Ridiculously Early Fantasy Football Preview

Is it too early to really have a good read on Fantasy Football? Absolutely, but for those of you who are just salivating about it and for some reason cannot get excited about baseball or basketball, this is for you.

Everyone likes Chris Johnson this year. Who cares? I could get a 10 year old to tell me that, I do not need any advice on that. However, there are other guys who you look at and people are extremely split on them. That is why we are here. I have not drafted poorly in years because I prepare for my drafts and because I get football, so I am here to impart the fantasy wisdom to you. Not to sound all uppity or anything, but I have drafted very well just about every year I have played, so you can trust me. Consider this your brief preview of Fantasy Football 2010.

Guys I Like (no homo)

Beanie Wells, RB, Cardinals

Yes, there are injury concerns, but allow me to talk a little more broadly about why I like Beanie and guys like him. Beanie is a first round pick with oodles of ability on a team in transition. That second part can be a little scary, but when you look at the Cards, it is a transition that should favor the running game. They no longer have a maestro slinging it around in Warner and a coach who comes from an organization in Pittsburgh known for running it (more on this later). I like Beanie Wells as a sort of Rashard Mendenhall from last year. A guy who was somewhat forgotten going into the year, but by the end of the year had the vast majority of the carries and put up decent numbers even though the Steelers became a spread offense.

Do not ignore the injury concerns here, but take it as a lesson to look for guys whose roles may be increasing or decreasing.

Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens

Why is it so much fun to write "The Unflappable Flacco"?

I really liked him last year, and I like him again this year. The Baltimore Ravens had one of the most predictable offenses in football last year. Run with Rice, dump off to Rice, 5 or 10 yard out to Mason. It worked really well somehow. Now Joe has a new toy to play with in Anquan Boldin, and he will play to devastating effect for opposing defenses. No more Kelley Washington dropping passes, no more Mark Clayton in New England situations, just solid, tough, quietly productive (compared to former teammate Fitzgerald) Anquan Boldin. The Ravens’ defense is getting old fast, but the offense is getting scary just as fast. Name me something they do not have. WR tandem? Check (Mason and Boldin). RB tandem with an alpha dog (no 50-50 split, Rice and McGahee/McClain)? Check. TE for short yardage? Check (Todd Heap). Really good offensive line? Check. Young quarterback on the rise? Check. What is not to like about Joe Flacco this year?

The only real concern with Flacco is that he may become such an obvious breakout guy that he starts going way too high in your draft. Be patient with it all, do not let some guy talking about taking him early in the 2nd round convince you to move off your price tag. Just about everyone is overpriced at some point. It is hard to project projections, so I do not know how high Matthew Berry will have him, but I know that Joe Flacco is poised for a top 5 fantasy QB season.

Stay Away

Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals

Not the snag he once was.

He is a freakish talent in his prime and he will kill your team this year if you draft him high. Last years numbers can be thrown out the window with the changes at the Bird Cage in Arizona. Kurt Warner? Gone. His replacement? The Johnny Damon armed Matt Leinart. Anquan Boldin (aka the guy who kept the entire defense from covering his side of the field)? Gone. The Cardinals are a team in flux, and when you look at their team the logical conclusion is that they will be best with a power running game next year. Ken Whisenhunt comes from the Steelers organization, an organization built on defense and the running game, so even though he has rightly gone with the air assault in his first few years, it should come as no surprise if he goes to the running game this year with the unproven and weak armed Leinart.

Here’s the bottom line. No matter how talented someone is, an NFL defense can take away a player for just about the entire game if they choose to. If I am a defensive coordinator and you tell me that I am facing a weak armed QB who has one genuinely scary guy and a couple of other guys who are decent, I am going to shift all my coverage toward that one threat and not worry too much about the deep ball. That is not a recipe for success for the WR, and despite his talent, Fitzgerald is no exception. Fewer deep balls = Fewer TDs = probably fewer yards all while facing more coverage than before. Stay away from Larry Fitzgerald.

Platoons with the Jets, Redskins, Chiefs and most other time-shares

WHY? WHY? WHY DID THE OTHER GUY HAVE TO SCORE???

I cannot stress this enough. You should take a RB who will be the primary option but is not quite as good over a really talented guy in a timeshare given they have similar offensive lines etc. Perfect example from last year would be Ryan Grant or Cedric Benson. Are they nearly as good as DeAngelo Williams, Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush, or any other guy talented guy you can think of in a time share? Probably not, but they put up huge numbers because they are getting every touch and every TD from their team on the ground. There will always be that rare time-share where somehow both guys end up being extremely productive, but when drafting a RB, his competition at his position on his team should absolutely be a criteria. If you think he cannot be challenged just looking at the roster, as Marshawn Lynch owners, Knowshon Moreno owners, and Jamal Lewis owners how that worked out for them last year. I will not be so dramatic as to say “draft a tandem RB at your own peril, but be aware of the reduced numbers he will put up and how some weeks you will be completely open to luck of if your guys gets into the endzone, or it is his partner.

