Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sporting News Experts Draft -- This time it's for real

Just completed the draft with my fellow Sporting News experts that we'll play out this season. For the first time ever (in my six-year association with the magazine/web site), I had the first pick in the 12-team league.

Here's what I was able to do...

Round 1: Adrian Peterson, RB -- A no brainer, especially considering the worries associated with CJ2K and Arian Foster.

Round 2: Tom Brady, QB -- Rodgers, Rivers and Vick were gone. No complaints here.

Round 3: Steven Jackson, RB -- As I've written, I think S-Jax is a steal in the mid-2nd round or later. He should be huge this year as the workhorse of the Rams' improved offense. My backfield is now stacked.

Round 4: Santonio Holmes, WR, Jets -- The problem with going RB/QB/RB -- especially in a 12-team draft -- is that you miss out on the top-tier wideouts. Holmes was the best WR left on the board, in my opinion.

Round 5: Austin Collie, WR, Colts -- Boom or bust pick. I predict boom.

Round 6: Lance Moore, WR, Saints -- Could be Drew Brees' top receiver this season, especially if Colston isn't fully healthy.

Round 7: Owen Daniels, TE, Texans -- Dallas Clark almost fell to me. I like Daniels in a bounce-back season.

Round 8: Pierre Thomas, RB, Saints -- As much as I think Mark Ingram will dominate, Pierre is still expected to play an important role in New Orleans' offense.

Round 9: James Starks, RB, Packers -- Ryan Grant's starting job is anything but secure. Starks is the guy threatening his security.

Round 10: Johnny Knox, WR, Bears -- I'm expecting him to win back his starting job early on. Won't need him till Week 9, so there's plenty of time for Roy Williams to wear out his welcome.

Round 11: Eagles DST -- The run on elite units had started, and the Eagles are at the top of my rankings.

Round 12: Mike Williams, WR, Seahawks -- Yeah, I know. I wasn't jumping up and down about this pick either. Trust me...the draft board was awfully bare by this point.

Round 13: Kyle Orton, QB, Broncos -- Love him as a backup. I only need him to hold onto the starting job till Week 7 (Brady's bye).

Round 14: Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots -- His teammate Gronkowski almost made it to me. Hernandez is a good consolation prize, especially in a backup TE role.

Round 15: Brandon Gibson, WR, Rams -- I'm actually more excited about Gibson's potential than Williams'; but I figured I could wait until this round to bag him. He should be a starter for Sam Bradford, which makes him a decent WR5 with upside.

Round 16: Stephen Gostkowski, K, Patriots -- One of the very best.

Round 17: Cadillac Williams, RB, Rams -- S-Jax's handcuff.

Roster summary:
QBs - Brady, Orton
RBs - AD, S-Jax, Pierre Thomas, James Starks, Cadillac
WRs - Santonio, Collie, Lance Moore, Knox, Mike Williams (Sea), Gibson
TEs - Owen Daniels, Aaron Hernandez
K - Gostkowski
DST - Eagles

I hate 12-team leagues, because the pickings get so slim by the time you reach the double-digit rounds. But unlike the mock I did with this group a couple weeks ago, I'm pretty pleased with how this draft turned out. Sure, I could use some more WR firepower; but if Collie dominates this year like he did early in 2010 -- and keeps his head clear in the process -- I'll be just fine.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Kickers are people, too!

You shouldn't be using anything higher than a 16th or 17th round (penultimate or last round) pick on any kicker. But when you do pull the trigger, you want to get it right.

There's been some movement at the position over the last 48 hours or so that you should be aware of, especially if you're drafting this week.

1. The Jets have settled on incumbent Nick Folk following his preseason battle with Nick Novak. Folk was the #3 kicker in Fantasyland last season, thanks to New York's good, not great, offense. He is an excellent draft pick, now that any doubts have been removed about his status.

2. The Cowboys now have more kickers in camp than they do QBs, with the recent addition of Dave Rayner (formerly of the Lions, Bengals, Chiefs, Packers and Colts -- all in the past six years!). He'll compete with ex-Bengal and Patriot Shayne Graham, rookie free agent Dan Bailey and incumbent David Buehler. While Graham would appear to have the edge based on his experience, his kickoffs in last weekend's preseason game were not terribly impressive. The fact that the team is looking at Rayner suggests this competition is certainly not settled. Whomever emerges will be a viable fantasy candidate.

