Monday, September 04, 2006

2006 Fantasy Football Preview

(Written 08/26/06)

Well faithful reader (or readers, if my numbers have increased to more than two…), I come to you bearing bad news. I hate to be the one to burst your bubble, but I’m going to. Ready?

There are no new strategies to Fantasy Football. We’ve reached the pinnacle of the Fantasy Football universe. If you play in a yearly turnover league, where teams change through yearly drafts, then the strategy is the same every year: Get a #1 running-back, a #2 running-back, a good quarterback, then fill in the gaps. That’s all there is to this game.

This year, for the first time since college, I’m trying to get a real solid keeper league going. I like the keeper format much better, only because it allows you to build a franchise rather than just a team, and it allows your team to grow over time. The keeper league format also allows for much more flexibility in the yearly draft, between the trading of picks and the drafting of rookies for future use (Hello Jay Cutler?).

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to approach every position as though I were recommending picks for a turnover draft, when everyone’s team resets the day after the Super Bowl, and every year someone will utter the words “Is Drew Bledsoe really the only quarterback still on the board?”

Running Backs

This might shock you, but I’m going to depart from conventional wisdom here a little bit. Everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) is on the Larry Johnson bandwagon for 2006. In my main league last year, he was a “throw-in” in a deadline deal that was essentially Tiki Barber for Rudi Johnson (the guy getting Tiki also got LJ. Ridiculous.)

But I’m just not sold on LJ being the #1 stud that everyone thinks he’s going to be. Read on, and I’ll tell you why.

1) LaDanian Tomlinson. Sure, I’m probably taking the safe pick here. The guy that just consistently puts up 2000+ yards from scrimmage and 10-15 TDs every season. But if I have the #1 pick in any league this year, you can bet the house that I’m taking LT. With that kind of consistency, any mediocre running-back can fill my second slot and provide me with more than enough points.

2) Shaun Alexander. Anyone that didn’t listen to me last year and passed on him at the #1 spot must have been kicking themselves all season long. Breaking the single-season touchdown record is nice, but where does he go from here? I’ve got him behind LT only because Alexander doesn’t catch passes out of the backfield as well, and because Seattle let All-Pro left tackle Steve Hutchinson walk to Minnesota. Plus, with Shaun’s new contract and the cover of Madden ’07, Vegas has the over/under on “Which week will Shaun Alexander blow out an ACL” set at Week 6. I’m taking the under.

3) Larry Johnson. Sure, his numbers as the starting running-back in 2005 were off the charts ridiculous. And yes, if you extrapolate them over a 16-week season, he blows the all-time rushing record out of the water. But he lost his best offensive lineman (Willie Roaf) to retirement, and one of the best blocking fullbacks in the league (Tony Richardson) left in free agency. He’s going to produce, but just how much remains to be seen. I’m putting him at about 1750 yards and 12 TDs. Good enough to be a top three guy, but not enough to use the #1 pick on. Prove it for a full season, and in 2007, I’ll move him to the top of the heap in a heartbeat.

4) Tiki Barber. I came very close to moving him up to #2 on this list. Every report I’ve seen on Tiki says he’s more determined this year to get back to the Super Bowl than he’s ever been. He was a monster last season, and probably still has two more good seasons left in him. Problem is, the Giants seems determined to give Brandon Jacobs the smash-mouth, goal-line carries, meaning that unless Tiki breaks most of his scores from 10+ yards out, he’s not going to see a lot of touchdowns in 2006. That’s the death knell for any top flight running back. He’ll still put up his 1500+ and 10-12 TDs, but I need more than that from my #1 guy.

5) Rudi Johnson. Johnson’s playing on the second best offense in the AFC, and it might even be the best if the Colts can’t overcome the loss of Edgerrin James. He won’t last past the first round, and probably not past the first six or seven picks.

Others: Ahman Green (PAckers), Laurence Maroney (Patriots), Brandon Jacobs (Giants), Frank Gore (49ers), Kevin Jones (Lions).


Here’s the main difference between the fantasy quarterback and the fantasy runningback. There is a much larger crop of “top tier” runningbacks available than there are top-tier quarterbacks. In most drafts, if you don’t get your #1 runningback with your first pick, you’re basically screwed for the season.

Thanks for playing, we’ll see you next year.

With the quarterbacks, since there’s really only two or three top guys, you can get away with having a second-tier starting QB, if you have the top runningback already established. Which leads us to...

1) Peyton Manning. Duh. The guy throws for 4000 yards and 30+ TDs every year. He’s the number one guy for a reason (and it isn’t because he performs in the clutch). If you’re picking between 5 and 8, you will have to seriously give him a look over one of the second tier runningbacks. Thing is – he might not even be there by the time you get a chance.

