This season I turn 10 in fantasy football years.
It was 1999, the year the Greatest Show on Turf wowed us all. Kurt Warner was a Hollywood rags to riches story come to life that was capped by one of the most thrilling Super Bowls ever.
Stephen Davis and rookie Edgerrin James were the top rushers in the league as far as touchdowns and yards went.
Warren Sapp was still a Buccaneer and Defensive Rookie of the Year Jevon “The Freak” Kearse was causing havoc in backfields as part of the newly renamed Tennessee Titans, who were formerly the Houston Oilers.
I was in my first year of college at UCF. One day I stumbled across this fantasy football thing and gave it shot.
It was like a junkie’s first hit of brown sugar.
Let’s put it this way, last season I had no less than 12 fantasy teams across five different websites.
Anyhow, to celebrate my anniversary, I’ve decided to share some of the knowledge I’ve picked up over the last decade so I can assist some folks as the fantasy drafts approach.
Instead of messing with the rankings that Yahoo or ESPN.com put out, I’ll be analyzing each division and the four teams contained therein. This way I think I’ll cover more ground and perhaps help someone unearth a diamond from each team, no matter how terrible they are.
I begin this eight part series in probably the third hardest division in football, the AFC East (after the NFC East and the NFC South; argue with me if you must).
Starting alphabetically, the Buffalo Bills are first under the spotlight. Last year they finished 7-9 for the second straight season and out of the playoffs yet again. They jumped out to a 4-0 start but once QB Trent Edwards went down, so did the rest of the team.
Fantasy Info Nuggets:
QB Trent Edwards—Like I said before, he started strong but it's hard to throw a football with a concussion. Despite the final stats from 2008 (11 TD, 10 Ints., 2,699 Yds.), I love Edwards as a late sleeper.
There are only three elite QB's that should be considered in first or second round territory: Brees, Brady and Manning.
After that, there are a number of quality QB's to be had anywhere between the ninth and 13th rounds. That said, Edwards' number should skyrocket this year and he could be a steal. Why? Well...
WR Terrell Owens: Listen, there's a reason I put his mug up for this slideshow. T.O. will be the most productive Bill in 2009.
He's a mentally ill, self-obsessed prima donna but damn it, he's a stud. Now the fact that he's been shipped off to upstate New York and he just turned 35 has put off some people, but not me. At this point he's a third to fifth rounder, which is a bargain as far as he's concerned.
DEF Buffalo: If there was one thing the underachieving Bills did right last season, it was play defense. They finished ranked 14th in total defense.
Consider them a good starting defense the majority of the season. The only time you'll think twice is when they face the Colts, the Pats and the Saints.
But then again, you'd think twice with most other defenses as well against those offensive powerhouses.
WR Lee Evans: He's always been an anxious pick for fantasy owners. Somehow, someway you get stuck with him even though you were planning on sticking to your guns and not drafting him. Well, as nervous as this makes me to put it into writing, I think Evans will do better than last year (63 Rec., 1,017 Yds., three TD's).
Well, maybe not in receptions or yards but definitely in TD's. T.O. will take some heat off of him and open up the field. I think. I hope.
RB Marshawn Lynch: Last year this guy was top 10. Now? I wouldn't touch him with a 10 foot long dread.
I'm sorry, but despite the decent stats (1,036 Yds., eight TD's) I feel he underperformed.
He starts 2009 sidelined by a three-game suspension, and that makes him a non option for me. By the way Lynch is under Ugly because he reminds me of the Predator with a grill.
The Miami Dolphins ended their 2008 campaign crowned the AFC East champions. Their success came from equal parts soft schedule, the dominant play of sack master Joey Porter, the highly effective Wildcat offense that every other team will mimic this season, and the once flimsy arm of QB Chad Penningtion revived and renewed.
Pennington injected this team with heart and drive and displayed MVP caliber leadership.
As for this season, can they repeat? My thinking is if they make it to 8-8, that could be seen as an accomplishment. Miami statistically has THE toughest schedule in the NFL. Number of wins is TBD.
Fantasy Info Nuggets:
RB Ronnie Brown: Brown is still a top 15 RB. He seems to be going late in the second round, so you can have him as your second or third back depending on your draft strategy.
