Welcome Back, Welcome Back, Welcome Back
My appreciation for fantasy football — the world's most addictive Web-based sports entity that's currently not part of an FBI seizure — has hardly wavered during the NFL lockout, but that's not to say my patience and tolerance for all things pro football haven't been tested in the last eight months. For every missed opportunity to discuss free agency, minicamps and the subsequent mock drafts in fantasy publications, there's been ample time to speculate on labor issues, legal fees and the collective playing fates of Plaxico Burress, Tiki Barber, Terrell Owens and even supplemental draftee-to-be Terrelle Pryor.
But now that we're seemingly on the verge of a CBA resolution between the NFL owners and players, it's time to refocus on the season ahead and unleash the fantasy guru within — you know, that previously sheltered inner being who no longer cares that…
ICONThe return of Tiki Barber will be interesting to watch.
*At the ripen age of 36 and after a four-season hiatus, Barber covets a situational-back role with a contending team.
*Superagent Drew Rosenhaus promises his client (Owens) will be running full speed by August — just a few months after major knee surgery.
*The 33-year-old Burress spent a good chunk of his 'free time' in prison running routes with fellow inmates.
*Brady Quinn clamors for a legitimate opportunity to win the starting QB job in Denver.
The above names may be catnip to Web editors … but in fantasyland, none will likely play a prominent role in your quest for a fantasy championship. Unlike Ryan Williams, Aaron Hernandez and Steve Johnson.
So, with a renewed focus on the fantasy stars of today and tomorrow, let's get rolling on our debut column with the National Football Post.
Take Your Pick
I've got a good news/bad news proposition for those holding the No. 1 or 2 overall picks in standard-scoring fantasy drafts: On the positive, you absolutely cannot fail with your choice at the top, barring injury. On the negative side, the guy/gal holding the No. 6 pick has a 50-50 chance of ultimately landing the better player.
For those who believe that championship teams are built with running backs, say hello to The Big Six for 2011: Adrian Peterson (1,298 rushing yards, 12 TDs last year), Chris Johnson (one season removed from 2,509 total yards), Arian Foster (last season's NFL rushing champ), LeSean McCoy (this year's Foster?), Ray Rice (a PPR dynamo and double-digit TD threat) and my man-crush for three years running, Jamaal Charles. Each back possesses the capacity for 2,000 total yards and/or 14 touchdowns … and yet, it's impossible to gauge which one is the dominant workhorse right now. Simply put, if you were to throw the names of the six players in a hat and draw a random order 20 times, for each conclusion, there'd be no wrong answer; consequently, every outcome would be right, as well.
That isn't to say each frog prince doesn't come without warts: How would Peterson (Christian Ponder) and/or Johnson (Jake Locker) succeed with heralded, yet traditionally shaky rookie QBs getting at least 12 starts? Is Foster due for an unavoidable letdown after last year's unexpected magic (2,220 total yards, 18 TDs)? How can McCoy dominate the fantasy scene in Philly … while sharing the real-world spotlight with QB Michael Vick, TE Brent Celek and receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin? And shouldn't Charles start at least 50 percent of Chiefs games before ruling the top of fantasy draft boards?
Hmmmm, that last comment about J-Charles seems a little nitpicky. After all, who cares if a healthy lock for 1,600 rushing yards, 55 catches and 9-plus touchdowns gets his name called in pregame introductions?
On June 23, a group of fantasy experts (Tony Holm, John Tuvey, Matt Schauf, Allie Fontana, Jason Sarney, among others) stared the treacherous Lockout Beast in the face and executed a 16-round mock draft for Points Per Reception leagues — an unenviable task given the inordinate number of question marks at wide receiver right now. Here's a rundown of my team (No. 6 pick):
Round 1: RB Ray Rice, Ravens (you can't go wrong with any of the Big Six)
Round 2: RB Peyton Hillis, Browns (surprised everyone with 61 catches last year)
Round 3: QB Drew Brees, Saints (the perfect pre-lockout, uh, lock, at pick No. 30)
Round 4: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants (a leap of faith for 55 catches/11 TDs in 2011)
Can Lloyd duplicate last year's production?
