Love/Hate: 2009 edition
Why Michael Turner is my No. 1 and why to be wary of DeAngelo Williams
(Said in a deep voice with a Ricardo Montalban accent:)
"Welcome. To TMR Island. Where I am alone." And apparently 40 years behind the times because I'm quoting a '70s TV show.
Ha! And they say I don't know how to reach the kids.
I am alone on my Michael Turner island because I don't have Adrian Peterson first overall in my rankings, unlike everyone else on the planet. I have Turner at No. 1 and "All Day" at No. 2, and here's why:
First, not only is it possible for Turner to finish a season with more fantasy points than Peterson, but it already has happened. In 2008, Turner was the second-highest-scoring running back in ESPN.com standard scoring. Peterson was third, a full 32 points behind.
Although not as bad, relatively speaking, as he was two years ago, Peterson again wasn't great down the stretch in 2008, posting a couple of so-so games when you needed your stud the most. Taking out Week 17, when many fantasy leagues don't play, AD scored 11 fantasy points or fewer in three of his final seven games. Turner had just one such performance. Peterson had two games with single-digit fantasy points in that seven-game stretch. Turner had none.
Give me the guy who plays alongside a great quarterback (Matt Ryan), an elite wide receiver (Roddy White) and, as of this offseason, a premier tight end (Tony Gonzalez) to open up the passing game even more, over the guy who still has a bad quarterback (no Brett Favre as of this writing), still has Chester Taylor vulturing touchdowns (five touchdowns from Weeks 9 through 16) and, despite staying healthy last year, still should be considered an injury risk.
This past season, no running back in the NFL had more carries inside opponents' 10-yard line than Turner, who had 36 of them. (Oddly enough, the second-best running back in this department was little Steve Slaton with 30, and Brandon Jacobs and Thomas Jones each had 29.) Peterson? He was tied for 18th in rushes inside opponents' 10-yard line, with exactly half of Turner's attempts.
I know, I know, All Day also can break one from far away. But fantasy is all about playing the odds, and the odds are stacked in Turner's favor.
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Two more things to consider: First, in the past two years, Peterson has 641 offensive touches. Turner has 457, which, for you non-math majors out there, is many fewer, meaning Peterson's body has taken more of a beating. Second, although the Vikings still have awesome linemen Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson, they lost center Matt Birk this offseason. I mean, they know where he is (in Baltimore). But he's no longer clearing out the middle of the defense as he did last season. He's very good. See? And people say I don't do hard-hitting analysis.
People come up to me all the time -- no, really, they do I'm as surprised as you -- and ask me some version of the following question: "I have the fourth pick. Is that too early for me to select Chris Johnson?" The pick and player change, but the question is the same, as is the answer.
No, it's not. If you have pick No. 4 this year and love Johnson, grab him then. He's not coming back to you. It's your team. Get the player you want. I chose Turner over Peterson with my No. 1 pick in our ESPN The Magazine mock draft, but if you had the No. 1 and chose Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew or even Matt Forte, I'd have no issue with it.
People get way too wrapped up in rankings and where in the draft is too early or late for a guy to be drafted. Rankings are merely a guide to player and positional value. It's not the be-all, end-all.
Yes, you could use your first round pick on a sexy sleeper like Shonn Greene. But it would be a crazy-town unreasonable reach that most likely will end poorly for you (I like Shonn a lot -- he's on my "Love" list -- but you don't need to reach for him). Don't believe me about reaches? I asked folks following me on Twitter for examples of crazy-town unreasonable reaches to show you, and, when not suggesting Lyle Lovett-Julia Roberts (which was the most popular suggestion, barely beating out my having a relationship with Anne Hathaway or any normal girl), here's what they came up with:
@JasonFleming: Brett Favre trying to retire.
@bbseim: Jose Canseco and MMA.
@tdhurst: Matthew Berry growing his hair long.
@diajd: Turtle dating Meadow (in real life).
@greebs: Garth Brooks going 'alternative' with "Chris Gaines," or him trying to play for the Padres. Works either way.
@philgentile: NHL thinking that blue streak behind the puck would make people care about their boring sport.
@danport: Dennis Miller on MNF.
@action_jaxson: David Silver dating Megan Fox.
@blantanthomerism: "Spygate isn't cheating" and "The Governor is hiking on the Appalachian Trail."
@brooxstephens: Penny Hardaway in Blue Chips.
@darth_icarus: Paramount thinking Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles was a good idea.
