The “Big Boards”
Since most of America is in front of the computer at work (or looking
for work) more than we care to be, late August and early September
can serve as a reminder of what it is like to live. For me, there
are few times during the year I look forward to more than my money
league drafts. Being on the cusp of building a championship team
and outwitting your opponents is a feeling hard to describe, but
one worth experiencing for the sheer excitement and exhilaration
it can produce.
However, that feeling of adrenaline shooting through your veins
can come to a quick halt if you don't feel like the most prepared
owner in your league on draft day. Even though many fantasy owners
play just for bragging rights, the goal for money leaguers and
non-money leaguers alike is the same: win. In my experience, winning
starts in the offseason with preparation, continues at the draft
when you can calmly select value over need, which carries over
nicely into the season when it is time to make a trade or two.
Ideally, all of this lands you firmly in the playoffs with an
above-average chance to claim the league championship.
As I mentioned before, "value" in drafting is key.
Need has to outweigh value on occasion, but for the most part,
it can't hurt to take the best player left on the board. And it
is with both need and value in mind that I present my "Big
Board" in your attempt to earn both the respect and envy
of your fellow fantasy leaguers in 2009.
Before I get to the boards, though, I would like to forewarn
each of my readers about the player’s rankings and subsequent
place on the board. I will push a player down my board if I cannot
trust him to stay healthy all season. If you take the time to
tear down each position I provide below, you will notice that
I don’t follow the point totals or averages to a tee. Outside
of trust issues, I will push a player down my board – despite
a higher average or overall point total – if I believe he
will simply be more consistent throughout the season or if his
playoff schedule appears treacherous – no, I don't claim
to see the future, but history tells us that defenses like Baltimore,
Minnesota and Pittsburgh will end more fantasy championship dreams
than they help. All too often, fantasy owners and even the so-called
"experts" get tied into the final fantasy point totals.
Don't get me wrong, I want all my players to have 300+ points
at the end of the season. But as the old saying goes, "It's
not about the destination, it's about the journey"; if my
RB1 gives me seven spectacular performances along with six duds
during the regular season, there's a fairly decent chance I may
end up 7-6. I don’t want that and neither should you.
Note: I increased
the size of my board from 100 from a year ago to 175 so 12-team
league owners could have a reference tool that included 2 QBs,
4-5 RBs, 4-5 WRs, 1-2 TEs, a K and a defensive unit. Also, this
year, I added in the bye weeks and the same color coding that
I used in my previous PSAs to designate poor, neutral and advantageous
matchups during Weeks 14-16.
Here is the scoring system that I used to rank the players:
Without further ado, the “Big Board” for owners in
Undoubtedly, many of you are likely shocked by the overall point
difference between Jones-Drew and Peterson. Try to think of it this
Westbrook led most PPR leagues in scoring in 2007 despite missing
a game and lacking an elite WR option to take the focus away from
him, which in part led to his career-high 90 receptions. Jones-Drew
is the same kind of all-purpose back, is a better short-yardage
and red zone rusher and has missed just one game in three years.
Considering Pocket Hercules' highest-touch season was last year
with 235, it becomes a bit frightening to think what he could do
with 300 behind a better and healthier offensive line AND a receiver
in Torry Holt,
who - while he is on the downside of his career - represents the
best receiver the Jags have started since the days of Jimmy Smith
and Keenan McCardell. I believe 2,000+ total yards and 15-16 TDs
is achievable for him this season.
Jackson-Forte-Gore should spark a lively debate as well. In the
end, it comes down to the amount of work I believe Jackson will
receive in the passing game. I don't foresee another 90-catch
season in his future, but 70-80 is a possibility since he is the
best receiver the Rams have. No one will argue that St. Louis
is in a rebuilding phase this year, but it does have the makings
of a good run-blocking line, so Jackson should be able to sport
some nice rushing totals when the Rams are close to their opponent
and add some solid production in the passing game when the team
falls a score or two behind. He's also the first example on this
board of how a top RB can be a high first-round lock in PPR and
a borderline first-round pick in non-PPR (more on that below).