Round 5: WR Brandon Lloyd, Broncos (averaged 5 catches/88 yards/.66 TDs in Tim Tebow's three rookie starts)
Round 6: WR Percy Harvin, Vikings (a healthy cinch for 75 catches/6 TDs, regardless of Minny's QB)
Round 7: WR Mario Manningham, Giants
Round 8: WR Malcom Floyd, Chargers (a stronger fantasy asset if he signs with the Pats this summer)
Round 9: RB Pierre Thomas, Saints (may have to fill Reggie Bush's PPR shoes this season)
Round 10: WR Hines Ward, Steelers (easily the best No. 6 receiver of any team in this league)
Round 11: RB Reggie Bush, Saints (could be PPR gold if he lands with another team, like Miami)
Round 12: RB DeMarco Murray, Cowboys (could be a starting tailback by October)
Round 13: D/ST New England Patriots
Round 14: PK Nate Kaeding, Chargers
Round 15: TE Dustin Keller, Jets (outside of Gates/Witten/Davis, I'm tempted to wait until Round 15 to grab a tight end in all 12-teamers)
Round 16: QB Alex Smith, 49ers (assuming the free-agent-to-be will still be San Fran's starter)
The Great 48
Here's a full listing of the June 23 mock draft, Rounds 1-4:
1. Arian Foster, Texans
2. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
3. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
McCoy caught 78 passes with the Eagles last season.
4. LeSean McCoy, Eagles
5. Chris Johnson, Titans
6. Ray Rice, Ravens (my pick)
7. Andre Johnson, Texans
8. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
9. Calvin Johnson, Lions
10. Frank Gore, 49ers
11. Roddy White, Falcons
12. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
13. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
14. Hakeem Nicks, Giants
15. Philip Rivers, Chargers
16. Steven Jackson, Rams
17. Greg Jennings, Packers
ICONIs McFadden ready for big things?
18. Darren McFadden, Raiders
19. Peyton Hillis, Browns (my pick)
20. Matt Forte, Bears
21. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
22. Michael Turner, Falcons
23. Reggie Wayne, Colts
24. Michael Vick, Eagles
25. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
26. Wes Welker, Patriots
27. DeSean Jackson, Eagles
28. Ryan Mathews, Chargers
29. Vincent Jackson, Chargers
ICONBrees and the Saints are ready to make another run at the Vince Lombardi trophy.
30. Drew Brees, Saints (my pick)
31. Mike Wallace, Steelers
32. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers
33. Jahvid Best, Lions
34. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
35. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
36. Miles Austin, Cowboys
37. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles
38. Peyton Manning, Colts
39. Marques Colston, Saints
ICONHow will Mike Williams follow up his breakout rookie season?
40. Mike Williams, Buccaneers
41. Dez Bryant, Cowboys
42. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins
43. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants (my pick)
44. Austin Collie, Colts
45. Antonio Gates, Chargers
46. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers (?)
47. Jermichael Finley, Packers
48. Shonn Greene, Jets
In Case You're Wondering …
Tom Brady — the top dog of the NFL Network's player rankings — went 55th overall in the PPR draft. Perhaps more stunning, Cowboys QB Tony Romo went three picks ahead of Brady.
Before You Dismiss Chad Henne …
Keep in mind that Henne, despite a pitiful 15-to-19 TD/INT ratio and 10 games with zero or one TD pass, was only one of six quarterbacks (Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub, Carson Palmer, Mark Sanchez, Ryan Fitzpatrick) to attempt 44 or more passes in at least three games last season. That figure is bolstered by Henne (32.6 pass attempts in 15 starts) and the Dolphins incurring only four blowout losses in 2010 (nine points or more).
As my halcyon days with Sports Illustrated would attest, I'm available to answer your fantasy-related questions or Tweets, night and day. And as part of that process, I'll be posting the best questions in this space for every Friday column — all the way into the fantasy-playoff days of late December. So feel free to reach me, via Twitter.
Choose Your Quarterback
For those with plans on drafting Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger with consecutive picks — say Rounds 5 and 6 — here's a week-to-week breakdown of which star shall shine brighter on any given Sunday:
Week 1 – Roethlisberger (@ Baltimore) over Romo (@ N.Y. Jets)
ICONRomo's back from a season-ending injury and is ready to lead a loaded Dallas offense.
