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2009 FANTASY SPORTS INSIDER.COM

 DRAFT GUIDE 

Before I get started on the team reports, I would like give fantasy team owners a few tips before drafting your Fantasy Football Team. First and foremost: do your homework and have a game plan going into the draft. For example, if you’re in a touchdown heavy scoring league you will want to go after running backs on teams with explosive QBs because they tend to get more goal line touches. However, if you’re in a yardage based league you will want to draft QBs and WRs a little earlier than other positions. Second tip: never panic if someone you wanted gets picked right before your pick because most drafts are not won in the first six rounds, but rather in rounds seven through eighteen which usually determines the true winner. So trust me when I tell you that there are still plenty of talented surprises available in the later rounds. Third tip: don’t be afraid to build depth in a position that you are already strong at because some other team may need a player on your roster and in return for that player you will be able fill a need of your own. Fourth and most important tip:  remember to have fun because after all, it’s JUST a game! Good Luck!   

 ARIZONA CARDINALS:  2008 was the year the Cardinals finally lived up to their preseason hype as Warner & Co. made it all the way to the Super Bowl and I’m sure they  also helped a few fantasy teams win Championships along the way. QB Warner hasn’t recovered 100% from his hip injury but claims to be 85% to 90% healthy and as long as he’s the QB this offense will be pass dominated and explosive. Veteran RB James is gone leaving the ground game in the hands of second year RB Tim Hightower and rookie RB Chris “ Beanie” Wells. I think Wells is the better overall runner of the two, but in the Cardinals’ offense the running game remains an afterthought. WR is a stacked position on this team with 3 guys holding substantial value. Boldin, Fitzgerald, and Breaston should all be early-to-mid round draft picks in most fantasy drafts. Place Kicker Neil Rackers should have another solid year in the desert, especially behind an explosive offense like the Cardinals have.   

ATLANTA FALCONS:  This team was one of the surprises of the 2008 season as rookie QB Matt Ryan proved that he belongs in the NFL, and my expectations are that he will continue to grow and get better, especially with newly acquired veteran TE Tony Gonzalez roaming around the middle of the field (something the Falcons lacked last season). The heart and soul of this offense will continue to be RB Michael “The Burner” Turner who may receive less carries this season in an attempt to keep him fresh all season, but not to worry, he will still get all of the goal line carries and should be one of the top 4 picks in most drafts. WR Roddy White enjoyed a breakout season in ‘08 and could improve on his numbers from a year ago, but be careful where you draft him as TE Gonzalez could cut into his number of catches. Place Kicker Jason Elam was good last year and should continue to be good this year.    

BALTIMORE RAVENS:  The Ravens are a team that leave most fantasy owners frustrated, and in some cases, downright pissed off. One bright spot for this team was the emergence of rookie QB Joe Flacco who had a very productive second half of ‘08 but unfortunately for him, the Ravens have very little to be excited about at the receiver position. WR Mark Clayton might be the only guy to draft out of this bunch as well as TE Todd Heap. This team’s offense is anchored by its ground game and will be again in ‘09. The Ravens use a committee-style running game with 3 RBs used at different times in the game. RB McGahee is the veteran of the group and managed to score 7 TDs last season but rookie FB Le’Ron McClain also came on strong at the end of last season. Second year RB Ray Rice could be the most explosive of the three Rbs but won’t get enough touches to make a difference unless someone gets hurt.    

BUFFALO BILLS:  The Bills might be considered perennial underachievers, but this year could bring good things to this playoff-starved franchise. I can’t start talking about the Bills without mentioning Terrell “Throw me the ball even if I’m not open” Owens. He will make this offense better just by his presence on the field and most defenses will have to double team him leaving 7 men in the box to stop the running game. WR Evans will benefit from single coverage as well. I have two major concerns with this team’s offense. First, will second year QB Trent Edwards be able to make enough progress to keep Owens and Evans happy? Second, will the revamped offensive line be able to open holes for the running game on a consistent basis? I can’t forget to mention RB Marshawn Lynch is suspended for the first 3 games of the ‘09 season, so backup Fred Jackson will man the position in Lynch’s absence. Place Kicker Ryan Lindell is one of the best in the league but he does have to play half of his games in Buffalo.  

 CAROLINA PANTHERS:  The Panthers were the league’s 3rd ranked running game team and I believe we will see more of the same from them this year. This is primarily because they have a massive offensive line and two running backs that carry the load.  RB DeAngelo Williams enjoyed the best year of his career in ‘08 and I have to believe it is because of the presence of RB Jonathan Stewart.  I would be very cautious of where I draft Williams because of injury concerns.  Last season was the only year of his 4 year career that he was able to stay healthy for 16 games.  Stewart makes for a great insurance policy and carries good value on his own as there will be plenty of carries for both RBs in this office.  The real question mark for this offense is the passing game.  Veteran QB Jake Delhomme looked downright awful at times last year and will need to have a bounce-back year to balance out this offense.  WR Steve Smith is one of the most talented guys at his position in the league but he is only as good as his QB allows him to be.  Based on Delhomme’s performance last year, I would drop down drafting Steve Smith a few notches.  There has been some talk in the early preseason that WR Dwayne Jarrett came into camp in the best shape of his career and has looked good in practices so far.  He could be put in the sleeper category only if the aforementioned Delhomme can put together a solid season.  The panther’s defense has always been solid, but not spectacular, and I don’t expect anything to change this year, however placer John Kasay could end up being a top 5 kicker in fantasy football this year. 

