Fantasy Football: 15 Players to Draft with Confidence
After going through the top 50 players in the league who provide good potential but give you reason to worry, I decided to put together a smaller list of guys that you shouldn't think twice about drafting.
Drew Brees (pictured) doesn't even have to be on the list. But a better example there is not.
Outside of a freak, Tom Brady-like injury, Brees should easily top 4,500 yards again and could flirt with 30 scores for the second straight year.
He is clearly what makes that potent offense go, and with a healthy arsenal of weapons all around him, there's no reason to doubt him or the Saints in 2009.
But Brees is just the first of many players you shouldn't second-guess.
However, sometimes when you're drafting, those "guarantees" will fly off the board, and you're left with too many decisions and not enough real answers.
Read on to see if the players you're targeting in your draft are "sure things."
(List is in no particular order.)
1. Randy Moss, WR, New England Patriots
This isn't Oakland or Minnesota.
Randy Moss is playing dominant football, and he's doing it with a smile.
Even without his stud quarterback, Tom Brady, he had a solid 2008, with over 1,000 yards and 10 scores.
He may not get back to 23 touchdowns, but with Brady and that offense gearing for a potential return to 2007 form, he's as safe a bet as any star receiver.
Prediction: 84 rec, 1,390 yards, 15 TD
2. Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots
Much like Moss, Welker benefits from a great New England system, as well as the return of 2007's NFL MVP, Tom Brady.
Again, like Moss, the most beautiful part about this receiver is that even without his star quarterback, his production really didn't drop off too much.
Mark him down for two straight seasons with at least 111 catches and 1,100 yards.
I'd bet on a third.
Prediction: 115 rec, 1,224 yards, 7 TD
3. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Manning won't miss Marvin Harrison as much as many think.
Harrison has been on a downward slide for two seasons now, and Manning has been able to build great chemistry with his No. 1 guy, Reggie Wayne, as well as Dallas Clark and Anthony Gonzalez.
Gonzalez gives the Colts the speed Harrison "used" to have, as well as reliable hands and good route-running.
With offensive coordinator Tom Moore back under contract, you can safely assume Manning should be in line for his usual 26-plus touchdowns and 4,000-plus yards.
You can talk about age (33) and last year's knee surgery all you want, but the guy has never tossed fewer than 26 touchdowns and has passed for less than 4,000 yards just TWICE in his entire career.
Oh, and he was the league's MVP last year. Yeah, he's still got it.
Prediction: 4,177 yards, 30 TD, 14 INT
4. Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis Colts
It's as simple as this: If you're even remotely sold on Manning continuing his dominance (he will), then Wayne is your second man in line.
He's basically been Manning's go-to guy for the past two years, anyways (sorry Marvin).
The guy is just entering his prime at 30 years old and is only one season removed from a sickening 104-catch, 1,500-yard season.
Expect a return to his 2007 form, or very close to it.
Prediction: 97 rec, 1,388 yards, 11 TD
5. Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers
Sure, Gates' receptions have gone from 89 to 71 to 75, and then all the way down to 60 last year.
But he hasn't scored fewer than eight touchdowns since his rookie year.
Yeah, that's five straight years of being the league's best tight end.
However, his bum toe has taken him out of his title spot (you're welcome, Jason Witten), and now he mostly settles for touchdowns as the Chargers' third receiving option.
Gates should be close to full health in 2009, though, which should mean fewer plays as a decoy and anywhere from 15 to 30 more grabs.
If all else fails, you have his insane touchdown production to fall back on.
Prediction: 80 rec, 985 yards, 12 TD
6. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, San Diego Chargers
Like his teammate Gates, Tomlinson played through nagging injuries in 2008 that slowed him down and kept him from being his usual electrifying self.
L.T. put up solid numbers (1,110 yards and 11 TD) in what experts called a "down" year.
That may be true, but only because L.T. has shown us for so many years what he is capable of.
The franchising of Darren Sproles means that L.T.'s production is very unlikely to get back anywhere close to his majestic 2006 season, and possibly not even his elite 2007 production.
However, he's still in his prime, and if he can do damage with all the injuries he had last year, he definitely has another year or two of quality production.
He may not be a surefire No. 1-4 pick, but he's still a first-rounder.
Prediction: 1,390 yards, 12 TD, 55 rec, 477 yards, 3 TD
7. Clinton Portis, RB, Washington Redskins
Too much focus has been put on Portis's late-season slump in 2008, where he failed to rush for a touchdown over a seven-game span and finished the season with less than 80 rushing yards in five straight contests.
His yards per carry was pretty pitiful down the stretch, too.
But here's where common sense comes to the rescue.
The ENTIRE offense was pathetic during the last eight games, and a lot of that had to do with Jason Campbell's lack of a killer instinct and Jim Zorn's offense becoming too predictable.
Portis should be good for another hot start as the offense continues to grow and the other young weapons around him mature.
Be aware of the possibility of another late-season collapse, but at just 27, that's a bit of a reach.