He had a solid 2008 despite failing to break the 1,000 yard mark, but that probably has more to do with him splitting carries with Ricky Williams and all the passing the Dolphins did—including Ronnie's own passes.
He may not yield a ton of yardage but Brown has a nose for the end zone and that's what counts in fantasy football.
TE Anthony Fasano: Fasano catches touchdowns. That's all you need to know. He was third in scoring (not counting Pennington) behind K Dan Carpenter and RB Ronnie Brown with seven TD's. If you need a TE late, he should be there.
DEF Miami: Jason Taylor is back! He'll be rejoinng a defense that had 17 interceptions, 18 forced fumbles and 40 sacks (17-and-a-half of which were by Pro Bowler Joey Porter).
The secondary is young but improved. The only question mark is if they can be a scoring defense and how effective the kick return game can be. Ted Ginn is no Devin Hester but he seems poised to make on impact on special teams.
QB Chad Pennington: Chad isn't going to take any fantasy leagues by storm trust me, but what he can do is be a stable fill-in for you if your starter is injured or by some dumb accident you drafted two QB's with the same bye week.
It happens...but it shouldn't.
RB Ricky Williams: Ricky will be stronger this year but will he be faster? Will he not put the ball on the ground? Will he make the catches he needs to make?
I'm not sold on Ricky.
He had his chances last season and didn't produce. At times third stringer Patrick Cobbs looked better.
There are plenty of RB's to choose from this year, look elsewhere.
WR Ted Ginn Jr.: Teddy Ginn was the Dolphins leading receiver last season with 56 catches. He also coughed up the ball three times and only scored four TD's (two receiving and two rushing).
I believe that if Ginn doesn't break out this year, he never will. If you are contemplating taking the Ginnster, keep in mind that even though he was the leading receiver, he only had one more catch than Greg Camarillo (who was the leading pass catcher until he went down for the season) and two more catches than Davone Bess, a rookie.
The main reason the Miami Dolphins will have a hard time repeating as the AFC East Champions is because the New England Patriots still play in the NFL and not the CFL.
They were only the second team to go 11-5 and miss the playoffs. With the return of Tom Brady, a healthy Richard Seymour and the addition of veterans Joey Galloway and Fred Taylor, that won't happen this year.
Fantasy Info Nuggets:
QB Tom Brady: I hate this guy so much. He's so perfect I that I can't complain about anything else except that he's perfect.
Look, I'm not going to spend a lot of time on Brady. He blew his knee out last season but after watching him back on the field in that first preseason game against the Eagles, it's obvious that knee injuries don't affect arm strength and accuracy or football intelligence.
If Brady is available anytime between the number five pick and the number 15 pick, take him. Don't think about it, just do it. Invite me to your victory party at the end of the season.
WR Randy Moss: After an "off" year where Moss "only" had 69 catches, 1,008 yards and 11 touchdowns, expect his numbers to triple with Brady slinging it again.
I'm kidding of course...sort of.
Okay, maybe Moss won't have the same ungodly numbers he accrued in 2007 but then again, why not? The point is this: It's hard to win without elite wide receivers and Moss is one of them.
I'm a running backs first, wide receivers way later kind of drafter but if Moss, Fitzgerald or Johnson land in my lap, I change my strategy right then and there, believe you me.
WR Wes Welker: He's awesome and the Dolphins were fools for letting him go three years ago. Oh wait, you need a fantasy breakdown?
Okay, how about this: Welker had 111 catches for 1,165 last season WITHOUT Brady. It's rare that one team has two top tier receivers on its roster.
So, if you miss out on Moss, hope you can grab a guy like Welker or better yet, good old Wes himself.
K Stephen Gostkowski: Not only was Gostkowski the team's leading scorer, but he was also the NFL's leading scorer with 148 points.
I think those numbers will decrease this season since I don't foresee the Pats kicking as many field goals as they did last season.
Hey, on the bright side, if you draft Gostkowski, at least you'll get points for all the extra points he'll be kicking for these touchdown machines.
DEF New England: All right, I'm not saying here that they're particularly bad, per se. But the Pats defense hasn't been as stifling as it has been in recent memory.