 CHICAGO BEARS:  The Bears are an interesting team this season because they improved their fantasy fortune in one fell swoop by obtaining Broncos’ QB Jay Cutler.  Cutler has one of the best young arms in the NFL and should make an immediate impact on the Bears’ Offense, especially when it comes to 50 yds or longer.  Even though he has a “suspect” WR core to throw to, Cutler does have Devin Hester, one of the premier speedsters in the league; but it’s my belief that TE Greg Olsen will be Cutler’s favorite target.  The true prize on this team will be second year RB Matt Forte who broke team records as a rookie for catches and scored 12 Tds.  I will look for more of the same and possible improvements in both areas.  The Bears’ Defense has always been quality defense and should be again this season.  On a side note, I believe they have one of the easier schedules in the league.  

CINCINNATI BENGALS:  The ‘08 season was a complete disaster for the Bengals and they can only hope that  the return of QB Carson Palmer from a right elbow injury will be the cure that this offense needs.  There is no doubt that when healthy, Palmer is one of the elite QBs in the NFL.  His offensive line is average at best, so staying healthy for 16 games will be a challenge.  At RB, Cedric Benson emerged as the Bengals’ #1 guy.  He is not the most athletic or explosive RB but he is a rugged plodder who can help control the clock and hopefully take some pressure off QB Palmer.  The receiving corp took a hit in the offseason when they lost top target T.J. Houshmandzadeh but were able to replace him with ex-Jet Receiver Lavernius Coles.  The Bengals still have Chad Ochocinco who is looking to have a bounce-back season after back-to-back mediocre campaigns. The guy that I would watch in this offense is WR Chris Henry who has had a lot of trouble with the league about his behaviour but if he can put the past behind him and live up to his potential, you could have a poor man’s Randy Moss on your hands.  Oh, and did I forget to mention that he has looked great in camp thus far.  If this Offense bounces back like I think it can, then place kicker Shayne Graham will be definitely worth drafting.    

CLEVELAND BROWNS:  Cleveland is the NFL’s version of Jekyll & Hyde.  Two years ago this offense was as explosive and dynamic as any team in the league but last year they couldn’t score if their life depended on it.  So this off season a new coaching staff was brought in and this staff has ties to the Jets and Patriots which means the new staff will be influenced by the both teams philosophy on offense.  This also means that you can look for more short crossing patterns by the receivers on offense and precise passes in which timing is the most important element.  This will allow the Browns to sustain longer drives on offense but it will not bring back the explosiveness of two years ago.  There are very few starter fantasy players on this team and WR Brandon Edwards is probably at the top of the list.  The running game should be as it was last season which was adequate but not spectacular.  Starting RB Jamal Lewis is getting up there in age and his durability will be of concern but unfortunately for this team, his backups also leave a lot to be desired.  This team’s defense and kicker should not be drafted until we see what they’re made of.  

DALLAS COWBOYS:   What can we say about America’s Team except that they should be called “America’s Disappointment!”  This team is filled with superstars like QB Tony Romo, TE Jason Whitman, RBs Marion Barber and Felix Jones, and one of the best place kicker in the league, Nick Folke; yet this team only ranked 18th in total points last year.  They had less red zone possessions than teams like the Bills, Chiefs, Jaguars, and the Bears.  This team hopes that the loss of Owens turns out to be a positive move and will result in building cohesiveness in the locker room.  Surely Owens’ production on the field will be missed which means that WR Williams will have to step up and become the #1 receiver that everyone projected him to be in college.  TE Whitten will have carry a bigger load in this offense as well.  Since QB Romo tends to run hot-and-cold, it will behoove the coaching staff to run the ball more this season.  With RBs Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Teshard Choice, the Cowboys have the personnel to run the ball and control the clock.  This should help Romo make better decisions under pressure and perhaps turn the ball over less.  The Cowboys defense tends to play very well in the first half of the season but for whatever reason (maybe the fatigue factor) fades at the end of the season, but who knows?  