Wayne's World: Growing less influential by the day

Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts

Blasphemy you say? I say expendable. Do not get me wrong, if he falls to you much later than expected, snap up those 100 catches, 8+ TDs and 1000+ yards a year, but Reggie Wayne’s role in the Colts offense is diminishing. Last year we saw the emergence of Pierre “Stone Hands” Garcon and Austin Collie out wide to go along with Dallas Clark but most non-Colts fans did not see, or at least notice something else. Anthony Gonzalez, a guy many had pegged for a breakout season last year, messed up his knee on the first series of 2009 and missed the rest of the year. The point? The WR position is crowded in Indy, and as a Colts fan, even though it pains me to say it, I would gladly trade Reggie Wayne for a top 15 pick in this year’s draft. There are tons of offensive linemen and defensive studs to be had and Wayne is no longer the super-important cog he was just a few years ago. Mr. Wayne will probably not have a bad year, but he has become expendable to the Colts. Never grab a guy too high who has nothing left to prove and whose role is getting smaller. Again, he will be decent this year, but he is not an especially high upside pick, and has little potential for a real breakout season. I could see taking him in a PPR league, but for most leagues, you can find better options out there.

Sam Bradford, QB, Rams (we assume)

This is not so much about Bradford as it is about guys like him. I do not care how talented a guy is, his situation is 75% more important than his ability. Sam Bradford should start sleeping on the ground at his apartment with 300 lb guys on top of him to prepare for life with the Rams because that is what it is going to be like on the field. Look at Matthew Stafford last year. Great talent and is going to be a good player in the NFL, but he is going to get picked off more than his fair share of times, and will start having to force throws because he only has 2 seconds to get rid of the ball before linebackers are getting to know him a little better face-to-face.  Shy away from guys who are good in horrible situations, they will cause more pain than pleasure.

His demeanor reminds me of Matt Ryan, but his results might remind you of Matthew Stafford. Wait a year or two.

Now, if you are going to grab him in the last round of a deep league as a backup, that is more than fine, but never rely on a rookie to anchor any important part of your team. Take a flyer on Bradford if you would like, but do not do anything stupid with him.

Sleepers

Davone Bess, WR, Dolphins       (could also be Greg Camarillo, keep an eye open)

Brandon Marshall is the big dog in the Miami Dolphins passing game, do not be confused about that. However, the speedy Bess is poised to have a very good year, especially in PPR formats. Expect defenses to really favor Marshall’s side of the field, giving the sneaky Bess plenty of room to operate underneath and in the middle. He probably will not grab many 50 yard strikes, but he will get you 4 catches and 50 yards minimum every game and will probably finish with 5 or 6 TDs. For a guy who may even go undrafted in some leagues, that is valuable production. Just a snapshot of his numbers last year (76 catches, 758 yards, 2 TDs) is not especially impressive, but that was with only 2 official starts last year and uncertainty at QB. Chad Henne routinely found Bess, and I think Bess can beat out Greg Camarillo for the 2nd starting spot. The Dolphins are not especially pass-happy, but as a late round guy, keep an eye on Davone Bess as a game changer. He also returns punts if that counts in your league.

Boldin looks like a RB, and Tate has that similar quality about him.

Golden Tate, WR, Rookie

He does not have a team yet, but there are some things you can talk about without knowing his situation. The first among these is that he is tough. No one is going to press cover this guy except maybe Darrelle Revis or Nnamdi Asomugha. He has running back skills. He was a HS running back and it shows when undersized DBs try to tackle him and just bounce off him. He is faster than you think. 4.36 in the 40, and 4.34 in the shuttle. That is not just speed, that is quickness. He makes a lot of sense if the Chiefs can get him in the 2nd round since Charlie Weis is the new Offensive Coordinator there (sneaky fact worth considering). Consider that sneaky fact a reward for reading, so it goes without saying you should expect a little bump for Matt Cassel this year as well if they can make the offensive line adequate.

When I think Golden Tate in the NFL, I think the size and speed of Steve Smith with the after-the-catch ability of Anquan Boldin. Those are two guys you would take on your team any day and if Tate ends up in a half-decent situation, you should consider taking him as well.

This is just a brief and somewhat obvious, in my opinion, look at the upcoming year. We got a few names in there, a few general rules, and a quick look at the changing landscape in the NFL. We will definitely have more to come as the season gets closer, but as it is so early, this should hold you over for now. Go enjoy the MLB season and NBA playoffs.

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