Prediction: 1,466 yards, 10 TD, 35 rec, 349 yards, 2 TD
8. Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys
While everyone else is reaching for Donald Driver or Jerricho Cotchery as their WR3, you can smile with confidence as you snag Witten as YOUR third receiving option.
With Terrell Owens gone, Witten is more like a receiver than ever, and he should keep his reception and yardage total high while he gets back to the six- or seven-touchdown range.
He's too big, fast, and strong to be kept out of the end zone for long without pay dirt hog T.O. gone.
Prediction: 94 rec, 1,117 yards, 8 TD
9. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
As if you weren't expecting Mr. "All-Day" to show up on this list sooner or later.
Sure, he fumbles, plays recklessly, and is in an increasingly more competitive division (on paper) by the day.
But when the guy can run over AND around just about anybody he wants to, it's pretty hard to doubt his abilities.
His play could catch up with him eventually, but if Brett Favre signs, something tells me it won't be happening in 2009.
With a true presence (albeit a 40-year-old one) behind center, Peterson will finally shine to his fullest.
Just an interesting note:
Jets RB Thomas Jones' 2007 TD total (before Favre arrived: ONE
Jones' total with Favre at QB in 2008: 13
A.P. scored 10 times last year while leading the league in rushing with over 1,700 yards.
Oh, the possibilities.
Prediction: 1,669 yards, 17 TD, 27 rec, 288 yards, 2 TD
10. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
The entire 2008 season was about taking the place of a legend and making his own mark in Green Bay.
Aaron Rodgers did both. The only problem was, his defense didn't back him up AT ALL.
With a new scheme and players in new spots in some areas, Rodgers will hopefully have a serviceable defense defending the other end zone.
In the meantime, Rodgers still has a hell of a right arm, is mobile, and has a slew of offensive weapons who are just as productive as he is.
With over 4,000 yards passing and 31 total touchdowns in his first year as a starter, it's safe to say he's arrived.
Now just cross your fingers he makes it through 16 games—again.
Prediction: 3,988 yards, 27 TD, 14 INT
11. Steve Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers
Smith is being held back by an ineffective quarterback and average receivers surrounding him, yet is still an elite fantasy option.
And a consistent and reliable one to boot.
Despite Jake Delhomme's poor play at times, Smith is still arguably a top-five option and is entering his prime.
He still has game-breaking speed, excellent hands, and body control, and he makes plays on every ball thrown his way.
Don't let Delhomme scare you away from four straight 1,000-yard seasons.
Prediction: 85 rec, 1,369 yards, 9 TD
12. Roddy White, WR, Atlanta Falcons
White is officially "the" guy in Atlanta's passing game, and even the arrival of Tony Gonzalez shouldn't change that.
His chemistry with Matt Ryan is outstanding and should only improve, while two straight seasons of 1,200-plus yards and at least six scores should keep you salivating.
He's also grabbed over 83 balls in each of the past two seasons.
He's only 27 and is just going to get better.
Prediction: 90 rec, 1,444 yards, 10 TD
13. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Forget about his ridiculous 2008 postseason run.
Tons of players go "off" in the playoffs and then fizzle out the next season.
Fitz, however, has been doing this for years.
Draft him based on the three 1,400-yard and 10-plus touchdown seasons out of his last four tries.
The guy has size, speed, reliable hands, excellent body control, and a Pro Bowl quarterback.
Just knock on wood when thinking about him being on the Madden cover.
Prediction: 101 rec, 1,515 yards, 15 TD
14. Kurt Warner, QB, Arizona Cardinals
What are you waiting for, Warner to grow a long, white beard, fall and break his hip, or retire unexpectedly?
Don't wait on it.
Warner may be 38, but he isn't playing with the body of the usual late-30s quarterback. He still has a good arm and is sickly accurate.
Oh, and he has two of the game's best receiving options (Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin), as well as underrated third and fourth options.
Sure, he could always shatter like glass, but then again, so could anyone else in this league.
If you're really that worried, grab Matt Leinart later in the draft as insurance.
Prediction: 4,377 yards, 29 TD, 15 INT
15. Steven Jackson vs. Frank Gore (Rams/49ers)
Both Steven Jackson and Frank Gore are elusive backs with exceptional speed, inside running ability, and vision.
The trouble is, they can't stay completely healthy, and the rest of their offense stinks.
Neither has a reliable quarterback or passing game, and both of their defenses still could use some work.
However, the tide is turning.
Despite all of these things working against them, both backs have churned out back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns and have tons of room for fantasy optimism.
Jackson has a new coach with an emphasis on defense and running the ball.
Ding, ding, ding! We've got a winner.
You can say much the same for Gore as well.
His quarterback situation may not be resolved completely in 2009, but his carries should increase, as the Mike Martz system kept him well below 300 carries.
Both backs should see the ball at least 18 to 25 times a game and are still the featured offensive players on their teams.
So, barring a major injury, they should easily be top-10 fantasy backs and are viable RB1 candidates.
Jackson Prediction: 1,359 yards, 11 TD, 64 rec, 525 yards, 2 TD
Gore Prediction: 1,288 yards, nine TD, 49 rec, 358 yards, 2 TD