DENVER BRONCOS:  The Broncos fired HC Mike Shanahan and traded away franchise QB Cutler to the Bears so it’s safe to say that this team is in rebuilding mode.  There are two ways to look at a team that’s rebuilding from a fantasy standpoint.  First, you can take the “wait-and-see “approach which would require you to stay on top of every player on this team so that you can be the first person picking up any potential diamond-in-the-rough; or second, you can take the “I-don’t-want-to-touch-this-team-with-a-10-foot-pole” approach because there are so many unknown factors starting from the coaching philosophy down to player personnel.  However I will say this: the new HC is regarded as one of the brightest young minds in the league and comes with an outstanding pedigree as he served as the offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots.  Since the strength of this team is going to be the receiving corps, my guess is that the Broncos will use a spread-out Offense to keep Defenses honest.  The real dilemma here is whether QB Kyle Orton will be able to execute this style of offense. If he does, then WR Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal would be considered fantasy starters in most leagues.  The RB position is a little cloudy because the Broncos drafted Knowshon Moreno out of Georgia to be their main RB, but then they also went out and signed three other RBs through free agency.  This doesn’t bode well for Moreno considering the amount of competition he is facing.  I would take a wait-and-see approach on the RB position and when someone finally wins that job, I would pounce on him.  Place Kicker Matt Prater might be the most consistent fantasy player on this team in the long run.  

DETROIT LIONS:  Have you ever heard the expression: “He or she has a face only a mother could love?”  Well, the Lions are a team only a devoted fan of this team can love.   Having said that, there are two key players on this team that could be stand-out fantasy starters for anyone.  First is star WR Calvin “Megatron” Johnson who had a break-out year last season even though the QB position was a game of roulette.  It seems like it doesn’t matter who is throwing the ball to him because he’s an absolute beast and will make plays as long as he stays healthy.  The other player to target on this team is second year RB Kevin Smith.  Even though he didn’t have a great rookie season he showed flashes of brilliance at RB and with a little bit more stability at the QB position and a new straightforward power-blocking attack, he could improve his numbers and be a quality #2 RB (he also happens to be one of my favorite sleepers for this season.)  The only other fantasy worthy player on this squad is place kicker Jason Hanson who at age 37 was 8 for 8 in field goals over 50 yds, something to take note of if you are in a league that rewards extra points for longer field goals.

  GREEN BAY PACKERS:  This is a team with an abundance of talent but because of injury and a late-season slump, they were considered a disappointment.  In my opinion the Packers have one of the best young QBs in the league in Aaron Rodgers because when he was healthy last season he put up numbers comparable to anyone in football at his position.  I expect more of the same and possibly a spike upward in his numbers.  The Packers have a balanced attack with the running game being anchored by RB Ryan Grant who tends to be a little bit better in yardage leagues rather than scoring leagues since his TDs were a little low last season.  The WR group is a good young group highlighted by Greg Jennings.  Jennings is a big-play receiver who tends to have catches of 40+ yards or more on a weekly basis and as a matter of fact, he led the league with 8 catches of 40+ yards or more.  Donald Driver, his partner-in-crime is more of a ball receiver at this point in his career although he still has the speed to take it the distance if he finds a seam.  Place kicker Mason Crosby was one of the top 3 kickers last year and could possibly duplicate his numbers this year.  The Packers schedule is also one I consider to be a soft schedule this year.  

HOUSTON TEXANS:  The Texans finished 3rd in total offense in ‘08.  This offense should be just as dynamic and explosive this season as it was last season, especially with QB Matt Schaub driving this offense.  In the past two seasons Schaub has shown flashes of brilliance with injuries being the only thing holding him back.  If he can stay healthy for 16 games he could very easily be a top 5 fantasy QB.  One of the reasons for this is WR Andre Johnson.  Some consider Johnson to be the best receiver in the NFL, but I would put him in the top 3 or 4.  Regardless, he is a playmaker who is building chemistry with Schaub.  The true surprise for this team last season was rookie RB Steve Slaton.  Slaton came out of nowhere to win the starting RB job last season and put up solid numbers in his rookie season.  Even though he is a little undersized, his explosion through the hole and his ability to take it to the house on any play makes him a very enticing draft pick.  If you are in a TE league, you could do a lot worse than TE Owen Daniels.  I’m willing to bet that if Schaub takes the next step at his position then Daniels and Johnson will benefit as well.  Regardless, all of these players should be drafted, and drafted sooner rather than later, especially Andre Johnson.  This could be a playoff season for Houston as well as the fantasy owners who invest in these players during the fantasy season.  

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS:   The Colts are a few years removed from their championship team and their window of opportunity is closing fast, if not already closed.  Of course, any team with Peyton Manning at the helm will contend on a week-to-week basis.  Manning will have to carry more of a load this season than any season past because of the departure of long-time team mate WR Marvin Harrison.  In Harrison’s absence, WR Anthony Gonzalez will have to pick up the slack which I believe he will do since he built chemistry with Manning last season.  Of course Reggie Wayne will be Manning’s top target and a top 10 fantasy WR.  The running game is a big question mark since Joseph Addai suffered multiple injuries last season which caused him to have an off year.  The word out of camp is that he still has a bit of a banged up knee and the Colts will proceed with caution.  If healthy, Addai could be a very good value pick in the second round of most fantasy drafts.  Of course if you’re in a TE league then Dallas Clark is always a “must” draft.  Two years ago he had double digit TDs and could very easily approach that number again.  The Colts may have a little different look on defense now that HC Tony Dungy is gone and for that reason alone I would take a wait-and-see approach on their defense until we see what the new coaching staff has developed as far as defensive schemes are concerned.  Place kicker Adam Vinatieri has always been a good kicker and will continue to be, although he may not be spectacular.  