3. Garrett Hartley "tweaked" his hip the other day, and now we're hearing that John Kasay is heading to New Orleans. Kasay could be no more than a preseason fill-in while allowing Hartley to rest, or he could stay on for a while longer if Hartley's injury proves to be more serious. Keep this in mind if you're targeting the Saints kicker in your draft.

4. Lawrence Tynes is dealing with a thigh bruise, and he could potentially miss Week 1. Rhys Lloyd is covering for Tynes during the preseason, and would presumably handle the kicking duties until the starter returns. Avoid Tynes for now.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Perfect Draft: Let the domination begin

In a perfect fantasy world, my starting lineup this season would feature Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, Roddy White, Greg Jennings and Antonio Gates. That would be the same perfect world in which my teenagers admit I’m always right, Mila Kunis stalks me and snow would start falling in Dallas today.

Alas, since our fellow owners are unlikely to cede the entire first round to us, we’ll simply have to work smarter to assemble the most dominant team in our league. Our challenge, therefore, is to secure the best value in each round, methodically building a roster that will soar from Week 1, withstand an injury to one or two key players, and peak during the fantasy playoffs.

With that lofty goal in mind, I’ve analyzed the average draft position (ADP) of each player from multiple fantasy sites to determine the best pick in each round – resulting in my oft-imitated, always-controversial, yet magically delicious Perfect Draft.

As always, we start with a few key assumptions. First, we’re in a 10-team non-keeper league using a standard scoring system that starts one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, and one tight end, kicker and team defense. Second, we are drafting from the middle (fifth) position in a snake format, meaning we won’t have a shot at Adrian Peterson or Arian Foster. Third, since all drafts play out differently, we’ll need a little luck along the way. Finally, our goal is nothing short of total domination and the abject humiliation of our opponents.

Now, with the fifth pick of the 2011 Perfect Draft, we select…

Round 1. Chris Johnson, RB, Titans. Worries about his holdout have pushed Johnson’s ADP into the middle of the first round. Frankly, if you can get him here, you can’t pass him up. Johnson could return at a moment’s notice; but even if you have to suffer a Week 1 “bye,” he’s worth it. In point-per-reception leagues, I’m thrilled with LeSean McCoy here, too.

Round 2. Steven Jackson, RB, Rams. For years, Jackson’s production has been limited by the sorry offense surrounding him. But that’s changing. Sure, I hate missing out on Jennings or Hakeem Nicks; but this backfield will pack a wallop.

Round 3. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers. It’s nearly impossible to win a fantasy title without an elite quarterback, and Rivers could vie for top honors this season. It’s remarkable to me that he consistently falls into the mid- to late-third round.

Round 4. Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs. Bowe gets the nod over Mike Williams simply due to his longer track record. He’s not my ideal WR1, but another year like 2010 would change all that.

Round 5. Mark Ingram, RB, Saints. Yes, I’m taking my third RB before my second WR. The talent pool at tailback drops off significantly after this round, while second-tier wideouts remain plentiful. Ingram will be a scoring machine in the Saints’ offense.

Round 6. Anquan Boldin, WR, Ravens. With Lee Evans keeping opposing defenses honest, Boldin has a good chance to rebound from his disappointing inaugural season in Baltimore.

Round 7. Austin Collie, WR, Colts. Though I’m getting nervous about Peyton Manning’s timetable, I’m still convinced that Collie will be his most potent weapon this season. The wideout is an injury risk, but the reward is elite production.

Round 8. Owen Daniels, TE, Texans. I’d love to take Josh Freeman here, but tight end is a higher priority. Daniels is Matt Schaub’s favorite security blanket, and he should return to elite form if he can just stay healthy. Thanks to his Week 11 bye, we can pickup another TE off waivers later.

Round 9. Plaxico Burress, WR, Jets. My preseason pick for “Comeback Player of the Year” could quickly become Mark Sanchez’s most reliable red zone target.

Round 10. Eagles, D/ST. I’m buying the “Dream Team” hype. An already-stout defense added top-line talent up-front and in the secondary, which should lead to an abundance of sacks and turnovers. We’ll also cash in on DeSean Jackson’s special teams heroics.

Round 11. Lance Moore, WR, Saints. He could rival Marques Colston (knee) as the lead receiver in this pass-happy offense. Moore’s preseason groin injury should be fully healed by Week 1.

