NFL Training camps are in full effect, the Hall of Fame Game is in the books and the NFL season will be under way in less than a month. August is fantasy football draft month and that means it’s time to study up, fantasy football training camp style. The first thing you need to do is separate the true first round studs from the over-hyped phonies masquerading as first rounders. It doesn’t matter whether you have the first pick or the twelfth, the first round may be your only chance to land the impact player that leads your team to title town. Don’t screw it up because you won’t have time to make lemonade if your first pick is a lemon. Don’t worry, I’m here to help. Although you won’t win your league with your first pick a first round bust can sink your season fast.
Here’s the low down on the top 18 players according to average draft position and my opinion on whether they are a certified first round STUD or POSER:
1. Adrian Peterson – Minnesota Vikings RB (STUD)
Certified Stud. He doesn’t do a whole lot in the passing game, but doesn’t need to because he’s going to rush for 1,500+ yards. His only issue is that the Vikings QB situation (Tarvaris Jackson/Sage Rosenfels) doesn’t force opponents to respect the Minnesota passing game. It was the same story last year and All Day ended up 1,760 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns anyways.
2. Michael Turner – Atlanta Falcons RB (POSER)
Phony. He might be hot, but he’s just going to break your heart. Curse of 370. What is the Curse of 370 you ask? You can read more about it at FootballOutsiders.com, but it says that there is a severe drop in a running back’s production the season after a he logs more than 370 regular season carries or 390 carries including playoffs. Here’s some evidence from a Washington Post article written by FO writer, Doug Farrar. Michael Turner had 376 regular season carries last year and totaled 394 after the playoffs. Even though it was his first season with such a workload, there’s a lot more risk involved than you want in a first round pick.
3. Maurice Jones-Drew - Jacksonville Jaguars RB (STUD)
Brad Meester, the Jaguars’ starting center, missed the first six games last season while both starting guards were injured in the first game and missed the rest of 2008 season. MJD still managed 1,300 total yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. With an improved line and 100 or so more total carries heading his way with the departure of Fred Taylor, you can have confidence selecting this pocket Hercules as your team’s cornerstone.
4. Matt Forte – Chicago Bears RB (STUD)
Forte carried the Bears’ offense last year, accounting for the second highest percentage of touches in the league.1 Despite his breakout rookie campaign, Forte’s potential seemed limited during the off season because defenses could key on him as the only offensive playmaker. Jay Cutler’s arrival should ease those concerns as opposing defenses will be forced to respect the passing game. The Bears lack of receiving options will also ensure Forte still sees a lot of passes out of the backfield.
5. Larry Fitzgerald – Arizona Cardinals WR (STUD)
The wide receiver version of Adrian Peterson. He cannot be stopped. 1,400+ yards and 10+ touchdowns and 96+ receptions each of the last two seasons. Finished in the top 10 in scoring last year (non-QBs) and he is only getting better. Even if Kurt Warner gets hurt, a distinct possibility, Larry Fitzgerald will get his stats.
6. Brian Westbrook – Philadelphia Eagles RB (POSER)
Obviously, Westbrook is no phony, he’s a great player, but risk keeps him from being a stud. He’s never started 16 games in a season and he had off season knee surgery then hurt his ankle in May. Westbrook will also be 30 when the season starts and that is usually when healthy running backs begin declining. Westbrook still maintains a lot of value as a receiver, but the Eagles passing game is going to be more active this season as DeSean Jackson matures and the arrival of first round draft pick, Jeremy Maclin, but Westbrook could also see his touches limited in the name of preservation. I know. He’s tempting, but don’t do it.
7. DeAngelo Williams – Carolina Panthers - RB (POSER)
He had 18 touchdowns last year! Williams only started two games prior to 20082, but he made the most of his opportunity last season. Williams got into the endzone more than four times his 2008 total and more than doubled his rushing yardage. However, Jonathan Stewart is going to get more carries this year, so it will be hard for Williams to match his 2009 numbers, especially the fluky touchdown total. The Panthers also have depth concerns on the offensive line, so an injury or two could really spell trouble for Williams’ numbers.