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS:  The ‘08 season was a lost season for the Jaguars due to injuries all over the offensive line.  By the time the first month of the season was over, 4 of the 5 regular starting linemen were done for the year.  This made it difficult for a run-oriented team to execute its offense.  They spent the off season trying to rebuild that line and said goodbye to longtime favorite RB and franchise favorite, Fred Taylor.  With Taylor gone, the door is wide open for Maurice Jones-Drew to live up to his potential.  For years this has been a committee running approach and now it will become a one-back- attack.  Jones-Drew will be a top 3 pick in every draft this season so if you want him you will have to pay up for him.  I personally love his upside.  The rest of the offense is average at best.  QB David Garrard should not be drafted or if drafted, should not be used except for a one week fill-in.  This team does not throw the ball enough for him to have a lot of fantasy value.  The same goes for the WR corps.  With ex-Ram Torry Holt coming on board and playmakers like Dennis Northcut and TE Marcedes Lewis, the Jags can move the ball in the air, but when they do run the ball they will be giving it to “Pocket Hercules” (Jones-Drew.)  Place kicker Josh Scobee has a strong leg and has shown flashes of talent over the years, but unfortunately he is as inconsistent as the Jaguar’s offense has been in the past.  If everything falls in order for the Jaguars, this could be a very good playoff contending team, but not real explosive from a fantasy perspective.    

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS:  The Chiefs were a disappointment in’08 causing go out and bring in a new HC and new starting QB.  The new regime will use lots of multiple receiver formations in order to spread the defense out.  This will hopefully open up running lanes for RB Larry Johnson who seems to be on the downside of his career.  The once-dominating RB now should be considered a #2 fantasy RB, at best.  He could, however, put up solid TD numbers if the new offense can execute its philosophy.  At lot rides on QB Matt Cassel being able to make the transition from New England to Kansas City.  The loss of hall of fame TE Tony Gonzalez will definitely hurt this offense, but WR Dwayne Bowe could pick up the slack because he is a big physical target who can make big grabs over the middle.  Talk out of camp is that Bowe is in new HC Todd Haley’s doghouse but I wouldn’t worry too much about that.  Bowe could easily be the Chiefs best offensive weapon this season and I find he is being undervalued in most fantasy drafts.  Another thing going against this team is what I consider having a very tough schedule so if you are going to draft any Chiefs’ players, know that you have been warned.    

MIAMI DOLPHINS;  The Dolphins turned out to be a bit of a surprise last season.  Most experts had them finishing at the bottom of their division but instead they competed for the playoffs all the way to the last game of the season.  QB Chad Pennington is back for another season and hopes to continue his success and keep backup QB Chad Henne on the bench.  This will be a little more difficult to accomplish in ’09 because the Dolphins will not be able to sneak up on anyone this year.  Defenses will concentrate more of their game planning towards throwing Pennington off rhythm and slowing down the Dolphins running attack.  Speaking of the power running attack, star RB Ronnie Brown should be healthy and ready to go by looking to improve on his ’08 pre-injury numbers.   Brown should be a 3rd round pick in most drafts.  RB Ricky Williams is a quality compliment to Brown and should see somewhere between 150-200 touches himself.  I would personally only draft Williams as a handcuff to Ronnie Brown.  WR Ted Ginn Jr. showed glimpses of the talent that made him a top ten draft pick just a few years ago.  Should Pennington make a jump in statistics this season, I would think Ginn Jr. would be the most likely beneficiary of the passing game’s success.  Having said that I still would not draft Ginn Jr. any earlier than the 10th round.  If you are in a TE League, Anthony Fasano should be on your radar because of his TD scoring ability.  

MINNESOTA VIKINGS:  This is a team that has all the makings of a Super Bowl contender, that is if they can get any kind of production out of the QB position.  We all know about the great offensive line and power running game backed by a stingy defense, but it’s up to newly acquired Sage Rosenfels to carry the load in the passing game and take this team to the next level.  He is a definite gunslinger who likes to air it out.  This should equate to long passes and possibly even to long TD plays.  But it is his penchant for the turnover that is his greatest weakness and which could also lead to the downfall of the ‘09 Vikings.  Having said that the Minnesota QB should not be drafted as anything more than an potential fill-in.   As we all know RB Adrian Peterson is an absolute beast who has set the league on fire since he has stepped into the league two years ago and nothing should change this season.  In most drafts he will be considered the number one all-out pick.  His backup, Chester Taylor is a fine reserve who should be drafted in most leagues as well and even though he is a backup, he still carries some legitimate fantasy value as well.  The receivers on this team were, at the very most, respectable last year but they are going to have to be much better than that if the passing game is to compliment the running game.  Rookie Percy Harvin will make a big difference as he is being used in many different positions in the early preseason.  Look for this coaching staff to get very creative when Harvin is on the field.  #1 Receiver Bernard Berrian had his share of big plays last season and makes for a solid #2 fantasy receiver and an excellent #3 fantasy receiver.  The guy who I think can be a sleeper in fantasy this year is WR Sidney Rice.  Even though he is coming off a disappointing season, he is tall, athletic, and has good hands which is something to consider later in the draft.  For those of you in a TE league, Visanthe Shiancoe could end up being a top 5 fantasy TE at the end of the season.    

