- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
- 0 Shares
Editor's note: We challenged fantasy football analyst Christopher Harris to use his Top 160 rankings to draft 10 fantasy teams, keeping each squad's needs front-of-mind for the exercise. Here are the results, and his observations.
Round Thoughts: For a preliminary discussion of why I like Peterson over Johnson, check out my top 160 column as of late February. But to that argument, I'll add late word out of Tennessee, which is that according to The Nashville Tennessean the Titans claim to be ready to keep LenDale White, and that (quoth Jeff Fisher) "there should be more opportunities for him this year." Johnson repeating his 358 carries from last year seems unlikely. There are so few single running-back situations; only six players had 300-plus carries in '09, five hit that mark in '08, and six did it in '07. Compare that with '06 (10), '05 (10), '04 (9) and '03 (13) and you have to agree this is a new NFL world. Teams throw more, yes, but they also rely on multiple backs. In my opinion, this means it's more important than ever to try to hook one of those high-usage, high-output guys.
Scare Picks: Since Willis McGahee is evidently sticking around in Baltimore, will Rice continue to be hurt by a lack of short touchdowns? The No. 4 spot looks like the place you don't want to be in the first round. Will Michael Turner get healthy? Who's the No. 8 running back? Can you really justify taking Benson in the first round?
Round Thoughts: One early question is how far will Larry Fitzgerald fall? The Cardinals claim they won't change anything with Matt Leinart under center. That's what scares me. It's no accident that Arizona has been mentioned as a potential landing spot for veteran quarterbacks. Rodgers looks like a no-brainer second-rounder in all drafts this year, though it should be noted when you pay full value for a quarterback based on his previous season, you rarely wind up getting that full value. I'd rather wait to pull the trigger on a quarterback, but when it gets down to question marks like Beanie Wells and Brandon Marshall, Rodgers has to go first.
Scare Picks: Charles took over as the Chiefs' lead back in Week 10, and in his final eight games racked up 1,126 total yards and eight touchdowns (though he was no doubt aided by that 259-yard rushing effort in Week 17 against the Broncos). You'll read this one million times before your draft in August, but Charles is about Chris Johnson's size, and is only a bit slower. But taking him in the early second after half a season of good work evokes William Green. Is DeSean Jackson really the third-best wideout in fantasy? Nobody is a bigger-play guy, as evidenced by his eight touchdowns of 35 yards or longer last season. But he also caught "only" 63 passes, and Jeremy Maclin came on late. Does Mendenhall deserve to be a top-10 rusher? Does Marshall's stock change if he leaves Denver?
Round Thoughts: It was too tempting for Team 2, with Chris Johnson in tow, to pass up on Manning. Similarly, Team 4 worries about that second running back spot too much, and hopes DeAngelo Williams has another big season in him before the Panthers decide to hand over the reins to that other guy. Team 8 gets excited with Schaub available and Andre Johnson already in the fold; that's the kind of strategy that either wins your championship or winds up with you unconscious on the bathroom floor.
Scare Picks: Is Miles Austin really worthy of being a No. 1 fantasy receiver long term? His physical gifts would say yes, but remember: there was a monthlong span in the middle of the '09 season where he basically disappeared, and defenses will be gunning for him. I think he'll make the adjustment, but it's scary to mention him in the same breath with some of these other guys. Greene was amazing in the playoffs, and Thomas Jones has vacated the starting spot in Gotham. The Jets are conservative, and Greene figures to be the beneficiary of a run-heavy attack behind a stellar offensive line. But until we see him do it for a full season, it's a bit nerve-racking having him as a borderline second-round pick. Expect his name to be one of the league's hottest this summer. Pierre Thomas is the best player in that Saints backfield, but the champs like to spread the ball around. Mike Bell isn't guaranteed a spot in the Big Easy this fall, but the Saints will probably find new and exciting ways to frustrate Frenchy owners.
