TOP TEN VALUE PICKS 2009 FANTASY FOOTBALL
This is not a sleepers list.
Frankly, I don't even care for the term when it applies to fantasy football. The player database is too shallow. It's not like baseball, where legitimate sleepers, or rather, minor league call-ups, seem to grow on trees.
What I'm trying to say is, there just aren't many names that are going to sneak up on you this season. You know who everyone is, it's just a matter of how they'll produce in relation to where you picked them.
I like to use the term "undervalued." None of the players on this list are true sleepers in my mind, because they will all be taken within the top 100 picks (or so) on draft day.
Just to give an example, the player who ranks number one on this list will likely be taken in the third round. I, however, believe he can return first round value.
Finding value is key in fantasy football drafts. There are so few sure things these days in the top rounds. When you get to the middle-late part of your draft, it's extremely beneficial to get guys who can outperform their pre-draft ranking.
The ten players listed are all breakout candidates for the 2009 season. It could be due to an increased role, or a second-year jump, but no matter the reason, I love their potential.
Basically, these are guys you want to fill out your roster, on the path to fantasy football greatness.
10. Jon Carlson
Let's get the tight end out of the way, because after this guy, the list is 100 percent dominated by running backs and wide receivers.
(There are no quarterbacks on this list. It's likely everyone in a standard draft will be somewhat confident with their starting QB. Having depth at RB and WR is extremely vital in fantasy football, so that's what this list will focus on.)
Not to diminish Carlson though, who I think, can be a very serviceable TE this season. So much so, that when the run of top tight ends begins (Witten, Gonzalez, Gates and Clark), you may want to consider waiting a good 50 picks later for the second-year starter from Notre Dame.
Heck, you can arguably hold out even longer, considering that the second tier of tight ends (Daniels, Winslow, Cooley and Olsen) could bump Carlson way beyond the top 100 picks on draft day.
I like Carlson because he's athletic, can block and is coming off an impressive rookie season (55 catches, 627 yards, five touchdowns).
I really like him because news out of Seahawks camp is that the team is converting to a more traditional two wide receiver set, which means more third downs for Carlson, and just more playing time in general.
An improvement on his respectable rookie numbers is highly likely.
9. Donnie Avery
Being a number one wide receiver is always relevant in fantasy football.
If you're projected to lead your team in targets, 80 catches and 1,000 yards is always a possibility. It's also what you're looking for in a fantasy starter.
With Torry Holt out of St. Louis, Avery is all set to be Marc Bulger's number one option. How set is Marc Bulger for the 2009 season? That's a different story all together.
Regardless, Avery is a fantastic deep threat with elite speed. When he's on, he can give you monster games that help win matchups.
However, similar to a guy like Santonio Holmes, Avery is undersized, and can't be counted on for consistency. The Rams will still depend on him heavily, and the final season stat line should reflect that.
He's a possible WR-2 option that can be had in the second half of the draft.
8. Kevin Walter
Here's a guy I absolutely love, playing in one of the most exciting, high scoring offenses in football.
It's easy to forget about Walter on a team with Andre Johnson (and Owen Daniels for that matter) but the seventh year receiver is coming off two straight solid seasons.
He topped 800 receiving yards for the second straight year in 2008, and scored a career high eight touchdowns. Walter was in line for his first 1,000 yard campaign, but only totaled 48 yards in the final three weeks.
Competing for touches will always be an issue in Houston, but Walter is a big red zone target, and should definitely get plenty of chances.
Plus, when you consider that his counterpart, Johnson, caught 115 passes last year, it's likely that number will go down, as teams will try to lock down one of the league's best.
That means Walter can rack up a more respectable 75-80 catches this year, coupled wit the high yardage and touchdown potential.
Like Avery, he's a great late round value at wideout.
7. Chris Wells
Wells isn't exactly buried on draft boards, considering him and fellow rookie Knowshon Moreno are both going around pick 60 in standard leagues.
The question is this: Which back has a better chance to produce a breakout rookie season, like Matt Forte, Chris Johnson and Steve Slaton last year?
Moreno was the first RB taken in this year's NFL draft, and possesses the versatile repertoire to be an every down back. Still, while many prefer his fantasy potential over Beanie, I feel the opposite.
First off, Wells will not be competing with a handful of running backs in Arizona, while Moreno will be busy fighting off LaMont Jordan, Correll Buckhalter, Peyton Hillis, and possibly, Ryan Torain.
The only man in Beanie's way is second-year back Tim Hightower. While he thrived at the goal line early last year, Hightower failed miserably at carrying the load when he supplanted Edgerrin James as the starter.
Wells has been described as Brandon Jacobs, albeit in a smaller package. He's slimmed down in camp to maximize his power/speed potential, so as long as Beanie can stay healthy, there is huge potential.
Sure, he still needs to pass Hightower on the depth chart, and even so, the Cardinals still won't run much.
They are a team who lives in the red zone and has a tendency to open big leads. So the opportunity is there for a running back to thrive.
James and Hightower both failed, so now, it's Beanie's turn.
6. Felix Jones
He may have only played six weeks last season, but man, what an exciting six weeks they were.
As a backup to newly minted starter Marion Barber, Jones averaged a blistering 8.9 yards per carry with four thrilling scores, including one on a kickoff return.
Jones never played beyond Week Six, when a hampered hamstring somehow induced a torn toe ligament. He underwent season ending surgery.
Despite the unfortunate sequence of injuries, the Cowboy King Felix is reportedly back at full strength, ready to backup the Barbarian for 2009.