Round 12. Jacoby Ford, WR, Raiders. I know I’m sounding like a broken record, but Ford is the only receiver worth owning in Oakland. He is an explosive playmaker who also contributes in the return game. If only he had a better quarterback.

Round 13. Mark Sanchez, QB, Jets. Kyle Orton represents outstanding value here, but he shares a bye week with Rivers. The Jets face the Dolphins at home on Monday night in Week 6; so we’ll take our chances with Sanchez and pray that Rivers stays upright all season.

Round 14. Rashad Jennings, RB, Jaguars. Since Maurice Jones-Drew is on my personal do-not-draft list, I’m grabbing Jennings before MJD’s owner can. Call it an educated guess, or just a hunch, that Jones-Drew’s knee problems finally catch up to him this season. Jennings is waiting for his opportunity to soar.

Round 15. Javon Ringer, RB, Titans. Since I can’t be certain my first-round pick will suit up in Week 1, I’m hedging my bets with his top understudy. Unfortunately, a hip pointer leaves Ringer’s availability in doubt as well. Rookie Jamie Harper is next in line.

Round 16. Arrelious Benn, WR, Buccaneers. Every draft needs a flier, and Benn fits perfectly in that role. He’ll line up opposite 2010 rookie sensation Mike Williams, and could join him as a consistent fantasy performer thanks to Josh Freeman’s rapid development.

Round 17. Alex Henery, K, Eagles. There will be plenty of good options here, including whomever wins the Cowboys’ and Jets’ jobs. But I like the rookie’s chances of picking up where David Akers left off.

There you have it: A team with firepower at every position, bench depth with substantial upside, and no bye-week dilemmas.

Now, go forth and make your draft perfect.

NOTE: My third round of positional rankings were posted today at

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Good morning, Cleveland!

Though I haven't been invited to write for the Plain Dealer all season (sigh), you'll find a special fantasy insert in today's Sports section with a column commissioned just for you.

I was asked to cover the fantasy prospects of the Browns players, so it was a tad short. (Sad but true.) So they ran my Sleepers column as well.

Call or write the sports editor and tell him you want more of the Fantasy Fool. Maybe they'll invite me back. (FYI, the Cleveland Plain Dealer was the second major newspaper to take my column back in 2003, when I started this gig. They dropped me a few years ago due to budget/page cuts. Been trying to get back ever since!)

Friday, August 26, 2011

A caution about my rankings

Just returned from another grueling 5:45 am crossfit workout. Really hate it. Mostly the waking up part.

One of my workout buddies told me he'd printed out my positional rankings and was heading into his draft tonight ready to follow them. I reminded him what I've written at the top of each chart:

Rankings are based on each player's projected position by the end of the 2011 season. This is a value ranking, NOT a recommended draft order. Players may be drafted significantly higher or lower based upon their perceived value to other owners.

Changing his name to protect his innocence, "Norm" had a hard time grasping the difference between my rankings and every other list he's seen out there. (Let's just say Norm's not the sharpest knife in the drawer.)

I asked him who was last year's #1 fantasy WR. He guessed Dwayne Bowe (close); but it was Brandon Lloyd. Let's say I was prescient enough to list Lloyd at the top of my WR rankings last year at this time. Does that mean you should have drafted him in the 1st or 2nd round? Heck, no! Take him in the 16th or 17th! There's no need to use an early pick on a sleeper like that. Even if you knew ahead of time how good he'd be, why would you waste a premium pick on a guy who's not even likely to be drafted at all?

This year, you'll see guys like Josh Freeman, Kyle Orton, LeGarrette Blount, Austin Collie and Plaxico Burress quite a bit higher on my lists than you'll find most anywhere else. That simply means I believe they'll significantly out-perform their average draft position (ADP) and, when the season is over, that's where they'll be in the final rankings. So even though I rank Collie #27 on my Top 100, you shouldn't use a 3rd-round pick to get him. He should last till the 5th or 6th round (maybe even later if the worries about Peyton Manning increase). If you want him, target him there.

You can find ADP lists anywhere. When you draft online with CBS, ESPN, FOX, etc. and see the pre-loaded lists they provide, that's exactly what you're looking at. I'm trying to help you filter through the conventional wisdom to find extra value -- as well as to avoid some guys I think are way over-priced (like MJD, Cedric Benson and Brandon Marshall).