Round Thoughts: I surprised myself by elevating McCoy this high. My logic is stupid: I knew Brian Westbrook would be waived, but I don't think I'd thoroughly internalized it. McCoy has a chance to be nearly as good as Westy. On second thought, I also elevated Sidney Rice above Jennings. I think Jennings bounces back big and I worry about increased competition for passes in Minnesota, but it's too hard to ignore how much a certain purple-clad No. 4 loved throwing to Rice. It's probably because I'm the one doing the drafting for all teams, but it was never clearer to me than in this round that you're a lot happier with your options if you already have two rushers in tow. It's much more fun picking from among Jennings and Colston than between Stewart and Forte.
Scare Picks: The more I hear about how the Broncos are ditching the zone-blocking scheme for which the franchise is famous in favor of big-hoss O-linemen like '09 fourth-round guard Seth Olsen, the more I like Moreno's sophomore year. Yet I can't help but remember Correll Buckhalter looking more explosive most of last season. Forte is a nightmare to predict. He was never a burner, but he's not slow. Or at least he wasn't slow during his rookie year. But the Bears' O-line doesn't figure to be leagues better in '10, and Mike Martz doesn't have a history of making big backs into fantasy stars. I think the Martz thing does upgrade Forte a bit, because he can be very good in the passing game. But he scares me.
Round Thoughts: Again, unsurprisingly it's a lot more palatable to take receivers in this round than it is to take running backs. The teams that haven't yet taken quarterbacks feel little urgency to do so now; at this level, there's just not a lot of difference among the remaining signal-callers, so it makes more sense to think about flex players or even a tight end. I'm notoriously reticent about grabbing a tight end early, so perhaps I'm late on the first one being selected at No. 49 overall. I'll say this: '09 wasn't a season where you were particularly glad you waited on a tight end.
Scare Picks: The state of Ronnie Brown's foot is likely to be a source of speculation for months, but remember this was a fracture, not a ligament tear. Given how well Brown was playing when he got hurt (eight touchdowns in nine games), he'll probably be undervalued in drafts, but his medical uncertainty and backfield competition are a little daunting. Where will Boldin wind up? Is there really a chance, as the Cardinals have said, that he'll be back in Arizona yet again? And would that even be a positive for his value? Thomas Jones will be released on Friday, yet despite his age (he'll be 32 in August) he's scored 29 touchdowns combined the past two seasons and is coming off a 1,402-yard rushing season. The exception to the Rule of Age 30, Jones will almost surely be someone's lead back on opening day. You have to weigh his production against the possibility he'll fall off a cliff. I may have him too high here.
Round Thoughts: Some teams will be thinking flex, some will be thinking tight end. While it's true that 10 different tight ends eclipsed 100 fantasy points in '09, only three went over 150. Those are the three who've been drafted by the end of Round 6: Clark, Gates and Davis. This round also sees our first rookie draftee, Spiller, whose value obviously depends very much on which NFL team selects him. I don't have much doubt that he'll lead his team in carries in '10, but the quality of his quarterback and offensive line will be crucial. In the back of my mind, I have to admit I secretly have Spiller going to the Seahawks, and drafted him accordingly; that would be a fair-to-middling situation for him. However, Pete Carroll has said he's looking for a big back.
Scare Picks: Everyone has dings and bruises at this point in your draft, or you wouldn't be getting them in the sixth. Nicks and Crabtree would have to make strides to belong in Harvin's neighborhood. Didn't it used to be called the third-year wide receiver leap? Well, these days, with the money first-round picks make, each had better make such a leap in his second season. Ricky Williams is the second "backup" rusher selected (after Jonathan Stewart); conventional wisdom says Williams is a "young 33" because he basically didn't play in '06 or '07, but he still has nearly 9,000 carries on his odometer, and is a candidate to break down even in limited use. Oh, Brandon Jacobs. If only you'd really only last to the end of the sixth, maybe your fantasy owners wouldn't hate you so much.
