June 21, 2006

Fantasy Sports

Summer is officially here. The baseball pennant races are on, and both New York teams are in first place. The World Cup is being contested around the world. The U.S. Open ended with a stunning surprise. All that can only mean one thing: let's get ready for some football!

Now is the time to review the NFL teams with an eye on what has changed. Of course, Fantasy Football, like Rotisserie Baseball, is a year-round sport nowadays, but it's still important to cram before the draft.

Last year was an odd football season because most of the usual first round picks had poor seasons. At quarterback, Peyton Manning went conservative on us, and Daunte Culpepper got hurt. Ladainian Tomlinson, the top rated running back, proved human and Priest Holmes, second on a lot of depth charts, went down for the count. Terrill Owens, the top rated wide receiver, finished the season watching from his couch at home and Randy Moss, the number two wide receiver, had a miserable year. And Tony Gonzalez, who had 1258 receiving yards and seven touchdowns to lead all tight ends in 2004, finished with 905 yards and only two scores last season.


Last season may have been a changing of the guard year, one in which the tried and true veteran fantasy studs give way to a new breed. Peyton Manning is still the top gun at quarterback, but check out last season's stats: 3747 passing yards and 28 touchdowns. Now look at younger brother Eli, who was available in rounds seven and eight in a lot of drafts last season: he threw for 3762 yards and 24 scores, almost the same as his brother. I took Matt Hasselbeck in the seventh round and he was good for 3459 and 24 scores. I took Trent Green the following round and he was good for over 4000 yards.

Want some sleepers? Arizona has a big time passing attack and whoever starts, be it Kurt Warner or Matt Leinhart, is going to put up numbers. Chris Simms, who went undrafted in many leagues last season, has a gunslinger's mentality and a coach willing to air it out.

Draft Day Tip: Never take a quarterback with your first pick. Always take the best available running back.

Wide receivers

Steve Smith and Chad Johnson emerged last season as the real deals and should go one-two in most drafts. Look for Owens to rebound in Dallas, and Moss is still a major talent. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin form a deadly combo (always try and match your quarterback with his real receivers when drafting). Darrell Jackson showed what he can do in the playoffs.

Sleepers: Joe Horn may rebound now that Drew Brees is in New Orleans . . . Andre Johnson broke a lot of hearts last season but could improve quickly with a better passing attack. Michael Clayton fell off the map last season, but if Simms heats up they'll be plenty of receptions to go around.

Draft Day Tip: Never take a rookie wide receiver until near the end of the draft — they seldom produce early in their career.

Running Back

With Tomlinson finally looking human, Larry Johnson has emerged as Fantasy Land's number one back. Grab him if he's available. Shaun Alexander had a monster season and was re-signed for big bucks; he should be good for another monster season, ditto Tike Barber, although Barber won't score nearly as often.

Domanick Davis has been underrated for a couple of years now, and Houston passed on Reggie Bush in the draft because they like him so much. This could be a bust out year for him. Ruben Doughns, who received little fanfare in Cleveland, put together an excellent season, and he can catch the ball. Warrick Dunn is also extremely underrated in yardage leagues.

Sleepers: Chester Taylor will be given every opportunity to win the Vikings halfback job; Samkon Gado was putting up good numbers for Green Bay before he got hurt.

Draft Day Tip: Don't go crazy on Edgerrin James, whose numbers will suffer in Arizona. Bush is a huge talent but bet the house The Deuce will be the staring halfback when the regular season rolls around.

Tight End

Yep, we all know the pecking order: Gates, Shockey, Gonzalez, Heap, Crumpler. This season add some new names to the list of elite: Chris Cooley, who exploded down the stretch for Washington and Jason Witten, because Parcells loves to make his tight ends targets.

Sleepers: Kellen Winslow Jr. is back from a devastating injury, and although he was over-hyped as a rookie, he has the tools to put up good numbers . . . Rookie Vernon Davis out of Maryland is raw but scouts love his physical tools

. . . Erron Kinney (all 275 pounds of him) suddenly came alive last season with 55 catches good for 543 yards.

Remember to get a copy of the schedule and note the bye weeks: you'll want to draft a third wide receiver and quarterback who play on the weeks your starters are off. When camps begin, check the injury reports every day. . .injuries can send a player's stock plummeting on draft day, and you don't want to overspend on any player.

Begin making your lists now, and refine them while you're watching all the diamond action for the next eight weeks.

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