It also can't hurt that Jerry Jones publicly promised Jones would be a "major touch-factor in the offense." Whatever he says usually goes, no matter how hilarious it sounds.
Considering Barber himself got hurt last season, Jones is in line to repeat his explosive 08, only this time for the full 16.
5. Vincent Jackson
Before I get into the positive attribute of No. 83 on the Bolts, it's worth noting that he is currently being charged on two counts of drunk driving. If convicted, he could easily face a multiple game suspension.
How long isn't known, as his pending verdict, similar to Plaxico Burress, is leaving his status up in the air. The uncertainty clearly isn't helpful during draft time.
Nonetheless, once Jackson gets on the field this season, his status as an emerging top receiver should continue to grow. He has the build and athleticism of all the league's greats, and finally began to showcase his skills last year.
A lot of this can also be attributed to Philip River's emergence as a deep threat quarterback, finally pushing a wideout as the team's main target over TE Antonio Gates.
It may have taken Jackson four years, but hey, he's in the final year of a rookie deal and in tip-top shape.
If Jackson gets hit with a suspension, rank him as you wish. If he avoids one altogether, he's going to be a hot commodity.
4. Ahmad Bradshaw
Earth, Wind, and Fire is now down to Earth...and Fire.
This is clearly a good thing for fantasy purposes - more so for Bradshaw than Jacobs. He was on the short end of the stick in the G-Men's RB trio, mustering only 67 carries to Jacobs' 219 and Derrick Ward's 182.
With Ward out of the equation, Bradshaw will serve as the team's primary change-of-pace back. Jacobs will assume his role as starter, and continue to dominate the goal line.
Still, Bradshaw is going to inherit a sizeable increase in carries, and Jacobs isn't exactly the healthiest player in the league. If the Juggernaut does indeed go down, Bradshaw's value will skyrocket.
In two years as a backup, Bradshaw has averaged just over six yards per carry on 90 touches. It's a fairly low sample size, but all you need to do is watch him to witness Bradshaw's speed, power and shiftiness.
The Giants will no doubt continue their run dominance, so everything points to Bradshaw becoming the league's premier backup. It's a call I think he can handle, with 1,000 yards almost guaranteed.
Currently on the outside of the top 100 picks, he is a huge steal with even bigger potential, when you consider Jacob's health.
3. Anthony Gonzalez
Remember when it was fun owning either Colts receiver?
Seriously, Harrison and Wayne were like the football equivalent of Boardwalk and Park Place. They even shared the same color to boot.
Alas, Harrison officially fizzled out last year, leaving the team in the offseason, and leaving an opening at split wide. Gonzo is great in the slot, but something tells me he will slide over, leaving Peyton Manning to man the one and twos once again.
If that didn't make sense I apologize, but I'm fairly sure anyone with both football and turntable knowledge understood what I was writing.
Gonzalez is a very efficient pass catcher, ranking third last season in efficiency (percentage of targets caught). He needs more looks, which he will undoubtedly get now with Harrison out of the picture.
Wayne definitely looked like he could use the help last season. And lets not forget that Manning is still a 4,000 yard, 30 TD quarterback, even if he fell three short in the scoring department last season.
Gonzo still has to prove he can start and succeed, but considering he does, grabbing a legit Colts receiver well outside the top 50 picks is quite a steal.
2. Darren McFadden
Weren't impressed with McFadden's rookie campaign? Don't worry, neither was I.
Nor was I impressed with the first year of Calvin "Megatron" Johnson in 2007, when he scored a measly four touchdowns.
We all know what happened after that.
The sophomore surge is evident in several players, but it holds a significant bearing with players like Johnson and McFadden. Overly hyped, the pressure was on both to pay immediate returns as rookies.
Similar to how a back injury stifled Johnson his rookie season, McFadden had a nagging case of turf toe last year that undoubtedly hindered his performance.
His overall stats weren't pretty, but anyone who saw the 164 yard thrashing he put on Kansas City knows how huge Run DMC can be.
Oakland may still be an inept franchise, however, they remained a top ten rushing team last season. If McFadden is asked to lead the attack, the offense can easily become his show.
Justin Fargas and Michael Bush are solid competition, but neither were drafted to save this team.
McFadden was, and will at least get a chance to save your fantasy team in '09.
1. Pierre Thomas
As I revealed in the intro, numero uno on this list should be gone by the end of round three.
So how is Pierre Thomas undervalued?
Many players have shined when given the chance to do so. From Week 10 and on last season, Thomas was given that chance, and answered with nine touchdowns and 737 combined yards.
He has averaged a sparkling 4.8 yards per carry over two pro seasons, with only 171 carries on his speedometer.
In addition to that, Thomas possesses the pass catching abilities that Reggie Bush deeply relies on. With no disrespect to the former Heisman winner, it is clear who the most "complete back" is in New Orleans.
The team obviously sees it too. Thomas will indeed be the lead back as far as carries this season - Drew Brees even admitted it on a New Orleans radio show.
Whether they're passing heavy or not, the Saints are a tremendous offense with Brees, Colston, Moore, and yes, let's not forget Bush, spreading the field.
In my opinion, the team's talent only help Thomas, who won't have the pressure of being focused on during his breakout year.
I have Thomas on this list for people drafting around picks 8-12 in their leagues. Say all the top backs are gone, and you're left debating between risks like Gore and Jackson, and stud receivers like Johnson (Andre) and Johnson (Calvin).
If it's up to me, I'm taking a wideout with my eye on Thomas for round two, or possibly three.
It's all about value, and Thomas is a player with plenty of it.