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Interesting developments across the NFL

It's sphincter-tightening time for owners, and would-be owners, of Peyton Manning and Chris Johnson.

The Colts brought in Kerry Collins earlier this week, ostensibly to beef up their horrid backup-QB position. But more worrisome is the prospect that Peyton's neck injury is not healing as rapidly as hoped. With little more than two weeks to go before Indy's first game, the possibility of seeing Collins under center when the regular season opens is becoming more and more likely.

As we all know, Peyton hasn't missed a start since the heyday of Beatlemania. But neck injuries present more long-term concerns than your typical knee, ankle and shoulder issues. As confident as I've been that Manning will start the season with his hands rubbing up against Jeff Saturday's crotch, it's time to seriously consider the chance that he might not. And if he missed one game, does that stretch into two or three?

Caveat draftor...

Similarly, but different, Chris Johnson's holdout continues to drag on, with no obvious end in sight. Now, these things tend to look darkest before the dawn, and then the next thing you know, everyone's shaking hands and toasting a massive new contract. But CJ2K's meeting yesterday with the Titans' GM did not yield much progress -- so we're told -- so this is another situation worth monitoring. If you have one of the top three or four picks in an early draft, you're facing the possibility of an extra bye week or two if you take CJ2K. I won't believe it till I see it; but there's a chance.

Rumors are flying that Ryan Grant is in danger of being cut by the Packers. This doesn't seem plausible, since he just restructured his contract and has been guaranteed $2.5mm for this season. I fully expect to see Grant lining up behind Aaron Rodgers in Week 1, but this could be a signal that the team is not sold on his complete recovery from last year's knee injury. I'll be bumping him down a couple notches in my next round of rankings, and boosting James Starks a bit.

In other much-less-interesting developments...Larry Johnson has been acquired by the Dolphins. Stay tuned for an announcement about his subsequent arrest or release, coming shortly.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hola, Miami!

After a brief hiatus following the 2009 season -- thanks to the budget-cutters -- I am very pleased to announce The Fantasy Fool's return to the Miami Herald!

As a native of Coral Gables and a lifelong Dolfan -- I was a young lad in the Orange Bowl throughout the Perfect Season, and was there for The Greatest Game Ever Played (Dolphins vs. Chargers, 1981 AFC Divisional Playoff) -- I am especially proud to be back in the pages of my hometown paper.

Vamanos, South Florida Fools! And go Dolphins!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Find your sleepers, make them keepers

This time of year, fantasy enthusiasts tend to obsess over their first-round draft pick. Do you go with Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson with the top pick? What about Arian Foster? Is the middle of the round too early for Aaron Rodgers? Should you grab an elite receiver at the end?

While these decisions are important, you’d be better served expending more mental energy on the middle rounds, where championship fantasy rosters are built. After all, while it’s interesting to debate whether Foster merits a top three pick this year, many of those who stole him in the fifth round or later last season rode him all the way to a title.

Fantasy veterans know the secret to great drafting is not simply selecting the best players available, but taking them no earlier than necessary. You may share my belief that Jacoby Ford is on the verge of a breakout season; but you’re hurting yourself – and, worse yet, begging for ridicule from your opponents – if you pull the trigger too early.

Who are this year’s hidden gems? Let’s take a look at my Sleeper Picks of 2011, broken down by position.

(Note: ADP means “average draft position,” and indicates where the player is typically selected in standard leagues, according to mock draft web sites. Compare this to their value in my Top 100 rankings, where applicable.)


Josh Freeman, Buccaneers (ADP: 70, Top 100: 33). There should be nothing sleepy about last year’s seventh-best fantasy quarterback, but Freeman is still flying under the radar in many circles. With a sterling TD:INT ratio, and a talented group of young receivers, the third-year passer has elite status in his sights.

Kyle Orton
, Broncos (ADP: 148, Top 100: 66). First he was headed to Miami, then to the bench in favor of Tim Tebow. Now he’s locked into the starting job that made him a fantasy stud over the first half of last season. Though John Fox will run a more conservative offense, Orton should be money early on again, if not all season.

Running backs

LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers (ADP: 33, Top 100: 15). He had a breakout rookie season, but Blount still represents excellent value at his current draft position. He faces virtually no competition for touches now that Cadillac Williams is a Ram, and he’s a bruising runner who should find the end zone nearly every week.

