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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Ranking the defenses

The "D":

1. Baltimore
2. New England
3. Pittsburgh
4. Buffalo
5. Jacksonville
6. Washington
7. Philadelphia
8. Atlanta
9. Carolina
10. NY Jets
11. San Diego
12. Denver
13. Chicago
14. Miami
15. Detroit
16. Tampa Bay
17. Dallas
18. Arizona
19. NY Giants
20. Seattle
21. Minnesota
22. Indianapolis
23. Cincinnati
24. Houston
25. Cleveland
26. New Orlands
27. St Louis
28. Kansas City
29. Green Bay
30. Oakland
31. Tennessee
32. San Francisco

Ranking the kickers

The Kickers:

1. Adam Vinatieri
2. Jason Elam
3. Sebstian Janikowski
4. Mike Vanderjagt
5. Jeff Reed
6. Kris Brown
7. Matt Stover
8. Ryan Longwell
9. Shayne Graham
10. David Akers
11. Nate Kaeding
12. Josh Brown
13. Paul Edinger
14. Rian Lindell
15. Jeff Wilkins
16. Jason Hanson
17. John Kasay
18. John Carney
19. Mike Nugent

Ranking the TEs

The Tight Ends:

1. Tony Gonzalez
2. Antonio Gates
3. Jason Witten
4. Jeremy Shockey
5. Alge Crumpler
6. Dallas Clark
7. Todd Heap
8. Randy McMichael
9. Eric Johnson
10. Jermaine Wiggins
11. Jeb Putzier
12. Bubba Franks
13. L.J. Smith
14. Heath Miller
15. Chris Cooley
16. Daniel Graham
17. Ben Troupe
18. Marcus Pollard
19. Doug Jolley
20. Matt Schobel

Ranking the WRs

The Wide Receivers:

1. Randy Moss
2. Terrell Ownes
3. Chad Johnson
4. Andre Johnson
5. Torry Holt
6. Javon Walker
7. Reggie Wayne
8. Drew Bennett
9. Joe Horn
10. Marvin Harrison
11. Nate Burleson
12. Roy Williams
13. Hines Ward
14. Lee Evans
15. Jimmy Smith
16. Steve Smith
17. Darrell Jackson
18. Joey Porter
19. Michael Clayton
20. Deion Branch
21. Antonio Bryant
22. Plaxico Burress
23. Laverneus Coles
24. Santana Moss
25. Donald Driver
26. Issac Bruce
27. Brandon Stokley
28. Keenan McCardell
29. Brandon Lloyd
30. Charles Rogers
31. Muhsin Muhammed
32. Ashlie Lelie
33. Keyshawn Johnson
34. Anquan Boldin
35. T.J. Houshmandzadeh
36. Chris Chambers
37. Tyrone Calico
38. Eric Moulds
39. Eddie Kennison
40. Michael Jenkins

Ranking the RBs

The Running Backs:

1. Ladanian Tomlinson
2. Willis McGahee
3. Jamal Lewis
4. Edge James
5. Clinton Portis
6. Priest Holmes
7. Shaun Alexander
8. Duece McAllister
9. Ahman Green
10. Stephen Jackson
11. Julius Jones
12. Tiki Barber
13. Corey Dillion
14. Curtis Martin
15. Brian Westbrook
16. Kevin Jones
17. Mike Anderson
18. Carnell Williams
19. Rudi Johnson
20. Domanick Davis
21. Lamont Jordan
22. Ronnie Brown
23. Mewelde Moore
24. Warrick Dunn
25. Fred Taylor
26. Chris Brown
27. J.J. Arrington
28. Cedric Benson
29. DeShaun Foster
30. Kevan Barlow
31. Travis Henry
32. Marchall Faulk
33. Duce Staley
34. Michael Bennett
35. T.J. Duckett

Ranking the QBs

The Quarter Backs:

1. Peyton Manning
2. Daunte Culpepper
3. Donovan McNabb
4. Trent Green
5. Tom Brady
6. Kerry Collins
7. Brett Favre
8. Carson Palmer
9. Michael Vick
10. Marc Bulger
11. David Carr
12. Matt Hassellbeck
13. Jake Delhomme
14. Steve McNair
15. Jake Plummer
16. Drew Brees
17. Aaron Brooks
18. Ben Roethlisberger
19. Chad Pennington
20. Kurt Warner
21. Eli Manning
22. Joey Harrington
23. Byron Leftwich
24. Trent Dilfer
25. J.P. Losman

Finding the sleepers

Everybody usually has a good idea of who the top 25 or even 50 players are in every fantasy draft. The real secret it figuring out who the sleepers are.

Certainly by now, everybody has an idea of a few sleepers. But do you really have time to sit down and figure out more than that?