@_wadz: David Silver performing with Babyfacce.
Suffice it to say that we could have a whole list of these entirely from Beverly Hills, 90210.
@danport: Denise Richards as a scientist in that Bond movie.
@forbesjl: Kumar becoming part of the Obama administration.
And, of course, the ultimate reach, suggested by many, but this was first ...
@carmeansc: TMR delivering good fantasy advice.
So once again, I say, it's your team. Pick whom you want -- within reason, of course. I mean, there's a reasonable reach, and then there's a Paris-Hilton-trying-to-become-a-singer reach. If you had taken DeAngelo Williams last year with your first-round pick, you would have been a genius, right?
Wrong. Because there would have been no need. Even if you foresaw his amazing 20 touchdowns last season, the fact remains that he was being selected in the seventh or eighth round last year. Put another way, say you wanted to sell your soul to the devil for total fantasy knowledge. Of course, then the devil would say, "I already have Matthew Berry's soul. What do I need yours for?"
But anyway, say that after a bizarre Charlie Daniels Band-like duel between you and the devil involving fiddles and trivia regarding red zone targets, you managed to pick up omniscient fantasy prediction ability. And you knew, 100 percent, that Williams would score 20 times in 2008. Well then, you'd take in him the sixth round, not the first. If you were feeling a little nervous, then fine, maybe the fifth.
But it's not about just one player, right? The difference between the average guy you would have grabbed in the first round and Williams is much smaller than the difference between Williams and whomever else you would have gotten in the fifth or sixth rounds. It's about maximizing every pick, not just one. The point is not what a guy like Forte will do but rather what Forte will do in comparison with other players.
Which brings us, 900 words later, to this year's Love/Hate. I've done a version of this before every football season for almost 10 years now, and I try to tweak it every season. Well, here's this year's tweak: fewer players, more analysis per player. Folks always seem to complain that there are too many guys in here, so here are the players I feel most strongly about one way or the other. Guys I feel you should make a reasonable reach to get and who should be going at least one or two rounds ahead (if I "love" them) or behind (if I "hate" them) where they are currently being drafted.
And finally, two last bits of advice: First, use your head. Just because I "love" Shonn Greene and "hate" DeAngelo Williams doesn't mean I think you should take Greene ahead of Williams. It's all relative to where they are being drafted, meaning I would go a round or two early on Greene and wouldn't draft Williams until the end of Round 2. Don't be a moron. Or, if you choose to be a moron, don't blame me for it. Remember, only a poor craftsman blames his tool. I'm your tool. Wait, that came out wrong.
Second, all this is based on ESPN.com standard scoring. That means 10 teams that include two running backs, two wide receivers and one flex spot and no points awarded for receptions (although that is an option for your custom league) . The current average draft position (ADP) is listed in parentheses. And with that, as Tone Loc said at the start of "Wild Thing" (see, now I'm only 20 years behind!): "Let's do it."
2009 players I love (in no particular order)
Chris "Beanie" Wells, RB, Cardinals (eighth round): I hear ya, brother. Or sister. Or, uh, Fido, if in fact your dog is reading this with you. Am I really recommending a backup running back on a pass-first team? The answer is yeah. I loved Tim Hightower last year, but there's no getting around the fact that once he earned a shot at the full-time gig, he didn't do much with it. And then Arizona spent its first-round draft pick on "The Bean," as only I call him.
Despite having a pass-first offense, the Cardinals tied for 12th last year in terms of rushes inside their opponents' 10-yard line. They had more than teams such as the Bears and Vikings, and the same as the Jaguars and Chargers, among others. Meanwhile, Wells is 235 pounds and runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. Arizona has a new offensive coordinator who has no loyalty to Hightower. I expect Wells to be a goal-line back who gets at least 15 touches per game in a high-scoring offense. And I'll nominate the fifth home game for the "Beanie Beanie Bear" giveaway.
Ryan Grant, RB, Packers (fourth round): He finally got healthy in the second half of the 2008 season, and in the final eight games, only six running backs had more rushing yards than Grant's 653. Just saying.
Owen Daniels, TE, Texans (eighth round): Had more than 70 receptions and 100 targets last year, and it's not as if they're gonna stop throwing. Repeat after me: You can wait to draft a tight end this year.
Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens: (14th round): You bet, I'm "wacko for Flacco" as a fantasy backup quarterback with upside. No, he didn't put up big numbers last season, and Baltimore still will be a run-first team. But the addition of L.J. Smith gives him another solid pass catcher, and Flacco should build on his great second half of 2008. (He averaged 16 fantasy points per game for Weeks 8 through 17.) And that includes a Week 15 stinker against the Steelers in which he put up a goose egg. When you are drafting your second quarterback, you're just drafting upside anyway, and Flacco has loads of it.
Devin Hester, WR, Bears (11th round): You know he's speedy. And you know he now has a good quarterback throwing to him. And a first name that easily could be the evil chick's name in a James Bond flick. But as my friend and fantasy tag-team partner Merril Hoge mentioned in our 2009 Fantasy Football Guide, he also has become a really good route runner. He led the Bears in targets and receiving yards in 2008, and once you get past the elite guys, all you're doing with your third and fourth WR picks is looking for upside. This guy has it, ya know?
Greg Olsen, TE, Bears (ninth round): Look, the Bears still will be a run-first team, and Forte will get a ton of passes. But you don't trade for Jay Cutler to have him hand off. Cutler used his tight ends effectively in Denver, and Olsen's receptions, yards and scores have gone up for two straight seasons. (He was in the top 10 among tight ends in targets last season.) Repeat after me: You can wait to draft a tight end this year.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers (fifth round): First, consider the team. The Panthers finished third in rushing yards last season, sixth in attempts and first in rushing touchdowns. (They had 30!) Second, consider this: Stewart, banged-up a lot last year, carried the ball at least 10 times in nine games last year and, in those nine games, had 678 yards and nine touchdowns. For you slow kids still eating paste in the back of class, that means he scored once per game on average. And in those same games, DeAngelo Williams had 932 yards and just seven touchdowns. (This fact might show up again in "Hate." Something to look forward to. Look at me, using foreshadowing. I'm all fancy writin' and stuff.)
Anyway, now in his second season and fully healthy, Stewart will get a lot more of the touches on a team that scored 30 rushing touchdowns last season.
Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys (fifth round): He finished 12th in fantasy scoring despite missing three games. He averaged 15 fantasy points a game, just three fewer points a game than Drew Brees. Now healthy and not having to deal with the distraction of Terrell Owens, Romo will return to elite status without having to waste the draft pick to get it. Seriously love Romo for this season.
Kevin Smith, RB, Lions (fourth round): Boring name, exciting game! Spider along came, Edna Dame! OK, now I'm just rhyming random stuff. You get distracted easily when thinking about the Lions. But the fact remains (another rhyme!) that the Lions will be better than they were last season, when Smith finished 18th among fantasy running backs. Five scores in his final eight games. He was a burning flame! (pause) Yeah, I'm done now. Thanks.
Kyle Orton, QB. Broncos (12th round): Better than you think. Two good wideouts, a good pass-catching tight end, an offensive-minded coach who needs to prove he didn't screw up by driving Jay Cutler out of town and no defense a fantasy sleeper make.
Kevin Walter, WR, Texans (eighth round): Here are some names: Eddie Royal. Wes Welker. DeSean Jackson. T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Santonio Holmes. Laveranues Coles. Donald Driver. What do they have in common? Not one of them scored more fantasy points last season than Walter.
David Garrard, QB, Jaguars (13th round): Speaking of Garrard, he was brutal last season, as the Jaguars' line was decimated, he had no wide receivers to speak of and yet he was still a top-10 fantasy quarterback at the end of the season. Always underrated.
Donald Brown, RB, Colts (10th round): At worst, he's Dominic Rhodes from last season (800-plus yards, nine touchdowns). At best, he's getting two-thirds of the touches on a top-five offense. Either way, odds that he gets an annoying nickname like "Downtown Donald Brown"? Off the charts.
Bobby Engram and Mark Bradley, WR, Chiefs (14th and 17th round, respectively): Here's the stuff I know. Tony Gonzalez is gone, and the Chiefs will throw. Engram will be the slot guy in this offense. And we all saw how often Matt Cassel looked for Wes Welker, right? I can see Bradley having a Steve Breaston-type season in Todd Haley's offense as well. Neither Engram nor Bradley will be as good as Welker or Breaston was last season, but neither will be very hard to get come draft day, either.
Visanthe Shiancoe, TE, Vikings (14th round): We know he lets it all hang out, but did you know he was the fifth-highest-scoring fantasy tight end last season?