C.J. Spiller, Bills (ADP: 105, Top 100: 92). He disappointed a lot of owners who wasted an early pick on him after his sensational preseason run last year. But with only Fred Jackson standing in the way, the Bills’ 2010 first-round draft selection will get every chance to earn a full committee share, if not a starting job.

Bernard Scott, Bengals (ADP: 210, Top 100: N/A). Cedric Benson is not the runner he once was, and his understudy has been assured more touches this season. A changing-of-the-guard is underway in Cincinnati, so Scott is more than just a handcuff. He’s the future.

Wide receivers

Austin Collie, WR, Colts (ADP: 67, Top 100: 27). He was sitting atop the 2010 WR rankings when he was concussed in Week 6. The threat of another blow to the head has depressed Collie’s value significantly, but those who take the risk could be rewarded with an elite wideout.

Mario Manningham, Giants (ADP: 73, Top 100: 58). With Steve Smith wearing an Eagles jersey, Manningham ascends to the No. 2 job in a passing attack that has consistently produced valuable fantasy receivers.

Mike Sims-Walker, Rams (ADP: 113, Top 100: 69). With the dearth of talent and experience amongst St. Louis receivers, Sims-Walker can easily become Sam Bradford’s go-to guy. Given the young gunslinger’s potential, that could be a lucrative job.

Plaxico Burress, Jets (ADP: 122, Top 100: 78). He is the presumed starter opposite Santonio Holmes, and he could quickly become the team’s most prolific red-zone target. Burress should make an immediate impact in this offense.

Lance Moore, Saints (ADP: 118, Top 100: 79). While your competitors may be locked in on Robert Meachem, Moore is positioned to be the true No. 2 wideout in New Orleans. Marques Colston’s gimpy knee could even give Moore a shot at the lead role on occasion.

Jacoby Ford, Raiders (ADP: 112, Top 100: 84). Ford showed flashes of brilliance last season, and he is the only Oakland receiver worth drafting. If he gets decent quarterback play, he could vault up the ranks.

Tight ends

Owen Daniels
, Texans (ADP: 77, Top 100: 40). Returning from his third torn ACL, the risk is obvious. But a healthy Daniels is clearly Matt Schaub’s second-favorite target, giving him perhaps the most upside among second-tier tight ends.

Brandon Pettigrew, Lions (ADP: 126, Top 100: 82). If Matt Stafford could just stay on the field, he and his young tight end could put up great numbers together. Pettigrew has all the tools to be an elite tight end.


Alex Henery, Eagles (ADP: 196, Top 100: N/A). When perennial fantasy star David Akers became a 49er, he left his plum job to a rookie who set the NCAA record for career field-goal accuracy (89.5%) at Nebraska.

Dan Bailey, Cowboys (ADP: N/A). He hasn't seized the job from David Buehler yet; but if he does, he'll be kicking for a high-octane offense.

Next week: The original, oft-imitated, always-controversial Perfect Draft.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

First round of positional rankings complete!

I have completed the first round of positional rankings for QBs, RBs, WRs, TEs, Ks, DEFs and the Top 100.

They can all be found here:

Enjoy. And please, no wagering.

The Fool is coming! The Fool is coming!

That's right, Beantown...The Fantasy Fool has just been signed to contribute content to the Boston Globe, one of the great metro dailies in the USA (and the world, for that matter). You'll find my stuff online at, starting next week (if not sooner).

Having worked and been "edumacated" in your fine city for three years many moons ago, it's exciting for me to finally break into the Boston market.

So here's to you, Pats fans! I can taste the chowder at Legal Seafood now...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

2011 Rankings for QBs, RBs, WRs, TEs now posted

Greetings, patient Fools! I'm a day late and a dollar short in posting my first round of positional rankings. Sorry about that. It's been a busy month.

But alas, I've just posted the QBs, RBs and WRs here:

(Update: TE rankings also posted 8/17 pm)

I'm aiming for posting the Ks, DEFs and Top 100 on Thurs.

As always, these lists will be updated at least weekly until a day or two before the regular season kickoff.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Old faces in new places: Xtreme edition

There’s nothing unusual about offseason player movement. Big names swap teams every year. In each of the previous two seasons, roughly 20 offensive skill-position players of note changed jerseys via free agency or trades.

