Thirty things every fantasy owner needs to know
Posted: Monday August 30, 2004 9:20AM; Updated: Monday August 30, 2004 3:04PM
Last year, when I played in my first fantasy football league in years, I learned a lot of painful lessons on the way to finishing in the middle of the pack in a league with other media folks. But the most important one is that it's not very close to real football. The genius who invented fantasy football thought it would be a great idea to make running backs more important than quarterbacks, and thought it would be right to make a defense that had six sacks in a game, but gave up 30 points, more valuable than a defense that held the opposition to 10 points and 178 yards without getting a sack. And so, I'm not crazy about the realism of the game.
But there is no denying the game's popularity. From what I learned last year, 27 million people, give or take a few mill, will be in fantasy leagues this year. A nose-to-the-grindstone buddy of mine took the day off from work the other day for his draft, which was a six-hour affair. I think it's probably the popularity of the real game, the NFL game, that makes it so hot, but whatever, I thought I'd spend this column providing you any help I can with your drafts. (Sorry if yours already happened.) I'm hoping I'm not too late to help the Derek Lowe-Doug Mirabelli team in their league up in Boston.
I want to warn you about my fantasy knowledge. Two years ago, I told you to pick Danny Wuerffel as your quarterback. I admit it: I thought Steve Spurrier was competent. I screwed up. That alone should make you scroll down to the other parts of the column immediately.
Anyway, with that as a major grain of salt, here are my 30 pieces of advice heading into fantasy draft day:
1. I don't care what anyone tells you: Pick Peyton Manning first overall, unless you have a top-three pick. I know, I know. Pick a running back first, you'll be sorry if you don't, blah, blah, blah. But unless you can take LaDanian Tomlinson, Priest Holmes or Ahman Green (in that order, by the way, because I fear the injury toll on all but Tomlinson), go for the guarantee of 4,200 passing yards and 28 touchdown passes. Manning is never hurt. Ever. Do you realize he's missed one snap due to injury in six years? Amazing! And he's averaged 4,148 yards and 28 touchdown throws a year. Just pick him and be smart about getting backs with your next two picks, even if they're of Duce Staley quality.
2. The most underrated player in the draft is Rudi Johnson. I was stunned to see him ranked 23rd in SI.com's overall ratings. I think he'll have more yards than Clinton Portis. I think he'll be a 1,400-yard back with 13 touchdowns, minimum. I'm not saying Chris Perry won't get some carries there, but Marvin Lewis will go with Johnson as long as he's hot.
3. Be careful about ranking the backs. My top 10: Tomlinson, Holmes, Green (Green bruised his kneecap Friday night in Jacksonville, and Mike Sherman said Saturday it's no big deal, but the reason I put an asterisk there is to tell you to make sure you check his condition before you bet the franchise on him), Jamal Lewis (could miss three weeks with a bye and the trial), Shaun Alexander, Johnson, Deuce McAllister (I love this guy), Portis (great player, but I'm a victim of watching him try to run behind a leaky line Friday night in St. Louis), Brian Westbrook, Travis Henry/Edgerrin James (tie).
4. Don't pick Fred Taylor. Then you'll be able to sleep at night.
5. Don't give Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison too much respect. They should both have great years; the reinforcement of the five-yard bump zone will help them. But the bump clarification will be great for Laveranues Coles and Chad Johnson, guys you can get four rounds after Moss.
6. Trust Bill Belichick. No one thinks the Patriots had the best defense in football last year -- everyone thinks it was the very good Ravens D -- but New England allowed 43 fewer points than Baltimore last year. The Pats will reward you with a top-three defense, guaranteed.
7. Pick Marshall Faulk at your own risk. How can you not love this guy? But if you pick him, you'd better pick Steven Jackson in the next round, because history says there's a better chance in 2004 of Faulk lasting eight weeks than 16.
8. I have a bad feeling about Travis Henry's production. I'm not telling you not to take him, but I was at Buffalo's camp, and I can tell you that folks there are on high alert about making sure Willis McGahee doesn't explode over a lack of use. You can see each back already marking his turf with dueling I-better-be-playing-a-lot utterances in August. I think McGahee, at least, will take away a lot of Henry's third-down time. There's no doubt in my mind that, even with the bad ribs, Henry will still be the man in Buffalo. But when they draft someone that high at the same spot, he's going to get time. So Henry's had 325 and 331 carries the last two years and maybe now he gets 300.
9. Pick Najeh Davenport. You'll be able to get the backup Green Bay back in the eighth or 10th round, probably. And you'll be happy when you do. "The only thing standing between Najeh and a rushing title is Ahman Green,'' Brett Favre told me. What a load. Mike Sherman's going to try to get him eight or 10 touches a game, to lessen the load on Green, and if Green ever goes down, Davenport is a rumblin', stumblin', 145-yards-a-week bomb waiting to explode. Watching him run in training camp, he was the single most impressive player I saw this summer.