8. LaDanian Tomlinson – San Diego Chargers RB (STUD)
Yes, he is still a stud. I know what you’re thinking. Tomlinson is the same age as Westbrook and was banged up last season, so why the discretion between the two? Simple, the Chargers’ offense is a well oiled machine and Tomlinson will get his share of yards and touchdowns because defenses have to worry about Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson. The presence of Darren Sproles should help keep LT fresh while ensuring he still gets those tasty goal line carries.
9. Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints QB (STUD)
STUD. He threw for 5,000 yards last year with his best receiver and red zone target, Marques Colston, missing most of the first half of the season due to injury. Brees will return to earth a little yardage-wise, but should still eclipse the 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns easily.
10. Steven Jackson - St. Louis Rams RB (STUD)
Jackson had a nagging thigh bruise much of 2008, his offensive line was in shambles and the team stunk over all. The Rams used the second overall pick this year on mauling tackle, Jason Smith and added veteran center, Jason Brown. Jackson just turned 26 and is the performance peak of his career. With news of Donnie Avery, the Rams only legitimate receiver, being out four to six weeks with a leg injury Steven Jackson will be the focal point of the Rams offensive attack. Pass on him at your own peril.
11. Frank Gore – San Francisco 49ers RB (POSER)
As much as I’d love to see him emerge as a stud, I can’t. Too risky. Gore is a consistent contributor, but not upper echelon. He’s hit 1,000 yards the last three seasons, but hasn’t scored more than eight rushing touchdowns in any season. He gets a boost for being active in the passing came, but not enough for stud branding. If you have faith that Shaun Hill or Alex Smith is going keep defenses honest, be my guest.
12. Brandon Jacobs – New York Giants RB (POSER)
He’s got the best line in football in front of him, and he’s a beast, especially near the goal line. Being a big bad beast does have its drawbacks. Jacobs is not going to play in every game and he’s not going to catch many passes (six in 2008). Jacobs is a great running back, but you’re going to have to lean on your first pick some weeks in the fantasy season and Jacobs might not be there when you need him most. Also, the Giants’ super offensive line was extremely healthy last season and might not be so fortunate this year.
13. Tom Brady – New England Patriots QB (STUD)
Always a stud. No worries about his knee. When Carson Palmer injured his knee it was in the first playoff game, Brady injured his in the first regular season game. Brady returns to the offense he set the all time touchdown mark with which is the same offense that made Matt Cassel a very rich man. Another 4,000+ yards, 30+ touchdown season with limited interceptions.
14. Andre Johnson - Houston Texans WR (STUD)
He’s going to top 100 receptions, 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. Stud.
15. Randy Moss – New England Patriots WR (STUD)
Moss had a down season last year, but Brady can throw it deep, just how Moss likes it. From Football Outsiders Almanac 2009: Matt Cassel to Moss on passes 30+ yards in the air, 3-26. Tom Brady to Moss on passes 30+ yards in the air in 2007? 10-20. Look for 90+ catches, 1,200+ yards and 10+ touchdowns. Stud.
16. Chris Johnson – Tennessee Titans RB (POSER)
Definitely a dangerous back with blazing speed, but he still splits carries with LenDale White. The carries that Johnson ends up losing are near the goal line, which are pretty important for your first pick. Long touchdowns runs are exciting, but also volatile. Not quite stud level.
17. Steve Slaton – Houston Texans RB (POSER)
Slaton didn’t start carrying a full load until late in the season when he had 744 yards in the second half. The problem is Slaton is in a prolific offense that spreads the ball around to various weapons like aforementioned stud, Andre Johnson. Slaton will put up good numbers, but not enough to be a first round stud.
18. Peyton Manning - Indianapolis Colts QB (STUD)
I had to change my mind. Peyton Manning is a stud. 4,000+ yards, 27+ touchdowns each of the last three seasons. Marvin Harrison may be gone, but so is Manning’s knee injury that depressed his numbers early last season. Manning will get stud level quarterback numbers, 4,000+ yards and 30+ touchdowns in 2009.
Boom! Championship! You’re welcome. You’re probably in a league full of morons so you’ll be able to draft two of these studs! Now, you have more time to work on the perfect fantasy football team name.
Next week: I’ll throw some sleepers at you. BTW, I’ve read good things about Javon Walker’s knee this year.