2) Carson Palmer. In my Yahoo league, he was statistically better than Manning in ’05, outscoring him by over 20 points for the season. But then he had that pesky little obliterated knee in the playoffs, so now he’s damaged goods for ’06. Still, with the offense he has around him, does anyone really doubt he’ll put up another strong year? He might not move around as much, but he’ll still deliver the goods.

3) Tom Brady. Led the NFL in passing in ’05. But of the guys he passed to for most of last year (Troy Brown, Deion Branch, David Givens and Tim Dwight) only Brown is available, and he’s just about ready to retire. Givens & Dwight left in free agency, and Branch is holding out (and may end up being traded). Still, the Patriots have never really had a “#1 receiver”, so I don’t doubt that Brady still finds a way to put up 3500+ yards and 20-25 TDs. That’s good enough for me.

4) Drew Brees. Yes, you read that right – I’ve got him here ahead of Hasselbeck. Brees is starting fresh in New Orleans. He’s got a legit #1 receiver and a running back corps to die for. The offensive line might have some trouble protecting him, but he really seemed to put it all together last year, and now he’s got a little chip on his shoulder after the Chargers unceremoniously let him walk in the off-season. He’s a dangerous man this year.

5) Jake Delhomme. The poor man’s Carson Palmer. Every year this guy goes later than I think he should. And every year, he puts up solid, if not spectacular numbers. His stats aren’t eye-popping – he’s not going to throw 50 TDs or pass the 5000 yard plateau (although with Steve Smith, anything’s possible). But he’s going to give you 15-20 fantasy points every week, with about 200 yards passing and a TD or two. Nice and consistent… oh, and leading the NFC Super Bowl Favorites…

Others: Daunte Culpepper (Dolphins), Kurt Warner (Cardinals), David Carr (Texans), Jay Cutler (Broncos), Jon Kitna (Lions).

Wide Receivers

We all know the names by now. Owens. Smith. Harrison. Johnson. It’s just a matter of putting them in the correct order (and allowing me to fill up another 400 words…)

1) Steve Smith. He’s officially reached the #1 status, and he earned every bit of it. Like I said above – Jake Delhomme is a solid passer, and now with Keyshawn Johnson lining up on the other end of the field, defenses won’t be able to clamp down on Smith like they want to. He should put up another off the charts year – think somewhere around 1400+ yards and 12-15 TDs.

2) Terrell Owens. Sure, he’s got to rely on Drew Bledsoe, and that’s never a pleasant experience. But he’s still the most talented receiver in the league. He’s only dropped to #2 because of his quarterback, and if Owens ever actually gets on the field with the Dallas first team in training camp or the preseason, they might actually get to work together and know each other. It’s the little things, you know?

3) Chad Johnson. I read a Maxim interview with CJ about how he really wants to get into acting, and how no matter what the NFL does, he’s going to keep having fun on the sidelines. That sounds to me like a guy who really enjoys his work, and a guy who wants to perform at all costs. That sounds like a guy I want on my team.

4) Marvin Harrison. Quietly, he’s put up Hall-of-Fame numbers. I say quietly not because people don’t notice what he does, but because he does it without putting on a show, without mugging for the cameras or autographing footballs or proposing to team cheerleaders after every touchdown. He just goes out, catches 110-125 passes and 12 TDs, collects his paycheck and smiles. Damn I wish he was a Patriot…

5) Derrick Mason. Yep. Ahead of Randy Moss. Moss has to deal with the mystery that is Aaron Brooks. “D-Mase” gets to re-unite with Steve McNair (at least until McNair’s first injury), the quarterback that made Mason a Pro-Bowl receiver when they were both with the Titans. And while he’ll split catches with Mark Clayton, there’s no doubt in my mind that Mason is going to return to form as a 100+ catch receiver.

Others: Keyshawn Johnson (Panthers), Terry Glenn (Cowboys), Roy Williams (Lions), Donald Driver (Packers), Donte Stallworth (Eagles).

Tight Ends:

For a long time, there were only two Tight Ends that you could count on to earn you solid fantasy points – Tony Gonzalez and Todd Heap. Everything else was a crapshoot. It was just as effective to add and drop based on match-ups as it was to try and draft a solid guy for the whole season.

But today, the Tight End position is back in vogue. With the ascension of Antonio Gates and Jeremy Shockey, and the continued production of Gonzalez and Heap, plus a bunch of other very capable players, the position is no longer just a dead roster spot. A productive Tight End could mean the difference between a fantasy championship and missing the playoffs altogether.