What’s rare is the free agent that improves his fantasy stock in the year after leaving his previous team.

In 2009, only Brett Favre, Kyle Orton, Nate Washington and Kellen Winslow measurably upgraded their fantasy production from the previous season. In 2010, the standouts were Peyton Hillis, Terrell Owens and Ben Watson. Danny Woodhead and Marshawn Lynch also found happier climes after moving in-season.

Meanwhile, following the historical trend, last year’s list of team-swapping disappointments was exhaustive, highlighted by such long-time fantasy stalwarts as Donovan McNabb, Thomas Jones, Brian Westbrook, Anquan Boldin, Brandon Marshall and Randy Moss.

This year’s lockout, of course, has spawned an unprecedented round of free-agent musical chairs. The number of fantasy-relevant players changing zip codes this season roughly doubled from recent years, and the music hasn’t stopped yet.

Who will prosper? Who will disappear? Let’s examine the most significant offseason moves, broken down by the projected impact on each player’s fantasy value in 2011.

MOVIN’ ON UPLook for improved production from these six.
Kevin Kolb, QB, Cardinals – As the unchallenged leader in Arizona, Kolb is a lock to vault up the passer rankings this year. Just how far up is the question. Consider him a borderline fantasy starter with upside.

Reggie Bush, RB, Dolphins – After missing half of the 2010 season due to injury, a healthy Bush should fare better in Miami by default. He’ll reprise his role as a lethal passing-game weapon, but rookie Daniel Thomas was drafted to be the rushing workhorse.

Plaxico Burress, WR, Jets – Call it a shot in the dark, but I’d consider pulling the trigger on the free agent out of the Oneida Correctional Facility in the middle rounds of your draft.

Lee Evans, WR, Ravens – He’ll benefit from a more consistent QB and a better offense in Baltimore. But the improved scenery is unlikely to make him more than a desperation starter.

Chad Ochocinco, WR, Patriots – Though well past his prime, the diva will fill a void in Tom Brady’s receiving corps that could easily translate to a doubling of his four-touchdown output of 2010.

Sidney Rice, WR, Seahawks – He scored just twice in an injury-shortened 2010 campaign. But given the horrid state of QB affairs in Seattle, don’t expect a return to his stellar 2009 form.

COMIN’ BACK DOWNThese players will be hard-pressed to match last year’s results.

Ronnie Brown, RB, Eagles – His days as a starter, and wildcat impresario, are over. But he’ll be a useful handcuff to LeSean McCoy.

Cadillac Williams, RB, Rams – Will be parked behind Steven Jackson, waiting for an opportunity.

Ricky Williams, RB, Ravens – Relegated to Ray Rice insurance.

Braylon Edwards, WR, 49ers – Highly unlikely to match 904 yards and seven TDs as Alex Smith’s third or fourth target.

Derrick Mason, WR, Jets – You have to have a lot of confidence in Mark Sanchez to believe his third wideout can be a productive fantasy weapon.

Steve Smith, WR, Eagles – Once his knee heals, the former Giant will likely be the No. 3 wideout in the pecking order, unless Jeremy Maclin’s mysterious illness lingers.

Zach Miller, TE, Seahawks – He’s teased us with his potential in Oakland, but it’s hard to see him excelling in Seattle’s lackluster offense.

David Akers, K, 49ers – He was an elite kicker in Philadelphia. Don’t count on similar results on the left coast.

CALL IT A WASHFor better or worse, these players should post comparable results to last season.

Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Titans – The former Seahawk hasn’t yet adjusted to his new offense. Tennessee will likely remain a one-dimensional, run-dominant team.

Tarvaris Jackson, QB, Seahawks – He may not even hold off Charlie Whitehurst as the starter.

Donovan McNabb, QB, Vikings. Dumped by the Redskins for a sixth-round pick and a case of Schlitz, McNabb is merely holding down the fort until Christian Ponder is ready. It could be another ugly season.

Marion Barber, RB, Bears – Long past his fantasy prime, Barber will settle for Matt Forte’s leftovers.

Tim Hightower, RB, Redskins – He may begin the season as the starter in a crowded backfield, but he’ll likely fumble the job away to one of his younger understudies.

Willis McGahee, RB, Broncos – Will poach touchdowns from Knowshon Moreno instead of Rice this season.

Darren Sproles, RB, Saints – He was recruited to fill Reggie Bush’s cleats, but his opportunities will be few.

