My first fantasy football draft of the 2009 season is this Saturday. I have another on Monday and my last one is next Thursday. For you keeping score at home, I am doing three leagues this year. I have sifted through countless magazines and read tons of articles in preparation for my drafts. The thing about my three drafts is, in all three leagues, the scoring is different, the rules are different and the rosters are different. Adrian Peterson is still going number one, no matter what the rules are. For the most part, Larry Fitzgerald and Drew Brees are your number one wide receiver and quarterback, respectively. These are givens, just like not drafting a kicker before the next to last round and not trying to be a hero before the 10th round. I am not here to regurgitate facts you already know or tell you who are the best players at each position are. Because, depending on how your league scores, and whether or not you are in a keeper league, or if it is an auction league and so on and so on, I can't tell you who are the most valuable players in your particular league. What I can try to do is help you with certain strategies and players that often get overlooked or are flat out sleepers. A few questions first, before we get to my sleepers and overlooked players, though...
You have the second pick in your draft. Who do you draft? Well, first of all, if you are playing with a novice that had the first pick and didn't select Adrian Peterson, you say that name as fast as you possibly can. For the other 99% of leagues, after Peterson goes, I have read from some experts everyone's name from Maurice Jones-Drew to Steven Jackson to Chris Johnson to even non-progressive owners who are still stuck on LaDanian Tomlinson. These are all nice choices, but none of them are the second best running back in the league. Given the offense he plays in, his home run ability and the fact that he doesn't have another running back stealing his goal line carries, Michael Turner is my clear number 2 on the board.
What number first round draft pick DON'T you want?
That's easy this year - number 8. The first seven picks in your league, in no particular order should be - Peterson, Turner, Matt Forte, Jones-Drew, Jackson, Gore and Tomlinson. If any of them are sitting there are #8, scoop them up, smile and move on. Otherwise, you have a minor dilemma. And this is where the above mentioned 'what kind of scoring does your league play with' comes into play. The most logical, safe pick here is Larry Fitzgerald. And then, when you see Kurt Warner go down in a heap in week one, your first round draft pick is now catching passes from Matt Leinart. If you are in a league that slants towards quarterbacks, then Drew Brees is a solid pick here. Just don't panic and feel like you need to reach for a running back here. If you get Brees or Fitzgerald, you now have the number one player at his position to go along with your mid level running back in round two. So, instead of reaching for Chris Johnson, DeAngelo Williams or Brandon Jacobs....who are all losing carries to other running backs, you'll wind up with Brian Westbrook or Clinton Portis and you'll already have a number 1 wide receiver or quarterback in your pocket.
When do I start drafting my sleepers?
Draft school 101 - never try to be a hero before round 10 (adjust this for number of teams in your league and number of rounds in your draft - this theory is based on a standard 12-team league, 16 round draft, non-keeper league). 90% of leagues are won by the guy who drafted "boring" for 9-10 rounds of his draft. One out of ten times, the guy who reached for Marques Colston in the 6th round as a rookie, gets lucky and wins the league. But more often then not, it's the guy who drafted Colston in the 11th (still a steal his rookie year) but had Reggie Wayne, Tomlinson and Tom Brady -and that's why he won. Sleepers are fun late in the draft. They are low risk-high reward then. One year, I had to work late and missed my live online draft, so the computer-generated list was how my team got drafted. That season, I made it to the championship game. Why? Because the computer doesn't take chances, it just goes off the previous season's numbers. It doesn't reach for a Knowshown Moreno 3 rounds too early.
Is Laverneous Coles a sleeper this year?
No. But he is on a list of what I call "underappreciated players" who will go later than they should. I will unveil this list in a few minutes. There are several players who are overvalued and undervalued every year. This year's number one overvalued player across the board will be Matt Ryan. He was a much heralded rookie last year who did great things for the Falcons and should have another very nice season this year. And for all the hype, Ryan threw 16 TDs last season. That's exactly 1 TD per game. And...he threw 11 INTs (if you're in a league that penalizes for INTs). A 16-11 TD ratio is very pedestrian for a guy who will probably go 5 rounds too early. Watch- in your drafts, someone will believe the hype and draft him as their starting QB. He's a wonderful QB for the Falcons offense. For fantasy offenses, he's no more than a bye week filler.
Ok, without any further ado, I present this season's sleepers, by position.
Tom Brandstater - you and I would be considered sleepers if we were third on the depth chart behind Kyle Orton and Chris Simms.
Alex Smith - The 49ers aren't quitting on him and neither am I. Not sure who's gong to win the job out of camp, but Smith will be given every opportunity to win it and I think he can excel under Singletary.
Glen Coffee - Already moved to number 2 on the 49ers depth chart. Gore has exactly zero knee cartilage left. At the very least, if you draft Gore, you need your morning Coffee.
Tim Hightower - Beanie Wells couldn't stay healthy at Ohio State and he's supposed to stay healthy in the NFL? If your league is TD-heavy, Hightower gets the goal line carries even if Wells is healthy.
Fred Jackson - Marshawn Lynch is suspended for the first three games of the season. And even when he's not suspended, Jackson is a better receiver and gets his fair share of the carries.
Cedric Benson - Remember him? He's resurfaced as the man in Cincy.
Jerome Harrison - Just trust me on this one.
Correll Buckhalter - Moreno injured already + Denver O-Line = 1,000 yards
Donald Brown - Joseph Addai is this generation's Eddie George. Wearing down way too early.
Jamaal Charles - the starting RB in KC is Larry Johnson. That about sums it up.
Ahmad Bradshaw - Just became wind AND fire in New Jersey.
LeSean McCoy - I love Brian Westbrook. But he is in the trainer's office too much.
Mewelde Moore - in TD heavy leagues, he's more valuable than Pitt's starter, Willie Parker
Earnest Graham - No QB + No other real options = Graham is this year's "where did he come from" fantasy stud.
Josh Morgan - No Michael Crabtree. No Brandon Jones. If Alex Smith is going to be a sleeper, somebody in San Fran has to catch his passes.
Patrick Crayton - thank you T.O. for leaving Dallas
Mike Walker - nursing an injury now. Scoop him up late and be amazed when his numbers are better than Torry Holt's in Jacksonville this year
Laurent Robinson - Donnie Avery's out. So someone's gotta catch balls in St Louis, right?
Nate Washington - love, love, love him in Tennessee this year
Visanthe Shiancoe - don't like Minnesota's WRs and I don't like their QBs arm strength (either of them). And even if Favre does play here, he loves his TEs.
Zach Miller - no real reason. Just a hunch.
John Carlson - Hasselbeck can't fling it 70 yards anymore. Carlson is a nice big target in the red zone.
Underappreciated Guys that will go too late
....and my favorite - Aaron Rodgers. In at least a dozen leagues this year, Matt Ryan (and his 16 TDs) will go before Rodgers (and his 29 TDs). Hype is an ugly mistress.
And there you have it, not a column to help you win your league. But an honest, strategic look at fantasy players. If you have specific questions, please email me your league scoring rules and details about your league and I will be happy to help.....unless you are in my league. Then, draft Stephen Gostkowski first.