Probably not. Here's what I've been hearing about different players.

Light sleepers (veterans expected to have comeback years):

Trent Dilfer, QB, Cleveland. Dilfer hasn't played much the past few seasons, but the Browns receivers aren't bad and they figure to be behind quite a bit. He'll have some big games.

Kevan Barlow, RB, San Francisco. Barlow struggled last season, his first as a full-time starter. And the team has threatened to replace him. But he's the most talented runner on the team and should put up decent-enough numbers to be a No. 2 or No. 3 fantasy back.

Steve Smith, WR, Carolina. Because he broke his leg in the first game last year, some will have forgotten that it was Smith, not Muhsin Muhammad that was Carolina's No. 1 receiver going into last season. Muhammad is gone, but Smith is all healed up.

Straight sleepers (Rookies or veterans expected to bust out):

Carson Palmer, QB, Cincinnati. Palmer was red-hot down the stretch last season and has outstanding receivers to throw to along with a solid running game. He could emerge as a top-5 QB this season.

Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, RB, Tampa Bay. Former Auburn teammate Ronnie Brown and Cedric Benson were chosen ahead of the Cadillac in the draft, but Williams landed in a better situation. He'll put up the best rookie running back numbers this season.

Nate Burleson, WR, Minnesota. Burleson doesn't have Randy Moss' speed, but he now has Moss' position. With Daunte Culpepper throwing to him, Burleson will emerge as one of the top receivers in fantasy football this season.

Heavy sleepers (Guys to roll the dice on):

Joey Harrington, QB, Detroit. Everything is in place for Harrington to have a big year. He just has to do it. There were concerns about Jeff Garcia stealing the job, but Garcia has looked bad in the preseason, solidifying Harrington's position.

J.J. Arrington, RB, Arizona. Plenty of people know about Arrington, but the question will be when to take him. I wouldn't go too early because guys his size just don't hold up all season. But I'd grab him as a No. 3 back.

Antonio Bryant, WR, Cleveland. The focus is on top pick Braylon Edwards, but Bryant has been the Browns' best receiver. The veteran has always had talent and it's possible the trade from Dallas to Cleveland woke him up. He could emerge as a big-time player this season.

In a coma (Time to start reaching):

J.P. Losman, QB, Buffalo. Losman is inexperienced, but he's got a nice supporting cast. Running back Willis McGahee will keep defenses honest and he's got a good set of receivers. He just needs to play consistently.

Willie Parker, RB, Pittsburgh. Everybody knows the Steelers are going to run the ball. But Duce Staley is already banged up and Jerome Bettis is now 33 years old. This guy has the best speed the Steelers have had at running back in the Bill Cowher era. And he has a 100-yard game against Buffalo last season to prove that he can get it done.

Bryant Johnson, WR, Arizona. Much of the focus has been on Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. But Johnson, a former first-round draft pick, has looked like the best receiver in the team's camp. He may not start ahead of Fitzgerald or Boldin, but Johnson will catch his share of passes and he's an injury away from being a solid starter.

Crowded backfields

A crowded backfield is something no fantasy owner ever wants to see. But there are several situations in the NFL right now where there is no clear-cut favorite to be the starter when the season opens in a couple of weeks.

What's a fantasy owner to do?

Here's a quick look at three of those situations:

Denver: Not surprisingly, Maurice Clarett won't be a factor here despite the fact the team wasted a third-round pick on him. Mike Anderson appears to have grabbed the job by playing well in the preseason, including a 93-yard run against Indianapolis. That doesn't mean Quentin Griffin won't steal the job away from him at some point. That will leave Tatum Bell and a rejuvenated Ron Dayne on the outside looking in.

Carolina: Stephen Davis has been a little slow to return from injury and was starting to slow down anyway. Deshaun Foster is the man here, but has also had injury problems in his career. The team likes rookie Eric Shelton, but Foster will open as the starter. Former Pitt player Nick Goings is the odd man out.

Minnesota: Mike Tice still lists oft-injured Michael Bennett as the starter, but Mewelde Moore will be the more valuable fantasy back on this team. Moe Williams may steal some goal line carries, though. Ciatrick Fason is the sleeper of the group, but has been unimpressive.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

All the best

What if you could have the best players in fantasy football for your team in 2005? What would that team look like?

Probably a little something like this:

QB: Peyton Manning just keeps on getting better. In fact, he was so good in 2004 that it actually hurt his yardage numbers as Tony Dungy called off the dogs a few times against teams that couldn't keep up. Manning won't throw 49 TD passes again this season, but should approach 40 again.

RB: LaDanian Tomlinson has clearly established himself as a fantasy monster. Had a league-best 17 rushing TDs last season - though Priest Holmes would have had more had he stayed healthy. Tomlinson's reception numbers fell to 53 last season, a dropoff of more than 40. But much of that was because of the emergence of Antonio Gates, who helps Tomlinson as a rusher by keeping the safeties back.

