Let’s face it, anybody can draft Michael Turner in the first round and Greg Jennings in the second. No matter what your level of expertise is, just about everyone in your fantasy draft is going to be familiar with the big-name players at the top of the board.
But if you want to put together a championship-caliber roster, you need to draft a solid supporting cast of players who can not only provide depth to your team but can also step into the starting lineup if something goes wrong.
For those who play in leagues with 12 or more teams, here are 10 names you should be watching on draft day. This doesn’t mean you should draft all these guys as much as it means you should be monitoring where they become good value picks.
If you play in a league with fewer than 12 teams, most of these players should be monitored on the waiver wire.
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1. David Garrard, Jacksonville Jaguars
Garrard is being targeted in the 12th round and has an ADP of 134.1. That’s a pretty late selection for a guy who threw for 3,600-plus yards and finished in the top 10 among quarterbacks in standard scoring formats. Despite wide receiver Torry Holt’s age, he’s still an upgrade over the lackluster receiving unit the Jags trotted onto the field in 2008.
Garrard isn’t flashy and will stumble at times, but his 2009 potential and low ADP make him an intriguing backup option. If wide receiver Mike Walker can step up and make some plays this season, look for Garrard to improve on last year’s 15 touchdown passes.
2. Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks
If Hasselbeck can stay healthy this season, he could end up being the quarterback steal of the draft. Not counting last year’s seven-game season, Hass has topped 3,350 yards passing and thrown 22 or more touchdowns in four of the past five years.
He’s looked very efficient and effective this preseason, completing 38 of 53 passes for 414 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception.
Newly acquired wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh gives Hasselbeck a legitimate red zone target, and tight end John Carlson is a top-notch safety valve. It’s hard to believe the guy has an ADP of 109.7 with six games against the Rams, 49ers, and Cardinals.
3. Tim Hightower, Arizona Cardinals
Let’s be clear about something: The job belongs to rookie first-round pick Beanie Wells (Ohio State). But Wells is an injury risk who battled foot problems at Ohio State and has already been held out of some preseason action due to a sprained ankle, meaning there’s no guarantee the guy can make it through a 16-game season.
Enter Tim Hightower, who racked up 10 touchdowns last season and rushed for 104 yards on 21 carries (4.9 YPC) in three preseason games in August. He’s being targeted in the ninth round with an ADP of 98.6. Not bad for a guy who could step into the starter’s role at some point during the 2009 season.
4. James Davis, Cleveland Browns
I’ve been talking a lot about Davis recently, so his appearance on this list should come as no surprise to most of you. The rookie from Clemson has been turning some heads this preseason, as he’s taking advantage of an injury to backup running back Jerome Harrison. Davis has rushed for an impressive 149 yards on 19 carries, including an 81-yard touchdown scamper against the Detroit Lions.
Throw in seven receptions for 44 yards, and you have a potentially explosive weapon who could greatly benefit the Browns’ anemic offense. Starting running back Jamal Lewis is in the twilight of his career, and Michael Lombardi believes there’s a chance he may end up getting cut.
Davis is being selected around the 12th round with an ADP of 145.5, but fantasy owners need to be cautious. Four games against the Steelers and Ravens limit his starting potential.
5. Peyton Hillis/Correll Buckhalter, Denver Broncos
I’m giving you two for the price of one as owners should be monitoring the backup running back situation in Denver. Although rookie first-round pick Knowshon Moreno is likely to be the featured back in the Mile High City, whichever of the aforementioned two running backs can lock down the No. 2 duties will be in prime position to succeed should something happen to Moreno.
Even if Moreno stays healthy, there is some upside here. The Broncos have one of the best offensive lines in football and a brand new offensive system that is very aggressive. Hillis is currently being targeted in the 13th round with an ADP of 149.4, while Buckhalter’s ADP is 154.2.
6. Josh Morgan, San Francisco 49ers
Morgan enters his second year in the NFL and is very quietly flying below the radar. With rookie wideout Michael Crabtree still not under contract and Isaac Bruce continuing to inch towards a Social Security check, Morgan is in prime position to be one of quarterback Shaun Hill’s top targets in 2009.
The 49ers have to throw the ball to somebody this season, and Morgan is currently their best option. Look for him somewhere between the 10th and 12th rounds. His ADP is currently 117.7.
7. Justin Gage, Tennessee Titans
Gage is usually selected in the 12th round with an ADP of 134.2. That seems a little low for a guy who essentially just became the No. 1 wideout in Tennessee, doesn’t it? With free agent acquisition Nate Washington nursing a hamstring problem, Gage will be quarterback Kerry Collins’ go-to guy early in the season and possibly throughout the entire year.
He scored six touchdowns in 2008 despite catching only 34 passes and is at it again this preseason, finding the end zone twice on just eight receptions. One disclaimer: Look out for rookie Kenny Britt (Rutgers). He could make an impact this year as well.
8. Steve Smith, New York Giants
Smith caught 57 passes last year with Plaxico Burress in the lineup and isn’t being drafted until the 13th round with an ADP of 146.9. He’s now the No. 1 receiver on a Giants team that will need to throw the football in order to beat out the likes of Dallas and Philadelphia for another NFC East crown.
Consider him a boom or bust type player. As Eli Manning’s top target, Smith has the potential to catch 80 passes this year, making him a late-round steal. However, with so much uncertainty at the receiver position in New York, Smith could end up with numbers similar to what he produced in 2008, making him a bench player at best.
9. Zach Miller, Oakland Raiders
Yes, the Raiders are going to struggle this year (sorry Oakland fans, but that is a fact), but Miller is one of the few bright spots on an offense that is filled with inexperience.
Based on his 2008 numbers, look at what Miller can bring you as a 13th round pick: 56 receptions (eighth among tight ends), 778 receiving yards (sixth among tight ends), and a YPR average of 13.9 (fourth among tight ends, 30 receptions minimum).
He led the Raiders in receiving last year, and as quarterback JaMarcus Russell feels the pocket start to collapse, he always loves to look for his reliable tight end. Miller has already caught eight passes for 90 yards this preseason. Just don’t expect a lot of touchdowns.
10. New England Patriots
I’ve been hyping the Pats D/ST a lot this preseason, but as I continue to look around the Internet, one thing remains clear: This unit gets no respect.
Generally targeted in the 13th round with an ADP of 148.2, the Patriots are one of those defenses that is going to surprise a lot of people this year. The addition of pass rusher Derrick Burgess will help to generate some serious pressure up front, taking some of the load off of the Patriots’ cornerbacks.
In addition, do you remember what this unit did in 2007 when Tom Brady and Randy Moss put up that epic season? The Pats finished the year ranked No. 1 among fantasy defenses.
Why? Because the offense was able to get such a big lead, it forced opposing offenses to throw the ball in an effort to keep up. This allowed the New England defense to sit back in nickel and dime coverage and pick off passes.
They may not finish in the top three this season, but they are an excellent value pick with a nice schedule.
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