Sammy Morris, RB, Patriots (14th round): Fred Taylor this, BenJarvus Green-Ellis that, blah blah blah. Amid cries of Laurence Maroney insisting he's not dead -- no, really -- comes this simple fact: In the past two years, the Patriots have run for 38 touchdowns. Morris has 10 of them, and no one else has more than six. And oh yeah, Morris played in only 13 games over those two years. I'm gonna repeat that to make sure we're all on the same page here: 10 scores in 13 games on a team that rushed for 38 touchdowns in 32 games. He needs to stay healthy, but it's the 14th round. 14th!
Pierre Thomas, RB, Saints (fourth round): Second-round production you can get in the fourth.
Jamal Lewis, RB, Browns (eighth round): I don't love Lewis, but he's all they've got and the eighth round is really late for a guy who still managed 1,000 yards on a team with no offensive consistency and a new coach who likes to run.
Shonn Greene, RB, Jets (14th round): With his skills, that offensive line and Tony Richardson, all he needs is a chance. I'm betting he'll get it at some point.
Domenik Hixon, WR, Giants (13th round): Someone has to catch the ball. And I like Hixon's skills a lot.
Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders (fifth round): Oakland was in the top 10 last year in rushing yards, rushing attempts and rushing average per carry. McFadden is a special player who couldn't stay healthy last year. Kind of the opposite of me. I was a horse last year. Anyway, with Michael Bush breathing down his neck, Justin Fargas hanging around and a big contract to live up to, I'm betting Run-DMC shuts everyone up. Well, except those who like him. They can keep talking. Or typing, I guess. I'm not actually talking out loud right now. That would be weird. Why can't I stop? OK. Now I'm done. McFadden. Me likey. There. Done. Now.
LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles (11th round): You know how you can always count on a few good games a year from Correll Buckhalter because Brian Westbrook is out with an injury? Well, this year his name is LeSean McCoy. And he's like Westbrook. Except, you know, a lot younger.
The Seahawks' offense: Everything went wrong for Seattle last year, and so far, folks are ignoring them on draft day. But with a healthy Matt Hasselbeck (12th round) and wide receivers who are walking upright and everything, this will once again be a good offense. T.J. Houshmandzadeh is going to be a stud; Deion Branch (14th round) is a decent sleeper; and I like second-year tight end John Carlson (12th round) quite a bit. Even crummy Julius Jones (11th round) will be productive, given that the only competition he has is even crummier T.J. Duckett.
Malcolm Kelly, WR, Redskins (undrafted): For super deep leagues, if you are looking for a late-round flier, he could be the big target the Redskins have lacked.
Others receiving votes:
These are some guys who are generally going where they should (but I still like): Fred Jackson, Brandon Jacobs (first-round talent), Braylon Edwards, Anthony Gonzalez, Donald Driver, Brent Celek, Donnie Avery, Matt Ryan, JaMarcus Russell, Ahmad Bradshaw, Darren Sproles, Zach Miller, Kevin Boss, Sage Rosenfels (if Brett doesn't sign) and Ted Ginn Jr.
2009 Players I Hate
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers (first round): As I said in the Stewart post, if you get him in the second, I'm OK with it. But he scored 20 touchdowns last year. I put this in one of my early top 200 rankings, but it bears repeating here:
Keith Hawkins of ESPN Stats & Information notes that in the history of the NFL, there have been 24 running backs who have scored at least 20 touchdowns. Only five of them have scored 20 or more the next season. (Emmitt Smith, Priest Holmes, Shaun Alexander, LaDainian Tomlinson and Marshall Faulk, in case you were wondering.) And DeAngelo ain't one of those guys, you know?
If you look at the production Williams put up in the games in which Stewart got double-digit carries (932 yards and seven touchdowns -- told you you'd see it again) he becomes very human. Good still, but not great. First rounds are about safe, and Williams needs the majority of carries to be first-round-worthy. I'm not convinced he'll get them.
Ronnie Brown, RB, Dolphins (third round): As long as Ricky is around, I'm not using a third-round pick on Ronnie. He was brutal down the stretch, with single-digit fantasy points in six of his last seven games. Are you excited about six scores and 803 rushing yards? Because those are his numbers once you take out the crazy five-touchdown game. He's a good No. 3 running back you have to draft as a No. 2.
Reggie Bush, RB, Saints (sixth round): He kicks ass in "EA NCAA College Football," I'll give him that. But he can't stay healthy, Pierre Thomas is better, and I'll say it: I don't think Kim Kardashian is that hot. So there.