RB: Willis McGahee should emerge as the No. 2 fantasy back in football this season. A lot depends on the progress of young QB J.P. Losman. This is a bit of a projection.

WR: Randy Moss won't have Daunte Culpepper tossing him the ball this season, but Kerry Collins isn't bad. Just go deep, Baby.

WR: Terrell Owens is an idiot who can't keep his mouth shut. But he can play. Chad Johnson could push Owens aside this season if Carson Palmer progresses as expected.

TE: With apologies to Gates, Tony Gonzalez is still the man here. He's just done it longer and his quarterback position is a little more settled. Gonzalez is 1A and Gates 1B.

Kicker: You just can't go wrong with Adam Vinatieri. Sure he kicks in the northeast in the winter, but that offense always finds ways to get him into field goal range two or three times per game.

Defense: Baltimore allowed just under 17 points and had 34 takeaways last season. Plus, the Ravens scored eight touchdowns on special teams and defense, an average of one every other game. That's the kind of thing that wins you games.

Many different ways to play

There are a thousand different ways to play fantasy football and I've played just about every one of them.

But the best leagues keep things as simple as possible. I've played in scoring leagues, yardage leagues, combined scoring and yardage leagues, and leagues that used individual defenders with as many ways for the defenders to score points as the offensive players have. The bottom line is that the easier it is to keep score, the better.

Certainly most leagues are on-line at this point. But who hasn't been stuck somewhere without Internet access wondering just how your team is doing? That's no fun, especially in an activity in which most of the action happens within a six-hour period on Sunday.


I prefer a league that uses a combined yardage and touchdown scoring system because it is the most realistic and rewards those who tote the ball down the field only to give way to a specialty player who scores the touchdowns. Owners who had the Steelers' Duce Staley last season can attest that it was no fun seeing Staley carry the ball five or six times during a drive only to watch helplessly as Jerome Bettis crashed into the end zone to culminate it.

Many leagues use individual defensive players and that's a fine way to get even more in-depth with your fantasy fun, but try to keep the stats used to the ones who are easily tracked. In other words, don't use tackles as a statistic.

Why? Tackles in the NFL are subjective. What I mean by that is that they are kept by each individual team and often changed later in the week after the coaches have a chance to go over the game film. So those 13 tackles Ray Lewis was credited with on Sunday may be changed to 11 or 15 once the coaching staff takes a look at it.

Also, some teams are notorious stat padders. Ever wonder why one team has six guys who have more than 100 tackles, while another only has one or two?

Prior to a playoff game a few years ago, I was sitting around going over the opposing team's stats looking for story ideas. I noticed that particular team had six players with more than 100 tackles, including two who had over 150. I added up the total number of plays that team had run against it that season - completions plus rushing attempts and sacks - and it came out to more than 150 less tackle opportunities than that team had total tackles. And that didn't include the assists, which some teams give to guys who jump on the pile after the play is over.

That's why you shouldn't use tackles as a statistic. If you must use individual defenders, stick to the things that are easily measure - interceptions, sacks, fumbles forced and fumble recoveries. And of course if your defender records a safety or touchdown, that's worth points as well.

When I say keep it simple, that goes for the draft as well.


It's going to be impossible to make all positions equal, so don't bother trying. There's no way that a placekicker or tight end - even the best tight end in the league - is going to be worth as much as a quarterback or running back. They touch the ball more and as such, are the primary scorers on most fantasy teams.

That doesn't mean I haven't seen teams do well that were stronger with receivers than they were with quarterbacks or running backs, but it is a rarity. Unless you are lucky enough to have Randy Moss and Terrell Owens on the same fantasy team, you're not going to win a championship with a wide receiver-dominated squad.

One thing I always do before I go into a draft is sit down and rank my top 100 or so players and also come up with a list of players I want to avoid and a list of sleepers. All too often you get into the middle rounds of a draft and suddenly you're shocked that a certain player is still available. Often, it's a player who's on my list of players to avoid. I let somebody else deal with that headache.

I always try to fill out my starting lineup first, taking at least one running back and a quarterback with my first three picks, before moving on to fill out the rest of the lineup. That means take three sure things before you start rolling the dice.

Every year there are players who are supposed to have breakout seasons who don't live up to the hype. The always over-hyped Ashlee Lelie ring a bell for anyone?

Don't fall into the trap of drafting somebody on potential while allowing established players to pass you by. Get a quarterback, two running backs and a pair of starting wideouts before you start looking for the next Anquan Boldin or Reuben Droughns.

If you hit a home run there, then maybe you can trade from a position of strength, trading two good players for a great one, with both teams benefitting.