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS;   This team is looking to bounce back from a disappointing ‘08 season and hopes that QB Tom Brady will shake off the rust quickly and rebound from his torn ACL.  So-far-so-good this season as Brady has looked very good and should pickup where he left off last season.  It would be damned near impossible to duplicate the numbers of his ‘07 season but because of the high level of talent around him he should still put up fantastic numbers.  Randy Moss had a career year in ‘07 when he accounted for 23 of Brady’s 50+ TDs.  Again, it will be ridiculous to expect that kind of production out of Moss for the ‘09 season but 15 TDs is a very good possibility.  The rest of the receiving corps is good but since Brady spreads the ball around so much you can’t count on one single guy for the entire season.  WR Wes Welker will carry moderate value in fantasy leagues that give you points for receptions and yards.  The running game on this team has been an afterthought but not because of the coaches’ game planning but because of the RBs inconsistencies.  This year, the RB committee will have Sammy Morris, Laurence Maroney, Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk; all of which will carry some value on a week-to-week basis.  Of these 4 Rbs, the ones I would target most would be Sammy Morris and Laurence Maroney.  But again, this offense should be pass dominated and no RB should be drafted until the middle rounds.  TE Ben Watson and Chris Baker will carry value in TD leagues but their reception in yards will be very low, thus diminishing their value except in TD Leagues.  

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS:  The Saints made very few changes in the off season and the changes they did make were all on the defensive side of the field since the defense was what let the team down.  Having said that, the real fantasy value on this team is on the offense and there is plenty of it.  QB Drew Brees runs one of the most prolific passing games in the league and I expect nothing to change.  He should be, if not the first QB drafted in fantasy, at least one of the top 2 or 3 off the board early on.  In this offense he has lots of toys to play with starting with RBs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas.  Bush is going to be used more as a receiving RB and a change-of-speed compliment to Pierre Thomas’s more power-oriented style so therefore I would look for Bush to rack up the receptions and yards and Thomas to collect a lot of the Tds.  The receiving corps is loaded with young talent.  WR Marques Colston is the big, physical red zone receiver every offense needs while WR Lance Moore is a little bit quicker, smaller and has the ability to make plays in the open field after the catch.  In the sleeper category is WR Robert Meacham who is a former 1st round pick and someone that is not on a lot of fantasy radars.  He is very capable of catching long TD passes which is something you should take note of if you are in a league that rewards TD passes.  The TE position is manned by veteran Jeremy Shockey who came over last season from the NY Giants and experienced the worst season of his career as he failed to score a single TD all season.  He has come in with a new attitude and by all reports, physically healthy and looks to be a difference-maker for the Saints’ Offense.  NOTE:  Only 1 game into the preseason and he has already scored a TD.  

NEW YORK GIANTS:  The Giants are a year removed from a championship season and hope that ‘09 brings back some of the glory they experienced at the end of the’07 season.  Last season was a lost season for the Giants primarily because of the loss of WR Plaxico Burress.  Burress was their #1 receiver and their top threat in the red zone area.  He helped keep the offense balanced so running game could be effective.  Well, the Giants decided to part ways with Burress during the ‘09 season and now have a huge hole to fill at their #1 receiver position.  They have a 1st round pick in Hakeem Nicks who has a chance to start right away, that is if he can beat out veterans Domenik Hixon, Steve Smith, Mario Manningham and Sinorice Moss.  Another potential sleeper alert is rookie WR Ramses Barden who has been making big catch after big catch in training camp and gotten the attention of the coaching staff.  He is a big, physical receiver like Burress was so the transition could be very easily accomplished.  Having said all that, this offense is going to be powered by its running game.  The Giants have a big physical line and several RBs that can wear the defenses down as the game goes on.  RB Brandon Jacobs will be the leader of this committee with fellow RB Ahmad Bradshaw serving as his change-of-pace compliment.  Another potential sleeper is rookie RB Andre Brown who should only see playing time if major injuries have knocked the top 2 guys out.  QB Eli Manning is a super bowl wining QB who plays well enough to win on a week-to-week basis, but from a fantasy perspective is barely above average  because it is very rare that he is asked to take over the game through the air.  

