It's draft day. You are wearing your Unitas jersey, you have your six pack of beer and you are waiting for everyone to get settled in the draft room. Who are you going to pick? What happens if your sleepers get picked before you get a chance to grab them? What happens when you are stuck with Thomas Jones as your second running back?
Every drafter needs to keep a list of players that they will go all out to try and get, and a list of players who they will stay away from like the plague. Here is my list of players I Love and Hate going into the 2009 Fantasy Football Season. I'm going to try to defend each case to make my point to you also.
Steve Slaton—This guy came from nowhere last season to shock the entire fantasy community with 1600-plus all-purpose yards and 10 TDs (9 rushing, 1 receiving). If you are the type of guy who likes upside, Slaton is filled with it. First of all, I love the fact that he will get the bulk of the carries for Houston and their monster offense. Secondly, there aren't a lot of running backs these days who can say they get around 80 percent of the workload but Slaton is one of them. He also caught 50 receptions which is a lot for a running back if you think about it. He's got young legs and only looks to improve this year. I'm expecting 1400 rushing yards with 12 TDs from the young gun.
Calvin Johnson—I think you already know what you are getting with Megatron, but let me clarify it for you. This guy is a monster ready to unleash fury on the opponents. There is not a wide receiver in the league who can match his instinct, strength, and agility. When the ball goes in the air headed for this man, it will be caught. Some may argue that because the Lions have some uncertainty at the QB position, it will effect his numbers. I say that is a very big understatement to Calvin's abilities. One could argue last year's circumstances were the worst any wide receiver could face, but he continued to produce. After Roy Williams left, Johnson became even more consistent yardage-wise. This year he will be in his third year and he will take the league by storm...1500 receiving yards and 15 TDs.
Clinton Portis—Clinton "Tortoise" may not be a sexy pick anymore, but he is consistent. Consistency is what you want from your top picks. I'd rather not take my chances with "upside" with players who will determine my fantasy success, and grab upside later in the draft. Portis has played 16 games three out of his last four seasons. While he slowed down quite a bit last season, he still was one of the top RB with around 1700 yards and 9 TDs. If you are afraid of him slowing down later in the season (which is a valid argument) just trade him after week eight! Problem solved.
Marion Barber—Marion the Barbarian is a ferocious runner with a chip on his shoulder. He'd be the last guy I'd want to take a hit from, but one of the first guys I'd want on my fantasy team. His running style warrants concern for his health, but if the running back isn't running hard then he's not running well, right? Marion fights to the bitter end on every touch which maximizes his yards per carry. Do not pay attention to his 3.7 ypc from last year, he had a case of turf toe which can take down the mightiest runners (see LT). The only catch to drafting Barber and being successful is drafting his talented counterpart, Mr. Felix Jones. If/When Barber bites the dust in the middle of the season, Jones will be a great RB2 option for you. Drafting Barber gives you even more reason to draft Jones later as a handcuff.
Ronnie Brown—Brown has about as much upside as any running back in the league, and he is available to you much later than other comparable running backs. Take a look at his 2007-08 season before he tore his ACL. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry! He was on pace to be one of the top running backs in the league. He returned last year surprisingly, and he was effective but not the same. There is an old saying that I think rings true with every player: "It takes a full year to recover from ACL surgery." It wasn't a full year before Brown came back and he probably still felt the lingering effects of the surgery. Don't worry about Sticky-Icky-Ricky Williams taking carries from Brown, all he needs is around 15 to carry your fantasy team to the promised land.
Pierre Thomas—Pierre Thomas isn't a household name yet which is a shame. In the last three weeks of the fantasy football season (the most important weeks), the PT Cruiser slashed defenses for a combined 358 yards and 5 TDs. I'm very skeptical about whether Reggie Bush can stay healthy a full season and even play running back effectively. Reports say that Thomas has bulked up since last year, and I can see him being one of the top running backs for the year in the otherworldly Saints offense.
Vincent Jackson—V-Jax is one monster of an athlete (6'5" and 230 lbs) which is something you cannot teach. With LT's toe injury came a surge in San Diego's passing game which featured Jackson as a prominent target. Rivers may not repeat his numbers last year but there is no doubt in my mind about Jackson being a premiere wide receiver. He reminds me of Roddy White from last year. Just coming off a successful season, people were still a bit skeptical and he was lower than normal on draft boards because of his situation. Don't be one of those people this year and grab Jackson in the fifth or sixth round to reap the rewards. Oh, and keep in mind this is a contract year for Jackson, which is always a good thing in the fantasy world.
Eddie Royal—I don't think we can classify this guy as a sleeper anymore. Last year was just his rookie season and he was one of the league leaders in receptions with 91. Orton is the type of QB to take what the defense gives him and that may be quick passing routes to Royal all day long. It's almost pointless to remind you that the new coach for the Broncos is the former Patriot's offensive coordinator, which had another popular possession receiver. I don't really have to name him, though, do I?