1) Antonio Gates. Plain and simple – he’s the reason Tight Ends can once again crack the top 50 players list. Even with unproven Philip Rivers under center (who looks great so far in training camps and preseason, by the way), Gates is going to get his touches, and he’s going to get a lot of them.

2) Jeremy Shockey. The Giants’ offense is going to advance even further this season now that Eli Manning has had a little longer to learn the system and work with his teammates more. Shockey is the #2 target for Manning, right behind Plaxico Burress. He’ll get a lot of looks, and most of them in the red zone. That’s a formula for success.

3) Jason Witten. Sure, there’s the Bledsoe problem for Dallas receivers. But Bledsoe has always, always looked to his tight ends when things collapse around him. Remember Ben Coates? Anytime Bledsoe gets pressured, he’s going to look to his safety valves – Witten & Julius Jones out of the backfield. Witten should manage 60-70 receptions easily.

4) Heath Miller. Pittsburgh doesn’t have the Bus to drive home the short yardage scores anymore, meaning Ben Roethlisberger might look to dump the short pass to the big guy in the end zone. Miller is just the type of guy they love in Pittsburgh, and he should move ahead of just about every tight end in the league this season.

5) Ben Watson. Remember the problem with New England’s receiving corps? Well, Watson is a wide receiver with a tight end’s body. I just can’t shake the image of him streaking 104 yards in the Denver playoff debacle to absolutely de-cleat Champ Bailey on his interception return. That play alone earned him major points with the coaching staff. He’s going to see a lot of action this year with a lot of two tight end sets. Dan Graham has an allergy to catching the ball, so the looks will go to Watson.

Others: Kellen Winslow (Browns), Alge Crumpler (Falcons), Tony Gonzalez (Chiefs), Todd Heap (Ravens), Jermaine Wiggins (Vikings).


Nope. Not breaking this one down. It’s Rackers, Vanderjagt, Vinateri, Graham, and then whoever has a good matchup. If you don’t get one of the top four, forget about it. Maybe the punter for the Falcons, Michael Koenan – he’s getting more and more looks, especially on the long bombs.

Defense / Special Teams

A lot of teams made a lot of defensive moves this offseason. Some of them got much better, in a big hurry. Others stood pat, and fell off the map.

Teams have learned that building a defense that can control the opponent’s possessions is the quickest way to build a championship team. Defenses that create turnovers and sacks not only dominate the NFL, but fantasy leagues worldwide.

1) Chicago Bears. They were the cream of the NFL crop last season, dominating just about every team they played (at least until the playoffs). The only worry is whether or not their offense can be effective and give the defense a breather on the sidelines between series.

2) Carolina Panthers. With a healthy defensive line (finally), and a solid linebacking corps, this is a team to watch out for. They’ve already got the best receiver and a very good quarterback. With a little help from the ground game and another solid defensive effort, they’re the team to beat in the NFC.

3) Dallas Cowboys. Bill Parcells has finally crafted the defensive scheme he’s wanted all along in Dallas. He has speed on the line, speed in the linebacking corps, and speed in the secondary. They’re going to disrupt a lot of teams, and cause some serious havoc.

4) Atlanta Falcons. They kind of came out of nowhere this offseason, adding John Abraham and Lawyer Milloy, among others, to an already above average defense. They should pressure the hell out of opposing quarterbacks, which will result in a lot of sacks and bad decisions – interceptions.

5) Indianapolis Colts. Finally, an AFC team. The Colts have really setup their defense nicely over the past two seasons, with Tony Dungy finally getting the players he needed to really implement his original version of the “Tampa 2” scheme from years ago. If Dwight Freeney can stay healthy, they’ve got the best D-line in the AFC, and they already had a good enough secondary to break up a lot of passes and pick off the ones they don’t knock down.

Others: Buffalo, Seattle, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, NY Giants.

So that’s the way I see it. And of course, this is only valid pending injuries, roster cuts, holdouts, daily T.O. updates, etc.

The full 2006 NFL Preview and Predictions is on its way in a day or two. Maybe even on Opening Day.

Yeah, I think I like the symmetry there. I’ll try to post on Opening Day. So it is written, so it shall be done.


(EDIT 9/3/06: For the record – I’ve completed two of my three drafts so far. I couldn’t be happier with one of my teams – especially considering I was driving to New Jersey while the draft took place, so the computer handled it for me. As for league #2, well, I am in good shape, but I could use a breakout season from one or two players… I’ll post my lineups with the NFL Season Predictions)


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