NEW YORK JETS:   The ‘09 season is going to be a season of growth for the Jets.  There are a lot of new pieces for this team including the coaching staff.  With Brett Favre retiring the QB position gets handed to backup Kellen Clemens who many think will merely keep the seat warm until 1st round pick Mark Sanchez is ready to take over as QB.  I doubt that the coaching staff will go to Sanchez week #1, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he isn’t the starting QB by week #5 of the season.  Both QBs have strong arms but Sanchez’s is the more athletic of the two.  Like most rookie QBs he will make his mistakes, but he will also awe the fans with his highlight reels athletic plays.  Either way I would stay away from the Jets QB position until I’ve seen enough of either QBs to pick them up.  With a good offensive line the Jets should continue to have a strong running game as they did in the ‘08 campaign, although I believe that Thomas Jones’ numbers will not be as good as last year and part of the reason for this is the emergence of back RB Leon Washington.  Washington is young and more explosive than Jones but Jones should still see most of the goal line carries which makes him more valuable in fantasy TD scoring leagues.  The receiving corps took a hit with the departure of veteran WR Laveranues Coles and thus making Jerricho Cotchery the new #1 receiver in New York.  Although he has the skills to be the #1 receiver, Cotchery does not have the overall speed to stretch the field like veteran Coles had.  The other WR position is going to come down to 3 youngsters, Brad Smith, David Clowney, and Chansi Stuckey.  Of the 3 of them I like Brad Smith because he was an ex-QB in college and thinks like a QB in the WR position.  This should help him develop chemistry with whomever is quarterbacking the Jets.  In my opinion the best WR on this ream is TE Dustin Keller who is a real mis-match according to the true meaning of the word because he has such elite speed that linebackers cannot cover him, he also has incredible strength so Safeties cannot keep up with his physicality, and his overall athleticism makes him a nightmare for defenses to try to match-up against.  

OAKLAND RAIDERS:  The Raiders could be the most frustrating team in the league from a fan’s perspective as well as a fantasy perspective. This team is full of individual talent but for whatever reason they can not put it collectively together as a team.  At times it seems like there are 11 players doing 11 different things at one time when they really should all be doing the same thing.  Of course this is an internal problem and has nothing to do with us as fantasy owners.  QB JaMarcus Russell enters into his 2nd full season as a starting QB and even though he has shown glimpses of talent last season, I am very skeptical about his ability to make plays consistently on a week-to-week basis.  Therefore drafting Russell could be one of the most frustrating decisions you can make this season.  Now don’t get me wrong, he will make big plays at different points in the season, the question is, are all the other weeks of him doing nothing worthy of waiting for the big play.  The running game is driven by threeheaded monster with the starter so far in the preseason being Justin Fargas and second year RB Darren McFadden.  Many in the organization believe that McFadden will be in the starter position at some point in the season.  The real intriguing player here for me from a fantasy perspective is RB Michael Bush.  Bush is the most powerful runner of the three and could inherit goal-line duties right away.  Durability has been a problem for all 3 of these RBs so it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if one, or all three, get hurt at some point in the season.  The receiving corps gets a little complicated because there is no set defined rotation yet.  1st round pick Darius Hayward-Bay has shown glimpses of explosiveness which is what the Raiders drafted for.  Unfortunately, his hands have been a bit unreliable so far in camp.  Veteran Javon Walker is coming off major injuries and has been pretty inconsistent since joining the Raiders.  A guy I have kept my eye on and become a personal favorite of mine is WR Chaz Schilens who has been a standout at camp and happens to be the only real physical receiver the Raiders have.  He therefore could play the red zone target and thus collect lots of TDs this season.  TE Zach Miller is above-average from an NFL perspective but only average from a fantasy perspective.  He will collect lots of receptions because of Russell’s tendency to look to his TE when he’s in trouble.  Therefore if you want a TE who gets lots of catches, collects moderate yards, and receives very few Tds, then Miller is your man.  

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES:   The Eagles are a very popular preseason pick this year.  The main reason for this is due to off season improvements and getting back some healthy veterans.  QB Donovan McNabb is always a solid fantasy QB.  I’ve said in the past that this guy does more with less than any other QB in the league, and this year he may be able to do more with more than he is accustomed to having.  Stud RB Brian Westbrook returns after having multiple injuries slow him down last season, and for insurance purposes the Eagles drafted rookie LeSean McCoy who could become a solid producer in his rookie season.  They also added rookie WR Jeremy Maclin to an already deep receiving corps with DeSean Jackson, Kevin Curtis, and of course Jeremy Maclin, so QB McNabb could have the most explosive receiving corp at his fingertips than he has ever had.  This is a pass-first offense so all 3 receivers should be drafted and could carry value at different points in the season.  TE Brent Celek is a good receiver and has shown he can get open and make big plays when needed.  Place Kicker David Akers is another fantasy-worthy player on this team who could regain his old form of ‘06 when he was the leading fantasy kicker in football.  