Round Thoughts: Here's the point in your draft where you're tempted to say to yourself, "Yeah, I know he probably stinks, but at least he's a starting running back!" Don't do it. Sure, some NFL teams change their stripes quickly, but don't you feel like you pretty much know what the Lions' O-line is going to look like? Do the Buccaneers really seem like they're ready to dominate on the ground, with just one runner? The early-draftee rookies at April's draft will probably gain a lot more hype than I'm giving them here once they have cities and uniforms and such, but at the very least, give me high-upside guys in these middle rounds.
Scare Picks: Favre fans the world over are up in the arms. No. 65 overall!?! The 10th quarterback selected!?! Listen, I know he was a solid No. 3 among quarterbacks in fantasy last season, a dream campaign that saw him toss for 33 scores and just seven picks. I guess this is a bet that he won't quite be able to replicate that feat. Fred Jackson looked like the best back the Bills had last season, but the other guy (more on him in a moment) has the better pedigree and bigger signing bonus. Will the Seahawks swing a trade for Bush, so he can be reunited with Pete Carroll? Will Breaston ascend to starter-hood if/when Boldin leaves, or will Early Doucet take advantage?
Round Thoughts: You tell me which is a sexier pick: Devin Aromashodu or Derrick Mason? Felix Jones or Marion Barber? At this point you're tempted to draft for depth, to fill in spots where you're light. But I say: When I'm halfway into a fantasy football draft, I'm all about upside. Take the guy who's got elite physical skills and could flame out into nothing, rather than the solid, aging veteran you've felt safe owning in multiple seasons past. That'll be a theme for the rest of this draft.
Scare Picks: What is Jerome Harrison? Is he the guy who blew apart the Chiefs, Raiders and Jaguars in the final three games of '09? Or is he the change-of-pace back the Browns have always claimed? The new sheriff in Cleveland, Mike Holmgren, is on record saying he doesn't think Harrison is a 20-carry-per-game guy, despite the fact that he had a ridiculous 106 totes in those final three contests. Hey, I've loved the guy since Wazzou. I just don't believe the Browns are going to use him as a lead dog. There's a good chance my disdain for Barber will bite me come September. After all, he's only 27 in June. But I just didn't like how little burst he seemed to have in the second half last year. Felix Jones is the bigger-play guy, but they cancel one another out.
Sleeper Picks: Sproles figures to earn a fairly good contract on the open market, probably not enough for him to be an unquestioned starter, but he'll be at least as involved in his new offense as he was with the Chargers. Forsett was actually very good as a feature back, but the Seahawks are likely to team him with a bigger back who'd be the favorite for goal-line looks. And please don't say Julius Jones. Finley will get more love than this in a lot of drafts, based on how well he performed in the second half last year. But is he really clearly better than the eight guys I have in front of him? They're all multiple-season stalwarts. I don't hate taking a defense as soon as a draft's odometer clicks over to the second half. But not before. Meachem is a big guy who can run, and if injuries take out some of his competition in New Orleans, he could be an utter steal here. The same goes for Lynch, who may simply never have been healthy in '09.
Sleeper Picks: Britt has No. 1 upside; now, will the Titans throw it enough to let him fulfill it? I'm guessing a ton will be made about Cutler's upside with Mike Martz as his offensive coordinator. Some of the luster is off the Martz Touch after San Francisco, but I certainly think we can expect the Bears to throw it more than they run it. Portis is one of my leading candidates to fall off a cliff this year. There's no way he lasts this long in most drafts, but he should. Welker will be a source of much draft-day trepidation. Will he begin the season on the PUP list? I'm assuming that in most drafts, someone is going to take him a lot earlier than this. But if you're getting only half of a season out of him, is he worth a higher pick?
