NFL Fantasy Football Guru Jay Clemons on NFL

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By Jonathan Lee

I had time to stop and talk to Jay Clemons last week, fantasy expert for Sports Illustrated and, about the upcoming NFL season and fantasy football.  My questions and comments are in bold, and Jay follows.

Hi Jay. Let’s start by having you tell us about what you do at Sports Illustrated.
 Jay Clemons:  I am the lead fantasy writer for, two years running, author of the thrice-weekly Fantasy Clicks, and the 2008 Fantasy Sports Writers Association "NFL Writer of the Year."  I'm part of Sports Illustrated's 2010 Fantasy Football preview magazine, and the co-author of the Fantasy Football preview.

*Download the Fantasy Football draft kit here

How do you, as a fantasy guy, use AccuScore?
I use the baseball projections all the time in Fantasy Clicks. It may not be a perfect science, but it's a good foundation for analyzing potential trades.  As far as football goes, I guess the same thinking applies -- although I'm more apt to furnish my own per-game predictions in my columns.

So you think it's a useful tool for casual fantasy players?
For those who pay the subscription fee, yes.
For football this season, who do you have at top of your board?
 At running back, I prefer Adrian Peterson over Chris Johnson -- by the slimmest of margins (although I'd take CJ in a PPR league).
At receiver: 1. Andre Johnson 2. Larry Fitzgerald 3. Randy Moss 4. Reggie Wayne 5. Calvin Johnson.
For tight end, 1: Dallas Clark 2. Jason Witten 3. Vernon Davis 4. Antonio Gates 5. Brent Celek

Going back to the running backs, our rankings have both Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew ahead of Adrian Peterson.  What's your opinion on Peterson behind both those guys? 
I respect all opinions regarding the Big Four -- Peterson, Johnson, MJD, Ray Rice -- but I'm putting all my standard-scoring stock in Peterson at No. 1.

Why are you sticking with Peterson when many others are jumping on the CJ bandwagon?
Peterson’s yards-per-touch ratio jumped to 5.21 in ’09 even though he finished with 66 fewer total yards last season. Peterson also has the capacity for 55-60 catches, now that Chester Taylor belongs to the Bears. Throw in the security blanket of Peterson being a lead-pipe cinch for 1,850 total yards and 17 TDs in any given year ... and that's exactly what I covet for the top spot.

Peterson may only be 24 years old, but he has already established a fantasy ceiling -- as high as it may be. My guess is that people like to dream about upside when discussing MJD and Rice ... and they're hopeful that Chris Johnson will simply maintain his 2,000-yard pace of a year ago.

Thos are fair points.  How do you think the addition of Toby Gerhart will fair as Peterson's new back-up?
I like him personally, but have no use for him, fantasy-wise. I truly believe Percy Harvin will be a back-type on third downs.  In a 16-team league - where owners are doing the AP handcuff - yes. Otherwise, no.

What do you think of the rest rookie running back crop? Obviously Ryan Mathews is the top guy there.
I suppose he's the top guy, but I have a real problem with people taking Mathews in Round 2 of standard-scoring drafts. It's ridiculous.  People are basing their projections of him based on Norv Turner's innocuous comment in May of 300 carries for 2010. There's no way that happens if Darren Sproles is healthy.

The majority of people never saw Mathews take one live carry at Fresno State, and yet, the lovefest for him is off the charts.  Even Adrian Peterson was a 4th-round pick in the 2007 fantasy drafts ... and he's probably the best running-back prospect we've seen since Marshall Faulk (1994).

Moving on to the wideouts, it's hard to argue with the top five 5 you laid out, but our simulations surprisingly have DeSean Jackson near the top.  How do you think he'll fair without McNabb throwing to him?
I hope you're right on DeSean Jackson, who I took with the No. 24 pick in a real PPR draft the other day.  In PPRs, D-Jax is a solid Round 2/3 pick. In standard leagues, I have him as the 7th WR -- behind Andrew Johnson, Fitz, Moss, Calvin Johnson, Roddy, and Brandon Marshall.

I love everything about the Eagles' passing game, and I foresee D-Jax averaging 11-12 targets per game. Put it all together, and I think 88 catches and 9 TDs is definitely doable.