Week 2 – Roethlisberger (vs. Seattle) over Romo (@ San Francisco)
Week 3 – Romo (vs. Washington) over Roethlisberger (@ Indianapolis)
Week 4 – Roethlisberger (@ Houston) over Romo (vs. Detroit)
Week 5 – Roethlisberger (vs. Tennessee) over Romo (BYE)
Week 6 – Roethlisberger (vs. Jacksonville) over Romo (@ New England)
Week 7 – Romo (vs. St. Louis) over Roethlisberger (@ Arizona)
Week 8 – Roethlisberger (vs. New England) over Romo (@ Philadelphia)
Week 9 – Romo (vs. Seattle) over Roethlisberger (vs. Baltimore)
Week 10 – Romo (vs. Buffalo) over Roethlisberger (@ Cincinnati)
Week 11 – Romo (@ Washington) over Roethlisberger (BYE)
Week 12 – Romo (vs. Miami) over Roethlisberger (@ Kansas City)
Week 13 – Romo (@ Arizona) over Roethlisberger (vs. Cincinnati)
Week 14 – Roethlisberger (vs. Cleveland) over Romo (vs. N.Y. Giants)
Week 15 – Romo (@ Tampa Bay) over Roethlisberger (@ San Francisco)
Week 16 – Romo (vs. Philadelphia) over Roethlisberger (vs. St. Louis)
Week 17 – Roethlisberger (@ Cleveland) over Romo (@ N.Y. Giants)?Final Tally: Romo wins, 9-8
Here are the 32 wideouts to reach the century mark in receiving targets last year. It goes without saying: If you're seeking quality choices for Points Per Reception league drafts, bookmark this link as part of that preparation:
1. Roddy White, Falcons — 179 targets
2. Reggie Wayne, Colts — 176 targets
3. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals — 173 targets
4. Brandon Lloyd, Broncos — 153 targets
5. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins — 146 targets
6. Santana Moss, Redskins — 145 targets
7. Steve Johnson, Bills — 142 targets
8. Terrell Owens, Bengals — 139
9. Andre Johnson, Texans — 138
10. Calvin Johnson, Lions — 137
Will Dwayne Bowe continue to build on last year's momentum?
11. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs — 133
12. Marques Colston, Saints — 131
13. Hakeem Nicks, Giants — 128
14. Mike Williams, Bucs — 128
15. Chad Ochocinco, Bengals — 126
16. Greg Jennings, Packers — 124
17. Danny Amendola, Rams — 123
18. Wes Welker, Patriots — 123
19. Davone Bess, Dolphins — 122
20. Miles Austin, Cowboys — 119
21. Pierre Garcon, Colts — 118
22. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles — 115
23. Jabar Gaffney, Broncos — 112
24. Mike Williams, Seahawks — 110
25. Anquan Boldin, Ravens — 109
26. Percy Harvin, Vikings — 109
27. Eddie Royal, Broncos — 105
28. Mike Wallace, Steelers — 102
29. Michael Crabtree, 49ers — 101
30. Braylon Edwards, Jets — 101
31. Mike Thomas, Jaguars — 101
32. Derrick Mason, Ravens — 100
Cause For Pause
DeSean Jackson may be one of the NFL's most dynamic talents with the ball in his hands … but it's important to note that he was only targeted 6.85 times in 14 games last season. To wit, PPR owners might want to think twice about grabbing D-Jax before Round 4 — especially if Wes Welker, Danny Amendola, Pierre Garcon, Percy Harvin or Jeremy Maclin are still on the board.
Where Mountain Men Runneth, Catcheth
It's never too early to speculate on my top 25 tight ends for 2011, the one position with virtually zero lockout uncertainty:
1. Antonio Gates, Chargers
2. Dallas Clark, Colts
3. Jason Witten, Cowboys
4. Vernon Davis, 49ers
5. Jermichael Finley, Packers
6. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions
7. Kellen Winslow, Jr., Buccaneers
8. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
9. Owen Daniels, Texans
10. Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars
ICONGronkowski scored 10 touchdowns during his rookie season.
11. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
12. Chris Cooley, Redskins
13. Brent Celek, Eagles
14. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots
15. Benjamin Watson, Browns
16. Zach Miller, Raiders
17. Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings
18. Dustin Keller, Jets
19. Heath Miller, Steelers
20. Todd Heap, Ravens
21. Jimmy Graham, Saints
22. Tony Moeaki, Chiefs
23. Jermaine Gresham, Bengals
24. Greg Olsen, Bears
It's All About The Slot: #11
Unless you're absolutely committed to going RB-RB in the first two rounds, there's really no downside to owning the No. 11 pick in 12-team leagues — usually home to the best wide receiver or quarterback options. Here's an excellent pre-lockout strategy for handling the 11th slot:
Round 1, Pick 11: Motive — Best overall player (anything goes after the first five picks)
1st option: RB Darren McFadden, Raiders … 2nd option: QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Round 2, Pick 14 overall: Motive — Best WR/RB/QB available
1st option: WR Andre Johnson, Texans … 2nd option: RB Frank Gore, 49ers
Round 3, Pick 35 overall: Motive — Best RB or WR available
Stewart could be in line for a lot of touches now that DeAngelo Williams is a free agent.
1st option: RB Jonathan Stewart, Panthers … 2nd option: WR Marques Colston, Saints
Round 4, Pick 38 overall: Motive — Best WR/TE/RB available (unless Rivers or Brady lurk)
1st option: QB Tom Brady, Patriots … 2nd option: QB Philip Rivers, Chargers
Round 5, Pick 59 overall: Motive — Best elite running back or tight end
1st option: RB Cedric Benson, Bengals (?) … 2nd option: WR Anquan Boldin, Ravens
Round 6, Pick 62 overall: Motive — Best tight end or top-tier running back
1st option: RB Shonn Greene, Jets … 2nd option: WR Mike Williams, Seahawks
Round 7, Pick 83 overall: Motive — Best WR available (preferably with great upside)
1st option: WR Mario Manningham, Giants … 2nd option: RB Mike Tolbert, Chargers
Round 8, Pick 86 overall: Motive — Best WR/RB available
1st option: WR A.J. Green, Bengals … 2nd option: RB Reggie Bush, Saints (?)
Round 9, Pick 107 overall: Motive — Best tight end available
1st option: TE Brandon Pettigrew, Lions … 2nd option: QB Matt Ryan, Falcons
Round 10, Pick 110 overall: Motive — Best player available
1st option: RB Ryan Torain, Redskins … 2nd option: RB DeMarco Murray, Cowboys
Round 11, Pick 131: Motive — Best player available (includes handcuff options)
1st option: RB Mikel Leshoure, Lions … 2nd option: WR Jerome Simpson, Bengals
Round 12, Pick 134: Motive — Best player available (defenses now eligible)
1st option: D/ST New England Patriots … 2nd option: D/ST Green Bay Packers
Round 13, Pick 155: Motive — Best player available
With Shonn Greene stepping into the starting role, Tomlinson's value will be seriously diminished.
1st option: TE Kellen Winslow, Bucs … 2nd option: RB LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets
Round 14, Pick 158: Motive — Best kicker or D/ST available?1st option: PK Rob Bironas, Titans … 2nd option: PK Josh Brown, Rams
Round 15, Pick 179: Motive — Best WR-with-upside available
1st option: WR Brandon Tate, Patriots … 2nd option: WR Jarret Dillard, Jaguars
Round 16, Pick 182: Motive — Best QB available (no conflicting bye weeks)
1st option: QB Alex Smith, 49ers … 2nd option: QB Donovan McNabb, Vikings (?)
For shots and giggles, let's pretend the players and owners hammer out and ratify a new Collective Bargaining Agreement by July 14, paving the way for a hellacious free-agent frenzy from July 16-29 … before NFL teams open camps sometime around July 28 (the Bears and Rams — the Hall of Fame Game participants — would begin practicing around July 22). All may seem right with the world to the NFL fan — but it still doesn't excuse anyone from rushing into a fantasy-league draft before Aug. 20.
Best-case scenario: Wait until Aug. 29, the day after Week 3 of the preseason, to make your selections. Oh sure, a player is susceptible to injury at any point during July and August … but the odds of that happening — especially after a long lockout — are dramatically less around the garbage-time period of preseason Week 4.
An award-winning fantasy writer with Sports Illustrated (2008-2010) before joining the National Football Post, Jay Clemons' Fantasy Philanthropist Blog can be found here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, beginning July 11. Clemons can be reached, day or night, via Twitter @ATL_JayClemons