PITTSBURG STEELERS:   Well, what else could be said about the Super Bowl champions except: Congratulations!  There are very few concerns this team has going into the ‘09 season except perhaps complacency.  Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of areas this team could improve on this season, but in the end statistics don’t mean anything when you win the championship.  This team has a lot of players who will be fantasy worthy but very few who will be fantasy starters.  For example, QB Ben Roethlisberger has never thrown less than 17 TD passes in a season and has a career high of 32 in ‘07.  My guess is that he lands somewhere between those two numbers at about 25.  25 TD passes for him make him an above-average fantasy QB but in most cases a fringe fantasy starter, meaning if the match-up was right he would be the one to start that week but he would also be the one to bench if the match-up was wrong.  The running game will be anchored by veteran RB Willie Parker who has a history of being injury-prone and every time I decide to stay away from drafting him he has a good season but I believe this is the year his injuries catch up with him and he loses his job  to 2nd year RB Rashard Mendenhall.  This is a situation to keep an eye on because the Steelers are also looking to improve on their short yardage and goal line situations, so keep an eye on who gets those carries during the preseason.  It may very well be sleeper candidate RB Frank Summers.   As far as the receiving corps goes, it is the same usual suspects:  WRs Santonio Holmes and veteran Hines Ward will anchor a solid receiving corps.  The guy to watch here is 2nd year receiver Limas Sweed as he will have every opportunity to replace the departed Nate Washington.  If there is a receiver to have out of this group I would say it is Santonio Holmes who could be on the brink of stardom but keep in mind that this is a run-oriented offense who will be involved in a lot of low scoring games.  

ST. LOUIS RAMS:   The Rams are a team that I’m projecting to be one of the worst in the league.  They have a new offensive system and a new offensive coordinator who is expecting to bring back the West Coast Offense but quite frankly, it doesn’t matter what the offensive philosophy is because this team is going to struggle, and struggle mightily.  QB Marc Bulger has had his ups and downs in recent years, mostly down.  Literally and figuratively, his offensive line has done a poor job of protecting him.  This has caused a situation in which I believe Bulger has become gun-shy because he throws the ball when he shouldn’t and holds onto the ball when he should be getting rid of it.  Unfortunately I don’t see anything changing here unless the Rams have scheduled several college teams on their schedule this season.  This all spells frustration for stud RB Steven Jackson.  Jackson is one of the top RBs in this league as well as fantasy football, unfortunately he does not have a good offensive line or QB who will help him much; so my opinion is not to pay up for Jackson unless you are getting him at a bargain basement price of a late 2nd round pick.  Don’t get me wrong, he will have several good games when he plays familiar opponents but those games will be few and far between.  The receiving corp was suppose to be anchored by 2nd year stud receiver Donnie Avery but he separated his shoulder during the preseason and could miss up to the 1st month of the season.  The rest of the receiving corps is filled with inexperienced rookies who will struggle this season.  Outside of Jackson, the only other fantasy player on this team worth drafting might be place kicker Josh Brown.  

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS:  There is not much to say about the Chargers except that the #1 scoring offense in the AFC is returning everyone intact.  I expect this offense to perform in a similar way this season.  QB Philip Rivers returns after enjoying a break- through season in ‘08 when he threw for over 4000 yds and 34 td passes.  I would look for similar numbers from him but probably for a small decrease in those numbers.  The real question for this team is whether superstar RB LaDainian Tomlinson will ever regain the pre-injury form that made him the best RB in football.  He remains the #1 RB although backup Darren Sproles will cut into his touches significantly this season, especially on passing downs.  Even though Tomlinson’s days of rushing for over 2000 yds and scoring over 20 Tds may be over, he still remains a dependable fantasy RB who I believe can score from between 12 - 15 TDs and rush for around 1200 yds.  The receiving corps is full of athletic WRs.  Vincent Jackson emerged as QB Rivers’ #1 wide-out last season and used his size, speed and hand combination to take his game to another level.  On the other side of Jackson is WR Chris Chambers who even though he is a veteran on the downside of his career is still a productive player.  In my opinion he possess one of the best hands in all of football.  With Jackson now becoming a legitimate #1, Chambers should benefit from less attention from the defense.  When it comes to the TE position the Chargers may have the very best in the game in Antonio Gates who is red zone beast who averages double-digit scores every season.  His yardage and reception have come down a bit in recent seasons but in TD leagues he is as good as gold.  The Chargers high-flying attack makes place kicker Nate Kaeding a very valuable commodity.  

