Top Ten Fantasy Football Players -- 2008

Daniel GorterCorrespondent IAugust 23, 2008

You are at your draft. You have the fourth pick. LaDainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson, and Brian Westbrook fly off the board as the first three picks. You are trying to decide between Tom Brady, Joseph Addai, and Steven Jackson. You are tempted to grab Tom Brady. To get someone who produces so many points every week is hard to turn down. But you know running backs go fast, and that if you do not pick an elite back right now, you may pay for it later on. Good quarterbacks are available later in the draft. So you shift your focus to Joseph Addai. He was a monster in just his second year. He runs and catches the ball in one of the best offenses in the league. He seems on the brink of an amazing year. But then you think about Steven Jackson. He had a jaw-dropping 2006 year. If not for his terrible line last year, he probably would have been a great producer. He is the center of the Ram's offense, catching and running the ball extremely well. With an improved line and a new offensive coordinator that will constantly give him the ball, he seems ready to get back to 2006 form, or even better. So who do you choose? Addai or Jackson?

There are tons of tough choices in fantasy drafts. Cheat sheets don't help a lot when you are second guessing all the decisions you thought were easy heading into the draft. Circumstances change, and many things won't happen like you expect them to going in to the draft. Questions are everywhere. Who will slow down this year? Who will have a breakout season? Who will be a consistent producer? Who will be a bust? I cannot tell the future, and I don't have all the answers. Some things are just impossible to see coming. No one could have known Shaun Alexander would drop so low after two great seasons in 2005 and 2006. No one could have foretold that Ryan Grant would be the best fantasy running back in the second half of last season. Who could have known Adrian Peterson would lead fantasy running backs in the first half of the season?  Who could have known Derek Anderson would become an elite quarterback?

Fantasy seasons never occur as expected. However, some players seem poised to have great seasons. Some are very safe and make a solid pick. Some seem to be on a downhill path. Some will always produce quite well, but never spectacularly. Looking back, some sudden changes in fantasy players could have been predicted. Some changes, however, occur seemingly at random, such as fluke injuries or a sudden opportunity for a player to become a starter. That is where depth on a team is important. If you have questions about a player, choose a solid backup. But it is still important to pick players you think will do well. Who you choose is based on your strategy. Some people, when heading into drafts, resort to safe picks that they know will do well. Others follow the hype, and trust the experts. Some people take the risks and hope they pay off. Some use their gut feeling. Usually a balance of these does best. Formulate your own opinion, but always keep informed of what is going on. If you think someone is going to have a breakout season, but he ends up doing terrible in the preseason and loses some places on his team's depth chart, you should rethink when or whether you should draft him. If you don't know much about a certain player's fantasy value, trusting the experts might end up best. If you have a gut feeling that someone will be a bust, resort to the safer pick. So instead of predicting the future, I will present ten excellent players that I think will do well. I can guarantee you that these will not be the top ten players at the end of the season. But hopefully I can hit a few targets and help you sort through the all the questions surrounding different players. So here goes ...


1. LaDainian Tomlinson

Pros: Consistency, Consistency, Consistency. Tomlinson is always either good, or great. He consistently produces great numbers every year. He can run, catch, and throw the ball. He is a touchdown machine. If you want a safe pick, choose Tomlinson. He may not be the number one back at the end of the season, and I don't think he will be, but he will be in the top five. He never seems to slow down. He is the center of the Charger's high octane offense. He is an anchor for a fantasy team, someone who will not go up and down. Yes, he is approaching the dreaded age of thirty, but don't worry, he doesn't seem to be wearing down. He has recovered from his playoff injury, and other than that, he is practically immune to injuries. He is definitely the safest pick. After seeing what Tomlinson did in 2006, no one can doubt him. True, he won't repeat 2006's numbers. But if last year was a down year, you know this player is special.

Cons: He is past his prime. Maybe last year was not just a down year. It could be the beginning of a downhill descent. He likely will not be the top back at the end of the season, and other players have more upside. His prospects are just not as exciting as some of the other players' prospects for this fantasy year. If you want pure upside, or if you like taking risks, maybe you would like Adrian Peterson instead.

2. Adrian Peterson

Pros: Talent, Talent, Talent. This kid is amazing. His skills are jaw-dropping. His talent is absolutely stunning. If you saw what he did to the Chargers and Bears, you know how special this player is. He has excellent work ethic, and plays so well on the field. Combine extremely rare talent, raw skills, and hard work and practice, you have a recipe for an unstoppable back. The sky is the limit for this player. He has the potential to make history. In fact, I think he is the best running back in the league, based on talent and not on stats. He has been working hard in the preseason to prepare for defensive schemes that put eight men in the box. No matter how hard defenses try, they can't take away talent. Last year, Peterson had an incredible 5.6 yard per carry. With the opportunities the Vikings will give to him, and with his skill, don't be surprised if he makes history this year. If you are willing to take a risk, Peterson could produce fantasy numbers you could only dream of.