So does that mean you're high on Kevin Kolb as a fantasy option too?
He's ranked ahead of Donovan McNabb; and on the off chance you'll own both Kolb and McNabb this year, Kolb wins the weekly head-to-head battle -- 9-8.  He's the only QB in NFL history to rack up 300-plus passing yards in his first two career starts ... it would be rather disingenuous on my part to denounce his fantasy talents -- especially with Andy Reid/Marty Mornhinweg running the Philly offense.

We've got Kolb ranked 5 spots behind McNabb, but by only a point a week on average.
Ok, that's fine.  Since I would never take a QB in Round 1 or 2, those are the kind of guys I like to target -- that 6-12 range.  As I wrote in the preview, the line of QB demarcation comes after McNabb at 12, and Eli Manning, Joe Flacco and Matthew Stafford at 13-15.

I don’t think you gave us your top quarterbacks earlier.
1. Rodgers 
2. Brees 
3. Peyton 
4. Brady 
5. Schaub 
6. Favre 
7. Romo 
8. Rivers 
9. Cutler 
10. Kolb 
11. Matt Ryan 
12. McNabb

We actually match 10 of those 12 except Carson Palmer and Eli Manning for Cutler and Brady.  Brady is currently 13th.  Make the argument for Brady as an elite option.
The Patriots have no running game, and Randy Moss is playing for one last mega-contract in free agency. Oh, and Tom Brady can throw for 4,300 yards and 28 TDs in his sleep.

Even with T.O. joining the Bengals, I decided to stay with Carson as the 20th quarterback. Cedric Benson is still Cincy's best red-zone option.

Obviously, I reserve the right to change that pick after a preseason game or two.
But I think Antonio Bryant -- when fully healthy -- is much better than T.O. at this stage in their respective careers.

Speaking of T.O. what do you expect out of him fantasy-wise. Does he help or hurt Ochocinco?  And what do you think is the craziest thing they could do as a touchdown celebration, or maybe what do you hope they'll do is a better question?
I have T.O. ranked somewhere in the mid-40s. In other words, there is zero chance that I'll be drafting him in all scoring formats.  He's probably good for three games of 80-plus yards and 1 TD, but good luck guessing when that'll occur. To be honest, I really don't care about the touchdown celebrations. We're talking about two aging blowhards who should be grateful to have Cedric Benson as a teammate.

Now that you mention Benson, any names that you think could have a bounce back year like he did?
This conversation begins and ends with Matt Forte. The man finished with 1,400 total yards last year on a bum knee (for which the Bears kept hush-hush all year), and yet he's treated like LenDale White in some circles.  I will personally guarantee 1,700 total yards and 8 TDs with him this year - assuming full health.

I’m drafting him then and holding you to that.
Very good.

So what’s the one piece of advice you'd give fantasy players this season?
What’s the magic key that will win everybody their league this year?
Ride your gut, keep mock drafting until you get tennis elbow from all the mouse clicks and when in doubt, go RB for standard-scoring leagues and WR for PPR.

The key to winning is obviously having the best talent.  But the key to winning without the best talent is simple: NEVER be afraid to make a bold trade (no rhyme intended).

That’s more than one piece of advice, but we’ll take it.  
Lightning round time
Who wins the super bowl?
 Whoever wins the NFC North -- Green Bay or Minnesota ...the two best teams by a long shot this year.

Who represents the AFC?
Hmmm…I'll go with the Ravens.

Aaron Rodgers – [real-life and fantasy]

Rookie of the Year, real-life and fantasy?
C.J. Spiller in real life. Probably Ryan Mathews for fantasy even though I highly doubt he'll see 300 carries

Which team that missed the playoffs will make it this year?
Houston and the Raiders.

Which team takes the biggest fall from last year?
New Orleans – like 10-6 kind of fall.

Jets on Hard Knocks: a good or bad thing?
 I don't get HBO at home so I don't care, but Rex Ryan does make for good TV. I watch all the replays on NFL Network. NFL Films can make a CFL training camp look exciting.

Is Mark Sanchez for real?
He's real in the sense that he lives and breathes. He's fake in terms of being coveted in fantasy drafts earlier than Round 9

True or false: Brett Favre plays in the 2nd Vikings preseason game?
 I'll say true

Who wins the NFC West?
San Francisco

Ok, I think that’s a good place to stop. Thanks for the time Jay.
You're welcome. I enjoyed it