Sleeper Picks: Dwyer's spot is almost a placeholder here for the big back who winds up in the best complementary role after the draft. Specifically I'm thinking of Seattle, Detroit, San Diego, Houston and Cleveland, though other teams may apply. Guys like Toby Gerhart, Anthony Dixon, LeGarrette Blount, Montario Hardesty and Ben Tate could all become viable early in your fantasy draft's second half depending on the circumstances where they land. It's hard for a rookie receiver to be fantasy-relevant his first season, but Eddie Royal did it. Dez Bryant has a chance, depending on where he lands. Remember when Darren McFadden was such a scary combination of speed and size? Nobody has yet to sufficiently explain why he looks so slow running in the NFL. Kevin Smith looks like another candidate to begin the year on the PUP list; he tore an ACL late last year. Don't completely sleep on Leon Washington. At the very least, he looks like a clear handcuff to Shonn Greene.
Sleeper Picks: I steadfastly believe Slaton will not be the Texans' No. 1 back this year, but is Arian Foster really the answer? There's a chance I'm wrong, and Slaton could be his '08 self again. A few years ago, I was touting Young as a top fantasy quarterback because I thought he'd be his own goal-line back. That hasn't materialized, and he's still not an accurate enough thrower, but the job in Nashville is his. McKnight ran slower than expected at the combine, which puts the kibosh on the notion that he's another Reggie Bush. But you watch him on tape and you do see a guy who's really quick to the hole. With the right landing spot and injury breaks, he could be a factor in '10. I'm an unabashed Golden Tate fan. I see a lot of the Panthers' Steve Smith in him. It's a tall order to say he'll be that right away, but I'm strongly on board with his career prospects.
Sleeper Picks: There have been rumors that the Raiders are tying to trade Michael Bush, and he'd certainly make a very strong goal-line option on a team with a better offensive line. Gary Kubiak has been talking up Jacoby Jones so far this winter, and with Kevin Walter gone, there's a chance Jones finally converts that speed into some consistency. Obviously, this drafting of Vick is under the assumption that he's starting somewhere. I'm still assuming St. Louis. The Bengals' defense got absolutely no love in our spring poll of ESPN experts, but that's a mistake. I may have them low at No. 7. They're going to be a sleeper this fall.
Sleeper Picks: Will Santana Moss really last this long? All it takes is one person to think this is finally the year he comes out of his seemingly decades-long funk (which is, to be fair, far more related to the players around him than his own ability). Collie's draft stock is made a bit murky by the question of Anthony Gonzalez, who could compete for looks in the slot. If McGahee is once again the Ravens' designated goal-line back, this is a steal. I thought for sure Baltimore would get rid of him and his exorbitant (for a backup) contract, but apparently that won't be the case. We have our first Patriots running back. If I were New England, I'd cut Maroney and start over, but the Pats don't appear ready to do that. He did score a bunch of touchdowns in the middle of last season, though.
Sleeper Picks: Hard to imagine a year or so ago that Houshmandzadeh and Ward, two of last year's most coveted free agents at their respective positions, might essentially go in the last round of a '10 fantasy draft. Maybe their stocks will improve, as neither is over the hill. But neither looks like a very exciting option at the moment. If the Texans don't draft a runner, it means they think Foster can be their big back. Tate was the least productive of these three rookie rushers, but he ran fastest at the combine. I like the idea of keeping all the rookie runners I mentioned on your draft radar screen, because we all know running back is the one place rookies almost always make a big, unexpected splash. But without knowing who's on which team, it's tough to say exactly whom I'd take right now.
Sleeper Picks: If only all drafts had 10 kicker picks in the last round. Alas, that's just a fond dream.
Notable Undrafted: LenDale White, Julius Jones, Tashard Choice, Fred Taylor, Mario Manningham, Nate Washington, Antonio Bryant, Roy E. Williams, Nate Burleson, Matt Cassel, Matt Leinart, Matthew Stafford, Chad Henne, Carson Palmer, John Carlson, Greg Olsen. Ah, the pleasures of a 10-team league's free-agent pool.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.