Steve Breaston, WR, Chiefs – He gets an upgrade at QB, but the ceiling is low for No. 2 wideouts in Kansas City.

Jerricho Cotchery, WR, Steelers – All but forgotten by the Jets, you’ll forget where he landed before long.

Jabar Gaffney, WR, Redskins – He had his moments in Denver. He’ll have some in Washington, too. Not enough to matter, though.

Legedu Naanee, WR, Panthers -- Vowel-blessed wideout could start opposite Steve Smith, but that job has rarely been a lucrative one.

Mike Sims-Walker, WR, Rams – If you believe, as I do, that Sam Bradford’s star is on the rise, then Sims-Walker becomes an intriguing prospect. But he needs to win a starting job first.

Roy Williams, WR, Bears – Don’t be surprised if Jay Cutler ignores him as much as Tony Romo did.

Kevin Boss, TE, Raiders -- Repeat after me: The only Oakland pass-catcher worth drafting is Jacoby Ford.

Todd Heap, TE, Cardinals -- He should be as reliable a target for Kolb as he was for Joe Flacco.

Greg Olson and Jeremy Shockey, TEs, Panthers – Both were disappointing as clear starters in better offenses last season. Sharing looks from a rookie QB can’t be good.

Olindo Mare, K, Panthers -- Moves from one lousy offense to another.

Jeff Reed, K, Seahawks – Must battle Brandon Coutu for this ho-hum job.

Tomorrow: My first round of positional rankings will be out.

Next week: A look at the Sleepers of 2011.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Helloooooooooo, Twin Cities!

But wait, there's more!

I am very pleased to announce that the Fantasy Fool's column will now appear in the Pioneer Press (Twin Cities, MN) beginning next week. It will be an honor to help make the great state of Minnesota a safer place for fantasy enthusiasts of all stripes -- purple and otherwise.

Thanks to the Pioneer Press for saying "yes" after all these years! I look forward to a long and fruitful run.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My Sporting News Mock Draft -- From the 10 Spot

Just wrapped up my first official mock draft of the season. This one was with my colleagues at the Sporting News' Fantasy Source. As usual, they stuck me with a crappy draft slot (10 out of 12), re-confirming what we all already knew... They fear the Fool.

I'm not happy with my overall draft, which means it's probably awesome. Here's what I was able to cobble together.

1.10 Michael Turner -- Best RB still on the board, in my opinion.

2.03 Calvin "Megatron" Johnson -- It was a toss-up with Steven Jackson, who I think is being way overlooked this season. S-Jax ended up lasting until the mid-3rd round.

3.10 Jahvid Best -- Good value here, but didn't realize till later that I had just picked a second Lion. I won't make that mistake when I'm drafting for real.

4.03 Tony Romo -- Vick, Rodgers, Brady, Rivers, Brees, Peyton all gone. Either take Romo, or play catch-up at the QB position all season.

5.10 Daniel Thomas -- Had to shore up the RB position, even though I'm light at WR. While I'm down on the rooks this year, I believe Thomas will be a true bell cow.

6.03 Stevie Johnson -- Solid WR2, though not without risk. The WR pool was fairly well drained.

7.10 Johnny Knox -- Never been a fan, but he'll be Cutler's No. 1 target, without much doubt. That's worth a 7th rounder.

8.03 Jay Cutler -- Panic pick. Huge buyer's remorse on this one. Not only am I a Cutler-hater, but I probably grabbed him way too early. Clock was ticking down, and I couldn't decide on a TE vs. WR, and, well, gagged.

9.10 Jacoby Ford -- A Raider, yes. A No. 1 WR with big upside? Yes.

10.03 Marcedes Lewis -- Finally got my TE. If he shows up like last year, he's a steal.

11.10 LaDainian Tomlinson -- The Jets say Shonn Greene will be the workhorse. I've heard that before. LT may still have a few surprises in store for us.

12.03 Plaxico Burress -- A shot in the dark.

13.10 Arrelious Benn -- If you believe the Bucs' offense is going places (and I do), the second-year wideout could be a big part of that.