10. Pick Darius Watts. Who's Darius Watts? The guy who's been beating Champ Bailey in Bronco practices, that's who. The second-round wideout from Marshall will wedge his way into Mike Shanahan's lineup very soon.
11. Be very happy to get Byron Leftwich as one of your two quarterbacks. I am a USA Today SportsWeekly subscriber, and it's a good thing. But the paper had a top 200 players listing this week, and rated Mewelde Moore, Dorsey Levens, Troy Hambrick, Justin Gage, Aaron Elling, Tony Hollings, Josh Scobey, Itula Mili and Reno Mahe ahead of Leftwich. Byron, that's what I call a fantasy slap in the ol' puss. I say he throws for 3,300 yards and 24 touchdowns.
12. Be happier to get Jake Plummer. You watch. He'll put up MVP numbers.
13. Avoid Jeremy Shockey. He's missed eight of his first 32 NFL games with injuries, and he's nursing a hammy right now. It's tempting to pick a guy like Shockey because, healthy, he's Tony Gonzales -- maybe better. I just don't think he'll ever be healthy consistently. Wait until the 12th round and pick Chargers TE Antonio Gates. When the line is caving in on Philip Rivers on every pass play, Gates will become a go-to guy.
14. Pick Jacksonville's defense right after New England, Dallas and Baltimore. Great set of defensive tackles (Marcus Stroud, John Henderson) and a fairly advantageous schedule, with nine games against offenses (Buffalo, Tennessee, San Diego, Oakland, Houston, Chicago and Detroit) that enter the season with a good chance of struggling.
15. Pick Vinny Testaverde as your backup quarterback. Bill Parcells will protect him. He'll have an excellent eight-yard-curl target (Keyshawn Johnson) and a couple of good deep threats in Terry Glenn and Antonio (Mea Culpa) Bryant. My over-under on Vinny's starts is 13, and I'd take the over.
16. Be careful of Michael Bennett. He's got a tweaked knee and he might be the Shockey of running backs. Lots of potential, great flashes, but in sick bay too much.
17. Respect Jeff Fisher and his wunderkind defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz, but don't overrate the Titan defense. It's always good, you say. And it is. But Kevin Carter has moved inside to take the spot of Robaire Smith (gone to Houston), and Jevon Kearse has moved to Philly. The four top pass-rushers this year, in all likelihood, are Carlos Hall, Juqua Thomas, Antwan Odom and Travis LaBoy. OhBoy.
18. Here's how to pick the quarterbacks. My top 15: Manning, Daunte Culpepper, Brett Favre, Trent Green (vastly underrated in all the projections I've seen), Matt Hasselbeck, Tom Brady, Mike Vick (obviously he could be incredible, but there's probably just as much of a chance for him to be OK), Steve McNair, Chad Pennington, Jake Plummer, Donovan McNabb, Marc Bulger (the Ram line worries me), Jake Delhomme, Jeff Garcia, Leftwich tied with Aaron Brooks (turnover-prone) at No. 15.
19. Take Chris Simms late. I can't tell you if it'll be Oct. 15 or Dec. 15, but Jon Gruden will give Simms a shot at some point this year.
20. I don't know what to tell you about Terrell Owens. I can't advise you to pick him in the second round, and I can't advise you to pass on him at all costs, and I can't tell you that you'd be dumb to take, say, Chris Chambers ahead of him. I wrote a story on Owens and McNabb for Sports Illustrated's NFL preview issue, and my gut feeling is he'll stay healthy and have a productive year but not a transcendent one. The Eagles will be smart enough to get him the ball enough early in the season so he doesn't become a distraction, but I just wonder what happens if he goes two or three games straight in midseason without being an impact guy. Can McNabb keep him in line? The Eagles are gambling on it. Best guess for his numbers: 81 catches, 1,280 yards, 11 touchdowns. I mean, those are Peerless Price numbers. Very nice, but not Marvin Harrison ones.
21. But I can tell you one piece of advice on an Eagle wideout: Pick Freddie Mitchell. Some guys take a couple of years to find a niche. Everyone thinks of Mitchell as a bust because he's averaged only 23 catches a year in his first three NFL seasons, but you had to have been in Eagle camp this summer to see how much McNabb trusts him. I'm not saying he's a 60-catch guy ready to bust out. I'm saying he's a 48-catch, nine-touchdown guy who will benefit from the defensive pressure on Owens. Good third receiver for this game.
22. And I can tell you to avoid Eagle tight ends, among other tight end thoughts. Chad Lewis and L.J. Smith will share the wealth nearly equally. Stay away from them. My top 10 tight ends: Kellen Winslow (could catch 80), Tony Gonzales, Todd Heap ... and then you can put 'em all into a hat as far as I'm concerned. Bubba Franks (contract year), Boo Williams (very underrated Saint who should catch 60), Randy McMichael, Alge Crumpler (will be a favorite for Vick in the West Coast), Erron Kinney, Shockey, Gates.