Cons: I was tempted to put Brian Westbrook ahead of Adrian Peterson. Teams will focus solely on him, and try to shut him down completely. When teams started doing that last year, Peterson's fantasy numbers plummeted. Teams put eight men in the box, and Peterson struggled a lot. Even if the Vikings pass offense does improve, this will not stop opponents' defenses from focusing on Peterson. They just cannot afford 296 yard games. He is also injury prone. One of the main reasons teams shied away from Peterson in the 2007 NFL draft was because he was injury prone. Peterson getting injured last year should worry you even more. The prospect that Peterson will stay healthy is not something you can sleep well on. Also, the Vikings will use Peterson less this year, and try a more balanced offense. Finally, Peterson will be sharing many valuable carries with Chester Taylor, who is doing a lot of work in the first team offense. When a team has two starting running backs, it doesn't deem well for fantasy owners.

3. Brian Westbrook

Pros: Brian Westbrook is the Eagle's offense. And the Eagle's offense is good. When a running back has the same amount of receptions as many good wide receivers, you know they are something special. When they back that up by being an excellent running back in their own right, you have someone amazing. And Brian Westbrook is definitely amazing. If you are in a points per reception league, Westbrook is fantasy gold. In fact, I would even consider him for the first or second pick in that case. Westbrook is quite reliable also. He has never been the top running back heading into fantasy drafts. He is never the new guy on the block, never the risky choice. He is always just there. But Westbrook is more than just reliable, he can have huge games too. If you are in a points per reception league or want a pretty reliable back that will have some huge games, then Brian Westbrook could be a good pick.

Cons: There is a reason Brian Westbrook has never been the top guy. First of all, he just ends up with lower numbers. Yes, he can have good games. However, he just does not produce some of the huge numbers other backs produce. He makes up for this in points per reception leagues. However, if you aren't in a points per reception league, Brian Westbrook isn't necessarily going to be a stellar back. Don't get me wrong, he is a great fantasy producer. He just isn't quite in the league of LaDainian Tomlinson or Adrian Peterson. Also, Westbrook is injury prone. This is never good, and could bring your team down.

4. Steven Jackson

Pros: Steven Jackson has played behind a poor line. He has played with a 3-13 team. He has dealt with injuries and a struggling surrounding cast. Yet he still produced. Sure, his 2007 numbers weren't even close to his 2006 numbers, but he dealt with what came to him, and actually played very well for his circumstances. Now with an improved line, and new offensive coordinator who will give the ball to him in any way he can, and with a healthy surrounding cast, expect 2006-type numbers again. There is no doubt about it, Jackson is an amazing runner. And this may be the year he joins the league of the greats. Injuries, a terrible line, and struggling teammates prevented him from repeating his 2006 numbers last year. However, things will get back to normal, and the only place he can go is up. And I'm pretty sure he will go way up.  

Cons: Jackson is a risky pick. After such a disappointing fantasy season last year, many teams will be hesitant to draft him. Although improved, the line isn't that great. And he is still on the same team that went 3-13 last year. Jackson has only had one great year, so it is hard to predict how he will do. He could be a huge disappointment again. His injury last year also raises questions about his durability. His long holdout from camp could affect how ready he is for the season. With so many question marks, the risk for Jackson may not be worth taking. His is definitely not a safe pick.

5. Tom Brady

Pros: When a quarterback averages over twenty three points every game in a league that has four point touchdowns and one point for every twenty five yards passing, you know they have to be amazing. In a league with six points per passing touchdown, fifty touchdowns translates into pure fantasy gold. Tom Brady produced insane numbers last season. In fact, if it was guaranteed that he would produce the same this year, I might take him with the first overall pick. However, Tom Brady will very likely not repeat last years numbers. But when you got Randy Moss and Wes Welker to throw to, Tom Brady is still a force to be reckoned with. With such a high caliber receiving corps, Tom Brady could easily merit a very high pick. Fantasy-wise, he is in a league of his own. You can safely expect big numbers from him. You can hope for gigantic numbers from him. With the bitter taste of Super Bowl defeat in his mouth, he is ready to have pay back time.

Cons: There isn't much to say against Brady. However, repeating last year's numbers will be very hard, and he may be picked to high. It severely handicaps a team to have to wait until the second round to grab a running back. Grabbing Brady may hurt you in the long run. If you are in a four point per passing touchdown league, it is best to grab a running back, or maybe wide receiver, in the first round. There are plenty of capable quarterbacks in later rounds. Brady just might not be worth his pick. Also, expect more running from the Patriots this year. Brady is a stud, but is he worth such a high pick?