14.03 Bears DST -- Meh.

15.10 Shane Vereen -- Pats have high hopes for him. So do I, now.

16.03 Nate Kaeding -- Grabbed him to start the run on kickers.

17.10 Donnie Avery -- If he's healthy, could be Bradford's top target.

There you have it. Can't say I'm proud of this one. I'll get better.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Rookie prospects even dimmer than usual

With all the hype and breathless reporting that greet rookie classes at the beginning of each NFL season, you’d think they would have a greater impact on fantasy leagues. Yet over the past two seasons, you could count the true difference-makers among the first-year players on one hand.

In 2009, Knowshon Moreno and Percy Harvin were solid, if unspectacular, fantasy contributors. Last year, Tampa Bay gave us LeGarrette Blount and Mike Williams, the only rookies worthy of a regular starting role on a fantasy contender.

The pro game is simply too fast, too complex and too long for most newcomers to master in one season. And that’s in a typical year, with a full offseason of training camps, OTAs and class time to prepare.

As we know all too well, this is no typical season; so we’d be wise to lower our expectations accordingly.

Remember that when evaluating the fantasy potential of any rookie, talent is rarely the decisive factor. More relevant is the opportunity presented to the player, which is also a multi-faceted equation.

Does the newcomer have a clear path to a starting gig? Will he join a high-powered offense, or one whose punter is its most lethal weapon? Is he healthy heading into the season, or has he missed invaluable preseason reps due to nagging injuries?

With those caveats in mind, let’s examine the members of the Class of 2011 with the best opportunities to shine in their inaugural seasons.

Mark Ingram, RB, Saints. The table is set for no rookie like the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Ingram is a battering ram with outstanding vision and sure hands, and what he lacks in speed he makes up for in tackle-busting ability. He should become an instant starter and goal-line beast in New Orleans’ high-octane offense. The oft-injured Pierre Thomas is coming off ankle surgery and is unlikely to impede the rookie’s path to stardom.

Daniel Thomas, RB, Dolphins. Until Reggie Bush landed in South Beach, Thomas had the Miami backfield all to himself. But the rookie from Kansas State was drafted to be a workhorse, not a passing-game threat like Bush. Thomas’ upside will be limited more by the Dolphins’ offensive struggles than a competition for carries.

Julio Jones, WR, Falcons. Atlanta paid dearly to draft him, so he will be given every opportunity to excel. Jones has all the tools to develop into a superstar, including an up-and-coming quarterback and a prolific offense in dire need of a dynamic complement to elite wideout Roddy White. He’d make a great fantasy WR4 or WR5, but he’ll probably be drafted too high.

Ryan Williams, RB, Cardinals. Tim Hightower is a Redskin and Beanie Wells has failed to seize the workhorse role envisioned when he was drafted in 2009. Enter Williams, a big-play threat with the potential to jumpstart the league’s worst rushing attack. Look for the rookie from Virginia Tech to share carries with Wells early on, with the balance shifting Williams’ way as the season wears on, especially if the veteran succumbs to yet another injury.

Alex Henery, K, Eagles. David Akers has been an elite fantasy kicker for years, thanks to Philly’s high-scoring offense. But he left for San Francisco in free agency, leaving the plum assignment to Henery, who set an NCAA record for career field-goal accuracy (89.5%) at Nebraska. Grab him late and reap the rewards.

A.J. Green, WR, Bengals. He has everything you want in a top-flight receiver, except an experienced quarterback to feed him the ball. Green’s combination of size (6-4, 211 pounds), quickness, crisp route running and outstanding hands will likely be squandered until Andy Dalton gets up to speed.

Look, but don’t touch

DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys. Felix Jones enters his fourth season as a tenuous starter at best. Murray, the explosive rookie from Oklahoma, will have an opportunity to seize the role over time, but a bum hamstring during training camp is doing little to dispel his injury-prone label.

Delone Carter, RB, Colts. Donald Brown will begin the season as Joseph Addai’s primary backup. Carter will likely finish the season there.

Greg Little, WR, Browns. The physically gifted wideout instantly becomes the best receiver in Cleveland. If he and Colt McCoy can develop a strong rapport, Little could offer some late-season value. More likely, he won’t be worth a roster spot until 2012.

Cam Newton, QB, Panthers. On the plus side, he will likely be the Day One starter. On the down side, well, is everything else. Carolina is in rebuilding mode (a nice way of saying they were the NFL’s worst team in 2010), and Newton arrives bereft of experience in the pro-style offense. His transition will surely be ugly at times.

Next week: We’ll dissect the fallout from the recent free agency frenzy.