23. Find a way to get Lee Suggs on your team. I can't tell you exactly when he'll bust out; might be week one, might be week nine. But at some point this season Suggs will become Butch Davis' dominant back and reel off three 100-yard games in a row.
24. Monitor his tweaked hamstring from Saturday night, but if it's OK, take Steve Smith ahead of all deep threats except for Randy Moss. You are now laughing at me. I can hear it coming from right inside this keyboard. Last year he averaged 12.6 yards per catch for his 88 snags, and that's not exactly Mossian. Or is it? Moss had a 12.7 average two years ago, and only two yards better last year. Smith is explosive, a gamer, and Jake Delhomme absolutely loves him. But I stress: If you have a few days, read the Charlotte Observer online daily in the next few days to see how much time, if any, Smith will miss. And if he does miss significant time, ignore what I'm saying here. Can't have a speed guy missing time in August with a bad hammy.
25. Oh, and speaking of the Panthers, take Stephen Davis while everyone else is frothing at the mouth over the wonderbacks, and you will be very happy. Davis is such a selfless guy, helping DeShaun Foster be a better player in so many ways on and off the field. John Fox loves him. And John Fox is going to work him over this year. Now, there will be games (mostly against stout middle-of-the-line defenses) when offensive coordinator Dan Henning feeds it to Foster 12 or 14 times. But for the most part, Davis will be the same dominant, 1,300-yard guy he's been throughout his career -- or at least when Spurrier wasn't holding him down.
26. Here are the 10 others you should pick higher than they're rated. In order, Tatum Bell (who will eclipse Quentin Griffin in Denver, I'm guessing by about Week 6), Charlie Garner (who is a 4.5-yard-per-carry back still able to carry 300 times if just given the chance), Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers quarterback by week six), Julius Jones (Eddie "3.3 Per Carry'' George will eventually make way for Jones), Tim Rattay (a 13th-round steal), Jason Hanson (40 of his last 41 inside the 40, and he'll get 35 chances with the better Detroit offense), Carolina defense, Dallas defense (how can Philly be rated higher than both of those?), Eric Johnson, and, in a three-way tie for 10th, Doug Gabriel (Norv Turner loves him) and Drew Bledsoe (Sam Wyche is a good tutor, plus there's no relief with the J.P. Losman injury) and San Diego wideout Eric Parker, who will become a favorite of Philip Rivers.
27. I wouldn't pick these guys if I were you. Shockey, Shockey, Shockey (sorry, he only counts for one), Portis, Javon Walker (not Favre's favorite target), Byron Chamberlain (playing himself out of favor), Faulk, any Giant quarterback, any Charger receiver other than Parker, Drew Brees (unemployed man walking), Koren "Manchild'' Robinson, Kansas City defense. One last word there. The Chiefs finished 32nd and 29th in the last two years in team defense, imported no new starters from last year, and ... well, you get all excited about Gunther Cunningham (I love the guy, but he doesn't wear shoulder pads), but only players play.
28. Pick Jerome Bettis late. He is being put out to pasture by everyone in western Pennsylvania, but all I know is he was the best back on the field, running inside and outside well, when I saw the Steelers pulverize Houston. He may only last three or four weeks, but I guarantee you he'll give you three 100-yard games if you just keep him on your roster.
29. If you're looking for a young Detroit weapon to pick, I'd go with Roy Williams. He's really fast, he's formed a good bond early with Joey Harrington, and I think he'll turn out to be more durable than Charles Rogers.
30. Don't let this game control your life. It can. I've seen sportswriters in press boxes log onto these services that constantly update your players every 90 seconds, which is an idiotic way to get your enjoyment out of football. Watch the games. Enjoy them. And know that sometimes some lucky stiff is going to blindly pick up Justin Fargas some week and he's going to go out and rush for 216 on Sunday. That's football.
The genius who invented fantasy football thought it would be a great idea to make running backs more important than quarterbacks, and thought it would be right to make a defense that had six sacks in a game, but gave up 30 points, more valuable than a defense that held the opposition to 10 points and 178 yards without getting a sack. And so, I'm not crazy about the realism of the game.
This just proves he doesn't have a clue as to how fantasy football works. The scoring systems are set up by each commisioner. It isn't like the geek that thought up fantasy football years ago created all of the rules and scoring systems. I am in 4 leagues this year (3 free and 1 pay one) and none of them are alike when it comes to scoring. I like some of Kings points but to listen to him for fantasy advice would be a mistake.
anyone who says to pick up testaverde as a backup qb is a moron. anyone who says jake plummer will put up mvp numbers is an even bigger moron. and thanks for telling me NOT to pick up the league's worst defense, I would never have thought of that on my own. he also says not to drool over randy moss and marvin harrison? one word - moron.
there's a week and a half until the start of the nfl season and he's wasting his time writing about fantasy football, something he probably knows nothing about. you can get his advice ANYWHERE.
he should get his head out of his bunghole, stop writing about his daugher (nice sentiment but who besides him gives a hoot) and find some interesting nfl dish.