Forte is like Jackson in a lot of ways, but probably won't see
quite the same number of passes Jackson will, which is why he
falls just short of the Rams' RB here. Gore should be in for his
highest workload since 2006, but doesn't seem to have the knack
for the end zone quite like Forte or the receiving upside Jackson
does. Quite honestly, though, I could make a strong argument for
any one of these backs over the other two.
Michael Turner: PPR victim.
Let's skip all the way down to two of PPR's biggest victims:
Williams. Go ahead and believe Turner is a lock for a repeat
of 2008 if you want, because I don't. There were seven games last
season in which Turner averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry.
Five of those teams (Detroit, Green Bay, Kansas City, Oakland
and St. Louis) aren't on the Falcons' 2009 schedule, and all five
finished 26th or worse in terms of rushing yardage allowed per
game. Add in the fact that despite his gaudy numbers from a season
ago, he still finished behind a part-time back (MJD) and another
one who missed two games (Westbrook) in PPR leagues. As for Williams,
he is a good receiving back, but the Panthers - up to now - haven't
chosen to feature that part of his game yet. Unfortunately, four
of the five opponents I mentioned for Turner above were also on
Williams' schedule last year but are not on the slate for this
season. Because Williams will run against a more difficult schedule
in 2009, he is going to need Jonathan
Stewart to be an injury liability for most of the season,
since a healthy Stewart probably eats up at least another 160-170
carries, leaving D-Will to make his attempt at recapturing fantasy
glory again this year on 230-250 carries. I, for one, don't count
on certain players getting hurt (unless they have an overwhelming
history of such a thing), but for Williams to come anywhere close
to his 2008 standards, he will need Stewart to miss substantial
time. Furthermore, over the last 30+ years, only Clinton
Portis followed one 5.5 YPC season with another. Williams
is an elite talent, but a 100-200 yard drop in total yards and
a 7-8 TD decrease should be expected. If that is production is
acceptable for you in the middle of the first round, by all means,
go get him.
Lynch is an intriguing player to me in the fourth round. I'm
typically not all that thrilled about having a player on my roster
that I KNOW won't be able to play for me for three games, but
if you can get past that, rarely can an owner find a RB2 in the
fourth round they can count on for 20 touches per game. For owners
Smith a season ago that went on to win their league title,
you understand that a short suspension at the beginning of the
season is not the worst thing in the world if the player you are
waiting on can be a vital part of the foundation of your fantasy
I've cooled ever so slightly on Ray Rice because Willis McGahee
will probably steal more snaps than he should, but in a PPR league,
I would not have any qualms about the second-year back serving
as my RB2. The same goes for Ward, who I can't foresee stealing
goal line duties away from Earnest Graham. With that said, he
has 40-50 catch upside, so even if he only scores 5-6 times, he
should be a solid and consistent RB2 producer.
I don't need the Brandon Marshall headache this season. Injured
players who don't get their way and want out of town have a tendency
of carrying that onto the field with them, with Chad Ochocinco
circa 2008 being the latest example. (Child please!) Give me all
the young upside backs (Brown, McCoy, Bradshaw, Mendenhall), Harvin
and a couple of mid-level TE1ís before him.
I probably have Kevin Faulk too low here, but with another capable
pass-catching back like Fred Taylor on the roster, it's hard for
me to see another 58-catch, 161-touch season out of him again
in 2009. On the other hand, I feel like Breaston could be over-ranked
here because he would be the most likely of the Arizona WRs to
suffer in the catch department if/when the Cardinals decide to
balance out their run-pass ratio a bit more. I would have liked
to place Hixon a lot higher than his current spot, but I see too
much competition in the Giants' deep-ball receiving ranks to go
too crazy over him. Mario Manningham could easily steal some of
his potential downfield targets as could rookie Ramses Barden.
Fellow rookie Hakeem Nicks will also need work, but in the end,
I have to believe Steve Smith is Manning's most trusted target.
In PPR, that means a lot...
Now, the "Big Board for non-PPR owners, (with the only scoring
change being the obvious drop of a point per reception).
Unlike the PPR rankings above, I believe it is more of personal
preference at the top between Peterson and Jones-Drew in non-PPR.