There was a time a few years ago when I could draft this defense and rely on it for a few points. Those points are fewer now and their defense is quite mediocre (they were ranked 29th last season in total defense).
The one true bright spot last season though was rookie linebacker Jerod Mayo who had 128 tackles. The main problem with this defense is that they don't produce turnovers or rack up enough sacks. This doesn't bode well in fantasy football.
RB All of Them: Ugh. I never want to see another New England RB on any of my fantasy football rosters. Raise your hand if Laurence Maroney has burned you more than once.
Yeah, that's a lot of hands.
Maroney, Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk—this team isn't just running back by committee, it's a clown car of running backs waiting to squirt you in the face with fake flowers.
If you at any point have no choice but to pick up one of these Bozo's in a waiver wire panic reflex, take Morris. He's the goal line battering ram. But again, last option people.
Forget last season ever happened, Jets fans. Man-genius *chuckle* is gone and so is Brett-nidict Arnold Favre.
Mangini is busy making poor decisions in Cleveland and the number four train is charging full steam ahead into the Metrodome. It should derail sometime around the 12th game of the season.
No this year it's all about Mark Sanchez and renewed hope. Rex Ryan will have this team ready to play, especially that defense.
Bart Scott and Lito Sheppard were great adds. If the Jets have any chance against their tough AFC East rivals, the defense should be the side to carry them.
Then again, Marvin Lewis was supposed to be a defensive guru and we've all seen how effective the Bengals defense has been under his command.
Fantasy Info Nuggets:
RB Thomas Jones: Jones had 1,312 yards and 13 TD's. Those are darn good numbers for any back. Anyone taking him in the first/second round can expect similar numbers mainly due to his stout offensive line opening up four lane highways for him to run through.
The only way I see his stats declining is if the coaches, in an attempt to keep back up Leon Washington happy, start splitting the carries between the two.
RB Leon Washington: Speaking of whom, I like Washington as a handcuff to Jones. If they do split time, Washington has the better explosiveness. He's a big play guy and if Jones misses any time, expect Leon's value to increase exponentially.
WR Jericho Cotchery: Last year's leading receiver is also this year's only sure fire starter at WR. With the departure of Laveranues Coles to Cincinnati, Cotchery is QB's (insert name here) go to guy. He's not a top tier receiver but a good pick in the later garbage rounds, somewhere around the 12th to 16th rounds.
TE Dustin Keller: Don't worry if you don't snag Tony G., Jason Witten, or Antonio Gates. The TE field is crowded this year.
Keller is right in the middle of the pack considering he was the third leading receiver last season as rookie with 48 grabs for 535 yards and three TD's.
His numbers should go up in 2009 since he has one more year of experience and young QB's tend to dump off on their tight ends more often than not.
DEF New York: They won't be the Ravens or the Vikings but they could be in the vicinity of their Meadowlands brethren, the Giants.
Defense isn't an especially crucial point producer in fantasy football. Of course that doesn't mean you can skimp here. A porous defense that allows too many yards or points can deduct points from your team.
Thus, a defense like the Jets can hold the fort down without worry of giving up 42 and the potential to cause favorable turnovers. Additionally, with Leon Washington returning kicks, that could give this defense a points boost.
QB Mark Sanchez: No, don't draft Sanchez and start him yet but do keep an eye on him. I would never endorse a rookie for fantasy football but the kid looks good so far and if he gets the starting nod, a Matt Ryan type year is possible.
Keep tabs on number six, if he's producing mid season, he might be worth a roster spot. Hopefully he'll be more Carson Palmer than Matt Leinart.
QB Kellen Clemens: I could have easily switched Clemens for Sanchez and vice versa, but it's not an indication of either players talent.
The real "bad" here is the QB position battle the Jets are enduring. We won't know the starter until kickoff weekend and that means fantasy football drafters should stay away from either QB.
It looks like Sanchez will be the guy under center come September but it's still too early to tell. This also affects how or if Jets WR's are taken.
WR Chansi Stuckey: The number two receiver gig is still up for grabs and Stuckey is certainly no shoo-in.
I personally liked what I saw late in the year last season from Stuckey who certainly caught Brett Favre's attention.
This spot is still too uncertain with David Clowney, Brad Smith and rookie Kenny Britt vying for playing time. There are better options on other clubs.