6. Frank Gore

Pros: Frank Gore exploded onto the scene in 2006. His first year as a starter, he made heads turn. His combination of power, vision, and instinct proved lethal. However, his 2007 was not that great. It was good, but it definitely did not live up to expectations. But now with a new offensive coordinator, Frank Gore is ready to expand his role on the team. Slimming down during the offseason, Frank Gore took advice from Marshall Faulk and is ready to have a bigger load with more receiving in this new offense. Frank Gore wants big things from himself this year, and reports seem to say his offseason practicing has paid off. Frank Gore looks better than ever. His third year as starter, he is ready to run over every team he faces and carry the 49ers with him. Expect his best year yet. Frank Gore isn't extremely safe, but he seems at the brink of a career year. If he is in good form, he should be quite reliable but still explosive, having big games but consistently producing every week. He has a huge upside, and could prove to be an excellent pick.                                                                                              

Cons: Gore has been a starter for only two years. When only one of those years was good, you can't rely on him doing great this year. With such a poor passing game, and a quarterback controversy, Gore will have to carry the team almost single-handedly, which is hard for someone coming off a bad year and only having two starting years of experience. Frank Gore has not been a household name for long, and could fall back into the lower tiers of backs. Defenses will focus on him only, and he doesn't have a team around him that will make them pay. He could be a bust again.

7. Joseph Addai 

Pros: Joseph Addai is a key component in an incredible offense. In only his second year, he proved that he can be an elite running back in the NFL. He produced fifteen touchdowns, not a number that you can laugh at. He can run and catch, and is another target for Peyton Manning, arguably the best quarterback in the league. Addai is still young and could have a breakout year. He will likely get many touchdowns, and when combining his rushing and receiving yards, his total yardage should be pretty good too. He has a good line, and the Colt's amazing passing game will keep the running game open for Addai. Addai has great vision, and should get the job done. As part of such a great offense, he is a pretty safe pick. However, he has a big upside. He likely will do well, but not spectacular. However, he has the potential to breakout. He is a safe pick yet still has good upside, which could provide your team with an excellent starter.

Cons: Addai has good vision and is a pretty good back. However, there are many good backs in the league. His talent isn't in the same league as people like Tomlinson, Peterson, Westbrook, and Jackson. He probably will not get very many carries, as the Colts are a pass happy team. He does not have a lot specifically against him, however, it is hard to imagine him being in the top three backs at the end of the season. He won't get exhaustive opportunities as other backs will. He is quite safe, but there might be other backs that you could get a couple picks later that could end up with a better fantasy season than Addai.

8. Marion Barber

Pros: Marion "the Barbarion" Barber is tough to bring down. He fights for every yard he can get. In an offense like the Cowboy's, the passing game will draw defenses away from Barber. Barber will make them pay. He has shown his amazing skills as a backup for Julius Jones. Now he is finally the starter, and he should excel. He is a punishing back that has good speed too. He should get plenty of touchdowns this year. Now with Julius gone, Barber will join the ranks of the elite. His talent alone makes him a great back. But with Felix Jones to provide him with rest and a passing game that will make his job easier, Barber looks poised to have a breakout year. Although he presents some risk, if he plays like he is capable of, expect great things from him.

Cons: Marion Barber has no experience as a starter. Anything could happen. He could be a major letdown. With the Cowboys passing game, he may not get as many carries as his talent merits, and he could lose a lot of carries to Felix Jones. He has never, even in college, been the primary back, so his new role may not suite him. Even if he keeps his old role as a split back, splitting carries will hurt his fantasy value and potential.

9. Clinton Portis

Pros: Clinton Portis is the image of reliability. He is probably one of the safest picks you can make. He is extremely solid. If you are looking for someone that you can trust will do will, Portis would make an excellent pick. Every year he proves that he will never slow down. No matter what is going on around him, he still seems to produce. He is the centerpiece of the Redskins, and should, once again, be a solid pick in 2008.                

Cons: Clinton Portis has never made a push to be a top three running back. He is getting older and has very little upside. His potential to have a huge season is very small. Likely the only way his yearly stats will go is down. He doesn't have nearly as much potential greatness as other players. Don't expect him to make a push to be a top three running back this year.

10. Randy Moss  

Pros: Randy Moss is a freakish athlete. His ability to make highlight reel catches every week simply blows your mind away. He is frequently mentioned in the list of the greatest wide receivers ever, and he deserves that. After his first season with the Patriots, he broke records and produced numbers no one could believe receivers could produce. His twenty three touchdowns last year broke the all time record. Even when double covered, Moss can make the catches. Reports from training camp said that Moss has continued to make unbelievable catches. Now that he has a rhythm with Tom Brady and is used to the Patriot's offense, he has the potential to do better than last year. He may not statistically, as now defenses will focus on him, but he will still produce and is definitely the top wide receiver in the draft.       

Cons: Moss will constantly be double or triple covered. With Welker as another great target for Brady to throw to, Moss will not be thrown to as often. In the playoffs last year, Moss almost became a non factor. Moss will find it much harder than last year to produce such huge numbers. Moss may not merit a mid-first round pick, and should not be picked too high, as running backs are taken quickly. Do not expect a repetition of last year for Moss.