I prefer MJD because he is capable of a 100-yard game on the ground
or through the air, not to mention multiple scores. However, Vikings
HC Brad Childress has noted during training camp how much Peterson
has improved in the passing game. In the end, though, I think
Chester Taylor and Percy Harvin pick away at Peterson's touches
just enough to leave him #2 overall.
In non-PPR leagues, consistency is even harder to find at RB
than in PPR, due to loss of the potential fantasy points per game
that come as a result of the backs catching passes. Thus, it is
even more important to grab the RBs who are dual-threats AND their
team's #1 option in the red zone. I believe my top five reflects
that. Moving on, I placed Slaton just above Chris
Johnson because of the injury risks that I believe both Chris
Brown and Arian Foster are. If they both break down, Slaton's
value skyrockets to #3 overall, ahead of LT.
Randy Moss: 17+ TDs in '09?
I have Moss
as my #1 overall WR this year and would be shocked if he can't
deliver in that regard. Moss is the only WR in league history
to have THREE seasons of 17 or more receiving TDs; I wouldn't
doubt if he makes it four. I'm amazed that some sites have him
as low as fourth as he is essentially the team's deep threat AND
#1 red zone option.
The next subset brings me to the four high-end RBs that I'm a
bit leery of for one reason or another (Brown, Turner, Jackson,
Williams). Entering his second season after ACL surgery, Brown
really only needs the coaching staff to realize that Ricky
Williams doesn't need to be getting significant carries anymore
to justify his spot on this list. This is about as high as you
are going to see Brown on any draft list, but if the Dolphins
commit to him as I think they will, I have no problem leaving
him where I have him. Turner is a polarizing player for many owners,
some of which have him as a clear #1 overall pick in non-PPR leagues.
I just don't see it - he will perform like a #1 overall pick in
some weeks, but since he is a one-trick pony (no receiving numbers
to speak of), he is apt to give his owners 5-6 clunkers over the
course of the year. To me, that is too many for a potential top-five
pick. Jackson is a dual-threat and his team's best red zone option,
but I have a bad feeling he will be more inconsistent than Turner
because his supporting cast is the worst of any player in the
top 10. I'm more than happy to take him in PPR because he will
probably post 60-70 receptions (which will make him a much more
consistent back in that format), but I'd just as soon pass on
him in the first round of non-PPR leagues. Williams is an exceptional
all-around talent with a good offensive line in a run-heavy offense.
His biggest issues are the presence of Jonathan
Stewart, a line that has no quality depth behind its starting
five, a schedule that is brutal at the end of the season and a
defense that isn't going to be as good as it was a season ago,
which - with a healthy Stewart - will cut his rushing attempts.
I'm a big fan of D-Will, but there are an awful lot of things
that need to go right for him (again) to come anywhere close to
his first-place finish in 2008.
While most people rank Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson 1-2 at WR,
I think they are clearly 3-4 at best. Boldin was the man in Arizona
for most of last season until succumbing to injury late in the
season, allowing Fitzgerald to absolutely go crazy in the postseason.
However, Fitzgerald is a downright consistent fantasy performer,
making it hard to pass on him after Moss. The only think that
concerns me about Johnson is the health of Schaub. If his QB finally
gives us a 16-game season, AJ may give us a season for the fantasy
record books. However, until Schaub gives us that full season,
I'm not going to hand Johnson a #1 ranking because I am not someone
who believes Dan Orlovsky is going to step in for five games and
allow Johnson to consistently produce as if nothing happened to
the starting QB. Conversely, Iím a bit more confident in
Matt Leinartís ability to maintain Fitzgerald and Boldinís
consistency if Warner was to go down for any length of time.
In fantasy, my definition for a WR2 or RB2 is someone who can
produce like a WR1 or RB1, but is inconsistent enough to the point
where an owner can't count on him in the same way he/she would
a WR1 or RB1. That brings me to Chad Ochocinco, who for several
years gave his owners average production at best for a few games
at a time only to give us about 3-4 dynamite games to boost up
his final numbers. As maddening as that can be for an owner, it
isn't often to find a fantasy No.2 at any position that can single-handedly
win games for his owners. In other words, DONíT take Ochocinco
if you want WR1 numbers almost every week. DO take him if you
can pair him up with a Fitzgerald-type and live with a few dreadful
performances over the course of the season.
