Priest Holmes is yelling out don’t forget about me!!!)
SO: Arian Foster without a doubt. This guy, if healthy, can strike fear in the hearts of even the toughest defenses. He is a receiving threat as well as the most dangerous back on the ground. With over 600 yards in the air in each of his last two seasons, he remains one of the most versatile backs in the league. With the lack of depth at WR for Houston, look out for this guy to average over 100yds a game on the ground, and possibly have his best receiving season thus far.
SD: Calvin Johnson, I’m far more interested in who will finish as the 2nd ranked WR.
JB: Calvin Johnson. Simply no reason to outsmart myself here.
SO: Is this any easier of a pick? I mean Larry Fitz himself said that Calvin Johnson is a better pick than he, due to the QB woes in Arizona. If Kurt Warner dropped from NFL GameDay Morning and decided to suit up, then Larry might stand a chance at this pick. Megatron will finish with the best stat line in the WR position, especially if Stafford can stay healthy again.
SD: It’s Gronk’s world and we’re just living in it.
JB: Rob Gronkowski. If my prediction for Tom Brady is correct, (found above) Gronkowski will also repeat his astounding 2011.
SO: I’ll have what Gronk’s having!
Name a young player who won’t live up to the offseason hype
SD: Can I say Dez Bryant again? No, ok then I’ll say Trent Richardson. Everyone in the fantasy community has been blinded by the fact that there is a new workhorse back on the block, but let’s not gloss over the fact that the Browns play against two of the top defenses (PIT,BAL) in 3 out of 4 games during the fantasy calendar. I’m a big Brandon Weeden fan, but with the vertical options severely lacking the box is going to get stacked against Richardson in every game.
JB: The entire 2010 RB Draft Class. Ryan Mathews and CJ Spiller both were drafted in the top 12 of that draft and both enter 2012 with lofty expectations. Mathews has been receiving the bulk of the fantasy offseason hype, main reason being….Chargers head coach Norv Turners’ word? Mathews had a few huge games that would classify being outliers (137 yds – a full 5 quarter affair week 12 vs. Denver Tebows) and he also posted decent RB receiving numbers. Having said that, I believe San Diego will operate a pass-heavy offense and Mathews will be outclassed by fellow AFC West backs such as Jamaal Charles and Darren McFadden. Expect production eerily similar to 2011 and at least 2-4 weeks missed due to injury for Ryan Mathews. Quick mention on Spiller: uh, no. I’ll take my chances with comeback candidate (?) Fred Jackson. Another note, Jahvid Best also drafted in the first round in 2010.
SO: RG3… That’s right, I said it. The fact that NFL.com ranked him above Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Big Ben AND Jay Cutler makes this a plausible “rookie letdown”. Santana Moss? Pierre Garcon??? What success can this 22 yr old boy have in that system, surpassing that of these men. HE HASN’T EVEN PLAYED A GAME IN THIS LEAGUE YET!!! He is a kid who just got a boat load of money thrown at him… he needs time to acclimate himself to this new lifestyle both on and off the field. Give him a year or two in this game before we talk top 15 QB. Let him get hit his bell rung a few times. Let him read veteran defenses. Some of these guys have been playing this game at a professional level since the time Robert Griffin III learned how to throw a football.
Name a player that on draft day you’ll reach for and then immediately question if it was a good decision:
SD: If this were a question on a standardized test in school the answer would be D.) B and C are correct.
B.) Anyone who drafts DeMarco Murray better immediately think about drafting Felix Jones by round 11. I watched Murray get injured every year in his three seasons at Oklahoma so it was no surprise to me when he went down last year. He blew me away last year when he was healthy though; it brought back memories of his sophomore season at OU when Brent Musburger called him a future Heisman trophy favorite.
C.) The other correct answer to this question is Vincent Jackson.
JB: Trent Richardson. He was the first guy to pop into my head because as the actual 2012 NFL Draft progressed, I tabbed the 3rd overall pick from Alabama as my first non-keeper pick. To this day I sometimes mull over whether he will be the next Edgerrin James (1999 rookie drafted fourth overall and finished with 1,500 yards and 17 TD’s) or Cedric Benson (2005 rookie drafted fourth overall and finished with 272 yards and 0 TD’s). Obviously Richardson will be finish somewhere in between due to a lackluster Cleveland Brown offense, for better (sole back) or for worse (it’s the browns).
SO: Looking at the long list of players who qualify for this answer, but the one I settle with is AJ Green. When you make a receiver pick, one of the biggest factors must be the man throwing to him. Andy Dalton had a great rookie season, but consistency can’t be determined that quickly. Same goes for Green himself. Will he stay healthy? Has he learned that you have to run routes and not just run by defenders?? Will he lock in with Dalton again?? If I chose AJ Green come draft day, I immediately second guess myself.. and third guess… and fourth guess. (This isn’t to say he won’t have a good season or doesn’t have the potential. That’s the point of this. You make the pick knowing he has every potential to be great. You just worry yourself with the uncertainties.)
*I also would like to nominate Marshawn Lynch… I second guess anyone who eats skittles on the sideline as a reward for a score.
Best draft position?
SD: First. It actually sucks drafting one player and then having to wait as 19 more go off of the board before you pick again, but there is nothing like grabbing two players that you’ve been eying up for 7 picks in the 4th and 5th round and then doing it again in the 6th and 7th.
JB: Once you get past the mandatory TE run in the 5-7th rounds, the ends (1 and 10 or 12) are the best draft positions. If you are creative enough, one at either end of the draft can change the whole landscape for remaining owners. Last year in one of my drafts I selected 11th out of 12 and my first three picks read “Vick, Brees, Romo”. After some negotiating I turned Drew Brees into Calvin Johnson. Ironic to the whole point I just made, the guy who I dealt Brees to whooped me in the quarterfinals and stormed off to win the league, as a SIX SEED!
SO: I am going to say 3rd. Here’s why I didn’t say first…. experience. Yeah its great getting t In 4 of the last 5 years playing fantasy football, 1st pick teams have fallen short of even making it to Chip week. Another easy argument to make is, how much better can a number 1 pick be than a number 2 or 3, or even 4? Some guys picked up from the wire can even produce better than a number 1 draft pick, albeit rare. At a position like 3rd, you also don’t have to watch 19 players leave the board before you can make your second pick. Believe it or not a number 9 or 10 pick, in a snake draft of course, can be played strategically enough to raise the argument for “best position”.
Worst draft position?
SD: Seventh aka the death pick. You fall into a tough position in the first round because you either can take a WR, the 4th highest rated RB or a top tier QB (the correct play, so why the hell did I draft Mendenhall over Brady or Brees last year!?). Every pick gets harder and harder because not only do you have to sit through six picks and then six again on the way back.
JB: The worst possible draft position one could get would be selecting 9th with Scott Dargis, Scott Orazi, and Jeff Brenner preceding that pick.
SO: Numbers 6 and 7 are brutal draft positions. Purgatory Picks are what call ‘em. I think the title speaks for itself.
Follow me on twitter @Scottdargis.