SAN FRANCISCO FORTY-NINERS:  The SF 49ers seem to have been in rebuilding mode for several years now and I believe this is the season some of those so-called “players of the future” need to start earning their money.  One of those players is #1 overall pick of a few years back, QB Alex Smith.  It seems like the Niners have been waiting for Smith to live up to his potential for several years and in doing so have overlook drafting QBs that have turned out to be quality players.  So this is the year that Smith either makes it or breaks it, and I’m willing to bet that he breaks it because so far in training camp he has been outplayed by QB Shaun Hill and it is for this reason that I predict that Hill will win the QB job for the ‘09 season.  He is not a sexy pick, but he is a gritty guy who seems to make plays when the pressure is on him the most.  I actually think Hill will fall under a sleeper category for many fantasy players this season.  The running game is anchored by the Niners only true stud player, RB Frank Gore who will carry the load and be the centerpiece of this offense.  Depending on the type of league you are in he can be very valuable or he could be a waste of a top pick, for example, in a yardage and reception league he is a very valuable pick, but in a TD scoring league his value drops tremendously because of his inability to get into the end zone frequently.  The receiving corps is supposed to be the Niners strength this year with the addition of 1st round draft pick Michael Crabtree.  Unfortunately Crabtree is in a contract dispute with the Niners and threatened to sit out the season and if that turns out to be the case, the Niners receiving corp will take a tremendous hit.  As it stands right now, the only receiver I see worth gambling on from a fantasy perspective is WR John Morgan.  The TE position belongs to Vernon Davis who as you might know is as physically gifted a TE as anyone in the NFL.  Unfortunately his work ethic and mental focus were not up to the NFL level necessary to succeed.   HC Mike Singletary has worked very hard at teaching Davis better work ethics as well as stronger focus and concentration.  If his efforts succeed, Davis could be in for a break-out season.   

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS:  The Seahawks seam to be the NFL’s version of the “Land of the Lost” but there are still a few players I wouldn’t forget about if I were you. Last season was a disaster primarily due to injuries to the QB position and WRs Branch and Burelson. It’s a new season and everyone is healthy, and  also free agent pick up WR T.J. Houshmanzadeh is on board. I look for the Seahawks’ passing game to rebound from being 29th in the league to one of the top ten.  I therefore think QB Matt Hasselbeck is being highly undervalued and also think WRs  Houshmanzadeh, Branch, and Burelson will going very late in drafts as well. The running game is a different story as new OC Gregg Knapp is going to try to use a power running game to balance out his offense. The problem I see here is that the talent level is just not there as RBs Jones and Duckett are perrenial underachievers. I really like the TE John Carlson because of his sure hands and quality route running and also QB Hasselbeck relies heavily on him when he is in trouble. The Seahawks defense is a sleeper candidate and could reward those who gamble on them late in drafts.   

 TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS:   This is another organization going through major changes from the Coaching staff down to the starting QB and RB. I would wait until late in my draft to reach for any players on this squad. The QB position looks like Byron Leftwich’s to win or loose, and so far he has been the most impressive QB in camp. He warrants a wait-and-see approach before drafting him. The real Fantasy value on this team could come from the running game as Tampa has two guys that could produce quality numbers this season. Free Agent pick-up RB Derrick Ward will get first crack the starting job and could be a sleeper pick in the middle-to-late rounds. If Ward fails to secure the starting job then RB Earnest Graham will get his chance and we all know he can produce. My only concern here would be the possible development of a committee backfield which would lower the value of both running backs. WR Antonio Bryant enjoyed a break-out season in ‘08 but be careful with where you draft him because a lot has changed in Tampa since last season because he has also been a little banged-up in training camp. TE Kellen Winslow comes over from Cleveland and brings his attitude with him. He is a solid TE in reception and yardage leagues but in scoring leagues he is below average.    

TENNESSEE TITANS:   The Titans are good example of a quality NFL team with very little to offer from a Fantasy perspective. Yes, they may have the best 1-2 punch in the NFL at running back, but everything else is average at best. RB Chris Johnson is one of the best young RBs in the game and should be one of the top ten picks in most drafts. I personally would love to have him on my team. RB LenDale White scored 15 TDs last season and is in a contract year.  Oh, and did I mention that he came to camp 25 pounds lighter than last season. Don’t be afraid to draft him early as well, especially in scoring league formats. I’m not going to waste time talking about the passing game, especially when it’s an afterthought in this offense. Place kicker Rob Bironas was one of the best last season and should continue to have success this season. I don’t think the Titans’ defense will be as good as it was last season primarily due to the loss of DT Albert Haynsworth.    

WASHINGTON REDSKINS:  The Redskins have the same usual suspects on offense as last year, so expect similar stats from their stud players. QB Campbell will be the starter despite every effort by the team to replace him in the off-season. Needlesstosay it’s a make-or-break season for Campbell and I think he will surprise a few people with his progress. He should only be drafted as a week-to-week fill-in. RB Clinton Portis will be the centerpiece of this offense once again, and I’ve heard he looked great in camp. TE Chris Cooley has been the Redskins most consistent TD producer in the passing game over the last two seasons while WR Santana Moss has been their most explosive receiver but injuries have kept him off the field more than on the field. A potential sleeper at WR is Devin Thomas last season first-round pick. In his second season, if his health holds up he could enjoy a breakout season for the Redskins which is something to definitely keep in mind while your draft is going on.  

 

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