Unlike previous years where I could take him as a RB2 in the
late fourth round, I'm not sure I want any part of Reggie Bush
this season in non-PPR leagues. Offseason knee surgery and his
inability to stay on the field all season have pretty much soured
me on him as a non-PPR asset. Headed in the other direction in
the fantasy stock market is Berrian, who is one of my latest big
risers. His new QB has long been able to make a team's deep threat
a viable fantasy property and Berrian should be no different.
I'm guessing the biggest question readers will have in the fifth
round area (49-60) is: Why is Houshmandzadeh is so low and Harvin
so high? I don't think there is much doubt T.J. will be the lead
dog in the Seahawks' passing game, but I am not encouraged about
the questions concerning his supporting cast. Will LT Walter Jones
miss substantial time? Does a potential absence of Jones mean
we'll see Hasselbeck get injured again? (Starting C Chris Spencer
is already out indefinitely.) These questions - along with the
new run-heavy offense of OC Greg Knapp should mean lower overall
numbers for Housh. Harvin, on the other hand, is having plays
installed into the offense just to get him touches...when is the
last time anyone could say that about a rookie WR? I'm thinking
he will still last until the seventh round in most 12-team leagues,
but I would say he is a pretty good bet to live up to my high
Donald Brown and LeSean McCoy are receiving plenty of hype already,
so I'll focus on Shonn Greene, another rookie who I think will
be a pleasant surprise for his owners. The Jets' plan for him
is to use him in a role similar to that of a younger Marion Barber
in which he gets to pound away at a tired defense in the fourth
quarter. I suspect he will quickly become the goal-line back as
well, so if you can live with next-to-no production from him in
the passing game, the Jetsí rookie should be a solid flex/RB3
Much like Harvin, Chris
Henry doesn't appear to have a certain role cemented in the
Bengals' offense outside of "big-play WR". I don't need to tell
you though that very few nickel corners can cover "Slim", so while
his snaps and catches may be limited, he could be one of the best
WR3 selections an owner can make in a non-PPR league this season.
I would really like to give Felix Jones a higher ranking, but
I have this unshakable feeling he won't make it through the season
once again. If you don't have that same feeling, feel free to
move him up into the 6-7 round area.
Some may find my grouping of Daniels, Miller and Davis odd in
the 128-130 pick area. If Daniels could keep his current level
of production up and combine that with his rookie year of scoring
touchdowns (5), I'd be all for moving him up into John Carlson
territory. On the other hand, Miller's production can only go
up in my mind as the Raiders' passing game improves, slowly but
surely. Every year, Vernon Davis is supposed to realize his vast
talent but never seems to reach expectations. As he enters his
fourth season, Davis is just now getting acclimated to the first
offensive philosophy that suits his game since he's been a Niner.
He's only one year removed from a 52-catch, four-TD season (14
games), so it isn't as if he hasn't produced already. With an
OC that wants to get him the ball and an offense that needs him
to produce, this has to be the year Davis steps forward or he
probably never will.
Hey, kickers are people too. Quite honestly, it seems everyone
has their own take on where kickers should be selected. I personally
think if a Rob Bironas is sitting out there to be had and you
are comfortable with your bench players at the other positions,
why not take a kicker who will probably be an every-week starter
for you? To be quite honest, does your 15th round pick at WR,
RB or TE stand a better chance at making it to Week 2 than your
kicker? It's doubtful.
With that said, kickers really should only be considered in the
final two rounds, depending on your leagueís drafting requirements.
(For example, I have played in leagues where all owners are required
to draft two defenses. If you have already selected the Steelersí
defense, there is a good chance your #2 defense wonít be
staying around very long.) As for what I look for, I usually target
kickers with 50-yard power in their legs on teams with strong
running games and good defenses that I feel wonít produce
in the red zone for one reason or another. Obviously, some of
my top picks below donít fit all the criteria, but Bironas
is an obvious example from a season ago that shows there is some
merit to that philosophy.
I'll be back next week with some updates to the Big Boards before
we turn this space into more of a strategy/observation column
to get you through the season. In the meantime, don't hesitate
to e-mail me with any questions
or suggestions if there is something that you feel would make
the "Big Board" an even better drafting tool.
And with that, good luck in your drafts!