Terrell Owens, WR, Bills (third round): I know, I know. First year with a new team, contract year, something to prove, yeah yeah yeah. Doesn't change the fact that it's yet another new system, he has lost a step, and Trent Edwards isn't Romo, McNabb or Garcia. I'd rather have Joanna Krupa.
Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers (fifth round): More fun from the crack staff at ESPN Stats & Information: In 18 years -- count 'em, 18 years -- as an offensive coordinator or head coach, Norv Turner has passed the ball 60 percent of the time in only four seasons, including last year. Two of those years were in Oakland, which doesn't count because it wasn't an actual NFL franchise. A healthy defense this year means fewer shootouts, and a healthy Tomlinson means he's getting the rock at the goal line. I'd much rather have Tony Romo a little later.
Knowshon Moreno, RB, Broncos (sixth round): Way too many running backs in Denver to assume he's getting all the carries, especially when we saw how Josh McDaniels spread the ball around in New England. It's Shanahan, Part 2.
Larry Johnson, RB, Chiefs (sixth round): Just on principle.
Jay Cutler, QB, Bears (eighth round): A cold-weather city on a run-first team and a new offense. Yes, he has Forte to help carry the team, but Cutler was second in interceptions in the NFL last year to Favre and has Brett's fun habit of chucking it up whenever he feels like it. I like Hester as a deeper sleeper, but Cutler won't have the same wide receivers who can go grab a bad pass or play center field when he flings it. And with Chicago's good defense, there will be much more ball control rather than the "We're down by three touchdowns, let's start winging it every down" he was used to in Denver. Cutler will help the fantasy value of those around him, but he's not a starting fantasy QB this year in a 10-team league.
Big Fat LenDale White, RB, Titans (seventh round): Unless, of course, you're in a competitive eating league.
Tim Hightower, RB, Cardinals (12th round): See Wells, Beanie.
Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs (8th round): Folks expecting New England West or a version of the high-flying Cardinals are going to be disappointed. After having a year to study Cassel, teams will be much better prepared for him. And although I do like the Chiefs' receiving weapons, none of them are Moss/Welker or Boldin/Fitzgerald. Plus, new system, new teammates it's going to take time to adjust. I don't mind him as your No. 2 QB, but I would not want him as my starter this year.
Eli Manning, QB, Giants (10th round): Single digits in three of his final four games, he finished with two -- count them, two -- whole fantasy points more than Jason Campbell. I say it every year, I get hate mail and then folks shut up until the next year. Wake me when he puts together a full season of fantasy goodness. Oh, and losing Plaxico doesn't help.
Percy Harvin, WR, Vikings (13th round): A rookie wideout from Florida? With no quarterback? On a run-first team? What's everyone all excited about again?
Jeremy Shockey, TE, Saints (13th round): I'm pretty sure "The Hangover" was based on Shockey. Or at least the feeling you get when you wake up the next morning and realize you drafted Shockey.
Willis McGahee, RB, Ravens (10th round): Only because I see him going ahead of Le'Ron McClain, who is the only Baltimore running back I trust. With my money, my life, my woman and yes, most importantly, my team.
New York Giants' D (ninth round): It's not that I don't like them. But I won't take a defense this early, and I want you to remember a few important things: The Giants lost defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, and last year, great as they were, they were only 10th in fantasy scoring among D/ST. Three whole points ahead of the Packers and Dolphins. Yes, they get Osi Umenyiora back, but there were 25 teams (25!) that got at least as many turnovers as the Giants' 22 last year. They were sixth in sacks last year, which is nice, but ultimately, they are a better real-life defense than fantasy defense.
And that's all we have, kids. Admit it. Impressed I made it all the way through with just one Anne Hathaway reference, aren't you?
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- thinks there is no more ridiculous reach than a former Hollywood screenwriter becoming a fantasy analyst for ESPN. He is a five-time award winner from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, including a Writer of the Year award. He is also the creator of RotoPass.com, a Web site that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his Cyberfriend
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2009 Football Draft Kit
ESPN.com's fantasy experts offer all the information you'll need to succeed in your draft this year.
Draft Kit Home
• Top 200 | Cheat Sheet (PDF)
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Talented Mr. Roto
• 2009 sleepers and busts
• 2009 sleepers and busts, Version 2
• Late risers and fallers in drafts
• 10 (deep sleeper) names to know
• IDP (individual defensive players) sleepers
• Michael Turner and the "Curse of 370"
• What's the ideal draft slot?
• Can we predict kicker performance?
• Impact fantasy players on new teams