Dallas Clark—If tight ends were awarded points based on great blocks, Dallas Clark would not be worth drafting. Good thing tight ends are measured in yards and touchdowns, though! This is where Clark comes in. He creates such a mismatch for the defense and he is one of Peyton Manning's favorite targets. It's not a bad thing receiving passes from Manning, ya know. With Harrison now gone, look for even more targets for the catch-happy tight end. If you pretend that Clark's 2006-07 season was a full season, you could say his receptions per year increased by about 15 each year. Wouldn't you want a guy getting 92 receptions from Peyton Manning on your team?
Carson Palmer/Chad Ochocinco—I feel like this preseason is different for Chad. I'm not hearing "I want to be traded!" or "We're going 16-0 baby!"...I see a focused and renewed Chad Johnson. For some reason, he has matured very quickly and football is now his biggest concern. We all know that Chad has the skills to be one of the best wideouts in the league, but his personality sometimes gets in the way of that. This year though, will be the year he sets the critics straight. As for Palmer, I'm hearing a lot of positive things from him. He's claiming to be 100 percent and I believe him. With renewed focus on the offensive side of the ball, I see a prolific year from this duo. To make things even better, they have the Bengals defense there to make every game a high scoring one.
Other guys I love:
Dustin Keller—Call it my Purdue homer pick but I watched him in college and he is the real deal...I'd even go as far as to say the best hands on the team.
Chris Cooley—You can't tell me he will only score 1 TD again this year.
DeSean Jackson—Please don't drop the ball before you get into the end zone this season.
Lance Moore—For a last round flier, he isn't a bad pick.
John Carlson—If you are looking for a TE later in the draft because you missed one of the elite, not a bad pick.
Knowshon Moreno/Donald Brown—Do not miss out on this year's Matt Forte. You can grab Moreno in the fifth round and Brown even later. Don't worry about Addai, his contract is almost up and Indy has a great past of drafting offensive talent (Manning, Addai, Wayne, Clark...not too shabby)
Jamaal Charles—This kid has unbelievable upside...mark my words...he will be the go-to guy by the end of the year. Grab him in the last round of your draft and then rub it in your league-mates' faces ten weeks later.
DeAngelo Williams—I hate D-Will. You can blame it on the fact that I didn't have him last year when he ripped off 20 TDs in my face, or you can blame it on the fact that I had a secret man crush on Jon Stewart and he was taking all his glory. In years past, Williams could not even land a starting gig against D. Foster and now you are tellin' me he is one of the best players in the league? Pfft...yeah right. I will not waste my first round pick on a guy who has to share carries with a guy who was drafted to take over the running back position for that team anyway. Give me a break.
Steven Jackson/Frank Gore—Why are people willing to throw their fantasy season away on draft day? I'm under the impression people are willing to spend first round picks on guys like Steven Jackson and Frank Gore when there are guys sitting on the table with extreme upside like Slaton and Chris Johnson?? When was the last time Jackson and Gore gave you a fantasy season to remember? Jackson's career 4.3 ypc doesn't get my blood flowing too much and he's as injury prone as my grandmother. Gore on the other hand is a slug who can't find the end zone. The most TDs he has scored is nine in one season! He averages less than seven TDs a season for crying out loud! Don't waste your first round picks on these guys who won't be able to find the end zone and are going to give you headaches all year with their ticky-tack injuries.
Drew Brees/Peyton Manning/Tom Brady—Ok, I'd be lying a little bit if I said I wouldn't want these studs on my team. I wouldn't be lying to you though if I said they are a waste of a first/second round pick. What can we expect from these guys? Thirty TDs and 3800 passing yards? I can name a few more QBs who you can get later who have that kind of upside. Aaron Rodgers, Carson Palmer, Kurt Warner, Tony Romo, Phillip Rivers, Donovan McNabb, Jay Cutler...hell even Matt Schaub could give you great fantasy numbers. Oh wait, did I just mention more than 10 QBs? Are there 10 teams in your league? I rest my case.
Derrick Ward—He's out of NYC and playing for the average Bucs? He's sharing carries with Earnest Graham? I'll let someone else draft him and the headaches that are bound to follow.
Cedric Benson—What is there to like about this guy? He is a bonehead, he is a huge risk given his past convictions and he didn't even really have a good season last year. On 214 carries he only scored twice and had a 3.5 ypc. If you find yourself considering Benson later in the draft, just turn on your "autopicking", exit the draft and buy a six pack of Bud Light. You will need it.
Any Old RB Not Named LT—Who am I talking about? Willie Parker, Brian Westbrook and Larry Johnson. We've seen the best days from these old horses, and it's time to move on. Don't let nostalgia suck you in.